Greater things? Us?

April 27 2014 Reading

Having gotten through the great challenges of Holy Week with its intersection of God’s greatest moment and humankind’s worst and passed the empty tomb with a great sigh of relief and shouts of “Christ is risen!,” we now arrive at the next stage of ‘So what?’ Which can also be framed as either ‘What does all this have to do with me and my life?’ or ‘What has God done (for me) lately?’ Not that overcoming death and opening the door for the rest of us to give up that most common of fears – the fear of a death that leads to nothingness, in the process suggesting life is therefore meaningless – isn’t plenty! Truth be told, few of us manage to truly grasp the extent of that accomplishment or fully believe it, much less lean into it with the full weight and enthusiasm of our lives. But I can see some value in those questions, as long as we actually seek answers, preparing ourselves to make Christ’s sacrifice meaningful by the choices we make. So during Easter season we will look at some of the things Jesus did before living out that death-into-Resurrection, in each case asking how we can “do even greater things than these” through active engagement with the Advocate provided by the Father after the ascension of the Son . . . which is all a fancy, wordy way of talking about how we live ‘when and where the rubber meets the road.’

The Voice Bible includes this statement in its opening comments on the gospel of Mark:

For Mark, Jesus’ miracles are more than powerful acts done by a good man; they are manifestations of  God’s coming reign. They show us what the world will be like when God’s kingdom comes finally and completely. But until then, Jesus and His disciples are locked in conflict with powerful forces — spiritual, religious, and political.

The disciples have already seen Jesus heal many people of illnesses of body and spirit, and just prior to this story they had been astonished to witness Him successfully command a storm to cease. So curing one more man, even one possessed by a ‘legion’ of demons/troubles/addictions shouldn’t have been all that amazing. But this one went differently than the others in a variety of ways. First, this man was truly incapacitated by his internal turmoil; oddly enough, he could not be restrained, yet lived among the tombs where others would be unlikely to venture and seemed to be more of a danger to himself than others. As such, he would have been pretty easy to ignore had Jesus felt any need or desire to conserve his blessings, power or authority – the man was quite literally a nobody from nowhere. I suspect the disciples might have already been scurrying back to their little boat when the man rushed toward them, fearing for their lives as they had in the boat during the storm, but not Jesus. He stood his ground, seeing not so much a chance for confronting evil as an opportunity to free a human being from his internal shackles.

How might we do the same thing or even more, knowing the Spirit is with us and in us?

How close? How dark? How deep?

Easter Sunday 2014 Reading

I have been thinking of our major Christian seasons, their directions and interrelationships. For many years I found myself slipping into a long introspection during December, quietly gazing back across not only the past 12 months but all my accumulated years and mapping out my life trails. I think it was my way of checking in with my personal growth and development as a human being, noticing the people and events of each period while teasing out their points of impact and the directions in which their energy moved my life, internally and externally. I envision it as something like pool balls moving about a grand background . . . so very many balls, diverse in color and size, moving through a complex set of layers and dimensions. The more settled-in my life was, the more momentum it had to absorb from events to be moved, and the more I was in motion, the greater impact even grazing contact seemed to have.

Then a couple decades ago I noticed some shifts. I rather like the introspection thing and have found it to be mostly useful to me; I got rather lost in it for a few years during my all-too-slow transition from teenager to adulthood and had to really work at climbing back out to interact more with others. This shift has been away from the calendar year framework toward the Christian calendar. As it begins with Advent, I feel a sense of moving out of darkness and into the light, just as the real-time light outside is doing quite the opposite. It feels to me that the Christ child was born into a very dark world, in which the small band of Chosen People had expanded exponentially in number, but their hearts had not grown in proportion. The Christmas time of celebration and hope, in which we explode with titles like God with us, Immanuel, Prince of Peace, and Wonderful Counselor seems to fade all too quickly into shortcuts and the acceptance of a spattering of sacred moments as placeholders for a life of dedication, obedience and fulfillment. Just to clear here, I am talking about what happens in my life, not casting aspersions on others.

Then, having passed through another major point of including us gentiles during Epiphany, we get a few weeks to try to tread the sketchy path moving us from a cherubic baby in a manger to catch up with a man heading to the Jordan and beyond, where his call to ministry is confirmed, tested and begun. I now see Lent as a time for moving out of the bright light of night-sky angels and gift-laden, wealthy foreigners who come out of intrigue to confirm their own powers of understanding to walk the unyielding, rocky roads with, but slightly behind, this oft-confusing Jesus. This seems a movement somewhat opposite of Advent, or different at least; there is no more time to wait, especially if we read Mark’s pared down account that so loves the concept of ‘immediately.’ There are wonders to behold, sage sayings to ponder, difficult encounters to digest and tension . . . growing, widening, deepening tension from the religious leadership, from those who fear anything that might bring Rome’s wrath even more fully upon their land.

I love that we tend to fall into John’s gospel in these deepest moments, allowing his use of metaphor to sweep us away from the shoreline of toe-dipping into the full, roaring whitewater of mysterious, demanding discipleship. Here then, especially in the dark lull between the shocking, disturbing scenes of Good Friday and the return to jubilation on Easter morning, I now take to my own womb/tomb, opening myself to the annual self-reflection process. I do believe I am following Christ; my life has undergone a number of transformative changes over the past 3 decades+ of this journey, from curiosity and simple faith to heart-longing, mind- and soul-expanding exploration. Still I ask: How close is my following? Do I ever get within earshot and hand’s reach of Christ, or am I mostly scampering between trees and posts, sneaking up on occasion for the thrill of overhearing a teaching or catching a glimpse of life-healing? How dark do things have to be before I allow the Christ-light to shine through me? How deep am I sinking into both the Body (sustenance) and blood (sacrifice) of Christ?

 

The meal that was a prayer

MaundyThursday2014Reading

The story of Jesus’ ministry is drawing to a close, and I find myself feeling like time is rolling down an ever-steepening slope. I suspect the disciple/apprentices may have had a gnawing sense their course of study was nearly over, which may have left them desperately trying to formulate questions they should ask while they can, even while they wanting nothing more than additional time to just be near to Jesus and time to await the teaching or illustration he would choose to share next. Jerusalem must have been operating at a high pitch at that point; it always would fill to its capacity just before Passover, as people and animals poured in from around not only Israel but the Mediterranean area. There would be kinfolk gatherings, some of them quite tribal in nature, others more open, less focused on the Passover story and more on old interactions, including both mutual support and grudges. The priests would be ready for their premier rituals – proper attire cleaned and ready, knives sharpened for the sacrifices, lines well-rehearsed, every detail being brought into place . . . just as we are doing here in our own community and place of worship this week.

On top of the usual excitement and celebratory mood, this year there had to have been another very noticeable layer of tension, expectation and fear, all surrounding Jesus. By now there would be almost as many stories as people present, for nearly everyone would have at least heard of the miracles, the mysterious teachings and, yes, the growing openness of the conflict with the religious leadership. Did he really come into town on a little donkey? I’m telling you, I was unable to even straighten my back for years until he simply released me! I don’t know what he is up to, but if he keeps this up, there’ll be trouble for sure – those Romans aren’t going to tolerate much more talk about a ‘king of the Jews’! What – ANOTHER messiah? 

As the tensions rose and the pace of events gathered momentum, Jesus once again did the unexpected. He found enough space for a meal with his closest friends and best students (as usual, the Last Supper picture was snapped between servings and clean up, so the women are not seen), reclined around the low-set table, and engaged in both meal and ministry. That was so clearly his way! It was never “Should we eat or do business” or “focus on spiritual practices or talk business?” Meals were another great opportunity to open wide the gates to reveal God’s grace, wisdom and welcome, which are always interwoven.

The moment before the collision

April 13 2004 Palm Sunday Reading

Have you ever watched a scary or intense movie, where there is some awful person, thing or event lurking around outside, in the basement or out in the woods, and found yourself yelling (or wanting to yell if you are more reserved or better controlled than I) “Don’t do it! Do NOT open that door, go into that dark basement or even think of taking a flashlight into those woods!” I have been feeling a bit like that this week; in fact, the feeling has been building for a few weeks as we have come step-by-step toward Jerusalem and the story we must face over the next week or so. Like many stories, it all seems innocent enough, a bit like the happy conversation in a car movie directors so love to place right before the completely unexpected high-speed collision that comes out of nowhere to smash windows, crunch metal and throw bodies around inside. The surge of adrenaline pumped into my body in that moment of collision/attack is instantly disseminated everywhere, causing an involuntary tightening of my entire musculature, rocketing up my blood pressure and inevitably moving almost instantly from shock to anger at being so cruelly set up and emotionally manipulated.

Yeah, that is pretty much where I am now, aware that the speeding car is but a few blocks away, hurtling toward the hero and his companions. Because this story happened so very long ago, back when human brains were wired to process fewer things at once and do so more deeply, when ‘multi-tasking’ meant untying a donkey while assuring its owner that he’d get it back soon, the collision here is going to take several days to be consummated. For now, in this Sunday’s reading, many of the characters are elated, partying their way toward Jerusalem and what they envision as a sort of inverted, inside-out version of the Exodus. This time it will be others leaving, sent out no doubt by the awesome, overpowering presence of Heavenly Armies and the Right Arm of God, but it will still be God’s Chosen Ones who will be saved. In the midst of remembering the old Exodus, what God did for their ancestors so very long ago, these people are experiencing the story in a new way, with far greater excitement and anticipation. The story is no longer just a prelude to dinner, nor an evening to be gotten through, on which the eldest brother of one’s father tells the tale that explains every food item on the table and why they eat it standing up. This merry crowd of encouragers anticipates the ultimate ‘pop-up, 3-D’ treatment of the story in which they will find themselves on the far side of some astonishing gulf, watching as the Roman garrison is swallowed up by the collapsing tide of God’s vengeance that redeems some at the cost of others.

Others watching from a very different place, both literally and figuratively. The surging crowd comes down one hill and up another, gathering boldness from their increasing numbers as they go, but most never pass through the gate to enter the city. There is nothing for them there . . . not yet . . . and they may even see it much as they imagine Sodom just before the heavens rained fire upon that unholy, unredeemable place, where not even 5 righteous men could be found. But within the walls, or just outside them, close enough still to require only a short scurry to regain their safety, are others who are both baffled and outraged by the scene before them. They could hear this mob coming – how could it be missed? – long before they could distinguish the words clearly enough to recognize they were referring to Jesus as King and claim he was coming in the name of the LORD!

Here is where we find ourselves once again: Jesus, surrounded by a bunch of people who thought they were about to see their dreams wonderfully, mightily and finally fulfilled, working its way toward a indignant who few , had been they built like cats, would have been arching up their backs while stretching out their limbs with enough intensity to make even their hair stand at attention and hissing venomous sounds toward the expectant crowds and most especially their erstwhile leader, the man they celebrated with such reckless abandonment.

In the midst of all this, nearly lost within the scene that was constructed around him, sat the man some were even now calling Deliverer while those few others tried to corral him into controlling the wild scene, sat a man who quietly but audibly wished the rest of the players, those outside and those who hovered near the gates, simply knew the Way of Peace. Alas, it was more evident by the moment they did not.

Overlapping identities

April 6 2014 Reading

Alrighty – let’s have another look at the passage, this time especially attending to what Jesus is saying about the relationship between himself and the Father, between himself and the disciples, and what that all means for the relationship between God and the disciples. Let’s step out now long enough to engage the reading at least once as if the entire thing is an attempt to convey a very deep message about this business of being within and identity.

Welcome back! As you probably know, identity is a big deal in the gospels; actually, throughout the biblical story. Adam and Eve changed their identities somewhat when they chose the path of experience-as-learning over mere acceptance of and indulgence in the blessings all around them. Those identities are then changed even further as that path leads from being a pair of hunter-gatherers into parenthood and the new vocational fields taken up by the next generation: gardener/farmer and animal husbandry. Abram shifted from son-among-relatives to faithful wanderer, and ultimately to Abraham-the-father-of-faith as well as father of Isaac. Moses seemed unsure of his identity as a Hebrew-among-Egyptians, and later asked about God’s Self-identity as well. And so it goes, on and on, as generation after generation steps up on the shoulders of those who came before, looking over the uncountable choices from new vantage points, ever seeking to understand what it is that makes us both unique and one-of-a-group.

We who try to allow Jesus to form both the foundation and infrastructure of our identity want to know Who He Really Is, and the gospels demonstrate that he wants that at least as much as we do. His life – all the teachings, sayings, healings, meals together – all of it was intended to reveal three interrelated identities: his, the Father’s and ours. For some, it seems the most crucial question about Jesus’ identity is whether he is the literal Son of God, which then leads into how one interprets and how much emphasis one places on the birth narratives found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. I find it interesting that the identity Jesus himself seems to relate to is Son of Man, stressing his humanity and thus the fact that he is what/who we are. So when he tells his most dedicated students they know and have seen the Father precisely because/to the extent they have known and seen him, he is once again modeling transparency to and alignment with the Father. Jesus is a living icon; just as we use icons on our computers to link us with much larger items, so Jesus links us with the Father. Or, as he puts it here and elsewhere, he abides in the Father, the Father dwells in him, which provides an intimate medium by which God had speak and act through him.

Just as he hopes to through each of us!

Setting a table in the midst of fear

April 6 2014 Reading

Have you ever done that ‘exercise’ of writing an obituary for yourself? I think it might have been used at some point in Driver’s Ed classes in an attempt to introduce a sense of one’s finite, even fragile, nature. I’m pretty sure I did once, long ago, although this is a very vague memory, more a sense of a memory, so I certainly don’t remember anything as specific as when, why, or what I might have said. Now I am thinking a bit more about what I would want to say to any group that would be likely to gather at my memorial service. I am in good health so I don’t imagine this to be high priority line of thought, but am reminded of it by this reading from John’s gospel.

What Jesus seems to be doing here is part of his “Last Lecture” attempt to console and guide his apprentices in preparation for his arrest, beating, humiliation and death-as-a-common-criminal. The apprentices have clearly caught the air of urgency in his eyes and voice, and want to be sure they are coming as close as possible to fulling understanding whatever Jesus shares. This time it is not even Peter asking questions, suggesting both how far they had all come together and how close they were to the ending of their orientation process. I urge you to read or reread the passages found by clicking on the link above, paying special attention to the reassurances Jesus offers. Really . . . go ahead, then come on back here.

Okay, we’re working on an honor system here, so I am going to proceed as if we all have straggled back to this page after reading that passage at our individual paces. How reassuring did you find the specific promises Jesus made? It felt to me like a very deep kind of hospitality and connection, as Jesus offered such personal assurances: no need to worry about space – we’ll never run short on that; likewise, don’t fret about fitting in – that is another aspect of having space for everyone, a concept that works at several levels here. Oh, and no need to make any arrangements, like reservations indicating start and end dates, or how to pay for what you will find where we’re all going – I’ll be making all the necessary arrangements, handling the details and picking up the tab. So you will be expected – your needs and opportunities taken into consideration in advance – and I’ll be there when you arrive, each time you arrive, and however you arrive – you’ll always be known and know someone you can trust. And even though you are probably going to be feeling a bit bewildered and befuddled for a bit, you DO know the way – remember that when you feel like you are wandering a maze or are tempted to follow some flashing lights. Should you ever feel lost, stop moving long enough to settle down, center in and remember Who You Really Are.

WOW! Let’s follow a sort of slo-mo Lectio Divino process for a bit this week, beginning now by sitting with this passage read through this particular filter for a bit before stepping back, then back in to read through another lens.

What’s your take?

Mar302014Reading

While I am not currently following any lectionary, I found myself wondering if this passage ever showed up among those suggested for a weekly reading/study. Much to my surprise, it did – in this cycle on 9/22/13! I’m pleased to know that others see a value in holding this one up for consideration more than once in a career. This is not an easy passage for extracting life-instruction or codifying moral behaviors. One of my weekly scripture conversation partners says this about the reading:

The parable plays with a prominent Lukan concern, responsible use of resources, but its message is elusive. Evidently Luke found the parable difficult; the following sayings counter the notion that Jesus is commending dishonesty as a business practice.  The New Interpreter’s Bible: One Volume Commentary, p. 700

Among more local conversation partners – one of our Bible study groups – we also concluded that this is a hard-to-grasp teaching! It sure sounds like the parable not only condones but urges the use of devious, dishonest business practices, right? As we read the passage from several different interpretations, it was clear none were mere translation as each tried to work toward a plausible and beneficent explanation of the symbolism of the parable. Was it an editing issue, either by Luke or someone later, that these two rather dissonant teachings are juxtaposed, or are they really linked in their meaning/intention?

Our group found a few notes in our various Bibles attempting to place the parable in some context that balanced it off against the following section, either by suggesting the parable set up the teaching or the teaching negated the unseemly implications of some aspects of the parable by accentuating others. We agreed that the explanations were all generally plausible, came up with a few additional ones on our own, but were ultimately unsatisfied by any of them. It seemed like perhaps this was a place to use the term mystery, even though it seems to imagine a loftier, or deeper, unknown-and-unknowable.

So what do your think? What do you find in this reading, and what do you take away? I hope you will share your comments as we pursue some understanding together.

How things work vs how we work them

Mar232014Reading

The first time I managed to read most of the Bible, I came away with a few favorite stories. I’m no good at memorizing chapter & verse even now, but over the roughly 25 years since I have added to that list and gotten better at remembering the book and area to find many of them. One of the first batch to capture my imagination is found in Matthew 7:3 (hey, now I can use ‘Search’ in one of my digital Bibles!):

You can see the speck in your friend’s eye, but you don’t see the log in your own eye. CEB

This is one of many gospel stories that put flesh on that accusation, illustrating that until we commit ourselves to attending to our inner life at least as much as the world around us, we will find it exceedingly difficult to do our part to make God’s will effective here on earth as it is in heaven. Of course, like most things, especially those with the potential to have real, widespread impact on our lives and the lives of those we encounter, there’s some balancing to be done. It seems there are no simple, two-dimensional, yes/no, always/never, black/white concepts in a meaningful, reasonable, heart-influenced & -influencing life philosophy. Which is not to say that anything goes or any thought/response is acceptable, but that there are no paths where universal instructions can tell us everything we need to do in a situation. Sure, asking ourselves “What would Jesus/love do?” is helpful, but it is much more so when we add “in this situation, with all its factors and complexities.”

When I was working on my Masters in Social Work back in the 1980’s, my interest was in expanding my opportunities within the mental health field. I was not interested in being a policy maker, though I certainly saw the value and centrality of that work. I wanted to provide direct services as a therapist, but the school I attended was much more focused on public administration and policy. However, I had one delightful professor who also had a small, active private practice, so I took several classes from him. I remember one discussion we had in class when I talked about a particular therapeutic approach I was studying and practicing as potentially useful for the scenario we working on. The professor agreed that it might be useful, but strongly cautioned against using it because it was so powerful. I went into a very short trance as my mind attempted to imagine a tool to help folks find their way to more stable, healthy understandings of themselves and their contexts that could be too powerful, then asked him why we should not use the most potent tools we can master? He once again agreed, but still worried about the path to mastering those tools; they would always be powerful, for good or otherwise, whether we wielded them properly or simply sprayed them around us. To illustrate, we might find a shotgun to be precisely the right tool for certain forms of hunting while also recognizing the vital importance of assuring it did not fall into the inexperienced hands of a child or untrained adult.

So it is with the deep understandings Jesus tries to offer us through his teaching. He illustrates the needed characteristics in story/parable and through his own actions. But no teaching or demonstration can insure we won’t grab ahold of the wrong end and end up harming ourselves and/or others as a result. So Jesus continually speaks to as well as about the hearts of humanity, ever seeking an opening of whatever size or shape by which to enter and begin the work of expansion. The Spirit is the ultimate remodeler, starting with whatever is currently available, then gently but firmly chipping away at old, curling-off places that diminish the uses and capacities of the heart before applying fresh coats of understanding with expanded memory and more lines running through the person’s own life as it comes into contact with others. The goal is not cosmetic but aims at virtually (maybe even literally/physically) changing the deep coding of one’s life. And the further we get into the process of self-examination for the sake of better relationships, the less likely we are to abuse or tame the process. As Jesus tries to communicate, it is a self-promoting process, each step making straighter the way for the subsequent ones.

Of course, the same is true in any other direction; the system at the bottom of it all holds true no matter which pathway we choose; this is one of Jesus’ essential lessons. In the language of another of our recent readings, the more we wander the broad, densely populated road, the more we will seek to push the guardrails back just a few additional inches. Likewise, the more frequently and joyfully we travel the narrow, less crowded Way, the more we find both stability and flexibility and the more we appreciate those guardrails, even as we test them less. That’s how things work, as near as I can tell; what remains is for each of us to determine how we will work those things.

Missing both the forest and the trees

Mar232014Reading

How do you picture and hear Jesus in this exchange with a Pharisee and a Religious Scholar? We tend to portray him as a quiet man, even meek; after all, did he not say the meek would inherit the earth? But this does not sound like the sort of conversation that would be delivered with a conversational tone or meek manner. Jesus is, in a sense, calling these men out, challenging not only their understanding of Who God Is and How God Works, but of their own identity as well. After all, if they are not the Keeper of the Law and Authority on Scripture, respectfully, who are they? It is not just a matter of public prestige or privilege, even though those things are also on the line; Jesus is verbally totally up in these guys’ grilles! And yet I hear his words laced with more frustration and sadness than anger. We know anger is almost always a secondary emotion, even though the separation between the original one, be it embarrassment, guilt, fear or just plain surprise can be so short as to seem indistinguishable. But we can all learn to stretch that time out long enough to interrupt the process, examining in a few seconds what we are really feeling and in almost the same moment becoming curious about the roots of those emotions in that context. Do you think this is a skill Jesus honed during his post-baptism desert experience? So rather than a harsh or angry expression, I picture his face exposing his heartfelt desire for his dinner hosts to pause long enough in their judgments and self-assurances that they know what must be known and done to actually hear what he is saying.

This is tricky territory; Jesus wants to awaken these men to how far they are from kingdom lives, which seems to require some form of shaking. If it were a movie from the black and white days, or if Jesus lived as we often do, he might be tempted to just slap them both as if they were hysterical when he sees them starting to tee up their condemning attitudes. At the same time, his larger goal with them is the same as with any of us – to call them into new ways of living, deep calling to deep. He has no time for beating around the bush, especially because these are men whose presence in a place carries a certain weight; they at least expect to be seen as God’s representatives, teaching and displaying God’s highest priorities. Jesus clearly recognizes this, and knows they do not even realize how much damage they do under that pretense. When he eventually prays “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing” these two will be among the many covered by that prayer . . . just as we are.

How very human it is to be so sure we know something we can’t see the Truth even when sitting across the table from it! And yet, at the same time, Jesus – the Son of Man – shows it can also be a very human thing to live in wakefulness and encourage others to join us without avoiding or excluding them from our lives. It is not an easy thing, nor a meek or mild one, but conflict well-managed can lead to new ways of thinking, to deeper understanding and engagement, and even to stronger relationships. But those outcomes require a significant level of desire and openness to unexpected pathways; as we can see in this story, those requirements are not always met. This translation’s closing paragraph rather plays down the outcome when it says “. . . things were never the same. . .” The New King James Version puts it this way:

“. . . the scribes and Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.”

Yeah, I really have to say it: YIKES!

 

Why legislation can never produce Christians

Mar232014Reading

Step by step, Jesus moves deeper into his mission and ministry, in the process drawing ever nearer to the place where his teachings, preachings, healing and attempts to correct a distorted understanding of God and the Divine Intentions will intersect most violently with the intentions of the empire. From the opening salvo of the Beatitudes to the refreshed understanding of the Ten Commandments found in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus switched to demonstrations of what he had just taught as he, indeed, fulfilled  Isaiah’s prophecy:

The Spirit of the Lord the Eternal One is on Me. Why? Because the Eternal designated Me to be His representative to the poor, to preach good news to them.

He sent Me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free, and to tell the blind that they can now see. He sent Me to liberate those held down by oppression. In short, the Spirit is upon Me to proclaim that now is the time; this is the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.

(2012-04-10). The Voice Bible: Step Into the Story of Scripture (Kindle Locations 61382-61387). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

In last week’s reading from Luke 5, Jesus took another huge step for humankind – forgiving sins. That created some very large waves within the religious leadership, especially among the Pharisees, who tended to believe that sins should be avoided at all cost and punished, not forgiven, when they were discovered. Having come to hear and see for themselves what Jesus was up to, he most definitely grabbed their attention! Then he further tweaked their sensibilities by inviting a tax collector to join his little band of disciples, then nearly pushed them over the edge by attending a big send-off party with not only Levi, the now-former tax collector, but also a house full of his buddies.

Now we are skipping ahead a few chapters in Luke’s gospel, and once again Jesus is being invited to dinner with a crowd of folks who share a certain perspective on life, God and how things work. This time around, instead of the Tax Collectors Guild, the host is a Pharisee and Jesus is probably the only guest without official recognition as an expert in interpreting scripture. If he tweaked their attitudes and bumped up their blood pressure last time, they’re likely to throw a stroke before this meal is done! Of course, offending the Pharisees was just about the easiest thing one could do, and sure enough, they are finding fault as soon as the meal begins. The topic is cleanliness – well, actually, they think it is about cleanliness, but Jesus points out the reality that they are once again tripping over their focus on rules instead of relationships. I suspect Jesus sensed his time for ministry was going to be limited, so he neither held back nor minced words – those who were used to condemning found themselves being condemned instead, or at least seriously warned.

Our modern Church may be as chagrined by this passage as were the religious leadership at the dinner if we recognize ourselves in the story. We still struggle with not only sin but sinners, generally being willing to acknowledge we are subject to the first while acting as if we should not be labelled by the second. Our loudest voices – those whose voices find their way into much of our media, still hold to the Pharisaic view that God only acts to save after  we have have cleaned ourselves up, while Jesus kept trying to teach and show them they had it all backward.