“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” It sounds like a trick question that Jesus is asking. But it’s legit. The wilderness was not the kind of place you Uber a donkey to for a day in the great outdoors. Nor was it a vacation destination that drew a lot of tourist. Yes, it’s true that if you were to go out there you’d need to pack some bags, and maybe take a couple of days off from work. But don’t even think about booking a room at the Holiday Inn.
Like most wilderness places today, it was hot, hard to navigate, and not very friendly. In some places, it was downright dangerous. Still, people flock to there to find John, to hear what he had to say but what they found and heard was something of greater importance.
Three times Jesus asks, “What did you go out there to see?” A politician whose views change direction wherever the wind blows? A fancy king who only looks after his own best interest? Heck, you wouldn’t have to leave the city to find that. No, they came to see a prophet. One who didn’t mince words and wasn’t afraid to speak out against the king. That was John. He belonged in the wild with the rebels and renegades because his message was revolutionary. “Repent!” he screamed. “Change you heart, correct your thinking. Bear good fruit or risk being chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
John was no ordinary prophet. He was the one who prepare the way for a radically new political realm, with a new king who would rule not with violence and death, but with peace and healing. Some of the very things the people were searching for when they went to see John.
In comparing John to Elijah – the one to announce the coming of the Messiah – Jesus made a powerful statement about himself. One that threatened the kings and the economy of the world. Those who had ears knew what was happening. That’s why they risked their life to go to him.
I reckon we all eventually wind up in a wilderness at some point in our lives because at some point the world will fail to provide what our hearts truly desire joy, peace, hope, love, mercy, justice and grace to name a few.
I came here with the intentions of getting some clear answers to question that have been weighing on my heart about the church and my ministry. But honestly I’m looking for the same thing as those people who went to see John. Like I said last week, we’re all hungry for the food God has to give us. And it was out there, in the desert wild, I found exactly what I was looking for.
Now while our girls were at camp, a friend and I did some hiking in Zion National Park - which seemed fitting for my wilderness journey. In the bible, Zion was known for many things, one being the Kingdom of God. Jeremiah writes, “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God (Jer. 31:6). On every trail we took, we were surrounded by majestic mountains, painted with the most vibrant colors. Like heaven itself, it’s impossible to adequately describe what I saw, but the grandeur of God’s glory was undeniably present.
On our hike through the Narrows, a trail that is literally a river, Jim and I sloshed through the water, flanked by massive walls of reds and oranges and grays that seemed to squeeze closer together the further up river we walked. When we weren’t tripping over shifting rocks, we were wadding through the wild currents. And whenever it got difficult or laborious I’d say, “Fear not. We are in the Kingdom of God.”
And at times I swear I heard the canyon walls echo the psalm, “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? From the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip” (Ps. 121:1-2). At least that’s what was in my head as Jim’s shoe began to slowly fall apart.
The first of many stops to repair Jim’s damaged shoe was on a tiny river bank that was barely big enough for the two of us. It was there I first saw this massive butterfly with bright yellow wings fluttering in the wind. It kept swooping down to get my attention. To my surprise, this beautiful creature followed us up the river and all the way back just to make sure the message was received.
It took a moment for me to realize but this butterfly was reminding me where I was and who I was with. I was in the Kingdom of God, in the presence of the Christ, whose Spirit made sure our feet did not slip. Our knees took a beating but our feet remained firmly planted in God’s care. I had come to the wilderness to find divine inspiration, but it was the Divine who first found me.
Two days later, Jim and I were hiking to a place called Angel’s Landing. It’s a steep 2,000 foot climb to a narrow summit that got its name because it was once believed only angels could land there. With a 1,200 foot drop off on either side, I believe it got its name because one wrong step and you’ll be an angel landing.
We took that hike with a young man named Nick who left his wife at the lodge to hike alone. I learned Nick was raised Catholic but likes to study all the ancient religious and spiritual practices. Nick had a ton of energy that helped push us two older men up the mountain. But he also had a ton of questions about God... good ones too. I wish I’d thought to answer Nick’s questions with a question like Jesus likes to do. What did you come out here to see? What are you looking for in life? What do you hope to find?
Instead, I told him about the butterfly and what Richard Rohr once said, “God loves things by becoming them.” No sooner did those words leave my mouth, when guess who showed up flapping its large yellow wings announcing, “The Kingdom of God is here.”
I told Nick if you want to see God, all you have to do is open our heart. This is true to all of us. We hold the key to the answers we seek. Like Rohr describes, “If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.”
My point to Nick was this: No matter where you are, whatever questions you have, or issues you’re dealing with, turn your eyes inward and say hello to God.
You need to look no further than your own self because that’s where God has chosen to dwell. God has made all things, and in all things is the Divine. And that includes you and me. I am not suggesting we are God. We are made in God’s image, not the other way around.
In all his ways, Jesus taught us to keep our hearts open...not so God can come in and change us but so that we can go into ourselves and be changed by God who loves us enough to become one of us.
By following the way of Jesus, the Christ, we discover not only how powerful and healing God’s love can be but that we also possess that power. And with that power comes the great responsibility to open and heal the hearts of the world to move humanity from a place of violence to a kingdom of peace. When we keep our hearts closed – our minds and hands are quick to follow.
Just as the butterfly reminded me of where I was, and what I had been seeking, so to does Jesus remind us of what we must do to share God’s love in the world. Paul tells us that we must imitate Christ. Or as I have been saying all year when you see and do what Jesus does, then you learn and teach the will of God for others to follow. Let those who have ears listen.
It doesn’t matter if you’re walking in the wilderness, or stuck in an office, or sitting in a classroom, a wheelchair or prison cell, you have all the hope and peace, freedom and grace you desire because the love of God in you. Knowing this, you can be for others all that the world is unable to be...the very love of God, no matter where you are or what wilderness they are in.
The people flocked to the wild to see John. They risked their lives to receive the good news. But they saw the unexpected... a glimpse of heaven here on earth. That’s the power of God’s kingdom and the transforming love we receive from its king, Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe. (New York: Convergent Press, 2019).
This story opens our eyes to the power of God’s love, and it teaches us what it means to share that love with others. And it also reminds us of how God empowers you and me to take our ordinary lives and make something extraordinary.
At this church we affirm that God is love. And we believe Jesus is the perfect definition of what God’s love looks like. For example Mark said, “Jesus saw the people and had compassion for them.” He did not turn the crowd away, but took the time to talk with them and care for their needs. We might say he fed their souls.
God is love, and if Jesus is a representation of that love then that tells me there no need is too great or too small to bring before God who loves you enough to take the time to ensure your needs are met. So we pray, give us this our daily bread.
This is good because people are hungry these days. They’re hungry for love. They’re hungry for justice. They’re hungry for peace, and unity, and reconciliation. We may not hunger for food, but we all have a hankering for something greater than what we can give ourselves. Whether we know it or not, we all hunger for God.
You might have noticed in this story the people aren’t demanding to be fed. They didn’t come for actual bread, but came for the bread of life himself. “Whoever comes to me,” said Jesus, “will never be hungry again.” That was true then. It’s true today.
Because of great love for us, God has prepared the most exquisite banquet feast for all who wish to come and be fed. At God’s table, no one is turned away, and there’s more than enough to go around.
We affirm that God’s love, and that divine love is made manifest through Jesus, the Christ. Through him the power of God’s love is made known to the world. One of those ways Jesus does this is by sharing that power with those who follow him...including us!
For some great mystery to me, God has entrusted you and I with an awesome responsibility – to let God’s glory to shine through us upon the darkest of places. As it is written, “no one has seen God, but when we love one another, God is made visible through us.”
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Take a look at the story again and you’ll see that Jesus doesn’t feed the people. The disciples do it. God works through people like you and me. We are the body of Christ, the hands and feet and heart of Jesus through which God’s will is done.
Whether it’s making a sandwich for a hungry child at the border, or holding the hand of a grieving friend suffering a tragic loss, or praying with someone who lives alone on the street… Jesus calls us to be the bread of life – to feed those who hunger for God’s love and righteousness.
That’s right, you and I are like Jesus, called to be the bread of life. How does knowing that change the way you hear Jesus’ question: “How many loaves do you have?” In other words, how can you take what God has already given you and feed those who hunger for it?
You might believe you don’t have much to offer. That’s what the disciples thought. They saw what little resources they had and believed it was impossible to meet the needs of all those people. But Jesus gave them the imperative, “go and see.”
I invite you to do the same. Go and see, and you will discover God’s love is in you. Just as he did with the disciples, Jesus takes what you have and blesses it. That’s when the real miracle begins. Love multiplies and soon there is enough for everyone, and then some.
We affirm that if God’s love is in you, then you possess all that you need to share God’s banquet feast with others, and you do that through concrete acts of love, justice, compassion and mercy. You have enough love in you to forgive those who have hurt you or betrayed your trust, and to reconcile your difference with your enemies.
When you see and do what Jesus does, allowing God’s love in you to be made manifest, you become not just miracle worker… but the miracle itself, the one blessed and multiplied by Christ.
Whenever I read this story, my mind always goes back to the apartment complex where Kathleen and I first met. It was one of the greatest churches I’ve ever gone to. It was communal and life-giving. Filled not with statues of pious saints, but with breathing sinners from all walks of life who had great love for one another.
That love was best seen in the meals that we shared around a rickety old garden table Kathleen and few others had painted. On any given night we fed one another with a collection of stuff gathered from our refrigerators and cupboards. A jar of spaghetti sauce from Stacy, a head of lettuce from Kristine, carrots from Rochelle, bread from Kathleen’s kitchen, spaghetti from mine, and left over bottles of wine from pretty much everyone who had some. We all ate, laughed, cried, sang, confessed and hoped together. There at that table our hearts were full.
“When we all come together with what we have,” writes Shane Claiborne, “we all will be fed.” That was true in that apartment in Hollywood, just as it was in that field with Christ and the twelve. Jesus asked the disciples to go and see what they had to give. The twelve took an inventory of their hearts and faithfully began to share what little they had.
But I believe the real miracle happened when those who saw what the disciples did … looked within themselves and began to do the same. A little bread, some fish, cheese, olives, and perhaps some wine. Those who had, shared with those who had none. No one was left hungry, and there was plenty left over.
Maybe this is why the early church loved this story and told it all the time, especially when they ate. Not only does it speak to God’s abundant love for them, but it also gave them a concrete way to live and share that love with one another. In the days following Pentecost, it is written that “everyone shared what they had and no one was without.”
If you ask me, this is how God manifests real, life-changing miracles every day. In us and through us. When we share God’s love amazing stuff happens. Ordinary things become extraordinary.
So as you leave here today, remember that whatever you have to give, it is more than enough for God to bless and use for the good of the world. (Remember that when you think about tithing to our ministry.)
Jesus led by being a living example – by being the bread of life for all so no one goes hungry. Through him God feeds us, nourishes us, and empowers us to go and do the same…to continue his mission of sharing God’s glory in all that we do.
When we come together in unity and faithfulness, miracles happen. Love is shared. Lives are changed. Souls are fed. And no one goes without. But more importantly the glory of God’s love, peace, and justice prevails…in abundance.
Through us, and with us, God is setting the banquet table to feed all who are hungry. And thanks to Christ Jesus, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, no one will ever be turned away.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 308-313.
Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution. Living As An Ordinary Radical. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) pp. 154-167.
Held-Evens, Rachel. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015) pp. 125-133.
Jesus invites you to look around the paths you walk and ask yourself 'How can I help?' And then allow God’s love to manifest through you.
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Throughout the world the term “good Samaritan” is synonymous with charitable do-gooders like the one in this story. For example, we have Samaritan’s Purse – a Christian organization that supplies aid to victims of war, poverty, and natural disasters. In the UK there’s the charity “Samaritans” that’s dedicated to suicide prevention. In Australia there’s the GSDS, the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary, which does exactly what its name suggests. And here in L.A. as well as other cities, we have a hospital named after the heroic character in this story.
Good Sam has found his way into politics as well. In his first inaugural address, George W. Bush cited it when he said, “I pledge our nation to a goal: when we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.” While U.S. policies have radically changed since then, the Good Samaritan remains a beloved instruction manual on how to live life well.
Luke begins with a lawyer asking Jesus, “What must I do to do to inherit eternal life?” As a lawyer, his sole job is to know Mosaic Law and to teach others how to live it. He knew the answer. But as Luke said he asked in order to trick Jesus.
I know from my own experience, trying to trick Jesus never works in your favor. The man discovers this when Jesus – keeping with Jewish tradition – answers his question with a question of his own. ‘’This is your area of expertise. You tell me, what does the law say?”
By knowing the Torah well, the lawyer nails the answer – love God and love your neighbor. I’m thinking Jesus has more pressing issues to deal with and so he kindly replies, “You are correct. Do this, and you will live.”
Now this would be the point where most people would stop while they’re ahead. But for some reason the lawyer was moved to throw the onus back on Jesus. And he asks another question. “Tell me then, who do you think I should love?”
This time, Jesus answers by asking the same question to him. He puts the burden of proof in the lawyer’s court. Jesus, too could have stopped there. But instead tells a parable about a bunch of different people. Was he trying to waste the lawyer’s time? Or did he see something in the heart of this man’s question? More importantly, what does it say about your own heart?
To answer this question is to ask the question, “who am I in this story?” The victim, the robber, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, the Inn keeper, the lawyer, or Jesus? I’m sure we all want to be the Good Samaritan. I mean who doesn’t want to be the hero? Also, I don’t think I’m the kind of person who’d avoid helping someone in need. And I certainly don’t think I’m capable of ambushing and harming another person.
If I’m not Good Sam, then I guess I could be the innkeeper who gets to help without taking on any real risk. I also have a Master’s degree in Theology, but I don’t identify with the lawyer, even though we share the same responsibly. And let’s face it, I’m nowhere near being like Jesus, although I struggle trying.
If we take an honest look at this story, the one character I think we all identify with is the wounded traveler. He could be anyone of us. Jesus tells us nothing about him other than he’s been robbed and left for dead.
He could be rich or poor, married or single, young, old, nice or naughty, spiritual but not religious. His Tender profile could be you or me, because we are him. We all know what it’s like to be hurt, beaten and robbed in one fashion or another. This is what makes the story timeless and applicable. More than asking “Who am I in this story? Jesus is asking, ‘“How does your love for God and others play into it?”
The lawyer thought he was testing Jesus only to discover it was he who was being examined. His relationship with God allowed him to answer correctly, but Jesus is searching this man’s heart to see where he truly stands in relationship with others. For the best way to show your love for God is to be that love for one another.
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus reminds us that one day our hearts will be searched. We too will have to answer how we love God by loving others (Mt. 25:31-46). And we can’t answer with another question unfortunately. Just as a tree is known by it’s fruit, so too are we known by what we produce (Luke 6:43-45).
Ancient wisdom puts it this way, the one who sows kindness, reaps kindness. But the one who sows hatred reaps what he sows (cf. James 3:18). And I believe it was the Buddha who said, “Show a person kindness, and they will show you a person who is kind.”
Around the corner from our house is a bus bench with an public service ad that reads: “Kindness is King because of you.” Everyone of us is fighting a hard battle. We all know what it’s like to be the wounded traveler…kicked when we’re down, robbed of our dignity and wellbeing, left by the side of the road…forgotten and passed by. Thus we all need kindness.
Because Jesus answered the questions with more questions, the lawyer was able to break through the legal traditions, and discovered, the true mark of a neighbor is any person who offers kindness and mercy to someone else.
Amy Jill Levine notes, “our love for God or our love for neighbor cannot exist in the abstract.” We must get involved. We have to take action. We have to get off our ass, go down into the ditch, and give what we have so that others might be cared for.
As Kristen Berkey-Abbott reminds us, “Love is not an emotion, it’s an action.” I’d add, love in action is kindness. It is mercy, generosity, grace, forgiveness and patience. It’s all the things Jesus did when he healed the sick and cast out the demons in people’s lives.
By seeing what Jesus does and doing it ourselves others will be healed, and they too will learn God’s love for them, and teach it to others wherever they go. It’s like paying the grace of God forward, until the wounds of the world are healed.
Jesus could have ended his story with the question “which of these people is the man’s neighbor?” He could have stopped after praising the lawyer for getting the right answer again. But he doesn’t. Instead, the One who has the final word gives us this imperative: Go and do likewise.
Go be the one who shows mercy.
Go be the one who cares for a stranger or an enemy.
Go be the one who is willing to go out of your way to ensure all people get the healing they need.
Go be God’s divine love in a world crying out in pain.
Jesus invites us to look around the paths we walk and ask ourselves how can I help? And then allow God’s love to manifest through you.
As Berkey-Abbott so aptly put it, “We have to go through life behaving ourselves into love.” We might believe we are the Good Samaritan, but Jesus is calling us to be something greater.
In writing to the churches in Ephesus, St. Paul called us to “be imitators of God… and walk in love, just as Christ loved and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God…” (Eph. 5:1-2)
So I will leave you with his words: “Go, and do likewise.”
Go walk in the world as the love and mercy of God so we all can inherit eternal life. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp.238-43.
Berkey-Abbott, Kristin. Living By The Word, Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century vol. 136 no. 4 (July 3, 2019) p. 18.
Levine, Amy-Jill. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of A Controversial Rabbi. (New York: HarperOne, 2014) pp. 71-106.
Every time we do what Jesus calls us to do, we touch the very heart of Christ and are healed.
This unnamed woman is one such person. Mark said she’d been suffering 12 years with a condition that most scholars agree had something to do with her mensural cycle. This is not my area of expertise but I do know this would stop her from having children. And the constant outpouring of blood would have made her too tired and weak to hold a job. This is important to know, because she’d spent all her money on painful and expensive treatments that only made matters worse.
Like that wasn’t bad enough, Jewish law had forbidden anyone from touching her, nor could she touch anyone without that person becoming unclean as well. If church gossip has taught me anything its that people in her community probably knew of her condition and avoided her at all cost. Her illness made it impossible to be physically, emotionally, or sexually intimate. She was as the Hindus would call, an untouchable.
She had no money, no companions, and no hope left. Jesus was not her first choice but her last resort when she pushed through the crowd, breaking rules and long-standing traditions to touch him...even if it made him unclean. She took her chance, and it paid off.
The second her fingers brushed against his clothes, she immediately felt the bleeding in her body stop. Jesus felt it too, and immediately he stops. Somebody just got healed. And Jesus wants us to know who.
Why does Jesus feel it’s important for us to know who touched him?
Up until this point the disciples are still clueless to who Jesus really is. They’ve witnessed some amazing miracles – casting out demons, calming the stormy sea, and even a few healings here and there. But they have yet to figure out his real purpose for his calling them.
As we’ve been answering these questions, we’ve learned that Jesus is more than some magical physician. He is the Christ, the one sent by God to restore and redeem us back to God’s steadfast love. This woman touch the cloak of Jesus, but her faith touched the very heart of Christ and she was healed.
Despite Jairus’ best efforts to get him to move on, Jesus didn’t stop just restore this woman’s wellbeing. He could have done that while walking. I believe Jesus stopped because he wanted to let those who shunned her and cast her out from their community to know she was made new again. This woman’s soul, the very essence of who God made her to be, was once again restored. So too was the soul of her community.
You’ve seen those big crosses along the highways that read “Jesus Saves”? Well, that’s because that’s what Jesus does. He saves us. Not just so we can get our ticket punched heaven, but so we can be a part of heaven right here and right now. Jesus wants us to experience a God who repairs the damaged parts in our lives in such a way that we inadvertently become living witness to this good news.
Jesus said, “Daughter your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” This is good news. But at what cost? As Jesus was busy doing his thing, news came to Jairus that his little girl had died. He was told there was no need for this guy’s help anymore.
Jesus tells Jairus not to fear, but only believe. Taking three disciples with him, Jesus pushes through the crowd and enters the house to restore the soul of this suffering family. Breaking from the rules and traditions himself, Jesus takes the unclean hand of the dead child and says, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately she gets up and walks around the room. And everyone is amazed…go figure.
But was it faith that saved this little girl… like it had with the woman? No! Nor did Jesus tell her father to have faith, but only to believe. Trust that God knows what God is doing.
Don’t get me wrong, faith is necessary to evolve your understanding and relationship with God. Paul opens his letter to the Romans telling us it is by faith that the righteousness of God is revealed (Rom. 1:16-17). I believe this is true. Faith plays a major role in who we are and who God is in our lives. And I believe Jesus wants us to live in faith so that we can be present with him where he is. But like I said, there’s more to faith than simply grabbing that golden ticket to heaven. You have to believe it and live it accordingly.
Jesus made it very clear that Heaven has come down to us, right here and right now. Through Christ, God repairs the damage we’ve caused so that we can fully enjoy a foretaste of what is to come. Jesus began his ministry declaring the Kingdom of God is here. This begs the question, “Where is that kingdom present in your life today?”
In a recent blog post for Pathos, Paul Bane wrote, “Heaven comes every time we love our brothers and sisters. Heaven comes when we are at peace with our circumstances in life. And Heaven comes every moment we dwell in the presence of God.” Let’s take the liberty to replace the word “heaven” with the word “healing.” So it reads, healing comes every time we love someone… or healing comes every moment we dwell in the presence of God.
Every time we do what Jesus calls us to do, we touch the very heart of Christ and are healed. I believe this is true for the faithful as well as those who question their faith. Because every time you make sandwiches or pack the grocery boxes at the food bank, you touch the heart of Christ and are healed.
Every time you give a cold glass of water to hot and tired stranger, or a sweaty little kid, you touch the heart of Christ and are healed.
Every time you spend your day off visiting your elderly neighbors, or volunteering at an animal shelter, you touch the heart of Christ and are healed.
Every time you kiss a skinned knee, or hold a crying baby for a tired mother, or stand up for someone who is being bullied, marginalized or cast out from their family because of who God made them to be…you touch the heart of Christ and are healed.
Every time you see and do what Jesus does, not only are you learning and teaching others to do the same but you are also touching the heart of Christ and are healed. For it was Jesus who said, “Whenever you do these things to the least of these, you do also to me” (Mt. 25:40).
If touching the fringe of his cloak is enough to heal you of all your suffering, imagine what touching the heart of Christ can do to heal a broken and hurting world.
As followers of Jesus, we represent this side of heaven…and the compassion we show to others is the healing balm God uses to redeem and restore our families, our communities and our world…today and in the age to come.
Whenever you hear Jesus ask, “Who touched me?” I hope you will raise you hands high, and say…”It was me Lord!” And you will be made well.
Let us pray:
Loving God, thank you for spreading the light of your Son, Jesus Christ, across all of creation so that wherever we are, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can reach out and touch your heart. And be healed. Amen.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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