Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Value of a Little Thing

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 11:17;12:13-17; 12:14-44

In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger took off. Seventy-three seconds into its flight, Challenger disintegrated. All seven crew members died. It was later determined that the seal on an O-ring had failed leading to a build up of pressure that caused the explosion.

It was just an O-ring, a little thing, but a thing of huge value. Though no one would have praised it for its success, its failure had huge consequences.

Today we are going to look at three vignettes from Jesus’ ministry. They all basically lead us to the same place though they are not particularly connected to each other, except by the fact they all took place in that last week of Jesus’ life before He went to the cross. And they all have to do with little things.

Mark 11:1-7  
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.

There was a huge significance to Jesus riding the colt rather than the mother.

In Matthew’s gospel, the writer says this about the incident: “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me…This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:2, 5). Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9. Mark and Luke don’t mention the donkey because Jesus rode the colt.

When the Hebrews wanted to do do something special connected to their homage toward God, (Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3), or wanted to handle things that were sacred as in 1 Samuel 6:7 they chose an animal that had never been used before for any other purpose. Its first use would be  for a holy purpose. So when Jesus comes riding on this colt, the statement is made that He is sacred, the special sacrifice.

No one would have paid a whole lot of attention to a donkey. Even less so to a colt. The mother at least was useful. She could bear burdens. She could haul a cart or carry a man. But a colt was just a consumer, not a producer—until Jesus called for it.

Then, all of a sudden, this colt becomes hugely important, not because of himself, not because of his productivity, but simply because he is carrying God.

If I were writing a children’s book, I might put thoughts in that little colt’s head, and words in that little colt’s mouth. What would he be thinking? What would he be saying? Did he start out feeling like a zero because all he did was eat and sleep and was too little, too young, to be of any use? Then along come the disciples and take him from his mother. Would he be afraid? Would he be worried that, because he was useless, something bad was going to happen to him? Then he meets Jesus. A gentle hand is on his head, a soothing voice speaks to him and says, “Don’t be afraid, little one, I have made you for a great purpose, a noble calling, a wonderful experience. You are going to carry God. You are going to take the Saviour of the world toward the place of salvation.”

Then, I might describe how that little colt was feeling, what he was thinking. “Wow, I’m just a little colt, good-for-nothing in everyone else’s eyes. But here I am, carrying God. It just doesn’t get any better than this!”

We know that the colt didn’t think or say all those things. But we often do. We look at ourselves and say: “I’m not important. I can’t do anything. I’m a consumer not a producer. What I can do doesn’t seem to be of any significance to anyone.” That’s when we need to remember the colt. That’s when we need to remember that, as believers, we are carrying God—and that is the greatest task anyone could ever have. I Corinthians 3:16, 17 tells us, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you...God's temple is sacred and you are that temple."

The people who were present for the procession into Jerusalem saw the colt. Many of them understood the significance of the colt. But who did they cheer? The colt? No! They cheered the One being carried by the colt. And that is how it should be. The One being carried is the significant One.

Like the O-ring, our success at being God-bearers might not be noticed, but our failure to be God-bearers, to reflect Him well, could have disastrous consequences. We are little, insignificant, like the colt. But how we bear Him before the world is important.

In the next vignette, integrity comes into the picture.

Mark 12:13-17
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

The issue here is paying taxes, but it could be just about anything. As image, or God-bearers, what we do, the integrity we show in how we deal with others, becomes important. The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus. They tried to flatter Him in order to ease His suspicions of them. They hoped that once He let down His guard they would be able to trap Him.

What they forgot was that Jesus was indeed a man of integrity. He wasn’t swayed by popular opinion, or flattery. He taught truth because He was TRUTH. And He caught them in their own web. The Jews generally hated the Romans, but the Pharisees supported the Romans because it was to their advantage to do so. If Jesus had said not to pay the tax, they would have reported Him as an insurrectionist. But to simply tell His listeners to pay the tax might have been misunderstood as bowing to Roman authority, which would have included such things as emperor worship. So He covered both bases: Yes, pay the tax, but also do not fail in your reverence to God.

Again it was a little thing. Why take the risk of getting yourself into trouble with those who hold the power of life or death in their hands? Just answer the question and move on. But Jesus answered to a much greater authority than the emperor in Rome—He answered to His Father, and in truth could not betray Himself.

I find it so easy to leave out the little God-related references in ordinary conversation. No one asked a God-related question so why throw in a God-related connection? Why complicate life? Why invite ridicule, annoyance, questions? It’s only a little thing.

But it was, and is, an important thing—like the seal on an O-ring.

Someone might need that one little thing to make a connection to a much larger spiritual truth.

In our third vignette, we find Jesus entering the Temple with His disciples. During His last week before the cross it seems He visited the Temple several times. On this particular occasion He observed this:

Mark 12:41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

The system in the Temple was something like what we used to do in Venezuela. One of the criticisms that was quite common among Venezuelans was directed at the churches. They were always accused of having their hands out, wanting money from people. We didn’t want to be looked at like that, but we also knew that tithing was, and is, part of worship. But if people are not yet worshipers, or believers, then they will misunderstand giving. So to be discrete and still allow our believers to practice this part of worship, we put a box at the back of our meeting room and our people knew that that was where they should put their offering. We made no attempt to watch who put money in and who didn’t because that wasn’t our business.

But Jesus sat down and watched people put money in the offering box in the Temple. I wouldn’t do that but then again I am not the owner of all that money nor the one to whom that money is being offered—Jesus was.

In a previous post we met the rich man who through away eternal gain to hang onto what he was sure to lose anyway. We saw the surprise on the disciples’ faces when Jesus told them how hard it was for a rich man to get unto heaven because it was widely believed that wealth was a sign of favour from God and favour with God.

If the disciples had learned that lesson, they should not have been surprised when Jesus was more impressed by a poor person’s contribution to the offering box than He was with the amount the rich people were throwing in. But in the end it wasn’t the dollar figure that was impressive to Jesus at all. It was the faith demonstrated by the widow that was impressive. She didn’t have much, but she gave it all. Why did she do that? How did she expect to pay the rent, or buy food?

The only reason we can come up to explain the sacrifice of this woman was faith. She gave everything she could—even though it wasn’t much—because she believed that God would honour that, that God would be her Rock, her Fortress, her Deliverer, her Provider, her Shepherd, because she believed that if she put Him first, He would supply everything else she needed.

Others might have laughed at her “little,” but God did not laugh. He saw the faith and appreciated it.

Once again, it could have been anything here, and not necessarily money. It just happens that money was as big a deal then as it seems to be now. Even a little of anything, if it is all we can do, is BIG to God. That’s the point.

Whether it be carrying Him in a way that shows Him to people as He is, or speaking words which will direct people’s thoughts to Him, or giving everything we can to Him believing that even a little means a lot to Him, it is important to Him.

It’s as important as the seal on an O-ring.

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