House of Mercy and Grace and Disgrace

NT; (c) Knightshayes Court; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

On another website, my blog post “Jesus- An Accessory to Murder?” was reprinted. I received a simple, maybe obvious, and yet profoundly important comment. In support of my message, Tobysgirl wrote:

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“As someone said, it’s like Jesus was born so he could be crucified, and his life means nothing at all.”

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Being that yesterday was the kick off to the Church calendar, these words are all the more significant.

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Often, maybe too often, I have noticed copious differences between the symbolic body of Christ (the Church) and the actual life of the crucified and resurrected God. It’s not anything novel, disgruntled followers have held up Ghandi’s “your Christians are so unlike your Christ” quote for some time now. But that doesn’t make it any less true or relevant. Sometimes I fear faithful skeptics will stop holding the Church’s feet to the fire in the name of changing trends.

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Some leaders of the faith have said this is much ado about nothing. They have said that too much spiritual investment is placed in His historical life, his actions and his strange statements containing curious caveats, after all, the gospels were written by authors with their own sets of biases and baggage. The Bible is all equally important (an idea I have always questioned). And the point is mainly the crucifixion and the resurrection. The bookmarks of the Christian calendar. The rest is more or less commentary…

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And with that, these leaders reduce those profound discrepancies to speculative intellectual gymnastics. Just twists and turns of a liberal agenda trying to move the Messiah to the wrong side of the aisle.

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I give you the story of Bethesda.

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In a corner of the town of Jerusalem, invalids and unworthy suds, washed themselves in what was called the “Pool of Bethesda”. It was a place with supposed healing powers. The name Bethesda itself meant, “House of Mercy” or “House of Grace”, AND it was also been translated to mean “House of disgrace”. A twin title that is fitting for what happened there.

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So a disabled man waits by the Pool of Bethesda, desperately trying to get in. In fact, he had been lying there for 38 years. The account in John goes:

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Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves.

Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”

7 The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

8-9 Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.

9-10 That day happened to be the Sabbath. The Jews stopped the healed man and said, “It’s the Sabbath. You can’t carry your bedroll around. It’s against the rules.”

11 But he told them, “The man who made me well told me to. He said, ‘Take your bedroll and start walking.’” (John 5:1-11).

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Unsurprisingly, this man did not recognize the ultimate healer before him. He had spent his whole life trying to make it into that pool. He was trying to fix the brokenness of body and spirit. He spent his years in a house of religion waiting for a rescue that would never show up.

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Everyone told him to sit tight. Everyone told him that the pool ahead held all the answers. Patience, dear paralytic. This water will wash your problems away. It is of the divine, it is not to be challenged. Grow your faith a bit. Isn’t your healing worth 38 years of your life?

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Then comes along a man who rips apart every curtain in the paralytics reality. The hope he had held for so long was nothing more than a myth. It was real for him, sure, but it wasn’t true. Too often we mistake that which we hold to be real to be true. The two aren’t the same. Some wells we see are nothing more than mirages.

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A message that seems to get lost in the lectures of stories like this is the moral relativism of Jesus. I am not saying Jesus is a flake, nor do I intend the adjective “moral relativism” to be used, as it normally is, negatively. In three gospels Jesus breaks the Sabbath law in substitution for another. That law was important once, but not today. Not now. Not while this man lays in agony at my feet. Again, the divine Son of God shows us what it really means to have humanity.

Brennan Manning writes:

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“Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learns where the outcast weeps.”

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Our arrogance is the stone, Christ is the flesh. Spiritual purposes of the law cannot be fulfilled if it goes against the heart residing in Christ. They had obviously misunderstood something, and their misunderstanding had consequences to Kingdom Come. To the message of the Messiah. To the very name of the pool as the “house of grace”.

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David Dark, in one the must-read books for followers of this generation, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, writes:

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“Churches, government, marketing schemes and other unsound structures are always with us. Reforming them, de-constructing them, or renouncing their stratagems altogether will often be an ethical imperative. But to begin to get out from under a bad con isn’t to escape a place where everything is permitted, some religious-free zone void of awe or wonder or a sense of the holy. We break with sacred cows all the time, but when we do, it’s generally because we’ve stumbled on something that strikes us as more sacred than what we once feverishly sought or bowed down to. This, too, is religion- ever inescapable, always worth questioning, and, perhaps, reaffirming. What do we hold sacred? Is it worthy? Have we begun to ask the right questions?

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha decided there was something more sacred than material wealth and privilege that surrounded him in his formative years. Jesus of Nazareth taught that healing people on the Sabbath was more important than keeping the Sabbath rules. Muhammad asserted that the hypermaterialism of the ostensibly religious merchants of Mecca was displeasing to the one true God. Martin Luther King Jr. persuaded thousands that their worship of racial privilege was unjust, evil, and an abomination in the sight of God. Sacred cows are called into question. Community standards are confronted. Religion happens. You’ve got to lose your life to find it. You have to learn how to die.” (The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, pg. 33, Bold emphasis mine).

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We can never mistake the will of the majority with the will of God. That much I know to be true. If anything, the story Christ reaffirms this, over and over and over again. The majority crucified Christ. He bucked both religious and cultural opinions. He was an outlier. Weird. Cast aside as a crazy man, or worse, a con man.

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When I hear speeches from the Pope or Conservative evangelicals, I cannot fall prey to the fallacy that somehow they know Jesus better than I OR that I know him better than they do.

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As they cannot stop questioning me, I cannot stop questioning them. We loosen and we bind one another from what we think we know in order to find the deeper truths that neither of us can fully claim. Norms change, people change, opinions shift. Strangely, we can be largely separated on so many things, yet intimately tied by our belief in a savior. Maybe that’s the beauty of the body.

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Jesus turned the religious structures upside down. It makes sense that the pharisees didn’t see God in flesh while he was tearing apart their reality stitch by stitch. He told them that they got the Sabbath wrong. He told the paralytic that he was living for a lie.

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He told everyone that Satan is the Accuser, not God.

He told them that love is the answer, not legalism.

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Systematically, he removed every burden that bore down on the religiously devote. He overcame the love of power with the power of love. Freedom in the truest sense of the Word. Our God doesn’t clasp handcuffs on fresh converts. He releases them from every lie of this world. From shame, hunger, sickness and oppression. He bestows love, grace, hope and freedom. Sweet freedom. The Sabbath reformation strikes me so deeply because it’s the transformation of a relationship based on slavery to one of blessing. Like the difference between a Master and a Father. As Jesus once said so beautifully,

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“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV)

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There are times when we all must pick up our bedrolls and walk off.

Or rather, run off.

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Run into the arms of the redeemer who holds no guest list in his hands. Someone who is ready for me, before I even think about coming back to him.

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Run away from judgments handed down from high horses. Run away from decrees that seem to discipline only people like you. Run away from easy answers. Run away from religion.

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Fall into questions that don’t require a thirty-second response. Fall into risks that make your faith true. Fall boldly and fall fearlessly.

Fall until you feel the arms of the almighty catching you.

If Jesus says you can walk, walk on.

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RR

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Four Visits from Christ BEFORE he was Born

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So as the season swings into the climax of Christmas, I find myself searching for the weirdest elements in the story cause I’m weird. I look for the stuff that’s not taught in Sunday Schools or sung by carolers. None of it is really critical, what I am writing is mostly speculative, but, alas, to those lovers of scriptural surprises, enjoy!

It wasn’t until a couple years ago, when I was so close to a sweet nap in the middle of my Christian theology class that my professor said something that got my attention. “Jesus came BEFORE he was baby. Well… he may have.” I think he saw I was close to snoozing, when I looked up he was looking directly at me, so I blinked at him a couple times to let him know “okay, I’m listening.”

Some of these stories are eerily similar to a Christmas flick with a surprise visit from Santa. Like the ones where the janitor, who no one has ever seen before, shows up in the nick of time to impart lifesaving wisdom and as the characters walk away scratching their heads, they take a look back only to find He. Has. VANISHED.

Of the many possible moments of Christ’s early appearances, four really intrigued me.

1.  Melchizedek

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After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and his allied kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley. Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine—he was priest of The High God—and blessed him:

 

Blessed be Abram by The High God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth.
And blessed be The High God,
who handed your enemies over to you.

 

Abram gave him a tenth of all the recovered plunder.

(Genesis 14:17-20, MSG)

 

The appearance of the Melchizedek is so peculiar because there is no other reference of him in the Old Testament stories (except in the Psalms). It was like he suddenly appeared out of thin air to Abram. Yet, even while there is no evidence of a historical relationship between these two, Abram gives him 10% of his loot, suggesting a previous understanding.

And He celebrates the Passover with bread and wine before there even was a Passover. (Reference to Jesus’ last supper?”

AND THEN this weird blip on the Old Testament screen makes a huge mark in the book of Hebrews.

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)

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2. The Wrestler

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As an angry mob raced to his doorstep, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety and chose to wait the gang out. We are told in Genesis that he starts wrestling with a “man” until the break of day.

The upper hand falls to Jacob, as he is able to overtake the mysterious figure by morning.

The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

27 The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

(Genesis 32:26-28, MSG)

I could write a million more posts on the meaning of this story alone (I love this story). It is so familiar to how I feel 99% of the time about my own relationship with God.

 

Always wrestling.

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3. Abraham’s visitors

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Remember when God laid a verbal smack down on Sarah with his, “yes you did; you laughed” in response to her lie? Well, that may have been Jesus.

Jesus:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,”Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

(John 8:56-58, NIV, emphasis mine)

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4. Furnace Angel

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When the Angel came to rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, he was called an interesting name.

“But look!” he said. “I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25, MSG, emphasis mine)

Pastor Mark Driscoll believes without a doubt that this is Jesus… Not sure if I am beyond a doubt and I am equally unsure of how I feel about agreeing with Pastor Mark on anything, but it’s interesting to think about. Like a son of the Gods.

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Important to note is that none of these appearances (if they were in fact Jesus) are the same thing as what happened when Christ was actually born. If these were examples of Him, they are what are called Christophanies, essentially nonhuman appearances. Or, as I like to think of them, teasers to the main event.

When Jesus was born, he was fully human.

Which makes his birth even more spectacular. He came to “dwell” amongst us. No longer was he intervening on our behalf by simply stopping by for quick fixes, only to dust off and head home. He put on skin and walked alongside the worst of us. He healed the sick, defended the vulnerable and died a criminal’s death.

The God who chose to stay with us.

RR

The Education of a Church: Recognize

Floating Church

My brother works at a church which is making an aggressive push to heal the wounds between the (capital C) Church and the gay community. In one of the most honest and awesome efforts I’ve seen to build a bridge with the gay community, they are pulling together a vast number of resources to promote the process of reconciliation. This church is golden.

And, with this, my brother asked for my perspective on what I think the church should do to move forward. He texted me this question, to which I told him I would need much more time and writing space to articulate a proper response than I could in a TEXT.

There is just so much that needs to be said.

So, here is the first of a few recommendations I am making to him and his church.

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When conversations arise as to how to make churches more welcoming for lgbt individuals, a couple things come to mind.

First, Christian folks uncomfortable in the first place will inject definitions on the difference between “welcoming” and “affirming” which swiftly slides into rather offensive statements about “their lifestyle”.

Second, there is an apparent lack of recognition of those already within the church. The conversers put the cart before the horse in talks of making the church more magnetic to gays outside its walls instead of recognizing those already isolated inside them. If anything is to change, this where to start.

My friend, and Oddmanout blogger, Brent Bailey, put it best when he wrote:

“It is not the church’s job to make room for LGBT members; it is the church’s job to recognize the room God has already made for LGBT members (just like God carved out space for everyone else) and then to delight in the diversity of people through whom God is revealed to us.”

Retracing the steps of church history, there is a clear pattern of struggle amongst the faithful when it comes to inclusion. Early on, the people of God made a real mess of things… They adhered to old rules and rituals, like circumcision, racial classes and gender roles. This essentially left every demographic different from the disciples disqualified from admission.

But a greater truth emerged. One that was lost on those peering down from pedestals.

God isn’t a brick and mortar building. He doesn’t keep some people in and other people out. God is not religion.

Only minutes after the ascension did the disciples start selecting saints like those captains in gym class. These earthly followers, being left in a divine power vacuum, struggled to find their sea legs for church ministry.

For centuries, routine fights would break out, disputes that divided brother from brother. There was always something wrong with this group or that group for the Church. Religious rule always trumped faithful community. This often led to a divine Last Word of sorts where God would step in and say, “yes, them too.”

If there is any story in the Bible that illustrates this best, it is that of Peter and Cornelius. At this point in Church history only Jews could be saved because of their heritage and their circumcision. Racial supremacy was simply an accepted practice of God’s people.

Cornelius had a hunger for God. He was a prayer warrior, an incredibly generous man in his community, and held to squeaky clean moral values. To him, even if the first row was forbidden, he wished to just eavesdrop on the message of the Messiah. It captivated him. He was a huge fan.

So imagine his excitement when an angel appeared before him, telling him that God had heard him from the back row and had a task for him to take on. He was to send a few men out to go find the apostle Peter and invite him over for a meeting.

Meanwhile, Peter, busy running the ministry and avoiding persecution, had a vision from God of a heavenly sheet dropping down with all different kinds of delicious animals before him. Then the voice of God commanded Peter to kill and eat.

“Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”

15 The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” (Acts 10:14-15, MSG, emphasis mine)

Awakening from the trance, a Holy whisper spoke to him: “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.” (Acts 10:20, MSG)

Upon Peter’s arrival, Cornelius broke down and began worshipping him. It’s important that this moment not be misunderstood, as I’m sure many have. Cornelius is on the outside, a wannabe, someone not worthy of tying the rabbi down the road’s sandal. At least, that’s what the world told him. His view of himself is an example of the bruised fruit of a faith that diminishes some and elevates others based on human characteristics.

Obviously uncomfortable, Peter stops him saying, “None of that—I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.”(Acts 10:26, MSG)

Settling in and sorting out exactly what was going on, Peter first acknowledges that their meeting is unusual, after all, being in the company of men like Cornelius was a big church no-no. Then Peter curiously asks why Cornelius sent for him in the first place.

Cornelius, probably a bit puzzled, responds that God told him to extend the invitation. Nothing more than that.

Now, you have to take a break and laugh a little at this, because it sounds just like something a kid of separated parents would do to get them back together.

Like the kind where the wife meets her husband at their favorite table at their favorite restaurant, and says, “I loved the flowers you sent me!” and he says, “what flowers?” and then they sit confused, only to widen their eyes five seconds later and simultaneously sigh, oh…”

This is what happens to Peter. Ever since his vision from the previous day, he hadn’t a clue what God was trying to tell him.

And then it all clicked.

“Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

37-38 “You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

39-43 “And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

44-46 No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

46-48 Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”(Acts 10: 34-38, MSG, emphasis mine)

Cornelius’s conversion runs parallel to the Eunuch’s. Remember how the Eunuch asked Phillip the same question about baptism? The point is the same. The exact same. Christ’s body was broken for everyone. He plays no favorites, he sees no pedestals, he could care less about whether you’re black or white, male or female, left-handed or right-handed, or, gay or straight. The God we serve comes with no pre-reqs.

What he wants is for us to love him first and foremost, and then love our neighbor as ourselves.

Can the Church say its in obedience if its debating whether or not to let gay folks in?

The fact that the church needs to accept is that lgbt population does not need its approval to be a member of God’s family. It does not need the Church to measure and weigh the pros and cons of accepting their membership. That’s not church, that’s a country club!

The church needs to accept that we all stand as equals before the Eucharist.

The gay community does not need your help in finding God.

It was Christ that first cut the temple curtain. He brought the burn outs back in. He drank of their wine. He fished with their nets. He kissed on their cheeks. He washed clean their feet.

God’s been with outcasts like us for over two thousand years.

If the church is to be the body of Jesus, it has to be more like the Olympics and less like the country club. Instead of figuring out the best approach to allowing gay folks in the door, it needs to check its back closet and notice all its gay members hiding among the flock. Hell, notice all of the diversity within its walls. Stop seeing what you’re lacking and starting seeing those you already have. Racial minorities, women, the disabled, immigrants and so on.

So, for my brother and his church- Recommendation Number One: Recognize the space God has already created for the lgbt community. Just like he did for Cornelius, Hagar, the Ethiopian Eunuch, African Americans, mentally ill, women and so on.

This is a framework to move forward on.

RR

TreePeople

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“22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”

         – Mark 8:22-26 (NIV, emphasis mine)

One of the greatest treasures within the story of Christ is his sneaky way of inserting subtext into all of his actions. It keeps us guessing, and more importantly, expresses the eternally relevant messages that freshen our eyes with every turn of the page.

Taking the blind man by the hand, Jesus led him to a remote location where they could be alone. No crowds, no ovations. Just an intimate one-on-one conversation.

Between the lines of this story remains that mysterious walk and the conversation that must’ve occurred. It seems, and I have no real historical evidence for this, that Jesus intended this walk to be an intake of sorts. I think he wanted to hear this man’s story. More importantly, I think he wanted to establish a friendship.

After they settled into their makeshift hangout, Jesus spit on this man’s eyes and then laid his hands upon them. When he asked him what he saw, the man gave one of the most easily understandable descriptions, people look like trees, I know they’re not trees, but that’s what they look like. Jesus received the man’s perceptions, laid his hands upon his eyes again, and perfected his vision.

In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  -1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV, emphasis mine)

 

Jesus did not have to make a second go at healing this man. He was all-powerful. If he wanted to, he could’ve snapped his fingers and given this man the eyes of a hawk. But there was a deeper subtext he sought to convey.

We all have moments when all we need is perspective. Two weeks after I came out, I remember lying on the couch in the living room, burying my face in a pillow, shouting at my parents about the loss of my sanity. Seriously.

In the tangled mess of my thoughts I started to question whether I truly existed or if I was living in some sort of Matrix. I threw my middle finger in the air at a God that I had reduced to a mere flight of the imagination. And I just laid there, shivering in a nightmarish world that I had no hope of waking up from.

My mom looked at me, smiling.

“Honey. You’ve known that you were gay for roughly ten years and have been afraid to open up about it until now. Furthermore, you came out to the whole family and you did so less than 24 hours after a failed suicide attempt. That is a lot to happen all at once, for anyone. Now, here’s what we can do. If you believe that you are truly losing your grip on reality, you can come upstairs and lay in our bed for as long as you want. We could just sit on this for a few days. I think after this night is over, you will see that much of this is simply the anxiety of the moment. If it turns out its not, we’ll go to the hospital.”

She couldn’t possibly put herself in my head that night or roll the tape of my past decade. This was completely unfamiliar territory for her. But yet, she could still relate somehow. She knew what it was like to be swept away in the anxiety avalanche and she knew where to look for the clearing in the clouds. She took what her tears taught her and showed me that trees are not people.

That what I see is not necessarily what is.

The dialogue that takes place in Mark is an undertone of a greater truth. It is an intentional example of how we are all blind when left to our own devices. Without the hands of healers and the words of the wise we will always fail to see where we are situated in the greater story. I don’t think that this account is simply about repairing the fellow’s retinas. It was about restoring reality.

In our prayer life, the old adage: “pray until something changes or you change”, fits this story well. When we meet with Christ, he desires us to vent about our life. He wants us, if just for a minute, to forget the fact that he already knows and instead let him in like we would a confidant. I think he wants to take that walk with us first. As we return and return to that oasis of confidence, he continues to rub our eyes clean of lies.

It’s clear that Christ is the only force capable of clearing out our inner cobwebs, but that doesn’t mean that this happens only through prayer.

It’s a call to walk with one another no matter the distance. It’s a promise that when we reach that place of intimacy, we will see that our walls are stumbling blocks not shields. In that place, we stop theorizing about the future. We cry out: Carpe Diem! The scales slowly pile up at our feet and our distortions no longer deny us that sweet breath of life. And then, we dust one another off and take a different road home.

We see trees and we see people.

RR

Best Bible Story Ever

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It is one of the most compelling examples of Abba’s affection for the outcasts. It may not be what you think of first.

It is not the woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery.

It isn’t the story of the leper or the tax collector.

It isn’t about Samaritans.

It’s deeper in the dumpster.

It is the story of the Eunuch.

Act 8:26-39

Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.

 29-30The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

 31-33He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this: 

As a sheep led to slaughter, 
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
 
He was silent, saying nothing.
 
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
 
But who now can count his kin
 
since he’s been taken from the earth?

 

 34-35The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.

 36-39As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.” –Acts 8:26-39 (The Message)

 

This story is often retold as the birth of the Ethiopian Church and thus, breaking down the racial wall of Christianity. All of this is very true and very important. The Eunuch took hold of his new found life and allowed God to use him to transform a nation.

But are we missing something a bit deeper?

Should we not take a closer look at the first individual ever to be evangelized?

Is there more than one mountain moved here?

If you are unaware, to be a eunuch meant that you were castrated at a young age. The purpose of this heinous practice was to create little male body guards for women of importance, removing the risk of a possible sexual affair.

To be a eunuch was to be a non-heterosexual. To be a eunuch was to be a sexual minority. It was an immutable characteristic that they had no choice in.

Now, having an idea of what a eunuch is, think about what it would be like for him, passing by a temple, hearing the Rabbi recite this:

 

“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1, ESV)

 

He was doomed from the start. It didn’t matter whether or not he had held the knife, he was uniquely disqualified from grace and salvation.

Yet he still searches.

Reading the passage of a sheep being lead to slaughter, a man with no descendants, one that was mocked for being different, was like reading his own biography.

Could this book be more than a guest list?

Could a eunuch really be beloved?

Once Phillip reaches the chariot, he asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. I imagine at this moment, the eunuch is experiencing an earth-shattering moment. It makes sense that he glances up, and utters, “help?”

After beginning a dialogue with Phillip, he gets to the heart of his question. One that, once answered, would define this man’s eternity.

Who is he talking about?

Why is his story so similar to mine?

Philip told him about Jesus of Nazareth.

Grace and love rained down on the eunuch as he began to grasp the reality of what Philip was saying. The King of Kings, Savior of sinners, Lover of the lost, was also rejected by the religious establishment. His father was not someone unfamiliar with pain.

During their trip, they passed a river, and the Eunuch, who I am sure was still struggling with what Deuteronomy said of him, asked Philip what was stopping him from being baptized. I can imagine him cringing, waiting to hear the haunting Old Testament words.

Brian McLaren gives a wonderful exegesis of this moment:

“Imagine what Philip might have said: “I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I’ll have to say no. Or at least not yet.”

But Philip doesn’t answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.

Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. As early as Acts 8 in the story of Jesus and his apostles, the tough issues of race and sexual identity are being addressed head-on. But as we all know, as the years went on, both issues once again became obstacles. It’s only in my lifetime that we have truly begun to put racism behind us – although even there, we still have a long way to go. Now, it’s time for us to remove the second obstacle. Not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. We’ve lost a lot of ground since Acts 8. That’s why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip’s even more ancient church tradition.” (http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/synchroblogging-on-sexuality.html)

RR