Work of the Devil

Work of the Devil
Continuing, finally, with this look at Jesus’s healing of a man born blind.
 

So Jesus departs from the temple with his disciples.  It’s fruitless, all they want to do is throw stones at him.  He leaves, and as he’s walking through the gate, leaving the temple complex, there sits a man, blind from birth.  As they pass through the gate, the disciples notice this man, begging, blind from birth.  They ask a theological question.  Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?   And so we come to a third attempted stoning on this day of stoning.

The disciples of Jesus are ready to throw stones of blame at a blind man or his parents.  This may not be a literal stoning, but it’s the same spirit, the same thing.  Let’s blame the woman and stone her.  Let’s blame Jesus, and call him a false teacher and a devil, and let’s stone Him.  Let’s blame either this man or his parents for his condition of blindness.   The satanic impulse to blame is all through this passage.   And Jesus is trying to shine a light on it because we’re blind to it.  We live in the darkness, and we don’t see how we generally try to unite ourselves by blaming others.  We don’t see how we console our own anxieties and fears by blaming others.   This is the darkness we have lived in, this is the blindness that has afflicted the human race that Jesus is trying to bring light to.  He’s trying to heal us of our blindness and show us how we behave and how destructive it is.

The satanic impulse to blame.  Very often it works like this – when we see a situation of deep misfortune, when we see people who are suffering horrible fates, we are appalled by it.  We are scared by it.  We want to assure ourselves that life itself has some semblance of order.  We don’t want to think that life is so filled with vagaries and random chance that such a thing could happen to us.  So we have to explain, in some way, exactly why this bad this has happened to this person or these people.  Inevitably it works like this – this bad thing has happened to this person or these people because they are bad people.  And to assure ourselves that nothing bad like this could happen to us, we invent a system by which we can say that if something bad happened to that group, that nation, those people, that person, then it must be that somehow they must deserve it.   After all, if the undeserving can have bad things happen to them, then it can happen to me.  I can not tolerate that idea, so I must come up with a system where I can blame the sufferer for their own suffering.  

This is the book of Job.  “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”  Job‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  God Himself testifies to this about Job.  “And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”” ‭‭Job‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Job needs no character witness, God Himself is Job’s witness.  God says “I testify that job is righteous, that he fears me, that he turns away from evil, that he is the most righteous man of the sons of the east…” So that is settled, Job is righteous.

But the Satan, the Ha-Satan, the accuser, begins to bring accusation against Job, and soon after trouble ensues.  In three thunderclaps of horror, Job loses it all.  He loses, his health, his wealth, and his children.  It’s almost too terrible to imagine.  He lost everything dear to him.

That’s when his three friends show up.  The book of Job tells the story of a righteous man who is accused by Satan, bad things happen, and then Satan disappears from the story.  Satan appears in the first 2 chapters, then we never see Satan again in the rest of the 40+ chapters of the book of Job.  So the Satan disappears from the book of Job after the first 2 chapters.

Or does He?  In fact, satan does NOT disappear from the book of Job, he is simply channeled through the three friends of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  These three friends become possessed by the spirit of accusation, the spirit of blame, the spirit of the Satan.  They’ve come to comfort Job, but before long they have to try to explain to Job why this has happened.  But they are really not trying to explain to Job what has happened, though they think they are.  What they are really doing is trying to explain to themselves what has happened.  

They see this horrible thing that has happened to Job.  He’s lost his health, his wealth, and his children.  They want to be assured that nothing like that could ever happen to them (don’t we all?).  So, they begin to explain why such a thing happened.  Jobs three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, are the practitioners of theological certitude.  They believe they can always come up with an answer.   They are the Bible answer man.  They have an answer for every eventuality.  No doubt they would reference the book of Proverbs.

The book of proverbs says if you fear God and live righteously, you will be blessed, prosperous, and happy.   This is the overwhelming theme of Proverbs, there are dozens and dozens of verses that say exactly that.   And…it’s true.  It’s true that if you will turn away from the path of sin, fear God, live righteously, good things begin to happen in your life.   You begin to prosper.  You begin to be happy in a way you weren’t before.  I know many people who can testify to this.  I can testify to this, that in encountering Christ, putting my life in the way of righteousness and in the fear of the Lord, good things begin to happen in your life and you can be a lot happier than you’ve been in years.   

The book of Proverbs gives us this message, that if you fear God and live righteously, good things will happen.  You will be blessed, happy and prosperous.  And it’s true…except when it isn’t.   That’s why we have the book of a Job in the Bible as well.  We have the book of Proverbs balanced by the book if Job, and we have to hold them together.   Proverbs doesn’t tell the whole story.  Generally, it’s true.  You begin to fear God and live righteously, your life will get better, amen and hallelujah.   It’s true.  But it’s not a guarantee of certitude.  And just because it’s generally true that if you live righteously and fear God it leads to a good life, it does NOT mean that if anyone is experiencing pain and sorrow and suffering it must be because they deserve it, they have sinned, they are bad.  That’s what the three miserable comforters of Job said.  That was their theology.  Eventually God shows up and says “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”” Job‬ ‭42:7-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  God, Yahweh, says that these three have spoken incorrectly of Job and Himself.   

We hold these things in tension.  To blame the victim is the work of Satan.  It’s the work of darkness.  It’s common, it’s repeated throughout history.  It happens all of the time.  We want to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  But sometimes, bad things happen to good people.  Sometimes, the worst things happen to the best people.  That’s the book of Job, and the life of Jesus.

To blame the victim is the work of Satan, the work of darkness.  Jesus does not come to do the works of Satan, Jesus comes to do the works of God.  Whose work are we doing?

 
 
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
‭‭John‬ ‭9:1-7‬ ‭ESV
‬‬
 

 

John Lewis
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The Horses of History

The Horses of History
And now to finish out what I have to say (finally) about Jesus feeding the multitudes…
 
First…the paragraph I finished with last time.

Jesus says we don’t have to stay down here in the finite sphere worried and fighting.  We can trust in God and connect with the beauty of the infinite.  This is the life where trust replaces fear and faith replaces force.  This is the life that the sign of the feeding of the five thousand points us to.  It’s the life that we want to live.  It’s the life of peace.  But it’s challenging to enter into.  You can do it, but the fear of scarcity, the paradigm of insufficiency, the drive for economic self preservation is the greatest hindrance to entering into the Kingdom of God.

The people that have the hardest time connecting with that connecting point between the infinite heaven and our finite creation are not the poor down here, but the rich.   The rich that have few more of those grains in the hourglass.   I mean, the rich have twelve grains of sand, and after all, the poor only have one.  But, it is just twelve grains… Jesus says it’s hard for the rich to understand that there is the infinite provision of God…”How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  ‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬, because they are so locked into their paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.

We are dominated by our paradigm of scarcity, and we fear there will never be enough.  So we are committed to maintaining economic self preservation by force, and this is the way of Cain.  The force maintaining our economic self preservation is where we place our faith, and it’s idolatrous.  I’ll say it again.  The force maintaining our economic self preservation is where we place our faith, and it’s idolatrous…

What happens is, when we operate within our paradigm of scarcity and we put our faith in force to forcibly preserve ours, this creates competition.  Competition leads to conflict.   Conflict leads to conquest.  Conquest leads to resentment because people tend not to like to be conquered (go figure).  Resentment leads to retaliation and rebellion, and that leads to war.  And the whole thing becomes one big self-fulfilling prophecy that there is not enough because we squander it fighting one another…

Because we are dominated by our paradigm of scarcity, it leads to competition.  Competition leads to conflict, conflict leads to conquest, and people don’t like to be conquered and this leads to resentment, and then rebellion, and then retaliation and war, which leads to the self-fulfilling prophecy of scarcity and lack, also known as the haves and the have-nots.   Now what do we have?  Maybe you can recognize the four horseman of the apocalypse

The white horse of conquest.  Followed by the red horse of war.  Followed by the black horse of scarcity (or famine).  Followed by the pale horse of death.  People ask “Do you think those horses are about to ride?”  They’ve been galloping across human history several times a century since history began!!!!   And Jesus wants to SAVE us from the stupid cycle of the stupid four horseman!   He wants to save us from this cycle where we have conquest, we conquer, but people don’t like to be conquered.  So as soon as they get a little power and some kind of leader they retaliate, and that leads to WAR, which is the worst squandering of human resources, and it turns into that self-fulfilling prophecy of Look there’s not enough!  

Yeah, because you spent it all killing each other.  Of course there’s not enough now.  And in the end it’s always that pale horse that rides across history.  Jesus says, “Let’s do something else, because this isn’t working!   I’ve come to save you.”  Jesus came to save us from the stupid cycle of conquest, war, famine, and death.  Conquest, war, famine, and death. Conquest, war, famine, and death.   That’s human history.

The miracle of the the loaves and fishes is a sign pointing us to Jesus in a new way, but do we have eyes to see it, do we have faith to believe it?   Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.   We call him Lord Jesus Christ.   Christ means Messiah, Messiah means King.  Christ is King.  Jesus is the King.  Yet they come to make him king, and he runs off to hide.  What’s happening here?  The key word here is force.  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force…the crowd wants to take Jesus by force to make him their forceful king to lead their forces.  This is exactly what Jesus will not do.  Jesus will not ride the white horse of forceful conquest, because that leads to the red horse of war, that leads to the black horse of famine, and that leads to the pale horse of death, and that’s what Jesus came to SAVE us from, not ride.
 
The Kingdom of Christ is without force.  It’s persuaded by love, spirit, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if need be laying down our lives, martyrdom.  Because we love not our lives, even to the point of death.  But never by force.  The kingdom of God does not come by winning the game of force in our finite sphere.  The kingdom of God comes by, in faith, connecting to Jesus Christ, and thus to the beauty of the infinite.

The Word became flesh and blood.  The Word didn’t become an idea, the Word didn’t become a theory, the Word didn’t become a sermon.  The Word became flesh and blood.  The flesh and blood of Jesus is the connecting point of the finite and the infinite.   I’ve used the word infinite, but the Bible uses another word for this, it’s called eternal life.  Instead of infinite, I could have used the words eternal life.  But I want to bring it in a fresh new way.  In the beginning was the infinite, the infinite was with God, the infinite was God, and the infinite became finite flesh and blood, lived among us, and we beheld the beauty of the infinite.

The beauty of the infinite.  It’s a sign.  It’s not just Jesus giving lunch one time.  It’s a sign that we can connect by faith with the word made flesh, and that opens us up to the infinite.

 

“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬
 

 

John Lewis

I Shall Not Want

I Shall Not Want

So Jesus is giving is a sign as to just how mistaken we are when we go through life believing there is just not enough for us and for them, for me and for you, for mine and for yours…

We are back in Galilee.  The multitudes are coming to Jesus, and it is a beautiful thing.  The setting is beautiful in Galilee.  Grassy slopes rising up from the Sea of Galilee, and the people were coming to Jesus in great numbers.   And Jesus is teaching them, and of course he was teaching one and one thing only, the Kingdom of God.  He was teaching them the way that their creator, whom He calls his Abba, his Father, intends for human beings to live.  It’s an alternative social structure.  It’s not a social structure based upon systemic sin, it’s a social structure based in love.  

Because this government of God, this reign and rule of God, is only constrained by two laws.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.   The cynic will say, and maybe you agree, that you just can’t build a society around that kind of law and structure.  But Jesus says, “Oh, yes you can!”  And this is exactly what it is that Jesus teaches and preaches.   

We’re told that it was Passover.  There were three Passovers in John’s Gospel.  It is from John because of this that we get that Jesus’ ministry lasts 2 1/2 – 3 years, we don’t get that from Matthew, Luke or Mark.   If we only read the synoptic gospels, we might think Jesus’ ministry only lasted about a year, but it’s from John that we see it lasted 2 1/2 – 3 years, still a very short public ministry.   On the first Passover, Jesus had gone to Jerusalem, and events there had created some trouble for him.  

Now, it is the second Passover, and Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for the Passover because of death threats.  He’d been there for an earlier festival, probably Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, and there were death threats.  It says he was not going back to Judea because the Judeans were seeking to  kill him.   When the third Passover comes around, Jesus will go to Jerusalem, and he will be killed.

So it was Passover time, but Jesus was staying in Galilee.  Passover is a Jewish table rite.  It is remembering how God delivered the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, and how God provided for them with the manna from heaven through the long journey to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.   Jesus will take that Passover meal, and he’s going to innovate.  He’s going to rework it into what we call communion.  John gives us the Eucharistic theology of Jesus at the end of this chapter.

So we’re on a grassy hillside listening to Jesus teach about the government and social structure of God.  He’s teaching how God wants the world arranged.  Not how Cain and Pharaoh and Caesar and all those want it, but how God wants it.

Then he turns to one of his disciples, Phillip, and asks him Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?    These people have needs.  They can’t just live on my words.  They are human beings.  They need bread, maybe more.   Where are we to buy bread to feed these multitudes?  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  And of course Phillip answers, probably much as we would, Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.    Phillip breaks out the calculator and figures out it would take at least $12,000 to feed them all.   So Andrew, Peter’s brother, speaks up.  There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?   Andrew immediately feels silly for saying out loud that a little boy has five barley loaves and two fish for such a vast multitude of people.  When he hears himself say it out loud, and there’s such multitude of people, but what is five barley loaves and two little fish for so many people???   But it turns out he’s onto something.  

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”   Jesus says, I think we can work with this.  Have everybody sit down.   Now there was much grass in the place.   Let them sit down in the green grass of this lovely place.  Now let’s go back to Psalm 23.   What does it say?   “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.   I shall not…what?  I shall not…come up lacking.  I shall not be insufficient.  I shall not be the victim of scarcity.  I shall not…not have enough.   “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”   We should see that the Shepherd is present here.   He sees these people as his flock, and the Shepherd knows he needs to feed his flock, so he has the sit down.  So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.   The little boys lunch of five barley loaves and two fishes are given to him, he takes them he gives thanks to the Father.  He gives a prayer, thanking God that he is the provider.  He gives a prayer of thanksgiving, because God is the king of the universe, God brings forth bread from the earth.  Jesus blesses the meal, and begins to give it to the disciples, bread and fish, bread and fish, bread and fish….Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.   He keeps reaching into the basket.   It seems as though he keeps reaching, but where’s he reaching to?   There’s five to start with, but He’s reaching into something that seems to be infinite.   How long does it take to distribute 1, 2 ,3, 4, 5 barley loaves and 1, 2 fish?   One, two,  three, four, five, six, seven, you should be done, but he’s not.  It just keeps coming.  Where’s he pulling from?   He keeps passing it out, giving it to the disciples, and the twelve are passing it out.   And it just keeps coming.  Maybe this is not a closed system after all.  It just keeps coming, He keeps reaching in and giving and giving, and he’s giving, and he’s giving….

It’s his first hands on miracle.  Water to wine, the healing of the officials son, the healing by the pool are all spoken word miracles, but Jesus has got his hands on the bread and the fish.   He’s giving out these McFish sandwiches, there you go.   And people start eating.  And they have seconds, some have thirds.  They’re not worried about their low carb diet, they just want more bread!  They eat and they’re happy and they’re having a good time, and they eat until they are filled.  And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 

They eat until they are filled.  Jesus says let’s not let anything go to waste, let’s take up the leftovers.   So from the leftovers of five barley loaves and two fish that had fed five thousand men plus women and children, there is now gathered up of the leftovers twelve baskets full.   When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”    Of course it’s a sign.  And of course it’s twelve baskets full.  It’s a sign of Israel being reconstituted.  Twelve tribes.  Twelve apostles.  Twelve, the number of God’s people.  There’s twelve baskets full, and John tells us this is what the Kingdom of God looks like!  The kingdom of Cain says there’s not enough!  We’re convinced there’s not enough!  There are only five loaves and two fish, and there’s not enough, and you better believe we’re gonna fight, because  I’m taking four…and both the fish!!!  Here, you can have this little loaf, I’m getting mine over here.   If you try to take mine, there’s going to be trouble…

And Jesus gives us a sign, another way.  There’s another way.  You’ve been lied to.   You’ve been told there’s not enough, but there is.  You’ve been lied to.  You’ve been told that scarcity and insufficiency is the paradigm through which you must view the world, but it’s a lie…

The fourth sign in Johns Gospel tells us this – we no longer live in a zero based, closed system universe.  In the incarnation, the Infinite has made contact with the finite…
 
So much more to say…
 

 

John Lewis

There’s Just Not Enough

There’s Just Not Enough

Back to the feeding of the five thousand.
 
In John’s poetic prologue to his gospel, which is so important, John tells us something about the beauty of the Infinite entering into the finite.   “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭1:14, 16‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  The word became flesh, we are told.   The logos became human, incarnation.  Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…this word could also be understood as beauty.   We have seen his [beauty], the beauty of a Fathers only Son, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.   

From the fullness of Christ we have all received grace upon grace.   But the human condition, as a problem, suffers from a kind of emptiness.   We can ask the question What’s wrong with us?   There are many ways we can answer this question, but one of the ways we can answer this question is to say we suffer from a kind of emptiness.  Not just spiritual emptiness, there’s that too, but we live with a pervasive mentality of scarcity and insufficiency, this is very important.   We are infected in the way we think about life itself.

As human beings, we can only survive in a social structure, our lives are intensely social by necessity.  So here we are, thrust into this social structure that is the human condition, but we come with a problem.  Or at least as young children we are scripted in such a way, unknowingly, that there’s just not enough.  There’s not enough to go around.   There’s not enough for everyone, you know?   This, really, shapes the way we view the world in a very negative way.  There’s just not enough.   So we have a paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.   There’s not enough, because there’s just not.  So I have to make sure there’s enough for me and mine, because there’s just not enough.

So this is our problem.  Why did Cain kill Abel?  Seriously, why did Cain kill Abel?   Was it because he thought there just wasn’t enough?   Was there not enough land?   There’s not enough land for Cain’s crops and Abel’s flocks, at least that’s what Cain thought.  So Cain has to get rid of the competition, even though it’s  his brother.

We are the sons and daughters of Cain.  It is not Abel’s legacy that we have inherited as a human species, but Cain’s legacy.  Certainly we are the sons and daughters of Cain, why else do we covet and why do we fight and why do we exploit?   Because we view the world through Cain’s lens of scarcity and insufficiency.   We don’t see ourselves as blessed with abundance, we perceive ourselves as cursed with scarcity, so we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of the void, we’re afraid of emptiness, we’re afraid of insufficiency, we’re afraid of empty bellies, we’re afraid that there’s just not enough.

We are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and that creation is a closed system.  I don’t think we are formally taught that at any point (although I do work in sales and deal with a company that absolutely believes in the concept of zero-based budgeting…so maybe the world is starting to formally encode this belief).   At some point philosophy may creep into exploring this line of thought, but by the time we are three years old we already know this.   We may not know any of the words at three years old, but we certainly are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and creation is a closed system.  Or, as we might say, that it is finite, that creation is limited.

Now we are getting to it.  The jumping off point I spoke of previously.  This paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency lies at the heart of our systemic sins.   Stay with me here.  There are personal sins, and that is what we mostly focus on,  because we feel so hopeless in doing anything about our systemic sins. But the real problems of humanity stem not from our personal sins, but from our sins as a whole, as a human race.   As human beings, as we build our societies, we build them in sinful ways.  No one person or group is responsible, but are are all culpable in it.   We are all implicated.  It’s because of our paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency that we build systems that are in and of themselves sinful.

We fear that there won’t be enough oil.  There won’t be enough land.  There won’t be enough food.  There won’t be enough water.  There won’t be enough money.  There won’t be enough labor to go around, so we build and maintain sinful structure to guarantee that WE have OURS.   We fear that there’s not going to enough for us, however we define US, so we use force against THEM, to guarantee we have enough for US.

Still with me?  Try.  We create an organized, slow motion version of anarchy.  You know anarchy, think of lawlessness, the rule of law thrown out the window, it’s every man for himself, people are smashing windows, just grabbing whatever they can.  Think about times during riots when suddenly when all law and order dissolves, it’s pandemonium,  it’s anarchy, the zombie apacolypse comes upon us…

What we have done in our systemic sins is to create a slow-motion version of anarchy.  We don’t recognize it for what it is because it takes place over decades or centuries.  Native Americans were victims of the slow motion, organized anarchy known as Manifest Destiny.   Just grab what you can and the rest will just have to get by as best they can

This way of viewing the world is absolutely dominant.  We take this to be truth.  If there is a truth we believe in, this is it.  That there is not enough, there is not enough so we have to be committed to our side and we have to grab and clutch and hold on and fight and make sure we have enough for ours.  We view this as truth, as reality, as the way it is.   But it is not…

It is into this sad world dominated by the paradigm of scarcity that the Son of God appears.  And on a grassy hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives us a sign of just how mistaken we are…

Again, that’s enough for now, to be continued.
 
 
“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis

The Rules



Back to the story at hand.   Let’s not miss that after the healing narrative in this story of healing the man at the pool of Bethesda, the story says Now that day was the Sabbath.   It was the Sabbath.   “So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.””  ‭‭John‬ ‭5:10-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  In this story, it says So the Jews said to the man who had been healed…  We need to recognize that when John says Jews here, everyone in the story was Jewish.   But when John uses the Jew, he almost always means the Judeans, or Jerusalem-ites.    These were a bit more austere and rigid in their various religious observations, and they were constantly clashing with Jesus.  This is who John is referring to when he says “the Jews”, because, again, everybody in the story is Jewish.  But he is referring here to those who were a little more religious, fanatical, and austere in their Judaism.  

The Pharisees had 39 activities considered as work and therefore prohibited on the sabbath.  The Torah has instructed the Jewish people that they were not to labor in the sabbath.  But what does that mean?   They came up with a list of 39 activities that were prohibited.  Among these was moving from one domain to another.   Changing addresses is prohibited on the sabbath.  We can’t move from Main Street to Park Avenue on the sabbath.  That is work for sure, isn’t it?  And that’s exactly what this man whom Jesus has healed is doing.   He has rolled up his mat and is moving on up!   He’s moving from one domain to another.  So the Pharisees see this man walking down the road carrying his mat, and all of a sudden it’s “ Citizens arrest!  It’s against the law!  You can’t do that!”   But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’   And go figure, he thought it was a good idea…

Isn’t this reaction from the Pharisees strange?   Shouldn’t they be struck by the miracle, by the healing that was done in this man?   Shouldn’t they be looking for the man who could simply by his word heal a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years?    But that is not the reaction we see.

Instead, in the face of a great healing miracle, all the Pharisees could hear was that some guy on the sabbath had told someone else to take up his bed and move.  “We need to find out who this guy is.”    They weren’t looking for a miracle worker, they were looking for a sabbath breaker.   And so they missed the sign that something big was going on.  Something big was happening here, but there was nothing bigger to these Judeans than the rules.  Nothing was more important that keeping the rules.   So they missed the sign that God was at work healing the sick in marvelous ways.  All they knew was somebody out there is breaking the sabbath.  Somebody ain’t keeping the rules.  We need to find this man and prosecute him.  Which should show us just how crazy religion can be.

Maybe the lesson to be learned is something like this – if we are focused on the rules, we will likely miss what the spirit is doing.   Now, yes, we need rules.  I do understand rules are important to our lives.  We need rules in a family, in school, in civil society, you need rules in church.  But I will stand by the statement that if we are focused on the rules, if we think that what the Christian life is about is keeping the Christian rules (now you’re a Christian, here are the rules.  We don’t do this, we don’t do that, we don’t, we don’t we don’t…), if that is your focus, then you are mostly going to miss what the spirit is doing.  That’s what these Judeans missed.  They couldn’t see Jesus as a miracle worker, and that would be a sign, they could only see him as a sabbath breaker.   

The Spirit of God is a little bit wild.  We can’t tame the Sprit of God.   We can’t corral the spirit of God.  The Spirit of God seems to have little regard for petty rules.  The Spirit of God blows where the spirit of God wills.  Think about how the wind blows across borders.  Our national borders, political borders.  If we try to cross borders, there are LOTS of rules.  We stand in lines, have proper documentation, have your passport, your visa, stand behind the line until you are called, wait as they look at your documents, pass them through a scanner, finally out come the rubber stamps and you can pass through.  

But the wind, it starts up in Canada, blows down into the United States, down to Mexico, into Guatemala.  Or it’s up in Siberia, Russia, goes down into China, then down into India.  It never obtained a passport, got a visa, stood behind the yellow line or waited to talk to an immigration officer.  The wind just blows where it wills.  That’s very much like the Spirit of God.

Someone says it’s against the rules, you can’t heal on the sabbath!  The spirit of God says I just do what I want!   I blow where I want to go.  I don’t check with the men with the boots and the badges.  I just blow right by.   Don’t be so caught up in the rules that you miss the Spirit of God as it just blows right by you.   Or you just may be the one being left behind…

 

John Lewis

What’s That For Us?

Back in John’s telling of the first recorded miracle of Jesus, turning water into wine…

So yes, On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   The third day as in Tuesday, as in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…also as in the doubly blessed third day from Genesis, a doubly blessed day that must be the day the Jews in Israel would have to be married on.   But never forget…and John will not let you forget, the third day is also the day Christ himself rose from the dead…

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   Cana of Galilee.   Funny thing about Cana of Galilee is, we know exactly where this is.  You can still visit Cana today.   It’s only 5 miles from Nazareth.  Which probably tells us exactly why Jesus was invited to this wedding.  Because he was known in the community, he was local.  Yes, let’s invite Yeshua, the carpenter, remember him, he fixed our steps and built the gazebo a couple years ago.  Let’s invite him.    Jesus was invited, his mom was invited, his disciples were invited.   Not because they were Jesus’s disciples but also because they, too, were known.

But Jesus only has six disciples at this point.   This is the very beginning of his ministry.   He’s got Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, and Nathanael.  Nathanael specifically has just joined the day before.   He has just become a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus had told him You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” John 1:50 NIV.   Better hold onto your hat, you’re going to see some awesome things.   And sure enough, the next day they are at the wedding in Cana, and Nathanael will something truly amazing.

It’s a Jewish wedding of the first century.  And we need to understand about Jewish weddings, or we might be confused.    When we think of a wedding, we think of a quick ceremony followed by a wedding reception.   But this is not a reception with mints and nuts and cake and punch in a plastic cup.  This is a feast that will go for days.  This is not a 20 minute ceremony followed by an hour long reception.    You would have the ceremony, the bride and groom would disappear for a short time (not for pictures), the happy, blushing couple would return and the feast would begin!

It sounds crazy, but that’s how it was done.  Jesus is at one of these first century weddings.   They’ve had the vows, the happy couple has disappeared into the tent, now they’ve come back, and now it’s time to start several days of feasting.  But no sooner had they got started, a real catastrophe happened.  In a shame and honor based culture, which is typical of the east, including first century Israel, things like weddings have to come off right or it brings great shame upon the family.   What happened here was, they ran out of wine.   If you run out of wine, it is a catastrophe.  Because when you have a feast that’s supposed to run for three days, if you run out of wine, people go home.   Well, that’s that!!  People begin to drift away, and what’s supposed to be a several day feast is over by the afternoon.   It’s very embarrassing, the shame could linger within the family for generations – “That’s that family that tried to have a wedding!   That didn’t work out, they ran out of wine and everybody left!!  LOL

So they ran out of wine and are the verge of a social catastrophe.  Jesus’s mother is there with Jesus, her eldest son, and simply observes They have no wine.   Notice that she’s not requesting for Jesus to do anything.  This is not a request.  Mary is not saying “Jesus fix this.”   She’s simply making a whispered observation laden with pity.  “Oh my goodness. They’ve ran out of wine, I feel so sorry for them.  How embarrassing.  How did they let this happen?  They have no wine.”   In our English translations Jesus’ response is rendered like this – Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.   What is actually said here in the Greek is apparently at least a little enigmatic, obscure, and difficult to understand.  This comes across in our translations as a rebuff, but I don’t think that’s what happening at all.  It doesn’t fit, Mary has not asked Jesus to do anything, she has just observed that they were, in fact, out of wine.  NT Wright says we would benefit greatly from a simple punctuation change –  Woman? What! Has this to do with me?   Or how about this.  Jesus response is really, if we could understand, more like this – “What’s that for us?  I’ve got time.  I can take care of that.

Jesus says  My hour has not yet come.  Jesus knows that an hour will come when he can not work.  The hour of darkness.  The hour that he’s betrayed and turned over to the Romans.   The hour that he’s crucified.  But Jesus knows that’s a ways off.  So Mary says oh no They have no wineJesus responds and says “What’s that for us?   We can take care of that.  I’ve got the tine.  I’m not in a rush.  I can handle this.

Here’s an example so we can better understand.  Imagine you’re in the grocery store, heading home after church to get your true worship on and watch some football, and at the front of the line is a young mother buying groceries, formula and diapers for her baby.  Except she is coming up a couple of dollars short of being able to pay for what she has.  And now she’s embarrassed, because there is a line of people in line behind her.   She’s slowing the line down, and I mean, kickoff is in fifteen minutes!   The back of her neck is white hot from the glowering stares behind her.  This young mother is both embarrassed and a little desperate, because she needs those groceries.  At which point your spouse whispers “She has no money.”  So you  grab a couple of bucks out of your wallet, discreetly head to the front of the line and give it to the cashier.  “Here’s the rest of the money.  I’ve got this covered.”   Because, after all, what’s a couple of dollars?  What’s that for us?   We can take care of it.

That’s what’s happening here.  That’s exactly what Jesus is doing.  Mary says They have no wine.  Jesus says No big deal.  What’s that for us?   He’s not saying “That’s not my problem.”   What Jesus is saying here is “That’s no problem.”   It’s all in how you hear the idiom, and there’s all the difference in the world.

How many times do we see others in certain situations and walk away without helping, telling ourselves “That’s not my problem.  What’s that got to do with me?”   But really, “Whats that for us?”   It’s so easy for us to turn our backs and walk away.  I do it everyday.   But, again, “What’s that for us?  We can handle that.”    Can’t we?

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:1-11 ESV

John Lewis

Bright Eyes

We read and pray Psalm 88 and we find that “my eye grows [dark] through sorrow…”  Psalms 88:9 ESV.   Some people have dark eyes from the sorrows they have seen in life.   They say the eyes are a window to the soul.    You can look in some peoples eyes and they tell a story, oftentimes a story that is sad.  Some people have dark eyes because of the sorrows they have seen in life, we understand that.

But some people have dark eyes because of the way they look at life.   Jesus talks about that in the sermon on the mount.  “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.  Jesus talks about the eye, how we look at life, being the lamp of our entire being.  He says this in the sermon on the mount in the context of where he is talking about money.  The text is bracketed by Jesus speaking about those who would be his disciples and how we view money.  Right before this text, he says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 ESV.   At the end of this passage he says “.…You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:24 ESV.

So this dark eye that causes our being to be filled with darkness has something to do with a wrong approach to money.   We could say it like this : there are those who go through life with the squinty eyes of greed.  The squinty-eyed have dark eyes that darken their own soul because they have learned to look at life in the wrong way.  We can look at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation, and cynicism.   There is a way of looking at life through little slits, sizing people up, looking for an advantage, calculating, cynical, jaded, greedy.  If you look at life that way, the light pouring into your soul is in fact darkness.  We can look at life with the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, but we end up with dark eyes and a dark soul.

Or we can look at life with wide-eyed wonder, love and acceptance.  With our eyes wide open, wide-eyed wonder of love and acceptance, we have bright eyes and a bright soul.  Some have dark eyes because of how much sorrow they have seen in life.  But some have dark eyes because of how they shut out the light by how they look at life.

But the gospel message is this – Jesus can save us from both the dark eyes of sorrow and the dark eyes of cynicism.  So that if you have seen so much sorrow and pain and suffering in your life, and you feel like your soul has been darkened, I want to tell you the good news that Jesus can come to you and heal you from your sorrows.  He can give you bright eyes and a bright soul.

And if you’ve been looking at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, Jesus wants to teach you a brand new way of looking at life through the wide eyed wonder of love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul…

John Lewis