Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ezra seven fifteen

by John D Ramsey

I called Mom early Saturday afternoon after the girls and I had finished working in the yard. Mom was standing at the stove frying chicken. I asked her, “What happened to Dad?” She laughed. Ezra, Dad’s Amish friend called him from some remote location and asked Dad to run an errand. Dad left the chicken on the stove and drove off in his van. He returned a few minutes later just as mom was taking up the chicken.

Since Ezra and his wife moved in next door to Mom and Dad, life on the “farm” has been interesting. The Amish in Jamesport, Missouri do not drive cars, though they will ride in one. They do not have electricity at home, although they use rechargeable power tools. The Jamesport Amish do not have telephones although they conduct business by phone frequently, and often early in the day. That is why I nick-named Dad’s neighbor, Ezra Seven Fifteen. Early in their friendship, Ezra got into the habit of making phone calls from Mom and Dad’s phone at 7:15 AM. Dad is usually up and around by then, but Mom felt a little imposed upon by Ezra’s early morning visits.

Ezra is often arranging his work schedule, and he needs to use a phone early in the morning. I do not think that Dad minds when Ezra comes knocking early. If Dad did mind, no one would hear his displeasure anyway. If an old man complains in his kitchen, and no one is there to hear it, does he really make a sound? Like a tree falling in a forest, it depends on your definition of sound. If you define sound as waveform energy between certain frequencies, then your answer is, yes. If you define sound as the perception of that waveform energy, then Dad’s complaining, if there is such a thing, never makes a sound.

Dad worked out an arrangement with Ezra. It sounds like Old Testament justice with a twist: an hour for an hour, a trip for a tip. Ezra can work off Dad’s driving by working an equal length of time around Mom and Dad’s place. On too many occasions, Ezra has pulled Dad’s riding mower out of the mud. In Dad’s defense, it is not always stuck in the same muddy spot. When Ezra rides by and sees Dad’s mower stuck in a low spot he postpones his journey and wrestles the mower to dry ground. He does not wait for Dad to ask him, and he does not announce his arrival. He just does what he sees needing his attention.

Now Mom and Dad are as dependent upon Ezra as he is upon them. Well, almost. Dad recently had to learn where the Amish midwife lives. That way when Ezra comes knocking excitedly in the middle of the night, Dad can jump in his van and fetch the midwife back to Ezra’s house. I cannot wait to hear that story.

In modern American society, we are famously independent. My neighbor does not mow my grass, but Ezra S. Fifteen mows Mom and Dad’s ditches. I do not drive my neighbor to the doctor’s office, but my Dad drives Ezra and his wife wherever they need to go.

Some families on our block hire landscaping services to mow their grass. Age or allergies prevent some people from doing their own yard work. I am not criticizing people for needing help. Still it would seem strange to the Amish to hire a stranger to mow while surrounded by neighbors with mowers.

In modern society, we insulate ourselves from interdependence by using money. If I pay someone to mow my yard then the transaction is settled. I am not obliged to my neighbor. We might be dependent upon others for help, but we are seldom interdependent. Interdependence is not a transaction; it is a relationship. We deliberately insulate ourselves from relationships even though we know that relationships enhance the quality of our lives. Often times we avoid the needy people because we will not take the time to meet their needs. We prefer transactions to relationships.

Did God call us to rugged independence? On the contrary, God called us into a relationship of dependence upon him and interdependence upon each other. Paul writes about the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Read the passage if you can take the time, but one simple point that Paul makes is this, “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no divisions in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”[1]

2 Corinthians 9 is a much-abused passage of Scripture. You might hear it quoted in church just before you hear the offertory. Paul was encouraging the believers in Corinth to set aside each week a gift for the believers in Jerusalem. Paul was not telling them to contribute to their local church. He did not tell them to send money to his tax-deductible charity. He asked them to set aside money for believers who were in need. Paul did not intend to collect the money; he planned to write a letter of introduction so representatives of the Corinthians could deliver it themselves. What we most often ignore in this passage is the reason that Paul told believers they should support others. It is easy to ignore because Paul gives his rationale earlier in chapter 8. He says,

For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality.[2]

Paul did not tell the Corinthians to pay up because they were obligated to give. He told them it was for equality. We are to provide for the needy because someday we will be needy. Paul did not say that the Corinthians might be needy. He said they would be, and their needs would be supplied by those to whom they were giving. The lifecycle of a Christian includes mountains and valleys. We all experience degrees of neediness and abundance so that through all we come to realize that indeed we are all equal.

We are equally dependent upon God because all that we have comes from him. We are equal and interdependent among each other because we are one body with many parts. Too often, we attempt to live our lives independently. Just as we insulate ourselves from our neighbors by hiring professionals, we insulate ourselves from our brothers in need by putting our giving in the offering plate. We do not learn the joy of supplying a need, nor do we learn the joy of having a need supplied. We live our lives in a charade of self-sufficiency. Did not God call us to so much more?

By the way, Ezra 7:15 falls in the middle of Artaxerxes’s letter to Ezra. Artaxerxes, King of Persia, wrote a letter commending the resources of the kingdom of Persia to supply what Ezra and the Jews needed to rebuild the temple. In Ezra 7, Artaxerxes and his advisers gave freely of their silver and gold because they saw the power of God in Ezra. Artaxerxes ordered Ezra to teach the Law of God to all the peoples west of the Euphrates. In the New Covenant, our bodies are the temple of God (not “temples built by hands.”). If we are to supply what is needed to build up the temple, we will supply the needs of one another. We will live lives of dependence upon God, and interdependence within the body of Christ.

[1] Corinthians 12:24 (NIV)
[2] Corinthians 8:13, 14 (NASB)

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