Respond

Who is worthy of salvation? I was talking to a group of young people in a correction facility. I wanted to emphasize the concept of forgiveness. You see, we were dealing with the parable of the Prodigal Son and I was attempting to explain the brother’s reaction. His younger brother was not worthy of forgiveness, of being accepted back to the family. His rebellious traipsing off to the far country and wasting the money that should have been used for the family estate was too much. I told them about Jeffery Dahmer and how he was baptized. One of the young men blurted out “Serial killers don’t deserve salvation!” I don’t know what this young man was locked up for, but can you feel the irony? Where do you draw the line? Your mistakes are surely not as bad as multiple murders and various other nefarious deeds. But for someone else, the mistakes you have stumbled over, may be their line. Do you deserve salvation?

              Luke 7:36-39 is the setting scene. Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee, whom we later discover is named Simon. Because Simon’s outrageous lack of hospitality, some have suggested that he invited Jesus purposefully to ridicule him. We don’t know, but there is an obvious lack of respect here. Picture Jesus entering the house and noticing that the usual amenities of water for washing feet are nowhere to be seen. He could have made a fuss. This was a pretty serious oversight, or, even an intentional disrespect. Jesus could have walked out in a huff. He would have been within his rights. Instead, he apparently just quietly reclines at table. Was he denying Simon the satisfaction of a wounded response?

              And behold, there was a woman! The word “behold” which is suspiciously absent from my translation, calls attention to something unexpected or new. You can be sure that this woman was not on the guest list. Since they were reclining, this was considered a formal meal. But even a formal meal may have people who just wander in off the street. They were not nearly as private as we are in observing meals. It was common to have people come in and visit with the host and the guests. But this woman must have known that she would not be welcome in the house of Simon. And suddenly, there she is! This sinner in the city. This phrase most likely means she was a well-known sinner in the city and she may very well have been a prostitute. That would fit the story. She is there because she had discovered that Jesus was there. It was most likely the talk of the city.

              She stands behind Jesus at his feet and begins to weep. This word can refer to a wailing. Much time has been spent trying to determine the source of her tears. Did she weep because of her reputation in the city? Did she weep tears of joy having heard words of grace and forgiveness? Maybe it was a mixture of these two. Some will suggest at this point that her weeping has to do with how poorly Jesus is being treated and that the wiping of and anointing of his feet were an attempt to rectify this abysmal treatment; to honor in the face of disgrace. Later, Jesus will ascribe this meaning to her actions, but it doesn’t seem likely that she came prepared with anointing oil to rectify what she could have no way of knowing would happen. She came prepared with perfume. The weeping and the wiping of his feet was most likely a serendipitous act that Jesus was able to teach a lesson with (more on that next time).

              She stands behind him and prepares to anoint his feet because to try to anoint his head (which in Jewish custom would be the normal thing to do) would be too intrusive. So, as she stoops over to anoint his feet, she is overwhelmed with emotion. Her tears fall on his feet. She has nothing to wipe them dry, so she lets down her hair, which was a societal taboo, and dries them as best she can. In this moment she is again overwhelmed and she begins to kiss his feet. Then she does what she came to do and she anoints him. Jesus respectfully remains passive through all of this. There is a lesson here, isn’t there. Sometimes we need to passively let people express themselves. And Simon denounces Jesus. There is no way that “this one” (which can be a term of dismissal) can be a prophet. Not if he lets such a woman touch him. Simon fully expects that a prophet of God would be just like himself – a safe distance from all unclean sinners.

                Isn’t it sad that Simon didn’t say, “Wow, God can forgive sinners! There is hope for me after all.”? I want to be more like the woman. I want to respond to the Savior with tears of grief and joy; of mourning and dancing. I want to be so overwhelmed with emotion that convention takes a back seat to honoring my Lord. I want to be more concerned about God’s honor than my own. Honor the Savior! Peace, Walter

Wail and Dance

Part of the years of my youth were spent on a farm up in the mountains of Washington State. Some of my cousins lived in Downey, California, which is basically a Los Angeles suburb. You couldn’t get much different. I can remember one of my cousins asking us what we did for fun. Are you kidding me? We swam in the river; we divided up into teams and played army in the woods; we built hay forts; we played baseball in the pasture, using cow pies as bases; we even had cow-pie fights (when they’re dry you can fling those things like a frisbee – well, almost). My cousin was not at all impressed. But for us, it was like we had our own secret fun that she could not understand. You might say we played the flute and she refused to dance. And there was also this thing called chores, which had to be done before we could play anything. She didn’t join in and help with those either. And that was also a secret she couldn’t grasp. You might say we sang a dirge and she refused to wail. We were children of the country.

               In Luke 7:29-35 there is a comparison between those who get the breaking-in Kingdom of God and those who do not. Luke sets the scene in verse 29-30. The people, the common rabble, and the tax collectors heard Jesus’ words and submitted to obeying God’s justice. They had been prepared for this by listening to John and being baptized by him. They sang a dirge of need and submission. And because of that when Jesus came and announced that the humble have the gospel preached to them; that the least in the kingdom are greater than John, they rejoiced with the news. Lamenting followed by celebration. This is Kingdom of God stuff, boys and girls. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Torah renounced this order. They didn’t need to lament or sing a dirge. They were the religious leaders; the elite. And they would have none of the kind of feasting that Jesus did – eating with sinners and tax collectors. Therefore, they pronounced God’s plan as null and void in their lives.

              Into this situation Jesus interjects a parable. Well, first he asked a question to set up the parable: “What can the men of this generation be compared to? What are they like?” They are like little children playing games in the market place. A common sight that probably brought a smile to the common folk. Also, the words here have the feel of a set chant. So, maybe children could be heard chanting these words: “We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance; we sang a funeral song, and you refused to wail.” Maybe they skipped through the market place chanting. And as the adults chuckled or frowned, did they feel as if they were participating in a secret game? I think that was Jesus’ point. Those who refuse to dance or wail, are dismissing the game as if it had no value – ah, but they are the ones missing out.

              John came preaching repentance, forgiveness and judgment. He held to the strict dietary rules of the Nazarite vow (Luke 1:15; Deuteronomy 29:5), and ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). He called the people (Pharisees and Sadducees according to Matthew) who came out to be baptized by him a brood of vipers. Anyone who acts like that must be demon possessed. It was almost as if he came singing a dirge and expected them to wail. Can you repent without remorse; without a humble crying out your need? But the Son of Man, possibly referring to the prophecy in Daniel 7:13, came partying and they accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. It was almost as if he played to flute and expected them to dance. But that would mean dancing with sinners and tax collectors. They would not be caught dead dancing with the rabble. They refused to understand the game. They didn’t want to admit that they needed to repent. And so, they couldn’t join the dancing, which they rejected anyway. They were left out of the secret game of the Kingdom of God. And Jesus’ words may sound as if they refer to every human without verses 29-30 and verse 35. But, thankfully, there are children of Wisdom. It was common to personalize Wisdom in the Old Testament (see especially Proverbs 1:20-33; 8:1-9:6). The children of Wisdom would be those who didn’t reject the plan of God as did the Pharisees and the Lawyers. Keeping the message of Wisdom (the plan of God) justifies Wisdom. In their actions they vindicate the message; the plan.

              If you sing a funeral dirge with John, you will be able to party with Jesus. That is how God’s kingdom works. And only those who are in the party get it. It is as if we are part of a secret society; like we are sharing a secret game. Others will refuse to dance with us. That’s okay. Keep inviting and keep dancing. You belong in the Kingdom. You are children of the plan. Wail and dance! Peace, Walter

Greatness

Have you ever longed to be great; rising above average; seeking to outshine the dross that surrounds you? You leap for the stars and barely leave the ground. It may be easy to blame your life-situation, pointing at your neighborhood or your family or your school, but others seem to be able to rocket above their circumstances. Maybe what weighs you down is something more elemental or maybe it is a combination of things. Oh, sure, it takes hard work, but you have come to realize that it involves other things as well. Things like natural ability, charisma, and just plain stupid luck. Sometimes, people are noticed simply because they were in the right place at the right time. So, where does that leave the rest of us? Are we meant to spend our life wishing and longing for what is out of our reach? Maybe we need to reboot our definition of greatness.

              In Luke 7:24-28 Jesus answers the question, “Who is greater in the kingdom of God?” The two messengers of John, who had been sent to ask Jesus a question, have gone their merry way. Jesus addresses the crowd and asks them what they went out into the wilderness to see. Was it a reed shaken by the wind? Is Jesus asking, “Did you go out to see a wishy-washy man out there in the desert?” And the obvious answer would have been “No!” Many seem to think this is the point. But maybe the point was how common place reeds in the desert were. Sure, you can find many a reed out there, but is that why you went? Either way, John was neither wishy-washy nor common. How about a man dressed in soft indulgent clothing? Now that is rare, but are you likely to find such a one out in the wasteland, getting his luxuriant garments all dusty and sweaty? No, if they had wanted to see someone so dressed, they would have gone to the royal palace where they would have most likely been turned away.

              No, they went out to see a prophet – a proclaimer of a divine message. We hear the word “prophet” and we think “a proclaimer of future events.” But the Hebrew word for “prophet” simply means “proclaimer.” The Greek word has the idea of “one who stands before to proclaim.” It is used in the Bible for a man or woman who is standing before the people to deliver a message from God, whether that message be about what is about to take place or an interpretation of what has already happened. So, the crowd went out to the desert to see John stand before them and proclaim a divine message. But John was more than a prophet; he was the one sent by God to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Other prophets may have announced his future coming, but John was the one who was chosen to make his road ready, and that would make John the prophesied coming of Elijah (Malachi 3:1; 4:5).

              And then Jesus wraps his comments up about John by saying that among those born of women there is no one greater than John. What? Jesus was born of a woman. Is he saying that John is greater than himself? And shouldn’t we avoid all of these making comparisons? Jesus just goes on and makes another comparison: even though no one is greater than John, the littlest or least, which can refer to age or importance, in the kingdom of God is greater than John. What? Will John not be in the kingdom? Back it up a minute. What if Jesus is speaking of roles and position? What did they flock out into the desert to see? The one who was preparing the way for the Messiah. That is what made John great. His role. Not royal status or ability. He was chosen to proclaim the divine message to get people ready for the Coming One. And that role, given to him by God, is what made him greater. And who is he preparing the way for? Jesus, the Messiah, the Coming One. And the least, the normally discarded and dismissed, who are in the kingdom, will be doing kingdom work. That makes them greater than John.

              There may be some who will disparage you and your contribution. You may feel as if your life is little, mundane, insignificant. But if you belong to the king, he makes you great. You are doing kingdom work. Will people discuss your greatness in coffee shops? Will your face be seen in newspapers or on the TV? Will you outshine the dross of mundane life? If your definition of greatness is recognition, you may never achieve it. But if your definition of greatness is the gift of kingdom existence, kingdom ministry, well then, you can and will be great. And this is the shame of the gospel. It is not about your ability; your intelligence; your charisma; your luck. It is about the greatness of the Giver. He has a kingdom and kingdom work for you. Enter in and be great my friend. Peace, Walter

Mother Reflection

Will this be the last Mother’s Day that my Mom will be here for? Will Sunday be the last Mother’s Day call I make? I don’t know. The truth is, we never know. Do we? But there are times, like now, when the reality of death is more pressing; more present, I guess. My Mom’s health is failing, you see. She can no longer get out of bed by herself. When she tries, she injures herself. She cries a lot these days. She also forgets a lot. She is scared that she will forget her children and/or her grandchildren. She also has this fear that she will be forgotten and these fears bring about even more crying. She is with my Dad and that is good because his health is also failing.

              One of my earliest memories is going with my Mom to the welfare office. I believe that my brothers and sisters were in school. I remember these times as being extremely tense. She hated them. She always felt that the young ladies behind the window or sitting at the desks were treating her as if she were stupid or lazy or scamming the government. And maybe some of them were. My dad had been laid off and life demands money, doesn’t it? So, she endured these moments of embarrassment because she had four babies to feed. I can remember times when the only food in the house was dry cereal. I can remember eating some pretty weird things. We had cow tongue because it was a cheap meat. Mom didn’t know you are supposed to skin it. I wasn’t fond of the chewy leathery consistency, but I chewed on it. If you asked Mom what something was and she merely said, “It’s meat,” you knew it was something you were not going to like. Most of the time we ate it anyway. Food is food when you don’t have much. We had a lot of ham hock and beans. It is kind of a comfort food for me now.

              I can remember many a Momism. “If your friends all jumped off of a cliff would you jump with them?” “Do you think money grows on trees?” “Walter must have a tape worm – he eats and eats and never gains any weight.” (Yeah, wish that one was still true.) “You’re a cool head, but who wants a drafty toilet?” “You’re no Adonis, so quit expecting an Aphrodite.” “Are you trying to heat up the whole out-doors?”

              My mother is not perfect, but I love her very much. She made some pretty glaring mistakes, but I respect her more than I have words. As with all of us, she is a product, in some ways, of her culture; of the way that she was raised. There were things she was not allowed to talk about. She was not very good at dealing with problems. She was more likely to sweep it all under the rug and pretend nothing ever happened. I was punished for telling a horrible truth once. It pains me to write these words, but they need to be said. I love and respect my Mom. She is not perfect, but she did her best to serve her God and her family. And if we will only honor those who haven’t hurt us, our list of honorees will shrivel away to nothingness and we will be left with a bitterness that will burn us up inside.

              I guess I’m being reflective a lot lately. But this article is not simply about me walking the shadowy realm of memory. It is more than honoring a terrific, yet flawed, mother. It is about obeying the fifth commandment; the first directed toward our human relationships. It is about honoring our father and mother. And there is no caveat here. There is something fundamental about respecting your parents. There is something in us that wants to love our Moms no matter the circumstances; no matter the pain; no matter the disappointments. You have permission to love your Mother, no matter what she may have done.

              But it is more than that. It is about redemption. It is about God working in the midst of our flaws. Sometimes I may be maudlin in my reflection, but I am also filled with joy. It is not about whether this is the last Mother’s Day or not. It is about taking advantage of the time you have. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow. So, do all you can today. We have set aside a day to honor mothers and that seems to me to be a very good idea. But don’t wait until that day rolls around. It may not. Don’t pour out all of your thoughts of love and respect on that day. Take advantage of every moment you can.

              My Mom is a lovely lady. She is now living in a nursing home in a dementia wing so that she can be with my Dad. She is struggling with new issues and concerns. She loves her God; her family and her church family. She has done the best she could and has spent too much time worrying that she hasn’t done enough. We tend to do that. It is my prayer that you will love and respect your mother. I hope that you will be able to look beyond the mistakes. God does that for her and for you. Peace, Walter

Compassion

When my Grandpa died my Dad was in the military. My Granny was trying to take care of her younger children by herself. She had just lost her husband and several months earlier her oldest son was killed at Heart Break Ridge in the Korean War. Overwhelming grief seized her. Two neighbors and a doctor wrote to the military and requested that my Dad be relieved of duty and be sent home to help his mother. The military graciously complied. They could have said something like “Well, that is sad, but this kind of thing happens all the time. We need private Clark for the Korean conflict. Let her neighbors take care of her.” My Granny’s situation was not unique. She was one woman in the midst of many left to struggle with raising children on her own. And the military saw her situation and had compassion.

              Luke 7:11-17 is about a very common event and the compassion of the Lord. Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd walked themselves some twenty-five miles south to the city of Nain. This would not have been an easy hike. Nain was located on the southern border of Galilee in the midst of the mountains. This is the only place in the Bible where this city is even mentioned. Why Nain? Did Jesus go specifically for the ensuing encounter? Or was he on his way somewhere else? I cannot answer that question with any amount of confidence. Some, however, do posit the possibility that he made this twenty-five-mile trek purely to encounter a funeral procession. Some also suggest that he did this so that he could tell John in the next section that the dead have been raised. That seems unlikely to me. Whatever drew Jesus to Nain, the story is about compassion.

              As Jesus and his crowd approach the city gate, they encounter another large crowd coming out. Picture two large throngs converging on each other. The crowd exiting the city is carrying a dead man on a bier. The word for “carry” is a technical term for carrying a body. They are exiting the city, because a dead body is unclean and most of the time buried outside the city walls. In the crowd of mourners, who were most likely weeping and wailing, as was Jewish custom, was the mother of the dead man. She is what Paul would call a “widow indeed.” This is her only son and her husband is dead. In her world, she cannot go out and get a job to provide for herself. Does she have friends in the city who will make sure she has enough to eat? She has few options. So, on top of her grief, she is surely aware of how hard her life has just become.

              When Jesus sees her, he feels compassion for her. Her situation is not unique. Jesus didn’t have to travel all the way to Nain to encounter this situation. It was happening every day all around him. This woman was not the only recent “widow indeed” in the area. Does the common place rob us of compassion? Do we some times say, “Well, that is sad, but it happens all the time”? Can our compassion be minimized by the mundaneness of the situation? I don’t know why Jesus walked to Nain. I know that when he saw a very common event, he was filled with compassion. The word “compassion” is literally “bowels.” We might say, “he was deeply moved by what he saw.” And his compassion drove him to action. First, he told the woman to stop weeping. The word implies loud wailing. And doesn’t this seem like an odd command in the middle of a funeral procession? He then touched the funeral bier, which was a gentle plea for them to stop.

              The procession stopped and he said, “Young man, arise!” Up until now we didn’t know he was a young man. Young men die all the time, don’t they? This no-longer-dead young man sat up and began to speak. Can you imagine the reaction in both crowds? Well, we know they were gripped with fear and began to glorify God. They began excitedly talking about Jesus being a great prophet and that God visited or cared for his people. Fear, awe, excitement all swirled among the crowds of people. Jesus gave him back to his mother, which most likely echoes 1 Kings 17:23. It is not that Jesus was the eschatological Elijah. The echo is all about the powerful movement of God; the compassion of God. Just like God had compassion for the widow of Zarephath, he also had compassion for the widow of Nain. And the report of this spread all over the place.

              People are hurting. Their situation is common. Don’t let that steal your compassion. We believe in a God who is moved deeply by the plight of widows and the marginalized. It is not that they are rare. Their situation is far too common. And yet God is still deeply moved. Whatever pain you have, God is deeply moved. Whatever pain you witness in others, follow God’s example. Compassion in the common. Grace.

Worthy

If you brag about your faith, you may just be missing the point of faith. Or maybe what I should say is that faith in and of itself has zero power. You see, you could have all the faith in the world that jumping into the ocean while holding a large rock will help you to float better. But here’s the thing, that faith has no power to actually help you to float. What you put your faith in; now that can have tremendous power. And the faith that can save you is about trusting in something other than yourself; it is an admission that you cannot, in a million years, save yourself. Bragging about your admission of weakness seems counterintuitive. Really, faith is about saying, “I am not worthy!” and trusting in the one who is worthy. And we come once again to the concept of humility. The Bible just oozes humility.

              Luke 7:1-10 is all about what or who is worthy and finding healing. Jesus wraps up the sermon on the plain and goes into Capernaum. There was this centurion who had a treasure of a slave. A centurion is a Roman soldier; a commander of about one hundred soldiers. This one was most likely assigned to Herod Antipas and was there to keep the peace. The slave, who was very precious to the centurion, had it bad; an expression that means extremely sick. As a matter of fact, he was about to die. We often think of centurions as being ruthless soldiers with little concern about other people’s lives, much less a slave. Can a good man own slaves? This was not our culture. Nowhere in the story does Jesus rebuke the man for having slaves. Back it up a bit. I believe slavery is wrong and I think the Bible has many clues that help us reach that conclusion, but it never once just comes out and tells us it is wrong. But this is not a story of social justice. This is the story of a good man; a man who is a Roman centurion; a man who does, indeed, own a slave.

              Interestingly, the first thing this centurion does, having heard about Jesus, is to send some Jewish elders to talk to him. We could view this with jaded heart and think that the soldier ordered these poor Jews to make the request for him. But the story doesn’t read that way. They eagerly beg Jesus to help the centurion. They say that he is worthy. How do they know? He loves the Jews. He payed for the synagogue in Capernaum to be built. And that tells us that this Roman soldier had more resources one would expect from a centurion. Funding the building of a synagogue would have meant a boat load of money.

              Jesus begins to walk with them to the centurion’s house. However, when he was close, the centurion sent out some friends with another message: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself further by coming to my house. I’m not worthy. I’m not even worthy to come out and meet you.” Part of this may be that he is aware of the Jewish restrictions of entering a Gentile home. But it is more than that. His address of Jesus as Lord is probably meant to be more than a respectful greeting. It is most likely an acknowledgment of authority. What he had heard about Jesus was probably that he had authority even over sickness. And that is the authority this centurion desperately needs if his slave is going to live. The centurion knew what it was to answer to authority and expect others to obey. In effect he understood the flow of authority and where he stood in that flow. Jesus also stands in the flow of authority. The centurion may have had some concept of divine authority flowing down to Jesus and over things like illness and demon possession. And that authority is beyond the centurion’s experience. He gets authority, but the kind of authority Jesus demonstrated humbled him and left him feeling unworthy.

              And Jesus is amazed by his faith. He even compares it to the faith he had discovered in Israel. His point is not that there was no faith among the Jews. After all, the disciples are all Jewish. The word “great” may refer to “amount” or “degree.” I think he is speaking of degree. Many of the Jews believed they were worthy; worthy to be called children of God; worthy to have faith in God. And this Gentile; this soldier; this man of wealth, understood that faith was about seeing worthiness resting in something other than himself. When the friends returned to the house the slave was healed.

              Faith is not about being worthy. Faith is about trusting in the one who is worthy. On the one hand, this centurion was worthy. He was a man who loved others; a man who saw that his slave was more than a “living tool” and a precious soul. But his faith acknowledged the flow of authority. And this knowledge humbled his socks off. He had the authority to tell men to go here or there. But he had no authority over illness. You and I have no authority over salvation. Faith demands humility. Trust in Jesus! Peace, Walter

Dig Go Down Deep

Once there were these fishermen who never fished. They traveled around and went to conferences about fishing. They blogged about fishing. They debated about proper fishing technics. They argued about whether using a fishing pole or net or your bare hands was the proper way to fish. They discussed the pros and cons of using a boat; of fishing from the peer; of standing in the middle of a river. They were fishing scholars who never practiced any of the technics they considered themselves to be experts of. They were articulate and well educated, having a doctorate in ixthology. However, they had never caught a single fish because they never went fishing.

              Luke 6:46-49 begins with a question which is followed by a parable illustrating the question. The question is “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” It seems likely that “Lord” means more than “sir” here. A respectful greeting does not require obedience. The word can mean “owner” referring to the master of an estate. It was also used for kings who were considered to be divine. Some suggest that in this context it may have to do with calling Jesus something like “rabbi.” The question suggests that the word refers to some kind of authority; the Lord expects to not only be listened to, but obeyed. This would fit the rabbi/disciple relationship. Jesus is more than a guru spewing words or wisdom so that people will be impressed. He fully expects people to alter how they live based on his message. There will always be people who will name Jesus “Lord” without any impact on their lives. Clearly, this is not what Jesus asked of us. Nope! He asked so much more.

              The person who hears Jesus’ message and practices it; is transformed by it, is like a man who built a house well. He dug – he went deep – and laid his foundation on the bedrock. Many translations throw the words “dig” and “go deep” together and translate “dug deep.” It seems better to keep them as two verbs: “He dug; he went down deep.” This would emphasize the effort. Bailey states that every builder in Palestine understands that you always dig until you reach bedrock. This is often very hard work because the clay in Palestine, during the dry season, having been baked by the sun, is extremely hard. But during the rainy season, this clay softens and shifts. If you are going to claim Jesus as Lord you are going to work hard. His message is more than nice pithy sayings. They are life forming mantras; words to live by. So you dig; you go down deep and you lay your foundation on the bedrock. When the river overruns its banks and the torrent crashes against your house, it will stand because it has been built well.

              But the one who has heard, but doesn’t change his life; doesn’t obey; doesn’t act – he is like a person who lazily builds his house. He lays his foundation on top of the ground. It seems solid. Why work so hard to get to the bedrock? He might as well not even have a foundation. When the torrent crashes against his house, the clay is softened and washed right out from underneath the house and it collapses in on itself. The word “ruin” has the idea of “being split open.” It is a medical term for a laceration or rupture. Building a house is always a large investment of resources and time. So, even though this builder lazily decided to not dig, not to go down deep, he has worked hard and has sunk a lot of money into this house. And now? Well, now it lies split open, having collapsed on itself. The person who wants to name Jesus as Lord, but doesn’t want to go down deep, may as well not build at all. All of his investment; all of his work; will lay in ruins.

              Jesus is not just a wise teacher. He is the Lord; the owner; the divine king. And if you hear the Lord tell you to measure out forgiveness and generosity and you say, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but there are things I refuse to forgive,” your house will split open. There is no foundation here. Just clay that will not withstand the crashing torrent. And does it matter whether the torrent references the painful moments of life or the judgment of God? The end result is the same: ruin!

              Sometimes it seems as if many are willing to listen to people who do not live Jesus merely because they have a degree and are well educated and articulate. Not every scholar fits this description. But some do. They debate; they lecture; they write books. But they have not dug – they have not gone down deep. The message of Jesus is merely an ancient text to be dissected and pontificate over. Their fishing poles have never been wet. Don’t be distracted. Dig – go down deep! Hear and do! Grace and peace, Walter

Blind Guides and Bad Trees

Plato said something like “Give me your children and I will change the world.” James, in his chapter on the tongue (James 3), which is really about teaching, said that the tongue can set on fire the very course of one’s life. The Nazis understood the significance of this truth and created the “Hitler Youth” in 1933. In 1936 they banned the Boy Scouts and made being a Hitler Youth member mandatory. All boys from age 6 and up were required to be a Hitler Youth. They camped, they did crafts, and they learned Hitler’s ideology. They became more and more militant in their training. The goal was to separate them from their parents as young as possible and to indoctrinate them and train them to be fanatic soldiers of the Third Reich. By 1945 ninety percent of the young men of Germany were Hitler Youth. And the course of a generation was set on fire by the tongue.

              Some see Luke 6:39-45 as a compilation of random sayings of Jesus. Some see this section as instructions to disciples and others as instructions given to teachers. What if it is about both student and teacher and the dance they do? Jesus gives us three images. The first is easy to identify as being about teaching. A blind man cannot guide a blind man. And if this is about teaching, which the next verse seems to verify, then teaching is more than imparting knowledge – it is guiding. Teaching is about a destination. But if the teacher cannot see and the student is also vision challenged, then a pit will be the destination they stumble into. So, the disciple is not be superior to his teacher. A disciple did not follow around a rabbi merely to learn how to interpret the Torah. He observed his life and tried to imitate it. So, if the teacher was judgmental and hateful, the disciple would do his level best to instill those lovely traits into his life. When the training was fully accomplished the goal was to be just like the teacher. Bad teacher = bad student = pit.

              So far so good, but what does the image of the splinter in the eye have to do with teaching and learning? A young man on the streets of Los Angeles tries to deal with his fractured home and his sense of abandonment. A gang may help him feel as if he belongs, but he has surrounded himself with people who have a log in their eye. What they are selling is not true community. The speck in the young man’s eye is not removed. Instead it grows into a beam. Learning is not only about a destination, it is about healing – removing the speck out of your eye so that you can see more clearly. If your teacher has the beam of hatred or some misguided sense of machismo in his eye, you will just get wacked upside the head. Your speck will remain and most likely will grow into a beam (picture a house beam sticking out of your eye).

              And learning is also about producing fruit. The destination of learning is to be a good tree. You will need to do some pruning to get there. A good tree, having received painful pruning, having had splinters removed, having humbled itself, does not produce rotten or worthless fruit. And a bad tree, all full of hatred and judgment, cannot produce love or forgiveness, you know, good fruit. Each tree can be known by its fruit. Ah man, there seems to be some judgment involved here. But the truth is, you can decide that someone is a bad tree because they drop bad fruit all around them and still love them – still desire for them to be saved. You have to know what a bad tree is, otherwise you may become the disciple of a bad tree, and the result of that will be you becoming a bad tree. The blind guide and the bad tree are one and the same. Falling into the pit and producing rotten fruit are the same result. This is all about learning and teaching.

              And the heart of the matter is, well, the heart. For the Jews, the heart was more the seat of thought than the seat of emotions. The heart represented the whole inner man. And inside each person there is a storeroom reserved for what is treasured. That is the key. What do you treasure? If you treasure good, you will produce good. If you treasure evil, if your storeroom is chock full of hatred, your fruit will be rotten. And your speech will be rotten, spewing forth evil from the treasure trove of your heart.

              In the western world, we really don’t get this concept. We have all had teachers we did not respect. We are taught that you can and should rise above your teachers. But Jesus is talking about a rabbi/disciple relationship. He is talking about people your respect and admire. Do you admire the religious teacher who belittles and despises those simpletons who don’t agree with him? Bad tree = bad fruit. Admire the good tree, producing the fruit of love and mercy. Be a good tree producing good fruit. Blessings, Walter

The coin you use

The coin you use! Let’s say that there was this good ol’ boy who decided to take himself a trip to Europe. People told him to exchange his money when he got there, but he refused. He said, “This is good ol’ American money. Its better than whatever money they have.” He went into a shop and tried to buy a souvenir. They wouldn’t take his money. He called them names and walked out angry. He went into a coffee shop. They wouldn’t take his money. He yelled at them and slammed the door on his way out. He grew more and more belligerent. He began to rant and rave to everyone around him. Everyone avoided him and the coins he used. He couldn’t understand why people in Europe were so unfriendly. I mean why wouldn’t they like a good ol’ boy from America? The coin you use!

              Luke 6:37-38 is all about the coin you use. If judgment is your currency of choice, you will be judged. Jesus begins with two negative statements followed by two positive. Do not judge. The word “judge” means anything from “decide” to “condemn.” In this context Jesus is talking about deciding that people are deserving of judgment; that they are rotten and deserve whatever they may get. If you don’t judge you will not be judged. What? Does he mean that God won’t judge us as long as we don’t judge others? We can commit any other sin as long as we don’t judge? Not at all. Stick with him. The second negative statement is an intensification of the first. Do not condemn. This word is the same as the first word with the preposition that means “against” tacked onto the beginning. Do not judge against. Do not decide someone is unworthy of any kind of grace. Once you condemn a person, no matter what that person may do, it is pulled through your lens of condemnation. When you see them do something good, you will automatically declare their motives are evil. If you don’t condemn you will not be condemned.

              Forgive and you will be forgiven. The word “forgive” means “let go, set free, dismiss.” If your currency is letting go, then letting go will be used toward you. Judgment and condemnation are all about holding on; demanding restitution; wanting to feel like you have been repaid in some way. It is about bitterness. Forgiveness is about freeing yourself from that kind of hatred and anger. And if you are a giving person, it will be given to you. Some suggest the point here is not only forgiving but being generous with money toward those who may deserve your judgment. It seems to me that forgiving people are giving people. What I mean is that when you let go, you are giving up something of yourself. I have a friend whose wife had an affair with his best friend. His sponsor at AA told him that he would need to forgive his ex-wife. Not only did he forgive her but he helped her out financially a couple of times. This is the currency Jesus is talking about.

              In Jesus day, when you bought grain, you would have a belt and a fold in your garment above the belt that would work much like an oversized pocket. In Isaiah 65:6 God told the people he would repay the people into their bosom (the word for this pocket-like fold). Sometimes, when the amount was large, they would hike up their outer garment and the grain was poured into their lap (same word). This may be what we see in Ruth 3:15. Not only will they fill this fold up, but they will press it down and shake it, so that all of the grain shifts together and they will fill it past the rim so that it is pouring over the side. This is about abundance. And then Jesus said that whatever they measure with, that is what will be measured to them. It was common to measure out the grain using the instrument of measurement of the purchaser.

              The point of all this is that what ever coin you use is the coin that will be used with you. What is your currency? What is your instrument of measuring? There is a proverbial truth here. A proverb is not a promise – it is a statement that is generally true. How you deal with people is how people will deal with you. If you are a harsh unyielding person, people will most likely be harsh and unyielding toward you. But Jesus is also saying that whatever currency you use, that is what God will use with you. If forgiveness and giving, then you will experience the abundance of God’s forgiveness and giving. If it is judgment and condemnation then that is what you will receive. I know, God loves everyone. And yes he does. But if you spend your life spewing hatred and condemnation; if that is your currency that you are measuring out from a withered-up heart, then you will be in no condition to receive God’s forgiveness. And no one can stand up to God’s justice and judgment. No one! The coin you use! Let it be forgiveness and giving. Grace, Walter.

Love Your Enemies

In the early 1980s, King Hussein of Jordan received word that seventy-five of his army officers were meeting in a barracks plotting a coup. The soldier giving the intel asked for permission to surround the barracks and arrest the men. King Hussein contemplated for a moment and then said, “No. Acquire a small helicopter and have me flown to the barracks.” A helicopter and pilot were promptly at his disposal. Hussein got in the helicopter and flew to the rooftop of the barracks. In helicopter there was only himself and the pilot. When they landed, Hussein told the pilot that if he heard gun fire, he was to take off immediately. Then he descended to the basement of the barracks and walked into the room where his men were busy plotting. He said, “Gentleman, it has come to my attention that you are seeking to set up a military run government. This will lead to many deaths and the end result will be a tyrant. I am here. Kill me so that there will only be one death this night and then proceed.” There was stunned silence and then they, as one, fell down before the King and claimed their devotion to him. He won with vulnerability. Not that this would always be the result. But it is a great story.

              Luke 6:27-35 is sandwiched with the command “Love your enemies.” So, I’m guessing that is the theme. But Jesus doesn’t just throw this out there and let us grapple with it. He goes on and says, “Do good to those who hate you.” I guess he does want us to grapple. We are okay with loving our enemies if that means we don’t actively try to harm them, but doing good . . . Well, that is something else entirely. And blessing those who curse us? What in the world Jesus? Later on, the Jewish people will make cursing the followers of Jesus a regular part of their prayers; one of the eighteen benedictions. The response of Christ followers is to bless, praise, speak well of those cursers. And to pray for those who threaten. And if someone takes a step beyond a threat and actually strikes your cheek, why, you offer up your other cheek. And if someone takes away your outer garment? Heck, you make sure he gets your shirt as well. “Oh, hey, you are going take my cloak. Well, alrighty then, you might as well also have my shirt.” Does this feel uncomfortable to anyone else? One source stresses that this is about not allowing anything, your possession, your safety, your anything, to break up community. And yes, that makes sense, but there may be something else here as well. Maybe Jesus is giving his followers a way not to be controlled, owned, by others and by things.

              And then in the middle of this you have the golden rule. “Do to others what you want men to do to you.” Notice Jesus’ statement takes the other person out of the equation. It doesn’t matter what they have done. If they have taken something of yours, you respond, thinking about how you want to be treated. You don’t want to be punched or stolen from, so you don’t do that to anyone else – even if they have done it to you. Man, this stuff is hard. And it seems as if Jesus himself didn’t live it. When he was hit during his trial, he did not offer up his other cheek. Instead he said, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23) Hmmm. Again, I say, this stuff is hard. Again, I think part of what Jesus is doing here is giving his followers freedom. The person who strikes you will not dictate your behavior. So, you offer up your other cheek, almost to say, “your abuse does not affect me, have a nice day.” But it is also about the golden rule and loving even your enemies. And at the trial, Jesus loved.

              Then Jesus explains that he is calling them to live above what everyone else does. If you love those who love you, well, good job, but what are you doing different than any sinner? If you do good to those who do good to you how is that grace to you? Yeah, that one is a little hard to translate and most have “what credit is that to you?” Except the word Jesus used was “grace, thankfulness, favor.” How does this bring about favor? Any old sinner does this on the daily. So, love without expecting anything in return because that’s how God loves. And if you want to be a son of God, you kind of have to try to be like him.

              This is about strengthening community; about loving with no demand of being loved back. But it is also about freedom that comes from this kind of love. God loves us. And we in turn can offer God nothing. And therefore, we cannot bind God to our silly manipulations. Be compassionate simply because God your father is compassionate. A love without expectations frees you from being dictated to with a slap or a theft or a curse. You are free to love, to bless, to pray for, to show mercy. Love your enemies! Grace, Walter