Some Good News

I think most people like short sermons. In general, and unless the preacher is extremely interesting, I believe brevity is the most appreciated quality of a sermon, by most people. And that belief includes the understanding that there are exceptions among people, and among preachers.

So, when I read sermons in Scripture, whether the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Scriptures, their length is always of interest to me. It’s one of the ways I evaluate the “sermon”. We have so few traditional sermons of Jesus, this example in Mark is one I find very interesting:

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee,  preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15 NASB

The reason I find it so interesting is the amazing amount of information packed into so few words. It is nearly a string of jokes with the just the punchlines included; as if it elicits the same response had the terms been defined, but, instead, relies on the familiarity of the hearer. I believe this is, in fact, exactly what Mark has done.

But we are not necessarily familiar with the terms, or simply assume they are what we think they mean. Some of you may know exactly what they mean, but when was the last time you thought this sermon through, unpacking the words as you read it?

Here is what I mean:

  1. The time… – this is the opportune time, not sequential, calendar time. It’s not about dates having past as much as events having been accomplished.
  2. …has been fulfilled… – completely made full. The “todo” list has all of the items checked to make it the right, opportune, time. Don’t you wish you could have read that list, just to see what our Creator put on it?
  3. …the Kingdom of God… – Israel assumed this was Israel, but also understood it to mean “the sphere of God’s supreme influence”. It was simply understood that God would not exercise supreme influence unless Israel was free from Roman rule and religious corruption. This was a misunderstanding.
  4. …is at hand; – literally, “has drawn near”, it has happened already, and is a present reality. Even though Israel is still ruled by Rome, and the religious leaders remain corrupt, the sphere of God’s supreme influence has already taken up residence with His human creatures.
  5. repent… – we typically say, “turn”, which is another term sometimes used for “repent”, but it literally is a “change of mind” or “after thought”. Either way, it happens in the mind first. It is a “paradigm shift” to align our thinking with the thinking of our Savior. It is seeing and evaluating things as He sees and evaluates them, using the same priorities and values.
  6. …and believe… – a mental acceptance of information as valid and actionable.
  7. …the gospel. – Good News. This isn’t “news”, but specifically good news. This good news is about what has just been said, but also contains the record of the events in this book of Mark about Jesus. What makes it “good”, from the perspective of our Savior, is that Israel does not need to be freed from Rome, nor their temple worship purged of corruption for His sovereignty to operate in the lives of His people.

You might think, “Well, good for them. But what about me?” You mean you have not been waiting for some “filling” of a “todo list” of our Savior before the next thing happens? We look for His “appearing” with excited apprehension, or we used to.

If you are waiting for the “purification of God’s people”, then you are a lot like the Jews of Jesus’ day. If you are waiting for some political turn of events to signal the reign of our Savior, then you have adopted the paradigm of the Jews under Rome. If you are waiting on something else, you are sitting on the trailside rather than walking with your King.

The new paradigm of Jesus, the “good news”, is that God is sovereign right now, and we can walk with Him, right now.

Is the world wonky and off? Walk with Jesus, and you will influence the world for your Savior. Is your church squabbling and stymied? Walk with your Creator, and you will influence your fellow disciples for your King.

It is arrogance that drives us to belittle others. One of the ways we know we are walking with our Savior is how humbling it is. If we feel arrogant toward others, we have been walking with a god of our making, or worse. Walking with Jesus means we are very aware of our failings and His grace.

If you want people to be different, you cannot change them. Be that disciple you believe Jesus desires, and allow the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus to influence them. Live out Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Corinthians 13. Be that guy.


Revisiting the Shake

Sometimes, when I write in the mornings, I am not able to sit and write without interruption. On weekends, it’s easier. So, this morning, I’m going to revisit my previous post. Not that my Master couldn’t use it in someone’s life, He can use anything. In fact, He can use nothing and still be effective. I simply need to pull something out of my noggin that’s been reverberating around in all that open space.

What does it mean that God will shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the wilderness?

The writer of Hebrews, Nicodemus, as I’ve been calling him, moves from the encouraging contrast between God in heaven, and God as He revealed Himself at Sinai, to prodding his audience to obey out of fear. Verses 25 through 29 of Hebrews 12 are nothing short of a threat. That may seem like an extreme way to put it, but it’s clearly a “stick” not a “carrot”. They want to be part of the unshakable kingdom, not the one to be destroyed by shaking.

They are saved from destruction by obedience, not refusing the voice of God. The implication is that they are trending toward rejecting or refusing the voice of God, and the writer is trying to reverse that trend. The entire book has been focused at precisely that goal, reversing the trend away from God. And yet, this is a strange way to pull their attention back on track. Quoting this passage in Haggai is a strange choice, especially at this point. As intentional as Nicodemus has been so far, this has to be intentional.

What did it mean for Haggai that God will shake the heavens, the earth, the sea and the wilderness?

On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

Haggai 2:1-9 NASB

This is the entire context of the quote (or reference) in Haggai. It may be familiar to you from the claim of the future glory of the temple, or you may have heard the quote, “the silver is Mine and the gold in Mine”, usually used completely out of context. But the entirety of this passage you have probably not heard. It hasn’t truly been fulfilled, not completely, at least not yet. Herod the Great tried, and the temple in Jerusalem that he built was impressive. But it wasn’t Solomon’s Temple, with the gold hammered into the walls and so on.

Nicodemus is probably pointing to the “Temple” in heaven as the fulfillment, although it existed before the building in Jerusalem. Even so, his use of the “shaking” seems disconnected from what Haggai had in mind. Haggai seems to have in mind “shaking out a bag of coins.” Look at the result, “I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations,” that is about money, and the splendor it can enable. Clearly the shaking results in wealth coming to Jerusalem to make the temple beautiful again.

So, when God shakes the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the desert, He is not destroying as much as “rearranging” them, or “re-appropriating” their wealth to His temple in Jerusalem. For Haggai, the fulfillment happens in the Jerusalem in which he lived. For Haggai, the “shaking” is something that Yahweh does to the Gentiles to bless the Jews. Yet, the wealth doesn’t show, the shaking doesn’t seem to happen like Haggai says. Or does it?

A case can be made that return of the Jews to Jerusalem under Cyrus did, in fact, bring with it the wealth of the nations. The items of the temple were returned, and wealth besides. While the temple wasn’t what they had remembered, it hadn’t been what it was when Solomon built it for over a hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in 586 BC. It had been plundered several times prior to the final destruction.

So, the shaking out the wealth of the Gentiles to bring it to Jerusalem is clearly not what Nicodemus had in view. What does he have in view?

What did it mean for the writer of Hebrews that God will shake heaven and earth?

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:25-29 NASB

The warning is an application from the comparison of Sinai and heaven, and is clear: Don’t be like those guys! Don’t refuse your Savior! If the Creator of the entire cosmos cares enough to speak with you, listen! It is dangerous not to. If the ones who heard Him at Sinai died before reaching the land because of their disobedience, then how will they (or we) escape Him? Why would they (or we) think they (or we) would be spared? That is essentially the point here for Nicodemus.

He pivots from applying the comparison to shaking. The word that Nicodemus chose to use for “shake” initially is different than “shake” used in the quote from Haggai, even though in English they’re the same. Nicodemus uses a word for shake that can have disastrous consequences (Acts 16:26), or refer to something shaken together to mix it (Luke 6:38).

Perhaps the best use can be found in the “Little Apocalypse” of Jesus (Matt. 24:29, Mark 13:25, Luke 21:26), where the “heavens will be shaken”. This is very likely what Nicodemus is drawing from in his use. But why quote Haggai? Nicodemus seems to have something very different in view than Haggai. While an end-of-all-things is clearly where Nicodemus is going, Haggai is pointing to a restoration-of-all-things. So, where’s the connection?

What it means for us that God will shake the heavens and the earth

The journey we are on while sojourning on this world may not be fun, but the final destination makes it all worth while. The day is coming when what we see will be completely remade, and we will know the life in the Garden we started with. That is the point. The new temple will be of greater splendor than Solomon’s because it will be the heavenly temple. The shaking of the world will dump from the nations all the rebellion against the Creator, and what is left will be holy and wholly His. There will be a “new heaven and new earth”:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4 NASB

That’s the result of the shaking. It will be the end of this world, and the beginning of the next. It will be when “tabernacle of God is among men”. The destination is what gives the journey meaning and purpose. What enables enduring this crazy world? Sure the Spirit of Jesus enables us, and He gives us purpose here and now. I don’t want to take away from that.

So, when it gets tough, and the purpose of our Savior for us includes pain, suffering, anguish, and loss, what makes it worth it? You see, the Spirit uses the promise of eternity to help us endure. He Himself is the guarantee of heaven. The destination makes the journey worth the effort, the pain, the frustration, and the suffering.

I think that’s a better treatment of “shaking” than the previous entry. Sorry it’s so long though. Thanks for pushing through to the end.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Passion Week XXXII

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NASB)

One of the most poignant accounts of the crucifixion is the repentant thief on the cross.  But the thief is also one of the strangest characters in the Gospel account as well.  Keep in mind that we no nothing of why either criminal is being crucified, nor any other information about them.  Only Luke has this account of the repentant criminal.

The crucifixion crowd seems to be focusing their abuse on Jesus.  The chief priests are in attendance challenging Him to come down since He’s the “chosen one”.  The people claim He’s saved others but cannot save Himself.  The soldiers mock Him, now that they’ve finished divvying up His clothes.  And now one of the criminals joins in the mocking, “save Yourself, and us.”  Matthew and Mark mention the abuse Jesus receives from the criminals as well (Matt. 27:44, Mark 15:32), but they say both criminals abused Jesus.

In Luke only we have this lone criminal who, apart from everyone else, seems to actually understand what Jesus is doing.  Imagine the scene, crowds watching the tortuous death of three men, hear the shouted insults, taunts, the soldiers mocking, and the mocking criminal.  Then, the other criminal calls to the other, “Do you not even fear God?”  He continues by confessing that they belong there but Jesus does not.  This is a sharp deviation from the rest of the scene.

The criminal calling out his fellow and confessing his sin, then turns his attention to Jesus, and he says one of the most startling things in Scripture, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”  To really get how strange this is, keep imagining the scene.  The painful death, the jeering crowds and soldiers all point to the immanent death of this same Jesus.  And the criminal says, “…when You come into Your Kingdom.”  How does this guy know the Kingdom follows after the cross?  Not even Jesus’ disciples seemed to know that.

The theological genius hanging on his own cross next to Jesus knows that there is more to follow this horrific death.  But He also knows to ask to be a part of it.  No one else asked for that.  The crowds, the soldiers, the priests, they all jeer the Savior.  But this guy wants in Jesus’ Kingdom.  This guy, probably as beaten and shredded as Jesus, doesn’t see the death of hope or of a problematic teacher.  He sees one in Whom he hopes anyway, regardless of the impending death, in spite of the jeers and derision he hears.  Who does that?

And Jesus replies even here, to this confession of faith, with a promise of paradise.  Up to this point, that term hasn’t been used by Jesus.  He’s used other terms for heaven, including “heaven”.  And there are various teachings or understandings about this term, both from rabbinic teaching and early church fathers.  Whatever it means technically, this criminal will be there with Jesus before the day is out.  That much is certain.

I learn some really important lessons here.  This criminal repented from his mindset to Jesus’ mindset at some point along the way.  Defending Jesus, confessing his own just death sentence, he then seeks to be accepted by Jesus Himself.  And, of course, he is accepted.  Can I, at the darkest point of my life, when the horrible end is obvious, and hope is really gone; can I, then, believe in Jesus’ Kingdom?  Let’s say it’s not actually that bad.  Can I, then, believe in Jesus’ Kingdom?

These are fairly meaningless contingencies for me.  I’m already in the Kingdom.  The real lesson for me is how I behave toward those seeking entrance.  Because people in those contingencies aren’t pretty, they aren’t typically “nice”, and they don’t “behave”.  Life, for them, is scarce and hard.  So, if they seek entrance, “Jesus, remember me…” then the plan is how to respond.

It doesn’t seem very wise, but Jesus makes His disciples “gatekeepers” of His Kingdom.  If it weren’t for the fact we’re kind of stupid, we’d be a fine choice.  Yet, in spite of our foolishness, Jesus uses us in this way.  And those outside seeking to enter see the fools at the gate.  And the challenge is to seek to be included among the fools, or seek another kingdom.  The criminal sees the impossibility of what was happening, and sought to be included in the foolishness.  Why not, he’s about to die anyway.  What does he have to lose?  Those closest to Jesus left Him.  The ones you would expect to be there seeking entrance to the Kingdom are hiding or looking on from a distance.  It’s the guy being tortured to death with Jesus who fearlessly asks for entrance.

So here’s to the fellow fools at the gate.  Doff the funny hat as the riffraff enter our Master’s Kingdom.  Smile and welcome them into the life of misfits where the fools are wise, and the wise foolish.  Welcome to the happy village of idiots.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week XIXd

“You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30 NASB)

I can only assume that Judas has left by this time.  Luke never tells us that.  In fact, none of the Gospels, except John, tells us when Judas leaves to get the soldiers.  These guys were just squabbling about which one was the greatest, and then Jesus tells them they will judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  Without the detail about when Judas leaves, it might cause one to wonder if Judas would also be a judge.  Probably not.

This statement of Jesus is full of surprise.  These are the guys who have stood by Jesus in His trials.  Although they’re getting ready to jet later that evening.  There is some translation “wiggle room” in verse 29.  The ESV has “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.” The problem is that “kingdom” is the direct object, but of which verb. It can be paired with Jesus’ granting the disciples, or with the Father granting Jesus.  It occurs at the end of the phrase, so its position in the sentence leaves some ambiguity.  The Greek texts have no spaces nor punctuation, so that sort of thing is left up to translators.  As you can see, they disagree somewhat about whether the disciples get a kingdom or not.  An additional issue is that verse 30 begins with a subordinating conjunction denoting purpose (“hinna” clause).  So the ambiguity continues with the context supporting either Jesus’ receipt of a kingdom enabling the disciples to eat at His table, or that the receipt of a kingdom by the disciples enables them to also/therefore eat at His table.  If your eyes haven’t crossed or you haven’t moved on to another blog, then you’ve survived the technical portion of today’s entry.

I think it makes more sense for the disciples to receive a kingdom because the following comment about them judging the tribes of Israel.  If it weren’t for that, I’d go with just the dining experience, but I think there’s more to it because of the role of judge.  Having said that, the meal with Jesus also means something.  We think of “kingdoms” in a way like an autonomous ruler having total control over the “kingdom”.  When I believe Jesus has the cultural understanding of a subordinate kingdom, like the one Herod had under the Roman governor of Judea.  I get this from the use of the word “grant” or “appoint” that Jesus (or Luke) uses here.  But it also comes from the close relational implication of sharing a “table”.  The type of kingdom and the way in which they administer such a kingdom implies a close subordinate role under Jesus.

Now, consider that in less that 30 verses Jesus will be betrayed, alone, and in chains.  And Jesus knows this.  Here He tells these guys who are about to desert Him that because they have stood by Him in His trials, He will grant/appoint/bestow a kingdom.  They are already forgiven for their fearful desertion of their Master.  Think that through.  Jesus doesn’t wait for them to come back around before telling them about a kingdom waiting for them.  He doesn’t wait for them to earn it in any way whatsoever.  We think of grace because of Jesus’ death, or His resurrection, or because He intercedes for us from the right hand of the Father to where He ascended.  But grace is a fact even in the past because of what Jesus would do in the near future.

How much more so for us?  Consider where you may be in your relationship with Jesus.  What you see is nothing compared to what Jesus sees.  Where we see failure and disaster, Jesus sees princes, princesses, kings, and queens.  Where we see impoverished faith, our Master in heaven sees riches beyond imagination, where gold is the cheap stuff we use to pave streets.  Redemption is now a reality because of what Jesus has done.  We may not feel it, see it, taste it, or even hear it; but we are redeemed right now.  Struggle with Jesus.  Wrestle with the Almighty!  Rage against the rebel within!  Obedience and faith are won on the spiritual battlefield, fighting the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms.  We can fight side-by-side, together in the ugliness of war.  Together we will then eventually see the light of victory before the throne of Jesus.  The point is to continue the struggle.  It only looks like we’re losing right now.  Eventually a kingdom waits for us (not one of our own necessarily), where we will experience the salvation of the presence of our Savior, Redeemer, and King. To help us see this, Jesus speaks of the end as if it’s already a reality; which it is.

We can’t see it ourselves, but it’s a done deal even so.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Fearless Transmission of the Kingdom of God

But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’  I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.  Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.  But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.  The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  (Luke 10:10-16 ESV)

Rejection.  We fear it.  It’s a defensive part of volleyball and basketball.  We do it in fear and pain.  Rejection is a powerful human action.  In a sense, it’s also a divine action.  While the word is not used, the action of not regarding the sacrifice of Cain was rejection of the sacrifice.  But also keep in mind that God continued to speak with Cain.  It was rejection of his sacrifice, not of Cain, not until later after he killed Abel.

Here in this passage, rejection is referred to as “rejection” but also in terms of not being received.  And Jesus reserves a harsh judgement for such activity.  Consider that for a moment.  Rejection and harsh judgement are things we are not terribly comfortable with.  We fear them both.  Yet these woes and judgements of Jesus were to be encouragement to the seventy He was sending out.  In the face of rejection, the seventy were to respond with a challenge to the village.  Shaking the dust from the feet, but also a call that the Kingdom of God has come near regardless of your rejection.

The truth is I fear rejection.  I fear what others think of me.  And I shouldn’t.  Think about it sure, but fear it, no.  There’s no cause for me to fear it.  The truth is that when I bring the Kingdom of God near to others, they become responsible to receive or reject.  In a sense I have brought them to a terrible precipice.  The judgement they incur on themselves when they reject the Kingdom is severe.  Yet notice that the judgement is for the “day”.  In other words, once the Kingdom comes near, even should they reject it, they have time.  They can repent, change their minds.

So bringing the Kingdom of God near to people is both a danger to them, but also a hope.  They may reject, but they may, after rejecting, repent.  Yet all I can think of is myself, how will I feel, what if they don’t like me, how uncomfortable with I be, and so on in additional nauseating procession.  I want to be thought well of by others.  Well phoey on that!  Who cares?  While that’s easy to say and to write, it’s hard for me to live out.  But I must.  It’s not an option, it’s an imperative.  I must live out fearless transmission of the Kingdom of God to those around me.  For the Kingdom of God has indeed come near to them.  They need to know that.

I need to change.  What do you need to do?  What’s your view through the knothole?

What Am I Fit For?

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”  But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 9:61-62 NASB)

There are times Jesus seems really harsh.  There are others where He seems kind and gentle, but those also serve to throw into sharp relief the times He’s not.  In the wrap up this chapter, Jesus interacts with three people.  Two offer to follow Him, and one He calls.  None seem “fit” for the Kingdom.  The last one is especially interesting.

While one offers and Jesus says He has no “home”, and while another is called but wants to go bury his father (why isn’t he at the funeral now?), the last one offers, but with the caveat that he wants to say good-bye to his family.  Here’s my problem: the last one is the only one who seems to want to follow now, and to the death.

The first one isn’t ready to be uncomfortable, as evidenced by Jesus’ reply.  The second, wants to wait until he has no other obligations.  I’m assuming dear old dad isn’t yet dead, so he has family obligations he needs to wait to complete (i.e. dear old dad to die).  Even in the second one, Jesus tells him not to wait, but go and preach; which is positive really, Jesus wants him to be of service even with his response.

But the final one seems to have heard and taken to heart the first two.  He has the right answer: cut all ties, and follow to the end.  Yet he has to finish well, so he is to say good bye to all and follow.  But Jesus isn’t buying it.  For him He reserves the harshest reply.  But the picture is of a man plowing yet looking behind.  This makes for crooked plowing.  No one does that.  Everyone knows not to.  So, how does this man wanting to cut ties to his household look back while plowing?

Jesus doesn’t say he is doing this.  He says that anyone doing it isn’t fit for the Kingdom.  He leaves it up to the man to decide if he wants to proceed knowing that particular cost.  In fact, Jesus does this with all three, really.  The first, it’s a challenge to live without a home.  The second, it’s a challenge to leave family to family and move on within the Kingdom of God.  The third, it’s a challenge to truly leave it all behind, not just say you’re leaving it all behind.  It’s a challenge to determine just how important the things he leaves really are to him.

It may sound like this one is the least harsh, but remember that the first has no qualifier for participation in the Kingdom of God.  The second seems “acceptable” even with his request to wait to answer Jesus’ call.  It’s only the third one where Jesus leaves it open that the man may not be fit for the Kingdom at all.  It is harsh.  It’s supposed to be.  It’s harsh to read, so I can only imagine what it felt like to hear. Yes, it was a challenge, not a condemnation, but the challenge also held the possibility that he may not be fit at all.  Wasn’t that potential in the other two?

The answer is that the potential is there in all of us.  It was in the other two, but Jesus made it explicit with the third man.  Perhaps it was arbitrary, but that would be a first for Jesus.  Perhaps it was a final challenge to everyone in the crowd wondering and wanting to do the same as these three.  Perhaps Jesus saw something different in this third man than in the others.  Maybe everyone thought the Kingdom would be easy, or easier.  I doubt that.

I think the challenge to be fit for the Kingdom of God remains for me today.  I need to look at what I’m doing, plowing.  I need to pay attention to that, not what I’ve done, not how the rows I’ve completed look like, not what the sowers behind me are doing, not what the others working in the field might be up to.  The task at hand for the Kingdom requires focus.  But it’s tedious.  It’s boring.  How long must I stare a the butt of an ox?  It’s hard, the plow wants to rise and not dig, the oxen drift, and they smell bad, and I think one just dumped “fertilizer” right in front of me.  I want to throw seed now, and let someone else walk behind these beasts.  Such an “employee” gets fired, and so such an servant would not be fit for the Kingdom.  There are others who are satisfied with a well-done job, a well plowed field, straight rows, deep furrows, and the muscle-strain of guiding and directing powerful beasts.  Which am I?  Which will I be?

What’s your view through the knothole?