Authenticity Matters

Matthew 4:12-17

When Jesus heard about John’s arrest, he set off for Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he set up a home in Capernaum. It was a sea-side home on the border of Zebulun and Naphtali. Long ago, Isaiah had said,

In Zebulun and Naphtali, regions by the sea
Across the River Jordan, and in Galilee
People who lived in darkness have now seen the light,
and light has come to those dying in the shadows.

And this was Jesus’ message: Choose life! Your greatest hope is within reach.

We often think of Jesus as homeless. But at least in this passage, Jesus sets up his home by the sea.

The quotation from Isaiah is about how Jesus aligns his life and his message with his calling. It’s about congruence, and authenticity and how Jesus sets his life in alignment with his self understanding and mission. It’s nothing to do with Isaiah’s magical predictive powers. Isaiah’s life and message were about bringing light, life and hope to people who lived in darkness, death and apathy. So was Jesus. It’s that simple.

Jesus’ message is about doing for ourselves exactly what he is doing: choosing to live by setting your life in alignment with your self-understanding and mission. It’s about being authentic, having congruence in what you say you are about and what you do. Give your light to the world, your gifts, your art, your life. If you choose to leave your apathy behind, what was once impossible suddenly isn’t.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Matthew 4:1-11

The great spirit led Jesus on a vision quest in the wilderness where he met the devil. After forty days and nights without food, Jesus was starving.

The devil said, “If you’re God’s child, turn these stones to bread.”

Jesus said, “Scripture says it takes more than bread to really live. To live takes doing what God says.”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the pinnacle of the temple, and said, “If you’re God’s child, jump. Scripture says God will send an angel to catch you before you hit the pavement.”

Jesus said, “Scripture says not to trifle God with your stupidity.”

Then the devil took him to the top of a mountain and showed him all the world’s empires, and said, “These are all yours if you sign on with me.”

Jesus said, “Get out of here, Satan. Scripture says the only thing worth doing is what God calls you to do.

So the devil left him there. And angels came to bring him back from his vision.

Often titled “the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness,” this scene is a story about a vision. The inner struggle Jesus faces is not, as is commonly supposed, the three actions the devil proposes. Having just heard the voice of the great spirit proclaim that he is God’s child at his baptism, the struggle is whether Jesus will be true to himself. Will he really live? Or will he waste his life on bread and trifling piety doing what someone else suggests is more important? Will he do the work that is necessary to change the world? Or will he be just the next passing dictator? Will he determine for himself that he is God’s child? Or will he abandon that calling?

It’s the same existential questioning everyone goes through. Especially when we’re under stress.

  • Am I going to be who I know I am? Or am I going to just get by from one meal to the next?
  • Am I going to be who I know I am? Or am I going to waste my life away with trivialities and piously call it a leap of faith?
  • Am I going to give something great to the world? Or am I going to try to extract everything I can from it?

People will always be happy to tell you who they think you ought to be. But you know who you really are. The hard part is always making the commitment to be true to yourself instead of falling back into being whatever everyone else wants you to be. But, as tempting as it is to play it safe, lay low, keep your head down and go along to get along, it’s a path that ends always in ruin and regret.

There are many ways to say it, but only one way to do it:

  • To thine own self be true. – Shakespeare
  • Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde
  • Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life. – Buddha
  • The only thing worth doing is what God calls you to do. – Jesus


Geithner Calls Bank of America’s TARP Loan: A Parable

Timothy Geithner
Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury, via Wikipedia

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if someone in the church sins against me, how many times should I forgive that person? Seven?”

Jesus answered, “It’s not a number. It’s as many times as it takes. The goal is like this:

The secretary of the treasury needed to settle the national debt. So he had the Department of Homeland Security haul in a banker who owed $163 billion. Since the banker couldn’t pay, he ordered the banker to a lifetime jail sentence without trial or parole in Guantanamo, and his entire family fortune along with that of his wife and children confiscated. So the banker fell on his knees and pleaded, “Have patience, and I will repay everything.” Seeing this, the secretary changed his mind about it and let him go, and besides that wrote off the whole $163 billion right then and there.

That same banker, went back to his office and called in the mortgage of a mill worker in Cleveland, who was behind on his payments by $500. The mill worker filled out all the paperwork, applied for all the available loan modification programs, but still the banker refused to relent, and threw the mill worker, together with his family, out on the street, and then threatened to press criminal charges unless the entire mortgage was paid in full.

When the mill worker’s co-workers, and the other working-class folk in his neighborhood heard what happened, they were outraged. They wrote to the secretary of the treasury and told him what was going on. Then the secretary summoned the banker back to his office, and said to him, “You ungrateful bastard! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have the decency to do the same thing? And he handed the banker over for extraordinary rendition to a secret CIA gulag in Uzbekistan to be tortured until he paid the whole $163 billion.

“Now,” said Jesus, “consider what you’ve been forgiven, and then treat your fellow church members – and anyone else, for that matter – likewise, remembering that you, too, could wind up in Uzbekistan.”

There’s no need for extensive commentary here, because when we look at the parable as Jesus might have told it today, it’s implications are, for the most part, self-evident.

You can almost hear the back-story for Peter’s question. Someone has offended Peter on numerous occasions (maybe seven), and Peter wants to know at what point he can retaliate. He poses his question, as people often do, in the form of a theoretical situation: “What if?” The question’s deception is to imply that this issue is not about me personally. Same as when someone says, “I have a friend who …” It makes no difference what commentators say about seven being the number of offenses to be forgiven in the popular rabbinical literature of the day. Nor does Jesus care about keeping score. For Jesus it’s about working through differences, whatever that takes. And Jesus knows it really is about the person asking.

Frequently, interpretations of this parable try to make out the secretary of the treasury (the king in most translations) as standing in the place of God. But it clearly doesn’t work. It makes no sense whatsoever that Jesus intended to represent God as a fickle, whimsical, government financier who one moment threatens, the next writes off huge debts, and then sends someone off to be tortured. (Well, maybe it does if you’re Michele Bachmann, but not for sane people.)

But this isn’t about God, it’s about Jesus’ vision for community among ordinary folk. The story designed to place the outrageous alongside the common ways real power impinges on everyday life, and then to ask the reader (or the hearer): Given the unequal distribution of power and debt in your relationships, what will you do?