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Archive for May, 2015

In Matthew 17, the disciples come to Jesus and ask an interesting question. They ask who is the greatest in the kingdom of God. From what we learn about the disciples and the rest of the Gospels, they were probably not just asking a hypothetical, intellectual question. This question was very much about themselves. Amongst them who was the greatest? The kingdom of God had turned into in individual competition of greatness and power.

Jesus turns the table on their question and tells them that the greatest in the kingdom of God is actually the little child. You can almost see the disciples rolling their eyes at this answer. They were not looking for an object lesson. They wanted to fill their own sense of pride and worth.Jesus was trying to show them that that is not how his kingdom works. The helpless and most humble are the greatest. Those who let go of their individual pride and pursuits are the ones who will truly understand the Kingdom of God and see him face to face.

When the disciples asked who was the greatest, they were hung up on their own individual pride and concerns. Jesus instead sets the young child as the example, showing the disciples that they need to lay down their pride and individualism and live a life of humility which seeks the common good over a false sense of self. In Western culture, where individualism has largely overshadowed any notion we have of the common good, this message is more important than ever.

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In Matthew 15, the story is told of a Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus to heal her daughter. On the surface it appears to be one of the most offensive passages of the Gospels, and it almost makes it seem like Jesus is a racist nationalist. He goes as far as comparing the Canaanites to dogs. Since this seems to contradict the whole message and life of Jesus, it is important to dig a little bit deeper and see the passage anew.

There have been different interpretations of what Jesus was trying to do. The famous scholar William Barclay sees Jesus talking to woman and a type of friendly just. He was treating her with names as the normal nationalistic Jews would, but in the end he rewards her for her faith and her daughter is healed. Other scholars see this as a type of object lesson Jesus was teaching to his disciples. He was trying to play into their stereotypes, but in the end turned the tables on their nationalism by pointing out the faith of the Canaanite woman.

Whether by calling the Canaanites a dog Jesus was using jest or setting up an ironic object lesson about the Jewish nationalism, what is clear from the text is that Jesus was trying to show the expansiveness of his kingdom. The despised Canaanite was rewarded for her faith, while the Jewish religious leaders were continually condemned. The strange passage in Matthew 15 does not confirm Jewish nationalism. It undermines it at its very source. It is just a small glimpse of the expansive kingdom of God where are racial and national boundaries are erased.

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In Matthew 15, Jesus tells the Pharisees and the religious leaders that they honor him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. Jesus cared little about their supposed religious ideas or what they said they professed, he cared about what was inside, what their true value and essence were.

How relevant this is to us today. Some are mourning the fact that the number of professing Christians in the nation is going down. However, in some aspects this would have been the least of the concerns of Jesus. He was very unconcerned about people that merely professed him with their lips but whose hearts were far from him. I would actually contend that nothing would sadden Jesus more than to have a largely “Christian” nation that ignores his teaching or even worse, twists his teachings to promote hate and violence.

As the blogger Kienen Mick points out, as the number of professing Christians in the U.S. has gone down, so has the number of people who support militarism, inequality, and unrestricted greed. In a strange way as institutional Christianity weakens, the number of people supporting the values of Jesus grows. Perhaps in the end, Jesus prefers people whose lips are far from him but whose hearts are close than those who follow the religion of Christianity but deny the peaceful, self-sacrificial, liberating message of Jesus. If the church could really adopt and live out the message, just imagine the impact.

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In Matthew 15, Jesus calls out the religious leaders on their hypocrisy and greed. They had told the people to take the money that they were saving for their aging parents and give it to the synagogue. In reality, they were giving it to them. Jesus is incensed with this greed.

How dare the well-to-do religious leaders demand money from the poor. How dare they talk about giving the money to God when the money is going to be used largely to enrich themselves. Of course, this injustice was not just relegated to the ancient Hebrew world. We know far too well that this injustice and greed has invaded the church. I remember being just dumbstruck a couple years ago when a relief organization that I donated to released the exorbitant salary of its leader. How can the leader of an aid organization be living in excess?  Now, I do not believe that ministers should have to live in complete poverty. However, for religious leaders to have excess from the donations of the people, no matter what the size of their church or ministry, is immoral and the antithesis of the idea of the Kingdom of God.

Whether it is wealthy mega churches demanding the tithes of their people to build more extravagant buildings, TV preachers saying that you are planting a “seed” with your gift to their ministry, or stories of religious leaders with exorbitant salaries and mansions, we should listen to the words of Jesus to the Pharisees in the first century. All leaders should consider if they are following the path of the Pharisees who demanded payment from the poor or the path of Jesus who became poor so we could become rich, not making us poor so he could become rich. At stake is the whole message of the Kingdom of God.

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In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about the seeds that are thrown on the wayside and are not able to take root. The birds (which are a symbol of the devil) then easily snatch them up. They are taken away, never to become something of significance.

The birds don’t come and drop malignant agents in the ground, they just take the seeds so that they are not able to actually grow. Often we think about the devil tempting us with evil and wrongdoing, and certainly this is part of the equation. However, in this passage the devil just renders the seeds useless. If you can get the good to simply not take root, there is no need  for the devil to even tempt us with evil.

While there certainly is temptation to turn to lust, hatred, or greed. Often our deepest problem is simply being paralyzed, living in doubt and insecurity and accomplishing nothing for the Kingdom of God. We may not turn to overt evil, but if we are locked in our own fears, over-analysis, and distraction, we are like the seeds the birds easily picked up. We will have nothing to show for our lives.

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In Matthew 14, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a hidden treasure that a man found in the field. He then proceeds to sell everything he had to obtain the treasure. Why is the kingdom of God compared to a hidden treasure? Perhaps, it is because the kingdom has to be really searched for. The beauty and magnitude of the Kingdom of God are not necessarily initially apparent. The kingdom only becomes truly amazing to us as we dig deeper into it, as we struggle with it, and we search to find its depths.

This is one of the reasons that Jesus often spoke in parables rather then cut and dry ideology or law. A story can have many different interpretations and meanings. What exactly the kingdom of God entails can sometimes be confusing. Perhaps this is the reason why there are thousands of denominations. This should not discourage us, but cause dig even deeper into the beauty of the kingdom.

The fact that aspects of the Kingdom of God are initially hidden like a secret treasure can be frustrating, but is also what makes it beautiful. Jesus wanted the ideas of his kingdom to be continually unfolding, so that every time we looked at it we would see some truth in a new light. The kingdom is powerful and intriguing because it transcends easy answers and instead calls us into a more profound and deep relationship with our maker. The Kingdom of God changes everything, but it will only impact if we are continually seeking to find it.

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Some might say it is a real stretch to link the Bible to the healthcare policy for the nation. However, there is a lot in the Gospels the deals directly with the issue of health and the needs of people. After all, a large part of Jesus’ ministry was healing the sick.

The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus healing people of their sickness, their disease. He did not ask for donations to his ministry for this to happen. He certainly was not  trying to enrich himself in the process. He gave of himself so that others could be healed and made whole. There is a story where he talks about “power” going out of him as a women is healed.

Though in our modern day we don’t have Jesus in the flesh healing people at our churches, The followers of Jesus are still called to help heal the sickness and disease of others. This is often seen through charitable giving, free health screenings, or free clinics in poor countries. It should also mean support for policies that treat the sick in a just way, not ones which seek to exploit them in a greedy system. In the end, healthcare is actually a spiritual issue. What is important to us in the issue of healthcare reveals a lot about our spiritual and moral priorities. In the values of the Kingdom, the good and the health of the many should always be put ahead of the profits and privilege of the few..

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