Matthew 11

#nofilter

Jesus is hard to understand because we have so many filters. That’s why children find it easier.

I think of this chapter as about the filters, and Jesus showing us how great love, grace and relationships are designed to be when the filters are stripped away.

Because God is relational. 3 in one. Here it’s like Jesus is constantly texting the father.

John the Baptist gets wind of Jesus’ ministry in prison. His disciples ask Jesus if he’s it, is there something else?

No hint of motives. Was John gently directing his disciples towards Jesus’? Was he disappointed? Was Jesus more low-key than he expected?

No hint either of whether John was satisfied by the answer. It makes no difference because Jesus knows what he is doing. He simply announces what has been described an extra beatitude:

Blessed are those who are not offended by me

John is the last and greatest prophet, but that way of knowing God is a filter. The commentary said it’s like the brightest night is still darker than the dullest day. With Jesus, a new day has come.

And Jesus let’s fly at those who try to build their own comprehension to suit themselves, on top of partial revelation. He calls it a violent raid on the kingdom of God.

When fuller revelation and understanding is freely available, religious practices and other theories of knowledge can perversely operate to obscure God.

I think.. it’s a tricky passage!

Jesus comments on the spin people put on him and John… That John was too hard and critical and Jesus is too lush and compromised by mixing with corrupt people. Watch this space, he says: “wisdom is proved right by its deeds”.

He gets really angry about the towns, including his home that saw lot of miracles but were indifferent.

That’s when he does a check-in with the father in prayer, and mollifies his anger by rejoicing at what a leveller god’s love is.

Some of the simplest people get it from the smallest hint, and some of the most sophisticated struggle to grasp it when it’s right under their noses. And that’s how God likes it to be. You’ve got to strip away the baggage and unlearn.

He talks about the open and filter-free relationship he has with the father. And then he invites us in.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

v 28-30

His anger with the indifferent towns is ultimately the frustration of compassion for them. The way of struggle and complexity, of reaching forward in the dark like the prophets, or following leaders who are as blind as you are, they are gone. We can come direct to Jesus. The “message” translation called it the unforced rhythms of grace.

There is work to be done, sure, but relatively Jesus’ work it’s like rest from the struggle of not knowing Jesus.

His claims are astonishing. If you want to regard him simply as a great teacher, he is preposterously arrogant. He claims to be gentle and lowly of heart, …and able to choose who will know God.

It only works if he is God. If so, yes, God is humble, gentle, inviting us in, freely sacrificing himself so we know simple, abundant love.

All kind of sad and wintry here. I applied for some jobs yesterday. Its all in God’s hands.

Matthew 10

Salvation in a cup of water.

The last chapter ended with a quote from Jesus longing for workers to spread his message. It segues into him sending out the disciples as proxies in this chapter.

It’s a lean evangelistic organisation, low on infrastructure, and with zero budget.

Big on action. Big on trusting that God, who knows when each sparrow falls and how many hairs are on your head, won’t let you starve; won’t let you get tongue tied.

His instructions veer from tender to uncomfortably savage.

Expect rejection and betrayal. Work/life balance is summarised by “not peace but a sword”, that will cut apart families.

It’s low on theology. Their message is that “the kingdom heaven has come near”. They heal and drive out demons. The people who are going to, will get it. And don’t persist teaching if they don’t get it; move on.

The people are profoundly misled, the message has to cut through. Growing up with the devil running their house, they resemble him.

But any response will do. Even a person who just offers them a cup of water will not lose their reward.

It’s nothing much like our church, but the expected negativity is a lot like our world. That’s not necessarily damning of the church, but its notable how much he’s emphasising an awareness of the spiritual dimension lying close to the surface in all our interactions.

Part of the difference is that Jesus was time poor. I’m closing in on double his life span. He had stuff to do, which made their ministry of necessity itinerant. I have multi decade relationships in communities.

The lean-ness and the sensitivity to response seems to me like he’s preparing the disciples to be in a sort of spiritual mindful state. Present in the moment with their wits about them to read that spiritual dimension.

It’s mind-bending teaching.

Hebrews talks a lot about entering into god’s rest. But on earth that rest is alert, awake. On the upside, heaven is nearer and less complex than you would think. It’s always there in the background of your interactions.

Joy of part time employment… I wrote this entry from a cosy cafe during a storm, one of my all time favourite scenarios. Salvation in a cup of coffee?

Matthew 9

A second chapter of Jesus’ actions – mostly healings. This focuses in on the Jewish establishment’s response to him.

They view Jesus with open skepticism, and are threatened by him. It’s their role in the Bible. In all the interactions here, they are out of step with Jesus.

In various stories of healing here we get on one side:

  • a tax collector (Matthew, the author himself) and
  • his “sinner” dodgy friends, with whom Jesus has dinner after Matthew follows him,
  • those being healed,
  • the disciples of John the Baptist and
  • the “crowd”, the general populace.

The people in these groups get it. Jesus is amazing, he is there for them.

On the other side in each story is the negativity and sniping of the Pharisees and teachers who call him a blasphemer, criticise his choice of associations, and say his healing comes from the devil.

At the centre of it, in answer to Johns’ disciples’ sincere questions why Jesus doesn’t fast, Jesus’ metaphors about new wine in old skins, and patching old cloth with new fabric. They tear, they are not up to the task.

His teaching is a massive paradigm shift, a denial, to an extent, of what has been before.

The only old testament quote is from Hosea, Jesus came for the sick not the healthy. In the opening healing, Jesus asked the blind person if they believed he could help them, it was that person’s awareness of needing help and faith that Jesus could meet it that healed him.

It ends with Jesus seeming overwhelmed. So few get it, so much need.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

CH 9 v 36-38

His response to the attacks on him is compassion for the people trying to make sense of the world.

So far the book has been a credibility sandwich around Jesus’ claim to be God, and to be announcing the kingdom of God. That was the three chapter sermon on the mount.

Before it, 4 chapters of his origin steeped in scriptural prophesy and genealogical provenance. After it, 2 so far of his actions of undeniable godly power, and the challenge to respond honestly at face value to that.

And so it remains. The healings of Jesus are still awkward for people. It’s hard to hate his teaching of love and compassion, but the magical God-power element of healing, controlling weather and being the “chosen one” forces the response to go further than admiration. And he teaches that you must respond.

I went to the retirement event of my salvo friend Paul. An interesting mixture, the guy has a ministry to some vulnerable people. But so many honest harvesters. Workers for the kingdom.

Writing on Monday morning. Feeling a desire to be focused, disciplined and get on with it this week. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Matthew 8

This is more of a PowerPoint show than a biography. A playlist of greatest hits, organised by genre.

Which of course draws attention to how things are ordered and the editing choices.

We’ve had three amazing chapters of Jesus’teaching, today is a series of his acts showing his power, and the responses.

It starts with healings, which are examples of the faith of the recipients as well as Jesus’ power.

He has power over sickness, but he is excited by those with enough faith to ask for healing. This is a practical example of the themes from the sermon. Just ask, and you will be given.

It’s so easy to forget to ask, to carry all your problems alone.

The healings are put in the context of fulfilling scriptures, as Matthew does.

Next the power over nature, (calming a storm); and the forces of darkness (sending demons from two men into pigs).

The responses vary. The non Jewish Centurion earns counter-intuitive praise from Jesus for his faith. The Roman military commander recognised power when he saw it.

The disciples aren’t quite there yet, they are amazed at Jesus’ command of the weather. “Who is this man?”. You wonder who they thought when they dropped everything and followed him. Maybe they thought it would be just for a few days or a week, to find out what “fishers of men” meant.

The locals want rid of him. The herd of pigs full of demons, running into the sea is the last straw. Jesus? Not in my backyard!

The contrast in attitude of Jewish people and the Roman hangs over it. Though this book is clearly a quite specific plea to Jews to consider Jesus, it has been accused of being antisemitic. That tension will come back.

For my part, I’m not sure if a certain depression is making me feel sick, or sickness is making me feel depressed. But I’m sad and struggling to stay motivated, and my throat hurts.

Not majorly, yet. I’ve had a quite producive and enjoyable two days not working. What bliss that is! Did some DIY. I’m also just out of practice having so much self-directed time.

But the rest of my family do seem happier than me. I’ll pray for healing, just ask.

Started looking for jobs, did a work sheet about my purpose in life that a salvo friend sent me. It encouraged me to look outside myself. I’m going to his retirement afternoon tea on the weekend. I’m enjoying feeling open to new experiences.

Matthew 7

There’s a whole extra chapter of sermon on the mount. Who knew?

All these phrases are so well known to Christians, many are part of common culture.

This chapter has:

  • not judging the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in yours.
  • Pearls before swine.
  • Ask, seek and knock (Jesus is ready and waiting for you).
  • Do unto others…
  • The wide gate and the narrow gate.
  • Jesus warning of false prophets, to whom he’ll say “I never knew you”.  And
  • the foolish or wise builder who build on sand or rock.

Reading them, I had an odd experience of being distracted by old hurts. Partly a symptom of working in a Christian organisation.

I used “ask, seek and knock” as the framework for a major project that I was dumped from. I thought it was some of the best work I had done, but it was buried.

That started me on the path, as I read through, of casting myself as the victim of Jesus’ scenarios: my boss should have taken the log out of his eye. My pearls were before swine. If the tables were turned, I wouldn’t have treated them so badly…

I’m feeling sorry for myself, thrown out of my job when the economic situation is so bad. Feeling too old, tired and unconfident for another job change.

A day has passed, and I’ve read it again with the hurt subsided. There’s no way around it, I was being the person Jesus was criticising. I was judging, pointing to the speck in someone else’s eye.

The familiarity of the phrases belies the strangeness of Jesus’ flow of ideas, which undermine all my defences.

It jumps from our personal interactions to the search for God and back (Judge not, lest you be judged… ask seek knock … therefore, do unto others…).

There is a deep connection and flow between how we treat each other and deepening our relationship with God. There is an immediacy of god’s presence in our interactions, and of our interactions in God’s presence.

It also jumps disturbingly between the abundant generosity of god’s love (if earthly fathers love their children, how much more will your heavenly father) …and the rarity and difficulty of it (small and narrow is the gate that leads to life, few will find it)

There are false prophets and deceivers at every turn.

Jesus, you’re messing with me.

Of course you are!

Having shown me my pride, and thrown me from pillar to post, there at the bottom of the chapter is the rock, the word of God, Jesus’ words. All other ground is sinking sand.

Uniting it all is that humble swallowing of our pride, our acceptance that Jesus is king. Christianity is not a performance test, it is an acceptance test. Ask, seek, knock. Is all it takes.

The wide gate is our instincts, our incredibly strong addiction to looking out for number #1, as I did on the first read through. So many wise guys think they have life sussed. But they are flowing with the mainstream through that wide, obvious, self serving gate.

Jesus blesses victims of injustice, the beatitudes at the start said that. But how easily did I cling to my hurt greedily, as a debt the world owes me. As a blinder to my own need for God.

At a certain point we are accountable for choosing to listen to false prophets’ shortcuts and lies, because God has equipped us all with the ability to detect our own spiritual b.s.

The rock. Let it break you, let it support you.

Give me wisdom, father, as I use this time to order my thoughts, and do the work ahead of me. Give me humility as I prioritise my objectives. Guide and guard my interactions. Take away the prickles, help me focus on letting generosity flow into my interactions.

Matthew 6

You look after the sincerity, God will look after the perfection.

The sermon on the mount continues. Yesterday Jesus talked about being obvious to the world. Be like salt, be like light shining out.

I was interested that to a bunch of strangers this is quoted as among the first things he said. Giving that responsibility to those with little theological knowledge. To just anybody!

The teaching in today’s chapter is mainly about being sincere inyour private relationship with God. That is what Jesus says should be the foundation of your presence in the world. Thoughout the Bible, that honest humble sincerity seems so much more valuable to God than lots of knowledge.

Give to the needy because of your sincere conviction before God, not to work the human dynamic of what is considered moral. Ditto prayer, fasting and your attitude to wealth.

He tosses in the lord’s prayer, as you do. It’s a rich section that I can’t do justice in one day’s entry.

This sincerity before God introduces a reciprocity. These lessons are applications of the two great commands, to love God and thereby know how to love your neighbor.

Forgive as you would be forgiven. Give without making need shameful, as you would want help to be. Pray, earn money for the benefit of others, not to build up yourself. That is reciprocated as treasure in heaven. As above, so below; as below, so above.

I read an article this morning that struck me as being full of this spirit, by a gay “teacher in residence” in the US reformed church, where he may never be ordained, about why he stays.

He is in no way ashamed to be gay, but he is present and humble before those who do not agree with him. Here he is discussing a warm-ish email he got from a congregation member who initially would not greet him.

Emails like hers remind me of the power of presence. Our bodies and stories can accomplish what no court can. Even if she never changes her views on sexuality, perhaps I’ve been able to complicate her narrative and to instigate a pause, into which a thought might emerge: Maybe things weren’t as simple as I thought. But that line of thinking applies equally to me. Perhaps she has complicated my narrative, too. She has reminded me that the law that governs my faith doesn’t discriminate, even — and especially — when it comes to those who might discriminate against me.

Jeff Chu https://nyti.ms/38s4fxd

The legal template set by Jesus for the Christian faith says this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Even if I change no hearts, minds or souls, that higher law remains. The instruction is to love God — and to love my neighbor as she is, not as she might someday be. I crave that kind of love myself, even as I struggle to extend it to others. 

Jeff Chu

Beautiful, I think. It has that connection between private honesty before God flowing to loving interactions between people. In the way they disagree, they are being salt and light to each other, and templates of the kingdom of God.

This is the way of Jesus’ scary perfection then. When he says you should gouge out an eye that causes you to sin.

Give up trying by your own efforts to show off to God and other people what a good person you are. You’ll never get there. Every letter and more of the law is fulfilled if we give ourselves with sincerity to god’s mercy. If we sincerely receive Jesus’ perfect transforming love, a little of it will overflow out to others.

Matthew 5

Being perfect.

Jesus has started preaching… Now two chapters of what he is preaching. This chapter is full of those well known sayings of Jesus that are also strange and hard.

He lists a series of expectations on behaviour that set a very high bar. Impossibly high you’d think, except that God reaches it and demands it of those in the kingdom.

Simply being angry is like murdering. Lusting is as bad as cheating.  Not doing anything you say you will is like breaking the most solemn oath. Love your enemies.

In summary, be perfect, as God is perfect.

We can’t hear this. It’s too much to ask. This is the kingdom of God, perfect implementation of the law from the Torah.

No legalism allowed, no weasel words. You’ve got to be owning the spirit of it, doubling down on it and being creative in ways to go above and beyond.

Before that, at the start are the beatitudes, beautiful counter-intuitive statements about who will be in God’s Kingdom.

Blessed are those who mourn, are poor in spirit, meek. They inherit earth and heaven, and find comfort. Some of these are states of being, such as mourning. God’s law is not necessarily a code of behaviour. Is perfection sometimes simply passively deserving justice?

Then the active attributes – peacemakers, pure hearted, being merciful, desperate for rightness, to the extent of being persecuted

This is the way of perfection. It is the way of the forgotten, the victims and those with empathy who sympathise with them.

Jesus hates hypocrisy and showiness. He loves lives of sincerity, passion on behalf of what is right, humility.

It will become clearer tomorrow when we get to the second half.

Today is stern. The kingdom he is announcing is a great place to be: no cruelty, comfort for your pain. But we are not fit for it, we know it.

As close as we get to it is championing the cause of the weak and unjustly suffering. It’s like the impossible rules are to be forgotten, they are laid out there, but the content is passion for others.

“Perfection”, it seems to turn out is an attitude, a vibe thing.

Thinking about my life, what next. It’s a message that isn’t easily digested.

Matthew 4

The indigenous church within our church has gone digital with COVID, and has input from across Australia. We have wonderful free ranging discussions. Last week was on shame and honour.

Theirs is a shame and honour culture, morality is understood in relational rather than absolute and individualistic terms, such as guilt or righteousness.

In passing the pastor, uncle Ray, mentioned the white addictions: wealth, power and control. It was a fair cop, he was also being very open about the way shame culture can do a lot of damage within his community.

Jesus is tempted in this chapter with his God qualities after 40 days of starving his human body.

“Why? Why?” says the devil. “Make all the food you want! Throw yourself off a tower and watch the angels catch you. Rule the world”. Wealth, power and control.

I’m trying to stay calm, but on some level fear and sadness have gripped me as, months after being made redundant my income has actually finally reduced by half this pay cycle. At the end of July, it’s down to zero.

After this temptation Jesus starts public preaching and healing. He gets fame. People with needs come for healing, plus those with spiritual longing, presumably, to hear his “good news” of the kingdom of God.

Giving him a listen, taking advantage of the medical element, is a fairly low commitment, high potential benefit transaction for the crowds who come.

But between Jesus’ extraordinary voluntary commitment to his human condition and mission, and his initial surge of popularity we have the calling of the disciples.

Matthew makes almost no record of why they found Jesus so attractive. He said “I’ll make you fishers of men” and the just drop everything and follow.

I doubt it would have been enough for me. To end my addiction to my feeble portions of wealth, power and control.

But that is where I feel called and challenged now. To let go. To follow.

Going away this weekend. With a couple of friends. Myself and Kelly quite stressed. Hope it is relaxing.

Hope I have some time for mediation and contemplation.

Matthew 3

Loving Jesus. The account of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus.

We get prophesy from Isaiah, this is the highway, the straight path in the desert, the cry in the wilderness.

And John is a prophet, directing very familiar condemnation to the hypocritical leaders who arrive, and it seems baptising them for repentance if they ask.

Jesus, now a man, arrives. This is a very lean and focused narrative. A sermon inspired by life events rather than a biography. His first words are quite incidental, assuring John that it is proper to Baptise him.

It doesn’t make theological sense, Jesus doesn’t need to repent.

But the voice of God, the creator is actually heard. And the spirit in one of its rare visible forms descending as a dove. Ok, bad theology/logic, great messaging.

Jesus is God’s son, well pleasing to the father. The spirit is in him. Three chapters in, the miracle of Jesus has been trumpeted, shouted to me, through history, through prophesy, through miracles and overwhelming signs.

The end of injustice and hypocrisy. The axe is waiting for the way of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, God will not be spun or twisted. God is here with us, we can see for ourselves. Look to Jesus.

Good news for the poor, release, love, forgiveness.

Christianity is all about going ape over Jesus. The meaning of him is easy and vast. He’s exciting. His life is a super rich diet of the meaning of life.

He brings confidence and focus to my existence. Significance to my choices. Eternal connection to my actions, no matter how minute.

The Bible has set up this scalable aspect to truth – things that are true in the smallest moments connect to the largest cosmic truths. The subtlest most ephemeral moment of truth is also for the ages. God can breathe out stars and be aware that your head is one hair down. Hold in view the ecosystem and every grain of sand. Everything is all joined up by god’s unchanging truth.

And here, at the centre is Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

My task today is responding in love to endless angry, and some positive messages to the Salvos on Facebook, mostly expressing people’s fear and disappointment about hypocrisy. This is spiritual work.

Let me at it, the universe is actually a wonderful place, the axe is at the bad bits, the truth will out. Thank you Jesus!

Matthew 2

The birth of Jesus with the Christmas cards largely missing. We do get the wise men, the maji. But not the stable, not the shepherds, no oxen standing by.

It’s political. The horror of the slaughter of the innocents is there, and political jousting between herod and the maji.

The point is credentialing Christ as the Messiah, through the fulfillment of prophesy and the auspicious events of his birth… A star, recognition by authority figures as king, even threat.

Each event is arranged and narrated with a concluding prophesy.

I am enjoying a sense of God’s providence, I’m feeling trusting. So it’s apt. I have a sense of God holging the strings of history in his hands, mine and the worlds.

Not sure why. The world is in a bad place, and I am not really coming to terms with what a bad place I am in too. I’m off full pay, down a few hundred dollars per week, and waiting for even that contract to end.

I’m drifting, prevaricating, just floating along. It’s a weakness of mine. Something I’m sure I’ll address soon. Trying to find time for the kids too. But I have a sense of calm, of timing.

It is all in God’s hands.