Friday, March 24, 2017

The golden rules and their fulfillment

Rabbi Hillel was a famous and influential Jewish teacher born in Babylon 110 BC.  He is known, in Jewish tradition, as the father of Jewish ethics.  There is a story about a non-jewish (goy) man going to his home and asking to learn about the 613 Jewish Mizvot (Commandments) while standing on one foot.  Rabbi Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your brother.  That is the whole of the Torah.  The rest is just commentary, now if you are really interested…go and read the commentary.”  Tradition tells us that the man did just that and became Jewish.  Now, if you ever wondered where we get the phrase, “The Golden rule.”  You just learned it right now.  That is the source. 

In today’s reading we have a very similar situation.  In Mark 12:28-34, a scribe comes to Jesus and asks what is the greatest of the commandments. Now, Jesus expands it slightly from what we are told Rabbi Hillel said, but then Jesus is talking to a man who already knows the Mizvot because he is a scribe (teachers of the law).  Jesus tells the scribe that the greatest commandments are: Mark: 12 29-31 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”

The scribe replied with understanding, agreeing with Jesus, and even goes on to say that those are more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.  I think this is an important point we should focus on in his reply.  At this time in Jewish history, burnt offering and sacrifices of animals, grain, wine, and incense (sound any kind of familiar?) were offered at the temple for the forgiveness of sins.  They were offered as the fulfillment of the 613 commandments.  (Does this also sound familiar? Matthew 5:17)  So, the scribe saying that those two commandments were greater than all that was significant. 

Jesus heard the wisdom, saw that the scribe was earnest in his searching, and told him something that silenced the room.  “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  Consider this the ancient equivalent of a mic drop.  No one dared asked more questions.  Why?  Because for all the ritual, sacrifice, and laws, there was no clear path to the kingdom.  Jesus was basically saying in those two things you have the foundational step toward the kingdom.  It blew everyone’s mind.  They didn’t know what Jesus knew, and I think they were afraid to ask, perhaps didn’t even know what to ask. 

Now my question is for us is twofold.  Are we, two thousand years later, living the most important commandments?  Do we, two thousand years later, with the full story open to us (a privilege that scribe did not have) truly understand the answer to the question they dare not ask then?  If you don’t know, the question they might have asked then was: If I am close to the kingdom by obeying those two great commandments, how then do I enter the kingdom? 

We cannot have one without the other.  We cannot obey the first without also accepting the fulfillment, and we cannot accept the fulfillment without also obeying the two greatest commandments.  Two thousand years later, have we not learned anything? 

Rabbi Hillel also said another thing: Those who will not learn deserve extinction. 

He wasn’t too far off in that either.  Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Will we learn or will we get what we deserve?  We have the two greatest commandments and the fulfillment of the law, in Jesus.  That is the sum of the entire bible, the rest is commentary…now go and read the commentary. 

Food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Humility unlocks Heaven

Humility, from what I have read in the bible, is one of the foundational truths of true holiness.  We cannot be on the path to sainthood or heaven without humility.  It’s the first truth we must embrace when we convert.  It is the ongoing truth we must continue to embrace as we strive to learn about our Lord.  It is the lifestyle we must practice as we submit to the way of life that is Christian.  How can I say that? Well, let’s look at what can be and can’t be if we do not practice humility.

1.       You cannot acknowledge your sin or need for redemption if you have not been humbled:  Pride and rebellion think they know all and know what is right.  We often times live in a state of pride and rebellion if we do not know or acknowledge God.  Pride and rebellion are the states in which the only authority we recognize with any power is our own.  We are in a state that believes we are, in total, correct in whatever we deem to think or do.  In contrast, humility is a teachable and reachable state where God can speak to us and convict us that what we are doing/have done might have seemed right to us, but is not what God has ordained in our lives.  In other words, without humility (the understanding, conviction, belief) that we are NOT the absolute authority of what is right or wrong we cannot see or confess sin.  If we cannot do that, then we cannot/do not reach out to our Messiah for forgiveness.  Which means we remain lost to heaven. 

2.       You cannot learn if you have no humility:  If you believe you know it all (pride) then you will not pause to listen to other teachers, pastors, or most importantly God.  If you do not feel the need to listen, or think that others (including God) might know a little more about something than you do…then you will not learn more.  If you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing, and if you are not growing then you are dying.  Revelations 3:16-22 speaks a little about the stagnancy of pride, and the belief we are, in and of ourselves, sufficient with what we know and have.  Frankly, if God said I made him want to vomit I’d probably willingly cast myself into the fires!  The fix is simple here, which is wonderful, but it takes practice.  We need to start considering that God (first), and those around us, may know more than we do.  It is when we begin to consider that as possible, we begin to have the humility to learn and seek. 

3.       You cannot serve or love God (or anyone else) if you do not humble yourself first:  Pride is a state of unhealthy self-love in which we do what we perceive is best for ourselves.  Pride is a state in which we “deserve” (fill in the blank it could be anything, but usually includes the words more or better, and often confuses needs with wants and desires.)  Matthew 6:24 tells us that we cannot serve two masters, that we will love one and despise the other.  As long as we are working hard at serving our self-interest we will despise God, because what God wants for us often is not what we want for us.  God wants us to be holy.  He wants us to be in Heaven with Him.  He wants us to serve Him, and our neighbor, so that we have eternal things over temporary things.  He wants us to have imperishable peace and love over fleeting worldly treasures.  Humility grants to us what He wants while pride is a block from that. 

Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride goes before the fall.  Proverbs 11:2 tells us that pride brings destruction and with humility comes wisdom.  James 4: 6 tells us that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Proverbs 13:10 says that pride breeds quarrels but wisdom (humility) takes advice.  Proverbs 29:23 says that pride brings us low, but humility will grant us honor. 

I could go on (and on and on and on) but by now I think you should get a little of the point.  If we want to be great in the eyes of God, we must first humble ourselves not only to Him but also to one another.  If you think that is a lot to ask, remember that He gave up all of glory to take sin that was not His, destroy death that did was not His, to redeem all that did not want Him.  As Easter approaches, ask yourself, if Pilot asked you who you would spare would your pride make you scream, “Barabbas!”  Because Barabbas was/is us, sufficient in himself, doing what HE thought was right, fighting for this world and not the next. 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!


Friday, March 17, 2017

Did you expect obedience to be easy?

Let’s talk about today’s reading.  The parable of the wicked tenants is a huge important story.  There are so many layers to the parable Jesus shared you could probably dedicate a whole book to all the possible ways we can understand it and apply what it teaches.  Most of the meditations I’ve read today about this talk about either Jesus being the cornerstone, or making Him the cornerstone.  Important things!  Yet, as I read it, I feel compelled to write about another thing I see and share this perspective.  It’s something I think all saints in training need to be aware of as they go out and minister where they are.

In the beginning of the parable you see this unnamed man who has, apparently, worked very hard to be able to have a vineyard.  He then works very hard to set this vineyard up for success (He puts a hedge around it, he digs a wine press, builds a tower.)  This gives us a picture, in a very human way, that this man invested a lot of his money, time, work, and life into creating this opportunity.  There is potential in this work.  Great fruit can come from the investment this man has made.  He has done all the things we would consider to be right to get good things back.

The landowner then strikes a deal with people called tenants.  It doesn’t say specifically, but we can safely assume, that he offers them some sort of wage or deal where they are to work the land in return for something.  Again, he has done the work or investment that if we did we, like him, might assume would give us good things.  He obviously assumes this too because when it came time to reap something he sends his servants out to collect his part of the deal.  Then we read that the tenants kill the servants, and then ultimately the son.  All in hopes to get what the landowner has for free. (Can we take a moment and ponder why or in what reality one might think “If I kill this guy’s son he is going to put me in his will?!!?  But I digress…) 

Ok, let’s just pause there.  This landowner has worked hard.  He has done everything humanly possible to produce a positive outcome.  He has set himself, and presumably the tenants, up to have good things.  He did everything right and yet still comes against opposition he doesn’t expect from people he gave the opportunity to have co-success with him.  It’s not a huge leap to understand that God did this too for us.  He created this wonderful place, set us up as tenants, and boom!  We have been collectively rejecting, stoning, and killing His servants and ultimately His Son since the BC to the crucifixion.  However, there is another lesson here, a detail you might be missing as you look at the bigger picture. 

If you call yourself a Christian, you are a saint in training, you are working super hard to be in God’s will, doing God’s work, living a little more holy every day, being more like Christ with every confession, obedience, and work….You are being a good landowner investing  in the land.  To bring this into church lingo you are an active part of the Church Militant (that’s a warrior term which means you are fighting the good fight, with your armor of God on, in the spiritual warfare trenches).  Why then do you expect you won’t come up against opposition and have an easy ministry? 

Maybe this doesn’t apply to you as you expect actual warfare, but I know there are some-myself at times too-that this hasn’t occurred to yet.  We think that because we are in God’s will, doing what God wants of us, that life then will be easy and the path clear.  Yet, as we look at this parable, we look at the life of the perfect Jesus, and rewind back through the whole of the scripture we can get a different understanding.  Every servant, prophet, teacher, and person who served the Almighty came up against something.  There was opposition.  There were hard times.  There was betrayal.  They were at war with all that entails. 

The people outside of God’s will and work seemed to have an easy life sometimes.  They weren’t up against opposition.  The tenants in the parable were laying around with time to plot how they would get the bounty, not by work, but by murder.  Nothing was coming up against them.  They were doing easy, while the landowner was doing work and sacrifice. 

Being obedient doesn’t mean you are going to have it easy, in fact the opposite a lot of the time.  Being in His will means that through Jesus we have the ultimate victory, because Christ already claimed that for us.  Right now, though, we are as all the saints, prophets, and even Jesus.  We are doing the work, facing the warfare, walking in faith and obedience and as such, we should expect every kind of opposition. 

Don’t quit, but lean on the cornerstone of faith that is Jesus. Rejoice that you such a threat to the darkness that threatens this world that you are being rejected, persecuted, and opposed. That is faith.  That is the war of the Church Militant.  Praise God, the victory is ours, through Jesus.

Just some food for thought and prayer. 

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Monday, March 6, 2017

God didn't stutter so we best have an ear to hear.

The quote in this picture sounds very “New Testament” but it comes straight out of the Old Book in Leviticus.  It is echoed then in Matthew 22:39, reiterated in Romans 13: 9, said again in Mark 12:31, and again in Galations 5:14, and Jesus last command was John 13:34.  So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that might just be important.  In fact, I don’t think I even have to just take it on faith, making a big guess.  I’d say that it is 100% important and accurate that his is REALLY important.  In today’s Mass readings (Lev 19: 1-2, 11-18 and Matthew 25: 31-46) God gets super detailed about this very simple (in principle), and very hard (in practice) command that he has given us.  Yet, here we are thousands of years from Leviticus and Matthew, with more time, scriptural study, revelations about the person of Jesus and the nature of God, thousands of books written by us, millions of words debated between us, and billions of people on the planet….and we still don’t get it.  Personally, and this isn’t Catholic doctrine but my own mental image,  I think the end of time will come when God does the eternal facepalm because we’ve finally worn out his patience not living this one small, yet powerful, command. 

Leviticus goes into some super detail about how we are to deal with each other.  In my mind, I imagine someone standing before God asking, “But can I not pay someone who is working for me so I can get richer?” and God says, “No, do not withhold wages. If you want to be paid for your labor, PAY THEM, because they do too. Don’t be a stumbling block to other people on their way to me. I AM GOD.”  Then we collectively are kicking the dirt, put out, that we can’t have our way.  (I have a visual imagination.)  Then, in Matthew, Jesus breaks it down for us and makes it even more personal!  He is basically telling us that everything we do for other people, we are DOING FOR HIM.  So, our neighbor isn’t just some jerk next door expecting to be paid for their labor (how dare they), our neighbor is symbolically HIM.  Now, if you think about how we treat each other, I dare you to tell me we don’t deserve God’s eternal facepalm.  We call each other names, damn each other to hell, get rich off the work and pain of others, gloat over other people’s real or perceived stupidity/ignorance, we take from others what is not ours to take, we steal time that is not ours to steal, we ridicule, we mock, we… fill in the blank because we all have something.  All because we can’t put into practice that if we wouldn’t want it done to us, don’t do it to someone else or if we would want it done to us in our need, do it for someone else.  It’s so simple, yet here we are, 2017 doing it like we were back in the BC and God just dropped this fresh concept on us. 

So, what do we do about this?  It is important, because God himself says it is many times.  Let me share with you a part of my own Lenten journey, and conviction in this matter. This is how I plan on changing me, so that the world changes around me, and I can better serve Our Lord.  It’s simple with only three steps.

1.       Selah:  This word comes from the old testament in the psalms and is generally thought to mean “pause and reflect.”  This is what we should do before we speak or act.  Pause and reflect.  What are we pausing and reflecting on?  That is step two and three.

2.       Would I do/say this to me?  I have paused, and now I am reflecting.  Is what I am about to say or do something I would want said or done to me? 

3.       Would I do/say this to God or Jesus?:  If I have paused and reflected and it passes that filter then I will pause and reflect and ask, would I be able to say or do what I am about to say or do to God Himself? 

If I can answer yes to both of those things after I have paused and reflected, then chances are good what I am about to do or say is an OK thing.  If not, well, it probably shouldn’t be said or done and it’s time to redirect myself to do what is more in keeping with what God has asked me to do. 

Love isn’t an emotion in this case.  Love is a choice we make, and must keep making, every day in every way.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!