"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Following Jesus--Feeding the 5,000


April 16, 2016



My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.



Matthew 14:13-21 ~ The feeding of the 5,000 is one of few vignettes shared by all four Gospels. Matthew’s version of this familiar story doesn’t mention the boy who gives up his lunch. The disciples want to send the people home so they can eat. When Jesus says, “You feed them,” they respond “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

Some will feel the need to explain the difference between the various versions in the Gospels. The need is strong and widespread to defend every detail in Scripture, and where there are variations, to make every effort to smooth them over and make them disappear. I’ve been in that mindset, too, and it causes more problems and questions than it resolves.

Let Matthew speak for himself. Matthew has an important message, which is addressed to a specific audience, and which is delivered for a specific purpose. The need to defend the Scriptures becomes an end in itself, and too often we end up "proving" the details of biblical stories, but missing the point.

One interpretation of this story is that when Jesus took what he was given and started sharing it, others who also had brought food began sharing, and there was more than enough. In this understanding the miracle is the releasing of people’s generosity. It’s a pretty thought; but highly speculative.

The disciples’ response was typical of those who would proclaim, “I fight poverty; I work,” or “Get a job.” “Send them home,” the disciples counselled. Let them take care of themselves. Jesus said, “You feed them.”

I say I want to follow Jesus. When confronted with human need, did Jesus counsel that I first should determine whether the need is “valid?” Did Jesus counsel, “You feed them… unless.” Or “…except?”

“But we have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” The implication is, “Our resources are insufficient.” I can always find rationalizations to justify not following Jesus.

Dr. Fred Craddock told about a church he served as student pastor. There was $100 in a fund he could use at his discretion, as long as he met the conditions. He asked, "What are the Conditions?"

He was told, "You are not to use the money to help anyone who is in need as a result of drunkenness, laziness or poor management."

Fred replied, "Well, what else is there?" As far as he knew, they still had that money.

"We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish,"

“Bring them to me.” In Jesus’ hands, any effort, regardless of how big or small, is enough.

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My Ongoing Journey to Follow Jesus


April 12, 2016



My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.



Matthew 14:1-12 ~ This passages comprises one scene in a real-life drama of corruption and disgrace. Herod Antipas, Jewish puppet of Rome, threw a party. During the festivities, Herod's step-daughter danced for the crowd. First century Jewish historian, Josephus, says her name was Salome; tradition says she was about fourteen, and names her performance a "dance of seven veils": very erotic and sugges­tive. Mark says it "delighted Herod and his guests". The results of that perverted scene defy the imagination. In his state of "delight", Herod offers the girl anything she wants; so she asks her mother, "For what shall I ask?"

Herod had divorced his first wife and had taken Herodias (who was his niece) while she was still married to his half-brother. John the Baptist had denounced the whole arrangement, and Herodias harbored a grudge.

What follows is a gruesome story. Every child somehow, sometime, asks, "What shall I ask of life? What is it you want me most to do and to be? I'll take my cue from you." And that's what Salome does.

Herodias had no concern for her daughter. She was self-seeking and hate-filled, and in a position at least of indirect power. She was willing to use even her own daughter to achieve her goals. Apparently without flicking an eyelid she made her daughter an accessory to murder: "Bring me the head of the Baptizer!"

Salome is the most tragic of all the characters in this drama, her youth and innocence manipulated by her scheming mother. And early in life Salome learned to use her assets to exploit the weakness of others.

What a critical moment when a child looks to us and asks, "What shall I ask of life?" And, children are much more likely to “do as I do; not as I say.”

If I am following Jesus, the child will be guided by good example as well as by good word.

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

My Ongoing Journey to Follow Jesus


April 6, 2016



My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.



Matthew 13: ~ Mathew 13 is a great chapter. It contains seven “Kingdom Parables” of Jesus, two of which he explains to his disciples. He also explains why he speaks in parables. In order to enter the kingdom one first must divest oneself of all the old expectations based upon the old paradigms. The old paradigms were political, military and economic, and the old expectations were that  the kingdom was all about meeting “our” expectations; specifically, that “we” would be beneficiaries of power and wealth in the kingdom.

It was not the intention of the parables, as most English translations imply, to hide the kingdom from the people; rather, that was the result. The people’s assumptions are based on what they see and hear. They need to release those assumptions and listen with their hearts. Then, “I would heal them,” Jesus quotes Isaiah.

Visions of the splendor of David and Solomon have blinded the people. And Jesus’ alternative vision is offensive to them (Matthew 13:57).

I wonder if Jesus’ message to us would require that we divest ourselves of visions of streets of gold, walls of diamond and gates of pearl? Could it be that those images are the parables that prevent us from hearing what Jesus is saying to us?

Would “the kingdom” be different for us than it was for them?

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Ongoing Journey to Follow Jesus




April 5, 2016
 
My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.
 

Matthew 12:46-50 ~ I’ve been wrestling with this one for a couple of days. It may be the most difficult passage I’ve encountered. The narrative is included in all three Synoptic Gospels;[1] so it must have seemed important to the first generation of the church; on the other hand, in the Revised Common Lectionary, only Mark’s account is included, and there it is buried in a larger text. Maybe it’s just my reading; but Jesus comes across as insensitive and disrespectful of his mother and his family.

It’s too easy to dismiss the problem by referencing the divinity of Christ. The Scriptures are very clear: Jesus was as much human as divine. To deny his humanity is a heresy called “Gnosticism”.

The frequent approach of the commentaries is that Jesus‘ ministry was of greater importance than familial relationships. One major commentary suggests that Jesus’ family should have been inside, listening, instead of standing outside asking to speak to him and thus interrupting his more important work.

On the other hand, Jesus was a rabbi, and rabbis frequently spoke in riddle and metaphor, not dissimilar to the koans of some Asian spiritualties. The purpose of this rabbinic method, as in the koan, was to reveal the deficiency of logical reasoning, and to push the listener to think (as we might say today) “outside the box.”

I’m sensing that Jesus is using the rabbinic strategy, not to establish an either/or dichotomy, but to expand the concept of family to embrace a broader relationship than genetics. As he later will do with the establishment of a “new covenant” and a “new commandment,” I suggest Jesus is establishing a “new family” united, not by genetics but by doing the will of God.

Would Jesus consider me a part of his “new family?”

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] See also Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

My Ongoing Journey to Follow Jesus


April 3, 2016

My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.

Matthew 12:43-45 ~ An exorcised demon will wander restlessly looking for a place to rest. Eventually it goes back to the person from which it was cast (which it calls, “my house”), and, finding it empty, goes and finds seven spirits more evil than itself, and they enter that person, who then is worse than before.

Jesus closes, “Thus it will be with this generation.”

I can count on one hand the times in my ministry when I’ve been confronted by people claiming to be possessed by a demon (although my mom frequently said I was demon possessed! Today I think they’d call me a hyperactive child).

I never approached those issues by trying to prove whether the “client” really had a demon or whether it was a psychological manifestation of fear or guilt or whatever. I’ve always believed in taking people seriously and starting where they are. Whether I believe in spirits and demons is irrelevant. I believe in God, and I believe God can heal the chaos of a troubled soul, whatever the cause. I also have to admit I’ve seen some things that defy my sense of logic and belief!

A friend of mine was an Orthodox priest, and one of his colleagues was an exorcist. I hadn’t realized there are official exorcists in some churches. With his help those who had approached me were able to find peace. But I remembered this text, and in every situation cautioned them not to leave empty the space that had been occupied by the spirit. Instead, I advised them to fill that space with prayer, meditation and the study of Scripture. My reasoning still is that a life filled with God-awareness has no room for demons.

But, what about Jesus’ caution regarding this generation?

Over the last 25 years virtually every religious survey indicates that 95%[1] of the North American population believes in God. But the largest and fastest growing spiritual population in North America is asking, “I believe. What’s next?” And church answers haven’t satisfied them; so they’re leaving and calling themselves, “Spiritual but not Religious”.

I do not know a more indicting issue facing the church today than this: people feel they have to go outside organized faith communities to fill the spiritual void in their lives.

The good news is that many of them are consciously and intentionally seeking relationships of mutual support in their quest; and a significant percentage of that population doesn’t want to jump through denominational hoops or recite canned prayers or confessions to “get saved”. They want to know how to follow Jesus (which is what “getting saved” is all about in the first place).

The bad news is that, while institutional traditions and practices can actually get in the way, without them the “spiritual but not religious” seeker has no standard by which to discern whether his or her chosen spiritual path is actually an experience of Christ’s presence or simply spiritual sounding froufrou that has no depth or substance—little more than taking one’s own pulse. “If it feels right” is simply not a dependable standard that produces lasting fulfillment--and the "Spiritual but not Religious" seeker is no better off than before.

In John's first epistle (verse 4 and following) he counsels, "Test the spirits to see whether they are from God..." because there are many false prophets. Where is the accountability in my spirituality? What test shall I apply? John continues, "every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God."

Does my spirituality pass the test?

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Plus or minus a few percentage points, depending upon the survey.