Friendship Prayer

Ah friends! I mean, who else can you turn to in your hour of need? Who do you call when your car decides that the middle of the night would be an excellent time not to start and get you home? Even if it feels like an imposition, you can call a friend. They have your back. Right? They are the first ones you think of when life slips sideways. You may not want to be a burden, but you can’t really imagine talking to anyone else. So, you call; you ask; you lay out your struggles; you impose. And you do this with confidence because you have a bond that transcends minor inconveniences. You believe you can trust in that bond; that friendship – to be there when the need arises. Even if the timing is all wrong.

              Luke 11:5-8 is a parable about friendship and prayer. We often miss the “friend” part of the parable because we jump to the prayer part. But these two concepts go hand in hand in this parable. Jesus begins the prayer with “Which one of you . . .” This often gets translates, “Suppose . . .” Yet, this was a somewhat common way for Jesus to begin a parable. Which one of you fathers . . . (11:11; cf. 14:28; 15:4; 17:7). This puts the listener into the parable. Which one of you, who are listening to this right now, YOU have a friend. And when Jesus begins this way, there is an implied question: does this scenario seem feasible to you?

              The scenario is that you have a friend and you have a problem. Another friend has shown up unexpectedly and you don’t have any bread. At this time, and in this part of the world, hospitality was more than a social regulation – it was a religious duty. Making sure that your visiting friends are well fed was tantamount to being a faithful servant of God. Yes, it is the middle of the night and not at all a convenient time to ask a favor. But Jesus’ listeners understood the urgency even if we do not. This man would bring shame to himself and his family if he is unable to be hospitable. So, he risks the imposition. After all, he is approaching the house of a friend.

              At the door, he relays the need. Picture him out there speaking as loudly quietly as he could. He may be willing to impose on his friend, but not on his friend’s neighbors. And here is the thing, the “which one of you” has put the listener into the parable. They could see themselves doing this, fully expecting a friend to get out of bed and loan them some bread. Verse seven comes as a shock then. To hear his friend say “do not go on causing trouble for me” would have been like a slap in the face. And its not that his reasons don’t hold some weight. Doors back then were not easy to unlock, and it would have been a noisy affair. Most families lived and slept in the same room. But these obstacles can not compare to the need to be hospitable; to helping a friend in need. Proverbs 3:28 instructs that you should not send a neighbor away empty handed if you have it to give. How much more a friend?

              Verse 8 is difficult to say the least. Because of this verse, most take this to be a parable about persistent prayer. But nowhere are we told that the person seeking bread was persistent. We only see him at the door, politely stating his case and asking for bread, once. And there is the problem with the word not meaning persistent. It means “shameless” and is a negative word. Without dredging up all of the arguments because I simply do not have the space, let me tell you what I think seems most likely. Jesus is presenting a scenario that seems very unlikely to his listeners. They cannot imagine a friend behaving this way. You can impose on a friend and expect help, especially when your honor and piety is at risk. Maybe Jesus ends this discussion by saying, even if, in this scenario friendship breaks down, shame will motivate the man inside the house to get up and give his friend bread. After contemplating the reality of facing the town tomorrow, he knows he cannot just go back to sleep. His honor and the honor of his family is on the line. How much more honorable is God? You can approach God as a friend who is honorable. He will do the right thing.               When you ask God to give you this day your daily bread, you ask as a friend in need. Will God see your request as an imposition? Will he gripe and complain about the late hour? Friends don’t. Approach as a friend then. God loves you. Ask, plead, seek. This is not about a selfish demand on God. That’s not what friendship is. This is an acknowledgment that when need comes for a surprise visit, the one you think of first to turn to is God. If it doesn’t seem feasible that a friend would turn you away because of minor obstacles, then why does it seem likely that God would. Approach as a friend.

When You Pray

A young lady told me yesterday that she doesn’t know how to pray and she had something very important to pray about. I wonder if I should have showed her Jesus’ prayer. It is not specifically about what she is concerned about, but isn’t it a great place to begin? If Jesus taught his disciples how to pray with a certain prayer, maybe that is what we should turn to in order to teach others how to pray. You know, maybe. When you pray, say “Father . . .” It’s a good beginning.

              In Luke 11:1-4 Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. Most will look at this and say that Luke shortened Matthew’s version in Matthew 6. And to be sure these prayers are almost identical. Matthew places his within the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke it is a response to the disciples seeking to learn specifically how to pray. What if Luke didn’t doctor up his source? What if Jesus uttered this prayer in two different settings? What if it was Jesus who gave the same prayer in a shortened form to his disciples? I really don’t have a problem with the idea that Luke used the prayer in a different context because he was facing a different audience. I do wonder how we can be so sure. I do wonder why it seems beyond the realm of possibility that Jesus said the same thing – prayed the same thing – in a different setting and in a slightly different way. Onward ho!

              It came about that while Jesus was praying and after he had finished that one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And the first thing that is impressive is the vagueness of the passage. It took place in a certain place. One of the disciples asked. It happened. The time, the place and the person are all unnamed. The word prayer is the generic word for prayer. It could have been any kind of prayer. But the request is fairly specific. Teach us to pray. Often in Luke, Jesus goes off to a secluded place to pray. We are not told this specifically here, but it does seem likely. Picture Jesus in a lonely spot with his disciples praying. And he is already teaching them isn’t he? If you want to teach your children or anyone else for that matter to pray, well, then, pray.

              If we take Jesus’ words literally, then the prayer he offers up, must be prayed. He said, “When you pray, say.” Say is an imperative. But not all the prayers of Jesus that have been recorded for us contain these words. Maybe he is giving us a form; a guide of sorts. Prayer is about relationship; it is about recognizing God as Father. Relationship will change how you pray. I speak differently to my siblings than I do to my father. It is a different relationship. The phrase “holy (or sanctified) be your name” could be a request that the name, the character, of God will always be holy in our lives. It could be a request that God will establish his holy character; that he will make the world aware of his sanctified self. Maybe both ideas are present. I want my life to be all about the holy character of God. And I desire that God would show his holiness. There has been a lot of discussion about what “your kingdom come” might mean. The Kingdom of God broke into our reality in the life of Jesus. It continues to spread in the lives of the followers of God. The prayer that God’s kingdom come is a prayer that God’s sovereignty would be acknowledged. He is the king of all, but not all accept him as king. And even in our lives, we want his kingdom to keep coming; to keep growing.

              It is appropriate to ask your Father to provide your daily needs. Is Jesus suggesting that they should trust God for bread, just as the Israelites had to trust God in the wilderness wandering? There is something childlike in asking for and relying on a parent for food. Maybe this is about understanding where your daily bread comes from. You may buy it at the store, but it is God who provides. And our prayers should be about seeking forgiveness. And that you cannot buy. You will never grasp it, if you don’t give it. So, seek forgiveness as you forgive others. Ask your Father for what he loves to give and then turn around and give it. The final request has caused a lot of debate. If God doesn’t tempt (James 1:13-14), why would we pray that he not bring us into temptation? It doesn’t seem likely that Jesus would encourage us to request God to not do something that he never does. Maybe this is about trust and relationship just like the rest of the prayer. It is the cry of a child, “Must I really go through this trial?” “Please Father, keep this trial from me.” It is the prayer of Jesus in the Garden seeking for his Father to remove the trial of the cross. God may not remove the trial, but pray that he does. When you pray, build your relationship with Holy God.

Ministry That Misses Jesus

Can you do ministry and miss Jesus? Well, yeah. Good things are done with no connection to Jesus all the time. Those things are still service. Feeding the hungry is not the end all. Neither is attempting to end oppression. These are good things; right things; necessary things. But, again, many do good things for many reasons other than because they believe in Jesus. And here’s a perplexing paradox for you: people can do good things in the name of Jesus and still miss Jesus. I mean, Jesus said that many will say, “Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And his reply will be “I never knew you; depart from me . . .” It is easy to pat yourself on the back and proclaim that you’re are doing “ministry” as if ministry in and of itself was the key. Jesus is the key. Always has been. Always will be

              The traveling motif is picked up again in Luke 10:38-42. As Jesus and his entourage were journeying along toward Jerusalem, they entered into a village. John tells us that where Martha and Mary lived was Bethany, which was about two miles east of Jerusalem. It is Martha who welcomes Jesus, and presumably his disciples, into her house. This is good and links her with those who receive the message when the Twelve and later the seventy were sent out. Make no mistake, Martha is immediately cast in a positive light. This is important to the story. This is not the tale of one sister who refuse to accept Jesus and another who does.

              And the other sister? Her name is Mary and we see her sitting at the feet of Jesus. This was a specific phrase that meant clearly that she was behaving as a disciple, sitting at the feet of her rabbi. This is amazing due to the simple fact that rabbis didn’t allow female disciples. Some have even suggested that this was part of Martha’s concern. Mary was doing men’s work and neglecting women’s work. In her excitement over Jesus’ message she forgot her place. Maybe. Some suggest that this is reading too much into the story. We know that women were not expected to sit at the feet of a rabbi. We know that cultural and religious society reduced their ministry to cooking and serving tables. And isn’t it interesting that at many a preacher’s workshop we see this same scenario playing out today?

              We are told that Martha was distracted by many things. You know how it is? You want everything to be perfect for your guest. So much so that you don’t spend any time with your guest. The meal pulls at you. Does everyone have something to drink? Are there enough places for everyone to sit? Well maybe, if Mary would occupy her given place. The word “preparations” is “ministries.” It is usually used in a positive sense. The problem is the distraction; the drive to make sure everything is just right; the ministry becoming more important that the Savior. Martha rebuked Jesus; “Don’t you even care that Mary has left all of the women’s work for me to do?” Then she even gets a little bossy. Tell her to help me! This is not a request. It is in the imperative – command language.

              Jesus responds with a “Martha, Martha.” When Jesus uses your name twice, pay attention. Most agree that it is a gentle criticism. Jesus used two words to describe her mental state. She is worried, the word Jesus used in Matthew 6:25-34 to describe anxious worrying, and she is bothered or troubled. Some have suggested Jesus is referring to a dual – physical and emotional – anxiety. More likely, he is emphasizing how fractured she is. She is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, growing angrier and angrier over Mary’s insensitive neglect. Then Jesus tells her “one thing is necessary.” What? Mary has chosen the good part. The word part can refer to a dish set on the table. That has triggered a lot of discussion. What we need to know is Jesus refused to take her choice from her.

              This is not a choice between good and better. If you miss Jesus, it doesn’t matter how good the thing you are doing is. You’ve missed the point; the key; the crux. Jesus! Yes, of course, meals will not prepare themselves and so somebody will need to prepare a meal. But when Jesus is in your house, you sit at his feet and feast on the dish he is serving. Man or woman, adult or child, doesn’t matter. You choose the good part and that will never be taken from you. You put Jesus first and then the rest will fall into place. Sit at the feet of Jesus! Don’t excuse yourself and run around all anxious about making sure everything is just so. It’s okay! We will survive if we miss a meal. But we won’t survive if we miss Jesus.

Neighborly Action

Augustine postulated the scenario in which someone had fallen into a pit with no way to get out. He is desperate. If he doesn’t get out, he will eventually die. Suppose two people come along – let’s name them Harry and George. Harry said, “Why George, look at that fellow there in the pit. How do you suppose he got there?” To which George responded, “I don’t know. Maybe he was pushed in there because he did something horrendous. Maybe he deserves to be in the pit. Maybe he tripped due to his own carelessness. In which case, he still deserves to be there.” Harry added, “Yes, those are distinct possibilities. But what if he is innocent and the person who pushed him is the culprit? His case hinges on how he got there and whether or not he deserves to be stuck in the pit.” The man in the pit shouts up, “I would be better off if, instead of discussing the how and wherefore, you came up with a plan to get me out.” What the man in the pit desperately longs for is compassion; a compassion that motivates an action – a neighborly action.

              Luke 10:30-37 is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The setting scene is a discussion between a lawyer and Jesus about what one must do to inherit eternal life. And the answer is love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Ah, but what exactly does that mean? So Jesus picked up the conversation and responded with a parable about a certain man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jesus’ hearers would have been familiar with how dangerous this road was. Strabo, who wrote a traveler’s guide, tells of Pompey dealing with robbers on this road. No surprise then, that this certain man fell among robbers and was beat and left naked and half dead. Sometimes extreme situations were used to give clarity to everyday questions. And this was an extreme situation. Unless someone comes along and helps him, he will most likely not survive.

              Ah good news. A priest is coming down the same road. The man is saved. But the priest is not moved with compassion. Instead he goes to the other side of the road, passes by, and leaves the man in his desperate state. All manner of guesses at motive exist here. Was he concerned about the possibility of making himself unclean by touching what looked like a corpse? Well, probably not, since the rabbis taught that if someone died without family a priest could bury that person without risk of being made unclean. Was he fearful that the robbers may still be hanging around to try a two for one robbery? Was he just plain tired after a week of service in the temple? Maybe this person deserved what he got. Jesus doesn’t tell us and maybe that is telling. The point is, the person who the audience tended to pin their hopes on, left the man in his desperate state. A Levite comes along with the same results. This is less surprising. Levites were not looked up to as much as priests. When they heard of the Levite, the audience probably thought, “Well, maybe he will help, but if the priest didn’t bother, why would the Levite?”

              Samaritan. Well that’s no good. All hope lays on the road. A Samaritan? It would not be outrageous to find a Samaritan here on this road. It was outrageous to think that the man’s situation had improved with the Samaritan being on this road. The Samaritan had compassion. And this is the key to the parable. Feeling a compassion that leads to action. So, he tends to the man’s wounds with what he had: oil and wine. The wine was probably and antiseptic and the oil was for soothing and healing. The Samaritan placed the man on his own beast and took him to an inn and paid for his room. The next day, he gives the innkeeper enough to have the man stay there for about two weeks and pledges to pay if more is needed. This is significant, because if you couldn’t pay your bills you could be sold into slavery. More importantly the Samaritan pledged himself for as long as the need is present. Jesus ended by asking, “Out of the three who was the neighbor?” The lawyer responded with, “Well, I suppose it was the one who showed mercy.” This probably shows a reluctance on his part to name the Samaritan as the neighbor, but it is also the key of the parable. Compassion is key. If you are desperate, do you care if the person who offers help happens to belong to that group? Samaritan? Why yes, a Samaritan can be your neighbor if you need help.

              Jesus tells the lawyer to go do the same. Go be the neighbor. Be a neighbor to whoever needs help; be a neighbor regardless of race, status, or religion; be a neighbor when there just might be some inconvenience involved. Allow compassion to move you to action – a neighborly action. There is no list of who you have to love in order to keep this command. Just be a neighbor filled with motivating compassion.

Simple Love

Years ago, I had a friend who would get frustrated at how complicated people seemed to make following Jesus. He would say, “Its really simple: Love God and love people!” Don’t get me wrong, I understand his point. But it isn’t simple to love God. And if we qualify that with “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind,” it becomes downright impossible. I don’t know anyone, other than Jesus, who loves God perfectly with everything they are. Do you? And sometimes God is just plain hard to love. Like when we believe with all of who we are that He is sovereign and yet evil things happen to good people. I mean, what in the world? And don’t even get me started on loving people. The simple truth is I don’t love my neighbor or anybody really, as I love myself. I mean I have flashes of that kind of love for others. But I also have dark moments of selfishness. So, yes. The message is a simple love God and love people. But it is not only hard it is, in fact, impossible. But this is still what we are called to.

              Luke 10:30-37 is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But before we deal with the parable, it is important to look at the setting scene in 25-29. An expert in the law of Moses stands in opposition testing Jesus. Notice the body language that is being described here. You have witnessed this haven’t you? It is an in your face challenge. Daniel 12:2 is the first time a clear word of resurrection and eternal life appears. Since then, the Jews have debated about what it means to inherit this everlasting life. How do you grab hold of this much desired life? It seems like a good way to show Jesus – this friend to the rabble rabbi – to be fraud. Jesus turns the question around on him. “How do you read (or understand) the law?” This was a common rabbinical question intended to begin discussion about the finer points of law. The expert responds with the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5. The Jews prayed this word on the daily. He throws in Leviticus 19:18. Love God with everything you are and love your neighbor as intently as you love yourself. Jesus tells him that he has answered correctly and encourages him to live the answer. Now, that’s the rub isn’t it? Can anyone truly live loving God with their whole being? Has there ever been anyone who has loved their neighbor as themselves – making sure they have plenty to eat to stave off hunger; clothes to ward off the cold; shelter to find comfort and protection?

              The lawyer desired to make himself right. The exact meaning of this has been debated. As it stands, Jesus is on top of this discussion. This is how Jesus lived his life. He lived loving God with everything he is; putting the will of God above his own. He loves his neighbor even if his neighbor is involved in sin or an undesirable job such as tax-collecting. My guess is that the lawyer didn’t live these commands out the way Jesus is implying. So, the lawyer asked “Who is my neighbor?” The Jews tended to view Leviticus 19:18 very narrowly: fellow Jews, and some would even exclude the sinners and tax-collectors Jesus was infamous for eating with. Even though Leviticus expands this command to include the resident alien. But the Jews in Jesus’ day had to endure being occupied by the evil Roman Empire. Surely God didn’t mean those resident aliens. Surely not. So, maybe the lawyer thought he would have ammunition against Jesus if Jesus refused to define “neighbor” as narrowly as many of his fellow Jews would have demanded. Maybe he was saying something like “Just tell me who I have to love.” Maybe he was saying, “Well yes, but there is more at issue here. It’s not that simple Jesus.” Here’s what we know. He was attempting to make himself right. He wanted to win the argument and look good in the eyes of the witnesses of the whole exchange. And that doesn’t smack of love.

              Notice that the question and Jesus’ answer is about action. Following Jesus is no mere mental exercise. As Switchfoot sings, “Love is a verb.” And maybe the question is not are you doing this perfectly, but are you trying? You may fall short of living the Shema, but is it your daily prayer? And you may love your neighbor if they look like you; think like you; or worship like you. But can you love people who hate you; who persecute you? The message is simple, but living the message is not. Don’t let that keep you from giving it your all. You cannot be too loving. You can love with the wrong kind of love, but you can never be too loving. Love God then, with your whole heart (inner self), with your whole soul (energy to act), with your whole strength (ability to act), and with your whole mind (reason). Love God and love people.

Being Babies

You probably don’t know my father like I do. And how could you? You didn’t grow up with him training you; playing; laughing; crying. And now, even if you were able to go sit with my father, you wouldn’t be able to get to know him. He would tell you stories of growing up – maybe – on a good day. But he most likely couldn’t share his understanding of God with you. And even if he could, he would never respond to you as he did to those of us who are blessed to be called his children. You will never have him try so desperately to get you to understand why you are being punished. You will never experience the delight of playing football in a tiny trailer home hallway. You will never capture a glimpse of his frail heart because your own selfishness broke it. You will never sit the whole day with him joyfully catching nothing but perch. You can only grasp an idea of my father, as a father, through what his children reveal. And quite frankly, there are some that I choose not to reveal my father to. It would be a waste of time.

              Luke 10:21-24 wraps up the section dealing with the Seventy who had been sent out by Jesus. They came back rejoicing over their success; their authority over demons in the name of Jesus. Jesus interpreted this event as the fall of Satan from heaven. The kingdom of God authority trumps Satan authority. So, in that hour Jesus was overjoyed. This is a strong word implying extreme joy. Did Jesus do a fist pump – or whatever the first century Jewish equivalent would have been? And this over the top rejoicing is in the Holy Spirit. Remember, this is about Kingdom of God victory. So, in the midst of his joy, he bursts out in prayer. There just may be a lesson lurking here. Prayer is not just for desperate situations; cries of despair; pleas for help. Prayer is about communicating with God – pain and joy and everything in between. Exuberant praise is appropriate.

              Jesus begins his prayer with “I praise.” The word is a strengthened form of the word “confess, openly proclaim, agree, speak the same.” Jesus may be joyfully saying “You were right! I agree!” And he is in agreement with the Father, the master of heaven and earth. The Father is sovereign – master of everything. And what did the Father do, that Jesus is joyfully confessing? He kept secret these things – kingdom of God things – from the wise and intelligent. He refused to reveal his plan; his Kingdom language, to those who would have been too smart for the message. And instead he uncovered the whole thing to babies. In the OT, it is often those who are simple minded who are lifted up. They are the ones who are willing to learn; who know they have much to learn. People who have already made up their mind about who God is, will not hear God proclaim who he is. So, the Father is delighted to reveal the Kingdom to babies; babies who listen; babies who don’t argue fine points of theology with God.

              The second part of Jesus’ prayer (v. 22) is didactic. Yes, you can teach while you talk to God. All things have been handed over to Jesus. In this context, Jesus is most likely referring to all understanding of who God is. The relationship between God and Jesus is close. No one really knows who Jesus is except the Father. And no one really knows who the Father is except Jesus. But the whole point of this teaching prayer is not relationship. The point is shared relationship. You can know the Father through Jesus. And knowing here probably refers to knowing his will; his purpose. You know, Kingdom stuff.

              Jesus finished his prayer and then turns and utters a blessing upon his disciples. Happy or fortunate are the eyes that see what you see. This is not about mystic sight. Well, not mostly, anyway. The disciples were blessed to be able to see what the prophets (God’s spirit filled proclaimers) and kings (God’s representation of authority) desired to see. They were given glimpses, but the disciples witnessed the coming of the Kingdom in the life, actions, and teachings of Jesus. Not only that, they were given authority to participate in Kingdom activity that began the overthrow of Satan. They hear and see the Kingdom busting into reality. In other words, they hear and see Jesus working Kingdom.               You can only know about the Father through the Son. Good news! Jesus reveals what you need to know. But if you choose to rely on your own wisdom, you will not even be given the option to see the message; the Kingdom. Isn’t it ironic that people think they know more about the Father than the Son? It would be a waste of effort to uncover the Kingdom to the wise and the intelligent. They are too busy being wise. Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to babies. So, baby it up and learn about the Father. Peace.

Rejoice Citizen

In the book “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok, Danny Saunders is a brilliant young man. Danny’s father is a rabbi of a Russian Hassidic sect in Williamsburg. From a young age, the rabbi, his father didn’t speak to Danny. He never told him why until much later. The rabbi was concerned that his brilliant son would never be able to relate to the pain; the feeling of insignificance that was a daily struggle for many. For the rabbi, intelligence is not the goal. It is compassion. He knew he could not begin to enhance his son’s knowledge. But maybe he could help him to discover compassion for the unheard, the ignored, the marginalized. If this were a Spider Man tale, the rabbi might have said something like, “With great intelligence comes great responsibility.” I may be horrified by how this man tried to teach his son about compassion, but I understand the importance of the lesson.

In Luke 10:17-20 you have an exultant return of the seventy who were sent out by Jesus. We don’t know how long they were gone. Really doesn’t matter. They are stoked. They burst out with a “Lord! Even the demons submit to us in Your name!” I’m not sure we grasp how exciting this would be. They commanded a demon to leave in the name of Jesus and what do you know? The demon left. That kind of power just might go to your heads. To their credit, they understand that it is the name of Jesus that held all the power. But they have the same authority that had been given to the Twelve. Kingdom authority was theirs as well.

Jesus responds by telling them that he had a vision: “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” The Jewish people long expected that the final act would be a battle between good and evil; a showdown between Yahweh and the Adversary – Satan. And there wasn’t any question of who would win. This is not about Satan being kicked out of heaven before the garden event. That would make no sense to our context. Often when the prophets of old were given a vision, the vision interpreted what was going on with Heaven reality. It may point to the future, but even then, there was often a hint of the present culminating in the future. The fall of Satan is the culmination of the kingdom breaking into reality. These seventy disciples had been sent out with kingdom authority over demons. This is the beginning of the end for Satan. Jesus’ kingdom is being established and his disciples are working kingdom in the world.

Then, Jesus tells them that he had given them authority to trample serpents and scorpions. The only place in the Bible that serpents and scorpions are mentioned together is in Deuteronomy 8:15. This passage is a celebration of God’s protection during the wilderness wanderings as the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land. The idea of treading on serpents (along with lions and cobras) is found in Psalm 91:13, which is a celebration of God’s protection for those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High. If there is a link here to these passages then Jesus may be referring to a new Exodus; a journey to the Promised Land. Jesus has given them authority over the enemy – the Satan – as they journey to the promise. If you dwell in the shelter of the Most High, you don’t have to journey afraid of things that bite or sting. The Satan is being cast down and if you are with God you are on the winning side.

As amazing as all of this is, it is not the most important thing. What could be more important than being able to command evil spirits; to trample on serpents without being hurt; to avoid the snares of the enemy? Your name is recorded in heaven. This is about citizenship. They may have been tempted to think that their power over demons was more important than being citizens of the Kingdom. And power, even power over evil, is not the goal. Power is a result of kingdom citizenship. So rejoice that there is a record of your citizenship with your name on it.

Why is this important? Well, for us humans, power seems to go to our heads. If power is the goal, then we tend to want to be more powerful than the next guy. Or we use the power to demonstrate our power; our control over others or over the situation. We may even use the power to do good things with selfish motives. We may use the name of Jesus while we relish the attention we are receiving. So, don’t rejoice in the power, as awesome as that is. Rejoice that you are in the kingdom of God! It is because you are in the kingdom that you have kingdom authority. And the authority is not the end game. Being in the kingdom is what truly matters. Rejoice Citizen! Rejoice!

Therapy Session

The Kingdom of God is near! Are you picturing the guy standing on a street corner, yelling at people? Sadly, the “Kingdom of God is near” message is often wrapped up in the language of condemnation and wrath. And to be clear, it includes judgment. But that is not the heart of the message. Judgment is what happens when you reject the message; when you say something like, “What a load of garbage!” The heart of the message of the kingdom is healing; restoration. It is a therapy session. And here is the thing, healing cannot take place if you want nothing to do with the therapist – the healer. If you refuse to sit on the couch, rejecting the very concept of the couch, then don’t complain when you cannot receive the benefits offered on the couch. The therapy session has begun. The only question is whether or not you will join in.

              Luke 10:8-16 is the second half of the message Jesus gave to the seventy who were being sent out. It is a message about reception and rejection. If they are received by the citizens of the city, they are to eat what is set before them. This is deeper than food. It is an appreciation of reception. Don’t spurn the gift. I watched a group of college age kids giving away the dinner that had been provided for them in Honduras. To their credit, they didn’t just throw it away. They gave it to some children. But think of the people who graciously prepared that meal for them. Eat what is set before you. Appreciate the effort of welcoming you. And if they are welcomed in the city, they are to heal the sick. The word “heal” is the word from which we get the English word “therapy.” Put on a therapy clinic. And then proclaim, “the kingdom of God has come near upon you.” It is possible to translate that the kingdom has arrived. This may be more than a preparing the way. This may just be a statement about the arrival of the kingdom. Healing is a sign that the kingdom has come to their town. The therapy session can happen because the kingdom is breaking into their reality.

              And if the messengers and their message is rejected by the citizens, they are to get themselves into the main streets of the city and very publicly denounce that city. The clinging dust of the city will be wiped off. This was a well-known statement: I want nothing to do with you or your dust. As earlier (9:5), this is probably a prophetic symbol: just as I shake off the dust of your city, you will be shaken out of the kingdom. The kingdom of God has still arrived. The difference is that the city will receive none of the benefits. They will know nothing of therapy – of healing. It seems significant that the message to the cities who reject the message is still that the kingdom of God has arrived, but it has not arrived upon them. The kingdom comes whether you accept it or not. The coming of the kingdom of God is not dependent upon your approval. Now, whether you enjoy healing or not, well, that does depend upon your approval.

              Then Jesus emphasizes the point by saying that it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom than it will be for the city of rejection. What? Sodom had become a symbol of God’s judgment; a symbol of the worst of cities and therefore worthy of destruction. How will it be more bearable for them? The punishment will be the same – eternal separation from the kingdom. The difference? Knowledge. So, Jesus pronounces a good ol’ fashioned woe upon some current Jewish towns who were witnesses to the power of the kingdom; of the therapy session of Jesus. If the notoriously pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon had been blessed to be witnesses they would have repented. So, there they are, outside of the kingdom. Tyre and Sidon can at least say, “But we didn’t see the Kingdom of God walking our streets.” Woe to you Chorazin (we really don’t know where this was), woe to you Bethsaida! You saw the power of healing; the sign of the kingdom; and you rejected. And Capernaum, just because you were a base of operations for the kingdom, that doesn’t mean you can reject the message and be okay. You will, instead, be like the king of Babylon, thinking you can exalt yourself to the heavens only to discover you have been plummeted to Sheol. It is all about welcoming the kingdom and its therapeutic impact.

              The kingdom of God has arrived and Jesus is still operating a therapy clinic. But therapy is sometimes unpleasant; not what we expected or want. The Bible sometimes refers to this as being pruned. Ouch! You and I are messengers of the kingdom. We are inviting people to join in and get themselves therapied. If they listen to us, they are actually listening to the one who sent us – the Great Physician. If they reject us, they are really rejecting Jesus and God. Welcome the kingdom and be healed. Grace.

Bustle Time

The crop is ready. The conditions are favorable. Do you linger at the local café chewing the fat with the townies? Do you go to bed early and sleep in? Do you watch TV all day? I’m not a farmer, but I know this much – harvest time is bustle time. Long hours in the field – early mornings and late nights. The window may be small; the weather may turn; the opportunities may dry up like a drop of rain in the Sahara. So, the farmer hustles and bustles and brings in the harvest.

              Luke 10:1-7 is about the harvest in the kingdom of God. The master, that is Jesus, appointed seventy people to be sent out. Why seventy? There were seventy translators of the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. There were seventy men on the Sanhedrin. There were seventy elders in Moses’ day upon whom the spirit descended and they were enabled to prophesy. In Genesis 10 there are seventy nations listed. Some have seen the number seventy here representing the ministry of Jesus reaching out to all the nations. Others will make the comparison to the spirit being poured out on the seventy elders and would then see this as a symbol of divine commission. Maybe it is both of these. These seventy are given a divine appointment and they may symbolize the spreading of the message to the nations. Like the messengers of 9:52, they are sent ahead of Jesus to go to all the cities that Jesus was intending to go to.

              “The harvest is great,” said Jesus, “but the workers are few.” It is bustle time but there are not enough workers. And Jesus’ advice here is not “so get out there and get to work you slackers.” Nope. His advice is to beg the lord of the harvest to send out workers. The word “send out” often implies force. This is not a motivational speech for rolling up your sleeves. It is an encouragement to see the harvest as urgent – even if the harvest includes the nations. Beg the lord of the harvest to force the laborers to get busy. He is the Lord – the master – and if you belong to him and he says, “Go!” you go. Jesus also said that he was sending them out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Now that sounds cozy. Having a divine commission is not about cozy. And it is not about you fighting the wolves. You, sir and madam, are lambs. Ministry is about vulnerability. Wolves are stronger and more vicious than you. As before, he tells them not to take things. Again, this is a prophetic symbol of haste. The ministry is too urgent for you to waste time packing. But it is also about trust. Can you trust the lord of the harvest to provide and protect? And differently than the earlier accounts, Jesus tells them to not greet anyone. Several sources mention that greetings at this time were no simple matter of saying “Hi!” Urgency leaps out of from Jesus’ words.

              And whatever house they enter first they are to pronounce kingdom peace upon the household. This is more than a Jewish greeting. It is that, but it is more. If a son of peace is in that house, your pronouncement of peace will rest upon him. As spirit empowered messengers their pronouncement of peace brings peace. But if there is no son of peace in that house, don’t worry, the peace will return to you so that it can then be pronounced on another. Don’t be stingy with peace pronouncements! There may just be a lesson here for us. If we say “peace be with you” and peace doesn’t rest there, that is not on us. There is no consequence for proclaiming unrested peace.

              Again, the messengers are commanded to stay in the first house in which they had been welcomed. That house becomes a base of operations and therefore a supporter of the harvest. Some are sent out as messengers and some provide the needs of the messengers. Both are equally important to the harvest in the kingdom. And for goodness sake, don’t disrespect the one who welcomed you by moving on to another house; one that is more comfortable and has better food.               This is the first half of the section (the second half being 10:8-16). Harvest in the kingdom is much like physical harvest. There is a time of urgency; of hustling because the crop is ready and the conditions are good. The Lord of the harvest knows the times and seasons better than we do. So, we beg him to send the workers in good time. And if he is our Lord, when he says “Go!” we will not argue; we will not hesitate; we will not go home to grab some money or weapons. We will trust in the Lord of the harvest to provide and protect. Yes, there are wolves out there. Jesus is not calling you to be a wolf. He is sending you out to be a lamb; to be vulnerable. If he is the Lord, we don’t argue. We go, all lamb like. Bustle time! Grace.

The Pressing Path

I am about to make an assumption: I assume that Lot’s wife was not turned into a pillar of salt just because she looked backward. I think the whole of Genesis 19 is about Lot’s family struggling with letting go of their life in Sodom. I mean, for crying out loud, the angels had to physically drag Lot and his family out of the doomed city. Yes, they were told not to look back. I don’t think this command was about forbidding a curious glance at the devastation. I think God was telling them, “Quit longing for the life you know here; the friends; the relative; the bustling city life; the degradation.” A relationship with God should hold priority above all other relationships. And sometimes that is easy to see like in the case of Lot’s wife. Sodom was a horrendous place, all full of ugly abuses of dignity. And yet all of them seemed to cling to the life they had made there. Sometimes this is not as easy to see like when Jesus says “Let the dead bury the dead.”

              Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem; to rejection; to death. He is traveling the path of obedience to the Father. Luke 9:57-62 is about that journey. So, as Jesus and his disciples are journeying along, a certain person said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Through the years this passage has been applied to preachers. Nice dodge. This is about a person who is offering to be a disciple, a follower. All who believe in Jesus are called to follow and following is not a walk in the park (unless you are thinking of the Garden of Gethsemane – it is a walk in that gloomy park). Notice that Jesus doesn’t just accept the offer with a slap on the back and a “That’s great! Come along as we sing ‘We’re Marching to Zion!’” Nope. He tells them about how the foxes and birds have places to rest, but that the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to lay his head. Is this literal? I think Jesus rested. Some people have made a huge deal about Jesus being homeless. Well, maybe, but I don’t think that is his point here. He is journeying to Jerusalem to pronounce that the Kingdom of God is breaking into reality. That message, and therefore, Jesus, will not be popular. Jesus is, in effect, saying, “Will you really follow me anywhere I go? Because I am on the path to being rejected and killed. I can find no rest from this path. I have set my feet on this path of obedience.” God’s path is not a path of rest. It is a path of movement; of following; of death.

              Then Jesus said to another person along the way, “Follow me.” It is a call to be a disciple. This person responded with a request to be allowed to bury his father. Burial was an important responsibility. It fell upon the son to bury the father. One source permits a person who has the duty of family interment to not pray the Shema; to not observe anything commanded by the Torah. For the Jewish people burying the dead superseded everything else. This would have been a reasonable request. Jesus responded with “let the dead bury the dead.” As you can imagine this has generated a lot of discussion. How can the dead bury the dead? I mean they’re dead. They can’t really do anything. Is he suggesting that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead? But does that suggest that the spiritual person doesn’t have physical responsibilities? Whatever is decided here, the main point is that the path of Jesus – the relationship to God – holds priority over everything else. When there is a conflict in responsibility, obey God! Jesus is not saying that physical duties are wrong. It is a question of priority. Jesus’ path is the most pressing duty.

              Another person comes along and offers to follow, but wants to go back to his family to make final arrangements first. This was granted to Elisha when Elijah called him to prophetic discipleship. But Jesus’ path is more pressing than that of Elijah. Jesus ends the segment by quoting a familiar parable. If you throw your hand to plowing, you are not going to look back. Looking back results in crooked furrows. The person who was plowing usually set his eyes on something at the end of the field. The path of plowing is about progressing on – not glancing backward. Don’t cling to family so tightly that you miss the path of being a disciple of Jesus.

              Are you journeying with Jesus? The word “follow” can have the idea of accompanying on a journey. This is not a call for a select few – the ordained clergy. This is a call to all who believe. Set your hand to the plow, set your eyes on the one who has gone on before you, and proceed forward. If you are a disciple, your duty to Jesus is greater than your duty to your spouse, your children, your country, your pets. Nothing should overshadow your responsibility to God. This may be difficult, but anything less would result in a division of loyalty. Press on as you journey the pressing path of obedience. Peace, Walter