30 Mar 2015

Holy Week 2: who do you think you are?

I remember my late father. He who went to school (before he got kicked out for playing the fool too much) under the British... he used to write the most formal notes for us at times, such as this:

To whom it may concern,
Father is out. The water in the kettle is boiled.

This is the language he knew when it comes to writing. We found it hilarious and laughed secretly behind his back.

Today as Jesus enters and walks around the temple area, a group of rulers+teachers+elders (yes, the power religious triad combo of the day) comes up to him, couches their sneering in polite-sounding words, 
"Tell us, by what authority you are doing these things..Who gave you this authority?" {Luke 20} -- 
when what they meant was no less: 
"Who the heck do you think you are? Tell us the true source of your power!".
Over the years, I have developed very mixed feelings towards these religious leaders. As a young believer, it was at first easy to just cast them as the 'bad guys'. Later they would be 'thick', 'proud', 'stubborn', 'political', 'insecure'....

The reason the feelings became mixed is simple: I found all those same words I describe them with; many insinuated through the sermons we hear -- I found I could describe myself the same way. I was dense, proud, stubborn, insecure and more. I remember railing at God in a season of painful confusion, "who do you think you are?!". I could not make sense of what was happening and what God was up to.

God is not easy to get.

In fact, Jesus cleverly dodges their question. There are times God doesn't answer us because we are not asking the right questions. He finds it needful to use His silence to develop is us a finer-tuned hearing.

With the religious powerhouses still in audience, Jesus goes on to tell an evocative story. It's a story we can all get - as long as the story it is about 'others'.  "May this never be!" we would have echoed with the listeners. How can the tenants be so ungrateful and downright evil to ignore the rightful  of the owner; to the extent of hoping to inherit the land by killing his son?!

 Jesus looks at them directly and counter-warns them of the grave danger they are in; for they are about to do the exact thing they just deplored:
"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on who it falls will be crushed."

These are words God gave to Isaiah {see chap 8} the prophet in a revelation of who He is: I am a God you cannot easily get people. Some of you will stumble so bad, you will be so challenged... some of you will not survive a true encounter with God. Hard, harsh words.

Religious pedigree and legacy will not ensure anything. Crushed and shattered - those who refuse God's self-revelation will be swept off - that's the sense in the word used.

God endures our questions and challenges. But He turns and questions us.

The most classic example we have of this is found in the story of Job. The point of that story? God doesn't owe us an answer. We owe him an accounting.

And this week, if instead of counting on our filthy rags-righteousness, we would ask to see God afresh... gazing on God-condensed/interpreted/simplified in Jesus - we would see God wants to deal with the accounts. In the story Jesus told, God sent prophets and finally His own Son!

It is a clear word of warning to the religious elite that they were in danger of losing what they considered their inalienable right to God's favour. They get it; but instead of repentance, they looked for a way to arrest him.

They get it but they don't - because they would not accept this lowly carpenter-trained leader of a ragamuffin group to be anymore than they would allow him to be. Jesus simply did not match their expectations. Jesus did not fit their frame of reference.

Jesus was - not - like them.

Who do you think Jesus is, really?

Does He surprise, perhaps offend you? Did you feel he could have handled your situation differently, better?

Perhaps like me, you may find as you imagine yourself there, you too would find the story of injustice unbearable and cry out too, "may this never be!". Then Jesus asks you to recall the words of Isaiah - and you realise the story is a warning of the hypocrisy and hardness of our hearts: we don't really want God's justice; what we want is His favour -- on.us. And deep in the recesses of our hearts is that creeper of self-righteousness that quickly clings and wraps around people and situations... a dangerous weed that turns on its host with the venom of self-condemnation as easily as it clouds our hearts with judgmentalism.

The heresy of Grace is that we still link it with a sense of being-deserving. So those who are not so blessed are therefore not-so-deserving.

Would you allow yourself to break over your inability to grasp this God-man, and in your breaking and spiritual poverty open up fresh spaces for God to enter in, this week?

Jesus did not stop with this one story. He persisted. He told three more parables, answered more questions and finally in a clear demonstration of his sorrow over their coming destruction, wept over Jerusalem.

God coaxes, works wonders, enthralls... and weeps.

But He is the capstone. His heart breaks for us. Our response is to let ourselves be broken as we encounter Him. May we find him our sanctuary - in a deeper sense this week.

"The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,
and he will be a sanctuary; ...
a stone
a trap and a snare." ~ Isaiah 8v13-14

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