Lent Day 24 | John 11:45-57

Today’s reading: John 11:45-57

OpeningJesus, even your enemies prophesied of your death, and that you would gather the scattered peoples of God into one. Yet, they were oblivious to your plans. Would you give us eyes to see the beautiful new things you’re doing?

ReflectionAs you read the passage, picture yourself standing in the council room. People are giving testimony that Jesus has just raised a man from the dead amidst cries of “that’s impossible” and proclamations of a Messiah. Caiaphas makes the bold declaration that it’s time to have Jesus killed, but not everyone shares that fervor. What kind of whispers echo through the room? What hopes and fears does the debate unearth in those present?

Imagine, later, being in the Jerusalem crowd during the cleansing. The Pharisees have called for Jesus’ capture. What fears do people around you have, whether they believe that Jesus is the Messiah or not?

A Landscape of Fear.
Everyone is afraid. Throughout Israel, Roman occupation has brought much hardship: Herod’s infanticide, strong handed taxation, and now, the consequences of a Messiah figure coming through the land and proclaiming the forgiveness of sin. The Jewish political and religious leaders fear what could happen “if everyone believes,” because the appearance of the Messiah means freedom from oppression. If their Roman occupiers hear word of a revolution, the Pharisees fear that they might “come and take away our temple and our nation.”

It’s easy to portray them as selfishly holding onto their own power, but more difficult to empathize with that fear. They only want what they think is best for their people by being mediators to the Roman occupiers and holding onto their particular understanding of Judaism however they can.  Out of a desire to protect their people from even harsher occupation, they only see one way out: to kill the source of all of this fear and unrest, Jesus himself.

A Spring of Hope.
Jesus, meanwhile, has disappeared from the public eye. In his retreat, the Jews, now gathered in Jerusalem for ceremonial cleansing, wonder about his actions and how he will respond to such a public threat on his life.

This isn’t the first time the Pharisees have challenged him. They’ve sent soldiers to arrest him, questioned his teachings openly, and even questioned the source of his powers. But now, the situation has escalated and their fear blinds them to the way people respond to Jesus’ message of healing and hope.

They miss out on the way that message spreads through the people, even as Jesus waits in hiding. It is a message of a new kind of freedom, not just from occupation, but of their burdens, infirmities, and sins. The Pharisees seek to protect their people from the suffering that comes with revolution, but Jesus brings a miraculous revolution that’s worth suffering for.

The Pharisees are afraid, and it’s hard to blame them. God is asking of them everything–risk their sense of identity and belonging, their ability to protect their people and their status. They say no because they’re afraid of what might happen–that the Romans will come and take everything away. But Jesus does not bring genocide and erasure. Jesus only heals, and uncovers, and makes whole. He does this in an unexpected way. He invites people into a transformative relationship that can challenge their personal and political identity–an identity that can change one’s understanding of God and orthodoxy or change one’s allegiance from nations and empires to the Kingdom of God.

ClosingWe walk with a fragmented set of identities and allegiances through fearful landscapes–ones filled with frustration, rejection, and violence. Yet, Jesus asks his believers to come to him for healing, uncovering, and wholeness.

In what ways do you see your identity being transformed and your allegiances being shifted as Jesus heals you? How can we be open to the newness that Jesus is bringing instead?

Created by: R.A.B.

Image by: Hisu Lee

Lent Day 23 | John 11:1-44

Today’s reading: John 11:1-44

ReflectionWe are in a peculiar state. We are already redeemed, but we are not yet living in a redeemed heaven and earth. This peculiar state is one of tension: we are uncomfortable in this world with its lies, injustice, hate, sickness, and death. Yet we also hope for a redemption that “wipes every tear” (Rev. 21:4). One way Christians have taken our future hope is solely to wait for the future, but that passive approach does not consider that we can also be active in the present while maintaining faith and hope.

Here are few of my musings on being active in the present.

1. Divine intervention

I believe that God intervenes. It is always surprising and unexpected. But it is not always as spectacular. The first miracle in John’s gospel is the water turning into wine, and the miracles gradually become more surprising. Jesus raising Lazarus is the penultimate miracle before the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t think it is normative; most do not rise from the dead. However, I still believe that God works in the world but the world is replete with mystery.

I am reminded of my bold requests for Jesus to heal my wife from cancer. I am reminded by his silence and my perception of his absence. I hoped until the last day that he would come, and I even prayed, “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask,” and I prayed that he would ask. I did not get to see a resurrection. I’m in the “already, but not yet.” The messiness, confusion, and grieving that death bring keeps me thinking, “If only you were here.”

2. Compassion

“Jesus wept.” (11:35).

Suffering is not a part of God’s intended order, and neither is healing a sign of a “proper” faith. In fact, God hates suffering. Jesus wept here for his friend. Sometimes we need to shut up and just sit and weep with those who hurt. There is no better way to understand grief than being present both within yourself and with those in mourning.

3. Request boldly

After Jesus hears about Lazarus’ illness, Jesus stays two days longer before heading towards Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Mary and Martha, while appreciative of Jesus’ eventual coming, were already mourning Lazarus’ death. Their love and faith in Jesus had not diminished: “if you had been here, my brother would not have died….” (11:21). We see in the story that the delay “is for God’s glory so that God’s Son is glorified through it.” (11:4,40). I find this lesson frustrating; we often do not get to witness the glory.

Even still, there is power in requesting boldly. The past few days I counted 17 times I requested something or someone requested something from me. Some were simple such as passing the salt or asking for a ride. Others required more effort, but most of the requests were fulfilled. Consider how you feel when you receive a request, even from a stranger. There is a pull to answer it, and depending on the relationship the pull is stronger. This is not to say that God answers all requests, or that God simply answers, “yes, no, or not yet”; there are too many variables. But we can ask boldly as Martha did, “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (11:22). Although she did not understand what would happen (11:24), she was confident in whom she was requesting. Her request became an opportunity to participate with Jesus: to peek behind a stone of the miraculous and witness God’s plan. I have many unanswered requests, but I continue to pray that God will give us bread rather than a stone. (Matt. 7:9)

4. Mystery

One thing this season of my life has shown is that the Christian life is full of mystery. Easy answers often miss the full data of what God is like, what life is like, and the limited view of our perspectives. However, what has also happened is that some things have become clearer, like the utter importance of hope. The hope that comes with being active in our compassionate presence, the hope for divine intervention, and the hope of Jesus’ resurrection and the mystery it can bring to all.

Created by: Joe Lee
About the author: Born and raised in LA. Teach philosophy at a community college in Madison, WI.


Image by: Hannah Yoon
About the artist: Hannah Yoon is a freelance photographer/photojournalist based in Ontario. She focuses on issues revolving around race and identity.

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Lent Day 21 | John 10

Today’s reading: John 10

OpeningAllow us to see the familiar anew.
To approach your Word as if for the first time.
As we hold our past experience,
hold our current state,
hold our future paths,
That you might speak clearly into the wholeness of who we are across time
and to see what you’ve been doing in our lives anew.

ReflectionI have never enjoyed the notion that I was to aspire to become like a sheep. Even people in Jesus’s time thought he was crazy to suggest such a notion.

Quiet. Obedient. Harmless. Sheep give me the impression that they can be treated in every which way, but aren’t strong enough or bright enough to have a say about it, while at the mercy of stronger animals and a hopefully brighter shepherd. Sheep are powerless and this does not comfort me.

I’m reminded of how Asian Americans are considered the “sheep” of American society. The spirit animal of the model minority myth. Here in the U.S., Asian Americans have permission, not privilege, to access the benefits of white supremacy so long as it is convenient to those higher up in the racial pecking order.

Once, we were a yellow peril stealing jobs from white Americans after they had taken advantage of cheap Asian labor to replace slaves. Once, the Chinese were propaganda-painted as valued citizens because the U.S. was allied with China during World War II, while Japanese Americans were thrown into concentration camps despite government research proving they would not betray their home. Today, we are a model minority applauded for our assimilation, only to widen the gap between us and other people groups of color, obstructing efforts toward building solidarity. And I will not be surprised when public narrative turns on Korean Americans should North Korea and the U.S. ever go to war.

White supremacy too easily betrays its fictional and mercenary nature when it comes to Asian Americans, because throughout history, what our race means has swung back and forth so many times at power’s pleasure. In listening to white supremacy, we as sheep have become weaponized.

Perhaps we are listening to the wrong voice. The wrong shepherd.

Then there is Jesus, a Son of God who calls himself the Lamb of God. And in claiming that he is a lamb, Jesus did the most powerful act we could ever know: he gave his life for the restoration of everything. God’s known strategy is to wield incredible power through lambs – nobodies, outcasts, and a bastard son of a single mother from a nowhere town.

A lamb means something different to God and this changes things for me. The world names me as a sheep, but there is power in us to achieve greater things beyond ourselves.

And I have already seen glimpses of this power. In my parents privately laying down their lives for me and my brother, giving up their dreams that we might have a chance at our own. In Fred Korematsu risking his life and name by going up against the U.S. itself, as he protested the incarceration of his people. And I trust this power is in me. The lamb is victorious, but it’s a power that comes from death and sacrifice. I can only hope to cultivate courage for the small and big moments when powers collide and use the fodder of my life to fight back.

What opportunities are in store – to be quiet to God’s voice, obedient to the notion that we are all truly created equal and sacred, and far from harmless, wreak some havoc to realize heaven on earth. May the world never underestimate a lamb again.

ClosingHow are you uniquely positioned to challenge what the world thinks of a lamb – of you – and redefine that in your context?

Created by: Sarah Park
About the author: Sarah Park is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco area and an editor for Inheritance Magazine. Her work focuses on the cultivating cross-racial dialogue with a Christian faith orientation.

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Image by: Kyle Keali’i Apuna

Lent Day 20 | John 9

Today’s reading: John 9

OpeningO Jesus who never leaves us in our loneliness and our pain, grant us the ability to see you in all people and all circumstances. Make us bold, like the man born blind, in proclaiming the ways you have revealed yourself to us. And come swiftly to comfort those who have been hurt by their communities. Amen.

ReflectionToday we are reading the story of the man born blind.

I am grateful that Jesus immediately dispels the ableist, blindness-as-metaphor-for-sin reading that we, like the disciples, might otherwise be tempted to embrace. “Rabbi,” they ask him, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” What they mean is: Give us an easy theology of suffering. Give us a simple cause and effect. Reassure us of our own goodness and show us how to avoid pain.

Jesus refuses, touches the man, and gives him sight.

Today, I invite us to follow Jesus’s lead, to shed familiar ways of reading this passage, and instead to enter into the actual material circumstances of this text and this man. Let us reflect, for a moment, how thrilling and how disorienting it would be to suddenly encounter the world with an additional sense. And let us recognize how this man experiences what Scripture promises about our collective eventual end: God’s kingdom, for him, comes to earth all at once and makes everything new in the blink of an eye.

And I want us to linger, as the writer lingers, on the aftermath of the miracle. This is the part of the story, I would hazard to guess, that may feel painfully familiar to many of us. The man shares how Jesus has met him and worked in him, and his community and religious leaders reject his story. They take his testimony and twist it to accuse Jesus of Sabbath-breaking. They malign this man’s character and his place within their covenant tradition. They call in his family to refute his witness. Finally, the writer tells us with heartbreaking brevity, they cast him out.

I imagine the loneliness the man born blind must have felt. I imagine it perhaps felt a great deal like the loneliness of the progressive Asian American Christian. How many of us have been questioned, maligned, abused, or cast out of faith communities simply for attesting to how we’ve experienced God in our queerness, our femininity, our disabilities, our politics, our racial identities, and so forth? How many of us have been told that the very places where Jesus meets us and gives us life are unacceptable, are actually sinful?

What comes next in this passage has brought me to tears every time I’ve read it in preparing to write this reflection. When Jesus hears that the religious authorities have cast this man out, he immediately goes and finds him. He brings compassion and certainty into the situation. He affirms his experience and invites him into relationship. He restores his soul. This story shows us a Jesus who goes out to the marginalized, who binds up the brokenhearted, who will never snuff out a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed. My prayer for each of you is that you will experience this Jesus in all the hard and hurting places of your life, today and always.

ClosingFriend, where do you find yourself in this story? Perhaps you are a disciple, longing for a theology of suffering that can explain the pain of living in this world. Or maybe you find yourself, like the man born blind, boldly attesting to the radical ways God has revealed God to you. Or perhaps you are in the aftermath of such boldness, cast out from a community and so lonely you think you might die of it, waiting for Jesus to come and find you there. Or maybe you’re in the crowd right now, watching someone else being persecuted for righteousness’s sake, trying to find enough courage within yourself to become an ally, advocate, or accomplice to the marginalized. Wherever you are, what might this passage be saying to you?

Created by: Sharon Hsu
About the author: Sharon Hsu is a writer and graduate student in English literature. Her work has previously appeared on Tor.com and in Uncanny Magazine. She lives near Seattle, WA, with her husband and far too many Modernist novels.

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Image by: Steven Lee
About the artist: Hi, I’m Steven, and I’m an 18 year old Taiwanese American. I’ve been doing fine art all my life, exploring digital art at Chapman University, and I also enjoy singing in choir and a cappella groups, playing violin and composing/arranging songs. Music, art, the love of Jesus, and sociology are the main focuses of my life, and I’m dedicating it to connecting the four of them in unifying and healing this world’s injustices along with others like-minded.

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Lent Day 19 | John 8:21-59

Today’s reading: John 8:21-59

OpeningSpirit, calm our hearts and open ourselves to your truth. Let us listen first and rejoice in your words. Amen.

ReflectionIn John 8:42-47, Jesus teaches us to listen to God.

Do you struggle with hearing what God has to say? Oftentimes, I find myself questioning if I am responding to God. Am I really hearing what God is saying and acting accordingly? Are these thoughts from God or are they from my desires to do what I want? Am I misinterpreting what I am hearing, obscuring God’s clear message to fit my own purposes?

A couple years ago, I felt pushed and pulled in so many directions. I felt that I had to use the skills I had to help anyone I could! No one possibility felt wrong. So I said yes to everything! I agreed to volunteer for Chinese American kids. I agreed to spent my Sunday nights talking about identity with friends. I agreed to start a writing project with a friend that focused on what it means to me to be Asian American. I just knew that God had prepared me for all these opportunities and I should do them!

Slowly, the pressure began to mount. Juggling my job with all of these opportunities made it harder and harder for me to function. I was doing these things because I thought God had provided them, but my time with God was slowly being replaced with these activities. I was rushing to meet a deadline for my writing project. Instead of reading the Bible, I was planning a discussion. As the pressure mounted, I felt like I was disappointing God. God provided and I am failing! What can I do!?

With all the pressure and time constraints, I had never felt so distant from God. Rather, I just found myself living for the next thing to do. I found no reason to rejoice while writing, volunteering or discussing. Ultimately, I felt empty in all of those opportunities and more empty in my faith.

In John 8:39-41, Jesus used Abraham as an example to teach us to think not only about our actions, but why we act. What did Abraham do? In Genesis 22, we see Abraham listening to God and sacrificing his son Isaac was a test of faith. Abraham acted as a response to God AFTER listening.

Today, I know that rather than listening to God first and then responding, I agreed to do things because I COULD, not through the Spirit’s guidance. Even though each task was never a particularly bad thing to take on, I chose to do them in spite of God, rather than because of God. Even though God had given me the ability to work on these projects, I placed my worth in these projects over God. Now, before decisions like this, I listen and ask: God is providing me with this opportunity, but does he want me to take it?

To answer that question, Jesus reminds us in John 8:56 that Abraham didn’t just listen and respond, but rejoiced at the thought of Jesus. This isn’t the type of joy you get when you do something like eat ice cream though! This is the joy found when you place your faith in God and act accordingly.

Perhaps then, even more important than listening and responding, the joy you find in the tasks God guides you to is essential.

Recently, after many months of prayer, I joined an organization dedicated to providing for a community of survivors. Rather than the feeling of pressure that accompanied my previous activities, I feel rejuvenated with this work. Before each meeting, I spend time in the Bible. With each conversation and email, I am filled with joy. But what is so different about this organization? Nothing in particular. Rather, I find joy because I placed my faith in God and am acting because of God. And that brings unmeasurable joy.

ClosingThink about moments in your life where you listened to God and God has responded. How have these moments influenced you? Where do you find joy?

Created by: David Yang

Image by: Dae Jeong
About the artist: Dae is a photographer, ex-pastor, and stay-at-home dad. He lives with his wife and two children in Maryland. He is a recovering Calvinist. 😉

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