How many times do we run ourselves into the ground with compassion fatigue – burning ourselves out because we are always putting others first? While we were put on this earth to serve others, we also need to establish healthy boundaries in our lives, ones that allow us to love and show compassion to “me” as well as to other human becomings.Read More »
Transformational coaching: Jesus
A few weeks ago I stumbled across Doug Firebaugh’s article, titled Jesus, The Original Networker—9 Business Lessons from the Bible 1st Sept 2016 issue of Networking Times). My curiosity was piqued about number of the points he made from the life of Jesus, particularly since Jesus, in Mark, asks 65 questions to his disciples, followers and pharisees.Overall, throughout the gospels, Jesus asks some 307 questions.
Pity versus Compassion
I was recently reading on compassion, and I came across the following thought:
Pity is when your fear touches another person’s suffering.
Compassion is when love touches their suffering!
“A noble cedar or a humble mustard seed?”
A few months ago I threw some avocado seeds into my compost bin, and now I’ve discovered I have a beautiful avocado seedling growing in my compost. I’ve very happy about that – but all I did was throw it away! I was expecting to make compost, but now I am very pleased that I need to ask Alexis to locate a great place to plant an avocado tree. And we all know how big an avocado tree can get. So, I’m not sure where that avocado tree will get planted, but I am pretty sure that it will produce some great avocados!Read More »
Practicing presence when the days are dark
These past three days, I’ve been feeling burdened and tired. I’ve been going to sleep early (like 8.30 p.m. early!), and waking up feeling sluggish. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was “depressed”.
But I do know better.
I know that this is all part of the process that I am working on.Read More »
For God so loved the world…
- John 3: 16-21
- Ephesians 2: 4-10
For God so loved the world… that over two thousand years ago, Jesus came to this earth in human form to show us what this love truly means. Through his life, his teachings and his example, we find a new way, a better way. He gave what we may consider to be the ultimate sacrifice, his earthly body, in a painful and excruciating death, so that we might receive the gift of Oneness of our spiritual bodies with God, no longer separated but as Children of God. Through this, we might fully understand the meaning of eternal life, as spiritual beings living continually in the presence of God. Not waiting for our earthly death for eternity to start, but recognising that we are already living eternity.
Jesus came and taught us humility, as he lived as a refugee in Egypt as a child, much like Syrian refugees live today in Jordan and Lebanon. Do we treat our refugees any better than we have treated Jesus? How do we treat the refugees from Venezuela? The refugees from Haiti, from Africa? If we imagine that each of these refugees was Jesus, how are we doing?
‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 40)
In Matthew 18: 1 we find the disciples discussing “Who really is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens?” He calls a child, stands the child in the midst of the disciples and tells them:
“Unless you turn around and become as young children, you will by no means enter into the Kingdom of the heavens. Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one who is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens; and whoever receives one such young child on the basis of my name receives me also.”—Matthew 18:3-5.
As we consider how we are treating the sojourners and refugees among us, then we known how great we are in the Kingdom! Before the last supper, we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
Because God so loved us… Jesus showed us the importance of reading the Word, as a twelve year old when he read and discussed in the temple the scriptures. Luke 2: 47 says that “all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” At twelve years old. He not only was willing to read the Bible allowed in the temple, but to answer questions and explain it. And yet, we seem to struggle each week for participants to read the scriptures aloud in church each Sunday.
Jesus showed us dedication and patience, as he worked as a carpenter, under his father’s tutelage. And yet we reject the authority of our parents, failing to honor our mother and father as we are called to do. We push our way forward for honor and rewards, seeking the limelight, rather than being willing to work in the background.
Because God so loved you… Jesus showed us how to handle the temptations that arise in our day to day lives. Through his temptations of hunger (lust of the body), egoism (misuse of our power) and materialism (kingdoms and wealth) we see what is means to be a child of God, holding fast to that identity, and still standing strong in the knowledge of what that really means. In these temptations, we see the challenge to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God” – are you really a child of God? Prove it.
Through these temptations, we see how the ego wants to use our spiritual power and gifts to satisfy human cravings. This is attempting to turn stones into bread, the attempt to find gratification in using spiritual power to satisfy human, personal desires.And yet, Jesus shows us the better and higher way. Are you fully secure in your identity as a child of God? Can you, like Jesus, respond: “It is written”? Our human nature wants to demonstrate prosperity and success or healing and “prove” that it works. We think some outer achievement will make us happy and successful. But Jesus teaches us a higher way: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”
Most importantly, Jesus showed us what it really means to have a relationship with God, to have the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus showed us, in his every day living and loving, what it means to truly be One with God the Father.
John 14: 4-7 promise us:
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
…7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
We are reminded of this again in John 17: 21-23
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 … so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
For God so loved the World that he sent us Jesus… who taught us what it means to be a child of God (as each one of us has already been called to be). Paul says in Colossians 2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The Message says “Everything of God gets expressed in him, so that you can see and hear God clearly”.” Are you living out your life as a son or daughter of God? Is every quality of God fully expressed in your life and living and loving?
Psalm 82: 6 says in a stunning way:
You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.
The same calling to greatness and Oneness with God that Jesus had, each of us has. To be the Son of God is to be of the same nature as God. The Son of God is “of God.” We were created by God, in God’s image, to do God’s will on this earth. And God so loved each one of us, as sons and daughters, that God sent us Jesus to show us the way home.
Jesus reminds us of this in John 10: 33-38:
33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 … know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Like the Prodigal son, we have lived our lives without authority, power, belonging and sharing at the table of the feast: but God loved us. And so today we are reminded of this rich mercy, of the great love with which we are loved. We are made alive in Christ, seated with him, shown the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us! If we are living in separation from God, then we are throwing away the gift of love that was given to us.
And because of this great love that we have been shown, we are all challenged today to love each other! The test of how well we have overcome that which separates us from God is how well we love our brothers and sisters:
John 13: 35
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- Romans 9: 1-15
- Matthew 14:13-21
- Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
These verses from Matthew & Romans 9 contain a common theme: the compassion of Jesus for the crowd and the compassion of Paul for his Jewish countrymen. Paul is anguished that his Jewish countrymen cannot see the truth of Christ being the promised Messiah:
9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred … to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, …and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, …
He expresses himself as having great sorrow and unceasing anguish for these, his countrymen: how many of us could say we feel like this for our countrymen in Panama?
Where is our Christianity, if we have no compassion? For so many people, life is hard: every story of the gospels shows us Jesus moved to action.
Take a moment with me, to consider the following passages:
- Luke 7: 13 – When the Lord saw her (the widow from Nain whose only son had died), he had compassion on her and said to her “Do not weep.”
- Matthew 15: 32 – he had compassion on the crowd that came to him with their sick, lame, blind, crippled, mute and healed them. But more so than this, they were hungry and so he ordered the disciples to feed them, all 4,000 of them!
- Matthew 9: 35-38 – Jesus was travelling throughout the cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction. And when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
- Matthew 20: 29-34: As Jesus left Jericho, a great crowd was following him and 2 blind men were sitting by the roadside, calling out to him. And Jesus stopped and asked “What do you want me to do for you?”, and they said “Let our eyes be opened”. And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they regained their sight.
Where have we, as Christians, gone wrong? I cannot imagine a Christ without compassion, but I see so-called Christians without compassion! Where has humanity gone wrong?
I want you to consider a 2, 3 or 4 year old child: if you drop something, they will scuttle to help you pick it up. If they see another child crying, they are anguished and want to make it better. They are anxious to help with the cleaning, the dishes and all those household chores. They are compassionate and caring, they notice the emotions and feelings of those around them.
But then, somewhere along the way, they lose that compassionate nature and they start to think only about self – “I want” and I don’t want to share. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature? Why do we stop taking the time to say “what can I do to help this person”? We’re living in an epidemic of incivility, disengagement, and despair – in politics, in the work place, in our homes, and even in our church.
What Is Compassion?
Compassion: put simply is empathy PLUS action. It is more than just kindness; it is sensitivity to the suffering of others with a commitment to do something about it. It is:
- the smile we give to a stranger
- the food we give to the homeless or our oldies in our AAAM missions program
- giving someone the benefit of the doubt
- it is listening to understand, rather than listening to answer back
- it is making all conversations safe – even when we have a difficult conversation or feedback to give
We all need more compassion in our lives: a totally different perspective when it comes to how you perceive yourself and others. We start with compassion towards those we are in contact with every day in our homes, each week day in the office, or once a week in our Church.
Think of this for a moment:
Let’s say you are very worried about your daughter’s health. You took her to the doctor and he decided to take tests in order to rule out a Dengue Fever. Later that day you are in Arrocha, buying some medicines, preoccupied with your daughter and an acquaintance passes you and says hello. You say hello in return but because you are so deep in thought you don’t stop to chat.
Later on you hear the acquaintance felt insulted because you “snubbed” her. Even though it was not your intention to snub this person, and you had a very good reason for your behavior-the acquaintance assumed the worst.
That is, simply, what most of us do. We assume the worst:
They were rude! They were harsh! They were judgmental! Did you hear the tone in their voice? Did you see the way she looked at me? She ignored me! She walked right past me!
Learning to have more compassion involves making the radical shift to assume the best in others.
What would Balboa Union Church look like if every person in this Church were truly compassionate in word & deed, as Christ was?
Where Do We Start?
First – we start with ourselves!
How good are you at being compassionate to yourself? Do you forgive yourself when you make mistakes? Do you love yourself and your body? Do you take time to ask your body how it’s feeling? If you haven’t identified what you are feeling, how are you going to be able to identify what other people are feeling? How are you feeling right now? Do you have any aches or pains? Are you feeling nervous or uptight anywhere? Is there tightness in your stomach or a tension in your shoulders? Are you carrying any tension into today from the week that was – are you carrying the past with you? Are you brooding or concerned about the future: where are you holding it in your body?
We start with baby steps: practicing compassion each day. First, I want us to take a small step towards compassion for ourselves:
I want you to think about your body scan that you just finished and what you identified: that part of your body that is tense, tight, aching, whatever it was that you felt: and I want you to bless it. Right here, right now. I want you to pray mercy on yourself. I want you to show yourself some compassion – and instead of complaining about that part of your body, “oh, that knot in my neck”, or “that pain in my knee” or “that old injury that always plays up” – put your hands on it, and say “God bless you”. Pray love to that part of your body that you always complain about! And every time you feel that ache, pain, tension: I want you to use it as your cue to pray for yourself. Remember God’s love for you, and surround that part of your body with love, acceptance and joy: and bless it. I am sure that you have cursed it enough times already – and I imagine that’s not working for you! So, why not try something different for the next 30 days? Whether it be a slipped disk in your back, a recurring pain in your shoulder, a tightening in your jaw, a sore ankle from when you fell over: let it be reminder to you to love yourself, bless yourself and show yourself and your body some compassion!
Then the second step is showing compassion for your neighbor:
It might be just that person you passed in the street: if you are out and about a lot, in your car, I want to suggest that you use red lights, stop signs or just the traffic jams, and allow them to be your “pause”. Every time you stop, take a deep breath, notice how YOU are feeling, remember you are God’s representative in this world, and then breath out a blessing on another person – maybe a pedestrian that is crossing the street, or the person sitting in the car next to yours, or the traffic cop that is directing the traffic. And each time your car stops, take a moment to pause, to breathe in God’s love, and to exhale a blessing on another person: to reach a point where the red light or stop sign becomes your cue to cultivate compassion, and it helps you establish a habit of compassion for your fellow man.
And then, I want you to bring compassion home, to your house – the place that it is most needed! Unfortunately, most of us treat the people that we live with, our families, with a certain level of disdain that we would not give to others! And it takes extra effort to treat them with compassion, because you really know them, flaws and all! Each morning, take a moment to ask yourself what act of kindness you can perform today in your home, however small. If you really want a challenge – try the 40-day love dare for your spouse or a person that you live with in the same house!
The world needs Christians that actively practice compassion and caring for their fellow man. Without compassion, our love towards God is meaningless!
Spirit of Life,
Thank you for the opportunities to love that present themselves in the turmoil of life!
When the light catches the tears in another’s eyes, in moments without words, let us be present.
Let us seek to make another’s wellbeing the object of our concern.
Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Let us be kind, gentle, generous, loving, giving and forgiving wherever we may go. Allow us to be as compassionate as the air we breathe. Give us the strength to help our brother, to pick up those who have fallen. We declare and decree that we will follow the example Jesus has set before us, in his Mighty name we pray!
Sermon: Raising the Dead
- Luke 7: 11-17
- 1 Kings 17: 8-24
I’d like to introduce you all this morning to a special artifact from our home that is of vital importance for dressing up as a fairy princess: the magic wand.
A couple of weeks ago, I helped little Miss Two dress up in a pretty dress, and put a little crown on her head, and this little wand in her hand. She was parading round the house rather happily and looking at herself in the mirror, admiring her princess self when she exclaimed “Is broken”.
As any good mother, I asked what was broken, and was informed that her wand was broken “Is not working”, followed by the words any mother wants to hear about a magic wand “fix it mummy”. Since she knows that broken cars are taken to a “car shop” to get fixed, she made mention of a”wand shop” in her request for fixing her broken wand. Now, I don’t know how other mother’s do it, but we’re miles away from Diagon Alley, if I were even able to find platform 9 3/4, and there are no elves from the Little Kingdom that I can call on to fix the fairy wand, and I have no special abilities where expectations of what a magic wand is suppose to do are concerned.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still left wondering what was supposed to have happened when she waved her magic wand and what it failed to do.
Oh! to have the simple faith of a child that can believe anything is possible and doable! Matthew 18:2-4 calls us to become like children,
“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Mark 10: 14-15
14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
So, today I want to deal with an issue that I struggle with in my Christian faith: are Christians able to raise the dead through faith? In fact, are we supposed to believe in signs and wonders, like healing the sick and making the blind to see? Is there a place for raising the dead in today’s modern world or is it just relegated to fables and myths and Game of Thrones? If it is beyond our ability and powers, how should we live our lives as Christians? What should we learn from today’s readings that we can really take out into this world and be the salt of the earth?
I’ve spent the better part of a week reading various points of view on raising the dead. I’ve discovered groups such as a group of Evangelicals who call themselves the “Dead Raising Team”. I’ve read about Saint Patrick’s 33 cases of raising the dead in Ireland, in order to convince the many pagans of the day to convert. What is amazing about Saint Patrick is that in 30 years he converted an entire island (Ireland) to Christianity, when previous missionaries had been unable to convert towns, and he gave all glory for this to God and the moving of the Holy Spirit.
But when it comes to raising the dead, as Christians, we’re skeptical.
“Levitating saints, sure. Weeping icons and statues, yep. … The dying healed through the intercession of the saints, of course. The world is filled with miracles. …. We’re supernaturalists, but most of us live by the normal (supernatural) means of grace. We go through life in the usual and sometimes God disrupts things with a special benefit.”
While I would love to believe that we could all participate in the supernatural, my rational thinking gets in the way, and I’m left searching for practical and rational ways that I can transform this world.
Most of what I’ve read about Luke 7 speaks to Christ’s compassion for the widow who has lost her only son, in a society where she would have been left completely unprotected and without any rights.
How are we to react as Christ when we see those in need and hurting? As Christians, we are called to have the same compassion for our fellow man. We are called to look beyond just what we can see, and commit to life-changing actions in the lives of others. But do you have the time, energy & commitment for that?
The principle of compassion is the very heart of Christ. The ministry of Jesus flowed from His heart of compassion toward those in need. Compassion is a word of action. It is not observing from the sidelines; it is the heartfelt care for another with both the intent and action. The compassion of Christ carries the notion of tenderness and affection.
The uniqueness of Jesus’ ministry rests in His concern for persons — He truly loves people and considers them worthy of respect and compassion because of what they are — bearers of the divine image of God.
John challenges us to look to the needs of others,
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (3:17-18).
Loving others is one of the many ways we put our faith into action.
“People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
So, how can we put this compassion into practice? If we can’t do the supernatural, what can we do that will make life-changing differences?
- Be considerate and present: Practice having old-fashioned conversations (by that, I mean, without your phone), where you can give each person your full attention – use direct eye contact and keep your ears open to their needs.
- Do a body and feelings check regularly: Check the motivation behind your words, actions and decisions. Always check in with your thoughts before they become words or actions to be sure your motivation is pure. If you catch yourself about to say or do something that isn’t coming from a place of integrity, or if it’s untrue, unkind, or unnecessary, think before you act. Every word and action generates a reaction. Be sure your ripple effect is positive and one that promotes a culture of compassion.
- Be affectionate: Don’t forget the power of touch, especially for children, who thrive on feeling accepted as whole people. Give hugs and pats on the head or a squeeze of the hand.
- Communicate warmly: Let your genuine interest in helping the other person show through heartfelt communication. You can make a world of difference by simply listening and talking in a warm, patient manner.
- Acknowledge people’s existence: Say good morning, good afternoon or hello to the people you walk past all the time – the concierge, the door man, the security guy, the homeless man that you prefer to ignore so he won’t ask you for cash, the elderly lady walking so slowly she’s slowing the pedestrian traffic. Get to know people.
- Practice acts of kindness: Go out of your way to be kind. Try a 30-day kindness challenge. Plan random acts of kindness – hold the door! (Put your arm around and comfort that Game of Thrones fan that just burst into tears, because I just said to hold the door!)
- Show empathy: Empathy is showing that you understand another’s feelings or emotions; you identify with the situation and care enough to place yourself in another’s shoes. If someone is upset or acting unusual, consider why before you judge or get annoyed. There’s probably a backstory that would make you react differently. And when someone does share, you don’t have to have a perfect answer. You can just say, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you.”
- Allow your heart to break: Be aware of what’s going on around you. When you open your eyes to your world, you can often see more clearly where compassion is needed. The world is full of what seem like intractable problems. Often we let that paralyze us. There are some people in the world that we can’t help, but there are so many more that we can. So when you see a mother and her children suffering in another part of the world, don’t look away. Look right at them. Let them break your heart, then let your empathy and your talents help you make a difference in the lives of others. Be the difference you want to see in this world!
- Be an encouragement: Be the person that holds others up, motivates them, brings them cheer. Instead of dwelling on everything people do wrong, use your voice to tell them what they are doing right and encourage them to continue working towards their goals.
Let us pray:
Creator God,Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Let us be kind, gentle, generous, loving, giving and forgiving wherever we may go. Allow pride to never get the best of us as You fulfill our dreams. Help us not to have a boastful tongue against our brothers. Let humility invade our souls.In Jesus’ name. Amen
Does your religion forget God?
“Does your religion forget God?”
As I stand up here this morning, I am reminded about why Jeremiah said to God “I don’t know how to speak; I am only a child”. Well, maybe not a child, but Mum & Dad are sitting in the congregation listening, and I feel like a child. Are they going to like what I said? What are they going to say in the car on the way home?
Like Jeremiah, I feel that there is something important to share this morning, for the strengthening, encouragement and comfort of each one of you. So, with some fear and trembling, I dare to ask “Does your religion forget God?”
When I read Luke 13: 10-17, titled: A Crippled Woman Healed on the Sabbath, I wonder whether I am the crippled woman or the Synagogue ruler.
For a moment, I want to consider the crippled woman. Luke tells us:
- She was crippled by a spirit (other translations mentions that it was a spirit of illness or infirmity). This doesn’t mean demon possession: it’s more like the torment that Job endured when Satan afflicted his body.
- For 18 years she’s been suffering!
- She’s bent over, unable to straighten up – Now, If you get Ankylosing Spondylitis (a chronic progressive form of arthritis distinguished by inflammation and stiffness) today’s medicine can relieve the pain, but not actually cure the condition.
- She was in the synagogue on the Sabbath
- Finally, she was standing somewhere at the back, because Jesus had to call her forward.
I wonder how this spirit of illness attached itself to her: did it start attacking her slowly, surreptitiously, taking over her health a little at a time, so that she didn’t notice it at first? Or did it crash in and knock her over and out, that she was overpowered and unable to fight back? For 18 years, she lived with this condition, probably in reluctant acceptance… something uncomfortable, but irreversible.
Sighing: “Oh well, this is my lot in life, I’ll just have to live with it”.
“It’s been this way for so long, I’ve learnt to live with it. In fact, I’m almost beginning to notice the benefits of this condition: SEE – I have a really good view of the floor for sweeping and mopping, it’s easy to do the laundry and the washing, I can pick up the kids clothes and toys easily, I don’t bump my head much on the low-handing doors or cupboards, preparing the food over the wood fire is effortless, and all the rest of the household chores are easily handled from here. I know I shouldn’t complain: there are a lot of others that are much worse off than me. Overall, I’d say I’m doing pretty well: But, sometimes I wonder what the blue sky looks like, and I miss seeing rainbows.”
Is that why she wasn’t rushing to ask Jesus to heal her? Had she lost hope, over the 18 years? Maybe she’d prayed about it, when she was first afflicted by the pain and the spirit of illness, but there was no answer, and she decided that God was much too busy with other people and other problems and hers was just a little problem.
While there is the possibility that she relished her infirmity and felt that she was better than others, or she enjoyed feeling sorry for herself, I don’t think this was her view. Given her reaction to the healing, “she straightened up and praised God”, I think she’d given up hope, but there was just that tiny, small, almost unspoken wish, that MAYBE, just maybe, Jesus will notice me and say or do something. Maybe she was too scared or nervous or ashamed to ask for healing or speak to Jesus.
What we know is that she had the courage to step up and come forward. When Jesus called her, not knowing whether he would call her to bless her, to question her, to rebuke her, or to speak with her, she came forward. What do I do when Jesus asks me to step forward? Do I cower in the background, hoping he’s talking to someone else? Do I hide behind another? Or do I walk forward to receive his Word and his healing touch? What do you do when Jesus speaks to you? Do you even realise that it is Jesus speaking? Or think, “oh, he’s talking to someone else”?
Or maybe you’re so overcome by the problem, the weight on your shoulders, your human condition that you can’t drag yourself into Church. And you say to yourself, I went to Church last week, and he wasn’t there and he didn’t talk to me, so why’s it going to be any different this week? Are you busy looking at the earth? Stooped over? Looking down, instead of looking up? Are your eyes fixed on God or on your own condition and its results?
Let’s have a look at the Synagogue ruler:
We know that he was INDIGNANT about Jesus healing on the Sabbath. I remember reading somewhere that righteous indignation is usually 1% righteous and 99% indignation. He’s so indignant, in fact, that he doesn’t even address Jesus and directs his speech to those present: “There are 6 days for work: so come and be healed on THOSE days, not on the Sabbath.” Was the synagogue ruler right? We know that the rules about the Sabbath are repeated or clarified 12 times throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Exodus 20 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” Exodus 23 “ … so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the slave born in your household… may be refreshed.” Chapter 34: “… you shall rest; even during the ploughing season and harvest you must rest.” And Exodus 35: “Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” In Leviticus 23: “a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live…” In Numbers we read of a man found collecting fire wood on the Sabbath, who Moses had stoned outside the camp, “as the Lord commanded Moses”. This was SERIOUS! The Sabbath was to be kept holy, set apart for God.
But the real nitty gritty rules, how to put it into practice, were rules made by man (yes, probably the lawyers)… These clarified that “rest” meant you couldn’t walk more than about 1.5 km from your home, but if you left food for 2 meals at the 1.5 km mark, you could walk another 1.5 km on from that point, since it was now your “dwelling”.
And yet we also find in the Bible, exceptions to this rule:
- Leviticus 24:5-9 – the Levites were to present to God fresh bread EACH day, including on the Sabbath, for which they were to light fires and cook, even on the Sabbath.
- In John 7, verses 22 and 23 we find that it was acceptable for a baby boy to be circumcised on the Sabbath
- And in Matthew 12 we read that if a sheep falls into a pit, any owner would pull it out.
The Mischnic tractate “Sabbath” has precise definitions for the purpose of determining what was allowable and not allowable on the Sabbath. And I’m sure that the synagogue ruler had memorised them all! We all know his kind: they’ve been in and around churches for decades. He doesn’t see this healing as an “act of God”, but rather a natural act of healing (that somehow must therefore be work). How much criticism, condemnation is there in churches, excluding the possibility that it is God working the miracle, healing, restoration or freedom from bondage?
So, we have the crippled woman and the synagogue leader; now let’s have a look at Jesus:
I find it curious that the woman was not up the front, looking to get healed. Jesus singled her out of the crowd, and called her forward. He must have known that this was going to get a rise and reaction out the Pharisees, scribes or other synagogue leaders. I believe he was taking the opportunity not just to heal her, but to bring restoration as well by confronting a problem.
The synagogue leader plays right into his hands and overreacts. Just when the woman is praising God (not Jesus, but God), the synagogue leader steps up and tells everyone that the healing services in this church will only be held from Sunday through Fridays. “There won’t be any healing services held on the Sabbath. It’s NOT God’s will that anyone be healed on the Sabbath.”
And so Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, that same Lord that has already said previously in another synagogue and to another group of Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath, confronts him with: “You hypocrites!”
I don’t know about you, but I might be a little embarrassed, maybe even a little offended! I’m standing in MY synagogue, in front of MY friends and cronies, I’m the big fish in this little pond, and this guy (that I probably hadn’t even invited to come and teach) steps up to the microphone, takes over the teaching, and on top of that calls this woman forward from the back, who is OBVIOUSLY a sinner, (in case you hadn’t heard, she’s crippled by a SPIRIT), and he heals her, ON THE SABBATH.
To make matters even worse, Jesus insinuates that this woman has as MUCH right as I do to salvation and freedom? He categorically states that she is a daughter of Abraham! As if she was somehow at the same level as the sons of Abraham.
Without mincing his words, Jesus asks if this woman, whom SATAN (not herself through her sin) has kept bound for 18 long years, doesn’t have the right to be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? (I’m sure the synagogue ruler wanted to say: “Well, maybe, but Not in MY church!”).
So, I come back to the question that I started with: Does your religion forget God?
The 10 Commandments, they start with “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything…”. I’m certain that the synagogue leader firmly believed that he had no idols or any other gods. He knew the laws and followed them religiously. And I imagine that in the crippled woman’s house, we would have found no idols or other images.
And yet, in a way, each of them had something that held their attention, that defined them:
- The woman was burdened, weighed down under the circumstances of her life. She was living in defeat, possibly sapped on strength and vitality. I imagine she felt like an outcast, maybe a hunchback, and probably in pain. Probably the vertebrae of her spine were fused together. And so, she’s come to accept this bondage – she accepts her condition. She forgets that God is over and above all, even though she still somehow clings to that slender thread of belief that somehow, in the synagogue, she will still find the answers. But she has given-in; she’s no longer asking God to be bigger than the problem. The problem is obviously bigger than God.
- The synagogue leader, on the other hand, has a god or idol that is much easier to identify (at whom we can point the finger): his ego, his knowledge of the scriptures, ME, ME, ME. I AM. I KNOW, I OBEY, I FOLLOW. He wants to keep control of the synagogue: he wants everyone to obey and follow the law the way he does. His way.
And just because we don’t assist religious temples dedicated to nonexistent deities, we think we are free from idolatry as well. Our biggest idol, in secular society today, is what encourages us to worship ourselves: greed, jealousy, self-indulgence, selfishness, pleasure, pride, arrogance, injustice, self-pity, hate, anger, and such like. We work for money, for pleasure, for power, for importance, for a sense of self-worth or self-importance. Our lives are centred and revolve around ME, MY FAMILY, MY JOB, MY CAREER, MY FEELINGS, MY SALARY, MY RAISE, MY REPUTATION, MY IMPORTANCE, MY EFFORTS, MY HOUSE, MY DECISIONS, MY WAY… and even go so far as to be about MY GOOD WORKS, MY MISSIONS EFFORTS, MY CONTRIBUTIONS, MY INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE, MY WALK OF FAITH, MY SUFFERING, and so on.
How far is my religion from actually loving and serving the Almighty God? What do I need to be freed from, like this woman, to be like Jeremiah and accept that before God formed me in the womb, He KNEW me and set me apart for a special purpose even before I was born? Am I living in the freedom that I have through the salvation of Christ Jesus? Or am I still focused on the idols or bondage and burdens of my life? Am I fulfilling my calling in Colossians 3: 12-15: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience; forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord as forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”
From personal experience I can tell you that when I started to examine my life, and identify those IDOLS that I put ahead and are more important than God, it startled me. There were the obvious idols: my ego and pride, my career as a lawyer, my intellect, my achievements, my relationships… Susy (my Chihuahua) – on a pedestal of love. My finances and my business – because we all know, my professional life and my relationship with God are mutually exclusive, right? God is for Sundays and devotional time each morning or evening, and then from 8 to 5 I work and am a professional. There’s no reason for the two to overlap or meet! I tithe my money to the Church, and what I do with the rest of it is mine to decide, right? What does Christ mean he wants to be Lord of ALL?
On the one hand, I know that Jesus came to bring liberty to the captives and healing to the sick, as well as to save each man from sin. He wants us to be His followers. But, for some reason, we overlook that this means a radical life-changing experience. Galatians 3:3 warns all Christians not to be foolish “… After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” The Holy Spirit was sent to help us, so that we wouldn’t rely on our human effort alone, becoming self-centred.
God asks us to put HIM first, Lord of ALL… we are each faced with a decision: Do I trust God enough to hand over my business? Do I really trust Him? Who is God that I should trust Him? What does it really mean to hand over my life, my finances and business to God?
This life-changing decision is now about asking God for His opinion and His permission, and there is no longer any sphere or area of life which is exclusively MINE, where God doesn’t have a part! It means that before I go to work each day, I put the day before Him in prayer and ask Him for His strength and guidance, rather than depending on my own wisdom. I must have the courage to do things differently: look at problems, issues and people from His perspective, not mine.
When we decide to put God first in our lives, as Jesus would have us do, we realise that it’s no longer MY synagogue, or MY burdens and bondage, but that we are to live under HIS freedom. We are to show His love to every man, woman or child, not just those that we believe deserve it or are entitled to it. He is an equal opportunity freedom fighter.
Jesus knows that it’s not ONLY our possessions that may get in the way of our relationship with God, but also our self-pity, our sense of self-worth, our hopelessness, our piousness, our knowledge and human intellect.
At the end of the day, Jesus is looking for all of us to accept His deliverance, to have a new identity, and to give the praise to whom it is really due: to God, as the crippled woman did and those that saw her healing. Having a personal relationship with Jesus, being His follower, means living in freedom from bondage and trusting in Him, so that it is no longer I (or me) but Christ working through me. He would have us all say, as we did in our prayer of confession at the beginning of the service, with the security that we trust Him in every area of our lives:
In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. (Psalms 71: 1-6)