Archive for the ‘mercy’ Category

Read: Matthew 12; Exodus; 1 Kings 1-11

In his short little book simply titled Following Jesus, NT Wright waltzes through several New Testament books and explores their main themes and ideas. Among the books explored is the Gospel according to Matthew. Of Matthew he writes:

Matthew's whole gospel is, in fact, a Coronation Anthem. And the only sensible reason for going to church and hearing Matthew read is so that we can learn how to join in.

But who is being crowned King? Matthew gives him two names, and explains them both. He is to be called 'Jesus', which means 'YHWH saves'–because, says Matthew (1.21), he will save his people from their sins. That is, he will deliver his people from their exile, which was the punishment for their sin. He will be the King who will go down into exile with his people and lead them up and out the other side. And the real exile is not the Babylonian one. It is the satanic exile of sin and death.

The second name is 'Emmanuel', which means 'God with us' (1.23). Matthew has drawn together the two threads of Jewish expectation. First, God will save his people from their sins; yes, and he'll do it through the King, Jesus. Second, God himself will come and dwell with his people. Yes, says Matthew; he'll do that, too, through the King, Jesus. This book celebrates the coronation of the saviour, the God-with-us-King. (25)

Well, that's a wonderfully beautiful way of saying it. I've said it with several more words, to be sure, and so has Matthew. But Matthew is building his Gospel brick by brick (if I may change the metaphor) and will not be satisfied until he laws the final brick, the capstone to the entire edifice: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime there's a lot of ground to cover. This is where we meet chapter 12 of Matthew. And it is overwhelming.

One thought, governing two aspects of Israelite history, bookends this chapter and thus defines for us everything going on in the middle. First, in verse 6: "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here." This must have absolutely sent shock waves through the community. People just didn't talk about the temple that way, but Jesus did. I think perhaps he wanted them to keep the temple in perspective or maybe he wanted them to think about the temple in a new way–not so much as a place, but as a person in whom all that the temple offered was reserved and unleashed.

I suppose we are kind of that way with our own buildings now too. And the sad, sad reality is that in our modernish ways we tend to invest a lot more of our time and resources in our properties than we do in our people. And maybe Jesus was making a similar judgment about the people of that generation. The key is found in what he says: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. In other words, I care far more about people than I do about your rituals. They never escaped that trap. I wonder if the church of now will? Jesus said this. Jesus said that mercy is more important than ritual.

This is a message the church has yet to hear.

There's so much kingdom talk in this chapter. One thing that stands out is that now the agitation and aggression towards Jesus is heating up. Now the Pharisees are openly plotting to 'destroy' him. Now they are actively thinking that Jesus is a mere agent of the devil. Jesus keeps on going. He will continue to be a man of healing and hope. He will continue to be merciful to all who desire mercy. I guess Jesus' thinking is that the more people line up against him, the more merciful he will be. I mean seriously: how depraved does one have to be to plot against someone who heals another person? Yet that's what they did. Jesus heals, and he's in league with the devil. Jesus heals, and he's a threat to the power structures and must be destroyed. Jesus lets his people eat, and he's little more than the leader of a sinful band of degenerates.

No one says such things about the church. I suspect that's because we don't do these kinds of things that arouse the suspicions of others.

The chapter ends much as it began, in verse 42: "The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here." Solomon, man of wisdom and wives, was indeed a great king. He wasn't as great as his father, but he was special. Now Jesus says that even Solomon is eclipsed by Jesus.

Jesus is greater than the temple. He's greater than Solomon. He's greater than sacrifice; he's greater than wisdom. And he will keep pressing on doing good to people and preaching the kingdom of God.

You have to admire Jesus…even though 'admire' is a poorly chosen word. Something greater. And? This something greater says that what really matters is mercy. Jesus, the King, Emmanuel, the Son of Man, says that what matters for his disciples, for those who would follow is this: mercy.

NT Wright concludes his chapter on Matthew in Following Jesus with these words, "In the kingdom of the Son of Man, the power that counts is the power of love. It is the rule of Emmanuel, God-with-us." (31) Jesus says he is building a family of brothers, sisters, and mothers around himself. He is the center which holds us together and how does he hold us together? Mercy, love. And what is he saying to us? Be merciful. Love.

This is the something greater: the teaching, embodied in Jesus, that what matters here and now is mercy, not sacrifice.

Go and be merciful.

I've been thinking a lot for the past several days or so and the Lord has really convicted me of something. This morning he cornered me and left me no other option but to surrender.
 
It's far more complicated than simply changing my mind and agreeing with another person's idea. Fact is, some people simply cannot contain their ignorance when it comes to giving others space to grow and learn. I saw some people saying that if you reject refugees, you are rejecting Jesus. Yeah. That's the sort of statement that helps change a person's mind. (/sarcasm). Nor are people who are concerned about refugees racists. It's not quite that simple. I’ve seen people misusing the Bible to make their point as if the United States is somehow or other equivalent with the Church of Jesus and, therefore, obligated to act in a way that Jesus expects Christians to act.
 
It’s not as simple as simply condemning someone or calling into question their faith–ironically, that’s the easy way to disagree with someone: just dismiss them as lunatics, racists, or heretics. This is not what I have learned about thoughtful engagement with people. I’m still learning. I don’t always succeed. Yet here we are.
 
It might just be that some folks are not ready to make such decisions yet. I confess that is exactly where I have been since the attack on Paris and the rise in awareness that the the country where I live was to receive Syrian refugees. You can call it fear. You can call it politically motivated. You can call it whatever you like. I am not ashamed of the fact that it took me several more days to come to my conclusions than it did other people. I’ve learned the dangers of making quick decisions about such things–be them complicated or simple.
 
I am ashamed, however, of some of the things that other Christians have said about their brothers and sisters in Messiah who have arrived at different conclusions or are still thinking through all the things that go along with welcoming Syrian refugees into our states, our cities, and our homes. There’s a lot of judgment being hurled around by some church folks on social media towards other church folks. I’m sure that looks worse than those who have legitimate concerns about the welcome of refugees. It’s a shame, really, that thoughtful dialogue goes by the wayside when we are politically motivated.
 
The truth is more complicated. A person is not rejecting Jesus just because they have legitimate concerns about the safety of their family or others. Nor are they lesser Christians because they have political disagreements with the current presidential administration. Some people will not, admittedly, change their minds. You know what? That's cool. It doesn't mean they are a terrible person. And it doesn’t mean people who disagree with them are somehow smarter, better, more politically astute, or more Jesusy. It means that some folks have concerns and in our current world's climate, I think to reject legitimate concerns of anyone is the ultimate hubris.
 
Rather, I think love is patient. Love gives people room to grow and change and be molded into the attitude of Jesus who, although being in very nature God, did not take hold of it and use it for his own purposes. But He served people and gave his life for them. And love is kind. It means nurturing those who are a little slower with whom we disagree. It means what whatever we do we do in love. Whatever we say or do, we say or do in love. Even when we disagree. Even when you are right and I am in error.
Can I have space to grow and learn and think and research? Can the Holy Spirit of Jesus have time to work on me too?
 
I have grown weary of those people in the church who think that because they are ‘right’ they have the ‘right’ to ridicule and judge those with whom they disagree. This is not the attitude of Jesus. This is not love for your brother. If I disagree with you politically, will you love me less?
“If I smelled like Vapo Rub; if I talked like Elmer Fudd; if you found reptiles in my tub; Would you love? Would you love me? Would you love me anyway? (Elliott Parks)
Anyhow, I've been thinking a lot about refugees. I thought about them this morning when I was at a school doing some observations. I saw a little child who, for all intents and purposes, was a wreck. He looked malnourished. He looked like he had just woke up. He looked bad and he was easily the kind of kid the some people will reject because of his appearance, his slowness, and for other reasons. But when I saw him I was overcome with conviction because the reason I teach is for him. I always tell people that I want the kids no one else wants. Give the most difficult children and I will teach them. I saw the face of Jesus in this child. I repented on the spot because I saw the face of an innocent child who looks neglected and impoverished. I saw Jesus.
 
Statue of Liberty: Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.
 
Jesus said it first: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
 
Here’s what I got to thinking. Maybe the rest of the world lives in fear and rejects refugees because they practice Islam or because they had a cousin who wore a bomb vest. Maybe the rest of the world says, “you cannot come here, because we hate you.” Maybe the rest of the world, right now, hates those of Middle Eastern descent. Maybe they have no where else to go. Maybe they feel unloved. Maybe Jesus wants me to think differently. Maybe, even though this is clearly a political move on the part of Washington, just maybe God has other plans. Maybe they are impoverished and unkempt.
Maybe in coming here and finding mercy, compassion, and love…maybe they will also find Jesus.
 
Honestly? I wouldn’t want to live in the Middle East–torn from the chaos of war as it is. Maybe coming here refugees can find peace, and hope, and mercy, and love such as they are not able to find in their homeland. Maybe the Lord will use us and our open doors as instruments of his peace. Maybe we should hope he does.
 
And maybe now is the time to build relationships with people who will likely someday return to their homeland. And maybe do so with Jesus in their heart and the Gospel on their lips.
 
Is there risk in taking in refugees from the Middle East? I suspect there very well may be. Are there angry people among the infirm, women, children, and elderly? Probably. That is a risk we take and whether we agree politically with the president or not; whether we agree with the loudmouths on the other side of the political aisle or not; we agree with Jesus. And Jesus wanted people. Jesus never said that love was easy. Jesus said that love is risky. For his love for us, it cost his life. And in order for us to love, I think we must be prepared to do the same. Really it’s not a matter of political allegiance; it’s not a matter of religion; it’s not a matter of my Christian faith (in the sense of whether I have it or not); it’s not a matter of anything but love.
 
Jesus told Christians to loved and I suspect that he means if the world goes north, we should go south. It means that our attitude should be that of Jesus, not the world. It means we should be different. And noticeably different.
 
I’ll close on this. On the way to work this morning I was listening to Rich Mullins. It’s an old CD called ‘Songs’ and is a compilation of some of his better or, at least, his more well known songs. I had a longer ride to work this morning so there was more time to listen to music. I made it through the first several songs and then the CD, because it is old and scratched up, froze up in my CD player. I had to skip a couple of songs and I ended up on a song called ‘Let Mercy Lead’. I said at the beginning that the Lord boxed me into a corner. When this song came on my car stereo, the last song before I had to work, he sealed the deal and slay me.
Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There'll be a drop of grace
If we can reach Beyond the wisdom of this age
Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe
Although their foolish hearts may break
They will find peace
And I'll meet you in that place
Where mercy leads
Love doesn’t make sense. It’s somewhat irrational at times, I suppose. It does things, or forces us to do things, that often make no sense to others who do not know about Jesus. Love takes risks. Love is the very thing Jesus told us to do and I don’t suppose that Jesus meant for us to be picky about who we love. Just. Love. Always. All.
 
Not everyone will buy what I’m selling. I’m cool with that. Take your time. You may never arrive here. I’m cool with that. There are probably areas of life where you are leaps and bounds ahead of me with your love of others. I’m happy to grow and learn from you. Imagine if all of our thoughts and actions and words were lead by mercy. Imagine if people are coming here because the Lord Jesus wants to send them back to the Middle East with himself in their hearts?
 
Let mercy lead. Jesus, Lord, open my heart to your forgiveness. And grant that I, sinner as I am, will demonstrate your love and mercy to all who will receive it.