The King of Glory

Malachi 3:1-4
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40
Psalm 24:7-10

What an incredible forty days it has been.  I am not sure I can stand my isolation for eighty days if I birth a girl.  But now, here we are in the Temple and I am about to present my sacrifices.  It is all overwhelming.

Giving birth to the Son of God was not easy.  The pain was as bad as mother and my aunts said it would be.  I wonder that God did not make it easier for me.

Joseph has been so unselfish, after his first shock.  I could not ask for a better husband.  On the eighth day, he took Jesus to the synagogue for the covenant of circumcision required of all Hebrew males.  I wished I could have gone, until he told me how loudly Jesus cried.  I might have slapped the mohel.

Now, clutching my two poor doves, I am eager to be cleansed and more than ready to move in with my new husband, if only we could decide on where to live.

I was so pleased and excited that God arranged for Simeon and Anna to meet us.  Their blessings still ring in my ears.  Yeshua.  The Hope of the nation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yxjjd-qC2U

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 19-23

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 27, Chapter 19

When it comes to divorce, the Old Testament is not very clear.  In Malachi 2:16, we read that God hates divorce, but other statements allow divorce.  Jesus goes to the heart of the issue.  God created humans as equals, as companions to one another.  After the fall, men and women had to procreate, so began to marry.  Jesus always argues from the point of perfection.  In Heaven, there is no need to marry; on earth, there is a need.  Within that need we must always seek perfection, meaning in this case, equality.  Jesus rejected both the major schools of thought of his day because they both assumed that only men could or should seek divorce.  As Paul wrote later, men and women must treat each other equally within the marriage.

Verse 10 brings up another issue and Jesus’ response seems to cloud the picture.  Jesus and John the Baptizer, as far as we know, did not marry because their mission required all their time and attention.  Most of us do marry because our missions are not as demanding.  God will let us know if we are to remain celibate.

What about becoming a eunuch?  Jesus dismissed that as something that happens sometimes, but is not to be sought.  Men and women, alike, become eunuchs in practice by not marrying, no surgery necessary.  Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD) in youthful enthusiasm, operated on himself to become a more committed Christian.  He later wrote that it was foolish and unnecessary.  And while we’re at it, don’t poke out your eye either.

It is sad that the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus.  You would think that they would have understood, just having heard his comments about being as innocent as a child.  By laying on his hands, Jesus blessed them.  That had a stronger meaning in Jesus’ day than it does for us now.  A blessing was a powerful gift from God.

This brings us to the rich young man.  Jesus told him to sell his possessions; he went away sad.  In his defense, we must realize that in that culture, still true today, he was responsible for all his relatives, servants, and slaves.  He may also have been in charge of the village, more responsibilities.  That was a great deal to put at risk.  He did not understand that he would gain so much more by taking up that particular cross.  We Americans are rich.  A billion people in this world live on $2 or less per day.  Can we give up our wealth for Jesus?

The eye of a needle.  Just read it as written.  Only God can get a camel through something that small.  Can a rich man get into Heaven?  Yes, the same way a camel goes through a needle.  If I can give all I have to Jesus, God will still have to pull me into Heaven through the eye of a needle.  Doing good deeds is not enough because I am still a sinner.  When I get to the Heavenly banquet, I plan to head to the table in the back, next to the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 28, Chapter 20

The parable of the Vineyard Workers is found only in Matthew.  It is a parable of Grace; an expression of God’s willingness to save all of us, even if we return to him late in the day.

A denarius was a small silver coin used throughout the Roman Empire to pay Roman soldiers as well as unskilled workers for a day’s work.  No one who heard Jesus even paid attention that routine amount.  Notice what the man says in verse 4, ‘what is right’.  Now, his listeners were thinking several of the lesser bronze coins and fewer coins as the owner hired additional men.  At the last hour, he hired the remaining men without suggesting that they would be paid.

At sundown, three surprises occur.  First, the master sends his foreman to make the payments.  Then he tells him to ‘pay the wage’.  That is the direct Greek reading.  Jesus’ listeners would have understood it to mean a denarius.  In a couple of sentences, Jesus has started to turn the parable on its ear.  The third surprise is that the men should be paid in reverse order, allowing those who worked 12 hours to see the one hour workers getting a denarius each.  Now the crowd is thinking that everyone will get a raise, but no.

This is yet another story of the Grace of God.  As an eleventh century scholar wrote, Simeon held the baby at the beginning of Jesus life and the thief hung beside him at the end.  They both joined him in Heaven.  Those who suffer the most in this world can look forward to ‘going to the front of the line’ in Heaven.  Not to worry, the rest of us will receive the same pay.

Once again, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon die.  To ‘drink the cup’ is a common euphemism generally referring to suffering.  Judas aside, James was the first of the Twelve to drink the cup when he was beheaded.  His brother was the last.  His cup was different that the others who are believed to have been killed.  John watched them all go and died of old age, probably in his 90’s.

Verse 26 gives us a basic lesson in being a follower of Jesus: be a servant to everyone.  Jesus followed that verbal lesson with a visual one when he healed the two blind men.  Taken together, the two lessons tell us that we must open our eyes to the Love of God before we can enter with him into the New Jerusalem.

Wednesday, January 29, Chapter 21

Before Creation, God and His Son planned every day of the life of Jesus.  Once the Son became a human, he had to grow and mature the same as the rest of us.  The difference is that he was always able to hear the still small voice of God.  From my readings of the Gospels, I believe that Jesus was given knowledge when he needed it.  Why else would it take him 30 years to prepare for his ministry?  Additionally, if he knew everything, he would not be human.

Regardless, Jesus did know that a donkey was waiting for pickup.  He may have arranged it.  What is important is that it fulfilled Zechariah 9:9.  The two men sent to pick it up could have been any of his regular followers.  Matthew is alone in saying the colt was with its mother.  He also has the strange image of preparing both animals for riding, as if he could.  Mark and Luke write that he rode the colt.

Spreading the cloaks on the street was only done for royalty.  The reason for the branches is not known. There is some evidence that large groups of pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem would stage just such a parade to celebrate and perhaps even encourage the long-expected Messiah’s arrival.  It would have been a bit like a Santa parade today.  In that case, most of the people watching would have failed to note that the One True Messiah had indeed arrived.

The quotes in verse 9 come from Psalm 118:25-26 and Jeremiah 31:7; shouted in no particular order.  While Jesus had not visited Jerusalem in two years, he was well-known by reputation.  As people learned who the rider really was, the buzz of excitement must have increased.  They may not have seen him as the Messiah, but they knew he was a famous teacher.

His first move had most of those same people rethinking their opinion of Jesus.  For him, it made perfect sense; he had to clean his Father’s House.  There were two main targets, the money changers and the sellers of animals for sacrifice.  Both activities were allowed and necessary.  The problem was that they were being done inside the Temple walls in the Court of the Gentiles.  Jesus did not put a stop to them; they continued to the destruction of the Temple nearly 40 years later.  It was a symbolic cleansing.  In fact, every step, every word of Jesus in the last week carries powerful symbols.

Cursing the fig tree is another of the hard sayings of Jesus.  Yet, when we look at it as a symbol, it becomes easy.  If I do not bear good fruit, I will face punishment.

The question of authority is important.  It is a fair question, then and now.  Either Jesus is the Messiah or he is an impostor.  The leaders were seeking proof; fair enough except that Jesus had given them three years of proof already.  Jesus knew they were really only trying to trick him, so poised his own question.  John was baptized by God to announce the Messiah, so Jesus put the leaders on the knife’s edge.

The two parables illustrate what was about to happen.  In the first, both sons are disobedient, but the one who repents is saved from judgment.  The second parable gives us a picture of what will happen to the second son.  The second son is anyone who says he follows God, but never takes care of the needy, always lives for himself.  Jesus is talking to you and me, not just the Pharisees.

Thursday, January 30, Chapter 22

The next parable makes it clear that Jesus includes all of us who do not respond to his call. It is also in agreement with the vineyard workers of chapter 20; the lost ones of society will be brought into the kingdom.  Reread the Beatitudes of Chapter 5.

Verse 11 begins another difficult section.  On the surface, a man is punished for wearing the wrong clothes.  But the symbolism is that some people say they want to join in the wedding with Jesus, but are not willing to do what is required to be his Bride.  We say we are followers, but our dress proves we are not.

In verse 15, we learn how desperate the Pharisees are becoming; they join forces with the hated followers of Herod.  Because Jesus is not himself a trickster, he deals only in the Truth.  ‘Use physical goods in the physical world and spiritual goods in the spiritual world.’

Having fended off the combined assault of the Pharisees and Herodians, he faced the Sadducees.  You should know that most priests and all Temple leaders were Sadducees.  They were all about the Temple and their power ceased to exist after it was destroyed.  Their question for Jesus stayed, they thought, with his spiritual theme.  Who will she be married to?  The answer is: the only marriage in heaven will be all of us married to the Messiah.

Next, for whatever reason, the Pharisees threw him a softball.  The greatest command?  Deut. 6:5 and the second is Lev 19:18.  Why did you even ask?

Jesus turns the tables and asks the Pharisees a tough question.  David, in Psalm 110:1, called the Messiah, Lord.  The title was never used for one’s children, yet David clearly did that, why?  The leaders gave up and left Jesus alone, at least until his arrest.  The answer: the Messiah is superior to even King David, having existed with God before Creation.  Jesus made a backhanded claim of Messiahship.

Friday, January 31. Chapter 23

This entire chapter is an attack on hypocrites.  Jesus begins by pointing to the obvious for his followers, that the men attacking him were the leaders of the synagogues; that is, they sat in the Seat of Moses in the front of the meeting house.  Jesus himself was often invited to sit there and never failed to impress people with his teachings.

God gave us the following: Lev 11:10 “But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to detest.”  Eating shrimp is an abomination to God.  Therefore, Pharisees believed they had to make sure they never came in contact with such things.  They would never wade in the water or get near a fisherman for fear of accidental contact.

 

With that picture in mind, read verse 3 and reread 16:12.  Jesus spends this entire chapter heaping condemnation of those leaders.  It is doubtful that he intends for us to listen to them.  It is much more likely that he is saying, ‘You are supposed to obey those who sit in Moses seat, but these hypocrites do not deserve your attention.’  They are busy creating cumbersome rules that do nothing to keep us close to God.

A phylactery is a small box tied to a man’s forehead while in prayer.  The box contains four small scraps of paper, one each for the words of Ex. 13:1-10, Ex. 13:11-16, Deut. 6:4-9, and Deut. 11:13-21.  They are words we should carry with us in our hearts.

A man’s outer garment also served as a prayer shawl by pulling up a kind of hood.  Each of four corners had tassels attached.  Each tassel contained a blue thread that symbolically connected the man to the priests of the Temple and thus to God.  It did not mean their prayers had to go through the priests, but rather that they had the same standing with God as did the priests.

The meaning of verses 8-10 is made clear by verses 11-12.  We cannot take the words literally.  Call your parents father and mother.  Jesus wants us to shy away from unnecessary pride in titles.  Jimmy Carter follows that idea in down playing his rank of President.  I have more respect for people who do not bother to add ‘PhD’ to their signatures.

Compare the seven woes to the six woes of Isa. 5:8-25, 28:1-35, & 10.  Also the five woes in Hab. 2:6-20.  Pride is the major issue.  I am a worm before God.  I cannot puff myself up to anything else.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 16-18 An adjustment in the schedule

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Wednesday, January 22, Chapter 16

We would all like to see a miraculous sign from Jesus, as if three days in the grave were not enough.  Jesus did not do tricks.  Yes, he healed, he fed thousands, but he was only doing what any of us can do and should do, even if we do it less dramatically.

Yeast is not dangerous unless it comes from the wrong source.  Jesus names two groups to avoid.  The yeast image is of the words of the Pharisees causing dangerous growth in our minds that turn us away from God.  Today, there are many who would lead us astray even as they tell us they are speaking the Gospel.  Who are they?  They go to church every Sunday.  They never sin or associate with those who do.  They are the good people.  They are no longer awed to be in the presence of God because they have all the answers.  But they are also, like the Sadducees, unimpressed with God and not even sure of his existence.  Life is simply what we have now and we must make the most of what we have, even at the expense of others.

Jesus follows that with, “Who am I?  Now that you have lived with me all this time, what say you?”  Allow me to quote from a sermon preached in Berlin in 1933 as Hitler was taking control of all the churches in Germany.  It was the last sermon preached by Dietrich Bonhoffer in that church.  He was arrested and hanged during the war.

The church of Peter—that means the church on the rock, the church of confessing Christ.  The church of Peter is not the church of opinions and views but rather the church of revelation; not the church that talks about “what people say” but the church in which Peter’s confession is always being made and spoken anew, the church that does nothing else but always and only make this confession, whether in singing, praying, preaching, or action….  But being the church of Peter is not only something to be claimed with unalloyed pride.  Peter, the confessing, believing disciple, denied his Lord on the same night in which Judas betrayed him; Peter stood there by the fire that night and was ashamed, while Christ was standing before the high priest.  Peter was the fearful one of little faith who sank into the sea.  He was the disciple to whom Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” … The church of Peter is the church that shares his weakness, the church that also keeps denying Christ and falling down, being disloyal, of little faith, fearful, a church that again and again looks away from its mission and toward the world and its opinions….  But Peter is also the one of whom it is said that he went out and wept bitterly.  Of Judas, who also betrayed his Lord, it is said that he went out and took his own life.  That is the difference.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that Jesus spoke the words in verses 17-20 to Peter alone, making him the single source of knowledge from God.  We Baptist and most other Protestants believe the words were spoken of the church, that is, all followers and believers.

Jesus predicting his death is easy for us to read because we have read the last chapter of the story, but think about what it must have meant to his followers.  And then he told them, us, to take up our crosses.  What does that mean?  Simply put, we must give up that which separates us from God.  Think about what you spend the most time on.  Is it standing between you and God?

Thursday, January 23, Chapter 17

In yesterday’s reading, Jesus told his disciples that he would die.  Now, three of them witness their master chatting with Moses and Elijah.  They also hear and recognize the voice of God.  There are several interesting questions.  Why not all twelve disciples?  What did Jesus talk about with the others?  Why three shelters?

We do not know the answers to these and other questions.  What we do know is that Jesus for a brief time appeared in his heavenly body; he was transformed.  We know that God personally called Jesus his Son.  As for the three disciples chosen, Peter is an obvious choice and James and John were always included in the smaller circle.  It is also worth noting that James was the first of the twelve who was martyred, John wrote the two most powerful books, and Peter always remained as the leading missionary to his martyrdom.  As for the shelters, Peter, still not understanding, may have thought Moses and Elijah could stay and be visited by thousands.

The healing of the boy is unique in that it has little to do with the boy but is a commentary on the fitness of the Twelve to take up the duties Jesus has prepared them for.  They have everything they need, except faith.  That is our lesson.  God has given us what we need, we must step out in faith.  Few of us are asked to drive out demons or walk on water.  We are asked to show love and mercy to people in our everyday lives.

The question of the Temple tax is different from the tax paid to Caesar.  Every man (13 and up, not females) was required to pay half a shekel every year, about two drachmas or two denarius.  Jesus is telling his Twelve that they are sons of the King of Heaven, so do not need to pay the tax, but pay it so as not to upset the authorities any more.

Friday, January 24, Chapter 18

We know that the Twelve were concerned with who was Jesus’ favorite, who would sit on his right side in Heaven.  But Jesus said we must be as innocent as a small child.  In a parable, Jesus said we must go to the banquet and sit at the table far from the host, expecting to be the least important person there.  If I follow Jesus for glory, I’ll get my glory in Hell.

Verse 14 is the important point of the parable.  God wants to have every single human return to him.  To do that, he allowed us to kill his Son.  Personally, I believe that the Perfect God has a Perfect Plan of Salvation, one that may bring everyone into his arms.  If He does that, the rejoicing for the lost-who­-are-found will rock the Foundations of Heaven.

Jesus is still answering the question of verse 1.  The greatest of these is the one who is like the child, who seeks the lost and forgives sin.  In verse 15, Jesus speaks specifically of fellow Christians.  We must seek to reconcile with one who has hurt us and have other church members help us in that process if need be.  Verse 16 quotes Deut. 19:15.  Verse 17 is often taken to mean that the other person is kicked out of the church, excommunicated.  It may only refer to how we should think of that church member.  Clearly though, it is based on the agreement of the several members who participated in the discussions.  They must all agree that the other person was in the wrong.

The last parable tells us what can happen if we are not as innocent as a child.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Why Galilee?

Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23
Psalm 27:1, 5-13

If we look at a map of Israel and find the Sea of Galilee, the land to the west of it is where Jesus spent most of his three-year ministry.  In ancient times, Zebulun and Naphtali were located in that region.  Both Isaiah and Matthew make note of the towns and the region.  Why is it important?

Isaiah adds the detail that, In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles; another clear reference to the coming Messiah.  Centuries later, in the time of Jesus, Judeans looked down on Galilee because there were so many Roman cities in the district.  In fact, Sepphoris, one of the finest examples of such a city, was just five miles from Nazareth.  In spite of that, Isaiah had the Messiah coming from such a place.  Think perhaps of a future President coming from a mountain in Montana.  Come to think of it, that might be reason enough to vote for him, but back to Jesus.

He very deliberately went to Capernaum on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee and used that city as his base of operations, later using Peter’s house as home-away-from-home.  When he first arrived in the city, he preached the same message John the Baptizer gave.

However, his call of Andrew and Simon is in marked contrast to the way John the Apostle recorded it in last week’s reading.  In John, we see Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptizer.  He and an unnamed disciple heard John call Jesus the Lamb of God and they went to investigate Jesus.  Andrew at once became a follower and brought Simon in as well.

Matthew says that Jesus saw the two of them in their fishing boat and called them to follow him.  This is one of many such confusions that occur among the four Gospels.  Such things are the stuff of attacks on the validity of Christianity.  Generally, the people who make the attacks have not bothered themselves with such things as the backgrounds of the authors, the style of writing in the First Century, the purpose of the individual Gospel, and many other important matters.

To keep it short, none of the Gospel writers were writing history.  They all had a theme, a message that was foremost in their minds.  They used loosely collected stories told and retold over 30, 40, 60 years.  They did things that would have a modern historian blacklisted for life.  They made up things that fit their theme, things that were like stories they knew, but needed to be changed to fit the theme.

I am a historian by training and it is alien to my creed, but if I wrote history in the First Century, I would make up things to fit the story.  That is how the ancients wrote history.  Remember that the Gospels are not history anyway, they tell the Good News of The Messiah Who Has Come to Save Everyone Who Lives or Has Ever Lived.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 11-15

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 20, Chapter 11

Verses 4-6 is more than a nice list of good deeds.  God promised His followers over the centuries that the Messiah would come and do all those things.  Jesus knew all the promises and that John knew them as well. The saddest thing about the list is that nearly all Jews of the day knew the list, but most still rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

Read my post Comfort Ye.  Isaiah 35:5-6 & 61:1 for the promises.  John is great, but those who follow the Messiah are greater because we get to experience all that Jesus brings to us.  John only heard the promise before he died.

Verse 12 speaks of the eagerness of Jesus’ followers, they grab hold of the power of Jesus and will not let go.  Nothing in this world comes close to doing the things Jesus did.

People complained that John did not eat enough and that Jesus eats too much.  Those who reject the Word can always find an excuse.

Jesus tells the citizens of several cities that they will suffer for not turning to the Word.  He is really speaking to the people, not the physical city.  Capernaum was Jesus’ home base, remember.

In the last section, Jesus lets his followers in on a secret; the Word of God is easy.  Following Jesus is easy.  Yes, there will be suffering, even persecution, but knowing we have God with us makes it easy to accept.

Tuesday, January 21, Chapter 12

Following Jesus is easy.  In Jesus’ day, there were hundreds of rules about the Sabbath.  Understand that Sabbath is the last day of the week, Saturday on our calendars.  God established that day as a day of rest, a very practical way to revive us after six days of labor; but also a day for us to seek God in study of his Word and prayer with Him.

Because it was meant as a day of rest, the Pharisees developed a long list of activities that we would agree involve work and declared with of them was acceptable and which were not.  You could walk to the Temple or synagogue, but not if it involved more than a mile and a half round trip.  Today, that restriction includes riding in a car.  Building a fire was not allowed; they filled all oil lamps and left them burning; they ate their food cold.  Today, you cannot flip a light switch because that is the same as building a fire.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You have forgotten the reasons for the Sabbath.  Your restrictions do nothing to encourage closeness with God.  Yes, we harvested some grain to eat because we were hungry.  Yes, God healed the man with the withered hand because he is valuable to God.  A day of rest is not a day of suffering.  It is a day of being as close to God as possible.”

In the first years of the Church, followers of Jesus met in synagogues on Saturday.  As more Greeks, Romans, and others became Christians, they gradually moved out of the synagogues and started meeting on the first day of the week because that was the day Jesus came out of the tomb.  It is the Christian Sabbath.

Isaiah is again quoted to describe why Jesus healed the sick and tended the needs of the people.  Notice that the word, Justice, is prominent.

It is interesting that the man healed and relieved of demons is hardly mentioned.  For Matthew, it is the reason for the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees.  The Pharisees said that only the Devil could drive out demons, Beelzebub being yet another name for the Prince of Darkness.  Jesus answered with two points.  Why would the Devil drive himself out of someone?  You also drive demons out of people; do you do the work of the Devil?  I do the work of God.

If you are with me, says Jesus, you will gather people to God; if you are against me, you will keep them away from God.  God can forgive Speaking against Jesus, but speaking against the Holy Spirit of God will not forgive.  This is a difficult passage and one we need not bog down on.  God is the one who forgives; it is not our business to decide what is only His to decide.

The important point is the next section.  Good fruit is the key.  If I help the poor, the sick, the depressed, I am a tree bearing good fruit.  It cannot buy my way into heaven.  It cannot encourage God to forgive my failures.  If that is why I do good things, Ted Bundy and Adolph Hitler will be forgiven before I am.

Jonah was an example of Jesus when the was “resurrected” after three days.  Believe it.

Jesus did not turn his back on his family.  Mary was a follower and stood at the cross as he died.  James came late to believe in his older brother and became the Bishop of the Jerusalem Church.  Jesus simply said that those who follow him are the true family.  Believe it.

Wednesday, January 22, Chapter 13

The Parable of the Sower seems simple enough.  You can see the message in the following cartoon youtube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9IOhGPrRvY

The real message comes later starting in verse 19.  But do not overlook Jesus’ words, though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.  He was quoting from Deuteronomy 29:2-4.  Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land.  With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders.  But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.  Jeremiah 5:21.  Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.  Ezekiel 12:2.  Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people.  They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.

What is it that we fail to see or understand?  Remember the message to John in chapter 11, every human in the world deserves good food, good medicine, a decent place to live, proper wages, equal respect.  If we hear the words of Jesus and do little to help those in need, the seed of His Word is lost in us.

Jesus follows the parable with a short parable about weeds.  Here, the Word is being choked by the weeds of the Evil One.  At the end of time, the weeds will be burned away and only the Word will survive.  If we allow the evil seeds to grow in us, we are in danger of being burned with them.

Jesus told three seed parables in a row, the mustard seed being number three.  A preacher named Ray Stedman, about whom I know little, called this The Case of the Ambitious Seed.  You can read his comments at: http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/matthew/the-case-of-the-ambitious-seed

A small Seed of the Word, in the proper soil, well prepared, watered, and tended [read: study, pray, grow close to God] can become a giant and do mighty deeds.  Yeast is another version of the same story.

Jesus turns to teaching his close students, the Twelve.  The hidden treasure, the pearl, and the net are all reminding us of the true value of the Word of God.  We dare not lose it or mistreat it on pain of destruction.

The chapter ends with a failure, of sorts.  Jesus is not well received by those who knew him best, yet Jesus says it was because of their lack of faith.  We do learn that Jesus had four brothers and more than one sister.  His brothers tried to have him committed as insane.  James later became a believer and leader of the church.  If you do not believe, Jesus does seem crazy.

Thursday, January 23, Chapter 14

We really do not know much about John the Baptizer, but we do know what is probably most important, he spoke the truth.  That should be Truth, because it is the Word of God.  In today’s America, many of us believe that our government is our source of comfort and protection.  John would have harsh words for both the government and our trust in it.  John died because he spoke the Truth as did Jesus.  Being faithful to God is the only important faithfulness we can have.

When Jesus heard of John’s death, he tried to get away, probably to talk with God.  The people followed him.  He did not ignore them or send them away, he fed them.  That is our lesson.  You and I can feed people.  More than a billion people worldwide are slowly dying of starvation while we in the US throw away enough food to keep them all alive.  I alone cannot feed a billion, but I can feed one or two or three.

After the feeding, Jesus was able to slip away for that time with God that he absolutely needed, as do we.  Renewed, he walked to his disciples who were in the fishing boat, caught in a storm.

Walking on water is no big deal; any of us can do it.  However, as far as we know, only Jesus and Peter pulled it off, and Peter was not as successful as Jesus.  Two things to learn, Jesus is the source of our strength and we must have absolute, unquestioned, fully focused faith in him.

Friday, January 24. Chapter 15

The Pharisees make another attempt to discredit Jesus, accusing him of violating the Law by not requiring his disciples to wash their hands before eating.  The Law of Moses requires ritual washing in a few religious situations, but says nothing about daily eating.  The Pharisees had expanded the meaning of the law to include all eating.

Jesus responded in kind.  Most Pharisees would pledge their property to God, and then use that as an excuse to avoid paying for their aging parent’s needs, as well as the needs of all others.  It did not stop them from spending on their own lavish wants.

Jesus, by the way, says nothing against the sanitary advantages of washing our hands.

Tyre and Sidon were just north of Galilee, therefore, gentile territory.  The woman was not Jewish and Jesus ignored her until his disciples begged him to deal with her.  We do not know the look of Jesus’ face.  Perhaps he smiled as he spoke.  His words are harsh, almost cruel, but they do not put the woman off.

Why did Jesus call her a dog?  That is the way Jews then thought of gentiles.  This time, the woman had the perfect response; the household pets roam the area under the table eating the bits of food that fall to the floor.  She was willing to accept that for her daughter.  Faith heals and this woman had faith in a scrap being enough.  Jesus granted her wish.

God sent Jesus to minister to the Chosen People.  The Plan that God and His Son worked out before Creation was to let the Disciples heal the rest of the world.  That is our job.

The feeding of the four thousand has the same message as the earlier five thousand.