Zhuangzi’s friend complained about a useless tree on the roadside that every carpenter ignored. Despite its humongous size, its trunk and limbs are gnarled, making it unsuitable to build furniture. People can’t use its wood to build boats because it would sink.
To his friend’s surprise, the sage said, “What are you complaining about? Think on behalf of this tree. Just because it’s useless, it’s still alive. If it is useful, people would have cut it down long ago and made something out of it. Now, because it’s still here, travelers like us can rest under its shade. Don’t you think it’s useful for that purpose? Don’t look at things only for their utility. Think harmoniously.”
Some days later, Zhuangzu visited a friend who enthusiastically welcomed the sage, asking his son to kill a rooster for dinner to entertain the guest. His son asked, “Dad, which one should I kill—the one that crow or the one that doesn’t?” Dad said, “Of course, the one that doesn’t crow.” (In ancient days, rooster crow at sunrise, so they were the organic alarm clocks for the family.)
Hearing the host’s order, Zhuangzi’s students said to the sage, “Teacher, didn’t you say that being useless is good when you talked about the huge useless tree? Now, they killed the useless rooster for dinner. Are you wrong?”
The sage replied, “Did I tell you being useless is always good? No! There are times when being useless is not good and times when being useless is good. You need to think harmoniously with time and situation. If you were a tree, you would rather be a useless tree so that you would survive. If you were a rooster, it’s another matter.” (End of the story.)
The point of the story is that there are times when we should reveal our gifts and times when we should be humble and keep a low profile. There are times to speak up and times to shut up. If you show off your talent at the wrong time and space, you will be cut down like a tree. If you keep silent when you are in a role as a rooster, you will become dinner. Just as King Solomon said,
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; (Ec 3:1–2).
Last year, I transplanted a few redbud trees in my yard around late fall because that was the time I was motivated to do. But they all died off in winter. The action you take should be harmonious with time and space. Sometimes harmony is easier said than done. There are two verses in the Proverbs that sound contradictory:
Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.
Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes. (Pr 26:4–5).
Don’t you think these two verses are contradictory? The first asks you not to answer fools lest you become like them, but immediately, the second asks you to answer. These two verses are a great example of knowing when to respond and when not based on time and space.
The first verse tells us not to argue with fools when your argument makes you appear like a fool. The second verse tells us we should argue with fools when keeping silent would make them arrogant—thinking of themselves as wise people. You have to pick the right action at the right time and space.
These verses explain why Jesus sometimes stayed silent and other times engaged in a debate with the religious leaders. They were fools, but sometimes, Jesus chose to answer them to teach the audience or keep them from thinking too highly of themselves.
You need to choose the right time and space to apply those two proverbs. Just like Kenny Roger’s song says,
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run” (~The Gambler)
This song treats life as a gamble, making decisions by looking at people’s eyes. However, Jesus taught us how to read the will of God to know when to hold and when to fold. It’s straightforward because there are only two rules to live a harmonious life.
So, today, we will explore how to live in harmony with heaven and earth based on what Jesus taught us in this week’s scripture lesson. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 22:34-46. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Mt 22:34–46).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
This passage covers the third debate Jesus engaged in with the religious leaders. The first debate was about a political question regarding whether paying taxes to the Roman emperor was acceptable according to religious law. The question aimed to arrest Jesus based on the way Jesus answered. But Jesus showed them how paying taxes and honoring God are not in conflict.
Then, the Sadducees stepped forward to ask him a question about marriage and resurrection. Since the Sadducees were very secular and didn’t believe in resurrection, they came up with a trick question to make fun of Jesus or the ridiculous idea of resurrection. They said,
Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.” (Mt 22:24–28).
According to the Levitical law, the younger brother must marry his brother’s wife if he dies without a child. So, it was a sarcastic question against those who believe in resurrection. Whose wife would she be after the resurrection, since she married seven times? Jesus’ answer proved them unsavvy about resurrection and the kingdom of heaven.
29 Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching. (Mt 22:29–33).
Jesus quoted the scripture to prove them wrong about denying resurrection because God is the God of the living, not of the dead. They were speechless. Now, the Pharisees took their turn. They were the opposite of the Sadducees, who were secular.
In other words, the Sadducees were earthly savvy but not heavenly savvy. The Pharisees are the other way around. Still, in other words, the Sadducees tried to live harmoniously with people, but the Pharisees tried to live harmoniously with God. Each of them thought the contrary was unnecessary. The passage says,
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. (Mt 22:34-35).
Since Jesus passed the test on a secular question, they want to test him on a spiritual question.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Mat 22:36).
Just like the answer to the previous two questions, Jesus not only gave them the answer but also addressed their problem. The problem with the Pharisees was that they focused on God and ignored people. Jesus showed them that they could not do one without the other—they could not love God without loving people.
He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mat 22:37-40).
The word “love” here is translated from Greek “ἀγάπη,” which scholars have trouble translating because there are many words for love in Greek. Some translate it as “sacrificial love” based on Jesus’ example of sacrifice. But, based on Jesus’ teaching, it’s more accurate to translate it as “harmonious love” or “oneness love,” just as Jesus often mentioned that he and God are one.
When your heart, soul, and mind are one with God, you live in harmony with heaven. You are heavenly savvy, and you know God’s will. You know when to hold and when to fold by not looking at people’s eyes but sensing God’s will. However, Jesus reveals that oneness with God is not enough.
One example is terrorism committed by those who believe they love God. As you heard in the news, they terrify people in the name of God. They murder people to prove that they love God. The Pharisees didn’t go that far, but they kept many people outside the temple, and they were about to crucify Jesus in the name of God.
By mentioning the second commandment, Jesus told them they needed to be one with people. The Old Testament teaching was, “‘You shall love your neighbor,” but Jesus added “as yourself.” In English, it sounds like “You shall love your neighbor ‘as much as you love yourself.’” However, the correct interpretation is “You shall love your neighbor as ‘you,’” as if you and all humans are one piece.
The best description is John Donne’s poem, “No Man is an Island.” I know I have quoted this many times, and you must be sick and tired of hearing it. Still, this is too important not to mention it, and I cannot emphasize it enough because it changes everything about how to love people. If it is important for Jesus, it’s important to us. Here’s John Donne’s poem:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (John Donne).
The last sentence perfectly describes the oneness. In those days, the church bell tolls to let the community know when someone died. It says you don’t have to send someone to find out who died because part of you had died—the bell tolls for you. It’s how we must interpret what Jesus means by “love your neighbor as yourself.”
These two commandments teach us how to live harmoniously with heaven and earth.
Jesus suddenly abandons his defensive posture for the offensive, asking them:
“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord?” (Mt 22:42-43).
The key word here is “by the Spirit,” King David called the future Messiah “Lord.” Now, the Messiah was standing before these religious leaders, but they didn’t recognize him because they didn’t have the Spirit. Their faith was false. They might be religious but not spiritual. They were neither in harmony with heaven nor earth. They were about to curse Jesus to death. Paul said,
“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Co 12:3).
Ultimately, living in harmony with heaven and earth begins with recognizing the Creator of heaven and earth. How do you have the Holy Spirit? Simple, believe. Those religious leaders did not believe and failed to recognize him. They even became murderous.
You might wonder which one comes first, believing or the presence of the Holy Spirit, because some verses say the Holy Spirit enables you to believe, and others say when you believe, the Holy Spirit comes. The truth is it’s a quantum paradox. It doesn’t matter which comes first. What matters is the blessing of recognizing the Creator of heaven and earth and living in harmony with God and people.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.