February 28, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ Jesus. It is the power of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes; first to the Jew and then to the Greek [read ‘to the rest of the world].” (Romans 1.16)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFLECTION:
We ought to spend more time reflecting on that mission and purpose which Jesus said was His: “I have come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19.10) I know that only Luke includes this declaration in the gospel of Jesus as the Christ. We do not find it in Matthew, Mark or John although John 3.16 is a powerful companion verse of teaching on the matter. The other companion verse for me on this matter is also from John (13.34), “A new command I give to you- love one another.” You do not find either of those verses in John’s gospel of Jesus as the Christ in Matthew, Mark or Luke (known as the Synoptic Gospels.) We can dive into textual criticism on those observations of what is similar and different about the gospel renderings of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ. Such criticism includes “contextual” criticism as well. In other words, we must embrace the agenda of each writer as to their audience, historical setting and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to inform them in both their remembrance of the teaching of Jesus and what they are learning in their present day from that teaching by application. We know that Jesus did not come to do away with “the Law and the Prophets.” John 3.17 repeats the intentionality of Jesus showing what kind of life was intended by abiding in their teaching and instruction (i.e. to fulfill the expectations of the Law and the Prophets). He lead by example. He did not dictate or rule over anyone. His view of leadership was servant leadership. His obedience was to God the Father as He is God’s Son. His faithfulness to that calling demonstrated a righteousness which is extended to all generations (age and “ages.”) But, there is that new command (John 13.34) which aligns with the designated task (Luke 19.10) which affirms the absolute promise (John 3.16). We would do well, mighty ones of God, to stand in the midst of those three verses and gain our bearing for authentic ministry.
ONE ANOTHER: This focus of ministry which Jesus says is the disciples “new command” does not undo the former commandments given to the people who were descendants of “Abraham, Jacob and Isaac.” I suggest that the new commandment was actually the restating of the “greatest commandments” as Jesus affirmed from what rabbinic teaching calls “the Shema.” It says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as if you are the neighbor.” In fact, the last half of the command sounds strangely like the “golden rule” of do for others as you would have it done for you. The impetus of the second half is contingent on the first half for which there is no substitute: love God first, always and best. If you have no love for God or the love of God which you have is secondary to other things including yourself, then the love for the neighbor becomes secondary, too. Jesus, I believe, is reminding the disciples (who were Jewish) that their life priority was just like His: love God and then love the ones God has given to you just as He has given you to them to love just as He loves you. Why did He have to tell them this and make it a command?
I doubt it was just so He could hear Himself talk with authoritative fancy talk. My sneaking suspicion is that “they didn’t do that very well.” Didn’t do what? Yes, they didn’t love one another very well. If this movement they committed to in following Jesus and believing He was ushering in the true Kingdom of God was to survive, then they would need each other. They would face difficult times, trials, tribulations, disappointments, prosecution and persecution which leads to death. The hope of the enemy is to separate the foe out from the rest. In that moment of alienation, the foe is vulnerable to attack and defeat. We see it in the animal world. We see it on the playground or school bathrooms. We see it daily in the media all around the world. It is easy to see who the enemy is and who is the one being attacked. It isn’t rocket science. And neither was Jesus’ expectation for the disciples. In truth, it wasn’t any different than the expectation God had for the people He called His own- the Hebrews. He called them with a purpose, a mission, a plan and an expectation. What was the expectation, you ask? It was to steward and shepherd all of creation so that God’s love in mercy and grace would be known and the true enemy of godly living would become the one separated out and defeated.
Now, we can read Jesus’ “new command” as the calling it was to love those within the circle of one’s life. It was never intended to alienate others who were “not like them.” The truth is that fundamentally we are all just like one another. Paul said it best when he penned “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of living righteously.” (Romans 3.23) The other distinctions that are made as to “race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, colors, body type, economics, geography, language…shall I go on” are the tools of the enemy to separate and divide. Divide and conquer. We are familiar with that phrase as much as we are with “there’s safety in numbers.” We see that dynamic happening one day when Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters (yes, by this time Jesus was from a single earthly parent family) came to keep Him from harm. What did they find? They found Him surrounded not by enemies but friends whom Jesus called “family.” Sure, they recognized a few faces (actually by what those people were wearing) as from the pursuing party of Pharisees and teachers of the Law. But, they both had a difficult time getting to Jesus because of the “family of buffers.” And what did Jesus say when He was told His family was there? He responded “This is My family. These are my mother, brothers and sisters who respond to the will of God in their lives.” He wasn’t disowning His birth family as much as He was owning His “new birth” family. He was living out that new command to “love one another.” And it included even His enemies within the circle from whom some actually crossed the line and stepped into the kingdom of God’s righteousness. Yes, His ministry was not limited to His Jewish family but His first priority was to save those who were lost that were part of the original flock under the Good Shepherd’s care.
Read be alert to the application to today’s flock, the Church. We must first learn how to “love one another.”
Father, how great is Your love that You would continue to manifest Your presence with us so that we would know we are welcomed. How we want to dwell in Your House forever and share in the joy of our salvation where neither moth nor rust nor thief can steal and destroy. Let it be so for us on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.