The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl

Matthew 14 (NIV)

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

I’ve often read the above passages with the typical interpretation: the Kingdom of Heaven is of such great worth that I should be willing to sell all I have to purchase it.  Not that the kingdom can be purchased literally, but it seems to go along with the idea of counting of the cost to be a believer.  The cost is high, but the value is higher.

Correspondingly, these passages have also been a source of self-judgement. Have I really sold everything for God’s Kingdom?  It’s a parable, so I’m not really supposed to sell everything, right?  After all, I can’t purchase the Kingdom of God.

And I think such doubts are good and honorable to entertain.  But today I realized I was missing the intent of this parable by approximately 180°.  Almost completely backwards!

I am not the man who found the treasure, I am the treasure!  I am not the merchant, I’m the pearl!  Jesus is the Man who found me; Jesus is the Merchant who purchased me.

This is born out by the surrounding parables.  Jesus interprets the preceding parable of the wheat and tares for us.  In v37 he tells us that “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.”

Now, imagery from one parable doesn’t always apply to a different parable, but in this context I believe it does.  Jesus is starting to train his disciples (and by documenting it this way, Matthew is passing along this training to you and me), so for this series of parables where he’s not only teaching principles of the Kingdom but also parable interpretation, the same imagery would apply.

So, the field is the world, the man is Jesus, and the treasure is you! And it’s clear from the parable about the Pearl that you personally are the pearl (as opposed to the collective body of worldwide believers).  You, as an individual, are worth everything to Jesus, who with joy because of your great value, sold all he had, gave up his omnipresence to become incarnated, gave up his life to die for you.

The treasure and pearl are to be interpreted as an individual believer as opposed to the full church by looking again at the surrounding parables.  The wheat and tares are “sons of the kingdom” or “those who do evil”, i.e. individuals.  The fish in the following parable are the wicked or righteous individuals.  So the context is clear.

The contemporary idea that Jesus would have come and died on the cross even if you and only you were to come to believe and be the sold redeemed person in all the earth is true! Not just hyperbole for emotional sake.  Jesus tells us so himself in these two parables.

Jesus looks at you and sees, not someone who is stuck in the mire on earth and can’t get out of his poor habits, not your past record that accuses you of being sinful, but the future you in all your glory, developed into a full child of God, not only redeemed but nurtured and refined.  He recognizes you as a diamond in the rough, and he’s given away everything to acquire you, because he knows you are that value; his return will be greater than his investment.  He knows what you will become because he’s the master jeweler (and because he is already present in the future).  And when he’s done making the precise cuts needed to convert you into that shining diamond, you will sparkle with his glory due to his handiwork.  Don’t short-sell yourself.  You are worth a lot more than you know.  After all, the creator of the universe sought you out, recognized you, and purchased you from your previous owner (who had buried you beneath the dirt, trying to cover up your value and hide you from him, in the process convincing you that you are worth less than dirt).

About the Resurrection

Jesus was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised
from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He is Jesus Christ our Lord.
~Romans 1:4

For me, the concept of the resurrection has become the hinge-pin of my faith.

I grew up going to church and knew many of the bible stories when I was young. (My mother tells me that when I was very young, if my family wasn’t going to go to church one Sunday, she would tell me it was some other day than Sunday, because I’d throw a fit. Apparently I loved going to church. I don’t remember that myself, and it quickly wore off by the time I was in grade school, but I guess that’s why we have mothers: to remind us of the things we forget.)

By the 6th grade I knew a lot of the Bible stories, impressing my Sunday school teachers. By the 8th grade I could show the parallels between the Genesis account of creation and the big-bang theory (which was not taken seriously by scientists at the time). I could see that all the religions of the world were basically the same and Jesus was basically the Christian version of Mohammed, Gandhi, Confucius, etc. Every religion had their example, their token human raised to higher levels.  I figured Jesus was our example, and to consider him any better than any other was, well, presumptuous on our part.

I had missed the part about the resurrection.

I knew the apostles’ creed, but that particular creed glosses over the resurrection. It says he spent 3 days in hell, then rose again and sits on the the right hand of the father in heaven. To which I would think, “just like everyone else. We all go to heaven anyway, right?”

So, although I’d grown up in the church and “knew” a lot (to the point that I was teaching Sunday school to youngsters and was a confirmed member of my church), I had missed the resurrection. I considered Easter the symbolism of what happens when we go to heaven.

After becoming a Christian at age 19 (or so), through the faithful witness of someone who actually believed the Bible to be true yet didn’t require me to believe it to be my friend, I realized that the bodily resurrection is what clinches the deal. Jesus walked on earth, ate food, spoke with disciples, for 40 days! That was enough to establish his “true life after death”.  His appearances to the disciples and his family were in flesh-and-blood, not a ghostly apparition.

(Let’s face it, we haven’t heard any verifiable proof that life after death really exists… it’s all rumors from this side of the grave. It might be wishful thinking. And I’m afraid, based on my “educated” and “enlightened” perspective prior to my “faith experience”, most of our world believes it to be just that: wishful thinking. I think that’s why so many people are seeking everlasting life through leaving a legacy, having children, or even cryogenics… they believe the afterlife to be wishful thinking that, if it does exist, will be some sort of compromise, not a fulfilling life experience.  After all, how fulfilling can it be to be pure energy, or spirit with no body?  Sitting around on clouds and playing harps is no one’s idea of fun.  I have come to see these as mere caricatures of True Heaven, which the Bible depicts as physical bodies in physical locations.  Improved bodies; improved locations; even different laws of physics, but definitely physical.)

When people ask me why I think Jesus is any different from other religious leaders, or when my friends tell me that Jesus’ only real fault was that he actually believed the stories he was making up about himself, my reply is to ask them about the resurrection. They usually have a quick response as to why they think the resurrection is a myth… much as I used to.  Most of those ideas can be countered with thoughtful questions about proof. The truth is that there is no proof of the resurrection. But the truth also is that, were there no resurrection, that would have been very easy to prove back in the day, and people back in the day were very interested in squashing the idea of the resurrection.  So why didn’t they disprove it?

I’ve come to the realization that Jesus was not merely some enlightened human being, like Gandhi, Mohammed, or the Dali Lama. I have a lot of respect for these guys, and I believe they deserve that respect as highly enlightened human beings. I am sure they are all more enlightened than I am, and could I be their disciple I would jump at the chance. Jesus, however, was God taking the form of a human being to carry out a specific purpose not accomplishable by a human being. Quite a difference. This had been my missing “piece of information” that I didn’t understand until many months after my conversion. This is the hinge-pin.

And, why do I think there is any reason to believe Jesus was anything other than an enlightened human being?

Because of the resurrection.

The resurrection isn’t what saves us. Jesus’ death on the cross is what atoned for our sins and saves us from sin and death. I think of the resurrection as the proof that Jesus’ death on the cross was able to be that atonement.

Because of the resurrection, I know that Jesus’ death was not the normal death that comes to all human beings. Jesus was sinless, therefore undeserving of death, and the resurrection shouts that from the mountaintops.

If Christ has risen… nothing else matters.
And if Christ has not risen… nothing else matters.

John and Genesis

I’ve been intrigued for many years about how John’s gospel begins with “In the Beginning.”  Exactly the same opening clause that Genesis uses.  Could they perhaps be intermingled?  Obviously John’s intention was to establish Jesus as deity, one with God the Father, present at the beginning before creation.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep. God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made.

Genesis 1:3 God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw the light, and saw that it was good. God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” There was evening and there was morning, one day.

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it… The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him. 12 But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

(Note that I left out the part about John the Baptist and skipped straight from John 1:5 to 1:9.)

This interweaving of the two preambles gives me chills of excitement!  John says “All things were made through him,” tying back to the notion that “Jesus is the Word” and “God Said…”  God spoke creation into being… and how can one speak without uttering a word?  Jesus was that word!

And the Word became flesh and walked among us.  The same word that was used to create all that was created (not merely Earth but everything we know about the universe and even everything we don’t know) became human and walked among us… he came unto his own and we had no idea.  (Were he to come again today, I still believe we’d have no idea.  How would we know?  Only through his words, and we’ve become accustomed to believing that “words too good to be true can’t possibly be true.”)

I understand from a college class on Ancient Hebrew Culture that the ancient Hebrew notion of a word was more than just a phonetic utterance.  Spoken words caused an effect.  Spoken words are merely overflows of the thoughts already going on in someone’s mind, but the thoughts are contained, while the spoken words were unleashed upon the world around them.  The notion of “thinking out loud” would have been considered immature and, in many cases, dangerous.

If our words have impact, how much more would God’s words have impact?  All he needed was to speak and the action took place.

Yet Jesus wasn’t merely the Word… he was also the Light.  And the Light was the first thing God spoke into existence.  And that Light is the Life of men.

After speaking creation, God saw that it was good.  He spoke light, life, stars, earth, sun, moon, animals, rocks, trees, and it was all good.  Then he spoke Adam into being (“Let us make man in our image…”) and he saw this was very very good.  After the fall he speaks a curse and a promise of reconciliation (Genesis 3:15).  And finally he speaks the incarnation, and the word becomes flesh, walks among us, lives out the example of how the word can operate within our human lives bringing wisdom, healing, redemption, and salvation, and finally the word and the light submit to the cross, to descend into the darkness below the surface of the earth, bringing light and life to what had previously been only darkness and death.  The incarnation was the last word; nothing can be said against it that will stand the test of time.  Nothing can overcome it; it has already overcome all.  And it all started with the Word… the word of creation, the word become flesh.

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega.  Jesus is the word of creation, that very first word; he is also the word of incarnation, that final word which triumphs over all.  Jesus is the beginning and the end.  Jesus is life, both “of the blood” (through creation) and “of the Spirit” (through incarnation’s redemption and salvation).  Jesus sums it all up in his own existence… this is not merely a nice little poetic notion, this is the fact that allows the goodness in the world to prevail over the evil which seems so prevalent and overpowering.  This is the core truth of Christianity.

Michael Card has a wonderful song called “The Final Word” depicting the notion of the word:

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father’s fondest thought took on flesh and bone.
He spoke the living luminous Word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard
Took place in God the Father as He spoke that final Word.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Light became alive
And manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time
So we could understand…

Today is Christmas 2009.  As I often do during the quiet days surrounding Christmas, with work spinning down and home life taking on a quiet focus, I enjoy spending my spare mental cycles pondering various puzzlements of our traditions, of our celebrations, and of the scriptural accounts of the Christmas story.

This year something different than normal struck me.  Instead of new insights into Mary’s plight as a young girl becoming a social outcast for the glory of God, or trying to imagine Joseph’s thought process as he decided his dream was truly a message from God and not wishful thinking, or imagining the nature of the star leading the wise men of Babylon (not necessarily 3, and not necessarily kings) to Jesus’ very house, what hit me this year was more about Hanukkah.  It went something like this.

HanukkahSince its inception, Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה‎) has always been celebrated at this time of the year.  You can read about the history here.  It’s a great story about the Jewish struggle between the testaments and God’s miraculous intervention.  It became an annual Jewish celebration in 167 b.c.e., which means it wasn’t mentioned in the Jewish Testament (although the Catholic Bible mentions it in the book of Maccabees; that book’s depiction differs from the Jewish version of the story in many ways).

In the Christian Testament, Hanukkah is referred to as the “Feast of Dedication” which is what the Jewish word Hanukkah really means.  The Gospels make specific reference to Jesus himself going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication.  On the other hand, they do not mention the celebration of Christmas as a holiday (not to be confused with the celebration during the event itself as depicted in Luke 2… it was not established as a holiday until centuries later).


There’s a notion running around many Christian churches that we only need to worry about those commandments which Jesus and/or Paul specifically mentioned (which is how we get out of worshipping on Saturday instead of Sunday, since worship on Saturday is one of the 10 commandments).  This notion also spills over to the feast-days.  We celebrate Passover in a modified form (butchered actually) in our celebration of Easter, but since no other holidays were celebrated by Jesus, and since Paul says we shouldn’t feel obligated to celebrate those holidays that don’t mean anything to us personally, as Christians we avoid the Day of Atonement and the other Jewish Holy Days.  And we have special contempt, especially as Protestants, for Hanukkah.  After all, it wasn’t even an original Jewish feast!  The event it is celebrating isn’t even in the Bible!  (At least the book of Ester provides the Biblical basis for the celebration of Purim, which, like Hanukkah, was not one of the original seven.)

And here’s the rub: if we ask the used-to-be-trendy question “what would Jesus do?”, we have the definitive answer within our own Holy Gospels: Jesus celebrated Hanukkah and ignored Christmas.  And he didn’t throw out the Seder when celebrating the Passover, either!

As Christians, we may have short-changed ourselves in the transactions that de-Judified our Christian celebrations.  Perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider Jewish tradition and religion and how it forms much more of the foundation for Christianity than we like to take seriously.

Some phrases from the King James translation just stick with me, even though I hardly ever read that version.  “O ye of little faith” is one of them.

Jesus used this term occasionally when a disciple was having a hard time grasping a spiritual concept.  Here are some examples (taken from the World English Bible translation):

Matthew 6:30:
(to the crowd in the “Consider the Lilies of the Field” exhortation about worry)
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith?  

Matthew 8:26:
(to the apostles on the boat in the storm)
26 He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.  

Matthew 14:31:
(to Peter when walking on the water)
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 16:8:
(to the apostles when warning the apostles about the leaven of the scribes and the Pharisees)
8 Jesus, perceiving it, said, “Why do you reason among yourselves, you of little faith, ‘because you have brought no bread?’ …”

Luke 12:28:
(to the crowd in the “Consider the Lilies of the Field” exhortation about worry)
28 But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith?

It sounds like a reprimand.  Almost as if Jesus were on the cusp of losing his patience with the disciple.  As if this were the spiritual equivalent of calling someone pea-brained or something similar. 

At least, that’s what I used to think.

Infrequently Used

I remember thinking it was sprinkled throughout the Gospels, as if Jesus was always criticizing his followers for being too-small in the faith department.  In fact, I was surprised today when I find that the list above is the complete list of verses where this term is used. 

In my classic inferiority-complex way, I considered it a reprimand targeted at me, thinking it was pervasive throughout the Bible.  Yet it is limited to those 5 verses, two of which are parallels of the same account.

Not as pervasive as I thought.

Term of Endearment?

I ran across a reference to the underlying Greek words.  It turns out the “You of Little Faith” phrase is actually a single Greek word: ολιγοπιστοι.  This single word could also be translated “Little-Faiths”, akin to “little ones” or “little guys”, as if Jesus is sort of laughing and patting the disciple on the head while saying it.  Now it’s sounding more like a term of endearment, rather than a reprimand.

Super-serious Moments of Faith

When I look at the context of each verse, I realize that these are not run-of-the-mill teachings.  These are pretty strong occasions.  Peter is walking on the water, for crying out loud, and when he comes to his senses and realizes that what he’s doing is impossible, he cries out for help, Jesus catches him and expresses, with apparent disappointment (or possibly sadness?) “why did you doubt?”  If I reframe that image according to the term-of-endearment interpretation, I can see Peter going under, Jesus catching him, stifling a laugh, and saying with a smile and an encouraging look in his eye “Little-faith, why did you doubt?” implying “all you had to do was keep doing what you were doing. You were doing it!  You were accomplishing the impossible!”

When he’s teaching the crowd, he’s saying “don’t worry about your food; don’t worry about your clothing.  God takes care of the birds and the grass, he’ll also take care of you.  Worrying doesn’t add a single breath to your life, nor can it change the color of your hair.  In fact, it’s keeping you from true faith in God.”  Sounds like a simple teaching, but in fact I find myself running up against it daily.  My tendency is to think I need to “be responsible” about my life, and that includes making sure I have everything provided for in my food and clothing departments.  Through various experiences, I’m learning that God isn’t as worried about my ability to put food on the table… he’ll do that for me if I let him.  He’s more worried about my trusting him to put food on my table.  Am I really important enough to God that he’ll do that for me?  That’s the important teaching that’s easy to “learn in the head” but harder to “know in the heart.”

When he tells the apostles they should beware of the leaven of the Scribes and the Pharisees, the apostles (as I suspect I would do myself) immediately consider this a reprimand for not bringing bread along on the trip.  Jesus has to remind them of the huge miracles recently performed: feeding the 5000 and, separately, feeding the 4000.  They started with next-to-nothing, and had basketfuls left over each time.  How could he possibly be concerned about whether they brought bread along on the trip?

I think he’s saying: “hey guys, think about it!  You don’t have to worry about that sort of thing.  That’s the whole point.  Instead, worry about whether the leaven of the Scribes and the Pharisees is working its way into your life.”  He never told us exactly what he meant by “leaven,” but I suspect it has to do with worrying about being responsible, that we aren’t good enough for God to love us, that God wants to reprimand us and punish us more than save us.

The truth is, God does reprimand us, but only for our benefit.  It makes us better people, and more like him.  As Paul and Solomon both said, God reprimands those he loves, to teach us how to trust in him and to realize how much he really does love us.  Whether we are worthy of it is beside the point.

These are strong teachings.  He’s not reprimanding them, he’s teaching them.  And he’s pointing out that faith is still their basic problem and should be their highest priority.

Personal Application

I have changed my mind about the phrase “O Ye of Little Faith.”  In fact, I hope someday I hear Jesus call me “Thou of Little Faith,” as he did to Peter on the water.  It would indicate that I’m at least gaining enough faith to be foolish enough to get out of the boat!

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

And why do you look at the spec in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

-Matthew 7:1-5, NKJV

This is one of those passages I’ve heard since before I was born and it is so familiar that it’s easy for me to ignore it.  The hyperbole here is a bit far-fetched: a plank in my eye?  And of course, the speck in my brother’s eye is nothing compared to the plank in my own eye, so it’s best for me to “judge not” and not even mention the speck in my brother’s eye, or I become a hypocrite.

And so, the best of us don’t ever criticize anyone else, because they consider everyone else to be better than themselves (per Paul’s admonition) and they rise above the temptation to point out flaws they see in others.  They don’t judge, and they likewise avoid judgment.

But there’s a problem.  Following this reasoning, I should equate “confrontation avoidance at all costs” to the peace-making Jesus refers to in the beatitudes.  And when I pursue to its logical conclusions, I find that Jesus would promote codependency as a virtue.  I should turn a blind eye to evil in others so that God will forgive me of my own sins.

Yet, this interpretation is in stark conflict with other portions of scripture which says God is just, admonish our brothers and save them from sin, and “to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)  Is codependence and turning a blind eye to evil the same as mercy?  If so, mercy would trump justice, and Micah 6:8 would be completely impossible to implement, even for God.

So I need to look again at my long-held interpretation of the planks-and-specks passage.

First thing I saw this morning is that, at the very end, Jesus admonishes us to remove the plank from our own eye, and then we can see clearly to remove the spec from our brother’s eye.  So, we are not being told to leave the speck in his eye after all!  Codependency is not a virtue.  (I’m a “recovering codependent.”  For most of my youth and early adulthood, I found it difficult to accept the notion that codependency isn’t a virtue, and in fact thought it was quite sacrificial and Godly.  Although I’ve learned the merits of overcoming codependency, my prior interpretations have been difficult to dissuade.  This morning I think I’ve been granted some progress.)

So, then, what is the plank in my eye?  In the past I’ve always assumed it was a bigger offense of the same type represented by my brother’s speck, and that it would be so big that having it stick in my eye would be a lot more bothersome than a mere speck (which, as we all know, is a bothersome irritation and sometimes temporarily debilitating).  After all, isn’t Jesus merely using hyperbole here?  One can’t have a plank in their eye, so he must just mean a really big speck.  But if I suspend the hyperbolic interpretation and reframe my image of this to see the image Jesus is painting, then a “plank” would be more like a 2×4 or a 1×6, or even (if we use the pirate-ship notion of plank, as in “walk the plank”) a scaffold-size board of 3×24.  This is quite a big board!  Instead of it sticking in my eye like an irritation, it merely needs to be held up before my vision to blind me.  The plank represents my blinders.

Of course I need to remove my blinders before I can help my brother with his bothersome speck!

What could my blinders be?  This morning I brainstormed a list:

  • Prejudice: anything causing me to decide categorically that something is good or bad, without really looking at the circumstances or individuals involved;
  • Presumption: my deciding upon the solution required for a circumstance based on my past experience with similar circumstances, before really looking at the nuances of the current situation and individual involved;
  • Ignorance: sometimes what I don’t know is a blinder to what I can see.

I’m sure there are others as well, but this triad is pretty helpful for me to start with.  God knows I make ample use of each of them on a fairly regular basis.

One thing I notice is how general my blinders are.  No matter where I look or what I’m looking at, if I have a plank in front of me, it will keep me from seeing whatever I’m trying to look at.  Whether I’m searching for a speck in my brother’s eye or the beauty of God’s creation, this plank will thwart my vision.  But the interesting thing about a plank in front of my vision is that, since it obscures my entire vision, I may not even realize it’s there.  I may (or may not) realize I’m having a hard time seeing, but my vision is so completely and uniformly obstructed that I have to arrive at some awareness about the nature of it before I can even identify the need to have it removed.

But once I do have it removed, suddenly it’s a lot easier to see my brother’s speck and remove it from his eye.

Catching the meaning of the plank in this way allows me some additional freedom to explore the meaning of the speck in my brother’s eye.  For example, do I walk around looking for specks in the eyes of my friends and neighbors?  After all, I’ve been enlightened enough to have detected and removed the plank from my eye, who better to help you with your speck?  I should walk up to anyone I meet and say “Let me look to see if you have any specks in your eye… ah yes, I see a few.  Hold still while I remove them.  Careful, this may hurt a bit… but it’s for your own good.  Stop squiggling.”

This would be my tendency, bouncing from one extreme to the other.  I don’t think this interpretation conforms to Jesus’ image, either.  He’s using the image of a speck in someone else’s eye.  When someone has a speck in their eye, such as a seedling, a piece of sawdust, a stray eyelash, or whatever, it bothers them immensely; they know it’s there, yet often they are unable to remove it themselves.  The discomfort is real, and they want it removed, and so they ask someone else for help.

Depending upon the nature and location of the speck, it may even cause them to keep their eyes completely shut, even when I’m trying to remove the speck.  It may take a while for me to look in and see the offending intruder.  Once I find it, I may be able to use my fingers, or I may require a more specialized implement.  (I find that often the speck is a piece of fuzz so small it’s hard for me to see, especially without my readers, so it may take a bit of investigation and searching before finding it.)

So, as of today, I’ve decided that Jesus means I am to help others remove the specks from their eyes when they ask me for assistance.  I need to be invited to provide assistance.  Before I attempt to assist them, I should be sure to survey and assess the situation, not jump in with judgment, prejudice, or presumption.  Check those attributes at the door.  I may even need to do some research to combat my ignorance or lack of knowledge about their predicament.

This attitude transforms me from being codependent to inter-dependent.  That seems to be a Godly characteristic.

Proverbs 1:8

The wise in heart accept commands,
but a chattering fool comes to ruin.

This hits me because I chatter a lot, especially when I’m nervous.  When I don’t know something, or want to show that I do know something, I end up talking on and on as if the more words I say the more convinced the listener will be that I really know what I’m talking about.

This really shows, however, that subconsciously I’m mostly interested in their opinion of me and I’m working really hard to make that a good one.

Alternatively, someone who is confident in their place in the world doesn’t need to chatter to feel accepted, in fact he doesn’t need to feel accepted at all.

Take away the need for someone to accept you, and you take away much of the impulse that turns us into chattering fools.

Psalm 119:1-8

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways.
You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.

Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

I read Psalm 119 in its fullness, straight through, not piecemeal, for the first time the other day.  In the past I had always looked at versed, or parts, or split it up over many days to “meditate” on different pieces for different theological purposes, but this was the first time that I can remember sitting down and reading the entire thing with an attitude of expectation.  The entire psalm hit me as a description of the full plight of the God-seeker.  I will revisit this psalm many times I think. This opening section (aleph) really spoke to me this time around.  It starts by describing someone who is perfect in his faith.  This seems a typical theme in the psalms, and I’ve resisted reading them because I am not perfect like these guys from 3,000 years ago, particularly David. After realizing that one of my psychoses is perfectionism, or at least wanting to be viewed as perfect, I determined years ago that this attitude toward the psalms was not helpful to me and in fact stood in my way (as with the Pharisees) of accepting Jesus’ total sacrifice on the cross for my redemption. I do not have it within me to be perfect, although I continue to strive and masquerade and position myself as if being perfect were not only achievable but close at hand none the less.  Yet I cognitively recognize that I am not perfect, that I cannot be perfect, and that striving for it only takes me farther from it, in an ironic form of elusivity. Therefore I came to discount or even resent passages that exhort or extol perfect faith.  After all, isn’t that why we need Jesus? More recently I’ve chosen to consider them hyperbolic, or even “positional” statements (meaning something equivalent to “fake it until you make it by the grace of God”), and this has helped in my acceptance of the psalms, but of course has removed much of the impact and beauty. But not so this time around when reading of Psalm 119.  Verses 1-4 fit this typical mold of hyperbolic perfect faith.  But then v5 hits home: “Oh that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!”  My heart leapt upon reading this verse, because this is so ME.  I long to be one of the perfect ones described in vv1-4, but find that my ways are not “steadfast” (what a perfect word) and therefore I do not measure up.

[My God, how I long for perfect faith, wisdom, love, and godliness.  How I strive to be like You and yet fail so utterly time and again.  How I set myself up for failure by relying upon my own strength and wisdom, and then succumb to the shame of acting on my own or, worse, holding back.  Your ways are perfect, but they are far from me.  They are beyond my grasp, and often beyond my comprehension.  I try to be “good” and “wise” and in the process only prove my selfishness and foolishness.  Even refraining from trying to be “good” and “wise” results in a display of my selfishness and foolishness.

Is there no way for me to get it right?  Is this what Paul refers to in Romans 7:24? “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from my body of death?”]

And of course the answer is only that Jesus, whose name means “God Saves” is the one who saves me; I cannot save myself. In fact, trying to save ourselves means trusting in our own abilities, resulting in self-righteousness.  This is exactly contrary to Jesus’ name, which we so often like to end our prayers in, which means “God Saves”.  So my question becomes: do I trust in myself? or in Jesus?  I can’t do both.

Yet this is nothing new.  I know I can’t trust in myself, yet I find I don’t know how to trust in Jesus.  The more I try, the more I find that “trusting in Jesus” becomes my mission, my goal, and I start putting a process in place for it, resulting in another “Act of Bob”, a self-righteous act of faith.  Is there no end to this saga?  Is there no light at the end of this tunnel?

Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to give up trying? 

For a while I tried to stop trying, thinking even that my trying to rely upon God is an “act of Bob” and therefore futile.  Yet, while my need for self-control diminished, I also found that my life was falling apart because I was not doing standard maintenance activities.  God does not appear to be interested in balancing my checkbook for me, for example.  I guess that’s my job.  Time to get back into reality and get some down-home work done!  Yet Jesus did not even have a bank account while he was here, so did I short-circuited my faith journey when I “considered the ant” and got back to living life? 

Jesus was homeless, should I become homeless?  But the homeless are not necessarily any better-led than I am; I can see that by their health, activities, and survival orientation. 

I expect that someone truly God-centered and God-dependent is not worried about his own survival, or ego, or pride, or means, because he knows that God will provide and whatever God doesn’t provide is for God’s own purpose, which is holy and righteous and ultimately good, so there’s no benefit in questioning or attempting to supplement. It’s almost as if anything we try to do, whether inspired of our own thinking or inspired by Bible-reading, is destined to result in a sense of self-righteousness, or at least self-centeredness. 

And so I find myself running in circles in my mind, making my spirit dizzy.  I hope the arrival in heaven will be like de-fogging the brain, gaining a solid footing on the ground which has stopped spinning, and taking a nice clean deep breath of fresh air.

Proverbs is one of my favorite books because you can pick it up and read any part of it without worrying much about context.  Just read a proverb… it pretty much says what it says and it doesn’t require reading an entire chapter or book to understand its references.

Since there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, it’s also a good place to turn when you want to read something but don’t know where to turn.  Based on the day of the month, just read that chapter in proverbs.  If it’s the 20th, read Proverbs 20.

If I’ve gone for a long time since reading the Bible and I just want to read something, this is often what I do.

Proverbs 10:1

The proverbs of Solomon:
A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish son grief to his mother.

At first glance this verse looks trite, since it merely depicts two exaggerated extremes.

This proverb expects us to have already realized that it’s much easier to bring grief to one’s father than it is to one’s mother.  Fathers are typically worried about what people think, how strong you are, etc., focused usually on performance, results, or image.  Fathers are the ones that disown their children if they don’t “measure up.”  Fathers are the ones who expect their kids to carry on their name, the family business, and have a place in society.

Fathers’ favorite sayings to their children include:

  • Who ever said life was fair?
  • The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The insinuation is that our performance should be to overcome whatever befalls us.  Don’t be weak; be strong.  Intentions are insufficient… results are required, and you can’t get results without action.  As true as these sayings may be, these are hard expectations to live up to.

Mothers on the other hand love their children in all circumstances.  Therefore bringing joy to his father is a real achievement, something to be proud of.  Likewise, bringing grief or shame to his mother is something really unthinkably upsetting, almost unheard of.

(These are generalizations about fathers and mothers, and there are exceptions to these generalizations.  But Proverbs is a book of generalized wisdom, so the generalizations are what matter when it comes to finding the wisdom.)

As human children, we constantly look for affirmation from our parents.  This proverb is showing us how to gain that affirmation (as long as our parents are generally “normal”): become wise.  Easier said than done, but that’s what the book of proverbs is all about… learning how to become wise.