The Church as We Know Her

Recently, God started revealing another aspect of this Christian walk that I couldn’t quite figure out for some time. A simple statement someone mentioned opened up a beautiful perspective on the “why.” First, I wanted to explain a little of the background, relevant as to how I’ve come to see things.

It appears many Christian organizations are adamant about defending their stances while claiming Biblical backing. Mostly though, this backing seems skewed. One example (of many), when Paul speaks about deacons and overseers, the requirements wouldn’t be terribly hard for the majority of “laity” today. Yet many in a congregation are relegated to participating in a weekly ritual instead of becoming deacons and overseers as new fellowships form. The requirements have now been elevated beyond the reach of most laypeople. Instead of a spreading, there is a containment in deference to building a ministry upwards instead of letting it flow outwards.

What we see in the early church is an out-flowing as congregations spreaded from house to house and new overseers and deacons became needed to serve these new fellowships. These weren’t paid positions, and they didn’t require the purchasing of buildings and other worldly assets. Instead, any money voluntarily given was used for those who needed it—whether that was inside or outside of that specific congregation. In comparison, much of our money today goes to keeping the machinery running instead of helping others. The small percentage that may go to others is paltry in comparison to the potential impact we could be having in our world.

However, even though the format we’ve established today may (arguably) not be Biblical, there is, admittedly, some movement of the Holy Spirit—if only on rare occasion. This is upheld as irrefutable proof that “our” ministry is right and that if we continue to repeat the same things over and over, the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the same way. In other words, it would seem that we seek containment and control of the Holy Spirit within our doctrinal confines, even though this may not be our conscious intent. We seek to market God to others in the setting and way we’ve predefined, setting limits as to how the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in our world.

This brings me to the question that has been on my mind for some time, but I couldn’t quite resolve—If our modern church entity wasn’t Jesus’ intent (according to how he describes her in the Bible), why do we see an occasional movement within these institutions? I’m not necessarily speaking of an emotionally charged movement (I have honestly never been able to relate to those being such a heavily introverted thinker), but a tangible spiritual awakening of souls when they encounter Jesus “face to face.”

The answer was so simple yet so profound when I came across it—If someone is truly seeking healing (or salvation, or whatever terms we may use), Jesus heals them where they are at, regardless of the faulty systems we create to try to contain his movements. In contrast, Jesus healed me after I had been outside of what we know today as church for over 11 years!

Suddenly, another aspect of the Bible began to crystallize for me. Like Israel demanding a king when they already had God as their Sovereign, we tend to believe we are in need of a hierarchical clergy system when we already have Jesus as our direct High Priest and Shepherd. Our systems only seem to increase the gap between us and Father by eclipsing the direct relationship that was established by the Son in his incarnation and through the victory of the cross. Yet still, this doesn’t stop the Holy Spirit from working. God still works through our broken systems to bring about healing to those who believe that is where healing can be found—even if it furthers our often misguided agendas. Jesus is concerned first and foremost with bringing restoration to the broken in hopes that they will see the beauty of living in his kingdom—the kingdom that isn’t constructed by human hands.

So why don’t we all just participate in the system we have even though it’s imperfect? I’ve come to believe, through no small amount of pain, that some may be called into those systems where God leads them, as was I for a time. Likewise, I believe some may be called outside of those systems, again, where God leads them, as I now have been. However, it would seem our systems do more to inhibit the gospel—the kingdom brought near by Jesus—from spreading in the world than they do to advance it. Likewise, we get a dichotomy of in versus out that only serves to harm our witness to the watching world—where we are called to love one another. So many hurting people are seeing how much professed Christians hate each other, partially because of our “in” or “out” statuses and partially because of our rigidness. These battered souls are choosing instead to pass altogether on seeking healing if it only seeks to convert them to a “side” in that same conflict.

Our call is to humbly embrace our “in” or “out” brothers and sisters and allow those who need healing to follow the Holy Spirit to a place they can find just that. Perhaps we need more fluidity to move with the Holy Spirit as it moves like the wind to where those in need reside. Instead, the dogmas we’ve created, both inside and out, serve as walls that we are continually hindered by. This not only hurts our witness, but it keeps us from truly loving each other on a deeper, spiritual level.

This is a rough lesson God has been walking me through over the past 2.5 years on the outside, and there are still plenty of snares and diversions that seek to drag me away from pursing such love for others. Still, I believe Jesus’ Church will survive and become stronger regardless of our human attempts to bend her to our worldly agendas—whether those reside inside or outside of an institution.

A Soldier’s Duty

When our battalion was called together, I wondered if it had something to do with the rumors that the Jews were on the verge of rioting. Pilate just released a rebel leader to them to calm them down, but maybe extra precautions were being taken.

When we arrived in the governor’s headquarters, there was a man there badly scourged. Some of the soldiers stripped him and made him wear a royal scarlet garment. Then, they twisted together a crown of thorns, placed it on his head, and gave him a reed for a scepter. As blood tricked down the prisoner’s head, they began kneeling and saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.” We laughed uproariously and then spit on him, as most of us were miserable with the predicament at this posting. One soldier took the reed and struck the prisoner on the head repeatedly.

When we were done venting our frustration, the other soldiers replaced the prisoner’s original clothes. I was assigned the duty, along with several others, to escort this prisoner to his execution. This wasn’t anything new as I’d assisted with many crucifixions since I’d been assigned to this garrison.

As we made our way towards Golgotha, the prisoner was barely able to carry his own cross. Yet, as beaten and bloody as he was, he seemed determined to make the journey.

“So what’d this guy do?” I asked one of my fellow soldiers.

“Claimed he was the Son of God, so his own people want him dead. They even stated that he was a threat to Caesar by his claims.” he replied.

Okay, I suppose that makes sense, especially since the Caesars claim to be sons of god. Do they really execute people for that though? Sure, lock him up for being crazy maybe, but this seems a bit extreme. Perceiving my thoughts, the other soldier just shrugged. I guess if it’s our duty to execute, we execute.

It seems most of the crowd hated this Jesus fellow, so I guess we didn’t have to worry too much about the zealots today. Though, there were a handful of people weeping as they followed us on to Golgotha—probably some close friends and family members. Suddenly, the prisoner turned and made a statement that sounded like Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. He spoke with such conviction, yet he still had such compassion in his voice, as though he was sorrowful if such a thing were to happen to the very people condemning him.

Not much longer after that, the prisoner collapsed. Some of the soldiers tried to get him back on his feet while the rest of us watched the crowd. Suddenly a man stepped out and looked directly at me. I quickly readied my spear, but then noticed his composure. He had tears running down his face and his hands were together upright in front of him. I believe this symbolized that he had no weapons or intent of violence. As I relaxed my defensive posture, still unsure of what the man wanted, he looked over to the prisoner on the ground.

This man’s actions caused a slight ache in my heart. This must have been a good friend of his for him to risk his very life by interfering in an execution. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do. If the centurion saw him, he might run him through or arrest him. I suppose I can do something to help him out. At first I thought to push him back into the crowd before the others noticed, but they might think a fight was about to break out.

After a moment’s thought, I stated loudly “You, help this man carry his cross.” I glanced over towards the centurion and he seemed to be okay with this solution.

After a long trudge, we finally reached the top of the hill. The assistant laid the cross down, then gently rested the prisoner beside it. While the other soldiers were beginning to prepare the crucifixion, I stepped aside to talk to the man who had assisted.

“Who are you…and why’d you do that?” I asked, “Why would you risk your life for a man who’s already dead anyway?”

“I’m Simon, and…” he stated as he struggled to restrain his tears, “he showed me mercy when I didn’t deserve it….He really is the Son of God…and he’s doing this for all of us….including you.” With that, my heart stopped mid-beat. There was something in this man’s words, as though he had been through an unfathomable experience. Could there be something more to this Jesus? Could he really be divinity?

“Hey,” the centurion bellowed from behind me in the midst of my thoughts, “I’ll hold him, you hammer in the spikes.” Oh no, anything but that. The centurion shook the hammer slightly suggesting that I hurry up and take it. Reluctantly, I did. Then he handed me three long spikes.

As I aligned the first spike to Jesus’ hand, I hesitantly raised the hammer. I looked over to Jesus who had quite a peaceful expression considering the ordeal he had been through. My eyes began to fill with tears as thoughts invaded my head again. If he really is the Son of God….if I do this. “Oh God….please forgive me,” I repeated over and over in my head, still trying to make my trembling arm take the first swing.

“I…” a voice weakly murmured. I looked around a bit confused until my eyes settled on Jesus’. “I forgive you,” he said with the glimmer of a smile on his face. I felt a shiver go through my whole body. Had he read my thoughts? Why would he forgive me? Did he want to be crucified? Why…Why was he doing this?

The centurion didn’t seem to take any notice of Jesus’ comment. Jesus’ eyes stayed fixed on me as I saw a resolute expression come across his face. A peace began to fill me, and I felt that bringing down the hammer was what I was destined to do. I struck the first blow and he grunted. Then he opened his eyes and nodded for me to continue. With that, I struck another blow and another as tears started streaming down my face.

As I completed fastening the second hand, the centurion took notice of my tears. “Are you alright? What happened?” he asked bluntly.

“I’m fine. I just..hit my thumb on that last swing and it really hurts,” I replied.

“Do you want me to finish?” he retorted.

“No! I got it!” I exclaimed a little more forcibly than intended. I didn’t want to place anyone else is such a horrible position.

I finished driving the spike through his feet, then we affixed the notice that Pilate had ordered be attached. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”A shiver again traveled through my body as I read the sign.

The next few hours seemed like an eternity. I would rather have been on the front lines of a war than watching this man die. Many hurled insults as they passed. Some of the other soldiers joined in as well while Jesus’ cloths were being divided up just below him. Even the two robbers on each side mocked him. I hung my head in shame, remembering my actions in the governor’s quarters not even a few hours earlier.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus stated remorsefully as he tilted his head slightly upward. He then looked down directly at me and a bolt of lightning shot through my body. Here he was….crucified….and he’s forgiving the ones persecuting him. There’s definitely something more to him.

When one of the thieves heard Jesus’ forgiveness, he too became remorseful, and even started defending him. He then asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom. Jesus responded kindly—that they would be feasting in Paradise that very day! This Jesus fellow seemed, even in his bleakest hour, to be filled with more compassion than anyone I had ever known.

Then, a darkness began to encroach. At first, I thought the sun was just going behind the clouds, but this became a much thicker darkness than I’d ever seen during daylight hours. I became more aware of the surroundings as I took note of each person still there. Most were familiar except a young man standing out in the edge of the darkness. He too looked to be weeping. One of the other soldiers suggested it was probably a disciple of Jesus’, too afraid to come close in case he was recognized.

Suddenly, Jesus cried out. Simon quickly prepared a drink while some others passing by thought he was calling a prophet from their history. They lingered around for the moment to see if perhaps this prophet would show up. A few moments later, a woman came frantically running out of the darkness. Her pace slowed as she got close enough to recognize the figure on the center cross. I could see the horror on her face as she stood there in shock. Then, tears began streaming down her face as she fell to her knees. I looked over to the soldier next to me, and he seemed just as perplexed as I was, though Simon had more of a shocked expression, as though he knew her.

“This isn’t right!” she screamed unexpectedly. I felt the tears welling up in me as she rocked back and forth and repeated the statement over and over.

As the woman quieted to a sob, we heard a resolute “It is finished” from above us and we all looked up to see an immensely passionate look on Jesus’ face. Tears began streaming from my eyes again as he exhaled one last time, then hung lifeless.

Simon approached the crying woman cautiously and attempted to console her. At first, she seemed startled that Simon was there, but to his surprise, she jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him. They both wept passionately. I sat in awe wondering how they might know each other as they seemed to be from two totally different walks of life. Was this Jesus fellow bringing such diverse people together?

I stood and moved closer, compelled by the compassion still on Jesus’ face. The tears were still running down my cheeks, though I’m not sure if anyone else noticed—and at that moment, I no longer cared.

Just then we got an order from Pilate. We were to remove the body from the cross and give it to a Joseph of Arimathea.

“Okay,” the centurion remarked, “I guess it’s over.” With that, he readied his spear and looked to the body hesitantly. After a small sigh, he plunged his spear into Jesus’ side. I looked on in horror as blood and water poured out, but Jesus didn’t make a move; he was already gone. My heart sank as tears continued to roll down my face. If he really was the Son of God, why didn’t he save himself? And why was he doing this for us?

Without warning, the earth began to shake violently. The other soldiers fell to the ground and I collapsed to my knees while still focused on Jesus. Oddly, it seemed while everything else was in upheaval, I felt an indescribable peace kneeling there before him.

When the shaking finally stopped, light again filled the sky, and I quickly tried to wipe the tears from my face. The centurion, noticing my composure, began walking towards me. I prepared myself for reprimand—or worse—but instead…he gently laid his hand on my shoulder. As I braced myself on my spear and stood to my feet, all those still around drew in closer. Even the disciple that had been off in the distance dared to approach now. I looked up again to the lifeless body on the cross, and my heart was overwhelmed. I was now sure of it, more than anything else I’d ever known.

“Truly, this was the Son of God!”

The Path of Thorns

There’s no way he can worm his way out of this one! We were able to catch this woman dead to rights in the middle of adultery. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when we present her to him. If he excuses her, he will have violated the Law of Moses, and if he condemns her, he will prove that he is just like us. It’s the perfect setup! Finally, we can expose him for the fraud he is.

When we arrived at the Temple grounds, this Jesus fellow was teaching some more of his nonsense to a gathering crowd. Oh are they in for a surprise!

“Teacher,” one of my colleagues interrupted as we burst on the scene, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” As he finished his statement, I reached down and picked up the nearest rock signaling for the crowd to follow suit.

At first, Jesus looked like he had been caught off guard, but instead of fumbling for an answer, he just took a deep breath, let it out, and then knelt down to the ground. He began to draw in the sand as the watching crowd drew in a little closer to see what he might be revealing. Does he think that we’re so naive? Hah! Look at him, acting so calm and collected like he has all the answers. He’s just stalling for time!

As I glanced at what he was drawing, however, a chill suddenly shot up my spine and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Everyone else seemed oblivious, but somehow I knew from the first few strokes what it was—a cross!

Did he know? Had he overheard? It was only an idle comment. My colleagues and I had been discussing this Jesus character a few days earlier. I jokingly made the suggestion that we could set him up so the Romans would crucify him. Had someone told him? Had he been lurking somewhere in the shadows? Or….was he….was he really from God? My heart sank and sweat began to soak my brow as I realized we may have made a terrible mistake.

Just then, one of my colleagues began demanding an answer from Jesus. Jesus stood to his feet, closed his eyes, and let out another long sigh as though he was deeply saddened. Then, he opened his eyes and looked in my direction. At first, my heart began to race, but as I looked into his face, he had a rather remorseful look about him. I couldn’t hold the gaze for long though so I looked away—right to the ground where the completed cross had been drawn. No one else seemed to have noticed since my colleague’s outburst. I began to tremble as my grip tightened on the stone in my hand. It was only a brief moment, but it felt like an eternity tormented by the situation.

“Alright,” Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” This time a bolt of lightning rushed up my spine. I was certain of it now; somehow he knew what I had said. As I hesitantly looked back up, unsure of what to do now, Jesus was looking directly at me. At first I wanted to slink to the back of the crowd, but I noticed that his demeanor had changed—now, he had the most loving expression on his face that I had ever seen. It was like he was saying that it was okay, that he wasn’t angry with me—that…that he was letting me off the hook! Again, his gaze was too pure to look at for long and tears began to well up in my eyes. As I looked down to the stone in my trembling hand, a million thoughts raced through my mind. Why would he just let me off the hook like that? Why didn’t he seek revenge? Why didn’t he tell the crowd the truth—that we….that I had suggested he be setup and crucified? How….how could he just forgive me like that? Is this how our Father really is—loving us even at our worse? What can I do now? Oh God, this is such a mess!

As all these thoughts echoed in my head, tears trickled down my face and splashed against the parched stones. What have I done!? What have I been doing with my life!? The weight of the stone began to increase exponentially. I remorsefully dropped it from my shaking hand, and it hit the ground with a loud thud. I didn’t know what to do, but I could no longer stay there. As I made my way through the crowd, I heard the people murmuring to each other. My compatriots, though, seemed quiet, but I didn’t turn back to see what their reaction was. Then, one by one, I began to hear other thuds as I was making my way out of the crowd. Others were leaving the scene right behind me, but I didn’t turn back to look. Instead, I began to disgracefully run. I ran without stopping through the streets until I reached the residence I maintained there. I rushed to my quiet place and fell to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably.

“God, please forgive me!” I yelled repeatedly. I knew I wasn’t supposed to say his name out loud, but I no longer cared if anyone overheard. My position among the religious teachers was probably forfeit already, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back anyway. Perhaps I should just move back to my hometown. At least my family is still there, and they didn’t have to witness the events of today.

As I sat there weeping, a sense of immense peace came over me that I couldn’t quite explain. I felt that somehow everything was going to be alright.


Jesus and I had a few beautiful conversations after that. I found myself drawn to his loving presence though often his words were so counter to everything I’d been taught to believe. I tried to convince him to stay away from Jerusalem, but he kept assuring me that everything was going to turn out exactly as it was supposed to. I also tried to find the woman that we had condemned to stoning, but she seemed to have disappeared—and asking around was getting me into more and more trouble. Jesus assured me that everything was going to be okay with her also, and that she had her own road to travel. I tried to trust him at his word, but it’s hard to let go of the control I thought I had for so long.

I never returned to my position in Jerusalem, though I often pleaded with some of my former colleagues to abandon their pursuance of Jesus. I spoke with Herod also insisting that Jesus really was the Messiah—the Son of God! I even petitioned Pontius Pilate not to give in to the Sanhedrin, but all was to no avail.

Now…here he is—the Messiah…our Savior—-beaten and bloody, forced to make the trek to Golgotha bearing his own cross. Tears streamed down my face as he stumbled onward, hardly able to carry the weight. I felt powerless. Is this really the path he was destined to take?

And then….he collapsed.

My heart sank as I thought of all the anguish he had already endured. I looked up to see some of my old colleagues across the way. Some looked smugly satisfied at the scene, though others looked troubled, like deep down they knew this whole charade was wrong. Was it happening to them too? Were they becoming remorseful at what was going on? Was Jesus’ love breaking through to them also?

As one of the soldiers prodded Jesus to get him on his feet again, I could no longer stand there and do nothing. As I stepped out, Nicodemus grabbed my arm and whispered harshly, “Simon, what are you doing!? You’re going to get yourself in trouble with the Romans—and the Sanhedrin—and Herod! Think about your family back in Cyrene!” As I looked at Nicodemus, tears dripping from my face, his eyes too begin to swell as he could no longer hold back the pain in his own heart. He sighed remorsefully then nodded as he loosened his grip on my arm.

As I stepped out, I placed my hands together and upright in front of me to show the Romans I had no weapons or intent of violence. I immediately caught the attention of one of the soldiers. He began to ready his spear, but then realized my composure. For a moment, he seemed a bit perplexed. He looked back to the other soldiers that were still attending to Jesus. After a brief moment’s thought, he looked at me and nodded. “You,” he stated loudly enough to catch the attention of the other guards, “come and carry this man’s cross.”

Relieved that he understood, I walked over to Jesus and placed his arm across my back and his cross on my shoulder. We then, slowly, made the agonizing trek onward to Golgotha.

Wood and Stone

This is absolutely the worse day of my life—and probably the last! I can’t believe I was caught in the middle of the act. I’m struggling to cover myself as the religious teachers and Pharisees are dragging me through the street. They seem almost smug as they talk about a teacher they are taking me before. If they are this merciless, I can only imagine how this teacher will judge me.

As they toss me into the dirt, I see a crowd gathered, still somewhat perplexed by the intrusion. The men who drug me here then turned to the teacher and stated my offense—caught in the very act of adultery!

“The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” one of the Pharisees demanded.

The teacher seemed like he was in mid-sentence before the interruption, mouth still poised as though he was ready to continue his teaching. Instead, he sighed deeply as he looked to the man that had asked the question. The teacher seemed greatly disappointed, but not with me—he seemed disappointed with them!

Suddenly my mind was a buzz. Who was this teacher? Why was he disappointed with them? Perhaps they should have brought my lover along also….and how did they know what we were doing?

The crowd began searching for stones as the teacher was looking at the religious leaders with an expression of great sadness across his face. Then, he simply bent down and, of all things, started doodling in the sand! What he was writing didn’t seem to have any meaning, yet the crowd was focusing on the patch of dirt intently as though some great wisdom was going to manifest itself from the dust. It was then I noticed that all of the attention had been taken off of me—everyone was focused on him instead! He…he was taking all my guilt and shame onto himself!

Yet, it wasn’t long before one of the Pharisees began demanding again that the teacher give them an answer. The teacher slowly stood up, closed his eyes, and let out another long, disappointed sigh.

“Alright,” he said with sorrow as he opened his eyes again and looked at an elder at the head of the crowd, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” As the teacher looked compassionately at him, tears began to well up in the elder’s eyes. He averted them to the stone in his hand, focusing on it as though he was thinking back to some deeply traumatic event. As tears began to stream down his face, he dropped his stone and slowly turned to make his way through the crowd and away from the scene. As he was walking through the crowd, others looked stunned at the elder’s tears and began similarly looking at their stones. One by one, they began sorrowfully dropping their stones to the ground and walking away. A few in the crowd looked to the religious leaders still remaining who at first seemed infuriated, but then remorse seemed to slowly overtake them as well as though they were the ones who were naked and exposed. One by one, they too began to slip away.

When I looked back to the teacher, he was again doodling in the sand. This time, though, what he was drawing began looking slightly more familiar—three crosses like the Romans used to crucify people. For some reason, tears began to well up in my eyes also.

He then stopped doodling and looked at me with a deeply compassionate gaze and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” I was sure there was a glimpse of a smile as he asked.

I struggled to find words as the entire situation had twisted so much. As I looked around again, I timidly said, “No one, Lord.”

“Neither do I condemn you,” he replied as his face burst into a warm, radiant smile, “go, and from now on sin no more.”

For a moment, I felt as though I didn’t want to go. It was so beautiful here in his presence, and I truly felt free of sin. As he gently smiled again at me, reality snapped back and I realized that I was at the Temple half nude. I quickly stood and hurried back to my home.


For some time after that encounter, I wondered just who he was, and why he had told me to “sin no more.” Sure, I had never committed adultery again, but how is it possible to never sin again? Later, I heard someone proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom has come near!”—Just turn around, the kingdom is right here! These words seemed to penetrate to the depths of my soul, and it flourished again reminiscent of when I was in the teacher’s presence. Yet, I still felt unable to break totally free of sin, and I still felt too ashamed that I would be recognized in public if I began to seek answers.

As I was again turning over these things in my head, I reached the outskirts of the city to dispose of my refuse. I was relieved that it was unusually dark that day, making it less likely that I would be recognized on my journey. As I looked, I could barely make out the silhouettes of three crosses on the top of the hill. Suddenly my heart stopped and I felt I couldn’t breathe as I remembered the teacher’s drawing in the sand. I dropped everything I was carrying and ran frantically up the hill. The soldiers standing guard looked at each other perplexed as I hesitantly approached the battered body on the middle cross. It…it was him….the teacher who had saved me from being stoned not long ago. Just above his head was a sign, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.”

The teacher…was Jesus—the one they say is the Messiah. Suddenly, what was happening washed over me like a tidal wave. Just like he had taken away my guilt and shame, he was now taking away the guilt and shame of the entire world! He was freeing everyone to “sin no more.”

I fell to my knees and began to sob uncontrollably. “This isn’t right!” I screamed aloud repeatedly as I rocked and moaned—the King taking our place….taking my place….As I again gazed up to him, he had opened his eyes and was looking in my direction. There was still such passion in his demeanor, and for a brief second, I almost thought I saw the glimmer of a smile as he was looking at me. Then, he took one last agonizing breath and said, “It is finished…”

Neighbor

Ridiculous! There’s no way those dirty, filthy outsiders can be considered my neighbor!

I had heard of this Jesus fellow’s teachings, so I wanted to test him to see if he really knew the Law, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

In turn, he asked me what was written in the Law, but I knew the answer to this one! Most people just think it’s hundreds of rules to be holy, but I’ve studied the deeper meaning.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” I recited confidently with pride in my knowledge.

“You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Jesus stated bluntly.

Wait, he just agreed with my conclusion? What is he trying to get at? Is he implying that I’m not loving God or my neighbor? Exactly who does he think I’m not loving that I should be?

“And who is my neighbor?” I retorted. I knew he couldn’t possible expect me to love those horrid Roman invaders or all these other outsiders invading our lands.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” he began. Okay, I know that path well. It’s a rather long cliff that circles down south and then back around north to Jericho.

“and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” he continued. Yep, I knew it, those filthy robbers, I bet they were Samaritans. Those good for nothing outsiders. They need to be driven from our land.

A slight smile creased Jesus’ face as he continued his story. Was he responding to what I was thinking? Did my expression give away my thoughts?

“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.” he said, still with a slight grin on his face. Well of course the priest couldn’t help—he has a duty to the Temple! He must remain ritually clean so he can perform the constant task of cleansing sin. If he were to touch the bloodied man, he would be doing a great disservice to the rest of Israel by shirking his sin management duties….Wait! How did the priest pass on the “other side?!” There is no “other side” on the path to Jericho! It’s a sheer cliff!

Again, Jesus with the smiling! What’s he thinking?!

“So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” he continued, still with a slight smile across his face. Yeah, of course the Levite couldn’t help either. He too would become ritually unclean and would not be able to perform his duties to the Temple and the priests….Wait! Again with the “other side” business! Does he not know the path to Jericho, or is he being intentionally facetious?! Maybe I should correct him…

Jesus, though, interrupted my thoughts as he continued, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was.” What?! Why is he including Samaritan filth in this story?! I guess he’s going to show how cruel the Samaritan is by comparison. The priest and Levite at least had legitimate reasons for not helping. This evil Samaritan will probably torture the poor guy some more just for the fun of it.

Jesus continued on though, again interrupting my derailed thoughts, “and when he saw him, he had compassion.” He glanced in my direction, again with a grin. I could feel my blood begin to boil! How dare he say such a thing! A Samaritan of all people having compassion. He didn’t even mention the priest or Levite having compassion—they just passed right on by, avoiding the victim! As my anger continued to rise, Jesus went on to explain that the Samaritan bound up the victim’s wounds, took him to an inn, paid for his stay, and offered to cover any other expenses!

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus stated now solemn at my disposition.

I was now fuming with disgust and refused to even say the name aloud. “The one who showed mercy.” I sneered, unintentionally displaying the anger that had been building inside me.

Jesus nodded and a huge, beautiful smile erupted across his face. Suddenly my heart melted as all my anger faded away in his loving presence. I felt the tears begin to well up as his warmth gently penetrated through my core.

“You go,” he stated softly in the midst of his loving gaze, “and do likewise.”

Suddenly, it all made sense. I knew the Law, and even the deeper meaning of loving God and neighbor, but I still didn’t quite get it! Not until he showed me—my neighbor is everyone. I’ve always labeled and categorized, only loving those that I was taught I should…while hating everyone else. Yet, the Samaritan was a neighbor whereas the priest and Levite, though they were trying to uphold the laws of cleanliness, failed the spirit of the law—love!

But why would Jesus do that? I was trying to trap him, but instead of revenge, he loved me into an entirely new reality! Anyone else would have destroyed me had they gotten the upper-hand. But he…he loved me instead and showed me how to truly live—how to truly love my neighbor!

It’s true what they’ve all said—it has to be! He really is the Messiah! He really is going to change our world!

Life

I couldn’t believe it! It was really him—the teacher everyone’s been talking about. I wasn’t sure if he really was the Messiah, but from what I’d heard, he had wisdom far beyond even the Pharisees.

I approached him quickly before he set out again. Kneeling, I asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to live life to the fullest?”

“Why do you call me good?” he responded.

What?! Isn’t he good though? I thought being good is what having a full life is all about.

“No one is good except God alone.” he clarified, perceiving I was a bit perplexed. This only further stumped me though. Sensing my confusion, he continued, “If you want to live a fulfilling life, keep the commandments.” Yes, the commandments—then I’m on the right track!

“Teacher, I’ve observed the commandments all my life. Is there something I’m missing?” I replied, trying to sound humble but also acknowledge that I was meeting the standards of righteousness.

Then he looked at me with the most loving gaze I’d ever seen. My heart was as light as a feather and for a moment, nothing else in the world mattered—I was at complete peace. I felt what was coming next was going to be wisdom far beyond my reckoning. I knew that whatever he had to say, it would be the beginnings of the life I’d always sought.

“If you want to be perfect—sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me. Then, you’ll have treasure in the kingdom.” he stated.

What?! Did he just raise the bar on me?! That’s not fair! I’ve observed the Law, I’ve been good, I’ve given money to the poor already! Why should I have to give up everything?

I felt a deep sadness creeping in. I didn’t understand. Everything I’d worked to achieve—am I to just give it all away? How am I to survive?

As I walked away with my head hung low, I heard the teacher make a statement to his followers, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom!”

This seemed to be a kick when I was already down. My heart felt like it had been shattered into a million tiny pieces. All that I’d done to build a good life was totally disregarded.

“Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” the teacher continued, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!”

This time, I couldn’t help but to look back. I saw the disciples all with stunned looks on their faces like the teacher had just grown a second head. Then….I looked back to him. Our eyes locked, and he was beaming with the most radiant, loving smile I had ever seen. My heart melted all over again, and I felt the tears welling up inside of me though I couldn’t consciously explain why.

“Then who can be saved?!” one of the disciples asked astonished—the question I was still fumbling to form in my mind.

The teacher’s loving gaze turned back to me, then he answered, “For man—it is impossible, but not for God. With God, all things are possible!”

For a few moments, that statement caused me to pause, knowing there was some deeper meaning just below the surface. Suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks, piercing me to my very core. Of course! I’d been going about it all wrong! I’d been trying to earn the good life through my own works. I was trying to buy my way into this kingdom he was presenting. But…but…it’s impossible by my works to enter the kingdom—it’s by him! He’s the One! He’s the Messiah—God’s promise to us for entry into life! It’s all beautifully upside-down. All my possessions are worthless in his kingdom!

Beginning to have some inkling now of how to truly live, the teacher, still looking in my direction, nodded with a grace-filled smile as though he knew my very thoughts. As I departed, the conversation continued between the teacher and the disciples, who still seemed somewhat perplexed. Yet, for me, I felt everlasting life was truly beginning!

Lost Hope

Rocky beamed will glee, as did we all, when Josh said, “That is enough.”

We were having a lively discussion (again) about who was the best of us when Josh commented about how the greatest among us would be like him, a servant. We barely had time to consider this when Josh turned solemnly to Rocky and started talking about how Satan was going to sift him like wheat.

A hush fell over the room and Rocky’s face glowed red as he began to work up a nervous sweat. Suddenly he blurted out, “I’m ready to go with you to prison and death!” We all echoed Rocky’s sentiment, yet Josh stated that Rocky would deny him three times before the rooster crowed at dawn.

Before we had time to contemplate this, Josh, looking a bit saddened, began to talk about how he had sent us out before. Now thinking about it, when we returned then, we were argu….discussing who was the greatest and Josh brought a child before us to illustrate.

Josh interrupted my thought derailment with a question, “You didn’t take money, or luggage, or even shoes when I sent you out before yet all was provided, correct?”

We all just set there, unsure of what to say or where he was going with this or if he was just asking a rhetorical question.

“But now,” Josh continued, “you need these things. Go ahead, sell your coat and buy a gun if you don’t have one.”

With this, a rush of exhilaration brushed through the room. It was time at long last! The revolution was about to begin! The invaders of our country were about to be thrown out! The corrupt government and the religious scoundrels were about to be overturned! Finally, it was time!

Someone blurted out excitedly, “Look Josh, we have two guns right here!”

But Josh, looking a bit distraught, sighed almost sadly, “That is enough….”

We all just set there a bit confused as Josh stood up to walk out. What did he mean by the two guns being enough? Is that all this coup would take? Was he going to use his powers to end things swiftly? Was he going to call up his Dad to send in his troops?

Or…did he mean something else? Was he tired of that discussion? Was he trying to make a point? Was he telling us to stop thinking that way?

“That is enough….,” That one phrase still echoes heavy in my head and through my heart today.

Once we realized Josh had exited the room, we quickly rose to follow him. It seemed we were all hoping that what Josh meant was that the revolution was about to commence. We followed him by moonlight to one of his normal digs. He stopped us at the entrance to the garden and said, “Pray so you don’t give in to temptation.”

Huh? Was he referencing what we were all thinking? Was he saying that our revolution wasn’t about to start?

Josh walked a bit further and collapsed to the ground. I heard him begin to pray aloud with increasing intensity. He sounded like he didn’t want to lead the revolt. I was jostled back and forth between hope and despair. Was he really who we’d been expecting? Was he the one that was going to lead us into our new golden age? I thought I saw a figure clothed in white with Josh comforting him as he began to pray more earnestly, blood dripping from his brow.

The next thing I remember is Josh poking me and telling me to wake up and pray so that I wouldn’t fall into temptation. Had I really fallen asleep? How long had I been out?

Just then, I saw something that snapped me awake. A crowd was approaching in the dead of night. And of all people, Judy was leading them! Was this reinforcements for the revolt? Had Judy been gathering together our army while we were here? Was this what Josh told him to go do? But then I saw he had priests and their bodyguards with him. Before I could consider what was going on, Judy leaned in and kissed Josh.

“You would betray me with a kiss?” Josh asked as Judy looked away ashamedly. What was going on? Did he give up on Josh leading the revolt? I mean, we all had our doubts, but we would never sell out Josh like this!

Rocky caught wise to what was going on quick. He drew his pistol and fired it from the hip right towards one of the priest’s servants. The bullet ripped the servant’s ear clean off of his head. We all began to search for any weapon we could find. I could hardly believe it myself, the revolution was starting! Finally we would have our revenge for all of those years of being oppressed! Finally we would be able to take back our country at the barrel of a gun—with Josh leading the charge!

“Put you gun away!” Josh exclaimed,  “Don’t you know that those who live by the gun, die by the gun?” We all froze stiff not knowing what to think as Josh reached down, cleaned off the servant’s ear, and reattached it to his head. Josh spoke some more to the priests and bodyguards, but my head was spinning so much that I couldn’t focus on what he was saying.

In the midst of my confusion, Josh responded to their question with a resounding, “I AM he.” The priests and bodyguards all fell to the ground with only that pronouncement! I was startled myself as my hope began to rise again. Perhaps Josh didn’t want us to fight at all but just follow him along as he overthrew those in power and struck down the outsiders by himself.

Before I could finish forming another thought though, Josh was being escorted away in handcuffs. It was then I began to wonder just what his plan was. I had always assumed that he would conquer by force and restore our nation to its’ rightful place. But now…he was walking away shackled…

What was going on?!


As the next few days passed, I could think of nothing else to do but return to my former job. When Josh was captured, we all scattered and it seems we were, fortunately, forgotten about by the authorities.

From what I heard, Josh didn’t have much to say at his trial, and I couldn’t bear to go to the execution. I mean, I didn’t want the soldiers to recognize me or I could have been executed too…and what good would that have done?

Still, I feel…I know…that I failed him—that I should have done more. But what?! Even when we tried, he told us to stay our hand. There had to be something we could have done, but if not with a gun, what? Pray?! Josh did a whole lot of that, and even with all the power he had, he was still executed.

Perhaps I should count myself lucky and just keep my mouth shut and my head down from now on. I can’t possibly see how our world will be changed anytime soon now that Josh is gone….