Little Rich Man

I’ve been working my way through the gospel of Luke, now we are into chapter 19. Ever since chapter 9, Luke has been retracing the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. From right after the transfiguration in chapter 9 to the triumphal entry at the end of chapter 19, Jesus is on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The story becomes more and more ominous as we go. There is a dark ominous cloud lingering over Jesus as he’s on his way ultimately to be crucified. He talks more and more about what is to happen once they get to Jerusalem…saying things like “”You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.””Matthew 26:2 ESV. And…“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 9:22 ESV

But today we have the final event before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. What Luke is doing today is once more showing us that salvation and the kingdom of god are expressed as radical hospitality.

Throughout his gospel, Luke shows Jesus as moving from table to table, meal to meal, announcing and enacting the kingdom of god. He wants to show us one more time, with the story of Zacchaeus, what that kingdom looks like. They are nearing Jerusalem, arriving at Jericho. They are one days journey from Jerusalem. The very next day Jesus will arrive in Jerusalem. This is the final event recorded before we move into the actual passion week, the Holy Week of Jesus.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

By now we are encountering what should be a familiar theme. Once again we have a tax collector, not just a regular tax collector but a chief tax collector. He is rich and he is despised. The Pharisees thought that land based wealth based on production of the land was a sign of being blessed by God. We saw before that Jesus didn’t agree with that. He didn’t agree with the assesment that you can determine God’s favor and blessing based upon wealth and riches. Nevertheless, the Pharisees thought that great wealth accrued through the production of the land was a sign of Gods favor, but wealth accrued by collecting taxes for the hated occupying gentile force of the Romans was seen as a great evil. Tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as the consummate moral outcasts, excluded from the synagogue and temple life. A chief tax collector would be seen as completely excluded from the covenant of Abraham. You might as well think of Zachaeaus as the chief of sinners.

Zacchaeus is banished from the synagogue, he can not participate from synagogue life. Being banished from the synagogue, he’s also banished from the Kingdom of God. There was a great sense of anticipation at this time. There was a great Jewish anticipation something big was about to happen. The Kingdom of God really was going to come. They believed that God was about to act decisively and definitively very soon, and would establish his reign, rule, and government among men. They were equally convinced that people like Zacchaeus would be excluded from it. They would not be a part of what God was doing. They would be left out.

But – by this time I hope you have learned that we must not be so quick to dismiss those who appear to be outside of the kingdom of God just because they don’t presently participate in accepted forms of religious life.

This is Zacchaeus’ situation. He is an outsider, an outcast. He is banned from the synagogue. Everybody views him as a despised sinner, and he will not be a part of what God is doing.

But Zacchaeus has something going for him. He is fascinated by Jesus. He has heard that Jesus is coming. Word of Jesus had spread, this prophet from Galilee who works miracles, heals the sick, helps the lame walk, the blind see. I’m sure that had gotten Zacchaeus attention.

No doubt he’d also heard about his table practice. He’d heard how this miracle worker from Galilee would also share his table with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and the outcasts, those who’d been banned from the synagogue. This is very fascinating to Zacchaeus.

We are told that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but not just as a celebrity. He wanted to see who Jesus is. He was fascinated by Jesus. I want to see who this guy is. What is he about? What’s he really like?

That kind of sinner is far more common than you think. Our world is filled with people who have zero interest in going to a church, but they are fascinated by Jesus. And if they see some means by which they really might actually know what Jesus is actually about and like, the are interested in that. That’s Zacchaeus…

Jesus is seeking and saving the lost. All those people that we think are on the wrong side of God, that don’t do things just as we do, Jesus wants to sit down and share a meal with them. And they are far more willing to sit down with Jesus than we, or even they, might think. Trouble is, the body of Christ in the world is far too often putting up barriers, putting conditions in coming to the table. Instead of putting up barriers, maybe we just need to wash the dishes, set the table, prepare the meal, and have a seat.

Yes, these people are messed up. But do we trust Jesus enough to simply allow him to sit down those whom we think are lost? Of course there is more to say on this, I will be back…

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

John Lewis

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What is Hell??

What is Hell??

The Pharisees theology always had the danger of causing them to be unkind to the poor and sick.  When they mocked Jesus for saying they could not serve God and money, Jesus gives them the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.  Or, we might say, a story of hell and how to get there.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every dayThis rich man is straight from lifestyles of the rich and famous.  He’s a one percenter.  A billionaire maybe.   He’s very wealthy.

And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.   At the gate of the rich man is Lazarus.  A poor man, sick, covered in sores.  Maybe crippled, certainly hungry and homeless.  He would love to have the crumbs from the rich mans table.

 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  They both die.  They both are in Hades, the place of the dead, the underworld.  The poor man is with Abraham, the rich man is in torment.  From view of the rich man, the poor man and Abraham are way off in the distance.

And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’  The rich man still had not learned to love and see Lazarus as a person.  He still immediately sees him as an inferior whose purpose in life was to serve him.

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’   You might find it interesting that up to this part of the parable was an existing folk tale,  everybody had heard this before.  This was a common story.  It shows up in at least 7 different versions in rabbinic writings of the time.  Sometimes it was maybe a rich man or merchant, sometimes a poor beggar, poor slave or a servant.  They interact in life, but not really.  But in death, the roles are reversed.  It’s a very common story.

But Jesus adds this next part about the five brothers.  And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’   This is Jesus’ way of bringing the story from the afterlife to the here and now.  Jesus refocuses and says I want to talk about right now.

The original point of the story was that there would come a day when there will be a great reversal.  Here, in this life, some are rich, some are poor, but don’t expect things to stay that way once we are taken down to Sheol, to Hades, to the place of the dead.  In that place, a great reversal is going to come, some of the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Jesus point is that that day has arrived.   That time day is now..  That’s what I’m announcing with the Kingdom of God.  Now is the time for the poor on the ash heap to be lifted up  and be seated with the princes of his people.  If the rich don’t believe it, if they stand in the way, if they don’t get on board, they will find themselves tumbling down,   Many who are last shall be first.  You know that story you’ve been telling about how the day will come, that day of a great reversal, that day is now.  That’s what Jesus is announcing with the Kingdom of God.

The  Pharisees, who Jesus is addressing this to, are the five brothers.  They’re not dead yet, they are not in Hades, but they have a belief system that causes them to overlook people like Lazarus.   The rich man knows they’re in danger, he’s worried what will happen to them…

The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers – the Pharisees.  He asks Father Abraham to send him to my father’s house— Jesus has used that phrase before in a parable…for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ It’s too late for me, but send Lazarus to my brothers to save them….

But Jesus has Abraham say this – But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  They don’t need Lazarus to go back.  They just need to listen to the law and the prophets.   How does Jesus sum up the law and the prophets??   “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love Lazarus, your neighbor sitting at you gate, as yourself.

And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’   And Jesus, through Abraham in the parable, says this…He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

The rich man thinks that if someone would rise from the dead, that might change his brothers mind.   Jesus says he’s wrong.  Think about this.  Did the dead Prodigal Son coming home to the Fathers house change the self righteous older brother?   It did not.  That is exactly how the father describes the brother, remember?   “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”” Luke 15:32 ESV.   You have to put these two parables together.  Jesus is creating both these parables for the same group of people, the Pharisees.  In the parable of the prodigal, we have a dead brother who comes to life again, and it doesn’t change the older brother.  So here we have Abraham saying that if those brothers are not listening to the message of the law and the prophets to love god with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as themselves, then they’re not going to be changed when a dead prodigal comes to life again.

Or even when a crucified Messiah is raised to life again on the third day.  

The fact is that if you do not love God and you do not love your neighbor, the resurrection of Jesus is probably not going to mean much to you.  You will do whatever you must to find a way to wiggle yourself out of the implications.

So, about Hell and how to get there.  Refuse to love.  Refuse to love God, refuse to love your neighbor, and you’ll find your way there.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a means by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and still have everything turn out alright.  Be careful that you don’t create a theological system by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and have everything turn out alright.  Seriously…

Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets.  He came to fulfill them.  He said that, didn’t he?  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 ESV.  What is Jesus summary of the law and the prophets?  Again, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  If you have created a theological system where you don’t have to love God or love your neighbor and think everything will still be ok, what have you done?  What kind of madness is that?

Whatever you think about what salvation is, know that Jesus did not come to save you from loving God and loving your neighbor.  That’s not what he’s saving you from, that’s what he’s saving you to.  Jesus has come to make that thoroughly possible.   He’s come to form a people who will actually live out the intent of all the law and the prophets.

Both Lazarus and the rich man are in the same place.  They are both in Sheol, Hades, the place of the dead.  But one is comforted, one is in torment.  So, what is hell?  The suffering of no longer being able to love.   Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The Brothers Karamazov.

“”There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'””

Luke 16:19-31 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.19-31.esv

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

Come to the Party. Please.

So, we’ve been looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son for the past few messages.   I have a question to ask, not just about this parable but Jesus ministry in general.  That question is this – What is Jesus doing?   What’s he doing in his table practice, excessive hospitality,  his parables, his life, his ministry, just what IS Jesus doing?   JESUS, IN ALL HE DOES, IS SHOWING US WHAT GOD IS LIKE.

This is so important, do not miss this.  Please don’t miss this.  This question has haunted humanity for millennia.   We are here, we try to figure things out, we discover fire, invent the wheel, indoor plumbing, then we’re going to the moon.  But through it all, one question remains, it hangs over us.  Is there really a God, what’s he like, what about God?   All kinds of theories spring up, all kinds of religions, some come close, some not so close.   But, FINALLY, the question gets answered – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV.  Can I get an Amen??!!   The logos, the logic of God becomes flesh, and in flesh and blood we can SEE what God is like.  Jesus is NOT saving us from God, that is bad theology.  Jesus is not saving us from God, He is revealing God.  Jesus is not saving us from the Father, he is revealing the Father.  Jesus never does anything but that which is an expression of the will of the Father.   Jesus and the father always act in concert with one another, never pitted against one another.  Jesus is showing us definitively what god is like.  Jesus is the true and ultimate word of God.

What is God like?  He is like Jesus. What does God do?  He does what Jesus does.   “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19 ESV.    Everything I do, everything I say, every time I heal, every time I forgive, I do that because that’s what God does.  I’m only showing you what the Father is like.  You haven’t known, but now you do, I’m showing it to you.  On his last day he has this exchange with Philip – 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’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” John 14:8-10 ESV.  Phillip says show us the father, Jesus says what do you think I’ve been doing for three years??!!   If you’ve seen me in what I am doing, you have seen the father.  That’s the message.  Jesus unconditionally receives the sinner who comes to him because that is what God is like.

Let’s try this again – Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God, not to change the mind of God about humanity.  Don’t get this twisted.  Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us – “well I guess they’re ok after all, if you say so Jesus.”   No, Jesus came to change our mind about God.  As we look at Jesus and learn from Jesus and listen to Jesus, we finally begin to know what God is really like.

In the parable, the father requires no payment (no blood) and issues no punishment.  The Prodigal has already been punished.  His punishment is, he’s in the pig pen.  Sin has a way of punishing us, we are punished by our sins.  Sin is taking its toll.  He doesn’t like it.  The wages of sin is death, and he’s dying in that pig pen.  So he decides he is going to go back to his fathers house.

The Prodigal goes home, arrives at the fathers house, and there is no punishment and no payment.  He’s just pardoned by a kiss.  That’s all that is going on.  The Prodigal, if he will come home, will be welcomed and pardoned with a kiss.

The elder son, the angry brother, wants there to be punishment and payment.  But – you can’t pay it.  It’s gone.  He sold the land and livestock for cash, wasted it on prostitutes, wine, women, and song.  Sex drugs, rock n roll, some of you will shout Amen to that.  He did a bunch of coke, had a bunch of hookers, lost it all in Vegas, that’s it, it’s gone.  You can’t pay it back.  It’s gone.

But – what can be recovered is the relationship!!!   So the older brother is fussing about “all the stuff is gone, the moneys gone, what about the stuff!  All the land, all the livestock”…the Father says “Shut up about the stuff!!  It’s the relationship that can be recovered!!  That’s what we are going to recover, the relationship,  because that’s what matters.

There’s no payment, no punishment, there’s only reconciliation and an extravagant celebration.   Meanwhile, the elder brother cries out “He broke the rules, he broke the rules Father!!!”   The Father says “Yes, I know.  He broke the rules.  But I pardoned him with a kiss.  NOW COME TO THE PARTY!!!”   He broke the rules, disrespected the father, lost all the stuff, but the father pardons him with a kiss.  He is forgiven.  He’s pardoned.

Come to the party.  But the older brother refuses.  What, exactly, is the older brother doing here?  He is consigning himself to hell, the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth…

They’ve both been in hell.  The Prodigal Son has been in the pig pen.  “This is hell.  I’m going back to my fathers house.  Even though I’m not worthy.”  He goes back, the Father says “I don’t care about worthy.  Worthy, not worthy, you’re  my son!   Robe, ring, shoes, fatted calf, let’s have a party!”

The older brothers been sweating in the field all day.  They’ve been laboring st home as well, they’ve got a BBQ going (beef not pork).  There’s a band, the sun has set, it’s dark, they’ve moved all the furniture, and everyone is dancing.  It’s a party!   The brother comes home, says “What’s going on?”   He’s told by one of the servants tells him “Your brother came home, your father pardoned him by a kiss, killed the fatted calf, he’s so happy to have him home safe and sound, we’re having a party.

The older brother is angry, he won’t go in.  He argues with his father when his father comes out to him.  So what do we have?   We have the older brother, outside, in the outer darkness gnashing his teeth (can you picture it?).   “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!!”    So, who’s suffering? The elder brother is suffering.

If you want to, you can call this the wrath of god.  What’s really going on is simply that God refuses to act in a manner inconsistent with his mercy.  If the older son refuses to forgive, he will be excluded from the party (the kingdom of god).  Not because the father excludes him, but because he excludes himself.  You can call it the wrath of god if you want to, but what really going on is the father says “If you’re asking me will I act inconsistent with my mercy and punish my son, I will not.  We are going to celebrate his reconciliation and you are invited.  I urge you, I beg you, I plead with you, come to the party.  But I will not be manipulated to act inconsistent with my nature which is mercy.

Either the elder brother is good with that and says “yes Father, you are merciful and that’s a good thing, I come to the party.”   Or he will stay out in hell, in the outer darkness.  You see how this works?   That’s why we are taught if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV. It’s not because god is petty and says “if you won’t forgive, I’m not forgiving you!”   It’s simply because when we will not cooperate with the nature of god, which is extravagant mercy, we exclude ourselves from God himself, and consign ourselves hell.

We must always position ourselves on such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes across to us as good news.  The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing and said ‘this is not good.”   The sinners and tax collectors said “this is the best thing I ever heard!

How do you position yourself in such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes to you as good news?   You stay poor in spirit and need of mercy.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.    Who’s more poor in being spiritual than the prostitutes, the sinners and tax collectors?   The get F – minuses at being spiritual.  Jesus says “Come to the table anyway!  This is for you too!”  REALLY?  “Yes, really.”   Sinners – “that’s the best thing I ever heard of!”  Pharisees – “that’s terrible, he’s compromising, he’s maligning the integrity of our faith.”  All those things Pharisees say.

We must always position ourselves in such a way that what Jesus announces in his beatitudes and enacts in his ministry strikes us as good news.  Be poor of spirit and in need of mercy, and it will always seem like good news to you.  But the moment you feel like a gatekeeper of the mercy of god, as though you are the immigration officer determining who gets in and who’s left out, who deserves it and who doesn’t, the moment you take up that position you’re about to miss the party and be left out in the darkness gnashing your teeth.

There are two kinds of Christianity in America.  There is compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  Both of the these have great energy.  Both can build churches, have movements, write books, have websites, podcasts, television programs, both have all of this.  Angry Christianity probably has even more energy, because it is easier to attract a crowd around anger than co-suffering love.

You find both kinds in this story.  The father and the angry brother in the story of the Prodigal son both have their sources of energy compelling them to act according to their own way.  The father in verse 20 saw his son from far off and was moved by compassion, co-suffering love, and he sprang into action, ran out to meet him, pardoned him with a kiss and threw a party.

In verse 28 the older brother heard this, became angry and refused to go in.  “I will point be a part of that!  That’s not fair, that’s not justice.  That’s not right, I won’t go.”

Two kinds of Christianity.  Compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  One says let’s kiss the leper, the outcast, the excluded, those who’ve been marginalized and told they don’t belong.  Let’s kiss the leper,  forgive the sinner, and walk the world as the pardon of a God.  Let’s have a party.

The other says let’s get mad about something and make sure the sinners know how mad God is at them.  Let’s have a protest, let’s protest something.

One says let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of god, and try to be a party of reconciliation.  The other says let’s get mad about something, tell sinners how mad God is at them, and have a protest.  Both can use the Bible.  Both have their bible verses.

There are a lot of energy in both kinds.  But only one gets endorsed by Jesus, only one reflects the Father, and only one gets to go to the party that is the Kingdom of God.  So, let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of God and make what we do feel like a welcome home party and not mandatory sentencing.

Amen

“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

An Easy Yoke?

I’ve been working on this since Monday, guess I’m slowing down in my old age.  This may be something of a counterpoint to the point I made last time, about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   Or, at least part of a solution, a cure,  to the unholy lives we lead while claiming to have the Holy Spirit within us.  This, as always, comes from Jesus, the one who died, was buried, and was raised in resurrection on the third day.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV.    So the same Jesus who tells us “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14 ESV, also tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light.   The same savior who tells us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, do unto others, and don’t be angry, tells us that his is the easy yoke and the light burden.

But it doesn’t seem or feel so easy to us, does it?   As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”   Even those of us who profess faith in the risen Christ find his commands and teaching exceedingly difficult, difficult to the point that we just throw up our hands and declare ourselves to be “only human”.   And, being “only human”, Jesus couldn’t possibly have expected us to live as he showed and taught us, could He?   And so, we have our excuse and our reason for throwing up our hands, declaring ourselves “only human”, and not even trying.   And so we choose our heavy burdens, anxieties, and fear over his easy yoke and light burdens…

We lament the “cost of discipleship”, the high price we must pay as followers of the lamb.  But, as Dallas Willard points out in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, there is a far greater cost of non-discipleship, is there not?  As Soren Kierkegaard told us, “It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition!

It is in choosing non-discipleship, in choosing unrighteousness, that we choose a life of burdens, failures, and disappointments.  A life filled with toil, a life filled with endless problems which never get solved.  We choose to live this way.   We call it normal human life.   As Willard says, “The “cost of discipleship,” though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be part of his company in The Way of life.”   As Christ said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV.

Jesus gives us an alternative to this hard, burdensome life apart from God.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   As the apostle John tells us in 1 John For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  But do we take these statements seriously?  Do we believe them?   Do we believe that Jesus has the easy yoke and the light burden?   I mean, it may have been easy and light for Him, even all the way through the cross, but we are, after all, only human.  These things seem anything but easy and light to us.

We all know, no one denies, that the world would be a better place if we could all just start following the teachings of Jesus.   And just because we don’t understand, it doesn’t cancel his offer of an easy yoke and light burdens.  The offer still stands for our souls to find rest (here and now, not off into into the heaven we are just dying to get into).

Maybe the problem is, we try to carry out Jesus commandments, to live as Jesus did, on a case by case basis.  We read his word, we hear the sermons, we know we are called to love and pray for our enemies, and turn the other cheek, but then, when the time arises and someone offends us or sins against us or otherwise harms us, the phrase “what would jesus do” goes right out the window, and now I’m standing up for my rights, looking out for number one, and defending myself.  I turned the other cheek once, now it’s time to start knocking heads!!  Hurt me once, shame on you.  Hurt me twice, shame on me.   We get pushed around a little, and the real spirit at work within us shows it’s ugly head.  But it’s ok…all of our sins are forgiven, right…

We are saved by grace, amen!!??   Of course…but that does not mean the power to live as we now want to live is automatically infused into us.  We don’t say a sinners prayer and are instantly transformed into christlikeness.   Our salvation moment is just a beginning, not an end, amen!

Think about it like this – it’s like an athlete who wants to become better at his sport, whatever it is.  Michael Phelps did not decide he wanted to be a gold medal swimmer, then based on that decision show up in Sydney, hop in the pool, and win 8 gold medals.  No, he decided he wanted to be the best swimmer he could be, a gold medal swimmer, and hopped in the pool over and over again in training, with his whole life focused around that point, to every day get a little bit better.   And he kept training, he kept training.   And so every four years, we watch the culmination of the life led with that goal in mind, a life led with the point of becoming a great swimmer.

This is true for everything we do in life, is it not?   A teacher, an engineer, a public speaker, a musician, a surgeon.  If we want to get closer to that which we aspire to, we must adopt lifestyle practices which will allow us to get better at that which we want to do.  We must read, study, practice, submit to menial tasks which, at the time, don’t seem to have anything at all to do with the goal we have in mind (wax on, wax off!).

The same is true of the Christian life.  A baseball player or football player who expects to decide today to play without any practice or exercise in preparation for that game, who expects to excel at that game, is no more ridiculous than a Christian who expects to be able to imitate Christ when put to the test without appropriate exercise and preparation for godly living.

If you read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus himself had spent his whole life in preparation for his ministry.  Despite an audacious birth narrative, he grew up secluded in a lower class family in a backwater town.  Yet, at the age of twelve in the temple, “…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”,Luke 2:47 ESV.   There were so amazed that he immediately returned to Nazareth for eighteen more years of preparation, being subject to all the demands of life and family.

After he was baptized, he spent the first month in solitude and fasting.  During his ministry He alone much of the time, in solitude and prayer,  often all night, preparing to serve his disciples and the masses.

It was out of great preparation that Jesus was able to lead his public life of teaching and healing.  He loved his closest companions, his disciples, to the end even though they often disappointed him and at times seemed incapable of entering into the life he was calling them for.   It was out of great preparation that Jesus was then able to die his death unsurpassed for its great intrinsic beauty and historical effect.

So, what’s my point?  This is the key to the “easy yoke” Jesus talks about.  We can’t just try to live as Jesus did by the seat of our pants and call upon his power “in the moment,” or on the spot.  We will surely fail.  If we want to live as Christ did, we must live as Christ lived all of his life.   Like with any human endeavor (though this would not be an entirely human endeavor), if we want to become anything more than we are, we must undertake the disciplines and the lifestyle that will make us into what we aspire to be.   If we want to be better at baseball or basketball or any other sport, we must undertake the discipline of practice (we’re talking about practice!) and lifestyle to become a better athlete.  If we want to become successful in business, we must devote ourselves to the discipline and lifestyle associated with that goal.  If we want to be the type of people who become more full, devoted disciples of Christ, who react as he did in the moment, under pressure, then we too must give ourselves over to the discipline and lifestyle shown to us by our Teacher.

We can’t expect to become people who go the second mile, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, or suffer patiently and hopefully if we are living our lives just like everyone around us.  This is just as silly as thinking I can go straight from Pizza Hut to the swimming pool and swim like Michael Phelps.  If we try this, we are bound to fail and leave the way of Christ “difficult and left untried.”

Jesus never expected us to simply wake up one day and be the type of people who turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, go the second mile, or bless those who persecute us.  But Jesus does expect us to follow Him.  These responses are characteristics of Christlikeness which Jesus gave us as an example of the new kind of people we will become as we seek first the kingdom of god.

Jesus invites us to a life where loving enemies and turning the other cheek will seem like the only response we should make.  It will seem the only sensible thing to do.  For someone living as Jesus shows, the more difficult thing would be to hate the enemy, to turn away the one who asks, to curse those who curse us, to be un-Christlike.  True Christlikeness comes at the point where it is difficult not to react as he did.

Im going to finish here.  We must remember that the way to run a marathon is NOT to simply go out and run 26.2 miles.  You will never make it.  The way to become a great violinist in NOT to go out, buy a violin, and break into symphony #5.   No, to do these things we must enter into certain disciplines and lifestyles where we can become the kind of people capable of running 26 miles, hitting a baseball, or playing the great compositions.

Or, for that matter, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Becoming the kind of person who is moving from being only human to fully human.   I will be coming back to this periodically, to explain how activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, and celebration (some of which are activities I myself are have not yet tried) are an essential to our salvation journey and deliverance from the power of sin over our lives.  There is a way to the easy yoke Jesus is describing, but it will take some practice and discipline to get there…

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 ESV

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1jn.5.3.esv

John Lewis

Chills

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?

Chills.

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.

Chills.

“”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

http://bible.com/59/mrk.3.28-30.esv

John Lewis

Good Deeds

Good Deeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”    The Torah scholar has this exactly right!!!   He and Jesus are in complete agreement on this point.  Jesus has himself said this exact same thing.  And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

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

John Lewis