Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Gospel Passage – The ups and downs of living a Christian life

Last week, although less than exactly one week ago, Peter had made it to the “top of the heap” in identifying that Jesus was the Son of God. Now, Jesus said that it was the God in Heaven who had revealed this to Peter and not Peter’s own glimpse into the Divine. This week Peter is not as astute to the workings of Jesus.

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:21 – 23)

We are not to take this as meaning that Peter was possessed or working in league with Satan. It simply means that earthly concerns have no place in the mission that Jesus was on. And by implication, earthly concerns should have not place in our following the faith journey that the Lord calls us on. And yes, that is a pretty stern and severe perspective. To soften that, remember that Jesus did come as a human and so knew human need, want, and the other components of being flesh. But those things did not stand in the way of Jesus living out his lift as directed by God. It should not stand in our way either.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Verses 24 – 26)

Seeing the verses above in this context, of setting aside human concerns, one can understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. Denying one’s self does mean setting aside all those things that our human earthly spirit may crave. That does not mean they are denied to us, but that we must decide whether the human facets of life will dissuade us and stop us from living as God directs. There are a million choices to be made, and sometimes just split seconds to make them. And it is in those split seconds that a poor choice can be made; furthermore, a poor choice that might result in sin – where sin is defined as interfering with follow Jesus example. You see, beloved reader, it cycles on itself. That is why Jesus had to be so abrupt with Peter, to stop him in the direction that his thoughts were going before it went to far.

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Verses 27 – 28)

Here, beloved reader, is a two-edged sword. What we give up in this earthly life will be returned to us in the life to come. But what we seize in this life that we should have let go and let pass, will judge when the Divine returns. Or, when our own time of judgment comes. As to verse 28, this does not mean when Jesus returns as in the second coming etc. The time is soon coming – i.e. when Jesus is raised from the death – when Jesus’ full power will come to him. We who live now, will have to wait until death or the end of all things. The disciples there will see with their own eyes the glory of Jesus which has not yet been displayed in full. Yes, beloved reader, verse 28 is not for us.

Actually, neither is verse 27 for many people. As far as history can tell us, Jesus has not returned for the second time after he ascended into Heaven. We are waiting yet for “the glory of his [Jesus’] Father”. But I suspect our own faith experiences have given us enough of a taste as to what that may be like. And maybe enough of a taste to set aside earthly things when they conflict with the Christian life as we have been called to it. At least, that is my prayer. Selah!

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Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Gospel Passage – Long ago, faith began

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)

What does public opinion say? In the days we live in currently, beloved reader, that is a risky question. Not so much concerning Jesus (although there may be some differing in answers) but generally speaking – what is current opinion concerning the news at hand. Because, in Jesus’ time, he WAS the current news. It was one of the most talked about pieces of news. Jesus probably knew what the populace was saying but he wanted to hear what the disciples had heard; and just as important or maybe more so, what they thought.

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”(Verse 15)

If any group of people knew Jesus best, it was the group that had been traveling with him since the beginning of his ministry. These were the people who had seen him when he was in front of people preaching, teaching, and healing. And when he was taking time away to meditate and renew himself. And remember too, this was the Jesus who healed the daughter of the Samaritan woman, with just a word. And this was the Jesus who came walking across the turbulent waters. So in light of all this, he asked, “Who do you say I am?” [emphasis mine]

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Verse 16 – 17)

Now here I need to do a little doubting. In the face of all that Jesus did, who could not believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Some of the prophets (major and minor) also healed people. And did other pretty amazing things, and confronted religious and political leaders. So I can see where it might be a “leap of faith” alone to ascribe it to the Divine.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Verse 18)

Barnes and I agree that it was not on the personage of Peter that the church was built, but on solid and irrefutable truths and faith that the church would be built on. And that nothing will withstand against it. I do have a little more to say about this further on.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Verses 19 – 20)

Peter, as the first, and the apostles soon after, were given guidance and control over forming the new church that had as its foundation belief in Jesus the Christ. They, as the first ones instructed, would pass on that teaching and as they taught, so would the church be established. But it was not time yet to start this church, and establish the tenets of its faith. Jesus had more to do before the end of his time and the beginning of the new church of Christ. If what had already happened caused fervor and speculation about Jesus, then it was only the beginning. And it was not wise to rush into the times that would come. The times and the disciples were not ready.

Now, back to a point I made previously. That the church would stand resolute against whatever came against it, and it would prevail. I said in a previous posting that we live in tumultuous times. That there is furor all around us, and that the values of love, compassion, and acceptance seem to be hard pressed and not valued. The church has changed and evolved since the time of the apostle Peter.

Sometimes it seems like the basis of the church then is not like the basis of many modern day churches. I name no names, and do not have any specific church in mind. I am simply saying that as time moved forward the early church was under differing and evolving lineage of power and authority for it formation. The way it was when it started was not how it remained. BUT the foundation of the church, the power and understanding that prompted Peter’s assertion and confession of faith has not changed. And on that we can pin our hopes! And our continuing faith! Selah!

 

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Gospel Passage – What is clean and not clean

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:
it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” “ (Matthew 15:10 -15)

It was not Jesus’ calm in the face of the Pharisee’s upset that Peter needed explanation of, but that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person. Remember, Peter was raised as a Jew and as such obeyed the dietary laws with the same adherence as the 10 commandments; okay, maybe even more strictly!

Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (Verses 16 – 20)

While one could spend some good and worthwhile time thinking about, pondering, and then speaking about this passage from Matthew 15, RCL actually does not focus on the verses 15 to 20, but the verses that follow. What I wonder is how the two sections might connect.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” (Verses 21 – 23)

In order to understand the disciples reaction, you have to understand that a Canaanite woman was not a Jew, and therefore not someone who a Jew who cared about his/her reputation would talk to or pay attention to. Any problems a Canaanite person had were not the concern of a Jew. Jesus’ initial response to here was just what the disciple expected.

“He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Verse 24)

And yet, just above in the previous passage Jesus was all for consigning the “blind” Pharisees to be forever lost and not understanding the message that Jesus had to bring. And furthermore, as evidenced by the passage not listed here (verses one to nine) the Pharisees were according to Jesus not following God’s commandments at all. So something more than what is going on at the surface . . . . is going on.

“But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Verses 25 -27)

I encourage you to think about this, beloved reader. What was coming out of this woman’s mouth were words of faith and belief in God, even when it is not part of her cultural or religious heritage.

“Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Verse 28)

Where the Pharisees faltered and failed in keeping faith, this Canaanite woman exhibited faith in Jesus as Divine and capable of healing, and having compassion for all people. Where she might have had different faith practices (ie, eating with unwashed hands) what came from her heart, mind, and mouth were words of faith and belief.

When Jesus was turning upside down long held (but erroneous) ideas and traditions, it is no wonder the disciples needed help in understanding what was meant. And it is at such times that I am very grateful for the theological teaching I received from childhood on up. It is only now, as an adult, that I realize the gift that was given to me. Understanding the “upside down” messages that Jesus told his disciples.

May you, beloved reader, incorporate these teachings of Jesus into your life. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Gospel Passage – Trusting in the Lord God, no matter the depths and circumstances

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” (Matthew 14:22)

To paraphrase, and set the scene, Jesus and the disciples had just gotten done “cleaning up the crumbs” and gathering up the leftovers after the feeding of the multitudes (five thousand according to scripture) from two fish and five loaves of bread. According to the above verse, after the tidying up was done, Jesus had the disciples get into the boat (the one he had disembarked from after trying to get some away time) and start for the other side of the sea.

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,” (Verse 23)

Jesus was trying to get some “alone time” performing the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and maybe to finish whatever meditation time had been interrupt by the crowds earlier. It took several hours, we assume, for Jesus to be refreshed and ready for what might come. And, there was more to come!

. . . but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.” (Verses 24 – 25)

Now, I am not quite sure how this timing worked out. Jesus was done his meditation time some time in the evening, or was praying to the Lord through the night. I am not questioning that it might have taken overnight or disbelieve that one could be in prayer that long. And maybe the mountain was a bit of a hike away. But in any case, he was away from them from the afternoon or early evening until the next early morning. Long enough, we have to assume, for the disciples to be “out to sea” literally and figuratively. Much farther out than the disciples expected to see anyone else NOT in a boat!

“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.” (Verse 26)

Now imagine, tossed on a stormy and restless sea, they see an apparition coming towards them. Maybe seemingly from out of nowhere or from the turbulent sea itself. Scared already, now even more scared.

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Verse 27)

Be honest, beloved reader, after seeing Jesus do a miracle with multiplying food for five thousand, would you doubt that it was he walking on the water as if strolling down a solid path? Would you doubt it? Would you question it? Depends who you are I guess.

“Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Verses 28 – 30)

How often, beloved reader, do you feel called by the Lord God & Jesus Christ, most naturally heeding that call, oblivious to anything else? And then realize that you are deeper in than you thought?

“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Verse 31)

Who is the “you”, beloved reader? Just Peter, or all of the disciples? Or is it all of us who have been called, and answer the call. And then find out that our own humanness is not sufficient to the challenge involved? I will raise my hand and freely admit that I have had “little faith” and felt myself sinking, only to be pulled up by the Divine Hand. More than once. And once rescued, the turmoil I though I was in subsided.

“When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” (Verse 32)

In circumstances like that, there is really only one thing we can do.

“And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Verse 33)

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Gospel Passage – Being Perfectly Divine and, Not So Much

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” (Matthew 13:13)

In my reading lately I have been presented several times with the concept that Jesus was both Divine and human – subject to fears and longings, emotions and needs just like the rest of us. But even with living with these human things Jesus never sinned; or at least that is the writers’ contentions. I am not saying that Jesus did sin, but having fears and longings, emotions and needs are not what makes us sin. It is the choices we make and the interactions we have with others; that is where we sin, treating and interacting with others in a less than perfect way. The writers I have been reading tell their readers this so that their readers will not feel reticent in coming to Jesus with their human-ness hanging out for all to see. And I appreciate their efforts and intentions. But feeling our human-ness is not what causes us to sin.

Now, you may wonder where I am going with this. My point is this; Jesus had just heard that John had been put to death by Herod. And he was mourning the loss of his cousin and evangelist companion. Many times when we get word of a loss, our instinct is to withdraw and deal with our wounds and pain. Jesus was no different than any other human who has felt loss.

But he was different. And the people sensed that. That is why the crowds followed him. Of course they might have had their own agenda as well. That is part of being human, having an agenda. But the agenda of humanity and Jesus’ agenda can be quite different.

“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Verses 14 -16)

Food is a basic human need. The crowd who followed Jesus needed food as much as Jesus did. But Jesus knew more about supply and demand than the crowd . . . . and the disciples did.

“They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.“ (17 – 21)

Several things occur to me:
First, many times something (and/or someone) needs to be “broken” before it can be put to best use.
Second, when it doubt just sit down, rest, and wait on the Lord. I needed to be reminded that of myself lately. I had gotten myself all worked up about my job situation, or actually lack of it, and I needed to be reminded to just “sit down”, rest, and wait on the Lord. So I am waiting patiently on the Lord.
Third, the limitations we think are in place . . . . are not in place for the Divine. All sorts of amazing things can happen when we think they can’t or aren’t expecting them.
Fourth, there is great abundance in the Lord God. And most of the time it cannot be measured or counted.

Now, to where I started – sin. I am also being told in my readings that all of humanity is sinful and it can’t be helped; that is, we can’t help but sinning. Jesus did not, but we do. And that notion peeves me, until I revise my definition of sin. Like needing to be broken and made contrite. Doubting the Lord, and putting forth my agenda instead of waiting on the Lord’s agenda. Placing limits on my faith and trying to direct what the Lord’s action in the world should be according to me. Doubting the Lord’s grace, abundance and just general Divine Providence.

Now if we want to point fingers at conventional sinfulness, we need look no farther than Herod who put John to death. But the disciples not taking action and having faith in feeding the crowds can be seen as “sin” as well. Not a very popular perspective I am sure, and one that causes dis-ease in me as well. But perfection, Divine perfection, is so beyond us. So, actually, are miraculous feedings. And Jesus and the Lord God know this, and love us anyway! Praise be to God! And Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Gospel Passage – The Kingdom of Heaven is . . . .

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31 – 32)

Most of the time when I have read this parable / metaphor I have focused on the largeness of what the mustard seed becomes. But this time I have taken with how small it starts out as, and what implications that has for the Kingdom of Heaven. Many times / many people envision the Kingdom of Heaven as some large well-established place. But in reality it might start our quite small – as small as one person believing in it.

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Verse 33)

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven starts out small but has great influence over something larger that is changed, and its nature is changed. The Kingdom of Heaven, very likely beloved reader, is something that may be created in the hearts of each member of humanity who has placed itself under the influence of the Divine.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Verse 44)

Here is another perspective on the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not readily or easily seen. But once found, everything else in life becomes unnecessary. The necessary thing is to make the Kingdom of Heaven and the rewards it has one’s own.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Verses 45 – 46)

What would make a person give up all other things in one’s life just to possess this one item? We who have room after room of items and possessions may find it hard to imagine giving all of that up just for one item. And yet, that is the same sort of instructions Jesus had for following him. It is not surprising therefore that he uses a parable / metaphor that has the same sort of motif.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;
when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Verses 47 – 50)

But it is not just we believers who need to be discerning in what we prize and what we give up. The Kingdom of Heaven will also decide and discern who and what will be worthy of entry. And that is a definite change from the earlier parables. That many will chose and price the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Kingdom will also chose amongst those who inhabit this world. It is not just that we must decide in favor of the Kingdom of Heaven above and apart from all other things. We must also live our lives according the the guidance and direction that the Kingdom gives.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Verses 51 – 52)

If we understand these teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven, it incumbent on us to teach them to others, and to practice it in our own lives. We must search for the Kingdom of Heaven where it exists and who it exists with, We must give up those things that stand between us and the Kingdom of Heaven, clinging not to unimportant things but giving what we must in order to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. And once we have down that, live according to the guidance and direction of the One who called the Kingdom of Heaven into existence. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Gospel Passage – Good wheat, and bad weeds

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.” (Matthew 13:24-26)

This is a little bit “edgier” a parable. False doctrines have somehow gotten intermingled with the good news, and now there is mixed in the good crop weeds that are not good for anything.

“And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ “ (Verses 27 – 28)

I have sometimes seen/heard/read evidence of the thinking that I feel is not quite right; not out and out wrong, but off somehow and results in unfortunate outcomes. Perhaps you have too, beloved reader. I have at times tried to correct it but with little or no success. Other times I have remained silent; either because I did not feel it was my task to apply a corrective. Or because I felt it would cause more harm than good. Or, I did not feel I should pass judgment at all.

“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Verses 29 – 30)

The reason I find this to be an “edgy” parable is because it implies that authentic Christian thinking and actions are carried out along side the cockeyed and imperfect. It also implies that maybe we should not try to judge between the pure and good, and the imperfect and inaccurate. How’s that for a chilling prospect? Maybe no one except the Divine should try to discern between the “good wheat” and the “weeds”. Furthermore, what turns out to be “weeds” is destined for destruction. It could be the very judgmental attitude that some have which may turn out to be “weeds”. And THAT makes me nervous!

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”
He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Verses 36 – 43)

The Jesus in this parable in Matthew is very edgy. But I suppose you already knew that beloved reader. It makes even me pause and think. I know I not infallible in my scriptural, faith, and spiritual knowledge; I know I make mistakes and errors. I try to discern rightly, and not proclaim absolutely. I only write what I am as certain as I can be. Perhaps this sort of teaching from Jesus is why Paul has such strict requirements for preachers and teachers. And yet . . . . Paul was very bold and outspoken in his preaching and teaching. I am not judging Paul according to the merits of this parable. I simply mean that it is okay to speak and teach boldly in the Lord. Just make sure you are standing in the midst of “good wheat” beloved reader! Selah!