IT’S A NOVEL WITH A MESSAGE: OUR UNITY IS IN CHRIST; NOT THE BALLOT BOX.
I have been looking forward to this passage in our book, A Harmony of the Four Gospels. It is on childlikeness, tolerance and forgiveness.
Since Harold and I still can’t get together, I’m hoping this passage can help me. When he and I are in front of each other lately, he just goes silent, but he is silent with rage. It would be scary if I didn’t want to laugh at him, which I confess I tend to want to do.
Earlier in the week, our pastor called me for an update. He said, “I don’t need any specifics, I just want a general update.”
I thought for a moment and responded, “We’re moving forward, Pastor, but it’s a process.”
“Has he invited you back to your small group yet, Jude?”
“No, but Issy and I are so busy that we. . .” I didn’t finish the sentence because he interrupted me.
“But that isn’t the point, Jude.”
“I know, Pastor.” I tried to sound soothing. “But this is going to take a while. If you don’t mind, trust me and give us some more room.”
We were both silent and then he responded, “Alright. I will give you the room you want.”
“But why is he acting like this, Jude? I’ve never known Harold to be this out of control.”
There was a long pause and I knew he expected me to answer, but I didn’t want to. The more silent I was, the more silent he was.
So eventually I said, “Pastor, the problem is a simple one. Harold has allowed his identity in his politics to be more important than his identity in Christ. He would never admit that but that is what he’s living out.”
“How can a Godly man become so. . .”
I didn’t let him finish. “Pastor, before you throw stones at Harold, think of the news outlets you listen to. When they start talking about political issues that wind you up, what do you do?”
He paused and said, “I look for something to throw at the T.V.”
I laughed and said, “May I suggest there is something else you should do?”
“Of course. Speak, Jude.”
“I believe you should turn the T.V. off and should have even turned it off before you got angry at those wicked, wacko people you disagree with so strongly.”
“And guess what? Because we react the way we do at times, you and I and Harold are just alike.”
“Oh, Pastor, I don’t want to go there.”
“Jude, I trust you and I love you and I know Scripture does not say Q-Tips sharpen Q-Tips. It says iron sharpens iron,[i] so, speak!”
I took a deep breath. “Sir, when you and I and Harold get aggravated at another human being, we are ignoring Paul’s very clear statement that. . .”
“Our struggle is not with flesh and blood.[ii] Is that what you were going to say, Jude?”
“Good word, Jude. I needed to hear that. Keep me posted, okay?”
“I will, sir. Thank you for the call,” I said and he prayed for me.
“Father, I praise You because You are a God of relationship, and as such, You encourage relationships among us, the Body of Christ. I trust You to restore unity between Harold and Jude, and Lord, let those in our church who are observing this clash, see You instead of this noise. Amen.”
That was earlier this week. And now Issy and I would be talking about this passage.
She read, “An argument started among the disciples. . .”[iii]
October A.D. 29, Childlikeness, Tolerance & Forgiveness
We were sitting down eating in a friend’s home. “Finally,” I said in a hushed voice as my colleagues continued a discussion which started on the road outside Capernaum. They were finally interested in who the greatest in the kingdom of heaven would be.
I said to the one closest to me, “It’s about time we have this discussion. If Jesus is going to reorder our nation and restore our leadership in the world, those who are leaders in this kingdom will need to know it.”
Matthew just looked at me and shook his head.
“Idiot,” I said to myself. “How would he know anyway? His only understanding of leaders is looking at them as a nasty-old tax collector. No wonder he joined this band; to get away from his disgusting career.”
When Jesus entered the house, the talking stopped instantaneously causing an unnatural silence.
Jesus asked nonchalantly, “What were you guys arguing about on the road?”[iv]
He always seems to ask in a way that makes me suspicious. I think He knows more than He is letting on.
We were silent, except for me munching on my sandwich. I’ve learned, with this group, you eat when you can. And so I make no apologies; I just eat!
Our silence didn’t last very long though, because Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”[v]
This kind of talk from Jesus frustrates me so!
His incredible brilliance is evidenced by the fact He really did know what we were arguing about. And then equally incredibly foolish words come dribbling out of his mouth.
“How will this man ever lead?” I wondered.
And then I answered my own question, “Of course, with us, the Twelve, as His real leaders.”
I hated this back and forth unstable thinking in my brain. One day I see Him as a leader and the next, I am ready to go away, taking the money bag with me.
I was reveling in the thought of being a leader over some portion of the world when I looked up and Jesus had a child stand among us, He hugged the kid[vi] and then said the silliest thing I have ever heard. He said that only children can enter His kingdom.[vii]
He then talked about humility[viii] which I thought I understood, until He referenced children again.
I try to listen closely to what Jesus is saying, but sometimes His words are just beyond me. I listened so closely I even stopped eating for a few minutes and then He said that when we welcome children, we are welcoming Him![ix]
At that I stopped trying to figure it out and just concentrated on eating.
That’s when the uppity John told Jesus, “We tried to stop a guy we saw yesterday trying to drive demons out of someone. He was invoking Your name even though he wasn’t even a part of our group.[x]
But Jesus scolded us! “I can’t believe my ears,” I said to Matthew. “Why is He scolding us?
But Matthew just shrugged his shoulders.
Then I heard Jesus comment that those who give out water will get rewarded.[xi] “Well, it’s about time,” I whispered to no one in particular.
Jesus started talking about judgment, which I dismissed out of hand because I don’t judge others. “I am careful with my actions and attitudes,” I thought. “I don’t need to worry about that. I can’t speak for my esteemed colleagues, however,” and I chuckled at my own wittiness.
Jesus really laid it on us. He kept talking about children, but He also talked to us about those who wander off. I disagreed with Him, reverently, of course. But then He said, “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”[xii]
“I’m sorry, Jesus,” I said. “Why would I leave the ninety-nine to possibly be ravished by wolves?” A number of the disciples agreed with me, which emboldened me, so I went on.
“I see that as bad stewardship, Jesus.”
He just smiled at all of us and talked about how happy the owner would be when he found the one. I didn’t get it. And I still don’t.
Shortly thereafter, Peter asked one of his few, very good questions, “How many times shall I forgive my brother?”[xiii]
But Jesus’ answer was again so contrary to common sense that I couldn’t take Him seriously. Frankly, it was disappointing to listen to Him, especially the parable He used, and then the interpretation He gave to His own story, which included throwing the more aggressive guy into jail.[xiv]
I probably would’ve handled the debt owed to me the same way as that guy. If it’s my money, I’ll handle it the way I want. But to jail some guy who’s simply trying to get his money back? I don’t think so.
March 18th, Sunday Morning, Arlington VA
“Wow,” was all I could say. “Brutal passage in light of my situation with Harold.”
“Yeah, I thought about that too, sweetie,” Issy said thoughtfully.
“I think the surprising challenge,” wanting to change the subject, “was the humility all over this passage. I have always seen the children portion separate from the forgiveness portion and separated further from the unforgiving debtor. But I never put them all together and certainly not with the foundation of forgiveness.”
Issy picked up on where my mind was going. “Good word, hubby. The unusual promise, for me, is right at the beginning, and I have to admit, that when I started reading it, your words from a few weeks ago flooded into my mind.”
“Was I that wonderful?”
She just ignored me and continued, “It’s about when you brought out Romans 13:1-2 and the implication that you would be supportive of whichever candidate won. Clearly, I wasn’t willing to agree with you. But after today’s passage, I’m softening.”
“Which part of the passage, babe?” I asked, humbly I hope.
“Right at the beginning, when Jesus puts down the disciples for arguing about something as crude as who will be the greatest. And then when He brought out the child, what immediately went through my mind was your Romans 13 passage. God is the one in control. You and I are to do what we do with excellence, and if that means arguing strongly for our candidate, I’m okay with that. I don’t mind playing hardball, even with you.”
I nodded my agreement.
She continued, “But what we cannot do is let our passion cause us to think, ‘Our way is the right way, and what God does, or allows is wrong.’”
I laughed and Issy looked up at me.
“I’m sorry, babe,” I said. “I just had a picture of your candidate losing and you telling God He was wrong and I started looking for lightning bolts headed for you.”
Serious again, I said to her, “This Prayer-Guy, Dr. Dale, has a video on his YouTube channel that addresses this issue. He calls it “Politics and Arrogance.”[xv]
“I asked him about this YouTube video the last time he and I talked. And I asked him about our passion, yours and mine.”
Issy gasped and looked at me scared to death.
“No, no, no, baby, not that kind of passion.”
She relaxed and started to breathe again and I went on, “I told him that you and I have great passion for our candidates. I then asked for his opinion, ‘When is our passion taken too far?’”
His answer was simple, “When our passion causes us to break fellowship with believers, our passion is wrong, even when we’re right.”
“Ouch,” Issy said.
After a long silence I said, “It goes back to the simplicity, and the reality, that the Holy Spirit lives inside us, so we as Christians are without excuse.”
She picked up the refrain which I say so often, “I expect the world to act like the world, but we in the church should not, and cannot.”
“Good word, babe. Very good word.” I added.
“Hey,” Issy began tentatively. “I know we are committed to not sharing our job-related directive, but perhaps this one I can share with you.”
I nodded and she continued.
“I’m not being funny and I am not throwing stones at your boss, mine is just as bad in this area, but we need to encourage these two, to be committed to humility.”
She was being very sincere and I just listened. “Jude, look at the various ways Jesus talks about humility. He talks about it with regards to children, with regards to the ones we argue with and also in our areas of forgiveness. I know this passage is about, what did the author call it, ‘Childlikeness, Tolerance, and Forgiveness,’ but what Jesus really taught was humility.”
“You know,” I said to my bride, “Your boss is lucky to have you.”
She just smiled, humbly.
That morning in church, Harold came up to me, biting his lower lip as he spoke and said, “I want you to come back to our home group, but only on the proviso you do not talk politics.”
I hesitated which Harold obviously noticed.
“Harold,” I said, “I would like to agree with you. In fact, I’m absolutely content not talking politics, but that isn’t fair to the group. You need to give them the opportunity to talk about this, if they want to.”
“You’re impossible!” he growled and strode off.
[i] Proverbs 27:17
[ii] Ephesians 6:12a
[iii] Luke 9:46a
[iv] Mark 9:33b
[v] Mark 9:35
[vi] Mark 9:36
[vii] Matthew 18:3 (Remember, Judas is interpreting Jesus’ words from his perspective, which is not always the perspective of truth)
[viii] Matthew 18:4a
[ix] Mark 9:37a
[x] Luke 9:49
[xi] Mark 9:41
[xii] Matthew 18:12
[xiii] Matthew 18:21
[xiv] Matthew 18:34