Tag Archives: Jesus

Context: A Brief Observation of Matthew 14

I grew up in the church.  I have heard the stories of Jesus feeding the 5000 and of Jesus walking on the water, but I only recently realized the context of these stories.  What was actually happening in the life of Jesus during these miraculous events.

Because Matthew 14 opens up with the death of John the Baptist.  I don’t know how close Jesus and John were growing up.  I know that when everything was happening to Mary, the angel told her about everything happening to Elizabeth, and Mary traveled to help.  I know that in the womb, John recognized the divine nature of Jesus, just as he does at Jesus’s baptism.  But I don’t know how much they spent time together between these two events.

But here, we come to the end of John’s life.  Herod had imprisoned him for speaking out against his relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  And during a party, John’s head is presented to Herodias’s daughter on a platter.  John is dead.  His body, what is left, is buried by his disciples. And word is sent to Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

Matthew 14:13

He set out on a boat to a place where he thought he would be alone.  But when he arrived, the people were there, waiting for him.  And he had compassion.  I just can’t imagine, in those moments of grief, his compassion compelled him to teach, encourage, and heal those around him.

This chosen remote place wasn’t ideal for dinner preparations, which prompts the miraculous feeding of the 5000.  Once everyone is fed and there are enough leftovers to sustain his followers.  He sends them away on the boat he arrived in.  He dismisses the crowd.  And he goes to the mountainside to pray.

Because this entire time, he has yet to have a moment to grieve.  A moment to spend with his Father, perhaps talking to him about his loss.  If ever he needed a recharge, this would be one of those moments.  At then, at dawn, he walks on the water.

Yes.  Feeding over 5000 people with five loaves and two fish is amazing.  Walking on crashing waves through howling winds is amazing.  But doing it all in the midst of grief.  In the loss of family, both physically and spiritually, he kept going.  I just want to sit today in the awe of Jesus’s compassion.  He came on this earth to love and to show us how to love.  He grieved and then he showed the power of God over this broken earth.  In his lowest moments, he relied on the miraculous divine strength of God to do amazing things.  It gives me hope that even in the lowest grief, God is still working, preparing to do things beautiful and miraculous.

Burnout

In a recent therapy session, we talked about everything going on in the world.  From pandemics and protests to family and the daily stresses in life.  It can be so overwhelming, and my therapist replied, “That’s why self-care is important.  It means taking care of yourself so you can be 100% when opportunities that really matter come along, instead of only having 50% to give.”

This reminded me of a story that Jesus told his disciples.  The story begins in Matthew 25:

“At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight, the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you; I don’t know you.’

“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-14

It sounds like Jesus favors the prepared, but what does it mean to be prepared for the kingdom of God?  I don’t think it means keeping a lamp burning and a pantry full of oil jars.  Look at the previous verses:

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 24:45-51

We aren’t just sitting and waiting, but we are called to take care of the things God has put in our charge.  Friends, family, community.  And sometimes these things can come in the form of unexpected opportunities.  Like a bridegroom at midnight.

I think that the burning lamps are like our influence, our responsibilities to love others in various ways. 

And what is the oil that keeps that flame going?  My ability alone to l love isn’t sustainable, but God’s love is.  And the only way I can utilize the love of God to love others is to stay connected to Him.  I need my jar of oil to keep that lamp of love burning.  Whether it is spending time in prayer, in study, in meditation, in nature, in Holy conversation, in Spirit-led sacrifice, I must continue to remain connected to God.  Maybe that means slowing down, getting less busy, making more room, but whatever it takes, I need to stay connected.

It is vital to my survival.  Because when hard things happen, when needs arise in my community, in the places that God has entrusted to me, even in small ways, I want to give my all.  I want to lean on the strength of the Spirit to accomplish the things He has planned for me.  And I can only do that if I bring that jar, if I devote that time to keeping that light burning.

Maybe you are feeling spent, exhausted, depleted.  There is a God who is present and waiting to fill your jar with oil, to keep that light from going out.  Because the suffering and injustice will not go on forever, it is nearing midnight and bridegroom is on his way.

Watched Vs Seen

I remember a song that we sang in Bible School, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see….For the Father up above is looking down below.” We didn’t sing it often, but it was enough to give me spiritual paranoia. God is watching. All. The. Time.

When I know I’m being watched, the walls go up. One time at the grocery store, I picked up and promptly dropped a jar of preserves. It was an accident, but I felt every eye in that store watching me. I wanted the aisle to swallow me up in that moment, or at the very least I wanted to quickly develop an invisibility superpower.

But most of the time, I don’t think about it. When I put up a post or picture online, I don’t really think about all the people who view that post. I usually think of a few people who might read it, but not much beyond that. However, if I realize just how many people are looking at something I wrote, all I can think about are all the flaws in that post, or flaws in other things I have posted that people might also be looking at. It can be paralyzing!

While being watched is a kind of exposure that gives way to paralyzing fear, being seen means being made vulnerable in a safe, non-judgmental place. Being watched is passive while being seen seems more active. And I think that is what God does, instead of just watching us, he truly sees us.

Yes, God sees your flaws and your brokenness. But he also sees your broken heart as well. He didn’t just watch his creation from afar. He came down close to it. In Jesus, we see a God who looks us in our eyes and sees us. Really sees us.

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

Like the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus watched her approach, but in conversation with her, showed her that he truly saw who she was. He listed her living reality with no judgment and allowed her to respond. She was a woman used to being watched. Why do you think she went to that well at the hottest part of the day? But when she was truly seen, her life changed. Transformed.

So, if I’m suppose to be a Jesus-follower, then I need to learn how to see, not watch. It’s so easy, even in social media, to scroll through and consume the stories of other people, making easy, fast judgments, instead of taking the time to really see people for who they are.

It means prioritizing my time and my relationships with other people. It means that I focus less on the number of followers I have and more on the people God has sent into my life. It’s being open. It’s not putting too much stake in what people think when they watch me. It’s slowing down. It’s trusting God to pull down some of my own walls that are blocking my ability to see others.

Sure, God is watching. But more importantly, God is seeing. He walks with me. He guides me. And I pray that I can continue to embrace vulnerability and humility in the same way Jesus did, trying to be more and more like him every day.

Why Is This Still Happening?

I did a series on my blog called Continuing the Conversation about Pregnancy and Infant Loss. As I would research articles online about recent conversations on this topic, I started noticing a trend. A lot of these posts online would start out with “We don’t talk about (miscarriage, infertility, etc) very much.”

Even though 1 in 4 women experience loss , I still seem to live in a world where that statistic is not realized (and that’s the American statistic. One of the most technologically advanced, medically advanced, innovative countries, and we still experience infertility and loss 25% of the time). I still get comments at the store from the cashier or some other stranger who suggests that I need to have another child like it is as easy as picking laundry detergent on aisle 12.

Being on this side of the road now, it’s easy to see the struggle, the tears, the waiting, the dashed hopes, and all of the pain that comes with simply trying to add another member to your family. There doesn’t really seem to be a simple way to do it, despite how much people have suggested all sorts of “easy answers” to our complicated struggle in the past. So, I thought I would take a step back, back in time, to when I was that newly wedded wife who was afraid her birth control wasn’t going to work, and she would get pregnant way before she was ready. The first few times I even heard about a friend struggling with infertility, all the responses that I would eventually hear in my own situation popped into my head, and sometimes even out of my mouth.

I just simply didn’t understand. I thought I did. I thought infertility or miscarriage were things that happened in extreme cases, that all this anxiety may just be an overreaction and that they needed to just relax (I know, I know, I was young and ignorant). It wasn’t until I had the term “unexplained” attached to my own stillbirths that I realized the medical research doesn’t actually have this all figured out. It’s is not a simple cause and effect. It’s a case by case situation. And each case has to be approached with compassion and patience.

But why, when we have all of this evidence, all these stories shared in books and online, do we still have to endure the conversations in the grocery store or at church or even in our own families? And I realized, speaking for myself most of all, that this world is not as stable as we would like it to be, that pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, working hard, being diligent, saying the right things, praying the right prayers, checking all the boxes just doesn’t guarantee anything.

Personally, I like structure. I like the routine. I like to know that if I do A and B, then C will always be the result. But life doesn’t happen that way. Kids die before their parents. Loving wives can still be cheated on. “Til Death Do You Part” can happen way before it should. People who love their jobs and are good at them still lose them. Houses, even in gated communities, can still be vandalized. Kids from loving, supportive homes can still make bad choices in their life.

I’m not saying this because I’m just throwing up my hands, “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” about it all. But since we all know and experience instability in our lives, we have an amazing opportunity to extend patience and compassion to those who are experiencing it in their own life. To acknowledge that there is no easy answer that will fix things. To listen and be willing to sit in the silence of grief. To understand that I won’t understand every situation completely, and extend grace to those around me who could be having the worst day of their life. To approach every conversation without all the answers.

This is challenging for me. I like being in control and knowing how things end. I don’t like being uncomfortable or have anyone around me that’s sad. I love laughing and having living room dance parties and late-night board game sessions. I love stories with hopeful and happy endings. I like sunshiny days in the garden. I like seeing other people experience joy and good surprises.

But life is both these good things and the bad stuff, too. And it’s healthy to acknowledge them both in our lives and the lives of others. As a Christian, I think it’s a big part of being a follower of Christ. He wept and laughed and got outraged. He felt all the feelings without fear or shame. In all the instability, he is a rock. A cornerstone to all the hope in the world. I want to use that hope in Christ to further my growth in how I interact with others, forgiving the hurtful, ignorant comments because I understand the need for control and distaste for the uncomfortable. And in the same way, I want to watch the words that come out of my own mouth, that they bring hope instead of hurt, silence when it is preferred, and enough compassion to acknowledge that I don’t understand, but I’m still gonna be here anyway.

Sustaining: Thankful for Hope

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus has entered on our behalf.

Hebrews 6: 19-20

I like the idea of hope being an anchor, something that remains steadfast in the winds and waves of life and its cruelties.  But the next part of it is pretty amazing too.

The inner sanctuary was one that not a whole lot of people could get to in Jewish times.  You were going into the presence of God and had to follow a number of rules and requirements in order to be there.

But our hope is that Jesus took care of that.  He is our forerunner.  According to dictionary.com, a forerunner can be a sign or warning of something to come.  It is an advance messenger.

The glorious wonder is that one day we will enter into the inner sanctuary into the presence of God.  Jesus has prepared that way for us.  And we can have a close and intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe.  All the rules and regulations have been taken care of by Jesus.  The invitation is there.

And that’s pretty cool.

Authenticity

This is probably going to be a true ramble because these thoughts haven’t completely solidified in my head, but there is an edge to them that I can’t get rid of.

So why not just share it with you anyway.

Authenticity

I’ve talked about authenticity and living honestly on this blog.  I don’t think I’m changing my mind about what I’ve said before, but I’ve seen a danger in using this terminology without balance.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

I caught myself the other day talking about “living my truth.”  And for some reason, when the words came out of my mouth that time (because they have come out of my mouth before), they felt wrong, disturbing, like something was off.

And I realized that there is a danger in pursuing an authentic life.  The danger is that I can be focused so much on living my truth that I forget I’m supposed to be living THE truth, that is in Jesus Christ.  I can center my life so much inward that I never look upward and lose all my energy to live outward.

 

But no matter how inward I will go, I will never understand myself or know myself the way God knows me.  He knew me ever since I was knitted together in my mother’s womb.  He knows what will make me smile, what will make me belly laugh, what will make me cry, and what makes me scared.  He wraps his arms around me the second before the heartbreak.  And he doesn’t let go until the panic washes through me.

And God is proud of his creation.  He roots for us.  He’s the father in the stands demanding the coach put his kid in because he believes in us.  We can do it, not because of some secret we have figured out on our own, but because His strength is pulsing through our spirit.  We got this, even if we have no control over whatever this is, because ultimately, He’s got this.

I can’t continually try to get to know myself, to perfect myself, before going out in the world.  It doesn’t work that way.  I thought I had to live perfectly, to know perfectly, to speak perfectly, to engage perfectly before going out and making a difference in the name of Jesus.  I thought it would make it easier.  But I’ve learned that life is way more complicated and messy, and self-perfection isn’t sustainable, engageable, or even effective.  It’s going to take a mess of a person to reach into the nooks and crannies of the world to reflect a light of Jesus in the darkest corners.

And every time I obsessively try to find out who I am, my truth, my way, my light, I forget that there is only One Truth, One Way, and One Light that is Jesus.  I can’t forget that.  He knows the way through this life.  He said it was gonna be hard.  He said we would suffer.  But the only way I will feel complete and whole is through Him.

Again, there is nothing wrong with living an authentic life, a good life, a life lived in truth and honesty and transparency.  I’m all for that.  And I even think that Jesus wants us to live authentically, honestly, truthfully, transparently.  But I also think He calls us to live holy and righteous lives, led by the Spirit (not our own), with our feet firmly planted in His Truth.

What do you think?