Give the 9 Some Credit, and the 1 Even More (Luke 17:11-19)

I’m writing this the week before Thanksgiving, and we’ll be covering the story in Luke 17:11-19 where Jesus heals ten lepers and only the one Samaritan comes back to thank Jesus. There’s way more to this story than a simple lesson in politeness and a reminder that 90% of the population doesn’t show gratitude. (Wait… that number seems high.)

First, the story begins by noting that Jesus “continued his journey to Jerusalem.” Luke uses this phrase as a constant reminder, and tension builder that Jesus is on His way not just to Jerusalem, but also to the cross – which should be in the background of each and every story here. Remember, the cross is the moment when God took the curse of the law onto Himself to fulfill the Covenant He had made with Israel back in Exodus, and further back with Abram back in Genesis.

So ten lepers – and leper here is a word that boils down to “really ugly skin condition.” It could’ve been a rash, or it could have been actual leprosy. Regardless, if the skin condition was bad enough, the Mosaic law required that person to live outside the community to keep the community safe, and also to maintain the ritual purity of the people and the Temple.

Jesus responds to the cry for help from the ten men – who were risking quite a bit by coming close – by telling the men to go and see the priest. Now, this is where everyone gets tied up in this story. While on the way, the men realize they’ve been healed, and they hurry on to see the priest, all except one.

Let’s pause here. Jesus here is asking these men to trust, to have faith in God, in Himself. The nine Jewish men did just that – they went on their way, and followed through. Part of their cleansing involved sacrifice, and they probably would have offered fellowship and thanksgiving offerings in gratitude for being healed. These men were well on their way to showing gratitude – and in the proper way laid out by the Mosaic Law.

Now, what about that Samaritan? Sure, we give him marks for coming back and saying thanks directly, but he should get WAY more credit than just for saying “thank you.” See, the Samaritan saw something the Jewish men missed… God in the flesh. While the Jewish men went to praise God in the Temple, where they and their ancestors had met with God for generations, the Samaritan realized that God had met with him in-person in the form of Jesus. The Samaritan threw himself at Jesus’ feet – something normally reserved for kings or, in Jewish practice, God alone. Luke is showing us that the Samaritan noticed God in the midst of his people when the ones looking hardest missed it.

So this Thanksgiving, the most important lesson may be to ask ourselves: “Do we notice when God is present?” Do we realize when God is with us, in our midst, acting to bring His Kingdom here on earth as it is on heaven?

Where have you seen or felt God in your midst this past week? When do you have conversations with your kids about God’s nearness? Are we people who miss the relationship and meeting with God for the protocol? Are we the nine who missed it, or the one who realized what was really happening?

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Thanksgiving is coming! Grab the flak jackets!

I’m weird.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: I have about three news podcasts that I listen to on a daily basis – two American and one UK source for a worldwide perspective. I usually listen to these in the morning, and sometimes my little girl gets to listen along and we’ll have some discussions about what’s going on in the world. And by discussions I mean I try and simplify the topic at hand in such a way that a newborn can grasp. (For real, though, we all know she’s just getting language training at this point by learning speech patterns and the basics of English.) Anyway, one of these podcasts had an interview with a Senator I have a hard time understanding. (Nope, not gonna name names, or give that much info about it. Read into it what you like.) I looked down at the precious eyes of my baby girl and said, “And what we’re doing now is listening to someone we don’t completely agree with because that’s the kind of people we are.” And I sure do hope I model that behavior as much as I preach it.

That most American of holidays is approaching – Thanksgiving. We’re all already dreaming of turkey, ham, potatoes, sides, rolls, desserts, and the millions of pounds of butter that will be used over the course of that week. (What? You don’t celebrate for a whole week? Then I guess you aren’t very grateful, are you?) I also know that many people dread this holiday as a time when speech must be very guarded or arguments will explode. The only blessing I have for you is this: may your conversations have more civility than social media. I worry about how family gatherings or other physical social meetings may change in this culture of outrage, perpetual anger, and general frustration. I know I’ve found myself on more than one occasion keeping my trap shut to avoid any conflict. Instead, I listen. I try to hear what the other person is saying, to stop and really consider the words, their motivation, source, heart. Learning is one of my hobbies, and listening is the best way to learn, in my opinion.

I also enjoy having misconceptions busted. Sure, it’s jarring, but there’s a sense of fun and adventure when confronted by the truth. (And it bothers me that the word and concept of truth have become such a contentious issue.) I love the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. So I listen. I try hard to listen without judgment or creating my counter-argument. I may learn something and be able to better understand a topic, or at the very least the other side’s view.

This season throws us all into a lot of situations with people we may disagree with on a theological, political, philosophical, culinary, or some other basis. We should be willing to sit, break bread, and experience them. The experience may be joyful, or painful, but either way, be present – be welcoming.

When do you model acceptance of others, even without agreeing with them, to your kids? How do your family gatherings look: are they places of peace and active love, or are they places of anger and dissension? What steps could you take to prepare yourself to be better able to listen and welcome?

So I Guess the Church Needs to Talk About Sexual Assault?

There are so many times in my life when I ask the question, “Do we really have to say this out loud?” I ask this when I have to remind a child that poking their injury will indeed continue to cause pain and they should probably stop. And now we apparently have to say, to grown men of all people, that sexual assault, rape, and pedophilia are not ok and have never been ok. I would say I have no words, but you all know that’d be a lie.

The news has really been dealing with the concept of sexual harassment and assault lately. The sad fact is that generations of women have grown up receiving warnings of the “big bad wolves” of the world, being told “it’s just the way things are” and “boys will be boys.” It’s a shame, really. As a man, my parents raised me to treat women with respect, as human beings, not as something to be handled with kid gloves. Sure, I was taught to hold open a door and do what I can to make them comfortable, but that also applied to how I was to treat men as well. I was taught the Philippians 2 method – consider others better than myself.

I have heard that many of these allegations are politically motivated. I would disagree and say that this is the first time that women have felt safe enough and believed enough to actually come forward with these things. Going through sexual assault brings with it a lot of shame and self-doubt, which makes talking about the experience difficult. And, previous to now, most women were told to sit down and be quiet and not  mess up some guy’s career or life. This year, however, from sheer number of allegations alone, several high-profile men’s actions were brought to light: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and more. Women finally have a society/culture they feel safer sharing their stories.

I would love to say that now that the process of outing these men has begun we can finally put all of this to rest and proclaim throughout the land that women will never have to deal with harassment and assault ever again; however, that would be naïve. It would also be naïve to think that there aren’t still men who will do whatever they want as long as they feel their power or cunning can shield them from repercussions. Women cannot be the only ones fighting this battle, defending themselves, decrying their persecutors with no one listening or taking them seriously until the overwhelming weight of multitudinous testimonies finally forces doubt aside by sheer volume.

The church should really stand up and treat sexual misconduct like this with the seriousness it deserves. We should follow Jesus’ example, who believed women, relied on women for material support during his ministry, and took their side in disputes. (See John 8, the story of the women caught in adultery. I have always found it telling that she was caught, but the man was nowhere to be found, which showed the religious people’s priorities.) Jesus’ message was one that each person was to be seen as having value, as being worth our time, as being a creation and child of God. Even the lopsided equality we have now is due to the inherent value placed on each human being in Judeo-Christian theology: from Exodus’s and Deuteronomy’s commands to look after the weak, powerless and foreigner as well as the many protections for women, to Jesus’ treatment of women and the role of women in the early church.

We, as the church, should not tolerate this kind of treatment of women – the crown jewel of creation. (Artist’s final creations are considered the master work, and women were created last, the finest part of creation.) We should take women at their word when they claim harassment. (I am well aware of the “crying wolf” that is often cited here to counter allegations. Those cases should be handled on an individual basis, and not used as a way to discredit half the population. And ask yourself, how many people would be willing to wreck their reputation, job prospects, and bring shame on their family on the slim chance that someone believes them and acts against a perpetrator?) We, as the church, should take the lead in educating men on consent, common decency, and that sexual misconduct of this nature is a zero-tolerance situation. We should remind women that they have a right to say “no” to any unwanted contact, that they have a right to speak up and be believed, and that their personhood is not threatened by having suffered. Women should expect to be sheltered and protected by the church after dealing with abuse, assault, or harassment. We should neither give men the benefit of the doubt just because they’re men, nor doubt women because they’re women. As a society, we’ve known about this stuff for far too long without doing a single thing about it. As a church, we should feel great shame about the lack of attention we have given to women who have suffered and persevered under abuse, assault, and harassment. We should repent, and begin the hard work of honestly evaluating the way we as a church and society handle these cases, and more importantly how we treat fellow human beings who have dealt with the pain and shame that comes from these situations.

And, sure, we can have guidelines like the Billy Graham rule and other fences around these situations, and can follow proper protocol, but it boils down to a heart issue – especially in men. Jesus said that if we think just following rules will prevent sin, go ahead and cut off every limb and cut out every sensory organ, making yourself physically incapable of breaking any rules… and become the most black-hearted, sin riddled torso that ever lived. The heart/attitude is the root of action. Change the hearts, change the minds, and change the culture.

How do you talk to your kids about consent, sex, and how to treat others? Have you discussed with your kids what to do in situations where sexual harassment or assault happen? Have you thought about how to respond if someone confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you? Have you thought about how to respond if your child confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you?

Remember, how you talk about those who have survived abuse, assault, and harassment (alleged or otherwise) will decide whether or not your child feels safe talking to you about their own experiences. Will your child feel safe to talk in your home?

A Letter from a Newly Promoted Devil

(Just to be clear, the following letter fell into my possession through digital means. Whether it was sent erroneously or not, I’ll never know. The contents may be a little disturbing, but it seemed better to share than to keep to myself.)

Most Honorable Undersecretary Screwtape,

I must admit my surprise at being offered the position of Head of Human Family Degradation. I am most proud to know that my work has finally received some recognition after working tirelessly the past few decades on my pet projects while also handling normal tempt work. I do, however, understand that your work is well-renowned in the Lower Realms and I would like your advice on one or two proposals.

First, I have an underarching vision for my Department, which I hope will please you and our Ruler Below. Often times we must seek out our historical work and bring it to bear on these more modern times. Children, I believe, have for too long enjoyed personhood. It is my belief that by working to erode that personhood we can again place them in the category of “possessions” in the minds of their parents, thereby stripping them of any importance they might have in the life of the family, and especially in the church.

What I specifically propose is to make them honored trophies, meant only for show, and very little for interacting. See, my goal is to shift parent’s perspectives to focus on their child as a point of pride and measure of their own self worth. In this regard, a child’s success or failure reflects entirely onto the parent. Parents will then seek every opportunity to improve their child, and discover their gifts and talents, not for the child’s sake, but to protect their own fragile pride. Parents will seek every chance and fill a child’s schedule with things that will improve their chances for college, work, schooling, etc. Many will even completely forego church meetings in order to seek the betterment of their child. (This does, in effect, also teach the child to not prioritize their relationship to God or the local church, which is in our favor.) Once the parent has thoroughly invested their entire being into the child, children then reach the teenage years and begin to exert their independence. This, I propose, is the crucial point where we subtly influence (the word “temptation” is so passe) the parent to work all the more to bring the child under the control of parental expectation. This way we begin to build a wall between child and parent so that every interaction is pain and frustration,  hopefully creating a bitterness that will continue on into the child’s adulthood. In the experimental phase, I was excited to watch several young adults leave their families, and the church altogether, over this built up resentment – and at that point nursing a grudge is something even our dumbest trainees can manage.

My plan is a more elegant way of stripping children of their personhood and choice than my predecessors who simply created a culture that lumped children in just above the slave population. (And I commend the work of the Human Chattel Department’s work in continuing slavery and the buying and selling of slaves while convincing society at large to congratulate itself on eradicating it.) Instead, the same status can be imbued to children by simply having parents view them as a means to prestige, instead of actual humans. (The later we can have humans recognize personhood in children creates more opportunities for simply exterminating that kind of joy, wonder, and innocence that reminds humans of our Enemy.)

Now, my next proposal, which I present to you in order to aid in your work. I do believe you pioneered the method of the slow descent to the Lower Realms. (Again, “hell” has become a dirty word in modern Christianity, and most don’t even understand the point of our efforts anymore.) I would recommend applying this particular method to the Church at large. Sure, there will be those blasted prophets who seek to remind the Church of her Lord, but most people choose to not listen anymore – and many don’t even think prophets exist in the modern world! I say make the Church comfortable. Give them a leader of government that pays them lip service and makes them feel safe. Give them cushy seats and the desire to set their own direction instead of listening to the Gospel. We’ve already seen many local congregations admirably developing the infernal virtues of bigotry, hatred, and ignorance – to great effect of continuing the oppressive systems you and your colleagues so deftly set up years ago. Once we’ve lured the church into a place of comfort, power, and complacency, again it is simple maintenance and a subtle shift in wording to maintain that state. Tickling itching ears and stuffing them when necessary is easy enough to accomplish for a moderately trained tempter.

Finally, the work done on nearly silencing half of the Church has been a master stroke that has lasted generations! I still cannot believe we have managed to keep women silent in the church for as long as we have! We can do better, though. We must have churches silence those who are young, or innovators, or evangelistic. Once we have beaten them down into sullen silence, we can continue the ongoing work of fracturing the congregations down more and more. And the beauty of the whole scenario is that we can make use of each person’s own sense of duty to God and personal righteousness to fuel all of the wickedness! They truly believe they are doing God’s will by whining, complaining, blackmailing the leadership with money, shouting angrily, disrupting the worship time (which whoever created a culture where worship happens only one hour a week must still be resting on those laurels), and angrily denouncing their fellow brothers and sisters!  At the moment, there are multiple generations all vying for attention – and we should let them all have it. Throw congregations into confusion about who needs what. While they’re focused squarely on how to do something with the members inside their walls, we can rest easy knowing that their focus surely isn’t on those who have never heard of Jesus. Instead, the leadership will be tied up in methods, while, as stated before, the congregation will feel no obligation to evangelize personally because they are comfortable and realize that anyone new will only change things more.

I know these proposals lack any real depth or detailed planning, but I did want to run them by such a distinguished official before beginning work in earnest on them. And I know some of them may not seem to fall under my jurisdiction, but the more we can fracture and disrupt churches the less important children will be and so families will not have the support that comes from belonging to a congregation.

Sincerely Yours,

Molech, III