A Better View

Daily Readings: Numbers 4, Proverbs 1, Luke 15

Last night I was happily surprised to hear lots of croaking frogs down by the creek. I also have been delighted, once again, at the number of singing and squawking birds that are flittering through the trees in our yard. I guess it is true that Spring has begun! The frogs brought to mind this lovely Haiku poem that I have had running through my head ever since:

When Spring is gone, none

will so grumpily

grumble

as these chirping frogs.

-Yayu

It is one of my favorites! The words are so carefully sculpted and expressive! What I like best, however, is the spiritual meaning – if you think of it as applying to human nature.

Do you have any frogs in your life? Or maybe you tend to froggy-ness yourself? I’m speaking of the type of people that love to complain about things. The type that look at the negatives rather than the positives of situations that do not afford the benefits of “Spring.” The type that look around for other grumblers, like themselves, and foster an environment of impeding positive action by their constant negativity. And because this attitude is like leaven, positive ideas or changes are quickly and forcefully squashed if anyone is brave enough even to mention them. I’m afraid that there are plenty of people like this in the world. I know it’s true because we read about just such people this morning in Luke 15. In fact, today was one of those “Aha! Moment” days for me as I did my daily readings. For some good reason I was in a frame of mind that gave me a whole new outlook on these stories – especially the well-loved parable of the Prodigal Son. Let me explain.

The preface of these wonderful stories – the lost sheep, the lost coin and the wayward son – really struck me today. Perhaps you noticed it too. It has to do with those grumbling frogs in my Haiku. Verse 2 gives us the insight into what the Lord Jesus was thinking about, and why he told these particular stories. It says: “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them…” That is what motivated the Lord to tell us these timeless tales. Interesting, huh?

So I see these stories as Jesus’ way of counteracting their fleshly mindset including a complaining and negative outlook. In fact, the phrase “began to grumble” literally means “grumbling among themselves” when I looked at the footnote in my Bible. So Jesus was sensitive to perceive their growing, spreading attitude of hostility toward himself, and his teaching. Prideful flesh refuses to humble itself before righteousness – and therefore quickly tires of righteous people. They were out to find fault with his every action – even if it was good, they would somehow find a way to twist and warp it into appearing to be evil. And their numbers and hatred were increasing. And so these parables are directed ones – addressing their hearts in particular. These stories are how Jesus approaches grumbling frogs (very courageously – I might add).

The parables then, to me, today, became stories of positive, godly choices about investing time and energy into others’ lives in a godly way. Stories to provoke frogs to thinking and change. Stories that would not have the same outcome for the lost, if frogs were involved. Here are some of my own paraphrases with that emphasis in mind:

The sheep is lost and the good shepherd does not ignore it, or give it up in despair. He takes positive, hopeful, even possibly risky (to himself) action to retrieve it. And he rejoices and has a party with his friends when it is found again. In contrast, the Pharisees response to this sheep would be to lazily, self-righteously write it off as unsalvageable – to ignore their own sin while leaving the lost sheep to die in the wilderness.

The coin is lost and the woman does not cut her losses and complain bitterly the rest of her life about it. She works diligently and optimistically to search for it – knowing it can, indeed, be found. And she too, finds it, and then rejoices with friends. Jesus likens this to repenting sinners. In contrast, the Pharisees got angry and called him a blasphemer when Jesus forgave sin and healed people. Especially so, if he broke their self-imposed (on God!) rules by doing good on the Sabbath.

The foolish son goes his own foolish way – but his father never gives up hope he will “come to his senses” and return. His father waits expectantly on the front porch, and one day (to his great delight) – his dream of welcoming his son again comes true! Meanwhile, the Pharisees stand with the older brother who is insensitive and can only see his reformed brother with jealous and self-interested eyes – wishing he had never come back to make life complicated for them in this way.

So I see this chapter as encouraging us away from our innate tendency to selfish, lazy, negativity in life – especially when it comes to other people (sinners like us!). The Pharisees are representative of this type of fleshly thinking and we’d best take heed not to fall into their self-seeking, destructive, and self-justifying mindset. Instead we are called to step out in faith to take positive, hopeful action toward others – trusting God to bring a joyful conclusion in our responses to difficult situations. I believe this is at the heart of what Jesus is teaching through these stories. And I find it encouraging.

I have another quotation taped to my desk that goes along with this idea:

I have noticed that happy people are constantly evaluating themselves,

And unhappy people are constantly evaluating others.

-William Glasser

Often we are the ones in need of repentance but we are blind to that fact. If we’d take the energy we so often use to judge others and put it rather into seeing potential in them by seeking ways to help them repent/grow – the world would be a far better place! And our personal lives would likewise include more “rejoicing with friends.”

Let’s determine, by God’s grace, not to be frogs! It takes hard work not to give in to our natural grumpy natures but it is worth it. The Pharisees thought they were not lost but illustrate that the grumbling path in life is more than just lost, It is literally a deadly one! Instead, let us deliberately choose to be positive people. People that believe in the goodness of God and His willingness to act on our behalf – even when we’ve been foolish and lost. Let’s wake up and “come to our senses” – like the repentant Prodigal. Let’s live in that place from then on – grateful that our Good Shepherd has sought us out. And let us become seekers of the lost as well. Let’s be people who “receive instruction in wise behavior” from the Author of Wisdom – like we were encouraged in Proverbs today. (1: 3)

Since we are in the poetic mode today I’ll close with another Haiku poem that is one of my other favorites and it illustrates our discussion quite well. May we all choose this “better view” attitude toward life and others:

Since my house

Burned down, I now own

A better view

Of the rising moon

– Masahide