understanding

Wisdom and Love

 

At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit and said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.” Luke 10: 21

 

There’s no IQ test to get into heaven. Most of those called by Jesus weren’t learned. In fact, Jesus seemed to have the most run-ins with the religious experts of his day.

 

While being familiar with scripture and the tenets of our faith is a good thing, it’s easy to confuse knowing it intellectually and living it. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God, others, and ourselves. A superior intellect isn’t needed to live a life of love.

 

God invites us all to participate in his heavenly banquet. In the parable of the great feast, when the invited guests chose not to attend, the king invited the sick, the disabled, and anyone else his servants came across on the highways and byways. (Matthew 22: 1-14) These guests weren’t given an entrance exam. All they had to do was accept the invitation and respond accordingly.

 

We respond accordingly to God’s invitation by treating our host, ourselves, and all other guests with respect and love. If we have intelligence or any other gift, let’s use them, by all means—not to build up our own egos, but to help us love.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the wisdom of love.

 

Reflection: How can your abilities help you reach out to others in love?

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Compassion

Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a

 

It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?

 

We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.

 

We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.

 

When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.

 

Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?

Wednesday’s Word: Temptation


“I will announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours…’” Psalm 2: 7b-8

Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4: 8-9

 

God the Father had already offered his Son all the nations of the world. What did the Devil hope to gain by offering  Jesus something that already belonged to him?

 

That’s how temptation works. Who’d be tempted by something false, damaging or undesirable? The devil is a liar whose only chance is to make something harmful appear good.

 

It isn’t always easy to see through the alluring promise of gratification to reality and the long-lasting effects of our choices. Temptation promises a good that evil can’t possibly deliver or offers a temporary reward that, in the long run, demands too high a price.

 

A quick drink, promising freedom from care and worry, might be fatal to an alcoholic. Another spending spree at the mall might be fun until credit card debt takes its toll. Lashing out may provide temporary relief to pent up emotions, but wreak havoc on our relationships. Belittling, gossiping about, or betraying a friend or co-worker might pump up our egos, get us off the hook, or even help us get ahead in the world, but is it worth losing our self-respect?

 

What if we gain the world and lose our soul? All for what? To feel important? Secure? Good about ourselves? The truth is,  we already have all we need to feel good. We are loved by God. We are precious to him. We are important by virtue of the fact that he loved us into being. Can we see that temptation is promising something we already have? Can we see we have nothing to gain but damaged relationships with God, with others, and with our own selves by trying to take a short cut to the good we already have?

 

Jesus saw through the immediate results of temptation to the long view that God’s perspective gives. He accepted the world his Father gave him and chose to love rather than lord over the nations. He saw through the Devil’s empty promises. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see temptations for what they are.

 

Reflection: What looks good to you right now? How will it affect you in the long run?

Wednesday’s Word: Annoyances

iStock_000003550839XSmall

Don’t be angry with someone for every little thing he does wrong. Don’t do anything out of injured pride. Sirach 10: 6

 

It’s the little annoying things that can drive us up the wall. “Why can’t you ever come the first time I tell you dinner’s ready?” “Do you know you left the laundry room light on—again? It was on all night.” “Why do you always have to leave your dirty dishes in the sink when the dishwasher is RIGHT THERE?” Sometimes we’re just waiting for the other person’s dirty socks to land on the floor next to the hamper for the umpteenth time. Irritations have a way of gaining momentum.

 

Constantly pointing out annoying behaviors only contributes to the friction–nagging is pretty annoying, too. Besides, people tune us out when we harp on the same thing over and over again. On the other hand, trying to rise above minor irritations doesn’t always work. When we stuff our feelings down, they can fester and build until they finally explode. That leads to hurt feelings, damaged relationships, and maybe guilt—or at least embarrassment—about over-reacting.

 

So what can we do instead? Sirach offers us a clue when he warns us about pride. What does pride have to do with being annoyed? There’s a sense of superiority in pointing an accusing finger at someone else’s fault—especially a fault we don’t happen to share. It gives our egos the illusion of moral high ground.

 

How can we be honest about what we’re feeling without judging others? Maybe as we explore our feelings honestly we can follow through by acknowledging our own weaknesses. Maybe something like: Okay, I’m really ticked off that he interrupted me mid-sentence again, but let’s remember I do annoying things, too. How often has he complained that I come home late without calling? And yeah, he put the milk carton back in the fridge with just two drops of milk in it yet again, but who banged his head because I left the cabinet door open? After all, our comfortable habits might just be somebody else’s pet peeves.

 

Sirach also points our mortality further on in the passage. “We are only dust and ashes; what have we got to be proud of? …Even a king may be alive today and dead tomorrow.”  (Sirach 10: 9-10) Life’s too short to dwell on the things that annoy us. Do we really want to squander precious time judging others? Lent begins with an Ash Wednesday reminder of our mortality and human limitations. Lent is also a good time to turn our attention away from other people’s shortcomings and face our own. As we recognize our need for mercy in our day-to-day living, we also become aware of the gift of mercy God offers us through his Son. God looks at us—warts and all—with eyes of love. When we remember this, it’s easier to look at others with those same eyes of love.

 

Prayer: Lord, may we forgive as we are forgiven.

 

Reflection: What habits of yours might be annoying to others? Are you willing to ask God to help you change? What else are you willing to do?

Wednesday’s Word: Compassion

iStock_000003550839XSmallIf you were in my place and I in yours, I could say everything you are saying. I could shake my head wisely and drown you with a flood of words. Job 16:4

 

“If I were you…” We’re never on firm ground when we begin there. It’s easy to speak from the sidelines we aren’t the ones going through the challenge. How might the listener react to our views on their condition?

 

“I know just how you feel.” No you don’t.

 

“You look so good.” Don’t you believe how much I’m hurting? You think I’m exaggerating?

 

“What’s done is done. Time to move on.” Too bad I can’t turn my feelings on and off with a switch.

 

When our loved ones are hurting, we want to comfort them. We may mean well, but what if our words of encouragement aren’t encouraging at all? With the best of intentions, I once told a hurting loved one I knew how she felt. She snapped back that I had no idea how she felt. She was right. I’ve also told people recovering from illness how good they looked, hoping to make them feel better. But when I was in the hospital and someone said that to me, I felt like my condition wasn’t being taken seriously.

 

Unless we have been through a similar challenge, it’s presumptuous to say we know how someone else feels. Even if we have been through a similar challenge, we may not understand fully the depth of another’s pain, not having their exact temperament, family issues, or extenuating circumstances. God made us all unique. Does that mean we can never offer encouragement to others? Of course not. It does mean we should choose our words wisely—perhaps an honest, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” or “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you,” or, “How can I help?” Sometimes there are no words.

 

Sometimes listening is the best gift we can give another. If you’re like me, seeing a loved one hurting is painful—especially when there’s nothing we can do to make the hurting stop.  I want to soothe their pain for their sake…and maybe also to relieve my own discomfort. The word compassion comes from the Latin root “to suffer with.” Maybe the most loving helpful gift we can give our suffering friends is the stand with them as they hurt and give them a safe place to express their grief, anger, sadness. Sometimes there is no going around the pain, we have to go through it. Blessed are we if we have someone willing to stand with us on the front lines, someone who resists the temptation to cover it up, rush us through it, or offer advice from the sidelines.

 

Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to accompany my loved ones as they walk through challenges.

 

Reflection: What are some ways to support someone who’s hurting without drowning them “with a flood of words”?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 14

OurMrSun-Psalms Fools say to themselves, “There is no God!” They are all corrupt, and they have done terrible things; there is no one who does what is right.

The Lord looks down from heaven at us humans to see if there are any who are wise, any who worship him, but they have all gone wrong; they are all equally bad. Not one of them does what is right, not a single one.

Evildoers frustrate the plans of the humble, but the Lord is their protection. Psalm 14: 1-3; 6

 

Sometimes our “smarts” lead to all kinds of foolishness. An AA member once said, “I never met anyone too dumb to get this program, but I met a lot of people too smart to get it.” C.S. Lewis put it another way, saying “…as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” C.S. Lewis  We are more than our brains. There’s no wisdom in making idols out of our intellects and using ourselves as our only reference point.

 

According to the psalmist, we’re all in the same boat. We say things like, “I’m only human,” or “I’m not perfect,” or “I’m no saint.” So isn’t putting all our trust in our very fallible natures pretty silly? Left to our own devices, not one of us does what is right. If we could save ourselves by being perfect, then, as St. Paul said, “Christ died for nothing.” (Gal. 2: 21) The good news is, God looks down on us with mercy, mercy that is available to us when we are open to it.

 

Back in my college days, I thought knowledge was power. I was pretty arrogant. Meanwhile, all my good grades and deep thinking friends couldn’t help me grow emotionally or spiritually. I was on shaky ground that kept getting shakier. My first honest prayer as an adult was, “God, I don’t know if you’re out there or not, but if you are, please help me.” It wasn’t an intellectual decision, it was heart-felt desperation. The crisis didn’t disappear, but I was led through events as they unfolded. It was not my own intellect or power that got me through because I was at my wit’s end.

 

Discomfort can be a good motivator. Our weakness in the face of problems brings us back to healthy humility. Then we become open to the source of strength and wisdom. That may be the genius of God. He can bring good out of anything, even our foolishness. How could we worship someone outside of ourselves until we are humble enough to look beyond our egos? I wonder if any of us become wise without being foolish first?

 

How about you?

    • When have you felt foolish? How much of that feeling was related to pride?
    • What does being wise mean to you?
    • How can humility help you grow?

Wednesday’s Word: Victory

iStock_000003550839XSmallAnd on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession. Colossians 2: 15

 

A victory parade? Crucifixion looked more like defeat. God’s idea of success is very different from ours. What was Jesus’ victory? He accomplished His Father’s will in spite of all the opposition the world could muster.

 

What looked like weakness actually brought us forgiveness and new life because our debts were nailed with Christ on the cross. Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves–free us from the bondage of our wrong-doing and the burden of guilt and same that goes with it.

 

“God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” I don’t know the source of this quote—if you do, please let me know. I love it because it reminds me to get over myself. Sometimes, success means refusing to continue a pointless argument. Sometimes it means being satisfied that one person got something out of something I wrote instead of worrying about the number of books I sold. Success can also mean letting go of my agenda and listening to someone who needs to talk.

 

These things don’t always feel like victory, and they may not look like it to most people. That’s okay. Every time I imagine what success looks like to God, I let go of my will and feel more peaceful in accepting things as they are. When that happens (and I wish it happened more often than it does) I can see my pride, self-will, impatience, being led away in Christ’s victory procession.

 

Prayer: Lord, what does success look like to you in this situation?

 

Reflection: How might your idea of success change today if you look at things from God’s point of view?

Saturday Spotlight: The Psalms

OurMrSun-Psalms

 

I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice in the morning; at sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer. Psalm 5:2b-3

 

Beginning next Saturday, this blog spot will feature the Psalms.

 

Come and explore what these heart-felt prayers have to say to you. Our circumstances may have changed since they were written centuries ago, but our humanity has not. Psalms run the gamut of human emotion. Like the psalmists, we feel joy and sadness, awe and regret, anger and gratitude.  

 

Each week, excerpts from a different psalm will be posted along with questions and comments to help you connect with it in a personal way. I also invite you to read the entire psalm in your own bible, to focus on whatever phrase catches your interest, and reflect on what it means for you in this present moment.  

 

Join me, starting next Saturday, as we open our hearts to God the way the psalmists did. Make this treasure trove of prayer a part of your spiritual journey.

 

Prayer: I pray to you, O Lord; you hear my voice.

 

Reflection: Like the psalmists, we can tell God everything that’s in our hearts. What’s in your heart today?

Saturday Spotlight: The Cruel Centurion

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallThen the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him…And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Matthew 27:27-31; 35-36

 

It was now about noon, and darkenss came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the suns’ light fialed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” Luke 23:44-47

 

Although the centurion had witnessed countless beatings, tortures, and executions, no doubt he had never witnessed someone respond in such a way as Jesus…Jesus reflected God’s incredible love, not only with his life, but also with his dying moments. Betrayal, humiliation, physical pain: none of these could take away Jesus’ free will, his choice to remain faithful to his heavenly Father. They couldn’t prevent him from continuing to love and forgive.

 

The centurion’s heart, calloused by countless examples of “man’s inhumanity to man” as a way of life, was touched, softened, and quite possible healed, by Jesus’ quiet refusal to respond in kind. Even under dire circumstances, grace melted the hardened heart enough to allow love to enter and bring forth praise. One has to wonder what the centurion did with the rest of his life following that moment of grace.

 

We might find ourselves hardened by what we’ve seen of needless suffering and senseless cruelty in the worlds. We might even find ourselves contributing to it–perhaps not by overt cruelty, but by silently standing by rather than speaking out. If we do, we don’t have to get caught up in remorse and turn our thoughts inward. Like the centurion, we can keep watch over those in our world who are rising above a culture preoccupied with self-centeredness, greed, and the like. We can lift our minds and hearts to praise God who is bigger than all the cruelty in the world. We can take inspiration from those who light candles in the darkness. We can join our lights–however small they seem to be–to the Light that all the darkness in the world can never put out.

 

Prayer:  When what I’ve seen of suffering and cruelty overwhelms me, Lord, remind me that your love is bigger than all the pain and sorrow in the world.

 

Reflection: Rather than become immobilized by fear or overwhelmed by guilt when he realized that he had executed the Son of God, the centurion praised God in awe. Why do you think he was able to do that? How can you choose to praise God in the face of your own fear or guilt?

 

Excerpts from:

“Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament”

Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach

Paulist Press, Inc. Mahwah, N.J. www.paulistpress.com

Used with permission

Wednesday’s Words: Judging Others

iStock_000003550839XSmallWho do you think you are, to judge someone else? James 4:12b

 

Well, when you put it like that, there’s really no good answer. Why do we judge others? It’s such an easy pattern to fall into. It happens almost automatically.We know right from wrong, don’t we? Why shouldn’t we judge?

 

Yes, we need to distinguish right from wrong, but judging behavior isn’t the same as judging the person. We can’t have all the information about another person’s motives, capabilities and circumstances. Only God has that. That’s probably why James starts the above-quoted passage by saying, “God is the only lawgiver and judge. He alone can save and destroy.” That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their behaviors. Actions have consequences.

 

Perhaps we hear about someone on the news who has done something unspeakable. Maybe it’s someone closer to home who does something clearly offensive, dishonest, or hurtful. It’s so easy to think, “Oh, I would never do that…not in a million years.” Of course we wouldn’t. We aren’t them.  Maybe in their shoes, we might have done the same thing or worse. Again, that doesn’t mean excusing people when they hurt others or cause damage, but it does mean not taking an ego trip so we can feel superior.

 

We have enough on our hands to figure out our own motivations and reasons for the things we do—and even with our “inside” knowledge, sometimes we can’t figure it out. So why do we feel equipped to judge someone else? Do we need to boost our self-esteem by comparing ourselves to those we feel we can look down on? Where does that leave us with regard to those who lead exemplary lives or who do noble things we wouldn’t dream of tackling? We are so much better off when we don’t compare ourselves with others for better or worse.

 

When we focus on what we’re doing we can improve ourselves by understanding our own failings with the eye of compassion we hope God has for us. Although we can probably offer excuses and explanations for our own transgressions or the times we’ve hurt others—if we think of them at all–won’t we be better off if we pay make amends for the times we’ve hurt others? Wouldn’t our time be better spent doing things that make us feel good about ourselves and our choices? Then we wouldn’t have to look down on others to feel good about ourselves.

 

Recognizing our need for compassion and mercy will help us have a view to compassion for others, too. God has all the information. Let’s let him worry about judging and pray for His mercy for all of us, since we all need it.

 

Prayer: Lord, have mercy. Help me see with the eyes of compassion.

 

Reflection: Who am I judging today? Can I look on the situation with understanding—even if the person I am judging is myself?

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Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament explores what happened when Jesus healed, what it might have been like for the people involved, and what it means for us today.

Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes” takes a down to earth look at the diverse assortment of biblical characters called by God.

Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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