Readings: John 13:1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
The water pours like the blood.
It cleanses. It cleans.
It washes away the death-stains of sin.
It restores. It redeems.
The towel comes away white as snow.
We are remembered, but our sins are forgotten.
40 A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”
41-45 Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: “Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people.” But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.
A local business owner hereabouts had this habit of replying, “Fine thanks and you?” whenever you said “Hello”. The how-are-you-I’m-good-and-you-I’m-fine social ritual we employ was so ingrained she was a step ahead of the actual conversation! The French have gone even further – they’ve boiled it down to its very basics, using “Ça va?” as both question and answer.
In a sense today’s reading in Mark reminds me of this exchange. We often ask each other how we are without any real expectation of honesty. Here this man told Jesus, “If you want, you could heal me.” But how many people who didn’t care enough to see him healed, how many people who thought he deserved his illness lurk behind his statement? Perhaps that’s why Jesus was so emotional – he saw this man’s history. He saw all the “I’m-fine-thanks-and-you’s?” this man had heard in his life as people scurried past, too preoccupied or self-righteous or apathetic to see the world of pain unsaid.
Unlike them, Jesus wanted this leprous man to be well. “I do choose,” he tells him. To me that sums up the character of Jesus: patient, loving, fierce, he always chose to tarry a while with people, to break bread with them, to speak with them, to listen, to heal, to touch. Jesus doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would hurry past a conversation with a curt “I’m fine thanks, how are you?”
It seems to me that our entire life consists of a single choice: between a short “Ça va? Ça va!”, or the much messier pause that Jesus employed, whether it was by wells or at dinner tables or in the temple or by the sea shore. This man who realised how short his ministry would be never acted like it. And him, the Son of God! Are our human schedules really comparable? Or was he onto something we’ve come to lose as we cross streets to avoid conversations?
Dearest Father, Brother, Friend, this week help me to choose as you did – to choose people, to see them as you see them, to realise that your grace for me is really grace for them, too. Amen.
21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
A good meditative practice is to turn an old loaf of bread over to the lawn and watch the birds descend. If you take the time to tear the slices into smaller pieces and scatter them about in an even spread, you’ll be around to hear the chirps up in the trees and the telephone lines of birds alerting their fellows of this unexpected buffet. No sooner will you have turned your back before they descend: pigeons of all persuasions, irritable Masked Weavers, the occasional Red Bishop, restless Cape Sparrows, Bulbuls, a non-committal Crested Barbet. There’s always an initial risk taker keeping to the outskirts, testing the waters, soon followed by birds of every kind, hopping, skipping and strolling from chunk of bread to chunk of bread, sometimes tussling among themselves for morsels but rarely really fighting, or scaring off the other birds.
In South Africa, the Indian Myna is the exception to this rule. It won’t be long before they turn up to the table: usually in pairs, they run the other birds off by flapping or rushing in their direction before smugly turning to their meal. Part of the meditativeness of watching birds is going, “Shoo!” and clapping your hands to scare the Indian Mynas off. They’re usually reluctant to return after this, but the other birds will flutter back shortly and resume eating, like your behaving questionably is part and parcel of the dining experiences at Chez Lawn.
I wonder, as I sometimes do (and this is perhaps predictably the response of someone now “on the inside” who has always been, or felt, “out”), whether we people of the faith, we saints collected, don’t behave like religious Indian Mynas. We flap our wings and rush others to keep them away from our scatter of “God crumbs”: the ways we define and understand and see God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We get very territorial about this sort of thing, even at the expense of others going hungry for those crumbs.
We behave like shits, is what I’m saying.
But here was Jesus, a man supremely unconcerned with religiosity, and he had the following to say about himself: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses the reveal him.” And then he went ahead and chose to reveal himself, and God, to the whole wide world, through the cross, the grave, the empty tomb, the torn curtain, his ascension, and the Holy Spirit.
I remember Bob Goff telling the story of how a jailed Ugandan child killer came to Christ and started baptising others in prison. Bob was honest about the fact that he didn’t like this. Here was a murderer, sharing God-bread with others, doing so without sanction or training. Here was someone sharing freely what we religious folk try to hoard with definitions and declarations and ecclesiology and orthodoxy: the very presence of God.
God’s presence, his power, his love, his mercy and his authority are not dependent on our approval, however, something we would do well to remember.
There’s a quote from Beth Moore floating around the Internet about how Christians will abandon the Bible to better emulate Christ. I don’t think that’s what happening – it’s just that people are abandoning a particular interpretation of the Bible, one that hoards sustenance from others unless it gets to set the terms, understanding and limits of God and his mercy for them. People are opting not to behave like Indian Mynas.
Jesus Christ has revealed God to the world. It’s happened, it’s irrevocable. This week, this year, instead of rushing people off in a desperate attempt to hoard and apportion God, we might try to behave, in the words of a fool, less like shits.
There’s more than enough bread, and revelation, to be getting on with :).
If you’ve lived through the nineties, you probably remember more about the movie “The Next Karate Kid” than you strictly want to (it’s the one with a young Hilary Swank). At one point, when her character Julie has to attempt a jump kick from one rock to another, Mr. Miyagi advises her to “pray” about it. She learns that trying the maneuver from a standing position doesn’t work; it’s only when she kneels that she gets it right.
In today’s reading, God pulls a Mr. Miyagi:
9 The king of Israel, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom started out on what proved to be a looping detour. After seven days they had run out of water for both army and animals.
10 The king of Israel said, “Bad news! God has gotten us three kings out here to dump us into the hand of Moab.”
11 But Jehoshaphat said, “Isn’t there a prophet of God anywhere around through whom we can consult God?”
One of the servants of the king of Israel said, “Elisha son of Shaphat is around somewhere—the one who was Elijah’s right-hand man.”
12 Jehoshaphat said, “Good! A man we can trust!” So the three of them—the king of Israel, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom—went to meet him.
13 Elisha addressed the king of Israel, “What do you and I have in common? Go consult the puppet-prophets of your father and mother.”
“Never!” said the king of Israel. “It’s God who has gotten us into this fix, dumping all three of us kings into the hand of Moab.”
14-15 Elisha said, “As God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I stand ready to serve, if it weren’t for the respect I have for Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I wouldn’t give you the time of day. But considering—bring me a minstrel.” (When a minstrel played, the power of God came on Elisha.)
16-19 He then said, “God’s word: Dig ditches all over this valley. Here’s what will happen—you won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water and your army and your animals will drink their fill. This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you. You will ravage the country: Knock out its fortifications, level the key villages, clear-cut the orchards, clog the springs, and litter the cultivated fields with stones.”
20 In the morning—it was at the hour of morning sacrifice—the water had arrived, water pouring in from the west, from Edom, a flash flood filling the valley with water.
(2 Kings 3:9-20 MSG)
Imagine the scene: you’re on your way to war, only the country is drought-stricken and there’s no water in sight. It’s hot, you’re thirsty, you’re tired. You’ve been marching seven days, and the end isn’t yet in sight. You’re lagging. The pack animals and horses are lagging. It seems like a bad business.
So your leaders hatch a plan. Instead of turning back or something more practical, they consult a prophet. And this guy, after going into a trance, tells you to start digging ditches all over the dry valley floor. Ditches! You stare at the sky. You stare at the land. You stare at the dry, parched earth. I imagine your thoughts towards this guy and Jehovah aren’t very charitable in that moment!
But you dig. Reluctantly, but you do it, thinking that at the very least these ditches will make neat graves.
And then the next day, shouts of surprise and wonder as the hard-dug ditches are lost to a rush of water.
Much like Julie-san couldn’t see the use of “praying” about a karate kick in a zen rock garden, we often struggle to see the use of the day-to-day grunt work of being God’s. It feels like we’re those soldiers, lost on a detour, trials on all sides, and in the middle of all this – when we want answers most – God tells us to dig ditches in a dry river bed. We stare at the sky – no clouds. We stare at the land – no gushing rivers. We stare at the earth – just dust. And we wonder: What’s the use of what we’re doing?
We don’t yet see the morning. We don’t see the clouds gathering on a distant horizon, filling a river that will come rushing past us. But just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, or that God isn’t working.
The ditches the army dug probably helped dam the water so that there would be enough for their use. What at the time felt like pointless, exhausting grunt work turned out to be an essential partnering with God to take advantage of a miracle. Could God have filled the river without the army’s ditches? Sure. But that’s not the way he operates. He chooses again and again to work with us. Given the choice, God chooses relationship every time.
What feels to us like pointless work is in reality preparation.We can be comforted with the knowledge that what we’re doing, no matter how trivial, time-consuming or wasteful it seems, is in fact a necessary part of the miracle.We’re doing our part in the full expectation and faith that God will do his.
Don’t lose faith, friends. The morning – and your miracle – is on its way!
Dearest Lord, grant me the faith, patience and humility to trust in you and your timing. Amen.
Friends, thank you for reading my #CoffeeTimePrayer devotionals this year! I’m taking a bit of a break this December, but the devos will be back early next year. Lee
“Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled. (Matthew 22:8-10 Msg)
Ever since reading it, Matthew 22:1-10 has been bugging me. Every day you and I are invited to a magnificent wedding feast, but when the prompting comes – when the Holy Spirit twigs our ear to slow down, to pray, read the Bible, to be nicer, to reach out and help someone, to listen – we have the same excuses the people in the parable did. “Come to the grace-filled, life-giving feast? Sit down at that main table? All for free? Gee thanks, Jesus, but I’ve gotta mow the lawn.”
Our women’s small group has long held that we, as people, suck, a theory that gains traction the longer you think about Christians and humanity in general :P.
Back in Jesus’ day, wedding feasts were drawn out affairs, often lasting several days. That’s why the master of ceremonies at the Cana wedding commended the good wine they brought out – he was probably surprised there was still any left! Perhaps that’s why we put off attending this wedding feast we’re invited to. Like the folks in the parable, we always think we have a few days left, no big deal. We can conduct our business and then – checking our watches to make sure we have a minute to spare – duck into the feast, take our seat at the table, and lay in.
More recently I read the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) and this impressed upon me that the doors to this wedding feast won’t always be open. I don’t mean to inspire dread – that’s a terrible reason to follow Jesus. But think about it this way: the Bridegroom arrived in the middle of the night – why only then? Could it be that his arrival was days in the making – him all the while waiting, hoping, inviting people to come along – and some were too late? Or didn’t see the need to attend at all?
In the first parable, which people eventually entered into the feast? The really hungry ones, right? Not the “well fed” ones, but the hungry ones. That makes sense; the hungrier you are, the more likely you’ll go where the free food is! When we’re invited to a spiritual wedding feast every day and we decline the invitation, could it be that we do so because we’re not spiritually hungry enough? Are we so sated with self-righteousness, pride or idolatry that we send our RSVPs back “No”?
Maybe a good prayer for us to pray this week is for spiritual hunger. When tempted, Jesus told the Devil that man doesn’t live on bread alone, but also on the word of God, and this after a forty day fast! Dare we pray to be that hungry, spiritually, that the hunger for actual food is comparable? Something most of us have to experience at least three times a day, and many of us would gladly do more often, if not for waistlines?
If we’re to feel the urgency of the wedding feast and RSVP “Yes” instead of the ambiguous “Maybe” most Facebook Event invites seem to inspire these days – then yes! So this week pray with me for spiritual hunger:
Dearest Lord, thank You for inviting me to your kingdom feast each day, every moment of every day! It’s not an invitation I deserve, nor one that I can ever really live up to, but You invite me anyway, and for that I’m immensely grateful. Lord, help me to say yes. Grant me the mercy of spiritual hunger and gratitude for the grace of that hunger being sated at Your table, and Your table alone. Amen.