Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
I have to admit it. I am a lousy Pharisee. I tried to be all holy once, to perfectly live so my outward behavior would be a representation of God’s ability to change the human heart. I failed at it and truth be told I continue to fail at it. I am not saying I do not want to live a Godly life, to keep Jesus commandments and to do good works – as the fruit of a new obedience to God. I do pretty good for a while then I do or say something – often say something in jest – and blow it all. Other times I let my emotions get the better of me.
Basically I stink in the Pharisee department. But maybe because I am lousy at it and know it I have a chance of not really be one. Perhaps that is my saving grace. Were I better at keeping the outward appearance of a holy guy (all the while failing inside) I could become a “joy” to be around (not!). In the end I know I am a failure at being holy and so all I can do is rely on Jesus for my forgiveness. All I can do is have Jesus as my righteousness – as I have none of my own.
I know there are those who do not think I am “saved” or a plethora of other holy things (maybe even not much of a pastor) because of the failed and sinful flesh encasing the heart – a heart that wants to live for God. Oh well! All I can do is my best, which isn’t much. That is all anyone can do and ask for God’s help and forgiveness. We we have done all we can, cry out to Jesus, “I am a sinner. Save me.”
Lord God, I try but I fail, miserably so. I want to live for you and be a shining example of your love in this world, but I am weak, prideful, thoughtless, self-centered, heartless, in a word “sinful.” By your grace in Jesus Christ, save me, for I cannot save myself and help me to live as you would have me live. AMEN.
I am not sure anyone can read this bit of scripture as purely as Jesus intended it. We come to all scripture with a bias – as was said in the seminary, “we read though a ‘lens.’ I guess they meant a colored lens, rather than a magnifying lens as they were using this allusion to point out bias – and they should have known about bias. The profs had lots of them, but that is another story.
So I will tell you up front my bias: I do not believe Jesus expects you to be victimized by abusers and criminals. You are a precious creation of God and when someone does wrong to you without warrant they are violating the image of God in which you are made.
What I do believe Jesus is talking about is proportionality – basically don’t go “up side the head” of someone with a baseball bat because they insult you. The Old Testament scripture (Leviticus 24:19-21) plays this out. Justice is to be meted out kind for kind in proportion to the offence. God calls us not to do more than is proportionate as this would be revenge and that is the purview of God. This also causes our neighbor to seek revenge on us. It then becomes a never ending down-spiral leading to hate and more misery than the original offense.
Much trouble in life can be avoided if you just let some things go and not respond to them. This seems to be the underlying message here. Not everything has to be a fight and even in a fight you do not have to hate your enemy but love them enough to act proportionally and pray for their well-being. Is this not how God deals with us?
God had/has every right to “go upside” our heads with a cosmic baseball bat but because of His love he sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus took “the bat” for us so that we could be reconciled to God.
Help us to turn the other cheek, not to let slights escalate into fights. Help us to love all around us, even our enemies and in times of conflict with them wish them well and do them the least harm. Likewise, we pray that our enemies will respond to love shown and turn to your in all things. In Jesus name I pray, AMEN.
“If something seems too good to be true it probably is.”
In the fallen world we live in this mantra is often valid. We are inundated with all kinds of offers that seem too good to be true. There must be some strings attached – at the least. At the worst the too-good-to-be-true offer must be a scam.
Because offers are made by people – often unscrupulous people – a wary eys is in order. However, Paul points out clearly that the offer or gift of salvation does not come from the human realm but from Heaven. Paul states clearly that no one is justified by human effort but solely by faith in Jesus Christ.
Does this mean we can do whatever we want and that there are no standards of behavior? Of course not. Grace does not negate the law but fulfills it and the law is important. It identifies sin and makes us aware of our need for a savior. It drive us to Christ where we find forgiveness when we believe in him alone.
Unfortunately a lot of Christians are still trying to win God’s favor by works rather than doing good works as a response to the gift that God has given them in Christ Jesus: do this, don’t do that; wear this don’t wear that; don’t watch this; don’t listen to that. The list goes on and on.
I am glad I do not have to win God’s favor by doing this or that. I would certainly be lost and certainly never be sure if I had done enough – given my nature I would despair because I would be sure I had not done enough. Thankfully, Christ has done enough for me and for all who believe and this same gift is available to all the world.
Gracious God, you gave us a greater gift than we could ever imagine. Helps us to have faith in you and your gift of salvation apart from our own feeble attempts to win your favor. Helps us to do good works as a response to your grace. In Jesus name I pray. AMEN.
“One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the other by the time we finish our song?”
Who can remember this song that taught kids how to differentiate between things. In this case Bob and Susan were helping Grover tell the difference in the size of circles.
In the Gospel message from Luke 18, the Pharisee could quite well be singing this song because he was sure that one things (he) was not like the other (the tax collector). But just like our circles, while there may have been some outward differences, there was no substantial difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both were sinners and both needed forgiveness. The major difference, however, was one knew he was sinful and humbled himself and the other did not.
In this respect there is no difference between people. All are sinful and have fallen short of the glory of God. The “saint” needs as much forgiveness as the “sinner” because in the end – as Martin Luther said – we are all simultaneously “Saint and Sinner.” We are saints because we have been forgiven and made clean by Christ and we are sinners because we fall short of the glory of God and always need His forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father, help us to live lives of humility and help us to recognize our sinful nature and our need for you in all things. In Jesus name we pray. AMEN.