Tag Archives: Luke

Neediness

I’ve all but reached the grand finale in the book of Luke.  I know the events leading up to Jesus’s final hours, how he taught in the temple, and slept on the Mount of Olives, all too well, and yet things are remarkably not as the seem (21:34-38).

Wa church members worshiping in Yunnan.

The wonderful thing about scripture is that our own context always alters its meaning, lifting certain moments out of obscurity.

That…and the Holy Spirit, of course.

And so this morning as I find myself lamenting the divisions of my Church in America, as well as the fledging churches in China, I am humbled to see how Jesus surrounded himself with (unlikely) broken beings.  I think of Peter in his denial, Judas in his betrayal, and what rings true is not the prowess of Jesus’s twelve, but rather their inability to understand, their fears, their selfishness-in short, their humanity.

Rural church in the mountains of Yunnan.

The other morning as my friend and I reflected on the passage about the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Luke 8), she remarked wisely that Jesus responds to people with authentic need.  How true that is, I think, for all throughout scripture we see people who in humbling themselves before Jesus, their hearts have already been cured in that they’ve found their way to humility, servanthood, and faith.  Therefore, they are freed of their burdens, cured of their disease, and fully healed.

Meanwhile we who feel we have bigger fish to fry, we who, like the disciples, no sooner have we received Jesus’ sweet communion do we start to quibble about who among us is greatest (Luke 22:14-30) and who shall be saved, we mistakenly see ourselves as without need.  Jesus famously says in the fifth chapter of Luke that those who are well have no need of healing, and that he’s come to call not the righteous but the sinners to repentance (5:31).

Surely Jesus was being sarcastic about those healthy, righteous people, right?  Oh, what I wouldn’t give to hear the tone of some of these one-liners!

Context, my friends.  And thank God for the Holy Spirit.

Mandarin Bible with Dai translation notes.

As I read about that Holy meal this morning in modern China, that famous last supper, what strikes me today is not only the communion Jesus offers to all of us so greatly in need, but how that last meal is tainted with the foreshadowing of betrayal.  We will all succumb to the lie in life that we’re healthy, shiny got-it-all-together disciples, and only when that lie comes apart at the seams do we find ourselves crawling back to Jesus.

So today I’m praying that God would make me ever aware of my own fragility, that I’ll stick to a life of groveling, crawling, and humbling myself–in short, the life where I belong.  And that the humanity of others would only make me see myself more clearly, more accurately, and that would only make me cling, in my neediness to Jesus.

Sounds like another job for the Holy Spirit!

Inside a Wa church in Yunnan province. All photos by Evan Schneider.
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From Jesus’ perspective

Some reflections on Luke chapters 17-19:

I suppose it’s only natural that when reading the scriptures, we, in all our brokenness and humanity, rarely consider the perspective of Jesus.  We rarely put ourselves in his place to consider how he felt, how he lived, how he died.

And most of the time, I think that’s a good thing.  

I mean, we are none other than those to whom he is telling parable after parable, his doubting Thomases, his eager, but altogether feeble Peters.  We, like his faithful twelve, had we been there, would not have understood either when he proclaimed his impending death, the darkness that was to come, the terrible suffering of the Son of Man.

A view of the Li River in Guangxi, Guilin.

But today I’m still left wondering how it felt for Jesus, being fully human, to bear that cross, and here I’m speaking figuratively, rather than literally.  Is it not another condition of our humanity to feel so deeply the pain of rejection, the uneasiness of misunderstanding, and the frustration, the exasperation of trying to explain oneself to others who cannot possibly understand or in this case, even conceive of one’s circumstances?

It leaves me even more in awe of our Lord to consider that in his final days he never gave up on us, he never forsake those tired, faulty disciples, but rather continued to preach and teach, to comfort and to charge, in the face of death and uncertainty.  Sometimes I forget how deeply Jesus understands us, because he truly lived among us, felt our rejection, and yet never turned away from us.

So it is that considering the perspective of Jesus brings me to my knees this morning.

Because try as I might to know his experience of rejection and loneliness in this world, I ultimately find myself in the shoes of the aggressors, the doubters, the naysayers, and the weak.  And so I thank God again, with fresh insight, that God sent God’s only son, the one and only Christ who could possibly fill the void, so that we might be freed from loneliness, rejection, and misunderstanding in this lifetime.

Amen.

All photos by Evan Schneider.

Consider the ravens, consider the blessings

A few days ago I posted on the parable of the rich fool and the wisdom to be found in spare closets and fewer things.

Little did I know that I have much more to learn on this topic.

But that’s what’s so compelling about our scriptures–each time you read them the Spirit reveals something new, something so eerily, no– purposefully appropriate for today.

In the twelfth chapter of Luke, Jesus continues by deconstructing the practice of worrying.  “Consider the ravens,” he remarks, “they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (12:24-25)

I hate to admit it, but I can be a real worrywart.  I hate to admit it, because I despise the out of control, overwhelming, guilt, and fear worry instills.  I hate that my own vanities and my own weaknesses are what drive me to it, but most of all I hate that not only do I know it’s a waste of time, but I do it anyway!  I hate that as Jesus suggests, while we’re worrying, the gift of life and all that really matters are passing us by.

Two weeks ago today I was in a meeting with orphanage directors here in South China when my phone starting ringing incessantly with an +09 number that could only be a skype call.  And my heart sunk as I finally answered it knowing that whoever was on the other side would only be dialing me over and over here in China in the case of a dire emergency.

Since that time my Grandpa has been in the hospital, fighting a weak heart, and recently failing organs.  When I opened up about the difficulty of being here and not there the next day, one of my Chinese friends discouraged me from worrying.  I could feel the anger and the exasperation well up in my throat as I choked out and snapped, “Well I am worried, because he’s very, very sick!”

Truthfully it wasn’t just this remark but a number of interactions that have made me frustrated with my Chinese friends lately.  They can’t understand why I’d ever want to leave China, and they’re kind of mad at me for making plans to leave this July, and for not being able to tell them for sure when I’m coming back.

And I’m mad at them, especially at times like this, for not being able to see and understand that I’m not only their Lin En, the woman who loves to talk to them about their families and their lives here, but also a person with her own family and friends, and a life that I left behind in America, too.

We usually understand each other so well, and so I want them to get all that, too, you know, just instinctively, right?

But when I read a scripture like this one I see that my energy, my anxiety, and my worries are futile.  You see, I could focus on the ways my friends here just don’t get it, or the parts of my life they’ll never fully grasp, or I can marvel in the blessing of God providing me such amazing, supportive, loving, accepting people in this foreign place when it seemed entirely likely that I would never belong.  How humbled I am to be so loved by my Chinese friends that they tell me they can’t do without me, and that I understand their culture and their concerns to the point that they can’t imagine me anywhere else but here.

And how careless I am to assume that their urging me not to worry is an indication of their lack of understanding or concern, but rather an understanding of myself on a level that I thought only God could grasp.  See, when I’m afraid, full of worries and fears, they see beyond that to me at my best and not at my worst.  In asking me not to worry, do they not rather invoke all this is precious and good about humanity, God, and life itself?

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give alms.  Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart is also. –Luke 12:32-34

I’m still rather ragged thinking about my Grandpa and my family back in America this week, but I think it would make them happy to know how good God has been to me here in China.  And when I meditate on those good things, both my American family and my Chinese one, I do feel a little snippet of peace, and I pray my Grandpa does, too.

A photo of my Grandpa and I from this Thanksgiving. He was recently settled back into his nursing home’s hospice care. Prayers are welcome.

Thanking God for the woes

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. –Luke 6:24-26

I’m not usually such of fan of negative passages in the Bible, you know like the whole ‘Loving God, please heap burning coals upon my enemies’ heads’ lines that often fall at the end of the Psalms.  Something just doesn’t seem quite right with those…

Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

So I guess that’s why I tend to gravitate toward the version of the Beattitudes in Matthew 5, you know the one that wraps up with blessings, joy in heaven, and then moves onto that cheery salt and light bit.

And perhaps that’s why these few verses at the end of Luke’s version struck me so profoundly with their recognition that it’s not only poverty of spirit that’s too be cherished, but gluttony, wickedness, and pride that are to be avoided.

Yesterday, as we made our way to a foster family’s home on the outskirts of the city and down a dusty road, a Chinese friend of mine turned to me and said, “You know people think that because China is developing so rapidly that things are fine here, but we still have a lot of problems.”

This morning I read an article about the education that few can afford in China, and the widening gap between the rich and poor.  And yesterday I saw it with my own eyes, far removed from the gleaming skyscrapers in the city, among these lovely old ladies who live in shacks and take care of severely disabled, needy kids for next to nothing.

But we can all relate to that story of the haves and the have-nots, can’t we?

It’s the same story in America just on a different frequency, and it must have been the same story back in Biblical times or Jesus would have been able to stop with that list of blessings.

But he didn’t.  

He went onto to preach that he wasn’t just talking about the plight of the poor or charity, where the rich could chip in a few cents for the poor and go on their merry way, but life-changing justice–the kind where we’d all have to give up something so that others don’t have to go without the necessities, where we’d have to stop rejoicing in the struggles of others, or attributing our success, wealth, and status to our own good graces.

I’m grateful during this Lenten season that Jesus didn’t stop with the blessings, but heaped on the woes.

Because its causing me to ask myself the hard questions like, What is Jesus calling me to give up this season so that others don’t go without?  And what burdens is Jesus calling me to shoulder so that others don’t stumble and fall?  

These are the questions that Lent begs of us, and the questions that renew our search for God’s wisdom and for Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

They are the questions that I ask even now when I’m afraid to do so, so that in some humble way someday I might not be facing these woes or trashing Jesus’s good name with them, but that I might be a blessing to others.