Jun 04

Becoming a Wounded Healer – Part 1

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“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,  so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give


“Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

Psalm 30: 5b; 11-12 (NRSV)

What does the word broken call to your mind?  Plates, mirrors, and windows?  Promises?  A world record? Bones and fingernails and noses?  Hearts, spirits – yes, even people can be broken.

How do we come to be broken? We may have been hurt, injured, or suffered loss. We may have sinned greatly and become weighed down by guilt and shame. We may have been in a relationship or situation that has shattered our illusions or betrayed our trust.  A truly broken person has come to the end of himself or herself.

Richard Rohr has commented, “Would any of us even learn to love at all if it was not demanded of us, taken from us, and called forth by human tears and earthly tragedy? Is suffering necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another?” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 123)   Rohr brings an important fact of life to our attention. When everything is rolling along well in our lives, we can believe that we are in control. We know what to do.  We don’t need to share our lives or steep in the wisdom of others. We feel no need to stop, look around, or attempt to make sense of anything.

But once grief or pain or betrayal or obstacles enter our lives, we are brought up short. Life is no longer fair – let alone rosy. We begin the journey of catching our breath, looking up, and trying to understand.  We try to make sense of our suffering. We may drop to our knees for the first time in our lives.

The pages of the book of Psalms spill over with the cries of the hurt and broken.  However, the Psalmists also teach us that joy may indeed come with the morning and through our mourning.  We can recycle those experiences and become wounded healers. We can love and care for another, speaking into his or her life through our own experience.

All of us are wounded in some way, but we do not all become healers. “Hurt people hurt people” is a cliché, but it is also true. If we do not work through our suffering with the help of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be a healing presence in the church or in the world.  Our helping will be tainted by our own unredeemed suffering.  We will be at risk of hurting others because the fruits of our spirit will be bitterness, anger, control, frustration, fear, judgmentalism, resentment, blame, criticism, cynicism, hatred, retreat, withdrawal or flight. Those of us who have been wounded and do open our suffering to the healing love of God can be of benefit to others because love, compassion, empathy, serenity, joy, and hope will flow from our lives.

Each of us is deeply wounded not only by life’s experience but also because we carry the taint of sin. The Church is a gathering place for the wounded.  But not all wounded find healing there. That is why churches can become the most vicious places on earth. And it may why the unchurched say that they will never darken the door of a church because it is filled with “hypocrites.”

Perhaps we look like hypocrites because we are still wounded. We invite those who do not know Jesus to find healing in our sanctuaries, but we don’t want to acknowledge that many of us already sitting in those sanctuaries have not allowed that Jesus to heal us. Even worse, most of us would not be willing even to consider that we were part of the wounded and unhealed.

Henri Nouwen brought awareness of the term “wounded healers” in his book of the same name. Nouwen is speaking here about professional ministers. I am enlarging that term to “Christ followers.”  Nouwen says:

A minister [Christ follower] is called to recognize the sufferings . . .in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service. . . .  His [or her] service will not be received as authentic un-less it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he [she] speaks” (Can You Drink the Cup?, p. 59).

Until churches believe this and make it their mission to become authentic healers, hurt people will continue to hurt people.  And the suffering Wounded Healer will suffer more as he watches our unwillingness to recycle our wounds harm his Church.

Moving from wounded soul to wounded healer takes hard work. In his foreword to John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, Caring for the Most Important Part of You, Henry Cloud quotes a psychologist who reports that his long-time patient Maddie “still has no interest in having an interior life (p. 10).   This dilemma faces many Christians. We say we want to grow. We say we want to be healed of our grief or anger or fear. But we choose not to do the work of looking at our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or beliefs. “Having an interior life” is an absolute necessity if we are to redeem our pain and suffering and recycle it for good.

Richard Rohr’s final encouragement for the healing of wounds is that “with Jesus, we find the power to hold the pain of life until it transforms us” (Breathing Under Water, p. 68). God is the great Alchemist. God can create light out of darkness – but only if we cooperate.

MULLING IT OVER:  Remember an experience of conflict in your church.  How much of it could have been avoided if each person participating was not just wounded but a wounded healer?

How can you offer your wounds for the healing of others?

Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing. She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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May 12

Growing Requires Daring to Look at Who We Really Are

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“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV) I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked


“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV)

I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked for and attracted needy people and proceeded to try to “fix them.”  I felt responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, needs, and well-being. I was happiest when I was busily attempting to bring calm to chaotic situations.  I did this even in the face of logic which clearly demonstrated that this behavior was foolhardy and even dangerous and in spite of the objections of my family and friends. Those actions had severe consequences which still affect my life. And all the while I was convinced that this lifestyle was what God was calling me to do.

This behavior controlled my life because I was unable to step outside myself and observe my own behavior. Until a counselor helped me to look at myself and discern the motivation of my actions and reactions, I saw no need to change, although my life was falling apart all around me.

What I am describing here is a lack of consciousness.   Consciousness is “me seeing me seeing” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 85).  Consciousness is the awareness that empowers me to:

  • step outside myself
  • discern my behavior
  • choose to change my behavior or go ahead with that behavior

The opposite of consciousness is acting out of instinct or from thoughts and experiences of which we are unaware.  An example of this “unconscious” behavior would be sudden anger or violence that makes us think, “Where in the world did that come from?” or crippling fear that we cannot explain.

When my enabling controlled me, I could/would not see that I was choosing to be manipulated.  I could/would not understand or see that I was taking actions that hurt me as well as the person I was trying to fix.  When I took a young man just released from jail to my home to stay because his parents wouldn’t let him return to their home, I couldn’t see that his parents may have had good reason to keep him away. Being “unconscious” kept me in denial of the dangers of my own behavior.

As I began my spiritual formation journey years later, I discovered that God used that counselor to help me understand and change my behavior, but that the Holy Spirit was the power behind my transformation from someone interested only in codependent relationships to someone who could form and enjoy healthy relationships.  My perception is that consciousness is the conduit the Holy Spirit uses to speak into our lives.  If we are willing to practice stepping out- side of ourselves, the Holy Spirit can guide, comfort, teach, remind, and empower us, as Scripture teaches he will (John 14).

“Consciousness” is an awareness we can learn and practice.  A counselor who was in one of the classes I teach told the group that looking back on our past to see how our parents or grandparents may have influenced our lives is one way of learning to step outside ourselves and become observers. Learning about “false narratives” also gives us a framework to observe and assess our own perceptions of the world.

The spiritual discipline of “detachment” is also a way that we can learn to develop consciousness. Ignatius of Loyola talks about “making use of those things that help bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t” (In First Principal and Foundation quoted by Margaret Silf in her book Inner Compass).  Silf uses the image of God as a midwife to help us picture what detachment means:

For all of us, our first experience of the pain and promise of detachment was the hour we left our mother’s womb and, screaming with shock,  entered human life on earth.  In the seemingly brutal act of cutting the umbilical cord, which separated us from the prenatal food supply, we were in fact set free to live our own lives.

So it began, and so it continues in the ongoing call to let go of what is not (or is no longer) leading us closer to God, and to choose instead those ways that for us personally lead us closer to him and to the fulfillment of his dream for us.  (Inner Compass, p. 108)

Richard Rohr says that “for properly detached persons . . . . deeper consciousness comes rather naturally.  They discover their own soul – which is their deepest self – and yet have access to a Larger Knowing beyond themselves.”  He goes on to say that when Jesus speaks of “giving us the Spirit,” he is saying he is “sharing his consciousness with us. One whose soul is thus awakened actually has ‘the mind of Christ’ (I Cor. 2 10-16)  (Breathing Under Water, p. 86-87).

Mulling it Over – Take on the discipline of praying this prayer every day.  “Lord, give me a growing spirit of detachment from anything that separates me from you” (Richard Foster).  Pay attention to the effect it has on your willingness to look at yourself from outside yourself.

Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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Mar 24

I Can Have As Much of God As I Want

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“A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4; NIV). “With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8; MSG). When I


“A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4; NIV).

“With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8; MSG).

When I was a child, I frequently lay awake trying to parse the concept of God having no beginning and no end. My 7-year-old brain was frightened by the limitlessness of God. By extension I did not take any comfort in the possibility of my life being lived in ETERNITY!  As I grew older, I understood that humans had built a framework of measured time over the universe to help us organize our lives.

The problem of time often limits our relationship with God. The reality is that God lives outside of time. In the Garden of Eden humans were comfortable with living in the eternal now. Every moment with God was now. As a friend of mine has said, “God was close by and conversation was easy.” Then our ancestors tried to grab control from God and were cast out of the garden. God didn’t change, but our experience of God did. God still lives outside of time; we are now bound by time. Therefore we can only find God in our present moments.

When we say that the Kingdom of God is “available now and is also coming,” we don’t pay enough attention to the fact that “now” means not just during our lifetime on earth, but actually NOW, at this moment, in this instant.  Not 30 minutes ago or next Sunday, but now.

Did you ever stop to think that Jesus’ stories about the kingdom happen in a specific and discrete moment?

  • The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field (Matt. 13:31).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour (Matt. 13:33).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like treasure that a man found, and hid again, and then bought the field (Matt 13:44).
  • The kingdom heaven is like a fine pearl which a man found and immediately bought (Matt. 13:45).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men -and at the third hour and at the sixth hour and at the 11th hour (Matt. 20: 1 – 16).

Jesus described those actions as happening in a distinctive moment of time – now.

So, if God and God’s Kingdom on earth are found only the now, what does that say to us?  If we want to find God, we have to live in the now. We have to stop and look at the burning bushes. We have to collect the manna when it falls. We have to sit at Jesus’ feet when it is inconvenient. We have to commune with God while we are washing dishes or mopping the floor (as did Brother Lawrence). We have to find God each time we open the door (as did Alphonsus Rodriguez, a lay brother who answered the door at the Jesuit College on Majorca and tried to see Christ in each of the persons who came to the door.) We have to find God in the forests and fields (as Francis of Assisi did.)

How do we do this? We fight off our addiction to living in the past and looking toward the future and, instead, dwell in the present where we can have as much of God as we want.

MULLING IT OVER:  Did you ever think about the fact that for us eternity/heaven will mean going “back to the future?”  After death we will return to the eternal now.  Communion with God will be effortless.  Now, however, we need to be intentional about seeking the face, the voice, and the companionship of God.  How do you make that happen?

Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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Mar 10


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(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here) The previous two posts have given us a reason to look


(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here)

The previous two posts have given us a reason to look to the Old Testament as a place that shaped Jesus’ own perspective and one that could help us ground our own narratives on the character of God. Now we look at how the Old Testament can help us to identify–and join Jesus in living according to–God’s plan and purpose, thus bringing glory to “God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds)

God’s Purpose

One of the crucial elements of Jesus’ teaching is His proclamation of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. In the Kingdom of God the purpose of God is fully expressed and fully achieved. Jesus begins and ends the Beatitudes in Matthew mentioned with statements regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, 10, NAS95)

Jesus’ reshaping narratives in this initial element of the Sermon on the Mount serve as a focal point for the many kingdom of heaven parables found within this Gospel. The words, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, are familiar to many as the announcement of Jesus in Matthew 4:17. Many don’t realize they are also the words of John the Baptist and Jesus’ command for his disciples’ proclamation (3:2, 10:7). Where does Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of heaven originate if not in His Scripture? The Old Testament is replete with descriptions of what God’s kingdom is to be like and how those within it are to live.

Many individuals who read through the Old Testament are often attracted to the stories of terror and horror inflicted by the Israelites on their surrounding nations. Other readers focus narrowly on the David and Bathsheba story or that of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11. But such a focus misses the point of the Old Testament, to recount the activity of Yahweh, God of creation among humanity. The more important passages often seem to be less frequently proclaimed than the scandalous many, but remain more important nonetheless.

There are several key passages of the Old Testament that encapsulate the timeless purpose of God.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NAS95)

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

“[T]hey will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

It would appear that the purpose of God is for humanity rather than against it. It would also appear that the purpose of God encompasses blessing for others through the very ones who are in relationship with God.

Two narratives intertwine throughout the Old Testament regarding God’s purpose. The first informs us of God’s relationship with humanity and the creation. Despite attempts to narrowly limit the use of Genesis 1 to scientific debate, it serves a larger purpose, especially when cast against other stories of creation. One element of the creation is that the world; the land, the seas, the birds of the sky and the animals of land and even male and female, are viewed through God’s perspective as “very good.” The later scandalous stories of disobedience and discontent accounted in the Old Testament are unable to mask the reality that God looks upon all that he has done with great delight and pleasure. This attitude of God is not solely toward humanity. When we attempt to live like Jesus in our relationship to creation we must take God’s perspective into complete consideration.

The second narrative relates to God’s intended consequences for humanity. From Adam through Noah and vocalized clearly with Abram, God seeks to bless the nations of this created world, who one may recall are separated by discord at Babel. God is not looking for reasons to destroy but to preserve, not to keep in poverty but to distribute bountiful blessings. The sin that separates humanity from God is being addressed by God so as to tear down the walls of separation. Selfishness rears its ugly head in our lives as often as the dandelions of spring, summer, and fall appear. The Old Testament consistently reminds the people of God that they do not own or possess God, but that God possesses them. He is not for their use, but they for His.

In 539 B.C. the covenant people of God were permitted to return to their land from exile. Not all returned, but those who did reflected many false narratives. When 17 years had passed in the land, God spoke another message of reminder through the prophet Haggai.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “ Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “ You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:7-11, NAS95)

These people of God looked for God’s blessings in life while ignoring God’s purpose. The Old Testament continues to communicate clearly that God is to be glorified among his creation. When we remember and our lives reflect that narrative as a driving purpose, then God works through creation to multiply our efforts and provide bountifully for our needs. When we forget and seek to glorify the work of our hands, then those same provisions can wither and disappear.

No one reflects the purpose of living to bring glory to God the Father better than Jesus the Son. His life activities are reflected best in the prayer recorded before his arrest.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:1-4, NAS95)

Jesus understood His purpose because his narratives were formed and shaped by study of His Scripture, our Old Testament. He understood God’s character and taught God’s character to those following Him. He kept God’s purpose central in His own life, understanding the folly and failures of past generations who departed from this path. If we are to be apprentices of Jesus, we would do well to reshape our narratives concerning God’s character and purpose until they rested on solid foundations and could not be shaken, despite the storms of life.

For the apprentice of Jesus the Old Testament is a rich depository of narrative changing accounts. Many of these narratives teach positive lessons while others teach using negative example. An apprentice of Jesus ignores these teachings to his or her own peril. The normal result of minimizing the writings shared by Jew and Christian is to somehow perceive God in this world through a warped lens. If I truly wish to live like Jesus I must think like Jesus, who “emptied Himself” and “humbled Himself” so that “God highly exalted Him” above all those “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and in so doing all Jesus does is “to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11).


Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga



An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.



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Mar 03

Heavenly Reverie – Cultivating the Mind of Christ Jesus

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Part Two – Sacred Worth  (Read Jim’s first “Heavenly Reverie” blog here) Heavenly Reverie A State of Being Pleasantly Lost in the Noetic Environment of Jesus “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). I want to see reality the way Jesus


Part Two – Sacred Worth  (Read Jim’s first “Heavenly Reverie” blog here)

Heavenly Reverie

A State of Being Pleasantly Lost in

the Noetic Environment of Jesus

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

I want to see reality the way Jesus did.  I want to have the mind of Christ, as Paul urges us in the verse above. These blogs are my reflections on what I am coming to understand about the noetic environment of Jesus.  Noetic environment means reality as Jesus understood it, or, what was going on in his mind. In this installment I want to talk about how Jesus understood the human person and their sacred worth.

We live in a world where people are identified and labeled by externals.  We lump people into ethnic, religious and national groups.  Or we see people as a part of a consumer group, and we label people by economic status.  Finally, we are trained to see people as either good or bad, holy or sinful, based on their behavior:  “Stay away from her, she is a bad person.” In doing so we reduce people to commodities and consumers.  As a result, it becomes difficult to see people as persons of sacred worth.

However, Jesus refused to treat people as their external labels, box them in, and treat them according to their ethnic or religious group, social status or class, or their piety or sinfulness.  One provocative moment in the life of Jesus concerns his interaction with a woman in Matthew 15:21-28.  It is a passage that troubled me for years, but now brings me joy.[i]

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Without knowing the background—and the foreground—to this story, it appears that Jesus is not only unkind, he is an elitist, perhaps even a racist.  We are going to have to take a closer look to understand this odd story.

Matthew describes the woman as a “Canaanite.”  This was a word that no one in Jesus’ day used to describe the Gentiles.  It was the name used in the Old Testament to describe the people who occupied the promised land of Canaan, the people that Joshua was charged with totally annihilating.  Calling someone a Canaanite in Jesus’ day would be like calling a British person a Saxon, or a Swedish person a Viking.  So we know something is up when Matthew uses this name (the one and only time it occurs in the New Testament).

The woman is following Jesus and his disciples, shouting at him to heal her daughter.  His disciples tell Jesus to tell the woman to bug off.  Jesus instead says to the woman, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  This may sound rude, but in fact, in light of the recent events this was more of a sigh of despair.  John the Baptist has recently been murdered, Jesus’ ministry is failing, and the Pharisees are plotting his murder at that very moment.  Jesus’ reply was essentially, “I am on a difficult mission.  My own people are lost, and I must attend to them.”

The mother then kneels before Jesus, an act of complete submission, and says, “Lord, help me.”  One would expect a little compassion, but his next line sounds worse than the first:  “It is not fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs.”  Ouch.  She persists with a clever reply: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus seems delighted in this response, praises her faith, and tells her that her request has been granted, and her daughter is healed.  What just happened?

Perhaps she awakened Jesus’ memory of the original call of Abraham that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Gen. 18:18), because in essence she is saying, “I know your mission is to save your people first, but your ultimate mission is also for the rest of us.  Go ahead and feed your kids, but could you let my daughter have a scrap?”  Jesus says. “Great is your faith.” I believe he intentionally went into this region (Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory) to have this kind of interaction, so that he could proclaim that his mission now included the Gentiles.  Her persistent pleading demonstrated her faith that Jesus could, in fact, heal her daughter—even though she had no rights to it—gave Jesus the chance to show how he is making all things new.  By granting her request, Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles has now begun.  He had healed Gentiles before, but never in Gentile territory.  Something radical has just happened.  But it gets even better.

As I mentioned, what happens immediately after this story is also important in understanding what Jesus is ultimately doing.  The next thing Jesus does is heal hundreds of people—all Gentiles (nee Canaanites).  We can infer they are Gentiles because it says they all “praised the God of Israel” (code for:  “they were Gentiles”).  Then something even more profound follows.  The crowd of Gentiles grows to 4,000 (second only to the 5,000 he fed with the loaves and fishes, in the previous chapter).  As in that story, Jesus has compassion on this crowd, and performs the same miracle of feeding this huge crowd with only a small amount of food (the abundance narrative I wrote about in the previous blog).  But the end of the story is where it gets good.

In the feeding of the 5,000 (Jews) there were twelve baskets of leftovers.  This signified the twelve tribes of Israel.  When he feeds the 4,000 (Gentiles) there are seven baskets left over.   As I always tell my students, pay attention to the details in the Bible because there are no wasted words.  Seven signifies the seven tribes of the Canaanites, the very ones that Moses told Joshua to destroy totally (Deut. 7:1-5), ordering them to show no mercy, because any mingling with these godless people might lead the Israelites astray.

Let me re-cap what has happened.  Jesus has shown mercy and compassion on the very people that Moses said were godless.  Brian McLaren writes, “Jesus seizes the old narrative, shakes it, turns it inside out, and offers a new story that reframes a future radically different from the past.”[ii]

At the Apprentice Institute we talk, and speak, and write a lot about narratives.  Our narratives shape who we are and inform what we do.  Our narratives are crucial.  If they are false, limited, or toxic, they can damage our souls, and lead to apathy and even violence.  Jesus is, in this story, isolating an ancient narrative, showing that it is false, and offering us a new one, one that is true, namely, all people are of sacred worth.  He demonstrated this constantly in his actions, speaking to and blessing an adulterous Samaritan woman, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, healing the loved ones of the hated Roman soldiers.

Some may react to this story by saying, “Jesus is fickle.  He didn’t want to help the Gentile lady, then he caved, then he went crazy and started healing—and feeding—a ton of Gentiles.  He seems unstable.”  I do not read the story this way.  I believe that Jesus knew what he was doing all along.  He knew how deeply entrenched the narrative was in Israel—and among the Romans who occupied Israel.  It goes like this:  “Destroy your enemies, for blessed are the violent victors.”  That is what the Israelites lived with every day under Roman occupation.  Each day they saw their own people pinned up like bugs to die on crosses, a sign of Roman domination.  Jesus reverses the violence narrative, a narrative held by his own people.  It was in the air they breathed.  Jesus was calling it out.

In Jesus’ noetic environment, all people are sacred.  Therefore, we do not kill our enemies, we love them.  We do not curse our enemies, we pray for and bless them.  The violence narrative—one that is upheld only when we see people as things—is alive and well today.  It is in the newspapers every morning.  But I am called by Jesus not to judge others.  However, I see the narrative in my own heart when I judge the person who smokes, or is obese.  I see it in my own heart when I feel greater sadness for the American soldiers who die than the Iraqi soldiers who share the same fate.  I see it in my own heart when I see a homeless person holding a sign at the stoplight and my first response is to wonder if his plight is legitimate.  I am longing for the day when my first thought is, “How sacred that person is . . . wow.”

Transformation into Christlikeness is not easy.  But it is freeing.  I find my own false narratives—while comfortable and safe—are not conducive to joy.  I want to continue to get lost in the reverie of Jesus’ noetic environment.  It hurts at first, but abiding in his mind is healing to my soul.  I love the line from the Christmas hymn, O Holy Night:  “and He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”  Wouldn’t it be great if that was said of each of us:  “Wherever we go, people feel their sacred worth.”  For that to happen, we are going to have to see them as Jesus did.



[i]   This understanding of the passage comes from Grant LeMarquand, and stated in Brian McLaren’s book, Everything Must Change, pp. 154 ff.

[ii]  Ibid., p. 158


Dr. JaView More: http://jillnicole.pass.us/apprentice-teammes Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notably The Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.

Posted in A Good and Beautiful Life, Apprenticeship, Blog, Heavenly Reverie, Love, Love, Narrative | Tags: / / / / / / / /

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