Thursday, August 22, 2013

Long Division

When I was in elementary school I struggled with long division. Actually, I struggled with a lot of math tasks. Not because I didn’t understand them. No I struggled because I was undisciplined. I understood the concepts, but I was never one to spend time practicing math facts. There were so many better things to do. I could play kickball with friends, or read a good book or ride my bike over to grandma’s house for come cookies.  Anything but practice math facts.

Division is the topic of the Bible readings. In Isaiah it’s the division between the rich and the poor and in Luke it’s the division between people over Jesus’ message—a message about good news for the poor.

These passages are a challenge. People don’t flock to churches to hear these words. We want the prince of peace, not the divider of families. We want God to prosper us, not confront us. We want the Biblical words that uphold our worldview, not those that call us to change. In other words, we don’t like prophets.

We want feel-good phrases written in clouds and flowers on our Facebook and Twitter feeds—the snippets of scripture that get handed around so often like sweet Bible candy. We forget that the Bible can be confrontational, more like Brussels sprouts. Not good, but good for us. 

Jesus was about deep, life-changing love. He just wasn’t about platitude. He wasn’t telling the religious elite what they were doing right. He was killed precisely because he made sure people in the congregations and at the pulpits knew what they were doing wrong.

He made some people angry. He disturbed the peace. For heaven’s sake, he wanted them to pray for their enemies and the people who were persecuting them. Forgive instead of retaliate. Sell possessions and give to the poor. Love the crazies on the street corner. Who wants to hear a message like that?

We ignore the prophetic voice because it calls us out. It challenges us to practice what we preach.  It urges us to repent or change. The prophetic voice shows us the difference between the religion that’s on the page and the religion that we practice in real life. 

Today, we can read the Bible and see the division Jesus created. We can see the anger of the Pharisees, forgetting that we are the modern day Pharisees who don’t like our sense of order disturbed. Following Jesus sometimes means putting aside the things that we like and encountering the other stuff that’s there. Maybe making it a practice to read the parts of the Bible we don’t agree with, quieting the voice that would rather be bike riding long enough to hear God’s entire message.

No doubt, life is easier when we ignore the prophet. We can keep all our stuff. Stuff like anger against our enemies, the things piled in our closets, the illusion that there isn’t much suffering and the false conviction that this is the way God wants it be.

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