These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“Everyone who has left … will receive … and inherit eternal life” (v.29) NRSV
Last week we mentioned that those who leave all for Christ’s sake will inherit “the earth” (Matthew 5:5). But this week’s emphasis is different. The expression “eternal life” (v.29) has an emphasis on quality rather than place. It is also to do with depth and not length; that is to say, it is not so much about ‘everlasting life’ as about ‘eternal life’.
As John tells us in his Gospel, we have already passed from death to life; eternal life (the new age) has already begun for those who believe in Jesus (e.g. John 6:47). John’s emphasis is on the here and now, rather than some distant future. The quality of life, abundant life begins now. We are already, as St Paul puts it “sit(ting) with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).
This is what the resurrection of Jesus brings to us. This is what salvation is: eternal life. This is a life in fellowship with God and with one another; it is a life where we are provided for and in which ‘shalom’ reigns. Shalom is that community experience of peace, harmony, health and wholeness. It is the best possible description of the life, abundant life that God brings.
This is the Kingdom in which God reigns and things are brought into submission under his good and kindly rule. Unfortunately this is far from apparent at this present time. It has however begun where God has been enthroned in the hearts of his followers.
Eternal life is not easily entered. It means that we have to lose our life! As Jesus said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). This does not mean literal martyrdom, but a yielding of our ‘self’ so that we can say, “not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).
O Lord, save me from holding onto the things of this world and so losing my soul. May I trust you with all that I have and all that I am. Amen.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (v.5) RSV
The promised inheritance of “the earth” (v.5) is slightly problematic. The idea is raised again at the end of the Bible: “and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth” (Revelation 5:10). The ‘earth’ that is being referred to seems to belong to “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), and not so much to the present time.
However, Jesus did promise Peter and the other disciples that those who had forsaken all to follow him would “receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses … and lands … and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). God will provide both in this life and the next all that is needful. Anyway, ‘inheriting’ does not necessarily mean possessing!
But whatever is precisely meant by “the earth” we are clearly instructed that it is the “meek” who will inherit it. Entrance to the inheritance is not automatic. Indeed, speaking pictorially, the entrance is low and narrow. Just as the camel could not go through the eye of the needle, so we cannot go through into God’s blessing unless we have ‘shrunk’. The meek have learnt humility (not self-loathing or self-deprecation).
The prime example of meekness was Moses: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Moses was not a mild and mealy-mouthed man. He was strong and courageous. His meekness, like all true meekness, was his dependence on his God, and his obedience or submission to the Lord.
However, meekness does sometimes involve mildness and gentleness. As Paul said: “I … entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Jesus could be tough and confrontational, but he was humble and lowly of heart, never arrogant and strident – that is meekness.
Grant me a humble and teachable spirit, and teach me to be gentle with others, ‘specially the awkward ones. Amen.
This week’s allotted portion of scripture comes from the fifth of the thirteen ‘lessons on wisdom’ which fill the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs. They all start with the words “My son”, and follow with sage advice for earnest disciples.
The fifth ‘lesson’ has various unconnected words of wisdom, which are summed up with the words: “The wise will inherit honour, but fools get disgrace’ (v.35).
So far this week we have considered inheritance in terms of material wealth and also in terms of the Spirit (power to serve). Today we see another type of inheritance: honour! Wisdom does not seek honour and does not try to curry favour. Bur rather, wisdom seeks to serve others, to speak the truth in love, and to do the right thing. This way of living may or may not win friends, but it will always achieve respect and unless there are jealous and corrupt people who despise and abuse you, you will be honoured.
Mind you, Jesus warned us that there tends to be one place where we are not honoured, and that is home. People who know us, or who think they know us, are less inclined to give us honour. Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house” (Matt. 13:57). You may remember that he was unable to do many mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief.
However, normally honour follows a good and godly life. This is not only true of professing Christians (if they live up to their profession!), but also of all wise people. Martin Luther King, Billy Graham and Mother Theresa are examples of honoured Christians. But equally honoured are Nelson Mandela and (by some) Mahatma Gandhi.
Let us seek not so much to be honoured, as to live a life worthy of honour. Let us live with integrity and courage.
Thank you Lord for Jesus who is truly honoured throughout the world. May I, with courage, follow him. Amen.
“let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (v.9) RSV
Inheritance is by no means only to do with money. In this week’s reading we see that Elisha is keen to inherit from his mentor, Elijah, a double portion of the Spirit. He doesn’t desire this for his own aggrandisement, but for the ministry that lies before him. For years he had followed Elijah and seen great works performed through him. He had also heard his fearless preaching. He was now awestruck at the responsibility of taking over this ministry. Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven and Elisha would be left on his own. How desperate he was that the same powerful Spirit that had enabled his master, should now enable him.
Is this not rather reminiscent of the imminent departure of Jesus who was about to ascend from the Mount of Olives? His disciples were about to be left behind to continue his ministry, but without his presence and his powers they were desperate that he should leave them his Spirit. Of course Jesus did just that. He had already breathed into them in the Upper Room at the Last Supper (John 20:22).
As he left them they saw him “lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). This was a sure sign that he would send the Spirit to them. How similar this was to Elisha’s experience. He too was promised the spirit of Elijah as long as he saw that prophet being taken up into heaven with “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen” (v.12). He did see it, and as a result he received a double portion of the Spirit.
Elisha returned home with the mantle of Elijah – the sign of authority. With it he parted the waters of the river. He then cleansed some foul water with salt (2 Kings 2:19-22). The signs and wonders continued from that day on. This too was the experience of the disciples of Jesus. They continued their Master’s ministry in the power of the Spirit that he sent them on the Day of Pentecost. That same Spirit is essential for our ministry too.
Lord, without you I not only am nothing but can do nothing. Grant me the fullness of your Spirit that I may live my life out and out for you. Amen.
1 What will the Spirit of Jesus enable us to do?
2 What did the disciples have to do after Jesus’ ascension?
“Bid my brother divide the inheritance with me” (v.13) RSV
People have come into their worldly inheritance in many ways. Some simply receive it through the Will of their parents. Some have seized it by force. Some have caused a small inheritance to grow exponentially. Some families are torn apart by wrangles over their inheritance.
Our reading today tells how one brother approached Jesus, aggrieved that his brother was not spontaneously sharing the inheritance with him. Jesus’ response was to say that he had no authority to settle the matter; that was a matter for the law of the land. However, his advice was not to be consumed with inheritance and justice, but to adopt a spirit of trust in God’s provision.
We may or may not be ‘lucky’ in what material abundance comes our way. We may seem to miss out and others (no doubt less deserving!) get all the ‘luck’. But we are not trusting to ‘luck’ but to providence. That is to say, we trust that God will provide (which is the meaning of ‘providence’) all our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. We are not dependant on the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, as Shakespeare put it, but on the promises of God.
Jesus was not interested in fair play, that was up to the law court. He was concerned that no one is distracted by greed for, or dependence on, wealth. It may even be better to let go that which was legitimately ours, so that love and generosity may be maintained. The health of our soul is more important than the health of our bank balance.
So whatever we have received and however it has come our way, we have to be sure that we are not dependant on it for our security, but rather, dependant on the goodliness of our God. And if we have an inheritance, we are responsible to use it wisely and not to squander it.
Thank you Lord for all I have. I trust you with what I have lost. Teach me godliness with contentment, for I know you have promised to provide all my needs. Amen.
1 Who tricked his brother out of his Birthright and Blessing?