John was at the river preaching hard and heavy as always. He called his audience (the religious ones in particular) a bunch of snakes and threatened them with the image of God’s ax leaning up against the tree ready for chopping! Not really your run of the mill prosperity gospel preacher was John! Most of all he commanded them to “bear fruit that shows your repentance is the real deal!”
Three different groups of people who insisted on escaping the ax wanted to know what that “fruit” would look like. One after the other asked him the same question: “What should we do?”
Each group had something that John told them to surrender in. One group had stuff (more food and clothes than they needed), another had leverage (the IRS of the day), and the last group had power (sword-wielding soldiers). What would repentance look like for each? Continue reading →
No, I’m not converting to Catholicism, praying to Mary, or going to confession; but for the last year or so I’ve been going down the street to Mission Dolores Church during the week to pray and read the Word. It’s a peaceful refuge from the din of my crowded urban neighborhood in San Francisco and a great place to meet with the Lord. I absolutely love being in the cavernous stone and stained glass sanctuary for relative solitude and quiet. I seldom have the place all to myself, but when I do it’s like being in the Holy of Holies – well, sort of.
I’ve often been accused of being quite verbal (though other words have been used to describe it), so quiet or silent prayer has never really been my forte. When I pray, my lips are usually moving and sound, sometimes a lot of it, is projected out into the air, and I hope also into heaven. Nevertheless, I’ve found that words are less important in some places at some times. Maybe that’s why the Spirit has drawn me to this place, so he can get a word in edgewise, which I might take into consideration in the things I reflect back to him in prayer. (I really only say this as a preemptive strike against a barrage of “Amens” from any of you who think I talk too much.)
Anyway, I was at Mission Dolores the other day wondering, besides the serenity and solitude of it, what it is that keeps drawing me back to the Catholic Church. Three things came to mind: A sense of history, a concern for poverty, and a theology of suffering. Continue reading →
“There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.” Martin Luther King Jr at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, July 4, 1965.
Neighborly:Characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, kind, obliging, helpful, hospitable, civil, generous…
In Part 1 I mentioned that the “Love your neighbors” command appears throughout the Bible’s pages and I proposed that the neighbors we’re supposed to love are not just those in our same zip code.
Here’s where we jump into some of those neighborliness passages. For my money, the best way to understand any theme in Scripture is to look at as many of the passages as we can where it is found and study each one along with their contexts. From Moses to Jesus to Paul to James God’s demand to “Love your neighbor” is convictingly clear. Jesus called it the second greatest command and his half-brother James referred to it as “the royal law of Scripture.” Let’s unpack some of these a bit. Continue reading →
[I recommend that you read Parts 1 and 2 before proceeding…]
“OK, well, this isn’t going like we’d hoped,” the envoys whispered among themselves. “This may not be our guy. His agenda is definitely not the same as ours and he doesn’t seem to care at all about our American Dream. He’s so concerned about the poor that he cares nothing about our plight.” **
**[I’m certainly not insinuating that John the Baptizer had any such self-serving, nationalistic, or economic interests of his own. Jesus said he was the greatest saint and least materialistic person of his day. His struggle was not about personal prosperity, but about what he expected the Messiah to do about Rome’s control over Israel. Nevertheless, I believe that in his answer to John’s envoys Jesus used his compassionate dealing with the poor to make his point about what is actually important to God, and what his kingdom actually looks like.
Roman oppression gave Israel an opportunity to love their disadvantaged neighbors (Jewish and Gentile) and live in compassionate community with them. Those who had even a modicum of wealth had every chance to act generously toward the poorest among them. Instead, many of them protected their wealth and used their influence for their own benefit. Continue reading →
“That’s just fine with us, go ahead and keep helping poor people if it makes you happy,” they argued, “but don’t you think it’s a little short sighted? Couldn’t you flex a little of your muscle to lift us back up to the top of the global heap where we belong? We heard you could do just about anything, so while you’re doing your philanthropic work, why don’t you reinstate the rest of us to our prosperous and free way of life? We have to go back to our officials with a report. Are you in or not?”
“Well, I’m ‘in,’ but maybe not in the same way you want me ‘in,’” he said. “My orders were to begin at the bottom – to concentrate on the vulnerable and oppressed.”
“You’ve come to the right place then – that’s us! We’re at the bottom. We’re oppressed! Can’t you see that our whole American way of life has been upended. Those evil Canadians have robbed us of control of our own destiny, our economic sovereignty, our political clout, and our ability to amass personal wealth. You’ve got to care about that, right? If you’re supposed to be our Savior, then save us from our plummeting stock values. We’re prepared to offer you total control of our country if you’ll just wave that magic wand of yours over us and …” Continue reading →
The Baptizer paced the perimeter of his cell pondering over what Jesus was up to. “This is a waste of time,” he said to his two visitors. “What am I doing here when there’s so much more work to be done? I don’t understand; if he’s the Messiah that I’ve been saying he is, why isn’t he confronting Herod, putting our nation back at the top, and getting me outa here. Go ask him, if he’s our guy or not.” Luke 7:18-23
I get John. I really do. If I were in his situation, I would’ve been confused too. But I’m more puzzled by Jesus’ reply: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
I used to think that he was appealing to his miracles to prove his Messiahship, but John and his disciples knew he did miracles. It occurs to me that the point wasn’t so much about his power but the people for whom he wielded his power. It was the poor, the outcast, the people at the end of their rope that Jesus typically rescued. He came to change society, and instead of at the top, he began at the bottom. He spent his days on the street rescuing powerless lepers, prostituted women, and disabled pariahs. You wouldn’t have found him in the boardrooms of the rich and powerful or in Herod’s face lobbying for the release of the Jews. He did his best work among those on the margins. It was not his obligation to the inner circle but his compassion for the outer circle that proved his Messiahship.It’s not that he didn’t love those in power, but his way was to begin with the ones who were abused by power. That’s what he was trying to tell John. Continue reading →