“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:9-18 | ESV
“Adding [to the creed] is exactly what Jesus does. Instead of a Love-God Shema*, it is a Love-God-and-Others Shema. What Jesus adds is not unknown to Judaism, and he is not criticizing Judaism. Jesus is setting up his very own shop within Judaism. Loving others is central to Judaism, but it is not central to the creed of Judaism, to the Shema. So, what Jesus says is Jewish. But the emphasis on loving others is not found in Judaism’s creed the way it is found in the Jesus Creed. Making the love of God part of his own version of the Shema shows that he sees love of others as central to spiritual formation.”~ Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed
Truly loving God issues irrevocably in truly loving others.
This is the ultimate implication of Jesus linking the love of God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength with loving others as ourselves.
John in his first epistle makes that link so emphatically that he throws our loud claims of loving God in our face if in fact we are not loving others: “He that says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, certainly cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this is the command that we have from him, that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 John 4:20-21)
Tell us how you really feel, John!
Jesus, in his last words on earth to his followers gave them the “new command” to love one another as he had loved them, and then told them that all people would recognize them as his disciples by their love for one another.
They are inextricably linked, bound, intertwined.
But what God hath joined we all to easily separate as we “bite and devour one another” – all too often in the name of that very same love of God. And this is the pitfall of focusing on that vertical love of God with the horizontal love for others relegated as something of a footnote or side benefit. It makes us cold-hearted religious zealots who kill others, at least with our looks and our words, thinking that we are doing God service.
At least that can be the more extreme result.
In less malignant forms, we are left smugly self-assured of being on the right path as we cluck our tongues and shake our heads at a world that doesn’t get it.
But as the laws in Leviticus clearly demonstrate, the love of God doesn’t just impact what we do for the love of God in tabernacle service and ritual – it dramatically impacts what we do for the love of others in our fields, with our funds, and in our feuds.
How is your love life? How is the driving, pulsating core of God’s love challenging and impelling you to love others? To what acts of love would it lead you today?
Abba God, show me in deepening measure what it really means to love others as I love myself. Awaken me today from apathy and smug indifference, or, worse, from condescending disdain and derision of those made in your image. Awaken me to new vistas of loving others creatively, energetically, expansively. Through Jesus.
* Shema – the first word in the Deuteronomy 6 foundational prayer recited daily, “Hear (sh’ma) Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One…)
Taking time out from the Gospel of John for one week to reflect on what Jesus identifies as the center of all spiritual and religious life, what we’ll call here the “Jesus Creed”…
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 | ESV
We’re not great at the Great Commandment. In too many instances, we’re not even good at it. That, I believe is our primal problem. That is the lost soul of Christianity. If Jesus said that loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the most important commandment, then doesn’t it logically follow that we ought to spend an inordinate amount of our time and energy trying to understand it and obey it? We can’t afford to be merely good at the Great Commandment. We’ve got to be great at the Great Commandment. ~ Mark Batterson, Primal
Batterson’s book Primal is an exploration of what he calls “love to the fourth power” – love with the heart (compassion), soul (wonder), mind (curiosity), and strength (energy).
It’s a stirring challenge.
It’s convicting that in Jesus’ day the experts in the law, along with the rest of their culture, memorized, chanted, and prayed this passage in Deuteronomy. Three times a day. Every day.
But Jesus still said of those same expert theologians, “You don’t have the love of God in you.”
We need more than the words.
Our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength – compassion, wonder, curiosity, energy – must be captured, captivated, catapulted, consumed, unleashed in an unquenchable, slow-burning fire.
This is what is primal.
This is the center, the crux, the root, the driving, pulsating core of all spiritual life.
And that’s the key here.
The love of God is life. It’s bursting with compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy.
Not so much.
So the question comes to us: that may be a Bible under your arm (or on your Kindle Fire/iPhone/iPad), but what is the driving, pulsating core of your life – and are the words “driving” and “pulsating” words that people would associate with you and your spiritual life?
Would you say you are great at the Great Commandment? How about the church overall? Why or why not? What is the “driving, pulsating core” of your spiritual life?
Abba Father, forgive me for all the times I just memorize and recite the lines. Show me in deepening measure what it really means to love you with all my heartfelt compassion, all my soul-filled wonder, all my intellect-inspired curiosity, and with every ounce of energy stirring within me. And let me see the difference between that and merely being zealous over religion.
On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. John 6.22-24 | ESV
On the next day, the crowd (or what was left of them) that had been on the other side of the lake with Jesus came looking for him. He was gone, the boat the disciples had stepped into by themselves without Jesus was long gone, and there hadn’t been so much as a rowboat left behind for Jesus to use in crossing the lake. But just then a small flotilla of boats landed on that side of the lake, not too far from the very spot where they had their fill of bread after the Lord spoke the blessing. So they added all this up: Jesus isn’t here, nor are his disciples but the last we saw of them they were heading that way, so…so they boarded a recently arrived flotilla of boats and followed in their wake, reaching Capernaum in short order, on the hunt for Jesus. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
These verses provide something of a bridge between two signs – one by the lake (the feeding of the five thousand) and one on the lake (Jesus walking on water) – and one “sermon” that ended up taking place in the synagogue at Capernaum – the “sermon” we know as Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life; a sermon that could perhaps be summarized, “Verily I say unto thee, thou art totally missing the point of everything I just did.”
Exercises in missing the point.
We’re all good at such exercises. Little practice or instruction needed. We perform them all the time quite naturally.
And so did they.
They experienced one of the most significant signs Jesus performed during his entire ministry, and they walked away with the sign (trying to cash it in at the bank, er, bakery), rather than the meaning. They heard the joke and laughed at the wrong punch line. And now they are on the hunt for Jesus, trying to retrace his steps – hardly imagining that those steps would have led them right out onto the waters of the lake.
Their hunger and persistence is remarkable – I mean, they go so far as to commandeer a small flotilla of boats in their search.
Modern church parlance would probably call them “seekers.” And as Paul tells the Galatian believers years later, “It’s fine to be zealous provided the purpose is good.” And as it will become clear their purpose was merely to fill in a new day’s set of blanks – the chief blank being their once again empty stomachs – which is about as deep as most of us typically go. We seek the God who will dutifully, dependably fill in all our blanks. Yes we are happy that he took care of yesterday’s blanks, but now it’s another day and we have a whole new set to fill.
And often that’s just what he does.
And sometimes he stops.
And he says to us,
“Dude, you’re missing the whole point.”
What has been your latest most profound exercise in missing the point in your walk with God?
What did you learn?
Lord, sometimes my life is such an onslaught of crying, bleeding needs. Thank you for letting me find you in such times, for hearing me, for helping me. Again. I just want to go deeper than that with you. Lead me beyond blanks to fill into a full life from which to pour out for others. Through Christ.
Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. John 6.21 | ESV
Then they were quite happy to take him on board – and the funny thing is, no sooner was he on board than the found themselves bumping shore on the other side of the lake. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
“They were glad to take him into the boat.” I love understatement.
Let’s rewind and survey this entire scene.
Five thousand plus people are miraculously fed in the miracle of the loaves and fish. Pandemonium breaks out among the Passover pilgrim crowd who are sure their messianic ship has just docked, and they’ve got front row seats. They try for a quick coronation, Adonijah style, but Jesus turns his back on them and heads back up the mountain to pray after sending the disciples back across the lake away from all the hysteria so they can come down from must have been the ultimate messianic caffeine-high. Yes, a frustrating night spent fruitlessly fighting a contrary-wind should do the trick.
Did they wonder at all, do you suppose, during that night that no doubt seemed like an eternity, just why he had sent them out in that boat, and just where he was and why he wasn’t with them?
And now with nerves shot, tempers lost, strength gone and faith sunk, up strolls a ghost. No wait, it’s Jesus. And he’s walking on the water right through the wind and waves that have been stymieing them the livelong night – in fact, he’s got so much momentum that he looks like he’s going to race right past them.
Yes, we’re glad to have such a One to join our crew, any day of the week – and twice on Sunday.
You bet they were glad to take him into the boat.
Funny how we so faithfully pray for Jesus to bless our efforts, to “guide our bark aright,” to give us strength as we man the oars, courage as we face the storm, perseverance as we go against the wind, vision as we strain to see the far shore, when all the while he would simply step into the boat to be with us, and, upon doing so, show us that we’re already there.
Where in your life do you need to set aside the oars and simply welcome Jesus into the boat with you?
Lord, I’m tired of these oars. I am. Please. Step into the boat of my life this day, and take this boat to the shores you would intend – and may I be glad for it – and for you. Through Christ.
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Matthew 14.28-32 | ESV
Nervously, impetuously, boldly, Peter speaks out to the apparition dancing on the waters, “Lord, if that really is you, then tell me to come to you right out there on the waters!” Jesus shouted back one word, “Come!” And stepping out of the relatively safe confines of the boat, Peter walked. On the waters. And he stepped out, walking right up to Jesus, undaunted, unhesitating. On the water. Ah, but then he looked at where he was and thought about it. He saw the wind – and felt it too – strong and howling, and his heart was swamped with fear, his body quickly following suit, plunging beneath the waves, he then gasping in terrified desperation, “Lord, save me!” And without a moment’s thought or delay, Jesus instantly reached his hand out and he took hold of the helpless, thrashing man, and gently chiding him, “Ah wee-faithed-one, you just had to look and think and doubt, didn’t you?” And lifting him to his feet, they walked back to the boat together. And no sooner had they climbed in and joined the others witnessing this whole spectacle, than the wind. Stopped. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Three of the Gospel writers tell this story of Jesus walking on the water, but only one dives into this scene of Peter stepping out and joining him there. For some reason, only Matthew sees fit to mention it, and I just can’t resist going there, for in this story we see a unique portrait of both Christ and humanity – this isn’t just Peter – each of us can see ourselves here, sure enough.
To quote Edersheim, again:
‘Lord, if it be thou, bid me to come to Thee on the water.’ They are the words of a man, whom the excitement of the moment has carried beyond all reflection. And yet this combination of doubt (‘if it be Thou’), with presumption (‘bid me come on the water’), is peculiarly characteristic of Peter. He is the Apostle of Hope – and hope is a combination of doubt and presumption, but also of their transformation.
Yes, we are all a mixed bag of doubt and presumption, of assurance and second-guessing, aren’t we?
And as this mixed bag of doubt and presumption steps out with wavering foot and trembling hand, I can count on seeing my share of the floor (or the water) as I fall flat on my face.
Funny how we so often see the bottom line of this story being that Peter made a fool out of himself (again) and sank like the Rock that he was – what do you expect when Rock tries to walk on water?
He should have tried skipping.
Oh for the faith to fail so grandly as Peter did on the water, rather than failing as we huddle in fear in the boat, for it is not a scalding, scolding that I hear issue from the Master’s lips as he reaches out and takes hold of Peter’s flailing hands – any more than we would scold our child when falling during that first try on a bike.
Only two people in history, as far as we know, walked on water. Jesus and Peter. And Peter did it twice – once on his way to Jesus and again on their way back together to the boat…
just how do you think they got back to the boat?
When most recently have you risked failing spectacularly? What happened? What would you say is the key ingredient needed to get us to leave the safety of the boat and step out into risk?
Lord, give me the eyes to see you skipping atop the troubles that weigh me down and threaten to drown me; give me the courage to step into where you are; and when I think about all this too much, as I undoubtedly will, and begin to sink, thank you for not scolding but catching me, lifting me, and showing me how to skip with you. Amen.
When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” John 6.19-20 | ESV
Having rowed hard more than half the night they had barely gotten half-way across the lake, the hard rowing chasing all thought of Jesus from their minds. But then they saw it. Him. Who or what was it? No, it’s Jesus. Walking. Walking on the water. Their eyes riveted on him as he walked closer, not too far from the boat, now. And these experienced fishermen were terrified.
Jesus called out to the quavering, trembling men, “Oy! It’s me! Calm down!” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Paint, Edersheim. Paint…
When Jesus constrained the disciples to enter the boat, and to go before him to the other side, they must have thought that his purpose was to join them by land since there as no other boat there, save that in which they crossed the lake.
And possibly such had been his intention, till he saw their difficulty, if not danger, from the contrary wind. This must have determined him to come to their help. And so this miracle also was not a mere display of power, but, being caused by their need, had a moral object…
We can almost picture to ourselves the weird scene.
The Christ is on that hill-top on solitary converse with his Father – praying after that miraculous breaking of bread: fully realizing all that it implied to him of self-surrender, of suffering, and of giving himself as the Food of the World, and all that it implied to us of blessing and nourishment; praying also – with that scene fresh on his mind, of their seeking to make him, even by force, their King – that the carnal might become spiritual reality (as in symbol it would be with the Breaking of Bread).
Then, as he arises from his knees, knowing that, alas, it could not and would not be so to the many, he looks out over the lake after that little company, which embodied and represented all there yet was of his church, all that would really feed on the Bread from heaven, and own him as their true King. Without presumption, we may venture to say, that there must have been indescribable sorrow and longing in his heart, as his gaze was bent back across the track which the little boat would follow.
As we would view it, it seems all-symbolical: the night, the moonlight, the little boat, the contrary wind, and then also the lonely Saviour after prayer looking across to where the boatmen vainly labor to gain the other shore. As in the clear moonlight just that piece of water stands out, almost like burnished silver, with all else in shadows around, the sail-less mast is now rocking to and fro, without moving forward.
They are in difficulty, in danger: and the Saviour cannot pursue his journey on foot by land; He must come to their help, though it be across the water.
It is needful, and therefore it shall be upon the water, and so the storm and unsuccessful toil shall not prevent their reaching the shore, but shall also be to them for teaching concerning him and his great power, and concerning his great deliverance; such teaching as, in another aspect of it, had been given them in symbol in the miraculous supply of food, with all that it implied (and not to them only but to us also) of precious comfort and assurance, and as will forever keep the church from being overwhelmed by fear in the stormy night on the Lake of Galilee, when the labour of our oars cannot make way for us.
Where in your life do you currently feel stuck “laboring in vain at the oars”? How might you sense Jesus’ presence on the waters of your struggles coming near you? How will you respond to his approach?
Lord, teach me through the waves and words of this story to trust you, to look for you, in the midst of a long night of weary, pointless rowing; to see you walking upon trials that would drench me, drown me, down me – and even though I cry out in fear and disbelief, give me grace to see you still coming towards me, reaching. Amen.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. John 6.16-18 | ESV
And as the sun began to set, Jesus still being up on the mountain alone, his disciples went down to the lake (as previously instructed to by Jesus). Having boarded their usual rather large fishing boat they started heading back across the lake towards Capernaum (Nahumtown). Before they knew it, it was night, darkness having fully descended – and Jesus still hadn’t shown; no sign of him. Meanwhile the lake was becoming quite agitated by a persistent, strong opposing wind. MAV
I’m borrowing a bit from Edersheim this week (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah). I like the palette he paints with…he takes me there as I haven’t been able to go before. I can see the embattled boat from the mountaintop through his eyes…
This is another of those sublime contrasts,
which render it well-nigh inconceivable to regard this history otherwise than as true and Divine…
the manner in which he stilled the multitude, and the purpose for which he became the lonely anchorite on the mountain-top. He withdrew to pray; and he stilled the people, and sent them, no doubt solemnized, to their homes by telling them that he withdrew to pray.
And he did pray till far on “when the evening had come” and the first stars shone out in the deep blue sky over the Lake of Galilee, with far lights twinkling and trembling on the other side.
And yet another sublime contrast – as he constrained the disciples to enter the ship, and that ship, which bore those who had been sharers in the miracle, could not make way against storm and waves, and was at last driven out of its course.
And yet another contrast – as he walked on the storm-tossed waves and subdued them. And yet another, and another – for is not all this history one sublime contrast to the seen and the thought of men, but withal most true and Divine in the sublimeness of these events?
For whom and for what he prayed, alone on that mountain, we dare not, even in deepest reverence, inquire. Yet we think, in connection with it, of the Passover, the Manna, the Wilderness, the Lost Sheep, the Holy Supper, the Bread which is his Flesh, and the remnant in the Baskets to be carried to those afar off, and then all its spiritual unreality, ending in his view with the betrayal, the denial, and the cry ‘We have no king but Caesar.’
And as he prayed, the faithful stars in the heavens shone out.
But there on the lake, where the bark which bore his disciples made for the other shore, ‘a great wind’ ‘contrary to them’ was rising…”
What “multitude” in your life needs to be “stilled”? How free do you feel to still it and steal away to your own mountaintop to pause, breathe, pray, be? How can you do this?
Lord, lead me into a deeper awareness and experience of this ultimate of sublime contrasts: that between the raging storm of pressing, thronging needs, and the anchoring, centering peace that passes understanding I can find on that mountaintop in the midst of it all. Through Jesus.