by Jim Gordon When we think about Jesus, we automatically think of Christianity. Although the two are completely different. Christianity mostly means a religion that is based on the Bible and God. Yet it is more of things we do rather than who we are in Christ. Jesus did not come to start Christianity. Jesus […]Christianity, Jesus and Religion
Synopsis: God holds the REAL power, and God reaches out not to the rich and powerful, but to the meek and lowly. Unlike worldly rulers, God seeks not to intimidate, but to offer us comfort and reassurance. We need not fear because God is with us. Like Mary, we have said “YES” to being a vessel through which God’s promises come to fulfillment.
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
“In that region, there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” This is the part of the Christmas story that speaks most to our hearts – that God would choose lowly shepherds to herald the news of Jesus’ coming.
God also chose Mary, a young girl, a handmaiden, to be the vessel through which the Savior would come into this world, and our Lord Jesus would choose poor men from Galilee to be his disciples.
It’s comforting to know that God reaches out not to the rich and powerful, but to the poor and humble. And when God reaches out, the display of his power is awe-inspiring. There were the lowly shepherds in the fields with their flocks in the dark of night, and suddenly the glory of the Lord shone all around them. That same display of glory was seen by Mary when the angel Gabriel visited her, and it would be seen by Jesus’ disciples when he is transfigured.
This is real power – power beyond anything they had seen on earth – so surely, they were afraid. But each time, the response to their fear was the same. The angel who appeared to Mary said to her, “Do not be afraid.” The angel who appeared to the shepherds said to them, “Do not be afraid.” The Lord said to his disciples who had fallen face-down on the ground, “Get up. Do not be afraid.”
The moment fear arose in the presence of God’s power, they were all immediately offered comfort and reassurance. Unlike those with worldly power, God does not wish to intimidate us; God seeks only to love us. Remarkably, the Bible tells us in some way, shape, or form not to be afraid a total of 365 times. I guess you could consider that God’s way of giving us a daily reminder.
We fear people with worldly power – especially those who use it to serve themselves. These people often seek honor and glory, but their fame does not last if God is not with them.
Gaius Octavius succeeded Julius Caesar as the ruler of Rome in 44 B.C. He brought peace to all of Rome by uniting warring factions. To honor this achievement, the Roman Senate conferred on him the title of “Augustus,” which means “great” or “awe-inspiring.” The Roman Empire was born with Augustus crowned its first Emperor.
The “Pax Romana” (or Roman time of peace) lasted from 27 B.C. until Augustus’ death in 14 A.D. It was right in the middle of this period of time that Jesus was born. Yet today, most people wouldn’t be able to tell you who Augustus is. Some might say, “Hmm … that name does ring a bell.”
It rings a bell only because of a single sentence. And that sentence is, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” It’s the first sentence of the greatest story ever told. What’s superbly ironic is that this story is not at all about this worldly ruler who was supposed to be so “great” and “awe-inspiring.”
Augustus and Jesus couldn’t have been more different. One lived in splendor in the capital of the world while the other was born in a stable in a minor colony. Yet 2,000 years later, the world remembers not this eminent Roman Emperor; they remember the lowly child in the manger.
Because you see, after Augustus’ death, other men would assume power – men like Nero and Caligula – men whose names will be synonymous with treachery and cruelty – and the Pax Romana would quickly crumble. The angels introduced the Prince of Peace, the one who brings peace everlasting, a Savior who will continue his saving work throughout human history.
When God is with us – the one who holds the real power – we need not fear. Mary, the most fearless one of all in the nativity story, knew this. When she conceived by the Holy Spirit, she was betrothed to Joseph. Joseph could have refused to take her as his wife in her condition. Then, she could have been not only shamed but also stoned to death by the religious authorities.
She was a woman in a society where men held all the power, but their power was nothing compared to the One who held the real power. So, instead of giving in to her fear, she said “YES.” She fully trusted in God to protect her and to provide for her. She saw herself not as a victim of life, but as a vessel through which God’s promises would come to fulfillment.
When the shepherds came to see the newborn baby, they reported everything the angel had told them, and everyone was amazed. Mary was amazed too. We read in verse 19, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
Mary didn’t know the specifics of God’s plan for her Son. All she knew was that there, lying in that manger, was the Savior of the World, and she would take that journey with him one day at a time.
And here, within our hearts, lies the Savior of the World. God is with us because God is within us. We may feel frustrated with ourselves at times for what we perceive to be our lack of spiritual growth, and we may look at others out there in the world and shake our heads.
But the time of the Christ’s arrival into our hearts and into the hearts of others isn’t up to us. The time is up to God, and we can trust that until then, God will protect us and provide for us because, like Mary, we have said “YES” to being a vessel through which God’s promise of salvation comes to fulfillment.
The rose doesn’t know when it will bloom, but it will indeed bloom when its time has come if it has been fed and pruned, and then it will bless the world with its magnificent beauty and fragrance. In the same way, we don’t know when the Christ will bloom within our hearts or within the hearts of others, but we know it will happen when the time has come according to God’s plan.
We have all come to this place, here and now, at this time in history, for this purpose, and we will be remembered for all time as envoys of the Prince of Peace. So, let us patiently but expectantly take the journey with one another one day at a time without fear because God is far more than just with us; he is within us.
Let’s pray together: Father, we have said “YES” to being the vessel through which your promise of salvation comes to fulfillment. Help us to trust you and be patient with one another as we wait expectantly for the Christ rose to bloom within our hearts and the hearts of all. AMEN.
“Biblical Commentary (Bible study) Luke 2:1-20.” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary-old/luke-21-20/.
Synopsis: When we ask people, “How are you?” we might hear them respond, “I’m blessed.” Hashtag (#) blessed has become a meme, and “feeling blessed” shows up in many Facebook posts. But is our cultural idea of being blessed so fragile that it is easily shattered by tough times? If so, then perhaps it is a false idea. We can learn from Mary what it truly means to be blessed.
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:46-55
Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.
When we ask people, “How are you?” we might hear them respond, “I’m blessed.” Hashtag (#) blessed has become a meme, and “feeling blessed” shows up in many Facebook posts. People love to share posts of themselves enjoying exotic vacations or eating delicious-looking food. It’s a thing these days.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful when things are going well – at least in our little corner of the world. But what about when things aren’t going so well? Do we still consider ourselves blessed, or is our idea of being blessed so fragile that it is easily shattered by tough times?
If so, then perhaps it is a false idea. Today, we will learn from Mary what it truly means to be blessed.
Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, who informed her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, whom she was to name “Jesus.” During this angelic visitation, Mary was also informed that her cousin Elizabeth, who was both elderly and barren, would give birth to a son in only a few months’ time.
Mary immediately traveled to the hill country to visit with Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leaped. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she basically told Mary, “You are blessed above all women because of the holy child in your womb.”
Elizabeth also expressed wonder as to why “the mother of my Lord” would come to visit her, making the child in her womb leap for joy. Just as her son John would later humble himself before Jesus, Elizabeth humbled herself before Mary because Mary was carrying the Lord. She equated Jesus’ Lordship with Yahweh’s.
Finally, Elizabeth blessed Mary because Mary believed the word of the Lord unlike her mute husband. Her husband, Zechariah, was much older than Mary, and he was a priest. Yet his last words before he was struck mute were, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” How will I know that this is so? He required proof. Perhaps that’s why his tongue wasn’t loosened until the child was born and named. That was God’s way of saying, “Do you believe me now?”
Mary was truly blessed because she had confidence in the awesome power of God. You see, she didn’t ask the angel, “How will I know that this is so?” She didn’t require proof. She asked the angel, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Now, these words might be mistaken for words of doubt, but she was simply expressing her awe of God’s power. She fully expected that she would soon be expecting.
We can be blessed like Mary by not doubting the awesome power of God to make things happen even when it seems impossible. If it’s God’s will, it will happen. If it’s God’s will for someone to fully recover from a terminal illness or debilitating injury, it will happen. If it’s God’s will for humanity to recover from its insanity, enthrone the Christ within their hearts, and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, it will happen.
As Jesus promised in John 20: 20-21: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
We might be asking, “How can this be since … we are all so divided?” It’s okay to wonder how in the world God is going to pull it off. Be blessed like Mary. Have complete confidence in the awesome power of God, and do not doubt that he will indeed pull it off.
After Elizabeth blesses Mary, Mary sings a song of praise known as the “Magnificat” – our scripture reading for today. It is known as the Magnificat because that is the first word in the Latin translation of this verse.
Mary begins her song by praising God that she has been given the honor of bringing God’s Son into the world, the greatest honor ever bestowed upon a human being. She occupies a humble station in life: a woman in a patriarchal society and a young person in a society that venerated age.
As a Jewish woman, she can look back into history and remember the great women whom God called into service: Sarah, Rebecca, Deborah, Esther. Every child knows their names and their stories. Now her name will join theirs. God has reached down to her, a simple girl, and elevated her to a place of greatness. But isn’t that like our wonderful God: to exalt the lowly and make the proud eat humble pie?
Mary was truly blessed because she trusted God to dispense justice and mercy. The knowledge of God’s saving grace gives comfort to those like Mary, those who are poor and marginalized, but it is no comfort to the wealthy and powerful.
Those enslaved by the mind of me seek to establish their worth through the attainment of wealth and power at the expense of others. They create unjust social structures to preserve their false sense of superiority, and they use religion to justify them.
We can get so angry that we are tempted to take justice into our own hands. Liberation theologians have indeed used this verse to justify violent revolutionary action, but Mary’s intent here was to focus not on man’s action, but on God’s action – on God’s saving grace.
God is unfailingly just and merciful. Human beings are not. God knows how to compassionately teach people the lessons they need to learn. Human beings do not. God’s truth always prevails over men’s lies. God’s truth is that all are equally worthy, and those who refuse to accept this truth will eat humble pie.
As Jesus said in Matthew 20:16, “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Those who choose worldly power over spiritual power, man’s rule over God’s rule, conflict over peace, are the last to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven because they are the last to discover the key to the door. So, my friends, do not envy or hate these enslaved people. Simply trust that God will mercifully heal their minds in His Time and be grateful that your mind is being healed now.
Those ruled by the Mind of Christ seek ways to redeem and include others in the embrace of God’s love. To remind them of immeasurable worth. Rather than fighting against those who perpetuate injustice, our focus should be on giving aid to those who suffer from it. Our work is to take advantage of every opportunity to let people know that they are loved and cared for – and that they deserve to be just as much as everyone else.
We might not consider ourselves rich and powerful, but let us not forget our neighbors in need. There are many simple ways to help. As John said in Luke 3:11, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Let us not forget also that we are citizens of a rich and powerful nation. Many poorer nations struggle to provide its people with enough food, clean water, and proper medical care, including vaccinations.
This need not be so. There are enough resources on this planet to go around. If we, both as individuals and as nations, would be more willing to share, everyone on this planet would have the resources they need to not only survive, but to thrive. Be blessed like Mary. Be grateful for all you have and willing to share the extras, trusting that God, in due time, will make the Scrooges eat humble pie.
Mary concludes her song of praise with the words, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Mary was truly blessed because she had faith in God to save her and her nation as he promised. She viewed her pregnancy through the perspective that it is part of God’s remembrance of his people and his promise of salvation.
She could have had a very different perspective. It didn’t make her life easy. If her betrothed, Joseph, had not taken her to be his wife in spite of her condition, she could have been not only shamed but also stoned for adultery. Even though Joseph did not reject her, she may at least have had to deal with people pointing at her and gossiping to others about her. And ultimately, her heart would be pierced at the foot of her son’s cross.
But rather than viewing her pregnancy through the lens of inconvenience to the personal self, she viewed her pregnancy though the lens of God’s promises coming to fulfillment through her. She would face tough circumstances, yes, but she saw herself not as a victim, but as a servant of the Lord.
How often do we, when we are faced with tough circumstances, both personally and nationally, look at our situation through the lens of inconvenience to the personal self? If we want to see ourselves as a victim, then that is the perfect short-sighted lens to use.
If we would rather see ourselves as servants of the Lord, then we need to look at tough circumstances through the broader lens of God’s promise of salvation. Everything that happens in our personal and collective human life is moving us toward its realization. Be blessed like Mary. Expect to be expecting – even you guys out there. God’s promises are coming to fulfillment – this time, through all of us.
If we were to take all of these things that truly made Mary blessed – her confidence in God’s awesome power, her trust in God to dispense mercy and justice, and her faith in God to save her and her nation, and combine them all into one statement, we could say that Mary was truly blessed because she truly loved the Lord her God with all her heart, with all her soul, and with all her strength.
Mary’s love of God enabled her to love life – to say “YES” to it all. And that is indeed the only way to truly open ourselves to love and to be at peace. We don’t have much control over what happens in life, but we do have control over our perspective. If we adopt the limited perspective of the personal self, we will always be at odds with life, and we will never be happy.
Mary was blessed at that young age to be able to perceive life through the wiser part of herself that exists beyond the human mind. She let everything be as it is, trusting in God’s grand design. Now, does that mean that we do nothing? No, it simply means that we do not react to life’s challenges.
Reaction is resistance. Instead, we accept what is, and then respond as we are guided by the wiser part of ourselves. That is a far more functional way to live. Really, how can deal with any situation when we are refusing to accept that it is happening in the here and now? When we are resisting the truth of it?
Be blessed like Mary. We can say to ourselves, “All is well and unfolding as it needs to.” Now, the mind will quickly dismiss that idea with something like, “Yeah, right!” But the heart knows the truth, and the heart knows how to skillfully deal with all of life’s challenges if we would only listen to it.
No wonder Mary found such favor with God as to be selected to be the mother of the Savior of the world. Her parting words to the angel demonstrate why she was the perfect choice. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Let us pray: Lord, we are willing to be blessed like Mary by loving You with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. Help us to embrace life as Your servants. AMEN.
“Biblical Commentary (Bible study) Luke 1:39-55.” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary-old/luke-139-55/
Jones, Judith. “Commentary on Luke 1:46-35.” Workingpreacher.org, 20 Dec. 2015,www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-146-55
Synopsis: During turbulent times, it is tempting to believe that God is no longer in control and that our dreams are lost. Zechariah believed his dream of having a son was lost, but he ultimately learned to be at peace by trusting God no matter how impossible things may appear. How can we learn his lesson and enjoy the peace of Zechariah?
Scripture: Luke 1:68-79
When we look out there at what’s going on in our country and in our world today, we can understand why many people are embracing a variety of doomsday scenarios. Even for us Christians, it is difficult to remain calm, keep the faith, and trust that God is in control. The coming of the Christ into the hearts of all seems to be an impossible dream in stormy times like this.
How do find peace in these times? That’s what our scripture reading is all about. It’s about a man who found peace after he experienced firsthand the awesome power God to make what he thought was impossible, not only possible, but real. In his arms, he was holding his “impossible son.”
Let’s review the story leading up to our scripture reading for today – a story I’m sure many of you know well. The gospel writer Luke tells us Zechariah was a priest and his wife, Elizabeth, was a descendent of Aaron, the brother of Moses and founder of the priesthood. They were both righteous in the eyes of God, but they had no children because Elizabeth was barren.
One day when Zechariah was offering incense to the Lord in the sanctuary, he saw a vision of an angel, who told him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and he was to be called John. The angel told Zechariah many wonderful things about his future son – that he would be great in the Lord’s sight, filled with the Holy Spirit from conception, and turn many back to God with the spirit and power of Elijah.
Zechariah questioned the angel’s news because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both elderly. The angel introduced himself as Gabriel, a messenger sent from God. Then he tells Zechariah that, because he did not believe the Lord’s words, he will be mute until they are fulfilled. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth conceived and spent five months in seclusion.
Then Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit her. Mary had also been visited by an angel, who told her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, whom she was to name “Jesus.” The child in Elizabeth’s womb jumped at the sound of Mary’s greeting.
Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed a blessing over Mary and the child in her womb and also wonder as to why the mother of the Lord would visit her and make the child within her womb leap for joy. Mary stayed with Elizabeth until she gave birth, then she returned to her home in Galilee.
After eight days, it was time for the child to be circumcised. People thought the parents would name the child after his father, Zechariah, but Elizabeth said, “No, he is to be named John.” The relatives couldn’t figure out where the name John came from since no one in the family was named John.
So, they asked Zechariah what he wanted to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” At that moment, his tongue was loosened, and he began to prophesize. And that brings us to our scripture reading for today, known as Zechariah’s song.
Zechariah first praises God for being faithful to his covenant with the people of Israel. He is looking back into history – a long history of subjugation and slavery. The people languished in Egypt under the heavy yoke of slavery for over 400 years. God sent Moses to free them, and he led them to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.
But once they were in Canaan, they often sinned against the Lord. The Lord warned them to repent through many prophets, but they ignored the prophet’s warnings and persecuted the prophets. As a result, Israel was defeated in turn by the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans.
Their glory days under King David and King Solomon were short-lived, but now, God was promising them a Savior from on high who would set them free from their enemies once and for all and whose kingdom would have no end. Zechariah professes that he can see through his prophetic eyes this Savior coming out of the house of David. The time was coming when the people of God would be able to live in peace.
Zechariah ends his song by praising God that his “impossible son” John would be the one to prepare the way for God’s promised Savior.
I think it is safe to say that Zechariah learned an important lesson – a tough one, but a very good one, because in the end, he found peace. How can we learn from his lesson and enjoy the peace of Zechariah?
Well, first of all, an angel of the Lord announced that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and Zechariah responded by speaking words of doubt. We can’t blame him. The observable facts made it appear to be impossible indeed. Not only were they both quite advanced in age, but Elizabeth had always been barren. A double-whammy!
The angel’s response to Zechariah’s doubt was basically, “Look dude, I’m coming to you with a message straight from God Almighty and telling you that you’re going to have a son, okay?” At that point, Zechariah would no longer speak words of doubt – because he couldn’t speak at all. He was struck mute.
Doug and I were talking a few weeks ago about how today’s video games are a good metaphor for life – especially the open world role-playing ones. I enjoy playing a game called Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls. In this game, I can create my character down to the slightest detail – such as the thickness and placement of the eyebrows – or eyebrow. Yes, you can even create a character with a unibrow! My current character’s name is Xena. She does not have a unibrow, in case you were wondering.
Anyway, this game takes place in a world called Skyrim on a continent called Tamriel. Through Xena’s travels and interactions, I can experience the many different regions and cities in Tamriel, and I can interact with its many different citizens – characters of different races, religions, political affiliations – and some with very strange personalities.
Through Xena, I can make all kinds of choices throughout the game, for good or evil, and experience the consequences of each choice. But no matter what, I can’t make a choice that would alter the basic plot. For example, there are certain characters in the game that never die no matter how much they are attacked because they are an important part of the story. They are called “essential characters.”
So, while players of these games enjoy a great deal of free will, they can’t do anything to alter the basic plot or destroy the game itself. That’s smart, right? How foolish it would be for the game designers to create a game that allowed players to either mess-up the plot or destroy the game itself?
I think we can trust that God is at least as intelligent as these game designers. He designed Life in such a way that gave his created characters a great deal of free will, but he did not give them the power to mess up his plan or destroy Life itself.
I think that’s what the angel was trying to explain to Zechariah. John was an essential character in God’s plan, so John was going to show up at the appointed time – no matter how impossible it seemed. God, in his infinite mercy, put a lid on Zechariah’s words of doubt because he didn’t want John’s pure soul to hear them or subject Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, to hearing them.
You know how painful it is to be around negative Ned’s and Nancy’s. Whenever they speak their negative thoughts, you get a sinking feeling in your gut. That sinking feeling is literally your soul recoiling from the doubtful words because it knows that nothing is impossible with God.
To have the peace of Zechariah, we need to strike mute any words of doubt. Don’t give voice to them. Now, it’s natural to have thoughts of doubt. We can’t control the thoughts we have. But we can choose not to give them a second thought, and we can certainly control whether they come out of our mouths.
Zechariah began his song by reviewing the times God saved Israel from their enemies and his trust in God to save them from all their enemies. The Jews of his time believed that their foreign enemies were the Romans, the Samaritans, and the gentiles. Domestically, the Pharisees might have viewed the Sadducees as their enemies, and the Zealots, of course, were radical terrorists who believed that anyone who didn’t support their cause was the enemy.
Who are our enemies? If we were to go to the Stroud mall or the Crossings to ask people this question, they might say our foreign enemies are China, North Korea, and Al-Quaeda, and our domestic enemies are home-grown terrorists, and depending on who you talk to, Democrats or Republicans. We’re not much different today from the Jews of Zechariah’s time. They believed their enemies were “out there” – just as many do today. We have always been wrong about this. Our true enemy has never been “out there.” It has always been “up here.” (point to the head)
We truly do have a split mind – the Mind of Christ and the mind of me – the angel on the sitting on the right shoulder, and the devil on the left. The mind of me is our true enemy because it contains all of the false ideas we have about who we really are. Our Lord drove a stake right into the heart of the mind of me through his death and resurrection. Because of our Lord’s brave and loving sacrifice, the mind of me has been slowly losing its domination of the human mind.
The mind of me clings to its false identities and to the same-old-same-old. It hates change of any kind because it is afraid of the unknown. It’s afraid of the unknown because it doesn’t trust life. It doesn’t trust life because life doesn’t cater to it. Life doesn’t cater to it because Life caters to the soul. But the mind of me has no clue that the soul even exists. What a quandary! No wonder it’s always so frustrated!
The Mind of Christ knows who we really are and the true purpose of Life: the growth of the soul. Now, the soul can feel enslaved under certain conditions – a job we hate, a bad relationship, or even a false notion we might hold about ourselves. We might hear the cry of the soul for change, but the mind of me will convince us to ignore it – usually by filling us with fear – or shame.
If we ignore the soul’s cry for too long, the soul will find a way to forcibly liberate us from the situation. Something unexpected will happen, and we’ll be forced out. It’s usually a painful experience for the personal self, but we often realize later down the road of life, perhaps even many years later, that it was the best thing that ever happened to us. It set us free in some way so that we could continue to grow.
Can you remember a time in your life when you were stuck? Maybe you didn’t even know you were stuck at the time. But then something out-of-the-blue happened, and you were set free? And then later down the road, you realized that you ended up in a far better place in life because of it? That was God keeping his promise to save us from our enemies.
Now I want you to enlarge that experience beyond the individual soul and realize this same experience can happen to the collective soul of humanity. The soul of humanity is enslaved in many ways. The soul of humanity is stuck in many places that are not good for the collective whole. For starters, we are stuck when it comes to getting along with one another, and we are stuck when it comes to ensuring that everyone’s basic needs are met.
The soul of humanity has been crying out for a long time, and I believe that God’s answer to that cry is now moving quickly toward fulfillment. The old systems that have enslaved us – that have kept us stuck in these harmful places – are crumbling. This process is very frightening and painful for the personal self – especially those who are enslaved by the mind of me. Things will eventually change for the better for everyone, but in the process, we may experience some turbulence.
To have the peace of Zechariah, we must trust that God will save us and ultimately all of humanity from our true enemy. We are all in a good place for these stormy times. We are becoming more and more aware the mind of me and the true purpose of life. But most people have no idea that they are enslaved by the mind of me, so life is very frustrating – perhaps even meaningless – to them.
Can you imagine how difficult their lives must be? Let us have compassion for them and forgive them instead of judging them to be the enemy. We can also have compassion for ourselves and forgive ourselves in our struggles with the enemy too.
Zechariah ends his song with the words, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” God’s way is the way of peace. The enemy’s way is the way of conflict. We can’t have both. That was John’s message. He prepared the way by saying to people, “It’s time to make a choice. Which way do you choose?”
Those who came to John to be baptized had not only chosen God’s way of peace but also were already living that way for some time. They had made a commitment, and they convincingly demonstrated to John that their commitment wasn’t just words. Otherwise, John would not have baptized them.
We must be willing to make the same commitment – to “turn the other cheek,” a teaching which really means to listen to the voice of peace, not the other voice, the voice of conflict, that devil that wants you to strike out at life. Turn the other cheek and listen to the angel, the voice inside your heart.
To have the peace of Zechariah, we must have unwavering commitment to God’s path of peace. We must have peace with life by accepting the fact that life always goes our way – always – it always grows the soul. The mind of me will grumble. Just notice the grumbling with the understanding that the mind of me will never get it. Don’t agree with it, and don’t disagree with it. Just don’t give it a second thought.
To walk God’s way of peace, we must love the Mind of Christ more than the mind of me. We must be willing to sacrifice the desires of personal self for the desires of the soul – for the desires of the soul of Life. And we must have unwavering trust that no matter how things appear, God is in control.
When we can live this way 100% of the time, we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is much closer than we think. Yes, we don’t have to wait until we die to experience heaven or wait for all of humanity to accept the Christ into their hearts. We can experience the bliss of heaven now because it is within us. The door is waiting to be unlocked, and the key is peace.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to walk God’s way of peace. We desire the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Be with us in our struggles with the enemy. Fill us with unwavering trust that God is in control and moving us ever closer to freedom.
McLarty, Philip. “Sermon| Luke 1:68-79| Zechariah’s Song.” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-168-79-zechariahs-song-mclarty/
West, Audrey. “Commentary on Luke 1:68-79.” Workingpreacher.org, 6 Dec. 2009, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-2
Synopsis: Humanity is facing many changes – personally and collectively – and some of these changes have been very challenging. How can we learn to accept what life brings our way with composure and peace? Jesus shows us how in his response to his arrest.
Scripture: John 18:33-37
There are many changes going on in our lives today – both personally and collectively – and some of these changes have posed serious challenges for many. People are feeling a great deal of fear and the result is bad behavior and much suffering. How can humanity learn to respond to life’s changes, especially the challenging ones, more calmly?
How Jesus responds to his arrest provides the perfect example of how not only to navigate life’s changes with composure but also how to face a very weighty challenge with peace.
John chapter 18 opens with Jesus being arrested in a garden outside the city, during which Peter cuts off the high priest’s slave’s ear. Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Jesus was initially questioned by Annas, the former high priest, who still held people’s respect. While Jesus was inside, Peter was outside at the gate, standing around a charcoal fire with court slaves and police. Three times they asked Peter, “Hey, aren’t you one of his disciples?” Peter denied it each time.
Annas questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teachings. Jesus responded that he has done everything out in the open, so why does he need to ask? One of the police struck him across the face for being snarky, but Jesus objected saying, “Why do you strike me for telling the truth?”
Annas then sent Jesus to be questioned by the reigning high priest, Caiaphas. John’s gospel doesn’t tell us how Jesus’ meeting with Caiaphas went, but we know from Matthew’s gospel that Caiaphas found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, so they took him to Pilate.
The Jews refused to enter Pilate’s headquarters so that they would not become ritually defiled before the Passover. So, Pilate came out to them. Pilate asked them of what they were accusing Jesus. They had no real charge to present to Pilate. Instead, they insisted that they wouldn’t be bringing Jesus to him if he wasn’t a lawbreaker.
Pilate encouraged them to judge Jesus according to their laws, but didn’t Caiaphas already take care of that? Yes, Jesus was found guilty and had been sentenced to death. But the Romans didn’t allow Jews to carry out death sentences, so they brought Jesus to Pilate, hoping he would carry it out for them.
Do you catch the irony in this? They didn’t want to enter into Pilate’s court because they didn’t want to become defiled before the Passover. Yet, here they were, seeking to put an innocent man to death. That’s why Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs.” (Matthew 23: 27-28).
And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. Pilate is scuttling back and forth between the accusers and the accused. He’s trying to figure out what to do with Jesus since his accusers aren’t helping him much with their extremely vague accusations.
He has gone back inside his headquarters to question Jesus. He asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” That’s a legitimate question. Since Caesar is technically the ruler of the Jews, for Jesus to call himself king would be treason, punishable by death. I’m sure that Pilate, looking at this man so humbly standing before him, seriously doubted that he had such ambitions, but he had to ask.
Not surprisingly, Jesus responds to the questioner with a question: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” He wasn’t being snarky here. Since Jesus never called himself King of the Jews, he needed to know where Pilate was coming from. Did Pilate wonder if Jesus believed himself to be a king, or did he simply hear others call him one?
It is clear from Pilate’s response that he is frustrated. We can’t blame him. He still doesn’t understand why the Jews have brought Jesus before him in the wee hours of the morning. He replies, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus sorts out what Pilate is worried about, so he explains that if he were a political king, his followers would be defending him. If he had wanted to start a rebellion, he certainly could have. Although he had only a small band of disciples, he had many followers.
His instructing Peter to put away his sword at his arrest should have made it clear to all witnesses that he did not condone violence and had no intention to lead a rebellion. His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, one not of this world, and thus no threat to Rome. Pilate responds, “So you are a king then?” Since Jesus didn’t deny being some sort of king, Pilate is seeking additional assurances.
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus simply responds, “So you say.” Here in John’s gospel, Jesus says this also, followed by an explanation of the meaning of his kingship, which makes sense since John’s gospel is more concerned with theology and philosophy than with history.
What follows is the theological and philosophical meaning of Jesus’ kingdom as John understood it. Jesus responds, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
What “truth” is Jesus referring to? Well, humanity has been trying to figure that out for a couple thousand years now. I’ve been trying to figure it out my whole life, and I’ve pondered it many different points of view. Along the way, I’ve been sharing my journey with you. I call it a journey because it is evolving. I am not your authority on this. You are your authority. You are on a journey also.
So, having said that, here is where I’m at currently on my journey. I believe Jesus was born into this world to testify to the Truth that we are not only these bodies. We are a three-part being consisting of body, mind, and soul. The body and mind make up the personal self. The personal self is temporary.
The soul is the part of us that is connected to God and all of Life. God is Pure Being, and Life is God’s expression through the Christ, who is the very soul of Life. Our soul is part of the Christ and is therefore forever joined with the Christ. This part is eternal just as Life is eternal.
Because Life is eternal, it is always changing – always evolving into higher, more functional levels. Life informs itself about what it needs to continue to evolve from the process of life. It is a perfect system: Life informs and sustains Life through Life.
The soul knows everything that Life needs to continue evolving. When we understand this, then we can drink the Father’s cup in peace. We can respond to life’s changes – especially the challenging ones – with more composure in three key ways.
First, we accept ourselves as we are and where we are at all times. Like Jesus, we were born into this world for a life-enhancing purpose, and we were flawlessly created for that purpose. When we understand this, we stop trying to “fix” ourselves because we trust that we are exactly who and where Life needs us to be at every moment. Life brings us exactly what we need to guide us toward the achievement of our purpose.
If we’re not where we need to be, we need not worry. Life will nudge us back in sync quickly and painlessly as long as we know how to go with the flow. But that is the challenge. The personal self isn’t so good at “going with the flow.” That’s because it has no idea of the soul and its purpose. All it cares about is how things affect its own little world. That’s why we hear it up here in our heads constantly grumbling about life. Listening to that voice is the main cause of human pain and suffering, not change.
We have free will, so we are allowed listen to that voice and go rogue – to choose to go against the purpose for which we were created. But when we go against life’s plan, we experience pain and suffering – and not just us, but all of life. We are each cells in the Body of Christ, so when one cell goes rogue, it negatively impacts the whole body in some way – until it is healed.
We are working on raising our level of consciousness, becoming more aware of who we are, so that, by tuning into the Voice of Christ in our hearts and tuning out that other voice in our heads, we can live our lives with more peace and joy and less anger and fear. We may think we are doing this work to heal only ourselves. But in reality, our work helps to heal the collective human mind. So, if that’s all we’re doing, that is enough to change the world for the better.
Next, we accept others as they are and where they are at all times. If we were brought into this world for a life-enhancing purpose, then so was everyone else. Then everyone else is exactly who and where they need to be at every moment. And they are also allowed to go rogue if they choose to. When we accept this truth, we stop judging others, and we don’t feel as threatened by people.
You see, when we know who we really are, we no longer feel the need to protect ourselves psychologically – to protect the personal self’s temporary stash of worldly identities established though things like wealth, status, culture, religion, etc. People who don’t know who they really are feel the need to protect these identities at all costs because they have no other identity – as far as they know.
For this reason, the personal self is very paranoid, and we can clearly see its paranoia playing out in this story. Jesus was no real threat to anyone, but he was crucified because his teachings posed a psychological threat to powerful people. To this very day, his teachings cause us to question the justice of social hierarchies and to recognize the corruption at the top levels.
If Annas and Caiaphas had taken the time to follow Jesus, to actually get to know him and his ministry by first-hand experience, they could have discovered the Truth and found peace. They could have been healed. They could have lived under God’s rule instead of men’s. Instead, they chose to believe what they wanted to believe, and they viciously protected their small selves. That’s how people get “crucified” every day.
When we are aware of the human mind’s tendency to protect the personal self’s illusory identities, we are far less likely to view everyone as a villain involved in some conspiracy against us. We become more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and to take the time to actually get to know them instead of believing everything we hear.
Finally, and most importantly, we accept that no matter what happens, everything works for good. Every event in life must somehow elevate life – even events that seem horrible from our limited human perspective.
You see, we tend to judge the events of life as “bad” or “good” depending on how they affect the personal self. We don’t have the perspective or wisdom to see how life’s events ultimately serve all of Life – and that is by design.
For that reason, we shouldn’t judge anything that happens. When we can approach the events of life non-judgmentally, then we can be at peace with whatever happens to us, as Jesus was: non-resistant, allowing life to proceed as life must, even when facing the worst scenario imaginable.
Some Christians have pointed their fingers at Jews calling them “Christ killers,” and others have defended the Jews saying the Romans killed Jesus, not the Jews. But I believe the truth is that it was nobody’s fault. It was Jesus’ decision to drink the Father’s cup, and all of the events of the day were arranged by Life to support that decision.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced the personal self’s fear of annihilation. If I could summarize the gist of Jesus’ prayer, it would be this: “Father, if Life can still be elevated without my personal self being elevated on a cross, then please save me now!”
But there in the garden, Jesus came to full acceptance of what life needed from him in order to evolve. That was the cup the Father was giving him. Jesus had free will just like all of us. He could have gone rogue. Who would have blamed him? But instead, he said, “Ok, I’m willing to drink it.”
That is why after telling Peter to put away his sword, he commented, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” He understood that in order for all of life to evolve, humanity’s level of self-awareness needed to rise. Humanity needed to become aware of its unity with Christ, the Soul of Life.
And Jesus, our beautiful Savior, would bring that awareness to humanity. It would be an absolutely grueling experience for his personal self – for his body and mind, but the soul – the soul of Life, which includes the soul of all humanity, would be enormously served.
Indeed, what a friend we have in Jesus. Our beautiful Savior would make the greatest sacrifice for others the world has ever seen – and in making that sacrifice he would demonstrate the greatest outpouring of the Father’s love the world has ever seen. His monumental sacrifice in loving service to all of Life is why Jesus Christ is King.
So, this advent, as we reflect on the birth of our beautiful savior, his purpose for coming into this world, and his choice to drink the Father’s cup in peace – a heroic decision born out of pure love for all humanity – let us also be willing to drink the Father’s cup in peace as we await for the promised arrival of Christ the King into the hearts of all.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we can’t thank you enough for the tremendous sacrifice you made to bring to humanity the awareness of its unity in Christ. In appreciation for this monumental act of love, we are willing to lovingly accept ourselves, one another, and the events life brings. We open our hearts to love. Amen.
Donovan, R. “Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) John 18:33-37.” John 18:33-37 – Sermon Writer.
Lake, Gina. “How to Heal Humanity and Transform the World – Gina Lake Channeling Jesus.” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-05btloovyA&list=WL&index=3&t=760s
Marsh, M. “The Truth Does Not Belong to Us – a Sermon on John 18:33-37.” 22 Nov. 2015, The Truth Does Not Belong to Us – A Sermon on John 18:33-37 – Interrupting the Silence.
Synopsis: How can we bear witness to all the sins of our society and still have hope? We can do it by following the example of Our Lord, who bore witness to the corruption in his society yet maintained his trust in God ‘s promise that despite all the pain and suffering we may face, there will be a happy ending.
Scripture: Mark 13:1-8
One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is the one from Ecclesiastes 3, known as “A Time for Everything.” It’s so well-known because in the 50’s Pete Seeger turned it into a song called “Turn, Turn, Turn.” In verse 4, the song goes, “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
In our scripture reading for today, Jesus had borne witness to the ills of his society, and he sensed destruction coming. So, he said to his disciples, “Sorry guys, it’s not time to smile; it’s not time to cheer. It’s time to weep; it’s time to mourn.”
It’s becoming impossible for us today not to bear witness to the sins of our society. Advances in media technology have made us privy to everything that is wrong with America. It’s like a voice constantly screaming in our faces. Many of us can probably sense some form of destruction coming as much as we don’t like to think about it.
So perhaps, like Jesus, it would be helpful to all of us to find a way to name and grieve the wrongs to which we bear witness. Terri Wilkins from Red Letter Christians has done just that by writing an article called “A Time to Mourn.” I would like to read some of it to you as a present-day example. (Click link to article listed under “Resources”)
I know we don’t like grief. We don’t like to be sad. But as much as we dislike grief, grief is transformative. We must grieve before anything can change, but let us not become so mired in grief that we forget that there is hope.
That’s what today’s scripture reading is all about.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and immediately had several negative encounters with the religious leaders in the city. He cursed a fig tree as a form of commentary on the unproductive Jewish religious system of his day, which largely failed to inspire the growth of spiritual fruit within its adherents.
He cleanses the temple, calling it a “den of thieves,” full of moneychangers and merchants who in essence robbed travelers coming from outside Jerusalem through low currency exchange rates and high prices for “temple-approved” sacrificial animals.
He recounts Israel’s rejection of the prophets and the Son in the Parable of the Wicked Tenets, predicting that Israel, like the wicked tenets, will lose the vineyard to others. Then, in a shocking statement, he declares that by rejecting him, they are foolishly rejecting the very cornerstone upon which faith is built.
What Jesus says so clearly denounces the religious leaders that they want to kill him, but they are afraid to attempt it because of his popularity with the crowd. So, they try to whittle away at his credibility, first by questioning his authority and then by asking a variety of questions intended to trap him.
As always, Jesus cleverly evades their efforts to trap him and once again clearly denounces them at the end of chapter 12 stating, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. As Jesus is leaving the Temple with his disciples, one of them comments on the massive stones and magnificent buildings. It appears that it is this particular disciple’s first time visiting Jerusalem, and according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem only once during his year-long ministry.
It’s not surprising that this disciple was impressed by the massive Temple complex. It was the glory of the Jewish people. Located at the top of a mountain, it was as big as a stadium and as tall as a modern 15-story building. Its huge marble stones weighed as much as 500 tons each. The stones were adorned with gold on the outside, so the Temple shone brilliantly in the sun.
Notice the contrast between this disciple’s comments about the Temple’s lovely exterior and Jesus’ comments about the corruption within. That golden glory was maintained by not only the exploitation of worshippers taking place in the Temple courts, but also by offerings from people like the poor widow, who gave everything she had to live on.
Jesus predicts that very soon every one of those gold-adorned stones will be thrown down, but there is hope: the Son of Man will come and put all things right. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple isn’t the first. Jeremiah made the same prediction six centuries earlier, and it happened! The entire city was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria in 587 B.C.
Jesus’ prediction will come true in 70 A.D. In response to a Jewish rebellion, the Romans will build great fires at the base of the walls, and the intense heat will cause those huge golden-marble stones to crumble and collapse under their own weight. The entire city will be destroyed.
When people in powerful positions don’t like a message, they often shoot the messenger. So just as Jeremiah was persecuted for making his ominous prediction, Jesus’ prediction will be shared with the religious authorities and used as evidence to prove that he is a dangerous subversive who needs to die.
Certainly, Jesus’ prediction makes the disciples nervous, so they ask the Lord what signs to look for, so they can be prepared. Instead of giving them actual signs, Jesus names events that we must endure before the end comes – trials like wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines.
He can’t be more specific because only the Father, the author of this play called “Life,” knows when the Son of Man arrives in the script.
Can Jesus’ words to his disciples be comforting to us today when many are wondering, “Is this it? Is this the end times?” Well, I like to think of it this way. When we’re in the middle of watching a TV series or reading a book, it’s really annoying when someone who has seen the whole series or read the whole book tells us how it ends, right? We call them “spoilers.” Well, God is not a spoiler! He’s not telling anyone how his play will end.
Imagine being an actor in a play where you don’t know what the next line is going to be, or even the next scene, and you really have no idea what the next act will contain and no clue how it’s going to end. There’s no human-authored play in the world like that! Only God can create a play like that. And he has! It’s called “Life,” and guess what? We’re all actors in it! What fun!
Whether we find it fun or terrifying depends on how much we trust the playwright. Jesus is giving us a very cryptic preview of the end. It’s like those “final episode” previews we see on TV; it’s just enough to keep us in suspense without giving away the ending. Jesus is saying, “Look, the ending might feel scary and painful, but don’t worry. There will be a happy ending.” If we trust the Lord’s words here, then we can relax and enjoy the play a lot more, right?
What we experience in the midst of the play, what happens in the scenes and in the acts, might be scary and painful, but Jesus instructs us to think of them as “birth pangs.” Just as a mother suffers from fear and pain before the birth of the new life she will bring forth, there will be fear and pain before the happy ending, before the coming of the Son of Man, and the new life all of humanity will bring forth.
In verse 5 where Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray,” the word “beware” is from the Greek word “blepete” (bleh-pet-teh), which means to be carefully discerning. Jesus is urging his disciples to be on the lookout for false prophets and messiahs. We know from the historian Josephus that many messianic pretenders arose in the first century after Jesus’ death.
Is Jesus’ warning useful to us today? I believe it is. There have certainly been modern-day religious leaders who have claimed to be the messiah and have led people astray, such as Jim Jones and David Koresh. But more recently, there have emerged entire Christian movements who, like the Zealots of Jesus’ day, seek to turn Jesus into a political messiah who applauds their sacrificing of others to serve their political agendas.
And there are Christian movements who, like the moneychangers and merchants at the Temple, seek to make Jesus a messiah of consumerism who encourages acquiring more and more wealth while shouldering no obligation to help those in need.
You see, if people don’t like who Jesus really was, they will turn him into someone more to their liking – someone who conveniently endorse their corrupt values.
It is so easy to be led astray this way, and many have been. That is why we struggle with so much divisiveness even within families. Jesus himself was estranged from his family. They thought he was crazy. Perhaps that’s one reason he chose Capernaum as the home base for his ministry, not his hometown of Nazareth.
This potential for family estrangement for the sake of the gospel is why Jesus said to his disciples in Mark chapter 10:29-30, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
So, no matter what we see happening, we must say to ourselves, “the end is not yet.” We must not try to figure out when the end is. That’s yet another way many are led astray. We must remain calm and keep the faith, knowing that the end will come in God’s perfect timing. The Christ will come into the hearts of all, and great change will occur, but until then, I believe we must wait until all the things in which we have misplaced our faith fail utterly and completely.
Just as the people of Jesus’ time misplaced their faith in people and buildings to lead them back to God – such as religious authorities and the Temple – events of recent times have made it clear we, too, have misplaced our faith in many of our religious authorities and institutions. They have failed to lead us back to God.
Just as the people of Jesus’ time placed their faith in a political Messiah to bring Israel back to God through the defeat of the Romans, hoping that Jesus would fulfill that role, events of recent times have made it clear that we have misplaced our faith in many of our elected leaders. They have failed to lead us back to God.
Who or what will lead us back to God? Nothing out there. No people or institutions. Jesus demonstrated what will lead us back to God by sacrificing his personal self for the sake of others. He showed us who we really are when the personal self is stripped away – the Christ – who has never left God. We return to God and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven when we return to our Self (with a capital “S”) and do what comes naturally and effortlessly in that state: loving one another.
Yes, the labor of giving birth to the Christ within our hearts is scary and painful, just as going through physical labor can be. Watching the events of today happening scene-by-scene in the news can lead us to despair when we forget to think of them as birth pangs heralding the happy ending. However terrible, the events of the day are not the final act! The Christ will arrive! The time to laugh and dance is coming!
Let’s pray together: Lord, like you we grieve the sins of our society and sense destruction coming. Give us the courage to mourn with hope – to stand firm in the faith, trusting God’s promise of a happy ending: the coming of the Christ into the hearts of all, and the birth of a new way of life. Amen.
Donovan, R. “Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Mark 13:1-8.” sermonwriter.com, Mark 13:1-8 – Sermon Writer.
Powery, Emerson. “Commentary on Mark 13:1-8.” workingpreacher.org, 15 Nov. 2015, Commentary on Mark 13:1-8 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary.
Wilkins, Terri. “A Time to Grieve.” redletterchristians.org, 18 Oct. 2021, A Time to Grieve – Red Letter Christians.
Synopsis: How do Christians experience the peace of the Lord in a world gone mad? Jesus addresses this issue when he discusses with his disciples the spiritual perils of seeking worldly power and prestige. He compares this turbulent way of life under human rule to a peaceful way of life under God’s rule, where the greatest are the humblest servants of all.
Scripture: Mark 10: 35-45
If I were to conduct a one-question poll of a random group of Christians, the question would be, “What is the one burning question on your mind related to the Christian life today? I wouldn’t be surprised if the response was something like, “How is it possible to experience the peace of the Lord in a world gone mad?” So, if that’s the burning question on your mind, you’re in luck, because that’s what our scripture reading for today is all about.
As always, let’s review the context. Jesus was making his way toward Jerusalem for the final stage of his selfless ministry to humanity. Along the way, he was doing his best to prepare the disciples for what would happen to him there. In verse 33, Jesus tells his disciples for the third time about his upcoming arrest, death, and resurrection.
He says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
The disciples struggled to understand the kind of Savior Jesus is and the kind of kingdom he would set-up. They, like many Jews of Jesus’ time, wanted Jesus to be a political savior who would save them from the tyranny of the Romans. They had their hearts set on Jesus’ setting-up a worldly kingdom that would allow them to occupy positions of worldly power and influence.
They had their hearts set on the wrong idea. Jesus was doing his best to teach them that his kingdom was not a political, worldly one. In his kingdom, the greatest is the exact opposite of the kind of person considered the greatest by the standards of this world. In his kingdom, the greatest is the humble servant who welcomes the lowly, not the arrogant big shot who scoffs them.
And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus requesting positions of power and prestige in his kingdom. They knew that glorification awaited Jesus because they had witnessed his transfiguration; they wanted some of that glory for themselves.
Jesus responds, “You do not know what you are asking.” He responds this way for two reasons. First, he knows that they don’t understand the kind of savior he is and the kind of kingdom he would set-up. He asks them if they are willing to drink the cup that he is about to drink and receive the baptism that he is about to receive.
What cup was he referring to? In the gospel of Luke 22:42, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
He was referring to the cup of suffering that he would drink before his baptism by fire – a permanent transfiguration through the death of his personal self. He was asking James and John if they were willing to sacrifice their personal selves for the sake of others.
This is the level of selfless, loving service the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom possesses. At this point in time, James and John were not able. We know this because all the disciples would flee and hide after Jesus is arrested. Jesus would be crucified between two bandits, not two disciples. James and John would not get the true meaning of Jesus’ mission and what his kingdom was all about until after his resurrection.
Yet both claim that they are able, and Jesus predicts, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” James would eventually be martyred, and John would be exiled to the Island of Patmos – both persecuted for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom. Curiously, James would be the first disciple to die, and John the last.
What did Jesus mean when he said, “but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Jesus is saying that God is the playwright, and Christ is the actor. When it comes to the casting the actors in this play called Life, God makes the decisions. In fact, God has already made those decisions.
Apparently the other ten disciples were furious with James and John for vying for positions of power over them. So, Jesus calls the disciples together because it was clear that none of them realized the spiritual perils of the human drive for worldly power and prestige.
This is the second reason why Jesus responded, “You do not know what you are asking.” Many who are in positions of power and prestige “sell their soul to the devil” to protect their positions and privileges. They use any means necessary – including violent means.
Soon, the disciples will witness the violence unleashed by those seeking to protect themselves from the implications of Jesus’ ministry. The Sadducees feared that Jesus’ ministry would inspire an uprising, potentially triggering the Romans to destroy the Temple, which would completely destroy the role of the Sadducees since their job was to direct Temple activities.
Pontius Pilate feared that he too might lose his job if he could not keep things under control in his district. So, he ruled through intimidation by dealing very violently with any and all troublemakers. Jesus might inspire an uprising. That’s all he needed to know. As with John the Baptist’s death, whether Jesus’ death was fair didn’t matter to these worldly rulers.
While they killed others to save themselves, Jesus would – in direct contrast – willingly sacrifice his life to save others. He would forgo any attempts to control his fate or to prevail over others. He was willing to be powerless and vulnerable (like a child) to demonstrate the true meaning of power – the immense spiritual power that lies within each and every one of us – and how that incredible power is unleashed.
Jesus explains to his disciples that they will not occupy positions of worldly power and prestige. If they wish to be the greatest in his kingdom, they must resolve to be the greatest servant of all and the humblest of all.
Our scripture reading ends with Jesus saying in verse 45, For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This statement gives us a glimpse into the purpose of Jesus’ ministry as the gospel writer Mark sees it. Remember that Mark’s gospel is the oldest gospel and was used as a source by all the other gospel writers.
The word translated as “ransom” is the Greek word lytron (LEE-tron). The Old Testament’s use of a related word sometimes refers to a redemption or purchased freedom, but also often refers to God’s acting to deliver people.
When we hear the word “ransom,” we think of someone who has been taken against his or her will, and the bad guys are demanding cash from the family to get their loved one back. The person who has been taken is innocent. They haven’t done anything wrong.
Many pastors argue that Jesus is talking about a ransom for sin here, but Jesus isn’t talking about sin. He’s comparing worldly leaders to spiritual leaders. He comparing those who sacrifice others for their own sake to those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.
He’s comparing an old way of life ruled by men to an entirely new way of life. Jesus is suggesting that his death will free people from oppression and captivity to another power, restoring them to membership in the community that is ruled by God.
Jesus’ death will be a ransom from human rule for the many who recognize that they are enslaved by this old way of life – a way of life that revolves around violently protecting the personal self where those with the most worldly power always prevail over those with the least.
But we can live an entirely different way once we remember who we are. Once we remember whose we are. Once we chose spiritual power over worldly power. Once we no longer feel the need to protect an illusion. Jesus endured crucifixion to demonstrate to all humanity the truth that who we really are cannot die and needs no protection.
What does this scripture reading have to say to us today? It has much to say to us today. If anyone thinks that only the political leaders of Jesus’ time were driven insane by worldly power and prestige, they haven’t watched the news lately.
We see the same strong-armed political theater happening today – men and women who engage in blatantly unjust and tyrannical deeds just to remain in their positions of power and enjoy their privileges even though it’s at others’ expense. There’s not so much physical brutality as in Jesus’ day, but there is a great deal of mental and emotional brutality going on.
Not only do we see this behavior in political leaders seeking to maintain their elected positions, we also see this in members of the general public who wish to maintain their positions of power and privilege over others on the basis of their gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.
I believe their tactic has become quite clear: to sow seeds of hatred by spreading misinformation and lies. If we all hate each other, we won’t join together and fight for one another because we’ll be far too busy fighting against one another to have the time to challenge the legitimacy of their privileges.
Why do they seem so desperate? Because their privileges are not legitimate, and they are spotting the fact that more and more people are figuring that out. Jesus taught his disciples that the gentiles and the Samaritans were just as worthy as they to receive God’s blessing, and he is telling us today that no one is unworthy because the truth is that on the fundamental level, we are all nothing less than a sunbeam of God.
The things that make us appear different – things like positions, genders, races, religions, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, etc. are just that – appearances – temporary appearances. They are illusions that all pass away with the personal self.
So, the question Jesus is asking his disciples, including us, is this: Do we want to live under human rule with worldly power and privileges and the stormy, complicated, perilous life that comes with it? Or do we want to live under God’s rule – with the immense spiritual power of childlike humility – and enjoy the privileges of unwavering peace and an elegantly simple life of extending the Love of God to all?
If we say we do, then we must not allow ourselves to get caught up in the drama of those who still chose to live under human rule. It’s easy to get caught up in all the fear-mongering and intimidation when we forget that we are not ultimately ruled by these insane people, and they can’t do a thing to harm who we really are.
They have no power over us except for the power we chose to give them. When we allow their words and deeds to trouble us, then we are giving them power over our thoughts and feelings. We can choose not to do that either by tuning them out or by observing their words and deeds without getting upset. Hey, it can be a form of entertainment for us. That way, we keep our power, demonstrate our faith in who we are and whose we are, and keep our sense of humor.
We can do that because we live according to God’s Will, and we trust God’s Will for our lives. We trust that nothing can happen to us that is not God’s Will for us, that does not have some loving purpose for our spiritual growth. That goes not only for us individually but for humanity as a whole.
What will our lives be like if we no longer feel the need to protect our bodies, our stuff, our statuses, our lifestyle – the “story” of our lives? We would have the peace that Jesus left with us – peace that nothing in this world could take away from us.
If we say we want this indestructible peace under God’s rule, then we must commit to it by watching out for the temptations of power and privilege that can so easily pull us back into human rule.
There’s nothing wrong with having power as long as we don’t lord it over others and demand that they kowtow to us. And there’s nothing wrong with privilege as long as we don’t attempt to block others from access to the same privileges. Because when we lord our power over others or attempt to block others from the privileges we enjoy, then a very relevant question is, “Who do we think we are?”
Because when we lord our power over others or try to block others from the privileges we enjoy then we are doing nothing less than protecting the personal self and its “story” of superiority. In that moment, we are making a very clear statement about who we really think we are and the kind of rule we prefer.
But when we are humble servants, we do whatever we can to help others without strings – without any demands or expectation of reward or even thanks. We are willing to sacrifice the personal self’s need for kudos because we recognize the truth that it’s just the personal self’s attempt to steal the glory that belongs to God. That is the kind of servitude Jesus is talking about – a greatness in servitude that is reflected in the apostle Peter’s first letter, chapter 5:1-4.
He writes, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
We serve others by correcting the misinformation that inspires discord. We serve others by rebuking the lies that sow hatred. We serve others by ignoring the mind, tuning into the heart, and responding to God’s call – each instance of inspiration to extend love to someone in need. Not because we’ll feel guilty if we don’t. Not because we want people to think we’re a good person. But just because we are willing to allow God to use us in this way.
This is how we accept the ransom Jesus paid for us – by our commitment to step out of the old turbulent way of life under human rule and into a new peaceful way of life under God’s rule. Let us aspire to be no one – no one but who we really are in Christ, and let our only ambition be to express the love of God through selfless service to all of humanity.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to accept the ransom you paid for us and to live in a new world ruled by God. We accept the peace you leave with us by letting go of the heavy burden of protecting the personal self. We are ready and willing to be used by God to serve others in need and to let all the glory be reserved for God alone. AMEN.
Life Application Study Bible.
Skinner, Matt. “Commentary on Mark 10:35-45.” Workingpreacher.org, 18 Oct. 2009, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-2/commentary-on-mark-1035-45-2
Vitalis Hoffman, Mark G. “Commentary on Mark 10:35-45.” Workingpreacher.org, 18 Oct. 2015, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-2/commentary-on-mark-1035-45-3
Synopsis: Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God? Jesus teaches us that it isn’t wealth itself that is the problem; it is our attitude toward our wealth that can cause us to feel estranged from God.
Scripture: Mark 10: 17-31
In today’s world, security is big business. People spend a lot of money on security. They buy insurance policies, contribute to IRAs and 401Ks, and invest in the stock market. They buy virus protection programs for their electronic devices and put security systems in place to protect homes and businesses. For example, there’s a company called Ultimate Security Systems, Inc. Its by-line is “Your one-stop shop for all your electronic security needs.”
Most people don’t lack knowledge of the things the world offers to help alleviate our anxiety about the future. However, what they do lack is the knowledge of what will help alleviate our anxiety about the future forever – of where our ultimate security lies – the one-stop shop for all our security needs.
That is what our scripture reading for today is all about. First, some context. Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, James, and John. There these three disciples witnessed Jesus transfigured and his speaking with Moses and Elijah. They return to the other disciples, and Jesus begins to prepare them for the last stage of his journey – Jerusalem and the cross.
On the road to Capernaum, the disciples had a heated discussion about who was the greatest among them. To deal with their pride, Jesus taught them that the greatest in his kingdom is humble like a child and welcomes the lowly. He also warned them of the grave cost of causing those who are vulnerable to fall into sin and of ignoring the sin within themselves.
Jesus left Capernaum and entered into Judea, where he is tested by the Pharisees with a question about divorce. People were also bringing children to Jesus to lay his hands on them and bless them. The disciples protested, but Jesus was indignant when he heard about it.
He told them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
That brings us to our scripture reading for today. Jesus is now in Judea, and he is setting out on a journey toward Jerusalem. A man kneels before him and asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Unlike the Pharisees, this man is not asking this question to test Jesus. His words and actions demonstrate that he has a lot of respect for Jesus, so we can safely assume his question is sincere.
Jesus reminds the man that no one is good save God alone. He then lists the commandments, but notice that all of them are the ones concerning our relationships with one another, not the ones regarding our relationship with God.
The man responds that he has obeyed those commandments since his youth. What do we think of this man? Is he lying, or self-deceived? Is he a hypocrite? The text tells us that Jesus gazed at him and loved him, so perhaps we should love him too. Perhaps he was “blameless with respect to righteousness under the law” as Paul states about himself in his letter to the Philippians.
The man is obviously a devout Jew. He keeps the commandments – at least the ones related to human interactions. But what about the ones that Jesus didn’t list – the ones about our relationship with God? Was it truly God alone he worshipped, or were there idols hidden in his heart?
Jesus’ challenge made the answer to that question clear, and the man walked away very unhappy. His relationships with other people were good, but his riches had gotten in between him and God.
Jesus’ comment on how hard it is for the wealthy to enter into the Kingdom of God leaves the disciples perplexed. To drive home his point, Jesus uses a shocking exaggeration: It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle! We all know how small the eye of a needle is and how huge a camel is.
Why are the disciples so shocked? Well, they lived in a culture that associated wealth and power with divine favor. It’s that hard even for those who are the most blessed? If it’s that hard even for this man, an obviously law-abiding, socially-responsible Jewish citizen, who then can be saved?
Jesus’ response is perfect. “For mortals it is impossible” (We can’t earn our own way into the Kingdom of God), “but not for God; for God all things are possible” (We get there only through God’s grace).
You see, the man’s question itself revealed that he felt estranged from his Heavenly Father. Imagine if your children came to you and asked, “What must I do to earn my inheritance?”
They don’t have to earn it, right? They are entitled to it because they are your children. If they are asking you that question, you’d have to wonder if they had somehow forgotten who they are or if they believe that you have disowned them for some reason.
We are God’s children. We don’t need to earn the gifts God has graciously given us. He gives them to us simply because we are his children, and he loves us. The Kingdom of God is our inheritance, and that includes eternal life. All we need to do is remember who we are and God’s love for us. If we feel estranged, it is certainly not because God has rejected or abandoned us.
There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy, but if our wealth is more important to us than our relationship with God, then our attitude is keeping us estranged from God – not the wealth itself.
Peter asserts that he and the rest of the disciples had left everything behind to follow Jesus. Now, they were not rich like this man. Many of them were quite poor, like Peter, barely surviving as fishermen.
But whether they realize it or not, as followers of Jesus, they are now really living by God’s grace. They do not need worldly wealth because they are no longer estranged from their Heavenly Father and their ginormous family. All of Creation belongs to them, so they literally have everything they need: people (brothers and sisters; mothers and children) and things (houses and fields).
They will also face persecution because they reject the world’s values, but they will be the first to inherit eternal life because they are the last on the totem pole when it comes to who the world values. The world admires arrogant rulers, not humble servants.
What does this teaching have to say to us today? As with many of Jesus’ teachings, they are timeless, so this teaching is just as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ time.
Our relationship with God is just as important as our relationship with others, so if we somehow feel estranged from God, we can’t experience the bliss of our union with God.
We are a three-part being: body, mind, and soul. When we come into this physical existence, the soul takes on a body and a mind. Some call it the body-mind, and it’s written as “body dash mind.” The body-mind is what makes up the personal self: the body and what I call “the mind of me.”
The personal self is like a thread in the Tapestry of Life – a beautiful tapestry that expresses Who God Is. Think about how thin a piece of thread must be in order to fit through the eye of a needle. The thicker the thread is, the harder it is to fit it through there. If the Kingdom of God is like the eye of a needle, and the body-mind is like a thread, then if the body-mind is too thick, it won’t be able to fit through.
What makes the body-mind too thick? In short, anything that causes us to identify more with the personal self than with Who We Really Are. Those who practice Buddhism call these things “attachments.” The Buddha taught that attachments are the root cause of all our suffering. I believe Jesus is teaching the same timeless wisdom here.
The man in our scripture reading for today was attached to his wealth. Wealth gives us the ability to enjoy many worldly pleasures and material things. I’m sure this man didn’t want to give up the lifestyle that he had grown accustomed to. This is a bodily type of attachment. What would he do with himself if he wasn’t so busy indulging his desires and taking care of all of his accoutrements?
This man’s wealth not only kept him attached to pleasures and possessions, but it also kept him attached to his status. This is a mental type of attachment. Who would he be if he were not a rich man? If he was as poor as a pauper? He would be a nobody. He would be nothing – so he feared.
To better understand this rich man’s spiritual plight, imagine that you are an actor or actress. You are wearing a costume, and you are on a stage. You are acting in a play. Imagine that in this play, you are a very rich person. You are wearing very lavish clothing and jewelry. You are decked out like royalty!
And not only that, you also live a huge castle with a grand courtyard, and you get to go to feasts and eat and drink until you are about ready to explode. You get to take baths in luxurious hot tubs. You can have anything you want; people wait on you hand and foot.
As a good actor or actress, you really get into this role. You even do your best to think like this rich person with all his or her wants, needs, and fears. You take on the attitude of this rich person so that you can do a good job on stage. You want to do a good job expressing who this character is. That is your job, after all.
Now, imagine that this play is going on non-stop for many years, and because of that, you never really give yourself the chance to “get out of character.” Even when you step off the stage, you still feel the need to act, think, and feel as this character does. Over time, the memory of who you really are fades away.
That is the spiritual problem the rich man in our story has, and Jesus recognized this. The man is just playing the part of a rich man in God’s play so that God can experience what it is like to have and do all these things through him.
But since he has never taken the time to “get out of character,” he has forgotten who he is at the core of his being – without the costume and jewelry and other elaborate props. He has forgotten who he is without the “storyline” of a rich man’s life.
Jesus basically said to that man, “Step off the stage, leave all the props behind, take off your costume and jewelry, drop your storyline, and follow me. That is the only way to inherit eternal life – to experience the core of your being.”
If he had accepted Jesus’ challenge, he finally would have been free to find God within himself. The personal self can keep us quite busy if we let it – so busy chasing after all our worldly desires that we never have time to look within and find God there. We never “detach” from the world long enough to experience who we really are at the core of our being – within the eye of the needle.
But how do we make ourselves thin enough to slip through the “eye of the needle” – to step off the stage so that we can experience the core of our being?
Some believe that only in death are we able to detach from the personal self. Neale Donald’s Walsch, the author of Conversations with God, wrote a fascinating book called Home with God: In a Life that Never Ends. In this book, Neale has a conversation with God about death.
According to Neale’s book, we go through three stages when we die. The first stage is when we release our identification with the body. This happens when we come to the realization that we have indeed died, but we’re somehow still alive.
The second stage is when we release our identification with the mind. We experience our idea of the afterlife until we get to the point where we say to ourselves, “Surely, there must be more to the afterlife than this.”
That is when we come to the realization that we create our reality with our minds, but we are not the mind. Once we release our identification with the mind and our ideas about the afterlife, we experience the afterlife as it really is – which is, of course, far better than any limited ideas we held about it.
The third stage is when we release our identification with the soul – yes, the soul. The soul is not destroyed; it is simply reintegrated. We melt into the light of God, and we remember our total unity with God. We experience untold bliss in this moment, and we can stay here for as long as we want.
When we re-emerge, all three parts are integrated – body, mind, and soul as one. At this point comes the Holy Inquiry. It’s the most important question of our existence. The question is this: “Do you want to stay?” Do you want to stay in the spiritual world, or go back to the physical world? If we feel there is something incomplete about our last life, we can return to it. If we choose to stay, we can enjoy the spiritual world for as long as we wish.
But every soul eventually decides to be reborn into physicality and to continue to experience its divinity in whatever way, shape, or form the soul chooses. That is what God does; he makes himself known through his infinite expressions, and as much as our personal self grumbles about life, the soul finds it a great joy to be able to experience its divinity in grander ways for all eternity. That is what soul growth is all about, and soul growth is what life is all about.
So, if we believe that we must die in order to experience release from the body and mind, then that is what we experience. But the truth is that we don’t have to believe that. We don’t have to wait until death. We can do it while we are still experiencing the body-mind in physicality.
How can we do that?
Well, some of you have may have already experienced it – at least for a moment. You may have felt yourself melt away and joined with All That Is. If not, that’s OK. All that matters is that you are willing to experience it. If you are willing, then by God’s grace you will have that experience because there is nothing God wants more than for you to return to him.
We set up the blockades – not God. Our blockades are fear-based. We are afraid of God because we have been taught many mistaken ideas about God. That is one of the reasons why Jesus came – to teach us that we don’t have to be afraid of God. In God lies our ultimate security – not in our bank accounts.
We need not fear having nothing because God gives us everything we need. All we need to do is ask, believe, and receive. And we need not fear being a nothing because in God we are literally everything. Everything there is! We have everything because we are everything!
Since the blockades exist in the mind, we can’t think our way back to God. That doesn’t work, trust me. Because I am a thinker. I analyze everything to death. The hardest thing for me is to stop thinking so much, and that’s the fastest way to experience the core of our being – to just live in the moment.
This sounds so easy, but it’s not so easy for humans because we are so addicted to the mind of me. We believe the mind of me is a good guide, and the mind of me does everything it can to pretend to be a good guide. But don’t be deceived: it is like a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.
Most of the things the mind of me has us worrying about and imparting its “marvelous” advice about are illusions. They are about a future which isn’t here yet and can’t be known. The Mind of Christ is the life expert; it guides us in the present moment. We can deal effectively with what is actually showing up, but we can’t deal with illusions.
So be willing, don’t think about it too much, and live in the present moment. That is how we can open ourselves to experiencing the core of our being – our unity with God – and the peace, love, and joy of our ultimate security.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to experience the core of our being by dropping the attachments that are causing us to feel estranged from our Heavenly Father. Make these attachments known to us, and give us the grace to live in the present moment. AMEN.
Vitalis Hoffman, Mark G. “Commentary on Mark 10:17-31.” workingpreacher.org, 11 Oct. 2015, http:\\www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-28-2/commentary-on-mark-1017-31-7
Walsch, Neale Donald. “Home with God: In a Life that Never Ends.” Atria Books, 2006.
Synopsis: Jesus taught us that the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are humble like a child and welcome the lowly. How can we deal with pride within ourselves, develop childlike humility, and welcome the lowly as Jesus did?
Scripture: Mark 9:30-37.
The Catholics have a list called “the seven deadly sins.” Does anyone know which sin is typically #1 on that list? Pride. They are called “deadly” sins because in Roman Catholic theology, these sins inspire other sins. St. Augustine believed that pride is the very essence of sin because pride seeks to glorify oneself rather than God. Pride is a big threat, and in today’s scripture reading, Jesus takes aim at his disciples’ pride.
Let’s take a look at the important context around it. Jesus and his disciples had entered gentile territory, with Jesus conducting several miraculous healings. Within a few days, quite a large crowd had gathered around them, and Jesus, concerned that they had not eaten, fed about 4,000 gentiles just as he had fed the crowd of Jews in Galilee – miraculously with very little available food and with plenty left over after everyone had eaten.
After Jesus fed the people, he and his disciples headed back into Jewish territory to the district of Dalmanutha (Dal-man-OO-tha), which is located on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. They got into a boat and began sailing to the other side of the sea. Along the way, the disciples complained that they had no bread. Jesus commented on their lack of faith. They had witnessed two large crowds miraculously fed, and they didn’t trust God to provide bread for thirteen men?
After landing at Bethsaida and healing a blind man, Jesus and his disciples head to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, where Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus then spoke about his upcoming death and resurrection, and Peter took him aside and scolded him for saying such things. Jesus strongly rebuked Peter saying, Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Mark chapter 9 opens with Jesus taking only three disciples, Peter, James, and John, up a high mountain, where Jesus is transfigured. After descending from the mountain, they met up with the other disciples, and Jesus casts a demon out of a boy after the other disciples were unable to do so.
And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. Jesus decides to make his way back to Capernaum with his disciples, but he doesn’t want anyone to know about it. You see, Jesus knows that he has entered the final stage of his mission, and it’s time to prepare the disciples for Jerusalem – for his final destination – the cross.
Jesus knew they would struggle to understand what he was about to tell them, so he created some time alone with them. His words are crystal clear: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”
I’m sure that they had all been daydreaming about Jesus taking the throne as King of the Jews. I’m sure that their excitement grew with every miracle he performed. So, upon hearing Jesus’ words, their first befuddled thought might have been, “Oh, there he goes again – speaking in parables.”
But they were afraid to ask him what this “parable” meant. There are several possible reasons for this. First, perhaps they were embarrassed. They had not understood many things lately – and here was yet another thing they didn’t understand.
Or perhaps they didn’t want to know what he meant. We’ve all had experiences where someone says something kind of cryptic to us that we can’t quite translate, and we’re afraid to ask, “What’s that mean?” Especially with teenagers. We’re like, “Eh? … never mind, I don’t want to know!”
This wasn’t the first time Jesus spoke about his suffering and death. He spoke about it back in chapter 8 after Peter proclaimed him to be the Messiah. This is a third possible reason why they were afraid to ask. Perhaps Peter shared with them the harsh words he received from Jesus after having rebuked him for saying such things. I can imagine the other disciples quickly glancing over at Peter, who was wide-eyed, and shaking his head as if to signal “don’t say a word, trust me!”
What Jesus told them just didn’t fit into their vision of what they wanted to see happen – especially the part where he would be “delivered” into the hands of men and be killed. The word, “delivered” hinted at betrayal, and the word “killed,” suggested murder. I’m sure their minds filled with some very disturbing questions: “Jesus is going to be betrayed and murdered? Who would do that? Is it one of us?”
After they arrived back at Capernaum, at Jesus’ home base, Jesus asked them what they had been discussing among themselves along the way. It seems that the Lord was walking alone some distance in front of them, probably in deep thought about his coming trials. The disciples were walking behind him, grouped together, in a heated discussion with one another about who was the greatest.
I can imagine their egos blustering during that discussion. Peter says, “I am greatest! Jesus told me that I am the rock on which his church will be built!” And Matthew says, “He probably meant you’re as dumb as a rock, Satan!” And Peter says, “Well what about you Matthew? You’re a traitorous, corrupt tax collector! Your heart is as hard as a rock. And you call me Satan?”
Mark tells us that the disciples didn’t want to tell Jesus what they had been discussing. I’m sure the sick contrast wasn’t lost on them. Immediately after Jesus discussed with them his upcoming betrayal and execution, they were arguing about their honor and glory. Immediately after Jesus discussed with them his coming cross, they were arguing about their coming crowns.
To their credit, they recognized their prideful behavior. Notice that Jesus knew what they were discussing even though they remained silent. But Jesus didn’t scold them, he taught them. He said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Let’s compare what he said here in Mark’s gospel to what he said in Matthew 18:1-5. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’”
The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is humble like a child. What does it mean to be humble like a child? How many of you, when you were a kid, remember eating at the kids’ table for those big family meals – like Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas dinner? All the adults ate at one table, and the kids ate at a separate table. Yeah, me too.
I remember how proud I felt when I was promoted to the adult’s table, but I quickly found out that the kids’ table was a lot more fun. You know, you could blow bubbles in your milk; you could create interesting artwork and conduct science experiments with the food on your plate; you could toss food into each other’s mouths; you could flick peas or corn nibblets at the kid across the table from you – endless fun and games without worrying about annoying the adults.
And once in a while, an adult would yell out, “Hey kid, get us some more rolls, will ya?” or “Get your Uncle Tony another root beer, alright?” or “Get your Aunt Millie another slice of apple pie!” Yeah, the kids’ table was also the go-fer table. Go-fer this, and go-fer that!
The kids’ table was the table for the lowliest and the servants of all. But at the kids’ table, life was simple and fun. We didn’t fret about ourselves or our lives. We didn’t have a care in the world because we knew we were loved, and we knew we were well cared for, and we didn’t mind being the go-fer because we loved opportunities to help. That is childlike humility.
At the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the greatest will eat at the kids’ table.
What did Jesus mean when he took a child in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”?
During Jesus’ time, children were the lowliest Jewish society. In Matthew chapter 19, the disciples scolded the people who were bringing their children to Jesus for his blessing. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
How do we treat people who are lowly? Do we welcome them as Jesus welcomed lowly children? Do we welcome not only children, but other lowly people, such as those who struggle with poverty, homelessness, mental illness, or disability?
I’ve noticed that many people either avoid lowly people or won’t even acknowledge their existence. They walk past them as if they were invisible. I think that’s worse than treating them with contempt. The lowly just want to be treated like a human being – with simple care and concern.
It can be challenging to treat them with respect. I work on the city streets as a cleaning, safety, and hospitality ambassador, so I encounter them all the time. Last week, I saw a homeless man whom I hadn’t seen in a while. I’ve known this man for a couple of years, and he has caused mayhem. I was keeping a close eye on him because I didn’t trust him.
I was cleaning up an area near where he had settled down to take a nap. As I got closer to him, my mind was telling me, “That man is trouble! Stay away from him!” But my heart was telling me, “That man is a beloved expression of God.”
As I started cleaning up near him, he stirred, and said, “Hey Pops!” Then he realized I wasn’t Pops, so he said, “Oh sorry, I thought you were Pops. He usually cleans up around here.” He was referring to one of my co-workers.
I said, “No, he’s off today. How are you? Are you OK?” He replied that he was OK, but I noticed that he had a black eye, so I asked, “What happened to your eye?” He explained that he got punched. I replied, “Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you.” We chatted a bit more, then I told him, “Take it easy, OK?” As I was walking away, he said, “Thanks! God bless you!”
You see, he wasn’t the “evil monster” my mind was making him out to be. He was who my heart told me he was. The moment I was able to shift my focus from my mind to my heart, I welcomed him into my experience as a beloved child of God, and I treated him like a human being – with respect and care. It meant so much to him, and it filled me with joy. That little chat made my day.
How can we be humble like a child? First, we need to understand the source of pride: the fear of not being good enough. Prideful people are very insecure people. They are attempting to establish their own worth when their worth has already been established by God. It’s like they are trying to fix something that isn’t broken. That’s not possible, so they live lives of constant anxiety-ridden striving.
If they knew who they are and how much God loved them as they are, they wouldn’t have a problem with pride. We are not really these imperfect human beings; we are a part of the perfection of God’s Creation, which is part of God Himself. If that’s not something to be proud of, I don’t know what is.
Next, we need to accept the fact that we will have prideful thoughts. They come with the territory of being human. The mind of me is programmed to experience ourselves as separate when we are really One with All This It. There is a purpose for this. Just as we can’t experience hot without cold, the illusion of separation allows us to discover and experience this Oneness.
I believe the mind of me’s programming is not yet fully developed in young children. Unless we come from an unstable or abusive home environment, it doesn’t really take root until around the teenage years. That’s when we’ve lost the memory of who we really are – add to that the confusion of our changing bodies, the peer pressure to be cool (whatever that means), and the parental pressure to make decisions about our future, and you can understand why the teenage years can be so miserable.
The Mind of Christ knows the truth about who we are, and the Mind of Christ is where our true thoughts reside. The thoughts that come out of the mind of me, thoughts of separation, thoughts of pride, thoughts of judgment of others, are NOT our real thoughts. So, we do not need to feel bad for having them.
We can simply observe those thoughts and then let them go. We can choose not to believe them. When those thoughts compare us to others or judge others, we can simply remind ourselves that they are false. The truth is that all are equally beloved of God. I am beloved, you are beloved, everyone is beloved.
Finally, we need to turn our focus away from our grumbling minds and toward our grateful hearts – especially when we are engaging in service to others. Our souls love to help others because we are so grateful for the infinite love and support we receive from God, and all we want to do is return that love.
My family put my mother in a nursing home back in March, and I’ve been helping my father out with the necessary tasks to ensure that my mother’s care is paid for. My father is an anxious guy, so this process has been extremely stressful for him. It’s been challenging for me not to absorb all of his anxiety and to keep myself calm and focused.
When I pay attention to what’s going on in my mind, I have noticed that there’s a whole lot of grumbling going on. Grumbling about my father, grumbling about how much time it’s all taking, grumbling about how difficult some processes can be. But when I tune into my heart, I feel love for my father, gratitude for all he has done for me, and delighted to be of service to him.
Humility is not simply the absence of pride; it is the presence of love inspired by gratitude for all that we have been given – gratitude that comes from knowing that God loves us just the way we are and knowing that God provides for all our needs. Out of that gratitude, springs a selfless desire to serve.
And it was that selfless desire to serve that inspired Jesus to take the road to Jerusalem, to be betrayed, and to endure the cross – a tremendous demonstration of pure love so that humanity could be freed from the fear of death – and truly live.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to be humble like a child – to stop fretting about ourselves and our lives – so that we, full of gratitude and love for all that we have been given, are free to selflessly serve all – especially the lowly in our midst. Amen.
Kistler, Jerry. “The Deadly Sin of Pride.” Montrose Press. 8 Mar. 2019, www.montrosepress.com/news/the-deadly-sin-of-pride/article_1589c4ac-4227-11e9-80b0-23ef11363d68.html
Mueller, Chris. “Living Last in a ‘Me First’ World (Mark 9:30-37).” FBC Media Library. 24 Nov. 2013, media.faith-bible.net/scripture/mark/humility
Synopsis: Why did Jesus respond so harshly to the Syrophoenician woman seeking healing for her daughter? Perhaps he wanted to put her great faith on display in order to help his disciples learn three hard gospel lessons.
Scripture Reading: Mark 7:24-37
How many of you remember a lesson you learned in life – the hard way? Yes, hard lessons are often the ones we are less likely to forget. Allow me to share with you one lesson I learned the hard way.
Years ago, I saw a friend of mine in Kasa’s Pizzeria. I had not seen this friend in years, so it was so good to see her again, and even more joyfully, she was with child! So, I asked her, “When’s the baby due?”
Well … she wasn’t pregnant. I wanted to crawl into a hole. Thankfully, she was gracious enough to just laugh about it. But it was mortifying for me. I learned a lesson: Never ask a woman when the baby is due unless she tells you she’s pregnant.
The hardest thing for us humans to accept is that our assumptions are not always correct. In fact, our assumptions are often incorrect, and that is exactly what the disciples were about to learn in our scripture reading for today. They were about to learn three hard gospel lessons.
We’ve been studying the Gospel of Mark, the most chronological gospel of the four and the most action-packed, focusing primarily on what Jesus does to serve humanity.
Let’s take a quick look at the context around today’s scripture reading. Jesus had been teaching and healing all around the region of Galilee. In chapter six, he performs miracles unrelated to healing, such as calming a storm and walking on water. He performed these miracles in the presence of his disciples.
But the miracle that really got people’s attention was when he fed 5,000 men, which was probably more like 20,000 people when we include the women and children. However, Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand the significance of this event.
We know this because when Jesus walked on the water, Mark reports that the disciples were at first terrified and then astounded by it. Then he comments in verse 52: “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
Mark chapter 7 opens with Jesus facing opposition from the religious leaders over his disciples not following the teachings of the elders related to ceremonial hand washing. Here is where Jesus teaches that it is not what goes into the body that is defiling, but what comes out of it – particularly what comes out of the heart, which can hold evil intentions that lead people to say evil words and commit evil deeds.
This scene is significant because Jesus is about to enter into the territory of the gentiles. If there was anything that kept Jews and gentiles separate, it was the Jews’ kosher diet. Jews were not permitted to eat in the homes of gentiles because they would most likely be offered food that would break Torah laws and thus defile them.
You see, the traditions of the elders were created by the Pharisees to separate the Jews from the pagans in the region. It was their way of protecting the Jewish race from pagan influences. The more they kept the Jewish people busy following Jewish traditions, the less chance they would be tempted to go astray. But this separation was an illusion. It was based solely on ideas, not reality.
This is first hard gospel lesson: There is nothing that truly separates us from one another. Ideas can create the illusion of separation, but they can never tear apart the unity that God created.
That brings us to our scripture reading for today. After this incident with the Pharisees, Jesus left Galilee and entered the region of Tyre (TEYE-ur), located about twelve miles north of the border with Israel. He entered a house, but he didn’t want people to know he was there.
Why not? Perhaps he was hiding from the Pharisees, or perhaps he was hiding because he had entered the home of a gentile, or perhaps he just didn’t want to attract a big crowd. Maybe all three.
Anyway, we know how it goes whenever Jesus tries to hide – it never works, and it didn’t work here either. Soon, a woman with a demon-possessed daughter approaches Jesus for help.
Who was this “Syrophoenician” woman? The Phoenicians were an ancient Semitic people related to the biblical Canaanites, who inhabited city-states throughout the Mediterranean. The fact that she was a woman and a gentile was two strikes against her. The third strike was the fact that she was a Canaanite from Tyre. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, the evil queen of Israel, was a Canaanite woman from Tyre.
Perhaps that’s why in Matthew’s gospel, the disciples beg Jesus to send her away. In both gospels, Jesus responds to the woman in a way that is quite harsh, which I’m sure is bewildering to many of us who don’t think of Jesus as intolerant.
Why does Jesus respond to her so harshly? I’ve heard several points of view. One point of view is that Jesus needed to be taught a lesson by this woman. That’s a bit surprising. After all, it is usually Jesus who teaches the lessons and wins arguments, right?
Another point of view is that Jesus wanted to lose this argument. This makes sense to me because in Matthew’s gospel, this woman says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” Up to this point, Peter has yet to confess Jesus to be the Son of David, the Messiah, the Lord. So, it’s quite possible that the first person to actually proclaim Jesus to be the Messiah was this gentile woman.
At this point, Jesus’ disciples have not understood many of his teachings. They didn’t understand the significance of the feeding of the 5,000. They didn’t understand his teaching about what really makes a person unclean. Who was more unclean in the heart here? This woman who came to Jesus for help, calling him “Lord, Son of David,” or the disciples who were saying, “Send her away?”
And that is the second hard gospel lesson: It is our belief in separation that corrupts the heart.
It took great humility for this woman to approach Jesus. As a gentile, she knew she had no standing. She had no right. Jesus was a Jew, and his god was the Jewish god. She was most likely a pagan who worshipped many gods, but she had heard that the god of the Jews was healing people miraculously through this man, Jesus, and her daughter needed healing.
Obviously, she had great faith in Jesus and in his god to heal her daughter. Jesus must have recognized this even before he made his statement to her. I believe he wanted this gentile woman to teach his disciples about real faith, so he set her up.
He responded to her with words he knew his disciples were thinking. They were undoubtedly thinking, “How dare you! He has come to serve the nation of Israel. You are a dog. His serving you would be like throwing the children’s food to the dogs.” The word “dogs” was often used to refer to non-Jews back in those days.
Jesus had already offered the Bread of Life to the Jews. Remember Jesus teaching about the Bread of Life in the gospel of John? The body and blood of Christ being the true bread and the true drink that satisfies forever? They didn’t want that bread, did they? They wanted bread that satisfied their stomachs, not their souls.
They rejected the Bread of Life. I believe that’s why Jesus left the area of the Jews at this point and entered into the gentile’s territory. Now, listen to the woman’s response, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
The crumbs of the Bread of Life. She was willing to accept even the crumbs for the sake of her daughter. She accepted that the Jews deserved their portion as the first to be offered the Bread. They were the first, yes, but that didn’t mean the bread was for them exclusively. She barely knew the god of the Jews, yet she had faith that he was a god of inclusion. She had faith in God’s grace. Jesus praised her great faith in front of his disciples and declared her daughter healed.
This is the third hard gospel lesson: God does not turn his face away from anyone who comes to him with faith. Anyone. It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, if any, what church you belong to, what doctrines you believe in, or what you have done in your life. All that matters is that you believe that you are part of something greater than yourself and that this “something greater” cares for you.
You don’t even have to publicly confess Jesus as Lord for God to respond. The Syrophoenician woman did, but the deaf and mute guy obviously didn’t, did he? But that didn’t seem to matter to God.
Jesus moves southeast into the region of Decapolis along the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee. He’s still in gentile territory, and he is approached by some men who bring to him another man who is both deaf and mute. His friends speak for him, asking Jesus to lay his hands on him. We can safely assume these men were all gentiles.
Notice the level of sensitivity Jesus has toward this man suffering from a disability. First, he takes him away from the crowd. Why? Well, it’s like when we enter the doctor’s examination room. We don’t want a crowd of witnesses when the doctor’s poking and prodding us, right?
So, Jesus takes the man away to a more private location. He sticks his fingers in the man’s ears, then spits on his finger and touches the man’s tongue. It’s as if the Lord was doing the sign language version of the healing first followed by the verbal command.
The man was healed, and everyone was astounded at how well Jesus did everything – even making the deaf hear and the mute speak. Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone, but you know how well that always went for the Lord. They all blabbed. How could they keep such astounding deeds a secret?
What does this scripture reading have to say to us today? I believe it has much to say to us – not only individually, but collectively in these challenging times. Jesus came to teach us not just how to survive, but how to live and live abundantly. Basically, if the goal is to get out of this mess we’re in and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, these three hard gospels lessons provide three steps toward that goal.
The first step is that we must end the belief in separation. What we are seeing in our world right now are the creations of a humanity that has believed in separation for a very long time. We all create our experiences through thought, word, and deed. First, we think about what we want, then we talk about it, then we create it.
The hardest truth for people to accept is that because we are one, we can’t think, say, or do anything that doesn’t affect everyone else in some way. We don’t experience our creations alone. They come into this world, where everyone else lives, so everyone else experiences them.
The good news is that I believe most people are beginning to let go of the idea of separation; they just don’t know it yet. That’s because thoughts of separation will always be in our minds as part of our human programming, but that doesn’t mean we have to believe those thoughts. We can simply notice them and recognize them as false.
Our thoughts, words, and deeds must be aligned with the truth – that we are one. Every thought, word, and deed must turn away from what’s good only for me to what’s good for all.
The second step is that we must purify our hearts. Let’s talk about worth. That word doesn’t exist in God’s vocabulary. Why? Because all of creation is equally worthy in his sight. Creation is God’s expression of Who He Is. It is God’s Image. How can he reject any of it since it is one and all part of Him?
Just as every wave is an expression of the majestic ocean, every form is an expression of our awesome God. Without each wave, the ocean would not be what it is. Without each form, God would not be who God is. Can we imagine the ocean favoring one wave over another? Of course not! That’s ridiculous! So is the idea of God favoring one form over another.
We made up the word “worth” once we believed in separation. We believed that we could tear apart God’s unity and sort out for ourselves who is worthy and who isn’t as if we were God. If we could really do that, none of us would exist.
It is very difficult for many people to accept the truth that God loves everyone equally. Those who are very religious like to believe that they are God’s favorite. Those who are not very religious like to imagine that they are God’s nemesis. They are both wrong. Both are equally loved by God.
To purify our hearts, we must release the idea that some are more worthy of love – of basic care and concern – than others. We must accept and practice the idea that every time we look into the eyes of another human being, no matter who they are, there is an expression of God looking back at us – an expression that is deeply cherished by God.
So, we must learn to deeply cherish them too. We must drop all judgements because everyone is on a path back to God that cannot fail (say it again). Why?
Because God, our wonderful God, who is so full of love and grace, is not willing to lose a single soul. And if God is not willing to lose a single soul, then we must never give up hope for anyone.
That is the third step: We must never give up hope for any brother or sister. Not the prostitute, not the drug addict, not the felon. These and many others are treated like the “dogs” of our society. We don’t want to extend real love to them, just some niceties and platitudes. When they show up, we just want to say to them, “Bless you! Now go away.”
Because the truth is that they are on a path back to God – a hard one, yes, but they are on a path, and they can’t fail. But we can do whatever we can to make their path a little easier with a little love.
Now, I’m not going to tell you specifically what to say or do to help them. I will simply advise you to stay out of your head, and allow your heart to tell you what to say or do. It will come at just the right moment. And it will be very wise. It will be something that lifts them up, not shames them. It will be something that empowers them, not enables them. It will be the Lord extending his hand, touching them, and healing something broken in them through you.
Trust him, because he does everything well.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to release the idea of separation, purify our hearts, and extend love to all those in need. Help us to live more within our hearts so that as we go about our daily lives, we may hasten the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven by being who we really are: an extension of God’s all-inclusive love. AMEN.
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “13. Does God Ever Like to Lose an Argument? (Mark 7:24-37).” Bible.org, 4 Apr. 2012, bible.org/seriespage/13-does-god-ever-lose-argument-mark-724-37.