Cowards Pass the Mustard

blossom-1785901_1920

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Ezra 7:(1-10) 11-26, Revelation 14:1-13, Matthew 14:1-12


Batman famously characterizes criminals as a “superstitious and cowardly lot.” After reading Matthew’s account of the execution of John the Baptist, we may be inclined to agree.

When Herod Antipas heard about Jesus, he was convinced John the Baptist had been raised from the dead with terrifying new powers. Was he superstitious? Definitely. But the unjust circumstances of John’s death had Herod looking over his shoulder out of guilt as much as superstition. Cowardly? Yes again. Herod condemned John to death because he was afraid to break an unwise oath to Salome (the daughter of Herodias who was Herod’s sister-in-law, niece and lover) in front of his guests. Herodias had Salome request John’s head on a platter, because John protested her incestuous relationship with Herod. Herod himself had no taste for John’s particularly gruesome execution, but he valued social standing and power above justice. Herod shows us dictators and their ilk are paranoid for a reason: the evil deeds required to secure power will come back to haunt you. Jesus may not have been John the Super-Zombie Baptist, but he was everything Herod feared.

In the previous chapter of Matthew, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. In his day, wild mustard was a weed farmers tried to keep off their lands, but it always came back. Keeping it in check required constant vigilance, or it became a great nuisance that choked out the crops. That is what the inhabitants of the Kingdom of God are to the unjust: a constant threat that keeps popping up in unexpected places. When unjust dictators rise to power, they nearly always kill, imprison or otherwise silence those who cry for justice, but doesn’t there always seem to be a new mustard crop springing up?

Great evil is rarely born fully formed, but is built from an accumulation of casually unjust acts; at any point Herod could have stopped the chain of events that led from his relationship with Herodias to John’s execution. Similarly, the Kingdom of God sprouts from tiny, persistent seeds. Let love and justice grow wildly in our hearts until they choke out evil.

Comfort: If we don’t cut love back, it just keeps growing.

Challenge: Pay attention to your small acts; they build the larger you.

Prayer: Teach me, Lord, to act justly, even when it’s not convenient.

Discussion: What small acts of kindness have kept you from despair?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Lion’s Den

Briton_Riviere_-_Daniel's_Answer_to_the_King_(Manchester_Art_Gallery)

Daniel’s Answer to the King, Briton Rivière, 1890

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Daniel 6:16-28, 3 John 1-15, Luke 5:27-39


What is power?

Emperors and kings, queens and prime ministers, presidents and dictators – we associate these people with power. Some – like emperors – seem to have nearly unlimited power, while others – such as presidents – have clearly defined powers. Yet even the power of an emperor is insignificant before the power of faith.

King Darius was heartbroken after his advisers exploited his ego and Daniel’s faith to tricked Darius into condemning Daniel to the lion’s den. Darius tried desperately to find another course of action, but was trapped by his own decree. It seems even an emperor is not more powerful than his own word. He prayed that Daniel’s God might save him, then retreated to his castle for a sleepless night of fasting. In the morning, Daniel emerged unharmed. Darius decreed that all should tremble before the Living God of Daniel. He had the advisers and their families thrown into the den, where they had the same chance as Daniel, but their faith in deception and idols did not serve them as well.

Every ruler (or ruling body) is limited to actions that they believe will allow them to retain power. Sometimes that means observing the law, and sometimes that means creating fear. But in some circumstances they still have to watch the consequences of their actions unfold well beyond the reach of their control. While Darius could do nothing, Daniel’s faith in God saved both of them.

No matter who is technically in control, the moral health of a nation, religious body, corporation, or other entity depends on the faith and basic decency of ordinary people. Regardless of whether the powers-that-be are rooting for us or against us, how we enter the lion’s den matters. The resistance of persistent faith in the face of what seems like certain defeat or destruction changes us, the world, and the powerful.

Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” For citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven that commitment is to Christ.

Power is faith.

Comfort: Your faith matters, even when you don’t feel like it does.

Challenge: When you feel like your actions and faith don’t matter, pray for understanding of why they do.

Prayer: Mighty God, teach me to find the strength in faith. Amen.

Discussion: What do you feel powerless against? Now what would you tell someone who felt the same way?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group  or visit comfortandchallenge.tumblr.com. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Eggs and Scorpions

egg_scorpion

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Micah 7:1-7, Revelation 10:1-11, Luke 11:1-13


What is the difference between being persistent and being stubborn?

Jesus told his disciples a parable about a man who went to his friend’s house in the middle of the night to ask for three loaves of bread to share with an unexpected visitor. Because it was so late, the friend tried many excuses to turn the man away and stay in bed. In the end, Jesus said, the man got his bread not because of friendship but because of persistence. Jesus continued to say:

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Taken alone that last bit almost seems like a magic formula – just ask for what you want, and you’ll get it. Of course we know it doesn’t work out that way in real life. But just because we don’t get something right away doesn’t mean we should stop asking. Yes, God hears you the first time, but your persistence isn’t about changing God: it’s about changing you.

Jesus tells his disciples that when a child asks for an egg or a fish, a good parent doesn’t give them a scorpion or a snake. Better and more holy than the best of parents, God wants us to have things that are good for us. But what if the child, not knowing what adults know, asks for a scorpion? Or grabs for it? The good parent doesn’t allow it to happen. Eventually the child either grows more wise or gets stung.

And therein lies the difference.

With persistence comes growth and wisdom. God does not change, but our understanding does. Maybe we aren’t ready, maybe we don’t need it, and maybe we learn to live with not knowing. With stubbornness there is no change. We keep insisting on getting we want, and never learn to ask if we should. Both may result in getting what we ask for, but is it the egg or the scorpion?

Comfort: God wants only good for you.

Challenge: Make a list of the things you are asking God for, but have not yet received. Honestly evaluate whether you are being stubborn or persistent about each.

Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Discussion: Today’s reading from Luke begins with a short version of The Lord’s Prayer. How do you think this is related to today’s topic?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!