Go and Do Likwise

Finishing what I started the other day.   Some who read this, won’t like it.

Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

Jesus responds to the lawyer who’s asked him “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”   He responds “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  And 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 answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  So, at this point, Jesus and this lawyer are in complete agreement.   The Torah scholar asks how he might inherit eternal life, Jesus answers his question with a question, and the lawyer answers perfectly.  Jesus and this lawyer are in complete agreement.  But now the lawyer is ready to get down to the real business of why he is engaging Jesus in the first place.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   And that is the question, isn’t it?   We all know Jesus taught us to love God and love neighbor.  Loving God is fine for us, after all we don’t actually see or know God anyway, so it’s easy to love him whom can’t argue with us or disagree with us or annoy us or embarrass us.   But loving neighbor, that’s a little different.  We can love our neighbor, right, but just so long as we can define who that neighbor is.  I mean, my neighbor is my neighbor, right.  He lives right next door!    But that guy in front of 7-11, dirty and disheveled, living in a tent in the woods because he’s not smart  like me, doesn’t work hard like me, that’s not my neighbor.  Those people I see in going into the local mosque to worship Allah, they are not my neighbors, they’re not even Christian!!  Those people in the local jail, they are not my neighbors, they’re criminals…

That’s  the thing about loving your neighbor.  You can see him.  He can annoy us.  He can lie to us, steal from us.  He can interrupt us.  He might not wear the right clothes, have the right job, the right address.  He might not have an address at all.

And so we come to the question  “And who is my neighbor?”   Jesus doesn’t just answer this and say “everyone is your neighbor!   Love everyone!”   He responds with a story.  A very famous story, a story with which we are very familiar with.  So familiar that for all our talk and knowledge about the story, we have totally forgotten, or missed altogether, the point of the story.

First…forget the phrase “Good Samaritan”.  This phrase prevents us from understanding the meaning here.  We all want to live as “Good Samaritans”.  Samaritans are good, we’ve never known anything but a Good Samaritan.  We want to be just like all the Good Samaritans in the world.  “Samaritan” and “good” are synonyms in our modern culture and language.  Someone calls you a Samaritan, you might think “Amen!

But Jesus listeners would not have felt that way.  Samaritans were the most hated enemy.   When Jesus told his followers to love your enemy, they were no doubt thinking, “sure, as long as you’re not talking about those Samaritans over there!”   For us today, it would be like being told to love and care for that ISIS member that you know has been car bombing people all over the Middle East.  As far as loving enemy, by the way, we might be ok with loving Ahmed as long as he keeps his butt over there.   Moving two doors down, coming to America, not so much.

Or we could think about it this way.  The Samaritans and the Jews hostility was very much like the hostility between the Israelis and Palestinians today.  Not only in its nature but even its geography.   So we could remake this story as the “Good Palestinian”.   Most of us, as we consider this conflict, tend to sympathize with the Israelis and be suspicious of the Palestinians.  But I will say this – in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Christians are not called to take Israel’s side, but we are called to imitate Israel’s Messiah.  And no Christian can argue with that…

Let’s look at the story Jesus gives us.  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 

Let’s look at what this story is and is not.  Like I said yesterday, what Jesus does here is brilliant.  Do you see what Jesus has done???   He does NOT give us a story about one of US doing good and helping one of them.   This story is not the story a good Jew, or a good Christian, or a good Israeli, stopping, loving, and giving extraordinary care for an enemy.

Jesus turns the tables, he turns our expectations upside down (as he so often does) and implies a very subversive question, if you read it right.  What do you do when your enemy acts in love and treats you like a neighbor?   We know Jesus calls us to love god and love our neighbor, to love our enemies.  We don’t like it, so we come up with all kinds of qualifications as to who is our neighbor.

Jesus turns the trap back on this lawyer.   And the lawyer has no choice but to acknowledge the point Jesus has made.   Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Remember this story is given in response to the question Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?    What do I have to do to enter into the age to come?   Well, what does the law say?  Love God, love neighbor, do this and you will enter into eternal life.  Yeah, but we have our defenses up.  We are going tell you why we shouldn’t love Muslims, Hindus, Palestinians, Mexicans, immigrants, gays, criminals…but Jesus flips it all on us.  What do you do when a Muslim loves you?    Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In other words, Mr. good Jewish Bible scholar, be careful that you are not outdone by people you have convinced yourself have no knowledge of God.  Jesus says, I have given you a way to imagine your enemy acting like a neighbor.  Now go and act that way to people who think you are an enemy.  Your enemy taking the initiative.  You know that’s good.  You can’t deny that.  Now go and do likewise…

Do we think Christianity is a superior revelation of god’s love than Islam?  Do you think Christ is a superior revelation of god’s love than Muhammad?  The answer should be yes, or else we should become Muslim.  Then prove it by acting in love and mercy toward every Muslim you meet.  Or else, shut up.  The point is not that my religious founder can beat up your religious founder.   If you think Christianity is a superior revelation of God’s love than Islam (and it is), then prove it by acting in love and mercy toward every Muslim you meet, or just shut up, because you just sounding like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Jesus calls us to the radical hospitality of extravagant mercy.  This is how Jesus enacts the kingdom if God.   He tells us in his sermon on the plain, earlier in Luke,  “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36 ESV

He also teaches us this.  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Luke 6:35 ESV.  God is kind to the ungrateful and evil.  

We think all we have to do is define someone as evil.  But even you’re right, they are evil, Jesus teaches us God is kind to them too.  And we should be like our father, that’s what Jesus teaches.

Jesus is very fond of this teaching from the prophet Hosea.  “Go and learn what this means.  I desire mercy not sacrifice.”   The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind.  But this is proven only by love of neighbor.  Without love of neighbor, love of God is totally abstract.

The apostle John says this –  “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 ESV.   If you say you love God, but you’ve never seen God, and you just make up God, God is an idea or concept, but you don’t love your neighbor, you are a liar and the truth is not in you.   That’s what John says…

The first commandment is to love God, but this is proven by our love of neighbor.  Without love of neighbor, the love of God is just an abstract.  We love our idea of God, and our idea of God oftentimes turns out to be suspiciously like us.   We end up, in the name of loving God, doing nothing more than loving ourselves.

If we define our neighbor as those like us, those who share our nationality, our ethnicity, our politics, our religion, if we define our neighbor as those, then we prove that we don’t really love God, we just love ourselves.

The biblical test for love of God is love of neighbor.  The biblical test for love of neighbor is love of enemy.  Remember that Jesus says God desires mercy, not sacrificial scapegoats.

I don’t  prove our devotion to Jesus by My level of hostility toward Muslims.  I prove my devotion to showing love and mercy to everyone.    That’s the Jesus Way.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by calling everyone neighbor instead of enemy.  I don’t prove my devotion to Jesus by how much I hate those I identify as enemies of the Christian faith.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by how I love and have mercy on everyone.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by calling my enemy my neighbor.

“You go, and do likewise.”

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And 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 answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-37.esv

John Lewis

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Good Deeds

Good Deeds

The parable of the Good Samaritan.  One of the three most famous parables Jesus ever told, all three of which, coincidentally, appear only in Luke.   The parable of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the rich man and Lazarus.   These three parables have escaped the boundaries of the church, Christian teaching, or Christian preaching.  They have escaped  just being a part of church culture to become part of the wider culture and teaching.

Jesys was a master storyteller, and his forte were deceptively simple and deeply subversive parables.   Deceptively simple because they appear to be simple, but never turn out to be so.   Jesys spoke as a poet and storyteller.  As a composer of parables, he rarely used plain language.  In fact, when he finally did speak plainly the night before his betrayal in the upper room, his disciples were surprised and said “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!” John 16:29 ESV  This was clearly not the way he ordinarily spoke.

In our modern, post enlightenment world, we prefer, plain, prosaic, technical language for teaching.  We prefer the language of the manual, the 5 easy steps, the how-to.  This is the model we prefer, and we can become frustrated when this is not what we get.  But Jesus doesn’t use this kind of model, he doesn’t speak in the language of the manual, the 5 steps, the 4 laws, the how-to.  He instead prefers the artistic medium of story, parable, and poetry.  Remember, the poetic and the prophetic are related.

If you were to encounter the public speaking ministry of Jesus, it would be more like going to the theater than going to school.  If you go to school, you get lessons, line by line, 1,2,3, this is how you do it.  When Jesus spoke publicly this is not what you got.  It was more like a theatrical performance so that when he was done you had to wonder about what you had just heard.

This story of the Good Samaritan has become so famous, just about everybody knows something about it.  If you live in western civilization, you are at least familiar with this story.  It has become so famous that it has almost entirely lost its meaning.  It has suffered from its fame.  It’s fame has made it familiar and misunderstood.

The point if the parable of the Good Samaritan is NOT to be a Good Samaritan.  Stay with me, I have something to say here, but you’re going to have to work with me.  The point of the parable of the Good Samaritan is not to just be a Good Samaritan.

Now, don’t misunderstand – there is nothing wrong with being a Good Samaritan.  Please, by all means, when the opportunity arises, go be a Good Samaritan.  But that’s not the point, AT ALL.  When we make the point of the parable “I helped a guy with his flat tire on the beltway today, I was a Good Samaritan”, we have missed the point altogether.  It loses all its punch, it’s not subversive, and we don’t learn the lesson Jesus wants to teach us.

If you want to have ears to hear, if we want to really hear what Jesus is trying to say, we must keep two things in mind throughout the entire parable

1).  Jesus crafted this parable in response to a question about eternal life and love of neighbor.  “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  That’s the context, never forget the context.

2). He’s speaking to an audience of Jews.  Jews and Samaritans HATED each other like poison.  They loathed each other, they were deeply entrenched in hostility.

A lawyer (Torah scholar, someone expert in application of the Torah, not a lawyer in our sense of the word) is suspicious about Jesus, especially his practice of radical hospitality.   We’ve seen how Jesus constantly receives everyone at his table, even those who are not supposed to be received according to the laws of taboo of the time.  This Torah scholar is suspicious of Jesus’s practice of radical hospitality.  He thinks it’s too broad, too wide, too liberal, too inclusive.  He decides to engage Jesus in a public debate, a very legitimate thing to do in Jewish circles at the time.

His motive in asking this question is to expose Jesus as being too broad in his hospitality.   And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”   What must i do to get in in the life in the age to come?  I want to be in on it.   We know there will be a resurrection, I want to be a part of that.

To which Jesus answers his question with a question (a very Jewish, rabbinic thing to do).  “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”   So, you know the law, you’re an expert, sum it all up for me.

And 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.”    The Torah scholar has this exactly right!!!   He and Jesus are in complete agreement on this point.  Jesus has himself said this exact same thing.  And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”   

All this has just been a setup.  And now the Torah scholar is ready with his trap!!  Remember, he is trying to test Jesus, to challenge him.  He has a follow up question.  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   What the Torah lawyer is going to do now is expose Jesus as being too generous, too liberal, too generous, too broad with his love.  This scholar thinks he knows how Jesus will answer, and he’s ready with his arguments.   What he expects Jesus to say is “Love everyone.  Everyone is your neighbor.  Love the Romans.  Love the Samaritans, love the Gentiles.  Love your enemy.”

But that’s not what Jesus does here.   The lawyer expects Jesus to say “everyone is your neighbor, you gotta love everybody.”   What Jesus does instead is entirely brilliant.

It’s brilliant because the lawyer has his prepared argument.  He knows what Jesus will say.  (Every good lawyer knows you don’t ask a question without already knowing the answer!). And he knows how he’ll respond when Jesus does.

Here’s one example of a rabbinic commentary from the first century to the question “Who is my neighbor.”  This was a question which came up all the time, by the way.  These people were serious about studying the Torah!  If you could reduce the law and the prophets to “love god, love neighbor”, you can bet they would sit around for hours debating about exactly “who is my neighbor?’   One popular rabbi, a contemporary of Jesus, Sirach, taught – “If you do a good deed, know for whom you are doing it.  Give it to a good man.  Give nothing to a godless man.  And do not go to the help of a sinner.”

He expects Jesus to say “love everyone.  Everyone is your neighbor.  Jew, gentile, Roman, Samaritan, they are all your neighbor.”  He is prepared to say “Yeah, but that’s irresponsible and naive.  Sirach says we have to be careful, because If we help sinners we might be aiding and abetting sin.  We might be helping sin to fluourish.  We have to very careful about who we define and treat as a neighbor.  We need to careful, judicious, conservative, economical with who we identify as our neighbor.”  The lawyer is ready for Jesus to say who we should treat as our neighbor, he’s got his response planned out, he’s got his argument against him.  Except Jesus doesn’t do that.  There’s no point in coming to loggerheads and arguing endlessly back and forth.  Jesus is much too smart for that.

Here’s a piece of timeless advice for you – never get into a public debate with Jesus.  He’s merciful, but you will end up looking stupid.   For some reason, we argue with Jesus all time, don’t we?  We’ve identified all kinds of “enemies of Christianity”, and we spend much time, energy, and treasure fighting and arguing with them.  We live coming to loggerheads with those who disagree with us, we think it means we are living into the persecution and suffering of Jesus just because we are always engaging in arguments with the world around us.  We are always engaging these “enemies of Christ.”   We have our swords, our pet bible verses, and go to war with them, chopping down those sinners, all those people we count as enemies.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t engage like this.  He responds with a parable.  He responds with story.  He responds with poetry.  He gives a story which has become beloved to us today.  We love it, mainly because we don’t understand it.  We think it gives a way to be a “good guy”, we can go out and do a few “good deeds” and call ourselves following Jesus.  Good deeds are good to do.  But let us have ears to hear, Jesus doesn’t let us off that easily.   I will show what I mean tomorrow, that’s enough for today.

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And 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 answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-37.esv

John Lewis

Fire From Heaven

Going to finish what I started in the last couple of messages..  I had made the statement that What happens at the start of his final journey to Jerusalem  is shocking,  if we will allow it to shock us.  I made this statement but never actually got to this point, so today I will get to the point.   (And all God’s people said Amen!)

Yesterday we finished up at the point in Luke Chapter 9 where Jesus, having detected the spirit of competition and power among his disciples as they argued about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of God,  set down a little child among them and said to them “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”” Luke 9:47-48 ESV.

Jesus is completely challenging their whole systems of comparing and competing, us vs them, and the disciples resist this, maybe they even resent it.   They, like us, were very committed to their us vs them framework of seeing the world.  Jesus subverts their system, their way of competing and contrasting and picking winners and losers, and the disciples don’t like it.

In my previous message, I had looked more specifically at verse 49 which comes next after Jesus shows them that greatness is not to be defined as they had thought.  “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 the one who is not against you is for you.”” Luke 9:49-50 ESV.   Still showing his commitment to his us vs them way of seeing the world, John doubles down and tells how, despite their own failures in casting out demons earlier, they had come upon a man who was having no trouble casting out those demons in the name of Jesus Christ.  He had no trouble accomplishing what the disciples could not, but since he does not follow with us, the disciples stopped him.  And of course Jesus rebukes them and tells them “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

I’ll reiterate again, then get to the point.  You’ll never cast out many demons by sticking to us vs them because that’s the game demons play.  

Now, back to verse 51, that demarcation point from which Jesus has entered the last two weeks of his earthly ministry.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. ” And they went to another village.”

Jesus has steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, he is determined to stay faithful in announcing the Kingdom of God even though it means going through his own crucifixion to do it.  Notice that they do not go around Samaria as most Jews of the time would have, so hated were the Samaritans that they would add days to their journey just to avoid all contact with them.  But, again, Jesus refuses to recognize boundaries constructed in hostility toward others.  He does not have the spirit of Satan with him.   He goes straight through Samaria in his journey up to Jerusalem.

Now, he sent messengers ahead of him to go into Samaria to find somewhere to stay.  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.   The Samaritans hated the Jews right back, anyone who was set upon going up to Jerusalem to worship, who thought that they only had the one true God and said the Samaritans had no part in that God, even though the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all worshipped God upon their great mountain, Mt Gerazene.  The Samaritans resisted and resented this and would not receive Jews into their territory any more that the Jews wished to pass through.

And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. ”.  James and John are having a tough time in Luke Chapter 9.

Samaria at the time was the same area as the Palestinian West Bank.  The geography and relationships and hostilities remain about the same to this day.  Most Jews took the long route around Samaria, Jesus goes straight through.  But the Samaritans won’t receive them, and it is an insult.

In response to this insult, James and John, the Sons of Thunder, wanted to burn them up with the fire of God.  In their desire to burn the Samaritan them, James and John cite the Bible.  Like the Bible says Jesus, you want us to burn them up like Elijah did?   Immediately James and John cite the story in 2Kings chapter 1.  You can read it for yourself, but here’s the point – when the king of Samaria, centuries earlier, sent troops to arrest the prophet Elijah, Elijah twice called down fire from heaven and burned them up, thus killing 100 Samaritan soldiers.  This is immediately what James and a John gravitate to.  We remember when Elijah let them have it.  Let’s go shock and awe on them, let’s drop the nukes, call down fire from heaven and burn them up!!!   Jesus let’s do that!!

This is what Elijah did when the Samaritans opposed him.  But guess what??!!   JESUS IS NOT ELIJAH.  The disciples clearly thought violence was on the table for Jesus. They’d been with him, walked with him, learned from him.  They knew his ways, but ultimately they still thought when it all hit the fan, Jesus would grab the sword and go to war.  They thought Jesus would resort to violence to usher in the kingdom of God, just like Joshua, like David, like Elijah.  They are wrong,  flat wrong.

Jesus tells them they are wrong with a very strong rebuke.  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”  It was the spirit of Satan they had within them.   While fantasizing about the vengeance of God falling upon your enemies, make sure your not just fantasizing about your own vengeance and thus giving yourself over to the spirit of Satan.  This is what James, John and the disciples did.

James and John could have gone to another bible story.  Elijah had a protégée, Elisha, who had the double portion of the spirit of Elijah.  On one occasion, Elisha found his house surrounded by Syrian soldiers coming to arrest him.  When Elijah had this situation, he called down fire from heaven.  Elisha is capable of this, but does not do it.  He asks God to render them temporarily blind.  He takes them to the king of Israel.  “And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria. As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:18-23 ESV.  What to make of this?  Elisha had progressed beyond Elijah.  It’s a journey.  We have to stay on the journey, both individually and together in community.  Elijah’s way of dealing with enemies was to burn them and kill them.  Elisha’s way of dealing with enemies is to bless them, share a table with them and have a feast, then send them home with bellies full.  And the Syrians never again invaded.

Elijah’s way is to burn his enemies and kill them.  Elisha’s way is to bless his enemies and share a table with them.  Which one is the Jesus Way?  But the disciples had a hard time with that…

Jesus’s way of changing the world is not on a battlefield but at a shared table.  This is why we see Jesus enacting the kingdom of god from table to table.  Jesus disciples kept thinking Jesus would resort to violence, which is what Peter said in the garden of Gethsemane.   “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”” Luke 22:49 ESV.  To which Jesus says, as he always had through his entire life and ministry, NO.  Yet to this day many Christians believe, that ultimately, in the end of things, Jesus is still going to resort to violence to fully advance his kingdom.  He’s going to come down like Elijah, breathing that fire from heaven, burning all of those sinners up!!  We wait, we expect wars to come, and we think these are good because it must mean Jesus is coming.   Man, we have so missed the point, and the message, of the Gospel.  Gospel means Good News, does it not?   Why would we think Jesus bringing fire from heaven to burn up all the sinners would be Good News???

We are still infected with the spirit of Satan.

Jesus will go to Jerusalem.  He will confront the principalities and powers, and he will never resort to violence.  Jesus will allow his body to be broken.  He will allow his blood to be shed.  He will respond with forgiveness.  And forgiveness only.

Thank you Jesus.

John Lewis

Winners and Losers

Luke 9:51 is a very important demarcation point in the gospel of Luke.   It almost seems as though it should be the start of a new chapter.  It is from this point that Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem.   Luke 9:51 to the triumphal entry in the middle of Luke 19, 10 full chapters, takes place over 4-5 days, certainly no more than a week, then what follows is Jesus passion week and the resurrection. So From Luke 9:51 to Jesus resurrection is no more than a two week period.

“Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 

To be received up, most translations now say to be taken up, is kind of a double entendre.  It is  referring to his death, being lifted up on the cross, but also refers to his resurrection.  He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem….why does it tell us this?  Think about it. He was determined, absolutely determined.  This took great courage.  How much courage??  He knew what would happen. He knew he would be killed.  Jesus knew he’d be put to death.   He could have avoided this by fleeing, or so many other ways.    But he doesn’t.  He had, indeed, steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.

How did Jesus know this, that he would be killed when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival?  It was not necessarily divine revelation, a word from the Father.  It may have been, but not necessarily.   Jesus understood that Jerusalem was the center of the principalities and powers.  If he goes to the center of that power structure, where  Caiaphas,  Pontius Pilate, and King Herod hold their power,  and proclaims the alternative of the kingdom of God, he will be killed.  But he also knows it’s the will of the Father for him to be faithful in proclaiming the kingdom of God even if it leads to his death.  By the way, it is in his death that he reveals God’s love and overthrows those same principalities and powers.

What happens at the start of his final journey to Jerusalem  is shocking,  if we will allow it to shock us.   He finds within his own disciples a remnant of that same spirit that will kill him in Jerusalem.   In the powers of Jerusalem, within Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, the  religious powers, government powers, and economic powers, there is a spirit present. It will cause them to kill Jesus.   It is the spirit of Satan.  The Unholy Spirit.  The spirit of accusation, of hate.  The Spirit of Us vs Them.   It is this same spirit he finds within his own disciples.

Let’s back up just a bit.  They are in Galilee.  Jesus is praying, he’s always praying, Luke brings this out especially.  “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”” Luke 9:18-20 ESV Who do the crowds say I am?  Maybe John the Baptist, maybe Elijah.  Remember, the guy who launched this movement (John the Baptist) is already dead, it’s a dangerous thing they are involved in.

Jesus responds to Peter affirming him as the Messiah, “And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.””  Luke 9:21-22 ESV

This is the first time (at least in Luke) that Jesus has told his disciples that he would be rejected and killed in Jerusalem.  They couldn’t understand this.  They just couldn’t get their minds around this.  It’s what we call cognitive dissonance.  They had a picture of messiah, an expectation of what was coming, and nowhere in that picture does Messiah get crucified.   Crucifixion would be massive failure.  A crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah.  Jesus told them plainly what would happen.  The language is not complicated.  But as plainly as he tells them, it just does not set in with them.

Move forward a few verses.  “And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Luke 9:43-45 ESV.  Jesus breaks it down, again, that this journey to Jerusalem will not finish as his disciples expected….

And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.   Well, they were afraid to ask him any more about it. Maybe they did understand, and just preferred their own picture and expectation over the realities Jesus was explaining to them…

“An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.” Luke 9:46 ESV.   The twelve disciples have signed up with Jesus.  They are learning his way, but the expectation remains the same.  The goal is for Jesus to become king.  When Jesus becomes king they will be right there with him.  So they are jockeying for position in the future government of Jesus.   They are arguing about cabinet positions, who will be the Secretary of State, who will be the Secretary of Defense.   They don’t do this in front of Jesus, but Jesus is aware of what’s happening.

“But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”” Luke 9:47-48 ESV.  Jesus flips the script on his disciples, turns things upside down.  Jesus is always turning things upside down, isn’t he?   This child is the least of all, but Jesus tells his disciples that in receiving this child, they will receive him.  And the one who sent him, because that’s what God is like.  Don’t forget who Jesus identifies with in Matthew 25 – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”  Matthew 25:35-36 ESV.  These disciples are arguing over who is the greatest, who deserves the greatest power at the right hand of the one they expect to emerge victorious in Jerusalem.  They don’t yet really understand the Kingdom of God Jesus is enacting.  Jesus grabs a young child, and sets the child down among them.  Most of our translations identify this child as “him”, but the Greek actually says Jesus took a child and put IT by his side and said to them.  So we don’t actually know if this child is a boy or a girl.  Let’s says today that this is a little six year old girl Jesus sets among them.   Jesus says to them, You guys are all wondering who’s going to be my Secretary of State in the Kingdom, I might just make this little girl Secretary of State.  

As we see in Matthew 25, Jesus identifies not only with the little children, but the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and the imprisoned among us.  Jesus identifies with everyone, but especially the least.  When you allow someone into your life, maybe someone beneath you,  maybe someone from the lower economic classes, maybe someone who doesn’t speak your language so well, maybe someone whose got a history we don’t like to talk about, when you allow someone into your life and don’t overlook them, Jesus says when you receive them you receive me, and you also receive my Father, because this is what God is like.

Jesus is breaking down all the ways we compare and compete.  We have our systems of comparing and competing with one another, our system of winners and losers.  Jesus is trying to subvert all of that.  We still completely believe in our system of winners and losers.  We have our place for Jesus in our life, our little shoebox we like to keep him in.  But the more we actually read the Gospels, the more we immerse ourselves in the story being told, the less he seems to fit into that shoebox.

Yet, we will continue to keep Jesus locked away in that shoebox.  Because while we believe in Jesus, we believe in our system of winners and losers more.  We believe we need more, we know we want more, and to take Jesus out of that shoebox might get in the way of what we want.  Because we believe all these things that we want. If we could just get them, might, finally, make us happy.

So we will continue in our own systems.  Jesus comes to us.  He comes to us in ways and through people which we simply do not see.  “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John 1:10-11 ESV.  If you met Jesus yesterday, did you know it?   If you meet Jesus today, will you receive Him?   If he comes to you tomorrow, will you walk right past him?  Will you even look Him in the eyes and acknowledge that he’s there?   ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ Matthew 25:45 ESV

Funny thing.  I never did get to the point I thought I was getting to today.  We will have to look at the spirit of Satan within Jesus own disciples tomorrow I suppose…

John Lewis

Not Following Us?

Let’s see if I can keep it short and to the point today.   Looking at a quick couple of verses where a disciple is rebuked by Jesus.  Usually the disciple tripping over himself was Peter, poor Peter!!   But this time, we see the apostle a John, the life apostle, the self described disciple whom Jesus loved best, that John, he is the one says something silly and gets rebuked by Jesus for a change.

“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.”    We saw someone trying to do Jesus stuff.  He doesn’t follow with us.   He belonged to one of those groups that doesn’t baptize like we do.  He doesn’t cross himself right.  We cross ourselves like this, he by Counterflix” href=”#53577234″> crosses by Counterflix” href=”#53577234″> himself like this.  He doesn’t belong to us, he’s not part of OUR group, we wouldn’t even let him take communion with us.  We told him, no, you can’t be doing Jesus stuff, you can’t be doing ministry.  You’re not properly ordained, you’re not qualified, you don’t belong to our group.  You don’t do the Jesus stuff, we do.  Master, we put him in his place and told him to stop it.   

To which Jesus responds…

But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”” Luke 9:49-50 ESV

OH!   If we’re not careful, we want Jesus for us.  Then the debate starts about who gets to own Jesus.  We want Jesus for our group, not for those groups.  And we end up with narrow, small minded people in all of the different groups.  Any group you find, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans, Charismatics, Evangelicals, in every group you will find people who really, sincerely think that Jesus only works with their group.  So you find the Catholic who cannot believe Jesus would work among the Protestants.  There’s a Charismatic who can’t believe God would work among the Anglicans.    The Orthodox who can’t believe Jesus would work among the Evangelicals…

But the opposite is also true.  Among all those groups, Catholics, Protestants,  Orthodox, Anglicans, Evangelical, Charismatics, you will find large hearted, large minded people, broad minded people who realize we all have our own traditions, but Jesus will work among them all….

We may not agree on everything.  But then again, we don’t agree with anyone on everything.  I’m not even sure I agree with me on everything. But at this point in our stories, we are finally making progress, gaining respect for one another, maybe loving one another a little more.  We are getting over the obsession with status and barriers, who great, who’s a loser. Who’s in and who’s out, who us, who’s them??   John and Peter and the rest of the disciples in this story, at this point, had not, but with the help of Jesus we are growing beyond the hostilities within the very by Counterflix” href=”#28292314″> body by Counterflix” href=”#28292314″> of Christ within the world.

Part of the irony of this story is that earlier in Luke Chapter 9 there had been a massive failure by the disciples in casting out a demon.  They had tried, and utterly failed.  “And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not…””  Luke 9:38-41 ESV.  So they had found this man, he was casting out demons, no problem, in Jesus’ name.  But because he wasn’t with them, they set him straight and told him to stop it, after all, he didn’t by Counterflix” href=”#86549454″> cross by Counterflix” href=”#86549454″> himself right!! Never mind their own personal failures in casting out demons just a short time before.

You will never cast out many demons by sticking to us vs them because that’s the game demons play….

Jesus refuses to recognize boundaries constructed in hostility toward others.  Some may say he can’t go among the Catholics, he can’t go among the Protestants, he can’t move among the Anglicans, he can’t work with the Orthodox.  But Jesus is free to move among whomever he wants.  He does not recognize boundaries constructed in hostility toward others.

Jesus is free to move among all kinds of people because he doesn’t have the spirit of Satan.  “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,” John 14:30 ESV.  The ruler of this world, the author of us vs them hostilities, he’s coming, but he’s got no part in Jesus.  Now there a truth for the day. What part does he have in us?

John Lewis

The Prostitute, The Pharisee, and The Rabbi

who-will-love-him-more-by-james-seward-300x298

Finishing up this story of Jesus eating in the house of Simon the Pharisee.

TWO DEBTORS

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”    Jesus gives Simon a short parable, very simple.  Easy to understand.   One debtor owed $50,000, another $5,000.   The creditor cancelled the debt if both.  By the way – don’t get it twisted – forgiveness is NOT a debt paid.  Forgiveness is a debt cancelled.   Forgives is not a complicated exchange with somebody finally getting paid off.    Forgiveness is not a debt paid, but a debt cancelled.  Whoever is out is out, in this case the creditor, who just says, don’t worry about it, I cancel the debt.  That’s the parable.

christ-in-the-house-of-simon-the-pharisee-claude-vignon

Now Jesus asks Simon a question.  Now which of them will love him more?    Simon realizes he’s probably being worked into a corner, being set up.   He’s kind of hesitant.  The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.   To which Jesus says EXACTLY!!    And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.   Now, Simon has been judging the whole time.  He’s judged Jesus, not a prophet.  He’s judged the woman, sinner.  And he’s been judging wrongly on both counts.

Woman Opens Windows And Enjoys The Landscape

Then turning toward 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 wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss 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 are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”     

john-the-baptist-preaching-1733

Question – Why has this prostitute done this lavish thing?   Why has she shown up weeping and kissing Jesus feet?  Is it in response to a miracle?  I don’t think so.  But I think we get a clue if we look at preceding three verses in Luke, just before this whole scene at Simon’s house.  “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 at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”” Luke 7:33-35 ESV.  Jesus is talking about how people ridiculed both John and himself in different ways.  John was austere, he neither ate nor drank, and they said he had a demon.  They saw Jesus, look at him!   Eating and drinking with the sinners, they said he was a drunkard and a glutton.  A friend of tax collectors and sinners.  But we’ll see, because wisdom is justified by its fruits, by what it produces, by the children it brings forward.

I believe this woman is responding to the love she has seen in Jesus.  She’s lived a life excluded from the wider society.  She’s always been ostracized and rejected, and Jesus, a prominent rabbi, is changing all that.  He is accepting, and loving, and willing to dine with people like her.  It breaks her.  She can’t stay away.  She’s risking much, as a prostitute you just don’t go into the Pharisees home uninvited.

labels

Up until now, Jesus has not referred to the woman.   He’s discerned the thought of Simon the Pharisee and gave him the parable which is a new lens to see the whole situation.    Then he says Do you see this woman?   Which is kind of comical.   You mean the woman at your feet sobbing hysterically with her hair down, kissing your feet and anointing them with perfume.   Yes I happened to notice her!! 

But the fact is that Simon had not seen the woman.  Simon do you see this woman?  Simon didn’t see a woman.  Simon saw a category.  He saw a prostitute.  Simon saw a sinner.  Simon saw a label.  Jesus saw a woman.  We don’t know her back story, we don’t know what led her into that life.  But Jesus saw her as a person, as a woman.  He’s trying to get Simon to see her as a woman.

your sins are forgiven

Strange thing is, because Simon saw this woman as a category and not a human being, he misjudged her.  The one who actually did act inappropriately in all this was…Simon.  Jesus brings that up, saying, you invited me into your house, as a rabbi, for your symposium, and you didn’t give me the customary basin with a towel for my feet.  We always do that, but you didn’t even do that for me.  But don’t worry, she had made up for your sin by how she has bathed my feet in her tears and dried them with her hair.  And, Simon, I arrived and you wouldn’t even give me the formality of the customary kiss on the cheek.   You were so suspicious of me, you wouldn’t even give me the customary greeting.  But don’t worry.  She’s made up for your sin, since I arrived she has not ceased to kiss, not my cheek, but my feet.

kiss on the cheek

I came to your house, you didn’t offer the customary, plain old olive oil for my head.  But don’t worry about it Simon, she’s made up for your sin by anointing my feet with costly perfume.   Jesus is giving Simon a new way of seeing this whole situation.  Was he capable of it?   Was he saying to himself, “Oh, my god!  I’ve gotten this all wrong!  I can’t believe, this blows my mind!”   Do you think Simon was saying this to himself?  Probably not…

pointing finger

When we are in the habit of labeling others and categorizing others and labeling ourselves, and having to live down to our label, we will constantly be misjudging situations and circumstances.  Jesus tries to save us from that by seeing people and not categories and labels.

There are two ways of looking at this story.  One is that this is the story of a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders.  This is quite clear from the story.    We have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, one a Pharisee and the other a rabbi.

forgive

The righteousness of one of these religious leaders requires him to categorically exclude the sinful woman.  He labels her, this woman is a prositure and a sinner, I categorically exclude her from my world.  His righteousness required him to do this, to exclude this woman from his world.

The righteousness of the other, though, compels him to receive and forgive this sinful woman.  Only one of them is enacting the kingdom of God and announcing the gospel.  You’ll have to decide which one that is.

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Too often we have heard it preached, proclaimed and enacted as though the gospel was how well we can categorize who the sinners are and who is to be excluded.  That is one approach, and one of these religious leaders took that approach.  Another religious leader, in the same situation, chose instead to receive and include the sinful woman, and also to forgive her.  Only one is an enactment of the kingdom and announcement of the gospel.

That is one, true way of looking at this story, but there is another way as well.  This is the deeper meaning of the story.  It’s not that we have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, but instead we have two sinners in the presence of Jesus.  One sinner refuses Jesus his due honor, then proceeds to judge and label others.

Open bible with man and cross

The other sinner makes no judgment about others, but simply gives Jesus extravagant love.   Only one of these sinners places herself in a position to receive the forgiveness of Jesus.

Jesus now speaks directly to the woman.  And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at 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.   Her sins are forgiven.  Not paid off, but cancelled.  This brings a reaction, doesn’t it.  Now we hear from everybody else at the dinner.  “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”   Who indeed.  Who is this who forgives sins?  Jesus forgives sins because he can.  He can because he is the incarnate expression of the father.

This is what the father is like.  We haven’t always known that, but now we do.  We thought God demanded sacrifice.  It turns out he doesn’t want sacrifice, he wants mercy, because that’s who he is.

This is the. word, the logos, the logic of God, made flesh.  The logic of God says I will respond to sin with forgiveness.  Jesus only does what he sees the father doing.  Everything, every act, every miracle, meal, healing, teaching, and parable that Jesus did was an expression of the father.   Remember this exchange between Jesus and Phillip in the upper room.  “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:8-9 ESV   Jesus forgives sins because he can, because that is what God is like.

The only thing that keeps us from forgiveness is our refusal to turn toward the love of God, and our refusal to turn toward others in love.  This is why we always pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others…

Hell is to argue with love.  Don’t argue with God’s love.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

John Lewis

Good Guys and Bad Guys

A good word from Hard Times ministries…

Hard Times Ministries

Aren’t we such good guys when we tell the story of the Good Samaritan? We love to point out the hypocrisy of the clergy in this parable and reflect on how we show compassion for people.

Yet, this past Saturday, here was a man around 40 years old.  He was ‘passed out’ and bleeding profusely from his nose and head and lying in the street.  Who knows if he was severely injured, drunk or on drugs or a combination of all?

The point is this: no one wants to stop and help these bums, drunks or and druggies.

We look down on this ‘trash’ as the bad guys, while we strut around as the good guys.  After all, we aren’t down in the street like some stray dog as a mark of road kill.

It ends up that I knew this man.  He is a neighbor of mine who suffers…

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