Jesus’ words: implications of a simple statement

Mark 2:17 (ESV)

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

Thinking over that last part, Jesus is essentially saying that in his coming to earth, there are some people he calls, and some whom he does not. In other words, some people Jesus saves, and others he does not.

The natural discrimination falls at “the righteous” and “sinners;” the sinners are saved and the righteous are not! However, we also know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If everyone is a sinner, wherefore art the distinction?

Clearly then, the distinction of whether one is ‘called’ by Jesus is made based not on whether you are righteous or a sinner, but whether you consider yourself a pretty decent person or whether you despise yourself and repent in dust and ashes. Sound melodramatic? This latter group have the presence of mind to say, “Jesus, without you I am lost, and cannot hope to stand before God, in His glory and holiness, and say that I have lived a good life worthy of God’s stature and of being in His presence evermore.

All these implications Jesus packed into 9 words: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
(Well, translated over to ESV, it’s 9 words; maybe even less in Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew.)

After God’s Own Heart

This has been on my mind for a long time: David’s psalm post-adultery with Bathsheba. This is what he wrote in Psalm 51:

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

I get it when people say that they think ‘sin’ is a bit overplayed. Really? So sometimes I get angry at people when I shouldn’t. It’s bad, but do you have to go on about how serious it is and how Jesus had to die? We all get angry, we get over it, and whoever we were angry at gets over it. Or, you make a bad call, sleep with someone’s wife because they’re hot. Kill the man – because you can. (This is King David.) This is more serious, because you harmed another person. So depose the guy and give him a life sentence.

But what if Bathsheba ganged up with David, and divorced Uriah due to “irreconcilable differences” because he just wasn’t making her happy anymore? I think our society would say ,”Fair enough,” and “Get over her, Uriah, there are other women out there.” “David and Bathsheba, that was pretty low, but whatever, you have personal liberty.”

See, maybe I’ve gone on too long to make my point well, but what I’m trying to say is, sin doesn’t make sense as long as we measure the badness of ‘sin’ in our heads. “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” David knew that what he had done was bad for Bathsheba. Worse for Uriah. Pretty down and dirty. But that wasn’t the point. Even if they forgave him, it still remains that he did a terrible thing. Why? If they didn’t care, what does it matter?

God gave specific commandments not to covet your neighbour’s property. To love Him before all else – not to be mastered by anything else. And so David’s heart cries out. The world can forgive him, forget his stain, and just remember him for his young heroic victory over Goliath, but his sin will ever be before him and God. Against God, God only, did he sin. Sin by definition must recognise that the only one wronged is God; it is something we owe to God and no one else.

And such a screw-up, such a debt – who can deal with this mess but God himself?

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

And so the Spirit regenerates us, because Christ paid that amount we owe God. David did not only understand his poverty, but he understood that all he could do was helplessly allow himself to be helped by God. “Create in me,” “renew … within me,” “cast me not,” “take not,” “restore to me,” “uphold me.” God is the great initiator. God only has the agency to do anything. I have a thought about being young and being female: what a strategic learning position! You are often accepting things you don’t necessarily deserve, whether it be money from parents, or guys letting you stand first in line. It seems simple, but hey, I can see a middle-aged providing father not wanting to accept anything he didn’t earn himself – bread he did not win. Women, children, the infirm … we all have this great strategic role for understanding the blessedness of receiving. King David was patriarch of a country! He should have bossed it out and sought to have agency over solving his own problems, if we are to stereotype his manhood. That’s enough dominating masculinity to upset any feminist. But he had a humble heart that broke before God.

Instead, his heart cried: I can do nothing, Holy God. Clean me.

How to see ‘god’ as ‘God’

[Because I have numerous other essays I need to write, I shall blog instead. (Contradiction intended.) Being able to write continuously and develop an idea about something else may help writing in general? Right now I am stuck, stuck, stuck like a pig in the mud.]

Job. He is the “suffering” guy in the Bible. The one who was a good man, but on whom suffering was poured. He rescued the poor and made the widow’s heart sing; was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, and father to the needy; he took up the case of the stranger, and broke the fangs of the wicked, snatching victims from their teeth. (Job 29:11-17) Job was righteous in his own eyes. (32:1) A contemporary Job might be a leftist humanitarian volunteer doctor working in a third world country.

But Elihu, the youngest among Job and the three other friends who came to console and talk to him, becomes angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He hears Job say “I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt,” (33:9) “I am innocent, but God denies me justice,” (34:5) and replies: “But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man.” (33:12) Ultimately, Job, in his ‘goodness’ and ‘righteousness’, had become too comfortable in it. He lost his perspective of the awesomeness that is God. He was proud when he needed humility. “Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders.” (37:14)

Job in his mind had begun to belittle the surpassing goodness and righteousness of God, that is beyond his imagination. God asks: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (40:8) If God had punishes the fully righteous, then God would not be righteous. In the same way, we ask why God allows suffering in the world – it may not be our own. Would we discredit his justice? Can we condemn God in order to justify people? On a side note, are we forgetting the existence of Satan, of evil?

This is Job’s reply. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:3-6) Job in this penultimate chapter displays Biblical wisdom: the fear of the Lord. Although he had earlier stated it himself, having heard that “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding,” (28:28) he was full of himself (to use a colloquial wording) and not full of the Spirit (literally). He had forgotten the evil still in himself. “It is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” (32:8)

In the end, it boils down, yet again, to God-is-Holy-and-we-are-sinful. We strive towards (hunger and thirst for) righteousness, but must realise that we cannot attain that quality in and of ourselves. We are to be filled (and this is where Jesus comes in). I wish I had a better way to end this patchwork of the book of Job, but I am growing tired.

[NOTE: add from beginning of Job]

The Attitude [Isaiah 3]

The difference between sinners and the forgiven? Not in virtue, but in attitude. “They sin openly like the people of Sodom. They are not one bit ashamed.” [Isaiah 3:9] That is what ‘confession’ is all about; recognizing where you have gone wrong, and admitting that it is wrong and a dirty part of you. When you do, the shame will come naturally, for deep inside we all want to be good. It is again a matter of pride; do we think that we are good enough already?

A friend who betrays you and is unaffected or self-righteous, versus one who is filled with remorse and shame. Which would you forgive? Which would you be?

How difficult it is to be saved! [Isaiah 1]

Many people’s reaction to the idea of salvation as a gift for repentance is not wonder, joy, or gratefulness. Rather, it is one of doubt and skepticism. “That’s too easy.” “Well then wouldn’t you just keep sinning and asking for forgiveness?” The feeling is that it is kind of cheap on our part.

But one must really consider what repentance actually means. It is not just admitting “Oh, that was wrong. I feel bad for it, and don’t want to do it again.” Someone who repents must, by definition, also actively turn from that of which he/she repented. An alcoholic may decide to quit. She may stop drinking for a day. Or two. But would she last for three? During those first few days would she be living a normal life, or would she be constantly thinking of alcohol and reproving herself every time she did? When we sin it is like pure silver that has become worthless slag. When we repent, we decide we want to become pure again, and turn to God, the refining fire. He says “I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities.” [Isaiah 1:25] Meanwhile, people say that being melted down and purified by God is “too easy”! No, salvation may be free, but it is not cheap. It costs you your old, familiar, comfortable life. (Dirty and unsuitable as it may be.)

No, changing your life hurts alright. It is truly difficult. It is different from making New Year’s Resolutions. It means following your NYRs.

It pains us when we fail. It pains God when we fail. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. We do something bad, and think that whatever good we do can balance out the equation. But what is done is done. We have no power to erase that bad, that unique action, that we have committed. “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says God. [Isaiah 1:11] and I think here he meant to add, “So I will give you my own.” (And yea that means Jesus.)

Only God can forgive our wrongs. But only we can accept that forgiveness (and first we have to admit that we need this stuff.) Then we have to go into the next, unknown room. We have decorated and set up our old room, and turned on the air conditioning. But God calls us to the next, empty, hot room. We do not want to sweat out our toxins; we want to stay comfortable. But God wants us to sweat, and toil, and make something good of ourselves. In the process we will deck out the room too. Then we must move on again, until we reach the final room.