Tag Archives: John the Baptist

TO DANCE OR TO DIRGE? (Wisdom’s Many Children) Part 2

wisdom1In Part 1 we talked about how it takes more than one person, one church, one political party, or one culture to represent true wisdom, and how an over-identification with one over another is not only unwise but immature. Jesus said it reminded him of spoiled children whining about not getting their way.

“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance, we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Luke 7:31-34

John and Jesus weren’t opposites. The way they conducted themselves was not contradictory but complementary. They both represented wisdom, while, from the outside looking in neither displayed to the naked eye all that wisdom entails. [Note: Of course Jesus was and is all that wisdom is, but to the ascetics of the day, he wasn’t ascetic enough. Although we might point out that he was born in a cave, fasted for forty days, and had no house to live in. Fairly ascetic from my point of view.] Continue reading

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“What should we do?” (Part 2 of 3)

what-should-we-doWe’re talking about how John the Baptizer sized up the legitimacy of one’s repentance. Hip deep in the river he preached, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” When three different groups of people came for baptism John gave each of them a litmus test to assess whether or not they’re ready for Messiah’s kingship.

First, he commanded the religious experts to share their food and clothing with the poor. Next, as a bunch of tax collectors came for a spiritual dunking from the camel-skin-donning, bug-eating prophet, they asked, “What shall we do?” John answered these candidates, “Don’t collect (taxes) any more than you are required to!”

This was big since these were people who worked for the occupying Roman oppressors collecting taxes from their own people. Worse than that, these shyster employees of an evil state typically extorted additional cash for their own use! They had their own neighbors by the throat. If they refused to pay, they would have to answer to Big Brother Rome. As much as the Jews hated Romans, they detested their sell out brothers more.

John’s message to us is…

If we have leverage, we are required to use it for the advantage of those who lack it.

Continue reading

“What should we do?”

what-should-we-doJohn 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

Jesus – A Middle-Class Messiah? (He begins at the bottom) Part 3 of 3

[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

Jesus – A Middle-Class Messiah? (He begins at the bottom) Part 2 of 3

[I recommend that you read Part 1 first…]

“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

Jesus – A Middle-Class Messiah? (He begins at the bottom) Part 1 of 3

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

Making Adjustments (part three)

How are Pharisees at making adjustments?

Typically, Pharisees, the ones with the most hard-shelled spirituality are not very willing to modify their ideas on the fly. They tend to be more brittle than flexible in their faith. This inflexibility has a name. It’s uh, umm… oh yeah; it’s called “Religion!” And since the Pharisees are the same “yesterday, today, and forever,” we should all be on the lookout for this tendency to dig our heels in and refuse to bend.

They had their orders – as they understood them – and that was it! They even had most of them memorized, categorized, simonized. They knew what they knew and weren’t planning on learning anything new about what they knew. They were adamant about what God required, what the Messiah was going to look like, and where they would rate with him when he arrived. Jesus blew the doors off their preconceived notions when he didn’t think, speak, or act like a good little Messiah was supposed to. Most of them just couldn’t adjust, and what’s more they were proud of it. But there were a few who were willing to adjust…

Nicodemous was a Pharisee (John 3) modest enough to inquire – how would one gain entrance into God’s realm, what’s this about being “born again,” and how does that work exactly on an anatomical level? Jesus’ response might be the Bible’s most poignant statement about flexible adjustment making: “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can’t tell where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I’m partial to the Message Bible on this one:  “You know how the wind blows this way and that, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone born from above, by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”  If we’re genuinely born of the Spirit, we will become more and more like the Spirit – as unpredictable as the wind.

Another Pharisee named Paul had an even bigger adjustment to make in order to become a Jesus follower. He thought previously that Jesus was a malevolent cult leader, and since he couldn’t get to Jesus directly, he’d silence his disciples.

Surprised From his rear end on the hard roadbed he asked, “Who are you Lord?” He didn’t say, “You’re not Jesus, because he’s dead;” or, “You’re not the Christ, because you don’t act like it.” In the duress of a brilliant beam from heaven, losing his sight, and hearing a voice, he was willing to adjust, “Okay, okay, tell me again, who are you exactly?”

Peter, another Pharisee at heart, was on his friend’s roof praying, when in a vision, a sheet appeared filled with a bunch of non-kosher animals. When a voice called him by name, at first he was probably gratified that God knew his name and had something on his mind for him to do. If you recall, Jesus sometimes had an awful time getting a word in edgewise when Peter was near. He always had answers to questions know one was asking. He was the kid in the class that never raised his hand before blurting out whatever came to mind.

“Rise, Peter, and kill…” Again, interrupting, and being a good Jew, this also would’ve sounded pretty good to him. “Kill them? Absolutely, Lord, these animals deserve to die, and I’m happy to kill them for you!”

“… and eat!” the voice continued. “Yes, Lord… Wait! What? No, Lord!” It’s not good for a transmission to go from drive to reverse like that, to say nothing of the whiplash to Peter’s neck.There’s no way that God would ask Peter to eat un-kosher – was there?

Can you imagine anything more oxymoronic than those last two words placed adjacent to each other like that (“No, Lord!”)? I mean, if he’s actually “Lord,” then how nonsensical is it for us to say “No” to him? It’s pretty hard, in good conscience, to call him “Lord” at the same time you’re saying, “No” to him. On the other hand, I like Ezekiel’s reply to God’s question, “Will these bones live again?”  He said, “You know, Lord.” You see the contrast, right?Peter said, “No, Lord” and the prophet said, “You know, Lord.” Which one of those is most ready to make adjustments to life’s surprises?

Anyway, eventually Peter, after three visions, three voices, and three Gentiles knocking at the door, got the point and made the adjustment to carry out his bewildering heavenly orders to go Gentile food with Gentile hosts. Even the most Pharisaical at heart can learn to adjust. I’m praying for a few right now.

A few more people in the Bible who were willing to make adjustments…

“Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken!” says my old missionary friend. Flexibility, even in my limited and temporary overseas missionary experiences, has made the difference between a great experience and an awful one. No matter how much you pray, plan, and do reconnaissance, you’re always going to be surprised by what you encounter in a culture that’s not your own. The things you intended to do are all up for grabs, and you’ll have to be on your toes to adapt to whatever comes your way on any given day. If you’re brittle you’ll break. I think we should all be living our lives as though we’re on a life-long missions trip, “prepared in season and out of season” to make adjustments for any eventuality.

Here are a few more of the Father’s flexible followers… 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, said to Nebuchadnezzar, “Our God can deliver us from your furnace, but if he doesn’t…” I’ve always been impressed by their ability to adapt to whatever God decided to do. Their conviction didn’t change with whatever the outcome. They weren’t going to worship at anyone else’s altar under any circumstances. But they were ready to adapt to whatever God did or didn’t do, and trust him anyway.

Job said, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him,” which to my mindis the epitome of a flexible faith. His wife, on the other hand, had a faith that was more flimsy than flexible, “Curse God and die,” she insisted. She couldn’t make the adjustment to God’s apparent non-intervention decision. “If this is the way God treats his friends, we might as well be his enemies… Let’s find a better God.” Job didn’t understand God’s plan any better than his wife did, but he was willing to make the adjustment to things turning out in a way other than what he’d hoped.

John the Baptist had to adjust his expectation that Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah. Things weren’t progressing the way he’d expected when he asked, “Are the one, or should we wait from another?”  At least he was willing to ask the question that was in the minds of all his peers. He was the only one in the class with the courage to ask the risky questions. Everybody laughs, but they are secretly glad someone had the guts to ask.

They all expected the Messiah to arrive, but Jesus didn’t fit all the criteria they had in their minds.

“Miracles?”

“Check.”

“Prophetic teaching?”

“Check.”

“Political agenda?… Political agenda?”

“Umm; not really, no.”

“Plans to destroy the Romans?”

“I, uh… No, I don’t think so.” 

“Hmm, probably not our guy!”

But John was willing to ask, “Are you, or are you not our guy?” And if he was, he was willing to make an adjustment in his thinking about how “our guy” was supposed to look. Are you?