If you have read much of this blog, you know that I have come to the conviction that for me, in my conscience, “sin” has acquired a fairly simple definition. It could best be expressed as, “I ‘sin’ when I treat any sacred person or object, as less than sacred.”
Well, today I was riding down the road alongside a colleague, and shared a “strange thing” God showed me yesterday, that I had never noticed before. While reading through the tale of Paul/Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, God stopped me dead in my tracks at the words, “a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’“ (Acts 22:6b-8)
And I tried to move on, and the Lord stopped me time and again… “No, Little Monk, you missed it… look again.” And so I did, over and over. Until finally the words began to light up for me… “persecuting ME“… “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.”
It struck me how very strange… how wrong… this seemed. Wait… Jesus was already ascended. Saul never saw Him. Never spoke with Him. Never persecuted Him. Saul was persecuting FOLLOWERS, BELIEVERS… Saul was persecuting what we like to think of as “The Church”, an institution… a corporate entity…
“No,” Jesus replied. He WASN’T… He was persecuting PEOPLE. He THOUGHT he was attacking an institution, a corporation, a movement… he called it ‘The Way’… but he was helping arrest, try, convict, condemn, and execute PEOPLE. He killed them, trying time and time again, to kill ME.”
That was the breathtaking, heart stopping, realization here. “Me”… Jesus… King… Lord… not THEM… not Church… not movement… not follower… not even “precious child”… but “Me”.
If that were true…
If that’s what Jesus really meant in His cry to Saul…
If Jesus meant… JESUS… in Saul’s attacks…
Did that mean that when I offend another… when I attack them… when I injure them… when I belittle, or demean, or judge them… that it is not only THEM I hurt, but JESUS?
This was not a happy thought. I did not like this thought. I sought to push away this thought… and rather than help me with this, Jesus instead just “piled on,” reminding me of Matthew 25:31-46… that whole “Sheep-Goats-Judgment” thing, reminding me, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
Do you see it? Do you see it too?
Now, Jesus never EVER whines to or at me. But sometimes, not often, but sometimes from time to rare time, His voice will tend rather to ‘yodel’ with excitement or frustration, when He says something like, “WHY, Little Monk! Why don’t they see, why won’t they hear? I am PERFECTLY clear here… but even YOU are only now starting to see My words, that are and were perfectly clear for centuries. I am NOT being ‘figurative’ or ‘poetic’! I am not exaggerating… I am THERE… IN THEM… and yes, when you wound any, with your actions, attitudes, or words… yes, you wound ME! Any questions?”
“Nossir. No questions. I need to process this for a bit, though, if that’s ok.”
“Sure thing, Little Monk. You process away!”
And so I did. And so I have. It has really brought me to slow up a bit, and consider things with a much more wary eye. It’s rather like being in midst of a trip to the local five and dime soft-goods store, and suddenly finding yourself in the centre of a fine china, porcelain and crystal shoppe. Like suddenly everything around me carried “Fragile, Handle with Care” stickers on them.
So, in part of this processing, I shared today with my friend, my colleague. He immediately got the significance of “Me”, and himself mentioned the parallel of Matthew 25. I felt encouraged. He’s a great man, educated theologian, advanced degrees, senior pastor… deep and beloved brother to me. All that. I told him I was yet sort of “letting this soak”, recovering, letting all the pieces of my “deconstructed theology” and personal ethics, and he was kind, and supportive, and helpful… right up until he said…
“Of course, Little Monk, you realize… the Lord wasn’t saying that about EVERYBODY…”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Well,” he went on, “The Lord doesn’t mean that everybody is sacred… that He is in everybody that way… so it’s not like that offending everybody is always offending Him.”
And he started to discuss the theology of the “saved” versus the “lost”, the Children of God versus others, and so on and so on. I didn’t argue with him… dispute or debate. It is far too old an argument. I’ve been through it too many times. I could say only what Jesus allows me to say on all this…
“I know that John and Paul speak of these things in church composition and leadership and such, but I never see Jesus separate people this way as He walked, lived, served, ministered or socialized. I never see Him treat some people as ‘saved’, others as ‘lost’ (except sometimes when His patience wore too thin at the self-righteous, ultra-religious, and theologians)… I just see Him love, everyone, all the time, and serve them. I don’t see Him treat some people as “saved” or “good” (Nicodemus, the Disciples, small children, Zaccheus, the Centurion, Jairus)… and others as “lost” or “bad” (woman at the well, woman caught in adultery, Gadarene demoniac, 10 Lepers, Man Blind from Birth, man lowered through His roof). I just don’t see it. Nor do I see HIM ever suggesting such divisions in our relationships with people. He loves without boundaries. He seems to command us to love the same way.”
Beyond that, even if such divisions somehow EXIST in Him, *I*… not being the Holy Spirit… do not have privy access to that sacred space between a man and God… I cannot see the secret things of he heart… to know “who is who”.
Therefore, rather than “run the risk of wounding Jesus” in my carelessness or misjudgment… it seems my more prudent path is to treat ALL people as “Sacred”, and let God sort it out. Besides the fact that God fashions all as work of His hands, and upholds all things in and through Himself, by the word of His power… and that strikes me as “fairly sacred” on its own… so… yeah.
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Anyway, that’s how we left that discussion (yesterday, now… I began this post last night, but I wearied, and went to sleep).
At 2:30 this morning, Jesus shook me awake, with a great sense of “having missed the point”, and brought this post to its rightful close. I was still sleepy, fairly groggy, and He woke me stark, cold, up… with the words:
“Who, then, is Sacred?”
I’d sat up, heard this… blinked a bit to figure out what planet I was on, what timezone, what day… “Huh?” I mumbled, articulately…
“Who, then is SACRED?” He repeated, even more firmly.
I groped for my eyeglasses, looked at my empty coffee cup, realizing my rest had ended for now. And said, as respectfully as I could under the circumstances, “What are You talking about, Lord?”
“That is the question you and your friend got to yesterday. And you didn’t answer it. You SORT OF answered it, but you didn’t get to MY answer of it. It is an Old, old question. It is the defense of all pharisees for treating some people as ‘sacred’ and others as ‘profane’. It is the same as Jews versus Gentiles, free versus slave, man versus woman. It is an OLD question, and has no place in Me. Paul dealt with it… I dealt with it… and now, when you were called to deal with it, you missed the ace… you swung but whiffed. You KNEW, you KNOW, but you didn’t SAY… not cleanly, not clearly…”
(* Well at least I now knew what we were TALKING about, as I made a fresh pot of coffee and stood there with my empty cup looking like Oliver Twist at the gruel pot. “Please, sir… may I have….?” *)
“OK, Lord. I hear you. I’m sorry. Now, what do I need to know. What ought I have said?”
And without further ado, He led me clearly first to articulate the question:
“Who, then, is Sacred?” and He left this echoing and repeating in my mind…
As He transformed it, transmuted it, into: “Who, then, is my Neighbor?”
And brought me HERE:
25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” [Luke 10]
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And there ended the lesson, with these words:
“Little Monk, the pharisee, lawyer and scribe, who do not comprehend grace, will always seek to excuse their own judgment of others through trying to draw the fine distinction between who are SUBJECT to their judgment, and who is immune. It is a ‘loophole nicety’ that this lawyer tried to ensnare ME with, and you’ve allowed yourself to be tangled by. The answer, as you intuited, but did not see these verses as addressing is simply… ‘looking upon the needy with eyes to judge whether they are worthy of love’ is WRONG. To ASK the question is wrong… far before attempting to answer it. Sacredness… neighborliness… does not lie in the OBJECT of grace, it lies in the SUBJECT.
“The lawyer of Luke’s Gospel thought I would define whether the beaten up man was a neighbor or not. He was utterly shocked to find that God defines “neighbor” in terms of the GIVER of grace, not its recipient. The same holds true for Sacredness. YOU.. You choose… by how you treat others… ALL others… ALL the time… whether sacredness is your priority. You are the neighbor… You are the conduit of grace… You are the holy royal priest of the sacred. The person you serve, is what defines YOU as neighbor, or worshiper in/of the sacred… not the other way around.
“I… Myself… am ALWAYS there in and with them. Even to ask the question, is to have mistaken the answer. Just as for neighbor, so it is for Sacred. Never mistake this any more, OK?”
“Right, Lord. Got it. Sorry, won’t do that again. My bad,” and I sat drinking my coffee as I let this sink in, and prepared to meet my friend again today.
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Pray for me, Gentle Reader. Still so much to learn. Still making such simple mistakes! Lol. Our Father is so very patient with this frail and slow-witted child! Thanks for walking with me!
Blessings and Grace to thee — Little Monk