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“The Juxtaposition of Jesus”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-11

 

Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


 

So, I’ve a question for you:  between donkeys and horses, which is more regal?  Which is more dignified?  Which one, would you say, is fit for a King?

I am fairly certain no earthy King would ever be caught on a donkey.  The sound they make alone seems to mock and laugh at.  They are shorter, lower to the ground.  Their teeth make it on to all kinds of comedic greeting cards…

And the horse is stately.  The horse is elegant.  It is tall, and it’s mane adorning….

These two animals lend themselves to comparison because they are similar in build and shape.  They also can be similar in some functionality:  both can work, hauling people and materials.  They deviate around speed.  They deviate around the power they lend their riders.  They deviate around pomp and circumstance.

 

And so which does Jesus ride on, when still in the womb of his mother Mary?

A donkey.

And which does Jesus ride on, when entering Jerusalem for what would be the last time?

A donkey.

 

Here we have the God of all creation,
Riding a donkey.

A donkey

 

They don’t match. 

 

I horse would better reflect the power, might, and authority of this rider.
And yet Jesus, on both occasions, rides a donkey.

And the contrast here is stark.

Isn’t this the case with so much of Jesus’ life?

  • Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit to an unwed teenage girl from backwater Nazareth
  • The Messiah, born in a backyard shed, laid to rest in a feeding trough
  • Rabbi and Teacher, son of a carpenter
  • Multiplier of food and provision, eating by the generosity of friends and strangers
  • Owner of all that is, with no use for money
  • Prince of Peace, traveling by foot, fishing boat, and donkey
  • Master over all creation, without sword or spear or firearm
  • Holy Lamb of God, loved by sinners, outcasts, tax collectors, and prostitutes
  • King of the Jews, healing and bringing good news to Gentiles
  • Head over all the powers of the world, condemned by the powerful of the world
  • Healer, bar none, nailed to and hanging on a wooden beam, to suffocate and die…

 

It would seem that the whole of Jesus’ life and ministry is a giant juxtaposition.
The imagery clashes. 

 

Fishing boats, po-dunk towns, backyard animal sheds, unwed teenage girls, feeding troughs, and donkeys…

None of these are what a writer or a move-maker would use to communicate power and authority.

 

But these were the things of Jesus’ life.  These were the people of Jesus’ attention.

 

What does this say to us?

There are many industries in which appearances are everything.  As you know, I am also a realtor, and in that industry, first impressions matter.  People are drawn to shiny things, to perceived wealth and power.  And so realtor’s know that they must keep up their image:  dress to impress, drive an impressive car, carry a respected bag,…and the list goes on.

In many of your industries and past lives, you too have known this pressure to keep up the façade, even if the realities are starkly different.

 

But with Jesus, we have the real deal: righteousness, holiness, goodness, love, mercy, power, might, authority…

And yet Jesus does not display it, but in fact does the opposite of what we’d do to communicate our authority.

 

Jesus, King of the World, humbles himself.  Humbles himself

Does this make any sense to you?

 

I doubt it did to the disciples.  The disparity from who Jesus was and how Jesus lived was in such worldly contrast to one another, that his disciples were overjoyed when they finally got to glimpse him in his glory on the top the mountain that day, speaking with Moses and Elijah in brightness and light.

I imagine the disciples craved for Jesus to look and act the part of Savior, Rabbi, Teacher, Healer, Messiah. 

But instead, Jesus didn’t get a horse.  He made do with donkeys.

He didn’t get a shipping vessel.  He used simple fishing boats.

He didn’t build an amphitheater.  He spoke from tops of mountains and boats on the edge of hilly shorelines.

He didn’t hire a chef.  He ate whatever was provided him.

He didn’t book out his services years in advance.  He lived each day, each moment.

He didn’t cater to the rich and powerful.  He spoke truth, even when it was not what they wanted to hear.

He didn’t ignore the weak, the ill, the shunned, and the untouchables.  But he touched them.  He listened to them.  He accepted them and healed them.

 

Jesus didn’t charge for his services.  He simply served.

Jesus didn’t have a home or a house.  He was homeless.

Jesus didn’t require change first.  Rather he loved first.  And changes naturally followed.

 

Jesus IS a giant juxtaposition. 

 

And so I invite us to reflect on our judgements and impressions. 

What do we look for?

What do we expect?

What do we respect?

Is it possible, we’re looking at the wrong things altogether? 

 

I invite us to reflect for a moment on what we use to judge our success? 

What are the markers of success?

What are the requirements?

And does any of this truly matter? 

 

And on what do we spend our time, focus, and energy? 

What are the accoutrements of our lives?

Who gets our attention?

On what do we spend our time, this one wild and precious life?

What is the stuff of our focus and energies?

 

If you do not like some of your answers, just as I don’t like some of mine,

let us join together in fervent prayer,

that our lives might reflect

the life and wholeness

we encounter

in Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Are We Blind? Do We Not See?”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.


 

In this exchange in the Gospel of John, we get to witness just how blind the religious elite have become.

The ironic is as thick peanut butter!  Here, this man born blind, is the one who truly sees Jesus, confesses his faith, and preaches to the Pharisees.  And the Pharisees, all with sight from birth, are so blind they cannot receive this gift of truth and witness in the person and work of Jesus.

It is tragedy.

 

What gets me is the Pharisees’ logic.  Their logic is as follows:  Jesus healed on the sabbath, thus he’s a sinner, and therefore he’s not from God.  Using their own human rules, they conclude Jesus cannot be from God.

Now God had indeed given the Israelites the law, and the law forbade them from working on the sabbath, but as so many of us do, they took it too far and missed the point.  This law meant to preserve the people from overwork and exhaustion, this law meant to provide rest and relief, this law meant for life and wholeness…it was being used to deny life and wholeness.  It was being used as yet another heavy burden on the shoulders of God’s people.  The law was for the people – not the people for the law.  But the religious elite had done the work of interpreting the law for people’s everyday lives, and they’d restricted so very many activities, that even to rescue an animal fallen into a well would have been considered sin.  And Jesus would have none of it. 

Jesus did not let the main point escape him.  Jesus knew his calling to deliver and save.  And wherever he went, whatever day it was, he set himself to the task.  And he did not neglect the work of rest and retreat.  He very intentionally goes off by himself to high mountaintops.  He sleeps through storms.  He lives sabbath, even more often than most.

But because he disobeys the human-made rules of not healing on the sabbath day, the Pharisees conclude he is a sinner.

 

How many times do we do something similar?  Do we extrapolate a multitude of rules and moral codes, using them to disqualify others?  Do we judge people based on our own interpretations of God’s law?

You see, the Pharisees were technically preserving the law God gave them.  But as life presented an infinite number of variations and unforeseen circumstances, they themselves began to build on the law, interpret the law, build structures and rules around the law.  And before long, they could no longer see the difference between the law and their laws.  They could no longer discern the difference between God’s heart and their hearts, God’s will and their will.

 

Have you ever had this experience?  It is frankly not all that hard to do.

 

Have you ever been so sure you rightly interpreted some passage of scripture or some guidance, that you have closed your ears, eyes, and hearts to any other possibility?

I know I have.

 

But when we are so sure we know,

When we are so sure we see,

When we are so sure we hear,

When we are so sure we rightly understand,

We effectively have become blind to God-with-us. 

 

And here in this story Christ walks among them, with magnificent signs and wonders…

The blind see, the lame walk, the dead arise!…

The man-born-blind is made to see!…

 

But they themselves cannot see who it is who walks among them.  They cannot see because they are so sure they already see!  They cannot understand because they are so sure they already understand.  They cannot hear the healed man’s witness because they have already decided that this man is bad and Jesus is bad.

 

For you see, the very fact that this man was born blind had led these religious leaders to believe that he was full of sin.  God would not allow a righteous person to be born blind, they thought!  Sure this man and/or his parents sinned.  And that is why the disciples too are asking Jesus “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?”

The religious leaders were teaching that every disease and ailment, every ill-fortune, was the result of sin.  And that led them to all sorts of judgements.  This is why Job’s friends all those years before were so adamant that sure Job had sinned to have gone through such extreme loss of family, wealth, and health.

 

But as obvious as it is to us that “bad” things do happen to “good” people, I think we are just as quick to jump into judgements when something bad happens to someone.

  •             Isn’t this why we keep our distance from those who are under?
  •             Isn’t it why we put so many rules around who gets our service and help?
  •             Isn’t it why we privately despise many of those in need?

 

As obvious as it is to us that God’s ways are above our ways, and God’s thoughts above our thoughts, I think we are just as quick to confuse our interpretations of God’s Word for God’s Word.

  •             Is this not why many of us dig in our heals and refuse to even listen to the others?
  •             Is this not why many of us close our ears and refuse to dialogue?
  •             Is this not why we consider ourselves such experts on who is “good” and who is “bad”?
  •             Does this not contribute to our own sense of pride and self-righteousness? – the fact that we are one of the only ones upholding our own moral code and set of convictions?

 

And as obvious as it is to us that Jesus was the Messiah, I think we are just as quick to miss the holy among us.  For when those who do not look like us, do not have what we have, have not learned what we’ve learned venture to witness among us to God’s presence and power and might,

  •             Do we not baulk?
  •             Do we not question?
  •             Do we not venture to disprove?

 

Has God shown up among us in the uneducated?

Has God shown up among us in the illiterate?

Has God shown up among us without credentials?

Has God shown up among us after being imprisoned?

Has God shown up among us in a person of different religious & ethnic background?

 

When God shows up among us,
are we using our own human standards
to discredit what is plainly before our eyes? 

 

May we humble ourselves.

May we reform from our addiction to judgement.

May we be like little children:  open.

 

For our God shows up. 

The lame walk,

the blind see,

the dead come to life.

“I was born blind, but now I see.” 

 

 When God meets us,

As indeed God has before and will again,

may we too have eyes to see. 

“Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 15
Micah 6:1-8

Psalm 15

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Micah 6:1-8

Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?


This passage from Micah is a curious one.  Micah paints this picture of God in court.  God has a controversy with the chosen people.  And the mountains and hills, the foundations of the earth, are hearing the case.

In this case, God asks the people, “What have I done to you?  In what have I wearied you?  Answer me!”  And then God goes on to list time after time in which God delivered and rescued the people.  All along, God had instructed the people to remember their history, to tell the stories, to keep God’s saving acts at the forefront of their common memory.  But in all likelihood, they haven’t been doing this, for God has to lead them, story by story, through a remembering of God’s generous and saving acts.

I hear this exchange, and I cannot help but hear it like the conversation of a parent & child.

In my wife’s parent’s home, if you use the restroom (which inevitably you’ll have to at some point), you will see an array of inspiring poetry and anecdotes pinned to the wall directly in front of you.  And they all hail the mother:  the mother who provides, the mother who sacrifices, the mother who loves unconditionally, the mother who is always there…  On and on you read accolades to a mother’s love!

And can you guess who put them there?

Yes, her mother!  😊

In this courtroom scene painted by Isaiah, God’s frustration with the people, reminds me of a mother who is simply put out with the entitlement, lack of gratitude, and forgetfulness of her children.  After all, she has provided, she has been there, she has rescued, she has had mercy, she has had compassion, she has given and given and given…  Yet still her children want more.  Still her child feels slighted.  Still her child is irritable when asked to do something for the family…

Can you imagine the scenario?

God has rescued, saved, provided, showed compassion, taught, healed, guided the people.  And yet, they are weary.  Yet, they have a chip on their shoulder.

And so the listing begins.  From a child’s perspective, this could be what they’d call “guilt-tripping,” but the Mother, the Father, they start to list all the ways they’ve poured themselves out for this child (much like those must-reads on the bathroom wall at Incy’s childhood home).  And even this feels like a concession because what had God instructed them to do?  To REMEMBER the deeds of the Lord, to write them on their doorposts, to tell them to their children, to erect monuments to remind the people of God’s love and salvation.  AND YET STILL, GOD is having to remind the people of all the ways they have been blessed.  GOD.

Can you sense the irritation?  Can you sense the long-suffering of the parent?

God has rescued time after time.  God has delivered.  God has guided.  God has provided…

And yet, it is never enough.

Never enough.

Does that ring a bell?

And then the flavor in the courtroom changes.  For the first time, we hear from the people.  And they say:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Again, in this I hear the plea of a child, “What can I do that will ever be enough?  Will this be enough for you?  Will this?”  And the child lists thing after thing…to the extreme.  It’s not, “Will a ram be enough for you, God?” but “Will thousands of rams be enough for you?”

And what are children doing when they talk in these extremes?  What are we doing when we talk like this to our parents?

We are actually making a statement about how picky they are, how demanding they are, how difficult they are, how impossible they are!

So I am not sure whether the people are actually feeling remorseful at this point, or if they are simply complaining back to their heavenly parent, defending their actions with the complaint that God is too picky and impossible.  And maybe it’s a mixture, as most things are.  Perhaps they feel a bit guilty but defensive, as it feels impossible to meet God’s expectations.

And this is where God boils it down for them. 

Yes, God has taken the firstborn of sinners in the past.  God did that in Egypt when the Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go out of slavery…

Yes, God has instructed the people to bring sacrifices:  the fruit of their fields and flocks.

But what God is truly wanting is

Justice,

Kindness, &

Humility. 

Justice.       Kindness.       Humility. 

And isn’t this what most parents are wanting too? 

Do what’s right.

Be respectful and kind.

And don’t start thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.  We all make mistakes….

So brilliant about this instruction is it’s mercy:  injustice is never okay, but we all go there from time to time, so be kind, make it right, and stay humble.

Since none of us will ever completely and fully do justice, we need humility to keep us open for correction, for repentance, for growth.

THAT is what is pleasing to God. 

My grandfather was a minister as well.  And while he was passionate and articulate, he also embodied many of the societal sins of his day.  He would not allow his wife to study alongside him, though she very much wanted to.  He wouldn’t allow her to speak in church.  He required her to eat just as much as him, which wreaked havoc on her body, and he was a harsh man to live with.  But as he aged, he kept on growing.  He was passionate in his beliefs, but at some point he knew better than to think he knew it all, and so he held even his most beliefs up to the light.  And over time, God was shaping and molding him, polishing the beauty in him and sluffing away the evils, making him a much kinder and more open person to know.

When I was young, we were all afraid of him.  But in his final years, we could talk with him.  And he would share what God was teaching him – that women too were preaching, full of the Spirit, for example.  And in the end, he gave me his entire library.

It is never enough to get everything right. 

It is never enough to be resolute and passionate. 

We always need humility. 

…Because God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and God’s ways are higher than our ways.

God is giving the people a touchstone.

God is giving the people a way.

No they will not get it right all the time, but they are to try.

They are to try because it absolutely matters that we do what’s right, what is just.

But knowing that they will not always get it right, kindness and humility are a must.

The whole package.

Are we…

DOING justice?

LOVING kindness?

And WALKING humbly with our God?

Like a loving and understanding parent, our God knows we are made of dust.  God knows we are both full of beauty and harm.  And so God has given us this guide.

May we,

In our homes,

In our families,

In our workplaces,

In our schools,

In our neighborhoods,

Behind the wheel,

In our society,

In our political life,

In our hearts,….

DO justice, LOVE kindness, and WALK humbly with our God.