Monday, February 19, 2018
"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him.
After John [the Baptist] had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God." -[Mark 1: 12-15].
The desert is a very dry place. A person wandering in the desert is parched, perhaps lost, so very thirsty. Very hungry.
A person in the desert is weak and vulnerable. Any tests that arise could mean a serious trauma, or even the End.
I look back on my life, and I feel like I was in the desert during all of my childhood, and much of my adult life.
I faced many "tests" - as a child, being fed four day old food and being told, "Eat this, or go hungry, you will get nothing else." My mother offering to fix me a plate of eggs, and my father commanding her, "Do NOT feed her."
Being hit by a sibling, and my mother telling me, "You are too sensitive." Going to school with black eyes and my mother explaining, "Well, she is a tomboy."
When we went to the lake in the summer, I would sit in the prow of my grandfather's metal fishing skiff, cross-legged. My sibling believed that I was the "look-out" for rocks and lily pads. Instead, I had turned my back on my grandfather and sibling, both literally and figuratively.
I was pretending that I was not myself, but secretly, a Native American Princess. The pines in the shadows of the forest seemed dark and velvety, luring me in. I imagined that I would run away, and live amongst the wild animals. Deer and even bears would be kind to me, even if no human was capable of Love. I would fashion a tunic out of woven bark, and forage for wild berries and nuts. I would sleep on beds of soft, green moss, and carve my very own canoe out of a fallen log.
Of course, when our time at the lake was done, I had not run away. Instead, I returned to my year-round home and to my trials.
Before reading Mark 1:12-15, I thought I was somehow being "punished" in life, by having trials. But it was not God punishing me. . . Maybe it felt like my family was punishing me, making me the scapegoat.
But we all have trials in life, as well as moments of incredible joy and hope. None of us is immune from the Desert.
I must have had invisible angels ministering to me. . . All those years when I was most hungry, a neighbor fed me. When I was walking home from school in the rain, a neighbor gave me a ride. When I was most down, a mom told me I had a beautiful smile. When I was alone, I found a friend.
I have fought for so many years for the right to be fed. For the sense of security to be safe in my own bed. For someone to not only say, "I love you", but to show it.
But these merely bring me to "stasis", to a place of equilibrium, to a place where I am not dizzy from hunger or exhausted from fear.
What my emergence from the Desert means is far more than just food, water and warm clothing. The wilderness has honed me to see what is really important in my life. I have "eyes to see and ears to hear" - [Matthew 13:16].
I am extremely grateful for those "angels" who ministered to me. They helped me to survive.
As Jesus learned, I don't need over-arching levels of Power to recover and be successful in life. I do not need an unending supply of gourmet food, in order to flourish.
What I need is Faith that in the midst of this life of storms and wilderness and desert, that there IS deep, unconditional Love available to me.
It was only after Jesus had emerged from the wilderness, that he began proclaiming the gospel of God.
It has been only since I have emerged stronger from my own journey in the wilderness, that I have been able to say that I want my past experiences to mean something.
I refuse to believe that, the sum total of Life means, you experience trauma, then you die. My experiences will mean something only if I can give to others who are hurting, that healing, unconditional Love that I never received.
I want to turn my past hunger into feeding others. I want to turn my past shivering-cold into giving others a sweater or a coat. I want to turn my past thirst into life-giving water.
Out of the depths of my wilderness, I want to find Healing; and in the process, to help others to heal.
[Related Posting: "The Desert", 2/15/15; "The Test", 2/14/16; "Tempted", 3/4/17].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, February 12, 2018
"A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down, begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand, touched him and said to him, 'I will do it. Be made clean.' The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean." -[ Mark 1: 40-45].
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 13 warns that if a person has leprosy sores, he must go to a priest for a diagnosis. If a priest declares him as unclean, the person with leprosy must go around crying out, "Unclean, unclean!" He must also live apart, dwelling away from others; there he remains, outside of society, a man marked and judged by his sores.
In Mark 1: 40-45, the Astonishing happens : Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. Having been asked by the man with leprosy to cure him, Jesus declares, "I will do it!"
All of this reminds me of my childhood, during which my father would lecture me about avoiding the unclean, "the great unwashed immigrants" - anyone different that us, really; Polish, Italians, the Irish, Asian, people of color. My father would lecture us that we were English, and the English were superior, and don't ever forget that.
I was horrified by this. Every time I was in the car with him, and he would yell out an ethnic epithet at someone, I would cringe.
You see, I myself, was the brunt of bullying, by classmates and neighborhood children, for the shape of my nose, for my complexion, for the braces which I wore on my teeth, for the glasses I wore beginning in fifth grade. It did not take me long to realize that these were things about myself that I could not help.
Judge me on whether I am kind. Or whether I am patient, loyal, diligent, tolerant, gentle, etc. On things I can control.
It all became so very ridiculous when the kids began to taunt me because I was getting good grades, and was "too smart." I became afraid to speak in class, for fear that I would be bullied if I knew the answer.
It did not take me long to vow that I would never judge anyone for the things they could not change about themselves.
In this Scripture, Jesus does not just heal the leper. Jesus TOUCHES him. He touches the the leper, the unclean man whom everyone was so afraid of, that they sent him out of town.
This has gotten me to wondering, How are people who are different treated today? Who are "The Untouchables" in our world today? --
The Immigrant, especially from places such as Haiti or Africa?
People of Color?
People from " the wrong zip code"?
People from the "wrong political party"? There are Democrats who will not speak to a Republican and vice versa.
People of the "wrong religion" - Christian? Or Jewish? Or Muslim?
People with mental illness?
People from rural America?
People whose first language is not English?
People who need housing or food assistance?
People who have no college education?
People who drive "the wrong kind of car"?
People who are survivors (as if you could "catch" whatever trauma they have been through)?
People who have been labeled the "Deplorables", for their beliefs?
Recently, a friend told me that she visits a dear old friend almost daily. This friend is very ill, and all the rest of her long-time friends have stopped contacting her. And why? Because this very ill woman no longer looks the way she used to. How utterly tragic. My friend visits her, and sits with her, almost daily. They watch TV, they have tea, they chat. What they "do" is unremarkable. What Love they exchange is Miraculous.
I think of myself as one of the most non-judgmental people you could ever meet. But everyone once in awhile, I "check my attitude". Am I a bit more stand-offish or less kind to someone who looks different, or comes from different circumstances than I do?
If I catch myself drawing back from someone because I am judging them from the Outside, I am ashamed. . . Because Jesus would never judge from the Outside.
Jesus judges by the Heart.
[Related Posting: "The Touch of Love", 2/11/12].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.)
Saturday, February 3, 2018
" Job spoke, saying: Is not man's Life a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, 'When shall I arise?', then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; l I shall not see happiness again." --[Job 7: 1-4, 6-7].
As a young person, it was a relief to leave home at age eighteen, and rarely return home. My life had been full of trials and tribulations -- almost having died before I was even born; having been traumatized by the aftermath of a fire in my grandparents' home when I was about three; near drowning in a neighbor's pool when I was four; finding food for myself, and putting myself down for naps when I was five; being diagnosed with a chronic lung disease when I was six; enduring verbal and emotional and physical abuse from my father, my mother, my sibling; ceasing to speak when I was ten; not having a friend to defend me. Being the victim of a violent crime and nearly dying, when in my twenties; a tree falling at me and nearly taking me out during a sudden wind shear. . . .
Every day, I am grateful that I am still here, relatively healthy, with a family -- a husband and son-- who love me.
But now that I have food, safe residence, even Love, I wonder, Why did I ever have to endure all that? I still have nightmares, my sleep is restless, where is God in all this?
Some Christians would argue that we suffer from trials and trauma because we have sinned. This is a central question in Job. But, a person may be faith-filled, devoted to God, and yet still face suffering. It is not true that an innocent person never suffers.
And it is not true that those who are suffering are necessarily being punished for Sin. Nor is it "proof" that a person who is suffering must have done something wrong.
I am safe now, yes. Blessedly safe.
But even in this miraculous technological age, Life can be drudgery. I may wash clothes by machine but I still fold and iron by hand. I buy pre-peeled vegetables and de-feathered chickens, but I still chop and dice and stir, to cook a meal. I may have a lawn mower but I still weed and plant by hand. I still wash and comb my hair by hand. I still haul trash out by hand, recycle and file and organize papers by hand.
Every time I so much as "blink", it seems like Day has turned to Night. Or, that the weekly pages in the calendar have turned to Monday, yet again.
I make friends, I lose friends. I earn money, then the money is gone for taxes, for expenses and bills. I have relatives, then the relatives get old, they get sick, they die.
Every week, I wash the same clothes, I wash the same dishes; each spring, I pull the same weeds, then the weeds come back and I pull them again.
After some time, I begin to wonder, as Job did -- What is the point of all this drudgery, and even pain? Do you ever hear the alarm go off on a Monday morning and wish you could just go back to sleep - maybe wonder what it would be like to sleep forever?
But, the challenges of the day beckon. And Reality sinks in quickly. For half a second, I am happy to see the morning sun. . .until my consciousness registers that the problems which I wrestle with are still there, waiting for me, perhaps daring me to tackle them.
A thinking, contemplative person asks, What is all this drudgery and trauma in Life even FOR? WHY must I suffer so?
In Job 38-41, God addresses Job. He tells Job, essentially, how can any human being - who being human, by definition, is limited in insight and Wisdom - know the "why" of the pain? How can any man argue with God over what we deserve in Life, when God knows us better than we know ourselves?
I have wasted countless hours, days, weeks and even years wondering WHY, in this whole wide Universe, that I "deserved" such pain and trauma?
What God tells Job is this: "Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, 'Here we are?' Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?" -[Job 38: 35-37]. God put billions of stars in the heavens, are we responsible for them? Who can even count them?
In other words, in this vast and incomprehensible Universe, we humans cannot ever know all the mysteries of Life. I am too limited to understand the reasons for the Universe. Do I even have the right to ask why? If I did ever find the answer, would that ever change things for me?
These days, I wonder about my longing for Someone or Something bigger than myself. My restless dissatisfaction about this Life portends my longing for the Infinite, for a Universal time and place where I am loved, no matter any circumstances.
And so, the Question is not WHY? The question becomes WHO can soothe my Soul? WHO can heal me and help me find my place in the Universe?
I can walk this journey alone. Or, I can know that God is big enough for my pain. This I know in my heart. God never promised me an easy Life. But, He did say, "I will walk with you."
(Related Posting: "Hating This Life", 3/25/12; "Job", 2/8/15; "Accepting Hardship", 5/25/16.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, January 28, 2018
"Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman . . is anxious about the things of the Lord. . A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint on you, but for the sake . . of adherence to the Lord without distraction." - [1 Corinthians 7: 32-35].
People who know little about Christians and Christianity think, perhaps, that we Christians just sit around all day praying, waiting for the Lord to give us all that we need in life -- that somehow we Christians simply pray, and bountiful food, sufficient money, trustworthy friends, a beautiful house and healthy children simply fall into our laps.
I wish . . .
The reality is, we go to work at our jobs, just like everyone else. We fret over our kids passing Algebra II. We worry over worldly things such as whether we have enough money at the end of the month when the bills come due.
And yet, in this Scripture, Paul says that he "should like you to be free of anxieties."
As I try to lead my life as a Christian, I am divided.
This internal division is about a lot more than the human effort that it takes for me to be patient after a long, trying day; for me to live with joy even as I wash the same clothes and dust the same furniture each week.
This internal division, for me, is how to "live for the Lord."
Many years ago, a dear friend called me with very sad news. She had been diagnosed with a devastating disease. She asked me to help her manage some everyday things for her family since she would be out of commission for quite some time.
Instantly, I said yes. But the reality was that I have my own family. I began to juggle furiously, devoting myself to her and her family during the day when my son was at school and my husband was at work; then frantically trying to get caught up at home in the evenings.
I was anxious, yes, because I was divided. How could I serve my own family, but also "love my neighbor as myself" when it came to my dear friend's very serious need?
I was only one person. What if I had been called to the Religious Life and had never married? I would have had no husband or son to be concerned with.
I had a random thought one day, that my efforts to help my friend and her family, borne out of total Love and commitment, could have been my Life. I had found such deep satisfaction and contentment in being devoted to this other family. I was happier than I had been in years. Despite my utter sadness at my friend's serious illness, I felt that I was doing what I was meant to do. Why did God not call me to be a nun or religious sister? A missionary?
I confided this to a cousin and she told me that my great grandmother back in the Old Country had entered a convent when she was a teen. She became ill, however, and had to leave the Convent. She met her future husband and never went back. My grandmother was their daughter.
So my feelings that I COULD have been an unmarried woman devoted to missions of selfless Love, were not far off.
I told my pastor this, at the time. He told me that he was proud of me for my zeal to love God by loving others. But that, since I had married years ago and have a son, my husband and son must come first.
I follow this today, as best as I can. If my son needs me at home because he is sick, I don't return that call from a church committee right away. I make myself present to my son.
If my husband needs me at home for some reason, I skip the Prayer Meeting.
Do I feel anxious about not doing both? Even a bit guilty? You bet.
Sometimes, I fall into the trap of believing that being a Christian means only being out in the world doing good.
But Pope Francis says that, "Family is the First Church."
And I live by what Mother Teresa said about family:
"People are so busy, so occupied that they have no time to even smile at each other. They have no time to enjoy each other, to be together, to smile, to pray together, no time. Father and mother very busy, children are left to themselves. No one in the house; the old people are put in some institution. When you come home, you sit in front of the television, as relaxation a little bit, but you again have no time to talk to your children, to talk to your family people. - - How can we love Jesus in the world today? By loving Him in my husband, my wife, my children, my brothers and sisters, my neighbors, the poor. . . Love begins in the family. Peace begins in the family."
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, January 22, 2018
"After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, 'Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.' He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then He called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Him." -[Mark 1: 14-20].
Back in the day, Sundays were reserved for family. My grandparents, my aunt, uncle, cousins, my parents, my sibling and I all went to church. Then, we all gathered at my grandmother's house for a big Sunday dinner.
For fourteen years, I sat in the oak church pew next to my brother. I listened to the hymns and tried to sing along. I listened to the Reverend preach that Jesus loves us, and that He died for us. I mostly did not understand the notions of Redemption, Resurrection; and I had no idea where Heaven was. All I knew was that Heaven was some impossibly beautiful and perfect place, somewhere past the outermost reaches of deep space.
When I turned 14, both my grandparents had passed away. My uncle and aunt stopped driving from the next State over, to come to church with us. I asked to go to church, but was told, "We don't do that anymore. We don't believe in that stuff anymore."
But it was too late. I was "hooked" (pun intended). I was a Christian. But a Christian in limbo. No way to get to church clear across town. Too afraid to admit my Faith since, if I even so much as uttered God Bless You, I would get a snort and the hairy eyeball.
My sibling was determinedly NOT a Christian. He daydreamed in church, complained vociferously about going to church and every church service was pure misery for him. He wiggled, he wriggled, he constantly poked our mother to ask what time it was?
We heard the exact same things in church. We were exposed to the exact same curriculum in Sunday School. But I was a Christian and he was not.
The metaphor of fishing is very apt. A fisherman could cast his net out in the deep seas for days and weeks on end, and catch barely anything. The fisherman cannot WILL or force the fish to jump into his net.
The fact that my parents stopped taking me to church took its toll on me. For decades of my life, I was afraid to express any interest in my Faith. I took my Faith underground. I wanted to wear a gold cross, but I didn't dare. I wanted to read the Bible but I didn't dare.
For decades, I thought that my parents could take my Faith away simply by taking church away.
What I learned decades later is that that is not possible. I felt like my parents tried to take my Faith away, but it was there all along. . .
Nor is it possible for anyone to GIVE you your Faith. Christians believe that we are born with the desire for God in our hearts. But it is up to the individual Christian to know what to do with that. I can see this in my sibling. My parents "gave" him a Christian upbringing, but it did not create in him a deep Faith.
God can call us and call us, but we do not have to listen or heed the call. Simon and Andrew and James and John dropped their nets and followed Jesus. I notice that Zebedee and his hired men stayed behind. Maybe Zebedee and his hired men were not ready.
Jesus talks about this in Matthew 13: 13-15: Jesus says, "This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do to hear or understand. For this people's heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes."
To be a Fisher of People, as a Christian, I am called to simply cast my net. Some may respond, others may not.
There is a big difference between Proselytizing and Evangelizing. Proselytizing means forcing one's Faith on another. But, that is impossible! No one can give you your Faith, and no one can take it way. anyway, how strong could one's Faith be if it were a forced act? Would God even want us if our Heart is not in it? A faked Faith is hypocrisy.
But, Evangelizing means being an "ambassador for Christ". Simply trying, the best I can, to live in a Christ-like way, is enough. . . trying to be patient, kind, helpful to others, humble, loving, gentle, tolerant, generous.
I said, "Trying. " I am not "Holier than Thou." I am human. I make mistakes. As St. Paul says in Romans: "For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Certainly, there are prominent people today who call themselves Christians, who fall very short and are egregious sinners. Some would say that Christianity itself is a terrible thing, when so many so-called Christians are indulging in evil and even criminal behavior.
But my heart is sad to think that we should condemn all of Christianity, for the reason that there are some Christians who are sinners. Christianity does not make people immune to Sin. Christianity is never to be used as a Shield or a mask to distract from truly horrendous behavior . That, friends, is a misuse of Christianity.
Being a Christian does make me more aware of how I am perceived and how I conduct my life. I don't want to be one of those Christians who has a Fish bumper sticker on my car, but who stoops so low as to cut other cars off, weave and speed in heavy traffic, or shockingly, commit road rage. I don't want to claim I am a Christian, all as I lie and cheat and hoard and steal my way to the top, stepping on everyone I can on the way up.
I remember many years ago, when I was first starting my Journey to find and nurture my Spiritual side. I met an older woman who had her share of wrinkles and gray hairs. But she positively glowed. In a word, she was beautiful!! I took one look at her and asked, "What is your secret?" She told me that she was a Christian and she prayed daily on the things she herself could not control in her life.
I walked away a different person. I told a girlfriend who was with me, "I want what SHE has!"
Now THAT is an ambassador for Christ. Quite simply, the embodiment of the Light, casting out darkness. Not fire and brimstone speeches, not shouting slogans louder than anyone, not acting as judge, jury and executioner. Simply BEING - Love, Light, Hope, Faith. . .
[Related Posting: "Come After Me", 1/27/11; "Fishers of Men", 1/21/12; "Putting Out in Deep Water", 2/10/13; "Answering God's Call", 1/27/14; "Fishing Manual", 1/24/15].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
" Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is January 15, 2018.
I have had, in the past, the opportunity to talk with an elderly woman who actually knew Martin Luther King, Jr. She told me that everyone thinks King was very tall, probably because of his booming voice and his emphatic style of speech.
But, King was really not very tall. In fact, he was 5' 7".
My friend, who knew Dr. King, worked in the Civil Rights movement with him. She told me, "I would have followed him anywhere." Why? - Because despite his average (physical) height, he was larger than life, charismatic and dynamic.
I want to believe that the fight for Civil Rights was ALL about Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.
But King was humble. Dr. King once said, "Remember, if I am stopped, this movement is not stopped, because God is with the movement." King knew that there are certain God-given absolutes, certain things that are absolutely wrong such as slavery and racial bigotry. These absolutes, being God-given, cannot expire or go away.
Since those absolutes are never-ending, then these Truths belong to ALL of us. Then, it must be, that ALL of us are responsible to fight for Justice and that ALL of us are responsible for each other.
I always wanted to believe that since Martin Luther King was fighting for an inviolable Truth, that he himself was perfect. But, he was not. . . History records that when Martin Luther King was on the road, FBI Head J. Edgar Hoover had his agents record King having intimate relations with a woman who was not his wife. Then, Hoover made sure to call King's wife and play the recordings over the phone for her.
We live in a time when we know that slavery is absolutely wrong. We have legislation that prohibits racial profiling, racial discrimination, and acts of racial hatred. These Truths are absolute.
But the road from Abolition to true racial equality is long. It is always the case that there are God-given, inalienable Truths - - and then, there is man himself.
Martin Luther King said, "There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us."
America has made some huge mistakes along the way -- obviously, the Jim Crow laws where white America tried to convince itself that "separate but equal" was good enough.
I believe that we are at a point in America's history when another significant Truth is being uttered aloud - that all women deserve respect and opportunity. In today's climate of sexual harassment, abuse and downright assault, we are once again speaking out about an inalienable Truth.
The continuum of inappropriate behavior of men towards women ranges from innuendo, to verbal harassment, to all out assault.
Martin Luther King said, "It is true that [not all] behavior can be legislated and legislation cannot make you love me, but legislation can restrain you from lynching me and I think that is kind of important."
When Oprah Winfrey interviewed some of the women involved in the Time's Up movement, she asked, "Once somebody's been accused of sexual harassment and loses their job, should they ever work again?"
Reese Witherspoon replied, "I am not here to make that decision." Shonda Rimes said, "I was raised in a world in which I believe that there has to be a belief that people can grow, change and learn and know better. I mean, NOT if you've committed a crime. You need to go pay, do your time for your crime. . . but at a certain point, there has to be room for reconciliation."
Reconciliation, forgiveness, have become almost like dirty words in this country. We seem to fear that "Forgiveness" means that somehow, the wrong action has suddenly become something "okay". Martin Luther King said, "Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning."
All of which raises the question, IF Martin Luther King, Jr. had been alive today and his infidelity had been disclosed widely on social media, would that infidelity have negated everything that he stood for?
And, do we even feel up to the task of ultimately judging him that way? We humans are a complicated amalgam of the awful and the amazing. . . .
Discovering an egregious wrong, naming it aloud, processing the pain, speaking the Truth in courage, weighing the evil against the good -- all of these constitute a process, a long walk of hurt and of Truth and of Love. But we cannot hope to make progress in this world unless we can name the Truth and begin the painful conversation.
As Black-ish actress Tracie Ellis Ross said, "I think the one thing I would say is, like, everybody's gotta do some listening."
(Related Posting: "Martin Luther King", 1/17/11; "Remembering Martin Luther King", 1/16/12; "The Need for Martin Luther King, 1/16/13; "Martin Luther King's Dream", 1/15/14; The Prophet: Martin Luther King", 1/15/15; "What Would Martin Luther King Say?", 1/14/16; "The Enduring Wisdom of Martin Luther King", 1/8/17.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
" When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, the Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising, and have come to do Him homage.' When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled. . Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea.' . Then Herod called the Magi secretly and sent them to Bethlehem, [saying], 'that I may too go and do Him homage.' And behold, the star that the [Magi] had seen at its rising preceded them. They were overjoyed at seeing the star. They saw the child with Mary and His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage . . . and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country another way." -[ Matthew 2: 1-12].
This story of the Magi traveling thousands of miles to find the newborn King is one of the most popular passages in Scripture.
We wonder even today who these Magi were? Some scholars say they were Jewish men who remained after the Babylonian Exile. Other scholars say they were astrologers who had special knowledge of ancient manuscripts and prophecies, but who also knew how to navigate by means of constellations.
Whoever they were, arguably the Magi were the first "followers" of Jesus.
The word "Followers" is troubling to us today. We modern people want to believe that we are each incalculably unique. We want to believe that we are "in charge of our own destiny". We don't want History, political forces, or spiritual wisdom to buffet us, to force us to change or to cause us to transform.
But we are misled when we think about that word, "Follower".
When I consider the Magi, I think of the long, arduous trip they made, over thousands of miles. That is not a trip undertaken lightly. That Journey is filled with intent, filled with an eagerness and an expectation of joy. This is not a journey that is blind-eyed, or accidental, or passive.
This journey is an active, strenuous, determined one. This is a journey that seeks the Light, no matter what obstacles are in the way, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what personal strength it requires.
As "Followers of Christ", the Magi are intentionally and mindfully seeking Jesus.
This tells me that here can really be no "Accidental Christians". Or, if there are accidental Christians, their journey does not last long, as the obstacles pile on. That is why St. Paul says, "I have fought the good fight."
It can be dangerous to be a Christian. The Magi had to know that Herod was an evil and violent ruler, who had no intention of paying homage to Jesus. Herod wanted to know where Jesus was, so he could kill Him. Jesus' being called a new King meant that Herod felt threatened and wanted Jesus gone.
Far from being "Followers" in the modern, passive sense, the Magi thought for themselves. Many, many at the time questioned that Jesus could actually be the Messiah. Even the disciples had times when they did not "recognize" Jesus, or truly understand who He was. A Christian, as "Follower" needs to be able to discern who comes from God -- and who does NOT. Being a "Follower" cannot mean passively accepting whatever one is told. The Magi DID know exactly who Jesus was, and they went to great lengths to find Him.
Being a "Follower" means taking risks. The Magi defied King Herod and did not return to tell him where Jesus was. I often wonder what fate the Magi would have faced, if they had been caught "covering" for Jesus' identity and His whereabouts?
Being a "Follower" means "Keeping one's Eyes on the Prize". The Magi walked thousand of miles towards the star. They could not be dissuaded by the threat of King Herod's violent leadership. (It is said that Herod killed even some of his own family members.) Apparently, the Magi also offered precious gifts to Jesus, befitting royalty. The Magi were not stingy or faltering with their worship. They were unerring towards the Light, and they did not let Fear derail them.
Today in China, the government is baffled by the steadfast bond which their Christian citizens have with God. This bond far outranks any loyalty that Chinese Christians have, as citizens to their government. Chinese officials say that they cannot wield any consequences against the Christians, that will cause them to waver in their Faith. Nothing touches them, the government officials complain. We close their church, they open another one. We fine them or surveil them, it does not matter.
The Magi risked it all, to seek and find Jesus -- Herod's wrath and violence, a long uncertain journey, defying their secular king, proffering precious gold and frankincense and myrrh.
As this Christmas Season ends, I have to ask myself - Am I all in?
(Related Postings: " My Magi Journey", 1/6/16; "The Epiphany of the Lord", 1/6/15; "The Worship of the Magi", 1/4/14; "My Epiphany", 1/5/13"The Magi", 1/9/12; "Epiphany", 1/6/11.]
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