Who does God hate?

You know you are worshipping a false God, when this God hates the same people you do.

 -spoken by an unknown person at a retreat I recently attended

Jesus welcomes all questions, and all questioners. Mark 12 shows us three types of questioning souls. The first were people who came to Jesus with the intent of proving him wrong and getting him into trouble with the authorities. They came with false hearts and impure motives and left in “utter amazement.” The encounter changed them.

The Sadducees represent the next type of questioner. (Mark 12:18-27) They came to Jesus with a query about the law (on which they placed a high value) attempting to determine Jesus’ orthodoxy. Would he answer correctly? Would he be on their team?

Their minds were made up, only the right answer from Jesus would prove him credible. Notice I wrote that their minds were made up, their hearts were not involved.

Again, Jesus avoids their “game” and shows them their lack.

Is this not the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Mark 12:24

They did not fully understand the scriptures (the moral law) and they didn’t understand the power of God (the mystical Spirit.) Both are needed.

Ask St. Paul. His mind was made up and his heart was hard. It took the mysterious intervention of the Holy Spirit to expand his narrow understanding of God’s word. Paul’s excellent mind, with it’s predetermined and finite understanding of the Scriptures, needed to be set aside, his heart needed to be penetrated with the mystery of the living Lord.

Oh, there are Sadducees among us and within us; using Scriptures that prove our point, minimizing or ignoring the rest. Convinced of the correctness of our doctrine, or our theology, or style of worship, or spiritual practices, or who’s in the kingdom and who’s not (sadly, the list can be endless), we need God to agree with us. We have already determined which questions are allowable to ask and have the acceptable answers at the ready. Like the Sadducees, our minds are made up, we think in black and white.

I know this all too well. Jesus lovingly allows gray to enter the picture. He gently introduces paradox and mystery. He instructs from the Word of God and the Word of the life’s experience. Entering this mystery, letting go of our predetermined answers is the threshold of mature faith. God allows the questions, the unknown, and the uncertain, hoping it will cause us to give up control and cast ourselves on his love.

It’s a privilege to be poor? -part 2 of 2

In order to receive the good news, we must confess our poverty.

Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. The best news the poor could receive is that the resources they are lacking are now provided. The poor have no money to purchase what they need; they have no power to influence the system; they are faceless, invisible, abused and exploited. The poor need provision, recognition and protection. Jesus is our provision. Jesus is our power. Jesus is our protection. That is good news.

In order to receive the good news of Jesus, we must confess our poverty. This admission is a very humbling experience. It means admitting to ourselves and to others that we can’t take care of ourselves, we need help. It means we must rely on another to supply what, in our mind, we think we should be able to supply for ourselves. Sometimes it means admitting that we have particular needs or desires that we think (or wish) we didn’t. Admitting our poverty requires our ego to die. We can’t pretend that we are wealthy or powerful or that we have it all together. In this dying, we receive the gift of poverty.

To us who are the privileged poor, Jesus says, “do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.”  Why? “Because your heavenly Father knows what you need and will supply your every need out of his abundant riches.” (Luke 12)  These promises are sweet, pretty and very poetic. They bring great comfort and are easy to believe when I am not in touch with my poverty. But when I am out of resources and in real need, I find myself wondering if they are practically and literally true. My soul cries, “I don’t see how you can provide, the need is too great.”   Doubt pushes out faith and and the vacancy in my soul is filled by fear.

Fear, the great thief, whispers,  “Will you have enough? Maybe you should withhold, God will understand.”  “Don’t be too generous, remember you have lots of bills to pay.”  “Ignore the pleas of that homeless man on the street, he’d just use the money for drugs.”  “You need to put that extra money aside for the future instead of taking the widow out for a nice dinner, her husband probably left her plenty of money. Who’s going to take care of you in your old age?”  “Why don’t miracle provisions happen for you, like they do for him? He must be more faithful than you. No wonder God doesn’t provide for you, you’re not obedient, you don’t deserve his kindness.”  On and on, fear wages it’s campaign of dread and worry.

In this cycle of fear and anxiety, be glad that Jesus knows our process intimately and interrupts fear’s tirade. Immediately after telling his followers not to worry, he adds these tender and gentle words, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  He knows that in the face of potential lack, our natural tendency will be fear. Jesus knows that we will forget his promises of provision and will think it is up to us to strategize our solvency. And this forgetting keeps us living in fear. We need to live in the place of trust, in the arms of the good shepherd, Jesus. Picture yourself, a little lamb, being carried in the strong and gentle arms of the one who loves you and gave his very life for the privilege of holding you close.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

With you in the journey,