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Archive for the ‘Meditations’ Category

(see Luke 5:17-26)

The view was unvarying: cloudless white-hot sky above him, against which he closed his eyes most of the time. If he turned his head a tiny bit to right or left, he could see the back of a head and the top of a shoulder. If he strained his eyes up and back to either side he’d see grim faces, upside down. Four men, two on either side, trudged doggedly forward, while he lay still, strapped in place.

They were grim because it was hot, heavy work, and they’d been walking since sunrise. They were dogged because they were determined to get him to his destination. And he lay still, not because he was strapped down, but because he could not will his limbs to move. Nor could he say or do anything to stop these four. Their minds were made up. This was their last hope.

He had given up hope long since. For years, the five of them had worked merrily together at their trade. They’d laughed together, sweating in the heat. They’d poured the wine at each others’ weddings, blessed each others’ children, built each others’ homes, adding on rooms as their families grew. And then it happened. The freak accident that left one of them helpless, paralyzed, useless. The others pitched in to support his family, they consulted physicians, took him to healing springs, massaged his limbs, cheered him or chided him at need.

Meanwhile the paralyzed man grew more and more bitter, watching his friends going on with their lives–loving wife, holding child, wielding chisel. They worked without him. In time he didn’t think he liked them any more. He believed he hated them.

But now here he was, feeling like a sacrifice being carried to the altar against its will. They’d strapped him to the cot so he wouldn’t fall off if they stumbled. They’d explained that this was absolutely the last time they’d try to help him…but they’d said that before, too.

“This Man…He works miracles. He does. We’ve seen Him. If anyone can heal you, it will be Him. We just have to get you to Him. He’s in Galilee right now, so let’s go, OK?”

OK? What choice does a paralyzed man have? What can he do by his own will? He stared silently into space as they got him ready.

His wife kissed him good-bye. “I’m praying, ” she whispered.

And what will happen when nothing happens? he thought. Maybe they’d just leave him by the side of the road some-where, to choke to death on the dust.

He must have dozed for a time. When he awoke, they’d stopped. A mutter of urgent words washed over him. The men hissed at each other.

“We can’t do that! Are you crazy?”

“Well, what do you suggest?”

“We’ve come too far to stop now.”

“There’s no other way in–the crowd is already five deep outside the door. The courtyard is packed.”

“Is there a ladder? What about a rope?”

Ladder? Rope? What were they talking about? He opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. Why waste his breath? They would do whatever they chose. They’d long ago stopped asking his permission or even his opinion. He felt more than ever like a piece of meat, and not kosher either–just an unclean, useless lump, barely alive.

 

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It’s December the first.  And our first real snowfall of the year is flying by the coffee shop window.  Why do snow and coffee make me want to blog? Maybe it’s the absence of anything frantically urgent on my to-do list…what a welcome change!  (Not that the list isn’t there…just not frantic about it…)

So, driving to Huntington, I was thinking about Jon Swanson’s idea of Month Zero…using the month of December to get a head start on the new year.  This blur of endings and beginnings is making more and more sense to me as I grow older.  Perhaps it’s the number of dear friends I’ve said “good bye” to, one way and another.  Perhaps it’s all the new aches and pains, which remind me of limitations, including time.  All I know is that each day, while it brings new opportunities, is also a day closer to the end:  the end of a job, a relationship, a life, all Time.

Advent marks the countdown to our celebration of Christ’s birth.  Had Israel known His due date, they could have anticipated more fully the “beginning of the end” of their wait…it had been a long one, even longer than our two-thousand year wait for His second coming.  But, as C.S. Lewis wrote to an American lady, near the end of his own life, “…we are here in the land of dreams.  But cock crow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter.”

I want to live each day looking for the new opportunities it brings…especially those chances to talk to people about brevity of life and eternal hope.  And I want to remember that every opportunity could be my last.

Happy Advent.

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I really wasn’t prepared.

Five thousand people were prepared for this event, to some extent.  Obviously their preparations had varied.  Some were taking it all in stride, others were in pain.  Some seemed shocked, others stoic.  Some kept an even pace and others limped along.

But I was unprepared.  I didn’t have to do anything.  The half-marathon route included a section which went right down the cross street which is two houses from my front door.  All I had to do was walk to the corner and clap.  There were others there on the opposite corner.  They cheered and shouted encouragement.  But at first I only clapped.

Because I was unprepared.  I had not expected the wave of emotion I felt when I saw the determined faces.  When I thought about having run ten and a half miles. (I would cry harder if you told me that I had to run one mile…)  I was unprepared and so I had to walk back home and get a tissue.  After that, I clapped and wiped my eyes and clapped some more.

Some runners, ear buds in place, eyes fixed ahead, didn’t acknowledge any of us. Others smiles or waved.  A few verbally thanked us for being out there.

Straining to give birth, struggling to learn, striving to achieve…we all need encouragement, and we can all be encouragers.  We’re in the streets and on the sidelines all at once.  Sometimes we’re called to coax or coach a friend over a rocky bit of ground. At another time we may be grieving with a comrade over their spouse whose race ended too soon. Or we may find ourselves holding the hand of a runner who is near the finish line, encouraging them to finish well…

For all this, we should be prepared.  We are all needed.

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I gave my own definition of ‘balance’ in part one, but I’ll repeat it here:

Balance is the maintenance of two or more elements in a system within an acceptable range of normal which keeps every element in correct proportion, so that the functions of the system as a whole can be performed optimally.

I already looked at how this definition is supported by the chemical functioning inside our bodies.  Let’s look at a more subjective system:  how we use our time.  (I was interested to see that this was the only context in which my friends commented on my Facebook quote.)  Now there are always 24 hours in a day.  Nobody gets any more than that.  We can divide those hours into minutes or seconds, but everyone gets the same number.  The simplest division we can make is into waking and sleeping.  How many of us would insist on 12 hours of sleep per night?  For most of us, most of the time, that much sleep would be excessive.  If we agree on a healthy range as 6.5 to 8 hours of sleep, we could say that we maintain a healthy balance of waking and sleeping if we are out of bed for about 2/3 of every 24-hour period.  But that alone isn’t enough to determine balance in a meaningful way.  How are we spending those waking hours?

We can simply split our waking hours into work and relaxation.  Should there be eight hours of each?  Is it possible? Yes.  Is it desirable?  That’s open to debate.   Beyond that, into which column does one put hygiene, eating, travel time, home/car/yard maintenance, shopping, cooking?  For some, these things might fall on the work side, but for others on the recreation end of the spectrum.    We will spend differing amounts of time on each item–and even in the course of several days or weeks will probably not be utterly consistent in the time we spend in each category.  Some weeks, shopping may take up a large amount of time–perhaps because a new home is being sought.  The week of a party, perhaps cooking and cleaning take precedence.  Not spending the same amount in each category of activity–nor even a consistent amount of time on one activity from week to week–doesn’t imply a lack of balance.  Is my life functioning optimally?  That’s the question.  And it requires further definition.

It’s easy enough to define “optimal” in purely physical terms:  the health of my body, the performance of my car, or the yield in my garden (because of the right balance of sun, moisture and fertilizer, soil, time and lack of predators/pests). These are fairly objective systems.  But what about the quality of my life, the way I spend my time over a span of months or years?  How do I define balance here? This is the ultimate context of Dr. Swenson’s book, and the one for which we are in most need of a definition.

One of the most valuable concepts he introduces in order to determine whether we are “in balance,” is the concept of “core priorities.”  He uses the picture of orbit, and suggests that everything in our lives should be placed in orbit around our core priorities.   Is my priority making money?  Then working 12 hours a day is perhaps not out of balance for me.  Is my stated priority family and relationships? A 12-hour work day isn’t going to help balance my life in favor of that priority, is it?

I want to go back to my working definition:  When I say “optimal function of the system as a whole”, to what system am I referring?   In this context, perhaps it is that my core priorities are being preserved or honored, and the implied goals of those priorities are being met.  But I need more than an ambiguous “priority” and an implied goal, in order to really establish equilibrium.

If my priority is family, what I really need is an active verb to describe that priority, much the way an actor needs verbs to describe his character’s motivation.   Perhaps it’s clearer to say, “My core priority is to maintain solid relationships with my family members, so that we communicate often, understand each other, spend regular quality time together and build common positive memories.”   A specific and goal-oriented definition of each of  my core priorities will make it much easier to determine whether the components of my life are in a range which will serve those priorities well.

One friend said, “Jesus did not live a balanced life.”  But I say, Oh really?  Jesus stated clearly that He had come to do His Father’s will.  Every aspect of His earthly life served that purpose.  Who are we to say it was out of balance?  True, what we know of His life mainly falls into the last three years, the years of His public ministry. But that makes it relatively easy to evaluate them for balance, as we’ve defined it.  So…did Jesus ignore His mission for days on end, playing video games instead?  Did He neglect His prayer life?  Did He take a sabbatical from teaching and never get back to it?  Did He try to cram too many speaking engagements into His schedule and end up in bed with the flu for a week? Did He give Himself a nervous breakdown by trying to heal everyone who came to Him?

Jesus accomplished His stated purpose.  And thus He is the example of a perfectly balanced life.  But His is the only example.

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I mentioned this book in my Facebook status yesterday.  I’ve been reading it for a book discussion panel I’ll be part of next week, and growing frustrated with the author.  In my status update, I asked this question:  “Is balance something we can’t define, but we know it when we don’t see it?”

To my surprise, this question provoked a brief but intense shower of comments–quite a good dialogue, in fact.  But the stand-out thread was the assumed definition of “balance” by nearly everyone who wrote: their comments indicated that they thought of balance as equality, as in spending “equal time” doing various things.  “Balance is overrated,” said one person.  “Jesus’ life wasn’t balanced,” pointed out another.  “Nor the apostle Paul’s life.”

I repeatedly pointed out the necessity of a definition we could all agree on, and stated that the biggest problem I have with this book is that Dr. Swenson’s first job was to define his term…and he never got around to it.  He used many illustrations, but since he’s looking at what he thinks of as “balance” in every facet of life, it’s a slippery commodity he’s trying to pin down, and his success is partial at best.

The implied understanding of “balance” as equality is easy to grasp.  We at once picture an old-fashioned set of scales in a shop, where a one-pound weight tells us whether we’re buying a pound of potatoes.   Elementary math sometimes uses the graphic of a scale to picture an equation–by definition, both sides have to be equal, so a pair of scales is a good illustration to teach that concept.

But there are other, more subtle, variations on the idea of balance.  We want to balance our budgets–home, business, government.  But it isn’t as simple as “this is our income and this is our expense.”  We scrutinize how much we’re spending in each category.   Experts tell us that we should try to keep our housing cost to about 25% of our total month expense:  If I make $2,000 a month, I shouldn’t pay more than $500 for my rent or mortgage.  If  I am routinely spending over $1,000 for housing, that spending may be rightly said to be out of balance with my income and other expenses.

“Balance” has many synonyms, and Dr. Swenson uses all of them, at times interchangeably.  We have equilibrium, homeostasis, constancy, stability, consistency, sustained harmony, etc.   The many statistics and anecdotes he employs lead me to this definition:  Balance is the maintenance of all the elements in a system within an acceptable range of normal, which keeps every element in correct proportion so that the functions of the system as a whole can be performed optimally.

I know this definition is unwieldy, but it’s what I’m working with at the moment.  The example I used in my Facebook conversation was the electrolytes in our bodies.  Sodium is a critical component in cell functioning.  Its optimal range should be 135 to 145 millimoles per liter.  Both excess sodium and inadequate sodium levels will create serious or even fatal problems in our bodies.  Potassium, another major player, should be present in the optimal range of 3.6 to 5.1 millimoles per liter.  The fact that we need only a fraction as much potassium as we do sodium doesn’t imply anything about its importance to our health and well-being.  The critical fact is that there is a specific level which much be maintained.

Of course there are myriad elements in our bodies which must be kept in balance.  We speak of  “chemical imbalances” in the brain, of hormone imbalances, or of vitamin deficiencies.   Most of us are not so naive that we think every part must be equal.  And not every part is “equally” important…our bodies can adjust to varying levels of almost any component, compensating for excess or deficit in remarkable ways.   But if our goal is optimal health and performance, we ignore these balances at our peril.

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No Trespassing

Our pastor is preaching through the book of Ephesians right now.  A couple of weeks ago, he talked about the difference between trespasses and sins.  Trespassing is crossing a line…in the case of humanity, we’ve crossed a line that God drew, and it has separated us from Him.

I formed this picture in my mind, of God (as the hen gathering her chicks) with all of us huddled around Him, facing a line (some action or actions which would drive a wedge between us and make it impossible for us to go back).  “Stay here,” He says.  But our first ancestors, blinded by the lie–“You won’t really die…”–take the first fatal step in the wrong direction.  And looking back they see a flaming sword barring their way.

Now, because we are all born on the wrong side of the tracks, as it were, we sin.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Pastor says that sin is our attempts to get back to God in our own strength, through our own merits.  And as such, every attempt is doomed to fail.  We take a running jump, try to hurl ourselves across that line, over that wall…and we fall short.  Nothing we can do will breach the gap between us and a holy God.

That’s why Christ formed the bridge.  (Do you remember that great Avalon song:  “There’s a Cross to bridge the great divide…”?)  Now we, through His sacrifice, can get back to where we belong, close to God, under His protection.

All this was quite clear to me from the explanation.  And then I prayed the Lord’s Prayer one morning and thought about forgiving those who trespass against us…odd, isn’t it?  Our trespasses have separated us from God by drawing us away from Him through our actions.  But when others trespass against us it’s usually by getting inappropriately close, invading our space, and thus harming (or destroying) relationship:  when we steal, murder, covet, commit adultery, we’ve crossed a line with one another, trespassed on each other’s private land.  Loving my neighbor as I love myself means respecting his boundaries, not moving fence lines or marker stones.

It seems to me that the only way we can be both 1) close to other people and 2) in right relationship without trespass, is if we’re all on the same side of the boundary line…with God. This makes the first great commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”  the logical prerequisite for “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”…

Because until we’re in God’s territory, we can’t help but trespass on someone’s else’s land. But once we’re back where we belong, we’re all standing on holy ground.  And it is possible to live in peace with one another.

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Awhile back, I posted my thoughts on John 6, where Jesus calls Himself  the Bread of Life.  You can read that post here.  A couple of days ago, the reading passage for my fixed hour prayer time was from Isaiah chapter 1:

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.”

Huh?  God appointed all these sacrifices, didn’t He?  They were encoded in Mosaic law, the prescribed penalties for sin, and the required offerings for holy days.  How can He say now that He’s sick of these things?  Like a spoiled, petulant child who demands treats and then turns up his nose, God says that the very things He ordained now weary Him.

Why had God demanded blood sacrifice, anyway?  Was it because He was a bloodthirsty being?  Was it just the priest’s way of getting free meals?  Or was it because they were a nation of shepherds, whose wealth, whose greatest stock in trade, was its livestock?  In order to give them a picture of the gravity of sin, He asked them to totally surrender something of great value:  the best of the flock, the animal without blemish.  Bloodshed, graphic and messy, was a profound picture of what sin did to their relationships with Him and with each other, to their community’s health.

But over and over, they forgot the point, and it became a relatively easy but meaningless ritual:  bring the cow, get it approved, slaughter it and say a perfunctory prayer, dash off to the next party. “There, God, hope You’re happy.”

No.  He’s not happy.  Not with empty words or thoughtless actions.  We tend to look only at the superficial, the appearance, the facade…but God looks at the heart.  He weighs our motives in the balance and finds them wanting.  So Israel, going through the motions of piety, was sold into slavery over and over.  So the Jewish people of Jesus’ day made a show of wanting to please God, but they really just wanted more magic bread (John 6).

The sacrifices of the Old Testament, like the sacraments of the New, are outward symbols of inward realities.  But it’s so much easier to only focus on what is tangible, what can be touched and tasted and seen.  “Dear God,” we plead, “bless my actions today…and don’t look too closely at my thoughts or my motives.  I sent a card to Aunt Helen, didn’t I?  I gave a gift to my neighbor.  I sent in a check to the church.  Done. Off my list.  I deserve to have fun now, right?”

So are habits and rituals and traditions no good?  Well…only as good as our heartfelt intentions in acting them out.  Am I doing good because I’m sold-out to God and committed to walking with Him?  Or do I just want to get Him off my back for awhile and walk my own road?

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I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book, in preparation for WBCL’s Digging Deeper on MidMorning this coming Thursday, September 10th, at 9:05 am.  This is one of the more challenging small books I’ve read recently.  For instance, what to make of this statement?

It is the very nature of language to form rather than inform.  When language is personal, which it is at its best, it reveals: and revelation is always formative–we don’t know more, we become more.  Our best users of language, poets and lovers and children and saints, use words to make–make intimacies, make character, make beauty, make goodness, make truth.  (page 24)

I’ve certainly experienced enough of the worst of language…the dryness of a text book, reciting facts in a way no one could ever read for pleasure or interest;  the convoluted prose of an instruction manual for assembling a bookshelf which only frustrates and confuses.  But what does it mean that language at its best is “personal”?    The dictionary definitions helps a bit. Personal can mean  “pertaining to or coming from a (particular) person, a self-conscious being.”   Good communication has an element of the personal–or perhaps conversational?– about it.

So far, so good.  But how does language make beauty or goodness or truth?  Making is different from revealing, isn’t it?  When something is revealed to me, I recognize its truth or beauty, perhaps for the first time.  Do the words make it true or beautiful, or only reveal something inherent?  I believe God is the source of beauty and truth, and I think Peterson does, too.  My biggest problem with the early chapters of this book is that he makes statements which are deep with implications, and then he does nothing to unpack them with illustration.

The rich metaphors of a good poem cause us to see in a new way.  For instance,

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

–Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, Book vii

This snippet of verse is a powerful picture of our God-saturated world, and the necessity of looking at creation with awareness of God’s presence.  The idea of being so oblivious we’d sit and pluck berries when we should be worshiping carries a sense of shame.  So few words, so much depth.  But does the poet create the beauty or the truth?  Or does she reveal it by her fresh metaphor and strong verbs (crammed, afire, pluck)? The comparison of Moses at the burning bush to simpletons feeding their faces with fruit carries conviction which cuts to the heart.  It reveals not only a truth of nature, but a truth about our own perceptions (or lack).

If this revelation creates a desire in us for change, if we are formed (or perhaps re-formed is more apt…formed anew) by it, then I suppose we can say that the poet “made” more goodness, character, beauty.

Of course Peterson’s contention is that the Bible is the all-important text for our spiritual formation. We are not to “use” Scripture for our own goals, plans, information or agenda. Rather, we are to ingest it so that it permeates us, becomes part of us, nurturing us as the best food does.

“Eating a book,” he writes, “takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of our lives  Readers become what they read.”   I do believe that “it is the very nature of” Scripture to form rather than inform. I’m just not convinced that the same is true of language in general.

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I confessed to my friend Jon last week that the very brief parables of Jesus, about the treasure hid in a field and the pearl of great price, don’t seem to me to make much sense if you try to think about them logically.  I had wrestled with the limitations of parables a couple of years ago, and decided that as metaphors for giving up everything in order to have the Kingdom of God, these extremely brief statements work.  I guess.  It’s just that my mind keeps on asking more hard questions:  Whose treasure was  in the field?  Are there ethical concerns there?  Did the merchant pay fair market value for the pearl?  If he had to give up all he owned in order to purchase it, I picture him standing there with nothing but the pearl, thinking, “Now what?”

It reminded me of the auction scene in Oklahoma!, where the cowboy Curly sells his gun and his horse in order to keep Jud Fry from winning Laurey’s picnic hamper.  At the end of the night, all he has is the hamper…and Laurey.  And that seems to be enough.  As I continued to think about the foolishness of this picture, a new thought began to form in my mind.  I wonder if this is what Jesus intended all along.  Here’s my parable remix:

Shlomo the merchant walked quickly through the marketplace.  His rapid pace and his impressive bearing both hurried lesser folks out of his way. But he could always hear the whispers in his wake, as if the breeze he created with his robes stirred up the old rumors every time.

Such a prosperous man, nu?  Well he may appear that way…but what I’ve heard is that, his parents…?  They were slaves.  No, it’s truth!  As I live and breathe…

Outwardly serene, even cold, the merchant heaved an inward sigh.  Yes, his poor parents: they worked to earn their own freedom, then slaved on to earn his…and to pay for him to be educated in Greek, Hebrew and Latin. “Fools,” they were called. Lavishing the fruit of so many years’ hardship on their only child.  But they ignored those voices.  Then it was time to apprentice him to a trade, another expense.   Shlomo was intended to be a jeweler, a craftsman in gold, silver and precious gems.  Early on it was obvious he had the eye: keen and discerning, seeing every flaw in every stone.   He could have made diadems for princes, become a legend of artistry.  But Shlomo knew one thing:  never would he earn enough to buy one of the gorgeous pieces that he could make for kings.  Nor would he be able to set his parents in the kind of comfort they deserved.

So, quietly, he began to horde every shekel and to talk in corners with other craftsmen.  Would you like to sell your work in other cities?  Would you like someone to get you better quality stones?  When his apprenticeship ended, he astonished his master and his family by announcing an entirely new profession.

Shlomo chuckled to himself, remember their reaction. “What are you thinking? You’re a fool!  You can’t just decide to become what you are not…”

But foolish or not, he set out on his first buying trip.  And returned successful. And went again.  He prospered, in fact.  His reputation grew, and more and more those who knew of Shlomo would buy gems only from him.  Craftsmen with fine work to sell would sidle up to him, hoping to please him with their wares enough that he would condescend to buy from them…and resell at a profit to himself.

His wealth increased alongside his fame.  His parents lived, and died, in luxuries they never would have dreamed of for themselves.  But Shlomo still pressed on, driven to achieve something that no one could quite put a finger on.  It was obvious that he was not content.  But what more could he possibly want?

Shlomo knew what he wanted.  What he dreamed of, night after restless night. He wanted to find and possess a single blood-red gem without a flaw.  He’d heard street talk, tall tales about jewels of enormous size and exquisite beauty.  He took dusty side-trips on his journeys, miles of discomfort out of his way, to talk to dealers in stones who were reputed to handle “only the best.”  Every time, Shlomo found a flaw.  Some defect, however small, which marred the perfection of the stone.  Had there never been any perfect gem?

So Shlomo persevered, his hopes fading with the years, although his eyes were still as keen.  And then, on a common day, in a common back-alley souk, with heat and smells and voices all around him, he found it:  a perfect blood red gem.  He stood and stared at it, turning it over and over in his fingers, holding it to the light again and again, afraid to believe in what he saw.

“How much for this?”  he asked the dealer, who was smiling quietly, patiently on his bench.

“Ah, respected sir, I don’t know whether you, even you, have wealth enough to purchase that stone…though I have held it back from other eyes so that you could see it first.”

“I thank you for the honor…but the price?”

So much. A price beyond his means, indeed.  Perhaps even a bit inflated?  But no,  for such a perfect stone, there was no question, that was a fair price.  What to do?

“How long will you be in this town? Will you stay awhile in my home, so that I may gather enough to buy this stone from you?”

The dealer agreed.  And the merchant went to work, not buying now, but selling, hurrying from place to place with the things he had amassed.  But as shrewd as Shlomo was at buying jewels, he was no con man when it came to selling his own goods.  His camels, his few personal jewels, all went for less than he’d have liked.  Frantically, he realized that it would take much more of his assets than he’d imagined.

Over their wine that evening, Shlomo and the dealer talked about the gem. “What would you say to taking all my household furnishings in exchange for the stone?”

“Where would I put such fine things, even to store and resell them? I deal in jewels because they’re small, sir. And–no offense, your home is very fine–but I’m not sure the value of your goods is equal to the stone.”

“No.  You’re right.  Well…what if I offered my house and the goods? My wardrobe, too…I have far more fine clothes than any man needs.  I have a servant. He would be yours also. What say you now?”

“Done!  That is an offer I think very fair.” And before the neighbors had time to do more than speculate as to where Shlomo could have gone with only the robe and tunic and cloak on his back, and long before they got the name of the new tenant in the fine house, Shlomo was gone, the beautiful red gem in his hand.  And nothing else.

He walked and walked, conscious only of possessing his heart’s desire.  Finally, he stopped and looked about him.  He’d left the town behind and night was coming down damply on his shoulders.  He had no home, no bed, no attendant. No money in his sack, no sack to put it in.  No livelihood because no stock in trade and no way to buy any new…except of course for IT.  He opened his hand and looked at it gleaming dully in the light of the rising moon.   No. He would never sell that.

So.  What was he then?  It came to him that perhaps he was a fool.  And all at once he laughed, and went on laughing as he walked on into the night.  When he came to another town, he’d hire himself to some prosperous citizen, as a worthy household slave.  Yes.  That would be fitting.  Clutching his treasure, Shlomo the fool walked on.

———————-

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish…” — Phil. 3:8

“We are fools for Christ…” — I Cor. 4:10

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A piece I read elsewhere reminded me of this post I wrote two years ago on my old blog.

We’ve labelled him “the doubter.”  Written him off, in a way.  Less “spiritual.”  But how is he less spiritual than the other disciples?  They didn’t get it, either…saw the empty tomb, heard reports, recalled Jesus’ own words.  But they didn’t really believe it until they saw Him. 

Where was Thomas?  Was his grief so great that he’d withdrawn?  He’d been willing to go to Jerusalem and die with Jesus.  But he didn’t.  Seems as if he and Peter could have commiserated, but Thomas was absent. Maybe it was his turn to gather food for the group in hiding.  Or was he attending to the needs of family somewhere?  Whatever he was doing, wherever he’d gone, he missed Jesus’ visit.  So how did he feel when he heard about that?  Talk about being left out!  The inner circle only has 11 men in it to begin with…and he’s the odd man out.

I’d be bitter, personally.  Even if it was Jesus alive again, obviously I wasn’t important enough to wait for.  He didn’t care enough to see me.  Well, fine.  Maybe it hurts so much to have been excluded that Thomas decides it’s easier to pretend that they were all hallucinating.  It would be better to consign Jesus to the grave again, than to think He’d avoided seeing me on purpose.

Now it’s been eight days.  The others want to talk about the Master, compare notes, speculate, report other “sightings.”  But they can’t help seeing that Thomas grits his teeth and stares at the tabletop whenever the Lord is mentioned. So they clam up again.

Around dinnertime that day, with locked doors and everyone busy about his own task, there is Jesus.  He’s just–there.  And He heads straight for Thomas…slack-jawed, silent, barely-breathing Thomas.  “So–do you still want to see the scars?  Touch the nail holes?”  I think He’s smiling as He holds out His hands.  “Put your fingers where the spear went?”  He makes a gesture as if He’ll disrobe upon request, awkward as it would be.

None of it is necessary now.  Thomas is on his knees, weeping, gasping for air to fill his lungs and calm his pounding heart.  He just wanted to know that Jesus hadn’t forgotten him, disowned him…wherever He’d gone.  And the words that tumble out of his mouth show us that Thomas believes–no doubt about it!

“My Lord!  My God!”  Words of worship; active, believing identification. 

“Do you believe because You’ve seen Me now?”  (Just like the others needed to see me? I hoped for more faith from you, Thomas…but it’s all right. I’m here now.)  Then, as if time had wrinkled and Jesus could look right into my room here in 2007, He mentions me, mentions us:  “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”  And suddenly I see a profound purpose in Thomas’ exclusion, and in his confession.

For 2,000 years people have read the good news with pounding hearts and gasped out, “My Lord and my God!”  And aren’t our confessions possible in part because of the role the disciples played?  These gritty, struggling, confused men are real people.  They really knew Jesus.  They questioned and doubted, and believed.  I think it’s their struggle to believe–especially Thomas’ struggle–that convinces me.  They didn’t hear a vague rumor and let wishful thinking fill in the blanks.  They saw the risen Lord–talked with Him, ate with Him, embraced Him.  He was real, and He is real to us today, thanks to Thomas and his companions.  Thomas with his bad rap as a doubter…sitting at Jesus’ feet, I’ll bet Thomas doesn’t even mind.

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