Posts Tagged ‘Judgment’

I love fishing.  Some of my favorite memories growing up are stories about fishing with my cousins on their family farm.  One such instance, we caught a catfish using a stick, fishing line, a hook, and some chewed bubble gum.  We fastened the stick into some mud, tied the line and hook on, and molded the gum around the hook, throwing it into the pond while we went to dinner.  When we came back, we found a fish on the line and began dragging it to shore.  My cousins ran with the stick up the hill, while a friend and I pulled the fish into shore.

Finally, the fish popped up onto the bank and immediately slipped off the hook, flopping perilously close to the water, threatening to waste our perfectly good bubble gum bait.  My friend and I jumped onto the fish and pinned it down in the mud, finally wrestling it into a bucket with water.  We were proud of our catch, so we took it to the house and got pictures together with the fish.  After that, we released the fish back into the water.

That’s always been my kind of fishing – catch and release.  I’ve never really acquired a taste for fish.  But, I love the sensation of hooking a fish and reeling it into the boat on a warm summer’s day.  It’s satisfying, fulfilling, and requires very little thought on my part.

In the past, that is how I have imagined fishing in the story of the gospels.  Jesus comes along the shore, sees some rugged fishermen, and says, “Hey, come follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.”  The fishermen put their reels down and head off behind Jesus to win the world, to save some souls.

It’s a beautiful, serene picture of a call to evangelism, matched by immediate obedience.  That’s, perhaps, how many of us read this story, especially as people that spend any amount of time fishing around nearby lakes.  Thus, we might look at this call from Jesus as a call to hook people to bring them into heaven.

But, in reading Jesus’ call to the disciples in this way, we have done great damage to the power of this story.  In essence, we have altered it beyond recognition for what the initial disciples would have heard.  This seems to me to be the reason that the Gospels have become so powerless.  Discipleship has been minimized to getting people into the boat, counting the number of decisions that have been made for salvation, and thinking that this is the whole purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry – getting people to heaven.

But, you may recall the Lord’s Prayer: “May Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The whole purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry, culminating in the cross and resurrection, is bringing together heaven and earth in a sort of marriage, so that heaven and earth are “one flesh.”  In other words, God’s will and way would be embodied on earth as it is in heaven – perfectly!

If the Gospel is about Jesus being crucified that I might go to heaven, we relieve ourselves of any responsibility for what happens in this world.  It suggests that the whole point of Jesus coming to earth is to zap us out of here, allowing us to escape this prison.  We have de-politicized the Gospel because we have taken it out of its Jewish context.  In other words, we have not connected the stories of Scripture to their Jewish background.

So, let’s go back to the story at hand.  Jesus shows up in “Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’” (Mark 1:14b-15).

  1. Scott Spencer gives us insight into the political situation of Galilee, writing: “While the fishermen themselves might profit from their toil, fishing revenues in Herodian-controlled Galilee were severely siphoned off by a tightly regulated political monopoly. Buoyed by his opulent new capital city Tiberias, dedicated to the emperor on the western bank of the Galilean sea, as well as by the booming demand for Galilean fish sauces and stews throughout the empire, Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, seized the opportunity to make the small inland lake of Galilee into a real “sea,” his own private “little Mediterranean” pond.

The Roman client-king developed his own microcosmic version of Caesar’s claim to own all the oceans and waterways of the realm and everything in them.  At every turn, family fishing businesses, like those of Jesus’ disciples, were caught in Antipas’s conglomerate net, forcing them to procure fishing licenses and leases, to produce demanding quotas, and to pay taxes, tolls, and other fees to an extensive bureaucracy monitoring the whole fishing enterprise, from catching to processing to shipping” (F. Scott Spencer, “Follow Me”: The Imperious Call of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, 144-45).

Herod Antipas owned not only the sea, but everything in it.  He also owned everyone that made a living from those waters.  The fishermen, even those that were moderately well off, were vassals to Herod and, by extension, Caesar.  Antipas had his hooks in the people, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to escape.

This is the cultural landscape in which we find Jesus strolling along the beach, proclaiming the kingdom, and telling fishermen to “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  Here we see Jesus enacting politics, quite bluntly.  He calls these fishermen, those participating in the kingdom of Herod and Caesar, to come be part of this new kingdom and to fish for Jesus instead of Herod.

The Jews had longed for deliverance from Exile for so long.  In fact, Josephus, the Jewish historian for Rome, said that this is the reason that the Jews revolted against Rome in the middle of the first century.  The Jewish people had calculated that the time had arrived in which they would finally be delivered from Exile.

This stems from the prayer in Daniel 9.  Daniel prays to God asking when they would be delivered from captivity.  After all, Jeremiah had said it would be 70 years.  God responds, saying that God has heard Daniel’s prayer.  There is good news and bad news.  The good news is that God’s people will indeed be delivered.  The bad news is that it won’t be 70 years but 70 weeks of years.  Or, 70 times 7, which is 490 years.

The vision in Daniel’s writings describe four kingdoms, represented by various beasts arising out of the sea to power.  Because of Israel and Judah’s disobedience to God, these kingdoms will keep the people in Exile.  But, then, this wonderful vision turns.  Daniel sees one like a son of man sitting next to the Ancient of Days, establishing God’s kingdom forever and dashing to pieces the kingdoms that were opposed to God’s way in the world.

This is the tension that the Jewish people are living under, anticipating the establishment of God’s kingdom.  Jesus’ call to these fishermen is to follow him as members of God’s kingdom, even now being established in the midst of the kingdoms of the world.

Jesus goes even further by using the metaphor of fishing for the task that the disciples will be doing as his followers.  Again, we think of fishing that isn’t extremely messy and difficult work.  But the reality is it was extremely hard work.  The mending of nets used to drag bottom to pull in large amounts of fish.  The wild weather that could quickly whip up a storm on the sea in which those boats could easily sink.  The smelly task of gutting and cleaning the fish.  As Spencer puts it: “In a word, fishing was taxing business, in both the physical and financial sense” (F. Scott Spencer, “Follow Me”: The Imperious Call of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, 144). 

Not only that, but the image of fishing is used as a metaphor for judgment in the scriptures.  Jeremiah 16:16-18 reads: “I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.  For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight.  And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with the abominations.”

As fishers of men, Jesus’ disciples are the agents through whom God will judge the world and its false kingdoms of power, manipulation, and oppression – or, idolatry.  In essence, the disciples are the primary agents that begin to proclaim to all that God, in fact, is now King over all.  This is what is commonly known as Theocracy – God reigns and rules.

Such a violent image of fishing and hunting for the disciples’ task is a little terrifying.  We are distrusting of the notion that the disciples, and by extension the Church, is the agent of judgment against the world.  After all, one need only look at the various abuses of power that the Church has wrought down through the centuries to be skeptical.

The Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, and other historical actions by the Church have wrought serious destruction, which seems no different than Rome, Caesar, Herod, or any other king or nation.  Point taken.

But, this is precisely the point in which we must ask what kind of God is this, whose agents enact judgment against the world.  Would we not confess it to be the God of Genesis that brings the world into being and blesses it and also takes a wondering nomad and promises to make him the father of nations?  It would most certainly be the God in Exodus that delivers slaves from Egypt and makes them His people.  It is the same God that promises to give the people a heart of flesh rather than stone.  It is the very God that tells Israel they are engraved on His hands.

And, what does that look like?  It looks like a Jewish peasant that came proclaiming God’s kingdom, enacting freedom for the oppressed, sight for the blind, and release for the captive, proclaiming Jubilee, the Year of the Lord’s Favor, and the forgiveness of sins.  This coming of the kingdom stands in total opposition to the world’s use of power.

We see this quite clearly in John’s Gospel as Jesus is standing before Pilate, the kingdom of God confronting the kingdom of the world.  “They argue over kingdom and truth and power.  Pilate sends Jesus to his death and Jesus wins” (N. T. Wright, Kingdom and Cross).  Jesus even tells Pilate that if his kingdom were like the kingdoms of this world, his followers would defend it.  Jesus’ defeat of the kingdoms of this world comes through sacrifice, not tanks.  Rome’s peace (pax Romana) was maintained by the sword; God’s peace is won through costly forgiveness

In this way, Jesus is the climax of Israel’s story.  And, for Jesus to call disciples to follow him is to say that he believes that they can do what he does in fulfilling that very story – to be agents of reconciliation!  After all, it is no accident that there are 12 disciples and 12 tribes of Israel.

God is re-constituting Israel through Jesus and his disciples.  And, even as Israel was intended to embody a community upon whom God had a particular claim, one that called for total allegiance, the disciples are invited to live as citizens of God’s kingdom here on earth.  Now.  To live as those that embody judgment of the world by “daily taking up their cross and following Jesus.”

As Jesus walks the shore proclaiming the kingdom; he also calls for repentance.  That is – Jesus calls all those who might hear him to turn from the false kingdoms of this world and become fully fledged citizens of God’s kingdom, whose way of ruling this world is through Jubilee, forgiveness.

So, here we stand in the boat, hearing Jesus’ call.  We can stay in the boat, remaining in the security of what is familiar and potentially beneficial politically, financially, or socially.  The Church has sometimes opted for the safety of the boat of culture.  The German church that refused to stand against Nazi Germany and collaborated in great atrocities against other nations, the Church that remained quiet while African Americans were abused and oppressed; the Church that acts out violently, both physically and verbally, against its enemies both far and near; the Church that turns a blind eye to the poor and oppressed, perhaps even benefitting from their labor while giving them insufficient wages to help build profits.

When we cease to call the world’s way of power into question because we are part of it or are silent, we are no different than those kingdoms and fail to live as God’s kingdom people.  Without repentance, without turning from those kingdoms, we inevitably cease to be disciples of Jesus and choose to remain in the boat.

Or, we can opt for the insecurity of following Jesus.  It’s dangerous and difficult to follow Jesus, not least of all in the Church.  We will be confronted by kingdoms that use power to threaten us with death and destruction, both physical and otherwise.  To be a people of the Kingdom is to be a people marked by the cross, which is a new way of utilizing power in the world.  It is learning to forgive even mortal enemies.  It is sharing generously with those who don’t have resources and networks of support to weather the storms of life.  It is embodying non-violent resistance, like Martin Luther King, Jr., to those who implement violence as a means of getting what they want.  It is living as a vessel of blessing through which God may bless others.  Stepping out of the boat is scary because it demands “our life, our all.”  But, thank God, “those who lose their life find it.”

Jesus calls, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news… Follow me and I will make you fish for people!”  Living as an alternative to the kingdoms of this world as God’s agents of judgment, fishers of people, means that our lives should call into question the ways this world employs power.  God uses power to extend love and mercy; the world uses power as a means to domination.  In talking about this very tension, Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: “You cannot drive out darkness with darkness, only light can do that.  You cannot drive out hate with hate, only love can do that.”

Hearing Jesus’ call to follow him, let’s move out of the boat together and engage the world as God’s Kingdom people!


Joseph was only seven years old when he was sold into slavery.  His master, Ibrihim, treated him with contempt simply because he was a Christian.  For ten years, Joseph endured Ibrihim’s torture, mocking criticism, and abuse.  One day, a local church was singing hymns.  Remembering them from his youth, Joseph went to the church to attend the service.  While he was there, the camels he was supposed to be watching escaped.  Ibrihim flew into a rage and promised Joseph that he too would be crucified.

Ibrihim beat Joseph upon the head until he was too weak to move.  Then, the cruel master drove nine inch nails through Joseph’s hands and knees to boards.  After that, he poured acid on Joseph’s legs, leaving them severely scarred.  For seven days, Joseph lay in the hot Sudan sun.  He managed to survive because Ibrihim’s son brought food and water, eventually taking him to the hospital.  Ibrihim did not see value in Joseph as a slave any longer because he was crippled from the experience.  A Christian group bought Joseph out of slavery and returned him home.  Today, he still lives with intense pain and scarring from the violence done to his body.

We can scarcely imagine enduring such an ordeal.  Granted, many of us have experienced difficulties or disappointments.  Few of us, however, could ever say that we have experienced slavery… much less physical torture.  Our sense of indignation is rightly triggered.  This young boy had done nothing.  He did not deserve such harsh treatment.  Can you imagine such torture happening to one of your children?

Such evil that Ibrihim embodies, taking advantage of defenseless and innocent persons, calls for being held accountable!  He deserves to be nailed to boards, drug out into the desert, and left to die!  What he did is not merely wrong… it’s sickening!  We hear Joseph’s plight and think that justice must be served and Ibrihim must be made to pay!

The southern kingdom of Judah during Micah’s day were living like a group of Ibrihims.  Micah paints a morbid picture: “Should you not know justice? – you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron” (Micah 3:1b-3).  This description of behavior sounds like something out of “Silence of the Lambs.”  Were they practicing cannibalism?  No, not quite… but not much better!

The fortunate, the rich, and the powerful were living off and taking advantage of the poor and the weak of society.  The lowly of the community could not protect themselves from these ravenous wolves.  They were forced out of their homes.  Justice had been perverted through bribery.  And, worst of all, priests merely preached what everyone wanted to hear… “Prosperity Gospel!”  The voice of religion was merely a megaphone for propping up a way of life that was totally opposed to God’s way of life.

Remember, God had brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt.  Providing miraculous signs and wonders, God led the people across the Sea, baptizing them as a new people.  Not only this, but God gave them the commandments for preserving life within the community.  They were to live as a reflection of God’s character and nature in the world.  The covenant that was established in Deuteronomy reminded the people that they had indeed been redeemed by God and were called to live in the Land of Promise on God’s terms.  Simply put: “Don’t be like Egypt!”

Israel was intended to live justly in the world, not as vicious overlords.  They were not to be like other nations that warred against one another, that perverted justice, or that lived in defiant disobedience to God’s design for Creation.  It was a high and lofty calling, one that needed to be taken seriously.  Living outside of God’s boundaries given in the Law invited calamity and destruction.  Nations would rise up against God’s people as a result of the curse of disobedience.  The nations would be God’s rod of discipline for their wickedness.

The northern kingdom of Israel had actually already been destroyed by the Assyrians.  The prophet Amos had warned Israel, yet they did not listen.  The wave of destruction fell upon them, sweeping them away in its wake.  Micah warns Judah that what has befallen Israel can also happen to them.  Unlike the prosperity preachers’ message, Judah is not beyond the judgment of God for their wickedness.  And, it seems like the writing is on the wall.

We almost feel ourselves cheering God on to bring calamity upon these no-good-so-and-so’s.  We pump our fists in approval.  We love it when the villains get their due.  In the movie, Taken, a young, teenage girl is kidnapped.  The movie shows us the hunt of Bryan Mills for his daughter.  Unbeknownst to the criminals, they have seriously messed with the wrong person.  Bryan is an ex-CIA agent, who was one of the most deadly agents they had ever trained.  Bryan uses all of his skills to track down the kidnappers and utterly tears them apart without mercy.  In the end, he finds his daughter and takes her home.

We get caught up in the action and the thrill of the bad guys getting what they have coming to them.  There is a sense of satisfaction that what was wrong has been righted and the world is somehow better for it.  We marvel at the hero’s tenacity, ingenuity, and determination.  But, even better… the bad guys get their due.  Justice, we say, is “served.”

Do we not expect God to do the same to the Ibrihims of life?  Isn’t it our hope that those creating such evil might finally get what’s coming to them?  I mean, let’s be honest.  Child molesters will get their due in prison… and good riddance!  Murderers will receive their reward with the poke of a needle injecting poison into their veins.  Some have even celebrated a known terrorist leaders’ “anniversary in hell.”  We are quite adamant about “justice” being served!

Yet, Micah proclaims, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession?  He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency” (Micah 7:18).  If we expected God to step onto the scene with six-shooters, a poncho, and a cigar hanging from the side of the mouth like Clint Eastwood, we will be sadly and sorely disappointed.  Instead, God acts entirely opposite to what we might expect… to what we have been encourage and told to expect.

There is no God that is like YHWH!  The gods of this world deal in retribution and spite.  They confirm the myth of “redemptive violence.”  Yet, YHWH is set apart from the gods of this world because he does not “retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing forgiveness.”  What kind of God is this YHWH?  God is the only One that “pardons our iniquity and passes over our transgressions.”  This is a God of true power!

Not only does God “pass over” or “pardon” our sin.  God does not simply turn a blind eye to our plight, to our brokenness!  God utterly crushes our iniquity.  It is destroyed, cast into the sea, done away with!  God conquers and destroys “all our sin.”  The words of Leviticus ring in our ears, “Be holy as I am holy.”  God does not leave us in our broken, sinful state.  Instead, God breaks the power of sin’s hold upon us!  God is compassionate!

Micah’s speech then shifts.  He stops talking about God and begins to speak to God!  “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.  You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old” (Micah 7:19b-20).  Micah reminds God of who God is: Covenant-Maker and Covenant-Keeper.  Micah is confident in God’s fidelity to the Covenant and to God’s people!

One of the biggest reasons people list as to why they do not want to follow the God described within the Scriptures is due to the idea of judgment.  Sometimes God appears too violent, angry, and harsh.  Martin Luther was angry at God for this very reason!  Plenty atheists claim that God does not exist, then fume against this God that appears to be overly zealous and ready to punish.  Perhaps the problem does not lie with God but with people that are all too ready to exclaim, “Turn or burn!”  To many people, it seems that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different than the God revealed in Jesus.

How is a God that judges so harshly really a compassionate and forgiving God?  We discover in this passage that God’s judgment is not simply for judgment’s sake.  Quite the opposite, in fact, for God loves to give mercy to His people!  Judgment is always for the sake of calling God’s people back into covenant-fidelity with Him!  Judgment is the means by which God might get our attention and change our direction.

As a child, I used to absolutely hate getting into trouble.  Occasionally, if I was particularly disobedient, my mother would say the words that every child dreads to hear: “Wait ‘til you father gets home.”  It was said in such calm and resolute assurance; one’s stomach began to turn inside-out and the hairs stood up on the back of the neck.  Judgment day was coming.  At the time, I could only see the unpleasant reality of that future discipline.  My foresight was limited by the predicament I had created.  I’m sure I deserved some type of punishment… but perhaps my mom had gotten carried away, her judgment clouded.  To be sure, I never was overjoyed at receiving my parents’ discipline… but I sure learned quickly what to do and what not to do.  It turns out that their discipline was for my good!

In hindsight, no pun intended, it is easier to see and understand what my parents were doing.  They weren’t thrilled to hand out punishment to their children.  They didn’t get a kick out of disciplining us.  Yet, they did discipline us so that we might grow in wisdom and understanding, so that we might learn to live in healthy ways.  Parents intuitively understand that discipline is not to cause pain, but to direct their children in the way they should go!

How much more pure and perfect is God’s discipline than that of our parents?  God uses discipline and judgment to direct us in the way we should go.  His discipline points us back to the way of living in covenant with Him and with others!  Thus, we find that God’s discipline may be painful, but in it we find life!  Micah reminds God, and us, that God’s judgment is always intended to fulfill God’s covenant promise to God’s people!

God’s judgment and discipline does not mean that God has abandoned us.  In fact, it means quite the opposite!  God is not interested in us continuously moving toward our own destruction.  Instead, like the loving parent, God steps into our lives and disciplines us to set things back right, to call us to obedience, and to re-establish God’s covenant with us!  Praise God for such steadfast love and loyalty!

Back to our story of Joseph and Ibrihim.  Joseph still has to deal with the suffering that his crucifixion causes him each day.  Physical pain is still present.  Yet, Joseph says that he has been able to forgive Ibrihim!  It is hard for me to fathom such an action.  Joseph has not taken matters into his own hands, but left them to God.  How is it possible for him to do such a thing?  Quite simply… it is because that is what God has done from the beginning!  God has always been quick to forgive, abounding in steadfast love.  This is what Joseph has discovered… and as he serves God, he knows that he is called to forgive others in the same extravagant way!

We see the perfect demonstration of this in Christ Jesus!  We were the ones like Ibrihim nailing the innocent One to some boards – the Cross.  We pierced the hands and feet of Christ with nails.  It was our sinfulness and rebellion that placed Jesus there on that Tree.  We have all shaken our fist at God, slamming the crown of thorns down upon his brow and mocking him.  We have all neglected justice for the poor, the weak, and the downtrodden.  In doing so, we have been the people yelling, “Crucify him!”  My friends, if we are honest with ourselves, we know ourselves to be little different than Ibrihim.

Yet, in the midst of our brokenness God speaks a word of hope and salvation!  God’s judgment does not have to be the final word.  Even as Joseph forgave his tormentor, Christ has forgiven us all the more!  Christ conquered sin and death through his death and resurrection.  He breathed his last words saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”  Such Love was given to us in that moment… and in this very moment it is available to us again.  Christ offers us his forgiveness for the ways we have lived like Ibrihim.  He will cast them to the depths of the sea, if we will let him.

He is faithful and loyal to his covenant!  We have been given this new covenant in Christ’s body and blood.  It is a gift that we can freely and joyously receive from a gracious God that has pardoned our iniquity and passed over our transgressions.  God will have compassion on us, treading our iniquity under foot and tossing them to the depths of the sea.  In receiving this gift of salvation, God is simply calling us to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8b).

This justice looks like caring for the poor.  It means standing up for the weak and helpless, for the orphan and the widow among us.  And, if we should find ourselves as the victim of injustice, we too must learn to forgive even as Christ has forgiven us.  May justice and mercy be the fragrance of our sacrifice lived before God.

May this be the prayer of our heart as we receive the gift of salvation that God freely offers each of us!  “And now He takes me to His heart a son.  He asks me not to fill a servant’s place.  The “Far-off country” wand’rings all are done.  Wide open are His arms of grace.  Such Love, such wondrous Love… that God should Love a sinner such as I.”  Let us sing praise to God for this wonderful gift of salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord!