Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mafioso Jesus

Yet again I’ve come across some new funk from the master of funk Himself, Jesus and His beautiful message. There are a couple terms that I’ve heard tossed around here and there as I’ve dibbled and dabbled in the church culture, church discipline and causing one to stumble. These have always been taught to me as separate ideas and I have honestly never investigated how connected these two really are. I have not been looking for anything in particular as I read the Gospel according to Matthew, yet God keeps showing me big things that are really changing a lot of things I’ve thought and been taught. One thing that is consistent as I have read this book is that God is crazy in love with His creation and His children.

Before I get into this I’d invite you to read Matthew Ch 18 first for yourself. I’m not big into just telling people what I think without letting them do their own reading because truth be told my thoughts cannot dictate others’. Honestly please follow this link and read exactly what I read in Matthew Ch 18.

Here we find guys doing what guys do best, competing. They are arguing over who will be greatest in the kingdom and Jesus introduces an abstract physical object as an answer, a child. He takes this innocent child and tells them that it is the humility it possesses that they must seek in order to become greatest. I used to work at an elementary school with Kindergarteners, by far one of my favorite jobs to date. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher at one point in time. This age group stole my heart because of their innocence and humility. There was no arrogance and pride, no shame, no ego, just a pure person being 100% themselves. Jesus tells these grown men who are arguing about being great in a kingdom, which in their mind would be imagine along the lines of something like their idea of a kingdom or empire in their day, Rome, to be great in a kingdom they need to be like a child. This is a different approach isn’t it?

Now comes this grandeur idea of stumbling or causing one to stumble. Jesus has now established those who follow Him to become like a child to be great in His kingdom. Now Jesus says something that sounds to me more like a statement or threat you’d here on the Soprano’s or another Mafia show than actually something from a gentle loving God. Listen to this line, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).” If I were to just sum up my God with that statement I would say that He may wear a tailored suit, drive a black Cadillac, keep a trunk full of unregistered guns, and own the complete Rocky movie collection. But thankfully, Jesus doesn’t toss around vain threats. If Jesus feels this strongly against someone who causes one to stumble, stumbling must be a big deal then. What does stumbling mean though, like in the language it was written in? The Greek word for stumble is skandalizō and means:

1) to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall, metaph. to offend
a) to entice to sin
b) to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey
1) to cause to fall away
2) to be offended in one, i.e. to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority
3) to cause one to judge unfavorably or unjustly of another
c) Since one who stumbles or whose foot gets entangled feels annoyed
1) to cause one displeasure at a thing
2) to make indignant
3) to be displeased, indignant

So anyone who causes any of this Ý is better off having a huge stone wrapped around his neck and thrown into the sea to drown. I’ve always thought this was talking about older Christians and younger Christians only. But Jesus proves me wrong and says woe to the world for it causes His children to stumble and woe to those who are agents of whatever means of stumbling one may fall into. Jesus doesn’t jut leave us to point the finger at those bad bad men who make us stumble though, like always He turns the responsibility back to us and challenges us personally in an intense way. This idea of amputation is pretty gnarly if you ask me. Jesus takes this sort of thing seriously though. He says that if your eye or hand causes you to stumble then cut that bad boy off because it is better to enter life (eternity) crippled than to stroll into an eternity of fire pretty with a bad set period.

This is where it all comes together though, Jesus sets into the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus says that when one sheep wanders off, which has the same idea of stumbling that the shepherd will leave 99 of His sheep to find this one. The good shepherd, Jesus, God the Father, is so in love with His creation that He is willing to leave the little one’s who are not wandering alone to go find the one because He cannot bear the idea of loosing even one. This is encouraging because often times when we “back slide” or fall away people try to put the guilt tourniquet on us when in all actuality God is running frantically looking to find us. That is what Jesus has to say about those who do stumble that are His children, He will leave the flock to find them.

The next section is an extension of His finding the wandering sheep to us applying it within the context of a church community.

Duh Duh Dun! And the ominous music rolls in…church discipline…oh no! Church discipline has this bad idea behind it, it just makes people’s skin crawl. I think of the movie Big Daddy with Adam Sandler when his friend, Nazo, says, “Oh, yes. They make terrific pair. They went together like lamb and tuna fish.” Ewww…lamb and tuna fish! That’s how the idea of church discipline makes me feel at first blush. It often times has a bad wrap because people have “practiced” it in a unbiblical way, they have used it as a heavy sword, swinging it around like a blood thirsty warrior rather than a deeply concerned friend petrified to see this person deal with the consequences Jesus lays out earlier in the chapter (the whole Mafioso drowning deal). So church discipline is an extension of this idea of stumbling, God searching for His wandering sheep, church discipline is the extension of God’s church, His body seeking out the wandering sheep. Now instead of going to someone trying to force them to change or they will be kicked out we should be begging them to turn away from whatever is causing them to stumble because it comes at a large costs that we, friends, brothers, sisters, cannot bear to see take place. If it does come down to being discipline out of the church then Jesus says something that would be very familiar to His Jewish audience, The idea of something being bound and loosed on earth as it is in Heaven based on the account of two or more witnesses.

Here is where I’ve learned of a verse used compulsively out of context. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:19-20).” Jesus says again, that means a continuation of what He was just saying, which had to do with church discipline, which is all about reconciliation and bringing back wandering sheep to the good shepherd. Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them. You know what this means? Where there is agreement to discipline someone from the church because they are unwilling to stop wandering, stumbling, or causing others to stumble, God says He is there in agreement with us, like what we are doing here is done up there, in His kingdom. Isn’t that marvelous?

I was so excited to put all this together. I now it is a long post, but something I felt needed to be explained and written about. May you know that God will come looking for you if you are a wandering sheep, not because He wants to punish you and make you feel bad, but because He wants to save you form consequences. God is no Italian trunk mobster, He is a gentle all loving, Holy God who wants nothing more than to reconcile His flock. If you are lost, fallen away, back slidden, or wandering, have hope that there is a God looking for you!

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