More Important Matters

Scripture Focus: Matthew 23.23
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Reflection: More Important Matters
By John Tillman

It has almost become too trendy to post about one’s struggles with “popular” mental health symptoms or diagnoses.

Culturally, we have always colloquialized medical language. When we are startled, we say, “You gave me a heart attack!” When someone loses their temper, we say, “They are having a stroke!” No one calls the ambulance. These uses are a normal part of our language. We also colloquialize medical language around mental health. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD was a controversial and misunderstood diagnosis at one time. Today, it is still not well-understood but it is one of the most common colloquially used mental health terms. We all face distractions and many publicly joke about our “ADHD brains,” whether or not we are actually medically diagnosed.

Distractions often come in the form of pursuing some activity that is less important to the neglect of something more important. Instead of doing schoolwork that’s due today, we fold laundry that could be done tomorrow. Instead of repairing the item we entered the workshop to repair, we fixate on rearranging the toolbench.

The Pharisees had a kind of orthopraxy ADHD. Orthodoxy is what we believe. Orthopraxy is how we live it out. The Pharisees had great theology. Jesus commended it. But in practice, they ignored the more important things by pursuing less important things with hyperfixation. They were washing the dishes while the house was burning down.

It’s not just religious people who hyperfixate on secondary things. Many skeptics want answers about political or moral issues— what God allows or what God condemns— before considering God. They are distracting themselves from the most important issues with less important ones.

But less important doesn’t mean unimportant. Both are important. The Pharisees’ problem was that they should have done both the greater things and the lesser things. The problem is the same with us. We can’t get distracted. 

Jesus identifies the most important matters of the law as “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” These come from loving God and loving people. We can’t ignore them, hyperfixating on performative righteous rule-following. We also cannot practice a lazy, “Just love people” vibe, while neglecting the practical realities of living out our faith in holiness. Living faith produces good works. Let’s show our faith by what we do.

When distraction calls, refocus on Jesus. He embodies what matters most.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Amos 3 (Listen 2:11)
Matthew 23 (Listen 4:53)

​Today’s Readings
Amos 4 (Listen 2:21), Matthew 24 (Listen 5:59)
Amos 5 (Listen 3:44), Matthew 25 (Listen 6:04)

Read more about Heavy Loads Lifted
He critiqued the Pharisees for tying up “heavy loads” of moral requirements but not lifting them themselves or helping people live them out.

Read more about Hot-Button Conundrums
To the best of our ability, let us resist entrapment. Hold both truth and compassion; refuse to compromise either.

Call on the Son of David

Scripture Focus: Matthew 22.41-45
41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” 
“The son of David,” they replied. 
43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 
44 “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: 
“Sit at my right hand 
until I put your enemies 
under your feet.” ’ 
45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Reflection: Call on the Son of David
By John Tillman

“Son of David” occurs ten times in Matthew’s gospel. 

Once, it is directed at Joseph, instructing him to take Mary as his wife and Jesus as his son. Jesus, like his earthly father, Joseph, was a literal, physical son of David. So were hundreds of thousands. At the Nativity, Bethlehem was flooded with sons of David who came there to be counted, but only one was also the Son of David.

Eight times, “Son of David” is directed at Jesus. 

Two blind men followed Jesus, saying, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 9.27-31)
After seeing Jesus heal a demon-possessed, blind, and mute man, the crowd asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12.22-24)
A foreigner begged on behalf of her daughter, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Matthew 15.21-28)
Two blind men cried from the side of the road, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matthew 20.29-31)
The crowds welcomed him to Jerusalem, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21.8-9)Its last mention is when Jesus confronted the Pharisees about the Messiah’s origin and identity. Jesus claimed the Messiah had to be more than a natural child of David. Calling himself the Son of David and accepting the title from others is one of Jesus’ most direct claims of deity. “Son of David” is a cry appealing to Jesus’ messianic identity which includes healing. But why is that?

David was many positive things—poet, musician, fighter, leader. But he was never a healer. He was a man of blood, not bandages. Are we calling out for the wrong kind of “son of David?”

The true Son of David proves himself not in battle against flesh and blood but against sin on the cross. The true Son of David spills his blood instead of his enemies’ blood. He heals rather than harms. He saves rather than condemns. He includes rather than excludes. He rescues rather than takes revenge.

It is because of his identity as the Son of David that we can cry out to Jesus for healing, for help, and to enter his kingdom. His kingdom is from another place. We are already there, yet on our way. It is present among us, yet coming in the distance.

Call on the true Son of David! Hosanna to the Son of David! Have mercy on us!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. — Psalm 118.26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Amos 2 (Listen 2:12)
Matthew 22 (Listen 4:56)

Read more about An Accepting Father
The “son of David,” Joseph, accepted The Son of David, Jesus, as his son.

Read The Bible With Us
It’s never too late to join our Bible reading plan. Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

The Gospel Heist

Scripture Focus: Matthew 12.22-29
22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

Reflection: The Gospel Heist
By John Tillman

The Pharisees accused Jesus of bargaining with Satan to defeat demons, but Jesus didn’t make deals with the devil or pay him bribes or ransoms. Jesus described his actions as a robbery.

It’s hard to beat a good heist story.

Heists begin with something of value worth stealing. Most of the time, the villain, not the rightful owner, holds the valued item. The villain gained it by theft, manipulation, or violence and guards it with all their power.

A mastermind plans the crime and leads a team to carry it out. There may be a hacker to overcome computer systems, a grifter using false identities to manipulate the outcome, a thief who enters in an unexpected, concealed way to remove the item, and a hitter, a martial arts expert who incapacitates guards who stand in the way.

I just described the team from the heist television series, Leverage, but other heist tales have similar characters and plots. The Leverage team steals from corporate raiders. Ethan Hunt steals a confidential file to prove his innocence and save lives. Bryan Mills takes back his taken daughter. A good heist restores freedom or justice. The gospel is a heist which restores both.

Satan conned humanity and holds us captive. In varying degrees of severity, we both suffer under and participate in his ruthless rule of manipulation, theft, and violence.

In eternity past, God, the mastermind, set in motion a heist. Jesus entered in an unexpected way. He hacked the corrupt system. Then, he was captured. Beaten. Crucified. Dead.

There’s always a moment in a heist when the villain thinks he has won. The hero seems trapped. The plan appears to have failed. This is the turning point in the heist, when the truth is revealed and the villain’s fate sealed. The cross is that moment. What looks like a loss, is actually the moment of victory. That’s when Jesus kicks down the door, ties up the guards, and sets the captives free.

The demonically afflicted man Jesus healed had lost hearing and speech. What have you lost? What has sin taken? What traps you? Are you blind, deaf, or dumb? Lame, leprous, or lifeless? Put your faith in Jesus, the thief in the night, the strong man, the plunderer of Satan’s house. You are what he values. And he is coming. Jesus comes to steal you back and set you free.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Then he went into the Temple and began driving out those who were busy trading, saying to them, “According to scripture, ‘my house shall be a house of prayer’ but you have turned it into ‘a bandit’s den.’” — Luke 19.45-46

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Hosea 9 (Listen 2:52)
Matthew 12 (Listen 6:41)

Read more about Why The Cross?
Every good thing before the cross pointed to it. Every good thing after the cross is evidence of the power broken on it.

Read more about Christ, Our Undeserved Friend
My sin he grasped with nail-pierced grip
Dragged sin to hell, and there left it…
With death defeated, he grasped me,
That I should live eternally.

He Is Willing

Scripture Focus: Matthew 8.3, 17
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”

17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.”

Reflection: He Is Willing
By John Tillman

There are three healings in this chapter that add up to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. We will take them in reverse order.

Jesus comes to the home of one of his closest friends and disciples. Peter’s mother-in-law is ill. Jesus heals not just her but many with illnesses and demonic affliction. These were Peter’s friends and neighbors. Fellow Galileans. Fellow Jews. Insiders.

Just prior to this, a Roman Centurion met Jesus at the edge of town, asking that his servant be healed. The Centurion amazes Jesus with his understanding of Jesus’ power and authority. “Just say the word,” he says. Jesus does. He proclaims this outsider an insider by faith and warns many insiders that, when it comes to faith, they may be left outside.

Just prior to this, Jesus is coming down the mountain from teaching the Sermon on the Mount. About love for enemies. About trusting God. About not caring about food or clothing or appearances. He is met by a man who had no choice but to care about appearances. He was a leper.

Cast out of the community, lepers couldn’t work, couldn’t gather to worship, and could not make sacrifices for their sins in the Temple.

Not only did people spurn them for the potential transmissibility of their physical disease, they spurned them for the assumed corruption of their moral character. It was their sins, more than their skin, that people didn’t want to touch.

The leper comes to Christ with an expression of faith but he also comes with doubt. “Jesus, you are able…but are you willing?” Jesus touches and heals.

We may ask the same questions at times. Jesus, are you willing? Are you willing to cross the divide of my sin? Are you willing to even be seen with me? Are you willing to be unclean by being close to me?

Jesus is willing. No matter where you are. Insider. Outsider. Spurned ones. Abused ones. Doubtful ones. Jesus is willing to touch, heal, and restore. It is part of his identity and mission to touch the untouchable and heal. To sit with the sinners and inspire repentance. To confront the proud to bring humility.

He will heal all who come to him. No matter what it costs him. Even if your faith isn’t perfect. Even if you aren’t sure you believe he will. Reach out to Jesus.

He is willing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those hwo fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. — Psalm 85.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Hosea 3-4 (Listen 3:43
Matthew 8 (Listen 4:09)

Read more about Healing the Swollen
Jesus cared for Pharisees swollen with pride. He can heal us too.

Read more about Stretch Out Your Hand
The man with the shriveled hand seems to be there only so the leaders can see if Jesus will break one of their interpretations of Sabbath law. It’s a trap.

Heavy Loads Lifted

Scripture Focus: Matthew 6.24-34
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

Reflection: Heavy Loads Lifted
By John Tillman

Christ’s moral teachings are the most popular thing about him.

The Sermon on the Mount is recognized worldwide as an aspirational description of a beautiful way to live. Even non-Christians recognize the Sermon on the Mount as the most astute moral teachings ever produced in the history of the world.

It may be a beautiful way to live, but isn’t it impossible? Rich Mullins confronts this humorously in the bridge of his song, “Hard.

“Well His eye’s on the sparrow
And the lilies of the field I’ve heard
And He will watch over you and He will watch over me
So we can dress like flowers and eat like birds.”

It is hard to be like Jesus describes in these teachings. 

Jesus generally commended the Pharisees’ moral teaching. “Do what they say…Don’t do what they do.” He critiqued the Pharisees for tying up “heavy loads” of moral requirements but not lifting them themselves or helping people live them out. (Matthew 23.4)

Aren’t Jesus’ hard moral teachings “heavy loads”?

Who can dress like a flower?
Eat like a bird?
Continually turn the other cheek? 
Go the extra mile? 
Give unrestrainedly to the needy? 
Surrender our security for another’s shelter and safety?

In Mammon’s empire, how can we survive without accumulating wealth? In a world that denigrates the poor, how can we be unconcerned with clothing, food, and shelter? In a world where governments fight for the right to end the lives of the defenseless in the womb, the defenseless in war zones, and the defenseless in borderland river crossings, how can we not worry about our lives and the lives of the vulnerable God commands us to protect?

Who can carry this load? Who can “be perfect” as our Heavenly Father is perfect? (Matthew 5.48; 19.21) Not us. Only Jesus.

Jesus tied this load for his own back. He carried it perfectly. He carries it for us. The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount glimpses the Kingdom of Heaven. One day, we will arrive.

It is too simplistic to say, “We don’t have to do it. Jesus did it.” However, we can say, “Jesus did it for me, and he is doing it within me now.” Together with the same power that raised Christ from the dead, strain toward heavenly living today. (Ephesians 1.19-21; Philippians 3:12-14) Don’t walk away discouraged or sad. “With God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19.21-26) Heavy loads can be lifted.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lesons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Hosea 1 (Listen 2:08
Matthew 6 (Listen 4:35)

Read more about Hope In the Tree of the Cross
At the roots of the tree of the cross, we find healing, peace, and power. As we follow Christ, we will become like this tree.

Read more about Pause To Read
Listen to our bonus Easter episode that came out Sunday morning! Subscribe and share some episodes with friends.