In these, imposed on us, homebound days, we are all having to figure out new things; new ways to get our work done, new ways of getting along with those stuck with us, new ways to handle boredom. I have found it challenging, but the other two members of my household seem to really enjoy it. My introvert husband fully appreciates social distancing, and my dog is eating up all the attention. I, on the other hand, spend my time making sure neither of them is annoying me.
While I find that my relationship with my husband is fine, my relationship with my dog can easily trigger my anxiety. I have decided to counter this by working on some new tricks. I go to a large field near my home and work on teaching him how to, after fetching a ball, lay down by me and drop the ball. He has always been good at fetching but not so much on giving up the ball once he has it. Attempting it has often resulted in a wounded hand in my attempt to continue to play with him. Since we have the time, he is really getting the hang of it.
In this process, the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has been on my mind. I feel an urgency to train this dog now. At almost a year, my time seems limited to teach my puppy the things that will make him the best companion, not only for me but for those who will come into contact with him. I need him to relate to people well. So, I have been reading through one of the dog training books on how to do this well. The dog trainer who had written this book told me one thing that eased my mind a bit. He said that you could teach an old dog new tricks. That, for the most part, it is not too late, just harder.
As someone who celebrated a birthday this week, I would definitely call myself an old dog. I am getting stuck not just in my house but in my ways. I think that is what this shut down is revealing. My old ways need adjustment to survive in this new situation. I have to figure out how to give up how I used to do things and learn a way that works. I have to lay down my desires and “drop the ball” of the control if I want to keep and release it to the control of those in authority. The good news is, no matter how old I am, I can learn these new tricks, it is just harder.
This morning I was instructed in another new trick I must learn. During my times with Jesus and in His word, I have been reading through the Gospels. I am currently reading the account of the events leading up to the death and resurrection. These passages seem very appropriate in this Lenten season. Today I read John chapter 18 where we see Jesus in the garden as the soldiers come to arrest him. Now, remember, this old dog has listened to or read this passage for the last 57 years making it very familiar to the point of thinking “there is nothing new here”. Well, this old dog, was shown something new. I think it is a trick all followers of Jesus need to learn whether they are young or old.
The disciples thought they knew exactly how Jesus was going to save them. From everything they had learned growing up, they believed that the Messiah would come and establish a Kingdom by taking down the kingdom that currently ruled them. Jesus was about to show them a different way; a different path to developing this Kingdom that as Jesus put it “is not of this world.” Yet, at the part of the story told in John 18, we see that Peter did not understand this. As the soldiers approached to take Jesus away, Peter took out his sword and cut off the ear of one who he saw as an enemy. It was then that Jesus did the very last miracle before his death, He healed the wound that had been inflicted by one of His own.
My jaw dropped at the realization in front of me. This disciple of Jesus had cut off the very part of this man that was meant to allow him to hear. He had literally taken away this man’s ability to listen to the voice of Jesus; the one who was about to die to save them all. Jesus clearly did not want this approach from His followers. He immediately told Peter to “put your sword back into its sheath.” Basically saying, not your will, Peter, but mine needs to be done. Then Jesus turns to show Peter what his will looks like by healing the ear of the wounded one, who was included in those He was about to die to save.
The message was clear to me. I had often been like Peter. I have on many occasions cut off the ears of others with the sword of my words. Judging, condemning and wounding their ability to hear the loving voice of the Savior. We, as a church, as disciples of Jesus have misunderstood how Jesus will become King. Our words and actions have hurt those we consider the enemy but Jesus sees as worthy of dying for. Jesus died so that all can hear His voice and turn to Him for salvation. Yet many have had their ears cut off by Christians who think they need to defend Jesus.
Jesus’ very commission to His followers as He ascended was to make more disciples who will obey all His commands. These disciples are to be people who hear God’s voice and obey Him. Do you understand that they cannot do this if we keep, with our words and actions, turn them away from our Savior? Only the example of Jesus, who we know asked God to forgive them because they did not understand their own actions and love them enough to die for them, will heal their hearing. We do not accomplish making disciples of Jesus by creating wounded, deaf people with the weapon of cutting words and actions.
Many of us consider the times we are living in the “last days.” I think it is important to then look at what Jesus did during His last days. His final miracle reveals a lot about His mission when things seem to be running out of time. I think Jesus is in the business of healing the ears of those whom the church has made deaf by our actions. They now more than ever need to hear His voice so they can turn and find mercy like the Roman soldier did the garden that night. Should we think, our mission is anything less?
It is time for us, old dog Christians to learn a new trick. We need to keep fetching those who are perishing, but instead of crushing them with our teeth, we are to bring them to the Master, lay them down at His feet, and surrender them, by merciful choices, to the One who loves them as much as He loves us. It is time to put our swords of condemnation back in our sheaths and instead touch them with healing hands. For it is in mercy-filled words and actions that we will help them hear the only Voice that gives eternal love and life.