Re:Verse passage – Matthew 20:29-34 (day three)
“Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.”
Jesus dealt with more than one kind of blindness in his years of ministry. He often remarked that just because a person could see and hear didn’t mean the person wasn’t blind and deaf. And yet Jesus took physical ailments very seriously. Why? Because sight is no luxury. Hearing is no extravagance. Walking is no indulgence. The body is God’s creation, and its wholeness displays God’s perfect matching of creature to environment. The seriousness of spiritual ailments does not lessen the seriousness of physical maladies. Christ addressed both, and the world he is bringing in will shine with the beauty of human beings who can see, hear, and walk inside and out. Who will live in that world with you?
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 17:24-27 (day three)
“Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?”
How much pressure could Jesus apply to the system of customs and culture? When was it better to go along with certain expectations? When was it the right time to resist? These are strategic questions that often loom large in the minds of people who aspire to lead. Right away, though, a problem arises. People—actual persons—can become, in the perspective of that would-be leader, obstacles to change. When one views people in that way, one cannot love them. The question Jesus appeared to ask was not one of strategy: How can I move toward my goals in spite of the challenge posed by this particular group of people? Rather, it would appear to have been a different question: What is the good that I might do for this particular group of people? That is a question of love, and it is a question that does not shrink from death.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 17:14-21 (day three)
“Because of the littleness of your faith…”
Jesus says to his disciples that their amount of faith is very small. And according to the reasoning of those disciples, smallness would equal weakness, shortage, insufficiency. But Jesus makes the opposite point. He plainly states that it’s precisely the smallness that will in fact suffice. He said as much when he showed them that a small portion of food would feed thousands. Later, Paul, having learned this very reality, would declare: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Jesus tells his apprentices that they need not have achieved “paragon of faith” status in order to channel heaven’s power, but only that they learn that small is plenty in God’s economy. Absent that knowledge, they—and we—will keep on deferring to the convenient fiction that there’s just not enough faith to get it done.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 15:21-28 (day three)
“Even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
With his responses to the woman, Jesus just about exhausts the entire catalogue of standard behaviors of the stalwart faithful towards outsiders. He begins with unresponsiveness, shifts to isolationism, and finishes with hostility. It took Jesus’s demonstration of these postures to highlight their utter repulsiveness. The spectacle of the Son of God demonstrating such behavior shocks the observer with the sheer depravity of these approaches. But that was Jesus’s point: such ways are incongruent with heaven. Jesus can tell the woman knows better than to think the Christ believed such nonsense, and so he effectively enlists her to help him expose the moral bankruptcy of these habits of the heart. Together, they demolish long-standing falsehoods and reveal the truth and beauty of God’s loving response to a persistent, faith-driven request.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 14:22-33 (day three)
“Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.”
Peter’s insistence on getting a positive ID on the Lord gave rise to his willingness to involve himself in a heretofore unthinkable endeavor. He reasoned that if this person could lead him to do the otherwise impossible, he would know the person was the Lord. It’s hard to walk on water, but Christ guided Peter to do it. It’s hard to forgive someone seventy-seven times, but Christ taught Peter to do it. It’s hard to leave the comfort of your own kind and bring others into the fellowship, but Christ enlightened Peter’s heart. It’s hard to value anything more than your own life, but Christ mentored Peter into such fearlessness. When you insist on discovering if it’s really God you’re seeing, that’s what happens.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 14:14-21 (day three)
“Looking up toward heaven, he blessed the food.”
Sometimes geography gets in the way. When one reads “up toward heaven,” one might suppose that Matthew was referring to some kind of primitive cosmology which located heaven way above our heads. He wasn’t. The unseen dwelling of God is not “up” as in “somewhere in the stratosphere,” but “up” as in greater and higher than the physical realm. When you speak of a higher grade in school, you don’t mean the second floor, you mean “advanced.” Likewise, when the Bible speaks of the spiritual realm in such terms, it refers to the fundamental wellspring of existence. It is the spiritual side of reality—and God in particular—that undergirds and upholds all that is. It is in this sense that Jesus was looking “up” to the source of all provision.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 12:9-13 (day three)
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
The answer to that question is…no, if God rules the universe arbitrarily. How in the world did the Pharisees get there? The religious establishment Jesus encountered often seemed to regard the law as a set of despotic measures disconnected from any actual good for humankind. If it were God’s aim in history to keep score on humanity, such measures would be just what you could expect. The question would not be whether you seek the good of others, but whether you execute the law’s required duties—not whether you’re righteous but whether you’re right. Eventually one will necessarily value principles over people, the system over souls. If today is the Sabbath, then figuring out what a person with a disability might need plays Sabbath-keeping too close to the edge. Maybe tomorrow you can lend aid.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 9:20-22 (day three)
“Daughter, take courage.”
It turns out that strength isn’t just for the warriors, or the wealthy, or the kings or the commanders, or celebrated, or the storied. Jesus indicates that the hidden and the humble and the marginalized and the minority and the invisible and insignificant may lay claim to the very steadfastness the world has said belongs only to the powerful. That a person who is by society’s reckoning a common peasant of unremarkable lineage is called to courage as a daughter of Abraham – this is new. On that day, Jesus restored this poor woman to a place of strength greater than that of Imperial Rome. One is faced with either relearning how to live in the presence of people or ignoring what has just happened to the human race. May we with Christ call the weak to strength.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 9:18-19; 23-26 (day three)
“The girl has not died, but is asleep.”
Jesus does not use a euphemism here. As far as we can tell, he does not aim to downplay or dress up death. Jesus talks this way because in the presence of God, death does not possess finality. Jesus raises this girl to life to show everyone who’s looking that this girl’s ultimate future is life again in the body. Now, she would certainly die again in this age, but neither she nor her family would look at death In the same way anymore, because Christ altered what death had the power to do to the human race. For all who count on Christ, death has become sleep for the body, and most of your days are yet to come. That’s exactly the kind of reality everyone longs for, whether or not they’ve ever articulated it.
Re:Verse passage – Matthew 8:23-27 ((day three)
“Jesus himself was asleep.”
What had to have been true for Jesus to have slept soundly in the ship’s hold while a violent storm roiled the waters of the lake? At the very least, Jesus knew that the universe had not decided his fate. That was neither its prerogative nor its power. Did that mean drowning was out of the question? Not at all. “Natural disasters” occurred then, as now. Yet Jesus slept deeply. His sleep was not an object lesson – he really did sleep – but it was instructive. The act of sleeping said to his disciples, “I am at home in God’s good creation.” It’s what we might call a “grounding exercise” these days, but Jesus wrote the book on it. You are where you are on God’s earth, breathing God’s air, whatever else is true. Start there, and peace rises within.