Day 36 – Humility
“Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12
As we walk toward the cross with Jesus, it is wise to consider this encouragement to notice: are there ways that I think I am “standing”? Do I believe I have it all figured out? Do I believe that I’ve got it together? If we believe we’ve got it together, we are setting ourselves up for a fall. This is reminiscent of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction.”
One of the consistent themes of the ministry of Jesus was the critique and challenge of religious leaders. In our reading of the Gospels, we may like to identify with the prodigal son, the lost coin, or the lost sheep (cf. Luke 15), but the truth is that we often have more in common with the older son (in the prodigal son parable) and the religious leaders. This can be a difficult thing to consider. You may even experience some resistance to the suggestion. Will you take a moment and reflect on this possibility? The nature of Jesus’ challenge to the religious was that they believed they had it all figured out when they actually were blind to spiritual realities. They had constructed their lives in such a way that they used “religion” to hide from their hearts – to hide from their sin. Are there ways that you hide?
All of this came to a head after Jesus entered Jerusalem when one of the first things He did was go to the temple. In Luke 19, it is recorded that he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (vs. 45-46) While this is a very familiar event from the Gospels (all four record it), it will be helpful to explore the background of Jesus’ statement which is made up of quotations from the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.
When a rabbi quoted the Old Testament, listeners would have heard the verse in the context of the original statements. So, what may seem to be a simple reference was loaded with all the power the context supplies. First, the statement of the temple being a house of prayer is from Isaiah 56:7. Notice the overall context: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” (vs. 6-8) This was a statement of God’s heart for not only the people of Israel but all peoples to have access to Him … to be able to pray and seek Him. Second, the statement about the temple being made a den of robbers is found in Jeremiah 7:11. Again, the overall context is found in verses 8-11: “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD.” The people of Israel were going to the temple and calling out to God while they were also oppressing others and shedding the blood of others. (vs. 6)
The word “robber” in the Hebrew language of Jeremiah could be more appropriately be rendered “violent one.” Jesus was accusing them of violence against others … of not giving access to the poor, the widowed, orphans, and foreigners. Further, calling the temple a “den” is a way of saying … “you have made this place a hideout.” The temple (and by extension, their relationship with God) had become a place to hide … a place to ignore how they were living their faith in the world and with others. To put this into a modern context, we might say that “religious” people often do not address the way they treat others and then hide out in church singing praise songs and calling on the name of God. And don’t pass too quickly over the reality that people were being oppressed. Are there ways that you actively or (more likely) passively are involved in the oppression of others?
Before you react with, I don’t do that, are you willing to stop and consider a few questions? Do you ever use God as a hideout … a way to make yourself feel better … but leave sin in your life unaddressed? Can you humble yourself and acknowledge ways that you praise God on the one hand and then ignore sin on the other? Are you open to looking at ways that you are part of things that oppress others? Are there systems in place around you that it is easy to ignore because you benefit from them?
We are plunged into a wilderness season to lay bare the reality of our lives … to come out of hiding. This demonstrates the grace of a wilderness season. When the circumstances of our lives are pleasant, we may not pay attention. Can you come out of hiding? It requires trusting the grace of God … trusting that we will be safe. Simone Weil wrote “Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it.” This illustrates the need for faith and trust. We may not feel safe or experience grace in those places where we are holding on and not releasing our sin. And then, when we do, grace comes flowing in.
In his book Addiction and Grace, Gerald May discussed this reality in taking about things being “stripped away, leaving a desert like spaciousness where my customary props and securities no longer existed. Grace was able to flow into this emptiness, and something new was able to grow.” In this event from Jesus’ last week, we are encouraged to empty our hands … to let the desert expose things hidden.
Questions for reflection: sit with what you are noticing being stirred in your spirit. Ask the Lord to search your heart. What is coming to your awareness? How is God calling you out of hiding?
Prayer: Lord, I humble myself and acknowledge the ways I have praised You on the one hand and not treated others with justice and equity on the other. Thank you for the grace to let go of those things and the experience of grace that flows as I do. Amen.