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Jesus the Borrower

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Jesus the Borrower

Posted on Mon, Mar 17, 2008

Mel Williams


Matthew 2: 1-11

a sermon by Mel Williams

Watts Street Baptist Church

March 16, 2008 (Palm/Passion Sunday)

Some of us may not be too comfortable with the notion of borrowing. But at some point in our lives all of us may need to borrow money, a car, a book, a cup of sugar, or other items. Yet we have a certain uneasiness about borrowing. In this prosperous country, we have the expectation that everyone should be self-sufficient. We all should have enough money and things so that we don’t need to borrow anything. Besides, interest on borrowed money is too much! And what if something happens to the borrowed car or book? We shouldn’t have to borrow; pay cash. Don’t borrow anything; if you do, you may feel beholden, dependent, or even inferior.

But if we are going to be Christian, we need to get accustomed to borrowing. We could say that Christian faith is all about borrowing. We learned this from Jesus, especially in the story of Palm Sunday, this day when Jesus made his so-called "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem. He needed some transportation, so he sent some of his disciples to visit a person who owned a donkey. They simply said, "Jesus has need of your donkey." There is no talk of buying it, renting it or stealing it. Basically, they said, "Jesus needs to borrow your donkey." So Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey.

When you stop and think about it, Jesus borrowed everything. He borrowed the water he turned into wine, and he borrowed the stone jars from which that wine was poured. He borrowed a boat from which to teach or to travel across a lake. He borrowed houses in which to eat, teach and heal. He borrowed a basket of food to feed 5000 people. He borrowed sons and daughters, sisters and brothers and husbands to be his disciples. He borrowed the Upper Room in which he ate his last supper with his borrowed friends. Even the manger in which he was born was borrowed. The cross on which he died was borrowed, and the tomb in which he was buried was borrowed.

We may like to think of Jesus as a giver, not a taker. He was indeed the giver of health, healing, wholeness, love. He even gave his own life. But throughout his career, Jesus was a borrower. He even borrowed his first sermon from the book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…." (Luke 4:18) Jesus borrowed freely from the teachings of Judaism. He borrowed from the faith of the Hebrew fathers and mothers.

What was Jesus trying to teach us with all this borrowing? As far as we know, Jesus owned nothing. He was a homeless, itinerant preacher who went about borrowing whatever he needed. As his disciples, we say that we want to follow Jesus. That means we have to come to terms with all this borrowing. We know that we live in a "pay your own way" culture.

But as Christians we have received a different legacy from Jesus. We have a different value system. We are a counter-cultural people. We are Jesus’ people, and Jesus was not a capitalist. Like him, we come here to hold out our hands to borrow.

Think about it. For us, just as for Jesus, we have no possessions of our own. All we have is gift. Even the energy and ability we use for work is gift. All we have is borrowed from God or God’s people. We may spend a lifetime trying to make money, build big bank accounts and bigger houses. But we don’t take it with us. We borrow it for awhile and then move on. We are simply stewards, caretakers of the items we’ve borrowed.

We know that the real god of this culture is money—big cars, big bank accounts, big stock portfolios (which are not as big now, after the recent stock market downturn!). No wonder we have trouble following Jesus or even respecting him. How can we genuinely say "Jesus is Lord" when our Lord eschewed material values, and he often counseled people to give away their money?

Jesus gave us a different value system—borrowing, rather than earning. But we live in a culture that teaches us that even religion has to do with earning. The more faith we put in, the more we expect to get out. The more we pay in, the more benefits we should receive. This is an accounting view of faith. But that’s not Jesus’ way. The currency he valued was not dollars but grace: a world where God is good to us not because we are good, but because God is good. God is good to us not because we have earned our way or obeyed some legalistic system, but because God’s nature is grace. There is more grace in God than there is sin in us. (Bill Coffin)

If we are able to see ourselves as borrowers, we can begin to understand grace. All that we have is gift; it’s all borrowed. Even our life is borrowed. That’s why money and the way we use it is always a spiritual matter. The amount we give to God and God’s work is always a measure of our spiritual health.

The fact that Jesus borrowed a donkey to ride on is one example of his effort to free us to be borrowers. When we reflect deeply on our lives, we discover that we borrow from God every day—breath, forgiveness, strength, courage.

As people of faith we are called to be imitators of Jesus. We are in the business of borrowing. If we have a decent view of church, we come here Sunday after Sunday to borrow—from God and from each other. We borrow guidance from God’s word. We borrow inspiration from hymns, anthems, and prayers. We borrow challenges. And at times when our faith is low, we borrow faith from this community. When my faith is low, I borrow faith from you. When your faith is low, you borrow faith from me. We borrow from the faith of 2000 years of the church’s history.

As parents we come here to borrow the love and guidance we need to give our children. No parents are sufficient guides for our children. We must borrow from the community. The church is the storehouse from which we borrow.

When Buddhist monks take vows, they are given only a few possessions. One of those is a begging bowl. Wherever the monk goes, he holds out the begging bowl; and whatever is placed in the bowl will be his nourishment for the day. (from Sue Bender, Everyday Sacred, p. 5) It’s an act of trust—that God will provide whatever we need. For people of faith, we all have a begging bowl—waiting, trusting that our needs for this day will be provided.

Oh, but in this culture we’re uncomfortable with the begging bowl—just as we are uncomfortable with those tattered people who stand at street corners holding their sign—"Homeless, hungry—please help." If we are honest, don’t we have to admit that it’s rather embarrassing, even un-American, for anyone to hold out a begging bowl. We know the disparaging terms used for beggars: "bums, panhandlers." We don’t have a high opinion of people with a begging bowl.

But when it comes to our deepest needs we are all beggars. We are all borrowers. Someone said that the definition of hell is a life that is earned. The definition of heaven is a life that is borrowed.

Borrowed is best. That’s why Jesus said, "Go borrow me a donkey."

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