For the third time, the ageing Pharisee circled the strangely shaped object lying at his feet. No one could tell him who had left it unsolicited outside his door, or even when it had appeared. Wrapped in the skin of a lamb and crudely labelled with just one handwritten Hebrew word, “chen”, its appearance was a total mystery to him.
Suspiciously he pushed against it with his sandalled foot, at which the object shifted effortlessly across his floor. “It can’t be heavy then”, he mused. “Whatever its contents, they are obviously of little weight and therefore of minimum value.” Cautiously he reached forth his right hand, prodding roughly, but the lambskin cover gave no hint of what might be hidden inside the parcel.
“It doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before” said the old man to no one but himself. “It’s very shape and form are completely unfamiliar.” Unfamiliarity was not something the Pharisee was comfortable with, in any form. “It is not an occasion for gift giving, so why should someone bestow a gift on me?” he reasoned. “Furthermore, I am a highly respected member of this community. Everyone acquainted with me knows I am a learned and upright man well versed in the law, and of excellent reputation. It is evident that all I could possibly need God has richly bestowed on me. Who would dare, therefore, to assume I have need of this unwanted gift, whatever it is?”
Thus were his thoughts as he circled the object yet again. Finally he stopped circling long enough to contemplate the word scribbled across the lambskin. “Grace…” he articulated quietly lest anyone should hear. “Grace? What under God’s heaven could that possibly mean? The handwriting is rough and unskilled, like that of a poorly educated person. I am not even sure the letters are correct. Obviously this is a hoax being played by someone with a jealous grudge against me. There may even be something inside that would harm me or my family. But I am too clever for such foolishness. This questionable gift is unworthy of me and I have no need of it.”
Calling decisively to his servant he said: “Take this away from my home and consign it to the rubbish pile.” “Excuse me, sir”, replied the servant, “but you have not opened it.” “I have no need to open it”, snapped the Pharisee, “perhaps some fool will open it, but I will not!” And the servant obeyed.
The child wandered aimlessly through the household dregs unceremoniously piled at the edge of the village. He often came here to explore when mother was busy and his absence would go unnoticed for a short time. Looking for nothing in particular and anything in general, his searching eyes came to linger on an unusually shaped object half covered by a pile of worn out wineskins.
“What could this be?” he exclaimed loudly, his anxious fingers clearing away muck and debris so he could see it more clearly. Excitedly he extracted the object from its hiding place, lifting it high into the morning sunlight. His young eyes could not understand the unfamiliar Hebrew lettering scrawled across the lambskin cover. “No matter”, he thought, “this lambskin will serve me well and I am favoured this day by God to have found it”.
With unchecked enthusiasm he tore open the package only to find something he had never before seen. Startled, he considered the nameless, unknown object for the briefest of moments. Then, breaking spontaneously into song he began dancing unselfconsciously, holding his new found possession high above his head. “Treasure”, I shall call you “treasure”!” he sang. “This day is like any other day for me. It is not a feast day, and it is not a day to receive gifts, yet here by God’s providence I have found the most mysterious of gifts. This day I have done no good deeds, this day I have deserved no reward, yet on this day has God bestowed on me an unknown treasure. I cannot read its name and I do not yet know its purpose, but one thing I do know, it’s now mine!”
And the child ran shouting through the village gladly showing all he met the treasure he had found on this day like any other day.
The greatest thing most of us lose as we grow to ‘adulthood’ is the ability to receive innocently. I came to Christ and was born again in my early teenage years, but even by then the circumstances of my life had robbed me of the ability to receive. One can embrace the free gift of salvation then spend the rest of life trying to pay for it. It was not until many years later the Lord confronted me with the penetrating question: “Why do you not receive My love freely?” Why indeed! Forget about having an answer; I wasn’t even aware the question had existed! That day my life changed as I asked the Lord to show me how to freely receive His love in childlike innocence. He hasn’t let me down.
Learning to receive freely is a humbling process. It entails dying to our former concepts of who we are. Some believe they have everything they need to handle life. They are self-assured, strong and opinionated. Many more believe they are worthless failures at life. They are self-conscious, ashamed and fearful. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Christ has come to change who we think we are into who He says we are. The Father’s grace is freely given regardless of past history or present circumstances. But learning how to receive it is a life time journey that some will choose never to embark upon.
When Jesus said “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” He was referring to the innocence with which a child receives an undeserved gift. Most healthy children I know when given a gift do not tip toe around it suspiciously. They do not waste time enquiring what does it look like, they rip off its cover to see for themselves. They do not agonise over what to do with it, or whether they deserve it. They grab it with both hands, shake it, rattle it, embrace it and run away to play with it.
Hidden within each of us there is a Pharisee and there is a child. Many in the emerging Bride of Christ are simply Pharisees being healed. I willingly raise my hand to claim that one. Children know how to receive. And so do reformed Pharisees.