Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Would you just please leave?

It seems to me that the eighth chapter of Matthew is all about  how people project all over Jesus, and what they project determines how much blessing they are able to receive from him.The chapter starts off with a man who has leprosy; he believes his healing is possible, and he believes Jesus is the guy to do it. "If you're willing," he says, "you can make me clean." Jesus tells him he is willing and the man is healed and whole.

Then the centurion comes along and asks for help because his servant at home is suffering terribly. Jesus feels compelled to go help the servant, but the centurion stops him (which is interesting in its own right) and says, "No need--you can just say the word and it will be done" (because God's words do not return void). Jesus is surprised and pleased by the centurion's faith, and the servant healed "at that very hour."

Then, in the boat with the disciples, a "furious storm" arose and the waves were sweeping over the boat. The guys woke Jesus in a panic, and he stretched and made a comment about their lack of faith, and then rebuked the waves and wind. I wonder what he did there, don't you? Did he take a big dramatic Moses pose and throw his arms up in the air and yell something boldly at the thrashing environment? Or did he simply lift his hand and make a simple, smoothing gesture, and all was calm? In any case, the disciples were baffled and likely a bit frightened by the power of the one in the boat with them.They asked, "What kind of *man* is this?" (emphasis mine; it's an important question!)

And finally, in the demons-to-pigs story, Jesus casts the evil spirits in two violent, demon-possessed men into a herd of pigs, which run crazily into the lake and drown (which makes me sad--poor, innocent pigs). Instead of marveling at the healing power of this visitor, the townspeople freaked out and "pleaded with him to leave their region." The commentary in my NIV says the people were more worried about their own possible financial losses than they were the healing or saving power that cleaned the psyche of those two miserable men. This resonates so much with me in terms of the personal cost our own healing may bring--if you get healthy, will it cost you the relationship you're in? If you begin treating customers more fairly, will you lose some of your income? If you give money to causes you care about, advocate for the disempowered, speak up for the voiceless, invite the rejected to your table, will someone, some place, or some system say to you, "Would you just please leave?"

The receptivity of our environment has so much to do with how our gifts are received, whether we are designing a web page for someone, ministering to the elderly, or reading a child a book. It took me years to grasp this. Whatever our actions, our own internal motivation is important (the clearer and the more compassionate, the better, I think), but the receptivity of the environment, which includes the type of image that is taking shape in that place and time--who do you say I am?--has a big shaping influence on the outcome. If someone has a mistaken idea of you, that thought shapes their relationship with you. If a group is not ready for an idea you suggest, chances are that your good idea won't blossom--right away, anyway. We're not "doing ministry" or "teaching others" or "serving the group" as though it's a one-way action that flows from us to them. We are co-creating, in every moment, a shared experience--you, me, others, the thought environment, the physical environment, and God.

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