Doubled Over

Some people seem all doubled over with burden; bowed down with a horrible weight they can no longer carry; crippled by calamitous life. Some are shackled with feelings of inadequacy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a series of short stories entitled “Notes from the Underground.” It is all about people who feel invisible; people who mostly go through life unnoticed; people doubled over with the weight of their insignificance. Some people are so chained up you can almost see the heavy links dragging them down. Whether it is illness, sin, evil, or just plain life, chains bind. They bind and weigh down.

              Luke 13:10-17 is a healing that is unique to Luke. The setting and scenario, however, are very familiar. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on a sabbath. The synagogue was a gathering place; a kind of community center; the chief structure of most villages or city burrows. The sabbath was a holy day of rest and sacred contemplation of the Almighty. On this particular sabbath, in this particular synagogue, there was a woman who had a spirit of weakness. And this doesn’t seem to be about demon possession. In Luke, the chains of Satan that Jesus came to break include things like illness, poverty, oppression, blindness, and yes, demon possession. The fall brought all of these things into God’s creation. Originally, God’s creation was weakness free. No diseases; no debilitating deformity; no evil minions wreaking havoc. Jesus came to bring release. This woman was doubled over and was completely unable to straighten herself and she had been this way for eighteen years. Can you imagine being all doubled over for eighteen years? I cannot. This may be something like spondylitis ankylopoietica, which causes a fusion of the vertebrae. But we really don’t know. All we need to know here is that she has been unable to straighten herself for eighteen years.

              Jesus saw her and called her over. This is important. She did not seek Jesus out. He saw her; noticed her distress and responded with a “woman, you are freed from your weakness.” There may be something to ask ourselves here: When we see people in distress, do we respond? Jesus laid his hands on her and suddenly she was able to straighten up. No healing in stages here; no delayed reaction. And again, try to imagine all of sudden you can stand erect after eighteen years of walking around all hunched over. Did she say, “Oi! Eighteen years of being doubled over will give you such a crick in your back”? Uhm, probably not. What she did do was to glorify God. There was no question of where this power came from.

              The synagogue ruler was not impressed. As a matter of fact, he was rather put out with Jesus for healing on the sabbath. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t rebuke Jesus. He rebukes the crowd for seeking to be healed on the sabbath instead of any other day. Maybe he was afraid to rebuke Jesus. I mean the man had just healed a woman who had been bent over for eighteen years. Maybe he knew he could not outright deny what just happened. But, in the story, the woman did not seek to be healed on the sabbath. For all we know, she just showed up to worship God. Jesus saw and healed.

              And Jesus will have none of this. He mentions their willingness to unbind their oxen or donkeys on the sabbath so that they can be led to water. They could not directly give the animal water, but untying (certain knots could not be untied on the sabbath) their animals and walking them to get a drink was okey dokey. But this woman, this daughter of Abraham, who has been all tied up by Satan, you want to make her wait another day? You don’t even make your animals wait one day. And people are more important; more important than your animals and more important than your interpretation of the rules. The hostile to Jesus people were humiliated and the common people rejoiced. I think this is more than the fact that Jesus could do really cool things. This was about him making a statement about their importance.

              Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to untie their animals on the sabbath. He is pointing out an inconsistency. If I say it is ironic that some people care more about the fate of a tiger than an unborn baby, I am not saying that it is wrong to care about the tiger. I am merely pointing out the inconsistency; a creation inconsistency. People are more important; people are made in the image of God. And they should be treated as more important. It is wrong to treat animals with more respect and care than image of God bearing people. Oh, and rules, especially the rules of God, are meant to help people, not bind them. Jesus came to release. If we focus on the rules to the hurt and binding of souls, we are missing the point. Grace.

Get Fruity

Once, there were these three peach trees from Georgia. Why Georgia? All the good peach trees are from Georgia. One of these trees decided that it didn’t want to produce Georgia peaches. It wanted to produce Washington apples. But no matter how hard it tried, if it produced fruit at all, well, it was peaches. So, it gave up and produced nothing; happily sucking up nutrients from the soil for no good reason. Another tree decided that it didn’t want to produce fruit at all. It felt that it should have a different purpose than producing fruit. It could be a swing; a jungle gym; a home for squirrels; anything other than producing fruit. It also gave up on the fruit thing. The third tree was happy to produce juicy Georgian peaches. It had a purpose and it lived it. You are not a tree. Sorry to disappoint. But like a fruit tree, you also have a purpose. You were also intended to produce fruit. It is not your job to decide what kind of fruit; it is not your purpose to do something else than yield fruit. It is your job to bear fruit. And only when you are within the parameters of fruit producing will you be happy.

              Luke 13:6-9 is a parable about a fig tree. The setting scene is Jesus’ discussion on the need to repent. So, repentance may be the specific fruit he is referencing here. Parable hoe. There was this man who had a fig tree in a vineyard. This may seem odd to us and that may send us scampering for a hidden message. But there are several examples of fruit trees being planted in a vineyard. Some suggest that this is so that the tree can benefit from the fertile vineyard soil. Some have suggested that the grapes, and therefore the wine, will take on a subtle flavor from the fruit tree. I don’t know. I am not a dendrologist. It was a common enough scenario that I don’t think we need to search for a hidden meaning. The main part of the parable is that this fig tree did not produce fruit. No figs for you.

              Many sources will claim at this point that the fig tree is used to represent Israel. Well, in Isaiah 5 and other places the vineyard represents Israel. In Hosea 9:10 God said that he saw the Israelite forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree. In Hosea, the point is most likely about potential. Those crazy forefathers were brimming with potential. But instead, they devoted themselves to shame. I think that to limit the parable to unrepentant Israel, well, limits the parable. One of the basic meanings is that fig trees have a purpose. They are intended to produce figs.

              The owner of the vineyard tells the vineyard worker that he has been searching for fruit for three years. It is assumed that he didn’t begin to seek for fruit until the tree was expected to produce. The owner himself came seeking for fruit. This is both comforting and terrifying. You see, we are intended to bear fruit. In the context that at least includes repentance. It is the owner, God himself, who checks for fruit. And if he cannot pluck a fig from our branches, he is going to suggest an ax solution. John the Baptist gave the same warning in Luke 3:9. Not only is this tree not fulfilling its purpose, it is also depleting the land. And maybe that is why this fig tree is planted in the vineyard. The whole vineyard may be adversely affected by its lack of fruit. It is robbing the soil of nutrients without a single result. The owner will not tolerate this. So, what is the big deal if we don’t produce fruit? Our stagnation may just ruin the soil for others in the vineyard. It is never just about us.

              The vineyard worker argues compassion; a second chance. Give it one more year. The worker will take special care of the tree; digging around it and working in some fertilizer. If that ol’ fig tree begins to produce fruit, it is a win win situation for everyone. The owner has the benefit of the fruit and the tree survives. But if it doesn’t yield itself some fruit, the ax will come out and the tree will be cut down. Fruit trees have a purpose. Everything about the tree is intended to work that purpose. You and I may not be trees, but we also have a purpose. So, repent and produce the fruit that comes with repentance. It is not enough to say, “Sorry about that.” Produce fruit.

              There is this refrain in the Old Testament (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10): “So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree.” This seems to be about, not only safety, but the purpose of God being fulfilled. When we bear fruit as we are intended to do, we can rest in safety; in the shade of a nice tree. Bearing fruit results in safety and rest. Not bearing fruit results in depleting resources not only for ourselves, but for others as well. Get fruity then. Grace and peace.

Question of Debt

Did they get what they deserved? In that question there are a few assumptions: they as apposed to us or me; and they deserve to be punished or consequenced – but me? Well, of course not. What are you thinking? And now we have another assumption that existed in Jesus’ day and breathes in our day as well. If someone experiences hardship of any kind, it must be that God is punishing them. And if God is punishing them, then they obviously are getting what they deserve. One of the sources I looked at claims that Jesus is endorsing this long standing theological outlook. This source refers to the book of Job as evidence of the existence of the theology. Well yeah, the Jewish people held onto the view, but Job is all about how wrong that view of God is. So, I could be wrong, but I don’t believe Jesus is endorsing the theology that if someone is experiencing suffering they are being punished by God.

              Luke 13:1-5 is a setting scene for the parable in verses 6-9. At the same time as the previous discourse, there were some present who told Jesus about an incident where Pilate killed some Galileans. We have no record of this event. We do know that Pilate was ruthless and so the idea of him killing a group of Galileans is not a stretch. That he mixed their blood with their sacrifice most likely means that he killed them in the temple during one of the pilgrimage feasts. They were most likely guilty of some form of insurrection. The people making this report are probably wanting Jesus to make some kind of comment on those sinful Galileans. Obviously, if they had been blessed by God, if their attempted rebellion had been blessed, they would not have been killed by that scoundrel Pilate.

              But does their execution mean that they were worse sinners than all the rest of Galilee? That is the wrong question. The right question is: do you need to repent? And in the reality of your need to repent, does it make sense to ask if another person or group needs to repent more than you? No. You need to repent. We are still guilty of making assumptions. We assume that we are decent people. Well, at least more decent than some people. And maybe you are not guilty of murder, or theft, or rebellion. But you are guilty. You are in need of repentance. And if you do not repent; if you get all caught up in thinking that the suffering of others is because they are more guilty than you – you will never escape your own guiltiness.

              And just in case they don’t get the point, Jesus brings up an incident of his own. What about the eighteen people who were killed when a tower near the pool of Siloam fell? We don’t know anything about this event or even this tower. That’s okay. Jesus’ listeners knew all about it. Why didn’t the people use this example? It seems likely they wanted to call attention to the guilt of those inferior Galileans. There was a Jerusalem snobbery. So, Jesus had an example ready made to confront their snobbery. Was the eighteen Jerusalemites crushed by a toppled tower worse sinners than the rest of all the inhabitants of Jerusalem? The word Jesus uses here, translated “culprits” in the NASB, means debtors. It is most likely an Aramaic idiom for those who, because of their sin, are in debt to God. And doesn’t that describe each and every one of us?

              I fail to see how this could be interpreted as Jesus bolstering their view of bad things happening because of sin. I know. Sin ruins lives. Absolutely. But does my dad have dementia because he is a sinner? And if so, why do so many others sinners not have dementia? Those who think that Jesus is reinforcing this thought, think the “perishing” referred to here is a this worldly punishment. So, under this view Jesus is warning his listeners to repent or they may just have a tower topple on top of them. Uhm, I don’t think so. It seems the opposite to me. He is warning against a Pharisaical belief that the poor; the downtrodden; the oppressed; the hurting; the dead and dying; are merely receiving what they deserve because, dang it all, they are in debt to God.               What is this exchange calling us to? It is too easy to think about how guilty those people are. Those sinners; those reprobates. And as we are pointing fingers at them, we can conveniently overlook our indebtedness; our sinfulness. I am a sinner. God forgive me, I am in debt. I am the one who needs to repent, to feel the weight of my sin, to be overwhelmed by sorrow and regret, to throw myself at the mercy of my king. I deserve to die. Me. And until I acknowledge this truth, I will never repent. I will pat myself on the back and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as those Galileans who Pilate killed.” Repent my friends.

Accused

Maybe our problem is that we don’t understand our debt. I mean if someone takes us to court to give them money we don’t owe them, we are going to resist that with vigor. The one time I went to court to contest a ticket I won. After a motorcycle accident, I was given a “failure to control speed” ticket. The police officer told me that it was standard ticket given to everyone who was in a single vehicle accident. Because, you know, you can’t blame anyone else, so it must be a speeding issue. Well, I had not been speeding thank you very much. I crashed because where two streets merged there was a median that I didn’t see to my right. It was night and I was trying to make sure I didn’t collide with cars. Something that is kind of important when driving a motorcycle. So, going the speed limit, I crashed and developed a healthy dose of road rash. I won because I think the judge saw that I could have sued the city over the lack of adequate light. I fought the ticket because I didn’t think I owed anything; that I deserved a “failure to control speed” ticket. I was given two tickets that night. The other one I did not contest. It was a “driving without insurance” ticket. I deserved that one. But I wonder if people fight against God because they don’t think they have a debt; that they don’t owe God anything.

              Luke 12:57-59 is a short passage with a debated meaning. Some suggest that this is merely good advice thrown into the middle of a discussion on reading the signs. Most sources will dismiss this theory. It doesn’t hold water. Even if some want to say that Jesus uttered these words in a different setting, Luke threw them in here for a reason. So, either Jesus uttered these words within a context (which I believe to be the case), or Luke put them here. Either way, the context is key. Verse 57 flows from verse 56. Jesus had told them that they know how to test the appearance of the earth and the sky but not the time. Now, he asked why they don’t even from themselves judge what is right. Go ahead and test the appearance. But make judgments concerning what is right. There are more important things than figuring out if you are going to need an umbrella. There is justice; there is right and wrong; there is upright. The implication is that God has given us the ability to make decisions about what is right. Personally, I think that is only true when we are in relationship with him. Otherwise, we tend to make a mess of things. Our present crisis bears this out.

              Then Jesus gives us a scenario, maybe even a parable. While you are being led along you’re your accuser, give energy to liberate from him. So, several things here: the word translated “while you are going” in the NASB has a basic meaning of to be led along and it can be a legal technical term for being led off to the authorities. I think this is the intent here. The words “make an effort” (NASB) is literally, “give energy,” and it is a colloquialism for “make every effort,” “give it your all.” “Settle” originally had the meaning “alter by removal,” and it has a common meaning of “liberate.” The preposition “with” is literally “from.” While you are on the road, there is still time. Do every thing you can to liberate yourself. If not you will be dragged before a judge and things will quickly be determined. You will be chucked in prison and stay there until the last lepton, the smallest coin in use in the day, is paid back. And debtor’s prison was not a great place to be able to pay back a debt. So, there is this reality that is discovered at the end: you owe; there is a debt. Your accuser is not just puffing steam.

              And now for the big question: What is going on here? One source says that the point that Jesus is making is that God, the judge, is concerned about how we treat others. Take care of your debts. If you don’t you may face bigger consequences than an earthly judge. Okay, that is true, but is that what Jesus is saying here? In the context, it would make more sense to see this as a parable. The time that they should have tested, is that Jesus is the Christ; the one who brings, not only salvation, but judgment. It is a time of being led to the officials. We are living on the road. Now is the time to liberate; to acknowledge that, we do, indeed owe God everything. And Jesus is the only way we can pay that debt. After facing the judge, our options will be up.

              You have been issued a ticket for “failure to obey God.” You deserve this ticket. You owe payment. Jesus came to pay the price. And while you are on this path, you have an opportunity to settle your account; to put your trust in Jesus. Satan is the accuser. He is not wrong. He is not merely blowing smoke. You are a sinner. Allow Jesus to liberate you while you are on the path. Please don’t wait.

Test

There are experts at reading signs: economic signs; cultural signs; pandemic signs. They study, immersing themselves in learning to recognize and interpret. They gather data and make predictions. They warn of gathering storm clouds or they calm fears with informed predictions of a rebounding economy. Sometimes these sign readers are fear mongers. Sometimes they are selling a product. Sometimes they read signs to make a boat load of money. Sometimes they just want to sound as if they know what they are talking about. And sometimes these sign readers are very good at reading signs that speak of cultural shifts and changes or economic trends or spreading germs, but are woefully lacking the skill to read more important signs; signs that have eternal significance. It is Ralph Nickleby in Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby (or many other a Dickens character) who is very skilled at reading and taking advantage of the signs of economic development, but who is seriously lacking in seeing family signs. Instead of helping and developing a relationship with his brother’s family he ostracizes them. Not to mention the whole keeping his marriage and birth of a son secret so as to make sure he didn’t lose the wife’s inheritance. His son dies without him even knowing that he was still alive. Ralph was monetarily rich, but poor in what really mattered. He tested the wrong things.

              Luke 12:54-56 is about testing. Jesus gives two signs that were easily recognizable in his day. If they saw a cloud rising up from the west, they could be relatively sure that rain was on its way. After all, that cloud is coming from the Mediterranean Sea, having gathered up moisture. Get your umbrella out boys and girls. It’s going to rain. And generally speaking, that is exactly what came about. Jesus emphasizes how easy this sign is to recognize by saying, “Immediately, you say . . .” You don’t have to take time to study it. You see a cloud. You see where it is coming from. And you know what comes next. Easy.

              And when a south wind is blowing, that is also an easy sign. That wind is coming from the desert and it carries scorching heat with it. You feel the wind. You analyze that it is coming from the south. And you know. It is going to be a scorcher boys and girls. And generally speaking, that is exactly what happened. Any child can test these signs.

              Then Jesus gets all rude on them and calls them hypocrites. The word hypocrite means actor. In the New Testament it can have the idea of contradictory. In this case the hypocrite is a person whose action contradict sense or reality or what is important. It seems likely that this is how Jesus meant it in our passage. It is not that the audience is duplicitous or putting on an act. That is not the form of hypocrisy being dealt with here. It is that their actions are a contradiction to reality. They know how to test the appearance of the earth and sky and adjust their actions accordingly. And Jesus’ rebuke is not that they are testing these things. There is nothing wrong in grabbing an umbrella when you see a cloud advancing from the Mediterranean Sea. There is nothing wrong in bracing yourself for a scorcher when there is a south wind blowing. The problem was that there were clear and obvious signs that were more important. They didn’t test these signs; they didn’t examine and approve them. Jesus’ whole life was a walking breathing sign of this time. The word time can refer to significant time; a decisive moment; an opportune time. The time that swirled around them was full of significance. It was a decisive moment. It was the merging of the kingdom of God and this world. Having grown up with Moses and the prophets, the Israelites should have read the signs just as easily as any child could feel a south wind and run to the Jordan River to cool off. The hypocrisy was a contradictory focus on the wrong things.

              It is the textual critic who so easily sees variant manuscript evidence but misses the Messiah. It is the scientist who can map genomes but misses the Creator. It is the average Joe who dusts off his resume because he has tested the underlying current in the company he works for, but doesn’t test the power of prayer, seeking the surging current of the Holy Spirit. The problem was not that Jesus’ life didn’t add up to the Old Testament prophesies. The problem was a contradiction of focus; a refusal to see the clear and easy signs all around them; a missing of a decisive moment. Jesus is the Messiah! He is the Savior! Right now is the decisive moment. Are you willing to learn how to test the signs that truly matter? My life makes more sense with Jesus. Tested and approved. Taste and see that God is good my friends.

Which Fire

I like the football team the Pittsburgh Steelers. I cheer them on with seasonal loyalty. I often wear a baseball cap sporting their logo in all seasons. Occasionally, someone will say to me, “I hate the Steelers.” I even had a couple people say that Steeler fans are not welcome, you know, wherever I happen to be in the moment. I think they’re kidding, but you never know. And I’m okay with all of this negative joking, prodding, and stated dislike. I’m guessing that a lot of people are just indifferent. I’m alright with that as well. Liking, disliking, or indifference toward a football team will not change your life. In the grand scheme of things, it makes very little difference. Well, unless you let it. And you can even sit on the fence in regards to me. You can take me or leave me. You can be completely indifferent. Liking, disliking, or indifference toward me will not be an earthshaking event in anyone’s life. The problem is that many treat Jesus as if this were also true of him; as if he were just some nice guy that you can take or leave; as if his words can be shifted through and held onto or discarded, depending on your own personal likes and dislikes.

              Jesus states a very different reality in Luke 12:49-53. Many assume that Jesus came to bring a message that is all about you feeling good about yourself. Nah man, he came to cast fire upon the earth. Fire is used most often in the Bible for judgment. This is especially true in apocalyptic literature, such as Revelation. It can also represent purifying. Maybe in this context it means both judgment and purification. Jesus’ life and message is a fire that either judges or purifies; depending on how you receive it. And that makes good sense in the context. Then he says, “how I desire that it was already ignited.” In some way the fire was already sparking. Divisions were already happening. The religious leaders had already chosen sides. But without the death, burial and resurrection, there would be no real fire. Without that part of Jesus’ life-message, Jesus would be just another man with some cool things to say that you could gather up or throw away. You could choose sides; you could get angry; you could hate. But without the cross event, Jesus is just man who can be followed or ignored with impunity. But his message is more than a collection of wise sayings. It is fire.

              Jesus then said that he must be baptized with baptism. Because the word “baptism” means “immersed” it is often used metaphorically of being overwhelmed. Plato spoke of being baptized in his students’ questions. Their many questions overwhelmed him; surrounded him. The baptism Jesus is speaking of here is the crucifixion event. It was to be an overwhelming engulfing event. The rest of verse 50 is most likely, “and how pressed I am until it is accomplished.” Jesus is probably saying that his face is set on this baptism; he is determined to see it through to the end. It is not joyful, but it is necessary. And maybe his point is that his longing for the resulting fire keeps him determined no matter how engulfing the event would prove to be.

              And then Jesus says this weird and almost contradictory thing. He says that he didn’t come to bring peace on earth. Wait a minute! The angels sang of peace at your birth Jesus. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believed on him shall not perish but have eternal life. That sounds like peace. Remember the fire. Those who receive the message and are purified will have peace. Those who do not will find judgment. And this will cause division and this division will even be found within the family. Father against son, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law. The message is going to rip families apart. Those judged by fire members are going to rale against the purified by fire members. The purified by fire members are going to proclaim that Jesus is the only answer. They are going to choose Jesus above family members. They are going to hold to a message that calls for allegiance to the King.

              You cannot sit on the fence with Jesus. If you try, you will find yourself on the judgment end of fire. His message was never about you feeling good about who you are. His message is about every one of us needing to be burned clean. And that is why so many hate the message. They want to believe that they are doing okay on their own, thank you very much. So, the message of Jesus is not about picking and choosing what you like. Jesus is not a buffet offered for you convenience and pleasure. The cross demands a choice. Jesus came to force the issue. You allow God to burn you clean or you get burned in judgment. Choose!

Consequences

Imagine working at a company where the boss has traveled to another country to conduct business. He was unsure of the duration of this particular trip, so there is no designated coming back date. The person he left in charge seemed reliable enough. You know, when the boss was around and keeping track. But this time, as soon as the boss was gone, this left in charge person experiences a power trip that leaves the employees in quite a lot of trouble. They need this job. Their pay is being withheld; their lunch break disappears; their safety is in jeopardy. And we are not talking Alex Trebec here. When the boss does come back, do you hope the left in charge person experiences consequences? Or, do you hope the boss pats them on the back and says, “Look at you; being all true to yourself and becoming a happy soul”? I would be shouting, “Consequence it up!” Consequences are important. Without them, people tend to run amuck. Crazed elephant run amuck. People are getting trampled and hurt run amuck.

              Luke 12:41-48 is the third and possibly the fourth parable on donning your ready clothes. It begins with asking Jesus, “Lord, are you addressing this parable to us, or to everyone as well?” At this point, many will try to figure out which parable he is talking about. The nearest antecedent is the man who is prepared against thievery. But this is the same message with a different view or emphasis. Peter is asking who needs to be prepared? Who gets to sit at the banquet of God? Who needs to prepare themselves against possible loss? And which “us” is Peter talking about? The Twelve, which seems to be the most common suggestion, or all disciples? I think the twelve fits Jesus’ answer better.

              Jesus responds with a question of his own. And this is just like Jesus, isn’t it? Who is the faithful and wise steward? Notice we have shifted from slave to steward. Was Peter thinking about how they have more responsibility; more blessing? What makes someone who is put in charge of the whole house faithful, reliable, and wise – able to make good decisions in the chaos of home life? Who will be responsible enough to make sure that the other servants are properly cared for? The person who is ready to serve at all times; the one who is already taking care of the others. This is the person who be put in charge of everything; the steward. On the other hand, if the one in charge takes advantage of the master’s absence and his position by striking the other slaves and neglecting them, there will be some consequences. The master is coming home and will not announce his arrival.

              And the caught unaware, taking advantage servant, will be severely punished. And the punishment is so severe that many have changed it or said that it must mean something else. The master will cut him in two and assign him a place with the unbelievers. For the Jewish people, unbelief was the greatest sin because all other sins spring out of unbelief. So, the offending servant is cut in two (there really isn’t a better translation) and then placed with unbelievers. I’m thinking if you are cut in two, you probably won’t care where you are placed at that point. Being cut in two was a punishment reserved for the worst offenses. Legend has it that King Manasseh cut Isaiah in two. Being assigned to the place of unbelievers was like begin relegated to being the same as a Gentile. The worst possible outcome physically and spiritually. Maybe the point is not to take this literally. It is a parable after all. The point is that this is the heaviest of consequences reserved for the worst of offenses.

              Verses 47-48 may be another parable, but it seems more likely a commentary on the parable just told. If you know the masters will and are not ready to act, there will be consequences. Even if you don’t know the masters will and fail to be ready and to act, you will receive consequences, but they will not be as bad. This has caused a lot of discussion. And rightfully so. It is important to note that in this scenario, we are talking about servants. I don’t think this parable deals with those outside of the household at all. Some servants are going to be aware of the master’s wishes more than others. This is about responsibility more than honor. The more you know, the more you are intended to respond appropriately. Even if you don’t know, you should spend some time finding out. There be consequences either way. And here is the thing: Jesus taught this parable. This is important because some think the message of Jesus is to live your life and be happy. Nope! It is be ready to serve the master at all times. Be faithful and wise and ready. And the more you serve, the more you will be asked to serve; to take care of others. Grace and peace.

Prepared

Are you, like the Boy Scouts, prepared? And can you be prepared for every eventuality? It doesn’t seem likely does it? Sometimes, the best thing you can do to be prepared is to be willing to roll with life’s twists and turns. There are these sneaky dangers out there. And no one waltzes through life unscathed. Not to scare you; not to fill you with anxiety; not to cripple you with apprehension. Are you prepared for scathing? During this time of quarantine, Cindy and I have been binging the Great British Baking Show. I don’t know anything about baking, but I do know about panic. The bakers who begin to panic, begin to make serious mistakes. Those who calmly prepare, rolling with the weather, the moments all full of kerfuffle, the annoying interruptions from judges and hosts, seem to do better. It is as if they have prepared themselves on the inside. And maybe that is the key. Being prepared is about readying ourselves for the things of life. It is not about living in anxious anticipation of disaster. It is about preparing ourselves for the possibility that disaster may come.

              Luke 12:39-40 is a parable that makes the same point as the parable found in verses 36-38. But it is a view from a different angle. And viewing something from a different angle can give you more insight. The overall message is to be ready. The first parable emphasizes the idea of being ready to serve; to be girded and ready to serve; to have the lamp lit; to wait awake. Turn the picture around and view the concept of being ready from a different angle. Be ready because there is danger lurking; there is the possibility of loss. The thief doesn’t send out an announcement of when he will strike your house. Not unless he is extremely arrogant or stupid or both. The owner of the house would be waiting for him with a weapon or police or a chocolate cake. Probably not the cake. Baking show residue. Either way, the lord of the house will not just sit back and permit his house to be dug into. Most houses were baked mud and brick. The easiest way to break in was to dig. And since the thief is not likely to announce the night and time of his digging into the house, the master of the house should be prepared for the possibility.

              So, you too be prepared. The word prepared is used for preparing a banquet. It is used for the concept of God preparing the kingdom for his people. It implies work; a getting things ready. The Son of Man is like a thief. He is coming at an hour that you do not think or suppose he will come. The Son of Man most likely takes us back to Daniel 7:13-14. You have the Ancient of Days sitting on a fiery throne. Daniel looked and one like a son of man was coming. He went up to the Ancient of Days “and was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion.” When someone is given a kingdom, it is a time of rejoicing and a time of dread. If you have been supporting the now king, you can rejoice. But if you had not been supporting him, you sir or madam, are in trouble.

              The first view of being ready is about wakefully waiting to serve the master and being surprised right out of your socks by having the master serve you. The second view of being ready is about preparing so that you can avoid loss. In the first there is an allusion to the great banquet of God. In the second there is an allusion to judgment. Being prepared in this scenario is serving the coming king, even though he has not come into his authority yet. Look around you. There is much in this world that operates outside of the wishes of Jesus. So, there is this tension we feel. Jesus is already king. All authority has been given to him. But a day is coming when all things will bow to him and acknowledge his rule. And that day will come at an hour that is surprising.

              Why so mysterious about your coming Jesus? He wants faithful servants. Servants that serve out of loyalty. He doesn’t want unfaithful servants, who receive notice of the kings return and, therefore, slack off until the return is imminent. Does that make sense? Those unfaithful servants will be caught unaware; ill-prepared. And they will face judgment.

              I have this, what I’m sure some would call a child-like, belief. I believe that if you are prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, you will be more prepared to navigate the twists, the upheavals, the collapses, the pandemics, the losses, of this life. I believe that serving the king prepares you on the inside. It steels your soul. Will there be loss? Yes. Will you be prepared? Serve Jesus and find out. God bless.

Awake to Serve

How do you define happiness? Is there some kind of scale, like the Richter Scale, that can give a measurement? Switzerland is 7.1 on the Jolly Scale. And if that measurement is a pathetic 2.3, is there some way to ramp up happiness? Maybe there is a happy mad scientist out there somewhere boiling joy in a tube that will one day be available for purchase. You know, if you happen to be lucky enough to be able to afford it. According to some experts on happiness, Americans are not very happy. How do you become a makariologist anyway? And why aren’t Americans happy? I mean, this is the land of the free, the brave, the affluent. Full bellies should equal joy. Right? How about fancy cars and large houses? Maybe, the things we tell ourselves are so important cannot make you happy. A person can hold all of the rights and privileges this world has to offer and still be besot with an overwhelming depressing desire for it all to just end, thank you very much. Maybe, we are searching in the wrong place.

              Luke 12:35-38 is a parable about servants; servants who are ready to serve. Jesus begins with “gird your loins.” Okay, most of us don’t use this phrase, which is why the NASB translates it “be dressed in readiness.” In Jesus’ day, people wore long flowing robes and if they were going to travel, work, or battle the enemy, they had to gather up the robe and tie it so that they would have more freedom of movement. It takes a lot more effort to light a lamp than to flip on a light switch. Especially in the dark. So, both of these phrases have to do with being ready to serve at any moment. Your clothes are prepared. No saying, “hold on a moment while I gather up and gird this robe.” You don’t have to waste valuable time fumbling around grasping for the lamp and something to light it with. Everything is held in readiness.

              Be like men who are patiently waiting for their master. The word “waiting” is used several times to describe those who were waiting for – looking for – the kingdom of God: like Simeon (Luke 2:25); Anna (Luke 2:38); Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 15:45). Since this describes most Jewish people of the day, it probably refers to a more active looking or waiting; a being ready; a waiting with work clothes on and lamps lit. Their master is at a wedding feast and he may come back at any moment. So, they are not waiting in their beds. And that is a form of waiting, isn’t it? They are waiting with an anticipation that will spring into action as soon as they hear a knock. And why would he knock? Most people don’t knock at their own house. This has led some to suppose that he has traveled to this wedding and is staying at the house of the host family. He is knocking at the door of the room he is being guested in. Jesus doesn’t actually say. I think he used the idea of knocking because he wanted to present an image of servants ready and listening for the knock so that they could immediately open the door and begin their serving. Whether at his own house or in a quest room does not matter as much as the image of waiting to serve servants.

              Jesus then interjects with a “blessed are those slaves whom the master will find awake.” For the early Greeks, being happy was reserved for the gods. They seemed to connect happiness with being able to arrange events around what you want to happen or a transcendent life without care and since only the gods can accomplish that little feat, they are the only ones who can experience being blessed. Later, a few men were said to able to grasp a god-like happiness. The philosophers were convinced it was about following the correct system of wisdom. Jesus said that happiness is discovered in readiness to serve, which is the exact opposite of what many think.

              Then Jesus said a completely unexpected thing; so unexpected that some question whether Jesus would have said it. A master girding himself and then serving the servants is unheard of. But that is the point. You cannot put God in a box. This may be a nod to the prophecy in Isaiah about God preparing a banquet on the mountain of God in Isaiah 25:6-12. It seems likely since in that prophecy the people proclaim, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited.” So, maybe not so unheard of after all. That is our God. There is a banquet waiting for us, prepared by the Master of all things. That is if we spend our lives waiting awake – no matter the hour. Happiness is found in being ready to serve the master.

              Happiness seems allusive. Always has. People scamper after so many things that feel good in the moment but leave them still empty inside. Real joy is found in serving. And not just any serving. Serving the master. Jesus was and is the master servant. A banquet awaits us. So, be awake and wait to serve.

Treasure and Heart

I saw a commercial the other day that made the statement that science is the only thing that is reliable. I beg to differ. Please let me differ. Not surprisingly, this commercial was produced by a pharmaceutical company in the midst of a pandemic. Trust in science to get you through. Or, more likely, trust in our company to find you a cure and make a boat load of money in the process. I am not against science, but science can only help with this world issues. And quite honestly, I am thankful for the things that science helps with. I am not anti-medicine. We have an increasingly older population thanks to medical science. But what about all of the people who have lost their lives already; whether we are talking about the current pandemic or cancer or the flu or whatever? Science can do nothing for them. And, by the way, many a scientist is motivated by their own agenda. Science is not pure. Some scientists are motivated by greed; some are blinded by their hypothesis; some are unethical in their research. So, no thank you, I will not put my faith in science. I will appreciate it. I will make use of it. But trust in it? Nope.

              What is the opposite of the foolish rich land owner; the one who built bigger barns to store his bumper crop; the one who thought that he could kick back, eat, drink, and be merry? Glad you asked. Jesus gives us the answer in Luke 12:33-34. Instead of hoarding your possessions, sell them and give to the poor. As you can imagine, this has stimulated a lot of discussion. Should we take this literally? Is Jesus anti-possessions? A couple of sources said that the example in Acts 2:45 is an example of the early church taking Jesus’ words too literally and therefore later they became a burden on other churches. Paul had to raise money to help those poor misguided brothers. I beg to differ. Please let me differ. The church in Jerusalem was in need of help because of a pretty serious famine that hit that area. All of Israel was in need of help. Not to mention that in the book of Acts (5:3-4), Peter makes it pretty clear that it is okay to have possessions. Jesus does not say, “Sell all of everything you have.” Nowhere in the book of Acts are we told that they sold everything they possessed.

              Let me take a step back and ask an important question: Am I attempting to dance around the words of Jesus so that I can justify my ownership of stuff? I think we need to wrestle here. If I sell everything I own, I will be able to help several poor; maybe even give to several good charitable organizations, but then I would most likely find myself in need of help. What if I use my possessions to help the poor? What if I understood that everything I have actually belongs to God and I am intended to be a steward? If this be the case, then I will want to manage my possessions in a way that glorifies God; the Lord of me and my stuff. Jesus is telling us to not be like the rich land owner who talked to himself about all of HIS possessions, without a thought of God or the poor or anyone else other than himself. Be a giving person who is concerned about helping others. And for goodness sake, don’t allow your possessions to possess you. I think this becomes the real issue. Are you using your possession to glorify God, or are you being used by your possessions?

              The rest of verse 33 is about this otherworld focus. What is a money belt that never grows old and obsolete? It is a belt that holds something entirely different than monetary gain; a belt constructed of a Godly love filled with Godly things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These things are a veritable storehouse of wealth; a wealth that extends beyond this earth; a wealth that cannot be destroyed because of economic crisis; a wealth that cannot be stolen; a wealth that is heavenly. An ordinary wallet will grow old and deteriorate. The things in an ordinary wallet can be helpful in this life. But don’t put your trust here.

              Where your treasure house is, there your heart will be also. This was a pretty well-known saying. Jesus could be saying something like, “Follow the money and you’ll discover the heart,” or “Your heart will follow your investments.” The first one makes more sense in the context, I think. Is your heart all about owning cars; investing in their restoration? Well, that will be obvious when someone opens your garage. If owning things possesses your heart, you will have a treasure trove of possessions. But if you put your trust in God, you may own some things, but your treasure trove will be all about the things of God. I don’t mind possessions. I don’t mind science. But these things will not; cannot last. Trust in God my friends.