Thursday, September 10, 2015

At the Heart of Jesus' Religion


Tim Smith offers this -- Gary Morsch is the founder of Heart to Heart in Kansas City. As a physician, he has done magnificent work around the world taking medical supplies to low income people. Many years ago, he took a trip to Calcutta and Mother Teresa's House for the Destitute Dying. He took 90 volunteers and 12 million dollars of medical supplies.  As he made the trip, he thought to himself, "A lot of these people don't have to die. I can save their lives, and maybe we can turn it from the House for the Destitute Dying to the House for the Hopeful Living." He was going to make that happen.  When they arrived, Sister Priscilla began to assign everyone their tasks. As this was happening, Gary put his stethoscope around his neck to let Sister Priscilla know he was a doctor.  Everyone got their assignment and Gary found he was the last person.  She directed him to come with her. They went to the woman's unit and didn't stop to help anybody. They kept going and went to the men's unit and he thought this is where he was going to begin to help. But instead, they walked into the kitchen. He asked, "What do you need for me to do here?" She said, "Just follow me."  They walked out the door, and he sees a huge pile of putrefied trash.  She hands him two plastic buckets and a shovel and saw. "What we need you to do is haul this garbage to the city dump just down the street two blocks away. You can't miss it." Then she smiles at him, turns and walks away.  He is standing there thinking, "Did she not see my stethoscope. I'm a doctor! Doesn't she understand what I can do with these hands?"  In a silent shock and a bit of self-pity, he began wondering what to do. But there was only one thing to do. So all day, he carried buckets full of putrefied trash to the city dump, and by the end of the day having moved that entire pile, he was a sweaty, sticking mess.  He walked back into the building and saw this sign from Mother Teresa: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."  He said, "At that moment, my heart wilted. On this day, Mother Teresa pierced the armor I had worked so hard to construct. And my life was changed by the act of hauling garbage down the street and becoming a servant for others in need."

In essence, this is what Jesus communicates to some of the religious people of the day who are following Him and asking questions.  In this section of Matthew (9:9-17), Jesus presents two pictures…one is concerning the physician and the other is the bridegroom.  Each picture comes in response to questions from those in His audience.  The Pharisees are already in full opposition mode as they come to Jesus’ disciples to ask them a “religious” question.  The question is intended to trap them, because if they are good religious Jews, and most of them appear to be, then they should only be able to come up with the one answer required…the one that pleases the Pharisees.  Jesus, hearing this question, intercedes on His disciples’ behalf and makes a statement that would cause the religious leaders to have to pause for a moment in the midst of their attacks to consider what He is saying.  And what is it that Jesus is saying?  He is not making a case for a religious argument that people should go to a doctor if they are sick as opposed to staying home hoping for some miracle.  He wants the Pharisees to consider the big picture concerning what god they really serve.  Do they really serve the God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe…or a religious symbol of a god that they choose to serve in the name of God?  If they would understand and serve the one true God, then they would know Jesus, and that He came in order that sinners might have a relationship with Him and His Father.

So, Jesus quotes a basic and critically important principle from the Old Testament (Hosea 6:6) to show to them that right religion has always been about people more than about “principles”.  Or, that our principles should be about helping people rather than keeping laws that prevent us from helping people.  And this is certainly the prevailing thought that continues in this section, as Jesus entertains a question from John’s disciples.  On the surface, this portion of the passage might appear unrelated to the first part, but they walk hand in hand.  Continuing with the theme of adhering to the law, the disciples of John notice a difference between themselves, the Pharisees and Jesus’ disciples concerning fasting.  They all (the Pharisees and John’s disciples) would keep regular fasts by which they would dedicate themselves to the keeping of ritual traditions.  John’s disciples would be in mourning, because their leader is being detained in prison. But, the allusion to the bridegroom is Jesus speaking about Himself, and that while He is with them, they should be rejoicing at having Him.  So, Jesus indicates that “fasting” is a matter of joy not sorrow. He has come to put a new face on their religious traditions. The Christian life is a feast not a funeral. 

Much as he does with the Sabbath and other traditional practices, Jesus wants them to understand that there is a larger picture that they need to grasp. This is why He moves into the illustration concerning the wine and the wine skins. Jesus comes to fulfill the law of the Pharisees and John and bring “spiritual wholeness.”  Jesus did not come to “patch us up” religiously, only to have us fall apart. He comes to fill us to the full…and to overflowing.  The Jewish religion was a worn-out wine skin that would burst if filled with the newness of the Gospel that Jesus is bringing.  He knows that the old ways, or old paths of the old law are not going to be sufficient in order for newness and wholeness to take place.  This is His purpose in coming…to fill us up and make us mature in Him.

Ken Pell from the First Church of the Nazarene in Broken Arrow, OK shares this -- There is not much you can do about it. Once you have been around it everybody else knows. I’m talking about the red dirt of western Oklahoma. It’s caused by the iron in the soil that, after being oxidized, turns to rust. It seems that nothing can erase or clean the stain from that red dirt on your shoes once you have walked there. If you have new shoes – everyone knows -- because they are not red ... yet. If you are from the city (OKC or Tulsa, for example) and you make your way into the western ranch lands everyone can tell "you’re not from these parts" simply by looking at the color of your shoes. The inverse is also true; if you go to the city and are wearing shoes that you have previously worn out "out there" everyone knows where you are from.  It’s not a judgmental thing. The cities in Oklahoma are intimately connected to the ranches and open lands; no one thinks they are better or inferior; it is simply a recognizable and distinct line of demarcation. There is simply no getting around it.  Godly love (Agapé) is like that too. It is such a contrast from the world’s love that it becomes immediately recognizable and "different." The world looks at the sacrificial, serving, grace-filled love of God and says "You’re not from around these parts." It cannot be duplicated, at least not for long, it can be "faked" for a little while (vv. 1-3) but even the masquerade is evidence that it isn't Godly love. When it has been poured into your hearts it cannot be hidden; that’s the nature of God’s love. It's just there and influences the lives of those it touches.

False religion in the name of Christianity is suspicious, protective, distrusting, critical, and prejudiced…whereas the freedom that Christ brings liberates us to love completely, be at peace, serve with vigor and be willing to learn and thrive in fellowship together.  This is the point that Jesus is trying to make concerning the attitude of the Pharisees, and even John’s disciples, as compared with those who would be His disciples…there is supposed to be a BIG difference.  And so it is amazing that believers today will still settle for a watered down gospel that is inept in order to empower their lives or make any real significant difference in this world, because it is more focused on keeping relatively meaningless regulations than on being like Jesus.  Jesus does not want us to settle for the old wine skins that we have in our lives that are incapable of producing love, joy and peace…but, wants us to be filled with the Spirit who can bring these virtues alive in us.  Jesus does not want us to settle for the old traditions, such as the illustration of keeping a regular fast for the purpose of keeping a regular fast, and miss the genuine life that He has to bring.  Jesus didn’t intend for us to do the same thing day after day, week after week, settling into a rote system without hardly lifting up our heads to breathe the spiritual air that is there for us to breathe.  Jesus did not intend for us to go through the motions of so as to miss out on what it is that He is really wanting to do in and through us!  This passage is the essence of Jesus’ religion…we need to consider and reconsider what it is that Jesus expects from us.  We have a mission here on this earth to fulfill, and we need to continue to invent and reinvent the wheel as it relates to what it is that Jesus wants us to discover in relationship to this.

Blessings, Don