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Archive for April, 2015

In Matthew 13, Jesus gives the parable of the man who sows the seeds. He gives the example of seeds that were thrown on shallow ground, rocky soil, simply on the path, and finally the ones that were thrown on good soil. The seeds are the words, the message of Jesus.

Jesus points out that some are simply thrown on shallow grown. They grow up very quickly, but they wither and die whenever trouble or persecution comes because they have no roots. There is no real foundation for their faith. There may have been religious experiences, but a real understanding of Jesus message and relationship with him were never truly present. There is a quick excitement for something unique and new but not a real basis to grow in the faith.

In our culture there is often a lot of emphasis placed on dramatic experiences, an amazing service, a powerful decision at the altar. There is rapid excitement and time of change, but much like our well intentioned New Year’s resolutions, they soon wither away. It is amazing how many people claim to follow Jesus without actually being rooted in his teachings. Perhaps this can explain why some Christian groups are the most likely to support war, torture, anti-immigration policies, etc. It is easy to have a distorted cultural American Christianity, but it is like a seed in the shallow ground. It will not actually stand when the real troubles come. Only a faith rooted in the self-sacrificial, enemy loving message of Jesus will actually produce true beauty and change.

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In Matthew 12, when Jesus is asked to halt his teaching because his mother and siblings are waiting for him outside, he refuses. Instead, he tells the crowd that anyone “who does the will of his Father” is his sibling or mother. Though there is no doubt given the character of Jesus that he loved his brothers and mother, he would not let a commitment to “family values” outweigh his commitment to the Kingdom of God.

There has been much made of “family values” in the Christian community. We have Christian bookstores, radio stations, and countless organizations with the theme of “family values” or “family friendly.” On one hand, this is surely understandable as there are many aspects of Jesus’ teachings that would line the idea of family values, whether that is teachings about lust, adultery, divorce, love for children, etc. However, we also run a risk when we try to equate “family values” with the values of Jesus. While at times they are completely harmonious, at other times as we see in Matthew 12, they are in conflict.

Jesus stood for strong values. However, when we equate “traditional family values” with the message of Jesus, we run the risk of turning Jesus into a caricature of a 1950s, straight-laced, nationalistic American. We forget that Jesus was the one whose first miracle was turning water into wine, who railed against the wealthy and religious of his day while embracing the “sinners” of the society, and who turned over the tables of the greedy profiteers in the temple. The problem of trying to “domesticate” Jesus is that his revolutionary, counter-cultural message is lost or even worse, turned into something ugly or a defense of the powerful against the oppressed.

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There is a curious account at the end of Matthew 12, when Jesus is told that his mother and siblings are outside waiting for him while he was teaching. However, instead of dropping what he was doing, he tells those around him that anyone who does the will of his father are his “brother” or “mother.” On the surface, it seems like a kind of a slight against his family, but Jesus was trying to point towards a deeper truth-one that does away with tribalism, nationalism, and sectarianism.

For Jesus, anyone who followed after him was considered part of his family, regardless of what family they actually belonged to or what nationality they came from. For the Jewish people, their heritage, families, and race were of supreme importance. They often ascribed their worth from their being “children of Abraham” as opposed to the Gentiles who were seen as outside of the flock. Throughout his ministry, Jesus is constantly confronting this nationalism and sense of superiority that often reigned supreme in Israeli society.

For Jesus, the ultimate importance was not your blood line, but your choice to participate in his kingdom. So many people in the world are obsessed with their heritage, race, and nationality. They have placed them above the ideas of justice, peace, and compassion. Nationalism is in many aspects the antithesis of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is constantly breaking down the barriers that nationalism, racism, and pride have built up. He is calling us to a kingdom where immigration status, national origin, and family heritage are irrelevant in light of his transformative kingdom.

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The Pharisees in Matthew 12 are demanding that Jesus give them a sign to prove that he is from God. Jesus refuses to. He tells them that only an “evil and adulterous” generation longs for a sign. The only sign he would give them was his own resurrection. What did Jesus mean that only an “evil generation” longs for a sign?

I do not believe he was talking about people who really were searching and wanted proof of who Jesus was. He was talking about leaders like the Pharisees that no matter how much evidence was presented, would always refute it and look for another explanation. He had just given them a sign by casting a demon, and they turned around and said it must have been because he himself was demon possessed. They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and no matter how much proof or how many miracles he did-they still would not believe.

Jesus was not going to give the Pharisees a sign, because he knew it was a pointless. No matter how much evidence and proof were given, they would not believe. It was senseless to engage people like that. The reality is the same problem confronts us today. People will not believe what goes against their interests-even if there is enormous, irrefutable, scientific evidence. It is important to realize the areas of our lives where we fall into this trap. It is also appoint to realize the futility of engaging people with evidence and ideas who already have their minds made up. We can argue until we are blue in the face, but it is like arguing with a wall and only serves to cause us frustration and anger.

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In Matthew 12, Jesus tells the Pharisees that when their house is “empty” and “in order” they are actually more likely to be filled with evil. They have tried to clean up their lives without actually filling it with something good. It is easy to see this when looking at the Pharisees. However, this same principle is at work in most of our lives. It is related to the old saying that idle hands/minds are the devil’s workshop. Though this quote is obviously somewhat trite and oversimplified, there is a deep truth there.

If you look at people that fall into the darkest depression, it is often those who either have way too much time on their hands or are busy but are not actually fully engaged in what they are doing, their minds are wandering from place to place and are filled with anxiety, fear, and anger. I know that I personally have fallen into this dark trap when my mind is taken over by these negative emotions.

It is of vital importance to keep our minds focused and occupied. This does not necessarily mean being busy. In fact, simply being busy is often the opposite of a truly healthy state. However, as Jesus pointed to the Pharisees, an “empty house” is often open to a host of evil entering it. If we do not learn to control our thoughts, our thoughts will often lead us to very dark places. We become preoccupied with very insignificant things. Though it may sound clique, learning to meditate, live in the moment, and turn our thoughts towards something that is actually beneficial to ourselves and others is the first step to wholeness.

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In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus warns the Pharisees that they have sought to “remove evil” from their lives, but they have not replaced it with the good, so therefore an even more sinister force is overtaking them. He compares it to a person that has been possessed by demon who then leaves the individual to wander. However, while the person was no longer possessed by a demon, they had not replaced the void that had been left in their lives. As a result, the demon came back with more spirits to haunt the poor soul.

The Pharisees had the law down to an exact calculation. They had told they people not only to follow the laws of God, but how exactly should carry out every minute detail. They knew the “right from wrong” and sought to live a life of abstinence and sobriety. However, the ironic thing was that in their process of their purification, they were actually becoming even more evil to the point that there were trying to kill Jesus, the Son of God, for daring to heal people on the Sabbath. They had been overcome by the worst evils in their distraction of maintaining all the details.

It is an honorable goal to try to remove wrong from our lives and “purify” ourselves. However, as Jesus points out to the Pharisees, there is also a danger in this if we do not actually fill ourselves with the good. The goal is not to just avoid evil, but to work for goodness, justice, and peace. In our attempts to avoid any “wrong or sin,” we can actually be devolving into a worst state as anger, resentment, and pride begin to take over our lives. This is why sometimes the most religious people are the most hateful and sad. The horrific irony of the Pharisees is that while there were following the minute principles of the law, they were planning the worst of all evils in crucifying the Son of God.

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When Jesus casts out demons in Matthew 12, the Pharisees do not deny it. Rather, they say that he must be doing it because he himself is possessed by Satan. It is an absurd, irrational claim. Jesus points this out to the Pharisees. Why would Satan cast himself out? It makes absolutely no sense, but then hatred leads us to irrational places.

If you look at some of the worst atrocities in human history, they often involve a level of hatred that has reached the absurd, but is nonetheless embraced. Of course, the obvious example of this is Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany who led their hatred for the Jews go to a point where they were blamed all the woes of Germany’s society. This makes no sense if one looks objectively at the facts, but there was no objectivity involved.

In our own system the hatred for the others turns into foolishness and caricatures of our “enemies” whether that is Muslims, Atheists, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Obama, Bush, etc. It does not mean that all perspectives are equal, but it does mean that we have to be careful of not letting our ideas being guided by hatred, when that happens you get absurdity, and at its worse you get violence, warmongering, and terrorism. When you make your enemy out to be Satan, it is not too long before you mind drifts an into evil and malicious absurdity driven by hatred. For the Pharisees, this eventually led them to call for Jesus’ death and bless the horrific torture and crucifixion of the Roman Empire.

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