When Rags Became Grace

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“Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.” 10 Zedekiah answered, “Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”

11 Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 1Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won’t hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guard.

Jeremiah 38:8-13, CEV

At the very last, there was just one remaining.  A single man, Ebedmelech.  He was a Ethiopian; made a eunuch by the will of the king.  The situation in Jerusalem has gotten very difficult.  In an action of revenge and reprisal, certain men intend to kill the prophet Jeremiah.  They take a certain satisfaction in this, and Jeremiah is thrown into a very deep cistern.  They intend for him to starve to death, which is a terrible way to die.

The king in these last pathetic days is being manipulated by the surviving leadership of the city.  Zedekiah gives tacit approval for the destruction of Jeremiah.  He just lets it happen without a good reason.  The prophet is lowered in the muddy cistern.  Without food, he will soon starve.  In the minds of this evil mob, they have taken care of the any last vestiges of a godly ‘righteousness.’

But there is one, he is a wild card.  And no man would have guessed it.  Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch steps forward and decides to change history.  Not only his ethnicity, but his state as a castrated man are definite issues.  This mob never recognized him as someone who would intervene.  He was a non-entity, a non-factor. He was black, and a eunuch, and a nobody.

But Ebedmelech is intervening, in the face of terrible risk, he steps out boldly to make an intercession.  He doesn’t appear to be intimidated, and makes a cry for the truth.  He becomes an intense and strong advocate for the release of Jeremiah from the deep mud.

Ebedmelech is given the ‘green-light’ by king Zedekiah. Ebedmelech rounds up thirty men to assist him as he delivers the prophet.  Ropes are brought out, and out comes Ebedmelech with a big armload of rags.  They shout down to Jeremiah.  The instructions are called down to him of what needs to take place for the extraction.

It’s interesting, but the rags are the most interesting. 

They are really an extra touch, not a necessity.  The rags become essentially, a form of grace.  They would pad the ropes, providing a degree of comfort as the prophet is pulled up out of the mud.  Ebedmelech showed the heart of God in what he did.  There was his desire to somehow make the prophet comfortable.  In doing so he communicated a kindness and concern that was saturated with God’s own enveloping presence.

Our illnesses– physical or mental, have moved us to a lonely place on the edge. 

We are those on the so-called ‘margins.’ Ebedmelech has now become a carrier of God’s grace.  Jeremiah could have been lifted up by just the ropes.  It would’ve been more difficult, granted.  But the rags sent down by Ebedmelech provided the prophet an extra gentleness.  And I am certain it did not pass by without notice.  Their mention in this Book of Jeremiah is significant, and shows Jeremiah’s deep appreciation of kindness.

We can gather up much from what has been written.  We will sometimes find ourselves in parallel situations.  But our kindness and concern can make the difference.  Admittedly, they are quite insignificant–quite minor. Call it ‘icing on the cake.’ But when you show the kindness of our Father, you will infuse the situation with love, and grace.  

So be an  Ebedmelech,—  an outcast perhaps– but in a position of kindness.

 

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Nothing But Leaves [Self-Deceit]

“Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.”

Mark 11:13, NASB

Perplexing isn’t it?  I personally have lived with a certain amount of ambiguity with this passage.  I have questions that I’ve swept under the rug.  Why did that poor tree get cursed?  It wasn’t the trees fault, after all.  And didn’t Jesus realize this?  So why go through the theatrics?

I don’t know if this is the case with anyone else.  I hesitate to ask around.  But recently have come to a better place about this entire event.  The traditional view is that it comes immediately after “the cleansing of the temple” and that explains a lot.  The fig tree is always emblematic of Israel.  (The Old Testament is well populated with these references.) Mark adroitly organized his account in order to connect both events.

Jesus has no issues or vendettas against trees.  But He does take an issue with things that claim fruit, but really have nothing.  There is nothing but leaves. I’ve been told that the figs do grow, almost as fast as leaves.  The lush greenness is the prime indicator of the succulent fruit. At least, it has the potential.

The beautiful leaves announces its fruitfulness.  This tree was loaded, but had nothing to show but leaves.  Within God’s plan for Israel was for fruit.  Enough to feed the nations that would stream to Jerusalem.  Instead, it was worthless.  There was nothing to be had.  Loads of leaves, and the promise of an incredible harvest, but zilch, zero, nothing.

Hypocrisy is a deadening experience, with a certain sterility in it.  Israel was finding this out, and Jesus is now declaring it to the nation.  A corrupt temple, and a fruitless tree; this were all indicators of hypocrisy and showiness.  The luxuriant leaves loaded the tree, but ‘where’s the fruit?!’

Sometimes we declare that we are fruitful, on the mere basis of our leaves. 

At times we can be a wonder, and make an exceptional statement.  But when He comes, and looks up at our limbs and out to our branches, will He find fruit, or just lots of green?  Leaves are pretty much all we can do.  And we do it quite well. But the fruit is from the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22.)

Israel failed God.  They became religious and neglected mercy, and justice.  Humility and graciousness.  The widow and the orphan were not part of their personal equation.  They produced leaves by the wheelbarrow load, but were missing out on the authenticity to what was true, and what really mattered.

Pharisees will do this, and they turn into hypocrites who do not possess what they profess. A hypocrite values true godliness, but he personally falls short of all those things he admires. But he will never, ever admit it to anyone.  And even we who struggle so, must continually admit that we stumble and falter as we try to follow.

I may be a ‘screwy’ excuse of being a disciple, but I have decided I don’t want to deceive people.  God, help me.

“This year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.”  

C.S. Lewis

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Bethesda, 31 A.D.

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“Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches.One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him,“Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath,

John 5:1-9, NLT

We were following Jesus and He led us to the pool of Bethesda. A crowd gathered quickly, but I jostled myself right up front. We stood waiting, we pretty much knew something big was going to happen. And it did. I can never be the same, after what I saw. This is my simple story.

So much was happening, and as I watched I realized that so much escapes me. I can’t take it all in. But when I decide to watch Jesus, I quickly become aware of what is important, what is real. It starts to make sense. The chaos of the moment becomes calm. At least it does when He takes charge.

There were hundreds of sick people camped out. They are laying under the roofs, with their thin mats. The smell alone was really bad, all were unwashed and some with putrid and festering sores. Dirty bandages are used over and over, and shared with all. And I suppose all of them are hungry, but they are at least able to drink from the pool. (What more did they really need?)

Finally, all are watching Jesus, they become quiet wondering what He will say. We’re all pretty curious. We see Jesus as He walks directly into this ugly field of suffering people. He doesn’t hesitate or flinch. He seems almost like He is at home.

Oh my! Just to have a religious teacher visit Bethesda is rare. They never come. And today is the Sabbath (and a special feast day at that) and that alone makes it impossible. And yet Jesus is here, and that somehow is wonderful.

Jesus stops to talk with a man who is an ‘old-timer’ here. Someone behind me mentioned that he had been sitting here for almost 40 years, and that is a long, long time. Jesus speaks. Everyone listens. “Do you want to get well?” And of course, some groan and mutter– “of course he does!” But Jesus waits quietly.

“Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” The man explains. He has an excuse that seems like a reason. Nothing has ever gone right– ‘I always miss out, and I can’t find anyone to help me.’ And I suppose that this is the world of the blind, the crippled, the paralyzed in Israel. They are confined to Bethesda, with the weak hope of finally being healed. I don’t think that this is how it was meant to work.

This man was horribly discouraged.  It was then Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” And this very crippled man was healed on the spot. No ‘hocus-pocus’, no incantations, no magic dust or rubbing of sacred bones. Nothing. He was healed by a few spoken words.

I cannot emphasize my own astonishment enough. It shook all of us to the core. We were all stunned, and undone. The crowds, and all the sick and the paralyzed just stopped and stared. There are so few moments in life, just like this. We just looked at each other sort of stunned.

The ramifications of what we all had witnessed were staggering. Shocked, we turned to each other, and a great fear fell on us like a heavy blanket. The crowd did not disperse, we were completely shocked, and pretty much speechless.

For years that sense of awe has never left me. I don’t really listen to the scorners anymore– they simply have no idea. I heard that some of His disciples wrote about what we saw that day. It completely changed my life. I was never the same after that.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Luke 19:10, NLT

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on us.)
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