Luke 23:35b-43 (CEV)
While the crowd stood there watching Jesus, the soldiers gambled for his clothes. The leaders insulted him by saying, “He saved others. Now he should save himself, if he really is God’s chosen Messiah!”
36 The soldiers made fun of Jesus and brought him some wine. 37 They said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!”
38 Above him was a sign that said, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals hanging there also insulted Jesus by saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!”
40 But the other criminal told the first one off, “Don’t you fear God? Aren’t you getting the same punishment as this man? 41 We got what was coming to us, but he didn’t do anything wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into power!”
43 Jesus replied, “I promise that today you will be with me in paradise.”
There’s a crazy passage over in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus tells a story about separating people out at the end of time. He says that some of the people offered him food, water and hospitality – without ever knowing that they were offering it to Jesus – and some of them refused to offer him food, water and hospitality – without ever knowing they were withholding it from Jesus.
The catch is this – that when they cared (or didn’t care) for ‘one of the least of these’, they were actually doing this for Jesus.
And as I read about the response of the prisoners on either side of Jesus here on the cross I can’t help but think of this story that he told his followers just a few short days before.
In the Flesh
Because here is Jesus – in the flesh – on the cross and one of the men crucified beside him can ‘see’ him and one of them can’t.
One of them is caught up in the ‘health and wealth and ease’ ideas about God that we talked about on Tuesday, and one of them is able to notice the presence of God with him in the midst of his brokenness.
These are two profoundly different responses to the same experience – and even though we don’t find ourselves hanging on crosses beside Jesus every day, I don’t think that the response of these two men is all that unusual.
The truth is that if you have read this far through the book of Luke you are presumably pretty interested in meeting Jesus. You would presumably like to get to know Jesus better. And you would presumably prefer not to miss Jesus if he were to be ‘hanging around’ beside you in the midst of your hardest experiences in life, right?
So what does it take to ‘see Jesus’?
What does it take to notice his presence?
How do we cultivate a posture that encourages and allows us to be aware?
I think there are three practices that can be particularly valuable to the process of becoming aware of God’s presence, and once again I draw these from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s ‘Spiritual Disciplines Handbook’.
The first practice is called ‘Slowing’. And it’s not really any more complicated than it sounds. To practice the discipline of slowing simply requires us to slow down. We have to create margins and spaces in our lives. This gives us the time and capacity to notice and respond to those around us.
Some ways of cultivating slowness involve intentionally driving in the slow lane. Or putting away your phone while waiting in lines and observing those around you. Eating your meals slowly and without distraction is another good one. So is taking time to walk in the forest or through a garden. And sitting by the waterfront and watching the waves can be incredibly calming. Some people find that building in 5 – 15 minute margins after every meeting or appointment or change of activity also really helps.
Practice the Presence
Although these practices may be difficult, they open us up to being able to ‘Practice the Presence’ of Christ. They give us time to become aware of Jesus’ presence with us all the time. This practice uses the time created by ‘slowing’ to become more mindful of God throughout the day.
Using intentional activities like reading or memorizing something from the Bible can be helpful. Others find a breath prayer like “I am here” or “show me where you are in this place” helpful. Or some find carrying or wearing a fidget object reminds them of God’s presence throughout the day.
As you make time and space to be aware – of those around you and of the presence of God – you will find that you begin to notice Jesus’ presence. You might notice it in the need of another person. Or maybe notice it in a timely rainbow or the timing of the sun popping out from behind a cloud. You might notice Jesus’ presence in the smile of a stranger or in a squirmy toddler in the grocery line. It’s even possible you’ll notice Jesus’ presence in the food that you eat or in the people you share the table with.
Regardless, like the second thief in today’s story, you will be practicing a way of living that will make you far more likely to notice when Jesus is hanging out beside you – on your best days, and even on your worst days.
- What is it like for you to choose to do things slowly?
- When do you rely on adrenalin or caffeine to get through a tough day?
- How frequently do you find yourself so busy that you barely have time to use the bathroom in a day?
- When was the last time that you waited in line without looking at your cell phone?
- How easy is it for God to get your attention as you go through your day?
- When was the last time you noticed that Jesus was present with you?
- What would it look like for you to choose one way to slow this week and look for Jesus?
This study is part of an entire journey through the book of Luke. If you’ve enjoyed it, please visit https://www.voxalliance.ca/category/devotionals/luke/ for the rest of this series.