With or Against?

  Thursday of the Third Week of Lent


I’m having some trouble with the readings today. They seem to reflect a pretty grim and abstracted judgment.

 Both the first and second readings were written to communities scattered or in exile. Luke was writing to a wide-flung audience about 85 ACE. Jeremiah, who lived in a time of great crisis, was writing during the early 600 BCE era when leading citizens of Israel were sent into exile and Jerusalem was in ruin.

In Jeremiah, God complains about the people who have “stiffened their necks.” In Luke, Jesus says, The one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters.

It’s sort of like saying to children, “the bogyman’s going to get you if you aren’t good.” Is it any wonder people turn away from organized religion when judgment is leveled against us while at the same time we are exhorted not to judge?

My experience of the holy has a peace and a comfort and a clarity. The judgment I’ve experienced in my life also come from within when I make judgments against others.

How do we reconcile the contradictions? Do we become cafeteria-Christians, taking only that which appeals to our tastes; or do we become connoisseurs, learning, testing, using ingredients with care?

Every Lent, it seems, if we’re paying attention, we get to review and recommit to this journey. Over and over. Are we with? Are we against? Sometimes we’re both at the same time.

Are tension and anger, judgment and righteousness replacing compassion and peace? Today might be a good day for us to recommit to the journey, recommit to peace, and remember, once again, to use our life-ingredients with care.


Your Brother’s Keeper

Friday of the First Week of Lent

“You are your brother’s keeper,” is one of those lines that can choke us.

And yes, we are.

In other words, our human relationships are as important as our spiritual ones.

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, Chapter 5, Jesus teaches his disciples about the importance of human relationships. It’s not enough to be like the Pharisees, a select brotherhood, “admitting only those who, in the presence of three members, pledged themselves to the strict observance of Levitical purity,” according to the Jewish Encyclopedia. Jesus indicated that all are our “brothers” and all deserve reconciliation.

It’s like The Pointer Sisters sang, so many years ago, “We are family….” all the sisters and brothers.

Sometimes relationships have to end. That’s clearly so. But we do not have to cut that person our of our hearts. We can still reconcile from our feelings of hurt or betrayal and remain separate physically.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean whatever happened is okay. We don’t have to let hurt back into our lives. Forgiveness and reconciliation means we clear our hearts of the hurt so we can live clearly. Forgiveness means we can put down the heavy yoke of judgment and breathe.

Which yoke do you need to remove from your shoulders?


All in this Together

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard the commandment, “You shall love our countryman but hate your enemy.” My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors…for God’s sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust.  Matthew 5 

It’s these sort of verses that used to send me right over the edge when I was a teenager. The contradictions just didn’t seem to have much logic to them (still don’t for that matter). What was the point of being good, I’d wonder, if good and bad got the same treatment? If accepting Jesus as a “savior” was all it took to get into heaven, then the one who had a wild time, cheated people, drank, smoked, all the vices we teenagers were asked to give up, and accepted Jesus in the last dying moment, could still reach heaven.

Still seems a little unfair, doesn’t it? And yet, what we have here is another lesson in judging others. We simply do not have the capacity to judge others fairly, and so we’re told much more often than we’d like to give up judging. We have not lived that other person’s life; we have not felt what that other person has felt; we cannot know why that other person does as he or she does. God’s grace falls on all.

Makes you sort of wonder why we go through all this following the rules and examining our lives and trying to live a good life, doesn’t it?

The rewards of the “kingdom” are not in the “next life.” The rewards of living a loving and peaceful and kind life are right now. Today. In the way we feel, the way we experience our lives, the way we go through each day.

Judging others is probably one of the easiest things we do while being peaceful and loving might be the hardest. Today, practice loving kindness – to others and to yourself. Observe when you judge a person or situation. Just observe. Avoid judging yourself (there’s lots of other people to do that!) and turn the judgment to loving kindness.  

The words, God’s sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust, is simply another way of saying, “we’re all in this together.” And if it’s one thing we are learning these days, it’s that we are all in this together.