Tag Archive: analysis

Tell No One

I want to understand how to minister, not just as a preacher, but as a friend. According to the Gospels, what do I do?

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

Jesus not only gave us examples of what to do, but also of what not to do, especially when it comes to ministry.

Last time, we left off with Jesus taking Peter, James, and John into Jairus’ house, leaving the other disciples and thousands of people outside to wonder.

“And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. / And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. / And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.”—Mark 5:41-43.

I love that line: they were astonished with a great astonishment. Jairus’ daughter had died. She was lost. When Jesus brought her brought back to life, through the power of her father’s faith, her resurrection made them believe Jesus was supernatural.

When something awesome happens, what do you want to do? Tell someone!

But he ordered them to not tell anyone. He allowed only three disciples and Jairus to be present. While Jairus was family, Peter, James, and John were like nurses-in-training, making the rounds, learning what to do, and what not to do.

A miracle had taken place. What else could they believe, except that he was the Christ? Since he had taken those specific people with him, the experience must have been meant for them alone. Therefore, what they believed was also for them alone.

Later, as the twelve were walking between towns:

“…he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? / And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. / And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. / And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.”—Mark 8:27-30.

Jesus got specific here about what we shouldn’t be telling others during our ministry to them. It’s a subtle point. Peter believed Jesus was the Christ, an ultimate and heroic figure written about by the great prophet Isaiah (referred to as Elias in the text).

Think about what happens when you try to share your beliefs. Of course, you have no proof, only your understanding, and your interpretation. If the other person has an opposing belief, it’ll become a debate, one that neither of you are likely to win. The exchange might become heated, passionate displays on both sides. Then, arguments ensue, maybe for years. If we look at this on a scale of nations communicating with each other, the arguments could easily turn into wars.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”—John 14:12.

As we minister to each other, and comfort one another, what is more important: that we insist others accept our beliefs, or that we be kind and provide comfort? Beliefs are necessary to the person who has them; to everyone else, they are just ideas.

“And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. / And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; / And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.”—Mark 7:32-34.

When I can no longer hear the truth or speak it, I need faith instead of belief. Faith comes (or flees) in the moment; belief is always with you. Those we minister to have faith in us that we will do what’s right for them, that we will help them according to what they need, not what we need.

This is a fascinating scene because we get a close look at Jesus working one of his miracles. Ministry is private. He took that man to the side, away from the crowds. For a better understanding of what he did next, consider the opening to the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. /…. / And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father), full of grace and truth.”—John 1:1, 14.

So the Word of God entered that man’s ears and touched his tongue. He was closed off from others, and the Word opened him to the truth, the way, and the life.

“And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. / And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”—Mark 7:35-36.

No longer deaf and dumb, that man had to celebrate his good fortune. He had to tell everyone who would listen. Even if he didn’t tell others what he believed, and only shared that he was healed, they would still draw their own conclusions, believing according to their interpretations. And then they would tell others. Even if all those people believed Jesus was the Christ, and there was no disagreement on that point, their collective beliefs would threaten to transform the nature of his ministry.

When Jesus first spoke in Nazareth, he shared his purpose. It was part of Isaiah’s prophecy.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

He didn’t say he was King of the Jews, David’s rightful heir, or that he was the Christ.

“And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”—Luke 4:21.

What did he mean? Whatever he meant was whatever you believed. The people of Nazareth interpreted what he said as blasphemy, and that he was claiming to be the one Isaiah wrote about. But what he said was what any of us might say, if we wanted to comfort the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the bruised.

After he had fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two small fish:

“Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. / When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.”—John 6:14-15.

He didn’t want to be King of the Jews. And he didn’t want people to share their belief that he was the Christ. If we are to live by his example, then we must be aware of this, and meditate on what it means.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:35.

That was his new commandment, the reason for a New Testament, the message written in the Word that became flesh: Love one another. He didn’t want us to teach with our beliefs; they are private, applicable to your journey, not mine. Instead, he wanted us to comfort each other. That’s the point of ministry.

You might be wondering, as I did, if this is too restrictive. Should we limit what ministers have to say? And I can’t help but remember this warning:

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. / But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”—Matthew 10:32-33.

When I’ve helped people, I found the less I said, the better. They don’t need me to fix their problems. Chances are that I can’t. What they need is understanding, dignity, and the respect that comes from my undivided attention.

As for confessing Jesus to others:

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? / Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. / This is the first and great commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. / On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 23:36-40.

These aren’t just two separate commandments. Jesus equated them with the phrase “like unto.” He combined them, as if to say: Love your neighbor with all your heart, soul, and mind. Our part of the new covenant is to love each other as we would love God, or as we would love ourselves. His part is to provide an example that will overcome the evils of this world.

Who did Jesus come to save? That is, as missionaries, whom do we seek to help?

“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”—Matthew 18:11.

And how do we save those who are lost?

“For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth.”—Luke 22:27.

We serve them, comfort them, and give them what they need—which is someone to love—not what we need, which is verification of our own beliefs.

I know what it’s like to have a belief transform my life, giving me hope when there was only despair. I know that I want to shout it from the mountain tops, so that everyone can share in the joy of my good news. The joy is natural, but so is the tendency to minister by our will, instead of God’s.

When Jesus healed a leper, and told him to tell no one:

“But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.”—Mark 1:45.

His skin, his connection to the world was healed. How could he not spread ministry like a wild fire? Our natural tendencies aren’t always the best, because, by natural, we really mean without thinking. This is how and why we sin.

We forget that we need to show love and compassion, that we need to have forgiveness and mercy in our hearts, even (or especially) to our worst enemies.

Our lives are busy; we got a lot going on. Sometimes we don’t want to think, or we’re feeling vulnerable and don’t want to care.

The Gospels are here to remind us that we are not alone, even if we think we want to be.
When we interact with each other, or merely have the potential for interaction, we become a part of each other’s lives, a part of everything.

So ministering with love and comfort, instead of what I believe about Jesus, is not restrictive. It is actually the thread that connects everything. Love spreads, its ripples intersect with others, combining, growing stronger.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:8.

That’s probably my favorite quote in the whole Bible. It’s simple, and it explains God with an emotion that we’ve all felt. The problem is that the emotion isn’t simple. Love can be a crazy mess; its absence is sin; its presence is heaven.

Therefore, as ministers, we go forth to fill that void, to remove the sin that is the absence of love by giving our own love freely. We do this to follow Jesus’ example, as he gave his own life.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11.

We “give up our lives” when we stop insisting that others accept our beliefs as the truthful, guiding principles we believe them to be.

I shouldn’t need someone to verify my personal belief. And, if I do, then my faith in them and me is weak.

When I’m trying to comfort someone, I want to lower their defenses, not raise them by putting our personal beliefs at odds. Even if they and many others shared my beliefs, they could try to change the nature of my ministry.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 6:38.

Just as Jesus took that deaf and dumb man aside, and miraculously healed him, my beliefs are between me and God. What someone else believes is the miracle between them and God. It is a sacred connection, a personal covenant.

“But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. / Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”—Matthew 26:63-64.

Just as Jesus never specified who he was, I should not specify my belief, because it is mine. Though I need to strengthen my faith in myself by becoming more comfortable with my beliefs, I cannot achieve that by “converting” others. I can only accomplish that by following God’s will, not my own.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. / For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:14-15.


After being baptized by John, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. / And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.”—Matthew 4:1-2.

Of the Spirit is an important phrase. He didn’t eat for 40 days. Fasting for spiritual purposes can result in a vision, a trip to the spirit world—which exists alongside the more obvious physical one, and, like dreams, can be metaphorical, literal, or both.

The devil might not be a proper name, since it isn’t capitalized. This could mean that Satan was never really there, only part of Jesus’ vision. What tempted Jesus, then, might not have been another person, but himself.

First Temptation
“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. / But he answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matthew 4:3-4.

If thou be the Son of God….

The devil used this implication twice during his three temptations. He didn’t say since, but if. Did Jesus doubt himself; doubt that he was the Son of God?

Before I begin a new project (like these essays, for example), I have to overcome my doubts. The Israelites had to endure 40 years in the wilderness. We all have to stand strong enough to survive the desert, but weak enough to accept our vulnerability, and not tempt fate.

It is perfectly natural to doubt yourself; it’s not a bad thing. That’s one of the differences between the absolute nature of faith in the Old Testament, and the more flexible, realistic understanding of it provided by Jesus. Doubt allows us to change.

If the Son of God can suffer doubt, then we are far from immune to its influence.

If we can accept our weaknesses, then we can overcome them.

Command that these stones be made bread.

Besides the implied temptation to doubt his own identity, Jesus was further tempted to end his fast. The wording is a trap. Jesus is the Son of God; that answers the first part of the implication (an if/then statement). Logically, he should then turn the stones to bread. He was fully capable, after all.

“And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”—Matthew 14:19.

If he could create enough bread to feed 5,000 people, then he could’ve easily fed himself.

This brings up an interesting point. Jesus eventually does everything the devil tempted him to do. But it’s when he does it, and why, that’s important. Feeding himself would’ve broken his connection to God, ending the vision. But when he fed the five thousand, it was for their sake. He used his abilities for the good of others, not himself.

“But he answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matthew 4:4.

Jesus answered all of the devil’s temptations by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy, to be precise.

“And he humbleth thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”—Deuteronomy 8:3.

Only and alone are important qualifiers to consider. Of course we need bread. Our bodies require nourishment. But there is spiritual food, and then there is the physical kind. The devil—whether he was Jesus’ internal doubt, or an external, corporeal being—wanted Jesus to forsake the spiritual, to insure physical comfort.

That’s how we begin to lose our spirituality: Real life consumes all our thoughts, and time, until we are so full on bread that there’s no room for love.

Second Temptation
“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, / And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. / Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”—Matthew 4:5-7.

Cast thyself down.

This is an extraordinary line. Is Jesus suicidal? Keep in mind, the devil is still in lower case, implying that he is not a separate, actual person, but the manifestation of Jesus’ darkest thoughts. Suicide is the ultimate expression of doubting yourself. But maybe that’s taking the metaphor too literally, so to speak.

Maybe Jesus looked at the stones and wondered how he’d react if they were loaves of bread. And maybe he felt like he was dying of hunger. Temptation can be subtle: brief flashes of emotion and doubt.

Again, the devil tries to trap Jesus with an if/then statement, one that is heavily loaded, since Satan, himself, was cast down. But the devil throws a curve by quoting scripture.

“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall be no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. / For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. / They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”—Psalm 91:9-12.

Since Jesus is the Son of God, if he tried to kill himself, then the angels would prevent it; that’s the devil’s point. Let us not forget that Jesus did sacrifice himself; he went willingly to the cross.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11.

Like using his power to create bread out of thin air, what’s important here is why and when. Sacrificing himself for the good of others is a far cry from frivolously jumping off a great height, just to prove what Jesus already knew.

There is worthwhile doubt, and then there is frivolous doubt.

He answered this temptation by quoting Deuteronomy again:

“Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; / (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. / Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.”—Deuteronomy 6:14-16.

The Israelites “tempted” God by doubting Him. While this could be interpreted as tempting God’s wrath (which they certainly did), I also see this as putting God to the test—and by “God,” keep in mind, I mean love.

Would you test your spouse’s love by cheating on them?

Third Temptation
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; / And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. / Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. / Then the devil leaveth him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.”—Matthew 4:8-11.

The devil changed his tactics here. He showed his cards, his real thoughts. And since his name is still in lower-case, it’s worth considering that these were Jesus’ thoughts.

If thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Did Jesus consider, even for a brief flash, that he could use his power to be king of the world, without going to the cross, without dying—an immortal despot? Power corrupts. And remember that Eve was tempted by this in the garden.

“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”—Genesis 3:5.

Again, if Jesus can be tempted by these things, even momentarily, then we must accept that we are vulnerable too. If we can’t acknowledge our desire to exercise power over our lives, and that this compulsion is used, by definition, to the detriment of others, then we’ll never know love.

In other words, the temptation is for Jesus to love only himself, like the Prodigal Son.

To deny the temptation, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy once again.

“Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.”—Deuteronomy 6:13.

The Bible also suggested this as a reference, and I like it a lot more:

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.”—Joshua 24:14.

I like that phrase: on the other side of the flood. It reminds me of the Parable of the New Cloth, from my first essay—which is the thesis for all the others. In short: we need new understanding for new situations. The old understanding worked, on the other side of the flood.

The greatest temptation comes from within. It is subtle, beginning with feeding yourself, taking care of yourself. We have to look out for number one, to an extent. This is the obvious, truthful part of the devil’s if/then statements. Of course Jesus is the Son of God; of course we have to eat. The temptation is to take that to the extreme, to be so selfish that one would kill themselves, denying the world of their love; or that one would rule the world, making it so that everything was about them.

Peer pressure can’t hold a candle to self-pressure. We must accept our weaknesses, not deny their existence; but we can’t give in to them either. The only way to have the strength to survive your devil, your time in the wilderness, is to love your neighbor in the way that you would love yourself. When that happens, the devil inside becomes the Jesus inside, and a new covenant is born—between you and the love in your heart.

Patching an Old Coat

In his first parable, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees why he and his disciples didn’t fast. Why didn’t they follow the old ways, like the Pharisees?

Stepping back for a moment, thinking of Jesus’ story as a larger parable itself, the Pharisees represented our pride, ego, and overconfidence. They saw their beliefs as knowledge, unquestionable, unadulterated, absolute truth. With them in opposition to Jesus, who was the obvious protagonist, these accepted scholars and leaders of men were a warning to the ages, which Jesus stated repeatedly: “…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”—Luke 18:14.

The Pharisees were the original passive aggressive types. Jesus was a threat to their order, their roles as important men. No one wants to be made to look like a fool.

The ultimate hero archetype, Jesus was too cool-headed to trip over his words. How he reacted to the Pharisees was a lesson too, echoed here: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”—Matthew 5:39.

Don’t answer hate with hate. You can’t win that fight.

Instead of answering their specific question about why he and his disciples didn’t follow the laws of Moses by fasting, Jesus told his first parable.

“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.”—Matthew 9:16.

Before they could protest or ask for clarification, the Pharisees were hit with the second part of the parable:

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”—Matthew 9:17.

There are some indisputable truths. We all like to think we have a monopoly on these, and that everyone else is stupid. But our “truths” are often little more than beliefs, because we just don’t know that much. We can’t let on that we’re ignorant, though. People admire confidence. Who can blame them? If someone knows the way out of this darkness, then who wouldn’t want to follow them? While we may be confident about our abilities in certain, limited fields, none of us knows everything.

Jesus used two simple, indisputable truths to illustrate his point to the Pharisees. New cloth shrinks. If you use it to patch already shrunken garment, then both the cloth and the garment will be lost, wasted. As wine ferments in wineskins, the skins stretch and then harden. If you pour new wine into the already hardened wineskin, then the skin will burst as the fermentation causes it to expand.

Before the Pharisees could say anything else, and I imagine they were quite tongue tied, a man approached, asking Jesus to accompany him, and bring his dead daughter back to life. So the crowd followed, and the Pharisees were left to ponder the meaning of the parable. They couldn’t argue with the facts. New cloth shrinks. Wine ferments and causes wineskins to harden, which will then rupture if any more is poured into them. They came expecting a debate, but he didn’t answer them in the way they were prepared for.

Jesus offered what is still, today, a radical idea. Let us not put our rules, rituals, and busywork before love. But some people need to be busy. They depend on the concrete quality of rules to provide solid ground where what would, otherwise, be quicksand. That’s all fine, except these ideas that we just made up, because we’re bored and need structure, distract us from loving one another.

The rules become more important than the people.

This radical idea is the “new” component in the parable. It is the patch and the new wine. The garment and the wineskin are both vessels. They symbolize our old ways.

You can’t shove the new and old together, and expect them to play well.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”—Matthew 10:34-35.

Balance that with this:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”—Matthew 5:17.

Jesus didn’t want to destroy what we have. But we need to change, otherwise we cling to what, long ago, might have seemed like a good idea, but it just doesn’t work anymore. We have to change, be made new so that we can receive the new message, so that we can put love above our worldly rules, so that we can be happy, and fulfilled.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. / This is the first and greatest commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. / On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 22:37-40.

For the purpose of this (and future) essays, I use this definition of God:

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. / He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:7-8.

I added the bold to illustrate the definition. Thinking of an infinite being, considering what they want of us, can be very confusing. By the time we work through, come to despise, or given up on comprehending infinity, we have lost the original intention of the gospels. I don’t mean to say there isn’t a God, or that there is, and He is really a She, or who knows what all. Believe what you will. But, to simplify my meditation on Jesus’ parables, I will assume God = Love to be an axiom.

Looking at the above quote from Matthew 22:37 again, the greatest commandment is that we love…period. Not only that, but that we should grow to love loving. Want to know why we’re here, what our purpose is? That’s it. Everything else comes after it.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”—Exodus 20:3.

Put nothing before love. That was Jesus’ radical idea. All of his parables were lessons, ways to meditate by means of storytelling, passed down to us so that we not hold onto our old, comfortable ways. Each parable is another step, another personal apocalypse. Will we follow the Pharisees’ example, or Jesus’? It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Which path are you on? Which path will you take?

The first step is the hardest: no momentum yet. You have to be new to embrace what’s new. But you can’t be new until you’ve embraced it. A paradox!

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34.

Jesus said we’re pretty ignorant. So I think it’s okay that we don’t know everything. We don’t have to get it right on the first try, or ever, even. The point is that we try; we make the effort. We’ll mess up almost always. But sometimes we get it right. And when you get love right, everyone wins.