Correct Focus

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Matthew 16:21-28 (NIV)

Have you ever used an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera? When I was in high school, I was part of both the newspaper and yearbook staff. This required me to be trained in using a 35mm camera to take pictures. If you have used one of these, you know that it is important to turn the ring on your lens in order to bring the subject into focus. Most people today use cameras, or their smartphones, which automatically focus the picture for you. Some even allow you either before or after you take the picture to use a filter which blurs the background so the subject stands out in the picture. Focus is the point in our Bible passage for today.

Jesus talks about his upcoming persecution and death at the start of the passage. Peter takes him aside and tells him to stop this kind of talk. We do not know if Peter is more concerned about Jesus losing his momentum talking about his death,, or if he does not want to think about the pain Jesus’s death will cause Peter. Jesus says that Peter is focused on human concerns and not on the purpose which centers Jesus’s mission. Then Jesus speaks to his disciples regarding discipleship. If one chooses to follow Jesus, they must let go of their own earthly concerns and image of life. The focus must be on the priorities of the Lord which impact their spiritual life.

Where we focus impacts how we understand life and influences the priorities which we set. If our focus is on the comforts of life then our time, energy and commitment will be directed toward obtaining and maintaining those comforts. Being more concerned about building our empire on earth than the wellbeing of our spiritual self leads us to focus on our earthly life. Jesus encourages us to be willing to release our earthly goals when they come into conflict with the spiritual goals which Jesus has shown us to be important. We are challenged in this passage to allow the background of life to blur so that we can remain focused on the vision which Jesus presents for our eternal future.

Identity Question

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 16:13-20 (NIV)

Try an experiment, Google your name and see what comes up. I do this on occasion just to see what type of information about me is readily available on the internet. I also have discovered who else shares my name and I learn something about them. We are creatures who like to be known in varying degrees. Many of us are curious about what people know and what they say about us. Jesus was not different than us in that way.

Reading of Jesus’s conversation with a group of disciples causes us to take a step back to consider how each of us might respond to the question. Who do I say that Jesus is? My answer says a lot about my view of my relationship with Jesus. The answers may be different depending on how I am interacting with Jesus at the time the question is asked. There might be elements of my response which are always the same along with some varied additions. The answer may also be impacted by who is asking the question.

Peter responds to Jesus that he is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” This reply causes Jesus to declare Peter as blessed since no human has revealed this but only the Father. This revelation and response leads Jesus to proclaim Peter to be the rock on which the Church is to be built. It also provides the keys of heaven and the power to bind and loose things on earth which will be duplicated in heaven. Peter’s answer defines who Peter becomes and the authority given to him.

This brings me back to how I respond to Jesus’s question. I begin by affirming Peter’s response but go further in declaring Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. These titles require a lot of unpacking which I will not do here. My response also defines me and the place Jesus is given in my life. While the words in my response come from my faith journey within the Church, the way I am impacted by their truth is beyond words and is embedded in my spirit. This flavors the choices which I make, the relationships in my life, and the interactions which I have with others.

Now it is your turn. Who do you say Jesus is?

Be Careful

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.[a] A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 16:1-12 (NIV)

One of the blessings and curses of the time in which we live is the internet. With the introduction of the worldwide web and search engines, we have all types of information available to us almost instantaneously. Being able to search for answers to our questions and having access to all kinds of news from throughout the globe is indeed a blessing. The curses with this are the overload of information bombarding us every second of the day, and the accuracy of the information and news we receive. Human bias and interpretation are always at play. Even media outlets which used to be reliable sources of information insert opinion and slants to all of their reporting these days. But as we see in the verses from Matthew today, this danger is nothing new.

Jesus has another exchange with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They are clamoring for a sign which they hope to use against him. He refuses because he tells them they cannot even understand the signs which are now before them. Then leaving in a boat with his closest disciples, Jesus gives a warning to the disciples to be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples misinterpret Jesus’s warning because they are focused on the bread which they forgot. After Jesus addresses their worry, he reiterates his warning. Now the disciples understand that the yeast which Jesus mentioned in his warning was actually the teachings and information. The ability of this information to change and inflate a person’s thinking can be a problematic influence.

There is a lot of information readily available in the world today. In the midst of all that information is truth and lies. The warning which Jesus gave the disciples is even more important for us today. We have witnessed how information can impact the way people think and act. When this information is designed to mislead or misinterpret, it can have a damaging result. Jesus’s warning reminds us to be cautious when receiving information. Know the source of the information. Crosscheck what you read or hear. Discuss the information with others, especially some who have a different point of view. If what you are receiving is in regard to faith and theology, make sure that it is in agreement with what you understand to be the nature of the Lord. Heed Jesus’s warning today and take the time to be cautious.

Act of Love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

Today is Veteran’s Day in our country. This is a day which calls us to reflect on the service of men and women who have given to our nation through military duty. The date for this remembrance was set on November 11 because it coincided with the signing of the armistice which ended the first World War. We remember all who fought to preserve the freedoms and ideals of our democracy. We remember those who fought to protect those freedoms and ideals in other lands. We honor those who died in pursuit of those goals. For all who have served, even to the point of death, we humbly offer our gratitude and respect.

The passage chosen for today speaks of a call to love and demonstrate love through a willingness to sacrifice. Jesus is directing his followers to love one another. He reminds them that they are friends, friends with Jesus and one another. He tells them that the greatest act a person can do for a friend is to give her/his life for the friend. A foreshadowing of Jesus’s act of love for his friends, and enemies, is found in his words. Jesus reminds them, and us, that we are to love one another.

Being willing to give your life for another person seems pretty intense, especially if you do not know that individual. Yet, those who have stepped up to enter the United States military commit to do that if necessary. Over hundreds of years, through multiple wars and conflicts, both in our nation and abroad, women and men have paid the ultimate price for friends, neighbors and strangers. Those who have not lost their lives during service, have still sacrificed to defend and protect freedom and the rights of all humans. They have given their time, their ability to be with loved ones, and some even their mental and/or physical well-being as acts of love and service. Each of these men and women, and those who they left behind, have lived out Jesus’s words to love one another even to the point of laying down one’s life if necessary.

If you are a veteran, as was my dad, you have my heartfelt thanks. If you are the member of a family with a veteran, you have my gratitude for you have sacrificed as well. If you are currently serving in the military at any level, I pray for your safety. I call all of you friends and I commit to love as you have acted in love.

Let us love one another!

Persistent Faith

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV)

I am a dog lover. We currently have two dogs who I greatly love and enjoy. Like humans, dogs get used to a routine and pick up on clues which communicate what is about to happen. At meal time in our home, one dog lays on the floor near the table while the other one lays at our feet under the table. The minute they hear us put our silverware down, they both stand up beside us. They know that is a clue we are done eating. Both of them also know that when we are finished with the meal, they are likely to get some scraps or a container to lick out.

After reading the passage for today, our mealtime routine came to mind. Jesus refers to dogs not receiving bread and the Canaanite woman says they at least they get the crumbs on the floor. The woman had come to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus tells her that his ministry is focused on the Jews.  But the woman is persistent, as she had been before Jesus talked with her. When Jesus uses the food and dog imagery to illustrate his point, she makes the point that Gentiles deserve even a small amount of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus sees in the woman that she fully believes in his power.  This is more than many Jews acknowledge. He has experienced her persistence in accessing that power. Her daughter is healed because of what Jesus sees in the woman’s understanding of faith.

This is a passage which can make us uncomfortable. First, we do not understand why Jesus appears to be excluding groups of people from his ministry. Second, we struggle with the connection of faith and healing. We struggle with these things in part due to a lack of understanding. The understanding which the writer of Matthew has is that Jesus comes first to the Jews to offer a way of salvation. This way is then extended to all people on Easter morning.

Another aspect of understanding necessary is the writer’s view of the actions of the woman. She has not “bested” Jesus so he relents. Instead, she demonstrates that she has unrelenting faith in Jesus. As a Canaanite woman, she would be seen as an outsider. Yet the boundaries of the Lord’s compassion are shattered by a demonstration of faith not always witnessed in the people Jesus was first sent to and of which he was a part.

This passage’s focus is on the importance of a persistent faith. Faith does not correct all the troubles of our lives. Faith does not promise a problem-free existence. Realizing that during times of trouble, we have someone always walking with us is what faith provides. Not being overwhelmed and giving up is the power faith offers. Trusting that in the end, the Lord will defeat the troubles and heal all brokenness, is what faith is about.

Confession and Praise

On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.[a]

“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.

“You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.[b] 10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

13 “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

Nehemiah 9:1-15 (NIV)

In my faith tradition, we use a fairly standard worship liturgy. As part of our liturgy, we have a time when we corporately and individually confess our sins. After we confess, the worship leader assures us of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is followed by singing of praises to God, most often using a doxology. The pattern of this portion of liturgy comes from the practices of the early Christian church.

The passage for today shows that the pattern of confession followed by praise may have found its origin with the Hebrew people. The Israelites had been called to account because after returning from exile, they began to intermarry with people from lands bordering Judah. God had instructed them not to do this because of the risk of the Israelites succumbing to worshiping gods which the foreigners worshiped. After having their sin pointed out, the Israelites confess, send away the foreigners, and enter into acts of repentance. The Levites then lead them into worship of God and a recalling of all God’s acts of compassion and salvation. The pattern of confession, assurance, and praise is seen here.

The question which comes to mind is, can this pattern only be followed as part of corporate worship? The answer is emphatically NO. We can use this pattern in our personal life at home. All of us struggle with sin every day. Setting aside time to confess these sins is important. While we do not have a worship leader at home to give us words of assurance, we can speak these words to ourselves. We can also open Scripture and read to remember God’s acts of grace, compassion and forgiveness. Then we can offer praise and thanksgiving to God in response.

The Invitation

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Luke 14:12-24 (NIV)

Most brides, grooms, and their families struggle with the daunting task of creating an invitation list for their wedding service and reception. During our current pandemic, this task has become even more complex. Imagine engaging in this effort and sending out the invitations, only to have all the guests give excuses why they cannot attend. What an extremely disappointing experience this would be. Not to mention the wasted expense of food costs and rental fees. While this scenario is very unlikely, you can imagine the feelings of hurt, disappointment, sadness, and anger which would exist.

This type of scene is exactly what Jesus conveys in the story which he tells in today’s passage. Jesus indicates that the host of a banquet responds to the guests not accepting his invitation by making guests of the people of the streets and country side. His new guests are not capable of repaying the invitation in any way.

Reading Jesus’s story and exhortation causes are to consider an invitation and the response to the innviation. We have been invited by Jesus to come and join him in a heavenly banquet which the Father has prepared. An opportunity to sit around a table filled with goodness, love, forgiveness, and great joy. All of us are undeserving of the invitation. None of us are ever able to repay the invitation. Yet those are exactly the qualifications necessary to receive the invitation. Our response is all that matters. Will we come in acceptance of the invitation, or will we make excuses why we must decline? Will we let our activities of life and other priorities lead us to miss out? The invitation is always before us, the choice is our own.

Remain Focused

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Matthew 14:22-36 (NIV)

Have you ever climbed a tall ladder or hiked up a steep cliff? When I have done either of these types of activities, I am usually fine until something occurs which causes me to think about the risks I am taking. If the ladder shakes too much or something causes me to look down and off the side, panic and dread can easily set into my mind. The only way I can avoid this is by remaining focused on my ascent. Maybe you have had similar experiences.

Peter can definitely relate to these feelings. Jesus had just fed the crowd. He sends the people home and the disciples out on a boat. He goes by himself up a hillside to pray and probably deal with the news of John’s death. When the sun begins to rise, he walks on the water to join the disciples in the boat. Fear overcomes those in the boat at the sight of Jesus walking on the water. They assume it is a ghost since people cannot walk on water. Jesus tries to calm them but Peter puts out a challenge to prove it is Jesus. Jesus accepts the challenge and  tells Peter to join him on the water. The journey for Peter begins well until he loses focus and panics. Jesus saves him but is disappointed. Peter began to sink because he took his focus off of Jesus and let his fear of the risk overwhelm him.

Peter’s struggle is easily our own. Many of us have heard and accepted Jesus’s invitation to come. Our start appears to go well at first. Then something causes us to lose focus and the reality of the risk of following Jesus ends our progress. We begin to let our fears and worries overcome us.

Jesus reminds us to maintain our focus on him. He stands ready to reach out his hand to keep us afloat when we think the risk is overwhelming. Jesus calls on us to have faith that he can and will keep us safe. The risk is worth the effort.

Scarcity Versus Abundance

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21 (NIV)

During my professional career, I have attended many conferences and even helped plan a few. One of the challenges for conference planners is making sure there is the correct amount of space for the number of people who attend. This requires making projections and estimations. A colleague of mine used to always comment when we were in a room too small that the planners did not properly plan for success. Another way to look at situations like this is an attitude of scarcity versus an attitude of abundance.

The attitudes of scarcity and abundance are visible in the passage from Matthew today. Confronted with a resource supply issue, the disciples recommend that Jesus send away the crowd. They tell him that having only five loaves of bread and two fishes is not enough to meet the needs of the people. The disciples are focused on what they are lacking, an attitude of scarcity.

Jesus has a completely opposite analysis of the situation. When addressed by the disciples, he responds that they should take care of the people’s needs. In Jesus’s view, the disciples have everything necessary. When the disciples are unable to see the abundance of their resources, Jesus steps in and demonstrates this reality.

Like the conference planners and the disciples, we can easily fall into the trap of adopting a scarcity viewpoint. As we attempt to evaluate needs and then balance those against our perceived resources, we can tend to identify why something will not work instead of why it can work. We must be practical yet that does not mean we have to limit possibilities.

Another key factor which is present in Jesus’s example of an abundance attitude is the God factor. The God factor is the certainty that God is able to take what we have available and use it to meet the needs which are before us. Initiating this factor is possible through prayer and trust. Prayer is our communication of the need of which we are aware. Trust is belief that God is able to provide for the need. When the God factor is put in play, we discover we have abundance.

Use Caution

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Matthew 14:1-12 (NIV)

When I was a youth and found myself in a difficult situation because of choices which I had made, my mother was fond of saying to me, “Well, I guess you have found yourself between a rock and a hard place.” I thought the saying was rather odd but seemed somewhat accurate. A warning she would often give to me was, “be careful you do not paint yourself into a corner.” Again, as a youth, I found her sayings a bit weird. Maturing, I realized they were not as weird as I had thought. In fact, they many times illustrated the challenges which can accompany choices and actions.

Herod is fearful that Jesus is the resurrected John, the Baptist, who he had beheaded after he found himself between a rock and a hard place when he painted himself into a corner. Herod had made a series of bad choices. He had been having an affair with the brother’s wife, Herodias. During a dinner party, he makes another bad choice by offering Herodias’s daughter anything she wanted up to half his kingdom since her dance had pleased him and his guests. Then when the girl asks for John’s head on a platter because her mom hated him for passing judgment on her affair Herod is stuck. When the request comes, Herod realizes he was forced to grant it or look like a fool to his guests.

Unfortunately, there are times in our lives that a choice, or a series of choices, can put us in difficult situations. Herod’s pride would not let him remove himself from the difficult situation so he makes another horrible choice by having John beheaded. We can learn from Herod. Be cautious not to let your choices, words, or actions paint you into a corner. When you make a bad choice, do not let your pride lead you to making an even worse one. Avoid putting yourself between a rock and a hard place.

I guess Mom’s sayings were not weird but wise.