Jesus challenges us to forgive everyone we know and even those we don’t know and to be very careful not to forget even one against whom we harbor ill will. Right now someone exists who has disappointed and offended us, someone with whom we are continually displeased and with whom we are more impatient, irritated, unforgiving, and spiteful when we would dare be with anyone else. That person is ourselves.
We are so often fed up with ourselves. We’re sick of our own mediocrity, revolted by our own inconsistency, bored by our own monotony. We would never judge any other of God’s children with the savage self-condemnation with which we crush ourselves. Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We must be patient, gentle, and compassionate with ourselves in the same way we try to love our neighbor.
Through an intimate, heartfelt knowledge of Jesus Christ we learn to forgive ourselves. To the extent we allow His kindness, patience, and trust toward us to win us over, we’ll be freed from the dislike of ourselves that follows us everywhere.
It is simply not possible to know the love of Jesus for us unless we alter our opinions and feelings about ourselves and side with Him in His all-accepting love for us. Christ’s forgiveness reconciles us with Him, with ourselves, and with the whole community. According to Bernard Bush, one way to know how Jesus feels about you is this: If you love yourself intensely and freely, then your feelings about yourself correspond perfectly to the sentiments of Jesus.
~Brennan Manning, “The Signature of Jesus”
Visualize a triple layered cake of your favorite flavor. Before you cut into this beautiful domed treat, your taste buds are already hard at work, stimulating your sugary desire. This is the perfect moment. No guilt. No calories. No disappointment. So you savor this dreamlike moment just before you change it all by sliding a very sharp knife deeply into the center, easily cutting through the layers. And then again, completing that familiar wedge-shaped slice bringing you closer to the first anxiously anticipated bite.
Now on your plate, exposing the layers of color and texture, every inch promising delight, you carve an arc of pleasure with your fork, pulling it away from the slice and into your mouth. Oh, such delight and pleasure, literally melting in your mouth, not much chewing required. If you can, you exercise control, taking bite by bite, slowly savoring the succulent perfection until the final bits are smashed together with your fork. You did it. You loved it and now you should sit back, pour freshly brewed coffee and wash it all down sip by sip.
As in life, eating sumptuous, triple-layered cake demands discipline and restraint to be fully enjoyed. Once eaten, the first slice seems to be just a bit short of complete satisfaction. If only, you think, just one more taste…a few carefully consumed bites should do it…you’ll just have another small portion and call it good. Finished for now. Save the rest for later. Parse it out over time.
Then something happens. Something, if you’d admit to it, that could have been prevented. Instead of covering the cake, walking away to recall the tasty treat, you give in. The greed takes over. You quickly slice another piece–and not a miserly half-piece, a full-fledged, over-indulging piece of triple-layered cake, now waiting for you fully exposed on your dessert plate. Eat me now!
Unlike the first piece, this one demands to be eaten with gusto before you come to your senses and stop. Tear at the layers, rip them away from the whole. Eat quickly, don’t stop. Shove it in, all of it. Pay no attention to your body that tells you it is full. Take this slice and enjoy it because you will devour all of it.
Then, afterwards, sitting stuffed, unsnapping a button or two on those too-tight trousers, you wake from the hypnotic, self-indulgent greed-induced experience, wishing you had resisted the second slice and remained guilt free. But you didn’t. You gave in and instead of relaxing in peace, smacking your lips with pleasure, you are wallowing in the aftermath of greedy consumption, taking more than your share and certainly more than your need.
Funny how eating too much cake can be just like demanding too much from life. Taking more than you need even when that little inner voice warned you to stop.
CARVAGGIO: SUPPER AT EMMAUS (1601)
“What things?” Jesus asked.
“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.
“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!
They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
“Niceness”—Wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up “nice”; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice, we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.
For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now, and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind, but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better, but like turning a horse into a winged creature.
C. S. Lewis
In her book Practicing Peace, Catherine Whitmire tells the story of William Dizler, a man who lived in the nineteenth century. It seems that Dizler sensed that God wanted him to use part of his lunch hour to stand near an open window and read the Bible aloud. He did it for several weeks until he suddenly felt that he didn’t need to do it any longer. Sometime later, a clergyman from a local church came to visit him. “I feel I should tell you of an experience of one of my parishioners,” the pastor explained.
Dizler asked if it was anyone he knew.
“I think not,” the pastor replied. “She was a young girl who lived in an upper room across the courtyard from your office. Although she knew she was dying of tuberculosis, she had become bitter toward God and refused to meet with me. Then one day, the voice of an unseen, unknown reader came to her. She tried not to listen. She put her hands over her ears and pulled up the covers. Still the voice came day after day. Gradually she began to listen and she died in great peace”
Dizler could have dismissed the thought that he should spend the better part of his lunch hour reading Scripture out loud in front of an open window. It might have seemed like a silly thing to do. But instead, he listened and a young woman found peace.
“Destruction is certain for those who think they are wise
and consider themselves to be clever” Isaiah 5:21
Human wisdom is limited and finite, not able to penetrate the heart and soul; to uplift, encourage, challenge and give hope all at once. Only God in His infinite wisdom, through the Holy Spirit, can teach, encourage, forgive, and heal by divinely inspired words. As Bible teachers rely on God’s spiritual guidance for a foundation, His supernatural touch may go forth, penetrating the heart, planting seeds of hope and peace.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved* recognize this message as the very power of God. For God says, “I will destroy all human plans of salvation no matter how wise they seem to be, and ignore the best ideas of men, even the most brilliant of them.”
So what about these wise men, these scholars, these brilliant debaters of this world’s great affairs? God has made them all look foolish and shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. For God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance, and then he stepped in and saved all those who believed his message, which the world calls foolish and silly. It seems foolish to the Jews because they want a sign from heaven as proof that what is preached is true; and it is foolish to the Gentiles because they believe only what agrees with their philosophy and seems wise to them.
So when we preach about Christ dying to save them, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But God has opened the eyes of those called to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, to see that Christ is the mighty power of God to save them; Christ himself is the center of God’s wise plan for their salvation. This so-called “foolish” plan of God is far wiser than the wisest plan of the wisest man, and God in his weakness—Christ dying on the cross—is far stronger than any man.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters,I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.
Christians have been given an amazing gift; the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, His only Son. Not only that but with the gift, God filled us with His Holy Spirit; a supernatural link to God Himself. With that connection comes supernatural wisdom and discernment not available to the world.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16 But the man who isn’t a Christian can’t understand and can’t accept these thoughts from God, which the Holy Spirit teaches us. They sound foolish to him because only those who have the Holy Spirit within them can understand what the Holy Spirit means. Others just can’t take it in. But the spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can’t understand him at all. How could he? For certainly he has never been one to know the Lord’s thoughts, or to discuss them with him, or to move the hands of God by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ.
Human wisdom seems brilliant to our human understanding but in comparison to God, it is primitive and limited. Human wisdom took a bite of the forbidden fruit; human wisdom passed laws in America to stifle worship of God; human wisdom established false religions that deny the one true God, and human wisdom said the earth was formed, with all its complexities, from a collision of errant planets billions of years ago.
Proverbs 3:7-8 Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the Lord and refuse to do wrong. If you do, it will be like good medicine, healing your wounds and easing your pains.
1 Corinthians 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As it says in the book of Job, God uses man’s own brilliance to trap him; he stumbles over his own “wisdom” and falls.