WEEK 34 — August 26, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 34

 

What Are Neighbors For?

 

Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 2:3-5

One of my earliest memories of Sunday School is of a creative teacher who led her preschool pupils to act out the story which is told in the verses printed above. The first little boy she chose was too scared to let us lift him on a mat, so the teacher had to substitute another. How big and important I felt to be one of the four larger boys, carrying the sick person to Jesus!

When I became a Sunday School teacher myself, I had to explain to my pupils that the four neighbors were not seriously damaging the roof of the house where Jesus was: Roofs in Palestine twenty centuries ago were easily broken through and just as easily repaired again.

When I became a Sunday School teacher in Indonesia, I discovered that this favorite Bible story no longer needed any special explanation: Many roofs in Indonesia are made of loose-lying tiles which can easily be picked up to make a hole and then laid back into place again.

Of course the main point of the story isn’t architecture: It’s people. Jesus focused his attention not only on the paralyzed man but also on the other four men who had gone to so much trouble to bring him: “When Jesus saw their faith . . .”

Who were these four men? They must have been neighbors of the man who suffered from paralysis.

An ancient Hebrew book of wisdom says, “Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away” (Proverbs 27:10c). Our neighbor across the street found that out last week when she had to telephone us for help: Her brother, suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), had fallen in the kitchen, and she could not get him to his feet again by herself.

Have you ever sung the little Ghanaian folktune that begins “Jesu, Jesu”? Tom Colvin’s words addressed to Jesus mention “the neighbors we have from you.” Have you ever thought of your neighbors as being those who have been given to you by Jesus? Do you recognize them as being gifts of God in your life?

Last month I attended the funeral of an old friend. One of those who spoke in the church service was a somewhat younger woman who had first met my friend as a neighbor; then they had become such close friends that they found many joys in serving the Lord together, in taking joint vacation trips, and in supporting each other through hard times. The woman spoke feelingly of her appreciation for my late friend’s family: “They adopted me,” she said, “and they let me adopt them.”

That’s what it’s like when you’re a real neighbor — especially a neighbor in the family of faith.

Think about your own neighbors as you read the following poetic meditation, based on Mark 2:1-12. Note especially the last stanza; our neighbor who suffers from ALS is not a believer, and we’re praying we can bring him to Jesus before it’s too late.

Our neighbor cannot lift his feet.
The four of us agree to meet
and hoist our neighbor down the street.
What are neighbors for?

We take him to the Healer’s door,
but many more are there before,
so we must find a way, we four.
What are neighbors for?

We lug our neighbor up the stair.
We loosen up the roofing there.
We lower him with gentle care.
What are neighbors for?

The Healer sees our faith, we four,
forgives our neighbor’s sins, and more:
He makes those feet strong as before.
What are neighbors for?

Our neighbor now can stand and stalk.
We four at once begin to talk,
to tell Who made our neighbor walk:
What are neighbors for?

Thank you, God, for good neighbors. Help me to be one. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 33 — August 19, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 33

 

Collectibles : Matthew

 

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him.
Matthew 9:9-10

In one of the other Gospels, the parallel account of Jesus’ calling of Matthew states that the erstwhile tax collector “left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:28). Yet perhaps Matthew didn’t really leave quite everything.

Perhaps he kept the slate and stylus he used in making notes. Perhaps he kept the scrolls where he recorded things in order. Perhaps he kept the other tools that would still be useful to him as an inveterate collector and maker of lists.

In his earlier years, was Matthew the type of child who makes a hobby of gathering collections? I was. Somehow I got started with little horses — not toys so much as figurines. For several years I bought them when I could, and received them as gifts from others. Most of those little equines have long since been broken or given away, but a horse’s head made of thick clear glass — the survivor of a pair my cousin gave me decades ago — is still doing duty as a bookend.

The other thing I collected as a child was hotel soaps. Not for any practical reason: I just liked to look at all the different labels and sniff all the different aromas. Daddy took occasional business trips, and it was from him that I got most of my souvenir soaps.

Was Matthew the type of adult who maintained collections? My wife and I are not really the collecting type; yet without quite meaning to, we have managed to accumulate several Nativity scenes from different cultures, several little elephants from various countries, plus a good many videos of old movies we missed seeing during our thirty years abroad.

Matthew must have been a dyed-in-the-wool collector. Probably he became a tax collector for Rome, not merely because he could make a good living in that way, and not merely because he wasn’t too much hindered by scruples about honesty or morality, but also because he just liked collecting things.

After Jesus had purged the grosser elements in his makeup, Matthew went right on collecting. First he collected his corrupt former colleagues, so they could also meet the Man who had turned his world upside down. Then he started compiling the largest collection of Jesus’ teachings ever made: the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the Great Commission, many parables and other discourses not found anywhere else. In the pages of his Gospel, Matthew also collected many of Jesus’ miraculous deeds.

What do you like to do? What are you good at?

Let Jesus show you how to use for His sake all of your native abilities, all of your acquired predilections! Become one of that band of brothers and sisters who are known as his disciples!

Imagination has crafted the following Bible-based poetic meditation, spoken as if by Matthew himself:

Collectibles: That’s my domain,
to search and seize a little more,
to spot and gather in for gain
whatever I am looking for.

Collectibles: This helped me find
employment as a Roman clerk.
(To tell the truth, I stole them blind
while winning laurels for my work.)

Collectibles: The meaning changed
when Jesus spoke to me one day,
for after that my vision ranged
to those (like me) on Roman pay.

Collectibles: I gathered all
my fellow tax-men for a feast.
I told them why I’d left my stall,
and how my money-lust had ceased.

Collectibles: I started then
a new collection: Deed and word,
to spread among the sons of men
all I had seen, all I had heard.

Collectibles: Consult my book;
you’ll find the fullest record there
of all that Jesus undertook
to show and share and do and dare.

O Lord Jesus, sanctify our abilities and our preferences as ways of serving You and our brothers and sisters in the family of faith! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 32 — August 12, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 32

 

Brother Andrew

 

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
John 1:40-42a

Does the title “Brother Andrew” ring a bell in your brain?

Perhaps it should. “Brother Andrew” was the name used by a former Dutch army commando who made it his mission to smuggle Bibles past the Iron Curtain into the communist-controlled countries of Eastern Europe. In 1984 he joined with other Christian leaders in calling for a seven-year campaign of prayer against the bondage of godless atheism. In 1989 these prayers were answered two years ahead of schedule, with the breaching in the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end for the Soviet bloc.

Yet it’s not the “Brother Andrew” of recent years that the above title refers to. As you know, the name is much older than that in Christian tradition.

Why have devotional thoughts focusing on Andrew and several other disciples of Jesus been included in a subgroup that majors on “Brothers”? The majority of the twelve apostles were not actually brothers to one another; none of them were actually brothers to Jesus. Yet they must have become like a band of brothers during those three years of tramping the Roman roads and dusty lanes of Palestine.

In Shakespeare’s history play Henry V, on the eve of battle the young king speaks to his outnumbered English forces in this way:

                    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
                     For he today that sheds his blood with me
                     Shall be my brother.

The Scriptures also say, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

Yet Andrew the Apostle did have a blood brother, and thereby hangs a tale. Many more people know about Andrew’s brother than they do about “Brother Andrew.” In both Protestant and Catholic tradition, Simon Peter is rightfully honored and remembered as one of the greatest founders of the Christian faith.

Yet . . . don’t forget “Brother Andrew.”

If Andrew had not been there, and if Andrew had not met Jesus, and if Andrew had not “first [found] his own brother” (John 1:41, King James Version), and if Andrew had not brought Simon Peter to Jesus, then the whole twenty-century story of Christ’s People might have gotten off to a quite different start.

Remember that fact as you prayerfully read the following Bible-based poetic meditation, written as if Andrew himself were speaking:

I’m not the one you think of first when naming saints of old;
I never wrote the stories down those other fellows told.
And yet I found I had a knack that brought its own reward:
I had a way of finding folks, to bring them to the Lord.

Five thousand hungry folks had come to hear the Lord one day.
We couldn’t feed them, yet we couldn’t send them all away.
But then I found a source of food that others had ignored:
I found a boy who’d brought his lunch and brought him to the Lord.

Some Greeks once spoke to one of us who wondered what to say;
in haste he brought them all to me and asked my help that day.
“O sir, we would see Jesus!” with one voice they all implored.
I took those foreign folks in hand and brought them to the Lord.

Yet, long before I found the boy who’d brought his lunch that day,
and long before those Greeks had told me what they had to say,
I found a man whose name would cut through history like a sword:
I first found my own brother and I brought him to the Lord.

O Lord, help me to bring my own brother and my own sister into fellowship with You. Help me to remember that anyone I meet is potentially my brother or my sister in the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 31 — August 5, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
BROTHERS

 

week 31

 

Judah’s Little Brother

 

“I pledged my life to my father for the boy. . . . I will stay here as your slave in place of the boy; let him go back with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I cannot bear to see this disaster come upon my father.”
Genesis 44:32a, 33-34, GNT

In all of the world’s great literature, few stories present a more dramatic example of growth and change in family relationships than the story of Judah.

Judah was one of those unruly older sons of Jacob who bitterly resented the favoritism shown toward Joseph, their younger brother. Their jealousy grew as Joseph gave self-serving interpretations of his strange dreams and as he reported their bad conduct to their father.

Judah was one of those whom we can see willingly joining in the plot to attack young Joseph, strip him of his fancy clothes, and leave him to die in a pit. Then Judah callously sat down with the other older brothers to eat and drink.

Perhaps we can observe a first feeble hint of change in Judah’s attitude toward a member of his family when he noticed a caravan of merchants passing by. This gave him a good idea: “After all, it’s a great sin to murder our own brother,” Judah pointed out. “Why not just pull him up again and sell him to these slave-traders?”

Many years passed by. Joseph was never heard from again. But there was another little brother in Jacob’s household, Benjamin by name. And somehow Judah seems to have developed a stronger family feeling for Benjamin than he had ever shown toward Joseph.

Why?

The following Bible-based poetic meditation suggests that it may have been because in the meantime Judah himself had experienced the joys and sorrows of becoming a husband and father. Two of Judah’s first three sons died as young adults; Judah’s wife also died. Still later, after taking a second wife, Judah was blessed with twin boys.

As Judah mourned for his two dead sons, as he rejoiced in the two little boys born during his later years, perhaps he began to sense more of what old Jacob must have felt for Joseph and for Benjamin. Not only were they the youngest of Jacob’s sons: They were also the only offspring of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, who had died giving birth to Benjamin.

Of course Judah had no way of knowing that the mighty governor of Egypt, who had received him and his brothers in a generous but high-handed manner, was actually his lost brother Joseph. When the governor insisted that he would sell no more grain to the sons of Jacob unless their youngest brother came with them to Egypt, Judah pledged his own life for Benjamin’s; only in this way could he persuade his doting father to let that precious youngest son leave home.

Another weary trek to Egypt, another purchase of food to stave off famine, another loading up for the long journey home, . . . but the disguised governor of Egypt then played a trick that made Benjamin seem to be a thief. He declared that as compensation Benjamin must become his slave.

This was when Judah made one of the most moving speeches ever recorded in all of literature. Part of it appears in the verses quoted above. Re-read all of it in Genesis chapter 44. Did anyone ever voice a more poignant plea – not only for a little brother but also for an aged father? Is it any wonder that Joseph broke into tears, freely forgiving Judah and all of the others?

The following poetic meditation suggests in brief some of the changing thoughts and attitudes that might have passed through Judah’s mind with the passing of the years:

My little brother . . .
A braggart! A tattletale! How could I stand
to hear him keep boasting of ruling the land?
His own future greatness was always his theme
whenever he told us about his new dream.

My little brother . . .
We taught him a lesson. We stripped him, and then
we shoved him in front of us, one against ten.
We tumbled him downward into a dry well.
(I’ll always remember his face as he fell.)

My little brother . . .
I then pulled him up, but I hadn’t turned kind:
I didn’t want murder upsetting my mind.
We sold him for silver. (I’ll never forget
his look of bewilderment when our eyes met.)

+ + +

My little brother . . .
A change came when God gave me sons of my own.
I knew then how fond my old father had grown.
Still there was Benjamin, my little brother;
how could I treat him the same as the other?

My little brother . . .
I pledged my own life for his, one fateful day.
I urged, “Set him free; in his place I will stay.”
Things happened quickly; through shielding one brother,
suddenly I was embracing the other!

O Father, help me to know my own place of love and acceptance in Your family so that no sibling rivalry or jealous striving will ever shadow my life. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas