Monday, June 09, 2008

Sometimes You Can Choose

Matthew 9: 9-26

Today’s passage is about Jesus healing, and raising the dead. It’s part of a longer section of two chapters of Matthew that tells many stories of Jesus going to and fro, teaching and exorcising demons, and healing.

The story begins with Jesus eating at Matthew’s house. Remember here that even though it is a simple meal, it is still ministry, because of why Jesus is there. Yes, he needs to eat. But he is also called to teach, and to minister to the people. His purpose here is to break down the artificial barriers that his society has placed between those who do “good” work, and those who do “bad” work. So, in a sense, he’s killing two birds with one stone.

He’s eating at a tax collector’s house, which of course makes the Pharisees a little tense. While he is there, his meal is interrupted by a leader of society, a “ruler”, according to Matthew. This probably makes the Pharisees even more tense. This Ruler has; #1, entered a tax collector’s house, and #2, knelt before this guy who they really don’t trust. His purpose is to ask Jesus to make his daughter well again, and alive. The text says that Jesus and the disciples get up and go, in the middle of dinner.

On the way there, a woman comes up behind Jesus and touches his cloak. The story is told differently elsewhere, but it is still true here that Jesus feels her do it. He turns, sees her, and tells her that her faith has made her well.

Then, they get to the man’s house, and the mourners have started up. Music is playing, and people, I assume are wailing and all the usual doings around a death; giving voice to the sadness they all feel. He comes in and says, hey! Stop! She’s just sleeping! And they think he’s pretty weird, and laugh at him. But he’s right; she walks out of the house.

Now, when you read the commentaries written by the scholars, there are good solid theological statements being made here, things that we can say about the deeper meanings of Jesus’ words and actions. But I have to say; when I read this passage, and understand that it is part of a larger framework of stories about Jesus doing ministry, I hear more about the interrupted meals, the multitasking, the people thinking you’re nuts, and the traveling.

In other words, I identify with Jesus today, because he had a hectic life at times, a lot like ours. In this story, he may as well be driving a minivan! Everybody wants a piece of him, and he knows that he is supposed to give of himself, and time is short. It’s no wonder to me that at the end of chapter 9, he delegates the disciples to go out and do work in his name. He’s realized that he can’t be everywhere all at once, at least not while he is in a human body. I think he learns from this that there are limits to the flesh. The body needs food, the body needs rest, the body needs water. When he was the Logos, hovering over the waters at the creation of the universe, the one who was God and the one who was with God, he didn’t have to worry about his limits. After he had died, and been resurrected, and the Holy Spirit comes, he could actually be everywhere all at once. But right now, in this part of his story, he can’t.

And folks, neither can we. If we’re connected to life, there is more life available to us than we can handle. There are more things that we would love to do than we can do. It therefore becomes a spiritual discipline to prioritize. To be able to say, “I love this, I really want to do this, but I know how badly I’ve felt before when I try to do too much. Here is how much I have to sleep, here is how much I need to spend shopping, cooking, and eating good healthy food, here is how much I need to spend supporting and participating in my family, here is how much time I need to spend working. I just can’t do that, too”. That is a spiritual discipline. It takes strength to be able to say “I just can’t do that, as much as I would love to”. It’s a spiritual discipline to identify what is the core of who you are, and to act out of that identification.

We have jobs. Sometimes our jobs are careers, they are part of who we are. Sometimes they are just the means to a paycheck to keep body and soul together.

We have families. Sometimes we have children and spouses, sometimes we are single and caring for elderly parents.

We have ourselves, and maintaining ourselves physically is a spiritual need as much as maintaining ourselves spiritually through prayer and study are. (Think about your next trip to the grocery store as a spiritual exercise. What foods do you choose to stay available to God for ministry? It’s a great way to avoid the aisle the Pringles and Slim Jims are on!)

Some of us identify ourselves as moms. Some as dads. Some as teachers, some as retired, some as businesspeople. What are the things that you are? And once you’ve found those, how is your life organized around those roles?

Jesus knew that he was, at core, the Messiah, the son of God, and the teacher and modeler of what God’s true love looks like to the world. And he was about his business while he was limited by a physical human body, but even he had to delegate, eat, and rest. Even he had to set limits. Even he worked really hard, but then he did rest; but then he did take time to be quiet and away from folks. And he was the Messiah.

Those of us here in this room who are not the messiah must logically have limits, too. As you set those limits, it’s a good idea to remember which roles you are at your core.

When we stay with who we are, we are where God wants us to be, and God can work through us better. There is a lot of our lives that we can’t change. Kids are still with us, parents are still needing care, and it all must be done. But we are more than chauffeurs, cooks, laundry workers, farmers, assembly line employees. Once Jesus became what he became, many things got chosen for him, too. Once he flicked a certain switch, the switch of his accepting God’s call, many other dominos fell, too.

So he gets it when we flip our switches, too, and logical conclusions follow. He gets it, he gets us, because he knows what the limits of the human existence are. He couldn’t do everything when he was a human being, so we should be OK with not being able to, either.

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