Tag Archives: Curses

God’s People, part 192: Shaking Dust

Read Mark 6:7-13

“I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.”  (Matthew 10:15, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Shaking-Dust-FeetPart 192: Shaking Dust. The pain that Jesus must have felt when he was rejected by his hometown of Nazareth, is easy enough to imagine. Think about your hometown. More than likely, you have fond memories of growing up there. I am sure you can remember the not so good things about it too; however, most of us look back to our childhood and to our hometowns with a positive nostalgia. It is the place, for better or worse, where we grew up and discovered who we are.

I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for all of the experiences I had growing up where I did. The good, the bad and the ugly experiences all helped me to become who I’ve become. The same undoubtedly is true for Jesus of Nazareth. So, when his own hometown kicked him out of the synagogue and tried to throw him off a cliff, I can only imagine the pain and sorrow that caused.

It was following that event that Jesus sends his twelve disciples, who in this moment become apostles (meaning “sent”), to go town to town preaching the good news, healing the sick and casting out demons. This was a big undertaking for them. All of the teachings of Christ, all of the things he taught them and they hopefully had learned, were going to be put to the test.

As he was preparing them for their mission, Jesus instructed them to go into towns and rely on the hospitality of a single household in each town. If the place household accepted them and listened to the Gospel message, then they were to bless that house and the people in it; however, if the household rejected them or their message, they were to “shake the dust off their feet” and leave. Jesus then stated that doing such was, “ to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate” (Mark 6:11, NLT).

What’s more, Jesus didn’t just say that for the households either. He was also referring to the towns. In Luke 10:14, he put it this way, “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” He then added in verse 15, “I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.”

Ouch. Why did Jesus compare Sodom and Gomorrah to those towns? Because the predominant sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was their lack of hospitality. They refused to listen to the message of the angels God sent, thus refusing to listen to God, and they wanted to rape Lot’s angelic guests rather than treat them with dignity, respect and hospitality.

Just as Jesus did with his own hometown of Nazareth, he was telling his disciples to shake the dust off their feet and to move on from places that reject them. It wasn’t worth arguing or trying to prove one’s point, or lingering around in hopes that they would change. Rather, shake the dust off and move on to those who are receptive and hospitable.

This instruction from Christ should challenge us in two ways. First, we should unashamedly be witnessing our faith in Jesus Christ to others. We should be sharing the Gospel message and we should not worry about being rejected. If that happens, let it be. Move on from those people and focus on the ones who hear the Gospel with eager ears and open hearts. Shaking the dust off our feet should not be done judgmentally, for who know what seed might grow at some point; however, time is short and the message is urgent. Let God deal with the people who will not hear it.

Second, we should be challenged to be a hospitable people. We should never live our lives in a way that reflect Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember, those cities were not destroyed because of homosexuality (as it is often misconstrued); rather, those cities were destroyed because they were so corrupted by evil that they could care less treating strangers/foreigners with respect, dignity and hospitality. They saw people as objects to use for their own pleasure and satisfaction.

Let us not be such a people. Let us instead be a people who are sent into the world representing Christ’s love and hospitality. Let us be a people who love others, who share the Gospel, and who show radical hospitality to all, even those who are rejecting us.

In fact, that is exactly the effect of shaking dust off of our feet in those situations where we are being rejected. In that moment, we are simply showing hospitality and acknowledging that the people rejecting us don’t want us there. Thus, we remove ourselves and go to a place where people have open ears and open hearts. Begin to model this in your life and embody the radical hospitality of our Lord and Savior.

Radical hospitality does not discriminate. It knows no sexual identity, gender, race, ethnicity, ability, or any other label used to divide us. It is one and the same to all.

Lord, transform me into a radically hospitable person by your sanctifying grace. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 12: Luke’s Curses

Read Luke 6:24-26

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. (Matthew 7:13 NRSV)

theoldruggedcrossWe all have an idealistic image of Jesus in our heads, do we not? Growing up, we who grew up in the church learned about a Jesus who loves us, who welcomes us, who loves all the little children, and who came to save the world from hate and evil. We learned of a cheery, jovial man who was no ordinary human, but the Son of God; what’s more, Jesus was God in the flesh. We also learned how sinful people rejected Jesus’ message of love and crucified him to a cross, following extensive torture, and left him there to die. Of course the story doesn’t end there, as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven after appearing to his many disciples.

This just about summarizes our Sunday School/Church understanding of Jesus. It just about sums up every movie that has been created about him, and it sums up what I believe to be wholly an American Jesus who gives us eternity but asks nothing of us in return. This, in essence, is a cheap Jesus who presents to a us a cheap grace.

Don’t get me wrong, the summary is true in that Jesus does love us, welcome us and calls us to follow him. It is true that Jesus came to save us and that people rejected his message of love. But the reason people rejected his message of love, is because it often did not feel so loving. I guess one could say that Jesus’ love was often tough, challenging, and sometimes downright impossible for people to subscribe to.

In Luke’s account of the beatitudes, we get a picture perfect example of Jesus’ tough love. Following the blessings he pronounces on the poor, Jesus hauls off on the rich, cursing them to a series of four “woes” or afflictions. He does this to drive home the message of the four beatitudes, that God stands in solidarity with the poor and will show them partiality when these eschatological (judgment day) blessings take place.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26 NRSV). Yikes! Remember, Jesus is not speaking this to strangers, nor to his enemies; rather, Jesus is speaking this directly to his disciples!!

No doubt, there were disciples who had given up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; 18:28); however, there were also those who had not given up everything. Jesus’ teaching of God’s blessing on the impoverished, as well as his teaching of God’s judgment upon the rich, was meant to be a warning that God’s Kingdom is the ONLY thing we should be seeking to attain. Jesus is also clear elsewhere that one cannot serve two masters, that one will either serve God or they will serve materialistic gain (Luke 16:13 NRSV).

Again, if there was a way to soften this message and remain true to what Jesus is teaching here, I would; however, softening it only serves to add more sugar coating to the idol we continue to build up and name Jesus. Jesus’ message, as hard as it was in his time for people to hear, is really hard for us to hear. A majority of us in America claim to believe in God, and a majority of those who do claim to be Christian in one form or another; however, how many of us Christians really put God/Jesus first and foremost in our lives, foresaking all else in the process? That’s a tall order and most of us, myself included, fall very short of that!

Thank God that Luke’s Gospel doesn’t have the final say on what Jesus taught and/or meant by his teachings; however, we should NOT shrug it off as being irrelevant either. Luke’s Gospel gives us the bitter truth, as hard as it is to swallow, that we are not always aligned with God. What’s more, woe to us who think we are only to find out we never were (Matthew 7:13, 23; Luke 16:19-31 NRSV).

Luke rightfully has us pause and reflect on where we are in our relationship with God, a humility we should be daily embracing. Rather than viewing these woes as personal attacks against our faith, our lifestyles, and/or our wealth, we should be humbled by them and view them as true blessings in our lives. Why, you ask? Because they point us to the way, the truth, and the life and serve as a guide to keep us on the long and narrow road that leads to the Kingdom of God. Christ is teaching us of what our priorities should be, that they should be aligning with the priorities of God. If we heed that warning, we will be the “richer” for it.

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…what has cost God so much cannot be cheap for us.” – Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lord, fill me with humility so that I may see how I need to change in order to truly follow you. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 11: Luke’s Blessings

Read Luke 6:20-23

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13 NRSV)

jesussaidwhat-webI bet you thought we were moving on from Jesus’ beatitudes, being that we just finished the last of them, right? Wrong. While we did discuss all of the beatitudes in Matthew, and we did refer to Luke’s Gospel in doing so, Luke’s account presents something unique to the beatitudes we find in Matthew.

While the differences may seem subtle, Luke’s Jesus is doing something different when it comes to who Jesus is addressing and what is exactly meant by these blessings. The most obvious difference is that the beatitudes in Luke are much more abbreviated than they are in Matthew and, what’s more, they are to be taken much more literally.

In the Matthew account, Jesus is preaching to the crowd that has gathered at the base of the mount to hear him preach. Yet, in Luke, Jesus is not teaching the crowd; rather, Luke records that “looking at his disciples”, Jesus gave them his beatitudes. What’s more, Luke’s beatitudes are seemingly addressed to them as it is written in the second person rather than the third.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This first beatitude predicates the remainder of blessings. It is upon this blessing that the others rest. More importantly, as we will see in the next devotion, it is upon this blessing that subsequent curses are ajudicated. It is in this blessing that Jesus makes very clear to his disciples, and to all of us, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor. It is also important to note that Luke does not mean the “poor in spirit”, or the poor in any other sense of the word. Luke means exactly has it reads, God’s kingdom belongs to those who are literally impoverished.

For those of us who are living with some money in the bank, whehter we are middle-class, wealthy, or the upper one percent, this teaching should shock us. It should not only be shocking, it should be scandalous and it should make us feel a bit nervous. What does Jesus mean by this? If I am NOT impoverished, does this mean that I WILL not inherit or enter God’s kingdom? How can Jesus expect us to impoverish ourselves and/or our families for some kingdom of which we have no clue will arrive in our lifetimes?

Following this, Jesus enters into blessings that are reversals of the current world order. Those who are hungry will be satisfied, those who weep will laugh and those who are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected as being evil because of their devotion to Jesus have much to rejoice over for they are actually included in a great heavenly reward. Also, they will be among a great insider’s club of people who were persecuted for doing what is right!

What makes Luke’s version of “The Beatitudes” so scandalous is that it goes against everything what we know to be true. In Jesus’ time, those who were poor, sick, hungry, etc., were so because of their sins and/or flaws. In a meritocracy such as ours, isn’t it true that those who work hard, pick themselves up by the boot straps, find success, and amass wealth are the ones who are truly blessed? Why would Jesus discourage working hard and amassing wealth? Isn’t Jesus a capitalist?

While Matthew’s version goes into more depth, and speaks to a larger audience, Luke’s version really presses us to take a long, hard look to see how we measure in God’s kingdom. Have we given up our desire for merit and fincancial gain? Luke not only takes the existential plight of the impoverished and flips it around on the wealthy but, more importantly, asks us, his disciples, to evaluate ourselves and choose which side we’re on.

I wish I could soften Luke’s message, but I cannot. Luke’s Jesus draws the line in the sand and flesh’s out what is meant in his teaching that “you cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). What I can do is invite you to reflecton how seriously you have taken Jesus’ teachings. There is a definite cost to following Christ, and that cost should make us pause and even feel a bit uncomfortable. Yet, Jesus is also trying to tell us that the reward is WORTH the cost. What’s more, as the old adage goes, if you don’t pay now you will surely pay later.

“Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.” – Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Lord, help me to know the cost of discipleship and to choose discipleship regardless of the cost. Amen.