Sunday, February 05, 2012

Building Blocks

1 Corinthians 9:16-23                                                                                                                           Mark 1:29-39

Reading "miracle stories" of Jesus' mighty works are both easy - AND - challenging to navigate.  They are easy because these works are the hallmark of Jesus' ministry.  They are what we expect because He is, after all, the Messiah.  These works define Him; they demonstrate the power of the Holy God and legitimize Jesus’ claim as Messiah.  They are what make Him the manifestation of the “kingdom come near”.  And because these are written and contained "in the Bible", Christians generally accept them “as is”. 

There is nothing wrong with this except that these stories are also somewhat challenging because there are few among us who have actually witnessed healings and miracles on such a broad scale.  With the exception of certain TV faith healers, for instance, I have never witnessed anyone go from zero to 60 in under 8 seconds with only a prayer and a palm on the forehead; which may explain why I see such "performances" on TV and think not very highly of them.  These people are given the ability to walk but are, ironically, sent straight to the floor and have to be helped back up on their feet!!  In fact I view these demonstrations with more than a little cynicism because, quite frankly, the acting on the part of those presenting themselves to be healed is, well, lousy.

This is not to say I do not believe the stories of miraculous healings; not at all.  Reading and hearing these stories, however, requires something more from us than blind and unquestioned acceptance.  It is not unlike what was shared previously about trusting one who claims prophetic authority to speak in the Lord's behalf; no one should be accepted or rejected based only on how we may "feel" about the situation, the message, or the person in question.  It is about "active engagement" and discerning the words spoken within the biblical context, the context in which they are spoken, and who is ultimately being lifted up; “testing the spirit” of what is being shared.  In other words, who - or what – finally becomes the center of attention?

I have heard stories from some people whom I have known personally who truly believe in these television faith healers even if they have never personally experienced them, and I find their comments disturbing because of the emphasis that is placed on the faith healer with the Lord relegated to secondary, if subservient status; as if the Lord CANNOT act until or unless compelled to do so by these men and women who claim to be faith healers.  I wonder, then, if perhaps this very thing is the reason why Jesus seemed always to ask that those who were healed by His hand - and especially the demons who were cast out - to remain silent; to avoid undue attention on Jesus Himself that would ultimately relegate the Holy Father to secondary, or subservient status.  Well, this depends on what we think is happening in these moments.

"I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some" (vs 22).  I find St. Paul's words to the Corinthian church disturbing on the one hand because I have long maintained, and still maintain, that the Church as the Body of Christ can only be one thing and answer only to one Authority - regardless of what society or the culture expect or demand.  To be "all things to all people" is, to me, to be acting inconsistently and without any real sense of integrity.  Indeed would any among us trust someone who would say one thing and do another depending on compelling circumstances? 

On the other hand, we must acknowledge a fundamental principle expressed by the apostle: the willingness to "bear the burdens of another" by placing himself alongside those he intends to offer the Gospel to; in other words, entering into their worlds in order to lead them out and give them a reason to aspire to a higher realm.  This is an important perspective that must not be overlooked or underplayed because it speaks of the necessity and willingness of the Church to go to great lengths to make the Gospel of our Lord known as widely as possible. 

In both instances, however, it is important to keep a broad perspective in our own lives by recognizing that neither Jesus nor Paul is doing anyone any "personal favors" even as each individual instance is intensely personal to those who are being healed or otherwise ministered to.  We must recognize that something much greater has begun, and I think it is this element in these miracle stories that is overlooked especially in today's contemporary Christian "pop" culture that seems intent on discrediting or dismantling "organized religion" in favor of each individual's own chosen path (and sometimes trying to gain followers!) rather than seeking the one, singular "narrow gate" Jesus teaches about in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-14). 

We often forget that throughout the entire Bible - including the many so-called "lost books" - it is never about the individual; it is entirely about the Lord, the Holy God, the Creator, the Almighty … the Covenant Keeper.  It is entirely about His purposes and His Kingdom - and not our own.  It is entirely about faith in the Lord - and not in ourselves. It is about learning to feel good about and having confidence in the Lord - not about feeling good about or having confidence in ourselves.  And this bothers the many who seem determined to seek their own paths and find their own way because it is the much easier path, the wider gate that deceptively promises "personal" attention, "personal" choices, “personal” satisfaction, “personal” favors, and ultimately "personal salvation".  By this I mean to say that when we choose that broad path and wide gate, we are pretty much on our own because this is not where the Great Shepherd is leading us.  He didn’t take the “easy road”; why would we think we can do better than He?

So when Jesus stretches out His healing hand, He is doing much more than simply making a “boo-boo” go away so that we can lead happier and more satisfying lives.  Each life, each soul is one more “building block” laid against the Cornerstone that is Christ. 

Before Simon’s mother-in-law was made well by Jesus’ touch, she was probably already a “good” person – how many times have we heard this line from the many who do not want to connect to, or be held accountable by, a community of faith? – but whether she was a “good” person is beside the point because she could only be good by her own merits.  She was certainly good enough for her daughter, good enough for Simon, good enough for her culture; but before she could be good enough to serve the Lord, she had to be made “worthy” and good enough to serve the Lord for the Lord’s purposes of Kingdom-Building.  The theological perspective requires that we look closer so that we may fully understand Jesus’ much greater purpose in making Simon’s mother-in-law well.

The rich man in Matthew 19 was probably a “good” person by cultural standards, but he walked away when told by Jesus what is really required of discipleship.  The rich man was “personally” satisfied with all he had and with all he had done, but following Jesus in such a drastic and dramatic way was simply not his choice.  He rejected his place in the Lord’s greater purpose of building a community of faith and chose his own path instead.  He walked away because he was more comfortable to live according to his own terms.  Make no mistake; this passage is not an indictment against the so-called 1%.  This is a clear indictment against ANY who have anything of this world they are unwilling to part with for the sake of the kingdom of heaven!!

There were ten lepers who came to Jesus to be healed (Luke 17) and even though they were all equally healed by Jesus, only one among these ten returned to offer himself to the Lord.  The rest took their blessing and ran off on their own path to live their own lives and do their own “thang”.  They "took", but they were unwilling to "give" even an ounce. 

The third servant in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) had been entrusted by the master with something of immeasurable value, but he failed to do anything with it for the master.  Because of his complacency, neglect, and self-concern he was cast “into outer darkness” and separated from his master’s household; useless in the Lord's intent to "build" the kingdom.

Each story, each instance, each individual; though personally touched, was intended for something much greater than self-satisfaction or self-determination.  The Kingdom of Heaven was – and still is - being gathered one “building block” at a time, but it is still about the glory of the Holy Father, His kingdom, and His terms – not our own.  We are given much when the Lord stretches out His Mighty Hand but, like the third servant in the parable of the talents, we are expected to do something for the Kingdom with what has been entrusted to our care - not bury it. 

We are given much so that we may give much.  We are blessed so that we may bless more still.  And this all comes by the Lord’s own good grace for His own good purpose: to lead His beloved Church home where we belong. 

In the name of the Holy Father, the Holy Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

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