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One Who’s Better

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A few moments ago I was doing something I loathe but has become an all too frequent discipline this winter, shoveling snow. After another few inches fell last night I headed outside, with my flimsy snow shovel, to remove as much as I could from our steep driveway.

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About an hour into this two-hour job I looked up and a nice man was heading up the other half of my drive with a snow blower. It was eating the snow up, spitting it out and putting my little snow shovel to shame! We exchanged a few pleasantries and then he made quick work of the remaining snow. I thanked him and he moved on.

There are times in life we should step aside to someone who is more talented, qualified, gifted and skilled. There is no shame in letting one who can do it better complete a task or project. However, too often we allow our pride and insecurity prevent us from admitting we can’t do all things, be all things, to all people, in all situations.

Wisdom teaches us to know ourselves and our limits. When we are aware of who we are and are not, gifts we do and do not possess, strengths and weaknesses, we can celebrate the giftings, strengths and abilities of others.

blessings,
bdl

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Highbrows & Low-lifes

Four blind men longed to see the wonders of the world. Wanting to help, a local Elephant owner arranged for the men to “see” the magnificent beast. The four blind men approached the elephant, arms extended, to investigate this wonder they had only heard about.

The first blind man touched the elephant’s leg and thought it must be like a tree, tall and sturdy. The second blind man touched the elephant’s side and surmised it to be as a great wall. The third blind man felt the elephant’s ear and noted it was similar to a large rug. The fourth blind man grabbed its tail and thought it as a great rope.

When they were done the owner asked them to describe the elephant. The blind men began to argue. For though each experienced it they could not agree on what it was…

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Luke 23:33-43

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiahof God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Today is Christ is king Sunday. Fittingly Jesus is hailed as king in our scripture. 

Here is what is happening in our text. Luke bases his account on Mark 15 and Matthew 27 but Luke also gives the story his own spin. When Jesus is crucified the Gospel of Mark uses the Greek term for a “political criminal” or “insurrectionist.” Luke uses a word that means common criminal, thief. This fits with Luke’s overall theme. Throughout his gospel Jesus identifies with the common people. Luke is not afraid associating Jesus with the lower class. Luke places Jesus in the company of prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors. Jesus’ friends have made him infamous

Isaiah 53 says;

10 The Lord says, “It was my will that he should suffer; his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness…My devoted servant, with whom I am pleased, will bear the punishment of many and for his sake I will forgive them. 12 And so I will give him a place of honor, a place among the great and powerful. He willingly gave his life and shared the fate of evil men. He took the place of many sinners and prayed that they might be forgiven.”

Isaiah describes God’s chosen one being numbered among the sinners. Luke shows Jesus’ relationship with the lowly ones even in his death.

Luke 23:34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots for his clothing.

Jesus clings to his relationship with the Father. He prays the Father will forgive those who “do not know what they are doing.” He trusts the Father who has led him to this cross.

Last week we talked about Luke being written near 85AD to the second generation of Christians. Jesus, through Luke’s writing, is demonstrating to these who are facing increasing persecution how to be faithful. While suffering, Jesus prays forgiveness for his abusers and trusts God. The followers of Jesus are to do likewise.

The “them” Jesus asks the father to forgive in verse 34 are the Jewish leadership. These would be the same ones who would be persecuting the second generation of Christians.

Along with Mark 15 and Matthew 27 Luke also uses Psalm 22;

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many encircle me, surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For they are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the death,
my life from their wickedness!
Save me!

In Psalm 22 the writer pleads with God to rescue him from his abusers, those who mock him, surround him, cast lots for his clothes, and are killing him.

Casting lots for clothes was the soldiers way of telling a condemned man “Guess you won’t be needing these anymore.” It was mockery. The Psalmist laments; I am a worm and not human.” Similarly, Jesus is no longer a person in the eyes of the soldiers.

To be bullied, insulted, pushed around, stripped naked, and not be able to escape, is true powerlessness. Even a condemned criminal joins in. How low must Jesus feel for someone in the same position to partake in the taunts?

Unlike Mark, Luke does not have the people, the crowd, mock Jesus. In his gospel, Jesus and the people have an intimate and lasting connection.

The rulers, the religious élite, have no such qualms about insulting and reveling, enjoying, Jesus’ suffering. They mock him, jeering for him to save himself the same way he saved others.

The religious aristocracy, the Roman government, a criminal, all tell Jesus to save himself, prove he is the Son of God. From the lowest of society to some of its highest officials, Jesus is roundly condemned.

In Luke, chapter 4;

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’

11 and

On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

At his temptation, Satan says to Jesus, “if you are the Son of God…” directly attacking the words spoken by God the Father who, following Jesus’ baptism, in Luke chapter 3, said;

 …and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;with you I am well pleased.”

Similarly, four times in Luke from chapter 22 verse 67 to chapter 23 verse 39 the words “if you are the Son of God…” are used by Jesus’ accusers and killers.

36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 

The Greek words here do not mean sour. More accurately they mean watered down. In other words it is cheap wine, common people’s wine, the drink of the lower class. The soldier’s mockingly give it to one who is “the King of the Jews.”


In the midst of all this suffering, mocking, and impending death a lone voice of sanity speaks. It is the voice of the other criminal. One has mocked Jesus, now the other one has something to say. He tells the other crook to pipe down! Like Pontius Pilate, this crook notices something unique about Jesus in comparison to him and his crooked companion. Jesus is innocent.

Then, this lowly criminal, recognizes who Jesus is…Not the religious élite and their “thou shalt and shalt not” regulations & stipulations regarding who can and cannot be a child of God. Neither was it the Roman government and their desire to rule the world who don’t recognize real power when it’s staring them in the face. Definitely not the disciples who don’t get Jesus, even though they’ve been around him for three years. Everyone of them are upstaged by a crucified, crook.

A man who sees Jesus as his only hope. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. A guy looking to save his own skin, redemption of a life wasted, in his last moments on Earth, has the audacity, the gall, to want to hang out with Jesus in paradise. Jesus tells this low life thug, “okay.” 

Let that sink in.

Isn’t that just like Jesus, with his last breaths and his first act as crucified king, to save a lowly, common, no good, person?

Truly something to be thankful for…

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Reflection

Psalm 46: O God, You are our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Help us not to fear, though everything change. When nations are in an uproar, and Earthly kingdoms totter; You speak and show us Your power. O God, You are with us, You are our refuge. May we see the works of the Lord. You have brought peace to our world through Your Son. Let us, “Be still, and know You are God! And You are with us, You are our refuge. Amen.” 

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End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End?

“The roar of the flames streaming far and wide mingled with the groans of the falling victims…one would have thought that the whole city was ablaze…With the cries on the hill were blended those of the multitude in the city below, and now many who were emaciated and tongue-tied from starvation, when they beheld the sanctuary on fire, gathered strength once more for lamentations and wailing…Yet more awful than the uproar were the sufferings.” Luke, David Tiede.

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Luke 21: 5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

What’s happening in our text

Luke bases this section on the gospel of Mark 13:v1-13 and Jesusspeaking of the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70CE. 

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem since 9:51, as he goes he is speaking to his disciples and followers specifically, the crowd of rubberneckers in general.

Though Luke bases this teaching of Jesus on the gospel of Mark he also makes some changes

In Mark 11, Jesus rebukes a fig tree as being no good, incapable of bearing fruit. Following this Jesus makes his final trip to the temple and then leaving symbolically rejecting the temple.

Luke on the other hand doesn’t have Jesus leaving the temple. Mark has a grim view of the temple and it religiosity. Luke 21 has Jesus teaching in the temple every day during the week leading to his death.

Luke almost has Mark’s exact words in regards to the temple being destroyed. Luke’s gospel was written some 15 years following the actual destruction of the temple. The Jew‘s were abused and taken advantage of by the Roman empire. They would revolt, cause trouble and at times engage in open warfare with the Romans. Finally this resulted in the Jewish/Roman war which ended with the Jewish people getting crushed by the Romans. 

“The Roman-Jewish War lasted from AD 66-70.  In the beginning, the rebellion was widespread.  As the Romans brought military pressure to bear in the north, however, the Jews were forced back into “Fortress Jerusalem” in AD 69.

AD 69 was a very strange year.  Within Jerusalem, the Jewish defenders were divided.  In hopes of a ceasefire, some advocated for accommodation with the Romans.  Some of the more fanatical Jewish defenders, on the other hand, took an “apocalyptic” view.  If they could just hold on awhile longer, they thought, God would intervene and smite the offenders.

These more fanatical defenders gained the upper hand in the city.

Jerusalem put up a stout defense, and the Romans had a hard time subjugating the city.  When they did, it wasn’t pretty.  They destroyed everything they could destroy.  Blood ran in the streets.” Progressive Involvement Lectionary Commentary

The annihilation of Jerusalem, the temple, many of its leaders, the religious and political élite, had a huge impact of the Jewish people. Luke has some of the disciples asking what many readers at the time of Luke’s gospel being written would be wondering; when is this suffering going to be over? How long will it last?Jesus answers both the disciples and the readers of his gospel, this suffering; “will last until the proper time, until all has been fulfilled.

Jesus says in Luke 21;

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it; 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people; 24 they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

In verse 7 of Luke 21 the disciples asking Jesus; “when will this be?” inquiring about the destruction of the temple. However, a reader of Luke’s gospel wouldn’t be concerned with something which happened 15 years ago but would be concerned with how long the Jewish people would be under persecution and how long until God intervened on behalf of his people.

Jesus tells them in Luke 21v8-9 …But they asked him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things be?  And what (will be) the sign when these things shall come to be?”  And he said, “See that you might not be deceived, for many will come upon my name, saying, ‘I am’ and ‘the time has come near.’  Do not go after them.

During the Jewish/Roman war some thought God would come down and rescue his people, defeating the Roman empire. Even 15 years later there were still those who wanted to engage in another “Holy War” against the dreaded Gentiles. Luke has Jesus speaking to the disciples and to the readers of his day saying “Do not go after them!

Jesus continues, Luke 21v9, “When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”

Notice Luke edits Mark’s version with the word,immediately.” It has been 15 years since the destruction of the temple. This was not the end, but the beginning. Luke is telling the readers to be patient, there is more to come.

Jesus then says, Luke 21v10, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky.

In other words there’s going to be an increasing build up of problems, difficulties and hardships.

Added to this will be the suffering of Jesus’ followers

Luke 21v12-15 “But before any of this happens, they’ll arrest you, hunt you down, and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You’ll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I’ll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters. 16-19 “You’ll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me.”

Just as Jesus was abused so will his followers suffer at the hands of those in power.

The Greek literally says;They (those in power) will lay epiballō (throw) their hands on (seize) you and persecute you.”

When Luke is writing his gospel the Jews and Christian relations had turned sour. There were those who blamed the Christians for the Jewish/Roman war being lost.

Up until this time the Jews and the Christians coexisted but following the destruction of the temple there were some who thought the Christians were idolaters because they worshiped Jesus as God and as a result God was punishing the Jewish people for blasphemy.

Mark’s gospel has Jesus predicting they will be taken to the “synagogues but Luke adds the word “prisons” showing an increase in tension and penalties for the followers of Jesus.

Luke 21v12 “(you, the disciples, will be) “delivering up to synagogues and prisons, being brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake;”

When, not if, this happens Jesus tells them;

Luke 21v13-15 “You’ll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I’ll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters.”

Luke 21v13 “…and it shall become to you for a testimony. 14 `Settle, then, to your hearts, not to meditate beforehand to reply, 15 for I will give to you a mouth and wisdom that all your opposers shall not be able to refute or resist.”

Mark’s gospel has the Holy Spirit giving the persecuted words to speak but Luke has Jesus. Luke is writing to a new generation of Christians and he wants them to make sure they know Jesus is personally is with them. They are being persecuted, as Jesus himself was, and like him they will be able to stand strong, be a faithful witness.

Jesus comforts them;

Luke 21v17-19 “Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”

Luke 21v17-19 The Greek reads; “You will be hated by all because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

Remember what Jesus said to his followers in Luke 12;

4 Then Jesus said to the people, “I tell you, my friends, don’t be afraid of people. They can kill the body, but after that they can do nothing more to hurt you. 5 I will show you the one to fear. You should fear God, who has the power to kill you and also to throw you into hell. Yes, he is the one you should fear. 6 “When birds are sold, five small birds cost only two pennies. But God does not forget any of them. 7 Yes, God even knows how many hairs you have on your head. Don’t be afraid. You are worth much more than many birds. Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Faith 8 “I tell you, if you stand before others and are willing to say you believe in me, then I[a] will say that you belong to me. I will say this in the presence of God’s angels.

Notice Jesus doesn’t answer their question. He didn’t give them specifics of the end times, what to look for, a code, a certain way or inside knowledge of deciphering when everything will come to an end. Jesus spoke to them about his faithfulness and their need to remain faithful, to endure. Remember Luke was written to a group of people who were being persecuted, blamed and increasingly shoved out of their community and nation.

As hard and difficult as this was Luke assures them the same Jesus was with them to turn their suffering into times of witnessing and no matter what they endured they were secure in the faith the same God who raised Jesus from the dead was the God who would be with them.

In other words, don’t be focused on what might happen tomorrow be focused on being a faithful witness today.

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Reflection

As I pause offer your prayers to God…

Psalm 118: We give thanks to you Lord, for you are good. Your steadfast love endures forever! Out of our distress and hardships today we call on the Lord; and He answers us. He sets us in a stable place. With the Lord on our side we do not fear. What can this world do to us? The Lord is on our side. He helps us. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in the things of this world. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in ourselves. Amen.” 

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Fig Trees & Fickled People

A priest was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. They honored him and when he would visit a nearby village they would ask him to bless them while complimenting him as being a great man. The holy man would simply respond “is that so?” In the area there was an unwed, beautiful girl whose parents owned a food store. One day the daughter shocked her parents with the news that she was pregnant! Her mother and father were devastated and demanded to know who had dishonored their daughter. Embarrassed, she did not want to say. Her lover, and the father of her child, was a stock boy at her parent’s food store and fled in fear of his life. Finally, after much harassment, she named the priest as the baby’s daddy. The parents were irate, going to the priest’s home and accusing him of being a vile, dirty, disgusting old man! “Is that so?” was his only response.

The parents kicked the daughter out of her home. Discovering she was homeless the priest invited her to stay with him him until the child was born. The priest took care of her and never asked why she had brought this trouble upon him. Every time he went into the village he was mocked and cursed, accused of being a pervert, unholy, sinful and wicked. The priest always responded, “is that so?” Even after the child was born he allowed the young mother to continue to live with him in spite of the constant ridicule.

After a year, the stock boy, the real father, returned to the village, confessed his deceit and cowardice and asked the parents for their daughters hand in marriage. News quickly spread and soon the priest’s reputation was restored. The next time he visited the village people lined the streets to apologize, beg for mercy and tell him what a wonderful person he was because of how he took care of the unwed mother and her child. All he said was: “Is that so?” The priest understood reputations, like people, are flicked.

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Luke 19: 1-10

19v1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Here’s what’s happening in out text…

Throughout the Gospel of Luke Jesus something unexpected seems to happen when Jesus comes onto the scene. Right place, right time, something unexpected. Isn’t that like God? We want to be in the right place at the right time for the expected, God, as usual, does it the other way around.

Zacchaeus doesn’t know it, but he’s about to become a star! Not a star in his own right but a star in Jesus’ upside down, least of these kingdom. Jesus is popular and people flock to him. Zacchaeus is hiding in a tree! How does Jesus even see him? As usual, Jesus is looking for the least of these, the ones that don’t fit in, the ones who aren’t welcome. The ones others don’t want to be around are the ones Jesus is looking for.

Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Saint Luke, has Jesus doing and saying amazing things. From healing the blind to predicting his death Jesus has kept the disciples, the religious leaders and the rubberneckers on edge while making his way to Jerusalem.

19v1 Jesus was going through the city of Jericho. 2 In Jericho there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy, very important tax collector. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was. There were many others who wanted to see Jesus too.

Chapter 19 tells us Jesus arrives at Jericho and is passing through. Remember, since Luke 9:51, Jerusalem is the destination. Luke even tells us Jesus is “passing through.” In other words he’s not taking his “sweet time” he’s moving on. Even though he’s not “stopping to smell the roses” there is a crowd. Everywhere he went there were those who needed to be healed, wanted to hear what he had to say, wanted to see what he was going to do. The closer he came to Jerusalem, the more heavily populated the area, the larger the crowds grew.

In Jericho there was a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus who was large in terms of money but small in terms of stature. This tax boss had many who worked under him and collected funds from a large area. This means he was very unpopular with a lot of folk. He couldn’t go too many placed where people weren’t cursing under their breaths, turning their faces in disgust, and wishing a series of unfortunate events to visit him.

A chief tax collector was employed by the Roman government to collect a certain amount of money. Anything over this amount was the collector’s business as long as Rome got their share. Last week in Luke 18:9-14 we met another tax collector who would be employed by a chief tax collector such as Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus IS rich. Zacchaeus is NOT popular. He might not have reached into the pockets of the people but his hands were just as dirty. His wealth, by seemingly dishonest gain, would put him on the “do not associate with” list of almost everyone. Zacchaeus had a reputation of dishonest, untrustworthy and wicked. Luke 18 shows us tax collectors were isolated and viewed with disgust.

How Zacchaeus became a tax collector and the pariah of his area we don’t know. We do know he was tops in his chosen field because he was a chief collector and rich. Often, people who feel small want to do big things. They want to be large in peoples’ eyes and push themselves to excel. This might be the driving force behind Zacchaeus’ success.

So, when Jesus came to Jericho, this small man, who wanted to be big in people eyes, scaled a tree. Why? There might be sharp elbows in this crowd or something much more sharp and deadly. At the very least no room was made for him. Zacchaeus, being who he was, found a way to rise above it all.

19v3 Zacchaeus tried to see who Jesus was. But Zacchaeus was a small man, and he couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. 4 So Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a fig tree to see Jesus, who was coming that way. 5 When Jesus came to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down! I must stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was, in other words he was rubbernecking with the rubberneckers. He didn’t know who Jesus was but Jesus knows him. Jesus “looks up.” The Greek word is anablepo which brings the image of lifting one’s head to heaven or having an idea. Zacchaeus is busted! No highfalutin, society type should be climbing trees! This is embarrassing but Zacchaeus couldn’t help himself.

19v5 When Jesus came to where Zacchaeus was, he looked up and saw him in the tree. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry! Come down! I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus singles him out and reveals him to the whole crowd, calls him by name, “Zacchaeus! Get down out of the tree I’m going to your house today!” and, as a child being scolded by his parents, scurries down. The tension is on the rise. Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector. A job ripe for bribery and thieving. He is an enemy of the common folk. People just plain don’t like him and Jesus just invited himself to his big house, eating his scrumptious food, enjoying his many luxuries, that were paid for by the very people watching this exchange take place. Trouble is a’ brewing.

19v5-7 …Zacchaeus (was) delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone (else) who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”

1 startling invitation, 2 very different reactions. In one declaration, Jesus accepts Zacchaeus and alienates the crowd. One made to feel loved and included by Jesus while others distance themselves from Jesus. Jesus’ love and acceptance ticks off his once doting admirers. This tax collector, who would not be welcome in most homes, now has the honor of having Jesus in his. By going to Zacchaeus’ home, sitting down and eating with him, Jesus is legitimizing his place in society and among the family of God.

Zacchaeus understands what Jesus is doing and so does the crowd. How quickly they turn. A portent of the shift from Palm Sunday where he was welcomed to Good Friday where he was jeered and given over to crucifixion.

Jesus knows, as Emily Dickinson once quipped,

“Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate.”

They begin to grumble, complain, raise their voices. “How dare he? Doesn’t he know? Doesn’t he care? If he knew who this was, what he did…” Sounds suspiciously similar to Luke chapter 7, when a…

7v36 A Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner with him, and Jesus went to his house and sat down to eat. 37 In that town was a woman who lived a sinful life. She heard that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, so she brought an alabaster jar full of perfume 38 and stood behind Jesus, by his feet, crying and wetting his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured the perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him; he would know what kind of sinful life she lives!

As the crowd rakes Zacchaeus’ reputation over the coals he argues in favor of himself. In many translations the future tense of the verbs “I will give, I will pay” but the tense is present, “I do give, I do pay.” Zacchaeus is trying to convince Jesus of what he is already doing!

The Message Bible translation does a great job in translating this verse:

19v8 Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”

Jesus doesn’t confirm or deny Zacchaeus’ words or works. This isn’t just about the tax collector but the whole crowd. It has to do with restoration, radical acceptance and what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God. All are welcome at his table, in his kingdom, in his presence.

19v9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”

 19v9-10 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

 19v9-10 And Jesus said unto him — “To-day salvation did come to this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus is restoring Zacchaeus to the community! This is why Jesus came, to restore and reverse the curse of being outside looking in, unlovable, up a tree without a way to get down. The lost are the least of these, the despised, the looked down upon.

What’s telling is how quickly the crowd, full of the least of these, is infested with that Pharisaic yeast that Jesus warns his followers to beware and stay away from in Luke 12. It is a virus of judgment and condemnation which easily infects its host.

Who would you grumble against Jesus accepting today? The politician from another party? The womanizer? The unwed mother who refuses to be abstinent? The homosexual? The person on food stamps buying cigarettes? The least of these are all around us. Those we turn away from are the very ones Jesus is looking for.

Reflection

Psalm 32 – I will tell my sins to God. I will not hide my guilt. I will confess my faults to the Lord and He will forgive me. Let us, the children of God, offer prayers today. In times of distress and chaos we will not be overwhelmed for God is our hiding place; He saves us when we are in trouble. O’ Lord teach us the way we should go, keep Your eye on us. May we not be stubborn and insist on our own way but trust in the steadfast love of the Lord. Amen.” 

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On the Other Side

One day a young man, journeying home, came to the banks of a river swollen by recent torrential rains. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on how to cross such a wide barrier. Beginning to despair, resigning himself to the impossibility of the feat, he was about to turn around when he saw a great teacher from his village on the other side raging rapids. Surely this wise one will know the answer to my dilemma! The young man, cupping his hands over his mouth to be heard, yells at the top of his voice, “Sir, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?” The teacher stood still, pondered for a moment, smiled and called back, “My son you are on the other side”.

What was impossible for one to see was easy for the other.

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Luke 18: 9-14

9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Here’s what’s happening in out text…

Jesus continues to talk with same folk he had been talking to in Luke 18, 1-13, disciples, rubberneckers, and religious leaders. A similar story can be found in Saint Matthew’s gospel, 23.

Luke tells us in v9, Jesus begins speaking about:

9“some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people.”

9(those) who were sure that God approved of them while they looked down on everyone else.

Of course we automatically think of the religious leaders listening in, those who are trying to gain more power, notoriety, prestige, money and political strength. Jesus, however, is peaking primarily to the disciples, others who want to be his followers.

Jesus knows who’s in the crowd and has used religious leaders as examples, warnings, of how NOT to follow him. In Luke 12v1-2 Jesus cautioned his disciples against “the yeast of the pharisees.” He knows religious snobbery, religious hypocrisy, can worm it’s way into any would be follower.

The disciples exhibit the “snobbery virus” in:

Luke 18v15 Some people brought children to Jesus to have him hold them. When the disciples saw this, they told the people not to do that. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me! Children like these are part of the kingdom of God. 17 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it.”

Jesus understood the condition of the human heart that tempts humankind to compare ourselves to others. One of the central teachings of Luke is the Kingdom of God is inhabited by the least of these. Treatment of the undesirables reveals our love for God. To think of oneself as better than, higher than, more worthy than, not as bad as, more holy, more Godly than…well, anyone…is to violate one of the key tenets of the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus tells the crowd a story…

…about a religious leader, a Pharisee, a pinnacle of societal and religious prestige and a tax collector, an enemy, a traitor and thief. You could not be more different than these two. All who listened, including the disciples viewed the Pharisees as respected and honored by all and the tax collector a money grubbing, low life who steals from hard working Israelites.

18v10“One time there was a Pharisee and a tax collector. One day they both went to the Temple to pray. 11 The Pharisee stood alone, away from the tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he said, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not as bad as other people. I am not like men who steal, cheat, or commit adultery. I thank you that I am better than this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I give a tenth of everything I get!’ 13 “The tax collector stood alone too. But when he prayed, he would not even look up to heaven. He felt very humble before God. He said, ‘O God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner!’

Jesus begins his tale by speaking of something most in the crowd have done many times, go to the temple to pray.

Luke 18v10 Story based on Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” interpretation:

Two men, at the same place, at the same time, not the same attitude…

The Pharisee, (and) the tax man enter the Temple. The proud, religious leader, assured of himself and his exceeding righteousness clears his throat, dusts off his clothes, looks around, hoping someone might be eavesdropping, and begins…‘Oh, God! I am so incredibly grateful today that you have made me…well me. I am so relieved that that I am not like other low life types, robbers, thieves, crooks, sexual miscreants, or (rolling his eyes, fanning himself, throwing up a little in his mouth and shuddering at the thought), heaven forbid (pointing, not daring to look), like this, ugh, tax man.

Just in case you forgot, weren’t paying attention, or know how good I am so you worry about other less desirables, I fast twice a week and tithe on ALL (elongating and emphasizing words) ‘MY’ (isn’t this word telling?) my income.’” Finishing his prayer, smiling like a Cheshire cat, clearly pleased with himself, he snorts at the absurdity of sharing the same air with the tax collector, hikes his nose high in the stratosphere and goes home.

Meanwhile’, Jesus says softly, ‘the tax man, stays in the shadows, not daring to stand up straight, his face in his hands, not daring to look up embodying the spirit of

Psalm 51, ‘knowing he has a bad record, guilt that needs to be scrubbed away, sin stains which need God’s laundry. He knows how bad he’s been; his sins are staring him down. He’s violated God’s laws and knows God sees the full extent of his evil. If God judged him as worthless and sent him to hell it would be a fair sentence. He’s been out of step with God for a long time and in the wrong for as long as he can remember. He knows he’s dirty and is nowhere near ‘snow-white.”

He needs a fresh start. Barely able to get out the words for fear of being struck down he whispers; ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”

We know the outcome of the story but imagine you are hearing it for the first time. What are you thinking? What’s Jesus’ point? Who’s coming out of this story on top? The Pharisees are known for their hypocrisy and lacking in the fundamentals of God’s Kingdom but the tax man is still worse, right?

Who’s Jesus going to hold up as the example?

18v14 Jesus (says), “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

18v14 (Jesus declares) …(of the two)… men walking back down the road to their homes…. it’s the tax collector who walks home clean before God, and not the Pharisee, because whoever lifts himself up will be put down and whoever takes a humble place will be lifted up.

18v14 (Jesus concludes) I tell you, this (tax collector) went to his house justified rather than the (Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The tax man goes home pure and right before God, not the religious elite and if the same situation takes place again the following week, same attitudes, same outcome. The one who is humble, not the one who keeps every law, is right before God.

Remember Jesus says in…

Luke 17v3&4 “If a believer sins, correct him. If he changes the way he thinks and acts, forgive him. 4 Even if he wrongs you seven times in one day and comes back to you seven times and says that he is sorry, forgive him.” 5 Then the apostles said to the Lord, “Give us more faith!”

He wouldn’t instruct his disciples to be this way if he, God, wasn’t this way.

It didn’t make sense to the disciples in 17, the crowd in 18 or to us in today in 2013. We are fine with the tax man getting grace, the uppity Pharisee his rightful “smack down” but we want both of them to amend their ways, get a fresh start, and then become good little rule followers.

Once again, in Jesus’ upside down kingdom, the church goer, the rule follower, the socially and religiously acceptable one is worse off than the outright, no excuse, low down sinner. Jesus takes a bat to our pinata of goodness and whacks it until the illusion of anything good in us spills onto the ground. We are not ever capable of standing in God’s presence and claiming to be better than anyone!

pharisee-2

This is either disappointing or delightfully good news! For those who are certain there’s something good in us, at least a little better than some of the worst of the worst, this can be hard to swallow.

For others who know the depth of their depravity it takes the weight of hell off our shoulders.

So not only is being righteous before God, being seen by God as clean, pure, impossible in our own power, so is understanding God’s Kingdom ways.

Shifting faith from a what (laws and good works) to who. Not in ourselves, a rabbit trail of delusion which leads to nowhere, but in Jesus who’s going to Jerusalem to make all who are dirty, that’s everyone, clean.

Reflection

Psalm 84 – How lovely is your presence, O Lord, God Almighty. We long for the presence of the Lord today. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are Your ways and who trust in Your love to make us clean in Your eyes. May we know a day trusting in You is better than a thousand trusting in our own power to save us. O’ Lord, do not withhold Your goodness from us. Blessed are those who trust in you. Amen.” 

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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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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

Firearms, Flocks and the Future Now

Luke 12:32-40

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

A 44 year old man wasn’t ready late one night when 18 police officers raided his home believing that he was wielding a firearm. Keith Abraham’s common law wife Michelle earlier in the evening had called a paramedic because she thought Keith was having a heart attack. While the paramedic attended to Keith the paramedic mistakenly thought Keith was concealing a and thought the call from his wife might actually be a call for help. The paramedic contacted the police after leaving the home describing Keith as possessing a 10 inch weapon. Later that night as the couple was dozing off a team of 18 police officers, 10 of whom were armed, stormed the house, weapons drawn ordering Keith to get out of bed onto the floor! Both Keith and Michelle were forced out of their home and into a police van for questioning. While they were being interrogated the police searched the home for the weapon! What did the paramedic see? The TV remote control. By the way Keith wasn’t having a heart attack, it was a panic attack. No word on whether the uninvited guests that night gave him a real heart attack.

Text Background and Situation
Our section from Luke today finds its parallel in Matthew 6v19-21 & Matthew 24v43-44.

Jesus is in the presence both of his disciples and the large crowd we met last week in 12v1.  He speaks to the disciples specifically and the large number of people surrounding him in general. He follows the parable of the rich fool in 12v13-21 with the encouragement to live without anxiety. Worrying about food or clothing, temporal things, is unnecessary in light of God’s faithfulness to his children. Jesus says; “The nations” or Gentiles, those who do not have God’s promises, worry about such things 12v30. When attachment is to temporal items, these can be taken away, deteriorate, or change in unexpected ways, uncertainty and anxiety result.

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Culture tells us that we must hunt, gather, accumulate, make sure we have enough to survive and enough “just in case”. Those in the Jesus movement not only live in God’s abundance but also share, provide for anyone who is in need, those Jesus label as “our neighbor.”

Jesus is teaching a radical re-oriented worldview, a paradigm shift, a way of seeing things that is not how the world sees. Abundance not scarcity, reassurance not anxiety because the community we are apart of, God’s kingdom come, reflects that care and love of our Heavenly Father.

Jesus implores his listeners not to worry; “Do not be afraid, little flock.” “your Father took pleasure in giving you the kingdom.”  The Greek word for pleasure means “seemed good” to do this, a commitment to do this for the reason it was good, not with repayment in mind. God did “freely give”.

This is a kingdom where social standing is irrelevant, everyone on equal footing. A place where nothing is lacking, neither food, clothing, love or community. In other words God wants and desires to take care of us and has made a place, a way, for us to live without taking or hoarding from others. A place where jealousy and resentment are no more because treasure is not found in Earthly things. This place is called the Kingdom of God, the community of Jesus.

The Lord’s prayer says not “Kingdom one day will come but Kingdom this moment, come.” Jesus’ followers are a vital part of the advancement of the Kingdom, making it present, a reality, by the lives they live. It has been “freely given” and Kingdom citizens freely give it to others.

33Sell your possessions, and give alms.

Because of what God has freely given those following Jesus are to freely give as well. A gift, not as repayment to God, but to anyone in need. Jesus says; “sell your possessions and give alms.” A sign of the Kingdom, a way to advance the Kingdom, bring it into the present is to give to those in need. Again, upside down. Want to show appreciation for God’s abundance? Don’t offer sacrifices, give to those who have nothing. God does not desire, nor is impressed, by our attempts to impressed him, he desires that we give to the weakest and most vulnerable.

“Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Jesus asks; “Why invest in something that will become old, will wear out?  Why commit your life to the accumulation of perishable items that can be stolen or damaged, and are not eternal?”

Invest instead in Kingdom building and its upside down economy. Jesus tells them, “Make money-purses for yourselves that do not become old, an unfailing treasure … where no thief comes nor moth destroys.”

If your treasure is at risk than you are collecting the wrong kind of treasure. An easy question to see if you’re investing your life in the right things. Give away the treasure that can be stolen, goods that fade and wear out to help those in need. Invest in Kingdom economy! Trust that you are God’s treasure and he is yours. Giving away what can be taken away or taken with you is an act of trust that God has, is and will freely give you what you need. The ability to do this also reveals where your treasure truly lies.

Ready For Action

Let your loins be girded around and the candles be burning, and you yourselves like those looking for their lord who might return from the wedding banquet so that, when he comes and knocks, immediately they may open to him.  Blessed those slaves whom the Lord, coming, will find watching.  Truly I say to you that he will gird (himself) and sit down with them, and drawing near, will serve them.

Girded loins, may sound painful, but means fastening one’s clothes in such a way that a person wouldn’t trip over them if running or working.  It’s an expression meaning heightened anticipation a readiness for action.  The reference to girded loins recalls the passover experience of the early Hebrews in Exodus 12v11. The early Hebrews were told to gird their loins, be ready to move, prepared to go, anticipating and expecting God to bring freedom at any moment when they were slaves in Egypt. Jesus commands his followers to be this way. “…like those who wait for “their lord” coming from the wedding banquet.”

The Greek word for Lord is used twice in v36&37 and Jesus is referring to himself. The Lord is coming from a wedding banquet a feast, a party, a celebration! The image of a wedding banquet is used through out the Jewish and Christian scriptures as an important biblical symbol that represents the end of time.

This Lord, in Jesus’ parable, is not returning from battle, or a long trip filled with difficulties. He is not scowling pounding on the door! He’s coming back from a time of celebration and festivity. He’s whistling, humming, filled with food and wine. His servants/slaves are not cowering in fear ready to be abused, they are looking for him, ready for him, eagerly expecting and anticipating his return. They are girded, prepared for his homecoming, happy to have him back.

What is the Lord’s response to these ready ones? He “sit(s) down with them, draws near to them, serves them”!  In the Old Testament especially, often the Day of the Lord, God’s return, is bleak, fearful, dreadful. Jesus turns this on its head.

The Lord returns and pull his slaves close to him, a sign of intimacy and love. He serves them, a sign of humbleness. This is what the Kingdom of God, God’s reign, looks like.

And if he might come in the second, or in the third watch, and find so, blessed they are.  But know this:  that if the master of the house had know what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken through.  And you, you be ready, for at an hour you think not, the son of man comes.”

The elephant in the room of course when we talk about Jesus’ return is; “its been 2000 years! What’s taking so long?!?!?”

Jesus uses the image of a “thief.” A good thief is sneaky, quiet, plotting and not hurried. Like Jesus, he knows all about timing, the best moment, opportunity to make his move.

After a while, those who are prepared, ready, eagerly waiting and anticipating might begin to be restless and think “…OK, enough waiting already, let’s get this party started!” It’s easy enough to look around at our world and say “This is it! This has to be it! This is going to be it! Wait, this wasn’t it?”

Jesus is a master of the art of misdirection and seems to really enjoy turning our expectations on their heads. Jesus is coming and it will be in a way we do not expect at a time we will not expect. The Greeks here literally says at “an hour that seems like nothing.”

In the mean time we have two things to do. Freely give because we have been freely given and be ready.

Reflection
Psalm 28

“… in the Lord my heart trusts; he is my help, he is my shepherd…”

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