fisherman waist high in water throwing fishing net and facing into sun.

Why was Israels Catch & Release Like Habakkuk’s Fish?/Spiritual Meditations

Most of the time when I read the Old Testament, I am understanding only what is in front of me at the moment.  My friend Dr. Frank Leeds III has a much broader perspective and lays out for us how it all fits together historically.  In this post he tells us the fascinating hows and whys of the Babylonian catch and release of the Israelites, as well as some amusing results and long-term repercussions. He writes:

Bibles are so plentiful in these days of digital printing that it is easy to forget that they are a very ancient collection of manuscripts. In the very earliest of them Moses required and instructed the people to “keep the commands”. To the casual reader the word ‘keep’ is generally assumed to be ‘obey’. It is much more than that. The admonishment is “to guard them with your life”, to always have them, because your life and your children’s life depends on them. Paraphrasing Moses, “If you do not teach your children the Torah, they will think you’re crazy, because no one has ever experienced what you have and you must teach your children what you have seen and heard and experienced as the Lord leads us out of Egypt.”

Coming out of Egypt was not the only “EXIT” that was provided to the children of Israel. The following is another story of an exodus. We are told, “I have set before you two paths. One leads to life and the other to destruction”. Choose wisely. You too dear reader will have times in your life where you will need an EXIT because you are on the wrong road. May the Holy One of Israel provide it to you as you call upon his authority over life.

Habakkuk’s Lament

The prophet Habakkuk asked the following from the Holy One of Israel.

Are we only fish, to be caught and killed? Are we only sea creatures that have no leader? Must we be strung up on their hooks and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate? Then they will worship their nets and burn incense from them. “These nets are the gods who have made us rich!” they will claim. Will you let them get away with this forever? Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquers?

The context of this prophet’s questioning comes after being informed that Israel and her terrible Kings [although they did have some good ones] were going to be overrun and conquered by a nation that was far less righteous than they were. He spoke of Jewish kings who taxed the people heavily so they could build big palaces for themselves. They dishonestly gained wealth and ignored the poor. They trusted in their ill-gotten wealth as their security blanket. So, the nation must learn afresh what life is all about and what is important. Thus, I wish to tell you another story about life.

King Solomon’s Folly

Life is a process, but all stories must begin somewhere. For this one, I have chosen to begin with King Solomon. In the minds of many, he is known as the wisest of kings. At the start his kingship his prayer and heart’s desire was to be wise and his early reputation was that of a wise king. His wisdom was displayed in his decision about which mother was the real mother of a child when he threatened to have the baby cut in half to resolve the conflict. (1 Kings 3:16-28)

I suppose we all have our wise moments whereby we shine in the sun. In looking over his entire life, however, he was not just a fool, but a fool of gigantic proportions. His self-centeredness not only corrupted his person but laid the foundation for the destruction of the nation of Israel. Why do I say that?

It was Moses who laid out the criteria for the people to know when they had a good king. Here is what he said:

When you have a king, the king must not acquire a great number of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you. “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not to consider himself better than his brothers … (Deuteronomy 17:14-17)

Compare the above standard with Solomon’s reign. To his credit he did build an extremely gorgeous temple in Jerusalem. When built, it stood as the pride of the nation and a beacon for the surrounding nations, or did it?

Contrast for a moment the building of the tabernacle under Moses’ leadership and that of the temple under Solomon.

For the tabernacle, everyone contributed a tiny portion. They all put their two cents in, so to speak, so the tabernacle had everyone’s participation. Following, people contributed to the cost as they felt led to do so. Some gave a little more. Many gave significant amounts. When it was completed, it was all paid for and they had excess money. Every penny was accounted for and the people were told, “no more is needed.”

With Solomon, he built the temple in a similar fashion to Pharaoh’s methods. He used slaves and he even made slaves of his own people to get the project completed. He got it built and that would be considered a great success, if that were the only reason to have it built in the first place. But he enriched himself with the collection of huge amounts of gold. He then added collections of silver. How about wives? He collected those as plentiful as gold coins. And then there is the prized collection of horses, which he got from Egypt.  He built magnificent stables that were better than the homes of the poor.  Solomon’s leadership was all about Solomon and the use of his kingship to line his own pockets. It is a very familiar story throughout history. By the end of his reign, the temple no longer stood for the righteousness of their loving God, but it became a symbol of corruption. By contrast, his father – King David – never rode a horse. He rode the peoples’ transportation – a donkey.

Now, I happen to live on the water and have been able to have a small boat most of my life. The rule of the water way is: “A person is responsible for the wake that he leaves behind.” Solomon left a mess. So much so, that when he died, the people revolted because of his poor leadership and the nation split into two parts: A Northern and Southern Kingdom and no longer a united Israel.

A variety of kings follow for each kingdom but when history came to King Josiah, it found him very different from Solomon. By the time we reach the Prophet Jeremiah, the son of Josiah, is the target of the prophet’s wrath [cir 640 BC] as he describes the greed and warnings to another bad king.

Woe to him who built his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing not paying them for their labor. He says, “I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms”. So, he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. Does it make you a good king to have more and more cedar?  Now, take a look at your father, did he not have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 22).

The prophet then makes it clear, this self-centered kingship that centers on lining one’s own pockets is a disgrace that leads to destruction. He then tells the nations they will be destroyed. They have made alliances with Babylon to fight against Assyria and they did likewise with Assyria to fight against Babylon. Now, the whole world knows their word is no good and the temple is a symbol of shame.

A side note about the promise of ‘destruction’. This is not, ‘you did bad therefore I will punish you’. Rather it is, ‘you did bad and your bad behavior will take you down the path of destruction’. That is true for all of us. When we make poor decisions, we are left with poor options…unless we change our ways.

Anyhow, the prophet declares, the temple is now a symbol of evil and must be destroyed.

Now to the Catch part of “Catch and Release”

The Babylonians head east and conquer Israel just as the prophet proclaimed. They begin by destroying the temple. They remove its precious jewels, gold, and silver. They then take it apart piece by piece. Anything of value is removed. Items that are too large to carry back to Babylon are cut in half for ease of transport.  In time, the temple is no more and much of Jerusalem is destroyed.

As the temple is being destroyed, all the leaders, the politicians, the ‘movers and shakers’ are taken to Babylon. After that, they remove all the artists and musicians. When these people get to Babylon, they lament as in the 137th Psalm.

By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, and tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “Tear it down to its foundation!” O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

So, the leaders are gone and so are the artists and musicians. Next to be deported are all the people with skills [the butchers the bakers and the candlestick makers – stone masons, etc.] Eventually, young men of ‘army age’. What remains in Judah are women and children and grandparents.

After this, the Babylonians look at the Northern Kingdom, particularly Samaria, and here they do things differently. They remove all the men of marrying age and replace them with Babylonian men. This way, they have support in the north, and these men marry the Samaritan women.

What follows in Israel is a management plan. Very large areas simply had to be broken into small areas for management purposes.

When the Hebrews arrive in Babylon, they are not made slaves. Rather, they are given ‘good land’, just as they had been in the Egyptian exile. The purpose of King Nebuchadnezzar was not to enslave them but rather to keep an eye on them relative to the balance of power in the area. As a result, they prospered. They had good land and they were exposed to new trade routes.

In their old land of Israel, people often joke that the Lord led them to the only area without ‘oil’, which is correct. However, the main trade routes between the region north and south of the Mediterranean Sea went through their turf. In fact, the mountain pass that everyone had to go through was Megiddo, from which we get our term Armageddon. Whoever controlled that pass controlled that part of the world, so they were very knowledgeable of trade in this area  Now, in Babylon, they were on a different trade route and, with their earlier experience, their knowledge was doubled and allowed them to  prosper.

Seventy years go by. A new force in the area is a man called Cyrus. For me, he is the Sam Walton of the area. Walton is the gentleman from Arkansas that developed WALMART CORPORATION. I mention him because no one saw him coming. The big stores in the USA were J.C. Penney, Kmart, and Sears. Before these big box stores knew that Sam Walton existed, he was gobbling up their market shares. In brief, he was eating them for lunch, and he passed them before they even knew he was approaching. Likewise for Cyrus. He learned early that it was easier to manage people that were happy than people who were your enemies. He conquered many of the smaller areas and before anyone knew what happened, he conquered Babylon.

Now we switch to the ‘Release’ part of our story.

The man, Nehemiah, goes to the King and requests permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. From what I can understand, Nehemiah was an extremely wealthy and generous man. The King gives him permission to do so which seems consistent with Cyrus’ style.

Nehemiah goes and as you can guess, the logistics are overwhelming. The area has been destroyed and there wasn’t even any place for builders to live. So, houses needed to be constructed as well as much else..

During this process, Cyrus declares “The Lord God of the Most High has come to me and told me to let these people go.” He then declares to the Hebrews in captivity, that they are free to go. “Go where?” they ask. “Anywhere within my realm” the King declares. That is half of the known world. “Do we have to?” they ask. “No” they are told. “You may go or stay. Whatever you prefer”.  Remember, this is 70 years later so these people have never been to Jerusalem. Babylon has always been their home.

Let me ask you the reader. Did you ever make a significant locations change? If so, It was probably because of your job. People move to a location where they can support their family. It was a job that brought me from New Jersey to Florida. The Israelites in Babylonia did not suddenly pick up and move one day; they gave it some thought. For all of those involved in ‘trade’, they chose to go where they had business contacts. Some of these followed their grandparents contacts when they were in Jerusalem. Others added contacts from trade during their time in Babylon. As a result, they eventually moved all around the Mediterranean Sea. Some chose to stay in Babylon. Some went toward India.

Some went to Jerusalem. This is where it gets really interesting, at least to me. A group of people moved from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. While there, the Samaritans came and offered to assist. It sounds like a good move to me, but it immediately presented a problem.  Nehemiah and Ezra, who organized the reconstruction, had an underlying motive. They understood that the temple was destroyed because Israel’s corrupt kings failed to live up to the standard of the Lord God and the failure of the people to abide. As a result, they made a commitment to rebuild the temple and to stick as close as they could to the Torah. [Nehemiah 8 & 9]

This included, but was not limited to:

  • To separate themselves from all foreigners.
  • To stand and confess their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
  • To set their seal to a confirmatory document to which they bound themselves under oath to keep the divine law.
  • To refuse intermarriage with Gentiles.
  • To abstain from trade on the sabbath.
  • To leave the lands untilled.
  • To release all their Jewish debtors every seventh year.
  • To pay a third of a shekel of silver each year for the maintenance of the temple service and to contribute tithes, first fruits, and various freewill offerings for the same purpose.

Additionally, they had other manuscripts that gave the history of their past kings and the prophets. In their intent to be as pure as possible as a people, they added these ancient manuscripts to the Torah. These combined manuscripts then became the basic ‘constitution’ of their rebuilding of Jerusalem. This is the Hebrew Scriptures, as I refer to them, or what is commonly referred to today as The Old Testament.

Now, back to the Samaritans. These people no longer spoke Hebrew. In fact, the intermarriage was so significant [remember that the men had been moved to Babylon and the Babylonian men were moved to Samaria] that there were questions as to whether they were really Hebrews anymore. For the sake of ‘purity’ the Samaritans were told “Thanks but no thanks on your offer to help us rebuild the temple.”

Did the Samaritans find this offensive? They were outraged!!! As expected, outraged people often try to get even. They went to their Satrap [manager of the area] and he wrote a letter to the new King of Babylon. (King Cyrus had died by this time and the new King was Darius.) In essence, they said to Darius, “if you go back and check your records, you will discover that there was a reason that King Nebuchadnezzar took this people from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was because they could not be trusted and their ‘word’ was no good. If you let them come back to Jerusalem, you will live to regret it. You will have a new enemy on your hands.”

As a result, Darius had all the records checked to see ‘why’ and ‘what’ King Cyrus had proclaimed. When the records were found, they revealed the following orders from King Cyrus.

1. The Hebrew people were free to remain in Babylon, or go to Jerusalem, or go anywhere they so choose.

2. All the gold, the silver, the precious jewels that were in the temple were in storage, and everything in the warehouses that came from Jerusalem was too be returned.

3. In addition to returning everything that was taken from Jerusalem, the treasury of Babylon was to make a very handsome donation to help rebuild the temple.

As you can guess, the people of Samaria were furious that their plan had backfired. The people of Jerusalem were ecstatic. Given this very strange turn of events, one can understand why there were hard feelings and resentment still flowing many years later at the time of Jesus and the reason that the Samarians rejected the idea that God could only be worshipped at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. One can also understand why today in Israel, there is a main boulevard named after King Cyrus.

The Hebrew people moving not only to Jerusalem, but all around the Mediterranean Sea, and westward toward India.  Although the temple was  rebuilt, it was no longer the center of their physical life. For their spiritual life, study of the Torah and community, they formed synagogues. With their common Torah studies, their continued observance of the Passover meal established by Moses and taught their history to their children. The Jews continued to be Jews and to be bound to each other via the synagogue.

Conclusion

The Israelites were caught as prophesied but released in a fashion that defied human understanding. No one saw it coming. In all our lives, there are times when we get caught, trapped, left without options that we can see. Just like the EXIT provided by God in the EXODUS, these ‘caught’ people were released and set free when they least expected it. When you, the reader, find yourself trapped, trust the Lord that the ‘Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’.

Dr. Leeds posted another fascinating article that tells us what transpired between the Old Testament and the New Testament that set the stage for Christ’s arrival. You will be amazed and delighted by God’s timing.

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Unleash Your Good Samaritan Impulses /Spiritual Meditations

The parable of the Good Samaritan (who pays it forward in a big way) not only compares the actions of the self-righteous and the righteous but speaks of human motivations to help or not help. Although we vilify the priest and the Levite, we find ourselves exhibiting the same avoidance behavior (sin of omission) on a regular basis.  How can we recognize and overcome our tendencies to ignore opportunities to show compassion?

Why do People Help?

Evolutionary Model

The evolutionary model maintains that people are naturally inclined to help one another because it contributes to the survival of the species. This is especially true in situations that are considered low or moderate risk, such as helping someone pick up something they have dropped.  

In higher risk situations, however, a phenomenon called kin selection occurs. Kin selection indicates that people are more likely to help only their relatives, because they are intuitively carrying on their genetic line.

Egoistic Model

Whereas the evolutionary model seems to employ a more collective effort for helping behavior, the egoistic model suggests that sometimes people egoistically help others because helping elicits some type of reward. People who are intrinsically motivated, help others because it makes them feel good inside. Their empathy allows them to understand what another person is feeling and their desire to relieve them of their suffering elicits an altruistic behavior.  Think of it this way: when you give a donation to a cause about something you care about, you are not necessarily expecting anything in return.  Because you deeply care about that cause, it makes you feel good to be a part of it.

When intensified to an emergency, bystanders may feel fear, anxiety or sympathy.  Being upset by this emotion the bystander feels a need to relieve it.  The greater the perceived need for help, the greater the bystander’s emotional response and the greater their likelihood of providing assistance.  But not always as you will soon see.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity states that people help because they expect to be helped in return. Additionally, it states that a person who has been helped previously, will feel indebted to help those who helped them.  And often that is true.  But let’s say that you give a donation to your cause, but you know that you are getting a gift card to your favorite restaurant in return.   Although this may seem like a selfish motive it is not necessarily so.  Often it is apparent that the donation is of a far greater value than the reward-it is a thank you rather than a reciprocation, but it’s just enough to make the giver feel like they are also getting.

Furthermore, helping someone and thus receiving something in return, can benefit your family. Although the welfare of your family can be seen as a gesture of self-interest, you may be motivated knowing you are contributing to their health, safety, and happiness. Of course, we can also see an example of the evolutionary perspective here as well: you are helping someone and receiving something in return in order to enhance the survival of your family, which in turn carries on your genes.

Social Responsibility

Social responsibility is a feeling that a person has an obligation to act in such a way that benefits the whole society. With this, a person has a duty to fulfil or maintain the balance in his environment. A person may do this actively, by donating money to government NGO’s or recycling their garbage, or passively, by ensuring that he commits no harm to others.

The passive response brings to the surface a discussion of the “sins of omission” wherein we don’t further damage someone in need, but neither do we do anything to help them.  We ignore them: let’s see why.

Why do People NOT Help?

The Bystander Effect

This concept states that the presence of bystanders inhibits or decreases the likelihood of a person helping another. The more bystanders there are, the less likely that a person will extend help [an experiment on bystander effect]. Several variables explain why this occurs.

Ambiguity

This variable pertains to a person’s perception of how grave the need is. High ambiguity situations would cause a person to have second thoughts about helping – for example, a soft cry vs. a loud scream.

Cohesiveness

This variable affects the likelihood that bystanders will help another based on familiarity with the person in need.  Remember evolutionary kin selection above?

Diffusion of Responsibility

The presence of other bystanders leads one to believe that the others will take responsibility. This may be affected by skills or qualifications, in which one believes that others are more qualified to help, thereby avoiding giving unwarranted assistance.  How many films have you seen in which a crowd gathers on a beach watching a drowning person?  Did you admire the one or two individuals who stepped out to provide the rescue?

Modern Good Samaritan Rescues Boy from Humiliation

I found the following post on social media. It provides a great example of someone who acted compassionately, but also note that it appears that there was only one bystander who might have inhibited the woman’s intuitive response to help.

Amber Schaefer
February 14, 2019
So, I just stopped at Arby’s to treat myself to a mint shake for V-day. While waiting for my order I was watching this silly and playful group of high school boys order lunch for V-day for the girls with them. One young man who was hanging towards the back of the group was being pretty quiet and particularly caught my eye. The last boy placed his order for the young lady and ordered nothing for himself. The girl then ran away with her gaggle of other girls to go get seats. I watched this boy fumble through his empty wallet holding only $2. He then hands over his debit card slowly and of course it declined. I watched his little head look down with the saddest feeling of defeat and boy did it pull at my heart strings (I literally could feel his heart sink into his stomach while his mind frantically raced as how to fix this situation without his friends knowing)…I pray no one ever has to feel that feeling of sheer embarrassment and helplessness because of lack of money…Lord knows I’ve stood right where he was many times in my life…it’s awful.

Just then, his girl comes fluttering back to the counter to check on him…the cashier and I’s eyes locked and it was just this overwhelming feeling in my body that I had to do something. Being a mom makes you look at the whole world differently. So, as though it was second nature, I quickly bent down and pretended to pick up $20 as though he dropped it. I handed it to him and he paid with his mouth wide open. He then tried to hand the change to me as his girl went to fill up her drink cup. I politely declined and told him he still needed to get her dessert. In that moment, a 15 year old boy grabbed my hand and squeezed it so tightly…with tears welling in his eyes he simply stated “Thank you…thank you for your kindness ma’am”

That was an awesome moment. As I went to leave with my shake, the cashier winked and said with a giant smile, “well played!”

I didn’t change the world today…but maybe, just maybe, I helped a boy know that love and kindness can come in many forms. Damn that felt good…especially on Valentine’s Day 💘

This lady had just gloriously avoided a “sin of omission” and gives us an excellent example of empathy and altruism in action.

How Can We Realize Greater Christian Perfection?

Dr Samuel Paul Veissiere provides brilliant insight on how we can do better at avoiding the sins of omission by merely acting on our natural impulses.

He observes that probing the core of what makes us human can seem rather bleak in these times of humanitarian crisis. That we have such a crisis to begin with speaks to the terrifying violence, callousness and ignorance we are all capable of.  But there is also something deeply precious about our unique nature-nurture, and now more than ever, it is time to remember, honor, and summon that part of the human in each of us.

Altruism, cooperation, and caring for the vulnerable is what made our species unique. It is empathy and cooperation, not self-interest and competition, that drove our physiological, cognitive, linguistic, cultural, social, and technological evolution. We wouldn’t be the large-brained, neurally-plastic, intelligent, cumulatively-learning, empathetic beings that we are without the mutual help that characterizes our everyday interactions.

Our evolutionary history is one of collective child-rearing, cooperative hunting and gathering, caring for elders and the sick, and freely sharing information. Raising weak, slow-maturing human infants requires immense amounts of collective effort and the free sharing of knowledge, attention, time, love, joy, and fun. This is a miracle that we have reproduced in each generation. That every one of us can walk, think, talk, and imagine in one or more language(s) and navigate complex social worlds is a testament to this collective miracle. We owe this miracle to everyone alive today, and all that came before us. We could never be our own selves, in other words, without others – without all others in time and space!

In his excellent ethno-history of money and passionate debunking of the rational-actor, homo econominus‘ view of human nature, anthropologist David Graeber points out that for most of human history, the reciprocal expectation that social obligations had to be repaid in kind was simply not the norm.

What’s in it for you, after all, when you stop a stranger to let them know they dropped their wallet, when you freely give them directions, or watch their belongings on a beach or at a café? Absolutely nothing! Nothing beyond the intrinsic, automatic urge to help a fellow human.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone but does nothing to help their circumstances. It is without consequence or action. Another way to look at any problem is through the lens of empathy; and to distinguish between what we may term deep and shallow levels of empathy.

Empathy requires the ability to put oneself in someone else’s perspective. Intuiting ‘correct’ behavior from a set of implicit rules  (something at which humans are extraordinarily skilled) requires just such perspective-taking abilities. We behave according to the way we expect others to expect us to behave in any given context. Empathy is a highly complex cognitive operation that we engage in without conscious effort in all but the most trying of everyday actions, from knowing how and where to sit on a bus or waiting room to ignoring the homeless.  Bystander experiments in social psychology have shed ominous light on our collective social minds: as strange as it may seem, someone being harassed in public is more likely to be helped by a stranger if there are fewer people around; if the bystander mode of attention is one of callousness and ignorance, breaking that spell becomes counter-intuitive and very difficult for all involved.

Consider the following scenario. You are sitting in a crowded subway, and notice a pregnant woman standing by the doors. Every part of you is aching to get up and offer your seat (deep empathy), but everyone on the train is looking down at their mobile phone and blocking off the social world around them with their headphones. You find yourself, somehow, too shy to offer help.

You leave the train filled with shame, and soon forget about the incident.  Your basic empathetic abilities in this case are translated into a pro-social urge to enforce local norms-do what everybody else is doing. This is what Dr. Veissiere terms shallow empathy.

The scenario described above is something we have all experienced. We experience it daily. We experienced it with tears and horror when we saw the picture of the dead Syrian child washed ashore on the Turkish beach during the September 2015 refugee crisis. We desperately wanted to help, but soon felt too shy or insignificant. Some of us shared the picture on social media and wept a little more; some of us donated money here or there, but soon, we all moved on to the next Facebook post about cats, cars, or vegan meals, and resumed our ignorant bliss as usual.

What it takes to break out of the hypnotic pull of rule-governed shallow empathy, then, is an approach to virtue ethics that is best exemplified in Confucian and Taoist traditions; one which, as neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco Varela argued can be broken down in cognitive-scientific terms. In the Confucian and Taoist practice of wisdom, the sage does not rely on abstract rules like those of the western sense of obligation, but rather trusts his or her intuition to act virtuously according to the minute particulars of each situation (remember the lady at Arby’s). Who would not ‘violate’ someone’s private property to rescue a child drowning in a residential swimming pool? Surely, the virtuous thing to do in such a situation is to overlook our respect for another’s property in order to save a life.  But how many of us would allow our socially-created conscious to delay us too long before jumping that fence and submerging ourselves, cellphone, wallet and all, to save that drowning child?

As we can see, intuition is no simple matter. The autopilot through which we navigate most of our everyday situations is deeply conditioned by largely implicit social regimes of attention that shape our every movement. This, in a nutshell, is what anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu  described as the “habitus”, or the way in which our most ‘personal’ styles of thinking, moving, and feeling, are constrained by a broader cultural context. It is this “broader cultural context”, (see ‘Why People Do Not Help’ above), which we must become more aware of as each situation presents itself.  To overpower it with our more ethical intuitive response to assist others allows us to avoid sins of omission
Once we are conscious of this problem, the virtuous approach entails an arduous back-and-forth monitoring of our conscious and unconscious intuitions, and the search for that right gut feeling, that feels counter-intuitive most of the time, on which to base our actions.  It supports our desire to offer our seat on a bus to a pregnant woman or comfort a homeless man who was crying on the sidewalk.  It also begins with a critical, ongoing examination of how we see others that continually shapes our relationships. In this process we may discover that our culture has fostered the wrong kinds of standard values.  At this point we are ready to rediscover and learn from other cultures, that have made charity and hospitality a sacred tenet, what it is like to be human.

The tradition of care and hospitality to strangers, to be sure, has been encoded, honored and kept alive in many languages, moral systems, and everyday modes of relations. This is what the African tradition of Ubuntu, “the quality of being human” stands for. In the island Mayotte off the coast of East Africa, people like to say mañka uluñu uluñu uluñu: “what makes a person is other people”.

In the postindustrial capitalist West, our deepest sense of ‘self’ has been shaped by the false notion that individual problems are distinct from social problems. As we forget our history and that of the world, we become content, selfish, and ignorant. We are not entitled to any of the privileges we take for granted.  More than our privileges, we owe our very life to humanity and the planet as a whole. This is a debt that, as David Graeber points out, can never be repaid.  The road ahead, then, entails honoring this Gift through compassion, love and care for others, even – and especially! – when it seems socially counter-intuitive to do so.

Conclusion

Even though he had just heard of the death of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus wasn’t just sympathetic to the crowd before he fed the 5000. He didn’t just feel sorry for them. He had compassion for them, and that gut reaction spurred him to do what he could to help them. He cured their sick. He met them at their need and did what he could to serve them, to minister to them.  

It’s a heart issue. The sin of omission is allowed by the widespread hardness of societies heart. But everyone has the choice to follow their instinct and step out of the crowd in a stand for virtue ethics. When you listen to the Still Small Voice or act on your natural desire to help, you can welcome refugee families in your homes; show mercy for those trying to escape from violence and deprivation; campaign for healthcare, and immigration law reform in your countries, and so much more.

Then think further and keep questioning your allegiances to such strangely violent and narrow rule-governed divisions such as race, political party, and nation-states.  You can do it.

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Relevant Scripture

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,  and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”  And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

References

“Caring for Others Is What Made Our Species Unique” by Samuel Paul Veissiere PhD

“Psychology of Helping Others” by Instructor: Joshua Mummert

The Psychology Notes HQ    

single orange lily

The Parable of the Lily / Spiritual Meditations

The following is written by my friend, Dr Frank Leeds III

This story begins with “Once upon a time…”

Before continuing with our story, I recall seeing another in which a father was reading to his daughter. She interrupted him and asked, “Daddy, do all fairy tales begin with once upon a time?” No, said the father, most fairy tales begin with “If elected, I promise to…”

Thus, today’s story is not a fairy tale. It is a parable, but it begins with “Once upon a time…”

Once upon a time, there was a lily. She was a gorgeous lily that lived in the forest, surrounded with other colorful flowers, large and small trees of various hues, green grass, rolling hills, and a little brook gently meandered down the slopes providing a sweet-sounding music as it flowed over the stones in its path.

The lily was a very contented lily. She soaked up the sunlight that shone on her during the days, she watched the branches waved to and fro as the breezes moved through the trees. Her world was full of color and soft sounds, and lily was just ecstatic about being alive. You may want to think of her as the lily that Jesus talks about when he asked,

Have you considered the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [Mathew 6:8]

Then one day, a little bird flew into Lily’s life. The bird landed a fair distance from Lily and she watched as the bird slowly pecked at worms in the soil, and then flew away. A few days later, the bird returned and did likewise. When he flew away the second time, she wondered where he went and what he saw. The thought began to puzzle her and in fact kept her from having a good night’s sleep.

When the bird returned a few days later, and got a little closer to Lily, she said “Good morning bird. My name is Lily.” “Lily” he scoffed, “You do not look like a lily to me. I have flown all over the world and I have seen the most gorgeous lily and you do not look like her at all. She was quite pretty and you are rather ugly.” The bird then flew away.

That night, Lily could not sleep at all. The rolling brook that used to lull her to sleep now became an irritant that kept her awake. With each passing day she seemed to wilt a little.  She began to envy the bird’s freedom to come and go as it pleased, while she felt stuck in one place.

Eventually, the bird returned. When it did, she said to him, “Bird, where do you go when you fly away?” “Oh” said the bird, “I go many places. I just go where I want to go.” Lily then asked, “Will you take me with you? I want to see the lily that you described that is so much prettier than I.” He agreed, that on his next visit, he would take Lily with him.

A few days later, he returned. He started by chewing away the base of her stem to free her from the spot where she felt enslaved. When he finally “cut her loose”, he held her under his wing and flew the distance toward “the most gorgeous lily”. On the way Lily withered and died.

Why did I tell you that story? Lily is not the only one that has someone whisper in her ear that she is not “good enough”, that she is in the “wrong place”, that she is “not created the way the Lord wanted her created”, that there is something “wrong” with her.

The One who created and loves you, did not give Himself to die for the person the bird says you are. He died for the person you are. Be careful what voices you listen to. Your life could depend on it.

The End

Longing to Reciprocate God’s Astonishing Love /Spiritual Meditations

God is love. The supreme surprise of God’s love is that it has nothing to do with you.  God loves you because He decides to.  You don’t influence God’s love. The apostle John didn’t say that God is occasional love or frequent love, but God IS love.  If your actions altered God’s love, it would be human love. 

God Loves Everyone, Always

God’s love is unconditional. Life may be good or we may wallow in despair. Success signals God’s love no more than struggles indicate the lack of it.  When you abide in His love, you make it your home in the good times and the bad times.

“God’s love is all-inclusive and takes under its wing all being, your being and mine, saint and sinner alike.  Until you understand that this is the nature of God, you cannot know Him aright” writes Joel S. Goldsmith.

In his book Practicing the Presence, Mr. Goldsmith writes “the nature of God’s love is forgiveness.  Who loves and holds in condemnation! Who loves and holds a memory of something to be forgiven! In the heart of the lover there is no condemnation, there is compassion.  There is no condemnation from parent to child, no condemnation from lover to beloved.  There is no condemnation wherever there is love.  We do not hold those we love in condemnation.”

This can be seen in the recounting of the last earthly days of Jesus.  At the last supper in Matthew 26:31, Jesus says “tonight all of you will desert me”. All the disciples scoffed at the idea. Yet before the dark became dawn “all his disciples deserted him and ran away“. But when Christ rose from the dead, he never brought it up. Never. Not even one “I told you so.“ The disciples deserted Jesus, but he still loved them.

God Revealed the Extent of His Love to Julian of Norwich

Elaine A Heath gives us insight into the visions of Julian of Norwich as a part of her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism. It was revealed to Julian that not only does God forgive but that He understands that the emotional wounds that we experience in life are the cause of our sin.

Julian, a 14th century anchorite of Norwich, England, spent most of her life in a small cell attached to the church of Saint Julian, from whom she took her name. As an anchorite, her life was devoted to prayer, not for herself but for the world. Julian’s wisdom arose from a lifetime of meditation on a series of 15 visions she experienced on May 8, 1373, while gravely ill.

She saw to her astonishment that God‘s judgment is without wrath, that it will heal the entire cosmos. She saw that God looks at human sinfulness and brokenness “with pity and not with blame.“ Yet how could it be, Julian questioned, in light of sin, the devil, and the traditional teaching of the church, that God‘s judgment would be without wrath? Julian wrestled with God, unable to resolve the tension between what God showed her and what the church taught. Bewildered by the absence of God‘s wrath (as she understood it) in her vision, as well as God’s silence concerning the Damned, Julian wept, begging God to give her some way to reconcile the tension.  Then He gave her a 16th vision which she continued to contemplate.

As the years passed and Julian prayed, she came to understand that her vision told of the fall of humanity, cast not as willful or prideful rebellion, but because of childlike exuberance leading to a mistake. Julian’s God loves with a power that is deeper than sin, that heals all wounds, a love that binds humanity to God forever. Love is God’s meaning. God‘s essence. God’s overwhelming message to her is one of security for the saved. Even though she believes in the genuine possibility of hell for people, Julian’s stance becomes one of great help for all people who are the wounded. No matter how dreadful our conditions, the “sweet eye of pity is never turned away from us, and the operation of mercy does not cease. “

“The maternal grace of God draws and protects the sinful soul from the moment the soul is breathed into the body”, Julian writes. “Within our very physicality exists an operation of the Holy Spirit that mysteriously inclines us to God.”

Paul Explains the Depth of God’s Love

By pulling directly from Romans 8 we see where Paul initiates his love hunt with five life-changing questions for us to consider:

  • Question one: “if God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (verse 31). The presence of God tilts the scales of security forever in our direction so who could hurt us?
  • Question two: “since God did not spare even His own son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?“ (v. 32). Would God save our soul and then leave us to fend for ourselves? Will He address eternal needs and ignore earthly? Of course not.
  • Question three poses: “who dares accuse us whom God has chosen us for His own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself “ (v. 33). Once God excepts you, what other opinion matters? Every voice that accuses you, including your own, sounds ineffectual in the tribunal of heaven. God‘s acceptance trumps earthly rejection.
  • Question four continues: “who then will there be to condemn us? Will Jesus Christ? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, interceding for us” (v. 34). Adjacent to God, within a whisper’s distance of your Maker, sits the one who died for you. So, let your accusers or your conscience speak against you. Your divine defense attorney mutes their voices. Why? Because he loves you.
  • Question five asks the primary question of this chapter, even the question of life: “can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? “ (v. 35). This question crests the top step of a great staircase. As we stand with Paul at the top, he bids us to look around for anything that can separate us from God‘s love. Can you name one element of life that signals the end of God’s devotion?

God Loves You, No Matter What

Are you convinced that you have never lived a loveless day? Not one. Those times you deserted the Christ: he loved you. You hid from him: he came looking for you. And those occasions you denied Christ, though you belong to him; were home with him?   God let you feel the shame of conscience and feel the heat of tears. But he never let you go. Your denials cannot diminish his love.

Nor can your doubts. While there is much we cannot know, that we’ll never know, we can be sure of this: doubts don’t separate doubters from God’s love.

Years ago, I confessed to God that, although I understood that He existed and loved me, I felt no love for Him in my heart.  This was during a period when I started searching for a closer relationship with God and had begun daily prayer and meditation.  Not long after, as I became closer to God, He opened the way for my reciprocal love.  He already knew my heart, but the confession of my separation from Him made it possible.

God sees the worst of us and loves us still. Your sins of tomorrow and failures of the future will not surprise him; He sees them now.

Longing to Love God

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a mystic, activist, and author who had a great influence on Italian literature and the Catholic Church. Canonized in 1461, she is also a Doctor of the Church.

God spoke to Catherine in a vision saying

“When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him [Jesus] to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. And this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn to love. He would not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. You can hardly resist being drawn by love, then, unless you foolishly refuse to be drawn.”

Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of a French monastery in 1115 described his observation of how we journey toward God in his manuscript entitled On the Love of God. Perhaps you will see yourself in this continuum.

The first-degree of love : love of self for self’s sake.

In the human realm people love themselves for their own sake. This love of self is held in check by the command to love our neighbor. If we cannot love our neighbor because of our love of self, then we must restrain our lusts and give to our neighbor’s needs. Your love will then be temperate when you take from yourself and give it to your neighbor.

The second-degree of love: love of God for self’s sake

God blesses us with His protection. When we suffer from calamity, we turn to God and ask His help, calling upon Him in times of trouble that are beyond our abilities to remedy. This is how we who only love ourselves first begin to love God. We will begin to love God even if it is for our own sake. We love God because we have learned that we can do all things through him, and without Him we can do nothing.

Or as the apostle Paul asks, “does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted or hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?“  Earthly affliction does not equate to heavenly rejection.

The third-degree of love: love of God for God’s sake

As trials and tribulations continue to come upon us, every time God brings us through, even if our hearts are made of stone, we will begin to soften because of the grace of the rescuer. Thus we, we begin to love God not merely for our sakes, but for himself.

In order to arrive at this, we must continually go to God with our needs and pray. In those prayers the grace of God is tasted, and by frequent tastings it is proved to us how sweet the Lord is. Thus, it happens that once God’s sweetness has been tasted it draws us to the pure love of God more than our needs compel us to love him. Thus, we begin to say, “we now love God not for our necessity, but we ourselves have tasted and know how sweet the Lord is.“

When we begin to feel this, it will not be hard to fulfill the second commandment: to love our neighbor. For those who really truly love God in this way also love the things of God. Also, it becomes easier to be obedient to all the commands of God. We begin to love God‘s commands and embrace them.

This love is pure because it is disinterested. It is pure because it is not merely in our words that we begin to serve, but in our actions. We love because we are loved. We care for others because Jesus cared for us.

We have obtained this degree when we can say, “give praise to the Lord for He is good, not because He is good to me, but because He is good.“ Thus, we truly love God for God sake and not for our own. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time.

The fourth degree of love: love of self for God’s sake

Blessed are we who experience the 4th degree of love wherein we love ourselves for God’s sake. Such experiences are rare and come only for a moment. In a manner of speaking, we lose ourselves as though we did not exist, utterly unconscious of ourselves and emptied of ourselves.

If for even a moment we experienced this kind of love, we will then know the pain of having to return to this world and its obligations as we are recalled from the state of contemplation.

This perfect love of God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength will not happen until we are no longer compelled to think about ourselves and attend to the body’s immediate needs. Only then can the soul attend to God completely. This is why, in the present body that we have, it is difficult to maintain. I do not know if we can attain this degree in this life.

Conclusion

God has created in us a need for love and a need to express love.  He created our souls in His image as loving extensions of Himself so that we will seek a loving relationship with Him.  The perfect reciprocal love, for which we strive, is only found in Him.  Do you feel a longing to be one with God?  You can be, through deeply felt prayer and meditationIt takes time, so be patient with yourself.  When we connect with Him we become fountains from which His abundant love can be poured out for others; our spouse, family, friends, strangers, and even our enemies. In the moment we are enfolded in God’s love, His love permeates our being.  His love is the central theme of our being.  His love is our life.

Relevant Scripture

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73: 25-26)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-21)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-18)

References

 Come Thirsty by Max Lucado

Revelation of Devine Love by Julian of Norwich

On the Love of God by Bernard of Clairvaux

The Dialogue by Catherine of Siena

The Mystic Way of Evangelism by Elaine A Heath

Does Your Idol Speak Louder than Jesus /Spiritual Meditations

Why is there an intense fascination with celebrity?  29 million people in the United States watched the wedding pageantry of British Prince Harry to Megan Markle, an event which affects none of them personally.  Magazines like People and TV shows like TMZ or Entertainment Tonight provide details into celebrities’ comings and goings far beyond what is of any practical value to anyone.  Professional sports players and politicians are lifted as role models and heaped with praise while parents, teachers, godparents, and friends (whom are far more important to a person’s moral development) are hardly acknowledged. 

When we hear the word idol, we often think of statues and objects reminiscent of those worshiped by pagans in ancient cultures. However, the idols of the 21st century often bear no resemblance to the artifacts used thousands of years ago. Today, many have replaced the “golden calf” with an insatiable drive for money or prestige or “success”. Some pursue the high regard of others as their ultimate goal. Some seek after comfort or a myriad of other passionate, yet empty, pursuits. Sadly, our societies often admire those serving such idols.

We support politicians and self-professed leaders. We media-stalk and try to emulate celebrities.  We buy shirts displaying the names of our sports heroes. We behave as though these are infallible and worthy of our devotion. If only we were as wealthy, talented or beautiful as they are, we would receive more attention which appeals to our sense of vanity. Since those dreams are not likely to become reality, we settle for the next best thing – we consider ourselves a part of their ‘flock’. We mimic their rhetoric and make it our own and the more we repeat it the more we are emotionally bound to it.

They become our idols when they absorb our heart and imagination more than God; when we make then more important than God; when we follow their voice like sheep

Of course, we can make idols of possessions, careers, relationships, hobbies, sports, entertainment, goals, greed, addictions to alcohol/ drugs/ gambling/ pornography, etc., but today I’m just talking about people we admire…maybe admire a little too much.

Who are Our Models?

I’m not a “fan”.  I don’t consider anyone more significant than another, but I believe admiration is appropriate when a person demonstrates characteristics consistent with the Golden Rule or as extoled in the Bible.   In my mind, the “A list” of desirable traits is produced by the fruits of the Spirit.  Think of someone famous today, someone that you support, and then compare them to the following:

Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:21-23)

How did your celeb measure up?  No, nobody is perfect and thank God for His grace, but how many of these traits does your favorite politician, hero or celebrity exhibit?  What does their history and lifestyle say about them?  If they profess to be a follower of Christ, are the fruits of the Spirit evident in them?  Can they be a positive influence or model if they aren’t manifesting some of them?

In many cases we see both wealth and poverty as deserved: wealth as the reward for their virtuous behavior and poverty as the reward for their vicious behavior.  With this in mind you may confess that you think that “he / she would never have become great if the fruits of the Spirit were important to them.  They were justified in pushing a few people aside to get where they are.” 

But what is so great about where they are?  If you answered their money, their power or their talent, you are missing the point of Christ’s teaching or have compromised your beliefs to be part of their flock.  What do they have that is of value to the Kingdom of God?  

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

Are your celebs serving anyone besides themselves? Don’t know? Here are some examples of how they can use their fame.

God, as revealed through Christ, is the only One truly worthy of our devotion, our service, and our love.  Those earthly beings that we put on a pedestal are nothing compared to Him.  Although the Holy Spirit seeks each lost sheep, God rejoices in those who listen to His voice and work within His will.  Each person must decide if they want to be part of God’s Kingdom or a part of the world’s pollution.  One can’t be both.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. (Matt 12:30)

Wisdom as a Prerequisite to Leadership

Wisdom isn’t necessarily required for a rock star or actor, although it wouldn’t hurt, and some have delved into the spiritual. But for a political or military leader, wisdom is prized though, unfortunately, rare.  According to scripture, these are a few ways to determine if someone is wise.

  • They accept correction when they know they were wrong.
  • “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
  • They have godly integrity.
  • They are not easily offended
  • They are not obsessed with being ‘right’. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Prov 11:2)

Again, in Proverbs, the wisdom book:

“For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things cannot compare with her.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And I find knowledge and discretion.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate. (Prov 8:11-13)

If We Aren’t Part of the Solution, We are Part of the Problem

Maybe I’m being too hard on our idols when it is we who are elevating them to this status.  The first commandment is clear.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

We know this but don’t always realize it when we are creating our idols.  We are so easily led.  It is no wonder that God so often refers to us as sheep as in Psalm 23.  Regarding the jumble of lies and facts surrounding politicians, we know that we don’t know everything and, therefore, accept what our friends and the media tell us; it’s easier.  We usually have the resources to obtain our own answers, but we don’t take the time to do the research. Instead we acquire new opinions that augment or conform to what began as one idea or experience…a small sample of life and perhaps an insignificant one.  With the accumulation of the like thoughts we select, that initial idea grows into a mantra and manifesto.  Now it is hard to see truth; much easier to rationalize it away; more comforting to jump on the “band wagon” with our tribe; less threatening to our egos to continue in our chosen stance.

The Lord is My Shephard

When Jesus referred to us as sheep, He was talking about our vulnerability and His compassion for us. Jesus loved humanity so much that He pushed Peter to an emotional response, making it a point Peter could never forget.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, LORD," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He answered, "Yes, LORD, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "LORD, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

But why this crazy metaphor of sheep of all animals?  Here are just a few of the characteristics we have in common: 

*Sheep can’t defend themselves. When a sheep is frightened, the only thing it knows to do is run.  People can “fight” as well as “flight” but both reactions are based in fear, something God tells us repeatedly is unnecessary. Politicians are notorious for creating fears and then trying to convince us that only they can resolve them. But God is the only defender we need. “The LORD is my defense; and my God is the rock of my refuge” (Psalm 94:22).

*Sheep aren’t intelligent. Sheep are not known to be smart or cunning animals when it comes to safety; rather, they are susceptible and tend to wander away from the protection of the shepherd.   Compared to the wisdom of God, which is all knowing and all loving, human intelligence is miniscule.  (1 Cor 3:19).  People tend to wander away from God and bestow their affection on their idols.

*Sheep are Directionless.  Not only are sheep wanderers, but they get lost easily. When even one sheep goes astray, the shepherd goes after it and restores it to the flock. As Isaiah 53:6 indicates, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”  If a sheep wanders off from the rest of the herd, it will have a hard, if not impossible time, finding its way back. They have no sense of direction. So it is with those outside the Lord, there is simply no sense of spiritual direction in their lives.

*Sheep follow the voice of their own Shepherd (no other shepherd). The Bible says the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. They follow the one whom they know. You may never have a complete understanding of your circumstances with all the answers to the questions of life, but you will understand the love of God and the importance of following the Lord to the green pastures and living water.  Likewise, the shepherd leads the sheep. The sheep know their shepherd, the sound of his voice and follow him. This is also the way that the sheep are separated into separate herds after grazing or sleeping together. The shepherd calls the sheep and they come. They need no markings to distinguish them – all they need is the sound of the shepherd’s voice.

*A Sheep is a Personal, a Prized and a Precious Possession. This sheep belonged to the shepherd, he paid a personal price to own it and won’t stand idly by while it is lost. (Ill. The price Jesus paid for the sheep – Ill. Calvary – 1 Cor. 6:19-20)- This sheep may have been no different from any other ordinary sheep, but it was special to the shepherd. Despite their differences every sheep was precious in his eyes. So it is with the Lord. He loves all His sheep equally.

*Sheep must be led to grass, just as the Holy Spirit leads us to what we need. If left to themselves sheep will graze in the same place until all the grass is gone. A good shepherd leads them to the best places to graze to keep them healthy. He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Conclusion

There are many people out there vying for our attention and hoping we will contribute to their income.  They want our political donations, votes, ticket buys, and endorsement purchases among other things.  Granted, a little entertainment gives us relief from a stressful world, but let’s consider the source of that entertainment before we count ourselves as a member of its flock.  No person should be made an idol or be blindly followed.  We must open our eyes to who they really are. Only God has our best interests at heart and deserves our devotion.

What do you think?  Are the celebrities, heroes and politicians who you endorse worthy of you? You – one of God’s children?  Whose sheep do you choose to be?  I’m hoping you will answer “Jesus’”.

If you find this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful, please share it.

Relevant Scripture

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex 20:4-6)

 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did ]forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;  and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:42-43)

Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear
Is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding,
But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 24:15-16)

A fool always loses his temper,
But a wise man holds it back.
If a ruler pays attention to falsehood,
All his ministers become wicked. (Proverbs 29:11-12)

The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Eccl 9:17-18)

Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them. (Isaiah 1:23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

References

“Five Reasons Why God Calls His People “Sheep””  by Bethany Hayes 

“Why Does God Call Us Sheep? on For His Service

“Why is Idol Worship Such a Powerful Temptation?” on Got Questions

“Why Do We Admire Celebrities?” with Jon Murphy