With Tears

Mark 9:23-24 NKJV Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

“With tears”….Isn’t it amazing how just nine letters can communicate such a depth of desperation that it’s palpable? This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, but yesterday was the first time I noticed those nine letters. This detail of the man’s soul is absent in many modern translations of the Word, but the King James and New King James versions retain this notation. It reminded me of Peter weeping after he denied Jesus three times, or of Mary weeping and washing Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears, and Jesus weeping at Lazarus’ grave and in the garden of Gethsemane. When people come to the end of their own hearts’ sufficiency, tears are in order.

The father of the child, who was possessed of an evil spirit that the disciples had not been able to cast out, also still confesses faith in Jesus despite the failure of his followers. A faith, that however imperfect and doubting, still enabled the man to be able to approach Jesus, and to reveal a brutally honest assessment of himself, “I believe; help my unbelief!” In this utterance, this father speaks for all of us flawed and human beings. It brings him to tears, this desperation of knowing that the one thing needed was one he couldn’t find in himself–a fullness and assurance that Christ is for us. And this is how Christ finally works in the father and the child, casting out the evil spirit and restoring the boy to his father. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that even our very faith in Christ as our Savior is a gift (Ephesians 2:8), and only when we come to the end of ourselves, usually with tears, can we realize that Christ longs to give us faith in the surety of his nail-scarred hands. We come weeping to a Savior who also weeps.

When Gifts Go Wrong…

Hosea 6:6 KJV For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Has someone ever given you a gift and made you feel completely alone and misjudged at the same time? Once I was dating a man who showed up at my door for Valentine’s Day with balloons, flowers, chocolate, and a giant poster board card he’d made himself…It was an effusive gesture, but felt really awkward because a few minutes before I learned he had several more children than the one he had told me about. The many gifts only exacerbated the confusion I felt and made me distrust him that much more. What I really desired was to get to know this person as he really was, whatever that entailed and that he would be honest with me. He would have none of it and the date ended worse than it began–I stood in the rain in my driveway watching him speed off into the night and telling God, “Well, I guess we can only go up from here, eh??”

When I read this verse in Hosea, I think God knew exactly how I felt that night, only infinitely more so. This verse occurs in one of the many instances where God, through his prophet Hosea, is trying to woo the Israelites back to himself. He gave them the law through Moses as a means of being in relationship with him, but all of the sacrifices, festivals, and regulations were to serve the relationship, not define it. They were a means for the Israelites to be in a relationship with God characterized by regular communication peppered with worship, honesty, and trust. Instead, the Israelites, and many of us today, focus only on the exterior requirements of the relationship-tithes, good works, even Bible studies– without thinking of the person of God on the other end of the relationship.

He longs for us to show mercy, because he is continually showing us mercy, and it demonstrates our love for him when we treat others the way he treats us. This is the verse that Jesus quoted in Matthew 9:13 when he was questioned for eating a meal with tax collectors and sinners. He told the Pharisees to “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice….’” God longs for us to know him so much that he sends the world his son, Jesus, who comes to reconcile the whole world to God (John 3:17). God longs for you and I to know him so much more than we can ever comprehend. This means more to him than anything we could possibly give him or do for him. He beckons continually, and promises “you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29 NKJV).

When No Words Will Do…

John 11:33-35 NKJV Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

One of the most difficult things I had to adjust to when I first became a nurse was how to enter into a patient’s room where nothing else could be done by modern medicine. Nursing school was all about learning to heal people, save their lives, and nurture them back to health. Very little was mentioned about how to nurture someone in the midst of their suffering. It is something we do not do well in America–to be present with someone who is suffering is a stark reminder of our own mortality, our own precarious situation. It’s an uncomfortable feeling I sometimes try to alleviate with the a string of well-intentioned words in order to fill up the air with something, anything besides this stark reality. I think it would be safe to say that I do not readily choose to enter into another’s suffering. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard either.

This is why these particular verses so captivated me about Jesus and how he actively chooses to enter into his friends’ suffering. These verses are set in the larger story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. Jesus ultimately knows that the people who are now weeping will be shortly rejoicing, but that does not prevent him from entering into their present suffering. He does not tell them to settle down, nor does he ignore them. He focuses on the concrete reality of Lazarus’ death by asking, “Where have you laid him?” His spirit is so moved at the pain of their loss that he “groaned in the spirit” after he saw Martha and her friends weeping. This groaning continues until he reaches the tomb of Lazarus. Those are really the only two utterances that he makes in this situation. The last two-word sentence describes the rest of his response: Jesus wept. Even though he knew the end of the story, he still takes on the pain of his friends’ loss, at the brokenness that characterizes death. He actively chooses to be present with the suffering.

There is a great deal of brokenness in this world that cannot be explained. Why did Jesus resurrect Lazarus, while John the Baptist was beheaded? We could spend an eternity asking “why?” But I wonder if it would be more helpful for our lovely and shattered world, if instead of asking why, we chose to enter into the suffering of its people the way that Jesus did? Even if we are shocked beyond weeping, and all we can do is sit and listen and pray silently, being fully present, we are being divine image bearers to the brokenhearted. He is very much present in our suffering and the psalmist reminds us that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

 

Leftovers

Leftovers by Julie Sumner
John 6: 12-13 KJV When they were filled, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that were eaten.

My husband and I eat leftovers…a lot of leftovers since there are just the two of us, and they are always a little lackluster. We are grateful for them, but there none of the anticipation of the first time you taste a meal. Maybe that is what caught my attention about this verse– leftovers are apparently very important to Jesus. He has just fed at least 5,000 people from a few barley loaves and fishes, an amazing miracle that testifies to his power as the Son of God and his compassion for his people. That feat alone should be enough I would think, but Jesus is not done with the disciples or with us in this instance. He commands them to gather the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost… some translations say ‘that nothing is wasted’. I love this idea that nothing gets left behind in Jesus’ eyes. He can use whatever is left. When I think about all of the fragmented things in my life, this gives me great hope. Relationships I have left untended, jobs I have left half-done…all are still potential sources of redemption and wonder in Jesus’ hands–if only I will stop and gather them up.

I wonder what the disciples thought at this point. Surely their heads were still spinning from all of the bread that seemed to come from nowhere, and now they were to gather up the scraps. Twelve baskets were collected in all: one for each of the disciples. It must have taken them a long time, methodically bending and stooping to pick up the half-eaten loaves. It was a certain anti-climax after the miraculous dinner–picking up the scraps. This reminds me too, that Jesus often calls us to the mundane work of living in a community and loving our neighbors as ourselves. These things often entail the very simplest tasks: listening to people, taking them food when they are sick, praying with people, nothing terribly glamorous or miraculous. Yet, even out of the mundane Jesus demonstrates his abundance in provision.Did the disciples realize when they finally had completed the task, that another miracle had occurred? Do we ever stop to think about how Jesus might be using even the most mundane aspects of our lives to work out his love for us and for those around us?