Who We Are Now! Jubilee #3 (Matthew 25:14-30)
Redeemed refugees should make good neighbors. That is who we are. God’s people are often called aliens in this world. The point of the Bible’s teaching about justice towards the poor and the oppressed is that all who have been there join in to relieve all others who are still there.
The way we see it, Jesus came into the world to save mankind. But most often He said He’d come “to declare the kingdom of God.” It’s the same thing… if the kingdom comes in us, the salvation He brings is ours! All the Lord’s words were about the kingdom… in His teaching, preaching, and prayer: He taught disciples to pray that His kingdom would become “on earth as it is in heaven.” His parables reflect Jubilee – some of our favorite events from His life are Jubilee events.
One thing about Jubilee unmentioned as yet… Farmers were to divide up land into seven sections with one-seventh lay fallow every year, a year off to rejuve-nate. Taking care of God’s creation is a responsibility laid on every God-lover, to work to bring what He created back to its full glory.
What happens in “Jubilee” (review)
All debts are cancelled. All prisoners are set free. All land is given back to those who originally possessed it. It was “good news,” the very best of news – for the poor, a new start for anyone losing out in life and a chance for a new beginning.
Read Isaiah 61:
Isaiah’s message from God for his people was this: “When Messiah comes, He will declare Jubilee (to authenticate His identity): “He has called upon me to declare the acceptable year of our Lord…" One day Jesus read those words in the Naza-reth synagogue and declared them fulfilled and Himself the “author and pioneer.” The kingdom and jubilee had begun!
Jubilee lifts the poor.
When Jesus invades us and possesses us and lives in us with His Spirit, our hearts will ache for the downtrodden. Anyone who becomes like Jesus will care for such people. The Bible teaches – as clear as any teaching – that as we bless the poor, we bless Jesus (Matthew 25:14-30). We must come to understand that…
In your bulletin today is a wonderful poem about Conrad the cobbler. It’s by Edwin Markham, adapted from a short story by Leo Tolstoy. Conrad had a dream that the “great guest” (Jesus) would visit him one day. So he cleaned and made ready in every way he could… and waited. First there came a beggar in out of a driving rain and Conrad warmed him and gave him shoes for his bruised feet. Then came an old woman bent over with a bundle of sticks to whom he gave the warmth of his shop and food before she went on her way. Last there came a lost child… he gave milk and took it home to its mother. Then the day ended and Conrad sighed and asked Jesus,
“Why is it Lord that your feet delay? Did you forget to come today?” And a Voice came, saying…
"Lift up your heart, for I have kept my word. / Three times I came to your friendly door; / Three times my shadow was on your floor. / I was the beggar with the bruised feet; / I was the woman you gave to eat; I was the child on the homeless street!"
Here’s a modern version of that…
Tony Compolo, walking down a street in Philadelphia, met a dirty bum all covered with grime from head to toe… with a gigantic beard and rotted food in it… revolting. He had a cup of McDonald's coffee and mumbled as he walked. He spotted Compolo and said, "Hey, Mister, want some of my coffee?" Tony knew he should take some to be nice, so he did. When he gave it back to him, he said, "You're being pretty generous giving away your coffee this morning. What's gotten into you to do that?" The guy answered, "Well, the coffee was especially delicious this morning and I figured if God gives you something good you ought to share it with people." Compolo was impressed and asked, "Can I give you anything in return?"…sure that he’d be hit up for money. Instead the bum said, “Sure, you can give me a hug" (he’d much rather have been asked for $50). The bum put his arms around Tony, and Tony put his arms around the bum… then realized the guy wasn't going to let him go. People were passing on the street and staring and he was becoming embarrassed. But he said that little by little his embarrassment turned to wonder as he remembered Jesus’ words, “I was hungry. Did you feed me? I was naked. Did you clothe me? I was sick. Did you care for me? I was the bum you met on the street. Did you hug me? For what you did to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did to me. And what you didn’t do for them, you didn’t do for me.”
Yes, Jesus says that when we do for the poor, we do for Him. And through them He comes to touch and bless us. We can feel the presence of Jesus in other ways, but a sure way is to go out and do something for the poor. Every time we look into the eyes of someone in desperate need we’ll see Jesus looking back at us.
Of all the things the Bible talks about, it talks about the “poor” more than any-thing : 2,000 verses say, “See them, help them.” The Talmud, the Jewish com-mentary on Pentateuch, says two ways to help the poor are (1) give them jobs so they escape poverty with their dignity in place, even create work for them if necessary, and (2) give them what they need without any ado – make no a scene over where it came from. Want a suggestion? Sneak stuff onto their back steps, then run, then call and say, "God sent you sent you some things; they’re on your back steps.” Jesus said God sees what we do in secret and will reward us where all can see. Any helping that diminishes someone's dignity is the wrong kind of helping… or giving that expects folks to say, "….So grateful, think I'll become a Christian like you." It’s good, right, and enough to simply give with hearts filled with compassion.
For sure, the Jubilee principle is good news for the poor. Christians through the ages have followed it. When there were no hospitals, God’s people created hospitals. When there were no schools, God’s people created schools to provide knowledge for living and making a living. When there were no recreational facilities, God’s people put up YMCAs and YWCAs (gyms).
There’s no surprise that when we go into the slums of America's cities and ask the poor, "What do you need?" they say, "Jobs." It's good to set up a basketball court so they can “ball” but if what they need is jobs, we need to create jobs. One thing wrong with our welfare system is that we’ve tried to help people out of poverty but destroyed their dignity by our process. It’s far better to create jobs for all who can work. That's one way the gospel brings good news to the poor.
Jubilee delivers the sick from ailments
Another dimension of Jubilee is healing – “the lame will walk, deaf will hear, blind will see…” God’s healing is not something we understand well. Aren’t we all be-wildered over why some are healed and some aren't, especially when some bad folks get well and some good folks keeping on being sick and dying.
Mother Teresa was once asked: "How do you explain these things, that some people who are so godly and pray so hard get sick and die, and some people wicked as Satan himself are healed?" She answered, "When I see Him, He's got a lot of explaining to do."
Compolo says he had a Pentecostal friend say to him, "You know, Jesus said the church’s ministry is to preach, teach, and heal. You preach and teach, but you don't do healing." Compolo, being honest, said, "I tried but not much happens." The Pentecostal preacher said, "You preach and not much hap-pens, but it hasn't stopped you preaching..."
Not many of us carry around little vials of oil (see James 5). I know of no church with a healing ministry. But some wonderful things do happen.
An Oregon preacher prayed for a man who had cancer and anointed him with oil. Midweek, he got a call from the wife. She said, "You prayed for my husband; he died… only forty-three years old! But don’t feel bad. When he came to church last Sunday he was filled with anger thinking he was going to be dead in a short time and he hated God. He wanted to see his children grow up, and his grandchildren, and he was angry that God did not take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The angrier he grew towards God the more miserable he became to everybody around him. It was awful to be in his room. But you prayed for him, and when he left church a peace came over him and a joy came into him. The last three days have been the best days of our lives. We've sung, laughed, read Scripture, and prayed. Wonderful, wonderful days! So I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for his healing. He wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”
She may have something there. Cures don't last… we all know people who’ve had God intervene in a sickness and deliver a cure. But it will always be just tempo-rary. Everyone who’s cured will die anyway. As someone so bluntly said, "They'll take you out to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw dirt in your face, and then go back into the church and eat fried chicken and banana pudding."
Jesus raised Lazarus from death but he died again. He fed 5,000 one day and the next day they all were hungry again. His only permanent miracle is His resurrect-tion. Cures are temporary, but healing a soul by power of the Holy Spirit is for-ever. Given a choice of being cured or being healed, take being healed any day.
Jubilee is a time when the poor are lifted up and sicknesses are cured; the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see.
Jubilee sets the “oppressed” free
Jubilee is a time when “the oppressed” are delivered from their oppression. We can all relate. We may not be poor or sick, but we’ve all felt oppressed with the weight of the world on our shoulders.
When is the last time you gave God five minutes of stillness? You say, "Well, I do my daily devotional time." But the Bible says, “Just be quiet and still.” "In stillness you will receive your salvation, in quietude your deliverance" (Isaiah 30:15). Hear it is: "Be still and know that I am God." One reason we might feel unloved by God is because we’ve never taken time to feel His love. We have to be still and let Him reach out and embrace you.
I went to my first black funeral when I was 16. A friend of mine, Clarence, had died. The pastor was incredible. From the pulpit he talked about the resurrection… beautiful terms that thrilled everyone. Then he came down to the family and comforted them with John 14: "’Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me,' said Jesus. Clarence has gone to a heavenly mansion." Then he went right up to the open casket and preached to Clarence. Pretty dramatic! He yelled at the corpse: "Clarence! Clarence!" He said it so strong I wouldn’t have been surprised if Clarence had answered. "Clarence, there were a lot of things we should have said to you that we never got said. You got away too fast.” Then he went through a list of beautiful things Clarence had done for people. When he finished, dramatically, he said, "That's it, Clarence, nothing more to say except ‘Good night, Clarence.’" Then he grabbed the lid of the casket and slammed it down… wham! It was a jolt... Then he faced the audience with a big smile on his face and he said, "Good night, Clarence, because I know that God is going to give you a good morning." The choir boomed out, “On that great morning, we shall rise, we shall rise." We all danced in the aisles and hugged each other. And Compolo said, “I felt a joy of the Lord that laughs and sings and dances in the face of death, for it no longer has sting.”
Once the Holy Spirit fills you and turns God’s ecstasy loose in you, that's jubilee – oppression over, sin cleansed, sickness healed, and death laughed at… at least smiled at. That 's the whole gospel… the good news… that’s Jesus in your heart.
Who are we? Let’s identify ourselves…
Can the kingdom of God break in a place where God’s people have difficulty identifying themselves first and foremost as children of the kingdom – Jubilee – rather than as American, Hispanic, Black, or whatever?
Just seeing Jesus needs to be what shapes and molds us.