Tag Archives: Justice

God’s People, part 86: Micah

Read Micah 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“They said, “Remember when Micah of Moresheth prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. He told the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field; Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins! A thicket will grow on the heights where the Temple now stands.’” (Jeremiah‬ ‭26:18‬ ‭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.

  Part 86: Micah. To put it plainly, Micah is one of my favorite prophets in the Hebrew tradition, because of his bold prophecy and the concise, but profoundly divine, counsel he gives at the end of his eponymous book. Micah was also a prophet during the same time period that Isaiah and Hosea were prophesying. His message is consistent with there’s.

Before I get into the specifics of Micah’s prophecy, I want to remind us that this series is intent on finding the flaws in the Biblical characters so that we may see how close to us, how down to earth, and how human they were. Unfortunately, the prophets didn’t write autobiographies; rather, their writings consisted of their prophecies. Conversely, the scribes of the Kings did not write historical biographies of the prophets and so there is little to gleen from their lives, unless they happen to reveal that in their writings. Some did, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah; however, most did not and I am not about to “make up” flaws.

With that said, I can speak to what they were prophesying against, and we can explore how that relates to us today. In that way, we can see that the people of the ancient times were not more religious, more obedient, more sinless than we are. The times have changed, technology has changed, geography has changed; however, humanity has not changed.

Now back to Micah. Jeremiah reveals to us that chapter 3 was written against the king of Judah, Hezekiah. Remember that Hezekiah was actually one of the more righteous kings; however, he was not perfect. The king, to refresh you, had fallen victim to his pride. Because of the tremendous flattery given to him by the Babylonians, he had allied himself with Babylon, which was something that would go on to bear terrible consequences.

Isaiah had scolded the king for that decision. It cannot be certain whether this was what Micah was scolding Hezekiah or not; however, what can be certain is that Hezekiah humbled himself and listened. According to the Jeremiah, the warning was heeded and so God did not allow calamity to fall upon Jerusalem. If only more leaders could find themselves constructively humbled to avert the unintended pride-consequence of disaster.

Beyond Jerusalem, Micah had much to say against Israel and its detestable practices. In the end he wrote: “What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah‬ ‭6:6-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

While it is clear that Micah stood opposed to idolatry, to human sacrifice, and to the injustice the rulers and leaders were perpetrating against their own people. Unfortunately, while Hezekiah turned from his sin and repented, the Israelites did not. They continued on with their practices and shorthly thereafter, the Assyrians came in, conquered and exiled them.

No one likes a prophet. No one likes to hear they are wrong or that they need to change; however, the wise person heeds advice no matter how painful it is to hear. The wise person listens, prays, discerns, and changes. This takes great humility. The question for us is this, are we willing to humble ourselves and listen to the words of God’s prophets. Not just the prophets of old, but are we willing to listen to those through whom God is speaking now? Let us reflect on that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” (Proverbs‬ ‭19:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

PRAYER

Lord, advise me in your ways and count me among the humble who are wise. Amen.

God’s People, part 70: Obadiah

Read 1 Kings 18:1-16a

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭16:9a‬ ‭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.

  Part 70: Obadiah. Right now, having read this series up until this point, one might be drawing the conclusion that the northern Kingdom of Israel was filled completely to the brim with wickendness. But that is neither fair, nor would it be accurate. As with any nation, there are good and faithful people within it and there are wicked and unfaithful people within it. What we need to keep in perspective is the fact that the writers who were writing against Israel, were trying to show how wayward the kingdom was from God; however, they do not spend much time on highlighting any faithfulness, barring a few.

Still, not everyone in Israel bowed to Baal, and there are a few who are lifted up as perfect examples. One such person was named Obadiah, not to be confused with the prophet by whom the eponymous Biblical book was written. In 1 Kings 18, Obadiah is revealed to be what is known as a majordomo, or someone who speaks on behalf of and takes charge for another person. He was in charge of the king’s palace and the king’s affairs.

That is not all the Bible reveals about this man; rather, it is revealed that while he was employed by Ahab, the King of Israel, he was actually a devoted follower of the LORD. When Jezebel was waging a bloodbath persecution of any and all of God’s prophets, Obadiah was running an “underground railroad” of sorts. He hid 100 prophets of the LORD in two separate caves so that they would not be killed. On top of that, he supplied them with food and water.

Doing this, no doubt, came at great risk to him and, while the Bible does not specify this, it is not a stretch to think that the prophet Elijah had interactions with Obadiah during that time. What is clear is that Obadiah recognizes Elijah when he sees him. During that interaction, the prophet asks Obadiah to announce to King Ahab that he has arrived and would like to have a meeting with the king.

At first, Obadiah is reluctant because, up until this point, Elijah was elusive and was the only prophet that Ahab and Jezebel couldn’t capture and kill. Had Obadiah given the king an announcement that turned out to be not true because Elijah pulled a trick and fled the scene, it would have cost Obadiah his life. Elijah did give him the assurance he was looking for and, once he had it, he did as the prophet requested and brought the message to the king.

We don’t know anything else about this particular person other than what I described above; however, the story of Obadiah reminds us a couple of things about ourselves. Each of us has the potential to be puppets of the world; however, each of us also have the potential (and the call) to be followers of God. No doubt, following God comes with risk and potential consequences that can come at great personal cost; however, following God is the right thing to do. The challenge for us is this: will we take the risks to do what is right and follow God, or will we be the silent majority, complicit in our complacency. The choice is ours to make.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The righteous in alignment with God’s justice.

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to choose what is right over what safe. Amen.

God’s People, part 59: Absolom

Read 2 Samuel 18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” (2 Samuel‬ ‭15:4‬ ‭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.

img_0874Part 59: Absolom. Absolom comes to us in a way that makes him feel like the Punisher, who is one of my favorite of the Marvel heroes. In fact, the Punisher is not even a “hero”, but an antihero, a vigilante who is seeking punishment for those who murdered his family. Eventually that leads him to seek punishment for all he feels fall on the wrong side of the law. The Punisher seeks not vengeance, but justice through punishment.

The reason there was a Punsiher at all was because the failings of the justice system; his family was murdered by the mob and those who were “enforcing” the law turned a blind eye on him because they were in the pockets of the mafia. Thus, the grieving husband and father, Frank Castle, became the Punisher and took law “enforcement” into his own hand. Nothing will get in the way of him or his mission to punish the corrupt and criminals.

Absolom comes to us in much the same way. He’s outraged when he learns that his sister has been raped his and her half-brother, Amnon. He advised his sister to remain quiet, probably to protect her as we have all seen how “just” David’s court really was. I am sure he had the hope justice would take its course; however, when David remained silent and protected Amnon from any sort of punishment, Absolom becomes indignant. He, like Frank Castle, decided to take “law enforcement” into his own hands and, two years later, had Amnon murdered.

How can one not root for Absolom there, right? I mean his sister’s life was utterly destroyed and her own father did nothing to bring justice to her. I believe that this was the beginning of the split between Absolom and his father, the King. With that said, like many before and many after, Absolom also sought power and, though he was reconciled with his father, he began to plot against him with the hope of taking the throne from him.

Absolom, no doubt, believed he had the moral high ground to plot the coup, because of his father’s inability to judge justly; however, he did not seek God’s will in that regard, but was advancing his own cause and looking to set himself up as the ultimate judge of good versus evil. He proclaimed, “I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice” (2 Samuel‬ ‭15:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)!‬‬

Absolom saw himself as the arbiter of justice, and one could almost say that his words were rather chivalric; however, when one thinks of it, it falls short of true justice. All that would have happened would be that Absolom would have assumed the role of absolute ruler and would have fell short of truly being the kind of arbiter of true justice he thought he could be. Why? Because he was human and his understanding of justice was subjective. What’s more, absolute power corrupts absoltuely.

While he was able to successfully take the throne from his father, his success was extremely short-lived. In yet another tragic turn in the Davidic saga, Absolom ended up killed in battle by Joab, King David’s general. Thus, the one who saw himself the arbiter of justice, met his bloody end while hanging from his hair, caught in the branches of a tree. This, in essence, was yet another competitor for the throne that David had removed, and it solidfied Bathsheba’s push to secure the throne for her son Solomon.

In today’s time, we see people crying out for justice at all turns, and there is nothing wrong with that. With that said, we also see people acting out in all sorts of harmful, non-constructive and injust ways, all in the name of justice. This world has gone mad with the taste of blood, and it basks in blood baths in order to satiate it’s lustful desire for self-sought, vigilante “justice”. Many in the church have fallen into this deathtrap and, regrettably, many Christians sound more like Absolom than they do Jesus.

The challenge for us is to pull back and examine our hearts. Are we truly seeking justice? Are we seeking out God’s justice, the kind of justice that seeks repentance, reconciliation and redemption? Are we seeking justice and LOVING mercy? Or are we setting ourselves up as God…as the arbiters of our own brand of justice? If the latter, we are heading dangerously toward the demise of others and, in the end, our own demise as well. Let us be peacemakers, and let us be a people who stand for God’s justice for all people. Let us be guided by the true Arbiter of Justice and live that out in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, you are the Arbiter of Justice. Guide me in your justice so that I may seek to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you. Amen.

God’s People, part 58: Tamar

Read 2 Samuel 13:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” (Amos‬ ‭5:24‬ ‭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.

  Part 58: Tamar. The last few months of 2017 went down with a barage of sexual harassment and/or misconduct charges against many prominent and powerful people. People in the upper eschalon of Hollywood, movie stars, politicians and others were outed as having wrongfully forced themselves (in one manner or another) on others because they had the power to do so. Thus, the #metoo movement was born, where countless women across social media shared their experiences with having been subjected to sexual harrassment/assault/misconduct.

What’s more, it didn’t stop with the secular world. Not long after #metoo exploded into our collective conscience, so did #churchtoo. In this social media tag, many Christian women recounted their experience with such abuse within their churches. Some of the sharing was of actual sexual abuse, and some of it was not of abuse within the church, but how the church helped to shame and silence victims of such abuse. Both are egregiously wrong and shameful.

Of course, with such abuse came push back over the length of time between the accusations. “Why did she wait 20-30 years to bring this forward,” skeptical/cynical people countered. Yet, at the heart of this is a fundamental sin we find ourselves falling into. We forget that victims almost always remain silent because they feel shamed by others around them, shamed by the very act of sexual abuse itself, and intimidated by the people who preyed upon them…people who are often in positions of power and authority. Would you report being abused if you knew it was going to cost you even more abuse than the original abuse itself did? Be honest.

Unfortunately, the #metoo and #churchtoo movements are not pointing to anything knew. Sexual abuse and misconduct happen all the time. The citizens of Sodom wanted to rape the male guests of Lot…and Lot was going to offer those evil people his daughters in the place of his guests (#themtoo)! Rape and sexual assault is reported all throughout the Bible and none in more detail than in the case of Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon.

Perhaps, looking at the account of Tamar’s rape will help us understand why female (and male) victims often remain silent. Tamar reported her rape to her brother Absolom who became, naturally, very indignant over the assault. He wanted justice for his sister, though he told her to be quiet (probably for he safety), and brought the accusation to his father, David, the King.

What did David do to Amnon, his firstborn and heir to his throne, to punish him for his crime: NADA. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The Bible says he was angry, but remained silent and did nothing to punish Amnon, his firstborn. What that betrays is the fact that David played politics and put power above justice. #tamartoo. This, unfortunately, is an evil that women have had to endure from time immemorial.

The question for us is this: are we going to allow these patterns to continue? Are we, as God’s people, going to follow after Abraham, Lot, David, Hollywood, Wall Street, Capital Hill, the White House, some church leaders, and others who have either sexually abused people and/or dismissed, silenced and shamed victims of sexual abuse (or any abuse in general)? Is our immediate, knee-jerk reaction going to be to defend the accused over and above the vicitm?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that, in today’s hyper-sensitive and “quick-to-judge, jury, and destroy” world driven by a rabid media and social media, we need to be careful to let the facts of each case come out before making any final judgments toward anyone. It’s not justice to “burn a witch”, as it were, only to find out he or she wasn’t a witch. #salemwitchtrials.

With that said, we can’t allow justice to be obstructed by instantly calling the accusers liars and not allowing for the due process to work out on both sides. We can comfort people who are claiming to be victims, and work toward their healing, while not skewering and seeking the immediate demise of the accusers and their families. But we must not silence victims and perpetrate evil. We must defend the weak and take all accusations seriously. These are tough times to be navigating, for sure; however, God is just and always on the side of the oppressed, no matter who the oppressed is. #soshouldwebe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Absolom named his daughter “Tamar”, presumably in honor of his sister, whom he cared for and took into his own home following her rape. How can we bring honor, care and healing to victims rather than shame, apathy and irrevocable harm?

PRAYER

Lord, let our hearts be filled with justice and let that justice quell our cynicism, perceptions and quickness to judge and persecute (victims or otherwise). Prepare me, O Lord, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. Amen.

God’s People, part 48: The Boys

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. ‘What are you doing around here anyway?’ he demanded. ‘What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!’” (1 Samuel 17:28 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.

HarryPotter-DursleysPart 48: The Boys. While there is not enough time, or text for that matter, for me to spend dealing with each of David’s brothers individually, we can certainly spend some time talking about them collectively. We certainly can gather the way they treated their brother just in the few verses that they show up in.

The fact of the matter is that it becomes clear that David, being the youngest, was the least privileged in his family. As the youngest, he would have only been given the scraps of the inheritance (if any at all). Chances are, with the amount of older brothers he had, David would have been on his own to make his way in the world. Certainly neither his father, Jesse, or his brothers seemed to pay him any mind. When Samuel asked to see David’s sons, Jesse brought all of them but David to the prophet.

In today’s Scripture reading, we can see that David’s brothers were no better. With his oldest brother, Eliab, being the spokesperson for the siblings, we can see the condescending (and even contentious) attitude the brothers have toward David. “What are you doing around here anyway,” Eliab demanded to know. “What about those sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28 NLT). Indeed, his brothers treated him much in the way that the Dursleys treated Harry Potter. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that David was sleeping in a closet in the family house.

It is amazing what privilege and jealousy, when mixed together, can do to the human spirit. Jesse’s boys had a chance to take David under their wing, to be a good and encouraging influence on him, and to share with him their status as Jesse’s sons; however, the boys did the opposite of that, evidently with the blessing of their father. What a shame.

It is no wonder, then, that God passes them by as the next in line to replace the wicked and wayward King Saul. It is no wonder that Samuel says to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these…are these all the sons you have?” (1 Samuel 16:10-11 NLT). Why would God choose people who were too privileged to see that God had given them everything they have? Why would God choose people who put themselves over and above God and who would discriminate against those they perceived as “less” than them?

The challenge for us is to evaluate our own hearts? Are we privileged in ways that others aren’t? Do we get treated differently than others because of our status in society? Are we of the “privileged” skin color, age, economic status, sexual identity, and/or gender, while others in society are not? Do we cherish this privilege in ways that cause us to resist others being able to share in the benefits we have? Do we resist social change to maintain the façade that we are “better” than “those other people”?

These are not easy questions to answer, but honest answers they demand. Know this, our God is a just God. Our God is seeking those who are after God’s own heart, those who are humble before the Lord, and God humbles the proud and those who are resistant to the Holy Spirit. Will we ultimately deny and reject God’s authority, will we stand opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit by denying the righteousness (aka justice) of God? Or will we open our hearts to what God is doing in our midst and humble ourselves in righteous obedience to a most righteous, loving, and inclusive Creator God? The choice is ours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is better to lose everything you have to keep the balance of justice level, than to live a life of petty privilege devoid of true freedom.” – Bryant H. McGill

PRAYER
Lord, I acknowledge that you are just and that your Holy Spirit is seeking to bring your just Kingdom into this world, where all are treated equally and where all share in the privilege of being your beloved Creation. Amen.

The Sermon, part 13: Giving

Read Matthew 6:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[The righteous] have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.” (Psalms 112:9 NRSV)

c0e196b99c81dec65d742efe7a2db1a5Now that we’ve gotten through the first third of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we move into the next section, which is a series of instruction to Jesus’ disciple and followers. In this instruction, Jesus follows a formula of pointing out negatives which sit in juxtaposition with positives. In other words, Jesus points to the way that something should not be done, and then points to the way it should be done.

As with any of Jesus’ teachings, there is quite a bit to unpack to fully understand the teaching and its truth in our lives. In our text, Jesus instructs on how one should go about “almsgiving” or giving to charity. That Jesus instructs on this shows that giving was an important practice to Jesus, who was a first-century Jew. Also, Jesus was not the first to stress the importance of giving to charity; rather, Jesus’ teaching explicates the fact that almsgiving was an important part of the Jewish faith. It is a tradition that Jesus carried on, not one he created.

In verse 1, Jesus warns his followers not to do acts of “piety” publicly for the purpose of “being seen”, for there is no heavenly reward in that.  As a pastor, I have people who do things under the radar so that people do not know they did it. That is something I have always admired; however, there are some who judge others for being public about their acts of charity. That is unfortunate, because Jesus never prohibited public displays of charity. Think about it, Jesus himself displayed acts of charity in public.

What Jesus is warning against here is acts of charity that are done for the purpose of being seen. To do such is to for the wrong reason. Self-aggrandizing schemes are not righteous because they are self-serving. Such schemes have no concern for those being served, except the served bring esteem and honor to those serving. This has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven and bears no eschatological (end-time) reward.

Historically speaking, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that people would blow horns when big donors gave money at the synagogue. It simply is not a Jewish practice, nor is Jesus’ use of the illustration a prescription against his own Jewish faith. Judaism did not promote self-aggrandizing schemes any more than Christianity does. In verse 2, Jesus utilizes the “trumpet” as a metaphor for self-aggrandizing, just like when we use the metaphor that someone is “tooting their own horn.”

Finally, verse 3-4 instruct Jesus’ followers on what “pious” giving is all about. What it comes down to is this: Where is your heart? Jesus emphasizes that one should be doing one’s duty to God, such as helping the poor, in a way that ONLY God sees. Again, not in the sense that one needs to be writing checks in a dark closet tucked away from the rest of the world, so that no one knows he or she is writing it; rather, it means that we should do what we do without seeking attention or approval from anyone BUT God. If people happen to see it, so be it. If they don’t, so be it.

If we are doing what is right for the right reason, chances are we won’t notice whether one sees it or not, because we will be too busy serving God. That is the kind of giving Christ is instructing us to partake in. Giving for the sake of giving, not for the sake of receiving. Giving for the sake of others, not for our own sake. Such giving, such righteousness, will sound the horns of heaven in celebration of the coming Kingdom of God. Such giving will reap eternal rewards!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” – John Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your instruction on giving. May I learn to live by it. Amen.

The Sermon, part 13: Be Perfect

Read Matthew 5:48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13 NRSV)

johnwesley
John Wesley preaching to the masses.

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). Wait, what did Jesus just say? Did Jesus just tell his disciples, us included, that we are to be PERFECT? How can that be? Didn’t he, as the Son of God, know what Apostle Paul was going to write in Romans 3:23, “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT)? Okay, I am being facetious here but, honestly, if all have sinned and no one is righteous, then how can anyone of us “be perfect”. It seems like either Jesus is out of touch or he’s a spiritual tyrant, demanding his “subjects” do the impossible.

In order to understand what is meant by this problematic command, “Be perfect”, we need to unpack our own understanding of the word “perfect” and the Western concept of “perfection” and juxtapose it with the Jewish understanding, which will give us a clew what Jesus was intending by this command. What makes interpreting Scripture difficult is that words often don’t translate perfectly from one language to the other, and this is a classic case of that.

Matthew, in writing Jesus’ words, is doing so in Greek. The Greek word for “perfect” is τελειος (pronounced tel’-i-os), meaning complete. This can be complete in terms of the completion of one’s tasks, it can refer to growth, as well as one’s moral character, among other meanings. The way this traditionally gets interpreted when the common person reads it in English, is that Jesus is calling for people to be morally perfect just as Gods is perfect. This misunderstanding causes frustration and/or it causes the reader to dilute the meaning to something less that what Jesus actually says.

Yet, it is important to note that, while Matthew is writing in Greek, he is pulling this word perfect from the LXX (the Greek compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures). The word “perfect” that Matthew is using can be found in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:13, which comes from the Hebrew word תָּמִים (pronounced taw-meem’). This word can mean “entire” (literally, figuratively, or morally). It can refer to integrity, being without blemish, being full, perfect, sincere, sound (as in sound judgment), undefiled, upright, and/or whole. One can see that, while the word “perfect” and “complete” do factor into both the Greek and the Hebrew words, there is a subtle, but important, difference between the two of them in terms of how to interpret them.

When looking at the context of Deuteronomy 18:13, one can see that being “blameless before lord” means to be “undefiled” in terms of following the Lord. Again, in context, the Israelites were being warned against only half-heartedly serving God and falling into the idolatrous practices of Gentiles, among whom they were living. So, in this context, the word is less speaking of moral perfection (in that one is morally “sinless” and, thefore, totally perfect in the sight of God), and is more or less calling God’s people into serving God wholeheartedly. In other words, don’t be tainted by the way the world does things; rather, be untainted and serve God wholeheartedly. Be wholly devoted to God, just as God is wholly devoted to you.

“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This command, as you can see, is not demanding the impossible; rather, it is demanding what is due God: your whole heart! None of us are perfect, none of us are without sin, and Jesus is not demanding we try to attain perfection in that sense. Our Lord, is demanding that we devote ourselves wholly to God and be the antithesis to the WAY OF THE WORLD. With God’s help, we CAN and WILL attain such devotion.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as [some] seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.” – John Wesley, Christian Perfection (Sermon 40.9)

PRAYER
Lord, set me apart and make me holy. Perfect me so that, in you, I am perfect. I want to serve you wholeheartedly and devote my life in your service, not the worlds. Amen.

The Sermon, part 11: Fifth Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind.” (Leviticus 24:19-20 NLT)

embracingtheevildoer-passionofthechristContext, context, context shall be the prescription of the day. Anyone who reads these devotions knows that I believe context is key in properly undestanding anything. So it is here, in Jesus’ fifth antithesis, which hyerbolizes the Hebrew Scriptures, mixing it with conventional wisdom in order to show the extreme reversal in the Kingdom of God.

To start off, there is absolutely no command in the Torah or anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures for one to hate his/her enemy. With that said, there are plenty of instances where it is said that God hates evildoers and, using conventional wisdom, it would follow that if God hates evil doers then so should God’s children. Right? Well, according to Jesus while God is no fan of evildoing, God also does not believe that fighting evil with evil is the way to go.

In order to make a point of this, Jesus utilizes three examples, of which I hope some context will shed light on. In Jesus’ world, the right hand was the power hand. The left hand was the hand that one used to wipe themselves following doing “their business”, it was the hand that was seen as being the “unclean” hand for the obvious reasons. Thus, in Jesus’ culture, you didn’t shake with your left hand, you didn’t eat with your left hand and, for sure, you didn’t punch with your left hand. Well, you didn’t if you intended to knock someone out.

With that said, if one’s right cheek is being hit, than one must assume that, in this culture, that was a backhanded blow. More of an insult than something that would produce real injury. Jesus’ response is that if one insults you in a stinging way, that you should turn the other cheek and invite injury as well. This isn’t because Jesus loved getting injured or that he wanted to see his followers get injured, but that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildoer rather than retaliates.

The second example is a court case where the court decides that one must give the plaintiff his/her “shirt”, which was really a long nightshirt-like main garment, as settlement for a law suit. Jesus commands his followers to not only give the shirt, but also his/her cloak as well. Of course, If one did that they would be standing in the courtroom COMPLETELY NUDE! This isn’t meant to be taken literally, per se, but shows that God’s call for embracing the “evildoer” goes far beyond the requirements of the law (Exodus 22:25-26).

For the third example, Jesus utilizes was a political reality in his time period. It was legal for Roman soldiers to demand that a person show them the way to where they were going, as well as even carry some of their stuff for a specified distance. In fact, Simon of Cyrene was ordered to carry the cross of Jesus during his belabored march to calvary (Matthew 27:32). Jesus states, once again, that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildower not through retaliation, but by doing for the evildoer even more than what is required by the law.

This may all seem quite a bit confusing; however, it is important to understand that Jesus sees the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven, which is used synonomously) to be the complete antithesis to the Kingdom(s) of this world. To retaliate, to seek vengeance, to be violent is not God’s way but the world’s way. To put it more starkly, retalition/vegneance/violence IS SATAN’S DOMAIN and completely antithetical to the way of God. Yet, it must be said that EVIL is NOT absolute and God’s Kingdom will win against it.

How, you might ask? By embracing those who do evil against you, by loving them and, who knows, by potentially winning them over with God’s love. Even if that is not the end, God is defeating evil because, in those who refuse to participate in evil, LOVE IS CONQUERING. The idea is this, evil can only win in our lives if we choose to participate in it.

The question going forward is this, how seriously do we take Jesus on this? Do we, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pfc. Desmond T. Doss and others, take Jesus seriously or do we have a line that we will NOT cross in follownig him? Will we embrace our enemies and those who do evil toward us, will we show them love in return for their hate, or will we fight evil with evil? This does not mean we should “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6), as we will later see, nor should we go out of our way to be hurt by evildoers; however, if evil is done to you, what will be your response?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I couldn’t picture Christ with a rifle killing people.” – Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, U.S. Medal of Honor Winner, Conscientious objector.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live as Christ taught me to live. Give me the strength to resist evil by embracing and loving the evildoer. Amen.

The Sermon, part 1: Introduction

Read Matthew 5:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But He gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” (James 4:6, NLT)

sermononthemount We just made it through our last series, “The Beatitudes”, and now we are beginning an extension of that series, called “The Sermon”. This particular series will helps us to journey back in time to the base of a mount, as we await the Rabbi יְהוֹשׁוּעַ (Yeh-ho-shoo’-ah) to rise and teach to us the word of God. Many of the people gathered around us are more than likely awaiting some sort of proclamation of kingship. Many were hoping that this יְהוֹשׁוּעַ, also known as Jesus, would proclaim himself to be the Messiah, the one sent from God to rule Israel and defeat and destroy all of Israel’s enemies.

We, on the other hand, have hindsight as an advantage over and against those surrounding us. We know that, indeed, Jesus does proclaim to be the Messiah; however, Jesus was not proclaiming to be king of any ordinary, worldly kingdom, but the very Kingdom of God. We have this hindsight, because we are time travelers and we know the outcome of this sermon and, indeed, of Jesus’ life. Yet, this hindsight, as we have gained from Sunday School, Church and/or the Bible, can also work as a hindrance to us in understanding the fullness of what Jesus was ACTUALLY teaching. Thus, we will take many weeks to journey back to the foot of the mount so that we can listen to our Lord’s sermon within the context it was preached.

To introduce this series, let us look back to and recap our previous series on the Beatitudes. As the crowds were gathering around him, Jesus climbed up on the mountainside and sat down. As his disciples sat around him, he began to teach them what we have now come to know as the Beatitudes. What’s more, he began what has gone down as the greatest, and most well-known, sermon of all times.

If you remember, Jesus taugh that the poor in spirit were blessed for the possessed the Kingdom of Heaven. While the impoverised are certainly among those who are “the blessed”, Jesus is also referring to those who do not arrogantly think they are above God’s blessing, as well as those who are not “needy” in the sense that everything is about them and what they need (aka the selfish). The New Living Translation puts it best by paraphrasing Jesus in this way, “Blessed are those who are poor and realize their need for God.” Such people are the true people of God.

Jesus taught that those who mourn shall be comforted and that those who are humble shall inherit the whole earth.  By “mourning”, Jesus is referring to those who are lamenting over the world and it’s current state. They shall be comforted on that day when God finally recreates the earth to be a place where God’s justice, love, and peace reign supreme. Those who are humble (or meek), will be exalted and blessed. Those who are proud, arrogant, and selfish will be humbled.

Those who hunger, not only for food but for justice, will be satisfied on that day “when Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet” (The United Methodist Hymnal, pg. 14). Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by God. Those who are pure in heart, meaning those whose heart is solely devoted to God and God’s reign of peace, love, equality and justice, are the ones who see God. Those who work for peace are the children of God. Finally, those who are persecuted for doing what’s right are blessed and in possession of the Kingdom of God. In fact, they should be filled with joy and where persecution like a badge of honor, because people have been persecuted for doing what’s right throughout the ages.

This, I am sure, is not what many in the crowd were hoping to hear. They were probably wanting to hear Jesus call out the Romans for oppressing Israel. They were probably wanting Jesus to call out the Temple and its leadership, for the corruption that had become of God’s holy house in Israel. They were probably hoping Jesus would call down God’s heavenly army down on the opponents of Israel for the wicked evil they had perpetuated throughout the world, especially against God’s people Israel.

This, I am also sure, is not what many of us what to hear. The reality is that if we are living in a Western society such as the United States of America, we are more than likely either middle-class or higher. Sure there are poor people in America, but most of America has plenty and live life-styles that are centered around self (including family), wealth, and comfort. Jesus’ message challenges us because it forces us to look at our own lifestyles, and our own faith, to discern whether we are truly “poor in spirit”, recognizing “our need for God.’ As we approach this new series, let us let go of our biases and agendas so that our Lord can teach us about God’s heavenly kingdom

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Justice that love gives is a surrender, justice that law gives is a punishment.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 PRAYER
Lord, humble me and prepare me for the things you have to teach me. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 9: Persecuted

Read Matthew 5:10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NRSV)

Nailed hand on wooden cross.

 

 

Jesus, having given a series of blessings to people who were normally not considered by society to be blessed, bookends his series of beatitudes with, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:10 NRSV). The New Living Translation puts it in what I think captures the heart of what Jesus is saying, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing what is right.” In other words, in the eschatological plan of God, in God’s end times plan, those who stand up for what is right and who do the right thing at great cost to themselves, will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is important to note that this particular beatitude seems to have been written by Matthew himself as away of coming full circle in Jesus beatitudes. I am not suggesting that Matthew fabricated it, or that it doesn’t represent what Matthew believes Jesus was saying. Quite the contrary. Matthew uses this particular Beatitude as a literary device to bring Jesus’ beatitudes right back to where they started. This particular “beatitude” is not found anywhere else in the Gospels, and it is not to be confused on what Jesus says regarding persecution as a whole in the following two verses as well as in Luke 6:22

What’s more not only does it nicely bookend the beatitudes in between it and verse 3; however, it also ties directly into what is to follow about persecution itself, and how Christ’s followers should react to persecution. Christ’s teaching on persecution as a whole, and what his followers’ repsonse should be to it can be found in both Matthew and Luke.

So often, when we read this blessing we tend to read it in one of two ways. We will either read Jesus as saying, “Blessed are those who are oppressed and persectued, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Or, if we don’t read it that way, we read it in the following way, “Blessed are those who are oppressed and persecuted because they are Christians, for theirs is Kingdom of Heaven.” Both ways of reading it are not entirely wrong as it is true that Jesus teaches that in the Kingdom of Heaven puts a special emphasis on those who are “the least of these” by society in this current age. It is also true that Jesus does say that those who are persecuted for following him are blessed as well; however, Matthew 5:10, though certainly related, does not explicitly say those things at all.

What it does say explicitly is the following: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing what is right, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Notice, Jesus doesn’t put any stipulations on that. He doesn’t define who, where, what, when or how that comes about. Does Jesus mean that anyone who stands up for what’s right possesses the Kingdom of Heaven? What if they are not Jewish (in Jesus’ context), or what if they are not Christian (in our context)? What if they are not one of us, what if they are from Samaria (in Jesus’ context), or what if they are from Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Russia, etc. (in our context)? Also, what if their “right” is in opposition to our own thoughts, beliefs, actions, etc.?

Jesus does not specify any of that. He does not put restrictions of that statement whatsoever; rather, he simply states, “God blesses those who do what is right, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Of course, as we discussed earlier on in this series, “righteousness” or “doing what is right”, really amounts to doing justice, living justly, and standing up for justice. Those who do so will certainly be attacked by those who are in support of injustice (whether they realize it is injust or not).

And to tie it back to Jesus first blessing of the “poor in spirit”, they are not defined by religion, race, geographical location, or any other thing that we divide ourselves with; rather, they are defined by three things: living justly/seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Anyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from, who seeks and strives to live that out in their lives possess the Kingdom of Heaven, both now within them as well as when that Kingdom is fully realized here on Earth. This is what Jesus is telling us. Even if you are persecuted now for doing what is right, the reward that follows will certainly be well worth the persecution. I pray we all open our hearts to, and define our lives, by that very truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (1 Peter 2:20 NRSV)

PRAYER Lord, strengthen me to do what is right, even in the face of persecution. Amen.