Monday, February 26, 2007

Contemplation #247
For many are invited, but few are chosen. Matthew 22:14

These words conclude a parable that compares the Kingdom of God to a king giving a wedding feast for his son. This is the third parable in a series of stories that talk about God extending an invitation (Matthew 21:8-22:14), and in each story some choose to refuse it. The chosen are the willing, the willing are made righteous, and the righteous are the people of God. We must continue to oppose the idea that the righteous are chosen because of their goodness, and that the people of God are those who make themselves worthy and are invited because of who they are. In each of the three parables, the ones who eventually are the chosen are not the ones who started out looking like the most likely to be "in".

Contemplation #248
They gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad . . . Matthew 22:10

In our eyes, and in the eyes of God, there are people who are both good and bad. There are none who are perfectly good, nor any who are completely and perfectly bad. The meanest person has some good, and the best person some meanness. Maybe those who are good and bad in our eyes are not exactly the same ones God would identify, which is why we should refrain from judging. What we do see is that God gathers both the good and bad to the wedding feast of the Son. We should not be surprised who we find ourselves sitting beside at the table of God. It is not the feast of God and his Kingdom unless both the good and bad are sitting down together in the grace of God.

Contemplation #249
Friend, he asked, how did you get in here without wedding clothes? Matthew 22:12

The one who despised the occasion and had no answer to explain his insult against the king, was addressed as friend. Such is the disposition of God that even those who show no regard for Him, are to God, friends. Perhaps, we should remember that Jesus addresses Judas as friend when he comes to betray him in the garden (Matt. 26:50). Jesus knew that to be like his Father he would need to see Judas as a friend though he was not acting as one. This parable of the Kingdom teaches us much about God, and the disposition that in us would most emulate Him: invite all, expect both good and bad to come, and call all friends.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Contemplation #244
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom . . . James 2:12

Usually when reminding someone that they will be judged, you expect the reminder to be a warning of impending harsh and strict measures. You would expect there to be a threat of how hard the judgment will be. Yet here, James reminds us to live as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. That certainly does not sound like a threat. In fact, it is not a threat, but an encouragement. We are not to fearfully live under the specter of condemnation, but live in a way consistent with the law or instruction that we have been given - one that is about freedom. Our actions and speech are to be measured against a standard that frees us.

Contemplation #245
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. James 2:12

If there is a threat in James' words, it is not found in being judged by a law that gives freedom, but in failing to show mercy. The law that gives freedom, the one that should shape our actions and words, is to be identified with having mercy on others. To not be merciful to others will result in an unfavorable judgment by the law of freedom that will ultimately be our measure. The freeing law perhaps should be equated with James' "royal law" of loving one's neighbors (2:8) and his instructions to show no favoritism (2:1ff). To be merciful, to love others, and to treat even the least with as much dignity and respect as the greatest, all seem to be parts of this law that gives freedom.

Contemplation #246
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, . . . he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:25

We might wish that James had in a short sentence or phrase defined exactly what he meant by a law that gives freedom. But then, maybe reducing it to a few words would have been too restrictive. James does tell us that there is a law that is to guide and shape us. We may think of it as a perfect law that gives us freedom. It demands that we be merciful, treat others fairly, love our neighbors, and speak and act with holiness and godliness. Whatever else we may say about this law, it is wholly consistent with who God is and how God lives in love with his creation. This law, this life of God, is what we must look into intently. Our concentration and effort is to grasp and live according to this perfect and freeing law.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Contemplations #241
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14

The will and love of God is captured in this simple and yet profound statement. Should we want to know what it means to be Christian, a person close to God, this instruction is sufficient on its own to reveal godliness to us. Jesus' blessing, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing, is a perfect expression of this love of God. If we are to bless even those who persecute us, who is not to be blessed? By showing us that we should pray goodness on our most vile enemies, those most opposed to us, we know that the same should be given to all who are closer. None may omitted from our love in God.

Contemplations #242
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14

Many are willing to pray for their enemies and those who persecute them. They pray that these wicked people might come to their senses, that they might come to know God. They pray for their conversion. This is good work, but it falls short of what Paul is saying. To pray that my enemy will stop being my enemy is not the same as praying for blessing for my adversary. The first prayer is still for me and what would benefit me, but I am to pray for what would benefit my persecutors. Sure, their conversion who benefit them, but let me pray for their blessing right now even while they are my enemies. Absolutely unthinkable, if I am in God and his love in me, should I wish for the destruction of my enemies.

Contemplations #243
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14

We are always overwhelmed by the apparent impossibility of learning to truly love our enemies. To bless those who hurt us, and to not curse them, seems more than we can hope to achieve. And yet, we are not considering the burden and cost of living with hate. Greater is the cost of anger, bitterness, cursing, and opposition than simply turning to God's love. Little else consumes us like hate. There is a transcendent freedom in love, to bless every person without respect to their conduct toward me, whether it be good or evil. What is truly impossible, though we do not perceive it, is living in constant anger and cursing. Such living keeps us far from God and his peace.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Contemplations #238
So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:11

Until this day Peter and his companions had wanted nothing but to catch fish. They had worked through the night, as they had likely done many nights before, laboring hard with all their skill and knowledge to net fish. And yet when Jesus blesses them with an astounding haul of fish, they immediately leave everything on the shore. The way the text reads, they pulled the boats up on shore and left it all. The boats were full of the fish that they had dreamed of catching, but now their interests were no longer in fish. They didn't ask Jesus to come back tomorrow to help them catch more fish.

Contemplations #239
So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:11

Peter and his companions were fishermen. They listened to Jesus teach, not their area of expertise, but they were the ones who knew how to fish. It was not after Jesus' teaching that they left all and followed him, but after the miraculous catch. Had Jesus not astounded them in their own area of expertise they might not have been so receptive. Sometimes where we believe ourselves to be the most competent is where God must appear, showing us that we are not so skillful and capable as we think. Where do we think we need the least amount of help? Maybe that is exactly the place in our lives where God will grab our attention.

Contemplations #240
So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:11

One can hardly imagine that Peter or the others had any clear idea of what Jesus meant when he said that from now on they would catch men. However, they did recognize that what had happened was potentially world-changing for them. Their commitment at that moment when they left everything was to the person of Jesus and not to some vision of the future. The future he was talking about must have been a complete mystery. What did he mean 'fishers of men'? They didn't leave their boats, nets, and fish for a brighter future that Jesus was promising, but to follow a man who clearly knew the God of their fathers.