Monday, April 11, 2022

HOW I GOT EARS TO HEAR: (Malchus’ Account of Jesus’s Arrest [Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10-12])

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You have to understand that I didn’t get involved in any of this by choice.  Not at all!  I’d been working for the high priests all my life, so when they said, “Do something!” I did it.  These high priests were not easy to get along with.  Neither of them, since there were two of them!  So, we did what they told us to.  We had essentially two masters!

There was Caiaphas – he was currently in charge.  And there was also his father-in-law, Annas, who was also calling the shots.

See, Annas had been high priest for about nine years.  And he had five sons hankering for the job.  Before and after the events I’m going to tell you about, one right after another of them got elevated to the post. 

Right at this moment, son-in-law Caiaphas was riding the donkey of power, so as to say, but it was certainly a precarious ride, because Rome decided who was in the saddle and kept unseating them one right after another.

Sure, they were all related, but these were really ambitious people, and, as soon as one tumbled off, another was trying to hop on.  The point, I guess, was to keep the job in their house, so everybody was nervous, ergo (as the Romans would say), hard to get along with. 

But I should say in these high priests’ defense, they were under a phenomenal amount of pressure.

You see, they had the people to contend with.  Nobody was lining up like docile lambs in their pen.  People were watching their every move and a complaint to the governor was all it took to change riders.  So, they had to be careful.

Father-in-law Annas certainly understood that fact, because he’d had it happen to him.  After nine years in power, Annas was deposed by Governor Valerious Gratus.  Now this happened 18 years ago, but Annas didn’t retire to a home in the countryside, boring his grandchildren with increasingly embellished stories about when he was high priest.  Not at all!  He was still very much a player and he knew it was all about biding your time.

His replacement, Ishmael – a priest appropriately named after Abraham’s son who didn’t get to father the Jews (!) – lasted only about a heartbeat, and, when Rome knocked him out of the saddle, Annas got the Governor to pop his son Eleazar up there.  How’s that for a smooth move?  But Eleazar only lasted a year and Rome had another rider ready to go: Simon son of Camithus.  The bronco of power tossed him off in less than a year and, with apparently no more currently eligible sons, Annas helped his son-in-law Caiaphas to mount up onto the office.  Obviously, it pays to stick around.  No wonder they were all testy people, with the Romans changing them all nearly yearly like a bunch of soiled togas!

And, then, of course, there were also the Pharisees to contend with.  These weren’t just ordinary laypeople.  Not at all, most of them were powerful merchants and very influential, and all of them dismissed the Sadducees who ran the Temple as heretics for not believing in the resurrection of the dead, so no looking there for support.

Caiaphas wasn’t too popular with the Zealots, either.  They were disgusted with the current high priestly office, since the Roman governor hired and fired whoever held it, so that put both Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas before him under suspicion as fraternizers with the enemy. 

And while all that hostility was being levied at him, Caiaphas wasn’t about to be invited for lunch over at the Qumran community, either.  In fact, the Essenes labeled Caiaphas the “Wicked Priest,” condemning him as a Roman puppet. 

So, you can see, his rating polls were buried in the basement.  His popularity base was essentially his own party – the Sadducees, who had a death grip on the Temple administration.

As a result, anything Caiaphas wanted done, he had to do by making some kind of alliance with the Pharisees, while winning over the people, and keeping the Roman overlords at bay.  And that’s a big order of figs, as they say! 

So, when the high priest is under pressure, who do you think he displaces all this on?  Huh?  That’s right.  Take it out on the servants!

And everybody thinks I got such a cushy job. Everybody’s looking at me like – “So, you’re working in the Temple, are you?  No breaking your back there!  Nothing to lug around except all that money – and I’ll bet the priests don’t ever let you slaves get your hands on that.  You don’t have to dig anything – so you don’t get dirty.  The Temple guard takes care of any trouble.  So, what do you really do with your time?  Hide out in the back with the lots – gambling?  I’ll bet that’s it!”

Yeah?  Well, that’s not it!  We get plenty of our share of nasty jobs – we servants reinforce the Temple guard, for one thing – and that’s what happened that particular Passover.

Now, the chief focus of concern that season, according to my master-in-power, was Jesus, that troublemaker from Galilee.  Hardly anything else camped out on Caiaphas’s lips! Like everybody else, Jesus was here in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, but, unlike everybody else – he wasn’t fitting in, taking orders, buying his sacrifice at the Temple, delivering it to the priests, getting his lamb dinner, and staying in line like he was supposed to. No, instead, he was making a huge show – from the moment he arrived.  And what an entrance!

We were shocked.  Here he comes riding through the streets.  The people are all thronging about  him – waving palms – whatever they could get their hands on – all of them chanting, “Hosanna!” which is a shout of adoration that’s supposed to be given only to God(!),  and “Blessed be the one coming in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”[1]   And lots of praises like that, quoting Scripture and calling him the Son of David (meaning the rightful heir to Herod’s throne) and “Hosanna in the highest” – and all sorts of inflammatory shoutings like that.[2] Talk about not fitting in!

Of course, the high priests were all astonished!  And they were ringing their hands, imagining how that was going to go down with King Agrippa – not to mention the Roman Governor!

And, that’s not all.  This whole melee had started almost a week before in Bethany when he raised a guy from the dead named Lazarus.  I’m not kidding! 

All week long the people had been flocking down to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus, this man he’d raised.  And now that burgeoning throng, along with all of Jesus’ many disciples – some of whom themselves had been doing miracles! - were all moving in a great army down the road to meet the crowds who were filling the streets in Jerusalem, hoping to catch a glimpse of this marvelous prophet who could raise the dead!

Caiaphas was telling all his supporters he wanted to go out and bust Jesus on the spot, but it was clear to him that, if he laid a hand on this man, the people would riot.[3]

At the same time, Caiaphas realized the Pharisees were also beside themselves, wringing their hands over Jesus’ miracles and lamenting that, if somebody did not stop him, the people would elevate Jesus to power and Rome would descend on them and take the nation away from them completely.  [4]

This, of course, was the break Caiaphas needed.  It was time for a good dose of Temple politics and statesmanship! 

Together with the worried Pharisees, he and Annas called a meeting of the ruling body of elders, the Sanhedrin, which, among other things, was our highest court in the land. 

That’s when Caiaphas, as high priest, completely took over the whole proceedings.  “You don’t know anything,” he lectured them.  “Don’t you realize that it would be advantageous to you if one man died on behalf of the rest and not the whole nation being destroyed?”  

Good Temple language that – it’s the language of sacrifice:  Make an offering and spare the nation.  They’d been making offerings to spare themselves and their loved ones all their lives, so he had them completely tucked away in his money bag with that argument.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Jesus plays right into the high priests’ hands!   The first thing Jesus does is he goes right into the Temple, itself - of all places(!) – right where his worst enemies are gathered.  And accompanying him was his mob all shouting his praises!  And true to form he turns over the merchants’ tables and drives all of them and their animals for sale out in a great pandemonium – just like he’d done before.[5]

And when we confront him and tell him to shut these people up – what does he do? – he quotes Scripture at us – a passage from Psalm 8 – and one I might add that exclusively refers to praising God. 

Caiaphas and all of us were non-plussed.  But we couldn’t put a hand on him, because of the people! And that’s when our other great break took place. 

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones Jesus alienated – because that night, here comes this inner circle disciple of his, smarming around, suggesting he could sell him out.

Can you imagine that?  Here’s a guy who just watched Jesus raise someone from the dead and, while the whole world is praising his leader, he’s ready to make a deal for him like he was a Scythian slave.  It was disgusting.

Caiaphas obviously despised him, as one would all traitors.  But, he could have kissed him as well.  This was the final break he needed – and that’s when he summoned me to do one of the nastiest jobs I’d ever been assigned.

But, I wasn’t surprised.  All day Caiaphas had been particularly agitated.  I suspect he knew that he was operating without the proper authority.  He hadn’t let King Herod in on his plans, and the touchy Pilate didn’t know the full extent of them, so everything had to be done swiftly under cover of darkness.

When I arrived at the Temple armory, I discovered he and Annas had recruited the help of that cohort of Roman soldiers that was on guard at nearby Fort Antonia expressly to keep the people contained during Passover, which, of course, is a favorite time with the Zealots to cause some trouble in order to stir up the people to revolt.  It was also an understandable move for the high priests to ask for help, since the Temple guard had already failed to arrest Jesus.  And it put Pilate, the peevish Roman Procurator, on alert that something was up.

Well, something was certainly up, since they and soon all of us servants were armed to the death.  I remember the whole thing vividly.  And how could I not, in light of what was to happen to me, as you will see? 

A high wind had been blowing all that week – as if there were portents in the air.  But that night it was suddenly deathly still and very cold.  It was a forbidding night for any venture.  No wonder we were all uneasy.

The traitor, Judas, was next to the commander and wouldn’t meet any of our eyes, but kept looking down, and around, and anywhere but straight at us. Then the commander barked out a few curt orders and we moved out.

Deep into the night, we slipped from the Temple so as not to attract too much attention.  But the Paschal full moon loomed like an accusation over us, pointing out clearly all we meant to do.  We sought out the shadows with the minimum of torch light burning.  We’d ignite the large wooden torches when we were nearing the point of combat.

As you know, the Temple itself is in the far right hand corner of Jerusalem, so you can step right out of the Temple through the Eastern Gate in its wall and down along the little Blackwater Gorge that the Greeks call the Kidron or the Valley of Cedars that runs between the end of the western slope of the Mount of Olives and the sacred city itself.  Sometimes it has water, but that night it was dry.

Our target was a little farm on the other side of the gorge, a working orchard called Gethsemane, that is the “Oil Vat,” for that’s where the traitor revealed Jesus and his ring had been camping out.[6] 

So that’s how we crept up on them: we slipped out of the gate, sneaked quietly across the valley, and onto the slope, taking cover in the olive trees, then on signal we lit the torches and charged up the hill into the Garden of Gethsemane and surprised them all.

The eleven disciples were sprawled all over the place and Jesus was trying to wake them up, when in glides Judas with all of us and we sweep all around them and have them all hemmed in.

Immediately, that despicable lizard Judas steps up and says, “Greetings, Rabbi,” and kisses[7] his hand, like any faithful disciple would.

Jesus looks at him so sadly that it made my heart sink and murmurs, “Judas, with a kiss you’re handing over Humanity’s Son?” (Luke 22:48)

Judas just works on his unctuous, ingratiating smile and Jesus shakes his head slightly and then pauses and begins to nod, like this is all making sense to him, and simply says, “Friend, do what you intend to do.”

While the disciples, of course, are fumbling around trying to rouse each other up, Jesus just looks at us like he was expecting us to come all this time and asks, “Whom do you seek?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” one of us says nervously.

Jesus fixes us with a stare and announces, “I am,” just like God said to Moses.  He said it so powerfully that we jumped back, stumbling into each other, and some of those in the back began to slide back down the slope.   

He demanded to know again whom we wanted to arrest and an official bleated it out again and Jesus said the same thing.  It was so unnerving, some of us servants were trembling.  And then he demanded we let his followers go.

At that point, we all come to life. 

See, Jesus is a big guy – a laborer, but he’s so gentle and docile now that the commander and I just step up and slap our hands on his shoulders and the rest of us pile on him.  At that instant, the whole world explodes.

His disciples start shouting, the soldiers are shoving them back and this big guy suddenly looms up in front of me and slams me on the side of the head with a crushing blow.   I scream out and fall on the ground, dazed.  My head is in agony and there is all this sticky stuff on the side of my face and Samuel, who’s a servant like me, starts yelling – “He cut his ear off!  He cut his ear off!  Malchus’ ear is gone!”

People just begin trampling on me, everybody ignoring him – of what value are slaves?  The mission is to seize Jesus.

I start crying, trying to sit up, while I’m thrashing around on the ground, I guess to see if my ear is there or anything’s left, and my head is splitting and suddenly with the ear that I do have left I hear Jesus’ voice cutting through the noise, telling his disciples to stop fighting and demanding something about why he shouldn’t be drinking from a cup or something that didn’t make any sense to me – and then he touched me.

I can’t describe it really.  It was immediate heat, like the sun on my face on a summer afternoon, like a torch held at a perfect distance so it warms but doesn’t burn, like a stone chafed to perfection at a soldier’s fire and then tucked into a sack on a frigid night and hugged close, radiating a warm glow all through me. 

My head stopped hurting.  My face was no longer leaking blood and – I felt for my right ear – it was there and didn’t even sting when I touched it. 

The rest of what happened is all like a dream to me.  I guess the others took Jesus with us.  My friend, Samuel, was holding me up and I was stumbling along, but more in shock than anything else.  I was certainly not in pain.  I was just drained of emotion.

The priests who met us at the Eastern gate simply looked intently at me for a moment then turned their attention to Jesus.  All but one of his disciples had melted away.  Soon, he was completely alone.  They whisked him off to Annas’ house, of all places, but I didn’t go.  It was the last I saw of him.

I simply went back to my quarters in the recesses of the Temple courts.  No official asked me about the incident or my healing.  Everyone was sneaking off to watch what was happening.  They were all going that way, but I was now heading in another direction.

When I got back in my room, I suddenly started to cry.  I don’t know why.  I haven’t cried since I was a child.  But I cried that night.  I think I was crying for everything:

 – for myself and what I had just taken part in – the arrest of more than an innocent man – the arrest of a good person who had to have been empowered by the Holy One, blessed be He, to do what he had done for me.

-        And I cried for Jesus and what was going to happen to him now that they finally had him in their claws.

-        And I cried for Jerusalem, my city, and for my beloved nation and how it always killed the prophets that the grace of God sent to it.

-        And I cried for everything I dreaded which might happen now.

And I was right!  What happened, happened swiftly, just as Caiaphas and Annas had planned it out.  A makeshift trial was whipped up - you can believe they had all that in place already, all they needed was the victim. 

Then they paraded Jesus in front of that incompetent Roman knuckle bone[8] Pilate, who tried to roll in any direction to get out of it all, then, when he couldn’t, he played right into their hands and did their dirty work for them.

Within a matter of hours Jesus was nailed up on the hill of the skull and dead by the early next afternoon.

I walked aimlessly through the city as people ran in panic around me.  They were screaming at the darkness, shouting that the graves were opening and the dead were rising out.  Somebody yelled that the thick Temple curtain protecting the holiest place of worship had ripped down the middle.  And some people were yelling that they must have just killed the Son of God – and others that it was actually an appearance of God-Among-Us and we were all doomed.

I just walked through the center of it all.  None of it made any impact on me.  All I felt was a sense of calmness, actually a great relief – as if all the questions of my life were resolved, and above all I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Two days later the reports started up again.  Jesus’ grave was broken open.  His body was gone.  His disciples were hiding and then they weren’t.  Sightings of Jesus were witnessed in the city, in the country, at the seaside up in the Galilee region.  Five hundred people at once were all claiming to have seen him.  He was now alive and well again.  And, you know, somehow I was not surprised.  Of course he was the Son of God and God-Among-Us, just as he had said.  Didn’t I know that in my heart of hearts when he touched me and healed me?

Instead of running to the tomb – what was the point?  His body wasn’t there - I went back to the Temple.  I was a slave.  I had to.  It was in total disarray.  The priests were crying and heaping ashes on their heads – not for the murder of Jesus, but for the incomprehensible tearing of the Temple veil.

It wasn’t incomprehensible to me.  The Spirit of God in the Holy of Holies had obviously left them – as surely as it had departed from King Saul when God had finally had enough of his faithlessness.

I didn’t have to puzzle for the reason.  I simply packed up the few things I owned – amidst such devastation no one would miss me - and I walked out of the Eastern Gate without having to answer anybody.  I crossed the little valley just as I’d done that fateful night and set out for the Mount of Olives and its beautiful garden once again to search for Jesus.  But this time my mission was different.

You see, I realized I owed him a debt.  I had never thanked him.


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[1] John 12:13.  I translated the scriptural quotations from the Greek and then compared the narratives using Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry’s The NIV Harmony of the Gospels (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988).

[2] Matt 21:4-9.  

[3] Matt 26:5.

[4] John 11:47-48.

[5] John 2:13-22, cf. Matt 21:12-13.

[6] I’ve been to the Garden of Gethsemane, but I also picked up data from volume 2 of J.H Bernard’s classic (and in my estimation unsurpassed) commentary on John in the original International Critical Commentary series (pages 582-591) and from various entries in the appropriate volumes of  The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible and Ronald Brownrigg, Who’s Who in the New Testament (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 30.

[7] Matt 26:49  

[8] A knuckle bone “marked with letters that were also numbers” was used in a circle game that Plautus describes (Henri Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, 315).  My idea in having the observant Malchus use the image here for Pontius Pilate is that, like a die tossed about and coming up with different  values in a single game, Pilate thrashes around to find a way to extricate himself from responsibility, while still issuing the order to crucify Jesus.

Monday, March 28, 2022

How Something Small Can Make a Big Difference

                                               a pilot ship coming to guide our ship to port

We took a cruise in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean this last February to celebrate our forthcoming 50th wedding anniversary.

One thought that I had while traveling is how something small can be so important to something big.

The ship we took was 14 levels high and could have 1250 passengers and 800 staff. This time it was ½ full. It cost 500 million dollars to build and weighs 66,084 tons.[1] Yet the ship could not arrive or leave at any port without a small pilot boat. At every port we arrived, a pilot ship was waiting for us to guide the ship in, often early in the morning, even before dawn.

     The captain of Oceania gave us “guests” or passengers a brief talk one afternoon about the importance of the pilot ship. Chris Cos, a Christian sister at Pilgrim Church, in addition told me that her grandfather was a pilot captain and that he needed to have expert maritime knowledge. Harbor pilots have been used since ancient times to guide vessels into port. Even Marco Polo had help from ancient harbor pilots. Pilot boats are small ships that take maritime pilots to vessels that are arriving at the port. The pilots know about the harbor depths, wind speeds, tide levels, visibility, weather conditions, traffic, berthing and dock infrastructure. The pilot provides the larger vessels safe passage through the port and protects people, property, and land. Becoming a harbor pilot takes years of training and maritime experience. The captain of the vessel must give a harbor pilot complete trust.[2]  

     The pilot ship can provide us several important lessons. On the one hand, we may be reminded of the classic gospel song:

“Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life’s tempestuous sea; Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee: Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”…

“When at last I near the shore, And the fearful breakers roar ‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on Thy breast, May I hear Thee say to me, 'Fear not, I will pilot thee.'”[3]

     We may enter a new area of life, such as the cruise ship entering a port, and think we can maneuver ourselves through all the depths and tides. Yet we forget our Harbor Pilot, God, who can lead the blind by a way they do not know, by currents they have not known God can guide them (paraphrase of Isaiah 42:16). We are “blind” when it comes to the new.

     In addition, God can use the body of believers to guide us. The less impressive members of the body may appear less crucial or important. Paul explains to the Corinthians:As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor 12:20-26 NRSV).

As well, the cruise ship cannot say to the pilot ship: “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the sea that seem to be weaker or smaller are indispensable and those members of the sea that we think less honorable we grant with greater honor. Through thousands of years, cruise captains have relied on harbor pilots.

     Similarly, in the church, Christ wants everyone of us to share with others our spiritual gift so the whole body can function well. What would happen if the harbor pilot refused to come out to help the cruise ship? We would have many crashes! The rest of us, moreover, need to trust those with special gifts granted by the Creator of all harbors, tides, and winds.




[3] Edward Hopper, Hymns for the living church (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 1974), 446.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

A Pineapple Story: Becoming God’s Chosen Pineapple

 Guest blog by Grace Eun-Sun Lee

Grace identifies herself as a Korflican, a Korean born in the Philippines raised in an American-influenced environment. A third culture kid who is also a missionary kid, Grace’s interests lie in worship, the arts, cross-cultural engagement and missions, healing, and Global Christianity. She is currently pursuing the Master of Divinity with a focus on World Missions in Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in S. Hamilton, MA. 

“What does a pineapple have to do with where I study or work?” I asked the Lord back in March of 2021. I had entered my sixth semester in seminary, and, by this time, it became clear that I would be here for another year. I asked Him, “God, what is Your vision for this community, in the upcoming year? And what is my role in all of this?” I was expecting words, phrases, something with a WOW factor, that would stir someone to think, “Yes! I want to be part of that!”

God answered my prayer, but not with what I expected. An image of a pineapple came to mind. I thought to myself, “Why a pineapple?” Frankly, while I am a fruit lover, pineapples do not rank high on my list. Growing up in the tropics, I loved mangoes, watermelons, coconuts, apples… but not pineapples. I personally find them a little too sour for my taste. So, I was a bit perplexed why God would call to mind a fruit that I was not particularly fond of.

I recalled humorous memories from the mission field associated with pineapples. For example, one time my mom asked for ten pineapples. Instead, she got ten fine apples (f’s are pronounced like p’s in this country). While I initially chuckled over these memories, the more I prayed into the pineapple imagery, the sadder I became. I realized that this one fruit was connected to deeper memories, memories with people who once were so dear to me but were no longer part of my life. These memories were sour, and in my pineapple episodes I experienced a range of emotions, from anger to sorrow and everything in between as I personally processed and grieved over the loss.

As I cried over these pineapple memories, I remembered what a friend shared with me. One response to the pandemic is a support group called Grief Share that provides help and healing for those who lost a loved one. It is a safe place to share stories and to grieve together. My friend told me that he learned in Grief Share that pineapples are a symbol of welcome. Remembering his words, I felt the Lord clarifying his word to me, “Grace, that’s it. That’s the vision for next year. Welcome.

The Year of Welcome. This is how I experienced God’s heart through a tropical fruit amid the prolonged winter back in March here in New England. I was honestly shocked to realize how many memories could be connected to one fruit. I was also surprised to discover that part of the discerning process for the next year involved having to travel back in time with the Lord, digging up and processing these painful memories and feeling intense emotions I have not felt for a while.

I asked the Lord what His vision for the community was and He gently reminded me, “Grace, your individual healing is also part of my Grand Vision for this community.

Grace, I welcome you in my Great Story of Redemption.

Grace, I invite you to welcome others too as I have welcomed you.”

            The words of Romans 15:7 resounded like a trumpet’s fanfare. The short introductory paragraph of Romans 15 presents the exhortation to follow the example of Christ for the building of the church, the community of God’s people. Paul states, Christ Himself received all the reproaches of humanity (v.3). He is no stranger to disapproval nor estrangement. Yet, in His humanity He served as the perfect mediator to reconcile us to God and restore harmony between people. For those in accord with Christ can be in accord with one another. Consequently, such harmony results in a unified voice that glorifies Christ.

Being a worship leader in a praise team, I find any form of congregational singing gets me excited. One of the grievous moments for me during the pandemic was not being able to sing corporately with others. But, through the pandemic, I came to learn and experience that one voice can be expressed through different ways, whether it is through humming, dancing, or even silence.

Regardless of the form, I am reminded that presenting a unified voice that glorifies Christ is possible when we first accept the divine call to welcome in His example of welcome. Christ’s welcome is rooted in humility, which is beautifully described in the Christ hymn in Philippians 2. The humility that led to Christ’s death is the humility Christ invites us to imitate, an invitation to consider others more significant than oneself (Phil 2:3). The greatest act of hospitality of all history was exemplified on the cruelest form of death. This death was a death to Himself so that we humans may live. This death will one day lead to the highest form of exaltation, where all tongues might confess the Lordship of Christ (v.11).

Considering all that has happened in the recent years with the pandemic and is happening right now locally and globally, I am convinced that God is inviting all of us into His redemptive story with a posture of welcome towards one another. All of us have been impacted by the pandemic where eating together and inviting people into our homes has become difficult for a season. Navigating differing opinions concerning politics and the vaccine has impacted the space between people, physical and emotional. Racial tensions and trauma have perpetuated a toxic environment, stifling conversations and silencing voices. Whatever ethnicity or citizenship we are, all are stumbling over cultural and relational dynamics. While friendships have blossomed during the pandemic, many connections have been severed as well. Many are going through much pain and turmoil. Consequently, we hide. We hide because we do not feel safe. For many reasons, we do not feel safe to be truly ourselves nor to connect with one another. Yet, even in our brokenness, the Lord welcomes us. He invites us to His story of healing and restoration, one page at a time. He invites us to “welcome one another…just as also Christ has welcomed” us “for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

            I believe God is also extending His invitation to us, inviting us to His culture of welcome, assuring us that we can welcome Him even in our weakness and we can welcome one another in our brokenness. How? We welcome the presence of God and others in the place of worship. In worship, all of us are sinners before the holy God. In worship, all of us are saints before the gracious and forgiving God. In worship, we come together unified before the throne and the Lamb, celebrating together in our diversity. In our welcome, we honor. In our welcome, we worship. One step closer to a taste of heaven.

Now back to the pineapple story. I learned that, in America, pineapples have become a symbol of hospitality and friendship.[2] You can easily find them as centerpieces at a dining table or hanging on someone’s front door. While they are often bought and enjoyed for their sweetness, pineapples take three years to mature. Each pineapple you eat takes three years to ripen from green, to sour, and finally to sweet.

The sweetest fruits take the longest time.

Relationships take time.

Creating a culture of hospitality takes time.

Healing will take time.

But it is happening.


So here is my invitation to you. However ripe you are, whether you are a seed or ready to fruit, let us be pineapples together. Let us become the symbol of hospitality and welcome, as God’s chosen pineapples, here in America. As we are invited to partake and partner in God’s Redemptive Story, we too are empowered to invite and to welcome one another to make history together.

It is our desire for our praise be Your welcome
for our songs to signify that we are here for You

We welcome You with our praise

We welcome You Almighty God of love

Be welcomed in this place.[3]


[1] The pineapple is Jane Song’s photograph of Amanda Mittleman’s Pineapple Painting, edited by Grace Eun-Sun Lee, April 2020, from Grace Eun-Sun Lee’s personal collection. This blog is an adaptation of an earlier blog published for Manna Newsletter, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, winter edition, Dec. 7, 2021.

[2] Garrett McCord, The Unique History and Symbol of the Pineapple: A Fruit Representing Friendship, Luxury, and War, The Spruce Eats, Dotdash, Updated on August 15, 2021,

[3] Jesse Reeves, Matt Maher, Matt Redman, Tim Wanstall. Here for You. CCLI Song #5925649.  2011 Chrysalis Music Ltd. Sixsteps Music. Thankyou Music. Valley Of Songs Music. songs.

Monday, January 31, 2022

What Lessons Can We Learn while Being Sick?

After a full year of ministry, I was tired and looking forward to a rest. Instead, I just spent two of my three weeks of vacation in the Dominican Republic in bed trying to recuperate from the influenza. We figured I was contaminated before I left or while traveling through the New York or Santo Domingo airports, three days before my symptoms of a congested head and bodily weaknesses began to appear. After six days I began to improve and, then, to my dismay, I began to get worse. Our friend and doctor in the Dominican Republic had been sick too, but she got better after a week while I got worse. She arrived shortly thereafter at our condo with the famous traditional criolla tea[1] for me to take and other local medicines which quickly began their work, so that I could begin what would become a blog I promised Bill I would do this January.

What topic would be good? In my context, how about, sick people in the New Testament who were not healed instantaneously? (Because Bill and I were surely praying for such an instantaneous healing to glorify God’s name and give me a happy vacation!) I found four New Testament examples: Epaphroditus, Timothy, Trophimus, and Paul who demonstrated that illness happens to all, even to wonderful and faithful Christians.

Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30) was sent to Rome to represent the church of Philippi, bringing a generous donation to help pay for Paul’s expenses since he was under house arrest. He took a lengthy trip by land and sea not only to deliver some money but also to join Paul in his ministry. And what happened? Paul had to take care of Epaphroditus who fell seriously ill! How frustrated Epaphroditus must have felt! Paul came to care deeply for him. Epaphroditus almost died, but with Luke’s care and God’s ultimate intervention, Epaphroditus survived.

What do we learn from this incident? Christians under important pressing altruistic ventures can still get sick! Their time plans can be torn to shreds. If Epaphroditus had died in this venture to help Paul, Paul may have felt guilty that he indirectly caused this amiable Christian worker to die. God had mercy on Epaphroditus, and he avoided death and was able to return home. Even people who get sick while doing ministry, according to Paul, should be welcomed with joy and honored.

In the midst of the many charges of the evangelist pastor at Ephesus, Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23) had frequent stomach ailments from avoiding drinking any wine. Usually in ancient times some wine was mixed into water to purify the water. So, Timothy had “frequent illnesses.” That means that, while he was trying to stop the Ephesians’ push to heterodoxy, he was frequently not feeling well. Possibly Timothy as a model for this imbibing church (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:3, 8) had determined to take the Nazarite vow to avoid all grapes and grape products.[2] Nevertheless, in this case, Paul charges Timothy just to go ahead and drink a bit of wine. Idealism at times has to be tempered with practicality. Well-intentioned goals may have to be adapted because of illness, which sets up its own demands.

Not much is said about Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20) except that he did not deny the faith like Demas (2 Tim. 4:10) or work actively against the Christian faith like Alexander (2 Tim. 4:14-15). Paul may have been on his way to Rome when he left Trophimus ill at the port city Miletus near Ephesus. Maybe Trophimus planned to accompany Paul all the way to Rome, but sickness kept him from doing so. Did Paul mention him to Timothy in this letter so that Timothy could check up on him? Paul uses a participle to describe Trophimus: “being sick.” However, Paul does not expect Timothy to wait around until Trophimus is better. In Rome, where Paul is, Luke is there with him. This time Paul is under arrest probably at a Roman military camp. Paul only expects Mark, with his many Roman connections, and Timothy, his long-term ministry partner, to be nearby (2 Tim. 4:9-11).[3] Because of Trophimus’ illness, Trophimus could not become one of Paul’s close Roman companions, but Trophimus for the time being avoided persecution from the Roman authorities. Sometimes an illness keeps us from our goals and impedes our time schedules, but we will continue in our plans when we feel better.

Paul himself suffered from some intermittent illness that affected his eyes (2 Cor. 12:7-10; Gal. 4:13-16). Some medical staff consider that the symptoms might align with ophthalmia, such as Retter’s condition, or intermittent glaucoma, which can be painful.[4] The Galatians treated Paul the way Paul wanted the Philippians to treat Epaphroditus. They welcomed him and eagerly listened to his message. They did not scorn or despise him because he was ill. Because this illness impeded his ministry, Paul appealed to the Lord to have it completely healed. But, to the apostle, who had been spiritually brought to heaven itself (2 Cor. 12:3-4), God responded “no” because he wanted Paul to remember that, in the midst of all the traveling difficulties, spiritual and physical hardships, and persecution Paul underwent for Christ’s sake, Paul remained strong and whole because of the indwelling Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

So, what did I learn from this biblical study to enlighten my situation?

1.   Illness can occur anytime in our earthly fallen world. It is rarely convenient, never welcomed, and it almost always impairs our time schedules. However, all efforts should be made for its eradication, even if an illness does lead to death.[5]

2.   People should not be judged negatively if they become ill. Instead, they should take care of themselves, be taken care of, ask for God’s intervention, and heed good advice. Jesus taught that every sick person should be treated as if she or he were Jesus himself and “looked upon” and “taken care of” (Matt. 25:36, 39-40, 43-45). And they should be honored even though they become ill.

3.   Ministry can be done in the midst of illness. Epaphroditus made it to Paul. Timothy and Paul kept on serving despite their illnesses. God’s grace is sufficient in all situations (2 Cor. 12:9; Phil. 2:27).

I was disappointed to get influenza on my own long-awaited vacation, but I was thankful to be in the Dominican Republic with Bill who took care of me everyday doing all cooking and cleaning. I was staying in our lovely condominium where we had plenty of space in a warm, sunny environment and where our local friends and the condominium managers showed concern. I was able to rest and eventually get better. I was glad that when I fell ill, I had completed all my recent work and I did not have an urgent ministry endeavor to do in the midst of my illness like my New Testament Christian coworkers did!     


[1] Bill describes how to make the tea in our novel Cave of Little Faces, House of Prisca and Aquila Series (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2318), 83.

[2] See further A. B. Spencer, 1 Timothy, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013), 140-41.

[3] See further A. B. Spencer, 2 Timothy and Titus, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014), 146-47.

[4] A. B. Spencer, 2 Corinthians, People’s Bible Commentary (Abingdon, UK: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2001), 209.

[5] John 11:4; James 5:14-18. See also A. B. Spencer and W. D. Spencer, Joy through the Night: Biblical Resources on Suffering (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007 [1994]), chs. 1-2.