How many prayers have we started by asking God why he didn’t save us from misery? If you had helped me, this wouldn’t have happened. So many times, we learn of Lazarus as a story of resurrection, of Jesus’ miracles. But, knowing of his friend’s illness and death, Jesus delayed his journey for two days. He told his disciples he was going to wake Lazarus up, and they thought that he must be sleeping. Jesus however intended to raise him from the dead so that he could show them more than healing. His disciples needed to see Him overcome death itself. Those with Lazarus kept watching the horizon looking for Jesus to appear. Each morning, they were hoping this would be the one that Jesus would come and heal his friend as he had healed so many before The only plan they saw was a miracle and assumed that any friend of Jesus’ would be protected from death. They believed that Jesus would show up, and if Jesus showed up, their brother would be made well.
As Christians, we want sometimes for our relationship with our Father to grant us privileges or to see Him do things for us because we know Him. I was raised thinking I had something special with God. I had to learn the hard way that while God has always been there for me he is not at my beck and call. I can remember all too well the times that I sat, as Jonah did, waiting for judgement to come to his enemies. Christ is not a weapon for me to aim at someone. He is the one exposing me to all those inconvenient pieces of myself that get in the way of showing love to my neighbors. As we want to shake the dust off and draw our weapon on others, He is trying to show us how he loved us, before we deserved it. He never comes when and how we want. He is just always what we need.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
God has never once promised an easy life to us, asking only that we bear our burdens and stand firm in our faith. He never said it would be without pain, only that we would not be alone, ever. On the hardest of weeks, I am reminded that I can not fight with those around me or give out the weight I am carrying to make my own load lighter. I have to love those that work against me, which is His hardest test of all. I want to bring Peter’s sword and defend myself and my Lord, but He first loved us as we are to first love those around us. Today, I just wanted to share the love that He gives me, to find my strength in Him, and to always love others, even when I’m not sure how. I am only human, yet God has always loved me.
As Christians we have always seemed to miss the point God is making because of our own personal expectations of His love and plan for our lives. In Jesus’ time, we know how many of the traditionalist Jews struggled to see the son of God right there in front of them because he didn’t fit their traditionally taught image of the Messiah. He was disruptive to every religious group he found, because he wanted them to see and receive the grace he was offering. The best known piece of this was the Pharisees, who followed every obscure tradition they could get their hands on in an attempt to lead the Jews to salvation, riding the wave of power that it provided. In many situations, we see Jesus and those following him clash with them, pushing back against the traditions and judgements they made that got in the way of God’s love.
The Pharisees tried time and again to trap Jesus with their rules and into the old traditions that they enforced. One of the most blatant examples of this was when they threw the adulterous woman in front of a crowd in one of his sermons and told him, as though he didn’t know, that the law of Moses required that she be stoned. They were most likely trying to get him to violate Jewish law by saying she shouldn’t be stoned or Roman law by saying it should be done without a lawful trial. Their conviction to prove that the real Christ would bring down fire and judgement on those who fell short of the many laws was a misplaced one. Jesus simply put them off with writing in the dirt, trying to show love outweighed the stones in their hands. All He said was, let he that is without sin cast the first stone, knowing that this would trap them; He admitted to the Jewish law calling for punishment but prevented them from action knowing their hearts. Every one of the Pharisees began to slip away without further disruption leaving the woman for him to condemn, but Jesus was not looking to condemn her. Often times, we are taught this lesson as a way to forgive each other and to look past our sins to the bigger picture and to God’s plan. However, Jesus, himself, didn’t fit in so well with the church leadership, because he believed in love first. To the Pharisees, they believed that they knew His plan, that they were truly helping the people to come closer to God through purity and obedience. How a man claiming to be God incarnate could not bring the judgement and authority they believed in didn’t make sense to them. .The religious authorities then as now had stopped listening to God’s plan of love and faith in the Lord, preferring to judge the people and impose man-made standards. The Son of God didn’t fit in with religious authorities; we should need to concern ourselves with our own spiritual walk rather than the expectations of others.
We find comfort in the standards that we hold ourselves and our fellow Christians to: how we dress and how we act when we come to see the Lord in His house. But many times, I’ve seen this applied to newcomers, to those who aren’t even sure of their basic faith let alone a dress code. They could not possibly know the restraint that we’ve taught ourselves, so rather than welcoming their eagerness, we judge based on rules they never knew. Jesus of Nazareth was a Middle Eastern nomad travelling with a pack of less than upstanding men who rarely bathed or changed clothes, claiming to speak the Word of God. He would have been filthy to us, obnoxiously vocal, and more than likely we would have avoided sitting next to Him in a pew from smell alone. Remember that organized religion at this time was the Temple at Jerusalem, to us it would have seemed as structured as a rehearsed play: everyone had their places and knew their roles. I’ve been in many services where a man like that, or a whole family, would be escorted out by the deacons for disrupting service and worship, at times for saying amen too much, my own father doing so by request of the pastor. Seeing these “disruptions” bothered me, even before I knew why. Surely God was in the service and that needed respect, but how was it right to evict someone from the house of God? I wondered then as I wonder now if we as a church ever lost a chance to bring someone to Christ, because we were too busy throwing him out unawares.
Jesus was disruptive, first and foremost, to every religious group he found, because they led by human intention having structured the inspiration of God right out. He seized every opportunity he found to teach them, to save them, and to bring them back to that personal relationship with Him. He, as a newcomer and a foreigner to every church he walked into, taught the people with the Word of God. To the priests and leadership, this was a man who was pretending to understand God’s Word in a way only church leadership was ordained to do. When he got inside, he changed lives and worked miracles, to accredit himself as the Son of God and to then give them a true representation of God’s love directly man to man. Before he left, he would make sure to disturb the misplaced opinions of the church leadership and teach them what was expected of them from His teachings. Jesus came to be the man beside us in the pew, to remind us that a personal relationship with God was always the goal, with God’s love. Yet the Son of God would be turned away now because he was disruptive of our status quo. How many times have we missed a lesson in His love because we were too afraid of who may be on the other side to answer the door when someone knocks?
So often when I start a conversation about religious differences, both of us come to the fight prepared to fight to the death for each of our beliefs, because we know we’re right. Our passion for our faith can be destructive to communicating with others and to growing in our faith, because we believe that we know everything or that we have nothing more to learn. Often times, we are Peter, using a sword to defend Jesus with, from anything or anyone that could endanger him as if the divine can be harmed by our opinions.
As they all stood there in shock, one man holding the side of his head and screaming in pain. No one was listening to anything Peter had to say right then. Armed guards had drawn back in shock and disgust. The other disciples reeling back in horror. All they could see was the bloody sword in his hands and the man’s ear on the ground. Even though Peter had never been a fighting man, he’d purchased a sword to defend Jesus, and hidden it for just such a moment to prove his faith. But Jesus didn’t congratulate him. His first words, whether the story is being told by John, Mark, or Matthew, was instruction first, lesson later. “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
When Peter was convinced that he would have to fight someone to defend Jesus, he hurt someone unnecessarily, with Jesus standing right there ready to handle it better. Had Peter trusted in Jesus’ ability to handle things in his own way, to know the dangers and to share his story in a positive way, Peter would never have needed the sword to defend his faith in the first place. Jesus spoke words and touched people’s lives. Around him were men who made profit from him and those who built reputations. Sometimes our human error is in trying to win a fight that God told us to teach in love. In His ministry, we have to remember that He has a plan and He will use us as he sees fit, as long as we share His love first, and those that He wants to teach will be taught in their own way.