Leave Them in the Pit

If your child were in need and the only way that you could get them help would require you breaking the law, do not tell me you would not do it. Don’t tell Jesus either. He would not commend you for your piety.

The law was clear in regards to the Sabbath. No work was to be done. But, it is ridiculous to think that if your child fell into a pit on the Sabbath, you would wait until Sunday to pull him out.1 (Although, a day in a pit might be good for them:) Religious adherence was not the point of the Sabbath. The point was creating a healthy rhythm of life for God’s people. It was a gift of rest. As Jesus put it, “Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”2

David and his men ate bread from the temple that, by law, only the priests could eat. But, the circumstances surrounding that event, the context, prioritized their need before the law.3 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment (discernment) of God rather than burnt offerings.”4 Kindness and compassion are more absolute than the religious law.5

Human hunger matters more than the holiness of a piece of bread. Restoration of someone’s health is not to be impeded by a religious law. It seems obvious, especially when we read about the astounding stubbornness of the Pharisees. Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.6

“Sorry crippled man. Ain’t no healing available today.”  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “It’s the Sabbath.”

This does not mean that the Bible and its teaching are to be treated frivolously or are simplistically relative. I am not saying, nor was Jesus implying that the only thing God wants from us is kindness. What this means is that you can site a seemingly clear biblical teaching and still miss the point. A “The Bible says it, that finishes it” approach is theologically shallow and lazy. Romans 13 does not permit us to let our government go unchecked. It does not free us from intellectual Christan engagement of policies. At the same time, we cannot simply remind everyone to love their enemies as if that in itself solves the most complicated questions regarding human violence, evil and the like.

The way of Jesus demands more from us than our talking points. My family’s safety and yours are important to me, but protecting my family does not let me off the hook of my moral responsibility to the hurting and needy. If you lived in Aleppo, you would do whatever you could to get your family out of there. You would not care about any immigration law or some border. Your kid’s safety and quality of life trump everything else. (see what I did there?)

My goal is not to change your mind about any certain policy, but simply to season the speech that is the overflow of your heart. Do not talk about “keeping the terrorists out” without expressing compassion for those truly in need of refuge. Leaving someone in the pit because it is the Sabbath misses the point. You may not be sure how to get them out (how to solve the problem) but, acknowledging the need, the moral imperative to do so, is a good starting point.

Withholding mercy cannot be justified by appealing to your duty to uphold some religious or civic law. To do so is to forget the mercy and grace that have been afforded you.

1 Luke 14:5
2 Mark 2:27
3 Mark 2:25-26
4 Hosea 6:6
5 We Make the Road by Walking Brian McLaren pg108
6 Galatians 5:22-23

Praying with Your Legs

I remember praying the first time I was unemployed for things to change. That is right. The first time. I have been unemployed three times in my life. Once I quit. Another time I was laid off due to a shrinking budget and the last time I was basically fired. Not a stellar track record. My poor wife and kids… I am talking about the first time. Obviously, I prayed for a job. I prayed for a good job that would provide us financial, emotional and mental comfort. In a word “peace” – peace from what I was feeling like at that point. None of us are immune to the pain that causes our faith to feel like spreading rocks beneath us eroding into frustration, anger, and dark despondency. Why? Where is God? What good is God if he does not even help in times like these? That whole “Footprints in the Sand” poem does not help me. Maybe I am too cynical.

Hope emerged and faded so often and quickly that it seemed to hurt more than it helped. I remember looking out a window unsure of what to do with myself after getting lost again in the rabbit hole of searching for jobs on the internet. My inner dialogue seemed to blur the line between thinking and praying. Suddenly, the phone rang, as if a phone rings with any other timing than suddenly, and I was pulled out of the tangled mess of my mind. It was a friend, a business owner, and he had a job offer. Hallelujah. Jehovah Jireh.

Joke. It did not happen that way. Nobody called, This whole thing did not end abruptly, easily or gloriously. It kind of just faded out of view in the background over way too many miles as we drove away going up and down hills.

My struggle with God then was not just about him answering or not answering me. I wondered if I even deserved to be answered. I was asking for something a lot of people do not have. Why what makes me so special that he would just magically make it happen? I was unemployed, but I lived in a nice house with a good family and a lot of “things.” What I wanted was to be able to pay for it all without stress while loving my work. On one hand, I felt like a Christian sitting at slot machine wondering why the infidel next you is winning when you at least try to serve God and would probably at least do a little good with it. That guy will just blow it on himself. (Yes, I did that.) On the other hand, I knew as I sat there wanting a blessing, there were kids starving to death who would not get an answer and who would eventually completely die from a lack of food. There I sat stuck between “Is this too much to ask? A little help here!” and “Nevermind God. You should go help someone with bigger problems.”

This is the problem with believing in miracles. Because, if they can happen, why do they not happen to me? For every one person healed, a million others still die. He healed the physically sick, the physically deformed, the mentally ill. He brought people back to life. He made a bunch of wine out of water which is really less serious than all of the other miracles but seems fun.

John calls them signs. These were points in time where the entire wavelength of our faith was condensed into one moment. For that person, at that time, everything was made new. That in a phrase is the Christian hope. Everything will be made new.

Yet, we are not to sit by the pool and wait for someone to push us into the miraculous water.

“I prayed for freedom for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” – Frederick Douglas (From a speech in 2011 after the Bowling Green Massacre. Just kidding my politically informed friends.)

Praying with your legs is what we know as walking by faith and not by site. We do not walk because of what we see around us. We walk because of what we do not see. Right now, we sigh and make muffled growling noises of frustration. We feel burdened and are exhausted from the chemical reactions taking place in these bodies we now live in caused by stress and worry. We long for a different existence.1 The only way to survive this is to walk by faith and not by the results, or lack of, that we witness. This is what people of faith have always been commended for.2

“When Jesus speaks about the world he is very realistic. He speaks about wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal, hatred, and assassinations. There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world already belonging to the kingdom of joy.” Henri Nouwen

So, we do not move forward hoping for the miraculous to take place in order to make today or tomorrow better. We move forward with hope because of the miraculous that has already taken place and is promised to take place again once and for all.

What this means is that your struggle is not due to a lack of faith. Your existence in that struggle is a testimony of your faith. Today, do not take heart in what you see around you. If you are waiting for things to start looking up in order to find the strength to get up and walk, you will be laying there a long time. Take heart in the faith that moves beyond simply promising tomorrow will better and promises that eventually, it will be better forever.

 

1 2 Corinthians 5:1-7
2 Hebrews 11:1-2