Zacchaeus, Luke 19: 1 -10
The devotion brought up a point that I had not thought of before – maybe Zacchaeus came to see Jesus because he had heard that Jesus had another tax collector in his inner circle of friends. This would have been Matthew, also known as Levi, who tradition credits with writing the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus’ friendship with Matthew gave Zacchaeus hope – hope that he too could be befriended by Jesus, even when none of the other Jews wanted anything to do with him. Tax collectors were disowned by their countrymen – they were traitors working for Rome. Oddly enough the Romans didn’t like them either because they were Jews, the ones with the funny language, habits and traditions. Poor old Zach was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
We live in a world of opposing standards – people divided because of race, culture, religion – and it seems like it is getting worse. We are divided even within our groups and some folks act as if we have nothing in common with “them”, not even our humanity. This is not a new situation and there are ways to overcome this. Tradition tells us that when the Persians invaded and captured the cities in Israel in the 600s, they torn down churches all over the country yet one church in Bethlehem was spared. Why was this one church left untouched? Because when the Persians entered the church they saw a mural of the three wise men – their kin, their countrymen and left the church alone. That mural didn’t necessarily unite two opposing groups but it allowed them to see that at one time they had something in common and that gave them a starting point.
Who are the tax collectors of our day, the folks that are disliked or disowned because of their jobs, their religion, or their funny language and habits? Jesus calls us to befriend those that others shun, to welcome those like Zacchaeus that are purposely overlooked by the rest of society. Christianity is a radical religion – it is radical because we are called to love others – regardless of race, culture, nationality or language. Even those that do not love us. Jesus did this by making a friend, one person at a time. Who is God calling us to befriend today?
Mother of James and John, Matthew 20:20-28
In this passage, we have a very familiar situation. A parent wants the best for her children – and by the best she means opportunity, advancement, and recognition for demanding work. Here we have a mother who asked around to find the best synagogue teacher and the best donkey, field hockey league for her boys. She probably learned all the ways for them to get scholarships to Galilean Community College, too. And what is wrong with that? This is a good mother – we all know people like this, and in truth, many of us are very much like this person.
If our kids /grandkids have community service requirements for graduation or scholarships, don’t we stay abreast of how many hours they have done, or have left to go? Don’t we also look for opportunities to get the most hours for the least amount of work / pain? That is only smart. But what happens when they reach that required number? Do we insist that they keep on volunteering because God is blessed by our service to others, or do we congratulate them on meeting one milestone and encourage them to begin working on the next requirement for their opportunity and advancement? I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t in the second category.
Like the mother of James and John, many of us would like the reward for demanding work to equal power and prestige, but Jesus says we have the wrong formula (again). A Christian’s reward comes from service and that reward is more service, not advancement and recognition. Our service to one another is not a stepping stone to a higher level of prominence or prestige, it is just the opposite. Our service should make us aware of the overwhelming needs of others in the community so that we work harder and longer striving for justice. Instead of seeing a finish line defined by hours completed, we are to focus on the number of people still standing in line needing our help. It is a lifelong pursuit, not a once in a lifetime endeavor. We will set ourselves and our kids against God if we focus only on the prestige and advancement that the world offers and not the service to others which is pleasing to God.
(The phrase, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be the servant” flies in the face of the world’s wisdom and boy, if that is not the biggest oxymoron – the world’s wisdom!)
Rich Young Ruler, Matthew 19:16-30
I thought this was a great devotion and I think the author really nailed the heart of the issue.
We live the life that millions of people around the globe covet. Whether we believe it or not, we too have affluence and influence beyond what other can even dream of. We have the right to vote, to own our own homes, to choose schools for our kids and careers for ourselves, to eat a variety of foods and to worship however and whomever we choose. Yet our hearts are often unfulfilled and our souls disquieted.
When the rich young ruler goes to Jesus, he is surprised that Jesus tells him to cast aside the things that make him feel most worthy to get the fulfillment that he is lacking. But aren’t those the very signs of God’s blessings on this man? Doesn’t that make him who he is? He concludes that he can live without fulfillment if he must, but he cannot live without the security of his tried and true safety net – his wealth.
Did you notice that Jesus started with the fifth commandment not the first? Jesus started with the commandments of how we are to treat each other, not the commandment about God being first in our lives. I think Jesus knew that this was where the rich young ruler had problems. He had never given God the honor and respect that God is due because it would have meant letting go of that which he loved the most – his money.
What makes us feel worthy or gives us the greatest sense of security? Or more to the point, what if it were taken away would unnerve us the most? Faith is getting to the point where we truly believe that God is our greatest sense of security, the only safety net that we will ever need.
Young Child, Mark 10:13-16
Warning – read at your own peril. Controversial options expressed!
We have seen very few times when Jesus is really angry, but in this situation, he is indignant (irate, vexed, outraged, furious, offended). Wow. Talk about unwelcome news for those disciples. The religious leaders have been indignant with Jesus because of his popularity and healings, and that we can understand. The disciples were indignant when John and James’ Mother asked for her sons have the premier place of honor beside Jesus in heaven, and yes, I would have been ticked about that too. But here Jesus is indignant with his disciples because they kept the little rug rats from bothering him when he was doing important, kingdom business. Of all the things that could have made Jesus get really mad, it was the shooing away of little children.
If we don’t have young children around us on a regular basis, what is it that seems to bother us the most about them? Is it the noise, the constant movement, or the lack of controllability? I almost broke out laughing during communion yesterday. One of our moms was in the Family Room up in the balcony. She had been served the little communion cup of juice and her son wanted desperately to play with it. She was trying to hold him off until we all drank together but it wasn’t looking good because her son was determined to play with that cup. (I told the ushers to make sure that he had his own cup next month.)
Having children around, up front and personal, has so many benefits but it means making concessions. Jesus is very clear that we are to do nothing that hinders or prevents them being a part of the body and growing in their relationship with God. What obstacles can we remove that might invite children to more fully embrace their baptismal faith? Could we update our music (outrageous!), stop using the King James version of the Lord’s prayer (blasphemous!) and allow the worship services to have a more intergenerational flow and tempo (heresy!)? The church wants so badly to attract children and young families but we don’t want to make the concession that would allow for the children to flourish and grow in an environment that appeals to then. When we don’t make those concessions, we get the Lord’s indignation. I don’t know about you but I would rather make a few concessions than face the Lord’s anger – what about you?
Martha, John 11: 1-44
This had to be a pivotal moment for Martha. We have already seen that she was a hard worker and she liked things done just so. She was probably the type of woman who never procrastinated — she just did what needed to be done. But here is the man that she admired, the man who had been a guest in her home many times, and he had let her down. He had procrastinated and her brother had died because of it. Why hadn’t he come when he had gotten the news? Didn’t he care? Didn’t their friendship have any value at all?
Martha is now faced with the same crisis of faith that many of us go through. We try to be faithful – we go to church, we pray, we give and we endeavor to live our lives in ways that are pleasing to God. And then something happens and we REALLY need God to show up and fix things. But it doesn’t happen, and we are devastated. Our hearts are broken. Maybe we got this whole God thing wrong? I thought you promised to help me, Jesus, but you didn’t come. Do you think it was hard for her to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” after witnessing her brother’s death? It would have been for me.
When my sister was diagnosed with cancer and given 9 months to live, I begged God to heal her. When it looked as if that wasn’t going to happen, I begged God to take her to heaven. Faith is never easy but I think it is especially difficult when there a life is on the line. In circumstances like these, faith means accepting that God cares even more about our loved ones than we do. Can God still do miracles? Yes. Will God always do miracles when we really need them? No. But this passage is proof that God’s heart brakes when ours does.