On Sundays we have a Breakfast Fellowship- this is a free breakfast open to anyone- there are many regulars who make the free meal circuit and usually a few new faces. I have enjoyed getting to know them and to hear about what is going on in their lives, and sometimes to connect them with something that will help their current concern, to give out hugs, share laughs and prayers. The lay leaders have been using the VBI "Gospel of Matthew" each week showing a different passage. This week was
Matthew 12: 15-45. With so much to cover, I chose to pretty much wrap it up at verse 30 for my message.
The message time has give and take to it- I stop and ask for questions, or people raise their hands to comment and others just talk anyway. Out of all of that, below is the gist of the message from yesterday with a couple modifications:
We live in a culture where we all have some form of identification that says who we are- drivers license, Social Security card, school ID, passwords. We cannot navigate our culture without them. It is not enough for us to say who we are, we have to prove it. If we prove who we are, our ID says things about us. We protect our identity at all costs so others don’t steal it. From time to time we hear stories about people who create fake ID’s- to go places and do things that they could not otherwise do. All ways we seek to address the question of “WHO ARE YOU?”
Today we hear that Jesus cured many and ordered them not to make it known. Why would this be? Wouldn’t it help to grow Jesus’ following if news of these miracles spread from town to town? Later we hear the Pharisees tell Jesus, “If you could just give US a sign.” Prove your identity. For people who seek him to be healed, they believe in the signs, but they are not sure who exactly they believe in. But they hope- the Gentiles hope. Hope in this person whose name proclaims and enacts “Save us.” Can this Jesus be the one?
For those who are learned, who have studied Scripture and are the self-proclaimed enactors of holiness, they should know who Jesus is, but they seek a sign. The prophet Isaiah’s words are being fulfilled –“he will not wrangle or cry out”- Jesus will not engage in the debate of “prove it!” “Nor will anyone else hear his voice”- no one is getting what he is preaching and teaching- he is placing his identity before them, yet the Pharisees are the ones who are blind, who cannot hear, who cannot speak rightly of Jesus. They are sure he must be working for Satan- he cannot be who he says he is. They accuse Jesus of having a fake ID. Jesus reminds them that it is by the Spirit of God that he cast out demons, and “the kingdom of God has come to you.” He gives examples from the Old Testament that he knows should ring some bells with the temple leaders, but seemingly to no avail- they still want to see a sign.
He tries logic- If people who are sick have sinned and are full of evil, why would a force of evil, get rid of evil- wouldn’t it work the other way around? And what about the fact that these “holy men” also have “faith healers?” They can’t have it both ways. What is it that they are doing? Are they also calling upon the devil? Or are their “so-called” cures not cures at all? But the logic doesn’t work either.
What about all of the people who are sick and in need who the Pharisees have cast aside and ignored- those who the Pharisees have refused to help? A saying in Scripture is that people are “blessed to be a blessing to others.” If faithful and holy people are blessed to be a blessing to those in need, why are the Pharisees blinded to the painfully obvious needs of others, and deaf to their cries? Why when they see those who are aching for any assistance, do they find themselves with nothing to say to these people? People in need of food, and shelter, and in need of basic care- cast to the outer regions of the town and left to fend for themselves. Unable to worship or to be even become clean and whole. Erased from the minds of those in charge. What about those Pharisees who claim to be one thing, but clearly are another? Nothing seems to sway the Pharisees, but we can be left with a question- Just who is operating under a fake ID?
One of you asked if there is a connection between the Pharisees and Pharaoh. Though they are in many ways not connected- in fact this is a very interesting point to consider. The Pharisees are the temple leaders in Jesus’ day- that is who we see in our story today. Pharaoh was the leader in Egypt who kept the people of Israel in slavery. The people of Israel were trapped in their situation until God through Moses acted to free them from their oppression. Likewise the Pharisees, in a lot of the actions and decisions they made that I spoke of just a minute ago, very much enslaved and oppressed others- the poor, the sick, the widowed. And Jesus’s mission is to end this oppression and to clean house. It is as if God’s world, God’s house, has been taken over by the many forces and ways that leave people poor and oppressed. A lot of us here today know what it feels like to be pushed off to the side, left to fight on our own, in some ways trapped and unable to change things- we need healthcare, and jobs, and people to care.
This is how many in Matthew’s gospel feel and Jesus talks about stealing back the house. Sounds kind of odd to think of Jesus as committing assault and robbery. But I think in some ways the better view for our world today is “freeing the hostages.” In the many rules and policies that have caused people to be excluded, to live in poverty and pain, and to remain trapped, they have become hostages to evil- evil that enacts behaviors that do not match God’s vision. In order to restore the house to what it should be, the hostage taker must be subdued and the hostages released. This is what is happening when we hear about Satan and Jesus.
This is Jesus’ identity- the one who saves and frees the hostages. We’re freed!
It might be easy to simply reassure ourselves that we are the hostages, and someone else is the bad guy and that as long as we are not the Pharisees, we can feel pretty good. But not so fast, I think we are being told. Because I think we need to ask ourselves whether we also operate under that fake ID. We hear teaching about what we say- about God and about each other. We are not being freed to just create another hostage situation for others. We are called to choose our behavior- we are called walk the walk and talk the talk of the freed. We're asked are you with me or not? If we put on a good act, but we do not speak as we should- we are using a fake ID. If we talk a good game, but live only for ourselves- you got it- fake ID.
No matter who we are, we all need to remind ourselves that we are freed to live a different way- not just freed to take it out on others and settle scores. We not only need to pay attention to how we act, but what we say- we all know the power and the pain words can have. As we leave today, thankful to be freed, let’s think about how to live in a way that shows that how we live matches our ID.