One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.
The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.
The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.
The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.
Many in the world make judgments in regard to others by observing what company the individual might keep. Who the person spends time with and interacts with is viewed as determining the type of person the individual might be. You could say that it is assumed if you hang out with people who have certain behavior traits, you clearly have the same behavior traits.
This is definitely the rule of thumb which the Pharisees apply toward Jesus. Since Jesus is hanging around tax collectors and sinners, he must be a traitor to the Jews and participate in all sorts of activities which stand in opposition to God. How far from accurate are their assumptions.
Jesus, as always, takes on the challenge presented by the Pharisees in a direct manner. He indicates that the ones who have the greatest need for healing is his focus. The people with whom he is spending time are the ones who need him the most. They are acknowledging that need by coming to him, seeking mercy and to learn from him. Those who view themselves as not having a need for mercy and what Jesus can teach them, do not come.
Reviewing this interaction between Jesus, tax collectors, sinners and the Pharisees demonstrates for us which group each of us may be a member. Are you in need of mercy and teaching from the Lord? Or do you not have a need for such things? Are you sick and in need of the Great Physician? If you are, then seek out and spend time with the Lord, bring others with similar needs to the Lord with you. Jesus intends to hang out with those who recognize their need for him. We would be wise to do the same.
For centuries, the economy of the United States was agrarian. The farming of our nation’s fertile land and raising of livestock was the bedrock of the economy and life in general. It required many hands to raise the necessary food to sustain a growing population. Whether directly involved in planting, tending, or managing the agricultural components, or not, every person was reliant upon agriculture in some fashion. When the industrial age arrived, the number of individuals needed to run the farms was reduced by the efficiency of new machinery and technology. People migrated off of farms and into cities where industry and service fields flourished. While agriculture continues to be vital to our survival, the number of individuals actively engaged in it is greatly reduced.
Jesus uses an agricultural reference in today’s passage from Matthew. Speaking to his disciples, who were actively engaged in forms of agriculture, Jesus tells them to request from God a number of laborers to work in the field of humanity. It is clear that Jesus says this as he has just witnessed the magnitude of the needs of humanity. Jesus is acutely aware that it will take a large number of people to actively address the needs of the multitudes. Only by responding to the needs will the people be ready to comprehend the message of grace which Jesus has come to share.
While we maybe two thousand years removed from the time in which Jesus shared these words, the situation remains much the same. There are still thousands of people who have needs which prevent them from hearing the Good News. We are these workers who the Lord desires to send out. Whether it be in our own neighborhoods or in another country, the harvest is abundant and just waiting for us to come and do the work. All of this begins by each of us addressing the needs of those around us. If each of us makes an effort, the work can be less burdensome. When we take care of the needs of a person, we make them more receptive to hear about the Lord’s loving grace.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b, NIV)
We never know when our situation in life will suddenly change. A car accident may occur and our life is altered in countless ways. Our routine check up at our doctor’s office may result in the discovery of an illness which will require us to battle immensely. We may be asked into our supervisor’s office to discover that our position is being eliminated. An alarm awakens us in the night and after exiting our home, we watch firefighters work hard to save the house but the wind fuels the flames. All of these life-changing experiences, and more of greater and lesser magnitude, create a time of storm in our lives.
In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, a song which became a hit on its own was, You’ll Never Walk Alone. In the musical the song is sung twice. The first time is when the male lead, Billy Bigelow, dies and the female lead, Julie Jordan, sings it to comfort herself and cousin Nettie finishes it for her. The next time we experience the singing of the song is at the graduation of Billy and Julie’s daughter as the spirit of Billy encourages his daughter and Julie.
This song reminds us of Jesus’s words at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, commissions them, and then tells them he is always with them. These encouraging words have great value for us when we are facing life’s storms. The storm will not last forever. There is light at the end of the storm. We keep hope in our hearts for we have the promise that Jesus always walks through the storm with us.
For anyone who is familiar with agriculture, gates serve an important purpose if you have livestock. Pastures and feeding lots have fences and gates to keep the animals safe and where they need to be. If you have worked with any livestock, you also know that they can easily escape out of the narrowest of openings but once corralled, seem to have difficulty going back through a wide, open gate.
The passage we read in Matthew’s gospel is in the midst of a number of teachings which Jesus is communicating. He speaks here of gates. He tells those listening the importance of choosing the correct gate. The wide and easy-to-enter-through gate leads to destructive life choices. The gate which is narrow and difficult to find leads to a life of meaning and value. Jesus is teaching about choices.
The choices which we make in our lives clearly have an impact upon the direction our lives take. Sometimes the impact is noticed immediately while other times this is not noticed until after a period of time passes. Heeding Jesus’s teaching means being sure we are not choosing only the easy and quick rewarding option. Instead, Jesus tells us to search for the option which will have a lasting and spirit-building influence upon our lives.
As enjoyable as the holiday season is, it can leave us exhausted. All the activities and events can keep us running. With the inclusion of meal preparations, gift shopping and wrapping, baking, and hosting, our energy can quickly be depleted. When the holidays are completed for another year, many of us wish to enjoy some downtime and an opportunity to recoup some energy. We need some rest.
Jesus is talking to his followers in what Matthew records within today’s passage. An invitation is given to them and all who hear his words. The invitation begins with an offer of rest, a releasing of life’s burdens. Then an additional offer to be connected to Jesus so we might learn how to manage through life is presented. Jesus tells all that with Jesus’s assistance, we will be able to shoulder what life presents, we will not be alone.
At a time when rest may be our greatest desire, these words reassure and comfort us. The end of the holiday season is not the only time when we hunger for regeneration and assistance. We benefit from remembering that no matter what burdens life may present to us, we do not need to bear them alone. We have this promise from the Lord that the burdens will be shared. Learning alongside Jesus will allow us to understand navigating the experiences life presents without collapsing. Knowing that we are able to find respite in the Lord makes situations more bearable.
Many times as we share the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, one character is barely mentioned or overlooked entirely. Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, is that person. Even the gospel writers make little mention of Joseph. He is only included at the time of the birth. His presence is inferred in Luke 2:41ff when his “parents” are mentioned as the boy Jesus is found in the temple. So we are left to imagine what it must have been like to be the father of the Savior.
Michael McLean attempts to place us in the shoes of Joseph in his song, I Was Not His Father, He Was Mine. Consider Joseph as you listen to this beautiful song. How would you view your situation if you were Joseph? What perspective is provided in the lyrics?
Watching people in public spaces can be a creative activity. Recently, I attended a community event which drew large crowds of people together. Having arrived at my assigned seat early, I had plenty of time to watch people move around the area. When given such an opportunity, I observe behaviors, clothing choices, interactions and expressions. From these observations I create scenarios in my mind regarding backgrounds, life choices, and plans. This is a creative endeavor which creates a character profile with no factual information except for what I see during a brief encounter. Such an activity is a mental game which passes time but should never be seen as accurate in any fashion. It is more of a story telling exercise.
Jesus was a very effective storyteller. He would use stories, or parables, to communicate a complex concept. His stories made these concepts relatable to a person’s life. Our passage today is one of those times when Jesus tells a story. This story was intended to address the world situation where good and bad co-exist. Jesus also addresses how this will be sorted out. In the story we see recognition of the fact that good and bad stand side by side. Jesus tells the listener that the dividing of the two will occur at a later time, not now. In addition to the timing, the story also communicates that it is not our responsibility to do the sorting but when it is time the task will be assigned.
Back to my creative people watching, while I may use the determining of a person’s scenario as a time-occupying game, there are some who observe and make judgments about a person’s life in a serious manner. It is true that individuals who are called to be law enforcement officers and judges do this as a duty to society. They also operate within parameters and an indepth investigation of the facts. Jesus reminds us that we are not the ones who are to choose who is allowed to stay and who is to go. This will be determined by the Lord at a later time. Instead, we are to live together in harmony with one another. Let God worry about the dividing of the grain and the weeds. God sees the whole situation, we do not.
We live in a world that allows endless amounts of information to be available to us by turning on an electronic device. In seconds we are able to access information on any subject matter which enters our mind. Google and Wikipedia answer questions and if you have a device such as an Echo or a Nest, you can verbally ask your question. Even though there is an endless amount of information readily available to us, the accuracy of the information may be questionable. Today, access to information is not a problem but the reliability of information is a constant challenge.
The problem of information reliability is not new to humanity as our reading for today makes clear. Jesus places a warning before the people. He tells them to be careful in regard to those claiming to bring God’s message. These individuals disguise themselves as innocent messengers but they have an ulterior motive which is selfish and deceitful. Jesus instructs the people to examine the life of the one bearing a message. If the life is on which builds othero and creates a positive environment, then the messenger is true. A life which tears down others and does not exhibit the love of God is not a messenger from God.
We hear all forms of messages from a range of people who claim to provide messages from and insights into God. Caution must be used when receiving these words. Each of us must study Scripture so we have a baseline of understanding of the nature of God. From this baseline we must judge if what someone is saying aligns with the nature of God. As part of our judgment we must determine if the person’s words build up others and demonstrate the love of God. We must examine the manner in which the messenger expresses God’s love in the actions and choices of their life. With the guidance of the Spirit through prayer, we will separate the good fruit from the bad fruit.