Matthew

How Jesus Knew The Church Would Always Be

Jesus says in Matthew 26:11, "For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." There is a lot of conversation about what this means and if Jesus was endorsing a social structure that keeps people poor. In the discussion I offer up the idea that Jesus said the poor will always be with you in the same spirit that he said, "Follow me." That is he said this as an invitation. 

As long as people are following Jesus and giving everything up, then there will always be 'the poor." In fact, being poor is one of the categories Jesus says is blessed in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. I confess that I am not the best at being poor in finances. Frankly, I am often embarrassed by what I do have, and tend to brag about the things I do not have. Even as a clergy person, I am not immune to Sin and in some ways. As a person with power, privilege and influence, I am often more in danger of the power of Sin. 

Jesus knew the church would always exist, even after his death, because there will always be people to take the invitation of let go and follow Jesus. There will always be people poor in spirit and poor in resources - these are the ones that Jesus blesses and even says he would be dressed as in the final judgement (Matthew 25). 

"I Am with the Goats" - A Tale

Peter Rollins’ book Orthodox Heretic is a collection of what I will call parables, even in the preface he hesitates with that label. These parables are the sort of parables that I adore and give all sorts of insights to wisdom. If I were to dream up a book this is the sort of book that I would want to have the creativity to write. This book is sort of a combination between the sayings of the desert abbas/ammas and David Eagleman’s book Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives.

It is in the spirit of Rollins’ book that I offer up a sort-of tale of my own based on Matthew 25 which I will call “I Am with the Goats”

Photo by  Simon Matzinger  on  Unsplash

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

As the sheep walked into eternal life, Jesus joined with the goats. Perplexed by this action, a sheep, “Jesus where are you going?” Jesus replied, “My ministry with those on the margins never stopped. I AM and always have been among the goats.”

Forgive, Judge, and See - Stepping Away From the Fires of Hell

Picking up from the previous post "COMMENT, COMPLAIN, CRITIQUE, CONTEMPT - THE SUBTLE STEPS TO THE FIRES OF HELL," I offer up a way to think about moving away from contempt. 

recent email newsletter from Fr. Richard Rohr said Pope John XXIII had a motto which was translated as, “See everything; overlook a great deal; correct a little.” Rohr refined this motto to read: "See everything; judge little; forgive much." It is this three fold pattern that might give us the tools to step away from contempt. First the visual then a bit of explination:

Contempt is among the most difficult things to step away from. Moving away from contempt requires dramatic action. We may not desire dramatic moving away when we are close to contempt toward another. Specifically, we are to forgive much. Forgive wholesale and trust that you will have time to sort out the specifics later. Like running from a fire, the first thing to do is get to safe ground before you assess what needs to be done next. Contempt is a fire that can consume all things and so running from it by way of forgiving wholesale is the first step. Assessments can be made on the way forward. 

If you find that you are close to criticism toward another, then it is important to judge less. Remember we all see only through a mirror dimly and what we see in another person is only a small slice of the whole pie. There are situations going on in their lives that you are unaware of that are contributing to actions you don't understand. Notice that it is not "do not judge" but rather "judge little." While the ideal may be to not judge at all, humans are not able to do this. It is more realistic that we aim to judge little.

Finally, if you find that you are close to complaining, then open your eyes and see more. Not only are we not seeing the other clearly, but we also tend to see ourselves in pure and sinless light. We are the "gold standard" by which we think all things should be judged. We often overlook our own failings/shortcomings. See everything means examine your own motives and actions. 

The goal is to bring us back to comments. Comments are without judgement and are seeking clarification. Despite the "comment" section of most online platforms are full of critique and contempt, comments are the clay that we can use to shape healthy relationships.

Comment, Complain, Critique, Contempt - The Subtle Steps to the Fires of Hell

You may have heard the following scripture from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew:

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
— Matthew 5:21-24

You may have noticed there are four movements that Jesus highlights. I translated these four postures into the following four movements:

  1. Comment
  2. Complain
  3. Critique
  4. Contempt

Notice that anger/comment are nether good nor bad. We place values on the emotion anger, but really anger (like all emotions) is amoral, it is what you do with that anger that qualifies the anger. Comments are just that - amoral comments. Comments are observations and helpful for build relationships. For instance, "the meeting lasted 90 minutes." is a comment. 

Issues arise when we do not address comments and allow them to build up. At that point, we're stepping toward Complaining. Complaining is a subtle shift from Commenting. Complaints are Comments with qualifiers. Sticking with the example above: "The meeting lasted 90 minutes but should have been done in half as much time," is a complaint. 

The look of contempt?

The look of contempt?

As complaints are left unchecked, they too can bundle up into critiques. Critiques are qualified comments with an evaluation. So you can see how "The meeting lasted 90 minutes but I could have run that meeting more efficiently so it would have only taken half the time." is a critique. It is nefarious to bundle complaints because they become the fuel for scathing critiques. 

Finally, critiques that are not addressed in healthy ways can build into Contempt. Contempt is that feeling that the other is worthless. The contemptuous might say, "that meeting was a waste of time and we should not have to ever attend another meeting and if I were in charge I would do it better." 

Once we arrive at contempt toward someone or something we have a very hard time coming back from it. The next post will give a suggestion on how we might move away from contempt. 

The above is an abridged version of a sermon delivered on 2/12/17 (listen here).