Bible, Christian living, Jesus

Reflections on a Donkey, Crying Stones, and Jesus’ Tears

A Rebuke of Culture Wars and Religious Nationalism

Each year, Christians celebrate Palm Sunday, Jesus’ so-called “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.  The gospels do depict the crowds celebrating triumphantly, but what if Jesus himself was rebuking his own followers? What if he did not agree with their hopes for the Messiah? What do Jesus’ actions and words really say in Luke 19:28-44, if we have ears to hear?

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A Donkey

Jesus excited his disciples’ imagination by taking the route of Joshua toward Jerusalem (crossing the Jordan into Jericho).  Then he sent two disciples on a secret mission. Was this not the same number of spies Joshua sent to prepare the Conquest? Maybe they were scouting out Jerusalem’s defenses! Instead, they return with a donkey. Readers have wondered how Jesus knew this donkey would be tied up. Some think the owner has great faith to surrender his animal to unknown people simply because, “the Lord needs it!” Yet it is far more likely Jesus pre-arranged this with the owner.  He would tie up his donkey on this day and recognize Jesus’ men if they used the correct passphrase. Perhaps this is why John abbreviates the entire story: “Jesus found a young donkey.” John and Matthew quote this event as a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, but they do not mean it was a series of divine coincidences. Jesus intentional acted out this prophecy as a proclamation he was Messiah, and what he understood this to mean.

Many Jews believed Zech 9:9 was part of a prophecy that Messiah would bring peace for the Jews through a war against the nations.  Their response to Jesus riding a donkey fits this common Jewish hope.  People threw cloaks down before Jesus’ path, just like Jehu’s men when Elisha anointed him to become King of Israel.  Interestingly, there was already a King of Israel! Jehu became Messiah to assassinate King Joram. People also waved palm branches and threw them down before Jesus, just as Jews did a century earlier during the Maccabean Revolt. Simon was greeted by cheering crowds and palm branches after his army liberated Jerusalem from Syrian occupation and cleansed the temple. Finally, Matthew, Mark, and John tell us the crowds shouted out Hosanna! Save us! The people had nationalistic dreams Jesus would successfully lead a rebellion against the Romans.

Crying Stones

Luke makes it clear this is how the Pharisees interpreted these events since they tell Jesus to quiet his disciples. No doubt they were eyeing the Roman soldiers standing watch on Jerusalem’s walls, fearing they might become agitated and move to put down this apparent protest movement calling for rebellion. Instead of quieting his disciples, however, Jesus replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Perhaps Jesus’ disciples thought he was referencing Habakkuk 2:10, where the stones of the walls would cry out against the injustices they bore witness to within the city. After all, Luke emphasizes the crowd is descending into the Kidron Valley.  Across the valley, they could all see the massive stones of Jerusalem’s walls.

Jesus’ Tears

Then, Jesus wept as he looked across at Jerusalem. He mourned that the people did not grasp the true meaning of peace. He wept because his people’s desire to defeat the cultural intrusion of Rome through physical force would result in the loss of all the institutions they held dear. He shed tears because his beloved people loved the power and glory of Jerusalem, the temple, and the land of Israel. They hoped Jesus was the strong man they needed to make Israel great once again through a violent expulsion of the Romans.

The Rebuke of a Prophetic Act

Jesus, however, had a very different vision for the Kingdom and his role as Messiah. Riding a donkey was not a message of conquest. The “triumphal entry” surrounding him was just Satan’s latest temptation to lure Jesus to desire the very power structures he had rejected since the voice from heaven told him his role as Messiah was to be a suffering servant.  Jesus intentionally acted out Zechariah 9:9 rather than some other messianic prophecy precisely because of his rejection of Messiah as conquering king. Zechariah was the only Israelite prophet who emphasized another aside from the king who was also anointed with oil—the chief priest. Jesus riding a donkey was pointing us to reflect on the entire book of Zechariah.  Zechariah 4 speaks of two trees pouring out oil into a single lampstand.  They are called two Messiahs (king and priest). Zechariah 6 then orders a crown to be placed on the chief priest, who will rule from his throne and bring “harmony between the two” (king and priest). Zechariah shifts the focus from the king to the priest.  Jesus proclaimed himself to be a priest-king.  He would serve his people’s spiritual needs rather than rule with might to enforce his people’s desire for power and prestige. John understood Jesus to be priest-king.  John has Jesus quote Zech 6:13 (rebuild the temple) as justification for cleansing the temple (John 2:19) and Pilate quote Zech 6:12 (here is the man) as he presents Jesus before the crowd in purple robe and crown of thorns (John 19:7).

Not only was the donkey Jesus’ rebuke of violent revolution, but his statement that the stones would cry out was not about the stones of Jerusalem’s walls. As noted before, Luke emphasizes the crowd was going down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley. This area, both then and now, was a vast Jewish graveyard. There were stones everywhere: in front of tombs as well as atop crypts. The stones themselves would not be crying out, Hosanna! Save us! Rather, it would be the dead behind those stones shouting out for Jesus to remember them when he came into his Kingdom. In Zechariah, there is a promise from God attached to the one who rides the donkey: “because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit” (9:11). Jesus’ decision to be a priest-king, to sacrifice his life, would result in the salvation of those who were in the grave (the waterless pit) as well as those of us who have yet to die. This Prophet like Moses would not liberate the people from slavery to an occupying force.  His exodus would lead people out of the grave!  This Messiah had not come to defeat the Romans.  He would destroy the common enemy of all people (whether Jew or Roman): death itself.

Jesus wept because he knew many there that day rejoicing in his enactment of a messianic claim would ultimately reject his servant priest-king conception of what it meant to be Messiah. They would instead follow after various revolutionaries who rose up before and after him, until the Romans eventually had enough and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70.  As with this “triumphal entry,” Jesus’ whole life was a repudiation of power politics and cultural wars. Jesus foresaw the exaltation of religious nationalism as the destruction of his people . . . and he wept. When will American Christians put off the power dynamics of Cain and put on the servant righteousness of Jesus the Messiah?

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Reflections on a Donkey, Crying Stones, and Jesus’ Tears

Advent, Christian living, Jesus

The Peace of Divine Purpose (Advent 2022)

Matthew 1:18-21; Matthew 2:1-15; 2 Timothy 1:7; Hebrews 2:17-18

Paul told his young assistant Timothy that God’s Spirit does not make us timid.  Instead, it emboldens us to live a life of love and self-discipline.  Paul wrote this from prison awaiting execution.  Clearly, there is a peace about living in God’s will, even when the way is unclear or involves suffering.

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In the Christmas story, we find many people who discovered peace in the midst of suffering and confusing situations because they placed their faith in God.  They believed he had a plan and trusted him to guide them through the darkness into light.  Mary had an unplanned pregnancy.  Joseph was confused how his girl could cheat on him and what to do about it.  The magi thought they knew where God was taking them, yet they ended up in the wrong city!  They almost became political pawns in the process.  Joseph, Mary, and Jesus found themselves on the run from authorities.  Eventually, they became political refugees living as immigrants in Egypt, wondering when they could return home.  They had to live in a culture not their own, learn a new language that was foreign to them.  Many they encountered day after day probably hated them because of their foreignness! 

This was just in the first few years of Jesus’ life!  No wonder the writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus was made like us.  He was human in every way.  He understands our needs because he has suffered as we have.  Jesus came into our Egypt, our captivity, our exile.  He did not break sins’ shackles from the comfort of heaven.  He was “born into shit and straw” (to quote the ever-colorful Bono from U2).  This helpless babe had to trust not only his heavenly Father, but also his parents to protect him and love him.  Jesus suffered as we suffer.  He was tempted as we are tempted.  Through it all, he trusted his Father’s plan and walked in accordance with the Spirit of God.  This is what made him the Prince of Peace.  This is how he was able to save us from our sins.

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Christian living, Jesus, World Religions

Christian Reflections on the Taoist Way of Water

Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water;
But, for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing like it!
For nothing can take its place.
That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft overcomes the hard,
This is something known by all, but practiced by none.

Tao Te Ching 78, Lao Tzu, translated by John Wu, 1961

When I lived in Hawaii, I used to walk along a beach that had beautiful beige sand interspersed with the occasional outcropping of black lava rock.  As I would walk, I would hear the soothing sound of the crashing waves and watch the waters wash in and out on the shoreline.  The water was constantly giving way to the hard shore, crashing down on the beach before yielding and retreating.  Or so it appeared to me in the moment.  If I had a longer perspective, however, and could stand at that location for several millennia, I would see the shoreline slowly erode and dissolve into the unrelenting sea.  In fact, the sandy beach on which I loved to walk was actually created by the unrelenting waves pounding the lava rocks, coral reefs, and shells.  Ultimately, I would watch the island disappear entirely under the ocean’s constant advance and retreat, yet the sea itself would remain.  The soft overcomes the hard.  The rigid falls to the yielding.

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As the Tao Te Ching says, everyone knows water gains its power from its yielding nature.  We wash food off pots and pans with water.  We spray down homes or cars to remove dirt and grime.  We should know the way of yielding is powerful, that the weak eventually overcomes the strong.  So why do we seek “power” in the rigid, in the uncompromising, in the illusory “solid”?  Why are we so quick to fight for our “rights” or our vision of how the world should be?  Worse still, why do we double down when others make it clear that our view of reality is askew or our accusations against others are false rather than confess or mistake?  It is so hard for us to yield, much less to deny ourselves.  Speaking of sand, the Tao’s thrust can also be seen in the truth that you can hold more sand in an open hand than in a clenched fist.  The harder you try to cling to a loved one, the more you push them away.  The open hand is the beneficial way of truth, fairness, and goodwill that builds better friendships and achieves more through love and trust than the clenched fist ever will through control.

The only clenching of the fist, for a Christian, should be to grasp firmly onto your cross as you follow after Jesus.  The Taoist statement fits well with Jesus’ emphasis on dying to self, turning the cheek, going the extra mile, and loving your enemies.  We are called to be the yielding yet unrelenting presence of love.  This is the way ultimately to achieve justice in the world.  Consider Martin Luther King’s open handed work in the Civil Rights Movement.  He learned it from the Gospels and from Mohandas Gandhi’s open handed work to liberate India from British rule.  Gandhi learned this from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as well as the Jain concept of Ahimsa.  Interestingly, the Jain symbol of Ahimsa is the open palm!

The prophet Amos used this imagery of water overcoming rocks to communicate what God desires from us.  Amos says worshiping God isn’t through sacrifice or beautiful music.  True worship is when we let “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (5:24, NIV)

When someone makes false accusations against us, we instinctually respond with fight or flight.  But we need to engage them in love, quietly endure the accusations, and trust others to defend you.  Too many Christians are hardening themselves into culture warriors, yet Jesus wept for Jerusalem for just that issue.  He knew his fellow Jews wanted to overthrow the Romans through force and foresaw that this would destroy their city, their witness, and many of their lives.  

It will be interesting to see what happens in Iran.  The government is approaching the people’s outcries with hardened clenched fists.  Will the peaceful protests overcome?  Will they devolve into hardened tactics?  Likewise, Putin keeps hardening his position against Ukraine.  Putin sees himself as a defender of Orthodox Christianity against a corrupt West, but does he walk the way of Jesus, denying himself and taking up his cross?  The same chapter of the Tao Te Ching tells us the way of water for politics.  “To bear the calamities of a country is to be the prince of the world.”  This sounds more like Volodymyr Zelensky’s wartime leadership to date.  Yet can he practice true weakness or will the Ukrainians eventually harden in their fight with Russia and commit the same types of atrocities inflicted upon them?  The way of water is “known by all but practiced by none.”  None, perhaps, but Jesus, who took the calamities of his people upon himself and has become the King of Kings.

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Bible, Jesus, sermon

When All Is Lost, Look to the Cross!

There is perhaps no better known verse in all the Bible than John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV).  Tim Tebow wore this scripture reference on his eye black during the 2009 National Championship.  During the game, Google reported over 90 million searches for the verse!  Even though the verse is well-known even by non-Christians, however, many Christians read the verse in isolation and do not consider its context within John’s gospel.  In particular, the two verses that precede it state, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15, NIV).

The story of the snake Moses lifted in the wilderness is in Numbers 21:4-9.  Jesus says that he himself must be lifted up as the snake, so it is important to understand what this snake was and how it functioned in the story of Moses to understand better the love of God for the world and why he would send his Son.

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The Snake Lifted Up in the Wilderness

First, we find that the people rebelled against God.  They grew impatient and questioned God’s ways.  They said he brought them to the desert to die, when in reality he was leading them through the desert to a land promised to their ancestors.  They complained there was no water, even though, by this point in the narrative, God had provided water on two occasions when it was desperately needed.  The people even asserted there was no bread, even though each morning they found a miraculous substance on the ground, a gift from God, which they could harvest, grind, and bake into bread.  But instead of being thankful for this bread from heaven, they despised it and called it “miserable” and “detestable.” 

What the people don’t seem to understand is that God was providing the best for them in the midst of a very bad situation.  They began to romanticize their old life in Egypt.  It isn’t stated in this story, but we read elsewhere how they reminisced about the diversity of food back in Egypt—forgetting they had been suffered as slaves there.  They also ignore the reality that the only reason they are even in the wilderness at this point was their lack of faith.  God had taken them rather quickly to the very edge of the Promised Land of Canaan, but instead of trusting God would help them conquer the land, they rebelled in their fear, so God cursed them to wander for forty years in the wilderness.  Yet despite their complaints and rebellion, God remained with them, guiding them and providing for them daily.

Even today we often think we know better than God and so we go our own way.  Sometimes we make destructive decisions for short-term moments of pleasure.  Other times, we act on what we think is a great opportunity only to discover many hidden traps.  Perhaps worst of all are the times we act like the these Israelites, following God half-heartedly but grumbling the entire time.  We neglect to see how our choices lead to slavery, lifelong consequences, hardened and embittered hearts, and/or even death.  This, however, is what the Israelites soon discovered.

Second, God judges the people’s sin.  Snakes came among the people and began to bite them.  Many of the affected people died.  If they thought God’s gift of Manna was miserable, just imagine how they felt now!  While some see the story as the act of a vengeful or vindictive God, the bigger picture emphasizes God is with the people through both good and bad times.  He is judging them not to punish so much as to discipline them.  Like a parent, he sees the direction their immediate choices will have on their future and the future of their children.  God hopes to correct them now so that they will mature in their faith and enjoy a better in the future.  He want to make them aware of their sinful state and its impact on their relationship with him and with each other.

Third, the people repent of their sins.  They agree with God that their actions are wrong (“we sinned against God”) and they ask Moses to pray for them.  Asking Moses to pray doesn’t mean they need a “professional” to whom they confess their sins.  Rather, it is a recognition that their sin wasn’t just against God but also against Moses’ leadership (“and we sinned against you”).  Asking Moses to pray for them was an act of repentance and reconciliation, acknowledging him as their appointed leader.  What is far more significant than who should pray, however, is what they ask him to pray: “take the snakes away”!

Finally, the Lord provided deliverance.  Moses is told to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole.  What God does is take the object of their suffering and affliction—the snakes—and turn it into the source of their healing and deliverance.  Death, in the shadow of the bronze snake, is transformed into life.  Chaos is given order.  Despair gives way to hope as one looks in faith upon the very image of despair.

Notice God says anyone “can look.”  When someone was bitten, they didn’t have to look.  If they did so, it was an act of trusting God, an act of faith. . . . but they didn’t have to.  In fact, what sense did it make?  There was a far more obvious solution: kill the snakes!  Don’t wait to get bitten.  But if you were bitten, there was a a more sensible action: take steps to remove the poison before it filtered through your body!  Imagine if a man showed up in Mariupol, Ukraine holding a staff with a bronze artillery shell on it.  If he told the people there, whenever you hear the whistle of an incoming shell, you’ll be fine if you just look at this bronze shell and trust God, they would think he was mad!  There are far better options!  Find an evacuation route to get out of the city.  Why stay in harm’s way?  Flee to a bunker to ride out the shelling.  Why remain in the open?  But this is just how ludicrous Moses probably sounded to the people back then.  Yet salvation doesn’t come through our own actions.  It comes from God and we need to trust him to provide for us in our times of need.

Also notice that God didn’t take the snakes away as the people requested.  Instead, God gave the people a bronze snake.  We are told that “when anyone was bitten,” if they looked at the symbol, they lived.  But God didn’t remove the snakes, at least not right away.  He provided a way through the situation, a way to bear up under it.  When someone becomes a Christian, they aren’t immediately translated into the Kingdom of God.  Rather, they remain here in this world of suffering, pain, and death.  But now they have been reconciled to God and he promises to provide them a way through the suffering, a way that leads towards healing and hope.  For the Israelites, they endured the snakes for a time.  They endured the wilderness for even longer.  But their story didn’t end there.  The goal was the Promised Land, the Land of Canaan that became the Land of Israel.  So we look to a future full of healing, joy, and life in the Kingdom of God, a hope made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Son of Man Lifted Up on Calvary

Here is the meaning of John 3.  Just as the snake was lifted up, so the Son of Man would be hung on a cross.  In the first century world, the cross was the most humiliating form of execution.  It was purposefully torturous to emphasize why no one should consider rebelling against the Roman Empire.  It was a symbol of rebellion, futility, and death.  Yet today, Christians see the cross as a symbol of forgiveness, hope, and life.  Many wear it as jewelry or hang it as art in their homes.  The snake and the cross were both objects of suffering and death that were transformed by the creative work of God into sources of healing and life.  Both were means of his salvation.  Christians hope for new life because the cross wasn’t the final word.  The cross was followed by the empty tomb, Jesus raised from the dead now seated in heaven.  Jesus suffered and died for us that we might live for him as we look to him in faith.

Just as in the wilderness, God doesn’t want to condemn the world.  He sent his Son to be lifted up so he could draw all people to himself.  But we have a choice, just as the dying Israelites did when bitten by the snakes.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (Jn 3:17-18).  Just as the snakes were already destroying the people because of their rebellion, so we are already separated from God and dying on account of our own sinful actions and choices.  There is only one choice that can heal.  When all is lost, look to the cross!

Father Brian Jordan ministered to the workers at Ground Zero during the months of cleanup after September 11, 2001.  One day after mass, one of the construction workers, Frank Silecchia, approached him and asked, “Do you want to see God’s house?”  Soon, Father Jordan found himself descending with Mr. Silecchia into the rubble of the fallen towers.  After a while, they reached the lowest-most level where the foundation had been lain.  Eventually, they stood in front of a steel column that had survived the destruction.  Attached to the column that rose from the ground was a steel girder, a crossbeam, which held fast despite the weight of the building’s collapse.  As the priest looked into the eyes of the workers there, he saw hope rising within them from this remnant.  In the midst of the rubble and chaos of death and destruction all around them, these two steel beams stood in the shape of a cross.  These beams weren’t not simply part of the wreckage.  They were something far more significant.  These beams were a symbol of hope and endurance.  All was not lost in the shadow of the cross.

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When All Is Lost, Look to the Cross!
John 3:14-18 / Numbers 21:4-9

Bible, Jesus, sermon

Beloved Daughter

Happiness comes and goes. Sorrow and suffering can be with us for years or can come upon us suddenly. Yet we can find hope in the midst of sorrow. We can trust in the Trustworthy One in the depths of our despair. Mark 5:21-43 tells the story of a man and a woman from two very different lives, though both know sorrow and suffering. The story tells us of a father who fears losing his daughter and a woman who long ago lost the hope of being called daughter. Throughout the story, we see Jesus acting intentionally to take on our uncleanness in order to make us clean, to make us whole, and to give us hope.

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An Outcast Woman; a Beloved Daughter

We first meet a man who seems to have it all. He has a family. As a synagogue ruler, he has prestige in his community. Most likely, he is middle to upper income to have the time to serve as ruler. Yet at the moment we meet him, none of this matters to him. He is losing his daughter. He is desperate to save her.

The woman we meet partway through the story has likely lost everything. We are told she has an issue of blood that has not ceased for twelve years. That is, something about her body does not allow her menstrual cycle to ever fully stop. According to Jewish Law, women were ritually unclean during the days of their period. She has been unclean for twelve years. Like a leper, she would have to call out to those who came near her, “unclean!” to warn them not to come into contact with her. If they did, Jewish Law said they also became unclean until they performed a ritual cleansing. So this woman has probably has lost her family during the years. At the least, she has become a source of public shame for them because everyone in the town knows she is theirs. She is isolated from her community and the touch of others. All dignity is gone. She is an object of scorn to be avoided. She has been stripped of her personhood.

For twelve years, the woman had been unclean, suffering from humiliation and struggling with pain. We’re told she spent all she had on doctors but her condition only got worse. The man’s daughter was twelve years old. What a different life she had lived. Twelve years of love, joy, the benefits of wealth, and the loving touch of family. Twelve years ago, her mother had life come from her womb. But for the past twelve years, the woman had only death coming from her own womb.

Years of Grueling Anguish; Days of Sudden Sorrow

The woman for twelve years suffered physically and psychologically. She also lost all of her money, unlike the ruler who probably was middle to upper income. Yet in the story, she appears to still have hope for recovery. She is willing to try to touch Jesus’ garment to see if he might have healing power to help end her suffering. Despite her loss of family, community, and money, she still had hope. Where she had been suffering for years, the man had only suffered a few days (maybe a few weeks). His daughter was ill. He was in despair. His hope, his faith, was in tatters. His money, his power, his family and community connections–none of it could solve the problem he faced of his daughter’s grave illness. While Mark uses describes the girl as his “little daughter,” Luke tells us she was his monogenes, his “one and only” daughter. She was his life and her life was ebbing away.

We have no idea how the woman handled her illness when it first appeared, but we do know how she handled it now, twelve years later. Although she suffered greatly and had lost everything, we never hear her complain or cry out. Later, when Jesus gets to the man’s home, the family and friends of the girl are wailing and causing a commotion. Yes, the girl was dead, and likely some who were there were professional mourners. But the sudden illness and loss of this young life created sharp emotions and led many to cry out loudly in their grief.

Public Restoration

The man clearly was seeking to find Jesus in his despair. We are told that “when he saw” Jesus, he fell at Jesus’ feet. Though he had prestige in his community, he humiliated himself in public with this act. He knew the crowds could see him and hear his pleas that Jesus would heal his daughter. He literally says, “My little daughter is at the end.” This is a final act of desperation. She is about to die. He went to seek the healer. Perhaps, like his colleagues, he had mocked Jesus before. Now, however, he was pleading for Jesus to help him. He wanted Jesus to save his daughter from death and give her life. The word sozein can mean healing, but it can also mean salvation. Jesus intentionally acts in the moment. He departs to go with the man.

We then encounter the woman in the story. She doesn’t seek out Jesus as the man had. We are told that she “hears about” Jesus. We’re told crowds are around Jesus and Jairus as they travel. No doubt some were talking about the healer and how he was on the move to do it again! The woman also wanted to be saved from her infirmity. She wanted to be healed. Unlike the man’s public actions, however, she hoped to be healed privately without anyone knowing. She thought she could just sneak up behind Jesus and touch his robe. That would be enough to heal her. She didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. She didn’t want to cause a fuss.

Immediately, she knew she was healed. Mark says she could feel the “fountain” of flowing blood “dry up.” She was freed from the affliction. Literally, it says she was freed from the whip, the common belief of people that God was actively punishing those who suffer for something they must have done wrong. At the same time, Jesus immediately knew power had gone out from him. We then see his second intentional act. He does a 180 to look behind him. He asks who touched him and looks from person to person in the crowd. The disciples are incredulous. “Jesus,” they reply, “how can you ask that! This crowd is constantly pushing up against you.” But Jesus looked into the eyes of each person until eventually the woman couldn’t stand it.

Jesus forced this private act to become public. Unlike the bold though desperate synagogue ruler, the woman fell to Jesus feet trembling in fear. She told him the whole story. She had hoped for a private healing to avoid what was now occurring. Jesus would know that this unclean woman had touched him. She had made him ritually unclean. Would he be upset with her? He had been on important business and she now had interrupted him. What’s more, if the disciples are telling us the truth, she must have bumped into many others in her attempt to touch Jesus. How many did she make unclean just now? How would they respond, since she didn’t cry out “unclean” to warn them? Would they be angry and stone her for her transgression of the Law? For twelve years, she had been alone and unnoticed. She was nothing to these people except as an object to be feared and avoided. Why, she wondered, did Jesus make her visible?

Jesus doesn’t reply with anger or rebuke. Instead, he called her “daughter” and told her that it was “her faith” that healed her. Jesus made this public so she could be welcomed back into community, into his kingdom. More than that, we welcomed this woman who had probably not had family connections for twelve years into his own family. Moreover, he honored her by saying it was her faith, not his power, that had healed her. Jesus made himself a servant to her needs and showed his love through inviting her into relationship and restoring her to community. She wanted healing, but he told her to go with “peace” for she was no longer unclean but cleansed (the Greek word hygiēs from which we get “hygiene”) from the whip.

Private Reunion

Part of the reason Jesus honored the woman was to welcome her back to her community. Another reason was for Jairus. He probably saw this woman as a distraction who was wasting precious minutes that his little girl couldn’t afford to lose. Indeed, while Jesus was speaking the good news to the woman, members of Jairus’ community came with the worst news imaginable. His daughter was dead. “Why bother the teacher any longer?” they asked. If they shared the skepticism of many Jewish leaders, this might have been said sarcastically. Why bother with “the teacher” any longer?” Not the healer, notice. The woman had feared public exposure and was forced to face it. Now, the man faced something even worse: the fear that all hope is lost. His little girl was dead.

For the third time, Jesus does something very intentional. He first went with the man. He then looked and found the woman. Now, he intentionally ignores the words of these messengers. He tells the father, “Don’t fear. Just trust!” Perhaps Jesus pointed toward the woman nearby who, despite her fears, showed great faith and now stood there healed. Again, Jesus seems to honor the woman as he encourages the man.

Jesus and the father go with three of Jesus’ disciples to the man’s house. We are not told that they stopped at a mikvah for a ritual cleansing to purify themselves from the woman’s unclean touch. So Jesus apparently entered Jairus’ home unclean. This made Jairus’ home unclean and all within it–including Jairus himself–unclean. What we see is that Jairus cared less about rituals than about relationship. He was willing that he and his whole family become unclean like this man if Jesus could give him back his daughter. In this way, he also identified himself with the woman and her faith.

Jesus was possibly mocked by his disciples (or the crowds) when he asked who touched him. He may have been mocked by the messengers who said the girl was dead. Certainly, he is laughed at and ridiculed for saying the girl wasn’t dead but just asleep. Jesus then ran everyone except the parents and his disciples out of the house. Doing this forced Jairus, a man who had been in the public eye as a leading member of the community, to learn the importance of privacy and intimacy.

Then, for the second time that day, Jesus was made unclean. The first time, it happened to him when the woman touched him. This time, he intentionally took the hand of the dead girl. Then, where power unconsciously went out from Jesus to the woman, Jesus consciously touched the girl and gave a verbal command to rise up. He calls her “little girl,” not “daughter” because the girl already had a family. She had a father who loved her and believed she would live again. Immediately, she stood up and walked around. Maybe she was walking to each of her parents to hug them. As the woman was freed from her affliction, the girl was freed from the power of death.

Not only was this a private healing and reunion for the family, but Jesus made sure the privacy continued for several minutes. He told the parents not to share what had happened, that is, don’t shout out to the crowd outside. He then told them to get the girl something to eat. As the family shared table fellowship, Jesus and the disciples exited the house. Not only did Jesus still bear the “uncleanness” of the woman and the girl, but he had to endure the mocking of the crowd as he passed them by. No doubt they continued to laugh at his ignorance, not knowing the difference between death and sleep! How could he be a great teacher if he was so unaware? But Jesus bore the mocking to allow community and restored relationship to thrive inside the home.

Final Thoughts

What do we learn from this story? First, we see that Jesus doesn’t truly become “unclean” from his contact with the women. Instead, his life-giving power flowed out to these women and made them whole, healing and restoring life to them. He also restored the woman to community and the girl to her family. Believers in Jesus are called to the same engagement with others. We are to enter into the messiness of life and seek to heal and restore community. We even have to bear mocking or misunderstanding to do the work of the kingdom.

Second, we see that it is not physical contact with Jesus that saves or makes one whole. It was the woman’s faith. It was the father’s faith. Trusting in Jesus to save and heal is something we can do the same as the woman. Though Jesus is no longer on earth, he now sits at his Father’s right hand and can bear our uncleanness and make us how.

Third, both women teach us about the Kingdom of God. The woman gives us hope that in the kingdom, whatever troubles we encounter in this life, they are not the end of the story. We will be freed and healed to experience peace and wholeness. The girl helps us see that our greatest need is to be raised to new life in Christ. This life is not something we can bring about apart from Jesus any more than the dead girl could raise herself. There is also the hope of reunion with those we love in the kingdom. Also, the verbs used of the girl, “rising up” and “standing up” are both used of the resurrection in other parts of the New Testament. Her rising to new life came after only a short period of death. Though we die, it is but a twinkling of an eye and then we will be raised to new life in the new heavens and new earth.

Today, your life might be full of struggles or it may be filled with joy. You may be in the midst of years of suffering a debilitating disease or enduring a long, lingering death. You may be experiencing a rapid loss of a loved one or a sudden change in fortune. In all situations, we are called to trust in Jesus. He is the source of our healing, life, and wholeness. He welcomes us all into community as he saves and heals us. He calls you beloved son. He calls you beloved daughter.

Beloved Daughter (Mark 5:21-43)

Bible, Jesus, sermon

What Moon Are You?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16). In John’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims himself to be the Light of the World (John 8:12; 9:5).

What’s going on? How are both Jesus and his followers the light of the world? Jesus is the true light; his followers are called to reflect his light. Jesus is the sun; Christians are the moon. The moon doesn’t generate its own light. It only reflects the light that is generated by the sun. So if you call yourself a Christian, the question becomes–what kind of moon are you?

Full Moon

Jesus said the light should be placed on a lamp stand so that it can give light to everyone in the house. Everything we have is from the true light. The blessings and gifts we receive from him should flow out in service to others. We should strive, therefore, to be a full moon in order to bring light to as many people in a dark world as we possibly can.

Jesus warned that you shouldn’t put the light under a bowl. We can do this in one of two ways.

New Moon

First, we can separate from the world, like the Essenes in Jesus day. If we do, we might be “holy” but we will never be the change agent Jesus intended. Notice how the Essenes aren’t mentioned even once in the New Testament! Turning away from the world is like being a new moon. You may fully reflect the sun, but it is meaningless in your church walls or prayer closets. New moons do not shine their light toward a world that needs it.

Lunar Eclipse

Second, we can hide the light is to strive to be just like the world. We conform completely to our culture for a number of reasons. We might be engaged in the sins around us. We might think conformity is the best way to share the light. Or we may not even realize how much our culture’s values have replaced those of the Kingdom. When the moon moves into the earth’s shadow, it results in a lunar eclipse. The moon no longer reflects the sun because it’s allowed the world to separate it from the source of its light.

Jesus tells his followers to live such good lives that it leads others to glory our Father in heaven.

We are to live lives of virtue. We are to have beautiful deeds that draw people to the Father and the true source of light, his Son. If we never share the true source of our deeds, however, we can become a solar eclipse. We can allow our lives to come between the sun and the world so that they see something beautiful . . . but also something deadly. Staring at a solar eclipse can cause blindness. Not bearing witness to Jesus as the source of your good deeds can create spiritual blindness.

The Mar Thoma are Indian Christians who say their church originated with the Apostle Thomas. I have always liked their motto on their logo. It emphasizes the purpose for our calling to bless others because we have been blessed. The Gospel is not just about personal salvation. It has social and cosmic dynamics. The reason we are “lighted” is so that we can “lighten” others. This should be the purpose statement of all Christians. We need to be a full moon to a dark world until that world turns to the full day of the Son of God.

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Be a Full Moon to a Dark World (Matt 5:14-16)

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Advent, Jesus, sermon

From Egypt with Love

Hosea 11:1-11. An advent sermon that never made it onto the block last Christmas. When Herod heard the Magi were seeking the newborn Messiah, his response was to kill the infant boys in the region of Bethlehem–just as Pharaoh killed the Hebrew boys in Israel’s past. Matthew tells us Jesus survived this slaughter because Joseph took the family to Egypt–just as Moses survived the slaughter of his day when “Egypt” took him in (through Pharaoh’s daughter). As the family returned, Matthew quoted Hosea 11:1 as a fulfilled prophecy of this event–even though it wasn’t a messianic text for Hosea. Rather, Hosea sought to remind the Israelites of their past. They were the firstborn son of God that Moses led out of slavery. Hosea then points out to them that their rebellion would soon result in a return to Egypt–to captivity at the hands of the Assyrians. Yet Hosea also held out hope for the future, that the people would return to the land.

Not only did Matthew quote Hosea 11:1 about Jesus’ return from Egypt, but he also quoted Jeremiah 31:15 (Rachel weeping for her children) to describe the slaughter of the innocents. (Again, not a messianic passage.) In Matthew’s view, however, these are not mere proof-texts sought in vain from the scriptures to prove Jesus was the messiah. Rather, they are a call for us to return to those texts and see them in terms of the hope each had. Hosea hoped for the eventual restoration of (the now “lost” ten tribes of) Israel. Jeremiah believed the everlasting love of God for the Hebrews (v. 3) would discipline the unruly calf (v. 18) who was yet his dear son (v. 20). Jeremiah also hoped for a time when a new covenant would be written on the hearts of God’s people (vv. 31-34).

Jesus entered our Egypt–coming into our Egyptian slavery, our wilderness exile–to call us out of Egypt and to bring us home to our Father. This emphasis on Jesus as the New Moses (innocents slaughtered; being called out of Egypt) ties into the genealogy Matthew presents at the start of his gospel. Matthew breaks the great history into 3 units of time separated by 4 persons/events: Abraham, David, Exile (the only non-person), and Messiah. Hinting at Moses almost immediately after this genealogy is a nod that he knows he left out a key individual from his list. The Exile, however, stands in some ways as a cypher for Moses. The people had never completely left exile. They still needed a liberator to free them from bondage. Thus, in reverse order, the Messiah was the beloved Son who would liberate his people and establish a new covenant (from the Exile to the Christ–Jesus, the True Moses). The beloved Son would build the temple of God and establish an everlasting Kingdom of God (David to the Exile–Jesus, the True Solomon). And finally, the beloved Son would be the one through whom God would bless all nations (Abraham to David–Jesus, the True Isaac). So the liberation isn’t just for the Jews. It isn’t even only for the lost tribes. The hope of liberation is for men and women of every tribe and language. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)

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“From Egypt with Love” Hosea 11:1-11

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From Egypt with Love
Bible, Jesus, sermon

The Way of Adam/ The Way of Christ

1 Cor 8:1-13. Meat offered to idols doesn’t seem to be a topic relevant to modern Westerners. Yet the body of Christ in a post-COVID world faces the same issues confronted by the first century Corinthian church. Their “strong” said they could eat meat, even in temples, because they knew there is only one God and the idols are nothing. They didn’t want their rights impeded by the “weak,” who believed in gods or demons behind the idols and so wouldn’t eat the meat.

While Paul philosophically agreed with the strong, he rejected their way of Adam, trusting in “knowledge” motivated by self-interest; a way that leads to death and destruction. Paul called the Corinthians to follow the way of Christ, putting the needs of others ahead of your own for the sake of love; a way that leads to community and life. While we can question governmental policies aimed at flattening the curve of COVID, we should never let our “rights” destroy the fellowship of the church or our witness of Christ’s love and rule. Paul would say, if going out in public without a mask causes death to the vulnerable and destruction to Christian unity and witness, I will never go without a mask again.

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The Way of Adam/The Way of Christ

Article referenced in sermon: Church Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You

Jesus, sermon

Love Your Enemy’s Mother

Matthew 15:21-28.  When Jesus is confronted by a Canaanite woman, she saw herself as a loving mother seeking help for her daughter.  The disciples, however, viewed her as a submissive mongrel who didn’t deserve help or mercy.  Jesus, through his seemingly strange response, proclaims her to be a persistent model of faith.  Jesus not only taught us to love our enemies, but he showed his disciples that they should love their enemy’s mother.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Sermon - Love Your Enemys Mother

Love Your Enemy’s Mother – Matthew 15:21-28

Bible, Jesus, sermon

The Touch of Life

Mark 1:40-42.  Masks, gloves, social distancing. These are necessary precautions today with COVID-19, but at the same time, Christians cannot let these precautions interfere with our calling to be the body of Christ ministering in the world. We are to be the touch of life to our world the way Jesus himself was. The sermon looks at the story of a leper and some other stories about “touch” in the gospels.  Jesus was ready to touch the lives of others, even if it meant he might be misunderstood or become unclean, so that he could be a blessing and change lives.  We cannot ostracize groups or stigmatize individuals because of fear of COVID-19.  No.  We are called to be the hands of Jesus, touching others and giving life.