I’ve been reading in the ESV Readers Bible, and I am somewhere in Luke — not exactly sure where (that’s the point, right?). Anyway, John the baptizer has just sent two of his disciples to try to find out whether Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah (since he has been doing all sorts of amazing things).
John’s disciples say: “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The text says that
In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them,
Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
Notice this — there are six types of people in distress: “blind,” “lame,” “lepers,” “deaf,” “dead” (“distressed” might not be the best word for dead people), and “poor.” The first five are given what we would expect a true miracle worker to give:
- the blind receive their sight,
- the lame walk,
- lepers are cleansed,
- the deaf hear,
- the dead are raised up
But the sixth receives something quite unexpected — it is not “and the poor are given food,” or “the poor are given money,” or even “the needs of the poor are met.” Instead, Jesus says
the poor have good news [the word is “gospel”] preached to them.
Only one who is authoritatively the Messiah* would be so bold as to give something of eternal value where there are more “immediate” needs.
I draw two conclusions:
- Even in this time of crisis, we need to give “good news” to those in distress, even as we need those immediate needs.
- We need to remember that life is more than what we consume.**
*The numbers and the cross-references can have great value, of course, as they help us keep track of what we learn — if you can find Isaiah 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; and 61:1, you will see that these acts are part of the redemption that the Lord promises to bring about.
**I’m pretty sure I read that second point about a fourth of the way through Matthew, but I can’t find it now.
SW writes about our mistaken desire for permanence in this world, when it is really another country for which we long:
I loved, more than anything, and without knowing it, permanence. My six year old heart wanted to live forever. Twenty years later, it still does.
Sarah Willard, “In Ruins,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 2, 2018) [link].
CG reminds us that in the end it is impossible for us to overstate God’s love or to rationalize it:
We have such a hard time accepting that God’s love truly reaches out to all people, even the people we hate or disagree with, and even (especially?) to we ourselves. We insist on qualifying grace, which necessarily renders that grace null and void. We worry that if people start to believe that grace is true in all cases and that God loves people with reckless abandon all hell will break loose.
Connor Gwin, “Qualifying the Reckless Love of God,” Mockingbird (Sept. 24, 2018) [link].
The grace is in what Christ said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.” He didn’t want us to be shocked or discouraged at the inevitable, unavoidable suffering we would experience.
Josh Retterer, “A Long Obedience in the Wrong Direction, ” Mockingbird (Aug. 30, 2018) [link].
We hate humiliation, but is clearly part of becoming Christ-like. 2 Cor 8:9; Php 2:8; Heb 12:2, etc., etc.
This dense paragraph from Karl Barth reminds me that humiliation is displayed by Jesus because it is in his divine nature. (This is pretty obvious, I guess, but I enjoyed remembering it.)
God does not first elect and determine man but Himself. In His eternal counsel, and then in its execution in time, He determines to address Himself to man, and to do so in such a way that He Himself becomes man. God elects and determines Himself to be the God of man. And this undoubtedly means . . . that He elects and determines Himself for humiliation. In so doing He does not need to become alien to Himself, to change Himself. The Godhead of the true God is not a prison whose walls have first to be broken through if He is to elect and do what He has elected and done in becoming man. In distinction from that of false gods, and especially the god of Mohammed, His Godhead embraces both height and depth, both sovereignty and humility, both lordship and service. He is the Lord over life and death. He does not become a stranger to Himself when in His Son He also goes into a far country. He does not become another when in Jesus Christ He also becomes and is man.
—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2, 84 (thanks to Mark Galli).
What the Incarnation Means for Us All
December 18, 2016 | Galatians 4 (“In the fullness of time . . .”)
Taiwan, it seems, has one of the highest rates of Caesarian births in the world, which leads to two questions.
“What are you talking about, Al?” and “Why is that?”
A Caesarian section is an operation whereby a baby is born by surgically opening the womb of the pregnant woman, usually because of some medical emergency. It was done in ancient times, nearly always at the cost of the life of the mother. I would have guessed that it was called a Caesarian birth because Julius Caesar was born that way, but that is apparently a myth. In any case, it is relatively common these days, and not terribly dangerous.
It is apparently very common in Taiwan, even when it is not medically indicated.
A study followed 150 women in Taiwan who were pregnant with their first child, and found that 93 of them had caesarean deliveries before 39 weeks, though none of them had any complications.
This seemed decidedly odd, since of course pre-term Caesarean births require more medical and surgical intervention, require longer hospital stays, cost more money and are somewhat more dangerous for mother and baby. To be clear, these were not emergency Caesareans, these were elective Caesareans by women who had never been through childbirth before. Continue reading Born at the Right Time
God’s surprising approach to outsiders
August 14, 2016 | John 4
Not to bring up unpleasant memories, but do you remember high school algebra? Do you remember “solving for x”?
The teacher would give you an equation like this
2x + 3 = 7
4 + 4x = 22 – 5x
3x2 + 12x + 6 = 42
15x3 – 100 = 20
Your job would be to “solve for x” in each of these different equations. It wasn’t always easy, was it? Once you got out of school, you may not have had so much opportunity to “solve for x,” but “x” still represented the unknown. Part of the reason why we use “x” for the unknown, is that xenos in Greek means strange or foreign. (There’s a TED talk which gives another reason.)
In math and in life, we always have trouble with the unknown.
The statistical website fivethirtyeight recently asked about people in the Northeast about baseball and politics:
In the survey, [we] asked 1,071 people which baseball team they supported (if any), how strongly they supported the team, and then . . . asked them this:
How upset would you feel if you had a son or daughter who married a Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees . . . fan?
Red Sox fans were asked about marriages to Yankees fans and vice versa.
Eitan Hersh, “What The Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Can Teach us about Political Polarization” fivethirtyeight.com (Aug. 11, 2016).
It turns out that about 1 in 5 baseball fans would be upset if one of their children married a fan of a rival team. (Let me just be clear about one thing — if any of our kids gets married to a Red Sox fan, Katherine is going to be way beyond “upset.”)
A Pattern of Prayer, part 10: A Pattern of Redemption
April 17, 2016 – Revelation 22
I have often told you stories from World War II as a way of illustrating some of the life and death principles we find in the Bible. I have told you stories about the Raid on Cabanatuan in the Philippines, The Battle of Midway, the taking of Pegasus Bridge, the invasion of Okinawa, the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the making of the atomic bomb, and most recently, the Siege of Leningrad.
Today, I’m going to change wars.
Just about 44 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Gene Hambleton had an uncommonly difficult week. A specialist in electronic warfare, Hambleton had served in various capacities in WWII, the Korean War, and the Cold War. On April 2, 1972, on his 63rd mission of the Vietnam war, Hambleton was a aboard Bat 21, an EB-66C aircraft which was trying to jam North Vietnamese radar.
Hambleton’s call sign was “Bat 21 Bravo” — he was the mission navigator.
There were five other crewmen on the plane when it was stuck by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile, but only Hambleton was able to eject.
Last week I read Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015). Actually, I listened to it, and found it a powerfully unsettling book.
I had no knowledge of Mr. Coates and no preconception about the book except that in some sense it was about race. The book is (sort of) a long letter to his son about what it is like to be a black man in America. (“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”)
I say “sort of” because you have to put aside even that vague description very quickly. Mr. Coates would remind us that in any society there are those whose aspirations to achieve “the dream” will necessarily involve putting some people — identified by color, ethnicity, gender, language or some other characteristic — at the bottom of the well. I think he would say that in 2016 in America that characteristic is still often race.
Mr. Coates tells his son stories about his experiences and about those of his friends and acquaintances. Some are touching and some are extraordinarily upsetting. No one could listen to his account of the death of Prince Jones without horror, shame and outrage.
One of the recurring themes is that the fragility of “the black body”:
We could not get out. The ground we walked was trip-wired. The air we breathed was toxic. The water stunted our growth. We could not get out. A year after I watched the boy with the small eyes pull out a gun, my father beat me for letting another boy steal from me. Two years later, he beat me for threatening my ninth-grade teacher. Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body. We could not get out.
It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.
But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know.
I am convinced that Mr. Coates is telling me truths I need to hear. I am not sure that Mr. Coates tells me what any white American can do to ameliorate the evils he describes. It is better to hear truth than to block it out, of course, but that is not enough.
What is enough?
Mr. Coates declines to believe in any otherworldly justice, though he seems to concede that there have been times when the church has been one of the few refuges for the black body. As I listened to him in the midst of Passion Week, though, I thought that Jesus, certainly, voluntarily offered his body to be destroyed by the system of the world as a sacrifice for all of us.
This is not a “good read,” or an “interesting study.” It seems to me to be an important book that has challenged my assumptions and beliefs. I hope and pray that I will allow it to change the way I act and live, and that God will help me to understand what is enough.