Today I was treated to a comprehensive lesson plan given by the greatest teacher of them all: God. I know God teaches me everyday, but today He got my full attention. The lesson involved instruction from His textbook, the Bible, as well as supplemental teaching from a child whom few would count as a teacher, and plenty of opportunities for practical application.
This morning I met with my beloved Ladies’ Bible study group. Sometime, I will have to devote a post solely to them as they have been a lifeline and support to me in so many ways. We have been going through the workbook called The Essential Commandment by Greg Ogden and studying in depth what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). Today I caught up with the ladies on how my vacation went, spent time in prayer, and then looked at Matthew 9:9-13. In these verses, Jesus is seen having dinner at the tax collector Matthew’s house with a motley crew of “sinners”. When the Pharisees, the upstanding religious leaders of the day, saw this, they indignantly asked the disciples why Jesus allows himself to be associated with such a crowd.
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
Just these 4 verses sparked so much great conversation. Connie, the wisest of our group and a great-grandmother, got us going by wondering, “Who would be in the group Jesus ate with today?” We started thinking of the people you'd stereotypically think church-goers would avoid: homosexuals, addicts, abortionists, criminals. Then it started getting personally convicting for me. What other barriers might I have consciously or unconsciously put up to hinder loving my neighbor as myself? Often I tend to gravitate to people I feel more comfortable with. It may be based on similarities in my age, age of my kids, or just a click in our personalities. There is a man at my church a little older than me who has a very debilitating constant tremor. He lives with his parents and comes to church with them each week. Somehow, in the process of us moving to the back of the church since Philip has been having problems at the service, we managed to find a new permanent seat behind them. I still have yet to talk to Z, other than saying hi. I started thinking about the irony of this. Here I am, a mom with a special needs child, still feeling uncomfortable about speaking to an adult with special needs. I shared this thought with my Bible study and Connie reassured me, “God has moved you there on purpose. I’ll be praying you make a connection with that family.”
We then talked about what Jesus meant when He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” I can relate to this analogy very well. I am a terrible patient. I do not get my annual physical. I think, “What’s the point? I’m healthy. I don’t need to use up a day at the doctor’s office when I’m fine.” The thing is, a lot of things can get discovered at the doctor’s when you get checked up regularly. You can’t feel the cholesterol in your blood or readily see a lump that may be starting to grow in your breast. It is a fact that nobody’s body keeps going on perfectly while on earth. In the same way, we all have a spiritual need for God. Whether we recognize it, is the issue. Once we see our own need, Jesus can fill it.
Finally, we aimed to understand Jesus’s statement, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” What is mercy?, we asked. Compassion, kindness, active concern for someone else’s well-being. Mercy has its focus being on our neighbor rather than ourselves. I think sacrifice is a way of seeing the same charitable acts we do with a self-focus. “Look what I did for you. Look what I had to give up for you,” says sacrifice.
This lesson is very applicable to me daily. I still have days I feel sorry for myself for not having the life I imagined it would be. If you read my last post about our vacation, you can see how I took a stance of sacrifice and it turned into a woe is me. I wanted Philip to go to the beach with me because I wanted to enjoy what I like. I had to give up my preferences to be with him at the pool. Instead, I should have practiced mercy from the get-go. Understanding how much the sound of the waves hurt Philip’s ears should have made me more tenderhearted and concerned for Philip to the point that easing his discomfort would be a higher and more satisfying priority than doing what pleased myself. This will be a lesson repeated over and over. Thank God I not only have the teachings of Jesus to help, but His example, as well as His great mercy on me for when I mess up again and again.
Now I have to tell you how Philip wrapped up my lesson for the day. Philip and I were having our talk time with his letterboard in the dining room. I decided we would talk about the places we visited. The first place we went to was Philadelphia. Before the trip, I had taught Philip about colonial times and Independence Day. Besides visiting U Penn we also visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Here’s how our conversation went:
Me: Tell me something about Philadelphia.
Philip: I like saying Declaration of Independence was designed to say no one in USA is unequal.
Wouldn’t that neatly sum up Jesus’s words for me today? Now expand it to the world.
We had dinner at an old colonial meeting house for mechanics.