Friday, March 21, 2008

Pixels of Faith

How much faith do I really need? I know I constantly need the counsel of the Holy Spirit to guide me. And that requires faith. I know I need the strength of the Lord Jesus to empower me every day. And that takes faith. Therefore, I usually conclude that I have at least enough faith to go to Heaven when I die. And I don’t feel I need any more.

However, in several places in the gospels, Jesus threatens religious veterans, like me; with death as they rest on their existing knowledge of a God they thought they knew, but soon realize they had no idea. Matthew 7:23 is one example.

Another condemning quotation of Jesus is found in Luke 17:6, where the disciples ask their master “Increase our faith,” something I have also asked Jesus to do for me on many occasions. Jesus’ response to them has been misquoted as an encouragement for centuries. A popular translation says: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.” A mustard seed is the smallest seed that can be planted in the ground. But it would soon grow, and one day become the largest of garden plants (Matt 13:32, Mark 4:32). Mustard seeds are not as common in our culture as they were in Jesus day. But something else that is equally as small, powerful and known by most western civilizations are pixels, “the smallest element of an image that can be individually processed in a video display system” ( And like mustard seeds, they too, with a little bit of help, can become something magnificent.

Casual readers could assume two things from this verse: 1) that it is easy to acquire faith, (because all I need to do is have a pixel worth of belief in Jesus), and 2) the results of my faith are, and will always be, amazing. But I argue that this translation is a little bit watered down from what Jesus probably meant, when he first shared this piece of wisdom with His disciples.

Instead, I think Jesus probably said something a little bit more like this: “If you only had as much faith as a pixel, you could say to this Douglas fir, 'Be uprooted and planted in Hudson’s Bay,' and it will obey you. But you don’t even have that much!” I think the disciples believed that, through some sort of telepathic osmosis, they would automatically have as much faith as their teacher because they spent three years, eating, sleeping and breathing Jesus. But even that wasn’t enough. They needed an active ingredient to make their faith alive.

Repeatedly, Jesus questioned His disciples’ (mostly Jewish insiders) ability to do what he asked. They consistently showed a lack of faith in Him and His Father, whom they supposedly knew (John 14:7). But in Matthew 8, a Roman, an outsider, gave an example of faith that Jesus had not seen in his dah-ciples.

As Iraqis despise Americans, Jews despised Romans. A primary reason was that the Romans were stronger, showing their strength over them regularly. So, when a rich-Roman sent his delegates to Jesus, asking Him to come heal his servant, the Jewish crowd responded, “Good! Something is wrong with those Romans!”

Peter was exasperated with the servant. “Can’t you see that He’s busy? Jesus came for us Jews, not for you Gentiles (non-Jew)!”

Andrew piped up, “You don’t believe in Jesus anyway, you believe in your lord. Go ask him to heal your servant!”

But Jesus responded to the Roman servant, “I will go and heal him.”

But as He turned to follow the Centurion’s servant, Peter and Andrew, exasperated that Jesus would give anyone else but them any attention, exclaimed in chorus, “Rabbi, you’re going the wrong way!”

As the crowd shifted their route to follow the Roman’s servant, their footsteps grew heavier, they moved slower and continued to badger Jesus. “What are you doing, you once called a Samaritan a ‘dog!’ (Matthew 15:26) That’s what we expected you to say to this Roman! We hate them, don’t you hate them too? You’re one of us, and are here for us! Aren’t you?”

Ten minutes later, another servant came with more news from the dreaded Roman’s house. “My master says, ‘I am not worthy to have You, Jesus, come to my house. You are righteous, I am sinful. And besides, it’s not clean enough for you to enter. Just heal him from here. I know you can do this, because I ask my servants and slaves to do their jobs, and they do it. You have shown authority to heal, so you are certainly able to do what you say.’”

If he could have, Jesus would have leapt for joy. “Why can’t these Jews have as much faith as your master? I haven’t met anyone in all of Israel who has as much faith as him.” Then turning to the crowds, Jesus said, “This man, and many foreigners like him will certainly join Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in my Father’s kingdom, and they are outsiders! Don’t you Jewish insiders understand what it takes to join him in Heaven too? You’ve been learning about it for years! But if you don’t, you won’t.”

Turning back to the rich-Roman’s servant, Jesus said, “You may go, your fellow servant is healed because you believed he could be.”

In Jesus day, Jewish boys would be overwhelmed with an understanding of Yahweh and the Torah (first five books of the Bible). Calling oneself a Jew (an insider) would undoubtedly be an honor they would be proud of for the rest of their lives. Today, children raised in Christian families may also be overwhelmed with the Bible, church and Sunday school, and may or may not be proud of their faith. But Jesus encourages insiders, to use their pixel of faith, rather than ask for more, so it may grow to become a support to others in need. Then, weather you are an in or out-sider you may do the same as the Roman centurion did.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Jesus, Judas and the Show-People

Who do you follow? There have been many great leaders and well known personalities who have accumulated admirers for one reason or another. They could be political leaders who receive votes, talented sports icons, activists who strive towards an admirable goal, or even your neighbor, who works hard everyday to support his family.
The gospels at the beginning of the New Testament give many examples of the leadership qualities another man possessed.
The New Testament book of Mark gives several examples of the qualities of Jesus Christ, who was in charge of every situation that involved him, even if it had not happened yet. For those disciples who had their eyes on Him, the immeasurable joy they felt while they watched their Teacher work his wonders was inevitably nothing short of awesome. But those who were not looking in the same direction as their Rabbi, instead focusing on their own frail hopes and desires, missed out.
In Mark 14, Jesus and His disciples were walking toward Jerusalem. They asked Him, “As everybody knows, Passover is coming up. Where would you like to eat it this year?”
Jesus said, “Go on ahead of us into the city. As you enter, follow a man carrying a jar of water on his head. Say to the owner of the house he enters, “The Teacher will be here in a few minutes and is wondering: ‘Where is the guest room I can enjoy the Passover meal with my disciples?” He will lead you upstairs, to a large furnished room. Make the rest of the preparations there.” So, off they went into the city, finding everything just as Jesus had said.
For the two disciples who received Jesus’ instructions and accepted the responsibility of preparing the Passover meal, Jesus’ words had simply amazed them. As the other disciples entered the room several hours later, they also must have been surprised that Jesus had known about this place, as they had not been there before. “How did He know it was furnished?” they may have wondered, “he couldn’t have looked through the windows, it’s on the second floor.” As eleven of the disciples were yet again enthralled about yet another amazing act that Jesus had performed, Judas’ mind was in a different place, desiring to follow a different spirit than Jesus’.
As the twelve disciples sat, eating, talking, and enjoying the bread and wine the servant girls had brought, Jesus dropped a bombshell, stating a much unfortunate fact. “One of you, yes you, who have loved me for three years, will betray me.”
At this, all of the disciples objected individually and collectively. Peter said, “How can you have the gall to say something like that. We’ve been faithful for the long hall. What makes you think we will stop now?” Others agreed, “No, not a chance. You were able to predict the place where we would eat this meal, but surely you can’t predict that one of us would do something like that, can you?”
Judas was not arguing; he was barely listening. He had just arrived back from a top secret meeting with some fairly important people who had offered him money if he would do just that, relinquish his allegiance to his Teacher. This would allow his archrivals, the dreaded show-people, to do what they wanted with Him. Though he had enjoyed the last three years with Jesus, seeing some pretty fantastic miracles, watching his teacher walk on water, and even receive some free meals, it was now time to get something he really wanted, cold, hard cash, and the show-people were willing to give it. His desire for money, in exchange for his cooperation was just too tempting to turn down. It did not matter how he got it, he just needed money.
When I am told that I will receive money for doing some particular act, I feel better about doing it. And Judas was undoubtedly encouraged that the show-people, the most important people in his day, were willing to pay him for any particular task. I am sure that Judas had dollar signs in his pupils as he thought about the possibilities. “These guys are the most influential people in the world. They are surely very rich, and if I hand my teacher over to them, which is a very simple thing to do, I’ll get rich too! It doesn’t matter that he has said it would be better for the person who betrays him, to have never been born (Matt 26:24, Mark 14:21, Luke 22:22). At least I’ll die with the most riches, and the man with the most wins! Now I know why I wanted to follow this guy three years ago. The wait is finally paying off!”
What does it mean to betray someone? And what will happen as a result?
The dictionary says that to betray somebody means to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining, or fulfilling a responsibility to that person. As it was his job to make sure that the finances of Jesus ministry were spent wisely, Judas was well practiced in this first form of betrayal, often helping himself to the collective moneybag, and may well have been the disciples’ first guess as to who may just betray their Lord and Teacher.
Judas too may well have known that what the show-people had asked him to do was wrong. However, the fact that they would give him more money, satisfying his’ greatest weakness, was enough for him to do anything they asked, so he accepted their low-ball offer of 30 pieces of silver. Bible commentator David Guzik has written that thirty pieces of silver was the lowest the religious leaders paid for any single action. Receiving only thirty pieces of silver told Judas “we think of you as nothing more than a slave.” But because of this promise of extra finances, no matter how little it was, he was willing to tell his master’s greatest enemies, Jesus greatest secret. Whether Judas felt ripped off by the Show-people or not, this second act of betrayal, delivering or exposing a person to an enemy by treachery or disloyalty will forever be linked with his name. Therefore, a few hours later, Judas watched in horror as these once respected people did something so unrespectable, using him as a simple tool to get their hands on a much bigger fish. The Show-people were surely some of the cheapest men this world has known, and Judas knew this fact first hand. ‘They were, after all, only there to show-up, to show others up, and to show-off.’
Though he was a disciple of Jesus, Judas’ eyes were often focused on other things. But if you read further, his heart would slowly change, soon despising the money he was given, throwing it back into the laps of the Show-people who gave it to him in the first place, hoping to buy Jesus life back again. But the show-people would not allow it. They had finally caught the big fish they had been looking for. Judas could only watch in horror as his Teacher and Lord was sentenced to death. Judas’ inability to cope under his own self-inflicted pressure showed when he soon ended his life, knowing he was the one responsible for ending the life of his Master.
You surely know some people like Judas, who take their eyes off Jesus. Maybe they keep their eyes off of him entirely, to indulge in the things of this world. You may even know some ‘show-people’ too, who rip other people off, asking for a lot but giving little in exchange. But instead of talking the talk, as these people did, Jesus walked the walk, doing the things His Heavenly Father did. Who will you follow?
Choosing to follow and trust Jesus could, at first, be like voting for the underdog, cheering for the player everybody thinks has the least talent, or the activist with the weirdest ideas. But if we take the biggest risk, we shall receive the greatest gain. If Jesus gives correct details like where to prepare a single meal, or predicts that a dear disciple of his will betray him, how much more should we listen to Him as he tells us the intricate instructions of our lives? If he is right about these instructions, how can we presume that his words about our lives might be wrong?