This week's devotional is from Pastor Art Greco.
One of the well-known statements Jesus made during his most famous sermon eventually evolved into the common idiom: “go the extra mile.” We know this to refer to the idea of doing that little extra for someone – giving them more than they asked for or expected. It’s generally considered a good thing and even a wise business practice.
But when Christ’s audience first heard him say it (as recorded in Matthew 5:41) the very idea was considered scandalous – especially to those who were actively resisting the Roman occupation of Israel. Why? Because Jesus is referring to the Roman requirement that, when asked, a citizen was obliged to carry a soldier’s gear or drop what he/she was doing and lead the soldier to a desired destination. And he was teaching that this requirement should not only be obeyed, but joyfully exceeded.
To the average Jew, this was unconscionable. Tolerating the Roman armies was one thing, but actually assisting them – helping them to succeed? That was just too much to ask. “Instead of resisting your enemies,” Jesus seems to be commanding, “love them, serve them, bend over backward to be at peace with them and, through your humble ministry of care, win them over.”
THE NERVE of Jesus! How dare he ask that of his followers! Why, the next thing you know, he’ll be asking us to actually love the pilots who flew hijacked jets through the World Trade Center buildings, the thief who broke the side window of my car and took my I-phone, or, heaven forbid, even my political rivals.
When MCC was faced with the ominous task of raising more than 3.5 million dollars to remodel and add on to our current building a few years back, we got a message from Ray Johnston, pastor of Bayside Church in Sacramento and former Youth Pastor here at Marin Covenant. It said something like this, “Nothing truly GREAT happens without three things: Vision; Commitment; and Sacrifice.”
In light of Ray’s message to us, consider some of the texts I offered on Sunday that referenced the sufferings Mary endured as a direct result of her choice to submit to God’s outrageous plan. Here are a few of those texts:
- (Matt. 1:18ff) Experienced public shame even though she was honorable;
- (Matt. 2:13) Went into exile because of attempts on the life of her young son;
- (Lk. 2:48) Raised a son that seemed not to need his mother much;
- (Lk. 11:27-28) Hears Jesus publicly downplay her importance;
- (Jn. 7:1-9) Knows that her children aren’t getting along well at all primarily because of Jesus;
- (Jn. 18-19) Her son is arrested, accused and convicted at an illegal trial. After that she sees him savagely beaten and publically humiliated;
- (Jn. 19:25-27) Is handed off by Jesus to John to be cared for after Christ’s death, but not to one of her other sons. Then she watches and listens as Jesus takes his last breath;
- (Matt. 28:1) Perhaps, goes in peace to prepare her son’s body for burial, only to find it is missing.
“Nothing truly GREAT happens apart from vision; commitment, and sacrifice” – which is to say, “Nothing truly GREAT ever happens unless someone who hears God ‘ask too much’ of them, then says, ‘yes’. “
BE A BLESSING
Is there someone in your life who has lived out this concept of painful yieldedness and been an inspiration to you? Why not send them a pixinote or a card to tell them how much their example has meant to you? Trust me, the blessing they feel from you will strengthen them for a long, LONG time.
Are you in a small group of some sort? (We really wish you ALL were, since we believe that people grow best when doing this Christian journey in a smaller cluster of people). If so, great. If not, gather a purposeful circle of friends. Either way, ask this question: “What two people are most difficult for me to love today (one in my world and one in the world)? Then pray out loud – even through gritted teeth and with relatively little conviction if necessary – for those folks and your heart toward them. Confess that loving them seems like too much for God to ask, then command yourself to do it anyway.
Be careful, though. There are no recorded cases of someone faithfully forcing themselves into compliance with God that don’t result in profound and spectacular effects. When people do that, TRULY GREAT things are usually about to happen.