But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:2 (NIV)
Sometimes, I think our world lives in a perpetual state of discontent…
Businesses thrive on making me feel discontent that I don’t have this or that.
The magazine rack at the grocery store thrives on making me feel discontented with my body, my looks, my home, and the fact that my life isn’t a Chip and Joanna fairytale.
The news thrives on making me feel discontent with the state of current events and seems to want to keep me focused on fear about everything from the fact that more people are killed each year by vending machines than sharks to the probabilities that the President could push the nuclear button and end the world.
The social media feeds I occasionally follow for my favorite sports teams seem to be 90% discontented fans discontentedly ranting about every loss, every player who’s in a funk, every move the GM makes, and every season that doesn’t end with a championship.
No matter what side of the political aisle you reside there is discontent that the other side exists and that your side doesn’t rule the world.
Social media feeds that I mindlessly scroll through can so easily feed a spirit of discontent that my life doesn’t look like that person’s life.
I sometimes wonder if discontent is such a prevalent and pervasive part of everyday life that I am deaf, dumb, and blind to its omnipresence.
How easily I forget that the serpent’s playbook in the Garden of Eden was to stir discontent within Adam and Eve.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 131, is a short ditty written by King David. It’s just three verses long, but I found the spirit of the lyrics to be so refreshing on a Friday at the end of a busy week. “I have quieted and calmed myself,” he sings. He has centered down in his spirit. He has blocked out all the things he can’t control. He has sought out and found a place of contentment.
In the quiet this morning, I find my soul longing for that place, too. I find it interesting that David claimed responsibility for finding contentment. So often I led to believe that contentment will come when I acquire that thing, when I get to that place in life, or when I make that much money, et cetera, et cetera, and et cetera. Contentment seems always to reside on life’s horizon, but David’s lyrics remind me that it’s found within me, in a humble, quieted, and calmed spirit.
I think I’ll end this post and spend a little more time in the quiet this morning.
If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God… Psalm 55:12-14 (NIV)
Thus far, in my entire life journey, I discovered that the process of releasing my adult children on to their own respective paths of life to be one of the most surprisingly difficult things I’ve ever experienced. It’s not just about the loss of control and the fact that my child may choose paths unfitting my dreams, desires, and expectations. It’s also the experience of catching glimpses of my own weaknesses and shortcomings as a parent, and the useless wonderings of “What if I had only….”
The greatest challenge of David’s life was not the Bathsheba scandal which I talked about in the podcast on Psalm 51. Bathsheba gets top billing and is better known because it has all of the classic plot elements we love in a steamy Harlequin Romance. The greatest challenge of David’s life is lesser known, but I personally find it even more fascinating because it is more intimate and complex. Late in David’s life, he faces a coup de tête finds himself fleeing for his life, and almost loses his throne and his life to his very own son.
The story is found in 2 Samuel 13-19. Let me give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version. The seeds of the rebellion are in David’s own shortcomings as a father. Marriage and family looked very different for a monarch in ancient times. Not only was polygamy regularly practiced, but a monarch had the added layer of nations wanting to marry off daughters to other kings to establish diplomatic ties. David had eight wives, and at least 10 concubines. Which meant the palaces were teaming with princes and princesses who were half-brothers and half-sisters. Long story short, Prince Amnon had the hots for his sister, Princess Tamar. He rapes her, and then in his shame, he shuns Tamar and wants nothing to do with. He treated her like a prostitute. King David is furious according to the record, but he does nothing. He passively seems to ignore the whole thing.
Princess Tamar’s older brother is Prince Absalom, and Absalom bottles up his rage against his half-brother Amnon, who raped his sister, and against his father who did nothing to justly deal with Amnon. The seeds of Prince Absalom’s rage take root and grow into a plot to kill his brother and steal his father’s kingdom. He succeeds at the former, and nearly succeeds with the latter.
In the process of his scheming to steal his father’s throne, the Great Story records that Absalom spent a lot of time establishing allies among the rich, noble, and powerful people in the kingdom. Quietly, slowly he used his position and influence to create both debts and alliances so that when he pulled the trigger on his coup David had virtually no one supporting him.
We can’t be certain, but the lyrics of David’s song that we know as Psalm 55 seem as though they could very well have been penned during the time of Absalom’s rebellion. David expresses that Jerusalem is a boiling cauldron of deceit, treachery, and violence. He feels the sting of an unnamed “companion” who he thought was a friend and ally, but turns out to have sold him out. It is certainly reasonable to think that he’s referring to someone that Absalom convinced to aid in his rebellion.
Like many of David’s songs, Psalm 55 is a personal lament. He is pouring out all of his emotions from despair, hurt, anguish, fear, confusion, and the desire to fly away from all of his troubles. In the pouring out of his deepest emotions he also is reminded of how faithful God had always been and the song ends with a simple proclamation of his unwavering trust.
One of the fascinating threads in the story of Absalom’s rebellion is David’s unwavering love for Absalom. Despite the fratricide, the rebellion, and the attempt to destroy David and take everything that was his, David ordered his men to be gentle with Absalom. When he heard Absalom had been killed, David wept and mourned to the point that his own General called David out for humiliating all of the soldiers who had been loyal to him.
In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the complex relationship between parents and children, especially as children mature into their own selves and lives. The whole story of David and his children Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom is a hot mess. There is so much of the story that is not told. Nevertheless, it reminds me of the intense and infinite love a parent feels for a child no matter the differences, conflicts, or chasms that emerge in the relationship.
Once again, there is no concrete evidence to directly correlate Psalm 55 with the story of Absalom’s rebellion, nor is there concrete evidence to the contrary. Some mornings, I find that this is the way the chapter-a-day journey goes. The text connects me to one idea which leads down another path of thought, and I end up in an unintended destination of thought and Spirit. C’est lav ie.
Parenting is one of the grand adventures of this life journey. It has produced the greatest of joys and the deepest of sorrows. It has humbled me to my core, and has equipped Lady Sophia with some of the most powerful practicums for teaching me wisdom.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17 (NRSVCE)
For anyone who does not know the story behind David’s song, known to us as Psalm 51, it is critical in order to have a complete understanding of the lyrics.
First of all, David had been the “good guy” his entire life journey. As a boy God declared him “a man after my own heart” and God chose David, through the prophet Samuel, to be God’s anointed king. David killed Goliath. David refused to raise his hand against King Saul and wait for God to fulfill the promise to give him the throne. David did everything right. David was devout. David was faithful. David was sincere. David was God’s man through-and-through.
Until he wasn’t.
The Reader’s Digest version is this: From the roof of his palace he creeped out on a beautiful young woman taking a bath on a nearby rooftop. David used his power to find out who she was. She was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, but the army was out on a military campaign and David knew it. David used his influence as King to invite her over. They had a one night stand. She ended up pregnant, and now a “no harm no foul” fling became a potentially Monica Lewinsky level political scandal.
The first step in the cover-up was to create the illusion of normal. David uses his commander-and-chief authority to give the woman’s husband, a soldier named Uriah, a special leave to come home and take a break from the action. It turns out, however, that Uriah was a “good guy” and a “man of integrity” like David had always been. Perhaps David had been his role model. Uriah, thinking of all his buddies on the front-line who didn’t get to come home and sleep with their wives, refuses to even go into his house.
Ironically, Uriah’s integrity leads to David’s further descent into depravity. To avoid his moral failure from coming to light and the scandal it would create, David sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed message to his general in the field. The message orders his general to place Uriah into the thick of the battle, order his fellow soldiers to abandon him, and ensure Uriah has an “honorable” death.
Uriah is buried with military honors. David makes a big deal out of caring for the widow of one of his soldiers by agreeing to marry and take care of her. Scandal averted and David is given the opportunity to improve his polling numbers and maintain his “good guy” image. David gets away it. No one is the wiser.
God sends a prophet named Nathan to visit the King who regales David with the story of a wealthy land baron and sheep farmer who stole the only lamb of the poor tenant farmer next-door. David, angered, assures Nathan that the evil land baron will be forced to pay the victim back with four lambs for the one that was stolen.
Then Nathan informs David that the whole story was a metaphor and that he is the land baron in the story. He had a palace full of wives and thought he could steal poor Uriah’s wife and cover the whole thing up. David is devastated and has to own up to what he has done. He pours out his guilt and plea for forgiveness into a song.
If you’ve never read Psalm 51 in the context of this story, I encourage you to take the minute or two required to read the lyrics of the song in their entirety right now while the story is fresh in your head.
One of the interesting things about this chapter-a-day journey is the experience of coming upon chapters that I know really well, and have read countless times in the past 40 years. Do they have any fresh layers of meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life’s journey?
As I read this morning I kept hearkening back to one of David’s psalms from a couple of weeks ago. I went back to Psalm 26 in the quiet this morning and read it again:
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
Wow. What a contrast.
I know Psalm 51 really well. It’s tatted on my left bicep as a reminder. I have a chapter of my own story that is a rough parallel of David’s. I was the “good guy” who everyone knew was a Jesus freak, a moral puritan, and who walked the straight-and-narrow. I’m sure I was even guilty of waxing self-righteously in my own way like David did in Psalm 26. Then I found myself in a place I swore I’d never be found. I had my own Psalm 51 moment.
Along this spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that I never really understood and experienced grace, forgiveness, and mercy until I hit rock-bottom and the veneer of self-righteousness was peeled away like the striking of a stage set. Like David, it came much further along in my journey, but I can now look back realize how important, make that essential, my own mistakes were in teaching me humility, empathy, mercy, and grace.
I enter another work week this morning soberly reminded of my own need of grace, as well as my need to extend it to others having their own Psalm 51 moments.
I think that the changing of the seasons brings back certain specific childhood memories. Here in Iowa the last few weeks have ushered in the harsh realities of winter. The snow has already begun to descend. In yesterday’s post I was thinking specifically about the memories of walking to-and-from school. This morning, it’s snow.
The cool thing for a kid growing up the city in Iowa was the way snow completely transformed the landscape. Not only did it layer everything with this thick blanket of white, but the snowplows and shovels created tiny mountain ranges of snow on every street corner, parking lot, playground, and driveway.
For kids this meant one thing: a game called “King of the Mountain!”
The game is simple. Climb to the top. Stake your claim as King of the Mountain, then get ready to take on all challengers your throne on the mountaintop of ice and snow. Go!! Seriously. Between King of the Mountain, public smoking, the ability for any child to buy cigarettes out of a vending machine, and the fact that seat belts were considered optional accessories that you stuffed into the crack between the seats so they wouldn’t poke you…How did we survive childhood in the 1970’s?!
Why did my brain go there this morning? Today’s chapter is Psalm 47 which was a song of enthronement. In all ancient Mesopotamian cultures the celebration of a king’s enthronement was a huge deal. There was a parade, a procession, loud music, an entire nation dancing, clapping, singing…think Kool & the Gang singing “Celebrate good times! Come on!” (Man, now my brain is stuck on Memory Ln.!)
The fascinating thing about this Hebrew song of enthronement is that the metaphor is that of God ascending His holy mountain (for the Hebrews that was Mount Zion where God’s temple was located) to be enthroned over all the earth, all the nations, all of creation.
The metaphor of God as king is one that that emerged during the time of the ancient monarchy of the Hebrews. The prophet Isaiah has his famous vision of being taken up into the throne room of God. The theme was written into the liturgical worship songs like Psalm 47. It is carried on through the entirety of the Great Story. The Messiah was pictured as king over the entire earth. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles all referenced Jesus sitting at “the right hand of the Father” in heaven. Paul (who had his own wild vision experience of being taken up into heaven) referred to Jesus as “King of Kings,” and he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi:
Therefore God also highly exalted [Jesus] and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the throne room of heaven where “The Lamb who was slain” sits on the throne.
Enthronement is a big deal in the Great Story, but the metaphor has very personal implications. When I became a follower of Jesus on a frigid Iowa winter night back in 1981, I knew that it was time for me to stop spiritually playing “King of the Mountain” with my own soul. I told Jesus that I was stepping down as king of my own life, and I invited Jesus to be enthroned in my heart and my life. I confess that I haven’t always been a perfect subject, but that spiritual reality has never changed for me over the last forty years. I have continually sought to give Jesus dominion on the throne of my life and pursue His purposes for me in this life journey.
And, what’s cool is that the metaphor doesn’t end there. Having spiritually abdicated and given Jesus the throne of my life, Jesus did not consider me an enemy, a threat, a usurper to be banished from the kingdom and taken out lest I try to take back the throne. No, I get adopted into the royal family. I am given a place, a role, an inheritance, and, in the Great Story, I am now referenced as a “co-heir” with Jesus. I have a place in the procession, at the king’s table, in the king’s family.
Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. Psalm 21:8 (NRSVCE)
In the movie The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is told that he must visit “The Oracle” who is the person who will tell him if he is “the One.” I love how the movie builds up suspense about the identity of this powerful person only to find out that it’s a chain smoking African American grandmother baking cookies. Brilliant.
The word “oracle” comes from the Latin word meaning “to speak.” It’s same root word from which we get the word “oratory.” Oracle could refer both to the person and the message he or she uttered. Oracles in the ancient world were considered portals through which the divine spoke, typically predicting what was going to happen. An Oracle was different from a Seer, who interpreted signs kind of like the reading of tea leaves.
There is evidence of a specific type of oracle in the ancient world that was specific to battle and it was the “oracle of victory.” It was a prediction given to the king of what would happen in the battle. For the Hebrew people, prophets served as oracles and would predict the outcome if the king was proposing to ride out to battle an enemy.
In today’s psalm, David begins the lyrics of his song by praising God for all the God has done for him and acknowledging his trust in God. But then, in verse 8, the voice changes from “you are” to “you will.” The rest of the song is an oracle of victory, a song of faith that God will destroy David’s enemies.
One of the things I’ve learned to look for when reading through the texts of the Great Story is recurring patterns or themes. The theme I’ve noticed in the last few of David’s songs is the fact that the great king and warrior, the famed slayer of the giant Goliath, is intent on making God the focal point. David ascribes his victories to God. David’s oracle of victory is about what God is going to do. While David had every opportunity to bask in the spoils of his position and track record, he chooses time and time again to point all the attention and give all the credit to God.
That has me thinking about my own life, my accomplishments, my successes, my little victories. Do I want the attention on me, or do I want the attention on God? To take it even further, will I still trust God, praise God, and make God the focal point even in life’s defeats? I can’t help but think of the scene in The Matrix when the Oracle surprises and disappoints everyone by telling them what they didn’t want to hear. There’s a very similar story in 1 Kings 22 when the prophet Micaiah gives the king an oracle of defeat. Sometimes life delivers an oracle of victory, and sometimes it gives us an oracle of defeat. Am I willing to accept both, and trust God for the ultimate outcome?
In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains; Psalm 11:1 (NRSVCE)
“If I really believe what I say I believe….”
Yesterday morning I delivered a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and that was the statement I used to press into the subject of hope in death. (It’s on YouTube here.). I mentioned that it has been equally helpful for me as I read the news each day in these chaotic times.
The lyrics of Psalm 11 are, once again, penned by King David during an equally chaotic and troubling time of his own reign. When David sings, “If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” he is speaking specifically about the foundation of social order. In other words, the daily life of David’s kingdom was beginning to break down. Those advising King David were beginning to suggest that it was time for him to abandon the city and flee to a safe hiding place in the hills.
The notion of escaping the chaos and going to live somewhere else is not a foreign thought amidst today’s current events. I know those who have moved out of the country. Interestingly enough, I know those on both the left and the right who have/are considered leaving and living somewhere else. When you feel the very foundations of social order shaking, it’s a natural response.
And yet, if I really believe what I say I believe….
I can’t help but feel that David is whispering that same sentiment as he pens his lyrics.
He begins by affirming that God is his refuge, not a bunker in the hills.
He then affirms God is on the throne in heaven and fully aware of the current circumstances, including a knowledge of those causing the violent upheaval in David’s kingdom.
David then ends with a declaration of faith. “To see the king’s face” in the ancient near east was an expression of affirmation. It meant you had access to, and the favor of, the king who would hear your appeal and act on your behalf. In a time when monarchs regularly proclaimed themselves God in order to exercise power over their people, David once again humbles himself in acknowledging that he is a subject to the King of Heaven. David places his faith in having access to, and the favor of, his King.
In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of the many times I have written in these posts that I believe life is part of the Great Story that is being told from Genesis through Revelation. If I really believe what I say I believe, then the chaos and upheaval I’m currently reading about and experiencing through social media are part of the current chapter of the story we happen to be living in. If I really believe what I say I believe, then my job is to press on, day-by-day, in the role I’ve been giving of loving and proclaiming Love to those in my circles of influence. If I really believe what I say I believe then I can trust lyrics of the psalm I have tattooed on my right arm:
“[He who fears the Lord] will have no fear of bad news. His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”
A good reminder as I press on into another week. Have a great week, my friend.
For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’” Exodus 33:5 (NRSVCE)
One of the ironies of this period of COVID-19 pandemic is that everyone has been stuck inside with nothing to do, but because the quarantine includes actors, crews, studios, and production companies there’s been nothing new to watch on television! So, Wendy and I have been extra excited to have new episodes of Yellowstone airing the past three weeks.
If you haven’t watched Yellowstone, it’s about the patriarch of the largest ranch in the United States that also happens to be some of the most valuable and sought after land in the world. Kevin Costner plays the widowed, wealthy, and powerfully connected rancher John Dutton who struggles to control his dysfunctional family and protect his ranch from a host of enemies who want to take him down and get their hands on his land. Wendy and I have both observed that it’s a lot like a modern-day Godfather, but rather than Italian mobsters in New York it’s cowboys in Montana.
One of the subtle, recurring themes in the show is that of wild horses that need to be broken. In the first season, we’re introduced to Jimmy, a drug-addicted, two-strike loser going nowhere. As a favor to Jimmy’s grandfather, Dutton takes Jimmy on as a ranch-hand. In an iconic moment, Jimmy is tied and duct-taped onto a wild horse that no one else could break. All-day long Jimmy is bucked, spun, and tossed on the back of the horse. By the end of the day, the horse is finally broken, and so is Jimmy.
Today’s chapter is a sequel to yesterday’s story of the Hebrew people abandoning Moses, and the God of Moses, by making an idol for themselves and reverting to their old ways. In response, God calls the people “stiff-necked” (other English translations and paraphrases use words like “stubborn’ or “willful”). One commentator I read stated that the imagery of the original Hebrew word was an ox, bull, or another animal that was unbroken and wouldn’t yield to being yoked. I couldn’t help but think of poor Jimmy duct-taped to that horse.
One of the things I’ve observed in certain human beings is an unbroken spirit. I recall Wendy sitting with a toddler who was determined to climb up our bookcase at the lake which, of course, would have been a dangerous thing to do. The little one had revealed a habit of willfully proceeding whenever an adult said “No.” Wendy sat there and repeatedly pulled the child’s hand and foot off of the bookcase over, and over, and over again as she gently and firmly repeated: “No.” I remember Wendy explaining to the child that she would sit there all day and repeat the process until the child understood. The child cried, wailed, and threw a tantrum in frustration as Wendy calmly continued to deny the toddler’s willful, stiff-necked desire.
Of course, adults can be simply grown-ups who are stuck in childish patterns of thought and behavior. One of the most fascinating things about the story of the early Jesus movement is the transformation in the strong-willed, stiff-necked followers such as Peter, Paul, and John. With each one there was a process involved in the spiritual transformation that included moments of their strong-wills being broken and their spirits humbled as they learned what Jesus meant when He said things like “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” and “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.”
In the quiet this morning I am looking back on my nearly 40 years as a follower of Jesus. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Life has tossed me around a time or two. Some stretches of the journey felt like I was spinning in place. But I’ve come to realize that the spiritual journey is just me being poor Jimmy on that horse. I’ve found God to be a lot like Wendy at that bookcase repeatedly and gently telling a childish, stiff-necked Tommy “No.” The breaking of my will is a prerequisite for discovering God’s.
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” Exodus 8:25 (NRSVCE)
The story of Pharaoh and the plagues is fascinating. Like many ancient cultures, the Egyptians believed that their leader, Pharaoh, was a god. At least, that’s what Pharaoh would have them believe. By raising themselves to the status of deity, leaders put themselves in a social class all by themselves. They could do no wrong and their actions could not be questioned.
Under the literal events in the text, there is a subtle battle going on between Pharaoh (a god, remember) and the God of the Hebrews. It was common for Pharaohs to claim that their deeds, successes, and victories in battle were done by Pharaoh’s “mighty hand.” Throughout the last few chapters, God through Moses and Aaron continues to claim to accomplish these plagues by God’s “mighty hand.” God even has Moses and Aaron “stretch out” their hand with the staff. In each case, this is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s authority.
The repeated phrase about Pharaoh’s heart being “hardened” can also be interpreted as a challenge to the Egyptian ruler’s claim of being above reproach. According to the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” the ancients believed that in the afterlife their heart would be weighed on a scale to determine if it is heavier than the metaphorical feather that they believed represented what was right and just. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart may be interpreted that with each turn it is getting heavier, and thus it is an indictment that the ruler is guilty, even by the Egyptians own religious beliefs, of not doing what is right and just by the Hebrew people that he’s enslaved.
What really struck me as I read today’s chapter was Pharaoh’s struggle. He refuses to let the Hebrews take three days to go into the wilderness and worship God. Then, Pharaoh promises to let the Hebrews go if Moses will pray to relieve Egypt of the plague, and then refuses to keep his promise. Then, Pharaoh promises to let them go but only if they do it on his terms by not going into the wilderness.
In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded that Christ asks me to humbly submit myself to God and to others. In fact, that was posture Jesus exemplified in becoming human and obediently suffering on the cross and sacrificing Himself for all. Following Jesus is about following that example, and humbly putting God and others ahead of myself.
In Pharaoh, I see an individual who is sitting on a throne both literal and metaphorical. Pharaoh is the poster child for pride, self-aggrandizement, and self-deception. He is desperately trying to save face and retain some sense of power and authority, but each time he does he continues to reveal that his pride is actually a weakness and a tragic flaw perpetually exposing the deception he’d created for himself.
As I exit the holiday weekend and enter another week, I find myself meditating on the contrast between Pharaoh and Jesus. I don’t have to look very hard to find ways that my thoughts, words, and actions appear more Pharaoh-like than Christ-like. That’s not the person I want to be. I’m reminded of Saul of Tarsus, the powerful and proud Hebrew who was transformed from Jesus’ most zealous enemy to Jesus’ most zealous follower. In the transformation, Paul discovered that weakness is actually strength:
…but [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. Exodus 7:1 (NRSVCE)
For 21st century followers of Jesus, the idea of being God’s agent on Earth is a common one. Jesus made it clear that He was entrusting His on-going mission to His followers. Holy Spirit was poured out to indwell believers, impart spiritual gifts to each, and empower every believer as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom. Believers often speak metaphorically of being Jesus’ eyes, ears, hands, and feet; We are asked to be, expected to be, the embodiment of Jesus’ love to others.
It struck me then when God told Moses “I have made you like God to Pharaoh.” The only time that being “like God” has come up in the story before now was when the snake tempts Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, stating that it will make them “like God.” Until Moses appears, God has been intent on making Himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At this point in the story, however, the Hebrews had become a nation of people living in Egypt for hundreds of years with the 1000+ Egyptian dieties.
One of the subtle themes that has already been established in the Moses story is that God wants the Hebrew people to “know” Him, and for Pharaoh to “know” Him. “They will know,” and “Egyptians will know” are repeated statements. In this way, Moses is really the first example of God using a human instrument through which others will come to know God and through whom God will display His power.
This, of course, sets up a really interesting and important contrast.
Being “like God” can be opposite sides of a coin. I can be “like God” by seeking complete control of my life and the lives of everyone around me. If I want to be “like God” by sitting on the throne of my own life looking out for numero uno, doing as I please, and determining my own way with every step, then my path is going to lead to spiritually dark places (even if I wear the facade of being a good and faithful member of my local church). This is the dark side of “being like God.”
When Moses was being “like God” and when Jesus’ followers become “Christ-like” it is a process of humility, vulnerability, and submission. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words to Peter after the resurrection:
Jesus said [to Peter], “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” John 21:17-19 (MSG)
Jesus explains that Peter had lived the dark side of being “like God” self-centeredly determining his own way, but now he is going to experience the Light side of being “like God” in which he will (like Jesus’ did) humbly surrender his own rights of self-determination and become obedient to places he doesn’t want to go (i.e. “Father, let this cup pass from me”), even to his physical death.
In the quiet this morning, I’m finding myself surprisingly emotional as I meditate on this very simple concept. In my daily life, in the writing of these blog posts, I take on the mantle of being a follower of Jesus. But, are my daily life, words, and actions a demonstration of the dark side of being “like God” or the Light side of being “like Christ”? Am I living for myself under the veneer of being a good Jesus follower? Is my life a demonstration of the humility, vulnerability, and surrender required to be an agent of Christ-like love?
I’m not sure I like all of the answers I’m coming up with to these questions.
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Mark 14:3 (NIV)
In today’s chapter, Jesus was at a dinner party given in His honor. Mark wrote the shortest of the four biographies of Jesus, and his efficiency in story-telling requires that details be left out in order to get to the heart of the matter. In this case, however, I found that the omission of certain details also reduced the power of the moment.
Mark states that “a woman” anoints Jesus with some audaciously expensive perfume. John, who was present at the dinner party, explains in his account (John 12) that the person Mark calls “a woman” was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. The other thing we know about Mary is that much earlier when Jesus paid a visit to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus she had been chastised by her sister, Martha, for not helping with dinner (see Luke 10). Mary was intent on sitting near Jesus and listening to Him while Martha dutifully prepared supper. In John’s account of the dinner party, Martha was once again focused on serving. Mary was focused on Jesus.
I had a couple of observations as I contemplated the scene this morning.
Jesus said that Mary, in anointing him with the perfume, was preparing Him “for burial.” Because of the lack of modern embalming methods, bodies were covered in perfumes and ointments that would counteract the stench of death that the body would emit relatively quickly. Yet, Mary’s act is happening a couple of days before Jesus would be arrested and executed.
While #TheTwelve and Jesus’ other followers are deaf and defensive to Jesus repeatedly insisting that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected, Mary embraces what Jesus has been saying. She shows faith and trust that no one else did. Her act metaphorically tells Jesus, “If this is what must be done, then I’m in. I’m going to trust you, that it will be just as you said. Allow me the honor of preparing you for what you say you must do.”
Mary does this immediately after she witnessed Jesus literally calling her brother out of the grave. Mary was standing there when Jesus said to her sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Mary’s anointing of Jesus also symbolically says “I believe. I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life. I believe you will die and that you’ll be raised from the dead just as you said.”
It is, ironically, Judas who questions the “waste” of the expensive perfume (worth an entire year of typical wages in those days) which he says could have been sold and used for more “practical” purposes. Jesus rebukes Judas sharply. To paraphrase: “Judas, shut up and leave Mary alone. This woman understands what I’m doing better than you and the other eleven.” I can’t help but hear the echoes of Jesus repeatedly asking #TheTwelve in previous chapters: “You still don’t understand?” It was Mary, who had been intent on watching and listening to Jesus, who saw it better than anyone else. It was this rebuke that sends Judas over the edge. He leaves the dinner party to arrange his betrayal.
I also hear the echoes of Jesus’ repeated admonition, “If you have ears to hear.” Mary’s spiritual ears were wide open to hear what no one else heard. Her spiritual eyes saw what no one else did. She was the only one connecting the spiritual dots between what Jesus had said and done raising her brother from the dead, and what Jesus said was going to happen to Him. And, she was the one who had been intent on sticking close to Jesus to watch, listen, and learn.
In the quiet this morning, I find it poignant that the person who seemed to “get it” was a woman outside of #TheTwelve. In those days, women were considered second rate to men. They were often treated as possessions and they typically had little education or social standing. It is a recurring theme in the Great Story for God to choose and to use the least, the youngest, the broken, the weak, and the marginalized to demonstrate His power. At the beginning of the Great Story is was “the woman” who was blamed for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. In this case, it was “a woman” who understands what Jesus is doing. In a few days, it will be “the women” who first hear of the resurrection. It will be “the women” who are the first to believe it. It will be “the women” who are entrusted to share the good news with #TheTwelve. I believe that there is an important lesson for me in this.
I have observed along my journey that even today it is often “the women,” like Mary, who show a greater interest in and sensitivity to the things of the Spirit, as well as a greater understanding of what God is up to. I have come to embrace that I have a lot to learn from them. I also have come to embrace the reality that it is sometimes those whom I’d least expect who get the things of God better than I do. Mary reminds me that in this spiritual journey, humility is required.