Sunday, June 12, 2011

Giving Up

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson dated 6.18.11

We’ve been talking about the clothing imagery in the Bible for a while.  There are some notable ones that come up during Jesus’ ministry, that are pretty important, and seemingly, unconnected to each other.  I’ve been struggling with how to condense them into a single unit, because there just isn’t enough time to take them on separately.  I think I’ve finally got it, so here goes.

The stories are:  the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, when Caiaphas tore his priestly garments in response to Jesus, the Roman soldiers putting the robe and crown of thorns on Jesus, and the soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ clothes at the cross.  As you can see, those are very different stories…but I think I’ve found the link.  In each one of those episodes of His life and ministry, Jesus gave up something, something He had every right to keep.  See if you agree with me.

So, Jesus and His disciples are headed somewhere and they are being mobbed by people wanting to get close to Jesus.  In the middle of all this, there’s this woman who has been sick for 12 years and nobody has been able to help her.  She’s used up every bit of her savings, nothing has worked.  Probably worse than being sick for so long, this woman has been shunned for 12 years because she was considered unclean, like a leper.  She had spent 12 years essentially shut off from everyone she had ever known.

Ever since she’d heard of Jesus, she’d been planning this moment.  She knew that Jesus was her only chance.  As she thought it through, she knew nobody would knowingly let her anywhere near Jesus, so she went into stealth mode.   She got as close to the ground as she could and moved between people’s feet,  She had decided that she wouldn’t risk being turned away, she just needed to touch a piece of his clothing and she’d be well.  And she was!  But just as she was about to melt back into the crowd, Jesus stopped and looked around. 
“At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’
“‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?”’
“But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’”  Mark 5:30-34
Wait, you say, Jesus didn’t give up anything in this story.  I think He did.  He gave up His right to ignore the pleas of sinful humans.  He didn’t have to acknowledge that woman, but He did.  He didn’t even have to allow her to be healed by touching His clothes, but He did.

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet,
“He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”  John 13:4-5
Sitting there in the upper room, before eating the Passover meal, don’t you know, Jesus knew what all of His disciples were thinking?  When they realized that there wasn’t a servant to wash everybody’s feet, they started glaring at each other and mentally arguing, “I’m not going to do it; you do it.”  “You’re the one who forgot to line up a servant; you do it.”  “I don’t think so, I’ve been with Jesus longer than you have; you do it.”  Anyway, you can imagine, but Jesus gave up His right to pull rank.  He could have said, “Hey, guys, I created you, wash My feet and be quick about it.”  But He didn’t.

“Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’  But Jesus remained silent.
“The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’
“‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
“Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?’”  Matthew 26:62-65
I think we forget that just because Jesus took the abuse of Caiaphas and all the others, and allowed Himself to be beaten and crucified, doesn’t mean that he didn’t have any choice in the matter.  We (or at least I) sometimes forget that.  He didn’t have to go quietly…He didn’t have to go at all!  Jesus gave up His right to get His feeling hurt and become angry when He was falsely accused.  He could have struck Caiaphas dead where he stood, but He didn’t.

“Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said.”  Matthew 27:27-29
Isn’t that a heartbreaking picture?  It’s bad enough that Jesus was set up.  It’s bad enough that He was beaten within an inch of His life.  Was it really necessary to make fun of Him too?  And yet, for you and me, Jesus took it.  Jesus gave up not just the right to show them who He really was, He gave up His right to demand respect from the people He created and was in the process of redeeming.  He could have “called ten-thousand angels,” to get revenge, but He didn’t.

“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.  ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’  John 19:23-26
I can’t even imagine how Jesus felt as he looked down from the cross to see the people for whom He was dying gambling for His robe.  I believe that Jesus gave up His right to say, “Okay, people, I’m done here.  You don’t want what I’m giving, so just forget it.”  He could have forced us to accept His robe of righteousness, but He didn’t.

Why?  Why did Jesus give up so much?  Why did He allow Himself to be humiliated, beaten and murdered?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphasis supplied)

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