Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, originally written as daily Lenten reflections.
Ash Wednesday, February 10
We are skipping over the first two chapters of Luke which tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Simply take note that in contrast to Matthew’s Gospel, Luke chose to tell the story through the point of view of Mary. Special attention to women will be a theme throughout Luke’s Gospel.
Still pregnant, Mary prophesied that through her son, the Lord has “scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…” (1:51-52) We began to see this prophecy fulfilled when poor, outcast shepherds are the first to hear the “good news of great joy to all people” (2:10) and the first to see the baby, who they find lying in a manger, “because there was no room in the inn.” (2:7)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you. ’Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
John appears in the wilderness, proclaiming “prepare the way of the Lord.” He calls out those who would presume themselves to be without need of repentance. For those who would be baptized and live a new life, he calls for clear, simple actions of honesty, integrity and sharing.
If you had been there, what might John have said to you to do as an expression of the new life you would begin to live?
Luke 18 – 23a
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 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.’
Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work…
John, speaking the truth to power, ends up in prison. The powers in charge in this world push back when the truth is spoken. What happens to John is a sign of what will happen when Jesus proclaims his good news.
O so humbly, Jesus takes his place with all the ordinary folks entering the waters to be baptized by John. Luke tells us that it was during prayer that Jesus experienced the Holy Spirit come upon him, and heard God call him the beloved son, in who God delights.
Might there have been times God has been speaking to us as well, but we did not hear what was spoken because we did not set aside time to pray? Could there have been times we did not receive the power of the Holy Spirit because we did not sit quietly in stillness before the Lord?
Luke 4:1 – 13
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, for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”,
“On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
First, take note that the devil can quote scripture as well as anyone. The ability to quote scripture doesn’t mean you are following the will of God.
It is remarkable that before Jesus begins his ministry, he is led by God out into wilderness for forty days to pray and examine his heart. Jesus, fully human faces temptations arising from within his own heart, much like we do.
The temptations are subtle. What is wrong with giving yourself a little special treatment? Or with taking hold of power to force people to do what you think is best? Or to impress people with your particular abilities and talents?
Well, nothing necessarily. But seeking special treatment can become a lifestyle that distances us from the experience of the rest of humanity. And worldly power can so easily be abused, and then justified. And how easy it is to get caught up in trying to impress other people, rather than to have our lives be about expressing God’s love.
One of the themes of Ash Wednesday is our mortality. We don’t have the gift of life on this earth forever. One day it will come to an end. Taking this fact seriously, we don’t want to waste what life we have left.
There is the need to step back and ask the question, what kind of life do I want to be living? Otherwise we will just get caught up in the habitual patterns the world offers us to live by: Seek the path of least resistance. Maximize pleasure and diminish pain. Assume I am right and convince others of the same. Pursue the admiration of others, don’t worry about integrity.
Take some time to pray about this question: For the next forty days, what would I like to change about the way I live my life?
To fulfill this intention, what practical ways do I need to change the routine of my life? What needs to be added, or what needs to be taken away?
Conclude by giving God thanks for your life, and ask God for the will to embrace your Lenten journey.
Thursday, February 11
Having spent 40 days in the wilderness clarifying the life he would live as he went about his work, Jesus begins his ministry. He leaves the region of Judea where Jerusalem and the River Jordan are, and travels sixty miles north to the region of Galilee, which includes Nazareth, the town in which Jesus grew up.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
The passages that Jesus selected to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah represent the mission statement for his ministry. He is here to make broken people whole — to bring healing, hope, freedom, reconciliation and justice. The “year of the Lord’s favor” refers to the year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25 in which on the 50th year people who had lost their family’s land would be given opportunity to purchase it back at a fair price. It represented a new beginning for people who had fallen on hard times, giving them opportunity get back on their feet, rooted in the land their family had lived on for generations.
Initially the people in Jesus’ hometown seem to receive him well, but then they turn against him. As you read what follows, try and put yourself in the place of the Nazarenes listening to Jesus.
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’
He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Jesus seems to intentionally stir up the hometown folks’ fury to the point of their wanting to kill him by telling them Bible stories of times in the past when God’s grace was offered to foreigners, and not to their own “chosen” people. God is out in the world, Jesus seems to be saying, blessing people they can’t stand, people they don’t want to have anything to do with, people they consider enemies. And they may miss out on this blessing because of their sense of entitlement – the assumption that they are more deserving of God’s grace than others.
We are Jesus’ hometown folk. Most of us have claimed Jesus as our own ever since we were children. What assumptions of our own might Jesus be challenging?
He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, ‘What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!’ And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.
Jesus leaves Nazareth where peoples have preconceived ideas about him to go to Capernaum where people lack those preconceptions and can experience him directly in the moment. They are astounded by the personal authority and power Jesus manifests totally apart from any outward credentials.
Whether we believe in literal “unclean spirits” or believe instead that an unclean spirit is a primitive way of talking about mental illness – either way, what is undeniable is that Jesus’ personal presence and inner authority brought healing to deeply troubled people like the man in the synagogue that day.
Hopefully you have identified something about the way you live that you want to change. Is there a sense in which this need for change represents a need for healing? Is there a kind of ‘unclean spirit’ that you need to have ‘called out of you’ in order to live life more fully?
If you feel comfortable, take some time now to let your imagination come into play. As much as possible, set aside your preconceptions. Relax, close your eyes, and imagine yourself back there in that synagogue, encountering Jesus for the first time. What does Jesus look like? What does it feel like to be in his presence? Imagine hearing him speak to you, calling out the unclean spirit. There was resistance in the man in the synagogue. If there is resistance within you, what does it feel like?
Write down any insights or thoughts that come to you from this experience.
Jesus came to set the captive free, to release the prisoner, to give sight to the blind, to preach good news to the poor. In light of his mission, there are two questions:
What is my need for deliverance/liberation/hope/insight that I would bring to Jesus?
Might there be a way that Jesus wants to use me to help or comfort someone who is hurting? If so, who might that person be?
Conclude again by giving God thanks for your life, and ask God for the will to embrace your Lenten journey. Pray also for a hurting person or people you might be a part of Jesus blessing, and ask for guidance as to how that might happen.
Friday, February 12
The service at the synagogue ends and Jesus goes to Simon’s (Peter’s) house to enjoy the main meal of the day with close friends. Having cast out the unclean spirit from the tormented man, he can anticipate spending the remainder of the Sabbath in rest and gratitude. But at Simon’s house he is confronted again with need to which responds with characteristic compassion:
Luke 4:38 – 44
After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.
In a culture where women were devalued and overlooked, Jesus paid attention to women, in this case healing Simon’s mother-in-law.
Notice the odd choice of words: Jesus “rebuked” the mother-in-law’s fever, like he “rebuked” the unclean spirit earlier. What can we discern from this? Simply that God’s will for people is wholeness, which means that when someone is diagnosed with cancer or any other disease, there is no sense in which we can say that God “gave” the person the disease, to punish them, or teach them some kind of lesson.
We might object to the fact that as soon as the mother-in-law’s fever has been broken, she immediately returns to her culturally defined role of the one who serves the men their dinner. So recently out of her sick bed, shouldn’t the men be serving her?
Perhaps however there is a message here. She has been restored to wholeness, and true wholeness includes having a way to serve – to express care and concern for others. Her gift is hospitality, and she needs to express it.
As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.
The setting of the sun signals the end of the Sabbath, which releases the townspeople from the prohibition against work. Having witnessed his miraculous power at work in the synagogue, the people naturally are moved to bring the afflicted members of their families to the house where Jesus is staying, and well into the night he goes about the work of healing.
At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.
We see here what we will elsewhere: Jesus regularly needed to retreat into solitude to pray in order to restore his soul and remember what he was about. We tend to be reluctant to give ourselves the time we need for rest and rejuvenation; perhaps it strikes us somehow as selfish. But if Jesus needed it, we must need it as well. If we do not make such times in our busy lives, we will find that the quality of the work we do and the interactions we have with others will deteriorate. We may end up doing more harm than good.
We will almost certainly lose the will that is required to make the kind of changes we are seeking to live into these forty days of Lent.
Take a moment to consider these questions: Are you aware of the indications that you are reaching your limit? What do you do to rejuvenate? Does it work, or do you need to find other ways to restore your soul?
The crowds want Jesus to become their doctor-in-residence. But although his ministry includes healing people of their physical and mental afflictions, his ministry is larger than this. He is called to “preach the good news of kingdom of God.”
What do you think this means?
Conclude once more by giving God thanks for your life, and ask God for the power to embrace your Lenten journey. Pray again for a hurting person or people, and ask for guidance about how you might be a blessing to them.
Saturday, February 13
Jesus continues his ministry throughout the region of Galilee.
Luke 5:1 – 26
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore.
The crowds are flocking to Jesus, and in practical ways this is becoming a problem. To allow him to address the crowd directly without the people crowding him from all sides, he gets into the boat of Simon (Peter) so he can speak to the people along the shore line.
According to Luke, back in Capernaum Jesus has already stayed in the house of Simon for a Sabbath on the occasion he healed his mother-in-law of her fever. Here we learn that Simon is a fisherman. Although Simon has been spending time with Jesus, he apparently has not yet become a disciple — that is, someone who devotes himself to following the master’s example and teaching.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Something altogether life-changing occurs for Simon in this scene. He comes to this moment exhausted from an especially unsuccessful night out fishing in his boat, full of frustration and painfully aware of the limits of his own power. He has been cautiously intrigued by this new teacher and healer, but something shifts altogether inside him when by Jesus’ command, a great catch of fish suddenly fills his nets. He is in the undeniable presence of the holy God and a power that is so much greater than his own. He feels profoundly unworthy to be in such presence, and begs Jesus to leave him.
What are we to make of such a story?
Perhaps we are aware of a gap that exists between the image of ourselves that we try to present to the world, and the self we know behind the image. The image is good and decent and worthy of respect. And yet underneath that image we are aware of feelings and thoughts that might lead us to say to ourselves, “If people could see the real me, they would never love me.”
God does see us as we truly are, including everything we try to hide from the world, and yet God loves us completely. And the journey Jesus is calling us on is one in which through the grace of God our inner selves and the self we present to the world can grow to be more in harmony. That what is wounded within us can begin to be healed, and we can let go of the feelings of unworthiness.
And we who are on this healing journey through the grace of God are called to offer ourselves as instruments of healing for others. We can become fishers for God of people haunted by that same deep sense of unworthiness and despair, witnessing to the love that makes us whole.
Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him.
The disease of leprosy entails more than the physical suffering of the illness itself; it involves the designation “unclean” and the profound social isolation that goes with it. The Law commands that the man with leprosy must keep his distance and certainly not touch another human being, and that if one touches such a man that person is rendered unclean. This would require a period of isolation before that person could be declared ‘clean’ and welcomed back into contact with others.
But Jesus touches the man.
There is defiance in two directions in this story. The man defies the Law and those who say he should not approach people in the manner that he is approaching Jesus. And Jesus is defying the Law and those same people in touching the man.
In this case, it is the wholeness of Jesus, rather than the leprosy of the man, that is contagious.
And (Jesus) ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.
But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’
This is the first instance in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus’ ministry bringing him in conflict with the religious authorities. In this case, their anger arises from the fact that Jesus is claiming authority to forgive sins – the prerogative of God alone. Jesus was circumventing the entire religious establishment which claimed control of access to God’s grace and mercy.
There is much to take note of in this story. How audacious are those friends of the paralyzed men who can not get access to Jesus, climbing up on the roof and removing tiles to lower their friend to the gracious one. Jesus recognizes “faith” in their actions. There isn’t mention of the paralyzed man having faith. His friends seem to have faith for him. It’s a lovely image for the church.
It is striking that although the friends presumably bring the paralyzed man to Jesus for a physical healing of his paralysis, Jesus’ first response to the man in his suffering is to pronounce his sins forgiven.
Although Jesus rejected the idea that physical sickness was a punishment for sin, the story does point to the truth that our spiritual and physical lives are inseparable. How we feel physically impacts our spiritual condition, and our spiritual state affects our bodies.
As we discussed earlier, if we suffer from a deep sense of unworthiness, the cells of our bodies receive a discouraging message in regard to our immune system.
On the other hand, sometimes changes we make in how we care for our body can lead to blessings in our spiritual lives. In my own case, a new routine of a daily walk – the sort of thing my doctor has been encouraging me to do for years – has led to a greater sense of God’s grace in my life.
How are you doing with your intention to change some part of your life? Is it possible to speak of this change having both a physical and a spiritual dimension? Have you noticed any ripple effects in the rest of your life from the change you’ve been seeking in one part of your life? Be aware of this as you go along your Lenten journey.
Conclude once more by giving God thanks for your life, and ask God for the power to embrace your Lenten journey. Continue to pray for a hurting person or people, and ask for guidance about how you might be a blessing to them.
Sunday, February 14 Sabbath
Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent. There is no reading for today.
Monday, February 15
In Saturday’s story the Pharisees criticized Jesus, and here we read of them doing it again.
Luke 5:27 – 6:11
After this he went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax-collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered, ‘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.’
There’s a great party going on, but the Pharisees stand aloof, refusing to embrace the joy. They seem stuck in a posture of criticism and judgment. Do you ever have times when you get stuck in such a place as well?
In Luke’s Gospel, we will often hear Jesus speaking words that sound quite harsh to people who are rich. And yet, here and elsewhere we hear Jesus entering into relationship with tax-collectors who were rich relative to the mass of poor peasants in whose company Jesus was more commonly found. Their wealth had been acquired in unscrupulous ways that made them the object of scorn by many of their fellow townspeople. They profited at the expense of the working poor by contracting with the Roman overlords to collect taxes for the emperor, keeping an unethical share for themselves.
A modern day equivalent might be Wall Street bankers who become filthy rich by making deals in boardrooms that leave ordinary people out of work and out of their homes. (If you get the opportunity to see the movie, “The Big Short,” it is a telling indictment of the heartless greed that led to the economic collapse of 2008) Similar to the way the Pharisees and the scribes viewed the tax-collectors as “the enemy” with whom one should never fraternize, so many of us would be inclined to see such Wall Street bankers.
Jesus seems unwilling to honor our judgments regarding who should be considered enemies — off limits for open-hearted relationship, and many people turn against him precisely for this reason.
But notice this: when Jesus enters into relationship with people whose life has been built on taking advantage of others, the relationship changes them. Having met Jesus, Levi’s values are transformed. He throws a party open to all where a glimpse of the Kingdom of God is offered. Levi creates an opening for other tax-collectors to experience Jesus as well.
In response to the Pharisees criticizing him for keeping company with the rich tax-collectors, Jesus speaks of himself as a physician who has come to treat a kind of sickness. What do you think of the idea that people caught up in the inordinate love of money are infected with a disease that diminishes their lives/souls, and that it might be possible to feel compassion for them? Is it possible that you are — or have been — infected with this disease yourself?
They criticisms of the Pharisees continue:
Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’
The Pharisees criticized Jesus for the fact that he and his followers were not more like John the Baptist and his disciples whose lifestyle was known for frequent fasting and extreme self-denial. In comparison to them, Jesus and his band of merry men were known for their spirit of celebration and delight in a good party. This is a reminder that the reason we deny ourselves something as a Lenten discipline is in order to create more space for a great love and joy to inhabit.
(Jesus) also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.” ’
We are into the fifth day of Lent. Hopefully with God’s help we’ve been trying to live in some small but significant way a new life. Wine is a symbol for joy. We are hoping to experience “new wine… put into fresh wineskins”; to embrace something new and let go of something old. How is it going?
One Sabbath while Jesus was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’ Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.’
On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ He got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
The commandment to “remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) was designed to protect we human beings from our self-destructive tendency to lose the balance God designed life to have between work and rest. Having meaningful work to do is important, but work without rest becomes a living hell. How easy it is to get caught up in an endless effort of fixing what seems wrong and improving of what could be better, and either consciously or unconsciously compel the persons around us to do the same. We exhaust ourselves both physically and spiritually, becoming like Pharaoh’s slaves back in the captivity of Egypt. In our exhaustion we turn our “down time” into mere distraction (watching TV, surfing the internet) rather than the rejuvenating rest of body, mind and spirit what God has in mind with the Sabbath. The Sabbath is about simply being, rather than doing, and without it we cease to be human beings and become instead human doings.
So the concept of the Sabbath and its observance is no small thing. It is liberating to have a time set apart each week where we are “commanded” to truly rest because without the command we would succumb to the self-imposed guilt that says we should always be up and about accomplishing something.
But the Pharisees became so legalistic, so obsessed with keeping the Sabbath correctly that they lost sight of its underlying purpose — which was to nurture life. They turned the keeping of the Sabbath into another form of work and in doing so sucked all the joy out of it. They clashed with Jesus who in their minds was too cavalier in his approach to the Sabbath. They criticizing him for doing the work of healing on the Sabbath when the occasion presented itself and simple compassion required it.
But Jesus was the one who understood the true spirit of the Sabbath. His frequent retreats to pray were Sabbath time for him. So were the parties he attended.
In the last half century our culture reacted against dour, joyless, legalistic expressions of Sabbath and gradually chipped away at the whole concept of setting aside one day to observe Sabbath rest. But along the way, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. We’ve forgotten how to simply be.
How is it with you? Sabbath time need not happen exclusively on Sunday for Christians or Saturday for Jews. We can set aside Sabbath time throughout our week. For many of us, it would be a very helpful to mark out times in our weekly and monthly calendars where we will give ourselves permission (and heed the command of our God who loves us) to set aside our “to do” lists as well as our fall back distractions to truly enjoy and be present to the blessing that is life. Spend some time reflecting on your life and whether there is such a need, and if so, what you might do about it.
Conclude with a time of prayer. Try to be at rest in the arms of God, and give thanks for the gift that is your life.
Tuesday, February 16
Luke 6:12 — 26
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.
This is the fourth time, either implicitly or explicitly, that Jesus has been described as having gone apart from other people for the purpose of prayer. We will see this several times more before the Gospel is over. In this case, Jesus seems to have prayed on a mountaintop about who he would call to be “apostles” out of the larger group who were already following him as disciples. The distinction is only found in Luke’s Gospel and implies there were many more disciples than we usually think of. The twelve apostles were in closer contact with Jesus and given greater responsibility for the ministry.
And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Why did Jesus call these particular men? We can’t say for sure. They are a diverse group of quite imperfect human beings, folks not unlike you and me.
*Simon Peter, the former fishermen, who could be quite impulsive, speaking without thinking through clearly what he was saying.
*James and John, also fishermen who could be rather hot-headed and in other Gospels are referred to as the “sons of thunder.”
*Matthew (also called Levi) who we heard earlier had been a rich, despised tax-collector. *Thomas, whom the Gospel of John portrays as stubbornly refusing to “believe” the testimony of others about the resurrection, requiring his own first-hand experience before he will believe.
*Simon who belonged to the political party of the zealots who advocated the violent overthrow of the Roman rule.
*Judas who in the end will betray Jesus into the hands of those who will kill him.
All in all, hardly the ‘best and brightest’.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
With the power of God conveyed through his touch, Jesus heals people from the vast crowd of people who have been drawn to him from all over, including “foreigners” from the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
In what follows (Luke 6:22 – 49), addresses himself specifically to his disciples while the crowds who have not yet committed themselves to follow him listen in. The teachings are a shortened version of Matthew’s better known “sermon on the mount” (Matthew 5 – 7) in which the crowds are not present. In the first part of the sermon there are distinct differences from Matthew’s version.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
In Luke’s version, Jesus speaks of the “poor” and those “who are hungry now.” In contrast, Matthew’s version refers to “poor in spirit” and those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” (Matthew 5:3, 6) Matthew also does not include the “woes” that Luke includes. What do you make of these differences?
Some translations used the word “happy” rather than “blessed,” but there is nothing in poverty and hunger in itself that would bring about anything like what we associate with ‘happiness’. The implication here is that with the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is being inaugurated, as Jesus had said in his sermon to the hometown people of Nazareth, and as his mother had declared when Jesus was yet in her womb. (1:52 – 53). There is a reversal of fortunes that is about to take place.
The underlying question is whether it is God’s kingdom or the kingdoms of this world from which we receive our bearings. On the first day of our Lenten journey, it was this question that Jesus addressed for himself out in the wilderness when we read that
“… the devil led (Jesus) 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 be yours.’” (4:5-7)
How would you describe the difference between the values of the kingdoms of this world, and the Kingdom of God? In what sense is the Kingdom of God already present, and in what sense is it still yet to come?
We have come to the end of the first “week” of Lent. How is your journey going so far? What in what you have read so far in Luke’s Gospel has spoken to you the most?
This evening you have the opportunity to join with other people from our community of faith as we gather at 7 p.m. for ninety minutes at the church to reflect together on what we have read, thought and prayed about this week.
Conclude in prayer by giving thanks for the gift of your life. Ask again for the strength to change your life in some small way that brings you closer to the Kingdom of God. Pray for the person or persons you’ve identified who are hurting, and pray for your church family on this shared Lenten journey.
Wednesday, February 17
We come now to what is the most difficult and seemingly unreasonable demand that Jesus places on us as those who would take the name of ‘Christian’.
Luke 6:27 – 49
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Jesus is saying that if we pride ourselves for loving our family and friends, we are taking pride in doing what pretty much every culture throughout history has said people should do. The love Jesus demands goes well beyond this. We are commanded to love our enemies.
If we seriously attempt to love our enemies, we will find pride going out the window. We will be humbled. Apart from the grace of God working within us, the love of enemies is pretty near impossible.
It seems to me there are two different categories of what we refer to when we speak of “enemies.” The first category would include people like the members of ISIS. In this regard, consider these words by Thomas Christianson:
As I read about the latest shooting, or the latest beheading, my natural response is to dehumanize the people who do these things. I think of them as monsters. Or demons. Or something else that allows me to pretend that they are not fellow humans.
But that’s not true. Each one was born. Each one has a mother and a father. They eat. They drink. They have personal stories and experiences full of pain and joy.
They are human. And if I take the narrative of the Bible to be true, they are fellow children of God. They are loved by God.
I want to be very clear: I’m not supporting or accepting of terrorism or mass shootings. I’m also not arguing against legal consequences for those actions.
But if I hate the people who undertake these actions, I am not hating monsters or demons. I’m hating fellow humans.
Some are suffering from mental illness, or from personal anguish or from religious manipulation. In the midst of grief and anger for those who suffer, can I not spare some compassion for those who have missed out on the life filled with grace and hope that Jesus has called all of us to live?
We like to live in a binary, black and white world, where everyone is basically “good” or “bad.” But life isn’t so cut and dried. Someone can be guilty of terrible things and still deserve compassion.
The other category of enemy are those who are closer at hand: people in our lives who we have felt harmed by in some way, leaving some kind of lasting damage or wound. They might be family members or business associates. Take a few moments to think of who in your life you might consider to be this sort of enemy.
What do you feel when Jesus commands you to love them?
It can be helpful to point out that Jesus didn’t say we were to “like” our enemies, to have warm feelings towards them. Maybe love of enemies becomes easier to imagine if we narrow our focus to simply choosing to act in such a way that we do not harm them. When you give out pieces of birthday cake, you don’t short Uncle Richie, even though as far back as you can recall, he’s been mean to you.
But I think Jesus is going further than this. I think he is pointing towards the kind of perspective that Thomas Christianson was getting at — to see the person we would label monster as a human being with feelings not unlike our own.
I am convinced that if there were some way that we could sit down with our enemies and listen deeply to the story of their lives – how they came to be the person they are today, including how they have suffered and lost their way in life – we would discover a compassion connection.
Something within resists this because hating them for the pain they caused us seems vastly preferable to opening our hearts with compassion.
The reason Jesus gives for us to love our enemies is that this is the kind of love God has for human beings. God “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” so if we are to embrace our identity as children of God, we too much be merciful.
Such was the love Jesus embodied when he died for all people.
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Nearly two thousand years before the insights of modern psychology, Jesus expressed clearly the concept of ‘projection’ – that the flaws we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves we will project onto others. Take some time to consider how this might be true for you.
‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’
Lent is a time to begin to narrow the gap that exists between the image we would project, and the reality of the kind of person we are and the life we are living. An excuse often given by people as to why they have no interest in church is that churches are full of hypocrites. The correct response is, “You’re absolutely right. And you know, there’s room in the circle for one more.”
There is some degree of hypocrisy in all of us. Hypocrites though we are, God still loves us, and during our Lenten journey God wants to help us become a little bit less of a hypocrite.
Conclude with a time of prayer. If you are willing to do so, pray for your enemies. Continue to pray for whomever God has placed on your heart to pray for. If you attended the Bible Study last night, pray for the people who were there. Ask God to strengthen your will, and to give you the capacity to rise up again where you have stumbled.
Thursday, February 18
Faith is found in surprising places. Here Jesus returns to the Jewish town of Capernaum which seems to have served as a kind of headquarters for his mission. Here we encounter a centurion, a part of the occupying Roman force. A centurion was in charge of a hundred soldiers.
Luke 7:1 – 35
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
The Romans were an oppressive occupying force employing torture and murder to keep people in line, and as such were considered “enemies” by the Jews of Jesus’ day. As is always the case in the midst of national conflicts there are people who, like this centurion live with such humility and decency that they manage to rise above the label of enemy. Though not a Jew himself this centurion has provided the funds for the local synagogue to be built. To imagine something comparable, what if an American marine captain stationed in Syria were to build a mosque.
In those days, the institution of slavery went unquestioned; it would only come to be challenged in later centuries as people thought through the implications of the Christian faith. The centurion has a slave that he loves who is sick to the point of death. He has heard of the extraordinary healing power of Jesus, and unconcerned about his reputation among his fellow Romans he reaches out to Jesus through his local Jewish connections for the sake of his servant.
As we have seen before, Jesus is willing to enter into relationship with any one who reaches out to him. Jesus proceeds to the Centurion’s house where presumably he will lay hands on the servant.
According to Jewish law, to enter the house of a Gentile will render Jesus ritually unclean, but again, compassion trumps all lesser concerns. The centurion is aware, however of the Jewish traditions. He sends messengers to Jesus who express two things at once: 1) the centurion’s concern for Jesus and the price he will pay for entering his house and, 2) remarkable trust in Jesus’ authority to command from a distance the healing of his servant. Familiar with authority systems in which he is obedient to his superiors and his soldiers are obedient to him, he intuits something similar in Jesus’ ability to order the ‘unclean spirits’ to leave the premises.
The Jews who initially convey the centurion’s request speak in terms of “worthiness;” this man, they say, is “worthy” of Jesus’ attention by virtue of the good deeds he has done. It was the concept of worthiness that had gotten in the way of Jesus’ visit to his hometown. They became enraged when he told them they were no more “worthy” than foreigners to receive God’s mercy and blessing.
But this centurion gets it about “grace.” We do not earn God’s love; it comes to us as pure gift. In utter humility, the centurion declares “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” But even as he says this, the centurion trusts that the God at work in Jesus is merciful. (Which, you may recall is exactly what Jesus said about God in yesterday’s reading.)
Jesus marvels at the faith he has found in this centurion. This is the second time thus far that we have heard of people manifesting faith. Previously, the friends who carried the paralytic to Jesus were said to have faith.
In light of these two examples, how would you describe what it means to have faith?
Soon afterwards (Jesus) went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Lest we think “faith” is required for God to act through Jesus, here Jesus performs his mightiest miracle yet simply out of compassion for the suffering of the mother who has lost her son. No one asks him to do anything; the initiative is all his.
Once again we have an example of Jesus giving attention to a woman. In the society in which they were living an aging woman without either a husband or a son was left totally destitute. Jesus raise the man back to life not for his sake, but for the sake of this grieving and bereft woman.
In Luke’s telling of the story, John the Baptist has been locked up in prison by Herod since before Jesus’ ministry began. He has not yet affirmed Jesus as the long awaited messiah.
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
From prison, the possibility arises in John’s mind that Jesus is the one for whom the Jewish people had been waiting. Although the power of God is clearly at work in Jesus’ ministry, the expectations John had for the messiah do not clearly line up with what Jesus is about. Back at the River Jordan, John had spoken of the one who is to come: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (3:16b-17) Where is the judgment, the burning of the chaff? Jesus’ ministry has been about all about restoring those who are broken to wholeness of life. Nonetheless, Jesus affirms John as the one sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord.
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”
I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.”
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’
In Jesus’ ministry, the kingdom of God is breaking into the world. Those such as taxcollectors who previously had been rejected are now received into the kingdom, while those who have stood back feeling morally superior, passing judgment on John, Jesus and all those who were being welcomed into the kingdom are choosing to be left out of the circle.
Where do you see signs of the Kingdom in your life?
Conclude with prayer, giving God thanks. Present yourself humbly before God, trusting that God wants to bring healing and transformation to your life, not because you’ve made yourself worthy, but simply because that is the nature of our gracious God.
Friday, February 19
Luke 7:36 – 8:3
At the end of yesterday’s reading, Jesus was being criticized for being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The story that follows develops this theme further.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’
Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’
Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Once more Jesus shows his willingness to be in relationship with whoever will have him. In spite of the conflicts he has had with Pharisees, he accepts the invitation to come to a dinner party at the home of Simon the Pharisee. But there doesn’t seem to be much joy at this party; the spirit of criticism and judgment that is palpable in the room is toxic; joy is suppressed.
Another woman takes center stage; a woman who crashes the party. By the rules governing social behavior in those days, she simply doesn’t belong there. For one thing she is a woman, and this is an all male party. For another she has a well known reputation for being a sinner. Is she a prostitute? Perhaps, but we don’t know for sure. People got labeled “sinner” for all kinds of transgressions of the Law which included 724 separate ordinances.
She has come specifically to pour out love upon Jesus and does so in such a passionate and physical way that the dinner guests are totally horrified.
But not Jesus. He does nothing to stop her, which confirms Simon in his suspicion that Jesus is anything but a prophet. He obviously lacks the insight to grasp what kind of woman this is.
But Jesus knows the woman far better than Simon, and Jesus also knows the hardness of Simon’s heart.
Once again, the concept of worthiness is in play. Simon has worked very hard to be able to count himself as one of the worthy ones. He’s kept all the rules, kept his reputation spotless, ever vigilant to never mess up, to always do what is “right.” But for all his moral living, he has very little love or gratitude in his heart. The woman kissing Jesus’ feet is a sinner, but he is too. His hardness of heart is a much more sinister kind of sin because it so easily masquerades as goodness.
Who do you find yourself identifying with in this story?
We can be certain that the woman will be changed by her encounter with Jesus. What about Simon? What would it take for Simon to change?
This is now the third time someone has been identified as possessing ‘faith’. What does this woman have in common with the friends of the paralytic (5:17 – 26) and the centurion (7:1 – 10)?
By coming to that dinner party, the woman could have set herself up for a terrible public shaming. But she came because somehow she knew that she would find mercy and grace in Jesus.
Perhaps you carry a voice inside your head that is ready to shame you by not measuring up to the critical judgments of others, imagined or real. If so, what does this voice say to you?
The internal voice of shame leads us to live very cautiously lest we do something to trigger that voice. What would it mean for you to listen instead to the voice of Jesus who says to you, “Your sins are forgiven… your faith has saved you; go in peace”?
Soon afterwards (Jesus) went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.
It is an interesting distinction: “proclaiming” and “bringing” the good news of the kingdom of God. It was Saint Francis who said, “Go into the world and preach the Gospel; use words if you have to.” What would it mean for us carry around the good news to everybody we meet?
The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
In all likelihood, when you heard the word “disciples”, you’ve always pictured men. But there were women disciples as well. Scholars believe Mary Magdalene had a major leadership role in the early church, but was written out of the story by those who bought into the cultural assumptions of the day and wanted to put women back “in their place.”
Conclude with a time of prayer. Once more invite Jesus to be with you on your journey. Conscious of Jesus’ presence, let your prayers go where they will.
Chapter 8 (beginning with vs. 4)
Saturday, February 20
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: ‘A Sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that
“looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.”
‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.
So we have set out on this Lenten journey with the hope that with God’s help we may be able to change our lives in some small but significant way; to experience some measure of greater freedom from the things that keep us from living out of the love and joy of the kingdom of God. How is it going for you?
In the parable of the Sower and the seeds of God’s kingdom, it is probably not hard to identify with the seeds that fail to get planted very deeply, and as such never take hold and take root. It is so easy to lose our resolve, to stumble and stray from the path.
It is easy to overlook the Sower, focusing instead on the seeds, and that is unfortunate. The thing about the Sower is that s/he never tires of casting out those seeds. S/he doesn’t get discouraged because so many of the seeds don’t find any depth of soil. S/he trusts that sooner or later, a seed will sprout and take root.
So if you are feeling some discouragement, trust that the Sower hasn’t given up on you. The seeds will keep coming. When you fall, just dust yourself off and begin again. Don’t worry about perfection. No one is achieving perfection this Lent. We are looking for some small, incremental change in our lives.
‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.
God desires for the distinctive light of your life to shine forth. You were created by God to be you, not somebody else. Your light doesn’t have to shine in the manner that others appear to shine their light. We all have a tendency to wander down that path where we start comparing ourselves to others, and as a result pass judgments on ourselves for what seems like our shortcomings. When you catch yourself straying in this manner, simply let go of the judgments and return to the path.
There is a love light that can shine through your life that is absolutely unique to you. Each of us has things that block our light from shining forth. What we are aiming for is to make a little progress in removing some of those obstacles.
For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’
“For to those who have, more will be given.” If through the grace of God you can succeed in changing your life in some small way that allows you to experience more freedom and love, a hopefulness will take root, and you will discover other areas of your life becoming unstuck. You will be given more life, more love, more joy.
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’
Perhaps this strikes us as harsh, this apparent rebuff by Jesus of his mother and his brothers. What can we take from this? Perhaps this: While there will be people in your life who will support the changes you are seeking to implement in your life, there will be other people – sometimes family members, sometimes friends – who will resist these changes.
This doesn’t mean you have to reject them. But you don’t have to let them determine your path. Who are the people in your life who can support you on this journey?
Conclude by giving thanks for the people in your life who are there to encourage you on your path. Pray that the seeds of God’s kingdom may find within you good soil, and in the hearts of your sisters and brothers in our church family.
Sunday, February 21
Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent, so there are no readings today.
Monday, February 22
Luke 8:22 — 39
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’
This story conveys both the human frailty of Jesus — he falls asleep on the boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, so exhausted by his ministry that not even a severe storm awakens him — and the extraordinary way God is present with him — he commands the wind and the waves to cease their raging.
Luke has inherited this story from Mark, but Luke has made subtle changes in his telling. Describing the plight the disciples were in with their boat filling up with water, Luke adds “they were in danger,” legitimizing the fear that they are feeling. Luke softens what Jesus says to the disciples after the winds and waves have stopped blowing. Whereas Mark has Jesus rebuking the disciples: “Why are you afraid?! Have you still no faith?!” in Luke’s Gospel Jesus simply says, “Where is your faith?”
I appreciate what Luke has done here. We too struggle with fear at times. Sometimes our fears are unfounded, but at other times we have good reason to be afraid. The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel seems to shame the disciples for being afraid, and implies they have never had any faith at all. Luke’s Jesus seems to imply that yes, the disciples do have faith, but in this moment of understandable fear it has gone missing.
There is no shame in being afraid. We can acknowledge openly our fears. It is part of what it means to be a human being. The church should be a place where it is safe to do so, rather than a place where we pretend to have all our fears under control. Take a few moments to think about the fears with which you struggle, trying to evaluate what is “real” and what is not.
Our story suggests that over time we can learn to call upon our faith in times of fear. This does not mean we will reach some state of absolute fearlessness, but that we can affirm in times of fear that we are in God’s hands, and we’ll get through whatever we’re dealing with one way or another.
Before he experienced his heart “strangely warmed,” in a time of deep darkness John Wesley found himself on a ship in a terrible storm. He was overwhelmed by the fear that he was going to die. Wesley took note, however of some Moravian Christians on board whose faith seemed to allow them to ride out the storm in relative calm. Presumably they trusted that whether they lived or died, they were in God’s arms. The example of the Moravians made an impression on Wesley, planting a seed within him of the possibility of a new kind of life, one less consumed fear, and more characterized by faith and trust.
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’—for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
The boat they were sailing in arrives on the far side of the sea, in a mostly Gentile territory. Jesus encounters a man with a storm raging within that causes him extreme agony, cutting him off from relationships with others. He lives alone among the tombs of the dead. He is a danger to himself, and possibly to others, possessed by a legion of unclean spirits that pull him in five thousand directions at once. (A legion was a Roman division of five thousand soldiers.) Battered and bruised, totally out of control, living alone among tombstones, the man was surely a repulsive sight.
But Jesus looks past all that is repulsive and see the human being who is suffering, locked inside.
Throughout the Gospels the unclean spirits possess knowledge of Jesus’ identity well before any human beings do. In this case they immediately recognize him to be the “Son of the Most High God.” Jesus commands them to depart.
At their request, Jesus sends the unclean spirits into a nearby herd of pigs. (Pigs were considered unclean by the Jewish Law.) The pigs rush into the sea where they are drowned.
A strange story indeed that might lead us to wonder about why it was the pigs had to die.
The significant thing for Luke is that the once tormented man now sits peacefully at Jesus’ feet, restored to his right mind, soon to return to his family and friends.
When people come from the town they seem unmoved by the fact that this man who was quite familiar to them has been set free from his bondage to the demons. Their concern seems to be about their livelihood which has taken a hit with the death of the pigs. They are afraid and ask Jesus to leave.
Setting the captives free and relieving human suffering again seems more important to Jesus than any other concerns.
As you think of this man, are there any people in your life who come to mind?
Hopefully we have not known an interior raging storm as horrifying as this man knew, but all of us have had times when we find ourselves pulled in multiple directions to the point of distraction – times when we feel as though we have lost our center. What does this story say to us at such times?
As you conclude, ask God to help you remember your true center in God’s love in those times when storms arise within you and around you. Pray for people you may know who are presently in the midst of storms.
Tuesday, February 23
Luke 8:40 – 56
In what follows we have a healing story tucked inside another healing story:
Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.
As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’
When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’
Jesus seems willing to go wherever human need takes him. In this case, his attention is captured by the need of two females at two ends of a spectrum. One is a girl who, at the age of twelve is on the verge of her first period. She is sick to the point of dying. The other is an older woman who has had vaginal bleeding that has continued without cessation for twelve years.
As a leader of the local synagogue, the father of the girl is a man who commands respect in the community. He claims no special privilege however — the desperation of his need for healing for “his only daughter” brings him humbly to his knees to beg Jesus for help.
The woman’s hemorrhage would by the Law render her “unclean”, profoundly isolating her from her community. She should not be out in public, or in the company of men. To be touched by such a woman would render the person “unclean” as well. She is destitute – she has spent all her money on doctors who were of no help to her at all. It is a wonder she has not given up long ago.
Jesus speaks of the woman’s “faith.” This is the fourth time a person or persons have been identified as having faith:
1) The friends who persisted in their efforts to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus, going so far as to tear a hole in the roof where he is teaching.
2) A Roman centurion who is willing to humble himself before a Jewish teacher in order to get healing for his servant.
3) The “sinful” woman who crashes the Pharisee’s dinner party in order to express her love for Jesus.
And now this woman who courageously persists, going where others would tell her she doesn’t belong, in order to get to Jesus from whom she trust a blessing will come.
In none of these cases would the faith be defined as a matter of holding certain beliefs. Rather it involves a trust that God’s mercy and/or healing power is to be found in Jesus, and a determined effort to reach out for that mercy and power.
Can you identify this kind of faith in yourself?
It seems inconceivable that over her years of suffering this woman did not have times when she felt discouraged and was tempted to give up. And yet here at this late date, after years of physical deterioration and social isolation she has this faith rise up within her so powerfully. Yesterday we heard Jesus ask his disciples, “Where is your faith?” There may be times when we feel like we have lost our faith altogether, but the implication of both Jesus’ question and this woman’s life is that faith can exist for a time in a dormant state, waiting to rise up again.
When Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” the disciples are confused because dozens of people have been reaching out to touch him. But Jesus has sensed the woman’s faith calling forth healing power out of his body.
Fearing the judgment of her community, the woman had hoped to keep what she has done hidden. When Jesus’ asks his question however she feels compelled to openly acknowledge what she has done. She fears condemnation, and there may have been people in the crowd ready to pass judgment, but Jesus speaks the authoritative word that sets the woman free from shame, restoring her to full participation in her community.
Jesus says the same thing to this woman that he had said earlier to the “sinful” woman: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.” The Greek word translated “made well” can also be translated as “saved.” Salvation encompasses their whole humanity: they are physically healed, they are restored to their communities, and they are reconnected to their God.
While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.
When someone comes with the news that Jairus’ daughter has already died, Jesus testifies to the possibility of countering fear with faith, just like he did in the boat out in the storm. Once they reach Jairus’ house Jesus makes a point of limiting who accompanies him as he goes to the girl’s bedside. Why do you think he did this?
After restoring the child to life, Jesus orders those present to tell no one what has happened. Why do you think Jesus said this?
As before with the woman with the flow of blood, according to the Law the physical contact Jesus makes with the apparently “dead” body of the child would render him “unclean”. But with Jesus, it works the other way around: those who are “unclean” are rendered “clean” by contact with Jesus.
As you read these stories, who do you find yourself identifying with? Jairus the father terrified that his beloved daughter is about to die? The woman who for eighteen years has been painfully aware of her brokenness, isolated from her community, tempted to despair, who yet remarkably perseveres through it all? The daughter? The disciples witnessing all this? The crowd of gathered mourners who mock Jesus when he says the child is yet alive?
Conclude with a time of prayer, asking God to strengthen the faith that is within you. Pray for people you may know who like Jairus love their children and are terrified at the prospect of something threatening to them. Pray for those who are actively grieving.
Wednesday, February 24
Luke 9:1 – 17
We have just read a series of stories where the healing power of Jesus was stunningly on display. Remarkably, the passage that follows indicates that Jesus did not intend that he alone would be engaged in such ministry; we are to share in this ministry.
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
I am struck by two seemingly contradictory things about the way in which Jesus sends his disciples out into the world.
1) They are sent out with astonishing power to heal the sick.
2) They are sent out in an intentionally vulnerable state. They are not to take any of the sorts of things that we would assume are essential to have with us as we set out on a journey. They will be dependent upon the kindness of strangers.
Why do you think Jesus sent them out with essentially no material resources?
Do you think there is a connection between 1) and 2), and if so, what is it?
Not all doors will open to them. Jesus warns them that there will be times when they will not find a welcome. Do not obsess over the rejections you will receive, he seems to say. Let it go and move on.
Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him.
The sensation that Jesus’ ministry is causing reaches the ears of King. He is “perplexed” by the stories he hears, and how some people are saying that the spirit of John whom he had killed has somehow returned in Jesus.
On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
The twelve return from their mission trip. Recognizing their need for rest, Jesus attempts to go apart, away from the pressing needs of the people, but the crowds nonetheless find out where Jesus and his disciples are staying. Though thwarted in his attempt to “get away”, Jesus immediately welcomes and ministers to the masses.
The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
Did the disciples try to get Jesus to send the crowd away because of sincere concern for their well being, or because they want to have Jesus to themselves?
Jesus directs the disciples to “give them something to eat,” but a quick inventory indicates all they have is five loaves and two fish, woefully inadequate to feed a crowd of five thousand. Even so, Jesus indicates that they will give away what little they have. He seems intent on inducing a similar state of vulnerability to that which he sent them out on their mission trip.
A curious detail: he has the disciples divide the crowd into groups of fifty. In a crowd of five thousand people it is easy to get lost in a sea of faces. In a group of fifty, the possibility arises for a sense of community developing.
Jesus takes the little food they have and raises it up to the sky in a gesture of thanksgiving to God, and then has his disciples pass the food out.
And then some kind of miracle of great abundance takes place.
It seems there are two choices of how this happened: 1) With supernatural power Jesus transcended the laws of physics as we know it, multiplying a small amount of bread and fish into more than enough food to feed five thousand people.
One reason to wonder whether this is what in fact happened is the story we read of the first temptation the Devil enticed Jesus with in the wilderness. Turn stones to bread, said the Devil. It seemed as if the devil had proposed the possibility that Jesus’ ministry could be about using miraculous power to feed the masses. But Jesus turned the “temptation” down.
Possibility 2) is this: The people grasp what Jesus is doing when he raises the meager offering up to God and then willingly gives it all away. He and the disciples are modeling taking a risk on behalf of the kingdom of God. There is the real chance that they will go hungry tonight. They are embracing vulnerability, and this is necessary if a true community of caring and sharing is going to arise. The people recognize all this, and those who brought food are moved to do likewise. For a short period of time, people let go of the standard operating procedure which is to look out for one’s own interests and let others fend for themselves. Precedence is given to caring about the needs of all the people present. A profound and joyful experience of belonging is shared by one and all. The kingdom of God is experienced.
Have you ever experienced anything that approaches this explanation for what took place that day?
Is a willingness to make oneself vulnerable and take risks necessary if we are to experience God at work in this world? What do you think?
Conclude by asking what it might mean for you make yourself more vulnerable in an attempt to create more caring communities. This might involve sharing material things, or it might involve taking the risk of revealing yourself more deeply to others. Pray for our church and any other groups of people of which you are a part.
Thursday, February 25
Luke 9:18 – 36
Our reading today begins with yet another instance in which Jesus is describe as taking time to pray.
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’
Jesus has been causing quite a sensation among the people, and he asks his disciples what people are saying about him. Various categories have been put forth as possibilities: He is the reincarnation of John who was killed by Herod; perhaps John has come to finish what he started. Elijah. To this day Jews set a place for Elijah at the Passover meal should he choose to finally return to prepare the way for the messiah. A prophet, following in a long line of prophets who spoke for God and on occasion demonstrated supernatural powers.
There was yet another category of which the people were reluctant to name. Might Jesus be the messiah, the anointed of God? To suggest such a thing and be wrong would be blasphemy, putting a person at great risk.
Peter shows courage in saying, “You are the messiah,” the long awaited savior sent by God.
Jesus does not reject this title, nor directly embrace it. The expectations people have of the coming messiah are quite different from what Jesus is up to. Jesus commands his disciples to keep silent on the subject. Contrary to expectations of the people, Jesus understands his future suffering and death to be at the heart of what it means for him to be the messiah. For the first time he begins to speak of such things:
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’
This is the heart of the matter of what it means to be a disciple: to take up our crosses daily, following in the way of Jesus. In the time when these words were written the possibility of martyrdom for being a Christian was very real. Though there remain places in the world where this remains a real threat, for us and the majority of Christians any sort of literal crucifixion is not really a possibility.
So how do we understand what it means in our context “to take up our cross daily?” It means a daily process of humbling ourselves. When the habitual urge to put ourselves at the center of all things and place our needs above that of all others, we are to deny the urge.
We read yesterday of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand people. What I proposed happened was that for a little while a large number of people simultaneously managed to make the move Jesus is calling for here. They sacrificed their self-centered perspective to embrace a God-centered perspective, where all people are worthy of care.
Jesus speaks about the possibility of losing ourselves (some translations speak of losing our “souls”) when we live a life that is all about ourselves. Our self-preoccupation becomes a kind of prison cell. We become consumed with how others view us, anxiously concerned about how much attention and respect from the people around us. Our shortcomings become unbearable because they seem to render us less than others, diminishing the self that we have placed at the center of our universe.
When we begin to let this kind of self-preoccupation die, we begin to find our true selves. It becomes possible to embrace who we are rather than the image we have so anxiously projected to the world. We can move in the direction of celebrating our gifts and accepting our weaknesses, no longer anxious about how we stack up in comparison to others.
Luke has inherited this passage from Mark. His particular contribution is adding the word “daily” which conveys the sense that this is a continual process, not a move we make once and then we are done with it. Even if we have had a powerful experience of conversion in which we felt “born again”, the sacrificing of our self-centered posture is ongoing.
Take some time to think about the different ways it feels when you are preoccupied with yourself as compared to the times when you manage to lose yourself in God’s kingdom. Hopefully this Lenten journey is helping you spend more time in the latter.
And once more we hear about Jesus withdrawing to pray, this time in the company of three of his disciples:
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Catching a glimpse of the eternal realm of light and love, the dwelling place of people like Moses and Elijah after their departure from this world, Peter is anxious to stay permanently up on that mountaintop. What they saw was beautiful beyond words.
But Moses and Elijah have come to talk with Jesus about “his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus has come to this place to gather strength for the journey ahead of him down in the valley.
The climax of the story is the moment when a cloud leaves the disciples blinded. The voice of God is heard. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” The words echo what Jesus heard at his baptism. This time, however the words are directed to the disciples, with the command to “listen to him.”
When the disciples look up after the cloud has passed, Jesus is found to be alone. As exalted as Moses and Elijah are in our faith tradition, Jesus speaks with an authority that goes beyond anyone who has come before him.
We speak of the Bible as being the inspired Word of God. For some people, this means every word found there was dictated directly by God, requiring our unquestioning assent. God does speak to us through the Bible, but in truth, there are a great many voices that speak in the pages of our scriptures. On this Lenten journey, we are trying to listen to the distinctive voice of Jesus, and in doing so we will be in a better position to assess the other voices in scripture. Where a voice conflicts with the voice of Jesus, we will listen to Jesus.
Conclude by asking God to give you the power to follow Jesus.
Friday, February 26
Luke 9:37 – 62
As soon as Jesus and the three disciples come back down from their “mountain top experience”, they are met by desperate human suffering.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
The sense of certainty the disciples felt on the mountaintop gives way to uncertainty and helplessness in the face of the epileptic agony of the man’s only son (this is now the 3rd time a parent has been described as having an only child in great need.) Carrying the weight of what lies before him in Jerusalem, a frustrated Jesus responds with harsh words to his disciples’ inability to heal the sick boy.
There is the curious detail that we have seen a couple of times previously that when a person afflicted with unclean spirits comes into the presence of Jesus, the demons freak out, in this case casting the boy into convulsions.
While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
This is the second of three times Jesus will speak of his suffering and death. His words are veiled. Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man”, a term he uses eighty other times in the four Gospels. The title emphasizes the humanity of Jesus even as he is fulfilling a divine mission.
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’
Clearly the disciples do not understand what Jesus is up to and what it means to take up their crosses and follow. They remain caught up in the world’s constant competition regarding status and privilege.
Social status is often expressed by the company we keep; if we aspire to have higher status, we will seek the company of those who are up and avoid the company of those who are down. Jesus, however tells his disciples to hang out with children. Nowadays we often make children the center of attention. It was not so in Jesus’ day. Children clearly had less status than adults.
Welcoming a child means turning one’s back on the preoccupation with where one ranks in the world. Unless the disciples become as unpresumptuous as little children, unconcerned about their image and status, they cannot be Christ’s representatives.
In what follows it becomes all the more obvious that the disciples are having a tough time getting what Jesus is all about.
John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
From this point onwards, Jesus is heading towards his death.
And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
They pass through the region of Samaria where the people share common ancestors with the Jews. The relationships between Jews and Samaritans had been characterized by hostility since their paths diverged. Jesus however is always open to relationship with whoever will receive him, hopes that in a certain Samaritan village they can find a welcome to spend a night.
But the ancient prejudice kicks in, and the Samaritans refuse to welcome them. Just a while back when Jesus sent his apostles out into the world, he had warned them that there would be times of rejection, and when it happens, just let the rejection go. John and James however are into retribution. Long ago the prophet Elijah was known to call down fire from heaven on those who crossed him, and following his example they ask Jesus if they can scorch the Samaritans. Maybe sometimes we wish we had that power as well.
But this is not Jesus’ way.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Jesus’ entrance into this world was in a barn because there was no room for him in the inn. Here Jesus emphasizes the fact that he has no home in this world. He is in this world in a state of vulnerability, and is dependent upon the welcome of those who would receive him to find a place to rest. Those who would follow him need to first count the cost.
To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
These are certainly harsh sayings. Respect for parents and burial of the dead were extremely sacred obligations in the Jewish tradition. Although we need not take what Jesus says here literally, Jesus does intend to shock us. To follow Jesus demands a total commitment.
One who plows and looks back will plow a crooked furrow.
The disciples had a hard time understanding Jesus’ way, and likely we will as well. What is your understanding at this point of what it means to follow Jesus?
Conclude by asking God for the grace to let go of rejections you have experienced in life, and embrace the way of humility and peace Jesus modeled.
Saturday, February 27
Luke 10:1 – 24
As earlier Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, now he sends out seventy others, making it clear that there is a place for all of us in his ministry.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
Much of what Jesus says here repeats what was said in the sending out of the twelve apostles: they go into the world in a state of vulnerability in solidarity with the poor. One difference though is that the sends the seventy in pairs, an acknowledgment of how important it is to have companions on the journey to support one another.
Note also the concept of bringing “peace” to each home they visit. If they are welcomed, then their peace remains with their hosts after they have departed. If they are rejected, they cannot take their peace away from them.
What would it mean for you to be conscious of bringing the gift of peace to the places where you go?
In all that they do, “The kingdom of God has come near.” Whether welcomed or rejected, an opportunity has been offered to catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom where all are welcomed, all are equally valued, and peace is shared gratefully.
‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.
‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’
There is a lot at stake in the ministry. With the love and healing freely offered, there is an invitation to repent, to humble oneself in grateful openness to the love that opens wide our hearts.
To turn one’s back on this invitation is to harden one’s heart, and this is a dangerous thing to do indeed, leaving one on the outside of the Kingdom of God, in the darkness of Hades.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
The seventy were warned to anticipate rejection, but the surprise of their missionary trip is how well it went. They witnessed lives set free from a multitude of dark powers that have held them in bondage.
But Jesus seems to warn them not to get carried away by the success of their ministry. Very hard times will come. They are to rejoice simply that their “names are written in heaven;” that is, that they are faithfully doing what they have been called to do. We are to center our hearts on God’s love, not on the success or failures of our efforts. The success may go to our head, and the failures may leave us discouraged, ready to give up. Humbly hold your center in living out God’s love, regardless of outcome.
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’
Jesus’ original followers were not sophisticated people, “the wise and intelligent” of the world. What Jesus was revealing was heart knowledge rather than head knowledge. Those who prided themselves on their intellect could easily miss the significance of what this wandering carpenter from Nazareth was revealing.
Only those who humbled themselves like infants could see the Kingdom of God that was drawing near in Jesus’ ministry.
Conclude by asking God to help you bring peace to the people you meet. Give thanks for the presence of God’s Kingdom.
Monday, February 29
Luke 10:25 – 42
Immediately before this reading Jesus rejoiced because his unsophisticated followers, whom he called “infants” had perceived truths about the Kingdom of God that had remained hidden to the “wise and intelligent.” Apparently some of those “wise and intelligent” folk of whom Jesus was referring were present when he said this, and presumably they took offense. One of them, a scholar of the Law who would have been closely associated with the Pharisees seeks to challenge Jesus in what follows:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’
In Mark’s Gospel, it is Jesus himself who puts these two great commandments together as the heart and soul of the Law. Here it is the Lawyer who offers this interpretation. The question he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” is one we would probably all want to ask, as in “Exactly how far does my responsibility go?” He does not directly answer this question; instead he gives us a story.
Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
It is striking, is it not, that rather than engage us in an intellectual debate, Jesus tells a story that draws us in so we respond with our emotions and not merely with our intellect.
As we noted earlier, there was a longstanding animosity between Jews and Samaritans. The original listeners would have been dumbstruck when they heard that a Samaritan was the hero of the story. Who would be your “Samaritan”?
The Samaritan is described as having an emotional response to the suffering of the man (“he was moved with pity”) which in turn leads to a whole slew of actions. Note all the verbs, Jesus used: ‘he went to him”; “bandaged his wounds”; “poured oil”; “put him on his own animal”; “brought him”; “took care of him”; “took out two dennarrii, gave them to the innkeeper”; offered to “repay” whatever the innkeeper spent.
We can only conjecture as to why the Priest and the Levite failed to stop and help. We know that the road was notoriously dangerous, and the man lying there could be a set up to draw them into a mugging themselves – they may have been afraid.
What do you think you would have done? What do you think you would do today in a similar situation?
Is it fair to gauge one’s religion by the degree to which that person lives a compassionate life?
The story that follows seems to take us in a different direction. Once again we see Jesus giving special attention to women.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
In the previous story, the Samaritan was commended for taking action. Here the sister Martha comes across clearly as an action-oriented woman. She is the one who extends the welcome to Jesus, and then does the work of preparing a meal for her guest.
Mary, in contrast, is described as simply sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to him speak.
Who do you identify with in the story? Jesus gives what seems like a gentle rebuke to Martha and a compliment to Mary. How does that make you feel? Why do you think Jesus says what he does to Martha? What is the “one thing” Jesus was referring to that he said was alone necessary? What was “better part” that Mary has chosen?
Why do you suppose Luke chose to put these two stories side by side? Does the story of the compassionate Samaritan and the story of Mary and Martha seem in conflict to you, or do you see a way to tie them together?
Conclude by spending some time sitting in the presence of the Lord. Pray for a heart that is open to the pain of others, and the will to help them. Lift people up to God who come to mind who are in need.
Tuesday, March 1
Luke 11:1 – 13
Once again we hear about Jesus praying. His disciples wait for him to be done, and then ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They have sensed that his daily ritual of taking time to pray is central to his life.
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
Jesus responds to the disciples request by giving them a slightly shorter version of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” than the one we are more familiar with that comes from Matthew’s Gospel. Luke seems to have pared the prayer down to the bare bones.
“Your kingdom come.” This is the essence of what Jesus’ whole ministry has been about, and the ministry of the disciples well. Whenever a stranger has been welcomed and cared for, whenever someone has been restored to health and to his or her community the kingdom of heaven has come near.
“Give us each day our daily bread.” There is a call here to live an outwardly simple life, to ask only for the material things that we need in order to live from day to day.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” We saw early on with the story of the paralyzed man that the God revealed in Jesus is quick to forgive, much to the dismay of the Pharisees. We will hear more about the importance of forgiveness later in the Gospel, including the words spoken by Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In asking for forgiveness, there is confidence that forgiveness will be given. But the prayer assumes an awareness that we play a part in keeping the kingdom from coming. There may be sins we have committed, things that we did large or small that were cruel to others. Or maybe we have managed to refrain from such overt actions, but we are aware of thoughts and desires within us that have negatively impacted our relationships to others in subtle ways; thoughts and desires which, if given the chance, could lead us to commit overtly destructive acts. And then there are the sins of omission. None of us are ready to offer our lives and our possessions wholeheartedly for the sake of the kingdom.
The point here is not to walk around feeling guilty, but rather to live with humility. If we are following Jesus, then we will seek to imitate God in forgiving everyone indebted to us. It is only through the humility that recognizes “there but for the grace of God go I” that we can begin to forgive others who have harmed us.
“And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Again there is the acknowledgment that we are frail, wholly dependent upon God’s grace, and it would take relatively little to break any one of us. And so the proper attitude is one of humility.
So, praying for the coming of God’s kingdom, asking simply for the basics of what we need to live in this world, living in forgiveness and walking humbly – this is the essence of what the Christian life looks like from the perspective of the prayer Jesus taught.
And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
Persistence is a theme in some of the people we noted earlier in whom Jesus identified “faith.” The friends who did not give up when the crowd at the door made it impossible for them to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus; the woman with the flow of blood that had gone on for twelve years and approaches Jesus when others would tell her she had no right to. Here Jesus commends persistence in prayer, but not because God is like a cranky friend who wants to go back to sleep, as we see in what follows.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
First off, Jesus had a sense of humor. Jokes are hard to translate from different cultures and languages, but the cranky friend who wants to go back to sleep, and the parent giving his or her child a scorpion when they ask for an egg – these images were meant to make his listeners laugh.
God is like a parent in the way he or she loves their child, only more so. God is wholly for us and wants to give us what we need.
But our asking, searching, knocking are all in the context of the perimeters set by the Lord’s prayer. When we pray like Janis Joplin, “O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” God says, you don’t need a Mercedes Benz in order to welcome the Kingdom of God into your life.
Conclude by taking some time to slowly pray the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps giving more thought than usual to the meaning of the petitions.
Wednesday, March 2
Luke 11:14 – 54
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven.
Jesus performs yet another healing that restores a man to both a physical wholeness and to his rightful place in the community. Although all are amazed, some of the crowd begins to turn against Jesus, questioning the source of his power, accusing him of serving the evil one. Others, their appetite for miracles whetted by what they have just witnessed, simply want more of the same. They are not interested in learning his way.
But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Jesus defends himself against the accusations that he is from the prince of demons, Beelzebul. In the spiritual realm, Jesus is the stronger man who defeats the lesser power of the demons. (See the lyrics to “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”)
Life involves a struggle between good and evil. Jesus’ words imply there is no neutral ground, we must consciously choose which side we will be on. If you took the vows of membership and professed your faith in our church, you were asked: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”
How do you think of “evil?” What images come to mind? Where does the struggle between good and evil take place for you personally?
‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’
I like how this passage is described in the “The People’s New Testament Commentary”: “The goal of the spiritual life is not emptiness, not merely a getting rid of evil practices. Following Jesus does not mean merely clearing out one’s life of what is objectionable, getting rid of evil spirits, but being filled with the Spirit of God. (see 11:3) The spiritual world, like the natural world, abhors a vacuum. Giving up things will not make one Christian, but only one empty and more vulnerable to even greater evil.”
By placing these words of Jesus right after the story describing Jesus casting out a demon from a mute man, the question is raised of where does the man go from here? Does he follow Jesus and become filled with the Spirit, or does he open himself up for even more evil invasion?
While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!
You will recall that in the wilderness the Devil’s temptations of Jesus included getting him to perform miracles (stones to bread, jumping off Temple to be caught by angels) that could compel people to pay attention to him. The people are asking for miraculous signs, but Jesus refuses their requests. His healing “miracles” have only been done to relieve suffering, not to impress. Jesus references two Old Testament stories that included people repenting; their example stands in judgment of the crowds who wish to be dazzled and refuse to repent.
‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.’
Luke has put together a collection of sayings of Jesus that involve light that in Mark and Matthew are set in different contexts. Here the point seems to be similar to the one made previously: what will fill a person, demons or the Spirit of God?
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
Once again, Jesus is open to all invitations, including the Pharisees with whom he has argued. But once more the host Pharisee is critical of Jesus, this time for his failure to wash his hands before eating. In the ancient world the awareness of the need for washing hands to rid oneself of germs is unknown, and so the washing of hands was simply an outward religious observance. Jesus lashes out at the Pharisees because they care more for external religious rituals than for what is going on inside a person’s heart. Jesus calls for giving alms for the poor as a more meaningful expression of devotion to God.
‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’
Jesus lets the Pharisees have it for obsessing over trivial matters while neglecting justice and the love of God, and for being concerned with obtaining the highest seats of honor. Unmarked graves meant someone could come in contact with a corpse that would render them unclean; Jesus says that in a similar way when people come in contact with them they are made unclean without even knowing it. How do think this was so?
One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.’ And he said, ‘Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute”, so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’
The Lawyers, closely affiliated with the Pharisees, take offence at Jesus’ words, and Jesus lays into them as well. They misrepresent religion to the people, turning it into a list of burdensome rules, taking the joy and love out of it. Jesus says they stand in a long line of people who have rejected and killed the prophets God has sent to them.
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile towards him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
The truth hurts. The lines are drawn. This will not end well.
What do you think God’s prophets are saying today?
Conclude with a time of asking God to fill the empty spaces within you with the Holy Spirit.
Thursday, March 3
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered in thousands, so that they trampled on one another,
The crowds of people wanting to see Jesus are growing, and yet they are an unruly mob. When we get to Holy Week, Luke will make a point of describing how fickle the people are, cheering for Jesus in his arrival, and for his death five days later.
he began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luke’s Gospel is written in the context of real threats of violence to those who call upon Jesus as Lord. The situations of danger and conflict he describes were very much on the minds of his listeners.
The fear spoken of here is the holy fear due to God. It is not the fear one might feel in the presence of an erratic and violent human being.
It is a more fearful thing to lose one’s very soul – the connection we have with God – than to have someone kill the body. The passage pivots from talking of fearing God to a wonderful affirmation of how much we are valued by God and that we are never out of God’s sight.
‘And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
Frankly, I do not know what to make of this distressing verse. It is found in three of the Gospels, each in different contexts, suggesting the Gospel writers were not quite sure what to make of it either.
When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’
Jesus calls us to let go of the instinctive posture of defending ourselves. When it comes to testifying to one’s faith, do not obsess over finding the right words. Let the Spirit guide you and speak from the heart.
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
The love two brothers have for one another has been left behind because of a fight over stuff. Has this every happened to you?
Most of us have too many possessions. They call for our attention and distract us from what truly matters. Do you need to give stuff away?
Jesus describes a “rich man” coming to a critical fork in the road. He has walked the path that was all about building up his farm, and has reached the point where his barn is now full of grain — all his basic needs are taken care of. Moving forward in his life, where should he devote his God-given energy? He chooses to continue down the same path, further building up his farm with the goal of reaching a point somewhere down the road in which he can stop working all together and consume himself with satisfying all his physical desires.
The man is a fool, says Jesus. The path not taken at the fork is the one in which, having his basic needs provided for, the man now begins to focus on helping others. With the material abundance of his life, the man has the capacity to help others, but that does not seem to occur to him.
When people ask me what my definition of a “soul” is, I say that it is our capacity to give and receive love, which includes our capacity to care for and help others. We were put on this earth to love. We never know when death comes for us, but this man will foolishly reach his end without finding his higher purpose.
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not worry about your life.” Ah, but we do, don’t we? What sorts of things do you worry about regarding having your material needs met?
Jesus says that if we are to be his followers, we should seek to cultivate a trust about our material needs that distinguishes us from the rest of the world. It isn’t that we should become irresponsible – rather that we should break the habit of obsessively worrying over material needs. Take a moment to contemplate what Jesus said: that you are truly valued by God, and that God knows what you need. Picture yourself “handing over” your worries to God. Trust that what you truly need will be provided.
As with the first line of the prayer he taught us, it is the Kingdom of God we should be striving for.
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be 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. Blessed 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
‘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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating.
Much of what we just read is difficult to interpret for our times. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first followers lived with an intense expectation that Jesus was going to return very soon and fully establish the Kingdom of God. With such a sense of expectancy, it was easier to live a simple life of trust that did not fret about one’s future physical needs.
But fifty years had passed when Luke wrote his Gospel. As in the parable, people are beginning to say to themselves, “My master is delayed in coming.” They are losing their passion for following the way of Jesus, and beginning to live a life no different from that of non-Christians. These verses are a pep talk encouraging people not to lose their edge.
We live nearly two thousand years down the road, and it is hard to realistically expect Jesus’ imminent return. But it is true that the day of our meeting Jesus face to face could indeed be quite soon in the sense that no one knows the hour and the day of their death. How can we live a life that appreciates that every hour is precious?
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
This is worth pondering a good long time. Usually Jesus advices us against comparing ourselves to others, but this seems to be different. If one man grows up in a stable home, well loved, given ample opportunities to develop his abilities in a safe environment, and another man grows up in a home where a parent is missing and drug addiction is present, with economic uncertainty and violence close at hand, well, their lives will be judged by different standards. The one “to whom much has been given, much will be required.”
‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
‘And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.’
Luke has collected different sayings here that are not easy to connect, and which read in isolation can take us aback. Jesus did not come to bring “peace on earth”?! Was not that part of what the angel said announcing Jesus birth to the shepherds?!
But when priorities in life get reshaped in faithfulness to Jesus, this can create conflict with family members.
The final passage resembles one that Matthew (5:23 – 26) placed in his sermon on the Mount which emphasized the importance of being reconciled with fellow church members. Here, Luke seems to use it as a call to recognize the urgency of making a decision to embrace the Kingdom of God before it is too late.
Conclude by again trying to hand your anxieties over to God. Consider triggers in your daily life that might remind you to do this when anxieties swarm over you. Thank God for your life, and ask for the grace to receive this precious gift mindfully each day, and the grace to offer your life as a blessing for others.
Friday, March 4
Luke 13:1 – 35
At that very time there were some present who told (Jesus) about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
There was, and still remains, a belief that when bad things happen it is because God is somehow punishing us. Parts of the Bible express this assumption. (See for instance, the Book of Deuteronomy.) The idea can involve a desire to be in control: “If I live a good life, God will not let bad things happen to me, I won’t die like those Galileans.”
Jesus rejects this whole notion. But he does put forth the assertion that on some level, all of us humans need to repent. We are all inclined to gravitate towards a me-centered life posture with hardened hearts rather than to open-hearted life lived as a vessel of the Holy Spirit.
Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’
A charring story indeed! The owner wants to cut down the figless fig tree because it is wasting soil. That’s harsh.
The grace is found in the words of the gardener who argues on behalf of patience for the tree; that with a little attention it might yet bear fruit.
The parable invites us to ask, am I a figless fig tree? We would probably answer the question different ways at different times, but perhaps there are moments for all of us when we look at our life and do not see much fruit.
The Gardener has not given up on us. He plans to spread some lovely, mineral-rich manure about our roots to give us some encouragement. Keep an eye (and a nose) open for signs of that manure – that encouragement given to you in your life by God. There are opportunities in your life to both offer and receive the good news of God’s Kingdom.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.’ 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 manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Once more Jesus sets a captive free. Jesus takes the initiative; there is no questing faith that brings about this healing.
The leader of the synagogue demonstrates classic bully behavior. He feels threatened by Jesus, but instead of attacking Jesus, he lashes out at the crowd whom he can intimidate from his position of authority.
Perhaps the woman, unable to stand up straight for eighteen years, is the canary bird in the mine. She expresses the humiliation and shame the ordinary people of the community have endured beneath the heavy hand of the religious authorities.
But the tables are turned – the woman stands up straight and strong and the leader in the synagogue is shamed — just as Mary had prophesied when Jesus was still in her womb: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” (1:52)
Is there something that keeps you from standing up straight and strong? What would it mean for you to hear Jesus declare you free from your infirmity?
He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’
How does a tiny seed produce a tree? Even if we know the botanical explanation for how this takes place, it still remains a thing of wonder. So God is at work in this world, creating communities of grace and welcome where the various birds can find shelter, and when it happens it is both mysterious and surprising.
And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Note a woman as the central character. The bread that rises from the yeast she mixes in the flour is enough bread to feed 150 people.
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” 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, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’
Jesus speaks in a similar way to that which he spoke at the outset of his ministry in his hometown, for which he almost got killed. (4:14 – 30) Gentiles will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. If those who presume to be “insiders” fail to humble themselves and repent, they will find themselves on the “outside” looking in, where people they assumed would be excluded will be included.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’
The Pharisees counsel Jesus to play it safe, warning him of Herod’s intention of kill him. Herod feels threatened by Jesus. The movement Jesus is leading is not one that will lead to violence and a frontal assault on the reigning powers; nonetheless, the Kingdom of God is a threat to the kingdoms of this world.
Jesus says in essence that he intends to continue doing the work he said he would do in his original mission statement when he quoted from Isaiah back in Nazareth. He will set the captives free, heal the sick, bring sight to the blind. “On the third day” he will finish his work, referencing his death and resurrection. So he must be on his way to Jerusalem.
And then Jesus begins a lament, his heart breaking over the refusal of the people of Jerusalem to embrace the kingdom of God. He cannot compel people; he can only invite them. Embracing the inherent vulnerability of his mission, he reaches for a remarkable image: If Herod is the “fox,” Jesus embraces the image of a “mother hen” longing to gather her brood under the safety of her wings.
What do you think about Jesus choosing such an image?
Conclude by spending some time with this image. What does it mean to allow yourself to be gathered under the wings of the great mother hen. And if you are to be a follower of Jesus, for whom might you provide sheltering wings of peace and grace?
Saturday, March 5
Luke 14:1 – 35
Despite the fact that Jesus has had continual conflicts with the Pharisees, he continues to stay in relationship with them, here accepting yet another invitation to dinner.
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this.
Dropsy indicates that the man suffered from edema, a painful and debilitating disease causing excessive accumulation of fluids in tissue spaces or body cavities. Jesus anticipates the criticism for doing the work of healing on the Sabbath, and speaks to it before healing the man.
Throughout the Gospel, we find Jesus at shared meals. At their best, they are an intimate communion between host and guests. At their worst, they are settings where the struggle to get to the top is on display.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. ‘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; and 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. But 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
In the culture of Jesus’ day, honor and shame was a constant concern. The advice Jesus gives here of wedding banquet seating strategies was actually conventional wisdom in those days. People did not want to be shamed by being asked to go from a higher seat to a lower seat; better to sit low and be invited up higher. The significant verse is the last one, which implies it is better to let go of social status concerns all together, for ultimately it is God alone who does the humbling and exalting.
In the same manner that a guest should not plot to enhance his or her social status, so in what follows the host of a party should not make out the invitation list based upon a similar sort of plotting.
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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
“The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” are precisely the people Jesus said he would be ministering to in his opening mission statement. (4:18-19) When people who are typically left out of the circle are invited to parties where all are equally valued as the beloved of God, the Kingdom of God is experienced.
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 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 apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 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.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 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. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
There is plenty of room in the circle, and the invitation is broadly extended. But as we saw before, Jesus can extend the invitation to embrace the Kingdom of God, but he can not compel people to receive it. People are free to turn the invitation down.
People who have a lot of worldly attachments (land, oxen, etc.) can easily be distracted from what matters most. Even a marriage, if its foundation is not the grace of God, can be a distraction. People who have little in this world – the poor and those whose brokenness has humbled them – find it easier to accept the invitation.
Ever since Jesus declared his intention to go to the cross, the theme of the cost of discipleship has been expressed repeatedly. Those to whom much has been given, much is expected. As Jesus takes up his cross, so those who would follow him must put aside all other concerns in order to embrace the Kingdom of God.
These are challenging words by Jesus, to say the least. In what follows, Jesus expresses the necessity for “seeking the Kingdom of God first” in the starkest possible terms.
Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
Jesus used what is called “hyperbole” – exaggerating a point to make a point. Obviously, Jesus does not want us to literally hate our family members, nor life itself. But the kingdom comes first, above all other commitments.
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or 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? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Although large crowds are following him, they seem to be mostly drawn by the sheer sensation revolving around him, generated in large part by his healing miracles. But Jesus is not looking for fans – he is looking for disciples. He almost seems intent on driving people away: if you are not willing to give up all your possessions, do not pretend to follow me.
These are hard words for us to relate for sure. Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, and he describes the earliest church, full of the Holy Spirit, living out these ideals. Acts 2:44-45
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
We do not live back then. What sense do we make of such words in the world we do live in?
I heard about recent psychological studies that demonstrate that the more wealth people have, the less generous, the more entitled, indeed the less compassionate they tend to feel. Not always, but consistent trends are shown in this direction. Jesus knew this 2000 years before these studies.
I recognize my anxieties over money, and just how much is enough money, interferes in my being available for God to use me as a vessel of his love. How is it for you?
‘Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
As we hear in Matthew’s Gospel, as followers of Jesus we are called to be the “salt of the earth.” Salt has a distinctive taste that sets it apart from all else. We are called to live out God’s great love in a distinctive way as well.
“Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” is a saying that Jesus used most commonly after telling a parable. The hard sayings we have heard should not be viewed as a new set of laws; they are meant for us to grapple with in the same way we might engage a parable in an ongoing quest for greater faithfulness.
Conclude by asking God to help you experience the freedom with which you can offer yourself more readily as one who conveys the good news of God’s great love. Consider how you can be a part inviting “The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” into the Kingdom of God.
Monday, March 7
Luke 15:1 – 32
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
Ironically, the central criticism of Jesus by the Pharisees and the scribes is at the heart of what we understand to be the good news: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are loved by Jesus who receives us in all our sin and brokenness. When we celebrate “The Lord’s Supper”, we are engaging in the very thing the Pharisees and Scribes criticized.
Mindful of their judgments, Jesus told three parables that share the common thread of something or someone being lost, and someone who rejoices in the lost one being found.
So (Jesus) told them this parable: ‘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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And 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.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
Although in the Old Testament the image of a shepherd was positive, in New Testament times it was not so. Shepherds were considered untrustworthy and were unwelcome in town. The positive portrayal Jesus presents here would have struck his listeners in a similar way to the Samaritan being cast as the hero of the earlier story.
The actions of this particular shepherd do not make sense. The answer to Jesus’ question at the outset of the parable would be, “No, we wouldn’t do that.” If ninety-nine sheep are where they are supposed to be, it is not cost effective to leave them to go searching throughout the wilderness for the one foolish enough to stray from the flock. The risks involved to the shepherd in a search and rescue mission would be too great. Just cut your losses and move on.
But this Shepherd does not see it that way. The one lost sheep has an inherent worth, not based upon its behavior, but simply because the Shepherd values it so.
And note the fact that Jesus doesn’t say “if” the Shepherd finds the lost sheep; he says the Shepherd searches “until he finds it.” God is perseverant and faithful. In my mind, this suggests that if necessary the search goes on beyond death. There is no darkness so deep that the Shepherd would call off the search for any one of us.
Note also the surprising celebration at the end: Gathering all the friends and neighbors to rejoice about one lost sheep being found — that seems over the top. Again, apparently in God’s eyes, each one of us is worth the celebration, and so should we ready to celebrate as well.
‘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? When 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.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
The themes of the first parable are in this parable as well. In this case, another woman is brought before us as the focus of our attention. She too perseveres, like the faith heroes we have seen numerous times in this Gospel.
The third parable is possibly the most famous parable of all. As you read it, ask yourself with whom you find yourself identifying? Younger son, elder brother, or father?
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
There is some ambiguity as to whether the son is truly repentant, or if his motivation is merely the hunger in his belly. He might be trying to con his Dad. Reread the portion where he decides to go home. What do you think? Would it trouble you if he was not truly repentant?
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’
The Father’s behavior in the story is way beyond the cultural norms for the day. If a son has brought such shame to his father, the father certainly should be in no hurry to forgive the boy. Have the boy work for a time as a hired hand — let him earn his way back into the Father’s good graces. At the very least, make the boy grovel.
But no, this Dad goes running to greet the boy! How undignified of the father! He brushes aside his son’s “repentance” speech. Jesus’ listeners must have been shocked. Perhaps we are too.
I read an interpretation of the party that had me see the parable in a new light. The shocking, horrifying behavior of the younger son would certainly have been known throughout the community. Given the honor and shame codes of the day, the neighbors would have viewed the boy as “dead” to them. What he has done was unforgiveable. Should he dare to return, the younger brother might even be in danger for his life.
The Father has been keeping watch for the son’s possible return. “While he was still far off,” the Father gets wind of his approach and runs to be the first one from the community to meet him. In this interpretation, he runs in part to protect him from the wrath of the community. The party he throws invites the community to be reconciled with his son.
The parable was told in response to the Pharisees’ rejection of the “tax-collectors and sinners.” Jesus is calling for faith communities based on grace rather than Law. What do you think? Is our church a community of grace? If you were to mess up/sin in some major, public way would you feel as though you could come to church and be loved rather than condemned?
The elder brother is not without sin. His sin is more subtle, and in some ways more dangerous because it is harder to acknowledge. It is his hardness of heart.
The father leaves the party to seek out his elder son to invite him to come share in the celebration, again behaving in a manner fathers were not supposed to behave. The elder brother refers to his brother as “this son of yours” refusing to acknowledge him as his brother. The father insists on calling him “this brother of yours.” The father aches to have his sons reconciled.
I am always struck by the way the parable ends. There is a great party going on, and an invitation hangs in the air inviting the elder son to share in the joy. What will he do? Many of us readily identify with the elder brother. We have worked hard, done our duty, never gotten into serious trouble. What will we do?
Following Jesus involves embracing a journey in which we come to take on the qualities of the father. Conclude with a time of asking God to grow mercy and grace in your heart. If you identify with the younger brother, give God thanks for the grace to leave the past behind and trust your forgiveness. If you identify with the elder brother, look within for hardness of heart, and ask God for the grace to move beyond it.
Tuesday, March 8
Luke 16:1 – 18
Today’s reading gives us a feel for the challenge faced by the Gospel writers. Stories and sayings from the ministry of Jesus were passed down to them orally, and the Gospel writers had to decide both how to organize the material and how to interpret it. In this instance, Luke has collected together in the sixteenth chapter material that revolves around the general theme of the responsible use of money and property.
The chapter begins with a parable that Jesus told. The meaning does not seem readily apparent to Luke, and likely it will not be to us either. But feeling an obligation to record the teachings of Jesus even when their meanings were not clear to him, Luke includes this puzzling parable in his Gospel for those who came after him (including ourselves) to ponder over.
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. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.”
Then 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. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.”
So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then 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.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;
Scholars believe that the original parable probably ended here. There are similarities in this parable to the story that came directly before this, the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus uses the same word to describe the irresponsible behavior of the manager as he used for the wayward son: He was “squandering” the rich man’s property. We listened in on the thoughts of the prodigal son when he decided to head home; here, we also listen in on the manager’s thoughts as he decides what he will do. The prodigal son’s primary concern may have been simply to avoid being homeless and hungry; here, the manager “shrewdly” devises a plan to keep from living on the streets when the rich man throws him out.
But these similarities do not seem to give us an answer to the question: what does the parable mean?
Perhaps the parable is saying that if the Kingdom of God is at hand, then each of us is called to take decisive action in response similar to the way this man responds to his crisis at hand. But it seems as though the parable must mean more than that.
For the first time in writing this daily devotional, I am at a loss as to how to interpret what is before me.
The original Greek in which the Gospels were written did not include quotation marks, a fact that leads to confusion regarding who the “master” is who commends the manager at the end. The rich man, or Jesus?
In his bookkeeping adjustments, is the manager stealing from the rich man, or as some have suggested, is he waiving his personal fee? If so, why is he referred to at the end as the “dishonest manager?”
The creative bookkeeping of the manager so late in the game is a kind of “forgiveness” of debts, the thing Jesus told us to do for others in our prayer. Is this akin to the thief on the cross who with his dying breaths repents of his sin and turns to Jesus for mercy?
As you can see, it is all very confusing. The parables Jesus told often did not offer up quick, easy interpretations; they seem to invite us to wrestle with them like Jacob wrestled with the angel in Genesis 32:24 – 31.
Who do you think this parable is about?
What follows appears to be various attempts to interpret the parable by the early church.
for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And 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.
‘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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No 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.’
Throughout Luke’s Gospel, the accumulation of wealth is seen as being dangerous to the soul. The danger here is spelled out: money can become our master, an idol that calls us away from serving God.
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify your-selves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
The Pharisees are a stand-in here for the voice of the way of this world. They ridiculed Jesus: the values of the Kingdom of God seem laughable to the standard way of seeing things: Wherever possible, of course a person would make as much money as possible! But the measure of a person’s life is not found in the size of their bank account. God looks at what is in our hearts; not what is in our wallet.
‘The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.
‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Jesus’ strong words against divorce must be understood in the context of women being viewed in those days as essentially the property of men. Jesus’ concern here is to protect a woman from being left destitute because a husband decides to cast her aside.
Conclude with a time of prayer, asking for your daily bread, and the capacity to set aside other material concerns aside that distract you from being aware of the presence of God.
Wednesday, March 9
Luke 16:19 – 31
Today’s reading continues the theme we heard yesterday regarding the responsible use of money. Jesus tells another parable that begins like the one from yesterday about the “dishonest manager”: “There was a rich man…”
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
This is the only instance in all of Jesus’ parables in which a character is given a name: “Lazarus”, the derivative of which is “God helps.” No one else in the story helps the poor man. Dogs in those days were wild scavengers, not pets, so their licking of his wounds would not have been seen as any form of comfort.
The earthly lives of the rich man and Lazarus could not have been more different. The rich man lived in great comfort in a gated community – the gate kept the “have-nots” like Lazarus away. Starving to death at the gate however it would have been impossible for the rich man not to have been aware of Lazarus.
But death, the great equalizer, came to both. The rich man was “buried” while Lazarus was not. To remain unburied was considered the ultimate dishonor.
In death they reverse places, expressing the theme we have seen repeatedly in Luke’s Gospel beginning with the words of Mary before Jesus’ birth: the proud and mighty ones will be humbled, and the humbled will be exalted.
The life the rich man lived was not portrayed as being particularly immoral. He did not murder, steal, lie, or cheat in any direct way. Nor was Lazarus portrayed as being particularly virtuous in his life. He simply lived a life of constant suffering. The principle of “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (12:48) is in play here. More was expected of the rich man.
As one commentary puts it, the story is a parable, not a documentary, and as such should not be seen as providing detailed information about what happens beyond death. We are quick to identify the place where the rich man ends up as “hell”, but the word Jesus uses is “Hades.” Originally Hades was understood to be simply the place where departed souls dwelt. During Jesus’ time, some Jews had come to view it as exclusively the domain of souls being punished.
Hell is often portrayed in certain Christian circles as the place people are banished to for an eternity of torment for failing to confess Jesus as Lord and savior. In this parable however the reason the rich man finds himself in the place of torment has nothing to do with believing in Jesus – it has everything to do with his failure to have compassion on Lazarus whose suffering was so clearly on display. It carries forward the theme expressed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (10:29 – 37)
In this life, the rich man failed to comprehend the humanity of Lazarus, viewing him as an inferior life form. It is telling that in the afterlife his attitude has not changed — he continues to view Lazarus as his inferior. He bypasses Lazarus to speak directly to Father Abraham, asking him to “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue…” He views Lazarus as a slave to be ordered about.
In the afterlife, the rich man seems to have compassion for his five brothers. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers in order to warn them so they do not end up in the same torment. But his capacity for compassion is reserved only for his own tribe.
(“If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent,” says the rich man. Perhaps there is an allusion here to the story in John’s Gospel in which a man named Lazarus is raised by Jesus from the dead. It will not help, says Abraham. The net result of the miracle of the raising of Lazarus was that his adversaries became all the more determined to put a stop to Jesus. John 10:45 – 53)
Perhaps the rich man has created this hell by clinging to his prideful worldview that insists he is superior to others. If somehow he could let this go and acknowledge the truth — that all people are equally valued by God, and worthy of compassion – perhaps he would find himself sitting at table with Abraham as well.
How do you think we are “judged” when our life comes to an end? What do you think of the concept of “hell?”
Like the story of the Good Samaritan, this parable raises hard questions without answering them. Because he could not help but be aware of Lazarus’ suffering and had the capacity to help the rich man is held accountable for his failure to act. What do you think: In our age of electronic media in which our awareness of people suffering extends throughout the whole world, what are the limits of our responsibility?
Conclude by praying for the whole world, and especially for the many Lazaruses. Who comes to mind in your own world when you think of somebody having a life like that of Lazarus? Is such suffering limited to economic depravation, or can there be other causes as well?
Thursday, March 10
Luke 17:1 – 10
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
When we hear the expression “little ones” we think of children, and this is certainly a legitimate way to hear what Jesus is saying. But Jesus actually seems to have had in mind the weaker members of the Christian community. And since even Peter will stumble before the Gospel is over, we are all the “little ones” of which Jesus spoke.
We are not on this faith journey alone. Once again Jesus uses an extreme image (several hundred pound millstones hung around our necks) to drive home a point, in this case, that we are all connected. We need to be mindful that we impact one another more than we know.
With whom do you feel yourself intertwined?
Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’
We are to hold one another accountable. The larger theme here is forgiveness, but that does not mean that sin, and in particular sins that include some form of wrongdoing to ourselves, are to be ignored. I we are to be a loving community of grace we need to address the breaches that occur in the web of love that holds us together, or else the web will fall apart. In Christian community, reconciliation is always possible when the one who has done the wrong owns up to what they have done.
If we do not trust that we will receive forgiveness, we will be very reluctant to acknowledge our sin to the one we have wronged. How can we begin to live in a more loving way in this world if we can not honestly own up to the ways we have not lived lovingly?
In Matthew’s version of this teaching, the number of times forgiveness is to be offered is seven times seventy. Although Luke’s version only speaks of seven times, the point is the same because Luke’s time frame for the seven is a single day. Jesus speaks of limitless forgiveness.
Once again questions come to mind in the face of the extraordinary demand Jesus places on those of us who would follow him. Does this mean we have to endure an abusive relationship forever just because the abuser says “I’m sorry” every time they abuse us? I would think not. How do we distinguish between a willful refusal to surrender our pride with the act of forgiveness, and the legitimate need to protect ourselves from abuse? Is it possible to forgive, but keep the other at a safe distance?
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.
The apostles’ cry for greater faith comes in response to the stringent demands of discipleship, including the need to forgive repeatedly. They realize that on their own, they will not be able to follow in Jesus’ way. They need the grace of God.
As he did back in 13:19, Jesus employs here the image of the tiny mustard seed. You have enough faith, Jesus seems to be saying, just put it to use. I like how “The People’s New Testament Commentary” puts it regarding what mustard seed faith can do: “The miracles spoken of here are not concerned with sensational flying trees, but with the miracle of a community of believers that lives by the ethic of the kingdom and its awareness of the grace of God.”
‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’
Again, Jesus uses extreme images to make certain points. The imagery of this parable is drawn from the institution of slavery as it existed in the first century. There is no endorsement of slavery here. Jesus’ disciples did not own slaves.
The point here is that we do not win God’s favor by what we do in life. God’s love for us is not a matter of God paying a debt to us. Like the Father who loved both sons equally, regardless of their sins or their service records, God’s love for us is lodged in a deeper place. “We are worthless slaves” might be best understood as saying our worth is not dependent upon what we have accomplished, which would be a fragile sense of worth indeed, rising and falling with our success or failure in any given moment.
Conclude by thanking God for a love that is constant, not fickle. Give God thanks for your community of faith, and for the insight to recognize how deeply you are connected. Ask God to awaken your faith that you might experience the freedom to forgive yourself and others.
Friday, March 11
Luke 17:11 – 37
Jesus is making his way to the cross, and as he does he passes through a region where both Jews and Samaritans can be found.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.
According to the Law (Leviticus 13:45–56) people suffering from leprosy were “unclean” and were required to keep their distance from people who did not have the disease. Jesus comes across this band of lepers who live together in their common need, and as we find out later, is made up of both Jews and Samaritans. When people find themselves stricken like these lepers were stricken, they are humbled, and their need for help – for grace – takes center stage. The prejudices of race or religion that they had previously clung to now fall away as they feel kinship with others who share their same desperate need.
These ten lepers cry out with one voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They may have been crying out simply for the alms that they relied upon to survive day to day, but there is suggestion that they know of Jesus healing powers. He tells them to go and show themselves to a priest, which is what the Law required them to do if they had been cleansed of their leprosy. If they passed inspection by the priest, he would give them a certificate that declared them now clean so they could return to their homes and their local communities.
But Jesus gives them this command before they actually are healed. They were to act as though they had already been healed, and when they did so, they discovered that they had in fact been cleansed. So in acting as if in obedience to Jesus’ word they literally step out in faith. And as they go, they discover themselves to be healed.
I am reminded of the expression associated with AA of “fake it till you make it;” the idea being that if you want to initiate a new way of being in this world you begin by embracing the outward actions associated with that new way even though at first your inner state resists the change. If you are an alcoholic who does not “get” the program of AA, you do the actions associated with program until you do get it. It might also mean that if you want to have more faith, you decide to put yourself into more places where you are forced to be vulnerable and rely on God. If you are cautious and reserved by nature but want to become a person who is more open to friendships, you begin to act in a more outgoing, intentionally self-revealing way until your inner state begins to match your outward behavior.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
This may seem odd at first. Nine of the lepers followed the precise instructions Jesus gave them to head off to see the priests. The tenth leper (again, from the despised Samaritan race), upon discovering he was healed, disobeyed what he was told to do, because the gratitude welling up inside him compelled him to do so.
Jesus seems disappointed that only one healed person disobeyed his directions. He concludes by telling the Samaritan ex-leper, “Get up and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Did not the other nine have a kind of faith in heading out to visit the priest before they were actually healed? It would seem so, but the faith of this man has led him to a deeper form of wholeness. The others have a new wholeness of body, but since they do not seem to experience the same gratitude, their wholeness does not extend to their spirits as well.
When I ask why they might not have felt the same gratitude even after experiencing an extraordinary physical healing, I am led to ask myself why I do not feel more gratitude than I do for the blessings of my life?
Perhaps the ex-lepers immediately became preoccupied by a new set of problems that need to be addressed as a result of their physical healing. Life as a leper had been extremely hard, but they could count on surviving on the alms of people (people were obligated by the Law to give alms to lepers.) They had experienced human connection where they would never have expected to find it, in the fellowship of the lepers.
Now they must return to their community, find a way to earn a living, re-establish old relationships and make new ones. No time for gratitude, there are jobs to be done, problems to address — which of course is a large part of what gets in my way of experiencing more gratitude. My “To do” list does not include “Feel grateful.”
But true wholeness includes gratitude. In a certain sense it is the most important part of what it means to be whole, because without a sense of gratitude, we have no consciousness of grace.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’
Jesus seems to say that to ask when the kingdom of God is coming is to ask the wrong question. The kingdom is already here among us in an incomplete sense if we have the eyes and hearts to see it. Our attention should not be focused on some point far off in the future, but here, now.
Then he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, “Look there!” or “Look here!” Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.
Luke inherited from Mark teachings about the end times, and though fifty years or so have already passed since Jesus’ departure from this world, he feels obliged to include them. But in the midst of it, he slips in yet again Jesus speaking of the suffering and rejection he – the “Son of Man” — must encounter in Jerusalem:
But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them —it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.
Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.’ Then they asked him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’
“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it…” Our instinct is try to make our lives secure. Life in this world, however, is inherently insecure. Eventually everything we love, including our life itself, will be taken from us. In light of this fact, to turn our lives into a quest for security is misguided. The life we would clutch to is a life we cannot truly live.
We are called to embrace the insecurity, and to put our trust in God.
Conclude by placing your life in God’s hands. Sit in silence, awaiting gratitude to arise. If it does, what is it you find yourself grateful for?
Saturday, March 12
Luke 18:1 – 8
In today’s reading, Jesus returns to themes we have heard before: persistence in prayer (11:5–8) and the persistence of faith. Jesus tells a parable with a central character that incorporates some of the qualities of individuals earlier identified as having faith — perseverance and the willingness to go where they are not welcome — that were found in the “sinful woman” who crashed the Pharisee’s dinner party (7:36–50), and the woman with the twelve year flow of blood (8:43-48).
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’
The original parable likely ended here. Widows were extremely vulnerable. They could not inherit their husband’s property, there was no formal social welfare program, and there was not any real opportunity for women to work independently to make a living. Easily victimized, they often relied upon a judge for protection and justice. In this case, the judge she must turn to lacks any kind of moral compass.
The point being made here is that if the unjust judge responds not through an appeal to justice and compassion but merely because he is worn out by the widow’s persistence, how much more will a just and loving God respond to those who cry out for vindication.
Does this widow remind you of anyone you know?
Luke adds the following to incorporate the theme addressed earlier of the apparent delay of Jesus’ return to fully establish the kingdom of God.
And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Once again we find Jesus adopting the point of view of a woman, in this case a widow at risk of being taken advantage of in an unjust world. When Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he will lash out at the scribes: “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (20:47)
The parable makes clear that we are not to accept the injustice of this world; to follow Jesus is to persevere in the fight for justice, particularly for those who, like widows, get routinely trampled upon. The ministry of John Wesley in 18th century England involved working for justice at a time when the wheels of the Industrial Revolution were crushing the poor.
When you look at the world we live in, what injustices do you think are most troubling to Jesus?
Conclude with prayer for the people in this world who get trampled upon by people and systems driven by greed.
Monday, March 14
Luke 18:9 -17
The nature of parables is to give the hearer the opportunity to reflect and draw his or her own conclusions. A parable can have multiple meanings. The Gospel writers have a tendency to edit the parables Jesus told in such a manner that we are led directly to a particular conclusion. We see Luke doing this with his introduction to the next parable Jesus told:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
This is clearly a valid understanding of what follows, but it is worth pondering why it was Jesus chose to use parables as his primary teaching method. Parables invite listeners into the story. Something surprising usually happens that is contrary to the listeners’ expectations, and Jesus expected his listeners to encounter the surprise for themselves and struggle with its meaning. He seemed to trust that those of us who were willing to make an effort to engage the parable would come to valid interpretations on our own regarding its meaning.
In the introduction Luke gives, the element of surprise and our responsibility to interpret is taken from us.
‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The 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. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But 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!”
Scholars believe that this is where Jesus’ original parable ended. From our perspective, we approach the parable prejudiced against the Pharisee and in favor of the tax-collector, but the original listeners would have been biased in precisely the opposite direction. They would have gotten the surprise that we miss.
The Pharisee’s practice of his religion exceeds expectations. He fasts twice a week, when the Law only commanded once. He tithed (gave a tenth) of all he had, when the Law required tithing on only certain items. Elsewhere Jesus accused Pharisees of being lovers of money, but this man’s tithing record suggests otherwise. Tax-collectors were despised because they made profits through an unholy alliance with the Roman oppressors.
As with other parables, we are allowed to listen in on the thoughts and prayers of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector. We have been conditioned to hear the words of the Pharisee as the very definition of self-righteousness and condescension, but if we were not so predisposed, might not we hear his words in a spirit of “there but for the grace of God go I?” And although the Tax-collector’s prayer sounds like sincere remorse, did he go forth from the Temple to live a different kind of life, like we will find with Zacchaeus in the next chapter? We are not told.
The point I am making is simply that Jesus’ parable heard alone would let us wrestle with such questions, but with Luke’s interpretation the parable has been set in stone for us. It becomes easy to switch one simplistic duality: Pharisees and their sort are good people and Tax-collectors and their sort are bad people; for another simplistic duality: people who put a lot of effort into living a moral, Godly life are self-righteous prigs, and people who just accept the fact that they are sinners are the good people. It becomes possible to go to church and pray, “I thank you God that I am not like the Pharisees.”
Who do you identify with in the parable? Is it possible to see yourself in both characters?
Scholars believe that what follows is Luke further interpreting the parable. It is certainly a valid interpretation and it fits into the themes that Luke has been lifting up throughout his Gospel.
I 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.’
The following story carries through the theme Luke has established for the parable.
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
Salvation is not a human achievement. It was not something the Pharisee could achieve with his good works. Infants are absolutely dependent, and can make no claims to justifying themselves by what they have accomplished. They are thus the perfect illustration of those who receive the Kingdom.
The disciples once more show that they are having a hard time grasping Jesus’ way. They “sternly” try to turn away the parents who were bringing their babies to Jesus for his blessing, assuming he has no time for them. This is harder for us to understand because we live in a culture where we tend go ga-ga over babies. It was not so in those days. The significance of babies was that they might one day grow up to be useful, but with the high mortality rates, there was no guarantee that they would survive to reach that point.
If you were baptized as a child, conclude by imagining the day when your parents brought you to the church to receive the sacrament. Thank God for loving you when you were that helpless baby, and that such love has never wavered since.
Tuesday, March 15
Luke 18:18 – 30
A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
The question is the same question asked by the lawyer in 10:25, which led to the story of Samaritan helping the man at the side of the road.
Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
Human beings are only relatively good; God alone is absolutely good. Jesus seems to cast his lot with us sinful, imperfect human beings.
You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.” ’ He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’
Jesus directs the man’s attention to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), specifically the last five commandments. Keeping these commandments was quite doable; he was answering sincerely.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
Throughout the Gospel, we have heard Jesus warn of the dangers of wealth. Why do you suppose Jesus asked this particular man to sell all he had, and give the money to the poor? And why did he say it would be extremely difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of God?
Our natural inclination is to try and be as self-sufficient as possible and accumulating money seems to make this possible. It is an understandable goal, but self-sufficiency taken to an extreme leads one to look down on others whose dependency is more apparent.
On a fundamental level we are all radically dependent upon the grace of God. You can not buy a ticket into the kingdom of God; we only enter it through grace, and to receive grace, we need to acknowledge that we need help.
When Jesus sent his disciples out on their mission trips, he sent them out in a state of poverty and vulnerability. They would be forced to rely on the kindness of strangers. They learned to live by faith, and caught glimpses of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a community where all are together on equal footing, interconnected.
Frederick Buechner writes the following:
“The trouble with being rich is that since you can solve with your checkbook virtually all the practical problems that bedevil ordinary people, you are left in your leisure with nothing but the great human problems to contend with: how to be happy, how to love and be loved, how to find meaning and purpose in your life.
“In desperation the rich are continually tempted to believe that they can solve these problems too with their checkbook, which is presumably what led Jesus to remark one day that for a rich man to get to Heaven is about as easy as for a Cadillac to get through a revolving door.” (Wishful Thinking, p. 80)
Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’
In Jesus’ day people assumed that rich people had God’s favor in a way that distinguished them from others. It was shocking to them to hear that having wealth was in fact a barrier to entering God’s kingdom.
He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’
We cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. The paradox of salvation is that in saving human beings, God does what is humanly impossible.
Then Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’
Jesus’ response to Peter is not a reference to what is called the “prosperity Gospel”, the distorted notion that God will make the faithful richer than our wildest dreams. In the kingdom of God, all is shared, so we “get back more” without clutching to it as our private possession. The world catches a glimpse of this after the Holy Spirit descended on the first church on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:44-45)
Conclude by asking yourself what Jesus might ask you to give up in order to be more present to the Kingdom of God. Give God thanks for giving you all that you truly need. Pray for somebody you might know who is sorrowful.
Wednesday, March 16
Luke 18:31 – 43
For the third time Jesus tells his disciples of his suffering, and resurrection. More details are added in this prediction. They end is not far off now.
Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’ But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Jesus speaks of “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” The prophetic tradition of Israel had developed the expectation of a messiah – literally, the “anointed” of God — who would come to restore the former glory of Israel which saw its high point during the reign of King David. The messiah would be a descendant of King David who would unite the tribes of Israel, return all the scattered Jews back to Israel, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and usher in a messianic age of global universal peace. Obviously, there was much about the ministry of Jesus that did not seem to fit into these expectations of the messiah. Luke inherits a tradition from Mark that has Jesus taking great pains to keep his identity as the messiah hidden, apparently because he was not the sort of messiah that people were looking for.
One thread of prophetic tradition was likely on Jesus’ mind as he approached Jerusalem, and would later take on great meaning in the early church as the faithful sought to understand the meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death. These were the four “suffering servant” passages in Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 53) which includes the following:
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
6 I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50:5-7)
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces,
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11b-12)
It was out of these verses that an understanding emerged of Jesus suffering vicariously on behalf of the sin of all.
One last example of faith emerges as Jesus comes down the home stretch. It is the time of the Passover festival so many Jews are making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A blind beggar sits at the side of the road, hoping for alms.
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
At the outset of his ministry, Jesus quoted Isaiah. He had come “to preach good news to the poor… and recovery of sight to the blind.” This blind beggar is clearly one of those to whom Jesus has been sent.
The man acts in a way not unlike the others we have seen in whom Jesus recognized faith. He senses in Jesus the mercy and grace of God and the possibility that he can be healed. He cries out, but the crowd tries to silence him. He will not be silenced; he cries out all the more.
“Son of David” is a title that references the messiah, and this blind beggar is the first person to use it in this Gospel. He sees by faith what others with their intact eyesight have missed.
Are there people we may have discounted who in fact have insights and faith that we have overlooked?
Conclude by giving thanks to Jesus for his willingness to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for all people. Pray for the blind beggars of the world. Wherever you suffer in your life, ponder the fact that Jesus is with you in that suffering.
Thursday, March 17
Luke19:1 – 28
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich.
We are told Zacchaeus was rich, and Jesus has recently said that it was harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for camel to pass through the eye of a needle. And yet he is also a tax-collector, which makes him one of the kinds of outcast people Jesus welcomes when others reject.
He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
Zacchaueus’ perseverance to see Jesus reminds us of yesterday’s blind beggar who would not be silenced, as well as of the four friends who did not give up in their attempt to bring the paralyzed man to Jesus when the doorway was too crowded. We are told that Zacchaueus ran to see Jesus, which calls to mind the Father who ran to greet his wayward, returning son. In both cases, such running would have been considered undignified and shameful for a man to do. The objective – to see Jesus, was too important for Zacchaueus to care.
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.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 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.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Once more, Jesus demonstrates his willingness to be in relationship with whoever is open to knowing him, in spite of the grumbling of the critics.
Perhaps the critics would have been okay with Jesus going to the house of chief tax-collector if Zacchaeus had first made his speech indicating repentance and a new willingness to do right by people. But the order is the other way around: Jesus loves him, and then Zacchaeus changes his life.
Have you ever had the experience of being caught up in some kind of fight with someone where you harden your heart, focusing on the perceived wrongs committed by the other, and then the other surprises you by expressing how much they value your relationship, and how saddened they are by the breach in your relationship, and you suddenly find yourself moved to confess what you have done to contribute to the breach? That’s what grace can do.
The relationship between Zacchaeus and his community was broken. Where did the relationship go wrong? Was it when Zacchaeus took the job of tax-collector? But somebody had to do the job, or Roman soldiers would make the town pay. Was it when people began to turn their backs on Zacchaeus, isolating him in the community, which in turn might have made Zacchaeus think, “if they are going to treat me this way, I might as well take advantage of this situation and get as much money as I can?”
But Jesus intercedes with the grace that neither side can bring to bear on the situation, restoring Zaccaeus to his place as a member of God’s family, a “son of Abraham.”
Jesus proceeds to tell another parable; again, one not easy to make sense of. Once again Luke gives an introduction that attempts to shed some light. Expectations are heightening that perhaps Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem would bring about the long awaited kingdom of God. At the same time, Luke’s readers were wondering about Jesus’ delayed return. Luke seems to have combined two separate parables and the result is rather convoluted.
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities. ”Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest. ”He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’
The portion of this parable which Matthew includes (25:14-30) focuses on three servants, each given one of the Master’s pounds to care for in the master’s absence. Two of the servants take investment risks with the money they have been given, trusting the Master, and the results pay off. The third servant, viewing his master as “harsh”, plays it safe.
We do not need to view the master as God but there is something here about the way we view God impacting how we experience God. If we view God as a harsh, vindictive enforcer of the Law, we will find evidence in our experience of life to confirm our image. If we trust God has our back, we will interpret our lives accordingly.
Recall again the risk taking that Jesus called his disciples to embrace when he had them offer up the little food they had with 5000 hungry people on hand, and when he sent them into this world with nothing to protect themselves. The God revealed in Jesus wants us to live our lives boldly, offering ourselves in love, not afraid to fail or be rejected, because we believe this God will be with us regardless of what happens. Good things can not happen if we are not willing to risk failing.
As the story comes now to the homestretch, Jesus himself becomes the example of what it means to give everything, trusting God to be with him come what may.
After (Jesus) had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
Conclude by entrusting your life to God, come what may. If there is a broken relationship in your life, consider the possibility of reaching out graciously to the other in love.
Friday, March 18
Luke 19:29 – 40
Ever since 9:51 when Jesus steadfastly “set his face” on Jerusalem, the whole narrative has been leading to this moment. The Mount of Olives opposite Jerusalem will become Jesus’ home base in the coming week; he will return here with his disciples each night to sleep.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’
The suggestion here is that Jesus has prearranged everything, having set up codes words for exchanges. We will see this again with the arrangements for the Passover meal.
It was common in the first century Roman world for triumphant processions to be held for conquerors or returning rulers. Jesus is pictured as a triumphant King but fills the image with new content: he does not ride on a mighty warhorse, but rather on a young donkey.
Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
In Luke’s telling of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem it is “the whole multitude of the disciples” that raises their voices joyfully, not the crowd in general. Luke has been clear throughout that the number of disciples is much larger than the twelve apostles. The cries echo the words proclaimed by the chorus of angels at his birth. (2:14)
Calling Jesus “king” is no small matter. It is the legal basis of Jesus’ condemnation to death on the cross. (23:3, 38) The Pharisees objection to the chants of the disciples comes from the awareness that such language is dangerous indeed. (The Pharisees will recede into the back ground after this; they are not mentioned among those who conspire to kill Jesus.) Jesus refuses to silence his disciples, and in doing so he embraces his fate.
What do you think it would have felt like to be there that day among the throng of Jesus’ followers? Surely, they hoped that the kingdom of God was at hand.
Conclude by praying for our church as we prepare to enter Holy Week.
Saturday, March 19
Luke 19:41 – 48
Back in the thirteenth chapter Jesus had already begun to express his sorrow over the rejection he would receive in Jerusalem, comparing himself to a mother hen rejected by her brood whom she longs to gather under her wings. Now he openly weeps over the city.
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
Jesus comes not on a war horse but on a donkey; he comes as the prince of peace. But the powerbrokers in Jerusalem, both Jewish and Roman will not embrace “the things that make for peace.” Because of their hard heartedness, the day will come approximately forty years later in 70 AD when a misguided violent rebellion against Rome will result in a siege of the city that will end with the Temple and everything else in the city reduced to rubble.
Have we learned “the things that make for peace?”
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be a house of prayer”;
but you have made it a den of robbers.’
Jesus goes directly to the Temple where he drives out those who were selling the blemish-free animals that pilgrims could purchase and give to the priests as a sacrifice to atone for their sins. Luke significantly shortens the description of this event from the one found in Mark’s Gospel, as well as the accounts recorded in Matthew’s and John’s Gospels. No mention is made of “overturning tables” or of making a “whip of chords” with which he drove people out. (John 2:15) Luke seems intent of presenting Jesus’ actions as being less violent than the other Gospel writers. Jesus is the one who “knows the things that make for peace.” His action here is non-violent resistance to a religious system that oppresses the poor of the land.
As Luke tells the story, Jesus essentially takes possession of the Temple making it the setting for his teaching for the remainder of the week.
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
It is in response to Jesus’ actions in the Temple that the religious leaders begin to plot his death. They can not take action against him in the presence of the crowds who are captivated by his teachings because it would likely cause a riot, bringing down the heavy hand of Roman occupiers.
Conclude by praying for peace in this world of violence. Pray for the courage to be a peacemaker in your little corner of the universe.
Monday, March 21
Luke 20:1 – 26
Throughout this week leading up his arrest and execution, Jesus comes each day from the Mount of Olives where he and his disciples spend the nights to the Temple where he preached. He teaches “good news”, but those in positions of authority experience his message as a threat, and seek to undermine him.
One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, ‘Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?’ He answered them, ‘I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ They discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.’ So they answered that they did not know where it came from. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’
From the point of view of the religious authorities the question Jesus is asked about his authority is understandable. In his entry, Jesus staged a demonstration in which he was haled as a king and had taken charge of the Temple. Now he is teaching without any credentials. We might attempt to grasp the situation from the authorities’ point of view by imagining someone without a seminary degree, or credentials from the United Methodist Church taking over our sanctuary, claiming the authority to teach us.
Jesus finds it pointless to engage in such debate. The way he fulfills he role of messiah contradicts the expectations people have of what the messiah is supposed to be about. Jesus refuses to answer and puts a question back to them about the authority of John the Baptist, who also lacked credentials. John’s authority was that of a prophet – the first in centuries — who came from outside the religious establishment having received God’s word directly from God. Jesus is claiming to be coming from the same prophetic stream as John. As Jesus anticipated, the religious authorities find themselves in a quandary. John was popular among the people and his authority generally acknowledged, and to question his authority would turn the people against them. So they refuse to answer.
What follows is called a “parable” when in fact it is an allegory because every character is clearly defined.
He began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one also they wounded and threw out.
On the immediate level, the allegory deals with the situation Jesus was dealing with in Jerusalem. The vineyard is Jerusalem, and the religious authorities are the tenants. The slaves are the prophets sent to them over the years (including John) to turn the city back to God and God’s justice. Back when Jesus referred to himself as a mother hen longing to gather her brood beneath her wings, Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (13:34)
On a more universal level, the vineyard is creation and we are all the tenants who were created to be stewards of creation. Our record of stewardship is not good.
Often times in life it does seem like God has left the premises.
Who do you think are the prophets God has sent to us in the present age and how are they received? Do prophets need to claim to speak for God to be God’s prophets?
Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, “This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.” So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
The owner of the vineyard/God shows remarkable restraint in not wreaking vengeance on the tenants. Jesus is the son, and Jesus will shortly be killed. In the death of the son, God’s purpose will seem to have been defeated. But the death is not the last word.
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When they heard this, they said, ‘Heaven forbid!’ But he looked at them and said, ‘What then does this text mean:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone”? (Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:13-14)
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.
Is it just me, or does what follows remind you of our presidential campaigns?
So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?’ They said, ‘The emperor’s.’ He said to them, ‘Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
The devious spies sent by the religious authorities ask a question that could easily trip Jesus up. If he comes down on the side of “don’t pay taxes to the emperor” then they can turn him over to the Romans and be done with him. If he says “you should pay taxes”, the peoples would likely turn against him, for they are placing their messianic hopes on him that he will lead them to Israel’s liberation from Rome.
The answer Jesus gives can not be seen as some sort of universal answer for Christians to follow in every instance when there is a conflict between the Church and the State. What is clear is that 1) as a general rule, Christians do not violate their faith when they pay taxes to pagan secular governments, but 2) whenever there are conflicts between human loyalties – for instance between one’s country and one’s God – there can be no question that God must be served. (see Acts 5:29)
Conclude by praying for our political leaders, that they might put aside the spirit of divisiveness.
Tuesday, March 22
Luke 20:27 – 47
The Sadducees were a wealthy, conservative priestly stream of Judaism that was comfortable with the status quo. They cooperated with the Romans in administering Jewish political and religious affairs. They only acknowledged the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament – as sacred scripture. They believed that the only life we have is this one since they found no evidence to the contrary in the Torah. Since they had the money to be more comfortable than most, this life alone seemed to them to be enough.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.
It was believed that Moses had written the Torah. In order to carry on a deceased brother’s name and memory and to provide for a widow, the Torah instructed a surviving brother to marry the widow and if possible, provide offspring.
Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’
The Sadducees come up with a hypothetical case which in their minds shows the absurdity of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead which was held by the Pharisees, as well as by Jesus.
Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
Jesus argues that there is indeed a passage in the Torah that testifies to the resurrection of the dead: the time God first spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6) identifying Godself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” It makes no sense to speak in this way unless Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are in fact alive.
The Sadducees are too small-minded to conceive of what the life beyond this life might be like, and so, perhaps are all of us. We cannot help but resort to our experience of this life as we know it when we try to imagine what the next life will be like. Marriage and other earthly institutions necessary to bring order to the chaos of this life are a necessity here but will not be necessary in the life to come since we will be set free to love as Jesus loves.
Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant systematic theologian of the 13th century, wrote thousands of pages of theology that has served as a guide for the Roman Catholic Church right up to today. Towards the end of his life he had some kind of mystical experience in which he caught a glimpse behind the veil. Utterly overwhelmed by what he saw, he refused to write any more, referring to all of his volumes of words as “just so much straw.” Our language cannot capture the meaning of eternity.
Do you believe in a life beyond this one, and if so, what do you imagine it to be like?
Then he said to them, ‘How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son? For David himself says in the book of Psalms,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”
David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’
For Luke, Jesus is the true Son of David, but he will represent God’s kingship in a way radically different from the nationalistic and violent King David.
In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
The scribes are condemned for their grasping after public recognition. They do not have the security that comes from knowing they are loved by God, and so they seek to establish their own sense of self-worth by being acknowledged by others. Perhaps there is something of the scribes in all of us.
“They devour widow’s houses…” Certain television preachers come to mind who take advantage of widow living on social security, persuading them to send contributions they cannot afford.
Conclude with a time of prayer pondering the mystery of the life to come. Pray for those who are nearing the end of this life.
Wednesday, March 23
Luke 21: 1 – 38
In the reading that directly preceded this, Jesus lambasted the scribes because “They devour widows’ houses…” In this context, the story that follows is challenging to interpret.
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
The poor widow offering all she has – two small copper coins – could be seen as an example of one of the ways the religious authorities “devour” a poor widow’s income. And yet Jesus seems to sincerely affirm her offering; she is able to do what the rich ruler back in 18:18 who was unable to do: give away all she had.
There is a principle at work here that says the significance of an offering can not be measured by its size. The billionaire who gives a million dollars can be fawned over for the gift large enough to pay off the church’s mortgage and pay its bills for years to come, but his gift is far less praiseworthy in the eyes of God than the faithful tithe of the widow living on a fixed income.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘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.’
The Temple was far and away the most beautiful and impressive physical structure made by human hands that any of those present that day would see in their lifetime. And yet no human creation is immortal, nor should it be worshipped in itself. Luke writes ten years or so after the destruction of the Temple following the Jewish uprising and the Roman siege.
They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And 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.
‘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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
‘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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.
By the time Luke was writing his gospel, the early church would have gone through times of violent persecution, with little reason to expect otherwise in the future. In Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts, the main protagonist will be the Holy Spirit. Jesus alludes to the guidance the Spirit will provide throughout the times of persecution.
But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
The first sentence is not meant to be taken literally; many indeed will die as martyrs.
In what follows Jesus speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus had spoken of “the things that make for peace,” and the violent uprising that certain Jewish zealots will engage in was not Jesus’ way. It was doomed. Jesus counsels people to flee rather than to engage the foolhardy fight against the overpowering forces of the Romans.
‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
The words shift now to speaking of the “end times”, in which people will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud.”
‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
As I discussed earlier, the earliest Christians expected Jesus to be returning very soon to establish the Kingdom of God, and this expectation led to a lack of concern for the “worries of this life.” But time has passed, and Jesus has not returned. How does the church maintain such vigilance?
Two thousand years later, with the exception of the sort of people who succumb to the misguided teachings of people like Harold Camping, most of us find the notion of Jesus’ imminent return implausible. Nonetheless, we all await the day of our deaths, the hour of which is not known.
Shortly before his death, the psychologist Abraham Maslow described a change in his life which occurred when he suffered a serious heart attack at the pinnacle of his career: “My attitude toward life changed… everything gets doubly precious, gets piercingly important.. Everything seems to look more beautiful rather than less, and one gets the much intensified sense of miracles… There is a kind of spontaneity that’s greater than everything else could make possible.”
What would it take to enter the kind of consciousness Maslow experienced by drawing close to death?
Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
Jesus knew the end was near. What do you think he was feeling each night as he retreated to the Mount of Olives to rest?
Conclude by pondering the fact that Jesus has gone before you into the mystery that is death, and he will be with you when the time comes for you to make that journey.
Maundy Thursday, March 24
Luke 22:1 – 65
Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.
The Festival of Passover commemorated the defining event in the history of the Jewish people in which God liberated the Hebrew slaves from their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt. As such it was a time of great patriotic fervor during which the possibility of rebellion against the oppression of the Romans – the present day “Pharaoh” – seemed heightened.
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
Back before Jesus began his ministry, Luke concluded the story of Jesus’ temptations this way: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (4:13) This is the opportune time of which Jesus spoke.
It has been a great mystery to the church how it could be that one of the twelve apostles — those who lived in the most intimate contact with Jesus through the duration of his ministry – would betray him into the hands of the authorities. We are not told why Judas did this, so we are left to speculation. Why do you think he did it?
If the chief priests and the Temple guards arrest Jesus in the presence of the crowds, the people will likely riot, which would lead to Roman soldiers swooping in to crush the riot. There would be much bloodshed and the chief priests would lose the support of the people. Because of the tens of thousands of Passover pilgrims who had recently entered the city at the end of each day it was easy for Jesus and his disciples to slip away to the Mount of Olives outside of the city. The information Judas provided the Chief Priests was where Jesus could be found at night out of sight of the crowds.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ ” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
Like the arrangements made for before for securing a donkey for the entrance, so we are given the impression here that Jesus has orchestrated everything in advance. “A man carrying a jar of water” would have stood out in the crowds because normally this was the work of women. Peter and John could spot him easily and follow him discreetly. Because of their enemies, the location of the room must be kept secret. An “upper” room would be more private since it would be difficult to see in through the windows.
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
What we call “the Last Supper” was a traditional Passover meal transformed by Jesus with the words he spoke that night. The bread broken and the cup poured out symbolize Jesus’ body broken on the cross with his blood poured out. A new covenant between God and humanity is hereby established.
Even in this moment of intimate communion, human sin is present. Judas, pretending to be one of the faithful, is present at the table scheming Jesus’ arrest. Jesus knows who will betray him, but the other disciples do not, and their insecurities are triggered. Each of them wonders if it could be he himself that Jesus is referring to. Their insecurity leads to an argument about who is the most faithful among them.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’
This is one of the very few stories that are found in all four Gospels: the denial of Jesus by Simon Peter three times. Peter declares his willingness to go to prison and death with Jesus; but he will soon discover he is not as strong as he wants to believe he is.
We all have our breaking points.
Luke alone has Jesus specifically command Simon Peter to turn back and strengthen his brothers after he arises from his fall. With his own experience of falling and getting back up again by the grace of God Peter can speak words of encouragement to others when they stumble.
We come now to a particularly difficult passage to make sense of.
He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’
Luke’s gospel alone contains these words. That Jesus would command his disciples to take up swords at this point is inconsistent with everything else he taught.
Perhaps we can feel some sympathy here for Muslims who find themselves needing to explain obscure passages of the Koran in which Mohammed commands his followers to take up arms against unbelievers.
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,‘ Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]]
Once again, Jesus prays. He loves life; he does not have a martyr complex, and so he asks for this cup – his suffering and death that will shortly commence – be removed from him. But he concludes with submission to God’s will.
The portion in the parentheses was not included in the earliest manuscripts and is thought to be a later addition, not written by Luke.
When (Jesus) got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came,
In contrast to the other gospel writers, Luke mentions the presence of a “crowd”, suggestive of how fickle at least some of the people can be, quickly switching allegiance.
and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’
Jesus’ insistence on “the way that makes for peace” continues as he rebukes the disciple who resorts to violence, cuts off the ear of the high priest. Luke alone includes Jesus’ healing of the slave. His ministry of compassion continues even here in the moment of his arrest.
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.
The charge of being with Jesus is serious; Jesus was charged with political treason and if Peter is identified as a companion of Jesus, the same charge can be brought against him. Terror overcomes Peter.
Luke alone has Jesus present in the courtyard at Peter’s betrayal, having the two make eye contact after Peter’s third denial.
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.
It is still night. As Luke tells the story, Jesus does not appear before the chief priests until Friday morning.
Conclude pondering the darkness of this day. The disciples could not stay awake. Both Judas and Peter have betrayed Jesus. In what ways do we betray Jesus? Pray all those falsely accused in this world, and the courage to take stands for God’s kingdom.
Good Friday, March 25
Luke 22:66 – 23:1 – 49
Jesus is first interrogated by the Jewish leadership council known as the Sanhedrin.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’
Next Jesus is questioned by Pilate, the Roman governor who ruled over Judea and Samaria, the southern portion of Palestine. The charges are false.
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’
Pilate is happy to pass the buck to Herod Antipas who rules over the northern region that included Galilee where Jesus is from. Unlike Pilate, Herod is a Jew who rules at the discretion of Rome. It is Herod who has earlier executed John. He is in Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’
Luke does not explain what the Gospel writer Mark does, which is that there was a tradition of the Roman governor to release a prisoner at Passover to appease the masses.
Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
Once more the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD is referenced. Usually it was considered to be a curse for a woman to be barren. Jesus is saying that because the times that are coming will be so destructive and disturbing, it will be a blessing to be barren.
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 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. [[Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]]
We often have heard of Jesus praying in this Gospel; here on the cross he continues to pray. He prays for forgiveness for those who have nailed him to the cross and references their ignorance in regard to what they are doing. In a certain sense he prays for all of humanity. In what ways are we also ignorant of what we do in this life and the motivations within us?
And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Two thieves: with their dying breaths, one chooses darkness, the other light. The choice is stark. Are we conscious of the choices we make that move us away or towards God?
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.
Luke downplays the utter desolation with which Mark and Matthew portrays Jesus dying on the cross (“My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”)
When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Whereas the centurion in Mark declares Jesus to be the “son of God,” here Luke has him simply witness to Jesus’ innocence. The injustice of Jesus’ death moves the crowd to repentance, and they return home, “beating their breasts,” the same words used to describe the tax-collector in the Temple in Jesus’ parable. (18:9-14)
Conclude by reflecting on the fact that the sin of the world has nailed Jesus to the cross. How have you, personally helped to put him there?
Holy Saturday, March 26
Luke 23:50 – 56
Throughout this Gospel, Jesus has had challenging things to say to and about rich people. The Sanhedrin sentenced Jesus to death, but as is usually the case in life there were dissenting voices. Here at the end we hear of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who steps forward bravely to ask for the body of Jesus, placing him in a tomb that he owned.
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
In this Gospel that so often has taken the perspective of women in a time when women were discounted, it is only female disciples that we find at Jesus’ tomb when he is buried. The men are terrified by the possibility that the same fate might befall them and are no where in sight. The setting of the sun at the end of the day marked the beginning of the Sabbath. Since no work can be done on the Sabbath the job of anointing Jesus’ dead body with spices and anointments for burial will have to wait for Sunday morning. Broken-hearted, the women return to the places where they are staying to grieve and rest.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Conclude by pondering the story up to this point. What if the story had ended here?
Easter Sunday, March 27
The last to depart the tomb on Friday are the first to return, just as the sun rises. The women come to do the job of anointing Jesus’ body since there was no time to do it on Friday. In no sense do they anticipate the resurrection. It takes them completely by surprise.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The four gospels vary significantly in their accounts of what happened on Easter Sunday. The one consistency throughout is that it was women who found the tomb empty and were the first witnesses to the resurrection, and that the linen clothes within which Jesus’ body had been wrapped remained behind. The fact that women were the first witnesses is remarkable because in those days women were thought of as being unreliable (as indicated by the male disciples considering the women’s witness to be “idle talk”) and were not permitted to testify in court. If the story was simply an attempt to deceive the world into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead in order to keep his movement going, the story that was made up would not place women at the center of the story.
The “two men” the women meet at the tomb are referred to later as “angels” in 24:23, and what the women saw is said to be a “vision.” The clothes of Jesus in the story of the transfiguration were also described as “dazzling.” (9:29)
The men’s doubt confirms the fact that they had no expectation that this would happen, and how very hard it can be to believe.
What do you think happened back on that first Easter morning?
Conclude pondering the difference it makes in the world that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Pray for those among us who are tempted by despair, and can not believe in God’s power over death.
Monday, March 27
Luke 24:13 – 35
Luke continues with a dramatic tale that is not found in any other gospel. It involves two disciples who were not counted among the twelve, trying to get away from Jerusalem presumably because the city now means only despair and grief for them.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The two disciples are said to have been “kept from recognizing him,” implying that God is the actor here. In two places earlier in the Gospel what Jesus said is said to be “hidden from them.” (9:45; 18:34) Faith is a gift from God, not a human achievement. John’s Gospel also contains two stories in which followers of Jesus do not initially recognize the risen Christ. (John 20:15; 21:4)
Had the two disciples not extended hospitality to this stranger, he apparently would have passed on down the road. This calls to mind the experience the disciples would have had numerous times before when Jesus sent them out into the world to knock on doors to announce that the kingdom of God had drawn near. They would have been the welcomed stranger, bringing blessings upon the home. Welcoming strangers is essential to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We are blessed in doing so.
The story expresses the life of the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit. The unrecognized Jesus leads the disciples through Bible Study (“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures”) with particular attention to the suffering servant passages in Isaiah (“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things…”). It is in the sharing of a meal – specifically when Jesus broke and blessed bread – that they recognize Jesus, calling to mind the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Why do you think Jesus vanished at the moment he was recognized? What do you think the disciples meant when they said their hearts burned within them? Have you had moments when God astonished you, perhaps through a stranger?
Conclude by praying for the ability to welcome the stranger among us, and to sense the unseen presence of the risen Christ.
Tuesday, March 27
Luke 24:36 – 53
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you,” the same words with which we greet one another each Sunday morning. Peace is God’s gift, and it means far more than the absence of conflict. It involves harmony and wholeness.
The story recognizes how hard the resurrection of Jesus is to believe. Luke’s story emphasizes that the risen Christ had a body, one that could in fact consume a piece of fish. This is no mere ghost.
But it is certainly a different kind of body from the ones in which we live our lives. In the previous story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus this resurrection body of Jesus had the capacity to suddenly disappear. In John’s Gospel Jesus suddenly appears in the locked upper room.
In what follows, Jesus emphasizes that his resurrection cannot be understood apart from the story of suffering and death that preceded it. We cannot truly appreciate Easter apart from experiencing the darkness of Good Friday.
Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
It is not just any man that God raised from the dead. It was a particular man — Jesus of Nazareth — whose story we have been spending these past 40 plus days contemplating. In raising Jesus, God affirmed the message that was embodied in Jesus’ life of loving enemies, forgiving sins, and living the way that makes for peace.
The story of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection is intended to bring “all nations” to repentance. Repentance implies a change of direction: we have been walking away from God, now we seek to walk towards God, following the way of Jesus. This repentance is a daily move of the heart, as Jesus said “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (9:23)
For Luke the story doesn’t end here. Jesus commands his disciples to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” He references the Day of Pentecost which Luke will recount at the beginning of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, his sequel to the story.
Luke concludes with the story of what is called the “Ascension”. Heaven is pictured as being up above us, which is how it is imagined here, but in fact heaven is not located in a particular direction; rather, it is another dimension of reality that we cannot directly perceive. Jesus ends his time of appearing in this reality and departs to dwell eternally in this other mysterious reality where God’s will is fully done, and love is all, and all the tears are wiped away, and death is no more.
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Conclude by pondering the fact that Jesus is not far away, but close at hand. In your imagination, turn towards him now and ask that moving forward from this point your life may be a blessing to God.