Praying the Message of Jesus

Daily devotions and thoughts from Eugene Peterson

June 1

How Many Times?


At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, "Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?" Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn't pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. The poor wretch threw himself at the king's feet and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt. The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, 'Pay up. Now!' The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it back.' But he wouldn't do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought out a detailed report to the king. The king summoned the man and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?' The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that's exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn't forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy." MATTHEW 18:21-35 


Peter asked for a statistical count; Jesus gave him a story. We do not calcu­late forgiveness by numbers; we live it out in a world of incalculable mercy.  


Whom do you need to forgive?


Your stories, Jesus, describe a world I can't really see, a world large with generos­ity. Every mean act and every failed task is released from condemnation. I want to share in this world, Lord, of forgiving and being forgiven. Amen. 

June 2

Is It Legal?


One day the Pharisees were badgering him: "Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?" He answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh-no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart." They shot back in rebuttal, "If that's so, why did Moses give instructions for divorce papers and divorce procedures?" Jesus said, "Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hardheartedness, but it is not part of God's original plan. I'm holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else. I make an exception in cases where the spouse has committed adultery." MATTHEW 19:3-9


Some people come to Jesus and say, "Help me; have mercy upon me." Jesus responds immediately and graciously. Others, like these Pharisees, come and say, "Is it legal . . . ?" They are interested not in what God can do for them, but in what they can get by with. All they get from Jesus is some quotations from Genesis.


What Scripture does Jesus quote?


Now, Father, I see why some of my prayers are unsatisfactory: I am interested in my possibilities rather than in your grace. I ask for information rather than for mercy. I see the difference; now help me to pray the difference. Amen. 

June 3

Not Everyone Is Mature Enough

 

Jesus' disciples objected, "If those are the terms of marriage, we're stuck. Why get married?" But Jesus said, "Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn't for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked-or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you're capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it." MATTHEW 19:10-12

 

Jesus doesn't impose a uniform way of life on everyone. There are different ways of life in which to pursue a committed discipleship. God gives the means to accomplish the ends that he commands in us.

 

In what station in life has God placed you?

 

Create a contentment in me, God, with the circumstances of my life. It is so inwardly destructive to be always wishing I were in a different situation or involved in other relationships. Show me how to do the best in love and faith right where I am. Amen. 

June 4

Lay Hands on Them and Pray


One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: "Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me. God's kingdom is made up of people like these." After laying hands on them, he left. MATTHEW 19:13-15 


The extremities of existence are joined in Jesus' life: He touches children, immersing himself in the sensual, physical realities of the human; and he prays, laying hold of the unseen, spiritual realities of God.


Do you separate the physical and spiritual?


I want to be equally at home, Lord Jesus, in material, physical things and in spiritual, divine realities-in the same way that you were, touching and praying. Amen. 

June 5

Give It All You've Got

 

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Jesus said, "Why do you question me about what's good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you." The man asked, "What in particular?" Jesus said, "Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself." The young man said, "I've done all that. What's left?" "If you want to give it all you've got," Jesus replied, "go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me." That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't bear to let go. MATTHEW 19:16-22

 

The young man thought that he had kept the Levitical command, "Love your neighbor as you do yourself," but it had never occurred to him that his neighbor might be the poor man and that love had something to do with how he spent his money.

 

Who are some of the unseen "neighbors" in your life?

 

I know the commands, 0 God, but I need your help in seeing the people and circumstances where my obedience is commanded. Open my hands that have been clutching possessions; open my eyes too long blind to certain neighbors. Amen. 

June 6

Any Chance at All?

 

As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God's kingdom? Let me tell you, it's easier to gallop a camel through a needle's eye than for the rich to enter God's kingdom." The disciples were staggered. "Then who has any chance at all?" Jesus looked hard at them and said, "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it." Then Peter chimed in, "We left everything and followed you. What do we get out of it?" Jesus replied, "Yes, you have followed me. In the re­creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel. And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields -whatever-because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life." MATTHEW 19:23-29

 

We have to make a choice between possessing as much as we can manage, proving we are worth something by our visible wealth, and traveling light in faith, believing that we are worth everything simply because God loves us.

 

What have you left?

 

As long, Father, as I harbor covetous desires to be among the first, I am never free to respond quickly and spontaneously to your presence and your Word. Forgive me for wanting to be among the rich, and for avoiding the company of the poor, where you are. Amen. 

June 7

The Last First

 

"God's kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went. He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o'clock. At five o'clock he went back and found still others hanging around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?' They said, 'Because no one hired us.' He told them to go to work in his vineyard. When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.' Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.' He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?' Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first." MATTHEW 20:1-16 

 

Christ doesn't run the world by consulting us, asking what we think is right or proper. Naturally, we make our share of complaints against his administration. But much of our discontent, phrased as a concern for justice, is only petty envy and small-minded jealousy.

 

What don't you like about how God runs things?

 

You are right on target, Lord, when you ask me, ''Do you begrudge my generos­ity?" It is not easy to get used to a life of extravagant mercy when I have grown up on nit-picking calculations of rights and benefits. Amen. 

June 8

The Son of Man Will Be Betrayed

 

Jesus, now well on the way up to Jerusalem, took the Twelve off to the side of the road and said, "Listen to me carefully. We are on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. They will then hand him over to the Romans for mockery and torture and crucifixion. On the third day he will be raised up alive." MATTHEW 20:17-19

 

Association with Jesus puts us in the company of healing, enlightenment, and unanticipated joys. But it also puts us in the place of betrayal, humili­ation, and crucifixion. We must, if we are faithful to the Christian way, accept the one as readily as the other.

 

Why is this announcement a surprise?

 

I will not forget, Lord Christ, when I experience apprehension and dread, that they are announced and documented parts of the life of discipleship. Keep me faithful in the difficult trials as you accompany me with the promise of resur­rection. Amen. 

June 9

In Exchange for the Many

 

It was about that time that the mother of the Zebedee brothers came with her two sons and knelt before Jesus with a request. "What do you want?" Jesus asked. She said, "Give your word that these two sons of mine will be awarded the highest places of honor in your kingdom, one at your right hand, one at your left hand." Jesus responded, "You have no idea what you're asking." And he said to James and John, "Are you capable of drinking the cup that I'm about to drink?" They said, "Sure, why not?" Jesus said, "Come to think of it, you are going to drink my cup. But as to awarding places of honor, that's not my business. My Father is taking care of that." When the ten others heard about this, they lost their tempers, thoroughly disgusted with the two brothers. So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served-and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage." MATTHEW 20:20-28 

 

We attempt to get the respect and recognition of a life of discipleship by acquiring a few pious habits. Jesus demands a life that makes a difference: a life of service, a life of giving.

 

How do you live as a servant?

 

My confession, Lord: I keep hoping that being a Christian will give me an advantage over everybody else; I make a habit of looking for loopholes in your demands for a life of service. Forgive me, for Jesus' sake. Amen. 

June 10

What Do You Want?

 

As they were leaving Jericho, a huge crowd followed. Suddenly they came upon two blind men sitting alongside the road. When they heard it was Jesus passing, they cried out, "Master, have mercy on us! Mercy, Son of David!" The crowd tried to hush them up, but they got all the louder, crying, "Master, have mercy on us! Mercy, Son of David!" Jesus stopped and called over, "What do you want from me?" They said, "Master, we want our eyes opened. We want to see!" Deeply moved, Jesus touched their eyes. They had their sight back that very instant, and joined the procession. MATTHEW 20:29-34 

 

The blind men's answer to Jesus' question seems obvious: "We want to see!" But had they ever asked for that before? Or had they long ago gotten accustomed to asking for handouts? Jesus challenges us to what is basic and essential: What do you really want?

 

What do you want?

 

Gracious Father, years of living in 'Jericho" have turned me into a passive consumer, dependent on alms. My desires and wants are exceedingly trivial. You rouse in me soul-sized thirsts I had forgotten I had: I want sight. I want salvation. Amen. 

June 11

Mount Olives


When they neared· Jerusalem, having arrived at Beth phage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: "Go over to the village across from you. You'll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you're doing, say, 'The Master .needs them!' He will send them with you." This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet: "Tell Zion's daughter, 'Look, your king's on his way, poised and ready, mounted on a donkey, on a colt, foal of a pack animal."' MATTHEW 21:1-5 


First-century Jewish expectation had fixed on Mount Olives as the site for the appearance of the Messiah. As Jesus prepared to present himself at the Jerusalem Passover, he partially fit into their expectations. At the same time, he confounded them by selecting a plodding beast of burden to ride rather than a dashing war horse.


Look at a map of the Holy Land and visualize the relation of Mount Olives to Jerusalem.


I want to be ready, Jesus, for your daily entrance into my life. I know that you will come to me. I also know that the way you will come will differ from my preconceptions. Prepare me to receive you as you will to come. Amen. 

June 12

Exactly

 

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. MATTHEW 21:6-7

 

Simple obedience is a marvelous act: When we do what Jesus tells us to do, everything falls into place, things work out. Why do we think we have to improve on his commands, edit his instructions?

 

Are you basically an obeyer or a kibitzer?

 

Almighty and eternal God, speak your Word to my heart, commanding what you will. And then work in me the grace of obedience enabling me in faith to carry out your Word. Amen. 

June 13

Branches from the Trees


Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. MATTHEW 21:8 


Festivity was in the air. Our custom at parades is to wave banners and pompoms; the Hebrews made a red carpet with garments and tree branches. They knew something celebrative was taking place in Jesus, and they wanted in on it.


What is celebrative for you in Jesus?


"Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love; hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of doubt away; giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day." Amen. 

June 14

Hosanna In Highest Heaven!

 

Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, "Hosanna to David's son!" "Blessed is he who comes in God's name!" "Hosanna in highest heaven!" MATTHEW 21:9

 

Hosanna means "Save now!" It is a cry for help in the context of assured response. The Savior has arrived! Salvation is at hand! Everyone's life is at the point of change for the better. That which none of us can do for ourselves is done for us in Jesus.

 

Read Psalm 118:25-26 for the source of this cry.

 

"Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring, who in all good delightest, Thou good and gracious King! All glory, laud, and honor to Thee, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!" Amen. 

June 15

Shaken

 

As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, "What's going on here? Who is this?" The parade crowd answered, "This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee." MATTHEW 21:10-11

 

Many things are put together in this parade: the obedience of disciples, the generosity of the donkey's owner, the prophecy of Zechariah, the enthusi­asm of crowds, the praise of God. The final week ofJesus' ministry opens with a celebration. It will conclude with a resurrection.

 

What part do you play in celebrating Christ's rule?

 

God, I want to find my propv place among people who praise you. By your grace every day is a festival of salvation. Put a palm branch in my hand and a song in my mouth as I join the people who know the joyful sound. Amen. 

June 16

Hangout for Thieves


Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text: "My house was designated a house of prayer; you have made it a hangout for thieves." MATTHEW 21:12-13


Places of worship are bustling centers of activity: centers for discussion groups, work projects, social gatherings-and, of course, a brief prayer to get things started on the right note. Most churches could stand a good temple-cleaning.


Is prayer the central activity in your church?


When I next enter my church, Father, I will pray. I will not go to talk about you, or talk to my neighbors, but to address you and be addressed by you. Keep me faithful and attentive to the conversation that you are having with me in Jesus Christ. Amen. 

June 17

From the Mouths of Children

 

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them. When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, "Hosanna to David's Son!" they were up in arms and took him to task. "Do you hear what these children are saying?" Jesus said, "Yes, I hear them. And haven't you read in God's Word, 'From the mouths of children and babies I'll furnish a place of praise'?" Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left the city for Bethany, where he spent the night. MATTHEW 21:14-17

 

The noise of the money changers never, apparently, had bothered them, but the noise of children was intolerable. How could they become so quickly accustomed to the clangor of commerce and be so short-tempered with the shouts of children? How can we?

 

What psalm does Jesus quote?

 

"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodi­ous sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above; praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it, mount of Gods unchanging love!" Amen. 

June 18

From Small to Large

 

Early the next morning Jesus was returning to the city. He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree alongside the road, he approached it anticipating a breakfast of figs. When he got to the tree, there was nothing but fig leaves. He said, "No more figs from this tree - ever!" The fig tree withered on the spot, a dry stick. The disciples saw it happen. They rubbed their eyes, saying, "Did we really see this? A leafy tree one minute, a dry stick the next?" But Jesus was matter-of-fact: "Yes - and if you embrace this kingdom life and don't doubt God, you'll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you'll tell, 'Go jump in the lake,' and it will jump. Absolutely everything, ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God." MATTHEW 21:1a-22

 

Jesus trains us to seek the essentials from God, to direct our longings and aspirations to the center. Prayer to God must become as common in our lives as conversation with our friends.

 

Is prayer central in your life?

 

God and Father, I find your love in and around me; I realize your salvation working deeply through my existence. Centered in you and surrounded by you, make every word I speak a prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

June 19

Who Authorized You?

 

Then he was back in the Temple, teaching. The high priests and leaders of the people came up and demanded, "Show us your credentials. Who authorized you to teach here?" Jesus responded, "First let me ask you a question. You answer my question and I'll answer yours. About the baptism of John-who authorized it: heaven or humans?" They were on the spot and knew it. They pulled back into a huddle and whispered, "If we say 'heaven,' he'll ask us why we didn't believe him; if we say 'humans,' we're up against it with the people because they all hold John up as a prophet." They decided to concede that round to Jesus. "We don't know," they answered. Jesus said, "Then neither will I answer your question." MATTHEW 21:23-27

 

The question was not an honest request for information, but a tactic for avoiding personal responsibility. They asked questions about Jesus' creden­tials so that they would not have to answer the question Jesus' life posed to their lives.

 

Do you ever ask questions to avoid giving answers?

 

I want my life, Lord, to be an answer to your love for me: my actions and my words, my thoughts and my dreams-all a response to the great reality of your presence in Jesus, that calls into question my selfishness and my pride. Amen. 

June 20

Which of the Two?

 

"Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, 'Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.' The son answered, 'I don't want to.' Later on he thought better of it and went. The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, 'Sure, glad to.' But he never went. Which of the two sons did what the father asked?" They said, "The first." Jesus said, "Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God's kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn't care enough to change and believe him." MATTHEW 21:28-32

 

Our life is formed at the deepest levels not by protest and promises, argu­ments and resolutions, but by faithful obedience. In the silent depths of the soul, the responses formed finally result-in spite of doubts and deni­als-in a life pleasing to God.

 

Which of the two sons are you?

 

God in Christ: You probe my heart and discover behind the words that I speak the life that I live. Purify and sanctify, that inner life so that I may please you and glorify your name. Amen. 

June 21

What Will He Do?


"Here's another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a wine­press, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits. The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. 'Sure­ly,' he thought, 'they will respect my son.' But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. 'This is the heir! Let's kill him and have it all for ourselves.' They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him. Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farm­hands?" "He'll kill them-a rotten bunch, and good riddance," they answered. "Then he'll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it's time." MATTHEW 21:33-41


Popular-opinion polls condition us to look for truth in the percentages: Whatever most people do or think is the most right. The story exposes the foolishness of statistics: No matter how many times the farmhands rejected the truth, the truth remained to judge them.


What majority actions today do you think are wrong?


How faithfully you approach me, Lord Jesus! How persistently you enter my life. Open my eyes to your presence and my heart to your grace so that I will always accept your coming. Amen. 

June 22

The Stone


Jesus said, "Right-and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles: 'The stone the masons threw out is now the cornerstone. This is God's work; we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!' This is the way it is with you. God's kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed." When the religious leaders heard this story, they kn.ew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God. MATTHEW 21:42-46 


All the experts who can't fit God into their thinking, or their living, conclude that there is simply no place for him. But they start in the wrong places. We don't fit God into our lives; he fits us into his. When we begin with him, the "head of the corner," our lives are fit for eternity.


What psalm does Jesus quote?


Too many times, O Christ, I have rejected you because you didn't meet my specifications. Forgive me for my shortsighted arrogance. Forgive me for my small-minded selfishness. Build me into the life you are making. Amen. 

June 23

Only a Few Make It

 

Jesus responded by telling still more stories. "God's kingdom," he said, "is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn't come! He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, 'Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!' They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city. Then he told his servants, 'We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren't up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.' The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on-every place filled. When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn't properly dressed. He said to him, 'Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!' The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, 'Get him out of here -fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn't get back in.' That's what I mean when I say, 'Many get invited; only a few make it."' MATTHEW 22:1-14 

 

We are faced with a life-or-death summons. The responses that we make to God in Christ are the stuff of eternity. The story administers a shock of realization that jars us out of our drifting dilettantism. 

 

What part of the story speaks to you?

 

Lord, preserve me from such deficiencies of will and love that will keep me from being counted among the blessed celebrants in your presence. I know that I am among the called; grant that I will also be among the chosen. Amen. 

June 24

Who Does It Look Like?

 

That's when the Pharisees plotted a way to trap him into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod's followers mixed in, to ask, "Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don't pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, "Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it." They handed him a silver piece. "This engraving-who does it look like? And whose name is on it?" They said, "Caesar." "Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his." The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads. MATTHEW 22:15-22 

 

The question was designed to drive a wedge between the secular and the sacred, between what we owe to God and what we owe to society. But Jesus calls us to live in a world without partitions, to the glory of God, respon­sible to our nation.

 

How does this help you live well as a citizen?

 

I want my life, O God, to be consciously and deliberately lived under your sovereign lordship; but I also want to live responsibly as a citizen, through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

June 25

At the Resurrection


That same day, Sadducees approached him. This is the party that denies any possibility of resurrection. They asked, "Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies childless, his brother is obligated to marry his widow and get her with child. Here's a case where there were seven brothers. The first brother married and died, leaving no child, and his wife passed to his brother. The second brother also left her childless, then the third -and on and on, all seven. Eventually the wife died. Now here's our question: At the resurrection, whose wife is she? She was a wife to each of them." Jesus answered, "You're off base on two counts: You don't know your Bibles, and you don't know how God works. At the resur­rection we're beyond marriage. As with the angels, all our ecsta­sies and intimacies then will be with God. And regarding your speculation on whether the dead are raised or not, don't you read your Bibles? The grammar is clear: God says, 'I am -not was -the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.' The living God defines himself not as the God of dead men, but of the living.'' Hearing this exchange the crowd was much im- pressed. MATTHEW 22:23-33


Jesus has little patience with people who love nothing better than a good "religious discussion." He is interested in bringing people new life, bringing them into relationship with a living God.


Why did the Sadducees ask the question?


No empty disputes today, Lord, but empty tombs. I don't want to waste any time in clever arguments, but immerse myself intelligently in the Scriptures and respond devoutly to the living God. Amen. 

June 26

Posing a Question

 

When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: "Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?" Jesus said, '"Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them." MATTHEW 22:34-40

 

Most religious questions are not asked in order to acquire information or wisdom, but are used as frivolous camouflages for indolence. As long as we are asking questions, we don't have to do anything. Jesus' answer put a stop to the questions; his answer confronts us with the basic question of our lives. Will we love, or not?

 

What Scripture does Jesus quote? What will it be for me today, Lord?

 

Asking questions or loving in obedience? I don't need to know more, but I do need to love more. Keep me faithful to your command. Amen. 

June 27

Whose Son?

 

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said, "David's son." Jesus replied, "Well, if the Christ is David's son, how do you explain that David, under inspiration, named Christ his 'Master'? 'God said to my Master, "Sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool."' Now if David calls him 'Master,' how can he at the same time be his son?" That stumped them, literalists that they were. Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of these public verbal exchanges, they quit asking questions for good. MATTHEW 22:41-46 

 

Jesus answered the question by asking a question. We do not come to Christ to get answers; we come to have our lives called into question, and we find how our lives become an answer to him.

 

What question does Christ address to you? What is your answer?

 

I find, I walk, I love, but O the whole of love is but my answer, Lord to Thee! For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul; always Thou lovedst me. Amen. 

June 28

Spit-and-Polish Veneer

 

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. "The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God's Law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It's all spit-and­polish veneer. Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.' Don't let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don't set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of 'Father'; you have only one Father, and he's in heaven. And don't let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them - Christ. Don't you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.'' MATTHEW 23:1-12 

 

Most people do not start out to be hypocrites. We begin sincerely enough, with good intentions. But as it becomes easier to talk about God than engaging in the arduous process of deepening and growing in faith, we take the easier road. Outside fluency and expertise covers up inner sloth and emptiness.

 

Are you the same inside as outside?

 

God, especially when people look to me as some kind of authority on religion, I find it easy to take on the role, meeting their expectations, but ignoring yours. But I want my life to be an on-the-knees response to you, not an on-the-pedestal lording over others. Amen. 

June 29

Frauds!

 

"I've had it with you! You're hopeless, you religious scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God's king­dom .... You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God's Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment-the absolute ba­sics! - you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that's wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the sur­face of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony." MATTHEW 23:13, 23-26 

 

Jesus' anger, verbalized in these lines of indignant thunder, sounds more terrifying after each repetition. The effect is cumulative. The hammering denunciations break up the false front of glib performance and expose the inner emptiness of self-centered smugness.

 

How many reprimands are pronounced in this passage?

 

Lord Jesus Christ, I accept the designation "Pharisee" and put myself under your prophetic analysis. Expose every tendency in me to separate the inner life of faith and the outer life of reputation; convict me of every instance of saying more than I am living. ''Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undi­vided, I'll worship in joyful fear" (Psalm 86:11). Amen. 

June 30

How Often


"Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God's news! How often I've ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn't let me. And now you're so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: I'm out of here soon. The next time you see me you'll say, 'Oh, God has blessed him! He's come, bringing God's rule!'" MATTHEW 23:37-39 


The most religious city in history was the site of the worst religious persecu­tion. The place where God showed himself most completely was the place where God was rejected most vehemently. And the very streets where men and women shouted their hate, Jesus expressed the pathos that would finally convert them to singing hallelujahs.


Who are some of the prophets who were killed and stoned?


Forgive me, O God, for the many times I have rejected your words of invita­tion, your servants of love. I have not been as loud and public in my rejections as many, but my silent and private unbelief has been, all the same, a refusal. Amen.