As many of you know, this year I am a children’s leader through Community Bible Study. We are studying the book of Matthew and my students are primarily between the ages of six and eight. And they are precious. I just adore their candor, their ability to be so easily amused, so motivated by a single Starburst, so eager to share their answers and their lives, and so able to absorb God’s Word. Even though I taught for two fantastic years a number of years ago, I was reluctant to commit to it again, because it is actually a significant investment of time, and my life is a tad busier now than it was then. But I am happy to say I made the right decision. I know that CBS is right where I am supposed to be on Tuesdays, and that assurance of being exactly where God wants you is a wonderful thing. I wish I had that same feeling every day of the week.
A few weeks ago we were looking at Matthew 2. This is the chapter where Matthew writes about Jesus’ birth. I had this attitude going into it that I probably wouldn’t learn anything new. The Christmas story? I figured I knew that one inside and out. But of course, I was wrong. As soon as I read through Chapter Two I immediately had a question. It says that when King Herod heard from the Magi that Jesus had been born he was troubled. Not surprising, right? But it also says that “all of Jerusalem” was troubled with him. I put a question mark in my Bible when I read it, wondering why all of Jerusalem would be troubled by this news? Weren’t they waiting expectantly for their Messiah?
One commentator suggested that the reason they were troubled was that they didn’t want to receive the news of the Messiah from outsiders, and that makes sense to me. Given how insular the Jewish community was, it seems quite reasonable that they would be less than enthused to have wise men from Saudi Arabia be the bearers of this long-awaited news. I can picture their reaction, “What do you know? Who do you think you are coming here and telling us about our King?”
It’s human nature, isn’t it? We have this propensity for inner-circlehood, we strive to get there, and we strive to stay there. The cultural and religious influences of being a Jew in Jerusalem undoubtedly contributed to this inner-circle mentality. As C.S. Lewis described in The Screwtape Letters people in cliques, religious or otherwise, often “acquire [an] uneasy intensity and defensive self-righteousness.” Perhaps then it is self-righteousness that prevented these Jewish people from traveling just six miles to Bethlehem to investigate for themselves whether their promised Messiah had arrived.
It makes me wonder — in what areas do I strive for or cling to an inner circle? Would others describe me as having an uneasy intensity or defensive self-righteousness? What a horrid thought that is! And yet, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched, because our culture portrays anyone who believes in absolute truth as extreme and close-minded. Another verse from Matthew sheds light on the tension between being emphatic about truth without crossing the line into cliquey self-righteousness. Jesus said that we need to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (10:16). This means we need both keen wisdom and great love. It’s a divine balance, and we will never strike it perfectly in this life, but we must never give up trying. Shrewd and Innocent. Loving and Truthful. Just and Merciful.
Aren’t you so incredibly grateful that justice and mercy met on the Cross? And that Jesus is the author AND the perfecter of our faith?
This week may we be willing to sacrifice the protection and even the allure of others’ approval, clinging instead to Christ, emulating that divine combination of justice and mercy.