Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Poor in Spirit (and forgiveness) in Jesus

Poor in Spirit has been our focus this week in church because of our 3 column work … but also I've been posting things on forgiveness.  These come together nicely in Matthew 18.  
You should open your bible there now - 
Or - 
Download the document I’ll post online (my formatted version of Matthew 18.  It makes it easier for me to follow when it’s like this … and I hope it will for you, too)  

Once you have that opened, I’ll have two articles: 
  • This one will focus on Poor in Spirit, then... 
  • The next one on forgiveness, but both need this introduction... 

Introduction to Matthew 18

As with the Sermon On the Mount (SOM), Matthew has taken several teachings of Jesus and put them together here to form one flowing idea.  Matthew ‘stages’ his lessons by quoting Jesus’ answer to two questions:
  1. Who’s the greatest in the kingdom?  
  2. How many times do I have to forgive my brother?

Both of those questions seem obvious to us. Some people want merely to be in a church, to be a Christian, and/or to be saved … but there are a few who want to be ‘great.’  Some of us aspire to be the best – even to be able to be at the big table with Jesus. 

The second question comes from Peter, after Jesus commands us to forgive and fellowship someone when they repent.  Peter realizes how hard this is, and asks Jesus how much we are supposed to forgive.  

Matthew, in writing it this way, sees the connection between these two.  He sees that God’s kingdom (where we all are – once we're born again) consists of people that: 
(1) Start out as little children – learning, and growing and developing into something great.  (2) Along the way there will be things that trip us up (called stumbling blocks here).  Jesus insists that we must never cause another to stumble … but (3) when one does stumble, this is how we are to respond

Heather & Taryn, for example, were recently born again – buried with Christ in baptism, and raised to walk a new life (Romans 6).  Now they are but babies, and their brothers and sisters need to heed these words carefully.  One must be very careful to “baby-proof” our house.  To keep them away from danger (yes, there are spiritual predators and perverts), to begin to teach them a basic vocabulary, move them from milk to baby-food, and help them grow in the Lord.  But as they grow, they will certainly fall a lot. 

All babies learning to walk fall often, it’s normal.  But also we don’t want to deliberately put something in there that would mess them up.  I had a gap in my backyard that Berklie used to trip over all the time – so I removed the stumbling block by putting in a piece of wood that smoothed it out.  Still, she fell often.  It’s the same principle spiritually, and that’s what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 18 … preventing falls, and what to do when they happen. 

There will be more in the ‘forgiveness’ entry, but now, let's focus on... 

Poor In Spirit (PIS)  

Children in Jesus’ day (and most times in history) are nothing like today.  Today children are the center of the household.  We ferry them about and go to their plays, dances and sport events.  Not so in Jesus’ day.  Back then, the father was the center.  Men were providers, givers, masters, owners, even rulers.  Certainly none were as good as the ideal, but we all live with our illusions, and it was no different then.  Dad was the man, back then … mom was his main servant and (if they were middle class or above) she probably ran the household as his “executive officer,” to use a military idea, or in a corporation … she was the C.O.O.  The slaves and children were in about the same position.  Children may have had a higher place in dad’s heart, but in daily life they were little more than slaves … especially when they were small. 
So when Jesus responds to their question about being the greatest in the household, Jesus tells them they must become like the little kids.  Weird!  They are asking to be friends with Dad – to sit at His table with the big boys, and Jesus says it’s to become the absolute lowest on the totem-pole. 

“Boy, you are nothing!  You're lower than whale $#!+” 

This was among the first thing I heard when I joined the navy.  Lower than whale poo is pretty low.  The result is that you know everyone and everything is above you.  You owe everyone everything, and they owe you nothing.  This is PIS

Do you think someone owes you?  
    Even if you’re right – you’re still not PIS. 
Do you want justice for yourself?  
    You may deserve it – but you’re not PIS
Do you want to be served?  
    You ain't PIS
Do you think God’s job is to answer your prayers for your own benefit?  
    You ain't PIS
Do you think you’re smart, clever, good, or wise?  
    You ain't PIS

Get this: you and I are lower than whale excrement in the kingdom.  Maybe you’re not, but if you’ll take that attitude, then you are finally getting somewhere.  Our Lord, on the night he was betrayed, wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his boys’ feet. 

Check out these excerpts, and pay attention to what Jesus knew, and how he must have felt … and then what he DID:
Jesus (knowing that his hour had come that he would depart out of this world to the Father) having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, he girded Himself. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. So he came to Peter, who said to him,
“Lord, do you wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I do you don’t realize now, but you’ll understand hereafter.”  Peter said to him,
“Never shall you wash my feet!”  [note, this is Peter being PIS]
Jesus answered him,
“If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus said to him,
“He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”
(For he knew the one who was betraying him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”)
 So when he had washed their feet he said to them”
Do you know what I’ve done to you?
You call Me Teacher & Lord; and you’re right, for I am.
If I then (the lord & the teacher) washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave isn't greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than The One who sent him.
If you know these things, you are blessed if you DO them.
The beginning of wisdom is to fear Yahweh, and the beginning of life in God’s household is Poverty of Spirit … it’s knowing who and what you are.  We are foot-washing slaves, not lords.  We are empty of all, our Father is everything.  We will love and serve and forgive each other as our brother Jesus did, who even washed the feet of Judas – and said we are to do likewise. 

When the Prodigal Son came home, he didn't ask to have his old bedroom back.  He asked to have a job as a slave, do a slave’s work, and get a slave’s pay. - That’s PIS

Prodigal’s older brother thinks he has earned something with his years of service.  He forgets that everything he has is really stuff he inherited from his Dad.  - - He ain't PIS. 

Choose to be PIS: like the little children of Jesus’ day

Choose to be PIS: be a foot-washing fool, essentially a doormat – for your Father. 
It’s what Jesus did … and it’s how you’ll find your place at the big table in heaven.

Wash these, boy ...
"Gladly," responded our Lord
(and Paul - and Peter , James & John, etc.)

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