Thursday, May 26, 2016

Luke 14:7-15 Distracted By Privilege

7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 

Depending on the bible version you might read, Jesus was already sharing parables when he noticed that the guests were distracted or that he began sharing parables after noticing that the guests were distracted. Whichever the case is less important than the fact that the guests, in the presence of Jesus, were more concerned about which seat best honored their  sense of self-importance than honoring Jesus or caring about their neighbor.

We live 'in the world' - where positions of power and influence are important - yet Christians are called to make an informed choice, to choose to 'not be of the world'. So, why do we continue to operate in the world as if we are not followers of Jesus? 

8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 

Here, possibly, is one test to see who exactly has our heart. Do not take the place of honor. Always leave it for someone more distinguished - at least from the world's perspective - than yourself. 

The principle is to be humble. The legalist will, to be sure, parse these words and convince himself that he only needs to be humble when invited to weddings. 

10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In other words, permit honor to be given by another as they see fit, rather to be demanded or assumed by yourself. Jesus, according to the gospels, demonstrated this way of being in the world. He didn't begin his ministry by announcing that he was God incarnate flesh, the promised Messiah, or even a rabbi. Rather, he simply went out to teach and preach and the people he met decided who he was. 

Curiously, during Jesus' life, very few people imagined him to be what we most commonly believe about him today. Jesus seemed ok with that. He didn't demand that people believed who he really was, but wanted people to believe who they really were in God's eyes.

12 And He also went on to say 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, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 

What does it really mean to care about others? Is it, Jesus suggested, doing good things for those who expect it? Or, hobnobbing with carefully selected friends? Or, is it maintaining a relationship with relatives who might write you into their will? Or, is it about doing something special for wealthy folks with the hope that they will do the same or better for you?

What goes into your personal algorithm for being a good neighbor? 

How did Jesus determine who to be 'good' to?

13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus taught that the only 'rule' for doing good to others is to meet the needs of the person right in front of you - whoever it is - and to expect nothing in return, not even a thank you. 

Of course, even this simple 'rule of thumb' can become meaningless if it becomes a legalistic rule or an act that makes you feel good about yourself. Elsewhere Jesus taught his disciples to not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.

In other words, to be good to others requires being a good person. Jesus taught that only God is good. So, the only way to do good, is to be good, and the way to be good, is to be walking with the One and only Person who is good. When our 'good' God lives in us, we don't need a rule to live by because we listen to his voice, and his voice always prompts us to care about the people around us.

Surely, though, as noted before, some will determine to only surround themselves with people they like so that they always have their favorite people in front of them. Such is the way of a disturbingly, legalistic mind.  But legalism can raise its ugly head at the other end of the spectrum. Some will immerse themselves among the poor, crippled, lame, and blind and only serve them, supposedly to to 'earn' the favor of the Almighty. That was not the point Jesus was making. 

Mingle among mankind. Serve whomever is in front of you - whether poor or rich, ill or healthy, Christian or non-Christian. Don't isolate yourselves from those you don't want to be accountable to, and don't intentionally immerse yourselves only among the most needy while judging all others who don't. 

15 When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

This is rather cool, to use a well-worn sixties phrase. There was 'one' person at the table who grasped what Jesus was saying and praised him for it. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Luke 13:31-14:6 Scripture Against Scripture

31 Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You." 

This is one of those texts that appears to catch you both coming and going. As soon as we read the word, 'Pharisees', we tend to assume that nastiness is about to be directed at Jesus. Then, unexpectedly, the Pharisees - plural - come forward to warn him. What's up with that? Were they sincerely concerned for his welfare or were they leveraging Herod's anger in order to encourage Jesus to leave their town?

And, how would we have expected Jesus to respond when warned that some powerful, evil figure was actively out for his head? Should he have run away and hid for a season? Should he have gone on the offensive and attacked Herod first? Should he have armed himself and his disciples - the twelve and the 120? Should he have incited an armed rebellion among all the Jews against Herod?


32 And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.' 33 Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. 

Jesus didn't respond as we often do. First, he clearly was not intimated in the least by Herod's threats. Instead he said, 'go and tell that fox..' There was no call to arms nor any attempt to flee.

Why should he have been fearful? As he said, he had cast out demons with a word. Surely Herod wasn't even minimally as powerful as a demon. More, Jesus was able to speak and whatever he said happened. He could say, 'be healed', and healing happens. This was raw, creative power. Couldn't he have said to Herod, as he had to a fig tree, 'die' - and Herod would have immediately withered away?

What is there to fear if you have the power to cast out fear and/or to change the thing that excites fear, into something that brings joy and peace?

But what about his words, 'today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach my goal'? Clearly, Jesus was speaking about his death...'for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.' 
Was that his solution to Herod's malicious intent? Did he plan to beat Herod by letting Herod win the battle, yet lose the war? Did Jesus believe that his death was victory over death?

Whenever our defense against threats is anchored at protecting this life and the possessions we have accumulated in this life, we have already lost. That was the starting point for Herod and the leaders among the Jews. They were all 'reacting' to the teachings and practices of Jesus because he threatened what they had. 

Jesus, when threatened didn't react. Rather, he responded mindfully. He didn't attempt to protect his life or his meager possessions. He won by not being fearful of anything. He won by not trying to preserve anything in this life. He won by placing his faith entirely in his Father and having confidence that there was something much better beyond this life. How do you fight against that attitude? You can only win the immediate battle, but lose the war - which is exactly what Jesus said next.

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! 35 Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’" 

Yikes! So much is packed into this passage. First, Jesus seems to equate himself with the prophets and messengers of God, but not with God - at least not here in Luke's gospel. If fact, he spoke about what he longed to do. He could cast out demons and heal the sick, but he just couldn't get the Jews to love him if they chose not to. Love never insists on its own way. He had to let them go.

Second, he said, 'behold, your house is left to you desolate.' Was this a statement of revenge or a prediction? Was this a promise of revenge elicited by unrequited love? Or, was this a prophecy about the future - that the enemy may win today's battle, yet lose the war?

Third, Jesus expressed his great affection for the Jews and for this important city. He sincerely wanted them to be united under his guidance and care. This is an important point. We will naturally have great affection for the people, places, and things of this world. We are human. Jesus was human. Yet, because of our faith we choose not to permit our human affections to supplant our commitments to the divine. We 'surrender all'. We place life, our loved ones, all our possessions, reputation, worldly honors and privileges all upon the altar before the Lord - trusting all in his hands - to give or to take away. That's the freedom of faith, but that does not mean we do not feel the loss or weep over the losses. It simply means that we are willing to trust God through every loss.

Fourth, the Jews appeared to reject everything he offered. They did not desire his world view nor his goals. Rejection is part and parcel of life in this world. We will not only be rejected by those who don't know or understand us, but we will often experience rejection from those whom we dearly love and often by those for whom we have given so much.

Fourth, Jesus said, "you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’"  What did that mean? It meant that he knew his days on earth were quickly coming to an end, yet it also meant that he would live beyond death - to the amazement of all. Their physical eyes would no longer see him, yet there would be many among those present who would have a change of heart and would embrace anyone who followed in the footsteps of Jesus. They would 'see' spiritually.


14:1 It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. 

This verse presents an interesting play on words. Jesus had just declared that he would only be 'seen' by those who welcomed him. Yet, here were the Pharisees 'watching' him ever so closely, but were unable to 'see' him.

In other words, we may be very attentive to the words and practices of Jesus, yet not 'know' Jesus (Lk 13:25-27). We may listen to every word he has said, but not hear what he is saying. The kingdom of God is entered and known only by those who have surrendered their heart fully to Christ. Our spiritual blindspots are found in whatever we cling to. And we tend to cling to the strangest things. 

Is it possible to develop a spiritual blindspot even when we cling to something good?


2 And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" 4 But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. 

The Sabbath was a good thing. In fact, the Law - according to the apostle Paul (Rom 7:12) - is 'holy, righteous, and good.' Yet, we can cling to that which is good and a manner that is bad - spiritually bad. A good thing, used in a wrong way, becomes a bad thing. This is even true of our belief in God. Belief in God is a good thing, yet many people use their belief in God in a wrong way, making their belief in God a bad thing.

Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength is the first and greatest commandment. Yet, if we cling to the first commandment without acknowledging the second great commandment, we have missed the point of the first. We have unwittingly turned a good thing into a bad thing. Love for God without love for neighbor is always a bad thing. The whole point of Jesus' teachings was to encourage us to love our fellow man. Love for the God who loves us was presented as the motivation for loving one another.

Similarly, attentiveness to the letter of the Law is not the key to the kingdom of God. The Law points us to God who has taught us through Christ that the key to the kingdom of God is a fully surrendered heart.  


5 And He said to them, Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" 6 And they could make no reply to this.

There is an old saying, 'he can't see the forest for the trees'. We all fall into that trap from time to time, though a few folks seem to dwell there most of the time. We can become so enamored with a particular subject that we lose awareness of the context - at least until some kind soul appropriately and wisely raises a question that hits us right between the eyes, awakening us to our foolishness.

The Jews were so focused on the Law that they couldn't see people. In fact, they were so thoroughly Law oriented they didn't even realize their hypocrisy. Jesus pointed out the problem and some suddenly saw themselves as never before. They didn't know that they had been blind until they were 'healed' and could truly 'see'.

The apostle Paul pointed out that when we live under the Law we are not acting from grace. Faith and grace are products of the Spirit, not the Law (Gal 3:12). The Law was intended to guide us to the Source of faith and grace (Gal 3:24). Jesus certainly did not come to demonstrate the way of faith and life under the Spirit, only to send us back to life under the burden of the Law (Gal 3:1-7). 

The Law is good - at least for the purpose that it was designed for - to lead us to Christ. The Law is not good outside that purpose since it is anti-Christ when it is not used to direct us to Christ. When we wrongly use Christ to direct us to the Law, we 'use' Christ in an 'anti-Christ' manner. 

In Paul's letter to Timothy he spoke about using the Law lawfully (1 Tim 1:8), which implies that the Law can be used unlawfully. Jesus pointed out how the Jews used the Laws of scripture in an unlawful way. If we want to make sure that our understanding of scripture has the stamp of heaven's approval, test every interpretation by both the first and second great commandments - love for God and love for one another. 

Jesus used the scriptures in a Jewish way, but not a Pharisaical way. We tend to use the scriptures in a legalistic way - treating everything written as literal. Jesus did not, nor should we. There are a plethora of examples for this, but one of my favorites is found in Jesus' response to the Pharisees who were accusing him of making himself equal with God. In response Jesus quoted from the scriptures: "has it not been written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'"? (Jn 10:34; Ps 82:6). Jesus used scripture against scripture in order to undermine our natural human inclination to interpret scripture literally and rigidly.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Luke 13:22-30 Knowing Without Knowing

22 And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” 

What was it about the teachings of Jesus that would have led 'someone' to ask him, 'Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?' The juxtaposition of verse 22 alongside verse 18-21 rather begs the question, doesn't it? If the traditional interpretation of the kingdom of God is correct - that it begins small but grows into a tree - then we would not have expected anyone to conclude that just a few are being saved. Instead, if Luke's arrangement of these texts were placed in chronological order as he initially stated, the question we might have anticipated would be, 'Lord, why is God saving so many?'

Did we miss something in the translation? Should it have read, 'Lord, aren't there just a few who are being saved?' Yet, as we noted in our last study, Luke has presented Jesus as contrasting religious thinking against his kingdom thinking. The religious elite were judgmental, while Jesus approached whomever the Father placed before him with open arms.

But, that isn't the whole story.

And He said to them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able

Then, just to add another twist to this story, Luke has Jesus apparently agreeing with his questioner. The gate is narrow. The many who want to enter, won't be able to. They are too full of self, too stuffed in 'I' to fit through the narrow gate.

So, how is it that the kingdom might begin so small, then quickly grow so large, yet many will not be able to enter in? How is that message consistent with Jesus' teachings and practice of grace?

On one hand Luke presented Jesus as removing the obstacle of the Law and on the other he presented Jesus telling the people it is much harder to enter the kingdom of God than even their religious leaders had imagined. Was Luke being wishy washy? Was Jesus confused?

25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.' 

Two thousand years ago, according to Luke's gospel, Jesus presented a metaphor implying that a day would arrive when God would slam shut the door into His kingdom.  Here's the kicker, he will tell those on the outside wanting to get in, that he knows them well enough to say, 'I don't know you'.

In this context, Luke chose the Greek word 'oikeios' for 'to know', rather than the Greek word, 'ginosko'. The former refers to having learned a set of facts about something or someone, while the latter refers to having personal experience with someone or something.

In other words, I can know 'about' something without ever having encountered it. For instance, I can know a lot about Christianity without ever being one or having met a Christian. Also, I can grow up surrounded by something that I experience every day or interact with someone every day, yet not be fully conscious of what I know about that something or someone until asked. My intimate 'knowing' can be either tacitly held or I can be completely aware of what I have experienced. My knowing is not from having read a book or from listening to gossip, but entirely from personal interaction.

In this context, Jesus said that he did not 'know' (oikeios) those on the outside because they had not given their hearts to him, walked daily with him by faith, trusted in his presence, or listened to the voice of the Spirit speaking to them. They 'knew' (ginosko) about Jesus, but had never surrendered their lives to him. Thus they didn't 'oikeios' him.

The kingdom of God is about spiritual intimacy. God takes the 'grace' initiative by speaking into our hearts, but we must respond by yielding our heart to his appeal. This is not about being saved 'from' something as much as it is being saved 'into' something - into a family. That is, by the way, the root for the Greek word 'oikeios' - home.

26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; 

The response from those outside the gate is an indictment against many who call themselves Christians even today. 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets'. They lived as members of the Christian church and were even surrounded by Christian culture. They didn't dislike Christianity. They sincerely enjoyed being within the ranks of the faith.

Sadly they were 'in the house, but not of the family' - at least not in the manner in which the gospel of the kingdom had invited them. They remained in control of their lives. They may have even given their hearts to the church, but they never yielded their hearts to the Head of the church.

It is like a child who enjoys all the blessings of growing up in his parents home, yet never opens up his heart to his parents. His parents pour out their hearts to their child, yet their child - for whatever reasons - remains a stranger to them. He may think he is part of the family and that he loves his parents, yet his decisions - day after day - reflect a different story. He never implicitly trusts his parents. Rather, he trusts in the culture of his home.

27 And He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers.

Again, Jesus - according to Luke - used the word 'oikeios'. 'I do not oikeios where you are from.' This was to say, 'sure, you are present and participating in all the ways of the church, but your heart is far from Me. Something else has won your deepest affections.' That is, for God, evil. That is the story of Lucifer. He ministered at the side of God, yet his heart was wedded to the notion that he could and should be God (Is 14:12-17; Ez 28:1-19).

We can have everything, yet in heart not have the very best thing simply because our heart imagines something better than God. We often prefer to think of 'evil' as something bad that someone has done, yet it can be something good that has been left undone or ignored. Whenever we permit something to distract us from yielding our heart fully to God - living in joyful anticipation of his voice and trusting in his guidance - we are, from heaven's perspective, 'evildoers'. We have chosen the heart of Lucifer rather than the heart of Jesus.

The Lord knows all about that kind of heart, because it is the heart that has never chosen to know Him.

28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. 29 And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

Sadly, there will come a time when time is no more - when the time for choosing has come to an end. We have this one life to live. Now is the time to choose who and what will be Lord of your heart. It is not sufficient to choose Christianity without choosing Christ. It is not sufficient to spend your whole life working for the church, yet never knowing the Head of the church. It is not eternally efficacious to be intimately familiar with scripture, but not the God of the scriptures.

On the other hand, there are those who know nothing about the Christian religion, have never given any time, effort, or financial support to the church, and have never even seen a Bible - yet they will be found inside the gates of the kingdom of heaven. How? (Rom 2:12-16; Jn 10:4,16).

Friday, May 6, 2016

Luke 13:18-21 Mustard Seed

18 So He was saying, What is the kingdom of God like,.. 
When the scriptures refer to the 'kingdom of God', what imagery is elicited in your mind? Where is it located? When does it exist? What does the word 'kingdom' imply to you? If it is 'of' God, what does that mean to you?
The kingdom of God was the focus of Jesus' teachings (Lk 4:43). If we fall short in grasping his notion of the kingdom of God, then we haven't really understood Jesus. The kingdom of God is to be the first and best thing we seek (Mt 6:33). So, what is it?

and to what shall I compare it? 
If you were to take your notion of the kingdom of God and make a comparison with something modern, what would you present? 

19 It is like a mustard seed,.. 
What is a 'mustard seed'? How does this metaphor compare with other 'kingdom of God' metaphors, for instance the tares among the wheat (Mt 13:24), leaven (Mt 13:33), hidden treasure (Mt 13:44), a costly pearl (Mt 13:45), or a dragnet (Mt 13:47).

.. which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." 

A man 'took' and then 'threw' the mustard see into his 'own' garden, where it grew and became a 'tree', then 'birds' nested in its branches? 

Under the right conditions a mustard shrub can grow up to 30 feet tall. The issue here is not so much whether this herb can grow large enough from a tiny seed to be considered a 'tree', or if birds could actually build nests in its branches. Rather, was Jesus trying to describe how a small group of disciples would grow into a worldwide movement that would offer rest to many people, or was he describing how people would hijack his movement and turn it into a worldwide organization?

In Mt 13:14 the 'birds' came and devoured the seeds of the gospel. More often than not birds are used in scripture to refer to ravenous creatures. Was Jesus suggesting that the kingdom of God, when left in the hands of men, would become the kingdom of men?
20 And again He said, To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 
Was Luke talking about the kingdom of God as the Jews wanted it to be or as God wanted it to be? The context within which the parables of the mustard seed and leaven are placed is about things 'not' being as people assumed they were (13:2,4,8,14-15,24-28).

21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”
The same question can be asked about the leaven. Leavening was often a symbol of sin. When the woman took hold of the leaven, the whole was leavened. In other words, whether in the hands of men or women, the kingdom of God gets perverted.

In Luke's gospel, the Kingdom of God is presented as something spiritual, a transformation that happens in the heart of a person - male or female - one by one, as God is chosen as one's Lover. When men or women attempt to turn the spiritual into a religion, they have merely done what the Jews did prior to Christ.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Luke 13:10-17 The Golden Rule

10 And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

Jesus, as noted earlier, was a Galilean Jew. The fact that he was often invited to teach at the synagogues on the Sabbath day supports the notion that the synagogue leaders and people believed he was qualified to do so - if not by formal training, then because of his demonstrated knowledge of the scriptures and teachings of the Jews. 

The story that follows occurred on the Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath began at sunset on Friday evening and ended at sunset on Saturday evening. Each day began and ended at sunset rather than at our more familiar midnight hour. The point here is that Jesus was a Jew who kept a seventh-day Sabbath. That stands in contrast to many of us today who are followers of Christ, yet do not keep a seventh-day Sabbath. In other words, we follow Jesus, but we don't do everything that Jesus does. Should we?

He was born 'under the law'. When we are born again, we live 'under grace'. There are things Jesus did that were culturally appropriate to his time and culture, but not ours. There were religious obligations that were required of the Jews under the Mosaic covenant that are no longer required since we are now under the new covenant which was inaugurated at the crucifixion of Jesus. So, Christians believe that we are to be like Jesus in character, but not like the cultural/religious Jesus.   

Recently a friend asked if, at our death and entrance into the heavenly, we should expect to be immediately transformed to a perfect 33 1/2 years old person and remain in that 'perfection' forever. The reason for this was that the scriptures tell us that after our resurrection we will be like Jesus at his resurrection (Phil 3:21) and some folks believe that he was probably 33 1/2 years old at his death and resurrection. 

If we are no longer obligated to the teachings of the OT Law, should we take the words of Paul under the NT literally? If Jesus taught in one of our churches today, how might he explain the meaning of Phil. 3:21?

11 And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. 

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when he saw this woman. According to the text, this woman's sickness - being bent double and unable to stand up straight - was caused by a spirit and she had suffered with this illness for 18 years.

Thankfully Jesus came into her presence and was willing to cure her. The questions, though, are: (1) for what reason was a 'spirit' permitted to do this to the woman, and (2) why had God permitted this woman to suffer for 18 years if it took only a word to set her free?  

12 When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness." 13 And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. 

Was the spirit able to possess and afflict her because she was a wicked woman? Was the spirit allowed to possess her as a punishment from God? Verses 1-9 suggest otherwise, right? 

If the compassion of Jesus, the Creator, moved him to free this woman from the spirit, why hadn't the compassion of God done so earlier - especially if this was not a punishment from God?

Are these accounts designed to teach us that God allows 'stuff' like this to happen simply as the natural course of life in this world and that heaven will only intervene periodically when it serves God's eternal plan? 

Should we conclude that the 'spirits' are permitted to afflict anyone most of the time whether or not a person is good or bad, just as a tower can fall and kill anyone at any time regardless of their relationship with God?

14 But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day." 

This synagogue official viewed the Law as more important than people. Yet the Law was given for the sake of people. Many people continue, even today, to view rules and laws as more important than people. Clearly, Jesus didn't.

On the other hand, the woman had been afflicted for 18 years. One more day wouldn't have mattered that much, right? Jesus could have protected the integrity of the Law and helped this woman if he had simply told her that he would visit her immediately after sunset. Yet he chose not to let her suffer even one moment longer, indicating the drift of his 'good news about the kingdom of God'. It is not about rules, but about people. It is not about being religiously consistent, but about being consistently compassionate.

15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? 16 And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?" 

Why is it that we often show more compassion to our pets than to our fellow human beings? Why is it that we often value our things and our beliefs more than we value our neighbor?

Do we place a higher value on whatever causes us the least grief? What if God treated us the same way? Have we forgotten to do for others what we would have them do for us - to treat others as God treats us? 

When we place greater value on things which we cannot take to heaven and on pets that the Bible says nothing about in regards to heaven, yet place little value on humans whom Christ died to save for all eternity, how can we then say we are followers of Jesus?

Jesus, in verse 16, made clear that it was Satan who God permitted to keep this woman in bondage for 18 years. He also made clear that the Sabbath law only prohibited doing things that would distract us from our weekly 24 hour rest. Being compassionate to others is not contrary to Sabbath rest.

17 As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

Though Jesus could have healed this woman either before or after the Sabbath hours, he intentionally choose to do so during those hours. His choice, according to Luke, clearly released the Jews from their here-to-for erroneous understanding of the Sabbath law as one of bondage rather than as one of peace in Christ. 

The woman had been in physical bondage to Satan for 18 years, but the people of God had been in spiritual bondage ever since Moses gave them the Law 1500 years. Jesus came to set them, and us, free.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Luke 13:1-9 Seeing Slant

1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Many Jews from Judea considered Galileans a wicked people (Lk 23:5; Jn 7:41,52). That fact makes the ministry of Jesus, himself a Galilean (Mt 21:11; 26:69), even more amazing. 

Pilate, the governor of Judea, did not have a good working relationship with Herod Antipas,  the governor of Galilee (Lk 23:12). It may have been rendered a tad worse when Pilate commanded Galilean worshippers to be slaughtered at the temple in Jerusalem during a Passover feast. Of course there were those, such as Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37), who kept agitating the Romans, refusing to acknowledge Caesar and inciting acts of rebellion by the Jews. Pilate seemed inclined to squelch rebellion through the use of disproportionate force which, as we continue to observe in the 21st century, usually escalates conflict. 

Maybe those who presented this particular issue to Jesus were Jewish priests who not only hated Rome, but also the Galilean trouble-makers. Were they attempting to place Jesus in a difficult position as a Galilean, particularly after his remarks (Lk 12:54-56) where he had accused the Jewish leaders of hypocrisy for not discerning the work of God? Were they, in response to Jesus' accusation, suggesting that he himself must weigh in on the 'signs of the times' and declare that the slaughtered Galilean worshippers truly were being judged by God for their wickedness? In other words, had God permitted Pilates soldiers to slay these Galileans because God also hated most Galileans? 
And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?
 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 
Jesus' response presents a warning to all of us. We are to discern the times, but we need to be careful not to interpret with confirmation bias. In other words, from one extreme we have folks who don't seem capable of discerning anything that God is doing in the world, and on the opposite extreme we have those who tend to read far too much into what is happening in the world. Either extreme is destructive to spirituality and to our communities. 

Has God occasionally intervened in the world? Sure, but is every disaster a judgment of God against the people who suffer and/or have perished? No, said Jesus. Yet, on the other hand, Jesus confirmed that there will be a final judgment.
Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?
 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Recall the event when Jesus sent a man to wash at the 'pool of Siloam' in response to the question, 'whose sin caused this man to be born blind?' (Jn 9:1-12). Here, the Jews were again choosing to conclude that the disaster at Siloam was an intentional act of divine judgment against those who died. Jesus, though, challenged that conclusion and re-directed them from knee jerk 'cause and effect' thinking to an introspective examination of their own hearts. 

Was there a tower next to the pool? Did the tower collapse on those who were simply and innocently seeking a drink of spring water? Should we read into that tragedy secret sins in each of those individuals? Jesus says, 'no'. 
And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any.
 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ 
At first glance one might wonder why Luke placed this parable at this location in his manuscript. But it really does make sense. When we judge others for not bearing the kind of 'fruit' we think they should be bearing, their lack of fruit may actually be due to our neglect. 

If we see someone who has continually failed to grow, it is the Christians responsibility to first ask 'why', then to make an appropriate intervention, rather than to merely condemn and/or cut the person off from the community. 
And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer;
 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
If we assume that God has judged a person as unworthy simply because of how they look, or because a bad thing has happened to them, or because they have failed to perform to our expectations, we can be assured that God has judged us rather than them. Whenever we look down on another person that we have not taken time to build a relationship with and been willing to intervene to help, we have acted immorally. 

That being said, if we have put effort into caring for and helping another person, yet that person refuses to accept our friendship and/or our help, then all we can do is to leave that individual in God's hands and pray that some day soon s/he will open up his/her heart.