Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 21

Ambrogio_Bon_-_Izgon_trgovcev_iz_templja

Den-cleaning

Robber’s Roost was considered impregnable. Conveniently hidden by a maze of canyons and rocky bluffs, the natural cavernous fortress was hideout to Butch Cassidy and his infamous Wild Bunch gang of the late 1800s. For more than thirty years the cattle-rustling, bank-robbing outlaws used the cave as headquarters for their clandestine operations. It served their purposes allowing them to avoid detection, interference or capture by authorities. Yet eventually pressure from sheriffs and lawmen of the day forced the roost’s colourful inhabitants to abandon their rocky hideaway. Some escaped to South America, some were captured and incarcerated, and many met their end in classic Wild West shoot-outs of the day.

Robber’s Roost is not the only den to experience a figurative disinfecting. Mathew records for us in the twenty-first chapter of his biography of Jesus a dramatic incident of den cleaning. It was the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, and He had entered Jerusalem that day amid cheering, palm branch-waving crowds. Rumor had it that this man from Nazareth might become the political leader to free the Jews from Roman Empirical domination.

As He approached the Jewish temple that day, a strong smell of livestock pervaded the air. The jingling of coins changing hands and grumbling of bartering voices replaced the usual prayerful murmur heard in the outer courts. Walking through the gate, an array of lenders and moneychangers at their tables bombarded Jesus’ senses, opportunists capitalizing on the influx of travellers in town for the sacred festival of Passover. The livestock brokers were tendering for sale birds and animals at exorbitant prices for the required sacrifices. The opportunity for profit was tremendous.

It was obvious that the Jewish religious leaders were in league with these opportunists. They were using the temple culture to line their own pockets and the commotion resulting from the business was music to their ears.

But Jesus was appalled; He moved swiftly into the courts and surveyed the chaotic scene. Something must be done to clear out the courts and return the temple to its intended purpose. Driving out the buyers and sellers of merchandise with a voice of authority, Jesus moved from stall to stall, overturning moneychangers’ tables and upending livestock vendors’ benches.

“My house,” he quoted from centuries-old Scripture, “will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” The vendors grabbed up their equipment and scurried away like cockroaches at daybreak. As the clamor and odour of the temple-market began to dissipate, wounded and disenfranchised townsfolk began to return, shuffling and limping into the courts, searching for the Man of Wonders. With them came children chanting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” repeating the rally cry they had heard outside the city gates. With gentle tenderness, Jesus healed all who came to him.

The description of Jesus clearing the temple is a delightful one. Stories of wrongs being righted satisfy our sense of justice, gratify our desire for chaos to be transformed into peace and calm. But let’s not think that this narration is merely historical. God’s Word is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12,13).

Our hearts are like that temple of Jesus’ day. God intended each of us to serve a holy purpose; our lives are meant to be a setting where He is honoured, where dialogue with Him enhances our life experience, and where we feast on His goodness daily.

But alas, we’ve turned the sacred into the profane. We’ve desecrated the temple of our lives by making it a robber’s roost of opportunism. Our interior lives have become chaotic, pleasure-driven marketplaces to one extent or another. Is this not true? What can be done? Who can help us?

Only Jesus can clean out thieves’ dens, repair desecrated temples, and restore damaged hearts. Only He makes a place where we can find the healing of heart and soul we long for. The stench and the clamour do not need to define us. We have a resource in Jesus. Let’s invite Him into our temple-courts today to do what only He can do for us—make us what we were intended to be: people whose lives bring God delight and glory.

(Photo Credit: [[File:Ambrogio Bon – Izgon trgovcev iz templja.jpg|thumb|Ambrogio Bon – Izgon trgovcev iz templja]])

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 20

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First and Last.

“Grant,” requested the woman kneeling before Jesus, “that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” It was a bold request. Since the favour was not for herself surely she was justified in making her request known. Her sons, James and John, were two of Jesus’ closest companions. It was only reasonable they should reign with Jesus when He came into His glorious rule as Messiah. A mother knows best.

When the other ten disciples got wind of the discussion, we’re told, “they were indignant.” Why? Did they think it was an impertinent and audacious request to make of the Master? Or were they perturbed because they hadn’t thought to ask first? If roles of power were being handed out, perhaps, they worried, they were at the back of the line.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” explained Jesus in a tone that immediately caught His followers’ attention. They had begun to bicker in twos and threes over who had the best leadership potential. “Their high officials,” He continued, “exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The murmuring group became silent. Second to Jesus’ own prophesied death, this may have been the worst news the disciples had heard from this enigmatic man. Whoever wants to become great must be a servant, even a slave? This was not what they wanted to hear. What about power? What about being on the winning team? Let’s face it: we all want to make the most of the opportunity of our lives. What Jesus was suggesting sounded ludicrous then, and continues to irk us now, if we are honest enough to admit it. We don’t want to be anyone’s servant.

Jesus was describing a character trait that God not only values but also is mandatory in His economy. Jesus was modeling it, and every serious follower of His must accept and embrace it if we want to get on with Him. We must develop a heart and hands that serve others. Somehow it is easier to serve God than to serve other people. He deserves it, we reason, but other people do not. It’s an oxymoron; rather than focusing on achieving our own goals, we are called to assist others in theirs. We are being asked to set aside our own hopes and dreams to lift up others at our expense. It’s unthinkable!

Yet according to Jesus, servanthood is the key character trait for true greatness. God knows it takes this mindset and application to make us truly human. In lifting up others we somehow participate in fulfilling our God-given destiny. By giving up earthly power we position ourselves for eternal significance. .

It’s a hard lesson for those of us who think we deserve better. It is for me. There is something in each of us that wants the kind of greatness that rules, that has autonomy over oneself at least and perhaps some authority over others. That was what Friedrich Nietzsche envisioned in his Ubermuensch philosophy. The online Urban Dictionary states, “The Ubermuensch is an independent individual who has the power to banish herd instincts from his mind….The Ubermuensch is the opposite of Jesus Christ.” How true.

In Matthew 20, just before describing the servanthood of His followers, Jesus prophesied his own imminent path to greatness.

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” He explained, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” This was the calling by which Jesus was living, by which He would die, and by which He would be raised to His right place of eternal greatness.

While we are not called to die for the ransom of humanity nor to rise to Christ’s seat of honour, our calling is not dissimilar. Jesus explains we must, in a way, die each day of our lives: We must die to selfishness; we must reject “lording it” over anyone in a way that grasps power; we must find the joy in being last in line rather than in grasping for first and let God take care of the eternal rewards. This is true greatness. Ready to begin?

(Photo Credit: [[File:Feet washing, India, 1963 (16379126443).jpg|thumb|Feet washing, India, 1963 (16379126443)]]Mennonite Board of Missions Photographs, 1898-1967. IV-10-007.2 Box 4 Folder 14. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 19

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Mission Impossible.

“Hell on earth…something like Armageddon” is how it is described. Fort McMurray, Alberta is ablaze and the fire is growing by leaps and bounds. A war zone of charred homes, abandoned vehicles, and blackened tree-trunks mark the fire’s passage. More than 2000 square kilometres of tinder-dry land have fallen prey to the fire’s limitless appetite and the destruction is not finished yet. Stopping an inferno of this magnitude seems impossible.

When natural disasters like this wildfire assault us we are shocked. The enormity of the force surprises us because we are more familiar with order and organization than with chaos, with human mastery than with powerlessness.

As Jesus traveled by foot throughout the Jordan River region described in Matthew 19 he observed similar phenomena within people’s lives. He saw not external wildfires observable by flame, smoke or blackened arboreal remains, but internal conflagrations. Wildfires of the human spirit beneath façades of social etiquette—natural disasters of an internal type—are not hidden to the One who sees the heart of man.

“Now a man came up to Jesus,” we’re told, “and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’”

That seems like an honest and innocent enough question. The man had a desire for immortality and he figured it was in connection with doing good. Coming to Jesus for an expert opinion seems like a good choice. But listen to Jesus’ response.

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good..”

Why is Jesus challenging this seeker? What misconception, what perspective or worldview does this seeker embrace that Jesus needs to clear up before the man is ready for an answer to his ‘eternal life’ query?

Jesus seems to be trying to shift the man’s focus from self (“…what good thing must I do…”)—to God (“…only One who is good…”). Did you catch that? The man is entirely preoccupied with himself and has forgotten God. He goes on to claim (according to the gospel accounts by Mark and Luke) to have kept, flawlessly, every one of the Ten Commandments—but Jesus observes it to be a focus on what the man himself has accomplished; what is conspicuously absent is his awareness of God—of any relationship with God.

Somehow, Jesus has spotted this distortion in the man’s thinking and wants to help the man see for himself where he has gone wrong. He has diverged from loving God to loving self, driven and obsessed by what he can accumulate for himself.

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus finally seems to acquiesce, “go sell your possessions…then come, follow me.” This was not what the young man had wanted to hear. No other prospective follower had been presented with this criteria. But Jesus knows individual hearts—yours and mine included. We’re told the man “had great wealth.” The penny has dropped. The heart of the matter has come to the surface. The man not only owns many things, but his identity is wrapped up in what he owns. Even his pursuit of eternal life is revealed as another quest to accumulate something for himself. And so he turns away, because he is not willing to leave his first love—self—for love of God.

We may use labels like hedonist, narcissist, self-absorbed egoist, but those labels distance us from associating ourselves with this one man’s fault. Honest self-evaluation can be painful. If we look carefully enough at our own lives, many of us will see something in ourselves that is not pretty. We thought we were on track with our spiritual lives, but something has slipped in, turning our focus from loving God first—dare we admit it—to loving ourselves first.

“Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ disciples ask him, seeing the rich young man turn away. They are still distracted and sidetracked by the picture of success that had radiated from the wealthy urbanite. They could not see the inner chaos beneath the slick exterior the young man presented.

“With man this is impossible,” Jesus answers with a penetrating look at each of his disciples. Perhaps at that moment each of them saw themselves a little more clearly. They too were self-centred. They too loved themselves more than they loved God. They too housed an internal inferno of chaos carefully hidden from others. Was it hopeless?

But Jesus was not finished. “With man this is impossible,” he had begun, “but with God all things are possible.” This was and is and will always and only be the answer to all our pursuits: God. God is the One who is strong enough and good enough to extend His life to us, transforming us from the inside out, making us fit for immortality. It is all about Him. And what He wants is a loving one-on-one relationship with you and with me that puts everything into perspective. Selfishness, then, will naturally give way to selflessness, hedonism to a God-honouring lifestyle. This is the mission Jesus was employed to perform and continues today in the lives of people like you and me—people who are tired of working with the impossible. Thank God that with Him all things are possible.

(Photo Credit: [[File:By DarrenRD [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.jpg|thumb|Landscape view of wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray (cropped)]])