My promised next post was supposed to be “Moving to Costa Rica: Figuring Out Work.” Since we’re still figuring out work, that post will have to wait. For this post, I’ve decided to come clean. I’ve been posting all good stuff about our move to Costa Rica, but the truth is it hasn’t been all good.
When we first got here, the weather was perfect. The temperature was always between the mid-sixties and low eighties. Now, it’s not-so-perfect. The end of the dry season brings higher temperatures, and the beginning of the rainy season brings higher humidity. The intersection has resulted in the middle of the day being unbearably hot and humid. That’s how we discovered the brilliance of “la siesta.” It’s just too dang sweltering to do anything but nap.
It’s peaceful here, but that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. The neighbor behind us has a chicken coop. I thought that roosters crow only at sunrise. Nope, they crow whenever they feel like it even if it’s 3 AM. They are just like barking dogs. Speaking of barking dogs, one of our neighbors has a yippy little dog that yips incessantly. It yips at every little sound. It starts yipping when it hears the little squeak the gate makes when I open it to take Jackson for a walk.
So far, I’ve resisted the urge to yell, “Oh shut up, will you?”
Trash is picked up every night, but recycling is picked up only once per month. Sadly, bags that are left out for trash are often thrown out into the middle of the street, torn open, and inspected for anything useful. Once we found our recycling bag torn open and its contents scattered about in a nearby park. Many of the Ticos are very poor, and this is how they survive, but it makes a disgusting mess. To deal with this issue, we hired someone to pick up our recycling and take it to the recycling center every couple of weeks. We take only a small bag of trash out every night, and if our street is a mess, I go out with a broom and bucket and clean it up.
There are often homeless people napping on the sidewalks, and when we go downtown, we are panhandled most of the time. In the grocery store, women have asked us to buy them a few necessities, and on the street, we are often asked for coins. Yesterday, one guy was pretty persistent. I don’t think he knew any English except for “One dollar!” So, I gave him one dollar (a 500-colone coin). The locals see dollar signs when they see Americans and Europeans, and they aren’t wrong. Tabatha and I aren’t rich, but compared to what many Ticos have – we are. We don’t mind helping people out, but being frequently panhandled can be a bit unsettling.
We were delighted with the supersized avocados, but not so delighted with the supersized rats. One rat decided to mosey into our house through our front gate while we were eating lunch. We swear, it looked right at Tabatha as if to say, “Hola! Que hay de comer?” (Hello! What’s to eat?). First, we screamed like a couple of frightened children. Then, we chased it around the house. It left droppings everywhere. The poor thing was obviously terrified. We trapped it in the bathroom and enlisted the help of our neighbor Mayela. She arrived with her specialist equipment for rat elimination: a broom. Unfortunately, she couldn’t save us. The rat was hiding inside a hole it dug in the wall.
I deduced that it was far better to let the rat come out of hiding and find its way out of the house. I didn’t want it to starve to death inside our wall because then we’d have to deal with the distinctive aroma known as “rotting rat carcass.” First, I created a barrier so that the only way the rat could go was out. Then I opened the bathroom door and waited. Eventually the rat came out, but when I saw it, I gasped. That spooked it, so it ran back into hiding. It came back out a few minutes later, and I held my breath while it scampered around, eventually discovering the way out.
It didn’t take long- thank goodness.
Speaking of our neighbor Mayela, she is a gem. We love her. She is like our “mom away from home.” But just like a next-door mom, she can be a bit intrusive. She regularly rings our doorbell, or stands at our gate yelling, “¡Upe!” (Yoo-hoo!). It causes quite a commotion because the dog starts crazy barking and bolting to the gate. It’s quite disruptive when we’re in the middle of an online Spanish lesson, or talking to someone on WhatsApp, or in the bathroom. To deal with this issue, Tabatha and I devised an ingenious plan. We created a “Do not Disturb” sign (post image). We explained to Mayela that when this sign is on the door, we are working, so we can’t come to the door. We plan to use this sign not only when working, but also whenever we want some privacy.
Two days after we got here, a water main break disrupted the water supply for the entire city for a couple of days, and the water supply is sometimes cut off for maintenance. The electricity blips off and back on regularly, so the electric company occasionally turns off the electricity in sectors for a couple of hours to prevent brownouts. We’ve learned to invest in a surge protector with battery backup. And the plumbing in our house? Not-so-good. We’ve had a major sewage back-up into our shower. It was so gross. We’ve learned to use the smallest amount of toilet paper necessary and to use drain cleaner monthly to avoid clogs.
The truth is that no matter where you go, a city is a city and people are people and life is life. The problems we may hope to escape in one place often show up in the new place, and/or we may end up with new problems to replace the old ones. To live here more happily and healthily, we’ve needed to make some attitude adjustments and lifestyle changes.
That’s not easy, and we’re just getting started.
Do we regret moving to Costa Rica? No, we don’t regret it. To be happy anywhere is a choice and that choice often involves hard work. We have chosen to be happy here, and we will do the hard work that requires.
Six months ago, when we were back in the States thinking about our move to Costa Rica, we knew we would be faced with language challenges. Tabatha had been studying Spanish for only a couple of months, and although I had been studying for a couple of years, I was still only a beginner. There was no way for us to know what it would be like.
It didn’t take long for us to find out. From the moment we stepped out of the plane, Spanish was everywhere.
We read all kinds of reassurances online about how we didn’t have to worry about not knowing how to speak Spanish because you can always just use Google Translate. Google Translate is great! It quickly became our best friend. It helps us translate signs, grocery store labels, ingredients, and product descriptions. It helps us figure out how to ask for what we want or need, and if our pronunciation is so bad that we get confused looks, it will even speak for us.
I found that to be very useful one day when I asked a grocery store clerk where I could find yeast. The Spanish word for yeast is “levadura.” It’s pronounced leh-vah-doo-rah. Now, I thought that’s how I pronounced it, but apparently I pronounced it “lav-ah-dor-ah.” The clerk was quite confused. You see, “lavadora” is the Spanish word for a washing machine. He might have thought, “Why the heck is she looking for a washing machine in a grocery store?”
I have found another Spanish word that can get you misunderstood if you fail to pronounce it precisely. The word for hair is “cabello,” pronounced “kah-bay-yoh.” It’s very easy to mistakenly pronounce it “kah-bye-yoh.” You might think you’re asking the hairdresser to wash your hair, but what you’re really asking her to do is wash your horse (caballo).
Google Translate also has this wonderful feature called “Conversation” that can automatically translate between two people. Theoretically, that is. If you’ve ever heard a native Spanish speaker, you know that they seem to speak very fast. That’s because the words flow into each other, making it difficult to pick out the individual words unless you have a trained ear. You can ask the person, “Por favor, hable más despacio” (speak more slowly please), but I’ve found that most can’t because it’s just not natural for them. Google’s “ear” may be better trained than mine, but it is still no match for my next-door neighbor’s or the handyman’s thoroughbred pace.
Google also does not translate local slang accurately, so the translation doesn’t always make sense. For example, in Costa Rica, there’s the saying, “¡Que torta!” It means, “What a mess!” A Costa Rican “torta” is like an omelet or a quiche – a mess of ingredients thrown together and then cooked. Google translates “¡Que torta!” as “What a cake!” According to my Costa Rican Spanish teacher, the word for cake is “queque,” which Google translates as “what what.” Another Costa Rican saying is “¡Que chicha!” This is an expression of anger that often follows an unexpected and unwelcome surprise. Google translates that as “What a girl!”
We read all kinds of reassurances online about how we don’t have to worry about not knowing how to speak Spanish because many Costa Ricans speak English, and they will often switch from Spanish to English if it appears you are struggling to understand. We’ve been here over a month, and I can count the number of times that has happened on the fingers of one hand. It has happened most often with key service providers such as doctors, lawyers, and bankers. I learned not to bother asking the guy behind the meat counter “¿Habla usted inglés?” (Do you speak English?). No, I’ve learned how to say, “Quisiera un kilo de carne molida por favor” (I’d like a kilo of ground beef please).
There are more bilinguals in tourist areas, but we are not living on the beach. We are living in the Central Valley in the city of San Ramón. Here, it seems, most people don’t speak English even though Costa Ricans learn English in school. I learned French in school. Guess how much French I remember today? The other day, my neighbor introduced her eleven-year-old “nieto” to me. When I looked confused, the kid said, “grandson.”
Yes, Costa Ricans learn English in school, but just like with the French I learned, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Some do remember a little bit of English from school, and they like to use it. Occasionally, we say “Buenos días” to someone on the street, and we get a “Good morning!” in response. And sometimes, we get a “thank you” in response. We can’t help but grin. We all love to hear our own language – even if it isn’t quite right.
I guess we can’t hide it. We are obviously English-speaking gringos. But we are living in a Spanish-speaking country now, so I feel it is my responsibility to learn how to speak the language. The Spanish phrase that comes out of my mouth most frequently is an apology: “Lo siento. Mi español no es muy bueno” (I’m sorry. My Spanish isn’t very good).
There are many other English-speakers who live here, some for many years, who haven’t bothered to learn Spanish. I don’t blame them. It takes a ton of time and hard work. I believe that not knowing the language puts you at a serious disadvantage, and I’m not willing to accept living that way. Admittedly, the choice to learn was easy for me because I’m a language geek. Tabatha isn’t, but she has become fascinated by the structure of the Spanish langue.
When I first got here, I was afraid to try to communicate in Spanish. When listening, I was so focused on translating the words that I would miss the obvious meaning from the context and the person’s body language. Tabatha was much better at this because she didn’t even try to translate the words. When speaking, I was too afraid of making mistakes: using the wrong part of speech or conjugating a verb incorrectly.
I was too focused on vocabulary and grammar. Yes, being a language geek was getting in my way. I’m now finding that I can speak Spanish better than I think. Many people have said, “Habla usted español muy bien” (You speak Spanish very well). Of course, taking Spanish classes four days a week for the past month has helped a lot! There are times when I feel great – like “Yeah, I can do this! Look at me! I’m speaking Spanish!”
Still there are also plenty of times when I fall flat on my face. I feel dumb – a lot. Many times, all I can say at the end of a conversation is, “Gracias por su paciencia” (Thank you for your patience).
People are people wherever you go. Some are more patient than others, but I’d have to say most people here are patient and really appreciate people’s attempts to speak their language. I think my fears of their impatience and intolerance are mostly in my head. It takes a lot longer to communicate here. Perhaps I’m projecting my own impatience and intolerance onto them. Yes, I’m the one who is impatient and too hard on myself.
Truly, I have never experienced anything more humbling.
Stay tuned for my next blog post: Figuring Out Work
We arrived in Costa Rica on March 21, 2023 early in the morning on a beautiful day and began our new lives in a country we have never visited – not even once. We anticipated that we would experience a culture different from that of the United States, but we couldn’t have imagined what it would be like. Now that we have been here for over three weeks, we are beginning to get a taste of culture shock . In some ways it has been bitter and in other ways sweet.
I will start with the bitter. First of all, in Costa Rica, the traffic is horrible. We chose not to drive in Costa Rica, and we are so glad we made that choice. We hired drivers for two trips from San Ramón to San José and back, and both times, the hour-long drive took more than two hours. On the second trip, the driver attempted to avoid the traffic by taking death-defying cliff-hanging back roads that made us seriously doubt if we would survive. The reward for our near heart failure was that we got to see some fantastic views. We certainly didn’t get to San Ramón any faster.
Second, I thought the sidewalks in Easton, PA were bad. Not compared to the sidewalks in San Ramón. You need to pay attention when walking, or you could easily step into one of many holes, trip over a sudden rise or fall in the sidewalk, or fall into the deep drainage ditches (our poor dog has done that a few times). Just today, while walking downtown, I looked over the edge of the sidewalk, and there must have been a four-foot drop onto the street. I felt like I was walking along a cliff with no railing. In Easton, I saw people with disabilities riding around in powered wheelchairs or scooters all the time. I haven’t seen anyone doing that here. They would have to be loco.
Why are Costa Rica’s roads and sidewalks so bad? Because they don’t prioritize infrastructure issues. They expect people to be aware of traffic and infrastructure issues, take responsibility, and act like rational adults. Costa Rica spends most of its money on three things: education, social services, and healthcare. Knowing this, I can forgive the horrible traffic and horrendous sidewalks.
Now for the sweet. The park is always full of people of all ages enjoying recreational activities, whether they are working out with the provided fitness equipment, walking or running around the field, playing on the playground, or playing a game on the basketball court or soccer field. Their faces are all brimming with sheer pleasure and relaxing enjoyment. Whenever I saw the few people in U.S. parks engaging in recreational activities, they didn’t appear to be enjoying it so much. They appear to be trying get fit for some big event or engaging in serious competition. That kind of pressure doesn’t seem to exist in Costa Rica. Apparently, it isn’t necessary. Costa Ricans are generally healthy and fit.
Some of the conveniences I enjoyed in the U.S. are non-existent here. I wanted to buy a mop with a disposable head – like a Swiffer. No such thing here. The way you mop in Costa Rica is by clipping a rag to the end of a pole. You wring it out by hand, and if you want it clean, you have to rinse it out or wash it. Why do I consider that sweet? In the U.S. there are many products that make life more convenient, but we don’t think its impact on the environment. For example, when we were living in the U.S., we were using a Brita pitcher, and we had over two dozen filters that we needed to recycle. Unfortunately, the company had dissolved their recycling program, so all those filters sadly ended up going in the trash. Many U.S. companies refuse to take responsibility for recycling the products they sell, and the environment suffers. The Costa Ricans don’t sacrifice the environment for convenience.
The sweetest thing of all is that in Costa Rica, you get treated like a real person who matters. More than once, I received a hug and kiss on the cheek simply for introducing myself. The sincere hospitality and generosity of our neighbors has also been a shock. We are foreigners, but we are treated like friends. Our neighbor has brought us wonderful tortillas and custards and complete plates of food. When there was a water main break, they took care of us, taking us in their car to the water truck and giving us containers so that we could collect water for ourselves. In the U.S., foreigners are treated with cold indifference at best.
In the U.S., when people meet for business purposes, they immediately get down to business. In Costa Rica, before business is conducted, people talk to each other. They actually take the time to check in on each other’s wellbeing and to get to know each other. When they say, “Cómo está usted?” (How are you?), they genuinely want to know how you are. There is about ten minutes of chatting before they actually get down to business. This has been extremely enlightening for me. I didn’t realize this before, but the message we Americans send in getting right down to business is this: “I don’t care who you are. I care only about what you can do for me.”
In America, the focus is on business. In Costa Rica, the focus is on relationships: relationships between people and the relationship between the people and the earth. In America, it’s all about money. In Costa Rica, it’s all about community.
That may be why Costa Ricans are among the happiest people on earth, and we are very happy to be living among them.
We have finally arrived, and we’re settling in. The worst part is over: sixteen days on the road from the closing on our home in Easton, PA to the day we flew into San Jose, Costa Rica. Throughout those sixteen days, we posted pictures and stories on Facebook documenting our journey, We looked so happy, right?
Well … to be perfectly honest, I had more than one emotional meltdown. At times, the small part of me that was scared to death overwhelmed me completely, and I ended up sobbing. The worst episode was the night before we flew. I hadn’t flown in an airplane since I was seventeen years old. It wasn’t the flight that scared me; it was the airport. There were too many unknowns. How would we get from the rental car return to the airport? It looked like it was a least a half-mile walk on the map. Could we get an Uber or taxi at 5 AM? Would anyone be there at that hour to help us figure it out? In my head were visions of us lugging two carry-ones and two suitcases each the entire distance and missing our flight. My head couldn’t accept my heart’s reassurances that said, “Just wait until you get there. You’ll figure it out.”
Of course, I didn’t have to figure anything out because the airport already had it all figured out. There was a skytrain that transported people to the airport from the rental car return. There were plenty of people around to help and signs everywhere. The airport wasn’t nearly as complicated as my fearful self imagined. We boarded our plan on time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the flight – especially the glorious sights from the airplane window.
The part of me that is fearful is an expert at taking the unknown, spinning a catastrophe, and then giving me crappy advice as to how to avoid it. There was no reason to feel so fearful. So much of this journey has worked out beautifully. Certainly, there have been challenges, like cockroaches in our hotel room and a lost phone, but there have also been surprises, like the wonderful recreation park near our new home and the NFL Network included with our cable TV.
The biggest challenge is the fact that English is a foreign language here, and I don’t know Spanish very well. Everything is in Spanish, and not everything is translated into English for people like me. I now have tremendous respect for native Spanish-speakers who were brave enough to relocate to the United States without knowing how to speak English. I am experiencing first-hand how difficult it is to be in another country and not know the language. Even though our new home is not located in an English-friendly tourist area, the Costa Ricans are so patient and helpful and kind as I struggle to speak Spanish. They genuinely appreciate the fact that I am trying to speak their language. I know that most Americans are not that way toward those in their country who do not speak English.
The next biggest challenge is the currency, which is also like another language. I love their money: it is as colorful as their country. The Costa Rican currency is the colone. Larger businesses might take American dollars and credit cards, but local small business typically take only colones. When they tell me how much I need to pay, I must look shocked and confused. “Dos mil trescientos veintisiete colones, por favor” (two thousand three-hundred twenty-seven colones please). Eh? All that for a few groceries?
That’s actually only a little more than four dollars.
But there is some real sticker shock. We wanted to buy a small microwave in Walmart. It was $176.00 for one that costs about $60.00 in the States. Familiar American products are very expensive. Foreign products are much cheaper, but … well … foreign. Figuring out what things are and how to use them isn’t easy because product names, descriptions, ingredients, and instructions are all in Spanish. And some products have proven very difficult to find – like decaf coffee. I’m seriously wondering if decaf coffee is a sacrilege in this country.
It’s been great to have a fresh vegetable vendor right next door to us – a very nice young woman named Janneth. She sells tomatoes, bananas, onions, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, and different kinds of squashes that we’ve never seen before in our lives. We don’t have to go far to stock up on veggies, and it’s very cheap. And our next-door neighbors, Magella and Andres, were very happy to sell us a really cool couch. We were lucky enough find someone bilingual to translate for us in order to do business with them.
Our new home doesn’t have a hot water heater. That’s right, no hot water. The coldest water is cool and the hottest is lukewarm. Now, at first this really upset us because we thought to ourselves, “Oh God. No hot showers.” But we figured out that we can take hot showers through an ingenious invention – electrical wires around the shower pipe that heats the water. Now, seeing electrical wires in a shower is very disconcerting to those not used to seeing something like that. For that reason, this contraption is affectionately known as “the gringo killer.”
All I have to say is, in the words of Dorothy, “We are not in Kansas anymore.” It has been only five days since we arrived, and we have found that our greatest survival tactic when it comes to settling in is PATIENCE. It is taking so much longer to accomplish the simplest things, which is aggravating every impatient molecule in my American body. I am finding that I can relax and enjoy myself much more when I focus not on the destination, but on the journey.
Stay tuned for the next update: Moving to Costa Rica: Culture Shock.
On March 6th, we said good-bye to our home in Easton, PA, loaded up our rented Chrysler Pacifica, and began our journey south to Miami, from where we will fly out of the U.S. and into Costa Rica to start a new life. It was surreal. Nothing could have prepared us for the emotional moments of walking out our front door for the last time and saying “adiós” to family and friends and the city we loved.
The small part of me, that voice up in my head, keeps saying to me, “This is crazy. Who do you think you are moving to another country? How dare you!” We all have this small part that detests the unknown. Tabatha and I have boldly stepped into the unknown. We are on the road, making our way toward a new home in a new country – both of which we’ve only seen in pictures. Oh Lord, please don’t let it be run-down and cockroach-infested like our last hotel room.
The most challenging part about it all is trusting the people we hired. The small self has serious trust issues. Yet here we are trusting people we’ve never met face-to-face. This is challenging every trust molecule in my body. But we can’t make this move without their help, so we have no choice but to trust them to do their job.
I often consider myself an anxious person with trust issues, and I feel guilty for not trusting God enough. Maybe I have much less of an issue with trust than I give myself credit for because here I am going through this monumental move, despite what my small self has to say about it – despite how it feels. Maybe I really do trust God.
I was surprised that I didn’t feel sad or scared at all leaving it all behind. Instead, I felt deeply grateful. I found myself saying silently to it all, “Thanks for the wonderful memories.” I’m ending a wonderful old chapter of my life and starting another wonderful new chapter, perhaps even more wonderful than the last.
There is a bigger part of me that is thoroughly enjoying this adventure – loving every minute of letting go and anticipating what’s in store. This bigger part – who we really are – loves the unknown and the surprises that occur as life unfolds. When we identify with this part, we can relax and enjoy life instead of trying to control it, which is mission impossible – the perfect recipe for misery.
Everyone should do something boldly outside their comfort zone at least once in their life. I may feel a bit exhausted, but at the same time, I’ve honestly never felt so free and so alive.
Stay tuned: We are flying to Costa Rica next week to begin our new life.
Moving to Costa Rica … what a glorious dream! Warm weather, lush green scenery, toucans and monkeys, friendly people, and a slower pace of life. Before we made the decision to move to Costa Rica, life was mundanely simple: eat, sleep, work, play. After we made the decision to move to Costa Rica … mayhem!
It felt like we suddenly became the ring masters of a three-ring circus with the extreme stress of keeping all the wild animals at bay. In Ring #1 was the Logistics Lion, an unpredictable critter that clawed us on a couple of occasions. In Ring #2 was the Shipping Beast, staring us down hungrily. But they were tame compared to what was in Ring #3: the Residency Raptor, waiting patiently for an opportunity to pounce on us and eat us alive.
Alright, maybe I’m exaggerating (a little), but seriously … I’ve found the process of relocating to another country to be very stressful. I’m already an anxious kind of person, and this has triggered every anxious molecule in my body and tested just how much I really trust God. It’s difficult to relocate on one’s own, especially when you’ve never done anything remotely like it in your entire life. We hired help, but there were still many things we had to manage ourselves.
First was figuring out how to get rid of stuff. We had to decide what stuff we couldn’t live without, set it aside for packing, and get rid of the rest. I didn’t realize how much unused stuff we had until I had to figure out how to get rid of it. And you know what happens when you start sorting through things.
“Memories … light the corners of my mind … misty water-colored memories … of the way we were.”
Sorry … Barbara Streisand suddenly starting singing in my head.
It was an emotional rollercoaster ride. Some memories were happy ones, and some were sad, but I discovered something wonderful when sorting through it all: the fact that no one is going to know me in Costa Rica. I can go there and be whoever I want to be, and no one will say, “Hey, you’ve changed, and I don’t like it.” The only one who knows me is my wife, and at our wedding, we vowed to “love each new version of one another.” So, she’s stuck with me.
That was a very pleasant discovery along with many other pleasures that came with the pain of getting rid of stuff. We stopped living in clutter. We realized that we could happily survive with far less stuff. But best of all, we made our neighbors very happy by selling stuff cheap on Facebook Marketplace. We sold our portable dishwasher for $100, and the woman who came to our door to pick it up was absolutely ecstatic. She almost forgot to pay us in her zeal to get that thing out our door and into her kitchen ASAP. We also posted lots of free stuff on Facebook’s “Buy Nothing,” and we got a card from a neighbor thanking us for our generosity. It’s true: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Then there was selling the house. The day the house hit the market, we were bombarded with requests for showings. We could barely keep them all straight. One realtor showed up, and were still getting dressed. Another relator locked us out of our own house! The parade in and out of our house was insane. We had 30 showings in four days. We couldn’t just get in the car and go somewhere because we had our dog, Jackson. We didn’t want to leave our poor little anxious boy in his crate all alone with groups of people coming in and going out. At one point during a showing, we were standing outside with the dog in the cold rain, and we all ended up piling into the car to get warm and dry off.
On the first day of showings, we accidentally ran into a lovely couple checking out our back yard. Actually, Jackson ran up to them, and we ran after Jackson. They said, “You have a lovely home.” We really liked them (so did Jackson apparently), and we said a little prayer that they would put in an offer.
We had nine offers. It turned out that theirs was the first and the best. We were overjoyed. We didn’t want to sell to any investors, who would make our home an exorbitant $2000 per month rental, contributing to the problem of unaffordable housing in this community (and everywhere). We wanted it to be a home for someone. We were proud to sell our home to this local interracial couple who wants to start a family here. God had answered our prayer.
There’s also finding a place to live in Costa Rica. It’s a truly unnerving feeling selling your house before you even know where you’re going to be living … in a foreign country no less! We had to trust our relocation specialist to find us a place. After the first week, she said to us, “We’re having an unusually difficult time finding available rentals in your preferred location.” Our hearts sank (and skipped a couple beats). We started checking out other locations, but I said a little prayer asking God to help her find the perfect place for us in our preferred location.
Two days later, she found a rental in our chosen location that has everything we want for the most part. But there was an added bonus: It’s a tico-style home. The people who live in Costa Rica are called ticos, so we’re going to be living in true Costa-Rican style! We didn’t want to live in Costa Rica and feel like we were still living in the U.S. If we saw a Walmart in a neighborhood, we were like, “Oh no, we don’t want to live there!” There are many Americans who move to Costa Rica and want all the comforts of their American lifestyle. Not us. We want to leave our American lifestyle behind in America, and when in Costa Rica, live like the Costa Ricans. God answered our prayers again!
And finally there’s getting residency. Oh my, what a complicated beast that is! There are a lot of documents to get together like birth certificates, marriage license, copies of passports, and FBI fingerprint checks. All documents have to be apostilled, and some documents needed to be notarized before being apostilled.
Do you know what an apostille is? I had no clue. It sounded like French to me. When I first heard the word, I imagined it to be the name of Napoleon Bonaparte’s war headquarters. The Apostille! But no, it’s how a state or country certifies the validity of its own documents for other countries. The process can take a while, and the documents can’t be older than six months when we apply for residency. So, timing is crucial.
The most unnerving part was entrusting our documents to our elected officials to get them apostilled. After all the time and energy and expense we went through to get the documents ready for apostille, I was very reluctant to hand them over. These days, I don’t have much confidence in any politician to get any job done any time soon. But I handed them over, and I prayed to God that they wouldn’t get ignored or lost or forgotten buried under a pile of papers on someone’s desk.
This week, we finally received all our apostilled documents back. God answered our prayers once again. God is still faithful – even to me of little faith. We are so grateful to have this opportunity to live in Costa Rica. Not everyone has this opportunity, but we do because of my wife’s pension. She didn’t make much money working for the government, but she enjoyed serving her community. A new life in a beautiful country is the reward for her service, and I get the pleasure of tagging along.
Stay tuned for the next post in early March … Moving to Costa Rica: On the Road.
My wife and I have decided to sell our house, sell or give away most of the things we own, pack up the rest, and move to Costa Rica – and we’ve never even been there.
You might be thinking, “What? Are you nuts?” The practical mind has relentlessly asked us this same question. To address its concerns, we have several practical reasons for making Costa Rica our new home: a warmer climate, a lower cost of living, better health care, politically stable, very friendly people, and a high happiness and sustainability index.
Still, the mind argues, “But you’ve never been there!” Just because we’ve extensively researched, spoken to many people, and heard a lot of great things about Costa Rica doesn’t mean we’re going to like it there. True. We may not. But we feel we’re not going to figure that out from a vacation or two. We need to live there. Really experience the place. Become part of its culture and people. We need to risk a serious commitment, and we’ve learned enough about this country to feel it’s worth the risk.
To live life to the fullest, we must be willing to take risks, trusting in God. We’ve been somewhat happy living here in the United States. The same is true with our home here in PA. But we want to experience and embrace a different culture – a culture more laid-back and peace-loving, a culture more concerned about having good relationships with other human beings and with the Earth.
Now more than ever, we need to be willing to open ourselves up to experiencing other cultures. That’s the only way to begin to understand people who are different from us. By understanding their traditions and struggles, we can begin to view them as human beings just like us. This challenges the “us versus them” mentality plaguing humanity, keeping us in conflict with one another.
We also can begin to challenge the assumptions we live by. There are other choices around how we can choose to live our lives, but we might not see them because we have been so conditioned by our culture.
The small self keeps telling me, “This isn’t who you are. You’re a home-body. You’ve never even left the country except to go to Niagara Falls, and that doesn’t even count.” Indeed. Oftentimes, I look at our boxes ready to be shipped and hear the increased echoing of our house as it is emptied of all our stuff, and I think, “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
While the small self is busy questioning and protesting, the True Self within me feels so peaceful and so excited for this grand adventure on which we are about to embark. That’s the part that has given us a sign encouraging us to go after this dream without fear.
The sign is the sloth. The sloth is the national symbol of Costa Rica, like the Eagle for America. In June, my wife picked a birthday card for me with a sloth on it. We didn’t learn that the sloth was Costa Rica’s national symbol until the following month when we were researching Costa Rica. Over the weekend, we were shopping in Boscov’s for a suitcase. We picked one that was perfect for us, and it was even on sale. We didn’t notice until we were in the checkout line that the suitcase had toucans on it and … guess what else? Yes, sloths!
Sometimes when we think we’re happy, we have no idea how much more happy we can be until God moves us out of our familiar places where our lives have become stale, and we’re no longer growing. We’re never stuck – except by our own fears. We have our fears, but we have more trust that God has something grand in store for us.
I invite you, my dear readers, to join us on this grand adventure. Stay tuned for future posts!
We humans love to debate. Tis the season of political debates. Over the past few years, though it seems as if political debating has become open season. Any time, any place. That’s how it is with religious debate too. We love to debate about religion – any time, any place – so much so that some of the things we fixate on and argue about can be kind of silly.
For example, many people take the Bible story of man’s creation very seriously. They consider it a flawless account. Unfortunately, there are holes left in the story that some Christians’ inquiring minds can’t help but poke at. Two particular holes that are engage many Christians in serious (but hilarious) religious debate involve Adam and Eve’s belly buttons.
Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons? I mean, since God formed Adam from mud and Eve was born from Adam’s rib, neither of them would have had a belly button, right? Ah … but there’s also the possibility that God gave Adam one for purely aesthetic reasons.
Some artists have skirted this debate by placing fig leaves over the area in their representations of Adam and Eve. Some have painted Adam and Eve smooth-bellied, and some have given them belly buttons. Which leads to another very serious debate – where they innies or outies?
Today’s gospel reading is about a religious debate – certainly about a more serious topic than Adam and Eve’s belly buttons. The Sadducees were Jews who did not believe in a future age where the dead would be raised. They went toe-to-toe with Jesus about this, and we can learn a lot from his response.
First, let’s review the context. Jesus had already made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and he caused quite a stir. People started asking, “Who is this guy everyone’s yelling “Hosanna!” about? Jesus immediately cleansed the Temple by driving out the merchants and money-changers. Then people started asking, “Who does this guy think he is?”
While Jesus was in Jerusalem, he frequented the Temple, from where he taught whoever would listen – even those who stood around hoping for a way to discredit or condemn him. The chief priests and scribes saw Jesus as a serious threat, so they tried to trick him into saying something that would justify their arresting him.
One day, while Jesus was teaching at the Temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders came and asked him, “What gives you the right to drive out the Temple money-changers?” In his usual style, Jesus answered their question with a question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” After responding that they didn’t know, Jesus said, “Well then, I’m not going to answer your question.”
Then he told the Parable of the Wicked Tenets, where he spoke out against the chief priests and scribes. He identified himself as the beloved son of the vineyard owner and them as the wicked tenets who killed the son and lost the vineyard.
The chief priests, scribes, and elders were enraged by this, so they started sending spies to try to trap Jesus by asking him questions that might get him into civic or religious trouble if he didn’t answer right. First was a question about paying taxes, which they thought would force Jesus between a rock and a hard place. Jesus brilliantly responded to give to the Emperor what is his and to God what is God’s.
That brings us to today’s scripture reading. The Sadducees now take the opportunity to question this master because they have a theological ax to grind with the Pharisees.
The Sadducees and Pharisees differed in their theological viewpoints. The Sadducees believed in following the Law as found in the Torah and only as found in the Torah – the first five books of the Bible. They considered anything else immaterial, including the Pharisees’ many “Traditions of the Elders,” which the Sadducees felt served only to complicate the lives of the Jewish people.
On this point, Jesus agreed with them.
The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and the afterlife. They believed that the only life we have is this world right here and now, and it’s our responsibility to follow God’s Laws. If we don’t, we suffer. That’s all there is to it. There’s no “other world” of a future time where God will bring dead people back to life and bring justice down on their oppressors.
Luke clearly points out the hypocrisy of the Sadducees’ asking Jesus this question about the resurrection when they themselves do not believe in the resurrection. They are simply trying to “stump” this master teacher with their brilliant scenario that they think surely makes the Pharisees’ doctrine of the resurrection ridiculous.
If Jesus is stumped, then their theological position denying the resurrection is bolstered. Their scenario probably wasn’t new to the Pharisees. We can image them rolling their eyes: “Oh, for crying out loud! Here we go again. “‘Now there were seven brothers ….’”
The command the Sadducees are referring to can be found in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. The purpose of the Mosaic law commanding the brother of the deceased to take his widow as a bride was to protect the nation by ensuring that every family and tribe would continue. No one’s family name would be lost.
We can understand how important it was for the Jews since it was believed that the Messiah would be born of a woman from the tribe of Judah, of the line of David.
It seems the Sadducees felt that Moses didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead because of this law. They figure he must have believed that the only way to be “immortal” (in a non-literal sense) was to keep the family name alive through descendants. If he believed in the resurrection of the dead, why did he create this law?
The Sadducees didn’t believe that the Kingdom of God would arrive at some future time; it’s here now. If it’s here now, then it’s not any different from now. So, people would get married just like they do now, and if the dead are resurrected, that would create quite a problem for a woman had to choose a husband from among seven brothers.
It seems like a logical argument on the surface, but Jesus quickly points out the flaws.
Their first is an application error. They are applying a law from “this age” to “that age.” This is Not That. Jesus essentially says to them, “People die in this age, so they must get married and have children to carry on the family name. People don’t die in that age, so getting married and having children isn’t necessary. Moses created the law for this age, not for that age.”
Their second error is confusion about natural law, which lead to them making their first error. It’s clear that we live in a world of duality – of opposites – of this and that. If there’s “this age,” then there has to be “that age” because it’s impossible for anything to exist without its opposite. Its opposite must exist at the same time, so the Sadducees were correct on this point: the Kingdom of God (that age) is here right now, existing simultaneously with this age. How is that possible?
In the Taoist religion of the East, there a wonderful symbol that expresses this idea: the Yin and Yang symbol. Yin exists relative to Yang and vice versa: light is light relative to darkness. Without darkness, we can’t experience light because we need light as a reference point. Yin and Yang also transform into each other; day turns to night and night to day in never-ending cycles. These opposing forces complement each other nicely because they are in perfect balance.
We westerners might have trouble relating to an eastern symbol, so I brought a symbol we can better relate to: a coin. This coin contains a this and a that. Two opposites – heads and tails. Heads is not tails and tails is not heads. They are opposites; yet, they exist at the same time – united in one object.
We can think of this age as “heads,” and that age as “tails.” Heads is this age of time – and tails is that age of eternity. They are total opposites, yet they exist simultaneously. We experience whichever side is up. The other side is hidden, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The Sadducees were ignoring the fact that in a dualistic world, if there’s a “this,” there must be a “that.” If there is this age, there must be that age. If we must marry and have children in this age of time because we die, then we must not need to in that age of eternity because we don’t die. This is not That.
Another error the Sadducees made is to focus only on the parts of the Scriptures that bolster their argument and not looking at the Scriptures as a whole. Common mistake, right? People zero in on the parts of the Bible that defend their argument, and ignore the parts that don’t.
Jesus says in verses 37-38, “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Jesus proved the Sadducees wrong, and some of the scribes responded, “Well said, teacher!” I guess some Scribes believed in the resurrection. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pharisees were also very happy with Jesus’ response, thinking to themselves, “Finally, he agrees with us on something!” Truly, Jesus argued with the Pharisees quite a bit throughout the New Testament.
But neither the Sadducees nor the Pharisees were totally right or totally wrong. When it comes to the Great Mystery of Life, we humans have many philosophies, but no one has it exactly right. We have only ideas that may be closer to the truth than others, but until something proves our theories correct, we simply don’t know. There is so much that is hidden. That’s why we need faith.
We know more now than the people of Jesus’ time. Science has revealed to us that everything in the universe is made up of either matter or energy, and just like day and night, they transform into each other in never-ending cycles.
In this age of time, we experience ourselves as this body made of matter but on the flip side, in that age of eternity, we experience ourselves as something like energy. If we’re part of this never-ending cycle of transformation, from flesh to spirit and from spirit to flesh, maybe that’s why to God, we are all alive.
Sometimes we exist on the heads side, in the world of time and form, and we have a human nature. Inevitably, we transform and enter the tails side, the world of eternity and spirit, where we have a totally different nature because this is not that.
We may know and understand more now than people did back in Jesus’ time, but the more we know, the more we scratch our heads and realize how much more we don’t know about the Great Mystery of Life. Nevertheless, we love to debate what we think we know.
That’s why Luke included this debate in his Gospel. It’s a serious topic. It’s critical to the gospel message because if there is no resurrection, then Jesus didn’t resurrect from the dead, and there’s no salvation.
What does this debate have to teach us today in our modern times? Well, there’s a whole lot of religious debate going on today because many people want to argue that the rules of this age apply to that age.
They don’t. That’s lesson #1.
I personally love this passage because in it, Jesus says straightforwardly that that our human coupling rules are only for this age. In that age, souls do not have husbands or wives. Some might find this disturbing; others might find it quite comforting.
One minister tells the story of a woman with terminal cancer. Her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. At the funeral, well-meaning friends leaned over to her as she sat in her wheelchair and reminded her that they would soon be reunited in heaven, that it would not be long before they were together again. Later, when she was alone with the minister, she said, with tears streaming down her face, “I am never going to be rid of him, am I?”
So why would some say that the doors to that age are shut to souls who got a divorce in this age or souls who married someone of the same sex in this age when marriage doesn’t even exist in that age?
They say that because it’s comforting to them to think that age is the same as this age because they are too strongly attached to this age. They don’t want to let it go. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that age to be the same as this age at all. I’m looking forward to something different.
Those who don’t understand who they are have no vision beyond this age and their physical existence, so they have no choice but to cling to this age. They cling to this age because they fear death, believing that this is all there is or because they desire the things of this world. They want to believe that they can take their bodies and all their stuff with them.
They can’t. That’s lesson #2.
We are part of a never-ending cycle of transformation, so we don’t need to fear death. We don’t die. We transform. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of our bodies. We are here for a purpose, and we can’t fulfill that purpose very well unless we keep our physical vehicle healthy.
As humans beings we also naturally have desires, but it’s our responsibility to keep our desires properly balanced. We must be willing to let go of everything that belongs to this age.
The Buddhists are really good at letting go. Richard Rohr is an American Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970. In his YouTube video, “How Buddha Helps Me Be a Better Christian,” he talks about how helpful it was to humanity that the Buddha essentially said, “I don’t know the nature of God, so I’m not going to debate about that.”
The Buddha’s refusal to dwell on the nature of God freed him to focus on something more practical. He observed how we humans process our life experiences. He observed what goes on up here (head) and in here (heart). We can use his insights to become more self-aware, which can make us better Christians. We can use Buddhism to discover how to let go and find balance.
We must be ready to let go of everything that is of this age to prepare for that age. But we have free will, so it is our responsibility to choose to let go. Perhaps the ones who can let go are the ones Jesus was talking about when in verse 35, he said, “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age.”
So, the truth is that when it comes to that age, we don’t know much – at least not up here in our heads. The personal self knows nothing about the soul or the afterlife. It knows only this age, and it’s quite attached to it by nature. But our hearts know that age very well. We can have faith in what our hearts tell us and confidently let go of the things of this age.
Let’s pray together: Lord, you taught us to be in this world, but not of it. Help us to learn this lesson deeply now as we prepare ourselves to let go of this age and resurrect into a new age. AMEN.
Craig Brian Larson, pastor of Lake Shore Church in Chicago and author and editor of numerous books, shares this story.
“Pali, this bull has killed me.” So said Jose Cubero, one of Spain’s most brilliant matadors, before he lost consciousness and died.
Only 21 years old, he had been enjoying a spectacular career. However, in this l958 bullfight, Jose made a tragic mistake. He thrust his sword a final time into a bleeding, delirious bull, which then collapsed. Considering the struggle finished, Jose turned to the crowd to acknowledge the applause. The bull, however, was not dead. It rose and lunged at the unsuspecting matador, its horn piercing his back and puncturing his heart.
Just when we think we’ve finished off pride, just when we turn to accept the congratulations of the crowd, pride stabs us in the back. We should never consider pride dead before we are.”
That’s what today’s scripture reading is about. Jesus always told parables to make a point, so the context is important. Luke tells us that Jesus told this particular parable in response to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.”
In this story, there are two people: the first is a Pharisee. Today, the word Pharisee has become synonymous with “religious hypocrite.” But back in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were highly respected. They were deeply religious laymen who committed themselves to moral behavior and religious tradition. They can be compared to church deacons or other highly-respected lay members of the Christian church.
So, a Pharisee comes to the temple to pray, and he thanks God that he is not like “other people,” his list including the tax collector standing at a distance. He also mentions how he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all he gets. The Torah requires fasting only once a year and tithing only on income, not property. My friend Yvonne would call this guy an “overachiever.”
The Pharisee feels pretty good about himself, doesn’t he? Is it OK to feel good about ourselves? If we grew-up in certain Christian churches, we might not feel like it is. We might have spent a whole lot of time contemplating our sin, confessing our sin, and begging God for forgiveness.
I don’t believe Jesus’ problem was with the Pharisee’s self-esteem. I think his problem was with what it was based on. It was based on what he does, not who he is.
This particular Pharisee sees himself as self-reliant, perfectly capable of establishing his own righteousness though his deeds. He probably figures that he’s earning even more favor with God than even the other Pharisees since he’s going above and beyond the call of Torah.
What is his true motivation for performing these deeds? Does he do them out of his devotion to his loving Creator, who gives him life, sustains his life, and without whom he can do nothing? Or does he do them out of devotion to his religious self-image: his own personal “golden calf.”
The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like “other people.” Yet, is he really different when the Life animating his physical body is exactly the same in everyone and everything that lives? Life that comes from God, is eternally connected to and sustained by God, and is part of all of Life in Christ. The separation the Pharisee is thanking God for is impossible.
But with that one statement, he reveals that in his pride, he has drawn a little circle around himself designed to keep out all those whom he perceives to not be as righteous as he is. He has no idea that in doing so, he has separated himself.
Contrast the Pharisee with the second character in Jesus’ parable: the tax collector. Jesus tells us that he stands at a distance, beats his breast, and says, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” How does the tax collector’s attitude compare to the Pharisee’s?
The tax collector is repentant. Instead of thanking God for how good he is, he approaches God calling himself a “sinner” and asking for forgiveness.
His use of the “s” word might make some of us cringe, but the Hebrew word for sin (khaw-taw’) means “to miss.” Some of us might have heard this word interpreted to mean “to miss the mark,” like to miss some kind of target.
But really, it’s more like when we say, “Oh, I missed that” because weren’t paying attention. We weren’t present. We weren’t aware. The word is less about acts and more about attitude. It’s less about what we are DOING and more about who we are BEING. Are we being who God created us to be, or are we living unconsciously, in forgetfulness?
The tax collector is humble. He stands at a distance, which demonstrates how unworthy he feels in God’s presence. He holds no illusions about how he has been living his life, and he doesn’t compare himself to anyone but God, in whose image he is created.
From the perspective of its Hebrew meaning then, when the tax collector calls himself a sinner, he is confessing that has forgotten himself – that has been living his life unconsciously. And he knows that coming into His Father’s presence, being present, can restore to him the memory of Christ within him, in unity with the Father, whose righteousness was, is, and ever shall be firmly established by God.
What does this passage have to say to us in our modern times? I think it’s asking us an important question. The question is this: How do we want to establish our worth?
Let’s say that, like the Pharisee, we want to establish it ourselves through our religious deeds. The world places a lot of value on achievement: physical, educational, economic, religious, even spiritual. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about our triumphs. But when we choose to establish our worth by ourselves through our achievements, “doing” becomes the yardstick, and we step into a life of constant “measuring up.”
This leads to incessant striving. There are 614 Torah laws, and following them all is quite an undertaking. That’s why the Pharisees were so highly respected. Most Jews didn’t have the education, resources, or (frankly) the motivation to follow Torah so meticulously. But it wasn’t enough for this Pharisee to simply follow Torah laws; he had to exceed them, but not out of devotion to God. He just had to be better than everyone else.
It also leads to constant judgment and rivalry. You can see how the Pharisee takes his yardstick and places it next to the tax collector. This kind of rivalry makes mutual respect and cooperation impossible.
Prideful people can’t give anyone but themselves credit. They can’t admit when they’re wrong, so they never apologize. They won’t allow people in their lives who are “beneath them” or those who are “above them” because it would threaten their self-image. What effect do you think this has on their relationships with others?
The belief that our personal life experiences, education, religious beliefs, etc. are more valid than anyone else’s – that we are right and everyone else is wrong – that we are a saint and everyone else is a sinner – that we are God’s chosen, and everyone else is rejected by God – is nothing more than a delusion.
This delusion makes peace impossible, both inner peace and peace out there. It is an insatiable monster. The more we feed it the more it hounds us, never giving us a moment’s peace. We’re no longer free but chained to an idol that demands constant polishing.
So, should we be more like those Christians who slog through their lives, viewing themselves as hopeless sinners, constantly beating their breasts in self-contempt, professing themselves totally worthless? Those sackcloth-and-ashes Christians must be really good Christians!
Actually, they are no better than the Pharisee in Jesus’ story. They are also attempting to establish their own righteousness, but on the flip side. Rather than congratulating themselves in an attempt to prove themselves “more righteous than thou,” they are castigating themselves in an attempt to prove themselves “more humble than thou.”
It’s just the other side of the same coin called “pride.”
Do these Christians see themselves united with God as One with Christ, whose righteousness is eternally established by God – or – in an attempt to earn righteousness, do they stubbornly cling to a separated view of themselves, the way the Pharisee sees himself in Jesus’ story?
Wouldn’t it be a terrible blow to their pride to learn the Truth: that all their congratulations and castigations – all that hard work they have done their entire lives to establish their own worth – is totally futile because their worth has already been established – but not by them?
An apt proverb found in Guideposts magazine states, “God wisely designed the human body so that we can neither pat our own backs nor kick ourselves too easily.”
Now, let’s say, like the tax collector, we want to let God establish our worth through our unity with Christ. His attitude reflects a life of reliance upon that as the sole measure of his worth. It’s not about what he is DOING, but about who he is BEING.
The tax collector embraces self-examination and repentance. He is not afraid to take an honest look at himself, so he has no charades to preserve, no illusions about himself to protect. He can live fearlessly, because, knowing that his actions are not a measure of his worth, he is free to learn and grow from both his triumphs and mistakes. He is free to take both in stride.
The tax collector embraces a life of humility, comparing himself only to God. He recognizes that he is created in the image of God, so he has no need to compare himself to others. He has no need to be “unlike” or even “like” anyone else. Not only does this secure peace within himself, but it also makes peace with others far more likely.
Truly humble people easily and frequently give others credit where credit is due. They freely admit when they’re wrong and have no difficulty apologizing. They make friends easily with all kinds of people because they have nothing to hide – no self-image to defend. What effect do you think this has on their relationships with others?
Being real requires embracing being vulnerable. REAL people have better relationships with God, with themselves, and with others because they have nothing to hide. And they have peace because they accept the fact that their righteousness is already established – by God.
So how can we make the tax collector’s choice, the choice to let God establish our worth instead of constantly trying to measure up and establish it ourselves?
We can stop doing. God says to us, “You are my creation, and I love you forever,” and we respond, “No thanks God, I’d rather earn it.” You see how arrogant that is? That’s a decision made by the stubborn, delusional little self.
The idea that nothing we do makes any difference when it comes to our relationship to God or our worth in his sight is difficult for many people to accept. Some think, “Well, if people can do anything they want without any consequences, then what’s to stop people from feeling free to commit all kinds of evil?”
If you have children, it’s easier to understand. Children related to you by blood will forever be your son or daughter, linked to you by heredity. Nothing can change that. And no matter what he or she does, you will always love him or her. Yet your children’s hereditary relationship with you and your unconditional love doesn’t prevent your children from making their own decisions, and it doesn’t protect them from the consequences of the decisions they make.
It’s the same with God. No matter what we do, we are eternally linked to God as His offspring, and God will always love us. However, our experience of our relationship to God and of God’s love for us can be blocked if we choose. It’s blocked mainly by fear, which is the root feeling behind other human emotions like pride.
So, would people allowing themselves to accept and therefore experience our eternal connection with God and the love of God most likely inspire them to commit acts of evil, or acts of love? You see, those who insist on DOING to establish our righteousness do not understand that when we are BEING who we truly are, we don’t have to worry at all about what we’re DOING because everything we do will be inspired by the love of Christ.
We can also stop comparing ourselves to others. If we’ve stopped doing, there’s no need, right? When we stop comparing ourselves to others, we begin to feel OK about being different from others, and we begin to feel OK about others being different from us. We can have different opinions, different beliefs, different needs – it’s all OK – because these differences do not threaten our worth at all.
When we stop comparing ourselves to others, we are able to gracefully acknowledge our own imperfections. We love being around people like this, don’t we? In their presence, we feel we have permission to be authentically who we are – warts and all. In their presence, we feel safe – accepted for who we are – because there is no competition.
When there is no more striving to earn God’s love, when there is no more desire to compare ourselves to others, when there is no more need to hide the shadowy parts of ourselves, what is left?
BEING. That’s all. We are free to be – and to let others be. So, in every moment of our lives, we can ask ourselves, “Am I BEING the love, peace, and joy that I AM, or have I forgotten myself?”
Let’s pray together:
Lord, it’s so easy to get swept away by the chaos in our daily lives. It’s so easy to lose the present moment: to become anxious, to slip into “doing,” to slip into measuring our worth by comparing ourselves to others. Help us to accept the firmly established righteousness gifted to us by our Creator, to know that we are OK, and that others are OK, that we may have peace within ourselves and peace with our brothers and sisters. AMEN.
Synopsis: Our physical body and personality are dead things without God’s life-giving power. When we forget that we are so much more than these dead things, we suffer from spiritual leprosy. We feel as if we’re already dead, and that’s no way to live.
A story is told of a man who was lost in the woods. Later, in describing the experience, he told how frightened he was and how he had even finally knelt and prayed. Someone asked, “Did God answer your prayer?” “Oh, no,” the man replied. “A guide came along and showed me the way out.”
Like this man, many people are blind to the blessings that God showers upon us every day. Sooner or later, they end up with a case of spiritual leprosy. Fortunately, there is a cure. That’s what today’s gospel reading is all about.
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had been making his way toward Jerusalem where he would complete his mission to glorify God. In Luke chapter 9, he began preparing his disciples for his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. After Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the “Messiah of God,” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone, but then he said in verse 22, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
He didn’t say yet that this will take place in Jerusalem, but later in Luke chapter 13, he hints at it. In verses 32-33, after some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him, Jesus says, “Go and tell that fox (Herod) for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day, I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”
It won’t be until Luke chapter 18 that Jesus tells his disciples straightforwardly that his final destination is Jerusalem. In verse 31, he says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” We also read there that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying because that knowledge was purposely hidden from them.
In our gospel story for today, we read that Jesus is traveling along the border of Samaria and Galilee with his disciples on his way to Jerusalem. Samaria was sandwiched between Galilee, where Jesus lived with his family as a child, and Judea, where Jerusalem was located. He enters a village, and there he is approached by ten men suffering from leprosy.
They kept their distance, as they petitioned him saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jewish law required them to keep their distance, wear torn clothing, keep their heads uncovered, and cover their lips and shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” wherever they went to warn others to stay away.
Back in ancient times, illnesses were unfortunately considered God’s punishment for sin. This was certainly the case with leprosy. It was a horrible disease that, in its worst forms, slowly ate away at a person’s flesh. It wasn’t uncommon for a severely diseased finger or toe to just fall off – and sometimes an entire hand or foot.
The milder forms of the disease, where the skin was simply discolored, typically lasted no more than a few years and often cleared up on its own. But the worst type could last from nine to thirty years and eventually killed its victim.
If this physical suffering wasn’t bad enough, the social ostracism made the experience of the illness even worse. Jewish law cut them off from society totally – even from their own families. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that leprous men were treated as if they were already dead.
There were ten of them, and we know one of them was a Samaritan. We can be fairly certain that the other nine were Jewish, given where Jesus was traveling. It’s interesting to note that the Samaritan was welcome among the band of leprous Jews. I guess being treated like “dead men” strips away all pride.
Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. According to Jewish law, the only way they could be integrated back into Jewish society is if they were declared “clean,” and the only way to be declared clean was to be examined by a priest.
Interesting, right? Since they were unclean because of sin, not because of illness, they needed to be examined by a priest, not a physician. They did have physicians in ancient times; in fact, Luke, the author of this gospel, was a physician.
Along the way to see the priest, they were all miraculously healed. But only one of them came back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice – the Samaritan. Jesus asks about the other nine, pointing out that only the foreigner properly expressed gratitude for his healing.
How can we apply this story to our modern times? Well, there are many suffering from spiritual leprosy today because they believe they are nothing more than this physical body, and they know what happens to it in the end. So deep down, they feel as if they are already dead, and that’s no way to live.
Some act stoic about it and make fun of people who believe there’s something more to us than just dirt. Some wish they could join with Christ, but they don’t feel worthy enough to approach him. And some believe they are “born again in Christ,” but that’s just up in their heads. Their hearts haven’t changed.
Make no mistake; they are all frightened. Death is frightening to those who believe it’s real. Once we truly join with Christ, we know we don’t die. Death is an illusion. We have eternal life in Christ.
How can those suffering from spiritual leprosy be cured? The same way these ten men were cured.
First, the leprous men call Jesus “Master.” They acknowledge Jesus’ authority. Whenever we need healing of any kind (physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual), we should remember the Lord’s words in Matthew 28:18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The Power of Christ within us has the authority to make us whole according to the Will of God, so we shouldn’t hesitate to pray to the Lord for healing.
In her daily devotional, Trusting God Day by Day, Joyce Meyer writes, “God will do one of two things if you have a problem: He will either remove the problem (which is always our first choice!) or He will give you the strength, the grace, the ability to go through the problem. I know we don’t like the going through part, but if that is what God chooses, we need to trust Him.”
To trust in God’s Will takes spiritual maturity. It takes trusting that God loves us and knows what is best for us. And it takes accepting the fact that Life is not designed to make the personal self happy. The personal self might think we need a certain challenge in our life like we need a hole in the head, but that challenge might be just what we need to grow spiritually – and that’s why we’re here.
The leprous men also ask Jesus for mercy. When we ask for grace, we’re asking to get something we don’t deserve. When we ask for mercy, we’re asking to not get something we do deserve. In asking for mercy, these men were asking to be spared from death. In Romans chapter 6 verse 23, Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death … but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I like how Luke calls them “leprous men,” not just “leapers.” He’s pointing to their underlying humanity concealed by their leprous condition. Our underlying spiritual Essence is concealed by our physical bodies and personalities, which are basically “dead things.”
Some ministers will argue that this human nature is the consequence of our “original sin.” I personally don’t believe that. Our human nature is what it is. It is neither good nor bad. Without our human nature, the Divine within would have no physical form or personality with which to experience life.
And there are so many humans on this earth with so many different forms and with such a variety of personalities that I’m sure the Divine is having a grand time experiencing all of them and deeply appreciates our human nature. But our human nature is a dead thing without God’s life-giving power.
We’ve forgotten this in our modern world, but those of the ancient world were keenly aware that without God, we are dust. King David wrote in Psalm 103 “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But … the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.”
Ancient people like David and Paul knew they were dead things, but they also knew that God loves them eternally. Do we know that? You can really tell who knows it and who doesn’t especially at funerals. You can see the fear in the eyes of those who wonder if what’s lying in that coffin is all they really are.
When we ask for mercy, we are asking the Holy Spirit to cure us – to remind us of the Truth. We are infinitely more than these “dead things.” Each one of us. The Divine is the same in us all – one Consciousness experiencing life through a variety of forms.
The leprous men trust Jesus. It took a lot of trust for them to come to him. There was no cure for leprosy at that time. If they had gone to a physician, he probably would have said, “Oh man, you guys have leprosy. Sorry, I can’t help you. There’s no cure for that. So, you know, just stay away from me, OK?”
There are some illnesses today that we don’t understand, so we treat the afflicted in much the same way. People with diseases like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, even cancer are often treated like lepers in our society – and even some people who aren’t sick like the poor and the homeless – as if poverty and homelessness were some infectious disease or contagious karma.
Jesus says, “I don’t care what disease you have or what your situation is; there’s always a chance for new life if you trust in God.” And the “trust test” was for them to make “a journey without evidence.” To go to the priests before there was any proof that they were healed. To “act as if.”
Luke doesn’t record whether the ten lepers engaged in any discussion on their way to the priests. We can imagine any of them to say, “Why are we going to the priests? We aren’t healed, and if we aren’t healed, then this is a useless journey.” And maybe an optimist among them replied, “Maybe, but what do we have to lose?”
When Jesus states, “Your faith has made you well” in verse 19, the Greek word used is “pistis.” It doesn’t mean adherence to a religion or set of doctrines. It means trust. So, a better translation of Jesus words would be, “Your trust has made you well.”
The mind is a tricky thing. We often resist the healing God is offering us because we have a negative attitude. We keep complaining about what’s wrong instead of expecting healing. When we stop resisting healing in this way and start “acting as if,” the results can be miraculous.
Finally, one of the leprous men returns to Jesus, praising God. Jesus asks, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” It might appear that Jesus is drilling the Samaritan about why his buddies haven’t shown up to give thanks – like some ministers drill family members about why other family members aren’t in church.
It might also seem rude that Jesus calls the man who returned “this foreigner,” but in Greek, the term simply meant non-Jew. Actually, he isn’t even speaking to the Samaritan. He is asking this question of the crowd that was following him to Jerusalem – a crowd that probably consisted mostly of Jews. It was a rhetorical question: a question asked not to get an answer, but to create a dramatic effect or to make a point.
Praising God is built into every aspect of Jewish life – Jews praise God for everything even for little things that may seem quite trivial to us – yet only this non-Jew took the opportunity to praise God for something as monumental as a miracle.
Jesus’ question could be better phrased, “Isn’t it ironic?”
Certainly, we might like to identify more with this grateful Samaritan and to pass judgement on those other ungrateful schmucks. What reasons might they have had for not returning to praise God?
Maybe one thought the disease had finally just cleared up on its own, so there was no one to thank but his lucky stars. Maybe another didn’t make the connection between Jesus’ words to go show himself to the priests and his healing, like the lost fellow in our story who didn’t make the connection between his prayer and the guide showing up.
Maybe another figured that God owed him one because he had a hard life. Maybe another didn’t want to go back to Jesus because – as much as he was happy to be healed – he didn’t really want to do what it took to follow Jesus. Maybe some of them were too busy planning their homecoming parties. Maybe the other nine didn’t want to walk back with a despised Samaritan.
Maybe we see a glimpse of ourselves in some of these schmucks.
In the business of our lives, it’s so easy to forget to thank God for our blessings. But the more we do that, the more we deny the power of God as the foundation of our lives, and the more we slip into spiritual leprosy, and the more we begin to wonder if we are nothing more than these “dead things,” and the more we feel separate from others.
So, you see, God doesn’t need us to praise Him. We need it.
We need it because we need constant reminders of who we are – in the busyness of our lives – because it’s so easy to get swallowed up by the illusion of our personal selves and this world – and forget who we are – to lose the knowledge of our salvation. We can’t actually lose our salvation, but we can forget.
So every day of our lives, let us be grateful to our merciful God, who has healed our spiritual leprosy through the knowledge of salvation given to us through the selfless service of Our Lord Jesus Christ and who reminds us of our salvation through the Power of His Holy Spirit, so that every day of our lives we may arise and go out and do the good work that He has given us to do.
Let’s pray together: Lord, when we need healing, may we remember Your Cure: to come to You, to act “as if,” and to return to give thanks to God, so that we may never forget the saving knowledge that because you love us eternally, we are so much more than our human nature. Amen.