I serve on a committee of clergy and laity that meets several times a year to certify candidates for ordained ministry in our denomination. There are criteria for the candidates: seminary education, psychological assessments, recommendations from church leaders, etc. During the meetings, we pray, listen carefully to the candidates and to God, and discern if we confirm a call to ministry and if the candidates seem ready to move on in the process. We expect them to meet the criteria and show fluency in theology, leadership skills, and pastoral care. We also want them to be mature Christian disciples who wholeheartedly trust in God.
In this reading, Paul lists the ways he met the criteria for being a faithful Jew: by birth, zeal, and keeping the Law. He knows that while these credentials are good, even God-given, knowing Jesus puts him in a right relationship with God. So he gives up putting his trust in his credentials and instead puts his total trust in Jesus. This does not mean that Paul stopped using the skills of debate or knowledge of the Law that he had honed as a Pharisee or stopped being energetic in living out his faith. When Paul chose to rely first on Jesus, he placed his credentials in the right place, the right order. They then became tools with which he could serve God in remarkable ways.
Whether clergy or lay, we easily slip into relying on our credentials—how long we have attended church or how many mission projects we have gone on—as a way to be right with God. Paul reminds us that we are to trust in Jesus not in our credentials—no matter how good they are.
Lord Jesus, it is easy to rely on accomplishments and credentials rather than on you. Please help me to keep all this in the right order. Amen.
The Isaiah text portrays the redemptive activity of God that is about to be introduced into Israel’s life. All paradigms lie shattered before the immensity of God’s grace! The joy of Psalm 126 is occasioned by the memory of God’s act of redemption in the past and also by the anticipation that a similar intervention is imminent. Paul’s autobiographical sketch directed to the Philippians confesses the change that has come into his life as a result of “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet must be read in the context of Jesus’ looming passion. Jesus sets Mary’s actions in their proper perspective by linking them to his own death, even as he deflects Judas’s counterfeit compassion.
Read Isaiah 43:16-21. How do you respond to this God who insists on doing new things for the sake of the people?
Read Psalm 126. Pray this psalm three times: (1) pray all the verbs in the past tense in thanksgiving; (2) pray all the verbs in the future tense as a prayer for help; (3) pray verses 1-3 in the past tense, verses 5-6 in the future tense. Which was hardest to pray?
Read Philippians 3:4b-14. What props or credentials do you need to let go of?
Read John 12:1-8. What motivations does your discipleship reflect?
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