December 20 Esight, 2011

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42This week, I’d like to focus for a brief moment on a story that may be familiar to many of you but one that over the last week has spoken volumes to me. The story is the one of Mary and her older sister Martha. Jesus was to be the invited guest in their home, and Martha was busy with all of the preparations and the duties involved in serving.

Traditionally, the interpretation of this story, in my opinion, has been watered down. It is about so much more than Martha simply being “busy” working for Jesus and Mary choosing to spend time with Jesus. That point can be derived too, for sure, but I know for myself that when I stop and meditate on what this story is really whispering, the meaning of what it means to “be Jesus” to the world around us takes on a whole new dynamic. However, to see what is really taking place in this story, you have to know something of the culture behind this event.

In first century Judaism in Palestine, sitting at a rabbi’s feet was for men only. For women to be among a crowd listening as a rabbi taught was not unusual at all, but to sit at a rabbi’s feet was a position reserved for men only. But not just for any young man: This was a position for those young men who were aspiring to become rabbis themselves. Notice the words of Paul in Acts 22:3:

“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.” (See also Aboth 1:4)

In their culture, women were not rabbis, and for a rabbi to allow a woman to sit at his feet would have been scandalous. It meant that you were recognizing this woman as an aspiring teacher in Israel. This was not acceptable.

Now go back and reread Martha’s words to Jesus and listen to His response.

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

Martha is essentially saying, “How dare my sister take such a presumptuous position? Jesus, put her back in her place. She should be in here where she belongs, taking care of the domestic duties of preparing and serving. Jesus, say something. Jesus, rebuke her!”

But how does Jesus respond?

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Mary was being drawn to Jesus. In her heart, she knew this rabbi was different. She wanted not only to follow this Jesus but to lead others into becoming one of His followers too. Jesus saw this and recognized it in a way that would have made a significant statement to all who were present. Jesus was not going to allow “cultural” gender issues to be placed in Mary’s way. His kingdom was to be different. Something very special was happening in Mary’s heart toward Jesus, and Jesus’ treatment of Mary, according to first century standards in Judaism, is breath-taking. Later, Mary would be the first at the tomb. She would be the first to see the risen Jesus, and she would be the first to proclaim the message of the risen Lord. Mary was the very first to proclaim the Gospel message.

Today, the issues of male versus female still abound in many churches, and although this eSight does not afford us the space to analyze the many times in Scripture that God makes concessions to cultural gender sensitivities, what this story does reveal is God’s ideal that — stripping away all of the concessions of God trying to reach cultures — in God’s heart, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). Strip away all the concessions, and you get a God who looks like Jesus.

But what does this mean for those who claim to be followers of Jesus today? At the very least, it should awaken in us a sensitivity to the outsiders, the marginalized, the outcasts of our culture — those who are being told that they don’t fit in, that they don’t “belong” because of their gender, race, or social status. This story is a call to us, as followers of Jesus, to welcome all when it comes to “sitting at the feet” of Jesus, knowing that for Jesus, in His cultural setting, to allow Mary, a woman (and in other places, even demoniacs, see Luke 8:35) to “sit at his feet” means something. It should speak volumes to us today.

Go out and love somebody Jesus-style this week, and Merry Christmas to each of you.

Keep living in love and building the kingdom,

I love you guys,

Herb

December 13 Esight, 2011

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10.25-37)This week I’d like to step backwards a chapter or so in Luke and take a look at an interaction between Jesus and a first-century Jewish lawyer. Luke is clear that the motive of this lawyer was not rooted in a sincere desire to answer some question for which his own heart sought an answer, but rather this was a test. Knowing this, and being wise and knowing His own religious culture, Jesus responds with a very safe answer, which is actually another question, “What is written in the Law?”

The lawyer then sums up the entire law, showing a good deal of familiarity with the law and insight in regards to its root principles, which are loving God and loving your neighbor. Jesus then affirms his answer as being correct and then quotes from the law Himself, “Do This and You will Live.” Jesus here is quoting from Leviticus 18.5, showing that He too had an excellent knowledge of the law even in its details, but you have to imagine, up to this point, the conversation is very “surface,” shallow, or formal quid pro quo.

But then the lawyer’s motives transition from testing Jesus to now wanting to show off, or “justify himself.” He now is endeavoring to draw Jesus into one of the many disputes of that day over the law. What does the law mean when it uses the word “neighbor”? I am convinced that the dispute over the law’s use of the word “neighbor” in this context was rooted in a desire to escape the most obvious meaning of the law because it was too demanding. To truly love your neighbor as yourself was a level of other-centeredness that far surpassed the “religiosity” of the contemporary religious system of Jesus’s day and demanded too much. And it was in direct contradiction with their own emotional investment in things such as their nationalism, their own violent picture of God, and their investment in their own sense of moral superiority to the world around them. But Jesus, never one to miss a “kingdom” opportunity, I imagine, says to Himself, “I can work with this.” He then answers this lawyer’s second question with one of the things Jesus was famous for—a story.

This story is so famous that I fear to spend too much time repeating it for fear that many of you will simply tune out at this point, but there is a unique element here that I believe most religious folks just gloss over. I’d like to focus on this missing piece this week for just a moment and see if we can’t really get into Jesus’s headspace on this one.

Jesus here is contrasting a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. To get the full impact of what Jesus is doing here, we must realize the roles of each of these in first-century Judaism.

A priest was the highest position in the religious system of Jesus’s day. He was the embodiment of all that their religiosity stood for. Originally the priest role, I believe, was one of teacher. His office was richly symbolic. It was designed to teach us something of the character of the Father. But by the time we get to Jesus’s day, the office stood at the pinnacle of their religious system, the heart of their religiosity. A Levite, in addition to this, was simply an assistant to the priests. But a Samaritan was much different. “Samaritan” was the name given to the new and mixed inhabitants that Esarhaddon (King of Assyria, 677 B.C.) brought from Babylon and other places who settled in the cities of Samaria. They replaced the original inhabitants who had been previously removed (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2,9,10). These Samaritans had amalgamated with the Jews and gradually abandoned their old idolatry and partly adopted the Jewish religion. Their religious beliefs would have been a hybrid of the teachings of Jehovah and paganism. They were considered “outsiders” by those who considered themselves the people of God, not on the basis of rightness of behavior, but rather on the basis of rightness of belief, because their beliefs were a mixture of truth (teaching of Yahweh) and error (paganism).

Now I do not want to be misunderstood at this stage. Being “right” in what you believe does have intrinsic value. It is important. But it’s important in the sense that it sets you on a trajectory of having a more accurate picture of God and thus a more restored relationship with God and becoming a conduit of His radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love toward others. But it does not guarantee you will follow this trajectory. You can have all the right beliefs intellectually and still have a heart severely estranged from a correct picture of God and the love that defines what His kingdom is all about.

This is the point of what Jesus is teaching here. The lawyer had all the right answers intellectually and religiously. But he had not made the connection yet about what the right answers were saying about God and the love with which we should relate to others. He still considered himself on the “inside,” considered himself to be more holy than others, more saved than others, as having more truth than others. He looked down with disdain on others, especially that group whose beliefs were a theological hybrid at best—those Samaritans.

And this is the beauty of how Jesus taught. The ones whom this lawyer would be the most likely to revere, the most religious, were the bad guys of the story while the one whom the lawyer would be the most likely to look down on with disdain was the hero. And the reason? Because that which reveals if one is truly following Jesus is not necessarily being right in all your beliefs, or being right in all your behaviors, but rather, it’s in how you choose to love.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.35)

By this all men will know we are following Jesus, not by how religious we are, but by the degree to which we allow the radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love of the kingdom to flow through us.

Again, this isn’t saying that rightness of beliefs is not intrinsically valuable, because it is. But we are never to derive our identity from how right our beliefs are (or how right our behaviors are). Our identity, our assurance of whether we are on the inside (versus the outside) of Christ’s kingdom is to be rooted and grounded in the love for us that we see inside of God’s heart, which He revealed to us on the cross of Calvary. Our identity then is not to be rooted and grounded in how “right” we are but rather, whether we have embraced God’s radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love for us and are allowing that love to be more than a concept, but also our way of doing life. Are we allowing the love that God has for us to flow through us to others? Are we allowing His love for us to awaken in us love for those around us, even our enemies?

This is a significant foundation to what it means to follow Jesus. Now, this week, I’d like you to consider who would fill the roles of this story if Jesus were to tell this story in the context of our religiosity today. Who would the Samaritan be in our contemporary Christian culture? Would it be a “pro-choicer” who may intellectually disagree with you on the issue of abortion but who is more loving to those around them than maybe some of us? Would it be a homosexual, which many Christians would look down on with disdain and consider to be a “sinner,” but who relates to others with a greater degree of radical selfless love than some of us? Or would it be someone of another denomination, or someone who disagrees on some area of theology that you consider to be of great significance, but who is allowing the radical love of the Kingdom to flow through him or her to others to a greater degree than you? We must allow Jesus’s story to confront us too.

And, lastly, who would the priest and Levite be? Who would it be who would play the role of being too busy with his own “religious” agenda to stop and become “unclean”?

I cannot escape the conclusion that what God is whispering to my heart this week is it would be me.

Something to think about this week for sure.

May God’s radical love become the basis of our deepest identity. But may it not simply define our theology, but also how each of us, as His follower, “does” our life. Are we doing life in a way that mimics God? Are we living the life of love? Are we being Jesus to the world around us, not just collectively, but on an individual basis as well? This is the question.

Keep living in love, loving like Christ, and during this holiday season, keep building the Kingdom.

I love you guys.

I’ll see you next week.

Herb

December 6 Esight, 2011

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say (Luke 11.52–54).Last week we talked about Jesus’ accusation of the Pharisees, that they were only offering lip service to the prophets and what Jesus’ kingdom was truly about, but in their hearts they were truly hostile to it. These words are the harshest spoken by Jesus in the Gospels. This is not the way we see Him talking to those who have been abused by religion or who were outside of His kingdom. This is the way we find Him speaking to the religious leaders of His day, who were claiming to represent the Kingdom, but in all actuality were the greatest obstacle and barrier to folks actually attempting to enter the Kingdom. This distinction, I believe, is important. Too often, people misinterpret these harsh words and take them to mean that evangelism of the lost should be done with harsh denouncements of others and their sins. It would behoove us to remember that this is not how Jesus addressed those who were considered to be “sinners,” but rather those who considered themselves to be guides, leaders or teachers. You’ve got to imagine Jesus saying all of this with passionate tears and anger in His voice on behalf of those who have been hurt by the religion of His day.

There are three phrases in this week’s passage I’d like to look at as we close this series of eSights on the Woes of Luke 11: 1) You have taken away the key of knowledge; 2) you yourselves have not entered in; and 3) you have hindered those who were in the process of entering.

First let’s talk about this key of knowledge.

One of the key distinctions of the Gospel is that it actually sets you free. It’s not oppressive. It’s not bad news; it actually is good news that empowers you and changes you from the inside out. Many times, we can see in our day that the good news of the Gospel really has been twisted so that it is bad news. These perversions of God’s Word don’t bring light; they bring darkness. The truth of the Kingdom becomes obscured. It has a certain negative, oppressive, “gotta” or “should” ring to it. It shames people through legalism rather than empowering them to live out the radical Love of the Kingdom. All of this is rooted in a wrong picture of God. It has all the right terms and phrases, but at its heart is a fundamentally different picture of what God is like than the picture Jesus revealed and referred to as the “key of knowledge.”

What is this key? Our first clue is found in In John 5:39, where Jesus said, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but these are they that testify of Me.” If you have this key then you begin to see that Jesus is what all of the Scriptures are testifying of. Jesus is the lens through which we discover the truth about what God is like. He is “the exact representation” of what God’s character is (Hebrews 1:1–3). But if you do not have this key, if it is taken away, then you can search and study the scriptures all day long and miss all of this entirely. You study the Bible but you get distorted pictures of God, distorted theologies, and distorted views of salvation. And too often, in this context, the Bible becomes used as a weapon. (Completely misunderstanding what Paul is saying in Ephesians 6, some call it a sword; although Paul indeed refers to the Bible by this name, his intent in this passage is not that the Bible is to be used as a weapon against people; rather, our enemy, remember is not “flesh and blood.” In other words, if it has “flesh and blood” it’s not our enemy! The Bible is NEVER to be used as a sword or weapon on other “people”… ever.) When this happens, the Bible ends up leaving others with a jaded perception of itself and of God. What then is this key?

It’s found in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” The Greek word for ‘love’ in this passage, “agape,” indicates radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love. When this kind of love is rejected in theory or practice, we lose the very key that enables us to gain a correct knowledge of God and the Bible. This love is demonstrated in living form in the person of Jesus Christ. So one could say that this Key is Jesus Himself. Yet, remember that the reason this is true is that Jesus is the incarnate embodiment of what God really is—Love. And only by love is love awakened.

When this love is rejected, this true key is abandoned, we get a distorted view of all things related to God including His character, and in this process, we, in our rejection of love, refuse to enter into God’s kingdom of radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love and everything that flows out from our religiosity becomes a hindrance, a barrier, a hurdle to those God is drawing into His kingdom of love in spite of us. In John 1:9, Jesus is called the true light that gives light to everyone. He is right now drawing “all people” to Himself (John 12:32). Every person on Planet Earth is, at this very moment, being drawn toward God’s kingdom of other-centered love and if they do not resist, they will be drawn to the foot of the cross. The question we must answer, as those who claim to be followers of Jesus today, is: are we ourselves entering into this love, not just as a theology, but as the way we do life? Are we ourselves entering in or are we refusing to be drawn and, in our religiosity rather than love, in our religiosity that could very well be associated with “Jesus” in name only, are we—in our rejection of love and how we relate to others—hindering those who themselves are also being drawn?

Especially during this consumer-driven holiday season, may we, as followers of Jesus, be characterized by the other-centered, self-sacrificial love of our God. May His humble servant love be seen in us, and may we not be part of the hindrances that abound, but a help and even a conduit to the grand universal drawing of God’s love that is taking place all around us.

Happy Holidays to each of you.

Keep living in love, loving like Christ and building the kingdom.

I love you guys,

Herb