Tag Archives: Connection

Music, Ritual, & Meaning

Music, Ritual, & Meaning (CaD Ps 118) Wayfarer

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:29 (NIV)

Music plays such a fascinating role in the human experience. Music has the power to express thought and emotion in ways more potent than the mere words themselves. Music has a unique ability to bring people together in unity, even complete strangers. It happens in sporting events, in religious events, civic ceremonies, and virtually every birthday party you’ll go to or happen upon. Music is typically a part of every funeral service. I personally can’t hear Taps without it stirring emotion in me.

Last week I mentioned in these chapter-a-day posts that Psalms 113-118 make up series of songs known at the Hallel in Hebrew. They are the songs sung throughout the Hebrew feast of Passover. Today’s chapter, Psalm 118, is the final song. The lyrics were originally written to be a song of Thanksgiving that the king would sing with the people after a great victory. The “king” does most of the singing the way this song was structured, singing verses 5-21. In verses 22-27 the people rejoice over what God has done. The king then sings the final two verses.

What I found interesting as I read through and mulled over the song in the quiet this morning, is that it’s traditionally believed that Jesus and His followers were eating the Passover meal together the night He would be betrayed and arrested. If this is true, it is very possible that when Matthew records “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” it was Psalm 118 they were singing.

With that in mind, I went back and read the lyrics again, this time I imagined Jesus singing the part of the king and His followers the part of the people. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He predicted it on multiple occasions and he pushed the buttons that put into motion the political mechanism that would seal His earthly fate. I read the lyrics, placing myself in Jesus’ sandals, knowing what was about to happen the next day and on the third day.

It gives the lyrics a whole new layer of meaning as He sings:

The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.

And as his disciples sing:

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.

When, after the resurrection, Peter is brought to trial before the very same religious leaders who put Jesus to death, it is this lyric that Peter quotes back to his accusers (Acts 4:11). Could it be that Peter was, at that moment, remembering singing those lyrics that fateful night just weeks earlier when he himself rejected and denied knowing Jesus?

And then I thought of Jesus, knowing that He is about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, flogged, mocked, and crucified, singing the final words of Psalm 118 and it being the last song He would sing on His earthly journey:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find the irony (perhaps divine appointment?) of reading these songs during the season of Lent when followers of Jesus focus our thoughts and spirits on Jesus’ final days, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Music plays a part in the remembrance, just as Psalm 118 likely played a part in Jesus’ remembrance of God’s breaking the bonds of Hebrew slaves and delivering them out of Egypt. Music, ritual, and meaning are threads that connect the three human events. The Exodus, the Passion, and my celebration of the Great Story in this season.

Connected

Connected (CaD Ps 98) Wayfarer

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth…
Psalm 98:4 (NIV)

I took a class on Psalms back in college. It was a winter post-term class which meant we took the entire three-credit course in three weeks of January between our holiday break and second semester. It’s funny how the senses connect with memories because doing this chapter-a-day journey through the same text at the same time of year has brought back certain memories for me from that class.

As I think back on that class from 35 years further down life’s road, I’ve found myself meditating on a few observations.

First, while I learned a ton about the Psalms in the three weeks of that college class, it’s a fraction of what I’ve learned in the three and a half decades since. My chapter-a-day habit is just a part of an on-going, life-long pursuit of Jesus in which I’m always learning more.

Second, knowledge and wisdom are two different things. I cognitively learned facts about these Hebrew song lyrics in that class. Many have stayed with me. Yet, my brain and my spirit were still forming at that waypoint on Life’s road. What is spiritually important is the connection of what I know to my life; As I perpetually endeavor to weave my knowledge of the Great Story and Jesus’ teaching into my daily thoughts, words, actions, habits, and relationships the tapestry of knowledge and experience produce wisdom.

Third, I have yet to reach a point where I know enough (there’s my one word again). The further I get in my life journey the deeper I find layers of knowledge, connection, and understanding in the Great Story.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 98, continues this section of ancient Hebrew calls to praise. As I read the text this morning, two things struck me. First, there are three stanzas of lyrics (vss 1-3, 4-6, 7-9) with three lines each. The praise progress outward like three concentric circles. The first stanza is the Hebrews worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem. Then it pushes out to “all the earth.” Finally the shouts of praise reach out to all of creation.

As I meditated on this, two clear connections came to mind.

First, I began to realize that the lyrics of this song foreshadow what followers of Jesus call “the great commission” or the mission Jesus gave to his followers to take His love and message “to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Like the praise of Psalm 98, the love of Jesus to radiate outward.

I also couldn’t help but recall the moment when Jesus is entering Jerusalem at the beginning of his final, fateful week. As crowds of people were praising Him and the religious busybodies criticized Jesus for allowing His followers to praise Him. “Even if they kept quiet,” Jesus replied, “the stones would cry out in praise.” Creation resonating with praise to the creator is a theme throughout the Great Story, just as physics reveals that all matter resonates at frequencies our ears can’t hear. It’s as if Jesus is connecting with the concentric circles of Psalm 98. “You might forcefully censor the praise of this crowd in Jerusalem, but you have no power over the universe as it cries out ceaselessly at 432hz.”

It brings me to one of the grand spiritual mysteries I’ve endlessly discovered over forty years: Everything is connected.

I couldn’t have made those connections in the January chill of my winter post-term as I fell into a crush with a classmate and worked on my extra-credit assignment of putting one of the psalms to music with my guitar. But, I made the connections that I could make at that point in my journey. And in the chill of this January’s quarantine I realize that those connections were part of these connections I’ve made in the quiet this morning.

Concentric circles. God’s Spirit, God’s creation, God’s love, God’s praise are always pressing outward, reaching out, embracing, pulling in, and sending out. As I follow Jesus, that’s where I’m constantly led in my spiritual journey: living, loving, praising further out, further up, and further in. And the further I get, the more I realize that the love and praise were already resonating before I got here.

Just like Jesus said.

Just like lyrics of Psalm 98.

Everything is connected.

“That Story Is My Story”

That Story Is My Story (CaD Ps 66) Wayfarer

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
    let me tell you what he has done for me.

Psalm 66:16 (NIV)

It’s been a number of years since I’ve been on stage. Other than a bit part in a friends movie short in which I played a creepy figure in some guys sub-conscious, I have to tax my memory to recall the last part I played that required me to do the work of character analysis. The process of character analysis is, for me, where all the fun is.

Character analysis is a process of peeling back the character you are embodying layer by layer. The playwright gave you the words and the story. Now you begin to dig into who this person really is. This character may have been played a thousand times by the best actors in the world, but not by me. I don’t want to mimic what other actors have done. I want to understand the character myself. What does he look like? How does he walk? How does his voice sound? What is it he wants, and that is it that drives him? How does he feel about every other character in the play?

In the process of character development, I find connections of both sympathy and empathy with my character. The character is going through a divorce. Oh yeah, I sympathize with that because I’ve been through it. It’s not going to be hard for me to feel those feelings on stage. I’ve been there. I’ve never murdered another person, however, so I have no clue what that kind of remorse feels like. So, maybe I need to read different stories or confessions of actual murderers so that I can begin to empathize and cognitively identify with those feelings.

As I read through and identify with the Great Story, one of the things I’ve learned is that God uses story because we find a connection to ourselves, our lives, and our stories in the story. A couple of years ago I gave a message during the season of Lent predicated on the James Bond movie, Skyfall. I know. It was a bold choice. I wasn’t sure I would ever be asked back! The message was really about where we find ourselves in the story of Jesus’ final week on earth. I asked people to make a connection between our life and a character in the story. Am I…

the betrayer?
the denier?
the grieving mother?
the religious rule-keeper?
the crowd member shouting “Crucify him!”?
the fearful follower running for cover?
the doubter demanding evidence?

One of the most important things in reading and studying the Great Story is finding the personal connections to my story.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 66, the songwriter does something very interesting in the lyrics. At the beginning of the song he writes, “Come and see what God has done” and then references the Hebrew story of God leading them out of slavery, through the trials of the wilderness, and into the Promise Land. In the last stanza, the songwriter then says, “Come and hear what God has done for me.” He then describes God hearing his prayer and answering it, ending with words of praise. He found a connection between what God had done for him and what God had done for the Hebrews in the exodus.

Been there. Done that. That story is my story.

In the quiet this morning, this song of thanksgiving for answered prayer, guidance, and provision is connecting with me as my heart and mind prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday coming up. In a year filled with so many trials, I have so much with which I can be thankful; there’s so much, in faith, I have to look forward to.

That’s a good thought for a Monday morning heading into the workweek. I find myself mindful of God’s goodness to me on the road I’ve traveled, thankful for where God has me on this day, and hopeful of where God is leading me in the journey ahead.

Of Layers and Flow

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:3 (NIV)

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Life has a rhythm. It has a beat and a flow.

One of the things I’ve observed along the way is that God creates things with layers. I’m constantly saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is always layered with meaning. Life exists on the micro-sub-atomic level and the macro-universe level. My friend Todd, a physical therapist, talked to me over the Fourth of July weekend about the challenges of his profession. The body, he explained, is so infinitely complex that isolating the cause of a patient’s pain sometimes becomes an unexplained mystery. The body is layered with systems that affect one another in strange ways.

In the same way, my life is layered. My well-being and attitude result from the state of many intertwining layers: physical, mental, relational, vocational, social, personal, financial, marital, parental, sexual, recreational, and spiritual.

Over the past three psalms, all written by the song-writing, warrior King David, I can’t help but notice a theme emerging regarding time of day. In the past two songs, David explains that he goes to bed at night and rests with peace and contentment because of his trust in God. In today’s psalm, David explains that his morning begins with time with God. Every morning he lays out his heart, his desires, his fears, his requests and then waits expectantly for God to do His thing.

In other words, David’s day begins with God. David’s day ends with God. In between, David’s day is waiting on, watching for, expecting, and trusting God to respond, act, interact, deliver, surround, save, answer, help, and intercede. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God is not just an isolated, religious compartment of his weekly routine that gets opened for an hour at the Temple on Sabbath and during mid-week Torah studies with the small group from his synagogue. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God permeated, informed, intersected, and affected every other layer of his life.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the conversation Wendy and I had early this morning in which we talked about the rhythm of our lives, how our physical and mental layers have changed over time, and what that means to the flow of the spiritual layer of how God is flowing in and through each of us, and both of us.

There are so many layers to life. I’ve experienced in my journey that if, like David, I’ve got the spiritual layer continually connected to God and flowing through all the other layers, the rhythm of each day and night flows better. And, when things aren’t flowing well in my life, I usually find that there’s a layer of my life that got disconnected from the spiritual layer and my relationship with God.

By the way, David’s layers got disconnected from time-to-time with really tragic results. It happens to all of us. I’ve also experienced that the quickly I reestablish connection, the more quickly things get back to a steady, healthy flow.

Time to flow into another day. Flow well today, my friend.

Music and the Blues

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord….
Exodus 15:1 (NRSVCE)

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I have a confession to make. I have always wished I had a gift in music. Sure, I did the requisite year or two of lessons as a kid, but nothing every really clicked for me. I sang in the church youth choir and continued to sing in church and school groups for years. I taught myself a bunch of chords on the guitar so I could sing a few Bob Dylan songs on my back porch on a summer evening, and serenade our daughters to sleep singing Forever Young. But, that’s not the gift of music.

I remember an episode of M*A*S*H I watched as a kid. One of the doctors, Major Winchester, was a patrician blue blood with a knowledge of all the fine things of life. He finds himself having to amputate the hand of a patient, only to recognize the young man as one of the world’s up-and-coming virtuoso pianists. The Major goes to great lengths to ensure that the man does not let the loss of his hand prevent him from playing. His response was that young man had a gift and he couldn’t let that go to waste. “I could always play the notes,” Winchester said, “but I could never make the music.”

Bingo! One of the best delineations between competence and giftedness I’ve ever heard.

So, I’ve never been a gifted musicians, and that’s okay. My gifts are in other areas. But it doesn’t stop me from appreciating music. I believe that God infused music with powerful properties. One of them is the way music ties us emotionally and spiritually to moments of our life journeys.

When I started to read the lyrics to the Hebrews’ victory song in today’s chapter I was immediately transported back to my high school youth group on a summer morning clapping and singing these same lyrics to an acoustic guitar.

As soon as I hear the Hollies’ classing Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress I am ten years old and in cabin 3 at Camp Idelwood on Rainy Lake, Minnesota. It’s a cold, rainy day and I’m stuck in the cabin with Mark Malone, Piper, Matt, and my sister Jody.

When I hear The Old Rugged Cross you might notice me smile softly and catch a tear welling-up in my eye. That was my grandma Golly’s song, and the music connects me forever to her.

You get it. I know you do. We all do. That’s the power of music.

Three Times a Lady: My first kiss.
Bridge of Troubled Waters: Road trip to Le Mars and 8-track tapes.
The Joshua Tree: Judson College
Psycho-Killer: Backstage. Pre-show. Kirk.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrews celebrate what God has done with a song. They lyrics are recorded and handed down generation-to-generation. What the tune originally sounded like is lost in the depths of time, but thousands of years later me and my friends at church were singing the same lyrics as we clapped and sang and worshipped God on a summer morning.

How cool is that?

I don’t know about you, but life has felt so heavy the past week or two. The weight of months of quarantine and social distancing, life out-of-whack, George Floyd, riots, violence. Ugh.

As I returned from my road trip on Wednesday I happened upon Bob Dylan and gospel great Mavis Staples singing Dylan’s song called Change My Way of Thinkin’. In one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard in modern music, they stop the music to act out a scripted vignette in which Dylan tells Mavis that he’s got the blues.

Dylan: I been up all night with insomnia reading Snoozeweek.

Staples: Snoozeweek? That ain’t no way to get rid of the blues. You’ve got to sing!

With that, they launch back into the raucous gospel-blues tune.

Here’s the song on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/track/0ssPo81sHtsS1VfFn4DtjH?si=ftZZt5b0SMKc7BYQjgSBUw

Thanks, Mavis. What a good reminder. And this morning in the quiet it reminds me that in connecting us emotionally and spiritually to people, places, and events, music also has healing properties.

Mavis Staples is right. Staying awake all night watching the news is no cure for the blues. We need music. We need to surround ourselves in the beat, the melody, the lyrics that will lift our spirit and help us extricate the weight of the moment by expressing it.

Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’ did that for me.

Think about it. Try it. Let me know what song or songs help you. I’m curious to know.

Rock on, my friend.

Structure and Flow

In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.
Esther 8:17 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I have served as a mentor to a group of teachers. I will typically review outlines and provide encouragement and advice prior to their message, and then give feedback after the delivery of their messages. It’s been rewarding to watch individuals improve their preparation and presentation skills, and it’s challenged me in a number of unexpected ways. I honestly think I’ve been a better learner than I have a  teacher in the process.

One of the biggest observations I’ve made over my tenure in this role is the importance of structure. If you have a well-ordered structure then your words and ideas have flow. The hearer, almost sub-consciously, follows the flow and ends up right where you want them at the end. Without structure, there is no flow. Transitions are clunky and the hearer gets lost not being able to follow how what you’re saying now related to what you just said before. When an audience is lost they check out. Casual observers rarely appreciate how a great story, song, play, painting, building, sculpture, movie, or presentation is almost always well-structured.

Which brings us to today’s chapter of Esther in which the villain, Haman, has been dispatched. Mordecai, his nemesis, is elevated to Haman’s position and given his possessions. It’s such a good story, but the casual reader does not realize that the story-teller has carefully structured the narrative in what’s known as a “chiastic” style. The author uses the same phrasing in both introducing Haman and then describing Mordecai’s redemption to highlight the reversal of fortune. Commentators Karen Jobes and Janet Nygren help us see the structure:

In the quiet of my office this morning I find myself thinking about structure and flow. The further I get in my life journey the more aware I’ve become that everything is connected. It’s the design of creation. Even a seemingly random sight of trees in a forest has what scientists call a fractal structure. Whether it’s my work, a message I’m giving, a story I’m telling, our weekly schedule, the vacation plan, our meal plan for the week, or how our living room is arranged there is both structure and flow. If I structure things well then things flow better and the results are generally good. If things are disjointed, disconnected, and there’s no real flow, then everything feels unstable and out of whack.

And with that, I enter the structure of my day.

Flow well, my friend.

The Source Makes All the Difference

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Cleanliness is next to godliness,” the old saying goes.

That is not in the Bible, by the way. Scholars say it originated as a proverb in ancient Hebrew and Babylonian texts. It was first quoted in modern times by Charles Wesley in a sermon in 1778.

That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? What human traditions grow up around spiritual themes that actually take focus away from the Spirit to whom I’m supposed to be connected?

The Dutch protestant culture from which I spring has always been fastidious, clean, and hard-working. We memorialize it every year during Tulip Time as we first scrub the streets before the parade can begin. Eventually, however, the social and religious pressure to keep up clean and orderly outside appearances with all we are and all we own takes precedence over a Life-filled inner Spirit. The result is what Jesus described of the religious people of His time:

“Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

Along my life journey I’ve been taught many ways to godliness; Spiritual disciplines, rule following, and following the trending spiritual fad hawked by Christian marketers (looking to make a buck) and the spiritual gurus they put on pedestals for us to idolize. I found myself struggling for so long. On the outside I appeared the poster chid of spiritual health as I dutifully kept up with all the outside rules, disciplines, and exercises. Inside my life was dark and out of control.

In today’s chapter Paul writes to his young spiritual protégé about the mystery [“Mystery is not something we can’t understand, but something we endlessly understand.” – R. Rohr] from which true godliness springs, and it has nothing to do with tidying up a la Marie Kondo. Paul goes on to quote what was an ancient poem or hymn about Jesus. True godliness is sourced in the person and work of Jesus. That’s it.

Paul has just finished giving Timothy multiple lists of qualifications for those who will lead the local gathering of Jesus’ followers. He then ends by reminding Timothy that all of these qualifications are not sourced in religious rule keeping and the keeping up of appearances, but in the endless pursuit and discovery of deep Spirit connection and Life-giving relationship with the resurrected Christ. Paul never wrote “I want you to know how to be good religious rule followers,” but he did write “I want you to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection.”

The source from which I seek godliness makes all the difference.

“Sea”

He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.
2 Chronicles 4:2 (NIV)

Earlier this year Wendy and I went on our second cruise in a handful of years. I love being on a cruise. I could sit on deck and look out over the ocean for hours and be perfectly content. I don’t know how this land-locked Iowa boy gained a love for the sea. I’ve had it since I was a kid and the ocean was just a picture in a book and figment of my imagination.

In today’s chapter, the Chronicler continues to describe Solomon’s temple and all of the furnishings that were crafted by an artisan named Huram. I couldn’t help notice that it describes Huram making a “Sea.” It was really a giant water reservoir or pool. The water was used for ritual washing and cleansing. But the Hebrew word used by the Chronicler translates “Sea.” Interesting choice.

In the Hebrew rituals, washing and cleansing were an important part of worship. You know, the whole “cleanliness is next to godliness” motif. Jesus and his disciples, however, were criticized by the religious leaders for not ceremonially washing before they ate (That’s right. Jesus was a religious rule breaker!). Jesus’ response was classic. He made it clear to his critics that washing their hands religiously while ignoring their filthy souls was completely hypocritical. Jesus would elsewhere claim to be “Living Water”: An internal, eternal, spiritual spring within to quench, refresh, sustain, wash, and cleanse.

In the quiet this morning I’ve been meditating on the “Sea” described by the Chronicler. A ritual pool intended to be a word picture of the internal, spiritual washing we all need. By Jesus day, the word picture had been lost to empty religious regulation. Jesus sought to redeem the metaphor. He would be the “sea” and “spring.” He would be the Living Water not for the washing of dirty hands, but the cleansing of our stained souls.

Paul wrote to his friend, Titus:

“[Jesus] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” [emphasis added]

As I sit on deck of a ship and look out over the seemingly endless ocean, there’s something that it does for my soul. I think my spirit connects the sea to something deeper in Spirit. I look out over the sea and my spirit touches the word picture intended by the “Sea” made by Huram. My spirit connects to the “Sea” of Living Water endlessly springing up within, filling, quenching, sustaining, washing, and cleansing.

Back home in Iowa, a photo and a memory will have to suffice as a reminder (until our next cruise!).

[sigh]

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Matthew 15:16-20 (NIV)

Religion has always been good at making a lot of rules. This was certainly true in Jesus’ day and we read about it in today’s chapter. Jesus’ followers didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before they ate. The religious leaders were appalled that Jesus’ followers didn’t follow their rules. Jesus rolled His eyes. This was one of many religious rules that Jesus and His followers broke from not picking grain on the Sabbath day of rest, to healing on the Sabbath, to fraternizing with sinners, and on and on and on.

Rules aren’t necessarily a bad thing. God gave the initial set of rules through Moses, and they were a guide for life lived decently and in order. Of course, over time the religious people took the basic rules and made even more rules to clarify the original rules. Then they added more rules labeled “traditions.” Rules, upon, rules, upon rules that moved things away from the heart of the matter until rule keeping became a religious, behavioral litmus test. But, at the core the original rules meant to guide life still hold true. Jesus said, “I didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”

In today’s chapter, Jesus makes it very clear where He is coming from on the subject of rules. He tells us that it all comes down to the spiritual condition of our hearts. If my spirit is diseased with pride, anger, hatred, grudges, greed, lust, prejudice, bitterness, envy, malice, jealousy, impurity, et al than it doesn’t matter how well I follow the religious rules about propriety and what to eat, what to wear, or what not to do. And, simply following a labyrinth of religious rules is not going to change the spiritual condition of my heart.

Jesus came to do heart surgery for humanity. He came to change our hearts, knowing that a heart that is spiritually healthy and connected to God’s Spirit will continually beat with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. It will be motivated to naturally fulfill the only important rules. Out of that healthy, Spirit-connected heart will flow thoughts, words, and actions marked by that same love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, consideration, faithfulness, and self-discipline.

This morning I’m reminded that rules of behavior are impotent to change the condition of my heart, but my heart, transformed by Jesus, will powerfully and perpetually change my behaviors and relationships for the betterment of myself and others.

A Small Detail of Culture and Economics

healing of maryAfter this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 8:1-3 (NIV)

I mentioned last week that I appreciate Luke for the small details he researched and added into his telling of Jesus’ story. The opening of today’s chapter is an example. Luke is careful to point out that Jesus was accompanied, not only by the twelve, but also by some women whom Jesus had healed. When reading “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household,” Luke’s contemporaries would have read that description and immediately understood that Joanna was a woman of means. Herod was a regional king ruling under the authority of the Roman Empire, and managing Herod’s household would have been a well paying position. Luke points out that the women were traveling with Jesus and helping to support Jesus ministry financially. This little detail fascinates me.

In Jesus day, women in Palestine had very low social status. The Jewish culture at that time, it can be argued, was misogynistic. Women were treated with contempt and good Jewish men could be heard reciting ritual prayers thanking God that they had not been born Gentiles (non-Jews), dogs, or women. I can’t imagine how that made women feel when they heard their husbands reciting such a thing.

Jesus, however, cut against the grain of the contemporary culture. He spoke with women in public which scandalous in that day. He socialized with broken women of ill-repute and treated them with love, compassion, and forgiveness. He did not discriminate in performing miracles. He was not only seen publicly healing men, but also touching and healing women of their infirmities both physical and spiritual. Jesus didn’t fear wrath and ridicule for these things, and He received a generous dose of both. Jesus did what was right in the face of popular culture and treated women with the love, honor, and respect that is due to all daughters of Eve. THAT is the Jesus I follow and strive to be like.

In giving us this detail, Luke also clues us in to how Jesus’ traveling ministry operated financially. At least part of the funds required to support Jesus and his followers came from the financial means of his followers, women of means in particular. The principle here is simple. Jesus followers and those whom He healed gave out of their gratitude to support Him and His ministry. It should be no different today. I give regularly to the on-going work of Jesus, not out of blind obedience, guilt, or shame, but out of gratitude for what Jesus has done in my own life.

Another thing this little detail makes me think about is the case of Joanna. Her money was coming directly from Herod’s palace. Herod was a corrupt, evil, murderous tyrant. I can hear the conversations of Jesus’ followers around the fire at night arguing whether Jesus should accept such “dirty” money. Doesn’t that come from evil means? Isn’t accepting that money just a vote of support for Herod and his evil ways? There is no mention of Jesus having any qualms about accepting Joanna’s gifts, despite the fact that it flowed from Herod’s coffers.

There is a timeless, on-going debate about the financial inequalities among peoples and social groups. Financial inequalities existed in Jesus’ day. In fact, it can be argued that the inequalities were even more extreme than what we experience in modern western culture. Yet Jesus’ own ministry would not have been possible were it not for the financial support of followers who were among the rich of that day. I find it interesting that while Jesus taught constantly about money, the teaching was almost always focused on the spiritual connection between individuals and their finances. Jesus never spoke out about the corrupt Roman tax system, but He spoke to individual tax collectors about not using the system to extort money from others. Jesus did not condemn the rich for having money, but He did warn individuals that their love of money was leading them down a spiritual path to condemnation. The only time Jesus made any kind of broader statement was with regard to the extortion racket being carried out by the religious leaders in the temple.

This morning I’m thinking about Jesus, who showed love and compassion to those His culture did not love. I’m thinking about Jesus, who was not as concerned about the macro economic and political issues of this world, as He was about the micro-spiritual connection between our money and our hearts. I’m thinking about Jesus, whom I want to emulate in my thoughts, words and actions this day.