Tag Archives: judgement

Veil of Tears 88: Undeserving

88 undeserving scrooge-gallery

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ “ Matthew 25:30 NIV

The parable of the talents from which our verse today is taken, is a difficult one for us. It seems to speak of a different way of doing things than seems fair. We are not used to the idea of someone being punished for having been afraid to act. And yet, perhaps the worthless servant’s real crime is to have judged his boss instead of doing his job. We are probably all guilty of that particular wrong!

But how awful to find ourselves denied the good things and rewards that others are given. This parable speaks to me of the difference between those who take what life gives them and try to do something with it, however hard a taskmaster circumstances seem to be, and those who don’t think it is their job to do very much except judge others harshly, expect payment for nothing and make excuses for having lived a life without any abundance to show for it.

If we live our lives under a curse of entitlement, doing nothing with our gifts and using nothing to bring abundance, expecting our existence to bring us rewards, then we will receive nothing in return. It is a sad state of affairs, but if we are this immature and lazy with our spiritual gifts and with the love of God given to us, then it is impossible for God to let us into the overflowing wonders of life in his kingdom, because we will not be able to use or understand them. It is for this reason, I believe, that such a person will be condemned to the outside, the Gehenna, the rubbish pit, rather than able to enter the New Jerusalem. Not that he or she is not allowed, or even necessarily judged morally wanting, but because they have stayed unable to make anything of goodness and love, and will not yet be open to its glories.

Selfishness is then, probably the worst thing we can suffer, because it leads nowhere and to nothing. If we close ourselves off and centre our being on our own wants and think nothing of others, then we will have learnt nothing at all. Reaching out, helping, loving and giving, this is where God’s kind of treasure lies. And paradoxically the more we give, the more we receive. This is not about earning our place in heaven, nor is it about being condemned for all eternity, as some might counsel. It is more about cultivating an awareness of the needs of others, in order to become mature and fulfilled ourselves. In order to become larger, better, to grow and flourish, this rooting in love is necessary. If we choose not to give, then we will find ourselves diminished and relegated to our own smallness.

We have all failed on this one, let’s not kid (pun intended!) ourselves. When Jesus separates us into sheep and goats, which is the next part of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, who amongst us can say that we always gave when there was a need? But we are told that most of our good deeds are unknown even to ourselves! I wonder then if the worthless servant and the goats are the parts of ourselves that need to be acknowledged and purged. Middle Eastern sheep and goats look very similar, when you think about it, so this is no easy task. Just as Jesus says the wheat and the tares must grow up together so that the good in the harvest remains unharmed, perhaps the same is true of the differences that exist even within each individual. These motives and ways of being are what the Lord needs to separate, to put aside, to deal with, in the crucibles of testing as with dear old Ebenezer Scrooge (above), so that the parts of us that cannot see heaven will die off, and the parts of ourselves that are capable of seeing and hearing, can then walk forward with our God, in this life and then in the next. Perhaps, in the end, this is about what needs to be left behind and understood as of no worth, before we can progress further into the Lord’s heart.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is tended receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.” Hebrews 6:7 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo used under creative commons license

61: Unclean

61 unclean pixabay putz-bucket-1290951_1920

Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.” Numbers 19:22 NIV

The Law is full of directions about what is unclean, and the purification rituals that need to be undertaken to bring a person back to cleanliness. To be perfectly honest, it is all so involved that it was a wonder if there were 3 clean people in the whole of Israel at any one time. Many foods are listed as unclean and various animals, as well as practices and bodily functions. The whole thing is a minefield that took some negotiating. Staying clean was a full time occupation, and quite clearly, especially for women, impossible, which to my mind is part of the point of the law. We need to first understand the impossibility of saving ourselves, of being holy, before we can take on board the need for a holy saviour who can free us by grace.

We might think that these days and especially as Christians that we are free from the attitude that lies behind these laws and the obsession with cleanliness and perceived sin that they inspire. But we’d be wrong. There are just whole new ways of being unclean. Spend time in any organisation, yes, including churches, and you will find that there are certain things or ways of being that are unacceptable, or that will get you ridiculed, disrespected or even thrown out, and that will certainly get you avoided. Being chronically ill can be one of them. There are a lot of modern day lepers. Being mentally ill, poor, difficult to talk to, riddled with problems or addictions, wearing the “wrong” clothes, voicing the “wrong” opinions or even rocking the boat or questioning the status quo, all these things and more can mean that you end up feeling like you should be wandering outside the city gates with a bell around your neck.

But the truth is as Paul saw it, much more in our minds than in any objective purity, for as he said, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” Romans 14:14 NIV   The purity or lack of purity in something is all perception. If we see riches and designer clothes as pure, the poor and the hoody-wearers will seem unclean to us. If we think our Sunday roasts are sacrosanct family time we might well avoid tofu-eating hippies (like me!), or people who work on the Sabbath.

If we are men struggling with sexual self-discipline, women’s bodies will need to be far more covered up so that we don’t see their “uncleanness” even though it is our own lusts that are unsavoury. We project our judgement onto others, and we can often tell our own unclean areas by the things we find distasteful in others. It works the same way with religious orthodoxy. The truth is that anyone or anything can become unclean to us if it helps us feel superior or more sure of ourselves.

The good news is that all of this antagonism and self-righteousness can be dropped if we truly hear the gospel and seek to live it out. We are all saved by grace and not one of us has the right to proclaim another unclean, since we understand that we were all lifted from the pigpen by the same hand, and that we all fall back (or even sneak back) to the mud from time to time, needing a good hosing down before we smell quite as fragrant as we imagine we do.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

40: Put it Away!

giraffe

if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. 16You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.” Job 11:14-16 NIV

So here is some of the rest of Zophar’s speech to Job, who is sitting, sick, boil-covered and grief-stricken on the dungheap of terrible suffering. Zophar’s logic is that Job couldn’t possibly be suffering this much as an innocent, he must have done or be doing something terrible. As soon as he turns from his wicked ways and repents, everything will suddenly go right with his life.

Sadly, this is still a nonsense that gets thrown around at the sick and the hurting today in church. I know, because I’ve had this boomerang hurled at me enough times. Put the sin away from yourself and suddenly all will be well. Well I say, put that self-righteous, ignorance away and I might be more inclined to listen to you!

Of course habitual sin is bad for us, and of course no-one is without sin. But when Jesus’ disciples see a blind man begging at the roadside, and ask, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus treats the question as the nonsense it is. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 NIV To the Lord, every piece of suffering is an opportunity to put things right. It is an opening for grace to be encountered, not a time to talk of blame or sin. God answers Job’s suffering with encounter, and Jesus does the same with the man born blind. Encounter for this man brings healing, but it also (maybe even more importantly) allows this man to become an evangelist. He turns out to be a very vocal and courageous supporter of the gospel, defying the leaders of the synagogue and even his own parents to tell the truth about Jesus.

I don’t pretend to know a great deal about healing, it’s a very complicated subject often, but I believe that with God, encounter and healing are always about wholeness. God doesn’t deal with us in bits, the way that our modern medical systems are geared to do. If God heals you physically, he will most likely heal your purpose and your being, and I think this is why he says to so many that he heals, “Your sins are forgiven you,” not because it was their sin causing the harm, though sometimes holding in hurts can cause us great bodily, mental and emotional grief, but because the transformational work he does treats us as entire, complex and spiritual beings.

In any case, most of us who are genuinely seeking God, like Job, and hopefully those of us in church, find one of the toughest things to do is forgiving ourselves (hence perhaps Jesus’ reassurance), we really don’t need any help looking for inner or “hidden” sins. If you are sick a long time, believe me, you’ve done a lot of soul searching already.

Equating sin with punishment in this life is to not understand the grace and the goodness of God. The Lord is all compassion and mercy and loving kindness. The greatest barrier and the greatest help to healing in the gospels is faith or lack of it, and usually this is the faith of the person or people praying for the sick, as it is also in James’ letter. We are scripturally more at liberty to blame our intercessors when healing doesn’t come, rather than those being prayed for. But blame in all its forms is to rather miss the point. Zophar and the rest of Job’s “friends” do this rather spectacularly. Suffering that presents an opportunity for God to be given glory is just not on their radar. I wonder if it is on ours?

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Artwork “Put it Away!” by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt