In Colossians 3:10 Paul tells us to become more like the image of our creator Jesus Christ. The changes we should see as we grow more into the image of Jesus is relate to others. In Colossians 3, Paul tells to leave behind, sexual immorality, lust, greed, idolatry, anger, slander and dirty talk and the worship of things of this world. These kinds of actions come from the belief that we are not getting our share of the world’s goods. In contrast to what we must leave Paul calls us to a new way of generous living where we have more than we need to be shared with your neighbor. It is the way of Jesus who is generous with forgiveness and love. It does not matter who you are or who your neighbor is. If Paul was in here in Canada today I think he would say it does not matter if our neighbor is a Jew or a Palestine, First Nation, or a Canadian born to immigrate ancestors, a migrate seeking a better life, or someone born here, young or old, a brother or sister. What counts is Christ and how we follow him.
We have been made in God’s image and are to live like Jesus who is the perfect image of God. The way we can know if this is happening is by the way we treat our neighbor. Paul says we need to be compassionate, showing mercy, forgiving each other when they do not meet our standards, as the Lord forgives us. The Lord forgives freely without asking for payment because He is generous. What Paul is asking us to do in Colossians chapter three is love our neighbor the way that Jesus loves. When we look at the gospel Jesus spent most of his time with those who were outside of the mainstream of society.
This goes all the way back to the Old Testament where we are told “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind” (Deut. 6:5). And, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). How can we say we love God if we do not love our neighbor who is made in God’s image the same way as we are?
In Leviticus the command to love one’s neighbor is give in the context of justice. “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly” (Lev. 19:15 NLT). What do you think, Paul or Moses would say to us in light of what happened at the Indian Residential Schools, and the discover of 215 children in unmarked graves? How will we show neighborly love to those who have suffered these atrocities?
When we think of people who we identity with I wonder how many of us think of Jesus. Maybe he is too perfect and humble for us, and I wonder if we would even have liked him if we had been able to meet him in person. While we admire many of his characteristics most of the time, they are not the characteristics that we pursue. We like to have autonomy, recognition and power, but how did Jesus handle the desires of these three characteristics?
When we look at Jesus’ story, we find out that yes, his birth was humble, as in poor. His mother was away from home when Jesus was born and Mary and Joseph had to flee for their lives when Jesus was still just a baby. But poor is not the same as powerless. By the time Jesus was ready to start his public debut, he spent forty days in the wilderness and there he met one of his adversaries. His adversary’s job was to see what Jesus was really all about, what kind of a character he was when things were not going well. He did it by putting Jesus to the tests of autonomy, recognition and power.
Someone asked me the other day if the tests that Jesus faced came at the end of the forty days or if they lasted the whole forty days he was in the desert. That is a very interesting question and one that we can make an assumption about if we read the gospels closely. In good literature the introduction of a story sets the stage for what is to come. The story of Jesus being tested is the same, it should prepare us for what is to follow. If, as I think this first story of Jesus’ testing sets the stage for the rest of his life, then it seems that the tests were ongoing and did not start nor end after the forty days. Rather, they changed into different forms of the same basic elements of autonomy, recognition and power.
We read the story as in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Here we are told that Jesus spent forty days in the desert being tested. As we read about the forty days in the desert, we should be thinking about the forty years Israel spent in the desert and failed in all their testing. At the end of Jesus’ forty days the tests were amplified by the devil coming and giving us some concrete examples of Jesus’ testing.
The devil took Jesus up a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. He told Jesus these would all be his if only he would bow down to the devil. In the gospels we read all about God’s kingdom which Jesus was bringing. So what is the difference between the kingdom that Jesus was bringing and the one that the devil offered Jesus? Jesus’ kingdom in many ways looks very weak. It is the place where the poor and humble are honoured. It is a place where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. It is a kingdom where Jesus died because he refused to raise an army and pick up a sword to fight his enemies. On the other hand, we can assume that the kingdoms of the world that the devil showed Jesus were kingdoms like the Roman empire of Jesus time. We know that the Roman empire became great by the use of the sword. It was built on what was best for the Romans. As long as the wealth of the world flowed to Rome the kingdom worked. Therefore, Roman rule had everything to do with wealth and power and autonomy. The Ultimate Weapon the Romans used to control the people they ruled was the cross. The cross was a warning for those who thought of rebelling against Rome. If they tried to rebel the cross was where they would end up.
For Jesus to have chosen the kingdoms of the world would have been to choose the way of autonomy. He would have been in charge and would have made all the rules. When Jesus spoke of God’s kingdom he was speaking of a kingdom where even Jesus did not do what he desired, but what God desired. What God wants is best for the whole world instead of what is only best for the elite ruling class. To choose God’s kingdom means submission in contrast to the elite of the world’s kingdoms who make rules that will only benefit themselves. Jesus came to serve instead of to be served and therefore he did not choose the kingdoms of this world. As Carey Nieuwhof says, “The heart of the Christian faith isn’t about satisfying yourself, it’s about dying to yourself.” If Jesus had chosen the kingdoms of this world, it would have given him the autonomy to do whatever he liked. He would have been his own boss but he would have lost, because the kingdoms of this world in the end are defeated by the one who died on a Roman cross. To choose the kingdoms of this world is to go back to the story of the garden of Eden where the snake asks, “did God really say that?”
We face this same temptation today. One example of this is, wearing masks. “If I have to wear a mask when I don’t want to I have lost my freedom, and nobody has the right to tell me what to do.” I get this. I don’t like people telling me what I can or cannot do. But if we use Jesus as an example then we will be more concerned about other people’s safety than what we see as our rights. This has been a struggle throughout all of human history. If we place ourselves in the garden beside the first man and woman, we too would have eaten of the forbidden fruit. We as humans like to be in charge of our own kingdom. Just watch a new born baby. When they are hungry or uncomfortable they will let us know what they think about that.
Another temptation Jesus faced was that of recognition or popularity. The devil took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and asked Jesus to throw himself down. If Jesus would have done this God would have rescued him and all the people would have seen Jesus for what he really was, the Messiah. Jesus would have had acceptance and recognition. This would have given him an instant in. His life would have been easy from there on. Jesus lived in an honour and shame culture. If Jesus had done this he would have been honoured everywhere he went, and that would have been his reward. Instead Jesus chose the opposite route. When Jesus healed people, he told them, “don’t tell anyone that I did this.” To tell other people what Jesus had done for them seems natural and right for us, but during Jesus time that would have been repayment for what had happened. The point is simple, what Jesus did he did freely and not for the reward it would bring.
We as humans like to be recognized for who we are. I like people to recognize the gifts that I have. I don’t think that is bad, but when the goal of my actions is to impress others with how gifted I am, then I am doing it for the wrong reason and I have missed the point of imitating Jesus who came to serve instead of being served.
The final temptation was the turning of stones into bread. At the end of forty days Jesus would have been very hungry and have needed food. For him it would have been a simple thing to turn stones into bread, but he didn’t do that. Again Jesus didn’t use power for his own end. Power used for a one’s own gain works against them in the end. If we look at the political systems that we live in they seem to favour the powerful ones, but that power in the end fails and someone else takes over.
When we look at Jesus, we see he had power and he used it. We see this in the works he did by giving bread to the five thousand who followed him into the desert. But Jesus did not use his power for his own gain. The natural human tendency is to use power for our own ends, but our calling is to use it for the greater calling of using it for others.
Right now in our story we can be a part of using the power we have been given to better the lives of those who have been oppressed for years by slavery and racism, or we can oppose the movements, by posting things on Social Media like: it had nothing to do with me, or all lives matter instead of Black Lives Matter (when it is people of colour who are being oppressed), or I worked hard for what I have, why didn’t others work as hard as I did? I am always disappointed when I read statements like this because I know that those people, like me have gained from what has happened in the past. I see those people as fearful of losing the power they have instead of using it to free those who are oppressed.
All three temptations that Jesus faced of autonomy, recognition and power are closely tied to each other and they are all temptations that we all face in our daily lives. The big question is how will we deal with them? It matters a great deal at this point because our actions in this time of pandemic, and social unrest have the potential to either better and save lives or hasten death and keep others in bondage.
Today I am honoured to have my niece share a bit about her story and how she has chosen to rethink life.
By Robin-Taine Brownell
About 5 years ago, as I was wandering through the religion section of my local bookstore, I came across a book with a cheerful, bright yellow cover. A picture of a smiling woman had been photoshopped to look as though she was sitting on the roof of a house. The book description, which told of the author’s yearlong experiment to live out biblical instructions for women in as literal a way possible, sounded crazy in the best possible way. I dove into “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” as soon as I got home and into the brilliant mind of its author, Rachel Held Evans. This book did not disappoint. It was by turns hilarious, challenging, poignant, and in pulling apart scripture and examining it from alternative angles, so beautifully inclusive and instructive that I found myself in tears several times.
The chapter on the Proverbs 31 woman was particularly mind-blowing. https://www.bible.com/bible/116/PRO.31.10-31.NLT The 31st chapter of Proverbs, a book of wisdom, reveals a superwoman. This woman is up before dawn and not back in bed until long after dark. She makes killer business deals making her household wealthy. She is strong. She tends to the poor. She is prepared for every eventuality because she is never lazy. Her husband and children call her blessed. The Proverbs 31 woman is awe-inspiring. She is the subject of Mother’s Day sermons, the name of women’s ministries and the subject of devotionals and books. She is often held up as the ultimate example of biblical womanhood.
In her research, Rachel Held Evans discovered that a literal or prescriptive reading of Proverbs 31, a common approach used by many churches and people, me included, is antithetical to the traditional Jewish reading of this passage. In Jewish tradition, Proverbs 31 is a poem and it is intended for men! It is memorized and recited or sung by men on Sabbath as a blessing on their wives and mothers. I had never heard of this version of Proverbs 31. A blessing and not some sort of to-do list? The 31st chapter in the book of wisdom is meant to be a teaching on, get this, wisdom! This new approach, this alternative perspective, completely changed the trajectory of Proverbs 31 for me. I cannot overstate just how jaw-dropping this was. And I couldn’t help but wonder if other parts of the Bible had been as poorly understood and taught. I hardly realized it at the time, but a thread in the certainty of my faith tugged loose. The writings of Rachel Held Evans were to become a catalyst of spiritual change, a disruption, one of several I would experience in the coming years. Disruptions in my life and faith that would lead me headlong into a full-on faith deconstruction.
Deconstruction is a strange place to be. To take apart my faith, the anchor point of my life, and re-examine, well, everything. To tear down the spiritual framework I was raised with. To figure out what no longer serves my spiritual growth. To find new ways of understanding God. It is an expansive journey. It is challenging and exhilarating, but I admit that I feel completely unqualified, sometimes frightened, and often very lonely. A wilderness experience of sorts, where everything is both familiar and completely new at the same time.
I am comforted, though, that disruptive wilderness experiences are nothing new. The Bible, front to back, is full of them. As a nation, Israel had many disruptive wilderness experiences, from slavery in Egypt, to the Babylonian exile, Israelites over and over are forced to re-examine their understanding of, and relationship with God. Nearly every major character in the old testament from Abraham to Job had great spiritually disruptive experiences. The whole New Testament is a disruption, first with Jesus upsetting nearly every religious and cultural establishment of His day, to the book of Acts and beyond where the first generations of Christians had to re-examine everything they’d ever known for sure in order to figure out what direction this new understanding of God would take. Transformation has always been the language of God.
My favourite disruptive stories are in the gospels when Jesus interacts with women. Women, who in that steeply patriarchal 1st century culture, had no rights of personhood, were largely uneducated, and were considered both religiously and culturally to be the property of their husbands or fathers. It is interesting then, that according to Luke 8:1-3, it was women who financially supported Jesus’ ministry. In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus gives religious and educational equality to Mary and Martha.
Women, who were considered too unreliable to give legal testimony in courts of law, were, according to each gospel account, the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. In one of His earliest public moments, John 4 tells of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus crossed both racial and cultural divides to speak with her. This woman who had either been widowed or divorced (keeping in mind that only men at that time could sue for divorce) 5 times, and was likely considered to be a source of bad luck by her community, someone to be avoided, became the first person Jesus commissioned with His good news. Verse 39 tells us that her witness caused many Samaritans to come to Jesus and believe. This was totally counter-cultural. In fact it is Transformational!
Jesus challenged every bit of religious certainty, every cultural norm. Any line that separated “them” from “us” was a line that Jesus walked right on over. Jesus was a radical, a subversive. Dangerous. But then, God has never played by our rules. He has always been a disruptor. As believers who understand that God’s word continues to be alive, we really should not be surprised that the Holy Spirit continues to disrupt our lives today. We should not be shocked when our religious certainties are shaken up and a wilderness experience looms large. So, if like myself, you find yourself in a spiritual wilderness, lean into it. Trust that a transformation experience is waiting. Trust that God will meet you there because He loves you. You are a beloved child of God.
Trust that a transformation experience is waiting. Trust that God will meet you there because He loves you. You are a beloved child of God.
Robin-Taine Brownell has been married to Mike for 28 years and they have 5 amazing kids. She has lived most of her life in Alberta but has also lived in all 4 western Canadian provinces as a child. She has never gotten over living in the mountains. Robin’s daily life involves lots of reading and cooking. Her youngest daughter wants you to know that her mom’s favourite colour is blue and she doodles when she isbored.
Today’s blog is written by my good friend Hector Nieblas. One of the things we need to do is listen to other voices and I would encourage you to do that here. Hector will tell us a little about who he is below. I am hoping to be able to bring more voices to the table as we talk about our stories in light of the Bible. May we learn to choose life during these interesting times.
When we think of Biblical characters, which one do you identify with? Usually we think of characters who are considered heroes of the faith, those who have done what is right before God. But what about those who were known as not following Him? Have we ever thought about what the Lord is saying through them to our lifetime?
If I had been asked a few weeks ago to choose a character with whom I identify, I most likely would have chosen one of those mentioned in the book of Hebrews, with a perspective that these characters were “victorious and perfect” people.
I was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. I thank the Lord that for as long as I can remember my mother instructed us with Christian teaching. On the other hand, my father has still not met the Lord, but we continue to pray that He will have mercy on my dad and save him. Currently the Lord has given me a beautiful family, my beautiful wife (Rebecca) and two beautiful children who literally every day turn my life into an adventure, almost like a roller coaster ride.
Spending our time together in this quarantine has resulted in some very good changes; this time has helped us to know ourselves better and love each other more sincerely as a family. When we started the quarantine, I felt we were heading towards a ravine on a bullet train at high speed. This happened because of bad decisions I made in my life. Believing myself wise, I became a fool without seeing who it affected.
One character I identified with specifically this week is Lot. Strange, right? I think the Lord wants to show me something very important with Lot. He was a person that, by the mercy of the Lord, had so many possessions that he was not able to live together with Abraham in the same region. This brought and would continue to bring more conflicts over food, water, land, etc. if nothing changed. So, to avoid future conflicts, Abraham and Lot made the decision to separate their families so they could live “without conflict.” The Scriptures say:
Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
Gen. 13:10 NIV
Lot based his decision on what he was seeing at the time. He saw something akin to Eden, something he thought would be good, something he remembered superficially as being from the Lord, a place where he believed that his family would live well, a place where he would have all his needs satisfied (“human and spiritual”.)
But it was not to be. While trying to avoid a conflict, Lot plunged together with his family into another where his neighbors (Sodom and Gomorrah) did not have a relationship with each other as designed by the Lord. They were of a twisted mind and living together with them, Lot exposed his family to things we consider disgusting. The Scripture shows us how Lot’s day-to-day decisions were sinking him deeper and deeper into the hole together with his family.
I think when we read the scriptures we often dismiss stories that we don’t like very much, but Lot’s story shows me something that was lost in Eden. Since believing myself to be the owner and lord of my life, I have made decisions according to what I saw; I have considered myself wise and intellectual for choosing abundance, even thinking on occasion that I was being led by the Lord. But in the end I separated myself from Him, renewing the conflict since my decisions were based on what “suits me” (this is according to what I could see and not according to how I should represent God as an Image bearer).
I can see that God’s purpose is different than the way we currently make decisions. When we believe we are ready to move towards our goal, we will always choose what is safe for us. But it is important to take into account that uncertainty plays an important role in our lives since it reminds us of our limits and our total dependence and trust in Him who is Eternally wise. He is the only One who truly knows good from bad. We need to learn to live clinging to Him and His promise.
It will not always be a mistake to choose what you see, but I sincerely hope that in my next decision I will seek the Lord before being guided by the limitation of my own sight. One of the reasons for learning to choose what we do not yet see is to learn to relate to God in faith.
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
If you could choose someone to identify your life with who would it be? And why would you choose this person? What makes you like them? I too have people that I identify with and will explore one of them here.
I want to start a new blog series where people can tell part of their stories based on characters from the Bible. The goal is to put the Bible characters into real life and to understand ourselves a bit better. As Miguel De La Torre has said, ‘theology needs to be done from the margins, so that it is brought down to the level of the common, instead of being only done from the ivory tower, where it often does not affect the everyday lives of people.’ Thus we will attempt to listen to the voices of ordinary everyday people as they tell us their stories in this way.
A number of years ago if you had asked me whom I identified with I would have said Abraham. Abraham lived in tents and moved from place to place always looking for something better. He was looking for the place which God had promised him. It took many years with a lot of detours in his wanderings before he found that place and God started fulfilling his many promises.
When we first came to Dawson City in the Yukon, with two small girls, there was no housing for us to rent or buy so we ended up living in a tent for more than two months.
The rule was that no one could stay in a government campground for more than two weeks at a time. As a result, we ended up moving every two weeks until someone left for the winter and we were able to rent a house and start putting down roots.
However, when we read the story of Abraham it seems like he took a long time to put down roots. The first time he reached the land that God had promised to him he moved right on through and went down to Egypt. It is in Egypt where Abraham became a very wealthy person. The reason he moved to Egypt was because of a famine in Palestine. As COVID-19 is upsetting our economic now, a famine would upset the whole economic system at that time. Abraham being a man who was looking for something better left and went to the place where life seemed to be more secure. He was in fact much like an undocumented migrant who is traveling to the US looking to save and improve his life.
It is while living in Egypt as an undocumented migrant that he runs into trouble. What will he do for a livelihood there? If you follow the story in Geneses 12:10 and forward, you will find that Abraham tells his wife Sarah to say that she is his sister instead of his wife. This is only half true, because while she is his half-sister, in the story Sarah is always known as Abraham’s wife. There is a lot that we do not know about what happened, but Abraham became very rich when he was in Egypt, because of Sarah. Did he sell her to Pharaoh, as in pimping her out? It seems he must have. The place of safety for Abraham became a place of great danger for Sarah! When Pharaoh finds out that Sarah really is Abraham’s wife they get deported. This happens not only once but twice in the life of Abraham and Sarah, the other time is in Genesis 20. The huge mistakes that Abraham makes during times of difficulty did not mean the end of his relationship with God. We can forgive Abraham for his many sins because we see the whole picture. I think those times were times of learning for Abraham and by the end of his life he is willing to follow God even when God asks him to give up his son in Genesis 22. To be able to do this he did not let past failures stop him from moving forward.
In my own life there have been times of difficulty, and like Abraham those times have not meant the end of my walk with God. I want to touch briefly on a couple of times that were life changers for me. Like Abraham I have spent my time looking for a place. Not only a place to live but a place to belong and be a part of a community. I used to think my life was something like Abraham’s because we both looked for a unique place to live. Finding a unique place to live is great, but finding for a place to belong is more important, a place where we can explore life’s meaning and not be afraid of people who might see things differently. A place where we are treated as equal human beings and also a place where we treat others like we want to be treated. Sometimes this is a hard place to find and yet being part of God’s kingdom means that we should have a place of belonging.
My first difficulty was caused because of conflict with some who at one time I counted as my best friends. The conflict Abraham had with Pharaoh, caused Abraham to go back to the place that God called him to. For me it led to six years of higher education ending in the Master of Divinity program at Providence. Those years opened the door to viewing life as much bigger than I had previously understood. It cracked open a door to freedom that has more than paid for whatever cost arose from the conflict. I am deeply grateful for the doors which have opened to me.
The second time when conflict came it was almost a repeat of the first time, and again the result was it opened new doors for me to teach others and share life with them. Spending twelve winters in Mexico has allowed me to be in a very special place of belonging. A place where my heart is with my friends, a place where I can see, God is calling us to, a place to serve. It has not all been easy, learning Spanish is a huge struggle. Living in two places is not always easy either. And now we do not know what the future holds, because of COVID-19. Will we be able to go back to the people we have grown to love and with whom we feel like family? For me Mexico has become a place of belonging. When I think of Abraham in his later life when he took his son up the hill to offer him to God, I wonder what all went through his mind. What is clear after the years of difficulty and mistakes, he was sure of one thing; if God closed one door, he would open another. If there is a lesson that we can learn it is that when things go sideways, it does not mean that God is done with us. Usually it means if we can learn a lesson we will be able to move onto new things. With COVID-19 we cannot live in the past but need to be seeking new ways forward. As Carey Nieuwhof puts it “Asking the question “What does this make possible?” will shift your focus from what you can’t do to what you can do.” (https://careynieuwhof.com/5-transformative-questions-to-ask-before-you-reopen-your-church-or-after-youve-done-it/) Who knows which doors God will open for us as we seek belonging and place here in this life with God who knows and leads us like he did Abraham.
We are living in very interesting times with little idea of what tomorrow, next week, or even next year holds for us. This is nothing new, but the realization that we don’t control our lives in the way that we thought we did is. This leaves us with questions such as what is important and how should we live? How do we know what to do? Who am I?
We are concerned about matters of health and wealth. We are or will be cut from close contact with family and friends. We may want to hug or shake someone’s hand but that is not allowed. What can we do? What gives us hope? And if we find hope, how can we share that to others in our community? I write this as a member of a local church community, but I am also writing this as a member of a larger community made up of people from many different walks of life. And then I am also part of a country and finally part of the whole world. We are in this together and as such we must answer the questions of what gives us hope and how we should seek to give answers that work on all levels.
I think what gives us hope can be best answered, not from science even if that is part of the answer, but more from a spiritual perspective. I am hoping and expecting that science will develop a vaccine, but that is a ways into the future. However we need more than that to hold on to in all of life’s difficult moments.
One of the things that gives me hope is that I do not have to have answers to what is happening, but that there is someone who is willing to walk though difficult times with us. As a Christian and someone who has spent much time studying and teaching the Bible, I find there is always an element of hope no matter how dark things got. Yes there were terrible times for the people of the Bible. For example, other nations might be invading Israel and they would and did defeat them. They were sent to live in far-away places way beyond their homes. But the story never ends there. There is always the hope that God would come to be with them and would right the wrongs. It is a message that is built on the very character of God himself.
Hope is built on the fact that God as the creator has made this world as a place to be enjoyed. Then he put humans into this world to live here in community with others. It is a place where there is enough for everyone and a place where each person is caring for those who can’t care for themselves. I see people who are caring for others and willing to help them at a cost to themselves. I am always a bit embarrassed when it is not the church that is leading the way in this. I am guilty in this too. The people who are reaching out to help others are actually showing us a picture of what God is like. Our calling is to show others what God is like.
The best picture we have of God and how he wants to relate to people is the stories of the four gospels. Here God comes as fully human while still being God, to show us how to live in this world. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the book of Acts starts with these words, “In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach.” (Acts 1:1 NLT) The implication is that what Jesus did, we are to do as well. He brought hope to the common people he was in contact with; these were the people who needed help and were willing to admit it. For people who were not willing to admit they needed help, there was little Jesus could do.
What kind of hope did Jesus bring to his larger community? The first thing that I see was that he lived his daily life with them. He identified with the common people by hanging out with them. These were people who were called sinners; today we would still call them sinners, people who hang out at the bars or the ones who have just not made it up to our standards and try to deal with the troubles of life in an unhealthy way. They are the people that we look down on. They are the people that think differently from us. What we would expect as “good Christians” is that Jesus would come to these kinds of people with a message that you are lost and need to repent. Yes it is true that Jesus did have a message of repentance but for the common people that was not the focus; rather the focus was come follow me, come and see, the kingdom of God is here and we should live the realty of that. God is still in control.
We see how Jesus lived out his teachings by healing the sick, touching the lepers, feeding those who were hungry, and not condemning the woman who was caught in adultery. Jesus was always inviting people in and one of the best ways that I see him doing that is being with and for the common people. He rarely talked to them about what they believed. Yes, his teaching and parables showed what he wanted people to believe and at the heart of that teaching was that he wanted people to live like the world had enough for everyone. It really boils down to loving your neighbor, and then Jesus redefined neighbor as the person that was most despised in the Jewish world at that time (Luke 10:33ff).
I think as we face this crisis, we would do well to look at Jesus’ example and teaching. We might not be able to meet in person as a church community but at this time people will be looking for something to hang on to.
So we are left with the question off how will we be the church in our communities and how will we bring hope to those who are looking for hope? If we want to be the people that God has called to show his love to the world how can we do? It will take so deep thinking so that we can help those who are already working on this. We as a whole community are in this together and the church as a part of that community has a very important role to play. In the next five to twenty years from now how will we be remember?
This post is written by my good friend Hector Nieblas Grijalva who is Mexican and speaks out of that context. We have much to learn from those from other cultures.
In history, women who have been faithful to God and who have worked for the extension and maturity of the Kingdom have been used by Him in great ways (even in those activities that were assigned to men). In 2 Timothy I believe that the Lord teaches us something which is both important and interesting.
I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. 5 I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. (2 Tim. 1:4 NLT)
In the Bible, God has used women to continue his work, even in those activities which were assigned to men. In an ideal world, faithful and committed men of God would teach blessing many. Not all of us still have our parents with us; or if we do, they may not follow God’s ways. Although some have thought that women teaching men is not biblical, the Bible teaches us that God is not controlled or stopped by this kind of thinking.
What we as parents want for our children is for them to have the best (the best cars, the best teachers, the best careers, the best houses) and God’s plan is no different. His desire is for them to have what they need most, and this is to be like Christ (having a relationship with Him).
Unconditional love is the permanent language that Christ manifests
Raising children requires time and effort. Sometimes this can cost tears, overtime at work, leaving the children alone for a while, and for some to even stop eating so there is enough for them to eat. It is really difficult to teach someone and especially when the person we are trying to imitate (Christ) is superior in every way to us. However I am sure the only person who can help us fulfill this role is God. The permanent language of Christ is the manifestation of his unconditional love (regardless of our circumstances), and this powerful language of love has changed people’s lives. It often comes through mothers and even through women who cannot have children, who have been able to teach about God with the same fervor as a biological mother like Timothy’s grandmother and mother did.
Remember that God gave us not a spirit of cowardice but of power, love, and self-control.2 Tim 1:7 NTV
Remember women (biological and non-biological mothers) that teaching Christ can trigger blessings for our descendants. We do not know exactly what fruit we will have (pastors, evangelists, missionaries, etc.) but of this I am sure, that you will be able to see men and women of God trying to be more and more like Jesus every day.
This action is costly, because it requires time and effort. Children are difficult sometimes but remember that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but of power, love and self-control. This same fervor was demonstrated by Timothy’s grandmother and her mother according to Paul.
In my life I thank God for the pleasure of meeting women who are considered virtuous, who by talking to their children are able to turn their eyes to the Lord when they are going the wrong way. I think in the book of proverbs it gives us an excellent definition of these women:
“She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.” (Prov. 31:17 NLT).
They know that their strength does not come from a strong mind, nor their muscles but from God. They can trust Him no matter the season (spring or winter), the One from whom life comes and who is in control of everything (despite the pain that is going on).
I thank God for my wife Rebekah, for I have seen God’s love through her to this day.
Practice, symbol, and story are three very important elements in understanding the Bible or any culture. It gives us the context of what we see and experience. When we travel to other places, we should try to understand what is important to the local people by watching for their practices, symbols and stories. As a good exercise, take some time to think of which practices, symbols, and stories give meaning to your life.
In this post, I want to look at the book of John. To me, this is a very interesting book because of how John tells the story of Jesus. He does this in a very different way than the other gospels. The other gospels have Jesus in the north of Palestine spending most of his time around his home area until close to the time of his death. For example, in Luke Jesus only makes three visits to the temple: once when he is a baby when his parents dedicate him to YHWH, then when he is twelve years old which would be Jesus’ rite of passage to adulthood, and finally when he comes to Jerusalem at the end of his life. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all have the story of Jesus entering into the city riding on a donkey, going to the temple, and cleansing it. In these three gospels, cleansing the temple is Jesus’ final act which causes the Jewish leadership to seek his death.
Here we want to look at the book of John and see how it tells the story of Jesus by using the symbols/signs of the Jewish world. We need to be conscious that all authors tell their story in a certain way for a reason and the Biblical authors are no different.
A key to understanding John is given in chapter 1:35-51 when Jesus is calling his disciples. They ask him, “Where are you staying?” and Jesus replies, “Come and see.” In 1:43, Jesus found Philip and says, “Come and follow me.” And then Philip finds Nathanael and says to him, “Come and see for yourself.” If we want to know who this Jesus is, we have to come and see so we can go and show.
In John, Jesus’ birth is not mentioned; rather, we are told who Jesus is in relation to God. We read, “The Word was with God and the Word was God” in the first verse in John. John does this so we know how to read his book and how to understand Jesus.
Jesus is not only the Word who is God himself but he is also the light of the world, as we read in 1:5. It is a light that will never be extinguished and becomes a symbol of who Jesus is. So we need to pay attention to see how John uses light in relation to Jesus. We start with some idea of who Jesus is but continue to look for what the signs and symbols tell us about Jesus.
In John, the word miracle is not used and the word for healing is only used three times. The word used for Jesus’ great works is signs. Signs point to something outside of themselves and therefore are very important. We need to understand what they point to. Part of the call to come and see is to understand. If we want to understand Jesus, we need to come and see so we can go and show what we know about Jesus.
I want to look at three signs, one very briefly and the other two in more detail. The first sign that we find is when Jesus changes the water of the Jewish rituals into the best wine that anyone there had tasted (John 2:1-12). It is not called a miracle; rather, it is a sign that points to who Jesus is and what he came to do. It points to the fact that Jesus brings a new way of living. He will take the old rituals and make into something that brings joy and life.
The second sign follows in the same chapter (2:13-25). This same story in the other gospels happens in the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus is now in Jerusalem and goes to the temple. He makes a whip and drives out the sellers and money changers. The Jewish leaders demand a sign of Jesus authority that allows him to drive them out. In 2:19, Jesus tells them what the sign will be saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John wants us to think of Jesus as the true temple, a temple that is not made of stones built by human hands, but a living temple with a human body. John has a great interest in this sign of Jesus as the temple and therefore tells us of a number of times when Jesus is in the temple.
As we think of the sign of Jesus’ body as the temple, what does the temple symbolize? In Hebrew, the same word is used for both a temple and a palace. The only difference is who rules from it. The temple symbolizes YHWH’s rule over the world. We tend to think God is in heaven and rules from there. In that thinking, heaven is far away. However, heaven is the place where God is. The temple should be the place where heaven and earth meet because it is the place from which God rules on the earth. So what is Jesus saying by destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days? He is saying look at me and see God. When you see me, you should be seeing what God’s rule from heaven looks like here on earth.
If we want someone to understand God better, we need to look at Jesus. When Nicodemus meets with Jesus in 3:2 he says that the signs that you do must mean that God is with you. Nicodemus of course did not have it all right, because not only was God with Jesus, but he was God in the flesh.
We see the third sign when Jesus next goes to the temple in chapter 7 during the Festival of Shelters. This was the time of year when the Jews go to Jerusalem and live in little huts remembering how God had led them through the wilderness. The temple would have been full to overflowing. The people there are wondering if Jesus will come to the festival and if he is the Messiah. Jesus is already well known by this time. Some think that he is a fraud and others say that he is a good man.
Into the middle of this group, Jesus comes and starts to teach. In 7:15 we find that the people are surprised by how much he knows. We as the readers of the book of John should not be surprised, because we already know who Jesus is from John 1:1-2 which tells us that he is the Word. He is God’s communication of himself to us. Jesus tells us in 7:16 that his message is not his own but it comes from God. Jesus says if we really want to know God and to do his will, then we need to know who he is. Hence the need to come and see.
The Jewish leaders had sent the temple police to arrest Jesus while he was in the temple, but they were surprised by his wisdom and his claim that God had sent him. They also had seen the signs that Jesus did. Remember the signs of changing the water and cleansing the temple that we have looked at? These were done in the public eye and they could see no reason to arrest Jesus at this point. While some people believed in him, there were many who did not. So when Jesus is in the temple, what other signs could he give that would tell them who he is?
The Festival of Shelters reminded the people of the exodus from Egypt and the whole wilderness wandering for 40 years. There was a ceremony remembering getting water from the rock. This story is told in Exodus 17. Israel has just started into the wilderness and there is no water. God tells Moses to hit the rock with his staff so water will come out of the rock. Later when Israel is closer to the end of the forty years, again there is no water and this time God tells Moses to speak to the rock and he will give them water. But Moses hits the rock twice and again God gives them water.
People sang Psalms 120-135 as they made their way up to the temple. When they arrived in the temple, there was a ceremony where the priest took a jar of water and poured it out in remembrance of God giving the Israelites water from the rock in the wilderness. A number of these Psalms looked forward to God blessing and restoring the people. All of this would make the people look for their awaited Messiah. That is why the question of who Jesus is was so important at this time in the temple. People wanted to know if he could really be the one for whom they were waiting. Would he be the one that they should follow? Would Jesus give them freedom?
This gives us the context of what happens next in the temple account. Jesus is surrounded by many people who have just entered the temple waiting for the priest to pour out water, symbolizing what God did in the past as a promise that God would bring a new redemption in the future. While this is happening, we hear Jesus’ words as recorded in John 7:37-39. “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” Jesus is saying that this symbolic act remembering what God did in the past and will do in the future points to me. There is no need for a symbol when you have the real thing!
We understand that Jesus has taken the things that point to God’s rule over the world and made them about himself. So if we want to know who God is, we look at Jesus and observe what he did and said. It is part of come and see. The second step is calling others to come and see as Philip did when he invited Nathanael to come and see. Now Jesus is not with us in the same way as when these stories took place, so how do we help people see who Jesus is? One way is to share the Bible stories with them, but there are other ways too.
I want to suggest two of them: First, Jesus replaced the temple from which God should rule the world and that role has been passed on to us as a church and the people of God. This is what 1Cor 3:16 says: “You (plural) are the temple of God.” This is the place where people should look to see what God wants for this world and how to live in it.
The second is similar. God has made us in his image. That theme starts in Genesis and is alluded to throughout the Bible. To be made in God’s image means that we represent Him here. We should be able to live in such a way that we can say, “Come and see” to those who want to know what God is like. It does not mean that we are perfect, but it does mean that in our imperfect ways, we are humble and show God’s love to the world. We need to be people who come and see so we can go and show.
In the last blog we looked at how Thomas was restored, but what happened to Peter? The next story we have is of Peter in chapter 21 of John. Thomas wanted more proof before he was ready to accept Jesus’ resurrection, but Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus. So what about him? Peter was the leader of the apostles. He acted as the spokesperson for them, both for good and bad in the stories of the gospels. So it must have been really hard for him to come to grips with what he had done. He had been ready to kill for Jesus and then a few hours later, he said, “I don’t know him” three times. I wonder if it took Peter longer than Thomas to be able to deal with what he had done.
Peter goes back to fishing and a number of the other disciples go with him, including Thomas, because now Thomas is a full member of the disciples again. Fishing was done at night and they all worked hard the whole night, but caught nothing. Peter was a fisherman and probably learnt that trade at a young age, so he would have known what he was doing but still they caught nothing. How do you think Peter felt about himself? First he tries to defend Jesus and then ends up denying him and now he takes everyone fishing and after a long night they have nothing to show for it.
Into that picture comes Jesus early in the morning asking, “Friends have you caught anything.” In the low light of the morning they do not know who he is. It would have been the time of day that people would come to buy their fish but they have nothing to sell. And then there is Jesus saying, “Throw your nets out on the right hand side of the boat.” I am surprised they did what he suggested. They were the guys who should know how to fish, so why listen to the person on the shore telling them how to do it? But they do it! Maybe they thought they had nothing to lose; after all, what they had done hadn’t worked. So they throw the nets on the other side and they catch more fish at one time than they ever have before. When this happens, John understands who it is and says to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
Peter forgets all about the fish, puts on his clothes so he is respectable, and heads for shore to go and see Jesus. Does Peter now understand himself to be a complete failure and is ready to deal with his issues? When Peter gets to the shore he finds a fire, fish cooking, and bread. This is what he needs after a long, cold night of hard work. But Jesus sends Peter back to deal with the fish and he must first bring the fish to shore so he gets to count how many there are. In Peter’s restoration, Jesus deals with the first thing at hand which was catching fish. It should have given Peter hope that he was not a complete failure.
But later, when they are sitting around the fire eating fish and bread Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than these (John 21:15-17), I take ‘these things’ to be the fish which Peter and the rest have just caught because they were at hand; however, it could also be Peter’s own pride and everything else he held dear, like wanting to be first. We can understand Jesus asking Peter do you love me once, but to ask him three times must cast doubt in Peter’s mind that Jesus believes him.
Peter answers in the affirmative. Yes, he loves Jesus. And in response Jesus replies to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” What went through Peter’s mind when he heard those words? They had just caught 153 big fish. Was he to give them away and make sure that people had enough to eat? Within the context of this story I think that would be a part of it because we remember Jesus feeding the crowds with just five loaves and two fish in John 6:9. Also, we remember Jesus telling his followers in John 20:21-23 that he was sending them out like God the Father had sent Jesus. If they and we are to do what Jesus did, we look and see Jesus sitting by the fire feeding his disciples. So I would say that part of feeding Jesus’ sheep is making sure their needs are met. It is part of the story of Acts 4:32-35 where the first believers have everything in common so that there was not any needy person among them. By meeting everyone’s needs they give a powerful testimony to the resurrection.
Jesus repeats the question of do you love me three times and Peter states in the affirmative that yes, he loves Jesus each time which is followed by the statement of feed my lambs or sheep. Why does John tell us about all three times? If we think back to when Peter denied Jesus, it happened three times (John 18:15-27). He was around a fire trying to warm himself just like he was now. It was a similar time of day as when Jesus made the fire, bright enough to see but still dark. Three times Peter was asked if he was a part of the group that followed Jesus and each time his answer was a hard no! I think that John wants us to see that Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you love me,” once for each time Peter denied Jesus. What is going through Peter’s mind when Jesus asks him “Do you love me?” for the third time? Verse 17 tells us that Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him for the third time. Does the hurt come from the realization of his denial of Jesus? While Peter was hurt, it probably helped him deal with his denial of Jesus. I think this story is told so that Peter can take a good look at himself and then can move forward and start over. When we come to the book of Acts, we meet a changed Peter.
Jesus dealing with Peter’s problem shows us what Jesus means when he sends the disciples and us out as his Father sent him. It shows what forgiving the sins of others looks like. Jesus met Peter where he was, in a boat being a failure at the very thing he should have been best at, and that was fishing. Jesus asks his question do you love me in such a way that Peter must have seen himself as the person who denied Jesus three times. But the question does not end with do you love me, but it goes on to feed my sheep. Jesus is saying to Peter, “I have something for you to do, I am not done with you.”
Did you notice that not once in these accounts of Thomas or Peter, do they say please forgive me? Rather we have Jesus seeking out Thomas and Peter so that they can be restored and live out Jesus’ commissioning of John 20:21-23. Jesus has given us an example of what it means to forgive people. It is to reach out to them and restore them so that they have value in God’s kingdom. Is this easy? No it is something that I struggle with and often fail to do, but it is important for us if we want people to understand what God’s kingdom is all about. It is what comes next after the resurrection; it is about restoring people so they can go and do the task they are called to. It is about the call to follow Jesus. Will we allow Jesus to send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit and forgive others so they can be set free?
If there is one statement that seems to set off the last year, it is ‘we are living in interesting times.’ It is true we are living in interesting times, but that is nothing new; times have always been interesting. COVID seemed to come out of nowhere. It has affected us all, many have died and life has become very hard for multitudes. Travel is frowned on and we have to wear masks, to which many object. If you listen to the ‘no maskers’ one would think that the world as we know it is about to end. We have also seen Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and many people have very negative attitudes towards them as well. And then we have seen the great break-down of politics in the US.
What do these things have in common? It seems that people want to keep the status quo. Any change from what is, is seen as harmful to those who have been in the favored part of society. There seems to be a deep seated fear that to be inconvenienced or to enact change that will elevate those from less favored areas of society will be harmful to them. I would argue that the opposite is true and when the least of these is allowed and encouraged to excel, everyone will do better. Even the simple act of wearing a mask will help protect others and the healthier people we have, the better for everyone. End systemic racism and our countries will grow in wealth and harmony. Will it be costly for some people? Yes, but in the long run it will more than repay the investment. It is like wearing a mask. Is it inconvenient? Yes, but if we all wear masks in public, the sooner nobody will have to wear masks and the lower the cost to our health care systems.
I have been mulling over what makes us so set against any kind of change even when it would be for the better for everyone. I think there are a couple of things that drive this mind set against change. One is fear of the unknown. Who knows what would happen if we opened the door to BLM? Would they take all the power from us and become like us? If this happened, would we have changed places and be mistreated like we have mistreated them? There is exceptionalism, and for Christians I think it is driven in part by the idea that God has called us and not them. Therefore, we must be in the right and better than others. Thoughts like these do not have to be conscious to affect our thinking. And then there is our false memory of our own history written from the winning side. We think that the past was the perfect age and we need to return to the time when we could do what we wanted to when we wanted. The perfect example of this is the MAGA slogan. Canada is in no way exempt from this kind of thinking. What drives this is a very eclectic memory of history. We tend to only see those moments that were good for us as told by the winners. And there is jealousy. We build our value on a comparison to other people. As long as we can somehow see ourselves as better than another person or groups of people then we are OK, but if suddenly those same people or groups are seen as equal or better than us, we think we have been demoted, or as our pastor Jimmy Jo says “we think that in order for us to win others have to lose.”
But are these things anything new or have they always been? There is nothing new under the sun, and the same things seem to happen over and over again. As a human race we have difficulty learning, and we should be very thankful for God’s patience with us. As an example of this kind of thinking, we can look at the story of King Saul, Israel’s first try at kingship as taken from the book of 1 Samuel chapters 13-14.
Saul was appointed king over Israel three times so we know for sure that he is the right person for the job. First, he was appointed privately by the prophet Samuel, then he was chosen by lot, and finally after his first major battle the kingship is renewed. He had everything needed to be the kind of King who could lead his people through difficult times. He was strong and tall and these were important elements in hand-to-hand battles. He was also humble taking the role of king reluctantly. At the start of his rule, he was ready to listen to the advice of those who were below him in the social order; but once he had tasted some victories, a change came over him that is hard to explain other than that success went to his head.
Saul’s problems started with his first-born son, not because his son Jonathan was rebellious, but because Jonathan was too good at what he did. In chapter 13, Jonathan led 1000 men into battle and defeated the dreaded Philistines. Jonathan’s victory only made things worse for the Israelites because the Philistines amassed their troops to attack Israel. Saul, who should be out in front leading the fight against the enemy, is sitting under a tree waiting for something (1Sam 14:2) but we are not sure for what. His men are very nervous during this wait because to them the odds of having any chance of surviving a battle seem to get smaller by the minute as the enemy amasses, so they start to desert Saul.
Jonathan, on the other hand, sees the same events not as an obstacle but as a call to action. Instead of waiting with his father to do something, he goes off with only his armor bearer and seeks God’s guidance as to whether he should attack the enemy (14:6-10). The spot that Jonathan picks to fight is difficult for him because he has to climb up a hill, but he is so successful that his advance causes panic among the Philistines. Saul can see that something is happening and that the enemy is in disarray, but he cannot see why, or who is causing it. It would seem that this is a golden moment for Saul. The enemy is in confusion and all he has to do is attack. The people want a king who would lead them into battle.
Jonathan sought guidance before he attacked the Philistines and Saul should have done the same thing. As we read the story, we find that there was a priest by Saul’s side the whole time and Saul should have been asking him what to do, but it is only after he sees the enemy in confusion that he even thinks of seeking guidance. Here is where we see how Saul has changed. Before he was anointed king he was willing to take advice from other people, but now as king he has a hard time asking God for advice (14:18-19). He now knows it is probably his son who is out there leading the attack which he should have been leading, and he sees how successful his son is. The whole process of asking for God’s leading would have taken some time and in Saul’s mind he did not have time if he wanted to get into the action and not let his son take all the credit for the victory. So he abandons the idea of seeking guidance and orders his troops into battle. At this point Saul has no use for God.
We must keep some things in mind as we read this story. Saul knows his son Jonathan is out fighting the enemy and everyone but Jonathan and his amour bearer know about the oath not to eat anything. Saul’s army catches up to Jonathan and together they chase the disorientated Philistines out of the country. All is good until Jonathan finds some wild honey and one of the other soldiers sees him eating it. Jonathan has very fitting words about his father, saying, “My father has troubled the land” (14:29). If you read to the end of the story, you will see how indeed Saul brought much trouble on the land.
After the day is over, Saul wants to inquire from God if he should he should continue the fight into the night but God will not answer him. In order to find out who is to blame for God’s silence, Saul divides everyone into two groups, Jonathan and himself and everybody else (14:36-45). The indication is that the problem is with Jonathan and Saul. Now it is between Saul and Jonathan and this time the indication is that the problem is with Jonathan. Jonathan admits that he ate a little honey before he knew about his father’s oath. Saul is ready to kill his own son for breaking his oath and Jonathan is only saved by Saul’s troops standing up for him.
We need to think this story through a bit more and then we can look at the why and what does it have to say to our times. When Jonathan attacked the enemy he was doing what needed to be done because his father, Saul, was not doing what he should have done. When Saul give the roll call he found out that Jonathan and his amour bearer were missing from the camp. Saul assumed rightly that it was his son out there leading the attack. Jonathan had already proved his worth as a leader and warrior. Now when Saul put his troops under oath to eat nothing during the day, he knew that Jonathan would eat something, because he had not heard the oath. What Saul did was set up his son for disgrace and death. We also see this by the way he tries to find out who is guilty when he separates himself and Jonathan apart from the troops and then allows himself and Jonathan to be tested. He knows who broke the oath. Is it any wonder why God did not answer him later?
We must ask, “What drove Saul to do this?” Did Saul let victory and kingship go to his head? Jonathan disgraced Saul when he did what Saul refused to do. What Jonathan did made Saul look bad in his own eyes. What Saul should have done that would have been best for everyone is have a great victory celebration saying, “Look what my son did; he did it better than I could have. He will be your next king.” Instead, Saul saw Jonathan as a threat to his position. Later he will see David in the same way and instead of having the common goal of defeating the enemy, he will spend his time trying to put down those whom he saw as being better than himself. He was insanely jealous and fearful. Because he did not deal with those fears and allow himself to be part of something that was much bigger than himself, he becomes mentally ill. He is always looking out over his shoulder to see if there is anyone that is better than himself and he will throw them under the bus, to the point of trying to kill his own son. He will do everything to maintain power. He always wanted to go back to the good old days when he was first anointed king and all the glory came to him for any victory.
I think what we have done as evangelicals is act like Saul. We as a society act and think that if someone else gains rights and freedoms, or if the poor and people of other races are helped and honored, that will mean that we are diminished and will lose power. It makes us fearful and fear makes us act like Saul. Over the last number of years, we have seen too many leaders who want to win at all costs and are willing to throw anyone they see as potential competition under the bus. (Here Think of Donald Trump and Mike Pence).
We too often support them thinking they will give us what we want because we are afraid that other people’s gain will be our loss. Take the example of slavery in the US. After the slaves were free, a lot of energy was put into keeping them as non-citizens, and whole systems were developed to keep them down instead of giving them a hand up. If they would have been willing to grant them full rights and equal inclusions, think of all the resources that society would have had.
I am the youngest of five siblings. We know how the story goes, if you are the youngest then you must be spoiled because you get all the attention and everyone in the family is there to protect you. Sometimes that may be true but I am here to tell you that is not always the case. I can speak from my experience that there is another side to being the youngest. In my case I had three older sisters and a brother two years older than I was. Being the youngest comes with its own set of problems.
One of the problems is that everyone else has already arrived and can do grownup things and the youngest is often reminded that he or she is not there yet. Everyone thinks that they are better than the “baby.” So there is always a struggle to be good enough and meet the older sibling’s expectation. Not only do you have your parents to discipline you but all your older siblings think it is their job too! Therefore, being the youngest might lead to some serious rivalry. That was certainly true between my brother and me.
He got to drive the tractor and make deals with the neighbors while I had to do more of the manual work. the lead hand on the farm and I was the laborer and had to do what he said. This is not to say it was all bad, because my brother was gifted in ways that I was not. My point is that from my young perspective, life did not seem fair. I think the truth is that life is not fair and each of us must live where we are placed, and try to improve and make the best of things.
At this point in our history we see a number of situations where this is happening: one is COVID-19 and the other is the Black Lives Matter movement that is crying out for long overdue justice. I cannot speak to what it feels like to be Black or Latinx, but at the same time I can stand in solidarity with them and say their cause is justice, because they, the same as I, have been made in God’s image. I think it helps that I have also fought for the “right” to be my own person who could make decisions and take responsibly for them.
Today I want to look at the story of two brothers, with one being just minutes younger than the other. It is the story of Esau and Jacob. In their case the oldest was not only the lead hand but some day he would have to care for the extended family. Being the oldest held great honor, but came with great responsibility. We have been taught to read this story with Jacob as the hero, who in the end becomes the good guy. Therefore, we see Esau as the bad guy and because of what he did we blame him for a lot of the problems that Israel had with Edom later. This is a very similar story to that of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, where Isaac the younger takes over from Ishmael the older. Here too, we love to cast the blame for a lot of the problems between Jews, Christians and the Arabs. Maybe another way of reading these stories is to look at those who are not normally the heroes or the ones in power.
We pick up the story of Esau and Jacob in Gen 25:19. We find that Jacob means heel grabber and if we are familiar with the Biblical story we should know that is what he will spend much of his life doing: taking down people so that he can supplant them. When we read the story, we see that Jacob, the younger one, gains things that were not rightfully his. He is not portrayed as a good guy but God is with him anyway.
Esau on the other hand is seen as someone who does not take his duties seriously. He likes the open fields away from home and the duties that he has there. So one day when he comes home from an unsuccessful hunt, hungry and tried, Jacob takes advantage of the situation and trades a bowl of stew for Esau’s birth right that came with being the first born (Gen. 25:28-34). Birth Rights included inheriting the majority of the father’s possessions and the holder of the Birth Right became the leader in the house after the father died. So Esau lost both the responsibility and the honour that came with being the oldest son. We may be inclined to blame Esau for his loss, but the next time Jacob grabbed what was not his we cannot blame Esau.
When it came time for Isaac to pass on the family blessing to Esau, he sent him out to hunt for wild game and make a meal for him. After Isaac had eaten, he would bless his oldest son, and what Isaac had would in effect become Esau’s. However, Jacob’s mother overheard this and made sure that Jacob got the blessing through deceit (Gen 27). Making a power grab like this does not make for peace, and Jacob had to flee for his life.
On the way to his mother’s former home he rests for the night out in the open and in his dream he sees a ladder going into heaven. On this ladder there were angels going up and down and at the top was the Lord God who promised to be with Jacob and to give him the land from which he is fleeing.
Jacob was gone for around 20 years during which time he met his match in a man called Laban who would become his father-in-law. After conflict arose with Jacob’s in-laws, Jacob set off for home, the place that the Lord had promised to him in his dream. But there was a problem – his brother Esau was still there and when Esau heard that Jacob was on his way back he prepared to meet him with an army of four hundred men. Jacob had a choice to make. He could not go back to his father-in-law’s place because of an agreement he had made with him. But what would he do with his older brother from whom he had stolen the birth right and the blessing? He could try to fight against Esau’s armed forces, but Jacob would probably lose the conflict. Jacob chooses to repay Esau for the damage that he had caused in his life. So he sends gifts ahead to Esau hoping to appease him.
When the two brothers meet there is reconciliation, repayment, and the chance to start over. Jacob makes a very interesting statement when he sees his brother Esau which we find in Gen. 33:10, “No, if I have found favor with you, please accept this gift from me. And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God!” ( NLT).
What is it in Esau that makes Jacob say it is like seeing the face of God? We must remember that not far from where the two brothers met is where Jacob had his dream in which he saw God standing at the top of the ladder. Jacob met God when he left the land and again when he entered, but in two very different ways. Is Jacob saying that his brother whom he had treated as someone to abuse and take advantage of was made in the image of God with full rights to everything God had in store for him? I think so.
In many ways Esau is the hero of this story. Yes, he may not have taken his responsibly seriously enough when he was young, but when he had the chance to take revenge, he did not take it. Rather it seems that he forgave his brother and wanted to have a renewed and close relationship with him. Jacob also learnt he needed to make amends for past wrongs which would lead to peace. When we read later about the trouble between Edom, the descendants of Esau, and the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, this story should help us understand why the Edomites do not trust Israel.
When we see what is happening with Black Lives Matter, it is time to stop and listen to what they are saying. It is also time to make amends for past wrongs. If we want to have peace we must give up our quest for power and control. The desire for power and control drove Jacob to do what he did. Being the younger brother may have been a part of it, because he may have thought life was not fair to him. I understand that thinking, but once we give up looking for justice and it becomes a desire for power we are in trouble. Justice demands that we see others as made in the image of God who have full rights to protection and equal treatment. Will it be easy? I don’t think it will. Jacob’s life was not easy either, but in the end he could live at peace with his brother.
Can we imagine what life would be like when we see others that we would think of it as actually seeing Jesus face to face, even those who we may think of as less than ourselves,.
Jesus said “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ 37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ 41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ 44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ 45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”