Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tabitha's Hands

If you could go back to the first century, to Joppa, there on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, perhaps you could find a woman named Tabitha. You would be able to spot her because she would be busy caring for someone. All of her friends would have little gifts that she made for them. There would be tunics, shawls, scarves, or veils; whatever it was that women would make as little gifts in those days. You would probably see her encouraging younger women to be faithful to God and to their husbands. You might hear her saying the uncomfortable thing that needed to be said to the person that most needed to hear it. She would have cared too much not to tell them. But I wonder if you could have a look at her hands, what would you see?

Maybe you would see that her fingers are calloused and wrinkled. Maybe arthritis has set in, and her knuckles are protruding due to years of use. Maybe her hands tremble, and aren't quite as steady as they once were. If you didn't know whose hands you were looking at, you might even say they are ugly. 

A few years ago, I was talking with a fellow student about Dr. Jack Lewis, who has given his life to Christian higher education. We were talking about what a brilliant man he is, and how impressive his body of work has been. "But have you seen how thick his glasses are?" they said. "Years and years of reading thousands and thousands of books, preparing lessons and classes. His eyes are worn out, and he sure needs some thick glasses to read now." I guess some people would say that glasses that thick are unattractive. Sure he's smart, but look what it's done to his eyes. 

Some Christians go out in a blaze of glory, martyred for their confession and for their unwillingness to waiver. It happens in lots of places, even still today. But it doesn't happen to many people I know. Our martyrdom comes slower, and is more typically voluntary.

I wonder sometimes if when we speak of "living well," we have it all wrong. When we say we're "living well," we don't just mean we're avoiding evil or putting in a few volunteer hours. We tend to tie "living well" into our culture's philosophy, that your goal should be to make 50 the new 30, and 70 the new 50, and to remain as youthful as possible for as long as possible, because youth is beautiful and we want to be beautiful. When you can't tell that someone is as old as they are, they must be living well, we say. 

But you and I aren't going to live forever. At least, not until Christ raises this body and transforms it into something better. In the mean time, I think the thing that should concern us most is not so much living well, but dying well. Your body has been given to you as a gift, so that you can in turn give yourself to something that is worthwhile. I think about an old woman I knew whose back had become crooked and hunched over after she spent years caring for her ailing husband. Eventually, if you're working hard enough, you'll have the scars to prove it. Your body will bear the marks of what you've been doing with it for all this time. When I am placed in a casket, I can't help but wonder what scars, bumps, and callouses I'll be taking with me, and how they will have gotten there.

When one of God's children is laid to rest from this life, and God sees hands calloused from serving, eyes weak from studying, or a back warped from caring for others, I wonder if God thinks to himself, "I've never seen anything so beautiful."

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
- Psalm 116:15

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two Kinds of Pharisees

Jesus regularly dealt with Pharisees of two different schools of thought: Shammai and Hillel. These two opposing schools would argue about all sorts of matters, which is apparent from the kinds of questions they brought to Jesus. The school of Shammai was rigidly legalistic. They would bicker incessantly about the meanings of words, and would apply things so comprehensively that they would even tithe from their food condiments (Mt. 23:23). They read scripture as a rule book, and all righteousness hinged around being better rule-keepers than everyone else. The school of Hillel was generally loose in their approach to Scripture. They would allow a man to divorce his wife over something as small as burnt toast, and allowed a high degree of subjectivity in applying the law of Moses. One of the only things Hillelites were rigid about was that they wanted no association with the Shammaites.

Which side did Jesus pick? Neither. Jesus felt that whether someone was a conservative Pharisee or a liberal Pharisee, all Pharisees were fundamentally missing the point. Knowing God is not primarily about rule keeping or rule abolishing. Knowing God is primarily about trying to love what God loves. Loving God means caring about personal holiness, and keeping God's commandments (John 15:10). Loving God means desiring as much mercy and grace for others as we desire for ourselves (Colossians 3:13). Jesus said that none of the law is unimportant, but the weightier matters--the parts that concern God most--are justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Mt. 23:23). If our righteousness does not hinge around our passion for these three things, it might not be righteousness at all.