Keeping The Greatest Commandments

Scripture: Mark 2.7, 16, 18, 24
“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
“How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Reflection: Keeping The Greatest Commandments
By John Tillman

Jesus wasn’t sinless because he never broke laws. He constantly broke them.

In this one short chapter of Mark he breaks (or supports those who are breaking) five separate laws (some of which were punishable by stoning): he blasphemes, he eats with ceremonially unclean people, he eschews required religious fasting, he defends working on the sabbath, he defends David’s eating of the holy bread.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) described the interdependence of laws and truth when advising new disciples learning about theology and the scriptures for the first time:

Truths have a dependence on each other; the lesser branches spring out of the greater, and those out of the stock and root. Some laws are but means to other laws, or subservient to them…Therefore it is one of the commonest difficulties among cases of conscience, to know which law is the greater.

According to Baxter, Christ recognized the priority of the greatest laws. We see this in Christ’s teaching. Jesus referred to “lesser” laws with language that exposed their second-tier authority. He often said, “your traditions,” or “Moses permitted,” or “you have heard it said…

Upon this ground, Christ healed on the Sabbath day, and pleaded for his disciples harvesting the heads of grain, and for David’s eating the shewbread, and told them, that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath,” and that “God will have mercy, and not sacrifice.

Baxter refers to the various laws as if they are parts of an intricate watch—meaningless unless all the parts are in proper order.

Theology is a curious, well-composed frame. Just as it is not enough that you have all the parts of your watch or clock, but you must see that every part is in its proper place, or else it will not go, or answer its end; so it is not enough that you know the various parts of theology or law, unless you know them in their true order and priority.

When Jesus is asked what the two greatest commandments are, his answer tells us how to set our watch by the two guideposts on which hang the entire law—Love God and love others.

*Richard Baxter selections condensed and language updated from A Christian Directory.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” — Matthew 7.13-14

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 16 (Listen – 3:52)
Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 17 (Listen – 4:50) Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)
Jeremiah 18 (Listen – 3:40) Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

Additional Reading
Read More about Regaining Love’s Highest Meaning
Even Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling. Yet, it is so much more.

Readers’ Choice
In August we will look back at our readers’ favorite posts of the year. Submit a Readers Choice post.
Tell us about a post and what it meant to you. What post refreshed your faith?

 

With Christ in Solitude and Loneliness

Scripture: Mark 1.35, 44-45
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed…

…Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone”…Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Reflection: With Christ in Solitude and Loneliness
By John Tillman

In Mark’s first chapter we find Christ experiencing both solitude and loneliness—they are not the same.

Paul Tillich says, “Our language has wisely sensed these two sides of man’s being alone…It has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

Alone, in solitude, Christ communes with the Father, examines the recent events and successes of his ministry, and emerges into community with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

Then in crowds, Christ is lonely. Christ is expelled from community in a way that causes pain and difficulty.

Richard Foster, in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, discusses how our culture prefers the distraction of noise to the discipline of solitude.

Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. We buy radios that strap to our wrists or fit over our ears so that, if no one else is around, at least we are not condemned to silence. T.S. Eliot analyzes our culture well when he writes, “Where shall the world be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”

My personal copy is the ten-year anniversary edition, printed thirty years ago in 1988. Yet, Foster’s comments, originally penned in 1978 (twenty-nine years before the first iPhone) sound like they could have been written last week in Wired Magazine, if we only updated the tech speak.

Fleeing to technology from our fear of being alone, we have run into the lion’s mouth. Or perhaps, as in Amos’s vision, we have fled the lion only to be bitten by a snake.

The anti-venom we need is to learn, like Jesus, to seek solitude rather than flee to distraction. We need the type of inner solitude that Foster called, “a portable sanctuary of the heart.”

Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment…if we possess inward solitude we do not fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us. In the midst of noise and confusion we are settled into a deep inner silence. Whether alone or among people, we always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; hearken, O God of Jacob. — Psalm 84.7

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 15 (Listen – 3:49)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

Additional Reading
Read More about Restorative Silence
Once a spiritual discipline, silence is now more likely to be viewed as the uncomfortable penalty for those who do not have enough to do.

Readers’ Choice
In August we will look back at our readers’ favorite posts of the year. Submit a Readers Choice post.
Tell us about a post and what it meant to you. What post refreshed your faith?

 

A New Day :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: Matthew 28.3-8
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

May we enthusiastically follow the example of the resurrected Christ’s first witnesses: the women who were more faithful than those who betrayed and abandoned Christ, who were braver than the fainting Roman soldiers, and who were the first to believe in and spread the gospel of the resurrected Christ.

Christ’s resurrection marks a new day. This new day dawns both globally and individually. It is an event in history, but is also an event that recurs in the life of each person to whom Christ reveals himself. — John

Reflection: A New Day :: Worldwide Prayer
A prayer of invitation to worship from Germany

Almighty and compassionate God
Our Father in heaven
We thank you for this new day
We know
Every day is a new beginning
Every day is a new challenge
Every day is a new opportunity
Every day is a new invitation to trust you…

To trust your Word, to put your promises to the test, to embrace your inexhaustible love and peace.

Lord, we come to you.
We open our hearts and hands and invite you.
Come our Savior Jesus Christ,
The door of our hearts is open to you.
O move in with your grace,
Let your kindness be manifested towards us.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit,
Who shows us the truth and
Who shows us the way to heaven.

Your name be honored in heaven and on earth and among all people.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
O God of hosts, show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.7

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 14 (Listen – 3:51)
Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)

Additional Reading
Read More about Not Abandoned :: Worldwide Prayer
Yet you were there, in the midst of my despair,
You did not abandon me the way I did you.

Readers’ Choice
In August we will look back at our readers’ favorite posts of the year. Submit a Readers Choice post.
Tell us about a post and what it meant to you. What post challenged you?

 

Tomb of the Unknown Savior

Scripture: Matthew 27.63-66
“Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Reflection: Tomb of the Unknown Savior
By John Tillman

Christ’s mission and calling were a secret hidden in plain sight.

He spoke about everything else in parables and spoke about his death in plain language, so perhaps we can forgive the disciples for not realizing that he meant what he said about his death literally.

Mary of Bethany may have been the only disciple who realized Jesus was about to die a sacrificial death. But it seems only his enemies remembered that Christ also promised to come back to life.

No one else seems prepared for this scenario quite as extensively as the chief priests and the Pharisees. Their concern is so urgent that they risk being made unclean for the remainder of the Passover week’s celebrations by going to Pilate on the Sabbath, the day after Preparation Day.

They outline the details of what they believe will be a conspiracy to fake a resurrection. (This is a conspiracy they will bribe the soldiers to maintain later.) Pilate grants their request, giving them a selection of the highest paid, best trained, best equipped soldiers in the world to guard a tomb.

Guarding the tomb of a penniless, itinerant prophet, with the equivalent of US Navy Seals might seem like a little overkill when the sneak attack you are expecting is from untrained tradesmen like the disciples. But the enemies of Christ knew how explosive his message was.

Fear of the political fallout of Christ’s message was one of the main reasons the religious elite had sought his death. For them, a violent, idolatrous, pagan government that allowed them to continue in power was preferable to following Jesus and losing their wealth and influence. In our heart of hearts we can certainly identify with their concerns.

When it came to Christ’s teaching about death and resurrection these corrupt men, who were Christ’s harshest critics, knew him better than his followers.

Jesus was a man even his closest friends didn’t fully know. He lay as a guest in a tomb belonging to a secret disciple. His followers, once considered so dangerous they were an existential threat to the state, scattered, abandoned him, and hid.

This is Jesus in the grave. He is the unknown savior. And what happens next will change the world forever.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field… — Matthew 13.44

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 13 (Listen – 4:11)
Matthew 27 (Listen – 8:45)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Importance of Resurrection
If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves.

Readers’ Choice
In August we will look back at our readers’ favorite posts of the year. Submit a Readers Choice post
Tell us about a post and what it meant to you. What post made you think?

 

The Fragrance of Faith

Scripture: Matthew 26.13
Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.

Reflection: The Fragrance of Faith
By John Tillman

Mary of Bethany’s anointing of Christ on his last trip to Jerusalem is intimately connected to the gospel—Christ said that it would be.

What makes Mary’s extravagant offering in any way related to the gospel?

It was a sacrificial gift. The most obvious reason is the extravagance of the gift itself—it was worth a year’s wages. (2016 median earnings for men in the United States were $51,640 and $41,554 for women .) This jar was very likely an heirloom given to Mary to ensure financial stability and independence. It may even have passed to her when Lazarus died as a part of his provision for her.

Many would give $50,000 to a practical need, like a loved one’s surgery, to feed the homeless, or to dig a well. But few would give so much to bless an intentional loss—to anoint a dead man walking.

But Mary’s gift wasn’t practical. It was prophetic.

In John’s gospel, Jesus makes clear that Mary has fulfilled the prophetic purpose of the gift as, “It was intended…for the day of my burial.“ Mary alone among the disciples has understood Christ’s prophecies. She anoints him with the same fragrance that is offered before the Lord in the Temple, because she knows that he is the the final priest, the final offering, the final sacrifice.

It was a lasting gift. Nard in this form, especially when applied to the hair and body is a long lasting fragrance. Throughout his ordeal over the next 48 hours, the gift of Mary’s faith would hang about Christ—the fragrance of her faith.

When they ripped out his beard, they would stir up the perfume. When they flogged the skin from his back, the scent would rise as his blood fell. When they pressed the thorns into his head, his hair would release more of the fragrance. When he choked on vinegar to drink, the smell of her gift would still be there.

She sacrificed her only security in this world, for the security of the next. She placed her full self on the altar with Christ. She gave up her agency in the world, gave up her ability to provide for herself, and provided Christ with a remembrance of the disciple who understood.

May we make extravagant, prophetic, and lasting gifts to Christ and to the spreading of this gospel, like a fragrance, throughout the world.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit, and a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51.18

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 12 (Listen – 3:06)
Matthew 26 (Listen – 10:01)

Additional Reading
Read More about Sacrifice of Self
Ultimately we have been called to imitate our self-sacrificing savior, Jesus, by giving of ourselves to do good for the benefit of others. 

Readers’ Choice
In August we will look back at our readers’ favorite posts of the year. Submit a Readers Choice post
Tell us about a post and what it meant to you. What post comforted you?

 

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