As the world begins to reopen, we have choices to make about engaging the world around us. Fr. Timothy Lowe shares two strange and contrasting stories - one where fear and suspicion leads to rejection and another where trust and a posture of hospitality leads to a joyous feast with a stranger. He likens these stories to the shushing crowds who refuse to engage the blind beggar in Luke's gospel; unlike Jesus who attends to his faithful cry.
These stories help servant leaders within the Lord's household to reconsider our "target audiences," those "customer profiles" we find worthy to engage our services, products, and events.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. My guest today is becoming a bit of a regular, Fr. Timothy Lowe, who is a retired priest upon serving within the Orthodox Church in America, most recently the Albanian Archdiocese in Worcester, Massachusetts. Fr. Timothy also spent significant time at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, serving as their Rector. So welcome back, Fr. Timothy. I'm so grateful to be speaking again with you today!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:45
My pleasure as well, Hollie, thank you.
Hollie Benton 0:48
So for many of us in the work that we do in our day to day jobs, and even the parishes and nonprofits we support, have likely encountered the question, who is our target audience? Perhaps we've even developed customer profiles to understand the needs and motivations and the specific habits of our potential patrons, developing targeted communications to persuade these people into buying our products, attending our events, or engaging our services. So one of the genius things I find about Scripture is that it challenges these efforts in customer profiling and targeted communications. By presenting stories of the outsider, the one who doesn't fit into one of our customer profiles, the one who is likely not interested in buying our products or services, the one your sales team will immediately identify as a dead lead, one you shouldn't be wasting your time on. And I'll even bet there are stories we all have from our parishes, where someone stepped in who didn't really fit the profile. Perhaps they wandered in from the streets, made people feel uncomfortable, and were asked to leave. So Scripture gives us the opportunity to check our fears, our prejudices, our self-absorption. Could it be that the writers of Scripture targeted an audience that were largely self-righteous? And that the communication plan of Scripture, even when it may not be immediately understood, provides a chance for repentance and the Lord's mercy?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 2:22
Oh, my, thank God I was not drinking a cup of coffee as you were speaking, I would have spilled it all over myself. In a word, yes. In fact, it is systematic throughout the entire scripture. Arrogance, its best friend, self-centeredness is understood by the biblical writers as a fatal flaw of all humans. And thus the underlying reality of all the biblical books and intensifies I think, specifically in the gospels, as we will soon see. And now often with the advent of Christianity as a type of business, I mean, terms of models, priorities, ways to approach this idea of expansion, growth, all of which concern every parish church that I've ever been associated with. Especially in our American cultural dynamic, or, as you call them, our evangelical sales team has and will always have problems with speaking the truth in love, I think, to quote St. Paul, and the large scale success that we all desire, hope, pray, even perhaps, on the lines of a Billy Graham crusade and oops, I'm just afraid I just dated myself, by the way.
Hollie Benton 3:30
Thank you for that father. So today's passage comes from Luke 18:31-43. "And taking the Twelve he said to them, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished, for he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon, they will scourge Him and kill Him and on the third day, he will rise. But they understood none of these things. This thing was hid from them. And they did not grasp what was said. As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging, and hearing a multitude go by he enquired what this meant, they told him Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, and he cried Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. And those who were in front rebuked him telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, What do you want me to do for you? He said, Lord, let me receive my sight. And Jesus said to him, Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well. And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people when they saw it gave praise to God." So Father, Timothy, thank you for choosing this passage from Luke today to provide a foundation for our discussion. I find it remarkably ironic that Jesus describes what will happen to the Son of Man, that he will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And then immediately the blind man is shamefully treated and rebuked and told to be silent. It's also ironic that the Twelve didn't understand and grasp what was being said about the Son of Man. They've been with Jesus, His entire ministry, and they still don't get it. And in this passage, they don't even bother to ask him. Contrast this with the blind man where he hears a multitude going by. And he doesn't trust in his own judgment and presuppositions, as the disciples did. The Scripture says, He inquired what this meant, something that the disciples should have done in their own blindness to what the prophets had written. So what else is going on in this passage here, father, Timothy?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 5:54
Well, these contrasts that you just pointed out above are amazing, and I really need some time to think about. What I'm thinking about and when I was looking at this passage, it was about the world. Do we engage it? Or do we not? And if we engage it, how do we engage it? And I think we can learn a lot about ourselves and others if we look at this closely. If the biblical themes of arrogance, self-centeredness, and well, let's make it a trinity and add fear, are true about the human being, then they determine more often than not when we engage or ignore. For example, I'm gonna tell you an odd story that happened while living in Jerusalem. One day, an international friend of ours was coming into town, and he was staying in a friend's apartment. So he gave us the address and said, Let's meet. So as a neighborhood we knew a little bit about it. It was a nice, nice, not upscale, but a nice, very nice sort of Jewish Israeli neighborhood. Lots of apartment buildings and whatnot, nothing sketchy. So we found the building and went up to what we thought was the apartment and we knocked on the door, expecting his warm greeting. And usually when you knock on the door, you expect someone to open it. That just didn't happen. We knocked again. Then there was this person on the other side who in perfect unaccented English, meaning he was more than likely an American just as we were, told us to go away. He refused to open the door. We told him who we were looking for, because at this point, we were utterly completely lost as far as how to find this guy. In the end, he refused to engage us in any way possible, and finally just told us to go away. It was so odd that Lisa and I looked each other first dumbfounded, then we said, What's going on here? Fear, indifferenence, suspicious, certainly suspicious. Now that's one way to choose not to engage the world. You're fearful, you're suspicious, stranger, have nothing to do with them, even through a metal door when you're speaking the same language. and Lisa and I are as unintimidating as possible as human beings, she's not even five foot tall. So anyway, now I want to contrast this with another similar experience, not by us, but of a colleague of ours, she was a journalist. So she was going to meet with a family in Bethlehem. She was given the address, an appointment was made, the only problem was she had also not met these people. So she went to the house, not an apartment, but a house, knocked on the door. And before you knew it, someone answered the door. It happened to be dinner time, they invited her in, fed her, showed her hospitality. And then after all of this had taken place, she asked, well, let's begin our interview. And they looked at her, confused, What do you mean interview? And she says, Well, aren't you so and so? And they just laughed and said, Oh, no, no, no, no, no, you're looking for our neighbor. So they promptly took her a few houses down. I mean, it just shows you how people choose to engage or not to engage and so I just tell you these two stories, as examples, types of how people engage the world around them, and the people that interrupt their lives, one with fear and suspicion, to name a few possibilities, the other with hospitality, warmth, dare I say joy. Now, there are countless examples of all kinds of unexpected encounters in the gospel, the good Samaritan, the Canaanite woman, Lazarus and the rich man to the rich man's peril, by the way. And, of course, the example today of the blind man in Jericho, and the chapter 18, which, by the way, was recently read in all of our churches. Now you gave a context for the reading. And I think it's critical to understand this context to really get its power and message, crisis heading towards Jerusalem, the final chapter of his life. And as you read, he tells the disciples, what will happen to him and Luke states but they understood nothing about these things, which is really incomprehensible. They do not yet grasp what was said. How odd and of course, to their condemnation.
So as a blind man since a large crowd passing by, he was curious about what was going on. Since all he has are his functional ears. Think about that. That's all he has are his ears. And upon hearing that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he sees The one and only chance to engage him. This is a critical point. In a week, Jesus will be hanging on the cross. So he shouts out as we know, Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me. Clearly, he is making a scene as he has no choice. He is a functional non person to most. And we see this when the crowd ordered him to shut up. There are different translations, they ordered him to shut up. His response was to shout louder, revealing the cries of a desperate man, until Christ stops and engages the man's crying. This is the point of connection. Christ chooses to engage him when no one else would. And as a blind beggar, okay, again, the image of utter helplessness, he had nothing to lose in a manner of speaking and everything to gain. And he is bold enough to ask for the gift of sight. Now, there are a couple of points here, the judgment of the crowds against the guy as not being worthy of even being acknowledged, and to just know his place as a meaningless blind beggar on the side of a dusty road in Jericho, and the hidden miracle of the blind man's faith. And the point is, who knew?
The reading ends with the blind man regaining his sight and following Jesus. In the context of chapter 18, we now see him juxtaposed to the disciples who we were told were clueless. They are still blindly following Jesus to Jerusalem, but will flee at the end, the time of temptation, because here we have to understand sight has the meaning not just a physical light, but of understanding. And so he follows, this is the key punch line. At the very end, he follows, meaning, meaning he accepted the invitation to be a disciple, and to head to Jerusalem, and to face all that was going to happen in the next week. And if you read the whole of chapter 18, which is really a powerful chapter, it also stands in contrast to the rich ruler, who was a faithful Jew, you know, that Christ finally said, if you want to be perfect, go sell all that you have to come follow me. In other words, become like this blind beggar, you see, who refused outright to go and therefore rejected him. So everybody, because a blind beggar is at the end of the chapter, everybody comes under judgment by the beggar's faith that has made him whole. So I guess, Hollie, my point is, we as Christians have to open ourselves up to engaging the world. Every one of us live in what I call our small ticky-tacky world. This is our world on a daily basis. We're supposed to not live with our own agenda, needs, or even misguided messianic fervor, you know, our sales targets of making converts, so we can grow the church community and, and proclaim and show to our bishop and our councils and to all our brother priests, who we're secretly competing with as far as success. This is a problem that I think we're facing, not in general in the world, but even it's hyper-difficult in a pandemic culture now, that is choosing to isolate itself from the world. So we're not even engaging the healthy people, let alone the people that we would find totally unacceptable to us, the blind beggars. We have to ask ourselves, how are we conscious about engaging our daily world you see, not in our own little lives, not absorbed on our iPhones, you see, when we're out at any place. I just went to Christmas, I just had family, and we talked for a few minutes and few seconds, six iPhones are coming out, and we're disengaged, or at least we have one eye on the iPhone and the other eye just sort of roaming. But that's just the tragedy, I think of failure as human beings to notice a larger world. So if you don't mind, let me tell you one last strange story, sort of illustrate all of this.
Hollie Benton 14:03
Fr. Timothy Lowe 14:04
Okay. We were in southern Spain, Lisa and myself with two of our adult children enjoying an unused timeshare from my brother. So one evening, there was a sunset cruise we noticed on the Mediterranean. So he said, why not. So we paid the cost, we went down to the bay hopped onto the boat and with all the other patrons and headed out. The setting sun was exquisite and worth whatever we paid for it. So we were enjoying it immensely. And then we noticed that a good percentage of the other patrons were not paying attention to the skyline at all, which we thought was the purpose. Instead, they were chatting, what was going on just will come as no surprise to anyone, taking their endless selfies, taking selfies with their phones. So to make my point they were not engaged with the world around them, which they paid money, which is also just sort if comical, and that's the point. So but then something extraordinary happened that had nothing to do with the beauty of nature and being on the Mediterranean at sunset and whatnot, it had to do with another boat that we passed coming in. You might say, well, it's a bay, it's filled with boats, boats are coming and going. Well, this boat was different. It was a boat of African refugees, wrapped in blankets, who had clearly just been rescued at sea. And they were waving to us happy to be alive heading to the shore with all the uncertainty that we could only imagine about people so desperate to transverse the Mediterranean to find refuge in another place, alive. And despite all the odds with hope.
Had anyone noticed the boat, let alone even waved back? They were engaged elsewhere, in this sense, namely with themselves first, their selfies and their friends. You know, this is a huge sin. This is our lack of faith. This is our functional rejection of Christ. This is our refusal to follow Him, as the blind beggar just showed us, to Jerusalem and to the ends of the world with his message and teaching. If we read, look correctly, today, we might not be poor enough, desperate enough to follow, all the while imagining that we are the disciples. This is an individual choice. And no matter what our sort of sales programs, our desire for growth and development on a large scale, it always comes down to individual choice. And so we have to, once again, be challenged by Christ in the Gospel as we are to hear His voice. And to follow without asking, as Peter does in Luke 18, What's in it for us? Because this is another element of this chapter where after they despair, we're hearing about rich men rejecting and whatnot, they say, What are we going to get? So my point is, when we read about this, we need to stand in awe of the former blind beggar on the one hand, and the rest of us on the other, inasmuch as Luke is sure that we are part of the shushing crowd. In other words, it is always a judgment against us. Now, you said something earlier, which started this off. Here's what you said, Could it be that the writers of Scripture targeted an audience that were largely self righteous? And the communication plan, even when it's not immediately understood provides a chance, even for us the targeted audience, for repentance and the Lord's mercy? And to this question I give a resounding Amen. Anybody who reads the Bible, preaches on the Bible, whatever, must understand that we are always the adressees of the gospel, and we are always the bad guys. Always the bad guys. Okay, so the disciples, the rich man, there's also the publican and Pharisee and in this one, we're not the publican, we're the Pharisee, we're the shushing crowd, we're not the blind beggar with faith, see, we're always those negative people. And therefore, that's the case. We are as desperate, as desperate as a blind beggar, in need of our repentance and God's mercy. So there you have it. This is a rich, rich chapter, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 18:17
Yeah, and it's hard to sell anything with a customer profile like that, and a good communication plan like that, but thank God for it. And thank you for your stories today that really highlights the need for God's mercy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:31
It's the only possible message of hope.
Hollie Benton 18:34
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:35
Because there's a lot of despair and we have to be able to engage and not be afraid to let go of our own personal agendas, our own needs, our own selfishness, our own suspicion, our own lack of faith, let it all go in hopes that when we see the Lord, we cry out, and then we respond and follow, wherever that may take us.
Hollie Benton 18:54
Amen. Thank you, Fr. Timothy.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai