Invisible Status

Scripture Focus: Matthew 18.1-5
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Reflection: Invisible Status
By John Tillman

The disciples were constantly grasping for status. 

Over and over the gospel accounts give us insight into the ways they jostled one another, trying to be better than the rest, bigger than the rest, closer to Jesus, more “righteous,” more powerful…

“Who is the greatest?” they ask, each hoping it will be himself.

Jesus urged his disciples, and he urges us, to lay down all such status-addicted, scrambling, scuffling struggle. When they pressed around him longing for greatness, Jesus called to himself someone they never would have expected—a child. 

Children, and women, were so low status that they were invisible to the statisticians, politicians, and religious leaders of the day, but Jesus sees those who are made invisible by culture. Jesus kicks over our definition of greatness.

Jesus calls “the greatest” those others call “the least.”
Jesus moves the invisible to the best seats at the feast.

Jesus calls the ignored who no one thought should come.
Jesus gives a hand up to those under a thumb.

Jesus calls attention to ones we are too blind to see.
Jesus hears the pleas of those crushed beneath our knees.

Jesus gives strength to those we mock for being weak.
Jesus elevates the lowly from the valleys to the peaks. 

Jesus makes great those accepting they are small.
He will be our everything when we make him our all.

We don’t have to convince Christ of our potential based on past performance. There is no need to demonstrate return on investment. His investment in us is already assured. It is his own work and word that will not return void without fulfilling its purpose in us.  He accepts us not based on our past but on the future he will guide us towards.

When we come to Jesus, we must leave behind any thoughts of status. Thanks be to God.

“I hear you have a soft spot for fools and little children and I’m glad. ‘Cause I’ve been both of those.” — from “Farther On” by Russ Taff

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The Lord is my shepherd and nothing is wanting to me. In green pastures He has settled me. — The Short Breviary

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 4 (Listen – 5:23) 
Matthew 18 (Listen – 4:25)

Read more about Dirty Feet
Jesus…turned everything upside down. Surely, shouldn’t the servants be washing their master’s feet?

Read more about Blessed is the One :: A Guided Prayer
But we rely, Lord, not on our striving, but on Jesus Christ…Jesus is the Blessed One, whose leaf does not wither.

Way of the Cross — A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Matthew 17.22-23
22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

Reflection: Way of the Cross — A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Through the rest of this week, pray the words of scripture interspersed with those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this prayer we struggle, along with Peter, and Jesus himself, to accept the way of suffering.

Imagine Christ, victorious. A champion. Beneficent. Are you comfortable with the victorious Messiah?

A Christ who brings earthly victory enjoys near-universal welcome.

God’s way in the world leads to the cross and through the cross to life. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Matthew 16.21

Imagine Christ, humiliated. Crushed. Suffering. How uncomfortable does the suffering servant make you?

Everyone rejected the suffering Christ—even the closest of his disciples.

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” Matthew 16.22-23

How easy it is, in times of confusion like today to fight in the name of Christ against the real Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Often our discomfort with the suffering Christ is connected to our current level of comfort.
In our afflictions, we are glad to find the suffering Christ joining us.
But in our bliss and blessings, we do not wish to join him on his path.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you assess your level of comfort, your level of acceptance of the suffering Christ, and your willingness to step into suffering, embracing it as the path to life.

For this reason, do not be alarmed, do not be afraid—be faithful! But what does being faithful mean here other than standing and falling with the word of Christ, with his preaching of the kingdom of peace. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pray through these words of Christ:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16.24-35

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning, I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 3 (Listen – 4:40) 
Matthew 17 (Listen – 3:46)

Read more about Looking Back at Good Friday
Good Friday is not just one day of the year. It is a day relived in every day of the world, and of our lives in the world.

Read more about Proclaiming The Lord’s Death and Ours
His renunciation of the empire as a kingdom of this world takes place not at Golgotha but at the very beginning. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Flavors of Betrayal

Scripture Focus: Matthew 27.3, 5
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders…Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Reflection: The Flavors of Betrayal
By John Tillman

Thursday of Holy Week includes many events. One that stands out sharply from the others is betrayal.

Judas most directly betrayed Jesus, but Peter was the one who most strenuously promised Jesus to go to death with him. It is Peter’s outsized boasts of loyalty that make his betrayal of these oaths sting so badly. The other disciples cosigned Peter’s oaths, assuring that they too would die with Jesus. But in the garden, all their promises turn to dust and tears.

Each of the disciples made the same wrong assumption as Peter and Judas. They assumed there would be a fight. Judas seems to have assumed Jesus would put up a legal fight and perhaps assumed he would perform the miracles needed to win over the religious leaders. Peter and other disciples assumed that Jesus would put up a physical fight, first with the Temple Guards and then with the oppressive Roman empire.

All the disciples came to the same conclusion. Fight and die? Acceptable. Submit to arrest and torture? Unacceptable. They were willing to kill for Jesus, gaining glory through either victory or noble defeat, but were unwilling to give their lives voluntarily in sacrificial humility. 

Most ran away. Scared. Hiding. They were not to be heard from again until the resurrection. Notably, the only disciples who don’t flee and are found at the cross are the female disciples and John. Judas commits suicide after the legal case is lost and Peter flees into the night after his humiliation in the courtyard of the high priest.

Where do we find ourselves in the garden? What form does our betrayal and abandonment of Jesus take?

Are we willing to “win” with Christ but unwilling to “lose” with him?
Are we willing to die for Christ in glorious sacrifice but unwilling to live as Christ in humiliating suffering?
Do we fantasize about “defending the faith” in extreme circumstances (like facing down an active shooter or facing martyrdom) but ignore opportunities to serve the needs of others in the humble circumstances around us? 

May we not seek glory or victory. That is the path of the betrayer.
May we instead seek humility and suffering in the service of others. That is the path of the Cross.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me. — John 14.1

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 27 (Listen 2:43) 
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen -1:52)

Read more about The Path of the Betrayer
We prefer others be forced to subject themselves to our weaknesses and sins—to accept us the way we are.

Read more about Learning from Judas
The great value of viewing Jesus Christ Superstar as a Christian is not to condemn Judas, but to see how like him we are.

(The 2018 live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar will be rebroadcast on Easter Sunday evening. I highly recommend watching it, but keep this devotional in mind as you do.)

The Prince of Peace not Pacification

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 24.1-2
Do not envy the wicked,
    do not desire their company;
for their hearts plot violence,
    and their lips talk about making trouble.

Matthew 21.4-5
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

*This week will follow the events of Holy Week in our reflections, tying them, where applicable to our daily readings.

Reflection:  The Prince of Peace not Pacification
By John Tillman

After the triumph of Jesus entering Jerusalem, Monday, might seem anti-climactic to some of his followers. 

During the triumphal entry, the more politically motivated and “patriotic” of Christ’s disciples must have sensed a growing momentum against the elitist immoral government. The palm branches they waved were symbols of the failed Maccabean rebellion and an expression of nationalistic, patriotic pride. Christ went out of his way to arrive in a manner that both fit this paradigm and shatter it at the same time. Riding into the city on a colt referenced a well-known Messianic prophecy and identified Jesus as the promised Messianic King. Many would also react with glee when he cleansed the temple, just as we would if authorities took down a price-gouging opportunist selling hand-sanitizer.

But on Monday all that energy seems to fizzle out. Jesus does not march on the palaces of the rich. He does not pull down and replace corrupt leaders or cast off Roman oppression. Things do not go the way people expected. In the Old Testament stories they were used to, when the king purified the temple, what followed was the defeat of Israel’s enemies and a period of political victory and peace.

Jesus, instead, remains consistent in representing the kind of kingdom he has been describing and demonstrating all along. The revolution Jesus enacts is a spiritual one and is greater than any temporal imaginings of the crowds or his more revolutionary-minded followers.

The revolution Jesus begins will defeat the enemy of Sin—a far more dangerous enemy than Rome. 
The revolution Jesus begins will win a victory over death, not over human leaders who are destined to die anyway. 
The revolution Jesus begins will bring to us eternal peace with God, not broker meaningless earthly “peace.” 

The earthly definition of peace that we are used to is disingenuous. Like the ironically named “Ministry of Peace” in George Orwell’s 1984, we don’t want peace—we want to win wars. We want “Peace in our time” and on our terms. Many times we, like the Jerusalem crowds, might prefer a Prince of Pacification instead of a Prince of Peace.

As we anticipate Jesus’ arrival to our Jerusalem and as we follow him may we avoid the disillusionment that plagued Judas and other politically motivated disciples. Let us see Jesus as the Prince of Peace he truly is letting go of any dreams of earthly power.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people! — Psalm 3.8

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 24 (Listen 3:47) 
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen -1:44)

Read more about Following Through Jerusalem
In our social media, drama-driven world, we often long for someone to silence our critics and win our battles. We equate winning arguments with advancing the kingdom.

Read more about Tobiahs and Little Foxes
In a pre-visualization of Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, Nehemiah has to literally throw out the old baggage of the past (Tobiah and his belongings)

Lent is a Community Project

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 13.9-12
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Matthew 5.48
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Reflection: Lent is a Community Project
By John Tillman

C.S. Lewis says, “‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas,…Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.” Lewis continues:

“You must realize from the outset that the goal towards which he is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except yourself, can prevent him from taking you to that goal.”

“Many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted him to do, and we should be obliged if he would now leave us alone. As we say, “I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.” And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.”

But the Spirit of Christ will not settle for making us feel better about ourselves.
If Lent is only a reduction in consumption, we have failed to be nourished by it.
If Lent is only lost weight we have lost the weight of its importance.
If Lent is only valuable for fleshly improvements we achieve, we have failed to value what we could gain.

Lent is not conquering one or two sins or habits we find annoying about ourselves. The fasting in Lent is a community project we engage in as a partnership between us, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s body, the Church. Its goal is a part of our ever-increasing pursuit of Christ’s prayer that we be perfected in him.

“Make no mistake,” he says, “If you let me, I will make you perfect. You have free will and, if you chose, you can push me away. But if you do not push me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect—until my father can say without reservation that he is well pleased with you, as he said he was well pleased with me.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought for us. — Psalm 68.28

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

Today’s Readings
Job 27 (Listen -2:21)
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen -2:23)

Read more about Mirrors and Sanctification
May we follow the example of these women to transform our use of technology for spiritual purposes.

Read more about More and More and Less and Less :: Guided Prayer
We cannot do “more and more” of the things Christ calls us to without doing “less and less” of some other things.

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