March 6, 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:
How many times have we found that it is more difficult to talk to family members about our faith than it is strangers? I am not speaking about a biblical insight gained from Bible study or something wonderful that happened at worship service. I am talking about that “conviction” conversation of “what is believed to be true to those who claim to have faith.” Even more difficult is that elephant in the room for those who have no claim to faith or a firm denial of the need for faith in God even though they were raised up in a Christian/godly home. And what about when that person is “us”? Are we as willing and open to such a fierce spiritual conversation? Are we so “faithful” that we are above reproach, correction and renewal? How many “ah” and “ah ha” moments have you had in your time of discipleship? Bearing this in mind, I hope you will more easily see the three categories of the lost whom God sent Christ into the world “to seek and to save.” They are:
- The “faithful” Jews (and that includes so acclaimed faithful such as the Scribes, Pharisees, Priest and teachers of the Law);
- The “outcast” Jews (those who for whatever reason as determined by the group in category 1 to not have full standing as Jews); and,
- Everyone else (that includes you and me no matter how “greek” that may sound to you…pun intended.)
When it comes to Jesus’ “a new commandment I give you: love one another,” we have these three concentric circles surrounding us. Even within the gospel stories themselves, we can see three concentric circles:
- Peter, James and John;
- The remaining 9 disciples; and,
- The other disciples who took up their crosses to follow Jesus.
What we find are the ranges and extents which cause us to focus our ministry of authentic loving. While they blend because, for the sake of illustration, they are all in the same pond, they are differing circles of influence, confluence and affluence. We are without question called to love them all equally and empower them to be loving themselves not only in return but in extension to the circles of ministry which they cause as they “skip” across the waters of life.
Apart from Judas of Kerioth, Peter would have seemed to be the most lost. There may well have been a reason why Jesus kept him closest to his side. He would have the most to tell of the transformative love of God through Jesus Christ than all the other disciples. He spanned the broad spectrum of allegiance to Jesus as the Christ. While James and John were known by the name “Sons of Thunder,” it was Peter who bolted out front like lightning and dropped to the ground with a resounding “thunder.” He would declare “You are the Christ” and encourage the rest of the disciples “Let’s go with Him that we might be with Him!” He went from “stepping out of the box,” literally “stepped out of the boat,” to hiding in a boxed corner saying “I don’t know the man, never knew the man and having nothing to do with the man.” Yet, Jesus obeyed the new commandment with Peter and “love one another.” In the light of Peter’s three-fold denial came Jesus’ three-fold confirmation. One would disqualify him for the ministry which he had chosen, for which he was chosen and to which he would be more fervently chosen. The other would define, refine and assign this ministry of “love one another” to him and establish the dynamic for our own calls to the ministry in our various walks of life.
What Jesus did with Peter ought to become the template for our own ministries of and responses to the gospel call “take up your cross and follow Me to seek and save those who are lost.” If you were to draw three concentric circles who would you put in each of them as “those closest to me,” “those with whom I share a nearness to” and “the rest.” And as I witnessed last night in a real-time conversation about “who is my neighbor,” the second greatest command which followed the first greatest command to”Love God with all you have” truly does sound like “…and love yourself as you yourself are the neighbor.” Putting ourselves in the shoes of others opens the door for them to at least consider doing the same. We may never be in their “inner” circle or their “nearer” circle but we are without question in “the rest of us” circle. Having those “fierce” spiritual conversations within the inner circle makes us more capable of conducting them in other circles. In fact, the waves we may create will radiate out naturally and finding some distant shore, they will come back to us like “bread cast on the water.” Only God knows who will be riding those waves back to our shore. That is why, I believe, Jesus gave the disciples this “new” commandment. It was time to get centered on what each of them would truly believe within themselves about having such faith in Jesus as the Christ. He gave them their own inner circles to test out these new “fishing” and “sowing” ministries. And the rest would happen because they did. Our greatest work isn’t out there but “in here,” in our heart and mind and body and soul. We must know for ourselves who we are and whose we are if we are to have the success in life God has created us to achieve. That success is life. That life is all those who are found, redeemed and transformed into the image of Christ as members of His body on earth, that is the Church.
Father, we are never lost to You. There is nothing that can separate us from Your love. There is nowhere that You are not in existence. It is not that You find us but that Your desire to help us find ourselves is a moment of truth which sets us free. Teach us how to manifest that freedom in the lives of others as we reach out from ourselves into all the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.