The purity of man is the absence of something,
the purity of Jesus is the presence of something.
The purity of man is the absence of something,
the purity of Jesus is the presence of something.
I will gladly rejoice because of Your gracious love
because You recognized the sadness of my affliction.
You felt deep compassion when You saw the pains of my soul.
You did not hand me over to the enemy,
but instead, You liberated me
and made me secure in a good and spacious land.
(Psalm 31:7-8 The Voice)
There’s a difference between sympathy and compassion.
Sympathy says, “Aw, you poor thing. That’s too bad. You really have it hard. But I guess it is what it is.”
Compassion says, “I see your pain. I know it’s hard, but I will walk with you until you see “the instead.”
Jesus Christ goes beyond powerless sympathy. He has suffered everything we have and knows what it feels like, but he goes beyond sympathy to compassion that brings us into wide open meadows of freedom.
He came to set the captives free, not to merely sympathize with their pain.
I grew up in a family where teasing was a form of affection. Wrestling, practical jokes, funny stories that revealed weaknesses in each other? All normal (to us). To those not accustomed to this way of relating, such play appeared intimidating and offensive. Most of the time we knew where the line was, but in the background, we often heard someone warning, “You had better stop now before someone gets hurt!”
And then someone got hurt. A line was crossed. For one of the participants the action wasn’t fun anymore. Teasing became bullying (to them). Fights ensued.
Like many parents, we discovered our children’s individuality early. One liked to cuddle; the one who had to move-it move-it move-it resented the restraint of adult arms. One cried easily, one bounced back like an inflatable clown punching bag, one treasured solitude, and one was happiest when surrounded by 27 of her closest friends.
Not only did their teasing/offense lines not line up, they all responded differently to discipline. A raised eyebrow could send one child into paroxysms of guilt, while the arrival of the correction Cavalry, with swords drawn, would prompt another kid to say, “What? I didn’t do nothin’.”
Another parent, describing her boys, said, “They’re as different as chalk and cheese.”
I understand her. Add the dynamic of parents who married their opposites and it’s a wonder we ever agreed on a restaurant.
This week my social media is flooded with differing opinions -strong opinions- from people who claim to be part of the same family of God. I admit, I also have opinions and preferences. Try as I might there are some folks I just can’t seem to get along with. Why don’t other people see things the way I do? Is there something wrong with me or something wrong with them?
I went to bed talking to the Lord about this. By morning he brought to mind the crazy mix of personality types and viewpoints of the disciples Jesus chose to walk closely with him. The Lord reminded me he went on the road with both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector in his crew.
I followed this rabbit trail and learned some fascinating details about what it meant to be a Zealot or a tax collector. In short, it meant they were ideological enemies.
Zealot is our English word. Simon belonged to a political group called the Kanna’im which comes from the second commandment term for God, El Kanna – jealous God. They fashioned themselves after the zeal of the priests Phinehas and Levi who resorted to the sword in efforts to maintain the purity of the law. In their opinion, the other major parties, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, were not doing enough to uphold Jewish standards in the midst of a barrage of corrupt foreign propaganda.
The infiltration of foreign ideas, and especially idolatry, into Jewish culture incensed them. They despised the Romans for imposing their ways on the populace. When the great census was taken under Quirinus (the reason Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born) their anger boiled over. The census was about taxes. Taxation represented everything despicable about the occupation; now the people felt forced to support idolatry financially. The Kanna’im considered King Herod the Great to be a sycophantic pawn of the Romans and a fake Jewish convert.
The Kanna’im traveled to troubled areas and stirred up riots while they destroyed property and anything they considered to be a graven image. Some began to carry concealed daggers in case the opportunity to take out an infidel arose. Zeal consumed them and many died, either in the skirmishes or by execution later. Their plan was to replace Herod (and his descendants) with a real king, and for this they needed a Messiah – or at least a Messiah-like figure. Jesus fit the bill. (When he refused to play the game, saying his kingdom was not of this world, they found others, the “false Messiahs” Jesus warned his followers would arise after he left.)
Depending on which side is issuing a label they could be called either terrorists or resistance fighters. Herod called them “robbers.” Simon (sometimes called Levi) was part of the Kanna’im. Jesus chose a violence-advocating activist to be one of his closest companions.
Matthew, on the other hand was a publican. A publicanus collected duties, excise, and taxes for the Roman occupiers (The use of the word “publican” as the proprietor of a drinking establishment came later in England). He was a Jew who was detested by the Zealots for being a collaborator. Most of the Jewish population simply hated him for taking their money or goods in kind.
Zacchaeus, who demonstrated remarkable transformation after meeting Jesus, was part of the publicani, chief tax collectors, who were like district managers for the government revenue ministry. As such he was truly hated. Not only did he take money and give it to the Romans, he had the authority to set fees for collection and confiscation “services.” The fees, of course went into his own account. Matthew and his colleagues were lesser officials, but their methods involved blocking roads, bridges and gates until people needing to pass paid up – adding of course, their own “fees.”
Capernaum, a town near the point where the Jordan flows into Lake Galilee, was a border town on the edge of Decapolis territory which had become a district of Roman settlements. Perhaps this is why the Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his beloved servant told him he need not bother coming back with him. Crossing the border was a hassle because it meant running the gauntlet of publicans.
Jesus understood the burden of reputation Matthew brought with him. He knew he was subjecting himself to guilt by association and that he would be called “the friend of publicans and sinners.” Nevertheless, he approached Matthew the Tax Collector at his installation at the gate and gave him the opportunity to become a follower. We know Jesus was not naive about the relationship challenges involved. He illustrated his story about humble prayer by using the example of a Pharisee with excellent public status and a Publican with a poor social rating.
When I think about Jesus’ deliberate inclusion of these two men holding extremely different ideas about politics and methods of surviving tense times, my reaction is, “Are you kidding, Lord? How could there be any unity in this “band of brothers?”
I remembered the band also included Nathanael the prejudiced (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), Judas the embezzler, Thomas the cynic (“Unless I touch the wounds…”), Peter the filter-less impulsive (“I’ll never forsake…”), and James and John the holier-than-thou social climbers (“Do you want us to call down fire on them?”). They all argued about who would be greatest in the kingdom.
Add to the outer group of followers some stage mothers, embarrassed siblings, spies, and what’s-in-it-for-me merchant opportunists and he had a congregation no sane pastor would envy no matter how much pressure he is under to improve his stats. Perhaps one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed was to keep them from killing each other.
How did you do it, Lord? Just this week I witnessed people who have unfriended each other over arguments about which businesses or movies or evangelists to boycott. When it comes down to questions about the best way to run the country the opinions are even more sharply divided, even among Christians who have been in formal fellowship for years.
The gospels mention squabbles between disciples. They also tell us that Jesus spent time with his heavenly Father praying about who to choose to be one of the twelve disciples. Here’s the thing: The Father didn’t judge them by their current resume and curriculum vitae. He saw who they would become.
When the instruments of an orchestra tune to the same pitch they are in harmony, even when their sections play very different instruments and follow music in the score that doesn’t resemble anyone else’s part. The one thing early followers of Jesus had in common was the response to his question if they wanted to leave: “Where else can we go? You have the words of life.”
Not everyone is going to feel they have the same exact instructions to follow. For example, a person with a Holy Spirit granted motivational gift of prophecy tends to see a big picture with few gray areas. They move boldly and purposefully toward a goal. A person motivated by a mercy gift will tend to see the people falling through the cracks and respond with gentle compassion. Many gifts. Many perspectives.
After Christ died and rose and ascended to heaven the Holy Spirit came in power upon the disciples. That’s when they began to remember what Jesus told them and put it all together. It’s interesting that Matthew’s written account is the one that emphasizes that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore qualified to rule as King of Kings forever, something the Zealots were hoping to fulfill by political means. It’s also interesting that the Kanna’im who didn’t follow Jesus stayed part of a movement that provoked the violent fall of Jerusalem, while Simon went on to declare the saving love and grace of Christ for a world beyond the confines of Mosaic law.
How do we live in harmony with people as different as chalk and cheese? We tune to Jesus. We keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith who saw the joy that lies ahead. He who was willing to lay down his life and conquer death for us, He has the words of life. We can do no better than extend the same grace to others that he has extended to us.
I may not agree with all your opinions or methods, and I might yell ouch and need time to calm myself if you cross the friendly line and hurt me, but if you and I are both centered on Christ and know that he loves us, we are family. It’s his kindness that makes us want to change. I’m willing to listen to what God shows you and adjust and hope you are too. It’s called love.
(Note: This is not intended to be an in-depth academic study. Scholars differ on details. If you are interested I challenge you to explore the topic further.)
I’m home now, resting after major surgery in another city. I can’t bend over to pick up anything I’ve dropped or lift anything heavier than a jug of milk for the next few weeks. Sitting for more than the length of a quick meal is still uncomfortable, but couch time with a pile of good books and a remote in hand is actually a guilty pleasure – with a built-in excuse.
It’s raining. The streets are glare ice and our home and garden are still under several feet of saturated snow after the heaviest snowfall in decades. I don’t plan to go anywhere and thus far the house remains mostly dry inside.The storm of the last week is over. My husband is back at work and there is time to think.
Before we left, on the one day the roads were in good condition before the second storm hit, someone asked the question, “In your reading of Jesus’ words lately what stands out the most?”
I recently watched the film “The Gospel of John” which uses the scripture as the entire dialogue of the screenplay. What I heard Jesus say over and over again was this: I’m telling you the truth. In the olde King James version I grew up with he said, “Verily, verily.” In the original language of the Bible he said “Amen, Amen…” When amen was said at the end of a statement it meant “I agree.” When Amen prefaced a statement it meant, “I’m about to say something important.” When a word was repeated it meant “I am about to say something truly important. I’m serious here, folks.”
In the gospel of John alone Jesus says amen amen before a statement at least twenty times. I asked myself why.
This week I discovered what it is like not to be taken seriously about an issue that was important to me. Two days after being released from the hospital after major abdominal surgery I suddenly doubled over in severe pain. I’ve had this kind of pain before. It felt like I was passing a kidney stone. I was staying in a small town about an hour out of the city resting up for the next part of the trip home. I slowly crawled up the stairs on hands and knees and asked to be driven to the hospital emergency room since our host could get me there faster than an ambulance.
Kidney stones hurt. When your belly has just been cut open, things moved and removed, and then sewn back up, kidney stones really, really hurt. The power words I have been saving up for moments of high drama seemed inadequate. And “Verily, verily, I hurteth,” was not going to cut it.
I told my driver to move her car out of the ambulance bay to a parking spot because I thought I would be okay walking to the triage desk myself.
Wrong. I clung to a wall trying not to pass out from pain. The lady behind the desk ignored me. Another patient in the waiting room ran and brought a wheelchair, but then I just sat there in the middle of the hallway unable to propel myself. Eventually my driver came back and pushed me up to the glass door in front of the triage desk. After waiting a period of time, which probably felt longer than it actually was, a person took my information.
“On a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst pain you…
“Ten!!!” I gasped.
“Take this paper to the desk [way over there] with your health insurance card, fill out the admissions form, and have a seat in the waiting room. We’ll call you,” she said.
I had just come from one of the finest surgical centers in the country. I had a team of nurses and technicians who cared for me around the clock, helped me breathe, helped me sit up, put on my slippers and helped me go to the bathroom. They even flushed for me. Now I sat in a hard plastic chair, squirming, shaking and sweating, wondering if lying on the floor would be a better option. They didn’t call me for nearly two hours. (Thank God prayer was more efficient and the pain level had lowered by then.)
They didn’t believe me.
When drug addicts become known at the larger city hospitals they start hitting the smaller outlying health services seeking relief from withdrawal. The people at this hospital didn’t know me. Perhaps they thought I was drug-seeking. They had seen it before. Perhaps they didn’t believe me because they didn’t know me or my character.
It wasn’t until late in the evening, when the pain subsided and after my family helped me back into bed at home, that the emergency room doctor called and said the x-rays proved I was telling the truth. That’s when he asked if I needed pain medication.
Now my news was not good news. Unlike Jesus I was not there for anyone’s benefit but my own. But in that experience I felt what it was like not to be believed despite the best evidence I could produce.
Today I watched the film again. In this part (midway through this scene) Jesus tells them who he is. He reminds them of the witness of John the Baptist.
They do not believe him.
They shrug as if saying, “Yeah. We’ve seen people with selfish motives before. We’ve heard lies before. We’ve been deceived and disappointed before.”
Jesus says over and over “I am telling you the truth!” Then he says something which cuts to the heart of their disbelief.
“I’m telling you the truth! I can only do what my Father tells me. You don’t know me because you don’t know my Father!”
These were the religious experts, the ones who told everyone else who God was and what he wanted. What a politically incorrect, offensive statement in that place, at the heart of religious government!
I have a drawer full of greeting cards ready to send in polite acknowledgement of special occasions. People also send them to me. Some are carefully chosen after reading dozens in the store display, but sometimes they just come from a box bought at the dollar store because you need to stick a card (that a kid will never read) on a birthday gift. Sometimes I read the gospels and skim over the verily, verily passages like I am reading a stack of birthday or get well cards full of sentiments written by card designers who don’t have a clue who I am. Thank you. That’s nice, Jesus.
But do I really hear him? He looks me in the face and asserts with a strong tone:
I am telling you the truth,” Jesus replied. “Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’.”
I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.
I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.
I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.
I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your happiness may be complete.
Do we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is? Do we treat his statements like nice sayings in a greeting card? Do we truly believe he is telling the truth?
I prayed that God would show me his glory. I prayed and prayed for both an intellectual and experiential understanding of glory. “Show me!” I cried.
He did. He showed me a child, a child born to parents who were told they could not conceive a child. Shortly after that I read an explanation of God’s glory. It is however he chooses to express himself (I believe it was Paul Manwaring who wrote this.)
I wonder sometimes if God is setting us up when we continuously look for the grand and he responds with the simple. He has done it over and over again. Through his prophets he said, “Expect something really, really big. Your Anointed One is coming!”
What could fit our image of a mighty delivering King less than a helpless newborn baby? The book of John explains to us in the first chapter who he was.
So the word of God became a human being and lived among us. We saw his splendour (the splendour as of a father’s only son), full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 Phillips)
This baby was The Word, the Voice that spoke all into being.
But not everyone recognized this marvelous gift to the world, even when he grew up and told them.
That was the true light which shines upon every man as he comes into the world. He came into the world—the world he had created—and the world failed to recognise him. He came into his own creation, and his own people would not accept him. (John 1:9,10)
Mary caught a glimpse of the Kingdom and the way God works when she exalted him with her prophetic song of praise which said, in part:
He has shown the strength of his arm, he has swept away the high and mighty. He has set kings down from their thrones and lifted up the humble. He has satisfied the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands. (Luke 1:51-53)
God’s ways have often been to do the unexpected, to choose to work through the humble, the broken, the underdog, the less-than-mighty. Jesus himself danced with joy when he saw how his Father chose to express his glory through the seventy ordinary folk Jesus ordained to go ahead of him, healing the sick and casting out demons.
At that moment Jesus himself was inspired with joy, and exclaimed, “O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, I thank you for hiding these things from the clever and the intelligent and for showing them to mere children! Yes, I thank you, Father, that this was your will.” Luke 10:21-22
I read a prophecy the other day which said, essentially, “Expect great things in the coming year. Prepare to be surprised!” My tendency (after overcoming some skepticism) is to say whoo-hoo and prepare to look for the grand, the spectacular, the really big show. The surprise could be a a mass choir of shining angels, but I need to remember it could just as easily be a scruffy child with a lunch of buns and fish – or a baby born to a couple who were told they could not have a baby.
I don’t know what the Lord’s provisions for us in the coming year will look like. This I do know, they will be full of grace and truth, because that’s who he is.
And, if we pay attention and stay humble, we will see his glory. Expect the unexpected.
But Jesus, knowing what they were arguing about, took a little child and made him stand by his side. And then he said to them, “Anyone who accepts a little child in my name is really accepting me, and the man who accepts me is really accepting the one who sent me. It is the humblest among you all who is really the greatest.” Luke 9:46-48
May we become like little children. May we never lose our wonder.
But on this humbled ground, a tiny shoot, hopeful and promising,
will sprout from Jesse’s stump;
A branch will emerge from his roots to bear fruit.
And on this child from David’s line, the Spirit of the Eternal One will alight and rest.
By the Spirit of wisdom and discernment
He will shine like the dew.
By the Spirit of counsel and strength
He will judge fairly and act courageously.
By the Spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Eternal One,
He will take pleasure in honoring the Eternal.
He will determine fairness and equity;
He will consider more than what meets the eye,
And weigh in more than what he’s told.
So that even those who can’t afford a good defense
will nevertheless get a fair and equitable judgment.
With just a word, He will end wickedness and abolish oppression.
With nothing more than the breath of His mouth, He will destroy evil.
He will clothe himself with righteousness and truth;
the impulse to right wrongs will be in his blood.
(Isaiah 11:1-5 The Voice)
This man did not inspect our faith in the bridge, he inspected the bridge. So often we are inclined to look at our faith … but we must inspect the Bridge. We must not look at ourselves, but at Jesus. And when we look at Him we know He is strong.
– Corrie ten Boom (Not I but Christ)