A Chicago businessman had no idea he was humiliating an “icon in the community.” Outside a local US courthouse, he became angry at a seventy-nine-year-old African-American woman. After arguing with her and calling her Rosa Parks (a famous African-American civil rights activist), he slapped and spit on her. The woman, however, was a judge! The man was arrested and charged with four counts of aggravated battery and a hate crime.
In the wake of the devastating earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti in 2010, one philosopher wrote, “For those who believe in an all-good, all-powerful God, we’ve seen that they face a question that remains pressing after all these centuries, and which is now horribly underscored by the horrors in Haiti. If a deity exists, why didn’t he prevent this?”
I spotted an old ledger designed to record a company’s payroll expenses while shopping in a secondhand store. A chart inside the front cover listed pay calculations based on different hourly wages. These calculations were also split into 15-minute increments. If a person earned $2.35 per hour, and he worked for 15 minutes, the chart showed that he would receive exactly 59 cents. If his workday lasted 8 hours, he would receive $18.80. Using this chart, a business owner could determine and record exactly what each employee had earned—not a penny less, not a penny more.
Setting off fireworks after a home team hits a home run is nothing new in pro baseball stadiums, but igniting fireworks after the visiting team hits a homer? No way! But in a game between two major league baseball teams, after a player on the visiting team hit a baseball over the outfield fence for a home run, the fireworks guy mistakenly pushed a button that created a spectacular pyrotechnic display.
A volunteer disc jockey on an indie station I listen to once said, “There won’t be any peace until all the religions of the world are one.” That’s a nice, inclusive expression of our longing for peace, love, and unity. However. . .
A friend who worked for a Christian organization was known for his perfectionistic work habits. One day as he was finishing some work on a backhoe, a large piece of excavating equipment, he began preparing to paint its large metal bucket. This was an unnecessary part of the job, as the fresh paint would scrape off as soon as the backhoe began digging into rocky soil. As my friend raised his spray gun for the first coat, his boss called to him, “Don’t paint the bucket!”
Author William Willimon told the story of an encounter he had with a woman dying of cancer. Exhausted from her battle with the disease, she clutched the crucifix that had been given to her by her grandmother when she was a little girl. It was a symbol of what Jesus meant to her. When Willimon entered the room, he asked if he should summon a priest. The woman held out the crucifix toward him, which depicted the body of Jesus nailed to the cross. She then said, “Thank you—but I have a Priest.”
Essayist Joseph Epstein writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” He goes on to say that envy makes us look “ungenerous, mean, and small-hearted.” There’s plenty of research to back up Epstein’s statement. In fact, psychologists have found that envy decreases life satisfaction and diminishes well-being. It’s correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility envy breeds may actually make us physically sick.
Recently I did some major damage to my shoulder. Several tendons and ligaments were torn and I had to have physical therapy for a few months. The therapist made an interesting statement as he massaged and manipulated the injury site: “You have to get blood to the damaged areas; it’s the only way to heal it, even if it’s painful.” The only way to put right what is broken is to force blood into those areas, no matter how difficult the task, and allow the blood to carry away the scar tissue and heal the injury.
Except for technological advances, the first century AD wasn’t much different than the 21st. The human condition can be depressingly consistent: injustice, exploitation, oppression, violence.
My friends in my Bible discussion group chuckled when I shared how I was trying to avoid God. I smiled, but it was no joke. His promptings to overlook my demands for justice and extend grace filled me with resentment. I felt like shaking my fist (as the prophet Jonah might have done) and screaming, “You want me to go where, and do what?!”
So what did Jesus look like? Did he resemble actor James Caviezel who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Probably not. Something like Warner Sallman’s famous portrait Head of Christ? Uh, no—don’t think so.
People sometimes ask me, “How come the God of the Old Testament seems so cruel and harsh compared to the God of the New Testament?” To answer that question, I start by assuring them that He doesn’t have multiple personalities—the God of the Old and New Testaments is the same God. He’s “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I then explain that a good God can’t tolerate sin—an uncomfortable truth for some to acknowledge.
My springer spaniel was recognized as one of the most talented, hardworking dogs in our hunting community. He would go out on thin ice to retrieve game when other dogs would turn back. Pursuing a pheasant through the thickest bramble and thorn—areas that other dogs would not enter because it was so dense—wasn’t a problem. His determination was so great that he even made a retrieval immediately after breaking his leg! And yet, when he was just 18 months old, I wondered if he would ever be a good hunting dog. His determined personality seemed impossible to harness and I was ready to give up on him because it appeared he would never become an obedient companion.
I sat in church with my head bowed and eyes lowered. I’ve failed God so, I thought. He must be very disappointed. Then my pastor said, “Look into Jesus’ eyes. See how He looks at you, how He sees you.” So I did. And in that moment, I wore the Samaritan woman’s shoes . . .