Luke 7:31-35 – Dealing with the Dull and Foolish

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (New International Version)

I am sure all of us, at some point in our lives, have been in a no-win type of situation. Even Jesus experienced it. 

John the Baptist came as an ascetic, eating no bread and being a teetotaler. Some people thought he had a demon. Then, when Jesus came on the scene doing just the opposite – eating, drinking, and having a grand old time – the people accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton. 

Jesus was like the Rodney Dangerfield of the ancient world – he never got any respect from the religious authorities.

I’m actually a bit relieved that Jesus went through that kind of scenario. Sometimes, it just seems that, with some people, they’ll grump and complain at us, no matter what we do or say. Wise King Solomon was familiar with such people; he called them fools: 

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5, NIV) 

So, which is it? How do I handle a fool? The answer is: you don’t. A fool is going to be a fool no matter what you do or say. Handling them is a no-win situation.

It seems to me the way Jesus responded to the foolish around him was to express something of a lament. The saying he quoted has to do with weddings and funerals. Jesus was lamenting that the crowd standing right in front of him, seeing him and seeing his works, are like people who don’t dance at weddings, and don’t cry at funerals. 

In other words, they are plain dull and stupid. They have Jesus right in front of their faces, and they don’t see him because they are expecting someone else. The people just cannot get over the fact that Jesus hangs out with people other than them.

Jesus was likening the religious authorities to a bunch of bratty little kids. They sit and do nothing but heckle and bully others walking by, while they idly wait for their idea of Messiah to come waltzing along.

Messiah did come along. And they foolishly and dully missed it, and treated Jesus like any other Joe Schmo.

So, what do we do with such irritating and obnoxious people, like those who were never happy with Jesus? 

Well, frankly, Jesus just went about his mission – despite what the foolish generation was saying about him. 

And we must do the same. Some folks are going to backbite, gossip, slander, misunderstand and misrepresent you – and there’s not a dang thing you can do about it. We are not to take our cues from fools. We are to find our security and our solace in Jesus. We are to focus on living and loving, just like him.

And, as for the self-appointed critics and judges among us, let them blow their empty words out their blowholes into the air. The wise don’t have time to engage such blowhards. Leave them to God.

Wise Jesus, you handled people as well as anyone could, yet they still criticized you. Help me to live a sage life, and speak with circumspection, so that when irrational people talk their sinful jabbering, it isn’t because of my foolishness, but because of my love. Amen.

Luke 7:18-30 – Use the Right Color

John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So, he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) (New International Version)

For a short time in my life, I had a side business doing some painting. I once painted an interior apartment in a large beautiful Victorian house. When I was done, it looked great. However, there was a bit of a problem. The owner came to check on my progress only to find that I had painted with the wrong color! I was certain I had it right, but, alas, the job ended up taking twice as long as anticipated.

Sometimes, we can be so sure about our plans, only to discover our expectations were off. John the Baptist was sitting in jail, not for any crime other than offending the king. As he sat there, John began to doubt. He started wondering about Jesus. Maybe he had been wrong about him. Perhaps he was not the Messiah, after all. 

John had been doing ministry with the expectation that Jesus would beat up the Romans, usher in a renewed political Israel, and put down all threats to his Lordship. But that was not happening. John was now uncertain. So, he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John reasoned that if Jesus were really a sovereign king, he would not be languishing in a prison and facing imminent death. Jesus responded to John’s uncertainty by quoting the prophet Isaiah and letting him know that the kingdom takeover was going exactly as planned. 

“Huh!?” John must have wondered. Maybe something was lost in translation. But no. The problem was that John had been using the wrong paint. John’s plans and expectations did not fully sync with Jesus.

It’s easy to doubt when unexpected and unwanted adversity strikes. When things don’t go according to our expected plans, then what? 

This is why it is so vitally important to continually seek the Scriptures and seek the Lord Jesus so that we might not only paint the right building but also use the paint Jesus expects us to use. 

The thing John got right was pursuing Jesus. When in doubt, he sought the Lord – and that is something we all can emulate.

As we paint the portrait of our lives, let’s be sure to use the colors Jesus gives us.

Lord Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As I go through the trials of life, help me to realize that you are with me at all times and in all things; that I have no secrets from you; and that your loving grace enfolds me for eternity. In the security of your embrace, I pray. Amen.

Luke 1:68-79 – A Peaceful Life

Praise the Lord,
    the God of Israel!
He has come
    to save his people.
Our God has given us
    a mighty Savior
from the family
    of David his servant.
Long ago the Lord promised
by the words
    of his holy prophets
to save us from our enemies
and from everyone
    who hates us.
God said he would be kind
to our people
and keep
    his sacred promise.
He told our ancestor Abraham
that he would rescue us
    from our enemies.
Then we could serve him
    without fear,
by being holy and good
    as long as we live.

You, my son, will be called
a prophet of God
    in heaven above.
You will go ahead of the Lord
to get everything ready
    for him.
You will tell his people
    that they can be saved
when their sins
    are forgiven.
God’s love and kindness
    will shine upon us
like the sun that rises
    in the sky.
On us who live
in the dark shadow
    of death
this light will shine
to guide us
    into a life of peace. (Contemporary English Version)

This beautiful psalm and prophecy came from the old priest Zechariah. It is a praise to God for the Christ about to be born; and, a prediction of Zechariah’s own son, newly born, as one who will prepare the way for Jesus.  This benediction speaks of better days to come, pointing forward to peace (shalom) spiritually, politically, and relationally.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well past the childbearing years. In fact, Zechariah is portrayed earlier in Luke’s Gospel as something of a stereotypical grump. After being taken up to the temple in a golf cart because he could walk so well anymore, Zechariah was confronted by an angel and nearly lost his dentures out of fear.

The angel Gabriel told old Zechariah that his wife would bear a son who will prepare the way of Messiah.  Zechariah then gave a sort of “Hmpff!  That’s not likely, Sonny. Look at me and my wife. Are you sure you have the right couple, and the orders in heaven didn’t get screwed up?”

Zechariah the Priest and the Archangel Gabriel by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858)

Gabriel was not very keen on being doubted, and it earned Zechariah losing his voice until John the Baptist was born. It was after Zechariah had nine months to think about that encounter, and experience watching a child grow in his wife’s womb that, after John’s birth, Zechariah was a changed man. 

Zechariah went from just one of many old priests in Israel, to being inspired by the Spirit and singing the praises of God. We can almost imagine him as an ancient version of Fred Astaire, picking up his cane and dancing with joy.

Our lives are not so different than Zechariah in this respect: We are a complex concoction of both fear and joy that could combust at any time in either direction.

We sway back and forth from fear and anxiety to joy and gratitude. Certain words can swing us to one extreme or the other: finances, pandemic, politics, religion, the future. They can create in us either immediate tension or smiling happiness; tomorrow they might do just the opposite. Zechariah went from anxious to elated, fearful to joyful.

We live in a toxic world filled with polarizing opposites and entrenched stereotypes of others. People vacillate between love and hate, pursed lips of anger and dispositions of peace. So, how do we rise above the heated rhetoric that exists in our world? How are we going to deal with all the disharmony and vitriol? By possessing the peace given to us in the prophecy and promise of Jesus. Our feet need to be guided in the path of peace.

Jesus came to give peace. All the words of Zechariah’s inspiration point toward the harmonious peace of salvation, rescue, and forgiveness. The time was finally coming when there would be peace in its fullest sense – wholeness and thriving in life which was unprecedented and unthinkable before Jesus. 

“True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, tension or war – it is the presence of some positive force, justice, good will, brotherhood.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are to live the Christian life and have a ministry in the church and the world without fear. Instead, we are to focus on what we are called to be and to do. Jesus rescues and delivers so that we will have forgiveness of sins which enables us to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness, without fear.

Peace does not just magically appear out of thin air. Peace was bought at an agonizing price – the blood of Jesus. Peace must be pursued. Practices of peace must be engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level. Yes, obtaining peace is difficult.  Yet, we instinctively know it is worth it.

Spiritual health comes through cultivating the peace of God in our lives through:

  • Avoiding chronic negativity and embracing the positive.
  • Making things right with others and embracing a reconciling spirit.
  • Pursuing Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  • Reframing our situations to a fresh vision of peace, wholeness, integrity, spiritual growth, and relational health, instead of focusing solely on problem-solving.

Zechariah, by means of the Holy Spirit, gave us a vision of a future full of peace, joy, and thriving. The name “Zechariah” means in Hebrew “God remembered.” God has not forgotten divine promises. The time has come to take hold of the vision God had from the very beginning to walk with humanity in continual fellowship and happiness in the garden, a place of abundant growth, beauty, and health.

Beginning ten years ago, a new kind of study has come from a task force put together by professionals across a wide spectrum of disciplines known as the World Happiness Report.  Every country in the world is ranked according to criteria such as the gross domestic product, social support, healthy lifestyles, freedom to make choices, lack of corruption, and both negative and positive outlooks on life. 

The United States has yet to make the top ten list on happiness. Even with America’s vast resources, we are, collectively speaking, a very unhappy people. I believe the most interesting finding from the World Happiness Report was their conclusion as to what makes one country happier than another. The Report consistently concludes that citizens of the happiest nations on earth continually find a steady stream of peace and joy in three sources: their families, their rituals/traditions, and their religion.

It will be hard to find joy in our lives through our Christianity if we are not experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ. Christian liturgical rituals and observances of seasons like Advent help remind us we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The birth of Jesus turned Zechariah’s world upside-down. Forgiveness of sins, spiritual peace, and human well-being can be found in Christ. Here are several practical ways we can implement the peace we have in Jesus Christ today:

  • Slow down, pause, breathe, and pray.

Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

  • Exchange fear for the presence of God.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV)

  • Listen to music, sing, or make music yourself.

Encourage each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19, ERV)

  • Have a “go to” word, phrase, or Scripture verse.

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. (Psalm 23:1, CEB)

  • Unplug for a time from electronics and close your eyes.

We live by what we believe, not by what we can see. (2 Corinthians 5:7, NCV)

  • Try aromatherapy and activate your sense of smell.

Through us, God brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15, MSG)

  • Set healthy boundaries.

Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So, she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There is only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, GW)

May the peace of Christ guide you into the path of peace in this Advent season and be with you, now and forever. Amen.

1 Samuel 17:55-18:5 – True Friendship

As Saul watched David go out to fight the Philistine, he asked Abner, the commander of his army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?”

“I really don’t know,” Abner declared.

“Well, find out who he is!” the king told him.

As soon as David returned from killing Goliath, Abner brought him to Saul with the Philistine’s head still in his hand. “Tell me about your father, young man,” Saul said.

And David replied, “His name is Jesse, and we live in Bethlehem.”

After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So, Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. (New Living Translation)

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”

Seneca (5 B.C.E.-65 C.E)

We may have numerous acquaintances; social media friends; friends we do activities with; family friends and cousin friends; and even some good close friends. However, there are few, maybe only one or two people, who are so close as to be your best friend and a kindred spirit.

That person is the one whom you know always has your back; is the first person you call in the middle of the night in an emergency; and is the confidant you can say anything to, and they won’t freak out about it. They will always shoot straight with you and are your biggest encourager and fan. There is nothing they would not do for you.

I hope you have such a friend because they are rare gems. Such relationships typically begin by hitting it off well together. Usually, some event or particular place brings two people to a point of discovering they have such commonality of thinking and a commitment to living a certain way that their hearts are immediately drawn to each other. This is exactly what happened to Jonathan and David.

Before Jonathan and David’s friendship emerged, Jonathan (King Saul’s son) took it upon himself to step up and step out in single-handedly taking on the Philistine army. Jonathan faced them with only his armor-bearer behind him, climbed a cliff to other side where the Philistines were, and attacked all by himself. One guy deliberately went against an entire army. 

While six-hundred Israelite soldiers were hiding, too afraid to face the enemy, Jonathan took it upon himself to act. It was not a rash action but a decision of faith:

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the fort of these uncircumcised men. Maybe the Lord will act on our behalf. After all, nothing can stop the Lord from saving, whether there are many soldiers or few.” (1 Samuel 14:6, CEB) 

Jonathan passionately believed the Lord was with him and would achieve the victory. Indeed, God sent a panic throughout the Philistine camp when Jonathan acted. The result was a complete rout.

David had his own act of faith with the Philistine giant, Goliath. While everyone in the Israelite camp was fearful of the larger than life enemy, David saw him through the eyes of faith, and stepped up to challenge someone twice his size. 

It just so happens, that on that day, Jonathan had a front row seat to the entire event. It was immediately after David killed Goliath that Jonathan knew this was a guy with remarkably similar sensibilities. David possessed Jonathan’s same passion for God; same zealous faith that takes enormous risk; same heart for God’s people and God’s name. They clicked – and became kindred spirits, as if knowing the one of them was to know the other.

It was true friendship at its absolute best. Jonathan had David’s back. There was nothing he would not do for him, and vice versa. So, he made a covenant with David. And it turned out to be a lasting commitment neither of them ever regretted. 

Jonathan did not make the covenant with David just to buddy-up with the new popular person. No, Jonathan is a timeless example of one who was humbly unselfish. He gave up his robe and his weapons to David. This was a magnanimous gesture. Jonathan believed David was the next true king, so he gave his kingly objects to him.

As the king’s son, Jonathan stood in line to be the next king. In fact, everything we know about Jonathan informs us he would likely be a darn good king. Yet, Jonathan recognized David was a more worthy candidate than himself. So, he gave up his right to the throne and handed over his symbols of potential kingship.

Jonathan delighted in David’s success. He joyfully watched David become a great warrior and successful leader. Jonathan was always the first one to give David a pat on the back and do whatever was needed in supporting him. 

Jonathan didn’t mind that David upped him on the battlefield and commanded ever larger numbers of soldiers.  Jonathan could have pulled rank on David as the king’s son – but he never did, because he honestly believed his friend was the real king.

“If Christ Jesus dwells in a person as his friend and noble leader, that person can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend.”

St. Teresa of Ávila

In the New Testament, we see a person with the same spirit and devotion as Jonathan. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness being a literal wild man. And he gained quite a following. All kinds of people went out into the desert to be baptized by John and to be his disciples. Yet, John recognized that he himself was not the true king. Concerning Jesus, John said:

“This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am because he was alive before I was born.” (John 1:15, CEV)

“I am not the Messiah…. I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:20, 23, NIV)

“Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” (John 1:27, NLT)

“I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.” (John 1:34, CEB)

John never became jealous, envious, or concerned that his cousin Jesus was greater than himself. In fact, he celebrated it:

“I am so happy that he is here. He must become more and more important, and I must become less important.” (John 3:29-30, ERV)      

John was focused on God. He therefore was able to respond rightly and humbly to Jesus, the true king. 

Jonathan was focused on God, and so was able to respond rightly and humbly to David, the true king.

Jesus is both king and friend. Jesus can be your kindred spirit, the one who always has your back. You can call, and he will be there. And we can delightfully watch Christ increase while we decrease. His success is our success. 

Divine friendship is possible. God’s people can enjoy incredible unity because Jesus has gone before us – he has won the victory over sin, death, and hell on our behalf. By faith we step out and act with the knowledge God is with us.

Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, NKJV)

**Above wood sculpture of Jonathan and David by Olen Bryant (1927-2017)