Matthew 11-Jesus speaks to John the Baptist

Even John the Baptist had worries and doubts.

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[e] For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

One of the beautiful things about Jesus is that he can be many things to many people.  For example, I have a friend who taps into the mystical side of Jesus and is a big believer in the laying on of hands to heal sickness in Jesus’ name.  I feel awkward doing that, but by no means do I think she is wrong or weird to do so – that’s her Jesus.  At least at this time in my life (who knows what will change down the road), I’m more interested in finding the humanity in Jesus.  He’s a BFD, like, the BFD, and I find that overwhelming sometimes.  I in no way want to downplay his divinity, but I just find his human side easier to identify with.  All this to say, I often read the Bible, especially the New Testament, searching for little tidbits that speak to the living, breathing person being written about.  The one who got hungry, and tired, and annoyed, who had friends with whom to share joys and sorrows, who doubted, and who may have been a little bit like me.

This chapter doesn’t speak so much to Jesus’ humanity as to John the Baptist’s, which really struck me, because he’s another I’ve always thought of “more than” me.  Jesus even says in this chapter “there has not risen anyone higher than John the Baptist.” (11:11) Yet Jesus also says “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John the Baptist].”  Just to be clear, Jesus isn’t trashing John, its just that John is part of the old covenant, and Jesus ushers in a new covenant with God.  And this passage is all about Jesus conveying that message to what must have been a worried John.

As the beginning of the chapter informs us, John is in prison at the time of this event.  It gets into the details of why elsewhere, but basically he was saying stuff about the king’s wife that they didn’t like.  He’s in jail because he displeased the king.  His whole mission has been to prepare the way for one greater than him, and here he is, stuck in prison.  He knows Jesus is out there (he’s already baptized him), and he suspects Jesus is the one for whom he was preparing.  If I were John, I’d be suffering a moment of doubt right now. Out there is the person who is supposed to usher in a new age, change the world, and here John is, the main messenger of the age, languishing in prison.  What thoughts might have been going through his head, with all that time to just sit and think in a dreary cell.  “Is Jesus actually the Messiah? Has all my work been for nothing? Why am I still stuck here? Is there more I need to do? How will I do it from here? Did I understand God right?”

So John sends his disciples to straight up ask Jesus if he is the one they’ve all been waiting for.  And Jesus whole response is an acknowledgement of John’s job well done to completion.  First, Jesus addresses John (through his disciples) directly.  To paraphrase 11:4-6: “Look at all these miracles, dude.  Don’t lose faith.”  Jesus is recognizing John may be feeling a little discouraged right now and bolstering him.

Then, as John’s people were leaving, Jesus turns to the crowd.  This next section of Jesus’ speech seems to speak not only to the crowd, but to John.  “What did you go out in the desert to see?” He asks both parties in 11:7, “A prophet?” For the crowd, that means John the Baptist.  For John, I think it means Jesus.  Then, Jesus publicly affirms John’s importance, within earshot of John’s disciples.  “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you,” Jesus quotes from Malachi.  I love that quote.  It acknowledges both John’s and his own importance, and I think it is a quote John would appreciate hearing.

Most of the rest of the chapter can be read as giving John validation and closure.  Again, Jesus isn’t knocking John’s work saying those in the kingdom of heaven are more important, he’s saying “look, the old order is over.  You’ve done it, you’ve brought it to a close.  Now I’m here to start the new one.” He calls John the new Elijah (11:14, and high praise), and denounces those who didn’t listen to him (11:18), and calls woe unto the cities that don’t repent.  John was all about repentance, and I like to think it’s Jesus way of not only speaking to the crowd, but conveying a special message to John, one that basically says, “You did all you could, buddy.  Some people just don’t get it, and it’s not on you.”

Jesus closes by praising God and offering a sweet, gentle, comforting invitation to follow him.  Of course those words are for us, but could they also be especially for John? Why not? “Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (11:29) Start to finish, this was a message for John.

And I can only imagine how John must have felt receiving it. Here he was, worry, worry, worrying in his cell, and Jesus sends him an answer to all his questions, asked and unasked.  I’m here. You did it. You may rest. If this isn’t an example of Jesus’ love then I don’t know what is.  I find it comforting as well, to know that Jesus loves us just this much, if not even more so.

Matthew 03-The Bible in Context

Advice for reading through uncomfortable passages.

 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

So far the subtitle of this blog could be “leaning into your discomfort.” Now here comes John the Baptist, talking about repentance, which I’ve always thought of as an uncomfortable act.  People used to self-flagellate and wear hair shirts as a way of repenting. Yikes.  Now I’ve never done that, but my general conception of repentance has been an idea of feeling really sorry. But my beloved NIV footnotes describes repentance as “a radical change in one’s life as a whole.”  And that sounds like a much healthier and more effective definition than mine, and way better than whipping you’re own back bloody.  But even so, radical change, in the sense of repentance, requires examining our current beliefs and actions, and sometimes that can be uncomfortable.

That in and of itself isn’t any huge revelation.  I think most Christians of any stripe talking about repentance are expecting it to go hand in hand with at least a little bit of self examination.  But if we’re talking about radical changes in behavior through self examination, let’s talk about some radical evolution of thought at the same time, and how reading the Bible in context can guide us on our spiritual journeys of radical change.

I listened to a new podcast for the first time ever last night, called The Bible for Normal People.  In the episode I listened to, host Pete Enns brought up the fact that the Bible needs to be read in context.  To paraphrase, he reminds us that the Bible pre-supposes cultural norms that simply aren’t true for most people today.  Just recently I’ve had two brief comment/social media discussions about the importance of Biblical context, and even touched upon it a few posts back, in Malachi 02. Basically, it’s important to remember that while the Bible is a divinely inspired book, it was still written by humans.  Well-intentioned and seeking God, for sure, but fallible and imperfect nonetheless.  They were influenced by the culture of their time.  Sometimes that means that rules and cultural norms that applied to them simply aren’t applicable today, such as polygamy and slavery, which Pete Enns listed as examples.  So it’s important to remember that when we read certain passages, especially those dealing with rules and behavior.

Let me be clear-I’m not advocating a complete rejection of all Christian ideals and traditions.  Far from it.  What I am advocating for is doing away with dogmatic rule-following for the sake of rule-following.  In this chapter John the Baptist does the same thing, calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees in 3:7-10.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees were two influential and educated groups of Jewish society who were strict rule-followers, and tended to be separatist and elitist – not really things Jesus will be down with when he gets into his ministry.

In order to not be like the Pharisees and Sadducees, I think we need to dig deeper into the Bible than just the surface meanings of the texts, and look for the universal truths. I believe that our primary responsibility is one of love and acceptance, and to find Biblical proof of that I started this blog.  The Bible is a vibrant treasure trove of guidance, and to see it as static does it a disservice.  It is there to be used as a tool in our spiritual journey, as we examine our thoughts and actions to see if they are in keeping with Christ’s true teachings.  The Bible was at one time used to provide justification for slavery.  You don’t see many advocates for that, anymore, and yet the Bible hasn’t been thrown out. Changing our minds on topics like gay marriage, women in the priesthood, and more doesn’t mean that we’re throwing away the Bible.  As long as we are thoughtful in our opinions, seeking God as we form them and reading the Bible for it’s deeper truths, then I see no problem with new interpretations.

Self examination can be really uncomfortable.  So can repentance.  But it doesn’t have to mean the end of joy and love.  Instead, it can be the starting point for it.  Next time you read something in the Bible that makes you uncomfortable (the verses that get my hackles up are always the ones admonishing women to be subservient), examine it.  Remember the context in which those verses were written, and look for the greater truth.  Doing so will bring you into deeper conversation with God, into a deeper knowledge of yourself, and into a deeper knowledge of your own faith.

***

I’m totally not ignoring Jesus’ first lines of the Bible, like literally the first words he ever speaks, as our Bible is arranged.  I just really like the telling of this story in Mark even better, so I want to discuss it a little later on, and keep the focus of this blog post on reading the Bible in context.  Don’t worry, he talks a lot in Matthew 11 and we’ll discuss what he says next post.

Psalm 126 – Faith in Times of Doubt

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

 

Isn’t this a beautiful psalm?  I think it sounds like Shakespeare.  He used dreams and dreaming in so much of his own writing.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is basically one giant dream.  The first half, especially, sounds like something a triumphant heroine would say in closing.  So now I’m wondering if Shakespeare had any favorite psalms.  If I had to take a guess, I would think this to be one of them.

But why would this psalm be suggested reading for Advent? My beloved NIV footnotes actually came up short (gasp!) on any clues.  But I found a clue when reading different versions of this psalm online.  And I’m so sorry I cannot remember which version or where exactly I found this note, because I really appreciated the insight and wanted to link it.  126:6 says “those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy.”  The whole reason they’re going out weeping is because they are using what grain they have left, the grain that they also eat, to plant.  Of course, you need to plant in order to have food in the long run, but if you don’t have enough grain to get you through the short run, what good is it?  So, as these farmers go out to their field, using up most of what’s left of their food supply, they have many troubles on their mind.  Can I make it to harvest? Will it be a good harvest? Will it rain enough? What if it rains too much, and there is a blight? What if there are locusts this year? A whole myriad of things can effect a harvest.

Planting becomes an act of Faith in a time of doubt.  These farmers may be weeping, but they do it anyway, and God rewards them with the joys of harvest.  Same with the streams of Negev, mentioned in 126:4.  This time my NIV footnotes came through for me.  Negev was a desert region (surprise, surprise) that had seasonal springs.  In the summer months they dried up, but in the winter months the waters returned.  So again, they require Faith through hardship of those who rely upon them.

What does this have to do with Advent?  Advent is a time of preparation, of waiting.  I for one can get anxious over preparations and waiting. This psalm is a reminder that on the other side of that anxiety is joy untold, we just have to have Faith.  Now this isn’t to say that Faith will cure life’s hardships.  One of my favorite church signs of all time said “God didn’t promise a smooth ride, but rather a soft landing.”  But if you go through life’s hardships knowing God is with you, believing in a joy that is so great you’ll think it can’t be real, you must be dreaming, then those hardships will be easier to bear.  It may feel like the world is against you.  Hell, maybe the world IS against you.  And it is okay to feel sad or overwhelmed or anxious or whatever.  Look at those farmers, they were weeping. But don’t stop planting that seed, building that tower, persevering through your act of Faith, because that is what lays the foundation for an outcome of joy.

***

Next week I’ll be reading about John the Baptist according to Matthew.  There’s three chapters where he is mentioned, so it’s perfect to round out the last full week of Advent.  These chapters are Matthew 3, 11, and 14, if you want to read along.

Malachi 04 – Privilege? White Privilege?

Turning our hearts to others and examining ourselves.

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Arrogant. Evildoer. Wicked.  This whole chapter is a warning to “those people.” But who are these people, exactly? I thought that perhaps knowing the original Hebrew words might help me gain a fuller understanding of what these undesirable traits might actually be, and how to avoid them.  I don’t know a lick of Hebrew, fortunately, I have Google and a plethora of results came back when I searched “Classical Hebrew Arrogant” and so forth.  My favorite new reference is a Hebrew word study site.  The layout is a little dated, but it had some great information on it. If you’re reading the Bible and wonder about a word, it’s a great place to check.

I’ll sum up my half hour of internet digging in a few sentences.  Arrogant pretty much means what we think of as arrogant. Wicked most directly refers to cheating, as in, a merchant who uses false balances. “Evil” has many translations in the Bible, and many of them mean “harm” more so than “bad.”  The example I liked best comes from a particularly long essay on the subject. It talked at length about the giving and receiving of “evil” names.  Basically it refers to slander, or a person trying to harm another’s reputation, not cast a spell upon them that would turn them evil.  Likewise an evil report can just mean bad tidings, not malicious misinformation. So what it boils down to is the arrogant, the wicked, and the evildoer are those who bring harm to others, either through false dealings, slander, or just plain bad behavior.

I started writing about how the evildoer and the wicked of the Bible are those who harm others, and how it is important to truly consider if someone is actually hurting others before condemning them (gay marriage critics, anyone? Sorry, couldn’t resist that jab).  But then I realized I need to take one more step back and examine how my actions might be harming someone, turning me into the arrogant, wicked evildoer.  One of the best, and hardest, pieces of Jesus’ teachings to follow is found in Matthew 7:5.  You’ve probably heard it: “You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” In other words, study your own actions before you start seeing the fault in others.

Being in an interracial marriage with a husband vocal in social justice, I have a lot of conversations about white privilege, institutional racism, and implicit bias – all of which can be harmful phenomena.  They are uncomfortable topics for a lot of white people, including some of those closest to me.  I get it.  We all want to believe that we are “good people;” and living in a society that is invisibly structured to exclude certain members of that society makes us complicit to a crime we didn’t even know we were committing.  It’s jarring to realize this, and can make people defensive.  I like to think I’m pretty sensitive to these things, again, being married to someone who is both Black and Native and now being a mother to two mixed-race children.  But even from that close-up vantage point I have had to step back from time to time and reevaluate how I was reacting to things, how I was being part of the problem and not the solution.

Verse 4:6 tells us a prophet will come to “turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents.” This means we’ll be truly thinking of others, in tune with each other’s needs.  This is empathy! We already know what that is, we don’t need a prophet to start doing that, we can start now.  Sometimes that is easy – comforting a friend through sorrow feels natural, and doesn’t require a lot of self-examination.  Sometimes, though, we need to recognize when what we are doing (or not doing), may be harmful to others, even by proxy, and then see what we can do to change that.

My plea today is for you to join me in identifying your positions of privilege.  I don’t want you to feel guilty about it, but I do want you to identify it.  Perhaps you are white.  Perhaps you are wealthy.  Hell, perhaps you’re just middle class, that’s a privilege.  Perhaps you are able-bodied, and have health insurance through work, and don’t deal with mental illness.  You get the idea.  Again, don’t feel guilty about any privileges you may have, but do see where they may make you blind to those that don’t have them.  Let’s use an example from recent headlines.  There were two men, both fathers, accused of murder in separate incidents.  The white man was humanized, with news sources using his name, calling him a father in the headlines, and showing pictures of him with his family.  The black man was simply called an “Arizona man,” and his mugshot instead of any photos of him with his family were used.  Just through subtle differences in reporting, the white man was made to seem sympathetic while the black man was made to look criminal.  Now, I hope you are never accused of murder, but there are many small instances of our society all working in similar ways against people of color, and just like a dripping faucet, those instances add up.

If you feel yourself getting angry, flustered, or defensive right now, try to examine why. If there’s anything marriage has taught me, it is that often the most important time to reach out a hand for understanding is when you are angry: don’t fight the person, fight the problem. One time I read a post on Pantsuit Nation one time after the Women’s March.  A black woman had been belittled on the metro on her way to the rally.  Not by any counter-protesters, but by her fellow marchers.  She was angry, and hurt, and the pain came through very raw in her writing.  My immediate reaction was to jump in and say “not all white people are like that” and basically defend myself, separate myself from the others, listing off all my shining non-racist characteristics.  Many others had already done that.  But that would only make me feel better, and wasn’t what this woman needed to hear.  She needed the space to tell her story and be heard.  Some others commented as much, I decided just to “love” the post.  Just holding space for her was the best I could do, even if it was hard.  So I did it, and vowed to keep examining my own actions, learning where I can make changes so as to not contribute to racism, institutional or overt, and help shine light on where it still exists.

We’re going to mess up, we’re going to make new, sometimes painful, discoveries.  But the important thing is to keep going, keep searching, and keep “turning your heart” to those around you, and you will see God turn his heart to you in return.

***

Yay! A whole book down and Advent isn’t even over!  I’ll read Psalm 126 next and then find some passages on John the Baptist, since he was also sent to prepare the way for Jesus and seems like a fitting Advent figure.  I’m not sure which yet, I’ll let you know on Friday.

Malachi 03 – Tithing

Bringing God His toolbox.

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

There are some really beautiful passages in here. I actually love the imagery of God as a refiner of silver and find it really hopeful instead of condemning.  Maybe the process won’t be pleasant, but if we go through God’s fire we come out silver on the other side.  Maybe even the worst of sinners can go through that fire and come out silver on the other side.  With faith, anything is possible.

But what I really want to talk about tithing, which is the focus of most of this chapter.  Done correctly, it is bringing a full 10% of the fruits of your labor (then grain, now money…usually) to God.  Usually to a church, but again, I think God sees our intention and if donating to a charity is more comfortable for you than donating to a church, I don’t think He would mind.  Finally, tithing is separate and apart from offerings, which are givings beyond the 10% tithe.

Is 10% a lot? I go back and forth on this.  Sometimes it seems like not so much, other times it really really does!  We’re on a tight budget, but even so, I could probably rearrange some spending to clear up 10%.  Somehow we seem to make do when we need to – we’ve shouldered whole new expenses with each kid, probably waaaaay more than 10%, doing the same thing we were doing before kids.  Sure, we would definitely hit a wall at some point, but I don’t think it’s only 10% away.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a great tithe-er.  I’ve done it extremely intermittently in my life.  In this chapter, God specifically says “test me in this, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing there will not be room enough to store it.” (3:11)  I’ll see as I keep reading, but I remember being told this is the only directive in which God challenges and permits us to test him.  So I’ve decided to try it.  Actually, I decided to try it two weeks ago when I read ahead a bit.  And I found the same thing was true then as in the past when I’ve started tithing.

I know some people will roll their eyes and others will just say it’s a coincidence, but  I really do believe God provides for us when it comes to tithing. He doesn’t want it to be a hardship.  Would you demand payment from your children if you know it meant them going hungry? Of course not.  Let me give you a few concrete examples from my own life:

Let’s start with my newest resolve to tithe.  Actually, let me back up, so you know what kind of money I’m talking about here.  While my husband and I run the farm together, our primary income, for now, is still my husband’s contract work as a software developer.  I don’t pull a paycheck.  What I do pull is a household allowance from Chris’ paycheck.  So I have $800 a month for groceries, dog food, diapers for two, gas, savings, and incidentals, for a family of four plus a farm manager (who lives in-house) and two dogs.  Like I said, we’re doing OK but there’s not a lot of extra wiggle room!  So, my tithe would be $80, or $40 per paycheck.

Getting back to tithing, I decided I wanted to start doing it again two weeks ago.  That day, I saw a friend in Charlottesville requesting donations through Venmo for help with refugees who were passing through the area.  This is a very boots on the ground movement, I don’t even know if it’s an official charity or organization, but I wanted to donate because I know how passionate this friend is when it comes to social justice and I knew the money would be well spent.  Now I haven’t used Venmo in forever, I didn’t even have the app installed on my new phone, which is now close to 6 months old.  But I vaguely remembered having $30 left in it, so I was going to donate that plus $10 more and call it my tithing for the pay period.  I installed Venmo, opened it up, and there was $70 in it.  I had forgotten that I hadn’t used all of my birthday money mom had sent me to cover babysitting.  So there was the whole $40 without any pinch in my budget.

Let me give you another example from two years ago.  Money was extra super tight then.  Like, pick which bills to pay tight.  But it was around Christmas and I was super pregnant and emotional and really wanted to do something tithe-y.  So I wrote a $40 check out to the Church that Sunday with a prayer and the resolve to eat a lot of ramen noodles.  Later that week I got a nice big reimbursement check from the insurance company for some medical expenses I had already paid, then they had renegotiated.

Another time, when we were moving, I was in tithing mode.  I was cleaning out some old old papers and found $100 I had stashed away in college as emergency money.  That covered two whole months tithing back then.

With those examples in mind, let’s talk about what this chapter – and that bit in chapter 2 about unblemished animals – is asking of us.  No one I know of is taking uncut bulls to donate to the church anymore, but I think the meaning is still pretty clear – God doesn’t want our cast-offs and leftovers.  As I said, he doesn’t want to unduly burden us, but he does want to see we’re making an effort.  If you were fixing the sink, and asked your (fully capable) child to bring you your toolbox, but they only come back with a few nails, would you be pleased? No. You’d send them back to do what they were supposed to do.  That is why God asks us for the full tithe.  He wants to see a good faith effort on our half.  He isn’t asking us to fix the sink, just to bring him the toolbox.  And he’ll reward us for our efforts.

Is tithing right for you?  I hope so. Let’s dream with some rough numbers.  The United States of America has a GDP of 19.39 trillion dollars.  That’s the value of all the goods and services produced, so it includes household incomes as well as corporate and business profits, but we’ll include it because a lot of businesses do charitable giving.  Just 10% of that would be 1.93 TRILLION dollars of charitable giving.  Right now the US as a whole (again, individuals and organizations) does a little over $390 billion, only twenty percent of the tithing possibility.  Can you imagine the good that would come from adding four times as much charitable giving? It’s not going to happen anytime soon, I know, but it can start to add up.  My $40 isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it is a beginning, small but good.

Malachi 02 – Love and Faith

A call to the true practices God asks of us.

“And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen,and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me.

“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,”says the Lord Almighty. “So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.”

10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?

11 Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty.

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words.

“How have we wearied him?” you ask.

By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

I see this whole chapter as a call to the true practices that God asks of us, namely, love and faith, starting with our leaders.  Priests, of course, meant exactly that: the religious leaders of the day.  But today I think this message can apply to ministers, reverends, and really any thought leaders in and out of the church.  Don’t we want all our leaders “to preserve knowledge” and be someone from whom we can “seek instruction” (2:7)? The fact that leaders, by their very nature, are responsible for other people, makes it extra-important for them to be examples of love and faith, like Levi.

I love the palpable fondness for Levi in this chapter.  Honestly, I don’t know much about him, other than his tribe was the one selected out of all of Israel to be priests.  But the way he is written about here is so lovely.  I really want to have him over for coffee.  He walked with the Lord in “peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.” (2:6) Not only that, he had a holy “covenant of life and peace.” (2:5) So, he was peaceful and a good influence.  Sounds like the makings of a great friend.  Wouldn’t you want someone level-headed and helpful with whom you could discuss whatever may be troubling you?  Something about the way this passage is written just emanates a genuine love for the guy.  Described like this, he’s definitely a minister I’d listen to, and someone other leaders can live up to.

Now, when this chapter was written society was a lot different than it is today.  Back then, religion dictated what you ate, what you wore, what you were allowed to do and when. Yes, this is technically still true today, and more so for some than others, but not to the same extent as it was back then.  For example, lots of people work on the Sabbath (or Sunday) and also go to Church.  Most people do some form of business with others outside of their faith and see no conflict.  Marriage is another example, one that is the focus of most of this chapter.

Now, in case you haven’t read the “About Me” page yet (which I suggest you do, so you know all my biases), I am in a dual faith marriage myself. Well, if I am to take Malachi at face value, by being in this dual-faith marriage I have “desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying a [man] who worship[s] a foreign god.” (2:11) If I was living in the 5th century BC he’d probably be right.  Just as an aside, it wouldn’t happen, because I’d have little to no say in who I married, hence the masculine skew of this admonition, but I digress.  Back then, it was nearly impossible to maintain your faith without the cooperation of your whole household.  There were rituals that had to be followed, like clean and unclean food and clean and unclean times of a woman’s menstrual cycle, that, honestly, are so complicated that even someone with good intentions but no background in the faith would probably mess up.  And there is definitely the chance of a spouse influencing the other towards their own religion.  People convert all the time for marriage.

But I like to think that we, collectively as a species, are growing in the right direction in our Faith. I don’t think I’m in danger of committing a mortal sin by marrying my non-Christian. Let me tell you why by telling you a little about him.  What attracted me to my husband (besides his gorgeous green eyes and 6’3″ stature) was his discerning nature.  He sees through people’s bullshit. He does not offer false praise nor is taken in by flattery. He genuinely cares about things, and his actions support his feelings.  This is big reason why we quit what we were doing to become farmers – so we could be part of the solution in what we see as a dangerously flawed food system, one that, if left unchecked, will contribute to the ruin of the earth for our children.  At the risk of sounding totally sappy, his passion and heart were what drew me to him.

I’ll be the first to admit, it would be a LOT easier if we shared the same faith.  It is an issue we have to face on an ongoing basis in our marriage. Of course I’d be thrilled if my husband decided Christianity is for him, but neither of us are trying to convert the other, or, probably just as importantly, subvert the other’s faith. So, would I like it if he was a Christian?  Absolutely.  Do I believe God sees the love in his heart and claims him as His own? Even more so.

Hoping, as I do, that we are evolving in the right direction spiritually, I also think that it is also now safe to see all the talk about divorce in this chapter more allegorically than literally.  I don’t think God wants us to suffer in a miserable marriage, but I do think he wants us to love and cherish one another, hence all the condemnation of divorce here. When Malachi writes “the man who hates and divorces his wife…does violence to the one he should protect,” it is a call for all of us to treat those nearest to us a little kinder, even when it is hard.

Again, using my own marriage as an example, being kind to each other can be really damn hard sometimes.  I know I am not very lovable when I’m sick.  I’m a needy, whiny, uncooperative patient that tends to prolong an illness by starting full steam again too soon.  We’ve had many a fight over me feeling like I’m not getting enough help because (surprise!) my husband thought I was all better because I was doing everything I normally do.  A strong faith-even if it’s not one shared by your spouse but even more so if it is-can help you love and cherish one another. Knowing that God loves both me and my husband, knowing that we are both God’s own children, makes me want to do better when small emotions get a hold of me.  That’s not to say I don’t sometimes (okay, a lot of times) fall prey to being petty, annoying, or sometimes downright mean.  But when I do, I feel a spiritual need to apologize, to make right with my husband so I can be right with God.  And that, I think, is the takeaway: love and faith go hand in hand with kindness. So, I will spend this week seeing where God calls me to be kinder, not just to my husband, but to all those around me.