23 October 2016

Lectionary Reflection—23 October 2016

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I struggle with self-worth.

I don’t know if it’s healthy or not. Some say it is. Some say it’s not. I don’t know where it comes from, either (although I can pinpoint a time when it really struck me that I wasn’t “good enough,” but that’s a whole other story). When I look at my life, all I see are my shortcomings—the “almost but not quite” moments. Sure, there might be some grand moments when I get things right, but those are very few and far between. And, certainly, like St. Paul wrote, all of us fall short (Romans 3.23) but that’s all I seem to do. I have a list as long as my arm of things that I always seem to “fall short” with; it doesn’t matter if it’s at work or at home, or if it’s with my spouse or daughter, or if it’s with ministry. I just can’t seem to measure up with what I think I should do or how I think I should be. I live in this constant state of “almost but not quite.”

So, the quote from C.S. Lewis is very helpful. When I look at that quote and measure it against my life, then perhaps I’m more humble than I realize. For at the same time that I think of myself less, I tend to think of others more. I strive to put their needs above my own. I prefer taking a back seat in almost every situation because I’d rather others succeed. I’d rather disappear in the shadows of others’ greatness than have the spotlight turned on me. At the same time, however, I always feel like I could’ve done more for others. That I didn’t help them enough or with my very best.

And yet…

I see myself as being the Pharisee in Jesus’ story. There are too many times where I’ll think to myself, “Wow…that person over there is so misinformed. If he only knew the truth.” And in this political climate, it’s pretty easy to be the Pharisee. It doesn’t matter which side we’re on, we tend to see “those people” on the other side as being simple or easily manipulated or just plain stupid.

Well…maybe that’s just me.

While we may not look at “everyone else with disgust,” how can we get past looking down on them? How can we see that, through all of our differences, we’re all the same? We’re all people whom God loves. We’re all people from whom Jesus died. We’re people who yearn for the same things—health, happiness, companionship, maybe even a little bit of money left over after paying our bills. And of course, love. We’re all the same when it comes right down to it. Like so many people have said, there are more things that unite us than separate us. Why can’t we see that?

And why can’t I see that all of those people who seem to have it altogether struggle with all the same things I do. I don’t know their story. I don’t know what they’re going through. Maybe their “tax collectors” because that’s the only job they could find. Maybe they’d rather be doing something else. Do I ever think of that?

And what if I see “tax collector” as a metaphor for anything that I see as degrading or different or “icky”? What happens then? What happens when I start seeing others as people who, like myself, struggle with self-worth? Maybe they think I have it all together. What happens when I gave them the benefit of doubt? What happens when I side with mercy instead of judgment? What would my life look like if I did that? How would that impact their lives?

How would the world change if I started showing more kindness to others? If I didn’t expect anything in return? When I just decided to give to them all that I can?

Well, let’s go back to the first part of this post. I never give enough. I always fall short. Maybe that’s the point in Jesus’ story. Maybe he’s trying to tell us that we’re both Pharisee and tax collector. Maybe we’re both justified and unjustified at the same time.

You know, St. Paul wrote that we should renew our minds (Romans 12.2). I think he might be talking about what Jesus was talking about above. What Lewis was talking about. The old ways—the un-natural human nature—has been the dominant nature for so long we forget that deep within us is the Light of creation, the Light behind all light, the Light of God (John 1.4-5). We must constantly be aware of this, to strengthen the Light, to feed the light. I’ll sign off with an old story that captures what I’m seeing in today’s Gospel reading; one that speaks to me quite a lot:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

09 October 2016

Lectionary Reflection—09 October 2016

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”

When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied,“Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Have you ever watch the tv show, “Naked and Afraid”? It takes two strangers and places them into survival situations somewhere like the Amazon rain forest or Australian outback or the African jungle. They can only bring one or two items with them, usually a knife or fire starter. They’re given a map of their location and where they have to be picked up. They’re there surviving for 21 days.

And yes, they’re completely naked.

Now some people flourish in this setting—reaching down deep and finding something that keeps them going. Some don’t. Some of those that don’t make it only last a few days, while others make it almost to the end. But the ones who make it out all do the same thing—they shout and celebrate! You can hear it in their voices and see it on their faces, they’re so thankful for being rescued!

In the story above, there were ten people who were living a similar nightmare. But it wasn’t for 21 days—it lasted until they were cured which could be years. In ancient times, if a person was diagnosed with leprosy, they were quarantined until they were examined by the priest to determine if they were healed. One of the reasons people were isolated was because leprosy (or ara’at) was seen as Yahweh’s judgment upon them. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia Online:

Ẓara’at was looked upon as a disease inflicted by God upon those who transgressed His laws, a divine visitation for evil thoughts and evil deeds. Every leper mentioned in the Old Testament was afflicted because of some transgression. “Miriam uttered disrespectful words against God’s chosen servant Moses, and, therefore, was she smitten with leprosy. Joab, with his family and descendants, was cursed by David for having treacherously murdered his great rival Abner. Gehazi provoked the anger of Elisha by his mean covetousness, calculated to bring the name of Israel into disrepute among the heathen. King…Uzziah was smitten with incurable leprosy for his alleged usurpation of priestly privileges in burning incense on the golden altar of the Temple” (Kalisch). It would have been quite natural for the people by a posteriori reasoning to have regarded persons afflicted with ẓara’at as transgressors; they had violated the laws of God and their transgressions had been great, else they would not have been so afflicted.

So, not only were these ten people in isolation, they were deemed “inflicted by God” and rejected by their communities. We can understand, then, why the people of Jesus’ day wanted nothing to do with such people.

But not Jesus; he clearly wasn’t bothered by such things.

What’s more shocking, then, in Luke’s story—the healing of ten people or the return of the one? Furthermore, Luke stresses that the one who returned was a foreigner, a Samaritan. As Luke has more stories about Samaritans than any of the other Gospels he clearly has a message he wants to stress. What could that be?

Frankly, I’m not sure what Luke’s intention was but there seems to be an idea that others can teach us a thing or two about our own faith. That perhaps people of different faith traditions can bring some understanding and light to things that we might otherwise miss. One of the things I find fascinating in most religions is the preeminence of loving others and non-violence, especially to those outside of one’s own faith. Perhaps a study of world religions might be fruitful.

Or maybe one of the things here is that our faith is measured by the way we treat others. How do we treat people society sees as the “foreigner”? Do we disregard them? Do we even notice them and their plight? Do we see them as a threat to our way of living? As people who follow The Way of Jesus, it seems we should be especially aware of those deemed by society as “Other,” whether they’re actual foreigners living among us or just people society doesn’t know what to do with. Maybe the directive to “do unto others” is especially true when those “others” are foreigners or societal outcasts like the lepers in this story.

Do we see ourselves in the face of the persecuted? Do we see the person of color as our brother or sister in need of healing? Do we see people in the LGBTQ community as people worthy of dignity and respect? Do we see the women of our world as human beings and equals? Do we see Christ in others? Do we treat others the way Christ treated us? Do we forgive them and love them and respect them? Do we offer them healing and rescue and food and drink and shelter? Do we recognize them as our own children? If not, why not? What’s holding us back?

The people society ostracized were the same people to whom God’s grace and healing flowed. God worked through Jesus to restore and rescue the outcasts, and it didn’t matter that (at least) one of them was a “foreigner”. God’s grace and mercy knows no limits. In fact, God crushes our silly, little boundaries with Grace and restores people to wholeness. Perhaps Luke’s telling of the story is to emphasise that the people who follow The Way of Jesus are to do likewise.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

02 October 2016

Lectionary Reflection—02 October 2016

The apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’? Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We’ve only done our duty.’”

One of the things I don’t like about the Lectionary is the way it chops up the context of the passages selected. I know we can’t read the entire context in a Sunday morning service but I also know it’s the only time some people hear or read the scriptures. And context is hugely important, especially in today’s gospel reading. As it reads, we don’t really know why the disciples exclaimed, “Increase our faith!” Why would they say that in that way? To find out, we’ve got to go back a bit.

In the previous verses (1-4), Jesus is continuing a conversation that started back in chapter 15. Because he hung out with all the wrong people, the religious elite that sometimes followed Jesus started complaining about those people and questioning Jesus’ devotion to Yahweh. In other words, Jesus didn’t fit the mold of what they thought a righteous person ought to look like.

And so, as we saw last week, Jesus told a series of stories about who’s welcomed
into God’s family. And it wasn’t the religious people. In fact, they’re almost always on the wrong side in Jesus’ stories. They’re the ones trying to keep out the people who desperately needed to be in God’s family. But, for whatever reason (and they had several to choose from), the religious elite deemed those people as being “unworthy.”

That’s one of the things I really like about Jesus—he tells stories from a lot of different angles to help people see what he’s getting at. But, every now and then, Jesus just plainly tells people what he means.

In the first four verses, Jesus said to his disciples—

“Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. It’d be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person” (Luke 17.1-4; adapted).

I can see Jesus staring at the religious elite in those first couple of verses (verses 1-2). People will trip and fall into sin. We all do it. But it seems that the religious elite of Jesus’ day were purposely keeping people out of God’s family. Whether that was through their actions or words or just their self-righteous sneers and stares, the people on the outside were being tripped up on what following God was supposed to be like.

This is still true today. Just turn on the news and we’ll see how religious elites of our day say or do things that create a stumbling block in the path of other people (think Westboro Baptist Church and the like). When religious elites force their beliefs on others through laws, people will be tripped up and fall (think supposed “pro-life” groups taking away the rights of women or people who continue to keep LGBTQ folk from marrying and other basic human rights).

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He turns to the disciples and tells them that they need to watch out, too (verses 3-4). The people who follow Jesus are supposed to be “forgiveness people.” In fact, Jesus says, even if people sin against his followers “seven times a day,” but asks for forgiveness, they’re to be forgiven (verse 4).

Now we can see why the disciples exclaimed, “Increase our faith!” Perpetual forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness that Jesus talks about, takes more faith than the disciples think they have. That kind of forgiveness goes against (false) human nature.

But to be truly human requires very little faith. Jesus said that if the disciples had faith “the size of a mustard seed” they could do incredible things. Things they couldn’t even imagine. Seemingly impossible things.

But it’s not really incredulous or unimaginable or even impossible. It’s normative. That’s Jesus’ point in the short story that followed (verses 7-10). People following Jesus don’t deserve any “special praise” for their perpetual forgiveness and faith. That’s what’s expected. That’s what people who follow Jesus are supposed to look like. They’re supposed to be perpetually forgiving, all-loving, faith-filled, people who do good works towards God, neighbors, and supposed enemies. The reason they don’t deserve any “special praise” is because of God’s grace. They’re reflecting what humanity looks like in its truest form, in its true nature.

Just like Jesus.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC