Wednesday, February 17, 2021

From Awkward and Embarrassing to Peace and Comfort

Can you imagine the stares?  Could there not have been a more awkward moment?  No one would expect this sort of thing when you have been invited as a guest to dinner.  In Luke 7, Jesus went to Simon's house for a meal.  As he reclined on his elbow and enjoyed the food, he felt something behind him at his feet.  He looked back and saw her.  A woman had come into the house and was kneeling at his feet.  How did she get in here?  I can imagine a hush came over the room as this woman knelt at Jesus' feet.  There were probably looks of disapproval.  Jesus said nothing, so neither did anyone else.  She anointed his feet and the aroma filled the room.  The sounds of her sobs pierced the silence as her tears fell on Jesus' feet.  With nothing else to wipe them off, all she could do was use her hair to dry his feet.  Did she not have any self-respect?  How dare she intrude into the home of decent people during a meal to honor a prophet like Jesus!  The more this went on, the more awkward this became.  There were those in the room who knew who this woman was.  She was not a respectable woman by any means.  She was likely the town tramp.  Simon, the host, was probably embarrassed and disgusted.  I am sure he wondered about Jesus' reaction.  I can imagine the look on his face as he muttered, "If this man were really a prophet, he would know what kind of woman he is allowing to touch him.  She is a.. sinner."  I can imagine Simon was wondering what Jesus would do next about this poor excuse of a human being.

 

Jesus finally spoke up.  "Simon, I have something to say to you."  I wonder if Simon thought, "Finally!  I was wondering how long he was going to allow this embarrassing situation to continue.  Simon replied, "Say it teacher."  Jesus then tells a story.  “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon correctly answered that it was the one who had the larger debt.  Then Jesus does something unexpected.  He contrasts the woman at his feet with Simon at the head of the table, but not in the way he expected.  Simon did not offer water for Jesus' feet, nor give him the customary kiss on the cheek, nor did he anoint him with fragrant oil.  All of this would have been the customary way to honor a guest.   In contrast, the woman wet his feet with her tears, did not stop kissing his feet, and she anointed his feet with ointment.  What a stark contrast!  She showed more honor to Jesus at his feet than Simon did at his head.  She came into the house seeking Jesus in complete humiliation and emptiness.  Jesus acknowledged that she had many sins, but then he forgave all her sins.  The last thing he said to her was, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." 

 

Everyone in that room was in need of forgiveness.  It is likely that Simon did not recognize his need.  However, this woman had no defense.  She knew her condition and she knew she needed to get to Jesus.  She intruded into the dining room because she had to get to Jesus.  There was no pride, no hiding behind a veneer of respectability, only the overpowering need to get to Jesus.

 

I am struck by Jesus' actions. He took an extremely awkward and humiliating situation for the woman and turned it completely around.  He did not shame her the way Simon did.  Instead, he took away her shame. The woman left that day in peace, not humiliation.  Jesus' words shamed Simon.  She treated Jesus better than Simon did.  She humbled herself before Jesus, and he lifted her up.  This was a kind and beautiful thing Jesus did.  One of the things to reflect on is this: How can I be like Jesus in similar situations?


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Spiritual Sensuality

Spiritual sensuality.  These are two words we would not normally put together.  Spiritual things are of God.  However, sensuality seems to be anything but godly or spiritual.  There has been a prevailing attitude toward eroticism and sensuality that sees it as something that is sinful and worldly.

If this is true, what do we do with Song of Songs?  This is an entire book of the Bible that belongs in the adult section for married couples.  Jews have often interpreted this book as being about God’s love for Israel.  Likewise, Christians have historically interpreted this book as sort of a parable of Jesus’ love for the church.  The obvious reason is that the passionate sensuality of the book seems beneath the exalted message of the scriptures.  Therefore, it must be about something higher, such as our Lord’s love for his people.   This view is reflected in some of the songs we sing in our hymnals, which applies the images in the Song of Songs to Christ.  These include the Lilly of the Valley from 2:1, The Fairest of Ten Thousand from 5:10, and The Rose of Sharon from 2:1.  There is even a children’s song that comes from 2:4 - “He brought me to his banqueting table, his banner over me is love.”

The only problem with this view is that if eroticism is too worldly, then why would God use it to describe his relationship with his people?  If the passionate and sensual love of the Song of Songs is scripture, then why can’t it be what it appears to be?  It describes smoldering, passionate, sensual love between a husband and wife.

Consider the opening words of the book…“The Song of Songs…”  This grammatical construction is the same as “crème de la crème,” (cream of the cream), or the best of the best.  In other words, this sensual, erotic, passionate love poetry is the best of the best.  The best of the best is found in scripture!  This tells us that all love is of God, including the passionate love between a husband and wife.  It is exquisite, sultry, and passionate.  It expresses overwhelming admiration and overpowering desire.  In the marriage, these are good and godly things.  They are just as God intended.  It belongs to God, not Hollywood or the music industry.  In fact, Hollywood has taken this exquisite creation of God and gleefully destroyed it.  Taking it outside of marriage with no real commitment and turning it into a means of self-gratification and objectification of another human being rather than mutual expressions of love in a committed marriage has led to untold damage.  However, when honored in the way God intended, it is the best of the best.

Some of the recurring phrases still resonate with us across the language and cultural barriers.  We comprehend the suggestiveness of the aromas and fruits.  We can understand what the secret garden, or walled garden means when it comes to the romantic and passionate love between spouses.  We can relate to phrases such as “the one whom my soul loves.”   However, there are other phrases and images that either do not communicate well, or are completely obscured through the language and cultural barriers.  One could analyze each phrase, but then something may be lost.  Poetry is not meant to be merely analyzed, but to be experienced.  This is one of the reasons I suggest reading freer translations and paraphrases when reading Song of Songs.  The New Living Translation, The Message, and other such renditions offer a fresh reading that often communicates more in the way the poetry of the verses were intended.

Why is this book in the Bible?  Perhaps it is meant to function for the godly marriage the same way the book of Psalms function for all who love God.  As the poetry of the Psalms model worship, devotion, prayer, confession, and self reflection for the worshipper, Song of Songs models romance, passion, sensuality, and making love in both words and action for the married couple.  Sensuality in this way is intensely spiritual and is of God, not the world.  There is no shame or guilt when spouses honor this exquisite creation of God according to his intent. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

God's Gifts to the Church


For years I missed it when reading the passage from Ephesian chapter 4.  It says that grace was given to each of us according to measure of Christ's gift.  This is not the grace God extended to us that led to salvation, but the grace that God extends to his people for ministry.  It is the same type of grace Paul speaks of in Ephesians 3:8, where he declares, "To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ..."  It is the grace Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 4:10 where he writes, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's grace in its various forms."  This reminds me that grace moves from salvation to service in the name of Christ.

What I missed for a long time in Ephesian 4 was the nature of the gifts God gave to the church.  After declaring that Jesus "gave gifts to men," the text goes on to say in verse 11 that, "He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints..."  God's gifts to the church are people who equip the church for her calling!  I had to ask myself if I give thanks for God's gifts, or do I, like Israel in the wilderness, complain about God's gifts?

I have been focusing on the gift of apostleship because this may refer to more than the twelve.  After all, the Ephesian church was likely never equipped by the twelve.  Apostolos is an untranslated Greek word, which might lead to confusion on its meaning.  Greeks used this word to refer to an envoy sent by an authoritative figure.  It was not an inherently religious word.  In Luke 6, Jesus chose 12 of his disciples and designated them his "Apostles."  As his apostles, he conferred authority on them, which is why they were able to do many of the same miracles he did, and why their teaching carried the authority of the master.  Paul became an apostle of Christ directly from him.  This is why Paul introduces himself in Galatians 1 as, "Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father..."  Paul differentiates himself from others who are also designated as "apostles," such as Barnabas in Acts 14:14; Epaphroditus in Phil 2:25, or the brothers who traveled with him in 2 Corinthians 8:23.  In the latter two references, "apostle" is usually translated as "messengers," which obscures the fact that the text uses the word, "apostle."  Epaphroditus is not an apostle of Christ such as The Twelve or Paul.  Like Barnabas who was sent by the church in Antioch, Epaphroditus was an apostle of the Philippian church.  "Apostle of whom?" is a significant question.  The twelve and Paul are in a different class of apostleship and authority because they are apostles of Christ.  Everyone else is an apostle of the church.  Our word today for this is usually something like "missionary."  Tent-maker and Church-Planter fall in the same category.  I used to think that "missionary" is not a biblical word, but perhaps "apostle" in the generic sense could translate legitimately to "missionary."   Therefore, "apostle" in Ephesians 4:11 could refer to more than The Twelve and Paul.

How does a "missionary" equip the church?  It involves equipping the church for fulfillment of Jesus' commission in Mark 16:15 to "proclaim the Gospel to all creation."  In this sense, the entire church has received apostleship.  Romans 1:5 says that "we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith..."  The church is not just the called-out, but the sent-to.  Hebrews 3:1 says that Jesus is the apostle and high priest of our confession.  Jesus was sent by God into the world.  Jesus then sent the Spirit to the church when he left.  The church in turn, is sent by our Lord and empowered by the Spirit to continue his mission in the world.