Jesus who?

Boy & the Bench

Today’s readings:
Psalms 43; 149, Jeremiah 5:20-31, Romans 3:19-31, John 7:1-13

Anonymity and privacy are quickly becoming obsolete. We carry identification for many purposes; our online activity is tracked and traded; our purchasing data allows marketers to target us directly; cameras and surveillance equipment feed the nightly news; and we voluntarily document almost limitless information about our lives on social media.

Life in the first century was very different. Because there were no photographs or even binoculars, many (if not most) of the people who followed Jesus wouldn’t know him if they met him. Thus, when the annual Festival of Booths arrived, he was able to wander it unnoticed and listen freely to what people were saying about him. Even his close friends didn’t know he was there. When they tried to convince him to go so he could increase his fame and reputation, he said “my time has not yet fully come” and told them he was remaining behind. What they didn’t fully understand was that he was referring to his time to die; the authorities were already plotting to kill him, and public appearances would only hasten that time.

Jesus knew how to pick his battles. He was focused on his mission and avoided distractions. However, that focus didn’t always translate into action; sometimes it meant working out the timing. It was no accident he turned over the money-changer tables in the temple just before Passover when it would have had maximum impact. The Festival of Booths (or Sukkot) was about six months later, and his crucifixion occurred at the following Passover. In one carefully orchestrated year he planted the seeds and tended the fruits that would be harvested at the resurrection.

As we move through life, we don’t have to constantly announce the minutia of our every intention and action, particularly for personal and important matters. Sometimes we need to hang back and weigh the available information (minus distracting if well-intentioned commentary) before deciding how best to live out our own calling. That way, when the time for action arrives, we are clear-headed and committed. Let’s try to recognize when things are best kept between us and God.

Comfort: You don’t have to be answerable to everyone all the time.

Challenge: Spend some time each week in a setting where no one knows you.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me when to reap, when to sow, and when to lie fallow. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever shared too much information about yourself?

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Keep it in the Closet


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Leviticus 16:1-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Other than during a tornado watch, when is the last time any of us prayed in a closet? Most of us would probably answer: “Never.” Yet that is exactly what Christ advised his disciples to do: “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Most translations use the word “room” but the Greek is closer to “inner room” – or closet. Of course Christ’s point was not the architecture, but the privacy. Even in Christ’s time, public prayer was often more a bid for the admiration of people, rather than communion with God.

We’ve all heard prayers that sound like the person praying was being paid by the word. Christ tells to pray privately, and not heap on words as if desperately trying to tip some divine scale. Ideally prayer is not a monologue, so it needs a lot of silent time to leave room for God.

When Christ says those who pray or give alms in a public manner have already received their reward, he is commenting on motive. People who make a show of piety in order to win admiration have their reward when someone notices, but not beyond.

On the other hand, going too far the other way and making a show of hiding our deeds is still missing the point. People seeking a relationship with God pray or fast only as an expression of their love for God, and attention (or its lack) doesn’t matter. God isn’t a trophy wife, so Christ teaches us to behave in ways that don’t sully the relationship by making it about other people’s opinions.

From the time we are assigned our first 200-word essay, we are taught the number of words we use is important. One of the toughest lessons for any professional writer is to cut, and cut again, until only meaningful words remain. Perhaps this is why writer Anne LaMott’s two favorite prayers are: “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Comfort: God knows what we need before we speak.

Challenge: Find an isolated place to pray.

Prayer: Compassionate God: help me. Thank you.

Discussion: What do you feel is the role of public prayer?

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