Tag: Jesus

Jesus confronts religious arrogance

Edith Hamilton (1867-1963) had an ability to get underneath a story, to capture it as a real and human moment. Such was her rendering of the story of the Sadducees confronting Jesus about the after-life. She captured the authority with which Jesus spoke.

Here is her telling of the story, but I have inserted a more contemporary version of Scripture to make it read easier today, and I’ve inserted some paragraph breaks for the same purpose. Ms. Hamilton:

Jesus’ “mastery was felt by all who confronted him. Some Sadducees, of the powerful priestly party, came to him–by that time he had a certain notoriety as an itinerant preacher–and they planned to put a question to him in such a way that it would make him ridiculous in the eyes in the eyes of the crowd. They did not believe in immortality and they told him a story about a woman who had seven husbands.”

“In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her” (Mark 12:23, NRSV).

“From the experience of all their life they [the Sadducees] thought they were invulnerable in their armour of power and pride, and they were ready for their laugh at the travel-worn wayfarer who faced them.

“But, strangely, as they looked at him it was somehow conveyed to them that their scorn and ridicule did not touch him, did not reach him. He [Jesus] answered them very gravely. Laughter suddenly became impossible. He told them their question was one only ignorance could ask. They were ignorant of the very matters which as priests they professed to know.

Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong” (Mark 12:24-27, NRSV)

“They answered answered him nothing, not a word to oppose the stern rebuke. They were convicted of error before all the crowd and they did not even try to regain their ascendency. They had felt penetrating their panoply of arrogance an authority so commanding that they were helpless to question it, and they went silently away (Hamilton, Witness to the Truth, 140-142).

It is wise to be wary of the arrogance, including the religious arrogance, that leads us to think we understand everything perfectly. Jesus guides us, and we have His Spirit available to us, but we are not Him.

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Leave the cave; stay in the fray

Elijah “was afraid; he got up and fled for his life. . .” (1 Kings 19:3a, NRSV).

People who are trying to be faithful to God can empathize with Elijah — there can be a temptation to run away from it all. They confront evil and injustice as best they can, but still they sometimes want to slink away and hide. It is no fun being attacked and criticized even when you are right.

Faithfulness can be especially hard for those who seek to confront phony religion. Take Elijah. Take Jesus. Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day pulled it off.

The story of Elijah’s run is in 1 Kings 19:1-18.

. . . he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

This guy had just been God’s servant in doing some major religious clean-up work. Miraculous stuff. He goes from big-time faith to no faith in days.

I have known some godly people who can confront evil all day long and be ready for another day of the same — the late James Dunn comes to mind. (Though sometimes I thought he was tilting at windmills.)

Elijah and James Dunn stand out as confronters of bad religion, but a lot of people are trying to do their parts. Still, they may feel inadequate for the tasks. We need Elijah’s angel — a patient angel.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Sometimes we want to lie down under a tree — a live oak, possibly. But then it’s like we hear: “Nope. You can’t lie down town. Take nourishment and get ready for another journey.” We hit the snooze button on such angelic encouragement and go back to sleep, but we all know that a snooze button doesn’t turn off an alarm.

Back to Elijah.

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

When we are in the pits we can overstate our situation, and that’s because we misunderstand it and ourselves and our God.

He [God] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

That would get your attention. You would be like a kid in the old days if someone said a parade was coming to town. Gotta see it!

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;

and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;

and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Wind, earthquake, fire — but not God. Attention riveted. No God around. Then, silence. And Scripture says at odd thing — Elijah “hears” the silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Summoned by silence is almost an oxymoron. Silence does not summon — or does it? Has a parent ever suddenly realized his or her children had grown silent and proceeded to investigate.

Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why is a prophet in a cave in the wilderness? Prophets are needed in the cities, in the middle of culture, out in the open where evil can be challenged.

He [Elijah] answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Elijah is continuing his earlier riff. God speaks.

Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return. . . .”

So many faithful believers feel like Elijah. They have been trying so hard for so long to be faithful, but no one seems to be listening. And this can happen even in the midst of praise and encouragement.

In the silence, however, we can be encouraged. We can gain a renewed sense of God’s presence. We can get new orders. “Go, return” to the fray, because God is up to something.

And we now have distinct advantages over Elijah. We have the example and teachings of Jesus, and the truth of this Man can change an individual and a world of individuals and their communities. And we have the Spirit of the Creator recreating within each of us the life spark that animated Jesus.

Ah, yes! Leave the cave!

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

(All quotations from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

 

We have forgotten how Jesus fished

Listening to the hymn, “Fishers of Men,” this morning I thought of Jesus’ words about how he would draw all people to himself.

Real fishing like I did with my dad decades ago involved casting a plastic lure attached to a monofilament line in among the underwater lairs of hungry bass. One fish bites. I set the hook into their mouths by yanking out the line’s slack. The bass fights. One of us wins; one loses.

When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to be fishers of men he did not call them to cast spiritual lures with hard-to-see line and trick unsuspecting people to grab hold and fight.

Simon and Andrew used nets to catch fish. They cast their weave out of their boat and hoped to capture fish below. I do not think Jesus was calling Simon and Andrew to go and cast spiritual nets to capture unsuspecting people. It surely is not what Jesus did.

Jesus merely meant: Come go with me and become a person who spends his day drawing  people, not fish, into your life. All metaphors have limits; they do not work completely. They help us get over a mental hurdle. Simon and Andrew’s lives were centered around fishing; Jesus’ call invited them to center their lives around humanity.

Starting somewhere in the not-too-distant past, my brand of Christian began to think of “fishing for men” as casting lures, snagging spiritually hungry people, and wrestling them into the church boat.

That is not what Jesus wants us to do. He wants us to do it the way he did it — by loving God and by loving our neighbor as ourselves. The lure of love has no hooks; it merely attracts. People who hunger for real living are drawn by that love.

Many people do not “go” to church because they do not see it as a place of love. Most people want to “be” in a community of love. They will reside where they are loved (wanted, respected, cared for) whether it be a bar, a gang, a club, or a church.

“And I, Jesus, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, NRSV)

He draws. If we do not draw people, it is because we are not like Him, we do not love.