It’s Sunday morning! Time to get all spiffy and ready to go to church. What to wear? What lies at the heart of that question? Who are we dressing for? Have you ever felt like putting on church clothes is about more than clothes? Dress up to get those complements so they won’t notice the pain lurking behind your eyes. Keep things superficial so we don’t have to think about our life or lack of life. Sunday morning clothes that can be stripped off as we prepare to be every other day people. And sometimes I wonder if Sunday isn’t just something we put on for the day. I’m not saying that wearing nice clothes on Sunday is wrong. I am saying that playing dress-up on Sunday fails to get us where Christ wants us.
Luke 16:14-18 can feel like a collection of sayings that have little or no connection to each other. After Jesus told four parables explaining why he hung out with those blasted sinners, he offers some thoughts about serving God and money. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, and who may have felt this last bit as being directed against themselves, heard this whole discourse and began to hold their nose up at Jesus. The phrase “hold up their nose” means to sneer at. This disdain may have been communicated with looks. You have been sneered at with a look, haven’t you? Anyway, it is clear that they don’t like what Jesus said about money. Many a Jewish person felt that wealth was a blessing from God and therefore the wealthy person must be more pious than the poor person who, after all, was most likely cursed by God. They may have also felt as if Jesus, being a poor person himself, really didn’t understand God’s blessings. Who was he to speak about such things?
Jesus flat out accuses these money loving Pharisees of justifying themselves before men. What? These clothes? Well, they obviously prove that God is blessing me and by wearing extravagantly expensive garments I am really just glorifying God. I have heard a modern-day preacher use the same argument for the cars he drives. Ah, but God knows your heart; your inner man. People may be impressed by your wealth and your showing off of your wealth, but God finds it all detestable. Well, that’s a bit harsh. Yes it is. This word is used often in the Old Testament to refer to what God loathes. And why does he find these exalted among men things so loathsome? Because it is all a façade. It is whitewashed tombs. They put on their expensive robes just like they drape themselves with fake piety. But their inside man is dead and stinking. God detests this because there can be no healing here.
Verses 16-17 are difficult. The law and the prophets until John but since then, the good news of the kingdom has been proclaimed. Some see here a major shift of realities; the Old law being done away with and the Kingdom life beginning. But then you have verse 17 in which Jesus said that it would be easier for creation to cease to exist than for one stroke of a letter (such as an accent mark) to fail. Hmm. And what does he mean that everyone is forcing their way into the kingdom? It seems that he is making a distinction. The good news of the kingdom of God is so important that all those who want to be a part of it are going to put forth Herculean efforts to enter. The kingdom does not supplant the law. It intensifies it. To illustrate this, he gives the example of divorce for the sake of remarrying. Many of the Pharisees would have seen nothing untoward in this. If you are tired of your wife just write her out a certificate of divorce and find yourself another one. And Jesus’ words seem to imply a divorce specifically in order to marry someone else. If you do that you commit adultery and adultery was punishable by death under the law. A woman could not technically divorce her husband, but she could orchestrate events in a way that makes divorce seem palatable to her husband. If she does this because she wants to marry another man, well, that man will be committing adultery when they get married.
The Pharisees clothed themselves with the law, but their heart remained unchanged. The kingdom of God was theirs by right; because they were the descendants of Abraham; because God had seen fit to bless them with wealth. It wasn’t something that they would give their everything to enter into. But the sinners? Well, many a sinner knew that the kingdom was worth every effort; every humbling of self; every dying. I think this is the Herculean effort; the forcing one’s way into. And when you die to yourself, God’s will becomes more important than your wants. Women are not something you put on and put off like a garment. Kingdom life changes you. It’s every day morning! What are you going to wear? Grace.