Monday, December 27, 2021

Do Not Judge. Do Not Be Afraid.

“Do not judge.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 10:31)

Jesus wants us to live in a place of dignity without fear or judgement.

Fear and judgement reinforce each other.

We fear being judged, and we judge what makes us afraid.

With painful intensity we often pinball between fear and judgement. The consequence is our own dysfunction and the dysfunction of society.

Falling into fear and judgement means being lost in a labyrinth. We can spend most of our lives trying to find our way out.

Jesus lives a different way. He trusts his Father. He carries himself with unfailing dignity.

As he walked the earth, in the midst of threats and injustice, he remained in possession of himself.

He did not judge and was not afraid. He acted always with courage and compassion.

He felt deeply and sensitively but was not overwhelmed.

He shows us how to live like him.

What does it mean not to judge or be afraid? To begin with, it means making a commitment to find real and practical alternatives to fear and judgement.

It means patiently learning to live like Jesus in the place that is courageously above the cringing of fear and humbly below the haughtiness of judgement. Neither too high nor too low.

I’m not saying we should be afraid of fear or judgemental of judgement.

Rather, I think as our hearts grow, we become able to see things more clearly, as they are, without getting upset. We become aware—in a kind and non-judgemental way—of the dynamics of fear and judgement. We come to understand them and start to transform them.

But what can we do when we are already overwhelmed? One thing we can always do is reach out directly to God.

God in his mercy restores us to ourselves. He leads us to the place of dignity where we belong.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Salted with Fire

 “For everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49)

Today we use salt to make food tasty. Before modern technology, people used salt to preserve food.

Salt was as necessary then as refrigeration is today. Salt was the difference between edible food and rotten food, between eating and starving.

For Jesus, salt is something that preserves and prevents spoilage. Fire, in contrast, is something that burns and destroys.

And so Jesus is saying something deliberately paradoxical.

It’s as if he’s saying, “Everything will be refrigerated in an incinerator.”

A paradox is not a contradiction—it only seems like a contradiction. A paradox is a riddle. You try to figure out how something that seems to make no sense actually does make sense.

Now, imagine buying a container of strawberries. You open it, and there’s one with mold on it. What do you do? You pick it out and throw it in the compost. Because one berry is composted, the others can remain fresh.

God helps us do this within ourselves. Each of us is like a container of strawberries, some of which are moldy. They need to go in the compost to keep the others from spoiling.

And what do these strawberries represent? For one thing, they represent our habits.

When I was younger, I was habitually—almost compulsively—sarcastic. One day I realized I needed to resist this habit. I had to say no to the sarcastic impulse that was controlling me. I had to throw that part of myself in the fire.

In God, there is a yes and a no. God cares for us unconditionally and has an unwavering commitment to our well-being. This is why he leads us inevitably to freely affirm his yes and his no.

In doing this, God shows us both mercy and justice.

Jesus is reminding us of the unyielding nature of God’s no.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Stay in Me

 “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit he prunes so that it might bear more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word I have spoken to you. Stay in me—and I in you.” (John 15:1-4)

There was something about my grandmother. She held our family together. She didn’t try to hold it together. She just did it, effortlessly. At least that’s how it seemed to me.

She was there at the heart of things. Even when she wasn’t present, she was still there. Now that she is gone, she is still somehow with us, holding us together.

She cared for us all. She made us all feel that we belonged. Because we belonged to her, we also belonged to each other.

The life of our family flowed from her. She was our source.

I imagine that in any close-knit family, there is someone who does what my grandmother did—give a group of very different people a single collective life.

Which is exactly what Jesus does.

Before his death, he prepared his closest friends—his devoted students—for his departure.

He told them they need not be separated from him—that as long as they continued as disciples, following his commandments, they would remain with him. And he would remain with them.

He would be as close to them as a tree is to its own branches. He invited them to stay in him, as part of him.

His life would flow into them and bring them spiritual health.

Someone once asked me to do a simple task and I said no. My grandmother heard this and told me, “When someone asks you to do something, you say yes.”

I didn’t know then, but she was repeating Jesus’s commandment, “Give to everyone who asks.”

I was like a branch with dead twigs. She removed them so life could flow freely through me—so I could treat people with kindness.

She pruned me so I could bear fruit.

Which is how the Father prunes us when we are part of Jesus.