I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Jesus was tired and a bit burned out on Judaism… not because of his lack of faith, but because of his exhaustion on the focus given to the law. For him, knowing God was not an endless repetition of facts, but a feeling of connectedness that would not and did not stand up to judicial scrutiny. For Jesus, it was enough that you tried. It was enough that you kept going. It was enough that you recognized your own sin and if you walked away from it, that it would mean more than anything a trial would have proven. Jesus knew something that other Jews did not; there would never be a time in which you could legislate someone into perfection. People are going to do what they’re going to do, and if they choose to walk in darkness, that’s an “up to them sort of thing.” Jesus never advocated punishment, but an invitation to rehabilitation.
The main thought that runs through all of Jesus’ parables is simple: if you invest in yourself, you will reap the rewards. He believed that if you started walking in light, you would want to continue, and that would be the path to enlightenment rather than continually harping on someone’s sins until they wanted to be right with God because someone else wanted them to be instead of claiming promise for themselves.
Changing for someone else is short-lived, while making your own changes last a lifetime. In short, in order to get peace, you have to want it… and wanting it makes all the difference. It is why I believe that most people drop out of conservative denominations. Fear-based theology just isn’t working for them anymore. Shame is a terrible thing, and conservative theology only reinforces it. In conservative theology, there is only a comfort zone about thisbig, and if you stray from it, you are destined for an eternity of burning in hell. It is legislating morality using the same tactics that the orthodox Jews used before them.
It is an ideology that I do not understand, because Jesus freed us from Talmudic law, choosing to forgive sin rather than berate it based on some infraction or another, because it does not endear people to you, but allows them to hide in their shame… it’s just “easier” that way. There is no path shorter to internal conflict than stuffing down your sins and trying to run away from them. Where people think it’s easier is that they don’t have to talk about them, don’t want to talk about them, want to keep sin locked away in a box without realizing that they are internally poisoning themselves… because eventually, the box leaks. What we have done and left undone comes out subconsciously in the way we treat people. We do not like ourselves for it, so why should anyone else?
Our ability to receive love is stepped on, even if we are capable of giving it.
Our ability to see magnificence is marred by our own troubled pasts.
What would it mean to let go? What would it mean to acknowledge our flaws and failures so that they did not continue to dog us in the night? What would it mean to our collective self-esteem if we were continually able to forgive ourselves for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?
Forgiveness is not a one-time thing, but a never-ending proposition in our humanness. Thinking of hell as a very real place and hoping not to go there is different than recognizing fallibility, because once you process it, you have walked through it rather than skipping over, because the skipping over is the hell part. Why worry about eventual hell rather than abating the hell that’s already here?
When I was five, I lived in Galveston, Texas, where my dad was the associate pastor of Moody Memorial UMC. The parsonage was on Pine St., and I quickly made friends with the kids on my street… including Amber Cantini, one of the most persistent people I have ever met in my life, which is saying something, since I was in kindergarten at the time. Every day, she would walk up to our house, and knock so loud that the neighbors could have heard it. Just “BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM!!!” until somebody came to the door. God forbid we weren’t home, because she’d just keep at it. Amber learned at an early age what Jesus was trying to tell us in today’s parable… knock and the door shall be opened unto you… but I think the severity of Amber’s knock would still have thrown Jesus for a loop.
Today’s gospel focuses on hospitality.
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
The setup for this story is that it was not unusual for travelers to arrive in the middle of the night, because it was easier to move in the shadows while the Middle Eastern sun was not beating down on their backs… and in that culture, hospitality meant everything. Travelers had shown up after the day’s bread had been eaten, and when people show up, you don’t just give them a loaf of bread. You give them a full spread… not to do so was an embarrassment. The man going to his friend’s house and knocking like Amber Cantini was deeply rooted in fear. In desperation, he kept at it until he’d woken up the whole house and the friend finally relented.
At face value, the moral of the story might be “annoy people until you get what you want.” But as we take a deeper look, the man’s friend took care of him and didn’t allow him to be embarrassed because once he was “woke,” he understood the problem… even if he was initially aggravated.
Pachelbel’s Canon in D is playing in my head as I think about the next verses:
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
It is one of the few verses in which I have memorized in paraphrase, because the classic song fits into the aforementioned Canon:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And his righteousness.
Knock and the door will be opened unto you
I used to sit at my mother’s piano and play that mashup for hours, because it’s one of the only things I know how to play… but if I was only going to learn one thing, is it not a good one?
People by nature are not mind-readers, and you’ll never get anything you want from them by wishing. In order to get something, you have to ask… and sometimes repeatedly. However, it is on us to decide whether we are asking the right questions. If you need something from someone, is it a path to darkness or to light? Are you the type friend that will answer the door when you are called to serve? That last question may be the difference between a “yes” and a “no.” It is our job to know when the balance of power in a relationship is off or not… whether we are asking something of someone that we ourselves would not do for them.
It is the point of the Lord’s prayer to turn us outward, so that when we knock, we are not saying, “take care of me, because this is all about my needs.” Jesus does not specifically talk about reciprocity in this parable, but living in community requires it. I would like to think that reciprocity is an extrapolation… that when you’re the one with the bread woken in the middle of the night, you will have the ability to understand the problem and give equally, even if you are initially annoyed.
The law cannot cover brotherly love, nor will it ever. You cannot force someone to take care of you when you need it, even when you know you would take care of them if the tables were turned. Because in that moment, your friend may not know that. It is stepping out on a ledge to trust that if someone comes to you for help, you can also go to them… that they will remember the kindness you extended and reciprocate.
However, it is our ability to forgive ourselves when we ignore the world’s ills and try to do better that counts. The will to keep going is the “it gets better” campaign of our lives, and that is all that Jesus requires.
We fall. We get up. We learn. We fall again. We get up. We learn.
It’s an ongoing resurrection, whether you can see it or not.