Monday, December 3, 2018

Luke 18:9-17

I've become convinced that having the right answers is one of the biggest obstacles to a relationship with God. Don't get me wrong, I desperately want to have the right answers, just like you do. Unresolved questions are restless things, stirring us in uncomfortable ways that don't feel pleasant or peaceful. Answers are solid, certain, complete, safe.

The Pharisee in Jesus' story has the answers. He knows what's right, and he lives by those solid rules. He's grateful to have the answers, and to have the capability of living by them. He's doing things right, and he knows it, and it's comforting.

The tax collector in the story, on the other hand, has no such certainty. He is inadequate and needs mercy. Have you ever been in that place of needing mercy? It's a powerless, fearful, vulnerable place. Jesus affirms this man's vulnerability and inadequacy and powerlessness.

Similarly, the children in Jesus' example -- and not just children, Luke tells us, but even infants -- are also powerless and vulnerable. There's nothing more tragic in our minds than a child, all innocence and delight and openness and joy, that is victimized and hurt. We are rightly indignant when such horrific things happen. But Jesus says it's their very vulnerability and powerlessness that makes them an example of how we come into the kingdom of God. If we think for just a moment, we will see that this is not just sentiment, but it is absolute truth. This is the ironclad principle of the universe: If you come to God in your own power, in your own capacity and capability, you cannot come under God's rule. The kingdom of God is about God's sovereignty and control, not yours. It is about your trust in a good, good Father.

Often God brings us into that place of trust and vulnerability by asking us questions. I've been reading through 1 Kings in the mornings, and this morning I read the story of Elijah after his showdown with the priests of Baal, running for his life into the wilderness trying to avoid Jezebel's murderous intentions. He came to the mountain of God and hid himself in a cave, and God asked him a question: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah gives an answer full of his own identity and certainty about his condition. Then God does an interesting thing: He reveals his power. Wind, earthquake, fire pass before the mouth of the cave, and Elijah does not engage. But when the sound of a "crushing silence" as one of my seminary professors read it, or a "low whisper" as the ESV translates it, shows up, Elijah recognizes the presence of God. Yet God's low whisper asks Elijah the same exact question a second time, and Elijah recites the same self-pitying answer a second time. Elijah, in his burned out state, can't see the possibility of change. In mercy, God decommissions Elijah and transitions his ministry to Elisha. "What are you doing here?" might seem like a simple question, but it reveals Elijah's heart. What questions is God asking? Seemingly simple questions can be the root of powerful opportunities. What do you really want? What's most important to you? What are the hurts you bear? What brings you joy? God love to ask us questions that push us back just a bit into that off-balance place where we can be a little vulnerable before him, where the possibility of change becomes real.

If you want another example, look at the last few chapters of the book of Job, when after dozens of chapters of eloquent speculation, God finally shows up before Job and -- you guessed it -- asks him questions. "Stand before me like a man," God demands, "and I will question you."

Recognizing that we have more questions than answers might be one good way to do what Jesus recommends here -- to "humble ourselves." Humanly speaking, this is not our first inclination. But it is a sure entry point into the kingdom where God (not us) reigns supreme.

No comments:

Post a Comment