“Jesus Is Da Balm” Sept. 22, 2019
“Jesus Is Da Balm”
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1/ 1 Timothy 2:1-7/ Luke 16:1-13
There is nothing more exciting (and frustrating) for a 5 year old kid that waiting for Christmas morning: the lights, the decorations, and they even bring a real tree into the house. But the real kicker is that under this tree are toys wrapped up so that you can’t see what they are and the agony of your existence is amplified more with every day that you have to wait to rip them open. There’s a rumor going around that a certain Kenny once got up way before anyone else and opened all the presents – all of them – in the dark, and probably very quietly. I don’t remember doing such a thing. I was far too young to remember such a trivial thing, but there was one Christmas morning that I do remember when I must have been around 5 years old. There was a large box under (or rather, beside) the tree. It was so big that it wasn’t even wrapped and it was addressed to my mother. “What a lucky duck,” I thought to myself, “I’ll never get a present that big.” Seriously, this box was the size of a small refrigerator! Needless to say, us kids couldn’t wait to watch our mom open up this monster of a present. Well, the moment finally arrived and everyone held their breath when she cut the tape to open the top of this ginormous, spectacular, and incredible present. The flaps opened up and the look on my mother’s face… was probably the same as the look on ours. It was a look of “What the…” because all we could see in this giant box was newspaper – lots and lots of ripped up newspaper.
I looked at my dad and he had kind of a smirky grin on his face and for just a moment I had the feeling that some kind of dirty trick was going on here. But that couldn’t be: not on Christmas morning, not with the biggest present in the whole world. But then, my mom started digging. She dug and she fished around; she even pushed her arm all the way down into this box. Paper. Nothing but paper. “There’s nothing here,” she said. “I don’t get it – there’s nothing here,” she said again, only this time she gave my dad a real funny look. “O, there’s something there, alright,” he said, “Keep looking.” Finally she ended up dumping the whole works out on the floor. There was shredded paper everywhere, and I was starting to feel bad for my mom when she let out a little yelp. There is the middle of that huge pile of ripped up paper was a little, teeny box all wrapped in shiny paper with a little bow tied onto it.
“This better be good,” I thought, but it wasn’t. It was nothing but a ring – a dumb ring. Sure, it was a lot shinier than the ones we got in Cracker Jack boxes, but really now – all that time and effort and waiting and hoping for a stupid ring? I’ll tell you, if my dad ever pulled a stunt like that on me I would not be a happy kid. That’s when I noticed that my mom was crying, but it wasn’t a sad cry. No, it was more like one of those happy cries that grown ups do sometimes. She got up and gave him the biggest hug ever and told my dad that she loved him and he told her that he loved her and everything was just fine. In fact, it was better than fine.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my mom so happy as she was when she found that dumb ring in that big box of paper. I don’t remember anything else about that Christmas. After all, I was only five.
It took me a few years before I figured out that the dirty trick my dad had pulled that Christmas wasn’t such a dirty trick after all. He really had us going there, but that’s the shrewd part about it. Because he really had us going, it made that expression of love something extra special – something you’ll never forget.
The parable of the dishonest manager from Luke 16 has to be one of the most perplexing parable that Jesus ever told. A manager is caught skimming from his master’s profits and knows he’s going to be out of a job. Now there’s a few ways he could go here: he could insist that it’s not true, he could cook the books in his favor, or he could demand payment from his master’s debtors to make a name for himself. But instead, he goes around and reduces the debt that these poor people owe his master because these are the folks he’s going to need once he’s kicked out on the street. It’s shrewd, it’s dishonest, and if we’re honest, it’s a stroke of genius. But here’s the kicker – rather than be angry with him, the manager commends him for his shrewdness. He praises him for his street smarts, for his ability to look after himself. The most common explanation for this parable seems to be that Jesus is telling us that we need to be smart in the same way – but for good; for the kingdom and the glory of God. I can buy that. Lord knows that if I am to rely on my righteousness and good works, then the kingdom of God isn’t much of a sure thing.
But this frustrating parable got me to thinking about another thing: that God has a real talent for creating special events with surprise endings. For years, the prophets told of a Messiah who would come to set the nation of Israel free from bondage. Words like “powerful” and “mighty” and “glorious” were on everyone’s lips. “This will fix everything. The Messiah will come and he will crush the Romans and we can go back to the way things were in the past.” But here’s the thing: when God came to this earth in the flesh – in Jesus Christ – he didn’t seek out the dignitaries. He didn’t seek out the Pharisees and leaders in the temple. No, he sought out the ones who could scrap and scrounge; the ones who could look after themselves. Fishermen, tax collectors, craftsmen – these were folks that lived by their wits as well as their labor. Years after the death and resurrection of Christ, the Apostle Paul was making a good living arresting followers of Jesus. He was relentless, he was shrewd, and he was the perfect candidate to bring the message of a loving God to a world that loved to hate.
The prophet Jeremiah mourns the fact that there is no balm of Gilead; there is no physician to heal the sickness in the hearts of men. Isn’t it ironic that God did indeed send to us the perfect remedy in the form of Jesus Christ. And through Christ, God revealed his power and his glory. But the real blessing, the piece that we will always hold in our hearts; the blessing that we will never forget, is that in Christ, God gave to us an expression of love that is greater than we could ever imagine.
We who are of this world aren’t likely to forget a love like that. And we as the church – as the body of Christ – are blessed to be the ones to spread the healing power of Christ. There is a Balm in Gilead and it is the son of God and the son of man, Jesus Christ.
Amen & Shalom