We don’t have to swim in the sea of empire like a bloodthirsty shark. We don’t have to sink in the sea of empire like a drowning victim. We can walk with Jesus and stay above it all because Jesus is Lord!!
“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has [infinite] eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live [infinitely] forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.” John 6:52-59 ESV
One last thought on Jesus’s first miracle, turning water into wine. Short and sweet, I promise.
Jesus doesn’t just turn any old water into wine. Jesus turned water for ritual purification into wedding wine, and this too is a sign. The sign is that there is about to be a huge shift in how we understand our relationship with God. Instead of always washing, washing, washing, mikvah, mikvah, mikvah, ceremonial cleansing, over and over, repeatedly, several times a week, instead of always washing and never really feeling clean, now the Kingdom of God is going to be more like eating and drinking with close friends with nothing to prove. Because you know you belong and you know you are welcome there.
To be involved with God, Jesus says is not going to be like always bathing but never getting clean. It’s going to be like sitting at a table with your best friends, enjoying good food and drink, with nothing to prove. Things are about to shift from purity rites to shared table delights.
Instead of are you clean enough, are you pure enough, are you holy enough, are you kosher enough, the question is now going to be will you come to the table? Want to come to God? The question has changed. It used to be that the question was are Holy enough, pure enough, kosher enough, clean enough??? But Jesus says that’s not the question any more. The question isn’t are you holy, clean, or pure enough, the question is will you come to the table??
That’s the standing invitation Jesus gives to you. He invites you to his table. And he says I’m not asking you if you’re clean enough. I’m not asking you if you Holy enough. I’m not asking you if you’re good enough. I’m not asking you if you’re pure enough. I’m not asking you if you’re religious enough. I’m not asking you if you’re kosher enough. I’m just asking, will you come?
That’s all Jesus asks of you, is that you come. Just come. Just come to the table and then things will happen. But know that you are welcome here. You are loved here. You are accepted here. Just come as you are.
“They tell me to be discreet, for all intended purposes, they tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand I’m sure it is. But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized. All I feel are heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.” Bob Dylan.
Jesus wants to teach us a brand new way of looking at life with eyes of wonder, love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul. I’ve used this quote before, but here it is again – “Christianity is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all” – Pastor and author Brian Zahnd. The problem is that the people who are most explicit in our culture in identifying themselves as Christian are not famous for forgiveness. If we are identifying ourselves with Christianity, which is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all, but we are not famous for our forgiveness, something has gone very wrong. We say we care about Christianity in America. We say we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live as Christians. But we have a problem.
The dominant, most visible public expression of public Christianity in America, evangelicalism, is in deep trouble. The us vs. them thing is killing us. We have adopted a paradigm of self-identifying ourselves as we are the righteous and they (pick your group) are the unrighteous, and we are going to react toward them by protest, by clenched fist, by furrowed brow, and this attitude and paradigm is killing authentic Christianity in America.
I can’t paraphrase or otherwise say this any better, so this is directly from Pastor Zahnd’s 2010 book Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness. So I’ll just quote from it.
“When we choose to forgive those who intentionally and maliciously harm us instead of perpetuating the cycle of revenge, we become a living imitation of Jesus Christ. And as we do this, we flood a world hell-bent on paybacks with a forgiveness that washes away sin. The world is all too full of the lust for vengeance. This lust is ultimately demonic in nature and is what fuels all our wars – from petty personal conflicts to deadly world wars. Christians are called to opt out of the game of getting even. The saying is that “vengeance is sweet,” but vengeance is sweet only to the sick soul. To those who have tasted the grace of God in Christ, vengeance is bitter as gall. Bob Dylan talks about the perversity of calling revenge ‘sweet’ in his under-appreciated song ‘Dark Eyes.’
‘They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,
They tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.
But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,
All I feel are heat and flame and all I feel are dark eyes.’
Revenge is not sweet. It’s the heat and flame of hell and leads to the dark eyes of a lost soul. Those who would aspire to imitate Christ must feel nothing for the game of paybacks. The saying ‘paybacks are hell’ is true in more than one sense. Paybacks are not only hell for the recipient of revenge; paybacks are also hell for the executioner of revenge. It’s the lust for revenge that destroys our souls and keeps us chained in a devil’s hell of exponential hatred and endless retribution. The only way out is the imitation of Christ.”
Who are we imitating? Are we imitating Christ? Or are we dancing with the devil? Just what kind of light is the lamp of your soul beaming?
“”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.
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…
Last time I wrote, I finished by saying that Jesus had to react so strongly to Peter’s rebuke (accusation?) at Jesus’s telling to the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again because this rebuke/accusation from Peter (You’ve got the wrong idea of what it means to be Messiah Jesus!) had the potential to put self-doubt in the mind of Jesus. And yes, Jesus could suffer from the temptation to self-doubt. To doubt oneself is a very human thing to do, and Jesus was very human of very human….and therefore subject to all the temptations we humans suffer with.
Was Jesus tempted with self doubt? I don’t know the answer to that question for sure, but it’s certainly possible. And I do know this – everybody doubted Jesus. And I do mean everybody. Think about the struggle this would cause for you and I.
Think about the struggle Jesus must have had with this. He was doubted by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. Did this affect him? I don’t know, but they were the authorities, the scholars, the theologians, and they were saying Jesus, you’re vision is wrong. Did this induce any self doubt? I don’t know, maybe not. We’ll say that no, it didn’t.
Jesus was doubted by his own disciples. That’s got to hurt. He was doubted by his own brothers – “For not even his brothers believed in him.” John 7:5 ESV. Even worse than that, Jesus’ own mother doubted him. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”” Mark 3:21 ESV. We read this and chuckle, but there’s nothing funny going on. This is a family intervention. Mary gets James and Joses and Judas and Simon, Jesus’ four brothers, maybe some of his sisters, and says to them “Jesus is mentally unstable. Your older brother is mentally unstable. He’s got these ideas and they’re just going to get him killed. We’ve got to intervene.” And they go to seize him because they think Jesus is suffering a mental breakdown.
Think I’m reading too much into this? Maybe. But let’s skip 10 verses later, and what does it say? “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.“” Mark 3:31-35 ESV. We like to spiritualize this, I would say we over-spiritualize it. This is a serious family situation. Jesus is with a group of disciples, they had just tried a family intervention and they are coming to try again. Mom and the brothers send word in to Jesus that they are looking for him, and Jesus says what? “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Hmmmmpht. My brothers and my mother??!! These people that are hearing the word of God and doing it, these are my mother and brothers! Ok, when your mom calls you, just say “Who is my mother”, and let me know how that works out for you. This is a very tense family situation.
They don’t believe in him. They love him, but they don’t believe in him. They don’t believe he can go about being Messiah and live the Sermon on the Mount at the same time. He has this idea, somehow, that he’s going to liberate Israel and bring about the kingdom of God, yet not kill anybody!! Turn the other cheek and bring the kingdom of God? That’ll never work. That’ll just get you killed Jesus….and that’ll be the end of that.
Know what’s really heartbreaking, when you think about it?? Jesus went to the cross with NOBODY believing in him. They loved him, yes, but they did not believe in him. James loved him, John loved him, Peter loved him. Other disciples loved him. Judas, maybe not. Mary Magdalene loved him, his mother loved him. Yes they loved him. But they did not believe in him. They believed Jesus had missed it. He’d had the potential to be Messiah, he coulda been Messiah. But he clung to his lofty ideals, and now the whole thing is falling apart, and just like they said he went and got himself killed. And in the eyes of those whom Jesus most cared about, he was dying as a failure. Please try to imagine how hard that must have been…to go through all that with nobody believing in him. That’s why in the Garden of Gethsemane an angel had to come and strengthen him. He had to have a direct message from the father. You’re doing the right thing. Don’t give way to self doubt now. Don’t let those negative people and comments get through to your psyche and cripple you. Stay the course.
When people get into their head that messiah, Christ, is to be a certain way, it’s almost impossible to change it. If you try to change their idea of Christ, you will be subject to accusation. Even Jesus did not succeed in changing people’s understanding of what it means to be Christ until after his resurrection. They just could not accept, and their response was to do what Peter did, and accuse him of making a mistake.
When we begin to discover Christ in a deeper way, when we begin talk about Jesus in a different way, when we take the American varnish off of Jesus and show people that Jesus is not an American committed to the American dream and our superpower status, and that in fact the American way and the Jesus way are not the same way but are often at odds with one another, people might say all kinds of things about you. Just like his own countrymen said all kinds of thing about Jesus for showing that God was not just God for the Jews, but for Gentiles and the whole world as well.
But it was true. It’s still true. We need to come to see Jesus as he is, Christ for all, not just a nationalized Christ, the American Jesus. But this messes with peoples understanding of Christ and who Christ is. When we begin to rub that red white and blue varnish off of Jesus, people will not like it. People are very comfortable with that red white and blue varnish, start rubbing that off and people will accuse you of all kinds of things. Start rubbing that off, there will be star spangled trouble.
If you get accused, though, you can’t lash out. If you lash out, it just fuels the Satan, It gets worse and worse and turns into a hurricane. You forgive. You absorb the blow and forgive. Father forgive them because they don’t know what they do. If possible, you try to help them see what they are doing. But what you cannot do is let the accusation get into your head and become self doubt. Because what happens is you take the accusation up and begin to practice self accusation. You become your own Satan in your own head, and you go to hell inside your own head. Anybody else know about this? You become subject to unjust accusation, but you begin to take it up against yourself. You begin to accuse yourself. You idiot, you’re stupid. What in the world are you doing? Am I the only one?
It will begin to flood you with self doubt, you will be paralyzed, things will spiral out of control. We can’t lash out, but we also cannot afford to allow these accusations to lodge in our head and fill us with self doubt. How many if you have ever been the victim of unjust accusation? Might go all the way back to when you were five years old. Maybe your dad or your mom told you you idiot. You’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything. That was unjust. Nobody should ever say that to anybody, especially a child. Rationally you know it was unjust, not right, yet forty years later it’s still lodged in you. So now you take up against yourself. You say to yourself, you’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything. Maybe it was a parent, a brother, a friend, maybe it was an enemy. Maybe a boss, could be anybody. You’ve begun to be victimized by unjust accusation but it’s gotten into your head. And you need to pray like this – “Lord, give me the strength to be strong and true, because lord when the devil gets in my head I’m so blue…”. (From an Irish folk song…)
Never forget that the spirit of accusation is the spirit of Satan. It’s the un-holy spirit. The opposite of this is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy. God says “I love you. I’m for you. I’m on your side. You’re going to make it.” You’re ok, and when you’re not ok it’s ok not to be ok. Bring it to the Holy Spirit, to your brothers and sisters who do the will of God and lift you up.