Matthew 4:12-25; Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29; Matthew 8:1-34; Matthew 9:1-38; Matthew 10:1-42; Matthew 11:1-30; Matthew 12:1-50; Matthew 13:1-58; Matthew 14:1-12 (The Message)

12 When Jesus got word that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee. 13 He moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulun and Naphtali hills. 14 This move completed Isaiah's sermon: 15 Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, road to the sea, over Jordan, Galilee, crossroads for the nations. 16 People sitting out their lives in the dark saw a huge light; Sitting in that dark, dark country of death, they watched the sun come up. 17 This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here." 18 Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. 19 Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." 20 They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed. 21 A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee's sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, 22 and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father. 23 From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God's kingdom was his theme - that beginning right now they were under God's government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives. 24 Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. 25 More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the "Ten Towns" across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan. 1 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2 and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said: 3 "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 4 "You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. 5 "You're blessed when you're content with just who you are - no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. 6 "You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat. 7 "You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for. 8 "You're blessed when you get your inside world - your mind and heart - put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. 9 "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family. 10 "You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. 11 "Not only that - count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. 12 You can be glad when that happens - give a cheer, even! - for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. 13 "Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. 14 "Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. 15 If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. 16 Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand - shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. 17 "Don't suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures - either God's Law or the Prophets. I'm not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. 18 God's Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God's Law will be alive and working. 19 "Trivialize even the smallest item in God's Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. 20 Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom. 21 "You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' 22 I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. 23 "This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, 24 abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. 25 "Or say you're out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don't lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you're likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. 26 If that happens, you won't get out without a stiff fine. 27 "You know the next commandment pretty well, too: 'Don't go to bed with another's spouse.' 28 But don't think you've preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices - they also corrupt. 29 "Let's not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here's what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. 30 And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump. 31 "Remember the Scripture that says, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights'? 32 Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are 'legal.' Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you're automatically an adulterer yourself. You can't use legal cover to mask a moral failure. 33 "And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. 34 You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. 35 36 37 Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. 38 "Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' 39 Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. 40 If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41 And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. 42 No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. 43 "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' 44 I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best - the sun to warm and the rain to nourish - to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. 1 "Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. 2 "When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure - 'playactors' I call them - treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. 3 When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. 4 Just do it - quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. 5 "And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 6 "Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. 7 "The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. 8 Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. 9 With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. 10 Set the world right; Do what's best - as above, so below. 11 Keep us alive with three square meals. 12 Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. 13 Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. 14 "In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. 15 If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part. 16 "When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. 17 If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. 18 God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well. A Life of God-Worship 19 "Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or - worse! - stolen by burglars. 20 Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. 21 It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. 22 "Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. 23 If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! 24 "You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both. 25 "If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. 26 Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. 27 "Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? 28 All this time and money wasted on fashion - do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, 29 but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. 30 "If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? 31 What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. 32 People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. 33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 34 "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. 1 "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults - unless, of course, you want the same treatment. 2 That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. 3 It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. 4 Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? 5 It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. 6 "Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege. 7 "Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. 8 This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. 9 If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? 10 If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? 11 As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? 12 "Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get. 13 "Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. 14 The way to life - to God! - is vigorous and requires total attention. 15 "Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. 16 Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned. 17 18 19 20 21 "Knowing the correct password - saying 'Master, Master,' for instance - isn't going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience - doing what my Father wills. 22 I can see it now - at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' 23 And do you know what I am going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.' 24 "These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. 25 Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit - but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. 26 "But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. 27 When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." 28 When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. 29 It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying - quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard. 1 Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. 2 Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body." 3 Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. 4 Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done." 5 As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, 6 "Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain." 7 Jesus said, "I'll come and heal him." 8 "Oh, no," said the captain. "I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. 9 I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." 10 Taken aback, Jesus said, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. 11 This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions - streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 12 Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened." 13 Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, "Go. What you believed could happen has happened." At that moment his servant became well. 14 By this time they were in front of Peter's house. On entering, Jesus found Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him. 16 That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. 17 He fulfilled Isaiah's well-known sermon: He took our illnesses, He carried our diseases. 18 When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. 19 As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. "I'll go with you, wherever," he said. 20 Jesus was curt: "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know." 21 Another follower said, "Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father's funeral to take care of." 22 Jesus refused. "First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life." 23 Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. 24 The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat - and he was sound asleep! 25 They roused him, pleading, "Master, save us! We're going down!" 26 Jesus reprimanded them. "Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?" Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: "Silence!" The sea became smooth as glass. 27 The men rubbed their eyes, astonished. "What's going on here? Wind and sea come to heel at his command!" 28 They landed in the country of the Gadarenes and were met by two madmen, victims of demons, coming out of the cemetery. The men had terrorized the region for so long that no one considered it safe to walk down that stretch of road anymore. 29 Seeing Jesus, the madmen screamed out, "What business do you have giving us a hard time? You're the Son of God! You weren't supposed to show up here yet!" 30 Off in the distance a herd of pigs was browsing and rooting. 31 The evil spirits begged Jesus, "If you kick us out of these men, let us live in the pigs." 32 Jesus said, "Go ahead, but get out of here!" Crazed, the pigs stampeded over a cliff into the sea and drowned. 33 Scared to death, the swineherds bolted. They told everyone back in town what had happened to the madmen and the pigs. 34 Those who heard about it were angry about the drowned pigs. A mob formed and demanded that Jesus get out and not come back. 1 Back in the boat, Jesus and the disciples recrossed the sea to Jesus' hometown. 2 They were hardly out of the boat when some men carried a paraplegic on a stretcher and set him down in front of them. Jesus, impressed by their bold belief, said to the paraplegic, "Cheer up, son. I forgive your sins." 3 Some religion scholars whispered, "Why, that's blasphemy!" 4 Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, "Why this gossipy whispering? 5 Which do you think is simpler: to say, 'I forgive your sins,' or, 'Get up and walk'? 6 Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both. . . ." At this he turned to the paraplegic and said, "Get up. Take your bed and go home." 7 And the man did it. 8 The crowd was awestruck, amazed and pleased that God had authorized Jesus to work among them this way. 9 Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, "Come along with me." Matthew stood up and followed him. 10 Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. 11 When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?" 12 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? 13 Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders." 14 A little later John's followers approached, asking, "Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don't?" 15 Jesus told them, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!" 16 He went on, "No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. 17 And you don't put your wine in cracked bottles." 18 As he finished saying this, a local official appeared, bowed politely, and said, "My daughter has just now died. If you come and touch her, she will live." 19 Jesus got up and went with him, his disciples following along. 20 Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. 21 She was thinking to herself, "If I can just put a finger on his robe, I'll get well." Jesus turned - caught her at it. Then he reassured her: "Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you're well." 22 The woman was well from then on. 23 By now they had arrived at the house of the town official, and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and the neighbors bringing in casseroles. 24 Jesus was abrupt: "Clear out! This girl isn't dead. She's sleeping." They told him he didn't know what he was talking about. 25 But when Jesus had gotten rid of the crowd, he went in, took the girl's hand, and pulled her to her feet - alive. 26 The news was soon out, and traveled throughout the region. 27 As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out, "Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!" 28 When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, "Do you really believe I can do this?" They said, "Why, yes, Master!" 29 He touched their eyes and said, "Become what you believe." 30 It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. "Don't let a soul know how this happened." 31 But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met. 32 Right after that, as the blind men were leaving, a man who had been struck speechless by an evil spirit was brought to Jesus. 33 As soon as Jesus threw the evil tormenting spirit out, the man talked away just as if he'd been talking all his life. The people were up on their feet applauding: "There's never been anything like this in Israel!" 34 The Pharisees were left sputtering, "Hocus pocus. It's nothing but hocus pocus. He's probably made a pact with the Devil." 35 Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. 36 When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. 37 "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! 38 On your knees and pray for harvest hands!" 1 The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives. 2 This is the list of the twelve he sent: Simon (they called him Peter, or "Rock"), Andrew, his brother, James, Zebedee's son, John, his brother, 3 Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, the tax man, James, son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, 4 Simon, the Canaanite, Judas Iscariot (who later turned on him). 5 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: 6 Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. 7 Tell them that the kingdom is here. 8 Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. 9 "Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. 10 You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light. 11 "When you enter a town or village, don't insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave. 12 "When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. 13 If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. 14 If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. 15 You can be sure that on Judgment Day they'll be mighty sorry - but it's no concern of yours now. 16 "Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. 17 "Don't be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation - just because you believe in me. 18 Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done you - and me - a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! 19 And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there; 20 the Spirit of your Father will supply the words. 21 "When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. 22 There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don't quit. Don't cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. 23 It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you've run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived. 24 "A student doesn't get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn't make more money than his boss. 25 Be content - pleased, even - when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, 'Dungface,' what can the workers expect? 26 "Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. 27 So don't hesitate to go public now. 28 "Don't be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There's nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life - body and soul - in his hands. 29 "What's the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. 30 He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail - even numbering the hairs on your head! 31 So don't be intimidated by all this bully talk. You're worth more than a million canaries. 32 "Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. 33 If you turn tail and run, do you think I'll cover for you? 34 "Don't think I've come to make life cozy. I've come to cut - 35 make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law - cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. 36 Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. 37 If you prefer father or mother over me, you don't deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don't deserve me. 38 "If you don't go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don't deserve me. 39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me. 40 "We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. 41 Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. 42 Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing." 1 When Jesus finished placing this charge before his twelve disciples, he went on to teach and preach in their villages. 2 John, meanwhile, had been locked up in prison. When he got wind of what Jesus was doing, he sent his own disciples 3 to ask, "Are you the One we've been expecting, or are we still waiting?" 4 Jesus told them, "Go back and tell John what's going on: 5 The blind see, The lame walk, Lepers are cleansed, The deaf hear, The dead are raised, The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. 6 "Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!" 7 When John's disciples left to report, Jesus started talking to the crowd about John. "What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? 8 Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. 9 What then? A prophet? That's right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you'll ever hear. 10 He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, 'I'm sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.' 11 "Let me tell you what's going on here: No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer; but in the kingdom he prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him. 12 For a long time now people have tried to force themselves into God's kingdom. 13 But if you read the books of the Prophets and God's Law closely, you will see them culminate in John, teaming up with him in preparing the way for the Messiah of the kingdom. 14 Looked at in this way, John is the 'Elijah' you've all been expecting to arrive and introduce the Messiah. 15 "Are you listening to me? Really listening? 16 "How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, 17 'We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.' 18 John came fasting and they called him crazy. 19 I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riff-raff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating." 20 Next Jesus let fly on the cities where he had worked the hardest but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way. 21 "Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom, Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half of the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. 22 At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you. 23 And Capernaum! With all your peacock strutting, you are going to end up in the abyss. If the people of Sodom had had your chances, the city would still be around. 24 At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you." 25 Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: "Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. 26 Yes, Father, that's the way you like to work." 27 Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. "The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. 28 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." 1 One Sabbath, Jesus was strolling with his disciples through a field of ripe grain. Hungry, the disciples were pulling off the heads of grain and munching on them. 2 Some Pharisees reported them to Jesus: "Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!" 3 Jesus said, "Really? Didn't you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, 4 how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? 5 And didn't you ever read in God's Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it's not held against them? 6 "There is far more at stake here than religion. 7 If you had any idea what this Scripture meant - 'I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual' - you wouldn't be nitpicking like this. 8 The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he's in charge." 9 When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. 10 There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, "Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?" They were baiting him. 11 He replied, "Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn't, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? 12 Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!" 13 Then he said to the man, "Hold out your hand." He held it out and it was healed. 14 The Pharisees walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus. 15 Jesus, knowing they were out to get him, moved on. A lot of people followed him, and he healed them all 16 . He also cautioned them to keep it quiet, 17 following guidelines set down by Isaiah: 18 Look well at my handpicked servant; I love him so much, take such delight in him. I've placed my Spirit on him; he'll decree justice to the nations. 19 But he won't yell, won't raise his voice; there'll be no commotion in the streets. 20 He won't walk over anyone's feelings, won't push you into a corner. Before you know it, his justice will triumph; 21 the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers. 22 Next a poor demon-afflicted wretch, both blind and deaf, was set down before him. Jesus healed him, gave him his sight and hearing. 23 The people who saw it were impressed - "This has to be the Son of David!" 24 But the Pharisees, when they heard the report, were cynical. "Black magic," they said. "Some devil trick he's pulled from his sleeve." 25 Jesus confronted their slander. "A judge who gives opposite verdicts on the same person cancels himself out; a family that's in a constant squabble disintegrates; 26 if Satan banishes Satan, is there any Satan left? 27 If you're slinging devil mud at me, calling me a devil kicking out devils, doesn't the same mud stick to your own exorcists? 28 "But if it's by God's power that I am sending the evil spirits packing, then God's kingdom is here for sure. 29 How in the world do you think it's possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out. 30 "This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you're not on my side, you're the enemy; if you're not helping, you're making things worse. 31 "There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God's Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives. 32 If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you're sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives. 33 "If you grow a healthy tree, you'll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you'll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree. 34 "You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It's your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. 35 A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. 36 Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. 37 Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation." 38 Later a few religion scholars and Pharisees got on him. "Teacher, we want to see your credentials. Give us some hard evidence that God is in this. How about a miracle?" 39 Jesus said, "You're looking for proof, but you're looking for the wrong kind. All you want is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. The only proof you're going to get is what looks like the absence of proof: Jonah-evidence. 40 Like Jonah, three days and nights in the fish's belly, the Son of Man will be gone three days and nights in a deep grave. 41 "On Judgment Day, the Ninevites will stand up and give evidence that will condemn this generation, because when Jonah preached to them they changed their lives. A far greater preacher than Jonah is here, and you squabble about 'proofs.' 42 On Judgment Day, the Queen of Sheba will come forward and bring evidence that will condemn this generation, because she traveled from a far corner of the earth to listen to wise Solomon. Wisdom far greater than Solomon's is right in front of you, and you quibble over 'evidence.' 43 "When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn't find anyone, 44 it says, 'I'll go back to my old haunt.' On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. 45 It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he'd never gotten cleaned up in the first place. "That's what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren't hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in." 46 While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. 47 Someone told Jesus, "Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you." 48 Jesus didn't respond directly, but said, "Who do you think my mother and brothers are?" 49 He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. "Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. 50 Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father's will is my brother and sister and mother." 1 At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. 2 In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. 3 Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories. 4 As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. 5 Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn't put down roots, 6 so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. 7 Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. 8 Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. 9 "Are you listening to this? Really listening?" 10 The disciples came up and asked, "Why do you tell stories?" 11 He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. 12 Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. 13 That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it. 14 I don't want Isaiah's forecast repeated all over again: Your ears are open but you don't hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don't see a thing. 15 The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won't have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won't have to look, so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them. 16 "But you have God-blessed eyes - eyes that see! And God-blessed ears - ears that hear! 17 A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance. 18 "Study this story of the farmer planting seed. 19 When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn't take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person's heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. 20 "The seed cast in the gravel - this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. 21 But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. 22 "The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. 23 "The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams." 24 He told another story. "God's kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. 26 When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too. 27 "The farmhands came to the farmer and said, 'Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn't it? Where did these thistles come from?' 28 "He answered, 'Some enemy did this.' "The farmhands asked, 'Should we weed out the thistles?' 29 "He said, 'No, if you weed the thistles, you'll pull up the wheat, too. 30 Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I'll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.'" 31 Another story. "God's kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. 32 It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it." 33 Another story. "God's kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread - and waits while the dough rises." 34 All Jesus did that day was tell stories - a long storytelling afternoon. 35 His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy: I will open my mouth and tell stories; I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world's first day. 36 Jesus dismissed the congregation and went into the house. His disciples came in and said, "Explain to us that story of the thistles in the field." 37 So he explained. "The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the thistles are subjects of the Devil, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels. 40 "The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, 42 pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. 43 At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father. "Are you listening to this? Really listening? 44 "God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidently found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic - what a find! - and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. 45 "Or, God's kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. 46 Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it. 47 "Or, God's kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. 48 When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. 49 That's how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish 50 and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won't do any good." 51 Jesus asked, "Are you starting to get a handle on all this?" They answered, "Yes." 52 He said, "Then you see how every student well-trained in God's kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it." 53 When Jesus finished telling these stories, he left there, 54 returned to his hometown, and gave a lecture in the meetinghouse. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. "We had no idea he was this good!" they said. "How did he get so wise, get such ability?" 55 But in the next breath they were cutting him down: "We've known him since he was a kid; he's the carpenter's son. We know his mother, Mary. We know his brothers James and Joseph, Simon and Judas. 56 All his sisters live here. Who does he think he is?" 57 They got their noses all out of joint. 58 But Jesus said, "A prophet is taken for granted in his hometown and his family." He didn't do many miracles there because of their hostile indifference. 1 At about this time, Herod, the regional ruler, heard what was being said about Jesus. 2 He said to his servants, "This has to be John the Baptizer come back from the dead. That's why he's able to work miracles!" 3 Herod had arrested John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison to placate Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. 4 John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias "adultery." 5 Herod wanted to kill him, but he was afraid because so many people revered John as a prophet of God. 6 But at his birthday celebration, he got his chance. Herodias's daughter provided the entertainment, dancing for the guests. She swept Herod away. 7 In his drunken enthusiasm, he promised her on oath anything she wanted. 8 Already coached by her mother, she was ready: "Give me, served up on a platter, the head of John the Baptizer." 9 That sobered the king up fast. Unwilling to lose face with his guests, he did it 10 - ordered John's head cut off 11 and presented to the girl on a platter. She in turn gave it to her mother. 12 Later, John's disciples got the body, gave it a reverent burial, and reported to Jesus.
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