All-Inclusive

All-Inclusive

Did some reading aver my vacation, including Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace?    In a world full of ungrace, grace is the one thing Christians have to offer that is found nowhere else.   As George MacDonald once said, “You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.”

At one point in the book, Yancey takes an interesting look at Peter’s encounter with God in Acts Chapter 10.  It is in Acts chapter 10 that the diet of the new church was greatly expanded.  As far as we are concerned, that is the point and the end of the story.  Before, Jews were not allowed to eat many foods, many things were just not “kosher” for them.  Know that “kosher” may best be translated into English, if we would, as “fit”.   So we would say that if something were not “kosher”, that means it is “unfit” for us to eat.   Or that dreaded term in the Old Testament, “unclean”.

So we see in Acts 10 Peter’s vision on a rooftop.   Peter has gone up onto the roof to pray in privacy, but he begins to get hungry.   His mind begins to wander, and he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”    This is not very specific about what the animals on the sheet were, but if we read Leviticus 11 we can get an idea.  Pigs, camels, rabbits, vultures, ravens, horned owls, screech owls, storks, bats, ants, beetles, bears, lizards, skinks, weasels, rats, snakes, all would have been on the do not eat list.   Being raised a Jew is Palestine, Peter would have been raised from his earliest memories that these foods were not just off the diet – they were an abomination to be detested.

If during the course of the day Peter had so much as touched the carcass of a dead insect, he would wash himself and his clothes and be unclean until evening, not allowed in the temple until he was clean of such errors.   If a lizard or a spider had fallen into one of the clay cooking pots, whatever was in the pot would have been thrown out, and the pot smashed along with it.

So now, all these unclean animals, birds, reptiles, and insects are all crawling around on a sheet falling from heaven with the instruction  “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”.   To which Peter reminded God of his own rules – “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  To which Peter is told “What God has made clean, do not call common.”   This is repeated a total of three times, followed by Peter immediately descending from the rooftop back downstairs to be confronted with a group of “unclean” Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus.

While this incident may have greatly expanded our diets (hurray for shrimp and bacon!!), why were all these foods banned in the first place?   What did God have against shrimp, lobster, bacon, sausage?   This is how God himself explains the ban – “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…” Leviticus 11:44 ESV.  Lots of room for interpretation here, and it’s been interpreted lots of different ways.

First, there were certain health benefits that could be cited as a reason.  The ban on pork would have protected the Israelites from trichinosis, the ban on shellfish kept them safe from viruses sometimes found in oysters and mussels.

Some of the banned animals were scavengers who would have fed on carrion.   Other portions would have insulated God’s people from participating in the customs of their pagan neighbors.   Specifically, the seemingly strange ban against boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk would have kept the Israelites from imitating a magic spell ritual of the Canaanites.

So, if we think about it many of these animals we can understand why it makes sense to declare them “unclean”.   But others just don’t.  What’s wrong with lobsters or shrimp?   Or rabbits, which have no health risk and eat grass, not carrion?   Or camels and donkeys?

Remember, maybe the best English translation for “kosher” would be “fit”.  The Levitical law judges some animals to be “fit”, or proper for the Jews to eat, others to be unfit.   If we look a little bit closer though, we can see that all of the animals on the “unfit” have done anomaly, maybe they are just aren’t all the way “normal”.   Fish are supposed to have fins and scales, shellfish are just a little bit weird.   Birds are supposed to fly, ostriches and emus don’t fit in.  Animals on the land are supposed to walk on four legs, not crawl on the ground.   The domesticated animals like cattle, sheep and goats all eat grass (chew the cud) and have cloven hooves, shouldn’t therefore all edible animals be like that?   As Rabbi Jacob Neusner says, “If I had to say in a few words what makes something unclean, it is something that, for one reason or another, is abnormal.”

And as the author Phillip Yancey sums up in his book, you might say there is one phrase, one principle, that can sum up all the Old Testament laws on uncleanness – No Oddballs Allowed.  No oddball animals on the menu, and the same could be said about “clean” animals used in worship or for sacrifice in the temple.  No worshipper could bring a defective, injured or otherwise imperfect lamb into the temple, because God only wanted the unblemished lamb from the flock.  From the time of Cain forward, people followed precise instructions or risked having their offering rejected.  God demanded perfection, God deserved only the best, no oddballs allowed.

And so this applies to people as well.  In the very temple of God, there were rules that applied as to whom, exactly, was “fit” to go into the ever constrictive circles.  There were the outer courts, where even the Gentiles were allowed.  A little farther in, and Jewish women were no longer allowed.   Beyond that, only the priests were fit to enter, all the way to the inner most holy-of-holies, where only the high priest was allowed once a year.  And when he went in, he had a rope tied to his ankle just in case he screwed it up somehow and got struck down by God, they could pull him out without having to enter.  Because, after all, they were unfit to enter the most holy meeting place of the most high God.

And now to what really is the whole point of writing this.   It’s one thing to label certain animals unfit to eat, unclean.  But the Old Testament does not stop there.   How can we forget the long list of people who were rendered “unclean”, unworthy, less than, unfit?  “”Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.”  Leviticus 21:17-20 ESV.   If you had a damaged body, or damaged family lines (bastard child), you don’t qualify, you’re not worthy.  Menstruating women, men who had just had a nocturnal emission, women who had recently given birth, people with any skin disease or open sores (lepers), anyone who had touched a corpse, all these people were unclean, unfit to be touched or associated with.   No wonder the religious leaders in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan ran to the other side of the street!!   They would be made unclean just by the potential  contact with that poor sap on the road.

To us, we don’t understand this blatant ranking of people based on gender, race, and bodily health, but this the exact system that defined Judaism.  Jewish men would begin each day with a prayer thanking God, “who has not made me a Gentile…has not made me a slave…and has not made me a woman…”

Acts 10 shows us the result of this attitude.  Peter, introducing himself upon visiting the house of a Roman centurion, says it well – “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.””  Acts 10:28-29 ESV.  God called Peter to go to the Gentiles.  Peter argued.  God won the argument.   The revolution of grace was underway, whether Peter understood or not.

The customs and traditions of Judaism ran deep in Peters blood.  Yet Peter had been there all along with Jesus as Jesus would systematically break down those barriers which separated Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean.  It seems in fact, if you read the Gospels, that Jesus always was much closer to the sinners than the saints, doesn’t it?   (Of course, our true saints never lost sight of the fact that they, too, were really just sinners who needed a savior). Jesus never avoided all those branded “unclean” or unfit by the law.   Yet, somehow, Jesus was never made “unclean” by his unsavory contacts.  Somehow, by meeting and coming into contact with Jesus, all those who were once unclean became  clean, the unfit became fit once and for all for the kingdom of God.

Today, we have a new holy-of-holies.  We have a meeting place with God where all are invited, no one is considered unclean.  In fact, the only way we can make ourselves unfit for this meeting place is by putting up barriers or otherwise making it hard for someone else to come to the meeting place of God.   Isn’t this what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 11 (message translation being used.  I hear a lot of people don’t like this translation.  I think a lot of people also don’t much care for the Bible once they actually understand what it says!).    “And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord’s Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can’t believe it! Don’t you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God’s church? Why would you actually shame God’s poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I’m not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me. What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.”   1 Corinthians 11:20-28 MSG.

So we come to the holy-of-holies.  No one is excluded.  All are invited.  Many of you like a good “altar call”, a call for all those who don’t know Jesus to come to the altar and meet him.  Isn’t every time we take communion the best and truest “altar call” there is??!!   Come to the table, meet Jesus Christ in his glory, all the glory of his shed blood and broken body!!  As he himself told us, Take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.   And just like those Emmaus Road disciples, we can know him best in the breaking of the bread.

Misfits and Oddballs are always welcome at the table of grace…

  “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”   Acts 10:9-16 ESV.     

“Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”

Leviticus 11:4-8, 10-19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/lev.11.4-8,10-19.esv

John Lewis

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Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come

Going back to the Gospel of Luke one more time.  Looking at the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.   It’s a day full of contradictions.  It’s confusing.  It’s hard for us to fully understand.  It’s rejoicing that leads the rejection.   It’s joy that turns into sorrow.  Celebration that turns to suffering.   It’s a triumphal entry that turns into carrying the cross to Calvary.   Palm Sunday is full of contradictions.

The crowd was right to celebrate the coming of Jesus because this was the true coming of the true King.   The crowd was right to celebrate the coming of Jesus, but they celebrated the coming of Jesus in a wrong way.  They misunderstood its meaning, and that’s how they got it wrong.  Sometimes we can get Jesus right, sometimes we can get Jesus wrong.

We’ve been allowing Luke, the physician, who addresses us as “Dear Theophilus”, dear lover of God, to reintroduce us to Jesus.  We’ve been allowing Luke to show us Jesus, and hopefully we are seeing Jesus in new ways.

Ever since Luke chapter 9, we’ve been following Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem.  We now are in chapter 19, last time I was in Luke we were in Jericho, where Jesus healed Blind Bartimaeus and saved Zacchaeus.   There is only one more leg on the journey, and today we arrive in Jerusalem.

So Jesus leaves Jericho, and it’s up, up up to Jerusalem.  Jericho is the lowest city of the world, right on the shores of the Dead Sea, 1200 feet below sea level.  It’s only 15 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, but it’s uphill all the way.   From Jericho to Jerusalem, it’s 15 miles, but 3800 feet of an uphill climb.  When you arrive at Jerusalem from Jericho, coming from the east, you crest the Mount of Olives, today just as then, and it is quite the view with the whole city of Jerusalem stretched out before you.  So Jesus crests the Mount of Olives, and there is special excitement with his followers from Galilee this trip to Jerusalem.  They are there for the Passover, but they all believe something momentous is going to occur this year, that finally Israel’s true King is coming.  The excitement at this point is palpable.

They are reaching their destination, and finally the city is before them.  Jesus is on top of the Mount of Olives, but then he pauses.  He’s going to stage a prophetic enactment.  He must fulfill the prophecy.  Jesus knows the scriptures.  He has something very specific in mind, he must enter the city a certain way.   Because what Jesus is doing all through his ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.   In his preaching, in his parables, in healing the sick, in casting out demons, in raising the dead, in who he receives at his table, Jesus is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.   So now, one more time, he wants to announce and enact the kingdom of God in a very powerful, prophetic way.  So he pauses at the top of the Mount of Olives.   “When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.'”” Luke 19:29-31 ESV.

They bring this foal of a donkey to Jesus.   Jesus sits on it.  It’s too small for him, it looks funny.  His feet are dragging on the ground.   And yet, this is how Jesus is going to enter Jerusalem.

Why??   Because it’s a parody of the military triumphs of Babylon, Rome, and Egypt.  Instead of riding a war horse (because that’s how the King enters the city, on a war house), here’s a man being hailed as king riding not only a donkey, but the colt of a donkey.  It would be like reducing the presidential motorcade to a 1972 Pinto.   It’s a parody, but it’s also a prophecy.  Jesus is deliberately and intentionally fulfilling a prophecy he knows shows what the true king will look like when he comes into his kingdom.  The prophecy is this – ““Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey. I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears, bows and arrows. He will offer peace to the nations, a peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas.”  Zechariah 9:9-10 MSG.   In other words, everything that the prophets have foretold about God establishing his kingdom through his own Son, the seed of Abraham, The son of David, it’s all coming to pass right now.

The true King of Kings, the true Prince of Peace, the true seed of Abraham, the true son of David, the true Messiah, the true Christ has come!   He doesn’t come as a war waging conqueror like Caesar or Pharaoh, he comes in the way of God.  Because God says I’m done with war.   I’m going to, through my Son, preach peace to the nations….

So he comes humble and lowly, his feet dragging the ground on a colt too small for him.  He’s driving a ‘72 Pinto…

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works 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!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.””

Luke 19:37-40 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.37-40.esv

Sent from my iPad

Standing Firm

Looking at a central scripture for those of us in recovery, especially if you’re like me and participate in the Celebrate Recovery ministry.  It’s a verse that reminds us all how close we are to relapse at any and all times.

That verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   This is part of a larger section which includes verses 11-13 – “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV.   Israel had a long history of rebelling against God and chasing after idols.   Paul points out several of these instances leading up to this passage, as well as the consequences suffered because of their idolatry.  Consequences such as being scattered across the wilderness, kept from entering the promised land until most of a generation had passed away.  Consequences like 23,000 dead in one day.   Dying by snakes.  It even recalls that some were killed by the destroying angel.  1 Corinthians 10:10.

As Paul says, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.  The consequences of sin, idolatry, our addictions, is real.  Sometimes, we forget this.  We get a little bit of sober time.  We get a lot of sober time.  We get clean, we stay clean.  We claim the victory over whatever ails us.  But we forget.  We forget that those consequences are still out there.  We forget that the wrath of God, aka the consequences of our sin, our wrong decisions and choices, await us.

We forget.  We forget Paul’s warning – So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We forget how close we are to falling.   In recovery, we call this relapse.   For me, it’s just one drink, one bet, one click away.  That’s all it took, was just one look.  That’s all it takes.

People ask me, how do I keep from drinking??   I don’t get asked about my other issues so much, maybe because they don’t relate or it’s just taboo.   But, I do get asked about the drinking.   Y answer is always the same.  It’s not a matter of never drinking again, or how do you deal with not drinking in a world where drinking is just normal.  I’m not not drinking 12 or 24 or 30 drinks.  I’m just not drinking one.   The first one.

Whatever your temptation (whether you’re “in recovery” or not),  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.   You are not the first, or the last, to struggle with that.   It may seem that way, that no one could possibly know what it feels like to be in your shoes.   And in a way, that’s true.  None of us walks the same walk.  Each of us has a unique story.   But our struggles, this is what we have in common.  We all struggle with something in our lives.   And very often, it is in this struggle that our greatest victories might come.     For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV.  But that, I suppose, is a discussion for another day.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.   We all struggle, we all have some form of temptation in our lives.   But God is faithful, we are not tempted beyond what we can bear.   Paul makes this clear, so does the apostle John is his first letter –  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV.   Paul says he will provide a way out of temptation and failure so that we may be able to endure it.  John tells us what that way is.    “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17 ESV.  Our way out of temptation, our way out of sin, is to confess our sins If we take the way out God has provided, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   

Want freedom from your temptation, from that sin that is overcoming you?   Confess it.  To somebody.   On this point, those of us in recovery  have the advantage, we have the support of others that we might be able to share with, whether it’s an accountability partner, or better yet a sponsor.  So quickly we forget that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We think we have our time, we have the chips, now we have it all together.  Until we don’t.

Those consequences, remember them?   They are still waiting.  You might forget them, they will not forget you.  Relapse, a fall, is one drink, one hit, one click away.  Think you are standing firm?   Be careful that you don’t fall.  Find someone you trust, and talk about it.  Don’t hide.  “”Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18 ESV.  It’s those things we keep hidden that run scarlet.

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV

http://bible.com/111/1co.10.11-13.niv

John Lewis

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

Going to be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,  but before that I’m going to look at what comes right before that parable.  In other words,  I’m going to set up the context in which we find that third of the most famous parables of Jesus.  We’ve already looked at the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the third of these most famous parable of Christ is, indeed, the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus doesn’t just give his parables in a vacuum, and the rich man and Lazarus is no different.  The parable is given in the context of a particular debate and it’s given to a particular people.  As was almost the case with Jesus parables, his target was….the Pharisees.

So Luke 16:13 says “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   Did you hear that?   I hope so.  Jesus is speaking pretty plainly on this point.   You can not serve both God and money.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it[or ‘everyone is trying to attack it.’  I’ve read this may be a better translation here.]. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”   

This is the setting for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  I’m going to say again, Jesus’ entire ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.  He is announcing that kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and he is enacting the kingdom, showing us by action what the kingdom of God looks like.   This is the ministry of Jesus, to announce and enact god’s new government, God’s new arrangement for human society.

Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest.   When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard.   In fact, we need Jesus help to do so, because as Jesus says, with God all things are possible.

He also says that the law and the prophets were doing their work of preparing a people who would love god and love neighbor, anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God.  But then he says The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone [is trying to attack it] (again, this may be a better translation).   The law and the prophets were anticipating the kingdom of god, but with the arrival of John the Baptist and now Jesus the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, it’s being announced, it’s on the scene, but everyone is not happy about it.  Many are trying to attack it, because many do not like what Jesus is announcing and enacting about the kingdom of god.

So when Jesus says You cannot serve God and money,  what happens?   The Pharisees attack that – The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed himThe Pharisees were unabashedly lovers of money.   They would say they loved God as well, but they would also say “we love money too, and there’s no problem, you can do both.”    They had a theological foundation, a particular theology that endorsed that way of thinking.   Their theology came mostly from the way they read and interpreted the book of book of Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you in both war and commerce.   You can read the book of Deuteronomy that way, and that’s what they believed.    If you obeyed God, you would be blessed in war and commerce, you would be successful and prosperous (sound familiar?).

The Pharisees therefore believed that success and prosperity were in fact a sign of god’s blessing.  On the other hand, poverty and failure were a sign of God’s disfavor.

Jesus disagreed.  Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees theology that success and wealth equals blessing.  Now, Jesus does not see wealth as inherently evil.   Just one example, we’ve seen the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in that parable the father, who is a wealthy man, is in fact a good man.  So Jesus does not see wealth and money as inherently evil.  In fact wealth, all things being equal, is a good thing.  But Jesus does see our economic self interest as the greatest single hindrance to our entrance and participation in the Kingdom of God.

This is why In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus begins his kingdom announcing sermon on the Plain with “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.   That little eye of the needle for the rich man, is a wide open gate for the poor man.  He’s got nothing to lose, it’s easy to get in.

The Pharisees also viewed sickness and suffering as punishment for personal sin. Human suffering would be seen as divine punishment.  Don’t we still have some who work from thus theological system?   Don’t we hear from those to this day who twist earthquakes and tsunamis and epidemics into divine punishment for some great sin “those” people have been guilty of?!

Jesus’ disciples were working from a very similar paradigm on this as the Pharisees.  Again, Jesus disagrees.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 ESV.  Who are we going to blame here?   The man or his parents?   Jesus says “neither”.  It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.   So, for us, when we see episodes of human suffering, we are not called to assign blame, but to relieve the suffering…

So, such is the context and background of the rich man and Lazarus…

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Luke 16:13-17 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.13-17.esv

John Lewis

Indiscriminate and Irresponsible

The parable of the Prodigal Son.   The greatest, most famous parable Jesus ever told.  It’s the gospel within the gospel.  This is going to take a while, so I will probably be in the story for at least a week.  At least it’s a story we all seem to like, amen!

This story still captures our imagination.  Shakespeare refers to this parable more than anything else in the gospels because Shakespeare knew a thing or two about telling a good story.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon chose the prodigal son to be the text for his much anticipated 1000th sermon.  Some of our greatest artwork has been inspired by this story, including Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story where we see the kingdom of God being announced and enacted.  That’s what is happening in the parable.  Jesus gives the parable to those who are angry with how he’s announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  The actions of the father in the parable are what Jesus is doing in real life.  Jesus is saying “what the father in my story does is what I’m doing because that’s what my father in Heaven is like.

Don’t forget context of the story.   “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” Luke 15:1-2 ESV.  This should be a familiar plot line by now.  This is a recurring plot that is what drives the drama.  First – in Luke Jesus is constantly going from meal to meal and table to table.  This is how Jesus primarily announces and enacts the kingdom of god – by healing people, casting out demons, and especially by sharing meals with all the wrong people.  Jesus is enacting the kingdom of God in this manner, and the Pharisees are constantly resisting it.  They don’t like it, they are uncomfortable with it.  They feel Jesus is acting inappropriately.  They see Jesus as offering an indiscriminate and irresponsible hospitality.  This is what created the drama and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.  He just eats with anyone.  (Amen to that!   Even me…) Even those who’ve been formally exiled, excluded from the synagogue because they are sinners.  Jesus is completely bypassing the prohibition against eating with those types of people and is welcoming them at his table.

Now, there were arrangements made in the law for restoring these people.  But they needed to go about things in the proper manner.  Go to the chief priests, go the temple, offer their sacrifices and go through the rites of purification.  But Jesus just ignored all this.  He lets anyone come to him, he eats with them, and then he even dares to proclaim them as forgiven.  He’s dangerous, he’s endangering our purity.  He’s compromising the integrity of our faith.  This is the argument of the Pharisees.

To which Jesus responds says once upon a time…and gives them three stories.   One about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, both of these are pretty good stories.  But then he gets to the story about a lost son, and it’s way more than pretty good…

It’s the gospel in the gospel.  It’s the finest story Jesus ever told.  It’s a three act play, each act focused one of the three primary characters in the story.  The Prodigal Son, the compassionate father, and the angry brother.

With this, I will stop for today, you can read the entire parable below if you like.  I will look at act 1 of this three act play, about the prodigal himself, next time.

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in 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 into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise 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 as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And 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 servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis

The Prostitute, The Pharisee, and The Rabbi

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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.

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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.”     

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

At His Table

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The call of Levi, also known as Matthew, author of the Gospel bearing his name. We’ve already seen the call of Simon, Andrew, James and John, four fishermen who dropped their nets to become fishers of men. But while four fishermen may have been unexpected as a fishing ground of disciples for Messiah, the call of Matthew is just outrageous and very controversial. Dirty, smelly fishermen might be one thing, but at least those guys attempted to make an honest living. Then Jesus goes and does what??!!

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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 leaving everything, he rose and followed him. First things first – what does it mean to be a tax collector here? We might picture Levi in an IRS agent suit, and man in black, working in a sterile federal building. Not only collecting taxes, but paying his fair share, just a good citizen in the position of holding the rest of us accountable. But, in these days, that’s not how it worked. In these days, a tax collector would put in a bid for a certain region. Maybe Matthew had bid 2000 denarii for his part of the region of Galilee. This would mean that, yes, he must collect and return to the Roman government 2000 denarii. He would set up shop, and backed by Roman soldiers, would collect his taxes by any means necessary to send to Rome. If he happened to collect, say 4000 denarii or 5000 denarii, well then he’s just done well for himself.

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Can you see why these tax collectors were hated so much? Even our IRS agents aren’t very well liked, but at least we know what the rules are. These tax collectors were basically extortionists with the full backing of the Roman government. They were in full cooperation with the occupying Gentile force, lining their own pockets and becoming quite wealthy, all on the backs of their fellow Jews.

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And this is who Jesus calls to be one of his disciples?? This is the very writer of one of the gospels we hold so dear? This is who Jesus chose? Seriously, no wonder the Pharisees were so indignant.

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Second – And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. We don’t get many details here, just that Jesus called and Matthew, for whatever reason, dropped his lucrative tax business on the spot and followed. Had they encountered each other before? Had Matthew heard Jesus speak? We don’t know, just that Matthew dropped everything and followed.

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Now the story gets even more controversial. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Not only does he call Levi Matthew the tax collector, now he’s in his house (probably a nice, large house), sitting at table sharing a meal, with a large gathering of other hated tax collector and sinners. We must understand what it means here to be a sinner. We know today that we are all sinners before God, but here the term is a little different than we understand, a little more specific. To be a sinner as the Pharisees use the word means that you are someone who has been formally excluded from Temple life. We would say today that they had been excommunicated, kicked out of the church. Tax collectors were always excluded from the temple, but the text here says that not only tax collectors are present with Christ at this dinner table, but others who had been kicked out of the temple as well. Which leads the Pharisees to grumble “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Seriously Jesus, why? Why does Jesus call Matthew not just to be a disciple, which we see here, but ultimately to be one of the 12 apostles, chosen specifically to walk the closest with Jesus as his closest associates and key followers? The Pharisees would have not even had a conversation with or acknowledged any of these people, but Jesus sits at the table and shares a meal with them. He invites them to be his followers. And somehow all these sinners, who don’t fit in, who aren’t even allowed in church, are good enough to be followers of Christ.

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Jesus was boldly reimagining the Torah. He was reimagining what it means to be faithful to the covenant of the god of Abraham. The Torah contained the law, the law by which one could be made acceptable or unacceptable to God. There were lots of rules in the law, ways to be made right with, rituals to receive the forgiveness of God, ways to repent and be made “clean” again before God. Ways to know whether a person was on the “good” side or the “bad” side. But, as I said before, while we are still very conscious and aware of what we perceive as “good”and “bad”, Jesus was not.

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Jesus pays very little attention to the categories of “good” and ‘bad”, but made much over whether you are “humble” or “proud”. The Pharisees were clearly in the “proud” side. They knew the Torah, knew all the rules, lived by the rules as far as they were ever going to let anyone know, and would have nothing to do with anyone who did not. If you were out, you were out.

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Jesus, in the other hand, specifically sought out those who were on the “wrong” side of the Torah. This he explicitly tells us over and over. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”” Luke 19:10 ESV. And of course, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Jesus, as he does here in the home of Matthew the tax collector, spent much time reclining at table (this was the custom of the time – they did not use chairs as we do today). All through the gospels, especially in Luke, it seems this is what Jesus does, move from table to table, enjoying meals with people. And never (if I’m wrong show me I’m wrong) does Jesus try to exclude anyone from a His table. He doesn’t even exclude the Pharisees, they too would be welcomed if they weren’t so busy excluding themselves. In fact, it is exactly his inclusiveness that the Pharisees could not stand. They knew the who, what, and how people could be made right with God. And everything Jesus did went straight against their systems.

And so, in their exclusionary zeal, the Pharisees excluded themselves from the kingdom of God visited upon them. They never knew the joy of sitting at the table with the Messiah they had waited so long for, because they could not get past the fact that this Messiah did not exclude all the right people. It seems this Messiah didn’t want to exclude anyone at all.

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Not so with us. We, like the Pharisees, seem to have lots of people we want to exclude. I’m not going to name groups, but I’ll put this to you – who is that you look at and just know they are unsaved? What groups, what individuals, just don’t belong in church?

How about this – who would you think should not come to the communion table? Maybe you’re ok with inviting someone to church, but you know they just have no business taking communion? I mean, after all, there are rules, right? There are some people who just should not come to the table of the lord, aren’t there? Who do you know that needs to get right with God before they come to the communion table?

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Well, whose table is it, anyway? Is not the communion table the table of the Lord? Who is the Lord? Jesus is Lord, amen??!! Read the gospels, who is it that Jesus excludes from his table?

No one.

Who is it that you would want to exclude?

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 leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.””

Luke 5:1-11, 27-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.5.1-11,27-32.esv

John Lewis