How to be a weed

A couple of weeks ago at our bi-weekly pub church gathering, New Wineskins, we were talking about Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds from Matthew 13.

In the story, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who planted good seed in his field, but an enemy sowed bad seed in the midst of it. And as the good seed grew into a crop of wheat, the bad seed grew into invasive weeds. But instead of having his workers cull out the weeds, the landowner says to allow the wheat and weeds to grow together until the harvest, when the harvester would separate the wheat from the weeds.

Later, Jesus explains the parable to his followers: He is the sower, the enemy is the “devil,” the good crop is the sons and daughters of the kingdom of heaven, and the weeds are the followers of evil.

Pretty straightforward.

Except it’s not.

I know I am but what are you?

In nearly every context where I’ve studied this story or heard it taught or preached, the assumption is made that “we” (Christians) are the wheat, and “they” (non-Christians) are the weeds. We were planted by Jesus, and everyone else is a seed of Satan. We may have to grow beside each other in this world for a while, but eventually we’ll go to heaven, and they’ll burn in the fires of hell.

But what we fail to consider in that assumption is that nobody in Jesus’ original audience was a Christian. Jesus was preaching to first century Palestinian Jews who were deeply entrenched in their Jewish heritage.

And while a theology of resurrection had begun to take hold in Judaism by that time in history (although the Sadducees sect famously denied it), the dualistic question of who went to heaven and who went to hell when they died was really nowhere on their collective radars.

So why would Jesus tell a story about Christians going to heaven and non-Christians going to hell to a bunch of pre-Christian Jews in a culture that didn’t have a context for that kind of epistemology?

Let’s zoom out for a second and look at the bigger narrative picture.

The kingdom of heaven is like…

In Matthew 12 Jesus has been roundly criticizing the religious/political elite, who by the way have basically just called him the devil (Matt. 12:22-37). These leaders repeatedly criticize Jesus and his followers for being outside of Jewish law and tradition.

And so Jesus counterpunches in Matthew 13, where he launches into a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven. We know that’s what they were about because Jesus begins most of them by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like….”

But what we need to understand is that for first century Palestinian Jews, the “kingdom of heaven” was not understood to be someplace to which one’s disembodied soul took a postmortem luxury cruise. It was an expected state of reality within human history when God would set things right and God’s rule and reign would prevail.

Notwithstanding the fact that they largely believed in their context that the coming of the kingdom of heaven meant little more than the overthrow of the Roman Empire from Israel, they certainly would not have heard Jesus’ words to mean anything about reward in the afterlife.

Sympathy for the Devil

Similarly, we superimpose our visions of hell given to us by Dante and Milton (and not from the Bible) onto what Jesus says about the weeds being burned in the fire. Again, Jesus’ first audience would not have been thinking about eternal conscious torment, but would more likely have heard this as a reference to Gehenna, the trash dump outside of Jerusalem where fires burned constantly and where wild dogs would gnash their teeth as they competed for scraps.

So the point wasn’t about who’s soul would go where after they died. It was about who would get to participate in God’s will and reign when it was established on earth.

If anyone thought they were the wheat in the story, it would have been the Jewish leaders, who viewed themselves as the guardians of the Mosaic law. They were quite certain not only that they’d participate in the kingdom of heaven, but that they’d have positions of power and influence.

But Jesus seems to be flipping the script on them when he explains the parable to his followers in private afterward.

Because Jesus’ followers would have assumed that they were the weeds.

The Updside-Down

Everything they had heard from the establishment was that they were unworthy. Unwanted. Undeserving of God’s favor.

And Jesus is telling them not to believe that. Not to buy the lie of the powerful and privileged.

The meek shall inherit the earth.

What everyone thought were worthless weeds turned out to be valuable wheat. And what they thought was wheat was, in the end, fruitless and unproductive.

It’s another parable of purpose over privilege.

When we assume that our group is “right,” that we are the favored ones, that we have value that others inherently do not, we become fruitless and unproductive.

But when we see the worth and value of those who sit on the outside of privilege, and when we join them in living out God’s purpose for sowing love in the world, we are actively living out the kingdom of heaven.

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A Parable of Purpose and Privilege

There were some folks who were very proud of who they were—their family heritage, their place in society, their ability to influence things—and who looked down on people who weren’t as “good” as them. And Jesus told them a story: “Two people went into the church to pray. One was a leader in the church who held much sway in the community. The other was an addict who tricked people into giving him their money to buy drugs. The first one stood at the middle of the altar, lifted his hands to the sky, and said, ‘Thank you, God, that you have made me so prosperous and so powerful, and that I’m not like these other low-lifes. I attend all the church council meetings and I put a tenth of my salary into the offering plate.’ But the addict stood in the back, ashamed to approach the altar or even to lift his eyes. He buried his head in his hands and said, ‘God, have mercy on me for the wrong that I do to people.’ I tell you, this person went home justified in God’s eyes rather than the one of influence. Everyone who thinks they’re more important than others will be brought low, and everyone who humbles themselves will be lifted up.” –Luke 18:9-14 (my paraphrase)

A friend of mine posted something on social media this morning that went something like this:

“I woke up this morning in a dry bed, had hot water in my shower, food in my fridge, and working air conditioning. God is so good!”

Actually, I hear this kind of thing a lot from my Christian friends.

“I can’t believe how awesome God is to make my life so comfortable. Yay God!”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I like to be comfortable. I like having a memory foam mattress and a full fridge and fresh fair-trade coffee. I like my iPhone and AirPods, my 60” TV, and my collection of expensive fly rods and backpacking gear. I like it when my car runs, and I like a good parking place close to the door as much as anyone.

And I think God is in that. God is in my comfort.

But my comfort is not God’s agenda.

If my comfort, or anyone’s comfort for that matter, is God’s agenda, then that means that God’s agenda is also someone else’s discomfort. Because I know that a lot of the things that make me comfortable come at someone else’s expense.

And I think that’s something God unambiguously stands against.

Privilege or purpose?

One of the theological premises I’ve been exploring in my current season of spiritual reconstruction is the theme of purpose vs. privilege. I’m going to unpack that a lot more in the days and weeks to come, but at its heart it’s a subtext I see running throughout the biblical narrative…God imbues God’s creation with purpose from the very beginning, but the tendency of humanity is to turn the gifts of purpose into a claim for privilege.

In fact, I think a pretty substantial theological stance can be taken that privilege is really the essence of what we might call “original sin.” Again, I’ll dive into that a little deeper in some future writings. For now I’ll let you sit with that concept and consider its implications.

The point, though, is that privilege always comes at the expense of the other. By its very nature, it creates ins and outs, haves and have-nots, worthies and unworthies.

Because I can’t have privilege without someone else losing it.

Did you hear the one about the golden calf?

And so when I experience comfort in my life, and credit that comfort as a gift from God, I have to be very, very careful. Again, it’s not that comfort is not from God, but that comfort is something that can very quickly become something we fight really hard to protect.

You might even call it an idol.

And this doesn’t just happen on an individual level, but also a cultural and societal one. One of the most glaring examples, but certainly not the only one, can be seen in systemic racism or classism.

It’s a symptom of people using their privilege—which they often believe to be God-given—to protect what they believe to be their God-given comfort.

When the Israelites in the Exodus story decided to build a golden calf to worship, the problem wasn’t that they were representing a god other than Yahweh. It was that they were misrepresenting Yahweh. They were making God into something God was not.

When we begin to worship our privilege over our purpose, we are replacing God as God is with who we want God to be…a God that exists for our benefit at the expense of others.

The Superiority Complex

Now, a legitimate question to ask at this point might be why we can’t just all have comfort. Why does my comfort necessitate someone else’s discomfort?

Think about it for a moment. Privilege, by definition, is exclusivist. It means having something that others don’t. It means being something others aren’t. It carries with it—either implicitly or explicitly—a sense of superiority.

And while that often gets played out in the realm of consumerism and materialism, it reveals itself more deeply in economics and politics.

But however it manifests, it is, at its root, a theological problem.

When we believe God gifts certain people with certain comforts/privileges that God does not gift to others, we have created a false God.

Worse, we create theologies and doctrines that defend the view of an exclusivist God that cares more about propositional acquiescence to a conception of God than an actual, lived, relational experience of God.

All for one and one for all

So yes, please, thank God for your dry bed and your hot shower and the roof over your head. Thank God for a life with more comfort than discomfort. If you must, even thank God for that great parking spot.

But don’t lift your privilege above your purpose. Remember that whatever gifts God gives you, God gives you not just for your benefit, but for the benefit of all.


Welcome to the reboot of joewebbwrites.com. After an extended dry season where my writing has been limited to a few sermons and work projects, I’m re-launching this week with a series of articles on the theology of purpose vs. privilege. I welcome your feedback and conversation over the concepts I present here…just keep it civil and keep it classy.

The kingdom is coming, y’all.

I don’t like you, but I really want to love you

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“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” –Matt. 5:43-47 (MSG)

So I’ve been trying to do something really radical lately.

I’m trying to love people I don’t like.

This is one of those strange paradoxes of the Christian life. We know, or at least we assent to the notion, that we’re called to love our enemies.

But if we’re honest, for most of us, all that really means is that we hold those with whom we’re in conflict at arms length, agreeing without words to stay out of each other’s space.

But that’s not love. That’s just polite avoidance.

By both his words and actions, Jesus provides an example for how to not only tolerate, but actively love those we deem unlovable.

Actively, as I was reminded by a friend in a recent conversation, is the key word here.

For me to love my enemy means more than just passively setting aside animosity. It means actively seeking his or her well-being. It means—more often than not—sacrificing my own wants and desires so that someone I disagree with, someone I strongly dislike, or even someone who means me harm, can actually benefit from my actions.

The more I try to love people I don’t like, the more I find out that it’s not just hard. It’s actually costly. It requires something of me, something sacrificial.

It requires that I examine my motives, confront often previously-unrecognized prejudices, and become vulnerable. After all, there’s no guarantee that it will be reciprocated.

I’m beginning to believe, though, that learning to love people we don’t like might be among the most important things we can do if we truly want to follow Jesus.

Let’s face it. Arguing, fighting, insulting, bullying, and belittling don’t work. If they did, the problems of the world would have been resolved long ago. No authentic relationship was ever built on coercion.

And yet, those things continue to be our default settings. When confronted with ideas we find disagreeable or offensive, or with people we find rude or ignorant or otherwise flawed in our eyes, we move instantly to criticism and condemnation.

What we fail to recognize is that, in doing so, we rob the other person of their very humanity. The moment we categorize someone as this type or that kind of individual, we have made him or her a thing and not a person. In our minds they are little more than an object to be sorted into our narrow definitions and classifications.

This, in fact, is at the heart of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. As he declares the outcasts and unlovable to be blessed, he reminds them of their humanity. A humanity of which the religious and social elite of their communities too often had robbed them because of their failure to live up to accepted norms and standards.

He reminds them that each human being is a creation of God, loved by God. Equal under sun and rain, in good times and bad, whether good or evil.

And he reminds them that loving one another—actively and unconditionally—is the most powerful thing they can do. In fact, it’s what opens the doors to the kingdom of heaven.

We’re good at loving people who look like us, think like us, act like us and talk like us. We’re good at loving those who share our beliefs and values and worldviews.

But when we come up against opposition, with people who look different, believe differently, behave differently, we turn instantly to condemnation.

Disagreement challenges us on a primal level. Feeling that we’re “right” about a particular viewpoint reinforces our sense of well-being and identity. When confronted with the notion that we might be wrong about something, we react defensively out of a need to protect that identity.

That’s why loving those we dislike is so costly. It requires that something within us—an opinion, a preference, a belief—must, in some fashion, die.

But what comes to life in its place is always something better and more beautiful.

And when our “enemies” experience that, and when others around us see it, it is a catalytic force for transformation and reconciliation.

So I’m going to keep trying to love people I don’t like.

I’ll fail. A lot.

But I hope by actively seeking the best for them, I’ll find the best in me.

And ultimately, in us.

Authority

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(This is the eighth and final installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Thanks for walking through the season with us! To view the entire series on a single page, click on the Lent 2015 tab above.)

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Today’s reading: Matthew 7:13-29

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

He had redefined the law. Fulfilled it.

Love. Unbridled, unconditional. Counter-intuitive, upside-down, inside-out.

Love that puts the welfare of others ahead of self.

Love that places no burden on others. Love that sees through God’s eyes.

Love that sees through God’s heart.

The gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Their religious leaders had gotten it so wrong. It was so easy for them to condemn the imperfect and unclean. To protect their comfortable traditions, their strict legalism, their cozy doctrine…that, Jesus said, was a wide and easy path.

Anyone can cling to those things that benefit oneself and exclude those who don’t measure up. Anyone can call others to conform to their self-interest.

Anyone can love their friends and hate their enemies.

But this way of love, a love that gives and sacrifices and humanizes even those who would do us harm…this way is narrow. This way is hard.

This way is life.

Repent. Reorient.

Discard the way of false truth that destroys life on its way to self-salvation.

Real truth reveals itself in real love. Real peace. Kindness, patience, generosity, gentleness. Against these, there is no law.

Bear good fruit, Jesus says. Not the bad fruit of the Pharisees and religious elite that poisons and kills, but the fruit of love that nourishes and flourishes.

You can call out my name all you want. Use me to declare your own power and righteousness till you’re blue in the face. But unless you love, you’ll never know me.

Good news. Kingdom news.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

Follow.

Love is the way to life. Love that respects the God-breathed humanity and dignity of each other person. Love that blesses the undeserving.

It had to be true. No other “truth” could measure up.

There was authority in these words, in this man, like none they had witnessed before.

It was as if their leaders, the ones who claimed God’s truth, who called them to follow God’s law, who confidently declared who was “in” and who was “out,” didn’t really know God at all.

To truly know God, to be citizens of his kingdom, was to truly understand that love alone fulfills the law.

This was a kingdom worth living for.

This was a kingdom worth dying for.

Judgment

Pearls before swine old quotation from bible

(This is the seventh installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

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Today’s reading: Matthew 6:25-7:12

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Love your enemies. Treasure what God treasures. Pray for love.

Their worldview was fully unraveled now. This was Israel. Chosen nation. God’s own people.

Tied together by legal codes that specified who was and was not in God’s favor.

It was all about getting from out to in. From unclean to clean. From excluded to included.

These were things worth fretting over.

But even this, Jesus says, is not as it seems.

Why worry? Isn’t God in charge? Either he is or he isn’t. See these birds? They work, but only to be what God made them to be. See these flowers? Each one beautiful, not because it chose to be beautiful, but because God created it beautiful.

You are blessed. From the highest and greatest to the lowest and least. Blessed.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Righteousness. There’s that word again. Not the righteousness of the Pharisees, of the law-enforcers, the status-quo-protectors.

The righteousness of God.

You have heard it said…but I tell you….

Anger, contempt, indulgence. Objectification. Dehumanization. Condemnation.

Splinters and logs.

You must see others for who they are. Created by, loved by, cared for by the One who created, loves, and cares for you.

Condemnation blinds. Only love can see.

It was all so hard to hear. So hard to accept.

Particularly, perhaps, for those most threatened by it.

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

This Kingdom is dangerous. Love is dangerous.

Be perfect, Jesus said. Repent. Reorient.

But if even the Pharisees and teachers of the law have missed the point, how then could these outcasts and misfits access this love Jesus proclaims?

Ask. Seek. Knock.

Grace.

It cannot come from human will alone. Only God has that power.

But God, it seems, is willing to share it with his children.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength.

And love your neighbor as yourself.

This is it! This is the law!

Love God fully. Love others fully.

Trust God, pray to God, to give you power where you have none. To see as God sees.

Not through eyes of distrust or condemnation or judgment.

But through eyes full of the light of love.

Next: Authority

Treasure

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(This is the sixth installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

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Today’s reading: Matthew 6:1-24

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Love perfectly, Jesus said. Respect the worth and dignity of each person. Even those with whom we disagree.

Even those who would do us harm.

Lofty words. High ideals.

But how?

If the Pharisees in their righteousness cannot instruct us, what does it look like to put this perfect love into action?

I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from?

The religious leaders make a great show of their piousness. Their worthiness is obvious.

My help comes from the Lord, creator of heaven and earth.

In secret. Jesus says to do it all in secret. As if one hand doesn’t even know what the other is doing.

It’s not about how others perceive your deeds of kindness, your acts of sacrifice, your stirring words of prayer.

You don’t need their approval.

For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Whether in public or in private, pray like it’s just you and God.

Father…Your kingdom come. Make our lives like yours.

Show us how to love the way you love.

Feed us your very self.

Make us forgivers so we can experience your forgiveness.

Protect us from the trials we will face. Deliver us from persecution.

In this prayer, God’s way becomes our way.

This is no chant or charm, no formula for getting what we want.

It’s a door to a relationship. Where what we want becomes exactly what God wants.

What do you treasure? Your comfort? Your convenience? Your morality? Your power?

All these are so easily lost. In a moment, perhaps. Over time, certainly. Slowly, imperceptibly disintegrated by forces unseen.

But love. Love. There is a treasure which cannot be destroyed.

A heart of love sees things as they are. Undarkened by self-aggrandizement. Undimmed by self-indulgence.

Pure reality, bright and clear.

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.

There is but one way to pursue Kingdom life. One reality to which to pledge our allegiance.

On earth as it is in heaven.

Next: Judgment

Perfect

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(This is the fifth installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

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Today’s reading: Matthew 5:38-48

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus was wrecking their worldview. Declaring them blessed. Imploring them to be salt and light. Challenging the authority of their leaders.

You have heard that the law is all in all, he said. But I tell you that it is how you think about others, how you treat them, your heart toward them that matters.

What could it all mean? What would he say next?

You have heard to seek revenge commensurate with the offense. But I tell you, when you are offended, return favor to your offender rather than harm.

But don’t our offenders deserve our revenge? Are we simply to roll over and accept it when we’re attacked?

We can’t appear to be weak.

Someone has to pay!

It was too much. But he wasn’t finished yet…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies.

Love our enemies? Love them?

It was one thing not to retaliate. Avoid them, maybe. Tolerate them, at best.

But love?

This is how the Kingdom works. The radical, righteous, upside-down-rightside-up Kingdom.

Empty yourself of self. Respect the dignity and humanity of others. Give freely. We are all created by the same God, loved equally. Remember how you thought you weren’t blessed? Why should your enemies be any less blessed?

Remember that you are dust…and to dust you shall return.

Equal under sun and rain alike, our enemies and us. Beloved by the Father. Whether we are brother or sister, tax collector or prostitute.

Blessed.

This Kingdom law, it seems, is not a behavior management program. It is not the righteousness of the Pharisees, which declares who is and is not worthy.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If the Pharisees and their version of the law are not perfect, then what is?

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Anyone can love those who look like them, think like them, sound like them, act like them.

But you, O Israel! You are more than that!

Be perfect.

There’s only one way to live into a law like that.

Love must become devoid of self-interest. It must be filled with concern for the other.

It must become as the love of the Father.

Sun or rain, brother or sister, friend or enemy…the Father sees all through just one lens.

Love.

Perfect love.

Next: Treasure

Indulgence

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(This is the fourth installation of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

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Today’s reading: Matthew 5:21-37

You have heard…but I say to you….

If the righteousness of the Pharisees is not righteousness, then what is?

Jesus is challenging the very core of what they had been led to believe. Striking at the heart of what their leaders had taught for generations.

Murder. Adultery. Divorce. Swearing oaths.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were very clear about these matters.

Or were they?

Dig deeper, Jesus says.

Don’t murder, yes. But what leads to murder? Anger, condemnation, unforgiveness. Indulge these, says Jesus, and your heart is already murderous.

Don’t commit adultery, yes. But what leads to adultery? An attraction triggers a thought, a thought triggers a fantasy, a fantasy triggers objectification. Indulge these, says Jesus, and your heart is already adulterous.

Divorce? You make it too easy, says Jesus. You indulge your selfishness and dehumanize your spouse. Has she no more value to you than your crops or livestock? Do you care so little for her as to drive her to a life of poverty and indignity?

And those vows you make? Why must you swear by heaven or earth, or anything else for that matter? Is your word not enough? Are you so insecure that you need to manipulate others’ opinions by the power of your oaths? Have they no humanity of their own?

Indulgence.

We indulge anger and we murder.

We indulge lust and we commit adultery.

We indulge selfishness and we objectify.

We indulge insecurity and we manipulate.

This, he says, is the righteousness of the Pharisees. Obey the rules, period. You will be measured by your behavior and your behavior alone.

The sin, says Jesus, is more than our behavior. It is a heart that refuses to honor the humanity of others. That places more value on “me” than on “you.” And, by extension, on “we.”

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

If you think that life is all about you and how you behave, you’re missing the point. You might as well be blind or maimed, because that’s basically how you’re going through life as it is.

So what is righteousness? What does true righteousness look like?

Next: Perfect.

 

Righteousness

Hellfire and Brimstone Preacher

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(This is the third installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

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Today’s reading: Matthew 5:17-20

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The righteousness of the Pharisees.

How could they ever expect to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? These were the nobodies that nobody wants to be around, these crowds who had gathered to hear Rabbi Jesus speak. “Righteous” was never a word anyone used to describe them.

The Pharisees, though. Righteous through and through.

Don’t believe it? Just ask them.

The gatekeepers of the law. Judges of what is clean and unclean. Constabularies of thought and action. Arbiters of what fulfills and what abolishes Torah. Self-appointed authorities of binding and loosing.

And yet, these nobodies—the unclean, the unlawful, the unrighteous—Jesus calls them “blessed.” Theirs, he says, is the Kingdom of Heaven.

But a kingdom, it seems, they cannot enter unless their righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and the keepers of the law.

Wait…What?

Did he really just say that?

Could it be that the righteousness of the Pharisees is no righteousness at all?

Surely this is not the Law of Moses.

But…I have come not to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it.

What is this new teaching? Surely this is not what they have always heard, what their traditions have always taught.

But what if?

What if the teachings and traditions have missed the mark?

What if this Kingdom is not one of clean and unclean, of legal and illegal, of in and out?

What if fulfilling Torah is not about being right, but about being light?

Repent. Reorient.

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Righteousness.

Where there is harm, there is no righteousness.

Where there is discrimination, there is no righteousness.

Where there is  exclusion, there is no righteousness.

Where there is marginalization, there is no righteousness.

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is no righteousness at all.

Want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus asks. Don’t act like them.

Don’t harm. Don’t discriminate. Don’t exclude. Don’t marginalize.

Heal. Accept. Include. Embrace.

Love.

Righteousness.

They thought Jesus was turning things upside-down. But now, they are beginning to see, he’s turning things rightside-up.

Next: Indulgence

Blessed

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(This is the second installation of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

[Part 1]

Today’s reading: Matthew 5:1-16

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them.

Who is blessed?

The knocked down, the kicked at, the spit on. The lost, the overlooked, the forgotten. The soft, the tender, the pleasers. The losers. The nobodies that nobody wants to be around.

Who is blessed?

The ones who never feel blessed. The ones who think “blessed” always refers to someone else—someone richer, someone prettier, someone smarter, someone popular.

Blessed. Even these, Jesus says, are blessed. “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

There it is again. Kingdom.

The crowds who had just experienced Jesus’ healing touch—the diseased, the sick, the suffering, the demoniacs, the epileptics, the paralytics—now being told they’re something they never thought they could be.

Blessed.

Blessed? Why? What has changed?

Healing. Kingdom. Jesus.

But what does it mean to be blessed? What is blessing for?

The sin of Israel had always been its insistence that it was blessed just because it was Israel. Rather than share its blessing, it coveted it.

Israel was blessed—chosen—not to rule the world, but to fulfill a purpose. A vocation.

Salt and light.

To add richness and flavor to the life of the world. To shine God’s love on its neighbors.

But when the salt has lost its flavor, when the light has been hidden, then what?

Repent. Reorient.

But how?

Blessing. Healing.

Be blessed, Jesus says, so you can fulfill your purpose.

Be healed, Jesus says, so you can live Kingdom life.

You who feel un-blessed have been restored. You’ve been touched by the Kingdom.

You’ve been touched by Jesus.

You’re empowered to be who you were meant to be.

This is good news!

(Next: Righteousness)

Prelude

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Today’s reading: Matthew 4:17-25

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Repent. Kingdom.

Loaded words.

Jesus comes on the scene invoking the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming light shining into darkness.

A regime change is about to happen.

Repent. Change direction.

Get ready, because something bigger than the world has ever seen is about to happen. Something that will require a radical reorientation of your life.

This is not a simple call to apologize for personal misdeeds. It is an invitation to a new reality.

In his prelude to his Kingdom Manifesto, Jesus continues the work of his cousin John before him, preparing the way.

Reorient yourself to this new reality. The reality of God’s rule and reign overtaking all human systems and structures…even religion.

Next, Follow.

Jesus chooses his first disciples, not based on their achievements or scholastic aptitude, but their ordinary-ness. And their willingness.

For what? A political movement? Economic upheaval? Military coup? These were the expectations of the one to be called Messiah.

Good news. Jesus proclaims “good news.”

And what is this news?

The Kingdom of Heaven.

This is what Jerusalem has waited for. Longed for. The return of the King to his Throne.

But is it what they really wanted? Is it what they expected?

Look at the text: Jesus went among the crowds, “…healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people…they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.”

Healing. Restoration.

What kind of Kingdom is this? And who could be its king?

Repent. Kingdom. Follow. Good news.

Reorient. God’s in charge now. Come along.

It’s going to be awesome!

Next: Blessed.