Mending Our Nets

How can we be fishers of men if our nets are full of the holes of prejudice, self-righteousness, unforgiveness, judgment, and pride?

A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40 

I realized as I read this verse recently that I have been taking it out of context for a very long time. Actually, kind of skipping over it because of the more dramatic content that is around it. But I realized that it is like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that completes the picture. So, what comes before and after this verse? 

Before the verse Jesus asks, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” 

And then right afterward there is another saying that I have taken out of context: 

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? Luke 6:41-42 

I have been taking all of these verses as stand-alone and out of context. But what Jesus has given here are two verses about being blind sandwiching a verse about being fully trained to be like the teacher. What does this mean?  

The Greek word translated “fully trained” above is katartizo. It means to render, sound, complete, to mend (what has been broken or rent), to repair, to complete, to fit out, equip, put in order, arrange, adjust, prepare, restore, make perfect. 

According to W.E. Vinei, the Greek word katarizo “is used of mending nets, Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19.” Wow, did you get that? Jesus is talking to his disciples here. “Looking at his disciples, he said:” (Luke 6:20). He was talking to learners, pupils, some may have thought “rabbis-in-training.” The underlying assumption seems to be that these disciples would go out and be leading – “can a blind man lead a blind man?” They would also become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17, Luke 5:10) – and they needed their nets mended. Jesus had just finished some hard sayings: 

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you ... Luke 6:27-35 

Be merciful … Luke 6:36 

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 

I’m pretty sure that, like me, their thinking needed to be adjusted. Their nets needed mending. (Isn’t it amazing and symbolic that when Jesus called James and John, they were mending their nets?) When Jesus asked, “Can a blind man lead?” he was using the word tuphlos, which can mean physical or mental blindness. Significantly, it comes from tuphoo, which means to be enveloped with smoke (so as to render blind), to be puffed up with haughtiness or pride, inflated with self-conceit. 

How can we be fishers of men if our nets are full of the holes of prejudice, self-righteousness, unforgiveness, judgment, and pride? But what did Jesus say?  

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46 

There’s a whole lot of judgment and condemnation going on out there. Let’s allow our Lord to adjust us, to repair and restore us, to mend our nets, so that we can be like Him in mercy and love and light. 

“The Lord is very ready to forgive; it is the church that is unmerciful sometimes, but not the Master. He is always willing to receive us when we come to Him, and to blot out our transgression.” — Charles Spurgeon, God’s Fatherly Pity

Read more about God’s net of everlasting love here (I will throw my net over them

Photo used with gratitude: Fish nets by John Levanen https://flic.kr/p/8yYErh  

Everyone who asks

When I first read this passage, it appeared like an unlimited gift card to Amazon.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

When I first read this passage, it appeared like an unlimited gift card to Amazon. But if you back up a little and look at the context you will notice that these verses are nestled between four hard sayings of Jesus. First there is this part about not judging our brother and getting the planks out of our eyes.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Afterwards, there is the “Golden Rule” and the part about the narrow road.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow (stenos) gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small (stenos) is the gate and narrow (thlibo) the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:12-14

There are two different Greek words translated “narrow” in these verses, stenos and thlibo. Stenos describes the gate which is narrow or strait. Thlibo describes the way. Thlibo means narrow or straitened but is also means to press as the pressing of grapes, to press hard upon, afflict, to suffer tribulation and trouble. It is interesting that the noun forms of both these words are used by Paul in Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble (thlipsis) or hardship (stenochoria) or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

There is affliction and suffering and pressing down hard in the narrow way. We are asked to let God work in us repentance of old ways and transformational change. To press out of us the hypocritical judging and unloving tendencies – through trouble and tribulation and distress if need be – until he can press out good new wine. Few want to choose that way. Most would rather just stick with the Amazon gift card.

In this context, for what am I to be asking, seeking, knocking? Well, for one thing, I am asking for “HELP!” Help to be able to see the planks in my own eye. Help to choose and go through the narrow way of affliction, suffering, tribulation, that he may produce good fruit in me that may be pressed into good wine.

What am I knocking on? What door? Jesus said he was the door. He is saying here that if I knock there it will be opened. He is the door or gate into the sheepfold where I am safe while I learn to follow and imitate the Shepherd. Jesus also said that he is the Word and the Truth. If I knock on the Word it will be opened to me. I will find the hidden treasure. I will begin to understand the mind of Christ.

What am I seeking? God. Just God. I want to have “a naked intent toward God.”[i] For only there in his Presence, in his strength, with his help, will I be able to do the narrow Way, the thlibo.

Do not judge your brother.

Take the plank of wood out of your own eye.

Ask, seek, knock!

Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Follow the narrow way.

****

For more about the pressing of grapes and the narrow way see The Pressing of Grapes

Photo by Sheila Bair


[i] Quoted from The Cloud of Unknowing, by an anonymous Christian mystic.

The Hands of the Loving Potter

The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works (deeds, actions). Psalms 33:14-15 (NASB)

These verses are a comfort and hope to me. God’s gaze is on me. He sees me. He understands why I do the dumb things I do. And he is fashioning, forming my heart. Strong’s Concordance defines this forming as squeezing into shape as a potter does with clay. It feels like squeezing too.

And the psalmist says that God sees all the sons of men; he is forming the hearts of all, everyone. This forming is being done where we cannot perceive, deep inside the hidden place. Those people we look askance upon, doing things that, to us, are incomprehensible – their hearts are also being fashioned by the hands of a compassionate, merciful God. I like how the Pulpit Commentary puts it:

“The hearts of all men are in God’s keeping, and his gracious influences are exerted to ‘mould’ them aright. Some hearts are too stubborn to yield themselves up to his fashioning, and refuse to take the impress which he desires to impart; but all, or almost all, owe it to him that they are not worse than they are.”

Yes, that’s for sure. We all stubbornly resist at times, but he does not give up on us. And neither should we give up on each other. This is a gracious hope for me. That God is working in the hearts of those for whom I am praying. That the hands of the loving potter are at work though I may not be able to see it.

If there are ones for whom you have been praying, maybe for a long time, do not give up. Let us wait in hope. Let us keep loving. Let us keep praying. Let us trust that the hands of the loving Potter are upon us all.

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You. Psalms 33:20-22

 

 

Image from https://floridaclayartstore.flclaypotteryequipmentceramicsupply.com/

The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

Point of View

As I have been visiting the jail and coming to know the ladies there, God has been speaking to me about how important our point of view is. He showed me that there are two ways to look at people. One is from the viewpoint of Hell and our Accuser (Revelations 12:10). One is from the viewpoint of Heaven, where we are seated with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6-7).

If you are looking from the viewpoint of Hell, you are looking up at people and can only see the dirt on the bottoms of their feet. If you are looking from the viewpoint of Heaven, you are looking down at people and you can see the hand of God resting on their heads. 

I start to see faintly the hope and passion for the end of their journey, a glimpse of eternity. If I follow God’s gaze I begin to see as He sees.

… and [God] raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show (point out) the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6-7 (NASB)

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work (poem) of your hand. Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Psalm 139:5 (NLT)