Confessing that anything is hard for me is a challenge, especially as a Christian. I am supposed to be fearless and tireless in the Lord. When I’m tired at work, one of my non-believing co-workers says ‘but Candice, I thought you had Jesus?’ I’m not even allowed to be tired, never mind afraid. Sheesh.
Fear of Fear
Feeling enclosed, however, fills me with wordless terror. On airplanes. In cars. Amid throngs of concert-goers or shoppers. My distress emerges in shallow breathing punctuated by high-pitched sighs. For a while, everything is okay. I pray. I distract myself. I try to call on the power of Jesus; really, I do, but suddenly my skin is crawling. I’m being turned inside out. Electricity pulses through my legs at intervals, made more potent as I wait for the next jolt of unwanted, uncomfortable energy and the next. I experience the fear of anxiety. People who have sat next to me on airplanes must have thought I would explode. Eventually, I fold myself in half, legs out straight on the seat in front me, bum skootched forward, head at my knees, trying to stretch the nerves out of my muscles and calm myself. I resemble a stick of gum folded in half. Maybe I should just pretend to be hosting an in-flight fitness class and invite others to join me.
I bring an oppressive understanding to the word ‘pressed’ from my experience. Luke 6 surprises me because Jesus uses this word to evoke both positive and negative images. He says ‘Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.’ (v.6) I presume my lap is not squished against my stomach at the time and I’m not on an airplane.
A Merchant’s Measure
The ESV commentary, Matthew Poole, and others explain that the ‘measure’ is a container a merchant would use to sell grain to customers. One might say he was selling ‘by the cup’. A merchant could loosely fill a customer’s cup to just under the brim or shake the grain, press it down, then add as much as possible until it spilled over before pouring the contents into a customer’s bag. Each one could be said to sell the same measure, even at the same price, but one is more generous with his grain than the other. Think of recipes which call for ‘packed brown sugar’: a loose measurement looks like the same amount, but it’s lighter and the cookies you produce aren’t as sweet. A full measure of anything is not just full on the outside or legally full, but full in spirit when weighed against Christ’s example. Christ has been talking about having mercy on the oppressed and has been healing people up to this point, modeling the true way he wanted us to follow.
Weighing the Word
I think the word ‘pressed’ is pivotal; a word on which so much of the meaning hangs. Jesus wanted merchants to act fairly and for disciples to feed the poor (oppressed), but the fact that he forgave sinners. Christ wanted to teach his disciples to measure mercy, grace, and forgiveness, so he used tangible and visually familiar examples.
How do we know this is what Jesus was talking about? Context is critical. In Luke 6:22, Jesus has just said ‘blessed are you when people hate you’. ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you’ follows in verses 27 and 28. He has just said in 6:37 ‘judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.’ Replace ‘hate’ with ‘press’ or ‘oppress’. Then he says ‘give, and it will be given to you.’ Give what? Mercy.
In other words, Christians can expect to face oppression; to be squeezed. Satan would love for circumstances to press grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness right out of our souls by encouraging us to sin and tempting others to sin against us. Suffering will happen. We can respond with retribution and hatefulness if we want, a measure which would look fine by the world’s standards. Christ, however, beckons us to transform suffering into a measure shaken and pressed to ensure there are no gaps in the richness of our forgiveness or our understanding of what He did for us on the cross and how this should impact our hearts.
Opportunity from Oppression
I am reminded of a recent conversation with a friend. She had been through a painful exchange with someone she loves and felt terribly guilty about how she behaved, but she loves the Lord and sought his guidance and mercy. The guilt was pressing her; causing her physical stress, even though she had asked forgiveness. Luke 6 came to mind. My friend needed to claim mercy for herself, but also see how being pressed was sanctifying her. God was still doing a mighty work in her life, enabling her to model this process in front of others, and the image seemed to give her comfort.
Old Testament Connection
Isaiah 6:36-37 tells us we are sheep, we went astray, and Christ became the spotless lamb to take our punishment. He didn’t just preach a sermon; he lived out what he taught. His disciples might not have understood that he was talking about the cross, but we know as much in hindsight, which regularly reminds me to practice what he preached; or at least, to try; that is, to show mercy and to be thankful when I am shaken and squished like a cupful of grain.
I sure hope whoever sits beside me on my next airplane ride feels the same way.