Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Jesus and Gentiles

The majority of Jewish people, who worshiped God and honored the Scriptures, did not associate with anyone who was not Jewish.  The non-Jewish people—those who were not born in a Jewish household—were called “Gentiles” and they were rejected as apart from God and apart from the people of God.  For the most part, this was true.  Most Gentiles worshiped idols and practiced evil, and enjoyed evil.  And so the Jewish people wanted to have nothing to do with these types.  The Jewish Sanhedrin even established laws to separate themselves from Gentiles.  There was a law that said that they may not enter into a Gentile’s house or eat with one.  Many felt that a law should be passed that did not allow Jewish people to eat meat in Gentile cities for fear that the meat might have been offered as a sacrifice to an idol.  Jews and Gentiles never had anything to do with each other, if they could help it. 

However, there were some Gentiles who believed in God and wanted to worship him alone.  They were called “proselytes” and while they could never enter the temple, it is possible that their children might be able to.  Jesus had a mixed reaction to Gentiles, but he affirmed one thing—that anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, sinner or righteous person—anyone can come to God if they have faith.  And that those who do not have faith cannot come to God, even if they were the best Jew in the world.

Jesus was walking near Capernum one day when a Roman Centurion came up to him, looking for help.  “I have an important servant,” he said, “who is very ill.  Would you please heal him?”  Some Jewish men were with the centurion and witnessed that he was a righteous proselyte who paid for their synagogue to be built.  Jesus said, “Very well, let’s go to your home.”
            The Centurion stopped him however and said, “Please don’t.  I am not worthy for you to enter my home—I don’t want you to be defiled by entering it.  Look, I am a military man, and I am used to taking orders.  Everyone in my household does as they are told.  I say, ‘Do this’ and they do it.  There is no need for you to come with me.  Just speak the word, and my servant will be healed.”
            Jesus was amazed at this response.  “I have never heard a Jew show so much faith!  I tell you the truth, on the final day, there will be many people who come from far away—far from the east or far from the west—and they will sit with the Jewish fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But there will be many who are Jewish, who live in Jerusalem, who will be thrown out of the Jewish kingdom of God.”
            Then Jesus turned to the Centurion and said, “It will be as you say.  Your servant is healed.”  The Centurion went back home and found that his servant was cured in the same hour Jesus spoke the healing.

           At one point Jesus traveled to Tyre, a Gentile city north of Israel with a large Jewish population.  Jesus was sitting at a table with some Jewish people, telling them about the kingdom of God and eating.  A Canaanite woman was sitting below Jesus on the floor, near the disciples.  A Canaanite was someone, according to the Bible, cursed by God, never allowed to approach God or ask him for help.  But she kept asking Jesus for help, to heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon.  Jesus kept teaching, just ignoring her.  Some of the disciples near the woman was offended by her and asked Jesus, “Could you please get rid of her?  She’s bothering us, and we can’t hear your teaching.”
            Jesus then turned to her and said, “Go away, dog.  It is not allowed to take the food of the children and throw it to dogs.”  Jewish people often called Gentiles “dogs” to show how offended they are by them.  But the woman said, “But aren’t even the dogs allowed to eat crumbs that fall off of the children’s table?  I don’t care what you call me, heal my daughter.”  Jesus was amazed.  “Your faith is great!  You are humble enough to accept an insult and still ask for God’s help?  Go home, daughter.  Your daughter is healed.”

            As Jesus was nearing Jerusalem, he knew that his end was near.  He was teaching, and then his disciple Philip came up to him and said, “Jesus?  There’s some Gentiles here who would like to speak to you.”  At once, Jesus began speaking to the crowd, “It is time for my lifting up.  Now it is time for God to glorify me.  If a grain of wheat wishes to become many, he must first die and be buried in the ground, and then it will multiply.  Even so, if any of you wishes to save his life, you must lose it.”

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Experiencing Jesus

Atheists fascinate me.  I just don't get them.  From their experience and perception of the universe, they determine that God cannot possibly exist.  I don't deny them their claim, but I do find it an amazing act of faith.  Because they are denying the existence of a person because they have not experienced that person.  If I say to you, "The other day my friend Bill said to me..." and you interrupt me and say, "I'm sorry, but I've never met Bill, so I don't believe he exists" I think I might be justified in wondering at your reasoning.  You don't have to have met Bill to know that I have experienced Bill in some way.  Even so, there are billions of people who have experienced God in some way, and while you don't have to act on the experience of others, is it really rational to simply deny the experiences of the majority of humanity?

However, the basis of any relationship is experience.  To consider someone "saved" because they are convinced by an intellectual argument or because they rationally believe in a doctrine seems a considerable distance from Jesus' statement, "Trust in God, trust also in me."  Trust means knowing a person, finding them to be reliable and so leaning on them.  While part of our experience of Jesus is intellectual, that cannot be the heart of it.

But each person's experience is different.  Jesus only took three disciples out of thousands to the top of the mountain where they saw him transfigured in glory.  The majority heard this story, eventually, but only a bare few had this experience.  It is interesting that Jesus repeated this experience for his persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, but again, the 3000 who believed in Peter's message didn't have this experience.

Many more were directly healed by Jesus.  We don't have any numbers, but it was enough that thousands more followed Jesus wherever he would go to possibly be healed.  These healings continue to this very day.  There are many thousands who live today who affirm that their healing, their deliverance, their sound mind can be given to the glory of Jesus.  This is a powerful experience.  It means that Jesus is not only kind and merciful, but also powerful enough to change our lives for the better.

Still more have experienced Jesus through the actions of others.  There are so many who follow Jesus example, obeying his commands to love, show mercy, be compassionate, to give to the poor, to forgive.  And this community of love is experienced by millions of people throughout the world.  This is Jesus in his people, alive, powerful and changing the world one act of kindness at a time.

If we see our experience of Jesus as something intellectual, then we will base our life in Jesus as arguments, convincing others that we are right and they are wrong.  But the heart of Jesus is relationship: love, mercy and forgiveness from Him and from His people.  To whittle Jesus down to the intellect is to make him far too small: a weak and petty thing.