Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SLAVE BASICS


Matthew 20:

20Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21"What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."
22"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered.
23Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."
24When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
25Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—
28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."



The other ten disciples were clearly upset with James and John. They didn’t understand the teaching either, but they saw what was happening. And why should these two get the best jobs? Everyone in the group wanted the right or left hand throne to rule from.

If the disciples struggled with this message, isn’t it likely that we will too?

There are some ‘Slave Basics’ that we can learn from Jesus’ words in this passage.


1. IT’S HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS

Jesus replies that they do not know what they are asking when they want the exalted position of top thrones. Can they drink the cup that he will drink?

They were used to seeing people in authority being exalted. The King’s gold cup would have the best wine and it would be served to him.

“Duh.. yeah! We can drink that cup.”

They did not know Jesus’ cup was the cup of suffering. Even though he talked about it, they still optimistically hoped for a Kingdom of God that looked like the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus lifted the cup at the Passover and said it was His blood poured out.

This cup would require a commitment to serve to death with no easy way out. They indeed would drink this cup. The time did come when the disciples gave their lives in commitment to the Kingdom of God. They died as martyrs following Jesus’ example.


2. HIGH POSITION IS GIVEN BY GOD

The disciples were called to follow Jesus without a guarantee of getting thrones. True following was not about getting a good job. It was not about being in charge and telling others what to do.

This career path was not measurable by the same standards as other occupations.

They would drink the same cup of suffering, but Jesus’ Father had the final say about who would be hired to the top seats.

If you live for prominence and power, you will be disappointed. You can give your life for this cause but only God knows what you will get out of it.

What possible attitude would it take to be part of this Kingdom? Jesus points to the slave.


3. LOVE IS THE ONLY REASON TO WORK HERE

Everywhere you look there are powerful people who have control over others. There are many who have an entourage where each member knows who the boss is. The history of the world is littered with examples of mighty men who have fallen from these lofty heights.

C.S. Lewis said this:

Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.[i]

Jesus saw the way the disciples bought into this. Their chatter would sometimes focus on who was better. Who deserved a promotion? Who was most capable? Who had a right to be in charge?

He tried to teach them that their greatness would come from learning to be a volunteer slave. Instead of telling others what to do, they should ask what needed to be done. Instead of demanding service, they were to give themselves away to others.

In the realm of slavery, a slave could be given their freedom as a gift of the master. In some cases a price could be paid to buy their freedom.

Freed slaves would sometimes return to a loving master and give themselves as a gift.

The disciples were not slaves, but Jesus wanted them to see what was really involved in being part of God’s Kingdom. The only right attitude for serving God was love. A deep love for God was most clearly demonstrated by a deep love for people. A willingness to obey God was a willingness to obey people.




[i] C.S. Lewis in "Equality" from Present Concerns, quoted in Christianity Today, February 3, 1989, p. 31.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

BECOMING POWERFUL BY BEING ANTI-POWERFUL

Slavery still exists. Internationally, there are millions who are owned by others and forced to do anything their masters require. While this may come as a shock to many in civilized societies, it is an economic system prevalent from the ancient times.

Freedom from slavery is an internationally recognized human right. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.[i]

I suppose that slaves in every period of history have known that something was wrong and longed for a time when they would be free. The gospel compels us to bring hope and freedom to the oppressed and bound.

Jesus lived in a time of slavery and oppression.

Strangely, he saw something powerful and compelling servants could teach the world – a new kind of attitude towards God, competition and our fellow man. This was a difficult message that most would not want to hear.

He defined greatness as volunteer slavery – becoming the servant instead of the master.

No greater example of the tension and misunderstanding of this message exists than with his own followers. Apparently, they believed the same message embraced by the world around them. Greatness would be through becoming masters.

Even, sweet old ladies bought into the mindset.


Matthew 20:
20Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21"What is it you want?" he asked.
She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."


She may have been the voice, but she clearly represented her boys James and John. The conversation quickly moves from Zebedee’s wife to the boys. Mother and sons wanted the same thing. Jesus’ Kingdom sounded like the right place for them to rise to greatness and prominence.

What parent would not want their sons to be left and right hand men to the Messiah?

They did not grasp the implications of the Kingdom of God. Jesus would try to help them understand.




[i] "The law against slavery". Religion & Ethics - Ethical issues. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved on 2008-10-05

Thursday, March 26, 2009

BEYOND THE CHOSEN PEOPLE

Isaiah 56:
7 I'll bring them to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
They'll be welcome to worship the same as the 'insiders,'
to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices to my altar.
Oh yes, my house of worship
will be known as a house of prayer for all people."
8 The Decree of the Master, God himself,
who gathers in the exiles of Israel:
"I will gather others also,
gather them in with those already gathered."


Consider God’s heart toward all people:

a) God brings the outsider to the holy mountain. This was a special place in Israel’s history where God revealed Himself to Moses, gave direction and had intimate communication. The new beginner with God is brought to the same place as the chosen people.

b) God gives outsiders joy in the house of prayer. What is prayer? It is the believer’s privileged access to speak with and hear from God. Sometimes people approach prayer with agonizing and uncertainty. But to the one who approaches God in faith, there is a joyful experience of living in a state of open communication with the Almighty.

c) Worship is not for the select few. God wants the sacrifices of prayer from those who have maturity and those who do not. God welcomes people to enter into the experience of intimate, open communication with Him.

d) The house of prayer is a designation for God’s Temple. In the New Testament, we are the Temple of God. We are to be the residence of God and a place where intimate conversation and love can be expressed. God wants us to know that the house of prayer is for all people, not just the select insiders. He invites us to participate in bringing people into His house.

The ‘den of robbers’ were the religious leaders who excluded others from approaching God. They robbed God’s people from the privilege of intimacy with the Almighty.

It is still God’s desire to see barriers removed so that all people can come into his house of intimate communication.

The Temple was an earthly symbol pointing to a greater reality. Instead of being a place, the Temple is a people made up of citizens from every nation and people group in the world.

The Temple was a marker to remind us that one day, heaven and earth will be permanently joined together.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A HOUSE FOR EVERYONE

The Temple money-changers were conveniently located.

If you were not a Jewish male, the court of the Gentiles was the end of the pilgrimage. The Jewish males were allowed to go further into the Temple area.

If you were not Jewish by birth, if you were a woman or a leper, you could only go as far as the Court of the Gentiles. This is where the temple sacrifices could be purchased and offered on your behalf by the priests.

In other words, they wanted your money but not your presence in approaching God. It was one rule for the Jewish males and something else for everyone else.


According to Ched Myers in Binding the Strong Man, Jesus calls for an end to the entire cultic system—symbolized by his overturning of the stations used by lepers (Mark 1:44) and women (Mark 5:25–34). They represented the concrete mechanisms of oppression within a political economy that doubly exploited the poor and unclean. Not only were they considered second class citizens, but the cult obliged them to make reparation, through sacrifices, for their inferior status—from which the marketers profited. Jesus utterly repudiates the temple state, which is to say the entire socio-symbolic order of Judaism. His objections have been consistently based upon one criterion: the system's exploitation of the poor. The "mountain" must be "moved," not restored.[i]


Jesus was angry because the current state of the Temple was distant from the heart of God towards people. In his teaching time following the incident he articulates a good reason to be angry.


Mark 11:17
"Is it not written: " 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.' "


Jesus quotes the Prophets. He refers back to God’s original plan for Israel and the intended inclusivity of Temple worship. God wanted His domain, visibly represented by The Temple to be open to all nations. Israel was God’s chosen people, but His intention was that they be a starting point for His work in the world. God’s heart was not only for Israel but for all people and all nations. Through Israel God wanted to reach the entire world.

This theme carries into the New Testament where Jesus calls the Church to go into the entire world with the gospel. God’s heart was never meant to be limited to select individuals. God's House was meant for everybody.




[i] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A political reading of Mark's story of Jesus, Orbis (1988) ISBN 0–88344–620–0

Monday, March 23, 2009

ARMED ROBBERY AT THE HOUSE OF PRAYER

The Scriptures speak about God’s anger many times. If anyone has rightful reasons to be angry, it is God. Anger is best expressed when it is coming from a place of deep love and respect.

Jesus got angry. He reached the boiling point and anger spilled over. It was messy. The people around felt the tension and saw a side of Jesus they were not used to seeing.


Mark 11:
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: " 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.' "


Jesus was angry enough to overturn tables and stop people from doing their business. What was going on? Why was the characteristically gentle shepherd boiling over? What lead to this revolutionary act?

Some of our angry outbursts are based on feelings of inadequacy, hurt and of not being heard. Occasionally, we may get angry over an issue of injustice or blatant disrespect.

To understand Jesus’ outburst, we need to understand who He is. He was on a mission to bring humanity back to God. His life was wrapped up in fanatical love for His Father. It is in this framework of understanding that Jesus’ actions begin to make sense.

The moneychangers served an important function within the temple. They exchanged a person's foreign coins for a fee into coins that were acceptable within the temple. In many ways they were similar to a currency translation in foreign countries where foreigners have to translate their currency for a fee into the currency of the country they are visiting.
Only the half-shekel coin of the temple was allowed as atonement money, which the priests in the temple used. Those Jews coming from foreign lands with foreign currency or those that had Roman coins had to have these coins changed by the moneychangers. This was one of the largest revenues for the temple.[i]


The Law required each person to pay a half-shekel Temple tax. The problem was not with the Law, but those who used it to get wealthy off the sacrificial giving of the Temple worshippers.

At the heart of this Temple tax, was the necessity of paying the bills. Everyone who came to the Temple should be expected to help cover costs. This was not the problem. The problem was the men dressed in purple and fine linen who got rich off the Temple system.

Jesus did not hate rich people. He spoke with many and invited them to give away their wealth to the poor in order to find God.

But, wealth was not the biggest issue here. The problem with the Temple business plan was its exclusivity towards rich men.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MICROWAVES & SLOW-COOKERS

I know two kinds of angry people.

The first practices ‘microwave anger’. Put something in their mind and it will be fully cooked and hot in seconds. We call these people ‘hot-heads’. It doesn’t take much provocation to get a hot response. Homer Simpson would fit into this category. I love the scene where he comes to great self-realization and cries, “I am a rage-aholic! I can’t live without rage-ahol.”

The second angry person practices ‘slow-cooking anger’. They can slowly simmer all day like a crock-pot when something is put into their mind. But rest assured the result will be the same – piping hot anger! Marge Simpson is a slow-cooking angry person.

Microwave’ or ‘slow-cooker’, anger is a normal part of the human experience.

Anger is a flame. For it to be useful, it must be a controlled burn. Managed anger can warm up a cold relationship; refine an impure heart and burn away falsehood.

Anger unmanaged can destroy everyone and everything in its path. It will scorch the earth.

Mostly, our anger is messy and involves clean up.

We need to view anger as normative and purposeful. Anger can motivate us towards love and correction. Anger can motivate us to address conflicts and abate the opportunity of growing bitter.

I have a reputation for being calm. I have had numerous comments from people about my apparent ability to keep cool in the midst of explosive situations. They speak as if I were some kind of holy man with amazing self-control.

I see it otherwise.

The truth is I get angry at times. I blow my top occasionally, much to the great amusement of my family. They are not used to seeing me hot-headed and it’s hard for them to take me seriously when I’m sputtering and waving my arms frantically.

There have also been times when my anger has been hurtful to others. After acknowledging my fault, I want to use those experiences to set up healthy boundaries on my behaviour.

If there is any self-control in me, it is only a work of God’s grace.

In fact, anger is even an attribute of God. The Scriptures speak about God’s anger many times. If anyone has rightful reasons to be angry, it is God. Anger is best expressed when it is coming from a place of deep love and respect.



Saturday, March 14, 2009

FROM E TO F

In Greek mythology there is a legend in which Zeus, the righteous ruler of the world, presents his subjects with a big vase filled with everything they would need to be whole and happy persons. The people are overjoyed by this great gift. They begin to dance with such exuberance that the vase falls to the ground and its lid pops off. And before the lid can be put back in place, all of the life-giving gifts escape, except one. The people cringe before the all-powerful Zeus. "Well," he asks, "what is left?" Peeking inside the vase, one of the subjects reports, "Only hope remains." To which Zeus replies, "It is enough!"

In our lives, the true and living God fills us with everything we need to be whole and happy persons. In fact we are described as jars made out of clay. As we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, there is an over-abundance of God poured into us. It spills out of us.

Jesus said we could be filled with righteousness if we would hunger and thirst for it.

When your jar gets knocked over in the turbulence of life, you are going to need more than hope. You are going to need to get filled up again with the presence of God.

Many try to fill their emptiness with anything but Jesus. Martin Luther King Jr. said this:

"There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected before the god of science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate. We have worshiped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy ... money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in Him that we must rediscover." [i]





[i] Martin Luther King, The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Coretta Scott King (New York: Newmarket Press, 1958), p. 63.

Friday, March 13, 2009

LOOKING THROUGH YOU

John 1:
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."
48 "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered,
"I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."
49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
50 Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51 He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."


I know people who delight in the fact that they can spot a phony. Before others know, they have already discerned that a person is a fraud or has false motives. While this is a shrewd quality to have, discernment also works in the positive.

A truly discerning person will also be able to size up a person’s heart and see the truth and good beneath the surface presentation.

Jesus is about to be introduced to Nathanael by Philip. Jesus immediately speaks to what he sees inside.


“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”


Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?”

It is unusual to have a stranger look at you and say something about your character. How do you know me? How can make a value judgment of my character if you have not walked with me?

Was Jesus saying something that Nathanael even believed of himself? In a religion which seemed to measure a person’s character by their performance and obedience, who could say whether he was one who truly loved God or had other motives?

Jesus responds to Nathanael with words that reveal knowledge beyond flesh and blood realities.


"I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."


It would be easy to view this skeptically by pointing out that it was a small town. Jesus may have seen Nathanael several times in passing and could have known him by reputation. He may have seen him earlier that day standing beneath a fig tree and then later saw Philip walking towards him.

But if that’s all it is, where does Jesus come up with the statement about Nathanael being a true Israelite? Why would Nathanael be surprised and respond the way he did if Jesus were simply stating obvious facts?

It seems that Jesus is referring to a personal reality that only Nathanael knew about. We do not know what his thoughts, prayers or actions were beneath the fig tree. Was there something significant and spiritual that had taken place?

Was Jesus teaching and had seen him watching and listening beneath a fig tree? We do not know, but it created a deep stirring in Nathanael.

“Rabbi, you are the son of God and the king of Israel.”

These were not words thrown around lightly. This was not a standard greeting for a Rabbi. It was an acknowledgment that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed Messiah.

God revealed this deep truth to Nathanael. He would follow Jesus as a disciple because he was moved to believe. Who else but the Messiah could know Nathanael’s heart? Who else could see that he wanted to be true and guilt-free? Jesus immediately saw his heart and spoke to its reality.


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