Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Good Advice, Bad Advice


Yesterday, in a bible study on Jesus' interactions with women, I remarked that Jesus doesn't always give good advice. We were studying his visit to the home of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, in which he says to the distracted hostess, "Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better portion." We allowed ourselves to imagine what would happen if all the hosts and hostesses in the world neglected their entertaining duties in order to sit and dote on their guests. That's not very good advice for a hostess--maybe for a disciple (and that's the point of the story) but not for someone whose job it is to welcome guests into her home.

I likened Jesus' instruction to his words about letting weeds grow up with the wheat. That's bad advice if you're a farmer. If you're in the kingdom business, that makes sense, but, if you're a farmer, you'd rather get rid of the weeds as soon as possible. Jesus, it seems, was full of bad practical advice. Neither farmers nor hostesses go to Jesus for advice, and, if you're looking for a sentimental saying for Mothers' Day, he's not much help either.

But today's lesson in the Daily Office from the beginning of Luke 10 shows that Jesus does give remarkable, positive, practical advice to missionaries:
Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
I read that and thought, "What perfect advice!" That's how you spread good news. You travel light. You move from town to town but not from house to house. You accept whatever is before you. You offer your peace to everyone but let them worry about whether that peace is granted or just passes them by. You do the healing work of the gospel and proclaim the news of the kingdom's arrival whether they're happy to hear it or not. It's simple, straightforward, kingdom-focused work.

But, again, if you're not in the kingdom business, that's terrible advice. Who goes out unprepared--not even with a change of clothes? Who knocks on doors looking for support without already doing some demographic research? Who doesn't settle up front on what fees will be expected for the services performed? None of that makes sense if you're starting a business venture, but it makes perfect sense if you're working for the kingdom.

We are citizens of God's kingdom. Jesus asks us to give up our lives for the sake of that kingdom, and he never hides the fact that the work of the kingdom is strange, challenging work. It doesn't make sense because the priorities of the kingdom are different just as the rewards of the kingdom are different. If we spend our lives doing things that make sense by the standards of the world, we're missing kingdom opportunities. If we're living for the kingdom, we'll find ourselves on the edge of sense, turning heads with our peculiar approach to life.

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