Advent 24: Unexpecting

For the past month, throughout advent, we’ve been looking at the people who were expecting Jesus. In the town of Nain there was a person who wasn’t expecting him at all.  But her lack of expectation didn’t stop Jesus from helping.

Jesus and his disciples and a crowd were walking toward town. A funeral procession was coming out of town at the same time. The body of a boy was being carried out, the only son of a widow.

This woman was doubly bereaved. All support was gone. She was going to be at the mercy of others. But at that moment, Jesus showed up.

His heart went out to her.

The boy was given life back, the woman was given hope. And Jesus showed unexpected, unrequested, unbelievable grace.

But then again, that’s what grace is about.

(From Luke 7:11-17)

Advent 23: Hungry and rich

Levi had a pretty good job, at least financially. He collected taxes.

When you have the Roman army backing you up, you can make a comfortable living collecting taxes. You don’t have many friends, other than tax collectors and other people who have money but are socially unacceptable. But there is, I’m guessing, a sense of community among the outcasts.

One day Levi is sitting at his desk and Jesus walks by and says, “follow me.” An odd statement this is. It’s clear enough, this two word invitation, but out of the blue, it doesn’t seem to fit.

Except to Levi.

He gets up and follows Jesus. And then he throws a party. It may have been a going out of business party. It may have been a “here’s the man who gave me meaning” party. It may have been one of Levi’s great parties.

Whatever the theme, the honored guest was Jesus, and lots of people came. The outcasts sat inside. The religious leaders stood outside, scolding. But Jesus wasn’t at all confused about where he wanted to be. For him, sitting with people who were rich financially and hungry for meaning was exactly where he wanted to be.

It was far more fun than standing with people who were already so stuffed with meaning that they couldn’t hear the voice that counted.

(From Luke 5:27-39)

Advent 22: Friends

“What do we do? How can we help?”

When we have friends who are in the middle of pain and suffering, when we have friends who have no way to get to Jesus for healing because of the crowds, what do we do? I mean, we can’t heal anyone ourselves. We can’t take away the pain and the doubt and the uncertainty and the paralysis.

The man on the mat couldn’t move either. Even if he wanted to get to Jesus, he couldn’t. He couldn’t move on his own, and the room where Jesus was teaching was full of people, including the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. In other words, the people who desperately needed healing were being kept away by the inertia of the people who were trying to find out whether Jesus was being accurate.

Finally, the friends of the man ripped up the roof and lowered him through the hole.

When you really want to get your friends to see Jesus, to be right in front of him, nothing material matters.

And He knows. And cares. And sees the faith of friends.

(From Luke 5:17-26)

Advent 21: Beggars

We look down on beggars. We figure that they are people who couldn’t get control of themselves, who couldn’t find socially acceptable ways to live. We ignore them if we can. We turn our eyes away. We drop a quarter in the bucket at Christmas, hoping that the beggar with the bell will stop ringing in our hearts.

The beggar in the middle of Luke 5, however, wasn’t an ordinary beggar. He had leprosy. He was shut off from normal human contact. He had to tell people to stay away. He had lost relationship, was losing his body, and was on his way to losing his life.

When this man was begging, he wasn’t asking for a few coins to get a beer, he was asking for his life. Literally. He had no hope for ever being without disease again. And so he was begging for Jesus to heal him.

And his begging wasn’t linked to Jesus’ capacity to heal him. “If you are willing,” he said, “you can make me clean.” He knew Jesus could. He asked if Jesus would.

i want that to be true of me. I want to trust his capacity, even while uncertain of his willingness. Especially when his will and my desire differ.

The healing I really want? A healing of desire. Since that’s what often is most diseased.

(From Luke 5:12-15)

Advent 19: Spectators

A shore can make a great amphitheater.  Not the kind of shore that is sand for a thousand feet, not a beach, but a shore. Kind of rocky, a hill creating a bowl, that kind of shore. And so, with that kind of shore in mind, it is possible to imagine a crowd listening to Jesus as he was standing on the shore, speaking.

But just like with real people, Bible people struggled to hear. They moved in close. People pushed from behind. People slipped in front. And now, Jesus is standing with his heels touching the water.

He could have stepped backwards ON the water, you know. He would do that later. And he could have done it now, except for the truth that for that kind of action you want close friends, people who will understand that it is a rare event, intended to make a point.  With this group, it would be entertainment; they would be mere spectators. They would want the next big event.

Instead, Jesus pulled in an eavesdropper. Peter was working on the shore, perhaps torn between wanting to hear Jesus and being really annoyed at these people tripping over his nets. Jesus climbed into his boat and then called Peter over to take him out on the water.

Sometimes Jesus pulls the most unlikely people into relationship.  Rather than the people seemingly devoted to listening, he calls to people who are otherwise occupied and says, “I just want to have you do what you already know how to do, just to help me out, just for a little while.” As Peter would discover, this “little while” would change his whole future, would lead to his death, would make him be the unlikely leader of the early church.

But for starters, Peter just rowed his boat.

And that was enough to start.

(From Luke 5:1-5)