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

John Lewis



Just had a random thought enter my mind during my prayer time this morning. I’ve never thought about this before, and this thought line may be totally undeveloped for now, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.

Just had a thought about this particular verse of scripture – Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. This same verse appears slightly differently in the gospel of Luke as well – “”And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Luke 12:8-10 ESV

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Ok, so here’s the thought I had this morning, and it’s a very serious thought. The one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven…if we are Christians, who claim to have been “saved”, who claim to have communion with the holy, risen Christ, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who claim to have been indwelled with the Holy Spirit, yet we walk in the world as the same angry, selfish, obnoxious person/people we were before…is that not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is not the worst blasphemy we could possibly make the blasphemy of an unholy life lived in the name of the Holy Spirit?

This gives me chills. People know who I am. They know that I am a Christian, one who believes in Jesus Christ, who believes he is the way, the truth, and the life. But – is what they see from me in my life and the way I carry myself on a daily basis blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Do they see me loving my neighbor, am I one who prays for those who would be my enemies? Do I even love my own wife and children, brothers and sisters as myself?


How about the church as a whole?? Does the church blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in our day to day interactions with the “world” around us? Do we, as a church, walk in a spirit of protest and confrontation, or in the spirit of love and reconciliation?? Which of these spirits is of the Holy Spirit? Is one of these spirits a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

We think we know what “sin” is. But these are words straight from the mouth of the sinless one. These are not my words, they are the words of Jesus, the one we claim to follow yet ignore his teaching. All those “unwashed masses”, Jesus says all their sins will be forgiven them, but those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Again, am I guilty, in my own life on a daily basis, of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV. Sometimes we think we have all the answers, we know every sin known to man, and we can tell the “world” all the things they are getting wrong. But, as Jesus also said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 ESV. How many of us point out every speck of dust in the world’s eye, when we can’t even see past the redwood tree in our own eyes? After all, it may be we who are guilty of the only sin Jesus says is unforgivable.


“”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.””

Mark 3:28-30 ESV

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

The Prostitute, The Pharisee, and The Rabbi


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


“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.


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.”     


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.


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.


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.


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

Woe to You…


We began to look last time at Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain.   As we look at this sermon, as well as the Sermon on the Mount, we need to realize that these are sermons for changing the world.  Because despite our tendency to want Jesus to take us to heaven while leaving our world alone, we must understand that Jesus fully intends to save our world by changing our world, and he’s willing to die to do it.  In fact, he did die to do it.


What Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, and what he did on the cross, are basically the same thing.  One is an announcement of the Kingdom of God, one is the enactment of the Kingdom.   What Jesus preached in the Sermons on Mount and Plain was an announcement of the kingdom of god.  When Jesus stretched out his hands of love upon the hard wood of that cross, he was enacting his kingdom.  But they are the same thing.


In the sermon on the Mount and on the cross, Jesus reoriented the world from an axis of power enforced by violence to an axis of love expressed in forgiveness.  The sermon is the announcement, the cross is the enactment.  But they are the same thing.  With that understanding, let’s look at the sermon itself.


And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.    These are the beatitudes.   Beatitude means “blessing”.  They are not commands.  Jesus is saying these are the people who will be the most happy with what he is bringing.  Jesus is bringing the reign,  rule, government, administration, the Kingdom of God.   These are the people who will be happiest of all in the Kingdom of God.

blessed are you

Matthew gives eight beatitudes.  Luke’s Sermon on the Plain cuts that in half to four. More significantly, there is a subtle change in the way they are presented.  In the Sermon on Mount, it is blessed are “those”.  He’s talking to his apostles about those who will hear this good news of the gospel of the kingdom. When he comes down from the mountain, the  Sermon on the Plain goes from blessed are “those” to  blessed are “you”.


Jesus has been up on the mountain with his apostles  preaching about preaching.  I’m about to begin to announce and this is what I will say to them.   Then he comes down the mountain to that coastal plain by the Sea of Galilee and preaches straight to the people.  Blessed are you who weepBlessed are you who are hungryblessed are you who are poor.  Why are the poor blessed?  Because when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.  There is not much to hinder you from jumping completely on board with what Jesus is doing.


Blessed are you who are hungry now.  Matthew expands this to Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for rightness in the world.  Those of you that have a dull ache inside you that something is profoundly wrong in the world, you’re going to be happy with what I’m doing.


Blessed are you who weep now.   It’s obvious Jesus is talking about big changes that are coming.  Jesus then goes to a future reference.  Blessed are you when (the future) people hate you on account  of the Son of Man.  Why?  Because that’s how they always treat prophetic people.  People who are with God ahead of the time, they are always persecuted.  So when people persecute you for the son of man, leap for joy because that just shows you are truly becoming a prophetic people.

full now

Unlike the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Sermon on the Plain in Luke balances the four blessings with four “woes”.   Woe, woe, woe, woe.  This is in keeping with the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  The Hebrew prophets often spoke “Woe”…. We too often here this as a word of condemnation.  It’s not really a word of condemnation but lanentation.  It’s a word of Oh…alas.  It’s a word of lamentation over the plight people find themselves in, not a word of condemnation.  But it’s very strange the things Jesus is lamenting.

woe to rich

 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.   These woes kick us in the gut.  But woe to you who are rich.  Why?  Jesus repeats this throughout his ministry.   He says things like “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”” Mark 10:25 ESV.  There is humor in this.  It’s ok to laugh here.  Jesus is using something ridiculous and absurd.  But he’s making a serious point.  The disciples then ask – And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?   Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.   Try to squeeze that camel through the eye of the needle.

full now

Woe to you who are full now.  When you are satisfied, you’re not really interested to big changes.  You tend to resist those bringing change because you are satisfied with the current system.  Woe to you who laugh now…who was laughing?  Maybe the Pharisees, maybe the Sadducees, the Herodians with all their wealth were laughing.  The Romans were laughing loudest of all.  Jesus says alas…changes are coming and you may not be laughing nearly as much.  


Another anticipation of the futureWoe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.  People that concur with the falseness prevailing in society, when we speak so well of that, we fail to be a prophetic people.


The sermon on the plain seems to hit a little harder than the sermon on the Mount.  Am I the rich?  Am I full?  Am I satisfied with the present system?  Am I laughing now (usually I am).  Do people speak well of me?  Why?


Is it wrong to to be rich, full and happy?  No, don’t misunderstand.  There nothing wrong with being rich full and happy.  In fact, may you be rich, may you be full and may you be happy, but know it’s dangerous.  Most of us would like to be rich full and happy.  May the lord bless you with richness, fullness and happiness, but be careful. These are the things that can seduce us away from real fervency from the government and the kingdom of god.  Too easily we will find ourselves in the same plight as a certain rich young ruler – “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Mark 10:21-22 ESV.  Will we, too, love our stuff so much that we walk away, disheartened, from the call of Jesus on our lives?   Woe to you who are full now.

John Lewis

Leave My World Alone

“And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.

Jesus had spent all night in prayer.  “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12 ESV    What was primarily on his mind was the selection of his twelve apostles.  The morning after that all night vigil of prayer, he selected the twelve that would be his apostles.  “And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:” Luke 6:13 ESV. Jesus had many disciples, but he selected twelve to be his closest associates, to whom he would entrust his message of the gospel.   The number twelve is not random, there is a reason Jesus chose that number.  Jesus is reframing, reforming, redefining Israel.  Just as Israel had twelve tribes, Jesus had his twelve apostles.

So Jesus upon the mountain had spent the night in prayer.  While still upon the mountain, he called his disciples to him and gave them his definitive teaching on the kingdom, the reign, the government of God.  We know this as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7.  After giving his disciples this teaching on the nature of the kingdom and how to live it, he came down from the mountain, like Moses came down the mountain.  He comes down the mountain where he was met by a large crowd of would be disciples.   These were a large crowd of people wanting to be healed by Jesus and learn from Jesus.  And Jesus then gives them the Sermon the Plain, recorded in Luke.

Matthew gives us sermon on the mount to the twelve, Luke gives us the sermon Jesus gave on the coastal plain by the Sea of Galilee to the vast crowd of would-be disciples, you might say to the masses.

Luke’s sermon is only 1/4 the size of that recorded in Matthew, but it is the same sermon.  And it is a sermon to change the world.   But – the degree to which the church throughout history has ignored the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain is scandalous.

Why has the church been so steadfast, so deliberate in ignoring this teaching of Jesus.  Because what we really want is Jesus to die for us but to leave our world alone.  We want Jesus to give us our ticket to heaven but leave our world basically alone, especially if we find ourselves somewhere situated near the top.

If our class, our race, or our nation finds itself in an advantageous position in this world system we really don’t want Jesus messing with it too much.  That’s why we might be very nervous, or intimidated by, these two sermons and we largely ignore them.  We want Jesus to die for us and leave our world alone, but Jesus has no intention of leaving our world alone.  Jesus intends to save our world by changing our world.

As I sit on my leather couch, with a blanket on to keep my feet from being too cold as the wind blows outside and my heat blows inside to keep it nice and comfy, I’d have to say that I’m mostly pretty comfortable with my life as-is.  As I think about what I think my plans are for say, twenty years from now, and how I’ve taken steps to get there, I’m pretty comfortable with life as it is.  As I think about the struggles I have in my life and the things I might ask Jesus to help me with, I’m pretty sure I’m pretty comfortable with the world mostly as it is.  It seems to have mostly worked out pretty well to my advantage.  Sure, others may have more, but most in the world have far less.  Being honest, I would just as well make a few adjustments to “accommodate” Jesus rather than have him change it all.   I’ve made many changes in my life, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about these things.  I’ve come a long way, baby!  But, what if Jesus tells me something like this – “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Mark 10:21 ESV

Am I willing to give it all?  Am I willing to actually take up my cross, and follow?

Are you?

John Lewis

At His Table


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??!!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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,27-32.esv

John Lewis