"..Yet in My Flesh I Will See GOD" [Job. 19.26]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Interesting Details about the Jesus Ministry

God often makes me dwell on a single chapter for weeks or even months to see important details of Scriptures which are often overlooked in ordinary bible studies. Like the first part of Matthew 12. It’s quite revealing how Jesus operated his ministry. It’s rather different from the kind of ministry that the church today admires.

A Poor Ministry

First, Jesus and his disciples went through the grainfields. That says a lot about the finances of the ministry. In those times, poor people and foreigners alone went through the fields after harvest to collect leftovers intended for the poor (Lev.19.10 and 23.22). God made it into a law to support those who were marginalized. If you did that, it didn’t mean you were begging from the field owner. It was God’s provision. God provided the field and the harvest from it, so he owned them all. Thus, he had the right to command field owners to spare a small part of the harvest as some kind of God’s return investment designed for the indigent.

I can say that at that point the Jesus ministry had a zero balance treasury, because the Word further says the disciples were so hungry they ate right there in the middle of the field. They began to pick and eat heads of grain. Their hunger pangs made them unable to wait till they got home and cooked the grains. You only did this if you were out of supplies and hungering without food for quite some time. I can imagine them even slightly trembling in hunger. Can you imagine this—out of supplies? 

To many believers today, this means failure. The belief system you’re militating for is disintegrating, and you better abandon ship and just join the majority. Right? That’s what it means today when you’re lacking funds, lacking provisions: God is probably not on your side. So quit.

And this wasn’t just about getting short of funds for a church project or building. This was open financial disgrace and embarrassment everyone saw. The ministry was bankrupt. I wonder how the critics took this. And what stuns me is that, Jesus didn’t try to hide it. They went out there, seen by people and critics, going through the grainfields which only miserable people and failures did. It’s like you and your disciples are so hungry you start picking up leftovers in trash bins of fast food stores and eat them right there where people see you. Something like that. 

Everyone in the area saw this dismal situation that befell the Jesus ministry and his disciples. This was supposed to be a debacle. But you never sense this in Jesus. He was just relaxed about it all. He hid no detail about his ministry. If this were to happen today, pastors would surely worry to death and church people are sure to abandon the church ministry and transfer pronto to rich, mega, and “successful” churches.

Amazing. The disciples still clung to their Master despite the dire impoverishment, despite their famished condition. Why didn’t they just quit and go back to fishing where they had sure livelihood and were away from the humiliation of starvation? Why did they decide to stick with Jesus? It was a very trying situation. It revealed so much of their commitment. 

Well, at that point, they weren’t that committed yet—they’d still abandon Jesus later during the crucifixion—but this die-hard dedication we see in Matthew 12 is something we should not overlook. This is the kind I wanna see in a Jesus discipleship today—a do or die commitment—which you rarely see, if any.

To be sure, poverty is not God’s will. Jesus and his ministry never had any problem with money. They never begged. In fact, they were good tax payers. They fed many people instead of solicited money from them. But God allows times of dire lack to test our mettle and loyalty to him (some are just loyal to their denominations, and that’s not what we’re talking of here). Paul once said he knew what it was to be in lack, and he knew what it was to be in abundance. He’d learned the secret to being contented whatever the circumstances were.

Jesus’ Tolerance Level

I also see here the tolerance level of the Master. He knew it was against the Law to do anything on a Sabbath. Yet, when he saw that the disciples began to pick grains and eat them, he just let them. He once said he came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. But mercy was the priority over Law fulfillment. He declared to the Pharisees that he and the disciples were innocent in doing what they did in the grainfields.

It’s impressive to see efforts at strict compliance to rules of men. But that’s all it is—efforts to impress people. Only Pharisaic people are moved by it. Jesus was strict with rigid righteousness, but not the kind that religious men do—like how church people follow church programs and denominational policies and rules stringently. Jesus was stern when it came to doing what the Father wanted. But when it came to observance of human religious traditions—like, not doing any work on a Sabbath—Jesus was tolerant; okay if you did, okay if you didn’t. Such is the wisdom this generation of ours terribly lacks. Many people major on the minors.

God had been strict with reserving the temple’s showbread exclusively to the priesthood, but was tolerant with David and his men when they were hungry. They even went inside the temple (only priests were supposed to do that!) and ate the bread there. Churches today invite you to speak about a specific topic, and deviating from that makes them feel something went wrong and God’s not pleased. They even feel disappointed when things don’t go according to the program they made and prayed for. Righteous tolerance is something we have to learn and practice more.

I once suggested to a church: “You spend so much money for your church anniversary. Why not use that instead to help poor people? You can simply worship God and thank him for blessing your church.” They didn’t like it. They had to keep up with their annual tradition. They had to spend for gifts to recognize families and each member of the church and the individuals who did special ministries. They had to buy food to feed themselves and their special guests. They had to decorate the church and put up new banners and posters announcing “Jesus is God Emmanuel” and their “Discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, worship, and prayer” ministries. They had to present a glamorous concert, and the attire required alone costs so much.

Each year they release a huge sum of money to be able to do these things. They sacrifice a big slice of their church finances (and donate from their own pockets, too), and it makes them feel they’ve pleased God.

I took a step further. I suggested again: “Why don’t we skip church anniversary altogether this year and feed hungry people?” You can imagine what sort of reaction this prodded. They can’t get that mercy is better than sacrifice.
Jesus was strict with righteousness, even calling Pharisees hypocrites and vipers and condemning cities that didn’t live righteously. But he could be so tolerant with trivial matters like religious traditions which were very important to Pharisaic people.

Once he allowed a woman disturb a special dinner event prepared by a Pharisee where the woman even broke an alabaster jar and poured its content on Jesus. Of course, some of it spilled on the floor, but Jesus thought nothing of the mess.

It was against the Law to touch or be touched by women with issue of blood. Jesus knew that. But he was tolerant about such a woman touching his garment, and he also touched lepers for healing, which was also a Law taboo. Mercy begets compassion, and vice versa. Jesus said this was God’s priority. I hope we all come to learn that many things we’re thinking important are better trashed with tolerance.