Monthly Archives: October 2013

Matthew 14.22-32

My 16-year-old is driving now. He has a learner’s permit, and is doing some constant practice-driving en route to his driver’s test. I confess that, each time he swings my truck onto the entrance ramp of the highway, I instinctively clutch at the armrest with some trepidation. In those moments, my truck is hurtling down the highway at 70 miles per hour—and I am not in control of it. The only two options I have are either total trust in the boy or sheer panic. For a guy who’s wired like me, it’s hard to not be in control. But that’s usually where God puts me, anyhow.

 

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.

 

 

Once again, just like in yesterday’s readings, Jesus puts His people in a situation in which they must have total trust in Him. It begins when He closes out the adventure with the feeding of the multitude. While He dismisses the crowd, He sends the disciples ahead in the boat. As for Himself, He simply goes up a mountain to pray for a bit. By the fourth watch of the morning (about 3-6 A.M.), the wind has picked up on the sea, and the disciples look up to see Jesus walking on the water. Despite everything they had seen during their time with Him, this had to still be pretty startling. He speaks comforting words to them, and Peter responds by saying, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (14.28). He has so much trust in Christ that he knows Jesus won’t command him to do something that would separate him from it. He leaps out from the boat, begins walking on the water—and then, suddenly notices that he’s walking on the water. As soon as he began to take stock of his physical “reality,” as opposed to keeping his eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of his faith, Peter begins to sink. Jesus reaches out, saves him, and reminds him that he mustn’t waver on Whom he trusts. At the close of this incident, the disciples openly acknowledge Him as the Son of God.

 

I find it very interesting that Jesus has regularly devoted times of personal prayer. During His time on earth as a man, He knew that prayer was His communication with God the Father, and He always made time for it. If the Son of God—fully God Himself—can make time for regular, habitual prayer, why is it such a challenge to the busy modern man? We may also note that, just like the crowds in yesterday’s readings who were led into a desolate place before God provided for them, the disciples in today’s readings experience the same thing. They’re in a boat, separated from Jesus. When they see Him walking on the water, they are frightened at the possibility that it is a ghost of some sort. Often, when we’re following God’s will for our lives, we find ourselves in lonely places. It often doesn’t feel like God is there at all. When we trust that He is there, and He is leading us, we are empowered to do the impossible. And when He leads us into the realm of the impossible, we are to be reminded that our focus is solely on Him—not on our circumstances, our reality, our “real world.” As long as our eyes are on Him, and our trust is entirely in Him, we accomplish the impossible for His kingdom and glory. After all, the power to do the impossible comes from none other than God Himself.

 

So are your eyes on Him today, or on the wind-driven waves around you? Do you trust what He’s leading you into, or are you beginning to sink? Even now, He reaches out His hand to you and lifts you upward, reminding you that He is your Provider, Protector, Savior. Do you trust Him?

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Matthew 14.1-21

It was a hot, dusty day in Judea. But the weather wasn’t nearly as oppressing as the surroundings. The man looked around and saw no signs of civilization, other than the large crowd of people of which he was a part. They had followed the Teacher over half the countryside—through villages, up and down the hills. When He had heard the news about His friend John the Baptist, it had taken the wind out of His sails, the man perceived. From that moment on, they were no longer following Him through civilization, but had followed Him to this desolate place. As the man took stock of his surroundings, an ominous realization dawned on him along with the familiar pang in his abdomen: they were a long way from food.

 

And it was time to eat.

 

Thoughts and emotions flew through the man’s consciousness like one of the sudden storms that whip across the Sea of Galilee. At once he was angry and panicked: this is about right, he thought. I leave everything to follow this Guy, and this is what I get…dragged out to a desolate place to starve. His breathing became deeper as he remembered the house full of food he had left behind to follow the Lord. And now the Lord had brought him to this terrible place to die.  He doesn’t care about us after all.

 

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. 13 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. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” 16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. 18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

 

Jesus’ compassion on the crowd never stopped. Even as He grieved for His friend and cousin, withdrawing to a lonely and desolate place, His care for God’s people never wavered. They may have questioned the situation, but He had it well under control. Taking the existing materials before Him, He provided the crowd with physical provision with such little effort that His disciples felt compelled to record the incident for future contemplation. When they were hungry, He fed them. When they needed, He provided.

 

He’s still in that business. He is not surprised by your situation. He knows you’re in the desolate place. He led you here, after all. Following Him has a cost, and that cost is your self-reliance. All that you have comes from Him, not you….and this desolate place reminds you of that fact. And despite what the circumstances look like, He is still providing for you—even now, when it doesn’t look like it.

 

Stand still and see the deliverance of the Lord your God. He didn’t lead you out here to drop you, and He will continue to provide what you need at every turn. Your trust in Him is the very definition of faith.

Matthew 13.24-58

William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury may seem, at first glance, like a story about four characters in the deep south, but it’s really an allegory of the transition from Old South to New South. The characters are symbolic of attitudes and values in the south, and the story arc contains several deep and complicated truths about humanity in any region. Faulkner could well have just written a 3-page essay explicitly stating these truths. But framing those truths in a story was not only much more powerful, but illustrated the truths much more effectively. The truth of God’s kingdom is too much for humans to comprehend; thus, Jesus employed parables to communicate them.

 

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” 31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” 36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. 47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. 52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” 58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

 

 

Jesus continues teaching in parables, and this fact alone bears some investigation. Often, people believe this decision was made in order to keep things hidden—but often, parables are designed to reveal truth, not hide it. One of the most powerful means of expressing truth is through storytelling, especially symbolic and allegorical storytelling. In this case, Jesus is articulating truths about the kingdom of God. He essentially makes three observations about the kingdom:

  1. All of humanity is divided up into two groups: the group that will inhabit the kingdom of heaven, and the group that will not. The group that will inhabit the kingdom will “shine forth as the sun” (13.43), while the non-inhabitants will be punished in the furnace of fire. Jesus uses three sections to articulate this truth: the sowing of the wheat and the tares (13.24-30), his explicit explication of that same parable to His disciples (13.37-43), and the good fish-bad fish parable in 13.47-50.
  2. The tiniest investment in the kingdom yields a very large harvest. The small mustard seed makes a big tree (13.31-32), and a small amount of leaven worked into dough will cause the entire lump of dough to rise (13.33). Any human efforts—no matter how seemingly small—yield harvest results beyond what seems commensurate with the initial investment effort.
  3. The kingdom of heaven is of great worth, even though it may not initially seem that way. This is illustrated by the story of the field containing the great treasure (13.44) and the pearl of great price (13.45).

We are called to be citizens of the kingdom. On this side of eternity, during all of our troubles and woes, our temptations and failures, we have a tendency to not see the forest for the trees. We must be constantly reminded of the greatness of the kingdom, because it doesn’t always seem so great while we’re in the middle of this life’s troubles. But the efforts we make to advance His kingdom are never in vain. They always yield some result that is necessary and far more spectacular, over time, than we would have thought possible initially. Little things, like watching babies in the nursery during church, or vacuuming the church carpet or changing the church sign or mowing the church grass or participating in the church outreach program to the community—these are all mustard seeds that we plant. They are not full-time jobs; they are smaller moments of volunteerism. But ultimately they lead to spectacular results.

 

When we pour ourselves into the lives of others in pursuit of scriptural discipleship, we develop a new generation of kingdom inhabitants. We continue the community of Christ to which we’re all called. We help others hear the voice of God, even as they help us hear Him, too. Our tiniest investments in the kingdom are worth the effort, because the value of finding the kingdom is beyond human description.

You’d need a parable to understand it.

Matthw 13.1-23

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” 10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

 

 

Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom; it is a mistake to think of this as a parable of the Church. The occasion is a response to Israel’s rejection of Jesus as her King (Mat 12). This parable describes four types of hearers of God’s revelation:

 

  1. Some may hear the word and lack understanding. These cannot provide fertile soil for spiritual growth. Intellectual assent is one aspect of faith—an overlooked one, to be sure, but an important one as well. How does the one who lacks understanding get it? Two ways: pray for it—the Proverbs are full of this advice—and don’t reject the community of Christ. God has already given people to the Church who do have understanding and can help individuals in this regard.
  2. Some hear the word and flake out at the first sign of trouble. They may shout an “amen!” or nod their heads vigorously when hearing the word, but when financial trouble or persecution begins, the word of God is the first item to be tossed overboard.
  3. Some hear the word and sincerely seek to apply it to their lives, but the cares of this world, including finances, choke out the power of the word. This is an interesting teaching, given that some Christians believe the Spirit of God to be irresistible; how can the word be choked off by the cares of the world if this is true? Clearly, Jesus is teaching here that it is possible for humans to prioritize other things ahead of the word—to choose to reject its teachings.
  4. Some hear the word and receive it joyfully, put it into practice in their lives and bear fruit. These are the ones who are citizens of the kingdom.

 

I am thankful that I have understanding (whether or not my behavior often reflects that). I have a responsibility to help others understand, as well, and this comprises a portion of my calling. I am also not one to bail during persecution; being somewhat combative in nature, I am motivated (so far) by adversity. But if I had to confess to identification with any one of these first three, I’d have to say that I do have a tendency to let the cares of this world choke off the word of God in my life. I need to make a daily choice to prioritize His kingdom ahead of my petty needs and wants.

 

We are all susceptible to the first three on some level. The fourth type doesn’t occur naturally; he exists with supernatural help from the Holy Spirit. And even though I’m a citizen of the kingdom, I still battle against my flesh on this side of eternity. I still battle my tendency—deep within my own nature—to be a citizen of my own kingdom. What about you? Do you recognize yourself in one of these archetypes? It is telling that the only good archetype is the one who receives the word, understands, and bears fruit. Fruit-bearing is the important key in this, and it only happens with supernatural help. Today is a day in which I will bear fruit for the kingdom, by the power of the Holy Spirit. For I am its citizen, and I am called to shine the Light of the world into the surrounding darkness.

Matthew 12.46-50

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

 

This passage of scripture reveals that Jesus did have siblings. The Roman Catholic teaching that maintains Mary’s perpetual virginity holds that these brothers were progeny of Joseph and an earlier marriage. If this is the case, however, the oldest of these would have been the legal heir to David’s throne, not Jesus. In any event, when they stood outside and asked to speak with Him, many scholars see this as a very subtle form of opposition—perhaps embarrassment at all of the hoopla that their carpenter family member is raising in Jewish society. Jesus’ response isn’t as callous as it seems: He simply prioritizes the family of the kingdom of God ahead of everything else. Blood ties are significant, but the ultimate blood tie is that which comes from His blood—the family of Christianity.

 

If you have trusted Christ for your salvation, you are in this family. Your daily diet of the Word and prayer, along with your participation in His community—the Church—helps you hear His voice as He expresses His will for you. Your task in this life is to carry on His work of evangelism in the place where He’s put you. It’s easy, however, for extraneous things to get in the way of this priority. We can tend to think of our jobs as being the most important thing. However, your job is simply the way that God provided for you to fulfill His call on your life. In our existentialist, fragmented society, we have a tendency to think that we can get by in our Christian walk by paying some scant attention one or two days a week to the “chore” of spirituality. But until we are consumed with His will for our community, we are not pulling our weight as family members.

 

Get consumed with His plans today.

Matthew 12.38-45

“Why is the Champs Elysees lined with trees?”

“So the Germans could march in the shade.”

This famous joke highlights a stereotype about the French that is ubiquitous in American culture: they are known for surrender, not combat. We American Christians like to think we’re different from the French. We think of our spiritual lives as military campaigns in which we march up the hill and take it for the Lord. But a better analogy suits the true Christian walk, American or otherwise: that white flag of surrender we laugh at so much. When “I will” becomes “You will,” spiritual surrender can lead to ultimate victory.

 

38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we would see a sign from You.” 39But He answered and said, “An evil and unfaithful generation wants a sign, and no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 40For just as Jonah was in the stomach of the whale three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41The men of Ninevah will stand up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because they repented at the message of Jonah, and behold—One greater than Jonah is here. 42The queen of the south will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold—One greater than Solomon is here. 43Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places, seeking a resting place and not finding one. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to the house out of which I came;” and coming in, it finds it empty and swept and put in order. 45Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.

 

The scribes and Pharisees now have a chance to speak to Him immediately following His harsh indictment of their blasphemy, and they explain themselves. They are, after all, just looking for a sign that He is the Messiah (12.38). Curiously, the Greek syntax here seems to indicate a more demanding tone on their part; verse 38 says “we would see” (θελομεν)—this verb typically means “to will.” So “we will see” or “we want to see” or “we demand to see” all fulfill the use of this verb. The Pharisees and scribes still see themselves as authoritative, and feel that it’s perfectly appropriate to demand evidence to their liking from the Son of God. This is the New Testament equivalent of the “fleece before the Lord” teaching, with the added element of self-righteous people demanding that they play a tune and Christ dance for them. Jesus’ response is succinct: the only sign you people are getting is the sign of a prophet buried for three days and three nights. Like Jonah’s miraculous resurrection from the “belly of Sheol” (מִבֶּ֧טֶן  שְׁאֹ֛ול)—the underworld—in Jonah 2.2, so will The Prophet be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. This response probably short-circuited the crowd, but it makes perfect sense after-the-fact. And unlike the citizens of first-century Palestine, the pagan Ninevites repented—and therefore have moral authority over the unbelieving Israelites in Jesus’ day. Jesus sums up His response by returning once again to His ultimate point that there is no actual neutrality; a person who has been delivered from demonic possession, for example, is susceptible to repossession if there is not a stronger power living there. As long as the Pharisees reject Him as Messiah, no sign is possible that will persuade them. They are beginning from an assumption that He is not Messiah. They are thus not receptive to the “stronger power” of the Lord but only to the rejection of the enemy.

 

The right attitude toward the Messiah is faithful acceptance. If a man stands at a distance and demands empirical evidence, he is beginning from wrong assumptions—and no evidence will help him see the truth. If, however, he accepts Jesus as the Messiah, he does so on the basis of faith, not evidenciary signs. He has not demanded anything of God, but has humbly submitted himself to Him and His will. Such a man shares in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and there is no room in his life for the return of evil. His faith in the Son of God is the invitation for the Stronger Power to live within him, despite his humanity and susceptibility to sin.

 

I have found myself making demands of God before. In times of extreme crisis or faith-testing, I have been known to react angrily to His will. I have, on occasion, demanded my own will. I, like the Pharisees before me, have said “I would!” when what I really should have said is “You will.” God is sovereign, though, and His Son is the Messiah. It is His will in my life that is significant, not mine. This is why evil is not welcome, because my abdication is to Him and not myself. This is not to suggest that such surrender is easy; on the contrary, it is pretty difficult. Yet it is only through such surrender that I enjoy victory—His victory—and only through my own abdication of my own will that I find myself walking in His.

 

What about you? Are you waving the white flag today? Or marching on your own orders?

Matthew 12.33-37

There was once a minister who told my father that my mother was dying because she had sin in her life. Now, apart from the obviously questionable theology contained in that comment (don’t get me started on hyper-Wesleyanism), I choose to think that this particular minister probably deeply regretted saying such an uncharitable thing to a 20-year-old man whose wife was dying and whose faith hung in the balance. I’d like to think that he spent the next few decades wishing he could get that one back. Often, Christians allow things to fly out of our pieholes that is simply indefensible and wrong-headed. It’s not a reflection of the redemption that is within us.

 

33Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34You brood of snakes! How can you—being evil—speak what is good? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35The good man out his good treasures brings out good, and the evil man out of his evil treasures brings out evil. 36But I say to you that every careless that men speak, they will give an account in the day of judgment; 37for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. 

 

Jesus continues in His harsh denunciation of the Pharisees by appropriating a favored epithet of John the Baptist, “brood of snakes” (12.34). He continues His earlier point (from yesterday’s readings) that the false Pharisee attribution of Jesus’ miracles to Satan is simply external evidence of an internal problem: a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. What one says typically reveals who one is. When a person is redeemed, his heart is transformed (over time), and then good things come out. When a person is reliant on himself for his own salvation, there is no good to bring forth. Jesus’ use of the term “careless” when speaking about language carries the connotation of a word spoken without deliberation. What one speaks reveals much about one’s character. This is not to say that specific words save or damn anyone; rather, that words are the external evidence of an internal condition. Dr. Constable argues well: “The basis of justification and condemnation is character, but words reveal character and so become the instruments by which God judges.”

 

I am afraid, being the talker that I am, that there is much that flies out of my piehole that I wish I could have back. How much of it is intemperate or uncharitable? How much of it reveals a darkness within, rather than the redemption that should mark me? It is true that I have come a long way since I was first saved, but I know I could stand to have my words be a better reflection of what Christ is up to in my heart.

 

In middle school, I once had a crush on a girl named Peggy. I thought she was gorgeous and funny and smart, and never missed a chance to talk to her in homeroom class. I must have had 30 or 40 conversations with her throughout the course of the school year without noticing a peculiar feature about her: she was missing her left hand. One day, during a school function that encouraged the wearing of costumes, I noticed that she didn’t have a left hand. In as loud and hilarious a class-clown voice as I could muster, I made a remark about great her costume was because of her ability to make her hand look…well, GONE. Her face contorted into a painful grimace, and she turned away and fled, crying. She dropped out of school later that week, and transferred somewhere else. That was in 1981 or so, and I’ve never forgiven myself for my idiocy. I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings; in my desire to get a laugh, I simply steamrolled over her with an intemperate and unwise remark.

 

How about you? Does the spiritual fruit of “self-control” get exercised in your speech? That’s my challenge to myself today.