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A Stealer & a Stalker

A teacher opened up a school for all who desired to learn wisdom. Many pupils gathered, rich and poor, young and old, educated and not. During a break a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to the teacher with the request that the thief be expelled. The teacher said the matter would be dismissed without addressing. A few days later the same pupil was caught stealing again and the matter reported to the teacher. Again, the teacher dropped it and did nothing.

After this happened a third time the other students became angry and signed a petition to have the thief removed from the school or else all the other students would walk out in protest. When the note reached the teacher he summoned everyone before him. “This is not justice. You students know the difference between right and wrong. You may go elsewhere to study but this one, where will he go if he doesn’t know good from bad? Only when he knows the difference will wisdom and justice be available to him. Even if all else leave, he will stay and I will teach him.” The students understood, recalled the petition and grew in wisdom.

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Luke 18: 1-8

Luke 18v1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Here’s what’s happening in our text

This is another Luke exclusive. Jesus is speaking to the disciples but also to the rubberneckers, folks waiting for the next controversial statement, confounding parable, or wonderful miracle. The religious leaders are also there looking for more evidence that Jesus needed to be done away with… 

Jesus had just finished teaching on the “Day of the Lord” at the end of chapter 17.

Luke 17v24 “You know how the whole sky lights up from a single flash of lightning? That’s how it will be on the Day of the Son of Man. But first it’s necessary that he suffer many things and be turned down by the people of today. 26-27 “The time of the Son of Man will be just like the time of Noah—everyone carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ship. They suspected nothing until the flood hit and swept everything away…That’s how it will be—sudden, total—when the Son of Man is revealed. 31-33 “When the Day arrives and you’re out working in the yard, don’t run into the house to get anything. And if you’re out in the field, don’t go back and get your coat…If you grasp and cling to life…you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms. 

After this

18v1-3 Jesus told them a story showing it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

Luke tells us this judge had no fear of God or respect for people. The Greek here means he had no problem shaming them or keeping them from being shamed.

In other words the judge was on no one’s side but his own. Whatever benefited him or fit his whim was what he decided to do. It didn’t matter if it brought shame upon him or those in his court. His interest was not justice, fairness or equality.

A widow, under his jurisdiction, knowing the judge’s penchant for bending, breaking and ignoring the law took matters into her own hands. She was unwilling to let the judge get away with his usual behavior. She wasn’t going to let her case be decided by a bribe, law breaking or anything nefarious.

Reading the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament, is to know God’s commands that widows, orphans, helpless, powerless to be represented, taken care of, protected and provided for…but reading these scriptures also reveals the truth this often didn’t happen. They were taken advantage of, beaten down, cast aside and abused by those in power.  

It was no different in the 1st century day of Jesus. The helpless, powerless, poor and needy were often the last to get justice. Jesus even accused the religious leaders in Luke 20:47 of “devour(ing) widows’ houses” by taking advantage of them when their husbands died.

This is a humorous scene!

On one side, a powerful judge, who was the law, occupied a high rung on the social ladder, always had a table reserved at his favorite restaurant, invited to the best parties and gala events. On the other, a widow, a woman, with no power, no social standing, no favors to pull or men to call to do her a solid, stand up for her or stand beside her, to speak up on her behalf. These two, seemingly mismatched opponents are doing battle. The widow doesn’t stand a chance…does she?

The widow will not be denied!

She’s not taking any chances. She isn’t waiting for her day in court! She hounds the judge, stalks him, chases after him, won’t leave him alone. In other words she’s driving the judge crazy with her constant demand for justice! The Greek literally says “Do me justice on my opponent! Or avenge me against my opponent!”

At first the judge doesn’t budge. Who is this widow? Why can’t she just leave him alone? Who does she think she is, hounding, stalking, chasing him? He wouldn’t give her the time of day. The Greek says the judge gave her “no earthly, chronological time.” No appointment, no moment to plead her case, not even a minute of his precious, valuable time.

But after a while, at the widows insistence, he changes his mind.

V5 “…because this widow gives me trouble, I will do her justice, unless perpetually she keeps coming, and plagues me.”

The widow is heard, not because the judge has a change of heart, the judge seeks justice because he wants her to go away! He is actually frightened of her. The word translated “plague” can also mean beaten and battered. In other words her persistence carries with it such urgency and passion the judge is worried what might happen if he doesn’t give her justice. This is hilarious! The big, bad ‘ol judge is a fraidy cat. Weirded out by a helpless widow.

Jesus helps the disciples get it

8v6 Then the Lord said, “Listen to the words of the sinful man who is head of the court. 7 Will not God make the things that are right come to His chosen people who cry day and night to Him? Will He wait a long time to help them?

Calling Jesus “Lord” is Luke’s way of saying what comes next is a royal proclamation! Listen up! Jesus is speaking with authority.

Jesus says God will act! God will execute justice for his people! If this judge, who does not fear God or respect people, will give justice to this one pleading, harassing, widow, how much more will God act because of his people who cry out day and night? In other words prayers for justice, equality, and fairness, matter and God is acting. 

The cries of the his people have come before God, God has heard them, God is moving. This is why Jesus has come! This is why Jesus is going to Jerusalem. It is why he will bear the brutal assault upon his body and hang on the cross. It is why he will die a most gruesome death. This is God’s justice, fairness, and equality in action. These will be completed when Christ is resurrected

Listen again to Luke 17

Luke 17v24…on the Day of the Son of Man. (it will be) necessary that he suffer many things and be turned down by the people of today. 26-27 “The time of the Son of Man will be just like the time of Noah—everyone carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ship. They suspected nothing until the flood hit and swept everything away…That’s how it will be—sudden, total—when the Son of Man is revealed.

Jesus is the answer to God’s people’s prayers. He has come for this very reason. However, he will be rejected by those who say they are praying for, waiting for, wanting the Son of Man to come and exact God’s justice. But they do not recognize it when they see it. Why? Because justice, God’s justice, does not favor the powerful. God’s justice favors the weak, the powerless, the lowly, the least of these.

The Greek word meaning “justice or unjust” occurs six times in these few verses. God’s justice, embodied in Jesus, is God’s answer to the evil, wickedness and injustice in our world.  

God answers and God is the answer. His justice is not the justice of the world. The disciples hope is not in worldly powers setting things right. God has come to bring his own justice. He has taken justice into his own, soon-to-be, nail scarred hands. All receive justice by Jesus, the judge, who represents the powerful, and the widow, who represents the powerless. All receive justice through Jesus. God sets things right and makes humanity right through the cross and Jesus’ resurrection.

No one, not the judge who is contemptible, or the widow, who is pitiable, receive justice on the merit of their cause or lack thereof.  Justice is not done because of who we are but because of who God is and what is done through Christ.  

Saint Paul says it perfectly in Romans

3v21-24 – something new has been (accomplished). What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

 Reflection

Psalm 121“Our precious Lord, today we lift up our eyes to You and ask for help, for safekeeping, for justice. Our help comes from the You, the maker of all things. Our God You have planted us solidly in Your love and faithfulness and will we not be moved. You keep us safe, you never sleep or forget us. You, O’ Lord are on our side. God, our Father, protect us from this world that tries to pull us away from You. By Your Son, Jesus, You have saved us and by Your Spirit, You will keep us from this time on and forevermore. Amen.” 

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Where’d Everybody Go?

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A conquering army, marching through a defenseless region, wreaked havoc and mayhem on villages. The soldiers killed indiscriminately and were barbaric not caring for life or property. Arriving at another town the marauding army terrified and tortured the locals for sport. Into town a holy man walked, head bowed, and entered the local church. Seeing this the soldiers reported to their general the news of this unobservant priest. Upon hearing this the leader became furious! He rushed to the church, kicked in the doors and stormed inside to find this ignorant fool. The priest, praying at the altar, did not lift his head as the general roared; “Holy man. Your end has come! God will not save you from my sword! Don’t you see the kind of man I am? I can take this sword and run you through without giving it a second thought! After a moment, the priest, still not lifting his head, replied softly, “Don’t you see the kind of man I am? I can be run through with your sword and not give it a second thought.” Confused and impressed the general, and his army, moved onto the next village.

A message based on Luke 17: 11-19

Here’s what’s happening in our text

This is a Gospel of Luke exclusive. Tale not found anywhere else. Luke introduces a new scene by “It happened…on Jesus’ way to Jerusalem” which Jesus has been journeying to since 9v51.

In Luke 4, Jesus says this;

4v16 – And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is Jesus’ mission statement, his purpose! 

On the boundary:

Notice the places mentioned by Luke, to Jerusalem, through a region between Samaria, and Galilee. Jerusalem is where he’s going. It all began in Galilee and skirting the region of Samaria.    

Jesus is making a bee line to Jerusalem. His mission is nearing its climax. As he journeys he skirts the border of the Jew‘s heated and hated rival. Samaritan were a polluted people. They had intermarried with the local, non Jewish folks, mated and had mixed children of questionable birth. No longer Jews they were traitors and to be despised. They also refused to worship in the Jerusalem temple and claimed their own holy place. A good Jew would go several miles out of his way to avoid being sullied and dirtied by setting foot in Samaria. 

Jesus had run ins with Samaritans in other gospels. The woman at the well in John 4 was certainly wary and suspicious of Jesus but Jesus, unlike most of his Jewish counterparts, portrayed Samaritans in a positive way. Though they didn’t receive him in chapter 9 he tells the story of the “Good Samaritan” in chapter 10. The Samaritan was the hero not the villain in this parable.  

Folks from Galilee weren’t shunned or avoided but were looked down upon because they weren’t cosmopolitan. They were country folks. Not real smart, good for labor not thinking, and needed to be educated by the smart people from the city of Jerusalem.

To both groups Jesus has come. Jesus was never about division but unity. He didn’t use his teaching to drive people apart but to bring them together. The insiders and outsiders, have and have nots, clean and the unclean, the sick and the healthy, the country and the city dwellers. Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God was meant for all and all were meant for the Kingdom.  

Here comes trouble

17v12 – As he went into a village, ten men with a skin disease met him. They stood at a distance and shouted, “Jesus, (Master), have mercy on us!” When Jesus saw them, he told them,“Show yourselves to the priests.”

Though the word leprosy is used the Hebrew term here is ambiguous and can mean a number of skin diseases. Though unsure of the particular affliction we do know they were unclean because Luke notes they kept their distance. They were forbidden by law to touch anyone or anything that was clean. They were outcasts from their own communities. Shunned by family, friends and the whole society. All they had was other dirty, diseased, fellow forbidden ones to hang around. Note that Samaritans and Jews were together in this disease. Their disease had made them a community.

Calling out “Master!”, a title used only by the disciples in Luke’s gospel, “…have mercy on us!” In my imagination, a soft piano begins to play in the background, as Jesus, seeing these poor unfortunate souls, speaks words of love, walks over to them and lays his hand gently upon each of them, and heals them…(RECORD SCRATCH).

Nope, as if Jesus doesn’t want to take the time to do a dog and pony show, Jesus tells them “go, show yourselves to the priests.” This seems rather rude and brief. Definitely not very Jesus like. Where’s the love? Where’s the softness? Where’s the…“tada!”? Nothing. Go to the priests. Show’s over. Tip your waiter and waitress. Drive home safe.

Going to the priest was important important for only they priests could say “yes! You are clean. Go back to your life. People can be around you again and you, them. You are restored, a part of the community. You are restored.” Still, something’s missing. 

Where’d everybody go?

17v14b – And as they went, they were cleansed of their (disease). 15 One of them, (seeing what is happening goes) back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Whether it is scales falling off, wounds drying up, rashes clearing or itching ceasing, one of the leper 10 gang sees something amazing is happening. He’s being healed! Whoa!

Pay attention to all the vision words. Jesus, having seen them, told them go and let the priest see you, and this leper is now seeing that he is healed!

Listen to Jesus’ mission statement again from Luke 4;

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news . To heal those with broken hearts, to pardon the prisoners and restore sight to the blind, To send away the bruised & battered ones with deliverance, To proclaim,’This is God’s year to act!’”

Mission Accomplished!

The Leper gets it, he understands, he perceives, he sees his healing and this helps him see that Jesus is Lord! That’s why he turns around. He is made clean. A priest cannot make or break his cleanliness by a word or ritual. He is clean! He comes back to Jesus praising God! Loudly, energetically! Note the link, Jesus and God being praised at the same time. Jesus is God’s messenger, his holy one. The leper sees this and cannot be silent. He must tell everyone what God’s messiah has done. He falls to the ground and worships Jesus.

Like the Good Samaritan parable, the only leper who returns, the only one who sees, the one who the Jewish people should emulate is the Samaritan, the Greek word used here is alien. One from another place.

Only four times in Saint Luke’s gospel does Jesus say “your faith has saved you.” In chapter 7, the lady who bathed Jesus’ feet, in chapter 8,the woman healed from a 12 year discharge of blood, our leper friend here in 17, and the blind man in chapter 18.

Healings, miracles, works of God are not for the purpose of “wowing us!” The “tada” isn’t where we stop. What results is primary. It should lead to recognition and worship of Jesus as Lord and the Father God who sent him.

Reflection

Psalm 111 …“Praise the Lord! We give you thanks Lord for the great works you have done. We praise you for your wonderful deeds. We also confess that sometimes we become focused on the wow or your works and not on you. Forgive us for not seeing. It is you Lord who do all good things. There is no good apart from you. Your righteousness endures forever. You, Lord, are gracious and merciful. You provide for us not to entertain but so that we will love you and worship you as Father and Jesus your son as Savior. Let us be ever mindful of this truth. May we know who you are and why you give us life and blessings. You are faithful and just, all your ways are trustworthy. You have saved us. Holy and awesome is your name. Amen.” 

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Getting Over Ourselves

Luke 17: 5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. one of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. she thanked him and departed. as the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!” “brother,” the second monk replied, “she needed to get across the water so I helped her, i set her down once we reached the other side, why are you still holding onto her?.”

Here’s what’s happening in our text…

Jesus has just given two stories about the difficulty of being wealthy and a follower of Jesus.

Jesus then says to his followers: 

17v1&2 “Occasions for stumbling (skandalon) are bound to come but woe to anyone who causes another to stumble! 2 It would be better for you if a large rock were tied around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to fall.

What causes one to stumble and who are these little ones Jesus is protecting? Jesus is greatly concerned with the plight of those who are oppressed, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Jesus chastises the religious leaders about not seeking those who are lost and not caring for the sheep, the people of Israel. Chapters 14-16 Jesus has warned and challenged those who have to give away their wealth by taking care of those who do not have. The little ones are those in need help and cannot help themselves.

The Gospel of Luke portrays God as having a special place in his heart for these “little ones” who cannot protect themselves, provide for themselves and are in need. Those who have plenty are responsible for helping those who have none. God’s concern should be their concern. To not meet their needs is to place a stumbling block in their path. This goes against God’s nature and his kingdom.

Jesus then gives a warning…

17v3&4 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent’, you must forgive.”

Prosexete! Which means “PAY ATTENTION!” Jesus then tells them how to handle those who are lawbreakers, sinners…he tells them to offer forgiveness and don’t stop. Keep forgiving, even “seven times a day” which means complete forgiveness, no limit. There is no bottom to the well of forgiveness in Jesus’ followers.

Through out the last 3 chapters of Luke Jesus has been talking directly to the disciples but is aware there are others listening in. Some are religious leaders. Jesus, aware of his audience, compares and contrasts. To his followers he says “do & be this way ” to the Pharisees “you should be and do but aren’t.”

Faith on steroids…

The apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”  And the Lord said, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Notice that the word “Lord” Kurios in Greek is used twice. This means what is being said is authoritative. It is important and should be heeded. It is a royal proclamation.

Jesus, since Luke 9:51, is journeying toward Jerusalem. As he goes he is giving the disciples his core instructions. Part of these teaching concern the pitfalls of increasing wealth, holding and being held onto by worldly treasure.

The disciples, like us, slow as always, follow Jesus’ teaching on decreasing by asking for…? Increase. True it is an increase of faith but they still aren’t grasping Jesus’ upside down Kingdom. Jesus responds that even with the smallest faith they could topple trees into the ocean. Faith isn’t about increasing it’s about decreasing.

The disciples are having a hard time buying into what Jesus is selling. “If you want us to do what you’re asking, believe what you’re saying, we need more than regular faith, we need steroid faith!” How can little faith uproot trees? How can giving up treasures give us something more valuable? How can the meek inherit the earth? It just doesn’t make sense. They ask Jesus for increased faith to believe this Kingdom way is even possible. Desperate, needy, knowing they don’t have what it takes to do this on their own. Jesus has them right where he wants them. It is when the disciples see their need that Jesus can help them.

For followers of Jesus it’s not about more. It’s never about more. It’s about recognizing our poverty. We are indeed lame, blind, lost, wounded, in need.

Jesus has already condemned the religious leaders, who have lost their way, by seeking to increase in worldly wealth & prestige. Seeking increase and not decrease has caused them to miss their calling to seek and save the lost. Next to the disciples are living, walking, talking examples of how increasing corrupts.

Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1;

For the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …God made foolish the wisdom of the world…some demand more signs and some desire more wisdom, but the gospel of Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength…not many follower of Jesus are wise by human standards, not many are powerful, not many of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish to shame the wise; what is weak to shame the strong; what is low and despised to shame the high and exalted.

Jesus is telling them that striving to gain more, even faith, is not what the Kingdom is all about. To be aware of our need keeps up dependent on God for all things. We decrease so our dependence on God will increase. The more we depend the more God provides. It is not great faith that moves mountains and uproots trees but the God whom our faith is in.

To understand our weakness is to know God’s strength. Jesus’ desire for the disciples is for them to be totally depend upon God’s provision.

Getting over ourselves…

Jesus finishes by saying,

But which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, who comes in out of the field, will say to him, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’.  But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something which I might eat, and fastening garments, serve me as I eat and drink, and after this, you will eat and drink’?  Does he not have grace to the servant because he did the things commanded?  And you also, when you have done all the things commanded you, you say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.  We are obligated to do what we have done.'”

This seems harsh but Jesus is helping the disciples see that whatever they accomplish for the Kingdom is not by great faith but by the greatness of God.

Saint Martin of Braga says; “Behold, this is true Christian humility. In this you will be able to achieve victory over every vice, by attributing to God rather than to yourself the fact that you have won.”

Listen to the servants response to the master; “We are unprofitable servants. We are obligated to do what we have done.” Jesus is saying it is because I have called you, I have equipped you, because of me you are able to be a part of the Kingdom.”   

It is not by great faith, great talent, great skill, great blessings that anything is accomplished for God. Only when we get over ourselves and our desire to be greater, to increase do we understand. We’re just servants. We aren’t in charge. We just do what we are told. We are totally reliant upon the master.

We have such a hard time understanding the whole decreasing concept. Giving it all up is how we gain. Sacrifice, not hoarding, scares us. We think it is only by our great faith, great talent, great…whatever, can we do great things for the Kingdom. We need to get over ourselves.

The good news is God keeps forgiving because we keep forgetting. He doesn’t give up on us. It is in the needy, the lame, the blind, the lost, the forgetful, the stubborn, the not so bright, that His love shines the brightest.

Reflection

Psalm 32 …“Let the faithful offer prayer to God. The Lord is with us in times of distress. When the rush of mighty waters threaten they will not reach us for You, O’ God, are our hiding place. You are preserve us from trouble. We offer You our praise of deliverance. Lord, instruct us and teach us the way we should go. Show us how to depend on You. May we listen and take to heart what You want to teach us. Let us not be stubborn and go our own ways. Let Your steadfast love surrounds us. May we trust in You for all things. Let us be glad and rejoice that You are our God. Amen” 
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Cracked Pots & Kingdom Currency

An elder monk had two large pots, each hung on the end of a pole which he carried across his neck. Each day he traveled to a stream to retrieve water for the abbey. One pot delivered a full portion of water but the other was cracked and arrived bearing only half. Observing this a young monk asked; “why don’t you fix that pot? It’s cracked and not very useful. If you repair it, it would be good again.”

The elder monk smiled and asked the younger brother to accompany him to the stream. The elder monk said nothing as they walked and the younger noticed the beautiful flowers along one side of the path. This made him smile because they reminded him of the fresh flowers that adorn the tables in the dining room. Arriving at the stream, the elder asked; “Did you notice the flowers? When the pot became cracked, I planted flower seeds on that side. Every day while walking back from the stream, they are watered and each day I pick them to decorate our tables.”

Sometimes in life things we deem not very good can be used to do something great.

Here’s what’s happening…

Jesus is in the midst of telling 5 parables, this is number 4. We spoke about two of them last week and number 3 is the “the prodigal son” parable.

Similar to the way the lost son gave no good account of his inheritance so too the bad manager with his master’s wealth. The Greek says the both the prodigal son and the shrewd manager, literally “scattered in all directions” the wealth. In other words they thew it away.

This parable is only found in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is teaching and Luke tells us in 16v13-14 the religious leaders are listening in.

Hard to manage…

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

The two main characters in Jesus’ tale are “a certain rich man” and his house manager.

In the first century world, the “rich man” was probably Greek or Roman and lived in luxury in Jerusalem.  His steward would likely have been a slave or freedman. The steward had access to his master’s wealth, and took care of the owner’s various properties supplying the homes and properties with what they needed

Word comes to the ears of the rich man his manager had been less than forthright in his dealings. He’s lining his pockets with the master’s money. Upon hearing this the manager is called on the carpet. He is so busted! The owner says “you’re fired and you owe me the money you stole!”

Obviously the manager hasn’t been saving it because the Greek reads he “scattered it in all directions”! Its gone. What’s he to do? Not being able to pay your debts was, and still is, a big deal. If he can’t come up with the dough the authorities will come up with a nice long prison sentence. It’s too much money to earn doing manual labor and he’s too old to do the back breaking work. He refuses to suffer the humiliation of asking relatives, friends, for the funds.

He’s in trouble. No money, no job, definitely no references and words going to get around that he’s a thief. The embarrassment, the shame of his dismissal and the truth of him being a crook are almost more than he can bear. He needs a plan…quick! Life as he knows it is slipping away.

Sneaky…

4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;

The light bulb comes on. He’s got an idea. The dishonest house manager, instead of coming clean, is going to save himself by doing what he’s good at, being dishonest. Remember, there’s no Facebook, instant messaging or even telephones. It takes a while for word to get around. Instead of waiting for the rumor of his firing to reach the client’s ears he visits them on his way back from his master’s house to collect his things. He powers on his laptop, pulls up the accounts on his quick-books software and starts cold calling folks who are in debt to his ex-master. He then makes them an offer they can’t refuse. He tells them the “generous master” is offering an opportunity, to make major cuts into their debts, as much as 50%! They must sign the new bill quickly before the deal expires.

By doing this he is making his master very popular and placing him in a bind.  The clients would have no way of knowing this wonderful offer wasn’t valid and the master’s reputation would be at stake if he decided to void the new deals.

In a culture where shame and honor are so very important, by the time the master finds out what the steward has done he would have no choice to but to honor the agreement. To take back his gift of discounting their bills and admitting he can’t control those under his watch was very shameful. The steward has the master between a rock and a hard place. He is much more clever, shrewd, dishonest and ruthless than the master realized. 

Interesting story but what exactly is Jesus saying?

v8…for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

We don’t often find Jesus using a dishonest person as an example to follow. Is that what he’s doing? Not really, but he is telling the disciples to be shrewd, clever, resourceful enough to use things of this world, such as money, for the kingdom’s advancement.  

Both money and power can corrupt resulting in much suffering but God can use these to make an eternal difference.

When used for selfish means money and power bring slavery, oppressions, taxes, indebtedness. Used for kingdom purposes, for others, they can bring freedom, provision and help for those in need.

Luke’s gospel is very much concerned with the plight of those who have little or no social standing, who depend upon the generosity of others to survive. In Luke 14, Jesus tells a host to invite the poor, lame, blind, those who cannot help themselves to his banquet table. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the religious leaders they have failed at their jobs because they are eating their full, clothing and taking care of themselves when those they are responsible for are hungry, naked, hurt, lost and dying.

v10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

This is not Jesus ranting against wealth. It is a warning. Whether we have a lot or little what we possess must not possess us. We must be willing to give it away. Oftentimes Jesus’ teachings on riches are for others those who have more than we do. Everyone, no matter the size of their bank account, car they drive or house they live in, have things in their life they treasure, value greatly. Could be money, might be family, even their life. If the treasures aren’t being used for God’s kingdom then the treasure is more valuable to them than God’s kingdom.

John Petty, New Testament writer states: More than any other gospel, Luke confronts the issue of money and wealth.  In Luke’s (version) of the Lord’s Prayer, … forgiveness is explicitly linked with… (monetary) debts. “…(we obtain) release us from our sins, (as we release others from what is (earthly) owed to us).”

What we hold onto reveals what has a hold on us. In Luke 6, Luke 12, and Luke 15, Jesus calls on his followers to release their earthly treasure to those in need. Whatever we value must be at God’s disposal. This is what it means to be a part of God’s kingdom.

Reflection

Psalm 113 says “I will praise the Lord! I will blessed be the name of the Lord forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting I will praise the name of the Lord. There is no one like my God, who is high above all. He raises up the lowly, lifts up the needy and gives ones who are cast out a home. He calls me a child of the Most High. Praise the Lord!” 

Water Jugs

Jesus, the Baaaaad Boy

Gospel of Saint Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

What’s happening is… 

In Luke 5v29-32, Jesus was in the house of a tax collector named Levi. Of course this displeased the rank and file of the religious leaders and they grumbled in their hearts and out loud about Jesus hanging out with sinners.  

Following Jesus’ public relations disaster in Luke 14, with the crowd was at his beck and call, Jesus doesn’t give a rousing, running out of the locker rooms ready to take on the world kind of speech, instead he says to the people “only if you hate your family, hate your life, carry a cross and get rid of everything you own can you follow me. 

In the Jewish world a father’s wishes, desires and commands always came first. He was the first and last word on any subject (dads and guys are thinking “ah, the good ol’ days!)”. To disobey a father’s instructions, to go another direction, to stray from his direction was a serious breach of family values and would be considered separation from the the family. A good Jewish father would forbid his children from following unlawful teachings and sinful instructions as espoused by Jesus. A child wanting to follow Jesus would have to go against their father’s commands. This would be tantamount to turning their back on their family, pulling away from the ones who raised them, hating their father and family. Being disowned would be the result.

Jesus laid it all on the table when he emphasized that following him, being a disciple, would be to sacrifice anything that pulled you away from the way of the Master. No doubt that some who followed Jesus left everything behind, invested their very lives, physically and socially to be his disciple.

The words of Jesus take new meaning when he says, in Luke 18v19-21; “My mother, my brothers and sisters, my family are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

This table’s open

Luke 15v1 – Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

Luke tells the reader that ALL tax collectors, sinners, law breakers and outsiders were drawing near and being drawn to Jesus. All of them! Think about that for a moment. The very people the religious establishment shunned, had been told weren’t welcome, pushed away, were flocking to Jesus. This is amazing…and condemning. It’s not that sinners dislike Jesus, they dislike a lot of those they find around him. See how that works? The religious leaders didn’t like the people hanging out with Jesus and maybe those folks felt the same way. Hmm...maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs in churches today.

Of course the pharisees, being the sticks in the mud they are, begin to grumble, mumble against Jesus being with these undesirables. They had a problem with Jesus allowing them to come to him, partaking of a meal with them, partying with them, most of all, sharing God’s message and love with them

Similar to their question, actually a complaint, in Luke 5v29-32 when they inquired; “Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?” in other words, “what do people like that have to do with God?” Jesus, gives a coherent answer to this bewildering question; “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In other words, “those who know they need God, get God.”

Jesus had dared a host, in Luke 14, not to consider the influential, upper crust, well to do, can do something for you, folks the next time he’s sending out invitations to a party. Instead, welcome those who never get an invitation since they have nothing to offer in return, “…the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind…” Jesus practiced what he taught. It is those who have nothing to offer Jesus, and he nothing to gain, who are having their lives changed by him.

Eating with outsiders though was more than grabbing a bite at Burger King…

A Jew’s commitment to purity, their sense of what God requires of them and their fear of risking exposure to the world which caused them to shun outsiders and criticize those who engaged, more than necessary, with non-Jews. To share a meal, have table fellowship, in the ancient world meant mutual acceptance, to receive, condone, not only the person, but what they represented. For the religious leaders, Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, violated their worldview. “Why would Jesus get close to the socially objectionable, to people like tax collectors and sinners? If Jewish people were the chosen ones, why bother?” 

Jesus makes friends with the lowest of the low. Sinners, sexually impure, thieves, diseased, poor, beggars, women, and worst of all? Tax collectors! Nasty, sell outs collecting revenue for the Romans, the enemy, the oppressors of the Jewish people!

Again, Jesus needs a good relations manager because he’s not good and winning the acceptable friends and influencing the proper people!

Little BO-Peep…

Instead of telling them where to stick it, Jesus tells one of his stories;  

v3 – So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

When we hear this story it’s a reminder that whoever is lost, wherever the are, whatever their worth, Jesus finds them and brings ’em home. However, that’s not what the religious leaders, charged with the care of God’s children, God’s flock heard…

Prophet, speak against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat-lings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.”

Whoa! This text is from Ezekiel 34:1-6 and it levels the so-called “shepherds of Israel.” Jesus is telling them “You’re not doing your job! You stink! You’re terrible! If you’re not going to do it then God will raise up someone who will! I wouldn’t have to be doing these things you find so repulsive if you understood it’s what God called you do!

What an indictment! Jesus is “strengthening the weak, healing the sick, feeding them, clothing them, binding their injuries, and bringing back the strays” because the religious leaders have forgotten it’s what their occupation requires. The sheep are wandering, lost, being killed, because they have no shepherd, their leaders have failed.

Before anyone is tempted to chime in regarding clergy, pastors, ministers, elders, deacons, boards and church leadership, Jesus calls all of his followers, every disciple, to do the things the Jewish leaders refuse to do…“strengthen the weak, heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bind the injured, and bringing back the strays.” Hmm..maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs in our churches today. Again, just a thought.

Jesus says seek, not avoid the lost. Look for, not the other way. Carry, don’t add more burden. Heaven rejoices when the dumb, dirty, disoriented, sheep is found, so why do the religious leaders condemn it for being lost? Hmm..maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs…I digress.  

Jesus says; v7 – “…there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Who are these 99 who need “no repentance?” or asked a different way “am I, are you, one of those 99 who need no repentance?” (shaking head emphatically “no”) Exactly. If you have to ask the question you aren’t one. Only those who think they need no repentance seek none. Ironically, they are the most lost of all.

Change in the couch cushion

 v8 – “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

Here, Jesus goes, turning over the apple cart again. This time the main figure is a woman! Jesus just can’t help himself making people uncomfortable. Our heroine is turning the house inside out, tossing the couch cushions, sweeping under the fridge, looking everywhere for her valuable treasure. She looks all day, doesn’t find it, gets dark, doesn’t stop. Broom in one hand, flashlight in the other, keeps on looking. Finally, after diving into every nook and cranny she locates the coin! Immediately she posts a photo on facebook, tweets out the discovery, texts her best friends, and calls everyone in her address book. “I found the coin! I found the coin! Let me show you the money!”(Jerry McGuire imitation)

Notice a couple of things. One, family isn’t mentioned. Remember, in Luke 14, Jesus just told them to “hate” their families. Chances are there are some in the crowds who left their families when they chose to follow Jesus on the way.

Second, there’s no formal repentance from the sheep or the coin. No special prayer is mentioned. Simply lost and then found. Granted neither the sheep or the coin is capable or repentance, but to get stuck here missed the point. This isn’t about us. Jesus is giving a glimpse into the heart of the Father and the Son. A look into their earnest desire for us. It’s about God and relationship not us and our response. 

Listen to what Jesus says in verse 10,

v10 – I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

God is after us, pursuing us, chasing us. Coming to us. Receiving us. He is the seeking shepherd! We are the dumb, dirty, disoriented sheep. The clueless coin that rolls away. Why? His love, his nature, who he is, compels him to do so. Motivates him to go to staggering lengths to prove his desire to to pull you close! We just need to be willing to be found.

Reflection

Psalm 79 says “O’ Lord, do not remember our faults and let your love and compassion find us. For we are lost and lowly. Help us, O God, for only you can save us. Deliver us and forgive our sins. We desire to be free. Let our cries come before you and according to your great love keep us safe. Let us be one of your sheep, part of your flock. We will praise you and give you thanks.”

Repeat these phrases after me and reflect upon what the Lord has said to you in the service today:

God, we are lost and lowly...

Father, forgive us and free us

Jesus, you are my shepherd

God, we give you thanks…”

 

baby_lamb1

Jesus, the Hater

Jesus, the Hater

Bountiful, Utah.  A red car, waiting to be picked up by its new owner, was destroyed Thursday morning after it was hit by a runaway semitrailer carrying 45 tons of sand. The truck driver, traveling up an incline to a local golf course, lost control when he attempted to downshift. The large vehicle’s gear box broke out and the brakes failed as the heavy semitrailer began to roll backward down a steep hill. The large vehicle coasted about half a city block, burst through a retaining wall, smashed into the car, and finally came to a stop partway inside a home where the residents were eating breakfast. No one was injured. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day!

Our text is preceded by the parable of a great banquet given in Luke 14:15-24. Those invited to the banquet declined to attend, citing other priorities; care of land, possessions, and family. The host then throws open the doors to the less desirable to come to and party.

Luke 14v25 “Great crowds were going along with him.”  Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, since Luke 9:51,and he wasn’t alone. Jesus was a popular guy. He was loved by many.

Does Jesus want us to hate our family and our lives?

Jesus “turns” and speaks to the crowd including his disciples. In Luke, anytime Jesus “turns” something important is about to be spoken but these words shock us!

Lots of people love him, fame is at his fingertips, Facebook friend requests are through the roof, Twitter is exploding! His reputation ready to be cemented. This is the time to rouse the crowd, get ’em excited. Tell one of those great parables, perform a wondrous miracles. Give the people what they want! Keep the folks charged up on the way to Jerusalem. Keep them coming back for more.

Jesus really needs a publicist because does he drop the ball!

V27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, that one is not able to be my disciple.”

At a time when Jesus has their attention why not tell the folks, “go let your family know, your ma and pa, your cousins, aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas! Tell them how great this is and the adventure of being my follower!” Jesus does the opposite…He says separate yourself from your family.

In Luke’s story, Jesus seems to be not focused on the family but on separating the family.  Luke 8:19-21, 9:59-62, 12:51-53, 14:26-27, 18:29, 21:16.  This one in chapter 14 is just harsh!

Jesus speaks so much about love, why is he being a hater?

The word “Hate” should be understood in the context of the first-century middle-eastern world.  It is not so much an emotional position, but a matter of honor and shame.

New Testament writer Robert Tannehill says; “In the ancient world…hating one’s family meant doing something that injured them, particularly by disgracing them.  Life was family centered, and the honor of the family was very highly valued.  Every family member was expected to protect the honor of the family.  If a family member joined a suspect movement,(a cult, other religion) and abandoned their home, this brought disgrace on the family.”

A break with tradition, especially in religious cases, can tear a family apart. Religious leaders have condemned Jesus’ teaching. To be a honorable and faithful Jew was to go the way of the forefathers, not the new way of Jesus. If a person chose to follow Jesus, or another religious movement, they would be shunned and their blessing as a child of God forfeited according to Jewish law.

This would certainly cause much angst and heartbreak for Jewish families. Jesus grew up in Jewish culture. He knows about shame and tells those wanting to walk with him, it is a way of suffering and separation.

Hating used in this context means that a person disconnects themselves from their families. A momentous and costly decision. It would truly cost them their life as it has been.

Deciding he hasn’t offended enough folks with the “hate your families and your lives” bit he ratchets up the verbiage… 

27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Shame of turning away from family was not as great as the shame and embarrassment of being crucified. The cross was a symbol used by the Roman empire. It was a means of execution and imperial strength. Almost never used for Roman citizen is reserved for lower class, slaves, criminals and non-Roman citizens. 2000 people in Palestine were crucified for rebellion in the time of Roman occupation.

For a Jew, the cross represented the worst way to die. To be crucified was to be cursed by God. And now Jesus, the great pied piper, tells people to pick one up and carry it around.

28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

Parables on counting the cost, making a plan, knowing what you’re in for, before choosing. Discipleship is not to be entered into lightly. No bait and switch, plainly and painfully, Jesus lays out the cost walking with him.

It’s almost as if Jesus enjoying alienating the crowd. “I‘m too popular! he says. What can I say that will just chase everyone away? Oh! I know, Those people you are close to, who raised you, cared for you, taught you right from wrong, have always been there for you? You gotta hate ’em. And, if you hang out with me you’re going to be shamed and probably die in the worst of ways!” Finally, if there was anyone left, he orders them them abandon everything they own, terrible things like a roof over your head, food in your stomach.

Jesus isn’t being hyperbolic. He hammers it home by three times using the phrase “you cannot be my disciple” if you do not forsake family, carry a cross, give up all possessions.

It begs the question; “Why?” Families are bad? Long life is wrong? Possessions are evil?

The answer to this is given in this earlier parable…

Luke 14:16 Then Jesus said, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

These seemingly harsh words of Jesus we’ve read today aren’t spoken against being a part of a family, having some possessions or enjoying life. They are harsh words against how easily we are pulled away from the things of God. There is something in us that desires to attach ourselves to things. A pull from inside from our true purpose in life.

We desire, distract, separate ourselves from the Kingdom. We sacrifice what’s important for what’s immediate. Jesus tells us plainly, simply, nothing is worth losing our seat at the great banquet table. We must be ever on our guard or we’ll settle for other things instead of the only thing that matters, Him.

Reflection

Psalm 27 says “… Teach us your way, O Lord, and lead us on your good path… 13 We believe that we shall see the goodness of the Lord in our lives. 14 We wait on you Lord; helps us be strong, help our hearts take courage; we wait on you, Lord.”

Repeat and reflect on these phrases:

“Lord, Teach me your way…

Lord, lead me on your good path…

Lord, keep me strong and encouraged…

Lord, I wait on you…”338435765

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

35104840 (2)A family meal, on a Sabbath Sunday, erupted into a gun battle after a father and son clashed over how to properly cook a chicken in Bluewell, West Virginia. The two men began to argue over the best way to prepare a skinless bird. It progressed into a physical confrontation and escalated to both of them shooting at each other with their own .22-caliber handguns. The son was struck by a bullet that went through the upper part of his right ear and lodged in the back of his head. He survived, was treated at a hospital and released. The father was not injured but was charged with malicious wounding. Both were booked on wanton endangerment.  Be careful who you invite to Sunday dinner.

This passage appears only in Luke’s gospel.  Jesus has been on his way to Jerusalem ever since 9:51.  Along the way, he heals, casts out demons, teaches the disciples, crowds and mourns over Jerusalem 13:34-35. 

A Dinner to Remember,  Luke chapter 14

1On one occasion when Jesus[a] was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had abnormal swelling. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus[b] took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child[c] or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

The scene opens with Jesus on the way to the home of a pharisee to eat a meal on the sabbath.  This is a formula for disaster! Talk about a reality show waiting to happen!

A Greek symposia is a dinner followed by a discussion/debate. Often meals such as these were places for vigorous political, social, and class conversations. Pharisees were not overly wealthy but better off than most of their constituents. An invitation to eat in a home of a Pharisee would’ve been considered an important invite if Jesus was impressed by such things. Too bad he isn’t.

Jesus had run ins with the P’s before. What Jesus did and didn’t do on the Sabbath in Luke 6 and Luke 13 told the Pharisees quite a lot about his politics and theology. Jesus had embarrassed them, on their own turf,  and Luke tells us in 11v54 the Pharisees were “lying in wait for Jesus, to catch him in something he might say.” 

Chapter 14v1 says again; “they were watching him closely as he made his way to the dinner. Is Jesus on his best behavior? Depends on what that phrase means. He stops and heals a man with abnormal swelling on the Sabbath and then questions/grills the P’s about  it. Jesus isn’t concerned about impressing those in power. He heals the poor, helpless and lower crust of society because they need it, not because they can do something for him.

Contrast this with the guests at the dinner he’s attending who are choosing “places of honor” in verse 7.  They are trying to “move up” in society by finding the best place to sit down. The most prominent place would be the position nearest the host of the dinner. Important banquets and the seating that accompanied them were of great importance to high society.

Watching them tussle over where to put their keisters, Jesus makes an observation

8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

This isn’t a normal Jesus’ illustration, parable or story. It’s more like him instructing these supposedly highfalutin, sophisticated types how to act properly in these occasions for maximum effect.

Don’t push your way to the front, don’t assume, play it cool” Jesus says. What happens if someone more important than you shows up and the host tells you to get stepping, take a back seat, move out of the way for this VIP. How embarrassing and shameful! It’s more prudent to stay back and be invited up front.

Finished with the guests, Jesus now turns his attention to the host…

Not the high and mighty”, Jesus says, “but the low and weak should be honored guests.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 

Jesus’ words to the host are confusing! Perhaps Jesus doesn’t know how the social game is played. The host invited those who would enhance his social standing. This dinner party, those invited, the seating arrangements, all evidence of the importance of those attending and how this, in turn, would elevate the social standing of the host. Only impressive people were asked to come, no one of low social standing, little political or religious power.

Jesus challenges him to turn this on its head! Make the dinners and social occasions about those with no social standing, who can’t help you get ahead. An opportunity to not promote one’s self but giving the least of these a moment to shine.

Jesus is casting a worldview, a reality where a chance to advance, improve the life of another is the goal. A culture where people aren’t used to serve our means, our upward trajectory, our aspirations but where giving, helping others is the aspiration.

14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

You will be blessed,” Jesus says. Blessed when? Blessed how? In what way? By being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Blessed to be among “resurrection of the just.”

Wrapping it Up

When Jesus comes to dinner he has a way of making what is held dear, value and treasure seem silly, then reorients the heart to hold dear, value and treasure the things that really matter. 

Reflection

Psalm 143 “… O Lord, answer us… Please do not hide your face,…Let us hear of your steadfast love today, for in you we place our trust. Show us the way we should go, for to you we lift up our soul. 9 Save us, O Lord, … 10 Teach us to do your will, for you are our God. May your good spirit lead us on a level path….”

Prayer Phrases to Reflect on Today

Show us the way we should go…

Teach us to do your will…

May your good spirit…

Lead us on a level path…

bdl

*September 1, 2013

Who’s to Blame for Our Miley Cyrus Problem

ImageApparently Miley Cyrus has gotten herself into a bit of trouble. She has done something in front of a bunch of someones that, allegedly, wasn’t very lady like. I’ve never been a Miley Cyrus fan. I don’t have anything against her I simply didn’t have any pre-teens in my house when she was Disney‘s darling and i’m too old now to listen to popular music. I don’t know what it means to twerk or be twerked but i’m pretty certain it would be physically painful for me and emotionally damaging for any witnesses.

In the interest of full disclosure I have not seen the “ghastly” video that has parents up in arms, culture warriors shouting from the rooftops and Hannah Montana fans burning their t-shirts, ticket stubs and posters. I really do hope to keep it that way and before we start roasting marshmallows, and this young lady, over the flames can we at least pause long enough to ask who’s to blame and what can be done?

To be famous is quite simple. Do crazy things, be insanely popular. The most dramatic, shocking, upsetting, disturbing act or word wins the prize. This isn’t new. I was a teen in the 80’s with Madonna, endured Marilyn Manson in the 90’s, put up with Lady Gaga in ’00s and here’s Miley corrupting our youth. (They said the same thing about Socrates.)

My prayer phrase today is from Psalm 101; “I will walk with a blameless heart and set before my eyes no vile thing.” To “walk with a blameless heart” is more than not getting caught with your hand in a cookie jar, being busted or caught in the act. It is to seek and live a life that is mindful, pure and to remember the path you choose affects everyone you meet along the way. Desiring to be virtuous and faultless so others can know and see truth in you.

To “not set our eyes on a vile thing” is much more than not watching a dirty movie, looking at a magazine or visiting a website when no one’s around. It deals with purpose and where we fix our gaze. What we set our mind to, what’s important to us, what we value determines our destiny. Where we look is where we are going.

So who is to blame and what can be done about our Miley Cyrus problem? I’m not sure, probably nothing. We can, however, determine to have a “blameless heart and set our eyes on no vile thing.” We can walk the path of wisdom, love and compassion. Doing this will encourage others we meet to do the same. We can value things that really matter and avoid the trappings of fame, materialism and other trinkets that lose their luster and never satisfy. Maybe this will solve our Miley problem and just might save the world.

Oh yeah…and if you see some middle aged white guy sprawled out on the ground somewhere screaming, “I think I broke my body!” I just couldn’t help myself.

wisdom and light,

bdl

Monkey Man, Mayhem and Going Deeper

A message based on the gospel of Saint Mark, chapter 5.

*pre-production video

Gone Fishing

A message based on the gospel of Luke, chapter 5.

(…and yes, this was the year I grew my hair out!)

*pre-production video

Truth and Wisdom in the Deepest Parts

“…desire truth in your deepest parts; learn wisdom in the inmost place.”

My Friday Lauds (morning prayer) always include Psalm 51. This poem/song is recited on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday, and is read by contemplatives, oblates, monks, and others every Friday in remembrance of the most Holiest of days when Jesus mounted the cross.

As I read and prayed this Psalm this morning the words “…desire truth in your deepest parts; learn wisdom in the inmost place” became my prayer phrase for the day.

Image

A rosebush next to a barn in our front yard.

Following Lauds I like to take a stroll through the yard prayerfully, meditating and mindfully breathing the prayer phrase to myself. (To the observing eye no doubt it looks as if I am talking to myself. Add this to the growing list as why our neighbors think we are strange southern folk!) As I ambled reflectively I noticed a poor, struggling rose bush with one lone blossom. It is surrounded, choked?, by a vine, rooted next to a wall, not in a good place for light, failing at being beautiful, yet still growing where it’s planted.

“Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions.”

The wonderful quote above, from Saint John Climacus, is in regard to confession and humility, but might it also be said of wisdom and truth? If we were the bush would we demand to be replanted, complain about our surroundings, see one bloom as a failure, or would we see perfection?

Wisdom and truth reveal to us that the purpose of the rose bush is to bloom and it is doing what it is intended to do. Nature doesn’t judge how many, how beautiful, what other rose bushes are doing. The rose bush isn’t worried about the vine, the wall, the lack of sun, or someone’s opinion of its beauty.

“…desire truth in your deepest parts; learn wisdom in the inmost place”

What if life is not vainly trying/striving to make everything around us fit our idea of perfection, our paradigm of what life should be, but rather simply growing, blooming where we are planted?

May truth and wisdom find a home in the deepest part of you.

peace and grace,

bdl

Walking in Light and Presence, Presently

“Blessed are those…who walk in the light of your presence.” Psalm 89

ImageThis Psalm was part of my Vespers (evening) prayer. Even as I prayed this Psalm I took notice that the light of summer is quickly fading. Soon, too soon?, I will not be able to do my evening prayers on the porch overlooking the fields in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.

The prayer phrase that arose from this Psalm was simply “let me walk in the light of your presence.” For a contemplative, prayer is more listening than talking, more penetration than ovation. We still our minds and allow the text, most often a Psalm, to speak with words we could not form.

To walk in the light of your presence” brought with it an insight of light and presence being the same. There is no light without presence and no presence without light. God is the light and the presence. He does not bring these things with him they are him. To be without him is to be without light and presence. Only in his light do we know what it is to be present and know presence.

Almost all of us have the experience of being in a mall or office building when the electricity fails and watching people gravitate to the small emergency lights while they wait for light, life?, to be restored. A shared memory of the power going out at home yet walking into a room, flipping a switch and expecting light to illuminate our surroundings.

Maybe walking with God is this way? Sometimes his light fills every space and we are aware of his presence almost without searching. Other times we try and recreate a moment where God seemed near only to “flip the switch” and nothing happens. Those times when the presence seems to recede and we look for even a sliver of light, enough to see by until life is restored.

Light must be present for it to do us any good. A light in a room we were in doesn’t shine in the room we are in presently. A light in a place where we might go is useless unless we end up in that space. God’s light, his presence are present, in this moment and yet we often want him to shine in a place we are no longer in to see what we’ve left behind or could have been. We long for light to reveal to us where we might go, some day, some time, in the future.

Perhaps we should learn to be content to walk the part of the path we are presently travelling. Let the light and the presence accompany us presently. We cannot walk where we were and walk where we are going if we are walking where we are…

just a thought…

light and presence,

bdl

Humility Ability

Image(We were) …created to have true glory in God. . . This true glory was lost by pride. To recover it we must practice humility. “The surest salvation, the remedy of his ills, and the restoration of his original state is the practice of humility AND NOT PRETENDING THAT HE MAY LAY CLAIM TO ANY GLORY THROUGH HIS OWN EFFORTS BUT SEEKING IT FROM GOD. . . . pride consists not in seeking glory but in seeking it in and by ourselves. Humility seeks glory where it is to be found, in and by and for God. In so seeking, we have his glory in ourselves. We truly possess it. The other way, we have nothing but illusion, and when the illusion is taken away, despair. The right way recognizes that all is a gift, all is in dependence on God’s will.” #ThomasMerton , Notes on the Rule, p. 162

Why is humility so difficult to master? Pride so easily? We judge, label, categorize and quantify people, experiences, life. We hastily choose sides, political parties, agendas. We inform anyone who will listen, and often those who we think should listen, of our likes, dislikes, what we think is right and wrong with the world.

Before we know it we have drawn a circle around ourselves, built walls with our definitions, and embrace a myopic worldview with an ever shrinking mind and shriveled spirit.

The ability to encounter life, each other, every moment with acceptance and gratitude, seeing all as gift is humility. Control, categorizing, creating our own little world is pride.

May we let go and let life/each other be today without notions of how it/they should be.

blessings of light and peace,

brian

To recover our true glory we must practice humility | Oblates of St. Benedict.

Here Comes Advent (Part 1)

A video introducing the Advent season based on the gospel of Saint Matthew 24.

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