Sunday, February 22, 2015

The clean and unclean...

I fainted/fell early this morning and hurt one of my toes.  I keep thinking I am going to hurt my head, but I do have that horrid shag carpet in my bedroom.  Lots of cushioning.  Somehow I hurt my toe as I fell against the antique trunk at the end of my bed.  Since I cannot see well, I couldn't figure out why it hurt so much, but I worked myself back to sleep so that I could get up to watch the Daytona 500.

Even in the light and more or less awake, I couldn't see my foot.  After many attempts to try and get my inordinately near-sighted eyes nearer my foot, I discovered that, in my great talent for awkward falling injuries, I somehow managed to rip off my toenail.  In case you are wondering, my toe really hurts.

I only have ten toes.  One of them I have broken so many times that it is sort of a squished, non-functioning always-sore mess.  That's my left small toe. I break it because I whack my feet and hips and shoulders and thighs into things that I think I have cleared with my person, but have not.

Then, in my getting-a-pocket-Book of Concord joy a few years ago, I turned to leave my room and smashed two of my toes on my left foot.  The middle and the one next to the small toe.  They took well over a year to heal, they still hurt, and they are actually numb, too.

Last night, I destroyed my right small toe.  If you are keeping track, that's four of my ten toes that I have managed to significantly damage.  I actually think the toe might be broken, too, but any fracture or break pales in comparison to have a gaping wound where a toenail once was.

All that and Dale flubbed a restarted and only finished third.  SIGH.

I napped and then read a book whilst the Oscars were on in the background.  Movies are not in my budget; they have not been since I moved here.  But I was slightly curious.  I really did not pay much attention, although I did find myself wondering why there were all these closings and delays for the morrow.  Apparently, we are having super dangerous wind chill temperatures.

After finally satisfying my curiosity by checking my weather app, I scooped up my beloved fluff ball and told him that he could not wait any longer to tend to his business because the temperature had dropped 20 degrees since the last time we ventured outside.  After much anguish and accusatory looks thrown my way and rather pointed hobbling on the cold ground, Amos took care of his need.  He then came back inside, climbed up on the couch, nosed his way beneath the quilt and atop the electric blanket, and has not come up for air since.

It is cold here.

I have been thinking about how Luke is a great way to break some of your misconceptions about the life and times of Jesus.  Michael Card points out in his commentary, regarding chapter 14, that Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees was not always negative.  In fact, there are three instances where the adversarial we're-out-to-get-Jesus M.O. does not take place.  In fact, the gentle, pointed advice he gives to his Pharisee host is not recorded as ill-received.  There is no mention of ire and desire to plot against Jesus.  In fact, one of the guests responds to Jesus with a berakah about the Kingdom of God.

Jesus follows his advice on seating and being first and last with a parable about a master who gives a banquet.  His original guests all give rather flimsy if not downright insulting excuses for not coming.  So, the master has his servants go out and find the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame.  With space to spare, the master also has his servants go out strangers and foreigners.  I really like the closing commentary on this passage (Luke 14:14-25).

The final image is a reflection of the heart of the master of the banquet.  Above all, he is determined that his feast be full, no matter what the social station or class or pedigree of the person who come.  He wants his house to be full, like his heart.

For me, this makes 1 Timothy 2: 1-6, particularly verse 4, in which Paul writes that God desires that all shall be saved, more clear.  More pointed.  More filled with longing and with compassion.  Or maybe it is the other way round, 1 Timothy 2:4 is a reminder to remember Luke 14:14-25 and the imagery painted for us in the parable Jesus tells.

I really liked Michael Card's commentary on Luke 15.  Once again, his "titles" are different.  It is that difference that causes me to step out of the rut of what I have heard about the third parable to be able to see how it fits with the first two.

Chapter 15 is about lostness and about God's response.  As Michael Card points out, in each of the three parables Luke presents at this point in his collection of eyewitness testimonies, there is a pattern.  It is a four-fold pattern: 1)  something/someone is lost; 2) it is sought after; 3) it is found; and 4) there is great rejoicing as a result.

If you read Luke 15, you see that Luke positions the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son together.  It is the latter that most know of as the Prodigal Son.  I actually, now, prefer the title the Parable of the Lost Son.  For one, it helps you concentrate on the pattern within the three parables.  For another, it helps you to see the progression of the pattern, to have it go from a mere sketch to a lengthy description.

He also points out that, as what often happens, when you have hesed, you have a hater of hesed.  The younger son, who was foolish and squandered his life away, who left the family and was lost to his father, is sought (or longed for) and celebrated with great rejoicing when he is found.  From the person he had no right to expect anything, the younger son is given everything.

This made me think of the psalter and how often the psalmist essentially complains about the hesed God shows to his enemies.  I think it would have made a tad bit stronger bit of commentary to blatantly make the connection that jealousy can lead to the hatred of mercy.

I mean, after all, the older brother had lost his brother.  His flesh and blood returned safely to the home.  Yet all the older brother could think about what how utterly unfair he found the entire situation to be.  Hesed, however, is not about fairness ... or who is more deserving.

I think that's something about mercy folk can forget.

One interesting note Michael Card had was to suggest that you stop and think about Jesus' audience for a moment.  Who, in the first two parables, would they, could they, identify with?  A sheep?  A coin?  I mean, in both parables, the angels are rejoicing over the one who repents.  How does a sheep repent?  More so, how does a coin?  The idea is confusing and maddening.  Then, you have this final parable of lostness, and the one with whom it would make sense that the Scribes and the Pharisees identified is the one who misses the point of God's love and forgiveness, of His desire that all be saved.

One cool note that I forgot to mention about Luke's testimony of the transfiguration—aside from the fact of wondering just who gave it to him—is the added detail he includes:  Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about his upcoming exodus.


Finally, even before Michael Card points it out for me, I am noticing all of the additional details of afflictions that Luke includes.  As a doctor, he is exacting in describing the bodily condition of those who come for healing.  Was it pure habit for Luke to include such details, such as the man suffering from edema?  Or was it a reflection of how he viewed people, as those in need of help, rather than the label of sinner oft flung upon them.

For all the talk, today, in the Lutheran church about how we are sinners, about how the church is full of sinners, when you see those suffering, those in need of healing and hesed and forgiveness, folk around Jesus, both disciples and the religious leadership, view those people as sinners and thus not worthy of time or attention or ... the risk of becoming unclean.  Then, to label someone as a sinner was to judge them unworthy of time and attention and of the gifts Christ came to bring.

I keep thinking about the pointed reminders of how Jesus, in dealing with those who are suffering, risks becoming unclean.  Of course, the radical reversal of His new orthodoxy is that the issue of cleanliness now flows in reverse.  The unclean do not make the clean unclean.  The clean make the unclean clean.

Being unclean was quite a burden then.  It was messy, both socially and spiritually ... and perhaps physically, depending on the situation.  Consider the Samaritan.  In tending to the wounds of the beaten man, surely he got his hands and perhaps his own clothing dirty.

Sometimes I wonder if lurking behind the lack of hesed shown to those who are suffering today—those in our families and churches and workplaces and neighborhoods and in the larger community that is this world—is the desire to remain clean, the desire to avoid the messiness of chronic illness, abuse, addiction, besetting sins, mental illness, etc.

I have seen people comment on online thoughts similar to something a pastor told me after I had moved here.  It is not the work of the church to help the poor, because Jesus, Himself, said that the poor will always be with you.  He told me that means the poor and suffering will always be a problem in this fallen world and thus is wrong to think the church can make a genuine difference to the problem.  Having read that bit in the Gospels now, the bit where the woman ministers to Jesus with the expensive stuff, I do not actually think that was the point Jesus was making.  I don't think He was saying that since the poor will always be with you, trying to help them if futile.

I mean, Jesus, himself, tended to the poor and the suffering, even as He brought the Good News to this world.  When the crowds were hungry and Jesus' disciples were all ready to pass the buck on addressing the problem, Jesus instructed His disciples to help them, to feed them.  When He sent out his disciples and the Seventy to share the Good News, Jesus sent them out also with the power to heal and to forgive, to help the poor and the suffering.

Yes, Jesus came to die, to give Himself as a ransom for many, and established a ministry to rightly teach the Gospel.  However, He did comfort and heal and forgive and drive out demons and even raise the dead.  Jesus, as one person of the triune God, who defines Himself in the Old Testament as hesed, both practiced and encouraged mercy.

How, then, can it not be the outreach of the church to also practice and encourage true mercy?

My friend Mary ... one of the things that I admire about her and am also admonished by seeing the practice in her life ... is the acute awareness of the need to not place additional burdens upon people, most particularly in areas of personal piety.  I thought of her when I was re-reading Luke 11:37-53 on my way to reading Luke 15.  In that passage, Jesus is speaking woes to the Scribes and the Pharisees.  Verse 46 reads, "Then He said:  "Who also to you experts in the law!  You load people with burdens that are hard to care, yet you yourselves don't touch these burdens with one of your fingers."  With all the extra laws created to explain and fulfill the 10 Commandments, they were making exacting legal demands on folk and not lifting a finger to help.

[The word "finger" comes up previously in verse 20:  "the finger of God."  It's an interesting contrasts of finger action/inaction.]

Personally, the reason I fled Facebook and most of the online Lutheran world was the additional burdens I saw being places and those I struggled with myself.  I fled because, in all the ... passionate discussion (arguing) ... I rarely saw mercy given to or called for or even desired for sinners.  And, here and there, I saw flashes of what appeared less about walking with the wise (Psalm 1) or a concern for the danger of blasphemy and more about not risking cleanliness.

I was not exactly accurate above.  Michael Card entitled the third parable of Chapter 15 as the "The Father with the Lost Son(s)."  Both sons were lost ... just in different ways.  And the father shows hesed to both, for he tells the older son that what's mine is already yours.

I wonder if it is shocking to others to rename parables, but I think that both renaming—this one and calling the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) a "Parable of Unexpected Mercy"—helps place the emphasis of both on God's work, rather than the actions/choices of man.  At least it does so for me.

At the risk of being even more shocking ... or perhaps disrespectful to Scripture ... read Psalm 28 as if it included the voices of both sons and the father:

The Younger Son's Perspective:
To Thee, O Lord, I call;
My rock, do not be deaf to me,
Lest, if Thou be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to Thee for help,
When I lift up my hands toward Thy holy sanctuary.
Do not drag me away with the wicked
And with those who work iniquity;
Who speak peace with their neighbors,
While evil is in their hearts.

Older Son's Perspective:
Requite them according to their work and according to the evil of their practices;
Requite them according to their deeds of their hands;
Repay them their recompense.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
Nor the deeds of His hands,
He will tear them down and not build them up.

The Father's Perspective:
Blessed be the Lord,
Because He has heard the voice of my supplication.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart exults,
And with my son I shall thank Him.
The Lord is their strength,
And He is a saving defense to His anointed.
Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance;
Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever.

I mean not to be disrespectful, but Psalm 28 is a great example of the complexities of the human heart, one that includes the desire for help and forgiveness even whilst wishing the same be withheld from others.  Can you not just see those three men, standing on a stage, far apart from each other, speaking their soliloquies, together and yet separate:  
  • I messed up; please help me. 
  • Those who mess up should be recompensed commiserate with what they've done; punish them!
  • Those who mess up are always welcome to return; the return/the finding of the lost is always a time for rejoicing 
Of course, you also have the whole Shepherd carrying his people in that last verse of Psalm 28.  Shepherd carrying the lost sheep.  Shepherd who tends to his flock in Old and New Testament.  Continuity.  Common threads in the tapestry God weaves in Scripture.

Did I digress there????

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