I woke up with religion on my mind this morning. Twice this week, two people, 100 miles apart, 2 days apart, brought to my remembrance Matthew Chapter 20: 17-28. What a coincidence. The two people don’t know each other, but they came upon the same scripture. It is a verse that can be seen several ways.
Monday, I was systematically visiting hotels in person. There was this one hotel that interested me. I have passed it on my commute and it seemed to be in a most convenient location. I didn’t know what the going rate was. All I knew was I wanted to escape the roaches in the hotel I was staying in. Get a better room. That sort of thing.
I finally decided to pull into the parking lot of this hotel. A very nice establishment. I walked in, not knowing what to expect. At the other end of the lobby is this older gentleman, sitting in what looks like a walker with a seat. People were already at the front desk speaking with the hotel agent on duty so I walked in this guy’s direction to see what the corridors on either side looked like.
We addressed each other, he mentioned at chair in a room just a few paces from where he sat. He started talking to me more. Long story short, he transitioned into a series of statements in he quoted various passages from the Bible. I listened and received well what he shared.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Stated in Matthew 16: 25. The key word there is “My” because often that scripture is quoted without that key word. It loses context and meaning without the use of the word “My”.
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Stated in Matthew 20: 25-28. The popular recital of that verse usually begins at the word, “whoever”. Again, that destroys the meaning of the verse.
What do these verses mean, in context? God is not generally calling people go off and give away everything they have. Rather, the first set of verses beginning in Matthew 16:25 is a call to remember the right priorities as a living person. You were not born to die. You were born to live and do a work in this world.
Rather, we have to remember that when other people get the priorities wrong, we can choose to resist the peer pressure to go along with the wrong thing. Jesus is counselling us to avoid the comfort of the wrong crowd, their sensibilities, their approval just so you can survive or avoid problems and pain. The verses points the way to being mindful of a different way of thinking even when the stakes don’t seem too high. But the stakes are high. Your soul and the integrity of your personal nature in the image of God.
The next set of verses beginning at Matthew 20:25 is about that same “world system”. Jesus has hinted in that verse that God intended for people to be equal. Maybe not in title, responsibilities, acclaim, or material possessions, but in basic person-hood and entitlement to live. Even several verses before that, he is referring to equal placement (to his right and to his left) of the disciples at the proverbial dinner table. All have a place in this life and it really isn’t for anyone else to say a person does not. To the extent we make it too hard for people to exist in this life, we are undermining the basic allowances intended by the Most High God.
We must consider with care spiritual counsel. I am not a spiritual counsellor. I am just a person, trying to live like many people. I had some thoughts about the delivery of the Gospel message. It seems to me, our best counsellors are going to be genuinely poor, genuinely not with the social collective that works contrary to the Gospel message at its core. They are people without a firm anchor in society.
None of those people I am talking about will be laden with wealth or even modest prosperity. No nice home to live in and not even a car to drive in most cases. I am not one of them. Like most, I see them now and again. In fact, I am in a city were they numbers are much greater. Some of them seem much closer to the life Jesus lived. Much closer to the image of a free person whose life is not as governed by conventions that can work counter to being alive in the true Gospel sense. Able to speak truth to power without any sense of potential loss. Fully credible if they ever ask anyone to give truly of themselves.
I wasn’t as much at peace when I thought about these things this morning. Somehow, this morning, as I thought about these things, I found myself surrounded by people (in the background) who echoed a more realistic sense of things. Their conversations were available for all to hear. I reflected on the way they approached their day and connected some ideas about existence. Now, I have a little more peace and understanding that surfaced from the gift of their existence.