Meet the Gentile Woman

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus then left that part of the country and walked fifty miles to Tyre and Sidon.

22 A woman from Canaan who was living there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, King David’s Son! For my daughter has a demon within her, and it torments her constantly.”

23 But Jesus gave her no reply—not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to get going,” they said, “for she is bothering us with all her begging.”

24 Then he said to the woman, “I was sent to help the Jews—the lost sheep of Israel—not the Gentiles.”

25 But she came and worshiped him and pled again, “Sir, help me!”

26 “It doesn’t seem right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs,” he said.

27 “Yes, it is!” she replied, “for even the puppies beneath the table are permitted to eat the crumbs that fall.”

28 “Woman,” Jesus told her, “your faith is large, and your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed right then.

“Please Lord Jesus, there is no one else who can rescue me!”

I believe that Jesus must’ve come just for me. He had made a long trip to the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon to find me, a pagan woman, despised by the Jewish people. I mustn’t forget that. He came for me, he reached out for my daughter and myself.

My daughter had a demon living inside her.

I knew this, and I also knew that no power on earth could rescue her–but Jesus could. I begged and I worshiped, I learned that this combination goes together like peas and carrots. You see, my daughter was possessed, filled with a satanic entity that was taking over to destroy her, I would do anything to set her free.

I was ‘blocked’ by Jesus’ followers, perhaps they didn’t understand. And yet I knew that they weren’t my obstacles, but I needed to push right through them–perhaps this is sometimes true of those who call themselves disciples. They wouldn’t let me see Jesus. And yet I had to bring her desperate need to Him.

There was no one else.

I begged and pleaded, and yet they refused me. Over and over I tried to see Jesus, to bring my terrible need to Him–the healer, the teacher—the One who worked miracles for undeserving people. I was coming to Him, not for myself but for my daughter.

It was then saw me. When He spoke it seemed that it was a hard word. He had been sent to the lost sheep of Israel, not to Gentiles like me.

But I didn’t stop pleading, I knew I was undeserving. I wasn’t righteous and I certainly didn’t belong. Trust me, I had no merit, no real right to come to Him. I had nothing, definitely not a holy life. I had zero and I knew it.

But I remembered my daughter, picking flowers and making ‘daisy chains.’ The way she used to be–she was innocent and so gentle. But recently something dark had taken over, and she had changed.

Jesus met me.

The words he spoke challenged me. “I’ve come exclusively for the children of Israel.” I understood, and yet I insisted–I fell down on my knees and saw His dirty feet; He had traveled very far. I began to worship Him. He seemed almost contemplative. “I don’t think it right to take what I can offer, and “give it to the dogs.'” But even then I insisted. He alone can heal her, there were no others.

I pleaded with Him, “even dogs can eat what falls off the table.” I may have stuttered. Jesus then spoke to me, and maybe the others. “I see that you have a large faith. I give you what you’ve asked.” And at that very instant my daughter was healed.

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“Lord, help me.”

“I commend this prayer to you because it is such a handy prayer. You can use it when you are in a hurry, you can use it when you are in a fright, you can use it when you have not time to bow your knee. You can use it in the pulpit if you are going to preach, you can use it when you are opening your shop, you can use it when you are rising in the morning. It is such a handy prayer that I hardly know any position in which you could not pray it: ‘Lord, help me.’”

Charles Spurgeon

Art by Free Bible Images: the text is from the Living Bible

Meet Jesus’ Family

John 7:1-5

After this, Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death. But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters, and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.

To be honest, I didn’t believe He was the Messiah. I simply couldn’t accept that he was the Chosen one, predicted in the Scriptures. Really now, Jesus? Our older brother? Was he the one we were all looking for? Was he the one who would save Israel? He was family, and we saw Him eat, drink, sleep. I for one didn’t believe it.

We played with him in the streets.

We ran, played ball, and raced donkeys. We sat with him around the fire when the storytellers came. We had fun dancing–(with our sisters of course). When we weren’t working in the shop, carrying water, and helping out, we found lots of things to do, and Jesus as the oldest was the one who came up with many of our adventures.

But to say that he was the one who was prophesied about in the book of Isaiah seems ludicrous. To be very honest, our father was just a poor carpenter–we lived hand-to-mouth, much like any other family in Judea. We wore Jesus’ hand-me-downs, and when he outgrew his sandals, guess what?

Looking back at it all, the whole business of him being the Messiah seemed like a sad and silly joke.

Our father and mother seemed privy to some sort of secret, but we kids never could get the whole story from them or others. Our cousins knew something, but no one was talking, and I suppose we never really pursued it. Maybe it would’ve helped, and again maybe it wouldn’t.

Our lives rotated around the Temple and the synagogue. A Sabbath day was part of our religious upbringing, and we listened to the rabbis and Pharisees as they taught. Jesus had a tremendous knack at grasping these things, and yes, he did know the Scriptures and the various interpretations that the leaders gave.

Each of us boys had the mitzvot ceremony at the age of 13.

We were told that we were now responsible before God for our own lives after this ceremony took place. This was normal for each of us. And apparently, even for Jesus, there was nothing special about it–no lightning, no doves coming down. Like I said before, it all was very normal. We were normal people trying to survive in normal Judea.

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

When Jesus was around 30 we heard that he had been baptized by our cousin John. We later heard that he started to teach and preach to any who would listen. He gathered disciples who followed him from town to town, sleeping and eating in the countryside, or wherever things opened up. I was told by many that his teaching was brilliant and authoritative.

When we started to hear of his miracles, it didn’t make any sense.

Honestly, it seemed something happened directly after his baptism–something that was hardly normal. As his brothers and sisters, we tried to process it with each other. At that time we finally came to the conclusion that Jesus was losing it. Maybe he was or at least very close to it. I remember at least twice we came to take custody of him. That was hard.

Was Jesus orthodox, did he have the Pharisee’s ‘stamp of approval?’ After so many reports of healings and exorcisms, we thought that having that could help. I remembered then that we wanted him to reveal his ministry through the proper religious channels. For ourselves, we didn’t believe he was who he claimed to be, but we desperately wanted him to be safe.

When they arrested him and gave him a trial it was a shock to us all.

And when they ordered his death by crucifixion we were deeply troubled and ashamed. Only criminals died that way. Did Jesus deserve to die like this?

But then something quite startling was said to have happened–we were told that he rose from the dead! I remember the shock; maybe these resurrection reports were being made up by those with deluded hopes. We really didn’t know, but we did wonder.

Who was he really? Who was our older brother exactly?

He replied to the one who was speaking to him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

Matthew 12:48-49

[Two of Jesus’ brothers that we know of became believers, they went on to write the book of James and Jude.]

Those Strange Christians

I was thinking about this today.

Do you have any idea how ridiculous unbelievers must see us? Just imagine for a minute that you’re on the outside of faith looking in.

———————

They get very solemn as they slowly take the bread and wine. They say that when they sing it’s to God Himself. Some get loud raising hands in surrender to Him. Some will even dance in the worship of someone who’s invisible. How bizarre is that?

They call a man who died a long time ago, Lord and Master.

They gather to read from a special and “magical” book, that they say speaks to them. They talk about being a living a life separated to Him. They truly think that others need to join them in this silly group. They regard each other as brothers and sisters and they serve each other.

They tell us that Jesus is God in human flesh, who was put to death on a cross is now alive. They also believe that His blood saves them from their “sin.” These very odd ones think this man is going to return and rule the world, physically bring the Kingdom of God to this planet.

How very odd of them. How very strange these Christians are.

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There exists a letter written to Diogenes, who is known as the Cynic. It was written around 130 AD. This letter itself is fairly extensive. I suggest that you read it in its entirety. It describes the faith and beliefs of the Christian to a man who really has no idea about them but wants to understand–here is a small portion of this epistle. Remember that this is one of the very first observations of our Faith:

“They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory.” 

Meet the Pharisee. Meet the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

The Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

The Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.

Meet the Older Brother

Luke 15:25-32

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

I hated him. I know I shouldn’t but I did. He betrayed all of us by his nonsense. It all started when he demanded that our father immediately divide up our inheritance. Strange I know. It was a shock, like a punch in the stomach. No one knew what to say, it was so bizarre. I have no idea where this idea came from.

He insisted that we divide things up right this instant. He didn’t have the decency to wait for our father’s funeral. It was such a shameful thing that I couldn’t begin to tell you how mortified I was. No one ever heard of anything happening like this before. Even now, after these many years, I can hardly talk about it.

My father simply did what was asked, there was no argument, no resistance.

The property was appraised, and the money was divided up according to custom. We sat at the kitchen table, and the ass watched to make sure that he received every penny that was coming to him. His hungry greed was beyond belief. He oozed arrogance–it was then I really began to hate him.

Never ever had I been so angry and ashamed.

My younger brother never even batted an eye and my father simply did what was asked. My brother didn’t even have the decency to say “thank you.” I desperately wanted to leave, and I couldn’t. I had to be there, and I felt like I was going to throw up.

Enough of that. Let’s move on.

That ass, my younger brother packed up and left. Occasionally I heard of his escapades. There were awful reports of his drunkenness and whoring. He was spending our father’s money as if it would never going to run out. Even talking about it now makes me angry.

The last I had heard was he was now feeding pigs. He had spent every last dime and now it seems he was getting what he deserved. I didn’t shed a tear, I felt no pity. Good, he was getting what he should of gotten all along. I only wished that things would get even worse.

Coming in from the fields I heard a raucous party coming from the house.

I asked one of the servants what was going on. When they told me I was even more shocked. Our father had arranged a celebration, all because my brother had returned. The fatted calf had been killed, the one that was saved for parties, and I heard shouts of joy and dancing. They were celebrating, and that made no sense to me at all.

I had served the estate faithfully, I had sweated to make things work, and I never got a party like this.

My father came out to find me, I had hid out in a shed–I didn’t want to be a part of this awful charade. When he found me he said that the party had to happen. It seems the scoundrel had the audacity to return–the money was spent, and apparently, he came home in rags–it served him right. He got what he deserved.

He told me about the necessity of this celebration.

My mind reeled. Could things get even crazier? Never had I heard of anything so bizarre. It was beyond belief. My father wanted me to come in and join them; I’d rather die. You have no idea.

He kept telling me that this had to happen–apparently he was given a new robe, and worst of all he was given the family ring, the ring that declared that he was now a full-fledged son, someone who could have all of the privilege and authority of a son. I had never heard of such foolishness.

My father said this was necessary, that my brother who I hoped was dead, was now alive.

How bad could things get? Perhaps my father had lost his mind.

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

Painting: “The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, c. 1667, oil on canvas. This picture shown is a small part. Scripture is The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.

Meet Thomas

John 20:25-29

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

The others had told me that they had seen Jesus. But this couldn’t be. Either they imagined it or they saw His ghost. I saw him brutalized, crucified, and buried, and I knew He was really dead. I was never into pretending, or wish fulfillment. No, not me. When you’re dead, you’re dead. (At least that’s what I thought.)

I remember telling the others that I would only believe them if I could see and feel the scars–the nail holes and the hole in his side. I needed proof, something tangible or solid before I could believe their stories. Part of me hoped it was so, but I honestly couldn’t join the others in their excitement.

Some would call me a doubter–a skeptic.

And maybe I was, but a realist is how I would describe myself. To go along with the others wasn’t going to cut it. They said that they had seen Him and He was very much alive, that somehow, someway He was now resurrected. But for me, I couldn’t believe it. I myself must know it for myself.

Was Jesus alive after all they had done to Him?

We had all gathered in a large room. The door had been locked–we were afraid that the authorities would come for us next. In spite of the confinement, we had some good fellowship that Sunday morning, catching up and sharing stories of the last three years, thinking about all the things Jesus had taught and done.

And suddenly Jesus showed up. Trust me on this if you can–the door was locked, and there was no other way to get in. When Jesus “dropped in” we were completely amazed. He was very much alive–and how can this be? We were all in shock as He stood right in front of us!

Immediately Jesus looked at me, and I looked back–and it was really Him!!

Jesus immediately focused on me, He asked me to come close; He wanted me to touch Him, to inspect and see for myself that He was as real as you or I. He asked me to come and see the nail prints in His hands, and stick my hand in the hole where the Roman soldiers had thrust a spear into His side.

And I was completely undone.

It was really Him, and I couldn’t explain it away. Jesus was real flesh and blood! In a second I went from doubt to faith. How He knew that I had voiced my hesitation out loud I didn’t know. But I now knew for certain Jesus was very much alive. Death was now dead.

“My Master! My God!” was all I could say.

At that moment I became a believing believer. It wasn’t second-hand anymore; I wept and laughed at the same time! I couldn’t explain it, I must believe it. Jesus had overcome death and He was now commanding me to believe.

Immediately I knew, I saw Him for myself.

Looking back I admit my foolishness and doubt; Jesus had sought me out, and somehow He knew that of all His disciples, I needed that special touch. He understood and had come just for me. To this day I realized how much He really loved me–the doubting Thomas.

[According to common Christian tradition, Thomas, was killed by jealous Hindu priests of Kali India. He was burned to death in 72 AD. A church is now established there and still recognizes him as an apostle.]

Bryan’s note: I can relate to Thomas. I was also one who needed to know for myself that Jesus was really God and that He really did rise from the dead. It was reading “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell that propelled me into belief. If you need to know for yourself, I suggest you buy this book. (If you want, I’ll buy it for you.)

Art: Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c. 1601-1502, oil on canvas–Verses are from The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.

Meet the Crippled Woman, Healed on the Sabbath

Luke 13:10-13

“He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even lookup. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.”

———————-

(vv. 15-16, Upon criticism by the Pharisees)

(But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”

17 When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.)

I was used to looking at the ground when I walked. My disease had gotten so bad that I had to use crutches to keep my balance. It seemed I sort of adjusted to seeing others out of the corner of my eyes, what can I say, you learn to adapt. You deal with the pain, and I know that many have it much worse.

I’ve endured this for 18 very long years, and at times it was easy to bear, and other times it’s very bitter and hard. God knows my heart, and I’ll take whatever He brings me.

At least I could still attend the weekly service at the synagogue. I made it there faithfully as it was my custom. The people knew me there, and they were quite kind and they accommodated my disability–I had a lot of friends there. I even had my own special spot.

But then Jesus came and taught.

On that Sabbath evening, my miracle came. The service was electric, the teacher that some were calling the Messiah began to speak. His words were coated (that’s all I can say,) with incredible authority. We had never ever heard from anyone like him. The hairs on my head began to tingle.

When he spoke we listened!

Jesus looked and He saw me. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, and I wasn’t expecting anything really. But He asked me to come forward, and again I really didn’t know why. I hobbled to Him with my crutches.

It was then He stated that I was free!

He reached out and touched me. And in an instant I stood up straight as an arrow. The pain was gone, and I was now completely whole. Now I can’t exactly say what happened. All I know was one minute I was twisted and bent over, and the next second I was standing upright!

The Pharisees went bonkers. I suppose my healing didn’t exactly fit in with their theology. I don’t really know about that. They accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. They became cruel and nasty. Jesus was angry at their foolishness. All I know is that I was full of joy.

I was now whole!

Jesus made an incredible observation. If a donkey could be untied and led out of a stall on the Sabbath, why couldn’t a real healing happen on God’s special day. This observation blew the Pharisees out-of-the-water. They couldn’t answer his heavenly logic. They were embarrassed. I suppose they now looked like fools to the congregation.

He gave me a new name, “a daughter of Abraham.”

This was a treasure, and I’ve contemplated that new name over the years. What do I now think of Jesus? I truly believe He is the Messiah–the Son of God!

Art: I honestly don’t know, I think it’s public domain. The verses come from the Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation.

Meet the Rich Young Ruler

Mark 10:17-22

As he was starting out on a trip, a man came running to him and knelt down and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good! 19 But as for your question—you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.”

21 Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. “You lack only one thing,” he told him; “go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor—and you shall have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.”

22 Then the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away, for he was very rich.

My name is inconsequential. I suppose all you must know of me is I tried to keep God’s Law and that I was very wealthy. Many believed that being rich was evidence that God approved of me. Of that, I wasn’t too sure. I kept the Law out of fear I suppose, and at times I just knew it wasn’t quite enough.

As I studied I began to realize that riches weren’t going to make me righteous. There was enough Scripture in me to let me know that it wasn’t enough. The prophets, especially Isaiah spoke about the deadliness of wealth, but there was that one verse in Proverbs that really disturbed me:

“Your riches won’t help you on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then.”

This verse and all of the others were the cause of many a sleepless night.

I was tormented by the reality of standing before God with nothing but my money to cover me. Perhaps I was just being overly concerned. Coming under God’s righteous judgment haunted me. I thought of it day and night. I was terrified of being damned. My righteousness wasn’t enough, and I knew it.

I heard about Jesus (and who hasn’t)–some were claiming that he was the Messiah. He was at least a wonderful teacher and many said he worked miracles. Just perhaps he had answers for me. I hoped so, but I needed to know. It was my questions that drove me to find him.

And finding him was easy–I just followed the crowd.

I went ahead of his retinue of followers. I knelt in his path and waited. I must know what he thought. When he stood before me I asked the question that had haunted me my whole life–“Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

Being a good Jew he answered my question with a question. It now seems that he wanted me to see what really mattered. I answered him with my “righteous” commitment to the Law of Moses. I did what was important–at least that’s what I thought. But still, in spite of all that, I felt no security and no real peace.

Jesus looked right at me. I knew deep down that he loved me.

But oh those words, his words really disturbed me. He told me that I only lacked one thing, that I must sell everything and distribute the money to the poor. Only by doing that would discover riches in heaven. And only then could I truly follow him.

And that was the thing I couldn’t do.

I went away grieved. If he had asked for anything else I would have done it. You see, my wealth was my real obstacle. Deep down I suddenly knew that everything I possessed was now my stumbling block. It was my idol, my golden calf, and it was a sacrifice that I could never make.

I’ve come to realize now, over my many years, that when I do finally stand before God, I will have nothing to save me. Jesus invited me to follow, and I didn’t.

And that my friend meant I would die in my sin.

Meet Matthew, (also known as Levi)

Mark 2:13-14

“Then Jesus went out to the seashore again and preached to the crowds that gathered around him. 14 As he was walking up the beach he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at his tax collection booth. “Come with me,” Jesus told him. “Come be my disciple.”

“And Levi jumped to his feet and went along.”

My name is Levi, and I once collected taxes for Rome. It was a good living–it’s funny, but my parents chose my name– “Gift of God.” They were pious Jews who dreamed I would be more than I was. I sometimes wonder. Did they understand what Jesus was calling me to become?

As a tax collector, I was considered unclean. A small step above a leper I guess. The Temple was off-limits for me; I never had any sacrifice for my many sins. I carried my guilt like a heavy jacket on a hot day–some would say that God turned his back on me. I was seen as a collaborator, a betrayer of my people.

Do you know what it’s like to be damned?

My friends were sinners like me. In some dark way, we understood each other, we were all outcasts. Some of us were drunkards and whores, others were thieves and scoundrels, all of us were undesirable. They say that misery loves company–and we all were very much lost.

My tax booth was situated at a crossroads, it was ideal for collecting taxes. No one carrying goods could come by without paying me. Over time I became wealthy, and that was very good, for me anyway. But, I must admit at times that it was very hard. I wondered if that was all my life was good for, collecting coins for Rome.

Jesus was teaching near my booth, I listened to Him, and that was a good thing. But when He passed by me my mind and heart finally came together. I both felt and knew that there had never ever been someone like Him. I prided myself as a good judge of character–my business taught me that. But I realized exactly who He was.

He stopped right in front of my booth.

Jesus looked hard at me. I felt His eyes searching and I realized that He seemed to look right through me. I guess He knew exactly who and what I was all about, and it unnerved me, but in a good way. I wasn’t seeing Him, rather it was He that saw me.

Jesus’ words were a lightning bolt. “Come, follow me.” And suddenly all I attained in my business was a pile of nothingness. I can never get over the shock of those words– Jesus, the Messiah wanted me. What those words meant was non-negotiable. He had put His call on me, someone who was very much lost.

What could I say–what could I do?

To follow was not optional. I saw the silver and gold and realized they meant nothing. I left the coins on the table and I started to live a life that really mattered. I have never doubted or questioned that moment. What could I do, but follow Him?

We had a going-away party that night and I invited all my “disreputable” friends. Jesus shared many wonderful things with us. We had never had anyone who really cared for us like Him. We had never experienced this before.

The Pharisees were incensed. They began to rebuke Jesus for setting down to eat and fellowship with us. In their minds my home was unclean–we were all unclean. But that was not the way of Jesus. He loved us when nobody else would.

“When Jesus heard what they were saying, he told them, “Sick people need the doctor, not healthy ones! I haven’t come to tell good people to repent, but the bad ones.”

Mark 2:17

Art: Wautier, Carel; The Calling of Saint Matthew,” c. 1650

Meet Martha

Luke 10:38-42

38 While they were traveling, he entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary wasn’t lazy–I knew that. I saw her sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his every word. Perhaps I was jealous, I don’t know. And maybe I knew that I belonged there, to absorb his teaching and those wonderful parables. Looking back at it all, I should have been there too. It was a missed opportunity.

But there was so very much to do.

Jesus was in my home and all the disciples as well. I needed my younger sister’s help. There was cleaning to do. Bread must be baked, olives and figs needed to be washed, cucumbers and melons sliced up. The lamb must be cooked. There wasn’t enough time for me to do this work.

Mary did nothing. She needed to help me, and that was our priority. After all, teaching was for the men, that’s how it was supposed to work. My sister was definitely not pulling her weight. We needed to serve all of these men–they were counting on us.

We should be serving, not sitting.

For a while, I bit my tongue. But I was getting more and more frustrated with her. Couldn’t she see? Why did I have to do all the work? Finally, it had to boil over. I went to Jesus to intervene in Mary’s foolishness. Surely He would do something. He would surely understand my predicament.

“Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

I’ll never forget what He said to me. He was kind and loving, the rebuke didn’t originate with Him. It came from inside me. At that moment I knew that my priorities were very wrong–

“Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her.”

There are those times when everything becomes crystal clear. Mary was right where she was supposed to be. Jesus knew my anxiety. He completely understood my question, and I knew He was totally aware of me. His word of gentle correction nailed me.

Truly Mary had discovered God’s will, and I had not.

In all my labor I had forgotten what was truly important. Jesus’ words saved me from me. I wasn’t called to work hard; I was called to just sit, next to my sister, listening to the words of my master.