Just as Divine love is inclusive and shows no impartiality, so too shall we show justice and fairness to everyone, no matter the cost.
Six months ago we did something we never thought we’d do. We took our finger, poked a giant hole into the dirt and planted a seed of hope in this crazy garden that we call New Church Sherman Oaks.
To our surprise, something interesting began to grow. God took our little seed and blessed it, and its roots were slowly strengthened and spread to places way beyond our little back yard. We are so thankful to everyone who supported us by making us your place of worship.
Like most churches, our biggest challenge has been trying to understand this new way of defining church. We struggle because, “This it’s not how we’ve always done it.” Actually, it’s not like anything we’ve ever done before. And we’re good with that.
We don’t have to be perfect. There’s no need to get upset when something goes terribly wrong, because something will. And we don’t have to worry about breaking some time-honored tradition because we don’t have any. Best of all, God hasn’t asked to reinvent the church, but has called us all to define it in the way we live life.
I am grateful that we can gather together, in this way, to learn how to be God’s beloved children, and how to be holy as our God is holy. Which takes us to today’s text. (Leviticus 19:1-2;15-18 and Matthew 22:34-40)
As one of the five books of the Pentateuch, and part of the Jewish Torah, Leviticus is filled with life’s little do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts). This includes things like purity laws, types of sacrifices, and moral holiness. Which is why most people avoid this book like the plague, which has it’s own set of rules in here.
Religious conservatives often use Leviticus to pick and choose verses that defend a certain belief; like sexual morality. Liberals also use it to make their own claims, often to debunk conservative arguments, or to roll their eyes at ancient cultural rituals. But as a whole we seldom read Leviticus for devotional or contextual purposes. And so the gold leaf often remains nicely intact.
I think this is a shame, because, like Jesus, these tough words force us to confront our own opinions and challenge our faith. If anything, they provide the basic guidelines that help us think beyond ourselves, and to be more like the people God intended us to be: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
How many of us wish to plug up our ears when we hear this verse read? Someone once said to me, “It’s as if God is setting me up to fail.” But perhaps God is merely helping us see our real potential. Showing us what we are made of, and what we can actually do.
The Hebrew “קָדוֹשׁ,” and the Greek “ἅγιος,” are often translated as "holy" or "holiness." This suggests a sense of moral purity. The Pharisees certainly were good at arguing this point with Jesus. But the most basic meaning of the word is to be "set apart" or "dedicated" to God, which of course was Jesus’ counterpoint to them.
As we learned last week, we are united and rooted with God, because we are made in God's image. God’s pure love is etched in each one of us. Just the same, God’s holiness is a part of who we are, and who we were made to be. God is in our DNA.
Even with that assurance, we often think living a holy life is impossible to achieve. In many cases it is – given the world today. It’s hard to be holy, but it’s not impossible. As Jesus points out in Matthew’s gospel, I begin to live out my holiness when I begin to love God and my neighbors as myself. Difficult, yes. Impossible, no.
Now, when Jesus speaks of love, he is not talking about just any kind of love. Matthew uses the Greek word ἀγάπη “agape,” which is a self-giving love that is more concerned about the other person than oneself.
Agape starts with God, and God’s love for me. As I begin to love myself as God loves me, then I can see others differently. I can begin to tear down the barriers and walls of division, and love my neighbor without fear, jealousy or anger. Agape allows me to move with everyone else towards a universal humanity that God had always intended.
What this means for all of us is that God’s love for your husband or wife is not dependent on his or her likes and dislikes, job, mood, or any other changeable thing. Nor does God’s love for your brother or sister depend on whether he or she continues to drive you nuts.
And just the same, God’s love for your friends or co-workers does not depend on whether or not they let you down, or stab you in the back. The love God has for you is the same love for everyone. It’s a part of who we are, whether we know it, understand it, or accept it.
As we are united to God through divine love, so too are we united with Christ, the perfection of Divine love manifested. Therefore to be a follower of Christ means we must wear his holiness out in the world.
Holiness, like love, is more than an emotion inside us. It’s visible and tangible, and comes alive when we show kindness to others, or give generously without worrying about getting something in return.
When Christ is alive in us, loving through us, we no longer have room in our hearts for grudges or anger. And there’s certainly no room for hatred or judgment. Christ removes the desire or need to seek revenge or cause harm to other human beings.
Just as Divine love is inclusive and shows no impartiality, so too shall we show justice and fairness to everyone, no matter the cost. No one understands agape better than Jesus.
So when we skip over tough passages like ones in Leviticus, we set ourselves up to miss the small details of Jesus’ ministry that have a big impact on the world. It’s only when we truly understand what God’s love means to us… that we are truly able to understand who we are, what it means to bare the image of God, to be holy like God is holy, in the way we love God, ourselves, and others.
Through Christ Jesus, God’s perfect love comes to us to, in spite of who we are or whatever language we speak. It never gives up on us, or rejects us, or causes us to fail. In fact, the amazing and everlasting love that God has for us is patient, and kind, and will never fail. And with him and through him, this love will outlast eternity. That is the good news.
We may not love ourselves perfectly, or even come close to being a perfect church, but boy do we try. And yes, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. When we try to love our neighbors like this, in a way that offers the same kind of slack we cut ourselves, then we become holy children of an all loving, all forgiving, ever holy God.
So here’s what I hope you will think about this week:
Through agape love, Jesus calls each one of us to make a decision to see others as God sees them. If we chose to follow Christ, if we dare to bear his holy name by calling ourselves Christians, then we must act on this decision by truly loving God, ourselves, and one another.
This is what it means to be holy. This is what it means to love.
And this is what it means to define the church in all that we do.
Bartlett, David, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox) 2011.
Logue, Frank. Everything Hangs on Love. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2017/10/04/everything-hangs-on-love-twenty-first-sunday-after-pentecost-october-29-2017/
Caesar wants an empire. But God wants you.
Give to Caesar Caesar’s image, which is on the coin, and to God God’s image, which is on mankind.” - Tertillian
If I were to ask you what are the two things you cannot avoid, you would say? Death and taxes!
I find it amazing that as Congress is looking to do a major overhaul to the tax codes, the lectionary give us this passage to think about. The U.S. is quite familiar with disagreements around the question of paying taxes.
In 1773, the phrase “taxation without representation is tyranny” was first coined. Three years later we’re an independent nation. And today, we’re still arguing over, you guessed it, taxes!
Similar cries were heard among the Jewish people back in first century Palestine, which had become subject under the Roman Empire. Like most of us today, the locals were not too keen on paying taxes especially when it supported an occupying army in their homeland. Just as America had loyalists to the English crown, the Emperor had the Herodians who willingly paid taxes and loved Caesar. Stranger than that, they also colluded with the Pharisees who, for religious reasons, were opposed to Caesar, let alone paying him anything.
The 50% tax rate was a severe burden to a peasant family like Jesus’ in Galilee. It kept people buried in debt. And allowed the state to control its citizens who were rapidly falling into indentured servitude. It’s no wonder these two opposing groups used a question about taxes to trick Jesus. It was a perfect set-up, a political conundrum designed to be that “gotcha!” moment to get Jesus in trouble, and strip him of his growing popularity. But leave it up to Jesus to find a loophole.
We’ve seen this before with Jesus, answering his inquisitor’s question with another question. He first asks for a coin (notice that he doesn’t have one). Then he asks, “Whose image is this coin?” When they identified correctly, all Jesus says is “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” He leaves it up to them to decide who gets what.
The question Jesus asks still lingers with us today: What do we owe… and to whom? One needs to look no further than the coin in our own pockets and purses.
Writing in the 3rd Century, Tertullian translated Jesus’ response to say, “Give to Caesar Caesar’s image, which is on the coin, and to God God’s image, which is on mankind.”
This is a powerful statement in that as Shane Claiborne notes in his book Jesus for President, “Caesar’s coins were floating all over the empire, stamped with Caesar’s image. Inscribed were the words ‘Long live the Son of God’.” To a good and faithful Jew, Caesar’s coins broke a number of commandments. But to everyone throughout the empire, “they were a visual sign that the entire economy belonged to Caesar, without him everything would fall apart.” Today you might say this was his part of his branding campaign.
However, Jesus knows a little something about image and idolatry. He also seems to know that there are two sides to every coin. What Jesus intimates but does not verbalize is an even bigger question: What then bears God’s image?
The Scriptures assert that human beings are created by God and in God’s own image. Paul even declares God’s imprint is on all of life, and therefore no one is excused from knowing God. You could say our one definitive, universal characteristic is God’s divine inscription etched within us. It gives us our worth and purpose.
When we bear the image of God we also bear the responsibility. Just as Christ did when he walked in public or prayed in private, we too must always be seeking God in our midst. So why is it then that we continue to chase after that which is Caesar’s?
Jesus knew what was going on. He knew this was a trap. He also understood a royal coin, crown, or robe can bear Caesar’s image. These are material things; objects that thieves can steal, rust can destroy and moths can eat.
You and I do not belong to Caesar, but to God whose dwells within us. To quote Thomas Merton, “There is that in you that no one can destroy or diminish because it belongs completely to God.” (Rohr)
Caesar is finite and life taking. God is infinite and life giving.
In keeping with our theme to live in Christlikeness, we must constantly struggle to see and recognize God in every living thing. Including ourselves! We bear God's image as Christ did. And like him we have to let others see that divine indwelling of love.
“Jesus was one human person among many, just as the Church is one organization among many. But Jesus is the Christ; he is Emmanuel, “God with us,” revealing God's love to us. As his people, we not only share the image, but the name as well. We are called together as the church that makes his presence visible in the world. The Pharisees had trouble recognizing Jesus back then, and I’m not convinced we fair any better today.
Our biggest issue is not paying taxes, but paying attention to the divine image within us all.
This can be difficult because when we look at each other, or in the mirror, we tend to see those inscriptions that bear the mark of the world: We’re not rich enough, or pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, or just too plain “enough” to receive God’s love. We need to flip that coin around.
When the blind and the lame were brought to him what did Jesus do? When he saw the crowd hungry, or his friends weeping, how did he react? When people spat on him, or the demoniacs threw curses at him, did Jesus marginalize, discriminate or penalize them? No.
Jesus recognizes the divine dwelling within each person, and shows us all his compassion and love; forgiving us, healing us, and feeding us. Jesus opens our eyes so that we might see God within him. He is standing beside us…alive in our midst…in you and in me.
As the children of God, and especially as the church of Christ, we must radiate the love of God to the darkness of the world, loving both God and our neighbors, and all living things minted and stamped with God’s imprint. Even Caesar.
According to the ancient mystics, “God loves his image in us forever.” When God sees us, even at our worst, he is able to see the divine image etched in our soul. Therefore, it’s impossible for God NOT to love us. He may not love what we are doing, but nonetheless, God loves us no matter what. I say that a lot too, because we frequently forget; turning off our divine light way too fast.
If you are to remember anything from today, it’s this: Caesar wants an empire. But God wants you.
Do not let Caesar’s world define you. Instead allow God’s universal love to come alive in you. Let the peace of God shape you, and follow God’s joy as it leads you to be the person you were made to be. One with God. One with Christ. One with Spirit. And One with each other. Because you possess that sacred indwelling of God’s Spirit, you are worth what God is worth. You are precious as Christ is precious.
So give Caesar his damn coins. Your flesh and blood has a value that cannot be calculated.
Bartlett, David, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox) 2011. pp. 188-193.
Claiborne, Shane. Jesus for President. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 2008. pp.116-17.
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey, October 21 devotional.
Thomas Merton quote is from a devotional by Richard Rohr, October 2017.
Paul invites us to put on Christ’s cloak of compassion and to wear out his sandals of servanthood; in doing so we come to know God better. (Colossians 3:12-17)
Peggy Noonan is one of my dad’s favorite journalists. She works for the Wall Street Journal and her columns are often insightful and noteworthy. I believe the two met while my father worked in the Reagan administration, where Noonan was a speechwriter for the president.
In her book “Character Above All,” Noonan relates a story about Francis Green, an eighty-three year old San Franciscan who lived alone in a small apartment. Though she lived on a Social Security, Francis had sent one dollar to the R.N.C. for the last eight years.
One day Francis received a fund-raising letter from the group. Written with elegant lettering on beautiful, cream-colored paper was an invitation for her to come to the White House and meet the President. She never noticed the little RSVP card suggested her positive reply needed to be accompanied by a generous donation.
Scraping up every cent she had, Francis took a four-day train ride across America; sleeping upright in her coach seat. When she arrived at the White House gate, she wore her best Sunday dress, and on top of her snow white hair sat her favorite white church hat. When she spoke to the guard at the gate, she was told her name was not on his official list. She could not go in. Francis was heartbroken.
Now here’s how God works in life. Behind her in line was a Ford Motor executive who had watched and listened to the scenario. Stepping out of line, he introduced himself to Francis. And after learning of her story, he told her to come back at nine o’clock the following morning for a personal tour and to meet the president. She agreed to the offer. And believe it or not, so did the President.
Noonan wrote, “the next day was anything but a calm and easy one at the White House.” Ed Meese, the attorney general just resigned, and there was a military uprising abroad. Reagan was in and out of high-level secret meetings.
But Francis Green showed up on time. And just as he had promised, the executive gave her a personal tour of the White House. In spite of all that was going on, he led Francis quietly past the Oval Office on the off chance that she might get a quick glimpse of the president before she left.
In the midst of all of all the hubbub, President Reagan glanced up and saw Francis Green. With a smile he gestured her into his office. And as she walked in, he said, “Francis! Those darn computers fouled up again! Had I known you were coming I would have come out there to get you myself.”
Noonan reports, the two sat and talked leisurely about California, her life and her family. With gentleness and patience, the president gave her time that he could not spare. Reagan knew this woman had nothing to give him, but I suspect he realized he had something she needed: kindness and compassion.
While I am not implying Reagan was a saint, Noonan’s story is a wonderful example of our call to be and act like Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us that we are “God’s children, holy and beloved.” When we understand this, then we must act accordingly – both inside our heart and outside in the world. What’s that old saying? “If you want to get know someone, try walking in their shoes.” As we can see in today’s text, Paul invites us to put on Christ’s cloak of compassion and to wear out his sandals of servanthood; in doing so we come to know God better.
At the beginning of chapter three, Paul writes: ‘Set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things.’ He says, ‘Strip off’ our old clothes and ‘rid ourselves’ of ‘anger, rage, malice, slander, profanity and lies.’ As followers of Christ it’s time to put on the new clothes: ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.’
I can only imagine how busy both Reagan and that Ford executive must have been. Yet, it did not stop them from taking the time to show compassion and kindness to a stranger who could not offer them anything in return. Just scan the gospels, and you’ll see countless examples of Jesus doing the same. Whatever Jesus was doing, he stopped to heal the sick or to provide comfort to the needy. He always took the time to show compassion and to help someone.
Jesus always wore his faith out in the open so his disciples might learn to do the same. And he showed great patience when they failed to do so. In the end, this is how people would come to see Christ, and find their purpose in God’s love.
As the last verse of John’s Gospel states: “there are so many other things Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, the world could not contain all the books that would be written.” Thankfully, we are not called to be Christ, but called to be Christ like.
Therefore if you are going to call yourself a Christian, then you must honestly ask yourself, “Who would Jesus be too busy to help?” if he were wearing my shoes? Who might he walk past or overlook, dressed in my best suit? If he had on my favorite t-shirt, who might Jesus deem unworthy of his time, compassion, or kindness? In claiming his name, we all must be prepared to answer the same questions when he turns and hands us his coat, and his love.
By our faith in Christ, God calls us to participate in his love and wear our ‘Sunday best’ like a daily uniform. As the story of Francis Green reminds us, you never know who you’ll run into. We must always be prepared, inside and out, to share the love of God with others.
A wise mystic once said, “We know God by participating in God, not trying to please him from afar.” Paul sums up this participation in one word: ‘love’. He writes, ‘And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’
As followers of Christ, you are not simply to dress in his clothes, and walk in his shoes. But we are also invited to rest in his peace. To be ‘in Christ’ means you are one with him and thus one in God’s faithful and eternal love. As it was demonstrated on the cross, love is not just an emotion; it is an action that weaves us together in harmony. Love is the new clothes we ‘put on’ and go to work in.
What this means is we all need to go to our closets and take compassion and kindness off their hangers and wear them out to work and school. Put on the undergarments of humility, sweaters of comfort, and pants of patience. And wear them, live in them, work in them, get them dirty and stained; make sure they’re frayed at the hems, and worn out in the knees.
Christ calls us all to dress ourselves in the love of God – which as you might have guessed is an all-season, all-weather look that never falls out of fashion.
So come, be ‘in Christ’ and style yourself in his peace and glory. Walk in his shoes, sandals, or even his bare feet, and you can make a real difference in our world. ‘Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;’ this is how we live like Christ, and how we will be judged…by others…and by God.
Peggy Noonan’s story was adapted by Charles Swindoll, and found in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1998. pp. 113-14.
This ad campaign was created by Rev. Ian Macdonald for a class project directed to get people to see and understand the commonality they have with Jesus.
In 1964, Marshal McLuhan coined the phrase, "The medium is the message." In terms of the church that means Jesus is the message. And we, his followers, are the medium. We are the billboards and commercials that puts the good news out into the public eye. As such, we only have a short period of time to capture people’s attention. How they see or hear us, will determine whether they will want to join us, or change the channel.
From today’s reading, we might see that something is out of whack in the churches of Philippi. Whatever it is, it causes Paul to send a heartfelt letter in which he remind them to “Be of one mind with Christ Jesus.” That is to say, to imitate Christ in all that we do.
In the great cinematic comedy, Airplane, there’s a courtroom scene where a psychologist is asked to give his impression of the defendant. The doctor replies with perfect deadpan humor, “I’m a doctor. I don’t do impressions.” Perhaps Christians are also confused by what they are being asked to do.
There’s a big difference between imitating and impersonating someone. An impersonator takes great pains to make people believe they are who they are not, while the imitator simply strives to be a reflection of a person they look up to or admire.
Paul knows that impersonating Christ is impossible. The bar is set way too high. We’d never be able to do it. And in our failing to do so, we might give up on our faith and spiritual practices all together. Instead, Paul encourages us to adopt an attitude that reflects the teaching and blessings of Jesus in all aspects of our life.
He says, “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He set aside his divine privileges and took on the status of a slave! Becoming human, he humbled himself; lived a selfless, obedient life; then died a selfless, obedient death. Because of this faithful work, God honored him so that all created beings will bow in worship before him; praising his name and offering glory to God.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Think about it and where you might stand in such a call.
To be Christlike requires us to radiate the same Spirit of Jesus so others can come to praise God and come to know God’s great purpose for them. To borrow from Victor Hugo, “To love another, like Jesus loves us, is to see the face of God.”
Jesus is the message. We are the medium. Through us, God blesses the world, and “works in you…according to his good purpose.” How the world sees us, will determine how the world will respond to God’s blessing.
Like a well-crafted ad, the church must be more than a venue for entertainment. As we stand in society, we must stand out by the way we show God’s generous love and grace and forgiveness. This begins in our heart; where we adopt an attitude and life that reflects God’s will and not our own. Impersonating Jesus is impossible. Imitating him is totally doable.
If advertising taught me anything it’s the simplest ideas are often the most effective. One approach is as easy as taking that tired old cliché “What Would Jesus Do” and apply it to any and every situation.
For example, when you go to work tomorrow, look around and ask yourself, “who would Jesus invite to lunch?” Or when you’re standing in line at Starbucks ask, “Would Jesus buy a cup of coffee for the person behind him?” What kind of conversation might they have while they wait for their order? How would he drive a car? Or build a new relationship with someone he didn’t know?
These are just a few ways we can begin to nurture a spirit of Christlikeness within us. It doesn’t have to be tough or difficult to practice simple gestures that might reach a wound only compassion can heal.
So why then are so many Christians afraid to put Christ at the beginning of their Christianity? I like to say, without Christ, I’m just an “Ian.”
Ian has many friends who are atheists. One who is very dear to me makes no bones about it, and neither do I. I know his heart. He’s a good man, a faithful husband and a wonderful father. He gives generously of his time and money. He opens his home and feeds people amazing meals. He listens with an empathetic heart, and seeks peace, pursuits kindness, and all that other good stuff.
When I recently told him that he had more in common with Jesus than most Christians, he laughed. But I noticed my comment made him stop and think. It’s in these moments that “who we are” actually matters. In my attempt to imitate Christ, my friend was able to take my words to heart…because he knew my heart. As a result, his heart was open…even if just for a blip…allowing the Holy Spirit to enter.
Will it change his beliefs? I don’t know. But it might empower him to keep advertising God’s will, whether he intends to or not. Paul reminds us that God uses anyone and everyone “according to his good purpose” to get the Good News out into the world.
So, as you drive down the road of life what will your billboard say? “Worry about our past?” Why, through Christ, “God has forgiven us.” “Worry about the future?” I don’t think so, the Bible tells us God gives us what we need. What about “Live today in the presence of God?” Yes, I think that would be a great ad for Jesus. I also makes a great ad for ourselves.
Live today…and love as much as you possibly can.
Smile even when you don’t feel like it.
Listen without being distracted by a phone call or text message.
Today…Take the time to sit, walk, jog…whatever…and begin a conversation with God.
And while you’re at it…don’t let the sun go down on your anger.
Today is a good day to forgive debts and trespasses against you. It’s a good day to drive carefully. Sleep peacefully. Laugh whenever possible. Radiate. Dance. Sing. Celebrate life…not just with your loved ones…but with everyone…strangers and even your enemies.
Today is a great day to begin again. Start right now. This very second. For that is exactly how long it takes for your life to stop.
Our time on earth might be limited. But our call is everlasting.
When we imitate the life of Christ, by sharing our love with one another, people are able to see you for who you really are: the beautiful, radiant, glorious face of God, through whom all blessings flow.
American poet Walt Whitman who wrote,
“Love the earth and the sun and animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others…
and your very flesh shall become a great poem.”
We hope that you will share this message, and consider donating to our ministry.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 111-12.
Rohr, Richard. Daily devotional email from the Center for Action and Contemplation, September 17, 2017.
The chief priests at the Temple discover how conversations with Jesus don’t always go as planned.
It’s unfortunate that the lectionary skips over some important stuff that provides the context to why the leaders felt compelled to interview Jesus in the first place. Just the day before, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Accompanied by a very large, cheering crowd, Jesus goes directly to the temple and the people follow. Much to their delight, he overturns the tables of the moneylenders and frees the animals that were to be sold for sacrificing to God.
When Jesus returns the next morning, the leaders are still reeling from his outrageous spectacle. I’m sure the last thing they wanted to do was to coddle some rebellious rabbi. Yet given the motely crew that was following him, they have no other option but to deal with Jesus as quickly and calmly as possible. So they try the Dr. Phil method.
We know they weren’t there to interview Jesus; they came to confront and to trap him. They begin by asking, “Who gives you the authority to do these things you do?” It might seem like a harmless question, but Jesus knew they weren’t interested in getting to know more about him. Their only concerned was with keeping the status quo, and holding on to their control of the temple. So instead of taking their bait, Jesus returns their question for a question. The interviewee becomes the interviewer. And the leaders discover Jesus is going to a major threat to their privileged life.
Now we know the lengths people are willing to go to maintain their place of power. An obvious illustration might be the way our voting districts have been carved out so one party can keep control over another. A more subtle and less obvious example might be the way some churches try to fit God inside a tidy little box or personal agenda that allows them to discount others they deem unworthy.
Jesus reminds us all that real power and authority do not come from a political party or a religious institution. Instead, all authority comes from God. And so we are called to submit to God’s righteous will…not our own self-righteousness.
Judging by this story, it seems Jesus views self-righteousness as a serious sin, far worse than cheating people out of their hard earned money or human trafficking. But we all know how easy it is to be trapped by this sin – especially for anyone who likes being right and virtuous… which means most of us.
Think about how self-righteousness affects your life. It might be obvious…or it might be subtle. For example, when someone who does not share your point of view confronts you, or rejects your values and beliefs, what tends to be your first reaction? Now… how well does it reflect the will of God?
The chief priest and elders have come to trap Jesus, but instead they are ones who are caught. Stammering and tongue-tied over a rather thorny question on the authority of John the Baptist, they don’t know what hit them. But it doesn’t matter. Jesus knows their heart. And his question helps them see and understand that their commitment to John would mean to make a commitment to him.
Jesus quickly fires off a parable about two sons who are called to do the will of their father, and by the end of the story he has pulled off the masks of the leaders and revealed their lack of faith and belief. Stripping them of any false power they’ve claimed. And this is exactly why you don’t want to interview Jesus.
The simplest question can get your head spinning and turn your world upside down. It’s like being stuck in a house of mirrors at a carnival, where predictable shapes are quickly distorted and you struggle to distinguish between illusion and reality.
With this confrontation, Jesus draws us all into a room full of mirrors and asks each of us to identify who we are, and more importantly who we are in His name. In front of this wall of reflection – where just a few mirrors bring hundreds of me to life – my own familiar image can leave me feeling trapped or betrayed.
Confronting Jesus is dangerous. But following him is life giving.
Like Dr. Phil, I’m curious to know how Jesus turns water into wine, or how he is able to stop a hurricane in its tracks. But I’m also afraid to ask him these things because I fear facing that mirror Jesus will no doubt put in front of me.
I’m not so sure that Jesus is interested in conversations about the meaning of life. It seems t me he wants to know if my life has meaning. Does it have a purpose that extends beyond my own self-righteousness? In other words, am I doing what God is calling me to do? Or am I merely doing what I want to do? These are questions only you can answer.
When we believe that we are better than others, or when we judge a person for doing something that goes against our morals and principles, then whose authority are we really under? Jesus specifically tells us not to judge, for we ourselves will be judged. Instead he calls us get rid of our stuff and to follow him. He wants us to wash feet and pray and care for our enemies.
Such idea’s seem foreign to us these days. Yet just as they continue to trip us up and turn us around, they also point us in the right direction and lead us through a world filled with mirrors.
By following the path that Jesus has placed before us, we begin to love as he loved us, forgive as often as he forgives us, and offer mercy and grace to others…just as freely as it has been offered to us.
By his own words and deeds, Jesus confounds us and claims us at the same time. He comes to where we are and calls us into his life, where we are welcomed to march side by side with the faithful and broken, the righteous and the lost, the sinners and the saints… in heaven’s carnival parade.
Never once did Jesus claim his authority was of his own doing. He gave all praise and glory to God. He submitted himself to God’s will and set the example for us all to follow suit.
And so I leave you with poetic words of St. Paul who wrote, “let us be of the same mind as Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equally with God, as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave…becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
We know that his story does not end there. It continues to live through us. We are the mirrors.
So are you ready for your interview?
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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