Jesus and the boys have Jerusalem in their sight and Jesus doesn’t mince words.
“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, 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!”
Immediately after this, the mother of all stage mothers comes up to Jesus with her sons, the sons of Zebedee, and requests a favor.
Jesus says, What do you want?
Like he doesn’t know.
Jesus asks this question a lot and it is not because he doesn’t know the answer.
He asks it so that we can know the answer.
What do I really want from Jesus?
At the beginning of my Lenten journey I entered into the discipline of self-examen. This self-awareness process allowed God’s spirit to penetrate my heart in such a way that what I began to go deeper into what I really wanted from Him.
When I said I wanted to be set free from the spirit of fear that has dogged me my whole life, was I really saying that I would do anything it takes to get free?
To go into the tomb of the dark night of the soul, perhaps even getting to the darkest place where I would cry out…”My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Could I take my fears to the grave of surrender?
Would I really come to believe that I can trust God for everything?
See, the gospel is the real deal. It doesn’t shrink back from the stuff of life.
So this first century stage mom just puts it all out there. She wants success and power for her boys and apparently she believes they are worthy of it.
She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.”
Here is Jesus declaring his mission statement, in black and white, in all of its horrific and glorious detail, and at once this mother, perhaps the first helicopter parent, asks that her sons get to be Jesus’ next in command. Like, Vice-President and Secretary of State. Just think. The Roman empire was about to be squashed and her sons would be front and center!
Was she guilty of selective hearing?
Did she not understand what Jesus meant?
Did the phrase “Son of Man” get lost in translation?
I love this woman. Warts and all. She wants it all for her boys and she is bold, forthright and…honest. Her motherly pride is out there for all the world to see and she doesn’t even know it, because like me, she doesn’t get it.
There was a time in my early mothering days that I took every compliment, every praise about my children’s good behaviour as an affirmation of my good parenting. After all, I read the books, of course searched the bible and oh…did I pray! The first time one of my children mis-stepped publicly, however, was like a divine wedgie from God Himself, that He, not me, was my source for whatever I possessed in wisdom and understanding.
These boys don’t get it either. They accompany their mother when she makes her request, so they are in the know. In another account, it says James and John (the Zebedee boys) asks Jesus for these positions themselves. These guys, who had heard over and over again, that to save your life, you must lose it.
Perhaps they truly did lack understanding.
Perhaps it was something they just didn’t want to hear.
Perhaps they were blind to the truth.
So Jesus simply says, “You do not know what you’re asking for.”
He talks about drinking from a cup, a cup of sorrows and asks if they can do such a thing, which they reply, Yes!
But they do not know what that really means.
Like we don’t know the hard work of marriage, or raising a child, or being at the helm of a business or a ministry. We do not know what we have asked for, because with position comes a purifying, a pulverizing. To be truly effective in our sphere of influence we lay aside our thrones and crowns and walk the road. We get our feet dirty.
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. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
This is what Jesus has been saying all along and, as He is about to live and die it out, some of his closest friends and their mother were still missing it.
Jesus is saying, don’t you get it? I’ve laid aside my throne and my crown for you. And if you want to be like me, you will do it too.
You will release your grip on your abilities, your money, your self-protection, your reputation. You will serve in the seen and unseen.
So Jesus goes ahead and shows how its done. While on his way, Jesus and his friends encounter two blind men. Unlike James and John, these men were physically blind. And unlike James and John, they sought mercy and not position.
The crowd, stern as always, wants them to shut up, because, “Duh, Jesus is on a mission to claim His kingdom here and time is of the essence.”
Jesus stops. He has a question.
What do you want Me to do for you?
They said, “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.”
And Jesus, moved by compassion gives the men their sight and they follow Him.
Two blind brothers. Two blind men.
Eventually those brothers receive eyes to see, too. They have to get past all the accolades and praises and palm branches first.
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.- Abraham Lincoln
I have a friend who uses this phrase quite often – “But, God.”
It’s a phrase lifted right out of God’s own lips. Its expression fluctuates with the positioning of a tiny ink blot.
There’s the finality of the period.
There’s the shout of the exclamation point.
There’s the subtle pause of the comma.
And finally, the mystery of the unfolding dot. dot. dot.
This “but”, this humble link between two clauses, two narratives, can be like the sudden appearance of a comet streaking across the sky. Or it can be like the subtle wind change that redirects the course of your sails.
Some of you know this.
You were going about your life thinking that this is all there is and then you had an encounter with God that you could not explain to your friends.
Maybe you were traveling down the road of negativity and anxiety searching for answers and suddenly found yourself going down a new path toward your healing.
Or like me, you found yourself in the middle of the night lying on a cot in a roomful of other terrified parents lying on their cots as you all awaited the final diagnosis that would not bode well for your children. Then, one day, three years later you woke up on a crisp Autumn day and you heard the doctors say to you…”but we can’t explain why your son’s liver has completely shrunk to its normal size…” To this day you still marvel that the boy keeps drumming worship into his third decade.
This…from a long ago silly movie, is one of the truest things I have ever heard-
“Everyone I know has a big but…”
Funny, but true, but tragic, stuff.
Isn’t it true that for many of us, our buts are really excuses or avoidances of why we live half-hearted lives?
But, I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.
But, she’s struggled with addictions for so long.
But God has seen my hardship.
But, I can’t really do anything significant.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
But, he cheated on his wife.
But You are a fogiving God.
But, she’s always been depressed.
But God will redeem my life from the pit.
Our buts are roadblocks erected to keep us safe from disappointment, from accountability, even the possibility of just being happy for no reason. Our buts confine us, derail us, and diminish us.
I can say this because I live from a narrative that says I am beloved and some things are just plain funny and some things are just plain true and laughter is good medicine and if God doesn’t laugh, then I don’t know nothin’.
Because the plain truth is God has a bigger but. It trumps our puny, little buts because with God all things are possible.
I may be weak…My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
I may have messed up…But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.
Are you walking toward your own Jerusalem this week? Are you ready to face what awaits you there?
When the enemy of your soul throws your addictions, your anxieties, your pain and your sin in your face, you can put away your roadblocks and say the hard work of life is the hard work of life. It can feel like it’s killing you right now. … but God is the strength of my (your) heart and my (your) portion forever.
This is my Lenten journey this week.
Facing Jerusalem and saying But, God.
The trouble ain’t that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.- Mark Twain
It is April and the snow banks rise high and the landscape speaks weary.
It is supposed to be spring, yet winter pounds hard.
Work is hard and marriage is the hardest.
Addiction ordeals, pain wields, anxiety steals.
Children stumble and parents grumble and smack.
Little ones crayola coloring bleed trauma and teachers bleed exhaustion.
Missiles looking for land drop into the sea, and trains explode and more people are ripped.
Some days there is nothing left to give but to give up.
This whole wide world and all its broken-down busted up blue can be a hard place to be when winter refuses to give up its grip. When suffering seems to still have the upper-hand. But give it up it must. Give it up it will.
My Lenten journey has Jesus walking toward Jerusalem, that city of peace.
His friends are high with hope, like when crocuses poke through the snow. Spring!
But, Jesus keeps talking about capture and torture and death. And what is this thing about the third day?
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.
It is a gray Wednesday and melancholy wraps its cloak around me. I am familiar with the feel of it for it comes every Lenten season near the end. I want to give up.
When this happens there is only one place for me to look. Past the tombs of melancholy and cynicism, I look to the cross. I look up. I give up.
This week Jesus is walking toward His Jerusalem, knowing what He will face there.
He, too, will give up.
I do not have to fast.
I do not have to give up one tiny morsel.
Fasting is not a rule I must keep to keep up with things.
Even Jesus defended his friends for not fasting.
Then the disciples of John came to him saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast but our disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn while the Bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Here’s the thing, the absolute brilliant thing, about Jesus.
He goes to the heart of the matter.
Not bellies. Hearts.
He answers the question about fasting by inserting this crazy narrative about a wedding and a bridegroom.
Weddings and bridegrooms?
What do they have to do with fasting?
Everyone knows you don’t fast when there is about to be a feast.
Who is this bridegroom anyway and where is he going? Is he coming back?
So Jesus, you’re saying this is when we will fast?
Do we miss the bridegroom or something?
Like, really miss him?
Wait…the only one who would miss the bridegroom like this is a bride.
Who is she?
The bride is us.
When we fast for real, it just points to the deep hunger that is already there, beating in our hearts. Fasting is a reminder of what is real about us. What is real about God.
Therefore true fasting is longing and longing is waiting and waiting is believing.
There is no rule for this.
Too many sit at the banquet table of the gospel of Jesus Christ and merely nibble at the feast placed before them. They go through the motions – attending their meetings perhaps, glancing at scriptures, repeating familiar prayers – but their hearts are far away.– Joseph B. Wirthlin
Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?
If I fast because I want to earn my way into God’s good graces
and nothing in me changes,
the fast is all for naught.
If I fast what isn’t good for me anyway
and give up what I never needed in the first place,
I’m hungrier than I thought.
If I fast to shrink my belly and lessen my widen’d hips
while crumbs of grumbling remain on my lips,
the desert is my lot.
If I give up my morning coffee and sacrifice its silky cream,
Will this bend the ear of God to all my hopes and dreams?
I lay aside what really nourishes me,
bread and meat and honey sweet,
and all my guts go hollow.
Will the emptiness I feel
point to what is real
Will these hunger pains
Be my helper and my aid
toward knowing more of God’s grace?
Perhaps then I will realize that fasting is not a game.
“Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are-dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon.”– Hudson Taylor
Re-visiting one of my favorites on my Lenten journey.