Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Blogging through Holy Week: Tuesday

Tuesday was a busy day for me. That Tuesday was a busy day for Jesus. He was in the temple for part of the day, teaching – responding to his opponents (see Matthew 21:23-22:45), then teaching the crowds (in a rather scathing critique of his opponents; Matthew 23), and teaching his disciples about what is going to happen in the years to come (Matthew 24-25).

At the end of that day there’s that scene where he is anointed with the most costly perfume. It's preparation, he says, for his burial. This is apparently the event that tips things for Judas, who makes his deal to hand Jesus over to the authorities. (Matthew 26:6-13, also in Mark 14:3-9, John 12:2-11)

Each of these passages is full, challenging. Maybe it’s that what he’d predicted when he read from Isaiah, that Saturday in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:17-19), was coming to a climax.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach the good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

By itself, that prophecy sounds like pretty happy stuff. But as Jesus pointed out even then, there’s a cost; this universal cost of following God which all of us, Jews or Gentiles, have a hard time humbling ourselves to accept.

He calls us to repentance, to recognize that our own attempts to justify or reform ourselves, to be good and godly, are not working, are not enough. That is a hard teaching: a stumbling block, as Jesus says (Luke 20:17-18).

At the same time, it’s a relief, isn’t it, to be found out – especially by someone who loves you and will not condemn you for it?

For the first couple years I was trying to live life as a Christian, like the guys at Nazareth, I had heard the good news, but I had an idea that God’s incredible offer of adoption into his family had to do with him making me the kind of person I wanted to be. Like the first disciples, I didn’t really get it, yet.

Only when I reached the end of my rope and turned from that pursuit of becoming a good person did I experience his joy and power at work in my life.

More than 20 years later I regularly fall back into the old way of self-improvement. Though deeply frustrated and disappointed with my flaws and failures, I stubbornly stay on that road for a while.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. (Matthew 23:37-38)

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