Imagine

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Isaiah 2:1-4 (NIV)

In 1971, former Beatles member John Lennon released the song, Imagine, which he had co-written with Yoko Ono. The song seems to respond to the turbulent times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a soft ballad which speaks of a much different world. As you listen, you are invited into what feels like a daydream, a hope that all which divides the human race and leads to violence would be gone. Throughout history there has always been a longing for the end of division and violence. Lennon and Ono’s words have been uttered in some form by every generation. Even today, we have the same longing which seems out of our reach. However, this longing will be fulfilled just not by human hands.

The passage from Isaiah addresses this longing and the path toward its fulfilment. In these words, Israel and we are told that the Lord will establish a temple at the highest visible point on earth. All people will be drawn to this temple because it is there where God will teach all God’s way, a very different approach than what humanity has followed. Here God will settle the disputes which humans have with one another. The end of conflict which the Lord establishes will bring about a time when instruments and skills of war will become unnecessary. Instead the tools necessary to care for the needs of humanity will become the priority. All of this sounds a lot like the song of Lennon and Oko.

Isaiah, Lennon and Ono invite us to join them in a vision, a daydream. This vision is one of harmony which can only be fully established by the Lord. While we daily strive for the elements of this vision, it is only possible if we learn and adopt the Lord’s way. The Lord’s way focuses on love which is demonstrated in our actionis and words. A love which overcomes the conflicts in our lives.

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I am not the only one. I hope someday you will join us and the world will live as one.”

Lyric from Imagine by Lennon/Ono

An Example

Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NIV)

Often we have no idea how many people are watching us. Whether we are in positions which give us a public spotlight or not, there is always someone who watches what we do, how we respond to people and events, and how we communicate. Those watching maybe co-workers, neighbors, people in the community, and/or members of our household. We are examples whether we intend to be or not. The question is what type of example we are being.

The passage for today is the beginning of a letter written by Paul, Silas, and Timothy to the believers living in Thessaloniki. The first verse of this passage is the traditional form of greeting for a letter written in this time period. Then the letter shifts to assurances of being thankful for the believers and remembering them in prayer. Another shift occurs and the writer declares that the believers accepted the good news with great power and adopted the ways of Christ as demonstrated by Paul, Silas and Timothy when they lived in Thessaloniki. The believers have become examples for others in the surrounding areas.

Being an example to others is the expectation which the Lord has of all who choose to follow Christ. The Son came to earth to be a living example of God’s love and to demonstrate how that love is to be lived out. With this example set before us, it only makes sense we are to do likewise if we claim to be followers. This is an important, and somewhat daunting, responsibility given to us.

How are you doing with this responsibility? I challenge you to ask yourself each night before going to sleep how you were an example that day. Were you a good or bad example? Should you do something differently to improve your example? The great thing is that when the Lord gives us a new day, we are given a chance to be an even better example of God’s love, the good news.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life. 

Servant Leader

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:17-28 (NIV)

Many years ago, Robert Greenleaf wrote a book on the subject of servant leadership. In his book, Greenleaf indicated that service should be an identifying characteristic of leadership. Over the next thirty years, corporations, schools, government bodies and nonprofits began to examine and implement some of the concepts which Greenleaf presented. The idea of allowing company employees to volunteer during some of their work time grew out of the servant leadership theories. Higher education began to include a section on student applications where students were expected to share how they had served others through volunteering. This section was included in the decision process for admitting students into the institution. Servant leadership became a common buzz phrase.

Looking at the passage for today, we can quickly see that Greenleaf was not the first person to introduce servant leadership. Jesus demanded it of his disciples. The passage begins with Jesus telling the twelve what is about to happen when all of them enter Jerusalem. Clearly Jesus will be taking on the role of a servant in the greatest way possible. Throughout the three years of ministry, there had been endless examples of Jesus serving others. Now that service will result in his death and resurrection. In the midst of this comes the request for two of the twelve to receive the highest seats of honor beside Jesus. Jesus has a conversation with the two, in which he questions how far they are willing to go in service. This then sets up a leadership dispute. Here is  an opportunity for Jesus to explain a reversal in God’s kingdom. He tells the twelve that with God the leader must become a servant and the last will become first. For Jesus, service brings honor and the right to lead.

We tend to struggle with God’s reversal of what we have determined is the right order of things. Even in the United States where our ancestors have thrown off the robe of royalty, we still believe that leaders are to be given certain honors and privileges, especially when we are in leadership. However, Jesus would disagree at some level. Leadership is seen in service. Honor is given based upon how the person has assisted others. Servant leadership is the only type of leadership found as important in God’s order of the world.

Give Thanks

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Today our nation pauses to give thanks for all the abundance and positive aspects of our lives, This particular year has been a very difficult one for our nation and our world. The global pandemic has touched every one of us in some manner. In addition to the effects of the virus, we have witnessed all forms of disasters. The economy has taken a heavy hit with a record number of unemployed and hundreds of small businesses, and even some long-existing corporations, closing or declaring bankruptcy. Our country has experienced violence, protests, and a very contentious election cycle. This year’s events could easily cause people to ask what there is to be thankful for as we reflect. Yet we are not the first group to encounter a year of significant hardship and pain. Folklore indicates that after a year of death and great hardships in the New World, a surviving group of Puritan settlers held a festival of thanksgiving in their new land. The story even includes an invitation to Native Americans who had provided the newcomers with skills that aided in their survival. These settlers gave thanks for what they had been given which allowed them to live.

In today’s  passage, the Israelites are preparing to arrive in a land which God had promised them. Moses speaks to them about their journey through the wilderness. He reminds them of all which God had done for them during this leg of their journey. He tells them to keep God’s commands as a response of thanks to God. Then Moses speaks to the people about their entrance into a land full of abundance. Again, he tells them to keep God’s commands in this new land. He instructs them to offer praise to God for this land of abundance once they have been filled. They had experienced many years of hardship and God provided during those years. They would experience a land of great abundance which God has provided now. Moses makes it clear that God’s giving in both situations should give reason for the people to offer thanks both in praise and in action.

Now we pause for one day, like many generations before us in this land and others throughout the world. During this year’s hardships, God has provided. Through people reaching out to assist during a natural disaster, God provides. In the dedicated service of healthcare workers, emergency responders, teachers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, restaurant employees, and countless others, God provides. The hundreds of researchers and health science departments who have worked tirelessly for answers, God provides. This is when we must take time to reflect on God’s abundance and offer our thanks in praise and action.  We have even more reason to do so when life is difficult. 

Impossible to Possible

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Matthew 19:23-30 (NIV)

This time of year I think about the women and men who serve in our military, especially those who are on ships or stationed overseas without their families. The holiday time has always been important family time to me. I honestly could not imagine being without at least some of my family during the holidays. Those who sacrifice family time to serve our nation are due my honor and gratitude.

Jesus speaks of sacrifice in our reading from Scripture today. Specifically, he speaks of giving up aspects of life to follow him. At the beginning of the passage, Jesus is referring to the wealthy man who chose not to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. He tells the disciples that this would be impossible unless a person relied on God to make it possible. The disciples point out that they have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Jesus replies that anything which someone sacrificed to follow will be received back in great abundance and eternal life. Then Jesus points to a great reversal in life’s position between those considered first and those considered last.

Reading this passage and thinking about our military personnel and others who have jobs which keep them from their families, creates a challenge and provides insight for me. The challenge presen ted comes in the form of me considering what limits I may have in sacrificing to follow Jesus. The insight is found in the promise that with God all things are possible. I understand here that if I were called to make a sacrifice which I could not do on my own, God would provide me the strength, wisdom, and ability to carry through. There are many times people are called upon to make sacrifices for a variety of reasons. Some are able to do so with what appears to be ease. I wonder if this may be due to their reliance on God. May all of us strengthen our reliance on God.

Missed Opportunities

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Matthew 19:13-22 (NIV)

There are times in life when an opportunity comes our way but for one reason or another, we do not seize this opportunity. Later, we may realize what we truly missed. Other times we fail to ever have such a realization. Have you ever had such an experience in your life? I know that I have personally allowed opportunities to pass by me.

The writer of Matthew tells of two times an opportunity presented itself during Jesus’s ministry. The first involved children. The children came to Jesus in hopes that he would lay his hands on them and pray for them. The children saw an opportunity and determined to seize it. The disciples were the opposite. Instead of seeing an opportunity to minister to the children and learn from their unbridled faith, they saw the children as a nuisance and tried to send them away. Jesus intervenes, telling the disciples to let the children come to him. He sees an opportunity to teach the disciples about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. He also capitalizes on ministering to the children by laying his hands on them and showing them how important and loved they are in God’s eyes.

The second opportunity shared here does not have such a positive ending. A wealthy man approaches  Jesus to ask him how to ensure he has eternal life. Jesus lists some major commandments to follow which the man claims to be doing already. The man is not convinced that following these commandments is not enough so he seeks from Jesus what else he can do. Jesus instructs the man to sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow Jesus. The man walks away sad because he determines he cannot do this. A missed opportunity has occurred.

These stories cause one to take inventory of missed opportunities in one’s life. When have there been times in which instead of ministering to and/or learning from others, I have seen them as a nuisance and not worthy of my time? When have opportunities to sacrifice or give seem like too high of a price to pay to follow Jesus so I walk away? While no action of mine can take away or guarantee my eternal life, Jesus has already taken care of this for me, the missed opportunities can impact how I understand and live my faith.

How about you? Are you watching for and embracing opportunities to serve and grow in your faith? Be cautious to not see others as a waste of your time because they may be the very ones who can model for you what God is all about. Think carefully concerning what is too high of a price to pay for following Jesus. May the Lord open our eyes to all the opportunities which are placed in our path. May we be like the children and seize every opportunity with Jesus that we are offered.

The Question

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

1 Peter 1:1-12 (NIV)

Is it better to know something is going to happen in advance or accept situations as they occur without advance notice? If you are like I am, the answer to the question is… it depends. There are some items like the cost of repairs, the plans for a weekend, or the arrival date of guests which I want to know in advance. I do not wish to know when something which I cannot control is going to happen because I do not want the added worry. If we knew the negative impact of certain situations, we may never take the risks of stepping out of our front door. There clearly is an important balance which must exist in our lives regarding advance knowledge. Managing that balance is not always within our control.

Today’s passage comes at the start of a letter attributed to Peter. He is writing to a group of exiled Christ followers. But the concept of being exiled here is not necessarily one of being removed from one’s home country but more the sense that a follower of Christ is now like an alien resident in the world around them. Peter speaks of their suffering and grief. They likely were ridiculed for their beliefs and felt like outsiders. A picture of living a difficult life if you are a follower of Christ emerges here. Peter says that their journey through this is evidence of their belief in Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and the promised inheritance. Even though they had never seen Jesus, they believed. Peter assures them that the grace which comes to them was that of which the prophets had spoken.

My question at the start confronts me as I read this passage. Some think that if a person becomes a follower of Jesus, the person’s life will become easier. Peter makes it clear here that this is not the case. The suffering and grief did not go away for these followers. In fact, it seems to have increased. Now my original question  can be adjusted a little and applied to becoming a follower of Christ. If you knew in advance that there would continue to be suffering and grief after becoming a follower, would you still choose to follow Jesus? This is a question which you may have asked yourself before. The question may come up at various times in your life but nuanced a different way because of the current situation at the time. There is nothing wrong with asking the question because it gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ, his resurrection and our promised inheritance. Consider how you would respond to the question today.

Commonality

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:5-13 (NIV)

Over the years of my life, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who are not a part of my tribe. For those who may not be familiar with the contemporary use of the word tribe, this word is now used to describe a group of individuals who hold things in common. What is held in common varies depending on the tribe; i.e., ethnic background, career, viewpoint on a subject, leisure activities, faith, etc. I have greatly enjoyed learning about tribes which are different from my own. Often I discover more similarities between my tribe and someone else’s than I ever find differences. There clearly are differences but not as many as the commonalities.

Paul writes to a group of Christ followers located in Rome. Some of these followers were Jews and some were Gentiles. All of them are also facing Jews who are not Christ followers. In the passage today, Paul is addressing the uneasiness the followers are having caused by the combining of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish tribe carries with them the history of being a persecuted group of God’s people, usually at the hands and mercy of Gentiles. In addition, the historical understanding of the Messiah was God would be sending the Messiah to save the Jews. The Gentile tribe carries with them the sense of constant rejection by the Jews and what they see as the arrogance of the Jews who declare they are God’s chosen ones. It is easy to see why there are significant differences between these two tribes of people that can lead to conflict. 

Paul has chosen to address this uneasy division among believers. He calls them all to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He challenges these followers to accept one another in the same manner Christ has accepted them. Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him display an embracing of both Jew and Gentile, continually breaking through the cultural norms to reach out to all. Then Paul uses words from Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus came to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews but also God’s plan to incorporate the Gentiles.

We live in a time when tribes of people are inclined to build walls to keep other tribes out. Instead of different views and experiences living in harmony, people would rather divide and conquer. Paul’s words speak loudly to us in the Christian faith. His words remind us that we have commonality in Christ. These words challenge us to adopt the mind and attitude of our Lord. A mind and attitude of acceptance without diminishing our differences. The church gives us a place to practice this so that we can learn to live it with tribes outside of the Christian tribe.

Fairness

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)

Many people in life want to be sure that life is fair. This seems like a principle everyone should be able to support. Some work hard to combat what they identify as unfair aspects in life. There are even individuals who not only seek fairness for themselves but also seek fairness for others in situations totally unrelated to their own lives. Sadly, even with all the efforts made to ensure fairness for all, life is still filled with unfairness. Part of the struggle is that what one person identifies as fair does not always match another person’s definition. Add to this that situations outside of human control can make for an unfair dynamic.

This dilemma of unfairness appears in a story which Jesus tells in response to a question about forgiveness. Jesus is approached by Peter who wants to know how many times he should forgive another person. Peter wants to know what a fair expectation might be. Jesus gives a surprisingly high number of times and then tells a story. In the story, a man is forgiven a debt in full. After the debt is forgiven, he encounters another man who owes him a debt. Instead of forgiving the second man’s debt, he has him jailed. Bystanders witness both situations and determine the first man is being unfair so they report him to the one who had forgiven the original debt. This angers the forgiver so he reverses his decision and gives the man the same punishment he gave another. Jesus tells the listeners that so it will be with the Father.

Amazing how the understanding of what is fair can produce such different results. The first man owed a debt. What would be fair in this situation is that the debt be paid using any means available. The person due payment does not require what is fair but instead forgives the debt completely. Then an identical situation presents itself but this time it is the first  debtor who is owed the debt. Here is where the definition of fairness can be a challenge. As in the first account, it is fair to expect the debt to be paid using whatever means available. However, it can also be argued that what is fair in the second situation is altered because of the action of the man who forgave the original debt. The fair thing to do now is for the debt to also be forgiven in the second situation or at minimum more time to be allowed.

We owe a tremendous debt to God. It would be absolutely fair for God to demand payment. Scripture tells us that the wage of sin is death. Yet God does not demand payment but instead offers full and complete forgiveness. In order for us to be fair towards others when they sin against us, we must offer them full and complete forgiveness the same number of times God does for us.