The Sheep Are Starving!

Focus Scripture: John 21:15-17  

This story takes place on the shores near the Sea of Tiberias. Most of us know this body of water as the Sea of Galilee. In many respects, the sea is legendary. It is the place where Jesus called his first disciples (Luke 5:1-11), walked on water (Matthew 14:22-33), healed the sick (Mark 6:53-56), taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6: 9-13) and told them not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). John 6:1 and John 21:1 are the only two places in the whole Bible where the body of water in question is referred to as the Sea of Tiberias. It makes you wonder if the gospel writer is trying to tell us something.

John’s reference to the Sea of Tiberias here draws our attention to the one after whom the sea is named: Tiberias Caesar the second Emperor of Rome. Tiberius succeeded Caesar Augustus in 14 CE and ruled until 37 CE. The gospel of Luke (3:1-2) makes reference to this emperor: “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, … Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee.” During this period also, Caiaphas was the high priest, and the Roman Empire cast a big shadow over the world back then. The Roman government had a number of building campaigns going on around the Empire, including great amphitheaters, aqueducts, and other projects that benefited the elite.

Somebody had to pay for all that luxury. So, the poor people in the provinces were taxed. Historical accounts tell us there were grain taxes, produce taxes, sales taxes, temple taxes, occupational taxes, custom taxes, transit taxes, and many others. This tax burden created a huge divide between the rich and the poor. One biblical historian by the name of Friesen developed a poverty scale that provides seven categories for describing economic resources at the time. According to Friesen, the wealthy elites formed only 1% – 3% of the whole population of the Empire, while more than 90% of the population were living in severe or extreme poverty.

According to the gospels, Jesus was born into this Roman-influenced world where the majority of the people fell prey to the opulence of the elite and the greed of the ruling class. Poverty was widespread both in rural and urban areas. The people were weary, and they were hungry in more ways than one. And Jesus asked the disciples to feed them. In a directive we call the Great Commission, Jesus directed his disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).

In many respects, the circumstances of the present day mirror those of the first century. The people were starving then; they are starving now. Let’s face it. Making disciples, both then and now, must involve feeding the people in the ways they need to be fed. In today’s world, feeding God’s sheep might involve nourishing the people so they can stand strong against the forces of oppression or racism. Feeding God’s people in a society that marginalizes them might mean lifting up words of encouragement so they will have hope. It might involve providing places where they can escape the madness going on all around them. Or it might involve praying for them. God’s people are hungry for spiritual food, and we, as 21st-century disciples, are responsible for feeding them.

The Resurrection

The Resurrection – April 17 – Luke 24:5-9

I wonder what Mary felt as the chief priests and the Romans made a mockery of Jesus’ death. There, on the hill of skulls, they lynched him, nailed him to a tree of shame and degraded him in front of a raucous crowd. Ironically, the whole affair was a cause for celebration in the eyes of some of those who stood at the foot of the cross. But not so for Mary, Jesus’ mother, nor for the other women who witnessed it all.

The whole scene described in today’s scripture made me think about mothers from more recent years, mothers of children who lost their lives to violence and brutality. Even though their bodies are gone from this earth, a part of them still lives on. Though their bodies were planted too soon, the cycles of life suggest that there will be a resurrection. Justice demands that something be born from the precious seeds of their young lives. If that is the case, what has been born anew because they died?

Conversations have been resurrected. Some people have suggested that the death of these young people has awakened the need for families and friends to have frank discussions with one another. There need for tableside chats and prolonged conversations about the brutal realities of survival in a hostile society. There need to be some survival skills passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, sister to sister, brother to brother, and from generation to generation.

What else has been resurrected? Heightened consciousness has been raised as the result of these senseless deaths. I see evidence of it in the protest marches that have (and will continue to) spread across the nation as an outcry against injustice. I see lights being shed on unjust laws and lopsided practices. I see people who have the courage to hold public forums that grapple with the hard questions.

Accountability has also been resurrected. I see mirrors of accountability being held up so that perpetrators and victims alike can gaze deeply on what’s reflected there. I see justice-minded people digging a little deeper and looking a little closer at the root causes of violence, injustice, and other critical issues of our day.

I see lovers of the truth starting to look at racism and poverty under a super-powered microscope. I see prophets, preachers, and professors exposing what’s been under cover for too long. As the Prophet would have advised us in Habakkuk 2:2, let’s make the inconsistencies plain so that a runner can read them!

Heightened awareness is a byproduct. When we stand in solidarity with each other and with those who stand for justice, our voices unite as one humanity — the same humanity for whom Christ died — once for all. Prompted by the impassioned pleas of mothers who have lost children to violence – we have joined our cries with theirs, protesting with extraordinary fervor and profound faith that justice will prevail as it did in former days. In other words, our cries testify to the truth that there is still power in the blood that Jesus shed. Both individually and corporately, as believers, we are compelled to stand up and claim it in the name of Jesus!

Peace in the Time of Trouble

April 14 – Sheltering in Place: John 20:19-22

Life as they knew it had suddenly changed. Now here they were, hiding out, terrified and confused on the evening of the resurrection. They were desperately seeking answers to the many questions they must have had. Then, without warning, Jesus showed up. There he was in their midst. He had found them in their isolation. He had found them in their fear. Jesus had found them even in the throes of their guilt and shame. And he spoke to them: “Peace be with you.”

Scripture talks a lot about peace. The Prophet Isaiah (26:3) said that God will keep them in perfect peace whose minds are focused on God. The Prophet Jeremiah delivered a message of God’s peace right before the people went into captivity (29:11), admonishing them to continue searching for God, even in their exile. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:6-7) wrote about the peace of God that passes all understanding. Jesus, himself, invoked peace in John 14:27, when he told the disciples: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” he said. He was going to prepare a place for them, and he was leaving them with his peace.

During this Lenten season, many of us have stolen away to secret places, quiet places, where we can reflect on our relationship with God. My prayer is that Jesus has met you in those places. That he has shown up in your struggles, your fear, your confusion, your searching. I pray that Jesus has shown up as you’ve fasted and prayed. I pray that Jesus has spoken peace over your circumstances – a peace that passes all understanding.