When I was a child I was afraid of the deep water. When someone said, “we’re going to the deep end” of the pool, I was immediately full of fear. These days, I live in the deep water. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s scary. I’ve finally learned that no matter the circumstance (scary, fun or otherwise!) … Read more About
I appreciate a Monday holiday so much; it comes like a breath of fresh air. At the same time, it is easy for me to forget to give myself a bit of grace for the remaining days of the week. That feeling of “falling short” comes too quickly as Tuesday morning arrives! It happens in other moments too. Can you relate?
We feel behind before we ever begin.
We review our words and actions, only to find we fell far short of what we intended.
Instant communication preempted a well-timed note or call.
Interruptions prevented the intentional act of kindness.
We experience a “holiday” with no buffer of an added day to “make up” for it.
We go on “vacation” but need time to recover from the travel.
Just stop. Take a deep breath. We are not “behind” on anything; we are simply where we are today. In many cultures time to rest is part of living. In many cultures time spent with family and friends is more important than production.
In the culture of the kingdom of God – there are priorities. Begin with what is most important for the day; the remaining tasks will fill in all the spaces.
Perhaps we step into this week with a pace that trusts our Creator more than we trust our desires and demands of ourselves and others.
This morning my reading included a chapter in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. A particular verse landed on my mind and heart:
For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. – Romans 11:32
Where we fall short, God’s mercy is abundant. This is a human condition that we all share; we all fall short (Romans 3). We are all in need of God’s mercy and grace. How is God’s mercy being made available for you today?
The “doxology” that comes after Romans 11:32 may be a way for us to acknowledge the wisdom and mercy of God as we walk into the remaining days of the week:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36
Holy God, we acknowledge you and thank you for the gift of life today. For those who grieve and struggle in any way, grant your mercy in abundance. May your peace move into the pace and space of our days so that we walk more humbly wherever we go. Reveal yourself in ways that help each of us and all of us see you. Give us courage to follow you when you make yourself known. We love you, Lord, and we trust you completely. Amen.
Remembering is one of the most powerful practices of our faith. It lifts up our spirits when we are low. It increases our confidence that the Lord is with us. Remembering is prevention; it recenters us in our faith. Remembering reminds us where wisdom and help can be found for daily life. Forgetting leads us into some of the most difficult life situations.
Our ancestors, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, so that he might make known his mighty power. [Psalm 106:708]
One of the gifts we experience with each new year of our lives is the collective memory. This rhythm of faithfulness is overwhelming if we pause to consider it. Psalm 106 is a long remembrance of God’s acts of faithfulness. The litany is full of humanity; our propensity to forget, rebel, and find ourselves in awful messes. Each time God’s people cry out for help, God responds. Time and time again, we see the kindness of God’s mercy. We experience redemption and restoring.
Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes, and were brought low through their iniquity. Nevertheless, he regarded their distress when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love. [Psalm 106:43-45]
Last night this Psalm came across my reading, and it gave me strength. Like the refreshment of a glass of water after a long hike, this remembering of how faithful God is changes the way we walk through life. Do you need to be reminded? Do you find yourself leaning on some lesser source for your life situations? Or maybe you’ve forgotten how faithfully God works within our lives. Perhaps Psalm 106 can offer some assistance.
Practices Start naming the ways God has been kind to you. Just a few words – a sentence that reminds you. Write them down; let it become your remembering psalm. In moments of discouragement or when you feel forgotten, pull out your psalm. Read it with amazement and gratitude.
Read Psalm 106 and notice the rhythm of God’s provision for the people in all seasons. God allows rebellion and forgetfulness to have its course. When we recognize our errors, the Lord hears our cries and restores us to the foundations of God’s love and righteousness. When you read Psalm 106 as a holy practice, you are joining the many generations of God’s people in naming God’s faithfulness. It is powerful and it will change your days! Read Psalm 106 here: https://bit.ly/Practice106
Prayer Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. [Psalm 106:47]
Do you ever feel like your mouth needs to be guarded? Do you ever feel the pull to be drawn into something that you know is destructive, but you are drawn to it anyway? Does the luxury of comfort, money, or even an unhealthy relationship beg for your attention and commitment?
Welcome to the life of being human! We often speak without thinking. We are lured into situations that bring trouble into our lives. We want to be safe, comfortable, and loved however that may be offered; even when it’s not good. Paul describes our situation well when he acknowledges our fragility even though we are a miracle of God; it is the “clay jar” of our human vessel.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. – II Corinthians 4:7
Psalm 141 lands on my ears and mind as a balm. It is a helpful grace. It is a prayer that not only calls upon the Lord for assistance, it offers wisdom for the journey as we navigate through life. There is so much beautiful and amazing about this world that God created! There is so much broken and breaking in our world! “Breaking News” is perhaps the headline that tells us that we are breaking. We need divine help and repair.
I call to you,Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. 2 May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
3 Set a guard over my mouth,Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. 4 Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.
5 Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.
6 Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs, and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken. 7 They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”
8 But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death. 9 Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me. 10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.
In environments where “evil” is lurking, we see things like the enticement of luxuries or “delicacies”. We hear words and stories that are falsely represented; sometimes even by our own minds! We experience temptation without regard for others; no concern for the impact one action has upon another person. Often all of this looks “good” while we are being drawn into it.
And in those same environments or moments, there is an invitation to tap into something more powerful. It is a higher offer; a gift God offers. Something miraculous is possible when the Spirit of the Lord intervenes. This prayer that we know as Psalm 141 calls it forth.
While we allow the Lord to “set a guard over our mouths”, we are giving space for others to speak. This venting will often reveal its own motivation. Listen for what is behind the words you hear. In another setting it may allow someone to empty themselves of something that is binding and hindering them from healing. Allow it. Let the Lord guard our mouths, not rushing to defend or correct. Give space to see what is really happening. Maybe we have nothing that needs to be said. Whatever this “guarding” may be; silence can be a grace.
The practice of listening before I speak always takes intentional effort for me. I have to practice it. Not jumping to what “I” want to say, but to wait and listen.
The “draw to evil” that the Psalmist mentions might be the lure of argument, judgement, or assumption. It can be the easy path of drawing lines that can keep others out and elevates us to a higher place, where our own temptations or weaknesses are disguised. It may be, surprisingly, jumping in to “fix” something that is not ours to fix; a “rescue” of another person’s needed journey.
The variations and ways “traps and snares” are presented are numerous. But most often they come in the way that we are uniquely enticed or lured. We all have our triggers and inspirations! It may be money, lust, power, excitement, fight, managing someone else’s life; take your pick! In these moments we need people of wisdom who have our best interests at heart to meet us… offering grace, correction, and wisdom.
Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.
There is a time to speak. Words of honesty are helpful and even freeing. Words of caution spoken in love are the words of a true friend. Wisdom is given when we wait for it and listen. When Jesus was preparing the disciples for their first experience of “being sent”, he knew they were going out into a world that was not “safe”. Jesus offered them exactly what they needed:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. – Matthew 10:16-20
God did not make their circumstances all safe and without challenge. The Lord provided access to divine help to offer everyone a different experience, an encounter with the resurrected Christ. …the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken. (Psalm 141:6b)
Even when we are not aware, the Lord is intervening to bring forth the kingdom. This is our trust; it is our faith.
Our human experience is a profound grace, a miracle. And we are all broken just the same. We journey with the hope and confidence that the Lord is walking with us; guiding, protecting, correcting, and assisting. Every day. All the time. In every way we can receive. God’s love for us is steadfast and true.
Lord, thank you for the ancient prayers of those who have gone before us. Thank you for the ways you invite us to depend upon and trust you to assist us on the journey. We say and do so many things that we regret! But you, Lord, make it clear that your help and full equipping is accessible and ready to launch. You are amazing! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! We give you the praise! Amen.
The disciples came to the table to celebrate the Passover with Jesus. Even with the tensions obvious in his ministry, people still waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna!” as he entered Jerusalem. There was every reason for the disciples to be hopeful and excited to share in this ancient ritual with Christ. They were celebrating the Passover with the Messiah!
But things didn’t turn out the way they expected. Within their small group there is betrayal. One who is perhaps tired of things not moving along as he expected they should. One who has been offered a worldly reward that might help him achieve his personal goals. One who makes a permanent decision to ease a temporary discomfort. And Jesus accepts him at that table, all the while knowing that his heart has turned fully inward.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that were intended to be good, but there is a turning of events that changes that intent into a corrupted and destructive moment. The “crowd” begins to get louder and the pressures mount. We make decisions to appease others, even when our minds and spirits tell us, “This isn’t right”. It is a personal betrayal. It is a betrayal of our Creator who formed us in his image, gave us the ability to think, and intended for us to be in loving relationship with God and one another.
We don’t know who cleared the dishes after this Passover gathering. They would have found the basin of water with dirt and grime settled in the bottom. A wet towel on the floor or draped over a chair. Leftover bread and wine, perhaps. And an uneasy silence about what is unfolding. What was intended as a sacred ritual is the backdrop of the decision both to dip our fingers in the bowl with Christ and choose to betray.
The discomfort of the morning after is felt by all of us. The weight of our own sin. How eagerly we run to the moments of celebration and holy experiences; and how quickly we turn away when we realize humble surrender of our own power and plans is required. Jesus asked a pivotal question earlier when a few of the disciples were trying to ensure their positions as God’s kingdom is being fulfilled,
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom. “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
The two disciples are certain that they can “drink the cup” that Jesus is going to drink in that moment. But now, as the dishes are being cleared, it all looks different. The decisions of individuals have set things in motion. The push to condemn and remove this threatening Messiah increases. The devoted disciples begin to scatter and avoid the situation. What began with “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, now reveals the depths of our ability to betray and destroy one another. The profound gift of grace that commands us to love is hidden from view.
Holy God, how do we stand in the memory of your story, and bear the reality of our own stories of betrayal right now? We get impatient with your timing. We easily turn to building our own empires and leave you on the sidelines. We are silent when we see things that are wrong. We are quick to condemn those who think differently than we do. We trade social media posts for authentic listening and relationship. We take matters into our own hands because we fail to trust that you are being faithful to fulfill your promises. Forgive us, Lord, for the many ways we betray you in our efforts to “do the right thing”. We are so unable to do the right thing within the messes we have created. And still, it is our desire to honor you. It is our intention to surrender our lives for your glory. We are completely powerless to do this, and we need your help. Come quickly Lord Jesus; make haste to help us. We do trust you, Lord; we trust you completely. Amen.
Prayers & Practices of Surrender
Lord, I trust you with ________________________; I yield this situation or person(s) into your hands. (Read Psalm 118)
God of mercy, my eyes and mind are clouded by my own pain and certainty. I think I am right, but I know my understanding is limited. I welcome your Holy Spirit to open my eyes; I welcome you to renew my mind. I ask you, Lord, to make me whole again. Please set me on the rock that is higher than I. I need you and I yield to you. (Read Psalm 61)
Creator of All, we love you. Our world is reeling with grief and shame. The land cries out with the blood of so many. The sky witnesses our betrayals and destruction every moment of time, in every season. When we stop to look at one another, our own sin and pain is reflected in our neighbor’s eyes. It is so hard to accept that we stop looking. Help us, God, to see each other as you see. Help us to be in community as you want us to be. Let your perfect love, cast out our fear. Amen (Read I John 4)
Attend a Good Friday service today. Set aside your critique of those who tell the story. Just listen. Ponder. Receive. Sit with the reality of how we, as people who claim to love God, often respond when the kingdom of God comes near.
God of all creation – Guide our steps into this day Ground our feet in your peace Set our eyes on eternity Wash away our anxieties.
For you, Holy God, are the great redeemer The healer, the justice maker You – the restorer of all things To the way you created life to be.
Guard us from our own distractions Judgments against our neighbors Public slander of strangers Untended wounds within us Flowing out into your streets.
Lift us to your higher rock Fill us with mercy and justice Spirit of compassion and love Wisdom that resides in the deepest Silence where our hearts Come. Help us
Listen Rest Listen
And wait for you to show us The way of faithfulness now.
We love you, Lord, and we trust you completely. In your presence, we are full of your joy. You are the creator of this day; you have given this time in history the blessing of your presence. We yield ourselves into your hands, in the name of the resurrected Christ, Amen.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” – Mark 11:22-25
Jesus was responding to his disciples’ amazement when they realized his words had true power. He cursed the fig tree when it had no fruit to offer and the next day it was withered! (Mark 11:20) They cannot fathom this uncontainable spiritual power. Maybe we can’t comprehend it either.
We are a people that value preparation and proof. We forgive after we see repentance. We strike before someone strikes us. We are preemptive, proactive, decisive, and “powerful”. Or are we? Sometimes we even call this active way of being ahead of the game being “faithful”. Jesus describes faith differently.
Faith is not belief in ourselves. Faith is believing in God. Faith is not dependent on our taking matters into our own hands. Faith is yielding matters into God’s hands. Letting go of our limited way of getting things done, and acting with faith that God is the one who actually moves the mountains. Our spiritual power is found in prayer. It is a profound act of faith. It is a vulnerable place to be.
Jesus seems pretty powerful even when he is rejected. When faced with public scrutiny and accusation, he simply continues. His mission was not to please the crowds or the authorities. It was to do what God gave him to do. That meant showing up in places that “faithful people” didn’t typically go. It meant offering mercy to those with stones in their hands, and to those crouched in shame and fear as condemnation is hurled against them. It meant teaching what God wanted people to hear. Humbly. Boldly. With Love. And a lot of prayer.
My grandfather Lester was a farmer. A man of great faith. He believed God was faithful most of all. He planted and tended the land. There were good years and hard years. Sometimes a field failed to produce a crop for unknown reasons. Occasionally weather and disease ruined entire harvests. P.E. Lester farmed and tended the land in all of those seasons. When resources were lacking, he and Grandma made sacrifices so the family had what they needed for the basics in life. They shared with their neighbors.
Grandaddy was certain of a greater vision. He knew his faithful tending would change the land and thus the harvest over time. He knew that most of it would be seen in other generations. His days were filled standing in the context he was given, and serving faithfully from that place. All the while, trusting that God was doing what he could not. He believed every seed would produce when it was given the right soil and the right environment. Grandaddy’s part was farming. The harvest, however and whenever it came, was in God’s hands. That faith grounded all of his work.
It is no surprise that his favorite chapter of the Bible was Hebrews 11. It begins like this: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.This is what the ancients were commended for. – Hebrews 11:1-2
A wise person who I only knew as a partner in prayer once shared with us, “we are not held accountable for what good things we do in the world. We can do many ‘good things’ in the world. We are held accountable, however, only for what God gives us to do.” That is what Jesus did. (John 5:19-20; John 12:49)
I’m accountable to do what God has given me to do. Moses was to lead a people out of slavery. Joseph was to marry Mary and raise a family. Paul was to plant churches and write. Martha was to show hospitality. Mary Magdalene was to proclaim the resurrection. Lydia was to provide financial support. The stories go on and on. Yours too. How are you standing in faith while you do what God has given you to do today?
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:39-40
Lord, thank you for the ways you bring forth your fulfillment in due time. Forgive us when we march ahead of you. We are so eager that sometimes we forget to trust that you are working all things for good. Stir us when we become complacent or fearful. We do trust you, Lord; and we love you. Help us today to simply move steady on with you. Thank you for not giving up on us! Amen.
Psalm 15 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will never be shaken. (NIV)
At a time when it often feels like everything is being “shaken”, the words of this ancient prayer land differently for me. I’m reading it silently and then out loud. My pen is underlining words to sear the wisdom a little deeper.
No slander. No slur. No wrong to a neighbor. Speaking truth from the heart. Keeping an oath even when it hurts. What a different experience we would all have if we intentionally practice what is contained in the five verses of this prayer! But not just a “different experience” …
The Scripture says there will be dwelling in the holy space.
The result is not that challenges and difficulty cease. The result is not being shaken by the difficulties that are part of this life. “Whoever does these things will never be shaken.”
Jesus urged his disciples to “abide” in him. Stay connected. Let’s dwell together. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) That is the way that leads us into the holy space.
A practice that may assist when we feel the desire to say or do what we know is harmful, is simply to name that with the Lord, and ask for help to not act in destructive ways. If the slurs and slander of another are not acted upon, the harm is not spread. Speaking to God or a trusted spiritual friend about our feelings allows us a holy space of confession. A space where Christ meets us and works on our hearts. We work it together. We clear what doesn’t need to set up dwelling; we let go so we can receive what is good.
The blessing in the holy space of confession is found in another prayer, Psalm 32. Read it here: https://bit.ly/holyspace
Keeping an oath may hurt, breaking covenant destroys. The LORD is the one who redeems. If life is shaking you right now, reach out for the one whose hand is already reaching for you. Your Creator can be trusted.
Lord, as we pray this prayer together with the words of Psalm 15, give us grace to live with you and in you. Thank you for receiving us as we are and restoring us to the wholeness you gave your life for us to have. We love you, Lord, and we trust you completely. Amen.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. – Acts 8:4
Have you have been scattered? You begin somewhere and then everyone disperses? It often begins when we graduate high school and everyone moves along to their “next chapter”, whatever and wherever that may be. We all have different experiences; some being scattered many times, others finding a solid landing place that serves well for a lifetime.
When we are scattered, we carry something within us wherever we go. That’s what happened to Philip. It was in the early days of the church. Stephen had just been publicly stoned to death because he proclaimed the resurrection of Christ. All the people except the apostles, were scattered.
The people who killed Stephen were quite confident in their judgement of Stephen. They believed they were “protecting” God’s people and the faith. Saul, a devout and deeply faithful Pharisee, began strategically moving home to home condemning people for believing in Jesus. He placed them in prison. He was certain he was God’s messenger and agent; he justified these destructive actions. Saul was being “faithful”.
Philip was among the many who were scattered during this hard season in the early life of the church. He carries within him the faith and story of a Savior who came to earth to redeem, restore, and fulfill God’s kingdom on earth. It was a radical proclamation, and it was a story with tangible love and grace that many had never experienced.
This story was a personal transformation that Philip lived every day. People were healed in encounters with him. The Spirit led him to random strangers who were seeking for what they did not know. He had no campaigns, videos, or internet to spread what God had given him; he just had what was within, what had been given by Christ.
In our modern and widely accessible world of the 21st century, it may help us to pause and remember how powerfully God moves in the one-to-one conversations, when all you have is what you carry within your heart, mind, and spirit. You may even be scattered today. My work often takes me to other communities; sometimes it is like being scattered. It often feels like a holy scattering.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus about when the kingdom of God would come, he replied that it is not something that comes with your observation; “the kingdom is within you”. And then he turned to his disciples:
He went on to say to his disciples, “The days are coming when you are going to be desperately homesick for just a glimpse of one of the days of the Son of Man, and you won’t see a thing. And they’ll say to you, ‘Look over there!’ or, ‘Look here!’ Don’t fall for any of that nonsense. The arrival of the Son of Man is not something you go out to see. He simply comes. (THE MESSAGE – Luke 17:22-24)
Wherever you go today, I pray you carry within you the redemptive love and grace of Christ. Whether offered with words, actions, or the sheer gift of presence, may you be scattered to bless all who you meet upon the path. And may there be love however and whenever you return “home”.
Lord, we don’t always comprehend the fullness of your mysterious grace. We don’t have to understand it all. We walk by faith because we believe in you. Keep us humble enough to follow where you lead us today, and courageous enough to joyfully share whatever you have given us to offer. Thank you for the scattering that blesses. Thank you for the landing places that help us experience love as “home”. We love you, Lord. We trust you completely. Bless your people who are on the move today. Amen.
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, Teacher”, he said. Luke 7:40
There is nothing quite like Jesus knocking us off our high horse. Sometimes I get tickled at how quickly we humans (me at the front of the line) place ourselves in the role of God. Yes…God. Jesus serves at the will and direction of God. He walks the earth and embodies what it looks like and feels like to walk with and follow God. He doesn’t create his own plan and agenda. He seeks, listens, and follows. Hour by hour. Day by day.
His anguish is evident in his sorrow. His deep pain and courage take him into that quiet place of prayer and seeking again and again. The hope and delight of Christ show up when he proclaims God’s justice and love. Jesus sees the potential. Jesus desires to show people the kingdom God is fulfilling on earth. He wants it for everyone. He connects the dots of how God works over long periods of history. Some receive it. Some reject it. Some wait to see what happens next. Many are unaware at all; no one is living it in front of them. How could they know?
I am struck by the encounters Jesus has in Luke 7, particularly with two people. First, the Centurion whose son is ill and at risk of dying; read his story here in Luke 7: https://bit.ly/centurionstory And secondly, the “sinful woman” who shows up unwanted nor invited. Perhaps she comes spiritually ill and at risk of dying. It’s not precisely clear; she just comes. Read her story here in Luke 7: https://bit.ly/unexpectedmercy
Two totally different people. One is highly respected by many people. The other evokes feelings of disgust and words of condemnation simply by her presence. Jesus notices something about both, and he responds.
The Centurion and the sinful woman have two things in common: 1. Something in their lives is happening that they cannot fix. 2. They believe that God can fix it. (Jesus calls this faith)
With the Centurion, all his great work and reputation are not enough to cure his son’s illness. He can command many things in this life, but he cannot control this. Although he is not Jewish, nor is he known by others as a “follower” of Jesus in this context, he recognizes who Jesus is and the reverence he is to be given. He knows that at the command of Jesus, his son will be restored.
There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” – Luke 7:2-8
Unlike the Centurion who has a stellar and well-earned reputation, the sinful woman’s life must be a complete mess. Even so, she still knows exactly how to approach Jesus. She comes with the hospitality that is due this important guest. The hospitality that is part of being human – extending true care and love. The same grace and hospitality Abraham offered the “visitors” who came to his tent at Mamre. Genesis 18:1-5 read it here: https://bit.ly/holyhospitality
The woman also comes with great emotion and love; she is completely humble before him. Are her tears the tears of shame and sorrow or are they, rather, expressions of deep gratitude for what she has already received? Either way, she comes vulnerable and trusting of the one for whom her hands and heart reach.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Luke 7:36-39
Simon, the Pharisee who has invited Jesus over for supper, is confident about the woman’s sin. He knows from his lifelong study that sin doesn’t belong. His inner voice is questioning the credibility of Jesus simply because Jesus allows her to be this close to him. Simon is concentrating on assessment and right judgement, something he is expected to do. Jesus must love Simon so much. He offers to teach him something he doesn’t yet know about God.
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, Teacher”, he said.
I never get tired of the spiritual lessons that are offered us in the midst of ordinary life. Whether reminding, sharpening, or revealing something we’ve not seen before…the Spirit of God is faithful to teach us.
Both of these stories end with something that leaves the people (and us) pondering the response of Jesus. He never goes to the Centurion’s house to heal his son, but his son is healed. He never points out the sin of the woman, but he announces that it is her faith that saves her, and she departs with peace.
And what about Simon? Jesus meets him where he is: a faithful religious leader exercising wisdom and judgment, yet missing something critical. Jesus tells him a story where he can think and discern. And then Simon receives a teaching from Jesus that will assist him in his work and ministry should he choose to use it:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon,“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet,but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.You did not give me a kiss,but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.You did not put oil on my head,but she has poured perfume on my feet.Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:44-47
Jesus responds to Simon’s inner thoughts…Simon never actually speaks them out loud. But Jesus hears his inner voice. The woman never blurts out the sin that is still being held against her, but her devotion and love speak all that Jesus wants to hear. She needs to express these acts of love and devotion to Christ. Her forgiveness is maturing into love.
What mattered for the Centurion was not how good he was or how respected he was by his community. Reputation and personal integrity are wonderful things to have, but they couldn’t heal his son. What made his encounter so profound was his deep reverence for who Jesus is, God in the flesh. He believed Jesus could do what he could not, and he reached out in faith.
We don’t need the details of the “sinful woman’s” story because her actions to and with Jesus are where he encourages us to focus. She loves him with gracious hospitality. She loves him without restraint. She loves him completely. While Simon is not able to see it, even with his educated and devoted life, Jesus teaches him to look for something different: the way she loves. When he sees the way she loves, he will see she is forgiven and accepted by God.
I do wonder about this.
With what reverence and humility do we approach God? Have we left space for God to teach us as we are going about our lives?
How do we approach the one who, in the beginning, created every living creature and thing on earth and called it good? How do we come to the one who literally gives us our breath and will hold us when our breath on earth is no longer?
Do we come to Jesus ready to learn and see something more than we’ve known?
What are we looking for in ourselves or in others?
Step 2 from The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous echoes in my ear: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Both the Centurion and the “sinful woman” believe that God is the power that restores what is broken. It is Jesus, who just happens to be in the neighborhood. Perhaps Simon is coming to believe as well. Powerless to see anything but sin, he opens himself to be taught by the Christ who dines at his table. “Tell me, Teacher”, he said.
Holy God, please tell us too. We need to learn from Jesus too. We need a power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity. We need you. Amen.
Alcoholics anonymous big book (4th ed.). (2002). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.
Someone’s walking beside you One you cannot always see They arrived before you made your steps They’ll be there when you continue you on your journey You are not alone. Sometimes it’s the person in the grocery store Reminding you of something you’ve forgotten – the story of BREAD.
Another day it’s the vulture waiting on the roof To alert you: every death is followed by new birth Or the neighbors who pause to see what you cannot and share it. An old friend; a very new friend Someone is walking up beside you Offering peace Offering hope Offering love Wait for it.
As the light arrives When you are given the gift to see Receive and be grateful These are blessings of our Creator. For all the days we do not see Or hear the footsteps No presence felt or known Even still… someone is walking up beside you. Wait for it and keep moving forward.