Monday, April 11, 2016

Jesus Asks: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord," and do not do what I tell you?"

This is the 14th post in my series "Asking Myself," in which I weekly ponder one question posed in Teresa Blythe's rich book, 50 Ways to Pray. You can find the start of the series here and last week's post here. The first nine posts focused on theological musings, while posts 10 to the present prayerfully consider the specific questions Jesus posed in the New Testament.

Q: So, why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and do not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46)

I struggle again to answer this next question, which Jesus asked toward the end of a message that included some of His major themes like the Beatitudes and the admonition to love our enemies. The message and the question were posed to his disciples and crowds of followers in a field. And, for me, reading through the lens of my language, time and culture, the question seems rather pointy. Rather accusatory. Mocking almost? I don't want to be offended by Jesus... but when I imagine Him asking me this question, I feel defensiveness rising up. 

Well, then, what else should I call you? Shouldn't I call you? Didn't you know ahead of time how bad we humans were at following through on what you tell us to do? 

At the same time, I know He's right. And before I get too far ahead with my personal reaction to the question, let's have a look at the context. I didn't really know what Jesus was asking without the context. (Confession: I still don't know exactly what he's asking even with the benefit of the context!)

The question, which seems to be a sort of shaking out of religious do-gooders or at least religious do-appearers, is lodged between two parables or illustrations. The first, in Luke 6:43-45, is the picture of trees producing fruit. A good tree produces good fruit. A bad tree produces bad fruit. Neither can produce the opposite kind of fruit, and the fruit is the definitive indicator for tree classification. And in case the throngs failed to see how this basic biology lesson applied to themselves, Jesus explained it:

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (v. 45 NLT)

It seems there is no middle ground here. There are good trees and bad trees. There are good people and bad people. Good people only know how to do good. Bad people only know how to do bad. You make figs or thorns, grapes or brambles. End of story.

And this is super troubling to me. I love you, Jesus! Why are you saying things that seem so contrary to what I think I love about you? Where is the nuance, the revolution and revelation in this black-and-white, good-or-bad dichotomy? 

Because of Jesus, I don't teach my own children this way. They're already predisposed to sort their world into "good" or "bad," so I'd rather not reinforce that by labeling anyone as inherently, unilaterally good or bad. In fact, when it comes to the myriad discussions I have with them about their world of superheros, I always emphasize the bad guys who choose to do good and become good. Darth comes back over to the Light side. Lord Garmadon becomes a Sensei again. There's redemption. There's always possibility. 

So I find myself stumbling a bit in this garden of fig trees and grapevines and thorn and bramble bushes. I'm not so sure I want either the cuts or the sugary sweetness of what these trees produce. And wasn't it the tree of knowledge of good and evil that got our sights off the source of abundant life in the first place?

Yet, there is still so much truth to the idea that fruit is evidence of one's heart. And perhaps my problem is not so much that Jesus' illustration is too far-reaching, but that I haven't developed it enough. 

I hear Jesus asking the question again, this time rhetorically: So, why don't you do what I say? Because your disobedience flows from the very core of your being.

Sometimes people are thorny and wound others because they've been wounded. Their behavior, their produce, springs from their heart's treasury. A person produces wounds from a treasury of a wounded heart, wounds stored up for years. A person can also offer mercy, kindness or service from a heart's treasury of having been shown mercy and kindness or having been served. And, can I just say that like a bank that has separate accounts for checking, savings, college funds, and an emergency fund, the heart's treasure store probably has a variety of virtues and vices stored up as well? 

So expanded a bit, Jesus' original, elegant analogy speaks to how our behaviors, good or bad, stem from what's in our heart. And let's face it, folks, what's in our heart is pretty much who we are at any given moment in time. And how many moments in time there are! Borrowing from other horticultural scriptures, we have a Gardener skilled at grafting in a new life; a Jesus branch takes root in our hearts so Jesus is not just incarnate as an individual God-man, but also incarnate in us. And given the right conditions, He'll spread like a weed. This is a hopeful metaphor after all. 

The other bookend to Jesus' question is an illustration about obedience, which is also obviously related to the question. 

I will show you what it's like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn't obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse in a heap of ruins. (Luke 6:47-49)

These verses are helpful because they flesh out what Jesus means by someone calling him "Lord, Lord." I think we are these people not so much when we desperately cry out for Him, in our raw, unabashed neediness. Rather, I think we are these people when we hypocritically say Jesus is Lord of our life, yet don't actually put Him in first place as we go about our day doing or not doing things... especially things that He's addressed. 

When I call Jesus "Lord," I'm saying He's in charge. I'm at His mercy. I'm on His team. I'm hanging on His every word! And if I'm saying all that by uttering a simple name, I need to be just as simple in actually following through with His requests, His wishes, His commands. That goes for Moses' Big Ten, for the Greatest Commandment, and for the little, Emily-specific Holy Spirit urgings and nudgings. 

If I don't, there will be a reckoning. Maybe not immediately... but like a house built on the sand, what I am doing (even the good things, even possibly things that are done in obedience) will only be dashed to pieces in the big storms of life. I'm no architect, but even I know a little mis-measurement near the bottom of the building can destabilize the whole thing. No one sees at first how vulnerable the house is. People I care about might even take shelter there. But actually, I'm foundationless when I reject Jesus as the bedrock upon which I build.

My impressions from this week's question and surrounding verses? Take a good, hard look at the fruit I'm producing. What kinds of fruits am I giving my kids and my husband? My friends and acquaintances? What am I depositing into their treasuries? If I don't like what I see, open up that treasure box of my heart and let Jesus graft himself in. 

Then, take a good, hard look at what I'm building. Is my foundation the appearance of obedience or actual obedience to God? Sometimes actual obedience might not look like it to others! Finally, consider the storms and floodwaters. Possibly, if they happen and wreak havoc early on in my building process, they might be God's mercy and a fresh start. 

I know this week's musing seems rather weighty. But like the entire gospel story, there's hope and possibility. As long as we have life, we have the ability to produce fruit for our (and others') treasuries and the ability to build a sturdy abode in the landscape of our hearts.

No comments:

Post a Comment