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I thought about this passage today found in Matthew 10 and in Luke 9. It reads like this.
He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:3-5)
Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (Matthew 10:9-14)
Now this is interesting. Especially the one in Matthew because there, the verses just prior tell us that Jesus forbid his disciples to go to the Gentiles or any part of Samaria. Why he might have said that is a whole other topic. That he said it is useful to understanding the today’s focal text. And that’s because, we see that Jesus is sending his disciples to God’s chosen people — the Israelites.
The challenge Jesus lays before the disciples is simple, but daunting. “Go,” he says, to proclaim the good news that the “kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” And while they’re at it he commissions them to serve the Israelites by healing, resurrecting, and cleansing. But they are to do this with no bag for belongings, no staff to defend themselves, and no money for provisions. Not even an extra shirt.
His reason, “for the worker is worth his keep.”
This is the only question that really matters.
In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks this question to his disciples. I find the question rather peculiar. We give the disciples a lot of credit for dropping everything and following Jesus, but usually that credit comes with the assumption that they actually have an idea about who this “Jesus” character was in the first place. I think we’re a little late in the game to be asking about who Jesus is, especially in light of what they’d given up to follow him. And yet, Jesus still asks.
More peculiar is that by this time in the ministry, the disciples have seen Jesus do a great deal of miracles. Which is kind of a big deal. If I hadn’t asked who Jesus was before, I would certainly be asking after watching each miracle play out in front of my eyes. By this time in Matthew Jesus has performed countless healings (however many were in that crowd talked about in Matt. 14), fed over 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves (the same crowd in Matthew 14), and walked on water, and even enabled Peter to do so. Seeing all of this, can there be any doubt who Jesus is? And yet, Jesus still asks.
And then there’s the great teaching. Parable after parable. Illustration after illustration. Sermon after sermon. They watched Jesus confound the Pharisees and scribes, and they heard Jesus teach about loving our enemies, how to pray, how to love, and how to live. Most of us would love to hear teaching and instruction straight from the mouth of Jesus. The disciples enjoyed such teaching in spades, both among large groups of people, and in the intimacy of their small company of twelve. They lived with the masterful teacher, learning from his words and his actions. And yet, Jesus still asks.
When I read this question, the first thing I want to talk about is “judging.” Like so many words, judging has a different social definition than the literal definition. These days, judging someone means disagreeing with a choice they’ve made. If I were to say I enjoyed Coke, and you told me Coke was bad for me, I might tell you not to judge me for liking Coke.
Judging, however, is rightly defined in a legal sense. That is, a judge determines justice in a given scenario and has the power to exact penalty or pardon in order to achieve that justice.
I suppose we could say that both of these definitions have come to define the church in one way or another. Otherwise we wouldn’t even be talking about this question. And sure, there are other key words in this question that probably need defining, like “Christian” and “retreating.”
But instead of breaking down those words, I’m just going to try to answer the question straight up. As I see it, there are really two questions here: “Does being a Christian mean judging culture?” and “Does being a Christian mean retreating from culture?” First, let’s talk judging.
Of all the miracles Jesus performs, this one probably gets the most scrutiny from non-believers. Mainly because, on its surface, it seems like Jesus is just showing off. What reason could Jesus possibly have to be strolling on a lake? Most of the other miracles Jesus performs have an immediate impact on someone else’s life: a healing, the feeding of a crowd of thousands of people with a lunch fit for two, and exorcising demons.
I’ve heard this passage preached many times, most of which cover the “what” in this passage — namely, the part Peter plays in the story. We’ll get there soon enough, but before we do, let’s look a bit at why Jesus may have been out there standing on water in the first place.
That Alone Time…
A couple weeks ago we looked at Matthew 14:13-21 where we learned that Jesus was looking for some alone time after hearing about the death of John The Baptist. On his way there, a few thousand people (and by few, I mean at least eight or nine) came to see him for healing. He heals them, then feeds all of them until they were satisfied, with just two fish and five loaves.
This is the event preceding the “Immediately after” found at the start of Matt. 14:22. Immediately after the people had been healed and fed, and after he’d made his point with the 12 baskets of leftovers, Jesus put his disciples in a boat and told them go on ahead. Then he everyone away so that he could get back to that planned alone time on the mountainside with God.
He was there all night. In fact, he was there so long the boat carrying the disciples had gotten pretty far ahead of him.
I think this is a trick question.
Most of the people asking this question aren’t really asking about the certainty of going to heaven. What they really want to know is either your idea about “certainty” in general, as it pertains to religion, or your idea about heaven. It’s a setup question, a fastball down the middle meant for you to hit and get on base so that the next question can be a pop-up fly and lead to a double play.
So in response to this question, I’d normally ask, “Well, what do you mean by certain?” or “What do you mean by heaven?” At that point, the conversation usually splits off into varying pathways that, I hope, leads to their real issue. We’ll do a similar thing here. We’ll do heaven first. Then certainty.
Heaven has been a fascinating, if not dubious, idea throughout human history. It is a place most people ( those who believe in life after death) really want to go, despite not really knowing what this place is like. For most people, heaven is about ideas: harmony, painlessness, light, happiness, restoration. I say most of our ideas of heaven represent our inner desire to see things as they really should be. Deep down, we want the wrongs righted, and for justice to rule and reign. Or, we want true happiness (and this is where the heavenly interpretations start to take different form) for an eternity. Our heavenly fascination is meant to point us to God. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always do that.
I once heard someone talking about how people make decisions — how we all walk around with a neon sign flashing in our brains that asks “What’s in it for me?” For so many, heaven is the ultimate answer to this question. It is the great cash-in for a life of religions sacrifice, good deeds, humanitarianism, and the general hellishness that is life on earth. It is, for many, a reward for a life well-lived. A resting place for the weary. A headquarters for the battles fought on earth.
And though we don’t know exactly what heaven is, we still want to go because we know what heaven isn’t. It isn’t Hell, which is definitely not the place to go after for an eternity. We don’t need the details for Heaven. Hell’s description is deterrent enough to make anyone want to go anywhere but there. Clearly, in the end (literally), heaven is the place to be.
We’ve all prayed prayers that don’t seem to get answered.
Matthew 15:21-28 is one of those passages most Christians would rather not talk about. Or, if they do, they’d rather stay on the story’s surface. They fear digging too deeply casts Jesus into a negative, which may lead to “confusion.”
But the passage IS in the Bible… on purpose. That fact makes it imperative that we dig into it.
The Silent Elephant in The Room
Look, Jesus just seems rude here. For real. And that’s saying it lightly. Not only does he completely ignore this Canaanite woman when she asks him for help, but he justifies his actions to the disciples before calling her a dog… right to her face.
It’s clear. This woman had exasperated the disciples. We can tell by their request to just give her what she wanted so she would go away. Their exasperation is a key piece here. It tells us that Jesus had not simply ignored this woman on one or two of her requests. She’d been pestering for quite some time, repeatedly feeling unheard and unrecognized. “She keeps crying out after us,” is what the disciples said. She’d become a nuisance and the disciples didn’t want to help her, they just wanted her gone. “Jesus, just do this thing and get her outta here. She’s working on our nerves!”
The idea of a triune God is one of the most mysterious things about Christianity. If you grew up in church you’ve probably heard of The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). And if you’re like me, it probably took you a while to really start thinking about what those words really meant.
Who exactly are these characters? And are we talking about one God, or three Gods?
Let’s just put it out there that this construct is going to difficult. That’s okay. Difficult doesn’t have to mean impossible. I suspect the difficulty comes with the suggestion of something existing that breaks the rules we use to understand existence. For us, we are born, we must grow, then we die. We live in a world of beginnings and endings. We live in a material world, where things are seen and measured. We live in time and space, where only one thing can occupy an given space at a given time.
So when we start dealing with a core construct of a God who is eternal, immaterial and not bound by time and space we should expect mini explosions in our brains. The very “other”ness of God is one of the precise things that makes him who he is — an infinitely more complex being than us.
All of that is to say, again, we should expect some difficulty. And that’s ok.
You Tired? Don’t Worry, God Can Still Use You.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Let’s jump right in. The thing I find most interesting in this passage is that Jesus was basically trying to get some alone time. I don’t why it’s so interesting to me, but it is. Maybe it’s because I don’t imagine Jesus being afraid, and his desire to get away could be perceived as “running” from Herod. Or, I don’t imagine Jesus as being very despondent, and yet his “withdrawing” could be perceived as a chance to grieve the loss John the Baptist.
That’s what Jesus had heard, you know, in verse 13 — about the details of John the Baptist’ death. From a human perspective, I think we can all understand wanting to get to a solitary place after news of the death of a cousin. And not just any cousin, but one who got you. One who understood. One who labored with you to spread a ministry that would change the entire world. If I look at like that, then maybe I can see how Jesus might want to take a minute.