Thursday, January 15, 2009

And When You Have Turned...

I just returned from doing a Bible study at a homeless shelter/rehab facility for men. One of the men asked last week about the passage in Luke 22:38 where the disciples say, "We have two swords" and Jesus replies, "It is enough." Why did Jesus say two swords is enough? This is the synopsis of the talk and discussion (without the schizophrenic guy's comments....)

We looked at the passage in its greater context. It is the Last Supper. The disciple's response to Jesus' statement that one of them will betray Him is to argue about who is the greatest among themselves. Jesus, having washed their feet and served them the Supper says, "The greatest is the servant of all, as I have been to you" and tells of His Passion. Peter says he will go to prison and even die for Him. Jesus tells Peter, "Satan has asked to thresh you like wheat, and you will deny me, but when you have turned, strengthen your brothers."

This is us. Jesus humbly serves, we don't notice it and instead of comparing ourselves to Him we compare ourselves to our brethren and think we're greater than the next guy because WE'D never do what HE did. Jesus tells us we'll betray Him in a heartbeat (like Peter) or even after long deliberation (like Judas), and we are grandiose and "think more highly of ourselves than we ought" (Rom. 12:6). Jesus invites us to His passion and we believe we'll actually participate, even to the death. But when the spiritual life looks a little painful or demands a commitment, we cut and run.... long before death or even discomfort. Satan demands a shot at us all and God will permit it for our sakes and our humbling spiritual growth is for ourselves, it is always for making us a servant.

A couple days ago I worked at a bazillion dollar house and one of the artifacts they had was an antique wheat thresher that looks like this. It is a large board with hundreds of flint blades embedded in it that is dragged over the top of the wheat to separate the chaff from the wheat grains.

This is what Jesus was telling Peter: You will be threshed. It will hurt. A lot. It is the only way to break through the outer husk and expose the grain that will become bread for the hungry. When your chaff is removed, through your repentance you will be able to minister to your brethren. It is a spiritual warfare, take up a sword. Peter says, we have two. He doesn't get it yet.

Two swords among eleven apostles. Jesus knows there is a garrison of Roman soldiers coming with Judas to take Him away. Two swords are enough? For what?

Two swords are enough to teach the disciples what they needed to know. None of them were as great as they thought and argued about. Peter, the one who would die with Christ, had one of the swords, and he bravely cuts off the ear of a servant boy, not a Roman soldier, and he runs away... he didn't go to prison, he didn't die. The other sword? It probably never got drawn. Peter then denies his Friend. Two swords were enough to make the point Jesus needed to make: You are weak, you are deluded, you don't get it. My kingdom is not of this world, it does not come by power, nor by might, but by My Spirit as Zachariah said.

The men in recovery (as do we all) have two swords always at their disposal. We think of them as our "formidable weapons". God knows we have a false self assessment and are overconfident in our defenses. The men in recovery (as we all are) are normally in a state of delusion. " We would NEVER...... We will ALWAYS be..........We are the greatest", even if we say we are the least. We go to the Garden with Christ with all of our delusions of greatness and martyrdom for His sake, that we will never betray Him. We have two swords. And we take a stab at the least difficult opponent then chicken out.

The two swords are I'm spiritually strong enough.... "I can drink one beer at the party", "I can have one phone call with that old girlfriend", "I can go back to the old neighborhood and hang with the homies for one hour", "I can watch the game at the old bar and just have an iced tea"...or any number of "normal sins". We have a sword, yes, but in the end it is inadequate to defend against the forces of the enemy. But it is enough to humble us, to show us our true self, to bring us to Christ and cast ourselves at His feet seeking forgiveness. And we learn it is not by our power, nor by our might, but by God's Spirit that we enter the Kingdom.

And this is our threshing, the removal of our delusions. It can happen no other way. God can tell us the truth abut who we really are, but most of us have to experience the truth. The removal of chaff is hard. It is painful. It is brutal. But only through the process is wheat revealed and bread can be made.

And when we turn from our self delusion and pride and boasting and turn and humble ourselves before God and lay aside our "swords" and take up the Cross, we can then strengthen the brethren.

It is humbling to be in the presence of 20 men who are being threshed, who are facing their denial and failure, who stink of the pig pen but are on the road home to the Father. May they find His embrace, His robe, His ring, His Fatted Calf and their place in His house once again.


Fr. James Early said...

Wow, Steve, that was powerful. I hope this article will become one of your podcasts. Also, thank you for ministering to some of "the least of these." May God bless you.

s-p said...

Hi Fr. James, I hope to do some podcasts about the shelter and the men there. It is a blessing to be among broken people who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. They would have stayed all night studying and talking about God if I could have stayed. "Out of the depths have I cried".... too bad that is not a real experience for most of us like it is for them. We'd be much different people, I think.

David Bryan said...

"...we take a stab at the least difficult opponent then chicken out."

God, have mercy. Ughhh.

Fr. Christian Mathis said...

Thanks for this Steve. It hits me pretty hard as I can so easily fall into relying on my own so-called strength to get me by. Suffering is not easy to accept, but God's threshing does help to bring healing.

I have often reflected on the passage of scripture when Jesus warns Peter that Satan would like to scatter us. Thanks for this new friendship. It helps me to know that we can begin to resist the diabolic power that seeks to keep Christians separate from one another.

Ranger said...

great post, thanks for your blog, it is very encouraging. btw, you are looking less and less like a goat, the subdiaconate has been good to you..haha. keep serving.

Has said...

Love it, thanks Steve!