Anxiety

I like the Serenity Prayer. It begins with “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” And that covers a lot of things doesn’t it? We spend a lot of energy and effort and anxiety hitting our heads against a very hard wall that cannot be moved. Anyone have a headache yet? And here’s the thing; we do this with things we care about. Otherwise, we wouldn’t bother. And caring about things is kind of important. The alternative is to not care. Why try to help people who don’t want to be helped? Why fret over the lost who refuse to listen to anything that even hints at the idea that they might be lost? Why get all anxious about those rebellious kids? But the truth is, that often our strengths slowly gravitate toward being flaws. Caring is important, but anxiously worrying about what cannot be changed is not healthy.

              Luke 12:22-32 is Jesus’ teaching about worrying. And this is directed specifically to his disciples. Others were allowed to overhear. He begins with “for this reason” which tells us that this is part of a larger discourse. Because of the parable of the rich fool, who had abundant wealth but was not rich toward God, do not worry about your life or soul. The word worry means “care about,” but it can mean care pushed into anxiety. That is most likely the sense here. We, all of us, care about our lives. But don’t allow that care to be pushed into anxiety; a constant worrying about food and clothing. Life is more than food and clothing, but it demands both. So, how can we live without an anxious concern about food. The people Jesus was talking to, didn’t eat like we eat here and in other first world cultures. Most lived day to day; they ate when they had it. Jesus is saying that life is more than surviving. That is a tough lesson to sell.

              He used the example of the raven. If this is the same account as that found in Matthew 6, we have to discuss why Luke decided to change the generic birds of the air to ravens, which is much more specific? If this is a similar message delivered at a different time, then the discussion is why did Jesus use ravens here? Either way, there is this change. In Job 38:41 God asked Job “Who prepares for the ravens its nourishment when its young cry to God and wander about without food?” So, maybe Jesus had this passage in mind. And notice the ravens are without food until God provides. Curious. Ravens are also considered unclean (Deuteronomy 14:14). So, maybe the thought is: If God provides for the unclean of the world, how much more you? That fits. In the ancient world, ravens were also considered to be careless birds. These careless, unclean birds, who don’t have the ability to sow, reap, or store, are, generally speaking, provided for. God knows when they don’t have food. And if you worry about food, can you add a single cubit to your life-span? Eighteen inches is not much when you are talking about a whole life. Worry cannot provide food. As a matter of fact, caring to the point of anxiety can rob you of time in this life.

              And what about clothing? God has gloriously dressed up the fields with lilies. Solomon, who is never mentioned as a snazzy dresser, but who was known far and wide for being stinking wealthy, is compared to the fields. This grassland flowers, as beautiful as they are, are thrown into ovens to bake bread. And you? You are worth more than any here today and gone tomorrow flower. So, trust in God. He is aware of your abundance and your lack. Be rich toward him and stop fretting about food and clothes. Everyone in the world cares about these things. Don’t push your caring into anxiety. Instead seek the Kingdom and all of these things will be added to you. But what about my very poor, compared to me, brothers in Honduras. They often go hungry. Many have rags for clothes. Are they not faithful? And do ravens always have enough to eat? Are the fields always blanketed with beautiful flowers? Is this really a promise that the faithful will never starve? What about the Christians who were chucked into prison and denied food shortly after Jesus was resurrected? They did starve! What do we do with this conundrum?

              Maybe verse 32 is the key. Do not be afraid little flock. Your father has gladly chosen to give you the kingdom. Are you hungry? Yours is the Kingdom of God. Are your clothes a bit to be desired? Yours is the Kingdom of the Almighty. Generally speaking, God has created this world to provide. Worrying, hording, anxiously fretting will not help anyone’s situation. And I’ve noticed this amazing thing. My brothers and sisters in places like Honduras seem to be less fretful over what they don’t have than those who have an abundance. What? Christians die. But they live on. Christians go hungry. But they sit at the table in the Kingdom. You, Sir and Madam, are feasting, all dressed up your royal clothing. Seek that!

Eat Drink and be Merry

Here in North Dakota there is a pretty high rate of suicide among senior citizens. Here is what I’ve been told. They retire without a plan of what to do next. They sit alone on their farm or in their house and feel as if they are no longer useful. They thought that retirement was going to be a rest after many years of working hard. They thought the goal was to work hard so that you will be set financially enough to live out the rest of their days just eating, drinking and being merry. But that very rest they have been working so hard for is the very thing that sends them spiraling into a depression. The problem is not having enough to retire on. The problem is thinking that the goal of life is to get to the point where we can say to our soul, “Eat, drink, and be merry.”

              Jesus taught with authority. It is no surprise then, that someone would desire that he use that authority to settle their family issues. So, as Jesus is speaking to the crowd a lone voice in the crowd cries out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” We don’t know if this man’s concern was justified or not. It really is not important to the story. The important this is that this man assumed that Jesus’ position and authority could be used to his own advantage. Even if he is being wronged by his brother, this is a bad assumption. We can be relatively sure that this is a younger brother. The older brother was in charge of the family inheritance. And that older brother could and did find ways to avoid giving what was due to his younger siblings. This man may have been justified in his complaint.

              Jesus responds with what appears to be a quote from Exodus 2:14, “Man, who appointed me a judge or divider over you?” In Exodus this is from the mouth of a Hebrew after Moses tried to make him stop beating another Hebrew. Okay, so in the Exodus account, there may be some irony. The man asked who made Moses prince or a judge over us. And that is exactly what God will do later in the story. Maybe there is irony here as well. Jesus is judge, but he is not this man’s personal judge and his authority is not about settling family financial fights. His authority is not for the purpose of gathering possessions. That is why he warns against every form of greed here. The word “greed” has the idea of always wanting more. Guard against the greed that is never satisfied. Even if you have an overflowing amount of things, your life is not all about what you have. You are not your possessions. Nice try BMW guy.

              Parable time! There was this wealthy land owner who had a very successful season; so successful that his barns were just too small to store it all. So, he began to reason things through with himself. This may be a narrative device to allow us to get a glimpse of his thoughts, or it may emphasize that he didn’t have any friends with whom he could consult. Maybe both. It is true that in Middle Eastern society, people usually didn’t make decisions without hashing it over with friends and family. Anyway, his solution to the problem is to tear down the old barns and build bigger ones; barns large enough to store up all of his excess. Then this man says to himself, “Soul, you have done very well and with many years of hard work you have come to the place where you can just kick back and eat, drink and be merry.” Sirach 11:19 says, “I have found rest and now I will eat of my good things.” Verse 20 has, “Persevere in your duty, take pleasure in doing it, and grow old at your work.” If Jesus has this passage in mind, which is plausible, he is saying that the issue is not having a bumper crop – the issue is thinking that the end of the day is about selfish rest. That all of our work is about us eating, drinking and being merry while others go hungry.

              The Jewish people believed that our life was a gift from God which he could demand back any time. Life is in his hands. And that is what happens to this man. God says, “Time is up on your lease.” And what did the man gain? He has no one to leave anything to. His whole goal was to rest and enjoy and now he cannot. It is okay if you are rich in this life. But make sure you are rich toward God. Lay up your treasures in Heaven. The Jewish people also believed that all of their possessions actually belonged to God and that they were just stewards. If you have wealth, that wealth is intended to work for God. It is intended to feed the poor. And this is probably the main problem in this parable. Notice that in the man’s soliloquy, it was “I” and “my.” He didn’t consult anyone else, not even God. He thought all of God’s blessings were about him. If you are blessed, God has blessed you so that you can bless others. Don’t allow your things to control you. Don’t say to your soul, “eat, drink and be merry.” Grace and peace.

Confess and be Confessed

There are different levels of denial. Sometimes it surges up in the heat of self-preservation, but never touches the heart. Sometimes it is a sickening stain oozing out from a decrepit and rotten soul. Sometimes it is something that can be repented of and forgiven. Sometimes it is an incurable disease. Wait a minute! Everything can be forgiven. Right? Even the people who sent Jesus to the cross could be forgiven. Even those who drove in the nails. But Jesus mentions this thing called blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. I think this same thing is mentioned in other terms in Hebrews 6 and 10. And what if this is not about what God is willing to forgive, but instead, about a line that gets crossed; a line that once crossed there is no coming back? What if it is about an attitude of renouncing that infects the soul beyond all wish to call out to God? If you smoke one cigarette, you will most likely not get cancer. But how many can you smoke before you cross that line? Best not to find out.

              I think it likely that Luke 12:8-12 is a warning about the line. Don’t cross it! Jesus begins with the positive statement, “All who have confessed me before men, the son of man will confess him also before the angels of God.” The word “confess” is literally “speak the same.” It refers to openly professing the things of God. In this context it is agreeing with God that Jesus is the message of God; the ideal man. The word is in the past tense and maybe this is about conversion. But maybe it is more than that. What if this is about when life has been lived? All who have lived confessing Jesus before me, will be confessed – Jesus will agree with God that you are his – before the heavenly court. And he has this right because he is the Son of Man – the Ideal Man. And notice that you confess or deny before men and the perfect ideal man confesses or denies before the angels. What we do in this life, before mankind, has implications toward what happens in the heavenly realm before the messengers of God. That should probably be a fairly sobering thought. The negative of this is denying. The word means repudiating or renouncing. And again, the point may be the life lived denying. How you live before mankind determines how you are presented before God’s angels. Confess now and be confessed. Deny now and be denied.

              Verse ten seems confusing and maybe even paradoxical. All who will speak a word, a message, against Jesus will be forgiven. The word “against” primarily means “into, in, to.” On occasion, as here, it can mean “against.” That makes better sense to the context and Luke uses it this way in other places. But isn’t speaking a word against Jesus the same as denying him? Hold that thought. Jesus goes on to say that the one who blasphemes, reviles, insults, the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. What in the world? All agree that the word “blaspheme” is a stronger word than the words “speak a word against.” But still. It is tempting to do some mental gymnastics here. And the truth is, I could be guilty of that as well. One source claims that this is specifically about the Jewish nation that rejected the message of the disciples following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. They will not be forgiven. That seems wrong and convenient. What if Jesus is saying, “What I mean about denying is a cutting off of the Holy Spirit who leads the disciples into all truth; a trampling all over the message attested to by the Spirit of God; a crossing a line that hardens the heart to the point of complete paralysis.” A momentary verbal denial, like say, what Peter will utter is forgivable. But a heart hardening reviling of the push of the Spirit will not be forgiven, because the individual has corrupted his soul to the point of no return.

              And when you are dragged before the synagogue officials and the government officials, don’t worry about how you will defend yourself. The word “worry” can mean anything from “care for” to “be overcome with anxiety.” It probably means the latter here. Don’t get all worked up about your defense. Learn to trust in the leading of the Spirit of God. Your moment to confess Jesus before men – even the high muckety mucks – will come. You followed the Spirit’s lead at conversion. Keep doing that.

              We will have moments in this life when we will have to decide to confess or deny. Are you a Christian? Why? I hate Christians. All Christians are bigots. How will you respond. Will you confess or deny. Confess! Openly proclaim that you agree with God that Jesus is the ideal Man, the only man to live God perfectly. Don’t be worried! The Spirit of Jesus will instruct you what is necessary to say in the moment. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t live a life denying. Don’t cross the line. Confess and be confessed.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter! The Corona Virus cannot change the fact of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It may change some things, like worshiping, but never the truth of the message of Christ. We take the Lord’s Supper; we gather around the table; to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We feast together and we proclaim the message until he comes back again. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the whole Gospel event. It is a message meal; a spiritual feast. Whether you take the Lord’s Supper at home with your family, or if you gather in groups less than ten, observing social distancing, you are rejoicing and proclaiming the Easter story along with all believers. Jesus has risen from the dead! His body is not to be found in any tomb.

              And for many, Easter is a special time of remembrance: a Spring time for the soul. Life blooms anew here. And to be sure, this ought to be the case all the time. But as far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with a special day – as long as it is for the Lord (Romans 14:5-6). And maybe, just maybe, due to our current circumstances, the importance of the resurrection will have more meaning. When this is all over, will many souls burst out into the open, as from a tomb, and dance like they have found life again? Will we have a deeper appreciation of death and resurrection, I wonder? Can we learn like Ebenezer Scrooge, that the meaning of some special days should be carried with us always – not just on that day? And I’m not talking about eating Peeps throughout the year. I’m speaking of the Gospel message of resurrection resonating year-round. I’m speaking of a soul-shaping appreciation for the story. The tomb is empty!

              And why am I seemingly aimlessly wandering about this topic? Because this year is different. This year I will miss seeing many in my church family. This year there will be small Easter gatherings in homes full of people who already have contact with each other. There may still be a ham dinner; there may still be egg hunts; there may still be baskets; there may still be chocolate bunnies. But I’m guessing that it will feel different. But most of all there will still be an acknowledgment of an empty tomb; of a resurrected Jesus who now sits at the right hand of his Father. He has left the tomb.

              I am breaking from our regular series of articles to emphasize that in the midst of the darkness, there is a brilliantly bright light. I am writing about this because I think many are beginning to feel the weight of different. It is not all bad. It never is. There has been great stories of families doing more together; of strangers stepping up and helping others; of essential employees serving with grace and kindness. But there are the wearying stories as well; stories of new scams; of panic induced stock piling; of blaming everyone else; of whining. And in the midst of the ongoing confinement; of the shifting and changing of normal; there is good news that is rock solid; that never changes. The tomb is empty!

              Easter is not about new clothes. It is not about egg hunts. It is not about baskets. It is not about ham dinners. None of these things are wrong. But if these things represent the apex of our celebration at Easter, we have missed the significance. Easter is about resurrection. And not just the resurrection of Jesus, as important that is. Paul tells us that Jesus is the first fruit of resurrection. In the Old Testament, the Jews were commanded to give God the first fruit of the harvest. This was about giving God the first. But it was more than that. It was about faith. It would have been tempting to say, “I’ll give you the same amount at the end of the harvest. I just want to make sure I will have enough.” In that fear, God commands a trust in him. God will complete the harvest. Easter is the celebration of the first fruit. This time it is God who offered the first fruit. He sent his son to be the first to die and be resurrected – the best and the first of us all. With this is a promise: the harvest will continue. Our tombs will also be empty.

              It is a question of faith. Do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? Do you believe that all of his followers will also be raised from the dead? Do you? I’m thinking that this kind of faith will lead to action. Easter is a celebration of resurrected life that happens spiritually now and will happen physically when Jesus comes back again. The same power that raised Jesus, raises us. That is good news. Do you believe it? So, I am going to end where I began this rambling walk about: Happy Easter!

Fear Takes a Holiday

Wouldn’t it be nice if fear took a holiday; maybe a permanent vacation even? Well, that kind of depends on what kind of fear we are talking about, doesn’t it? There is a fear that cripples. But there is also a fear that motivates. There is a fear that terrorizes. But there is also a fear that bolsters. So, let me tell you a tale of two fears. There once was a man who feared rejection. So much so, that he allowed others to dictate his beliefs and actions. The problem was that expectations shift and change depending on the times and the group you surround yourself with. And if fear of rejection drives you, you will have to shift and change so much that you may lose yourself. There once was a woman who feared God. God doesn’t change; he doesn’t wake up one morning and realize he is out of touch with the times. He is the I Am; the times are encompassed in his will. This fear is the realization of holiness; of glory; of righteousness.

              Luke 12:4-7 is all about fear. Jesus said in this short passage “Don’t fear; fear; don’t fear.” The first “don’t fear” is a command not to fear those who can kill the body. It is important not to trivialize this. This is a common fear. It is a hard command to observe. Overall, this passage is about confessing Jesus in spite of the leaven of the Pharisees. They may threaten; they may even kill the body. But after that, they have no authority. There is nothing more they can do. What else is there? So much more. Paradoxically, threats to kill are a sign of fear. Fearing those who kill is in fact a giving in to those who fear you; or at least fear what you stand for. Don’t allow fear of death keep you from obeying God! That is the main thought here.

              Then Jesus told them whom they should fear: “The one who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Hell.” There is a hard truth here. This is about God. No one else has the authority to cast anyone into Hell. There is punishment for disobedience. And death is sometimes the punishment. In our emphasizing the love of God (which is a very good thing to emphasize), we may deemphasize the wrath of God; the holiness of God that demands belief. God can and does kill. So does Satan. So does man. But only God can throw people into Hell. The word Hell is the Greek word Gehenna; it comes from the Hebrew words that mean “Valley of Hinnom.” It is a valley found on the west side of Jerusalem, running north-south. It also curves around the south side of Jerusalem. This valley was cursed in Jeremiah 19:1-13 because it was used to burn babies as a sacrifice to the god Baal and for the worship of many other gods. Because it was cursed by God, Jesus and the early Christians picked it up as a place for God’s ultimate judgment. Fear God because his punishment goes beyond death. Jesus even emphasizes this by saying “Yes, I say to you, fear him!” I’m thinking it is a good idea to pay attention when Jesus emphasizes his point.

              What is fear? The word used here means everything from terror – crippling anxiety – to respectful fear – awe inspired fear. On the one hand don’t be crippled by your fear that someone may threaten or even kill you. On the other hand, have an awed fear of a Holy God who has the authority to send you to the cursed valley. Why is this so important? Because who you fear determines who you listen to. When my son was about four, one of the gentleman at church was trying to get him to do or stop something. My son did not listen to this gentleman. When I said “Caleb!”, he jumped into action. He understood who had the right to command here. That is what Jesus is saying – understand who has the right to command.

              Then Jesus begins to speak about the cost of sparrows. What in the world? Sparrows were considered cheap food. Jesus said that five sparrows could be purchased with two “assarions”, which was a Roman coin worth about 1/16 of a Denarius (a day’s wage). These very cheap sparrows are not forgotten or neglected by God. How much more is God concerned about you? So much so, that God knows how much hair you have (which is not such a great achievement in my case). The point is he cares down to your last hair. So, don’t fear! What? I thought we were supposed to fear God. Don’t be anxious about tomorrow; don’t wonder if the Holy God is on your side; don’t be crippled by anxiety over relationship with the Almighty. He loves you. Respectfully fear him, but don’t be crippled.

              Do don’t fear death or those who bring it. They cannot determine what happens next. Be awed by God’s authority. He is in charge of what happens after you die. Respect that authority. But don’t live in fear. If you believe in God; in his good news; you will be saved. You are more valuable than sparrows. God has taken care of everything so that you can live forever. Believe it. Live it. Don’t Fear, Fear, Don’t Fear. Grace.

Leaven of Hypocrisy

In Dickens’ “Dombey and Son,” Mr. Dombey is an arrogant, unyielding man. But he is the same prideful man in private as he is in public. He treats those considered beneath him as if they were, well, beneath him. No one even considered accusing him of being duplicitous. Horrible. Yes. But not a hypocrite. Mr. Carker, however, who was Dombey’s manager, seemed to be a Dombey sycophant. Publicly, he fawned all over Mr. Dombey, which fed Dombey’s own view of his proper importance. But, in reality, Mr. Carker hated Paul Dombey. In the end, all of Mr. Carker’s sneaky and secret scheming came out into the open when he ran off with Mr. Dombey’s wife and left his business in disrepair. His true character came crashing into the light with disastrous results.

              Jesus had already dealt with the underlying, unseen dangers of the Scribes/Pharisees. They were like unmarked graves which make everyone who come into contact with them unclean. But there is this problem. In the meantime, many people are enamored with their outward piety. They seem so righteous; so knowledgeable about the things of God; so much holier than the average Joe. In Luke 12:1-3 Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which, as the scribes have already pointed out, includes them.

              The passage begins with “in which.” This most likely refers to the previous circumstances – the woes uttered against the Pharisees, which led to them seeking for ways to trap Jesus. The tension was growing and the crowds were crowding. Myriads of crowds gather together to the point that they are stepping all over each other. There is something about a good fight, isn’t there? And Jesus is taking on the elite: the separate from everyone else, holier than thou, Pharisees. Who will win? There may be some in the crowd who secretly hope Jesus will give the Pharisees a haymaker to the face. The text states that he spoke to his disciples “first.” This probably means “primarily.” The crowd could hear, but he was most concerned about his disciples understanding this point.

              He begins with a warning, “Beware!” The word means “hold before; pay attention to.” Jesus wants them to pay attention to the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Leaven was used as a negative, most likely due to its ability to spread. The people would keep some fermented dough – a rising agent. And when they mixed a little in with fresh dough, the leaven would spread throughout the whole amount and make it rise. Not only did it spread easily, it was fermented and if kept too long it became spoiled. Maybe both of these things lent to its use for negative influences. And what is this negative thing that they must be wary of? Hypocrisy refers to putting on an act. It is not about sinning. Everyone sins. If a follower of God sins, that does not make him or her a hypocrite. If they claim to be pious and are the opposite, well then, we have ourselves a hypocrite; an actor; an outside washed but inside dirty cup.

              What follows is an assurance and a warning. You may be able to cover up and hide your true nature; you may receive accolades from fellow humans. But nothing is hidden from God. Every hidden heart will be laid open before the Father. So, there will come a time when all actors will be seen for what they truly are; their hearts will be brought out into the light. The speaking into the ear will be proclaimed on the roof tops as if a herald were shouting it out for the whole town to hear. The dark recesses of your heart, where you whisper truths you think only you can hear, is clearly visible to God, and he will publish it to all.

              There is an important thing to keep in mind here. Jesus does not say that it is our job to reveal; to proclaim on the roof tops. This is about what God will do. Pay attention to the hypocrisy. Don’t be fooled. Don’t sit in the audience dumbly clapping for the excellent performance. But don’t fret. God know better than you what is going on. He sees the arrogance. He sees the secret longings for self all dressed up to look like piety. Don’t allow the fermented lump to infect you. Don’t become an actor yourself. You proclaim the truth of God to the glory of the Father with love.

              There is a dangerous result of hypocrisy. It breads more hypocrisy. It may seem as if the pretentious religious elite get all the applause. And maybe they do. It may be tempting to serve for the clap. Don’t! God knows the heart. Be clean on the inside. Be the same person in the secret places of your heart and house that you are when a crowd has gathered. God sees it all and one day, the who you are in darkness will be brought out into the light. If you are genuinely a disciple, you have nothing to worry about.

Scribes and Sisyphus

In Greek mythology, the trickster king of Corinth, by the name of Sisyphus, is punished for tricking Hades the god of death. His punishment was to spend eternity pushing a large stone up a hill, only to have the stone roll back down again. So, over and over again, he must push the stone up the mountain. The meaning of this story is debated, but most agree that it has something to do about fruitless labor. Work without results for all eternity. Now that would be horrible. But what if our approach to God is similar; what if we are merely pushing a stone up a mountain? Sure, it is hard work and while the stone is moving upward it looks good and we can defend our actions. But what if all of that work ends up with the stone merely rolling down again? Is the work moving us any closer to the goal? And what is the goal?

              Luke 11:45-54 is Jesus’ pronouncements of woe upon the lawyers (or scribes). They understand that when Jesus pronounces woes upon the Pharisees, that he includes them. Most of them were Pharisees. Interestingly, they call Jesus “teacher” which would be a term of respect. This almost seems to be a polite, “Ahem, I don’t know if you are aware or not, but when you pronounce your horrors upon our friends the Pharisees, of which, maybe you didn’t know, we are proud members, you really are insulting us.” Maybe they expected an apology, but Jesus launches into more woes and this time specifically upon them. Probably not what they anticipated.

              Jesus accused them of burdening men with burdens that are difficult to carry. The verb and noun were used for the idea of loading a ship with cargo. This became a metaphor for loading up a heavy load on people. This, in and of itself, is not wrong. As teachers of the law, their job was to load up the teachings of the law upon people. But they made this load heavier than God intended with their hedges around the law. They place this heavy load and then didn’t even touch it with their finger. It is not enough to tell people what to do. It is not enough to set them to rolling boulders. Teachers were intended to help people with the burden. Heaping without help is bad. Rolling with zero results is not the goal. There is another adage that may apply here. Keep the people busy and befuddled, or something similar.

              The second woe is pronounced concerning their agreement with the killing of God’s prophets. Ironically, this connection is made through their honoring of the prophets. Building tombs was about honor. But Jesus claims they did it to agree with the fact that their ancestors killed them in the first place. Good job progenitors! We’ll acknowledge your achievement by building a monument to your success. Like that. And then, in the tradition of the Old Testament and other Jewish literature, Jesus personifies Wisdom. It is Wisdom that Jesus heard say, “I will send to them prophets and apostles . . .” The word “send” and “apostle” are verb and noun of the same word group. In this context, apostle most likely has the broader meaning “messenger.” And notice that this is future tense. Jesus’ point is that the current generation of Israelites are just as prone to mistreat God’s emissaries, as were their ancestors. This is no longer something Jesus heard; it is his proclamation; an “I say” with authority. Case in point would be John the Baptist, Jesus himself, and Jesus’ followers. Therefore, the guilt of all the blood shed will be charged against them. In Numbers 35:33 they were told that blood spilt polluted the land and the only way to cleanse the land was the death penalty. The land is polluted from Abel – the first murder victim in the Bible – to Zechariah – the last in the Jewish canon (2 Chronicles was the last book in the Hebrew Bible).

              The third woe is about the key of knowledge. The key would allow people to enter into the house of Wisdom (Proverbs 9). But the lawyers don’t want people to enter the house. Then they would be able to gain knowledge and would stop listening to the Scribes yelling at them to keep pushing the stone. If they would have used the tools of learning God’s wisdom and shared the tools – the keys – then all could come to know God. And isn’t that the goal? To know God and his will? But the scribes wanted to keep the people busy and baffled. To make sure no one could enter the house of Wisdom they took away the keys.               The section comes to a close with the scribes and Pharisees earnestly seeking – furiously scanning everything Jesus says and does – not to learn, but to capture. The key to knowledge was standing right in front of them. They knew this, but they wanted to keep the people pushing the stone up the mountain. This is not about us exercising our control. The goal is to give people the tools to know God.

The Ugly Inside

It is Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” You know, a young man who puts all of his emphasis on appearance. He is a beautiful young man and wants to stay that way. But he also wants to be a horrible person; a user and ruination of other persons. He is consumed by fear that such behavior will make wrinkles appear on his beautifully smooth face. A master painter creates a portrait of him. Dorian discovers that the ravages of sin appear on the painting of him but not on him. Winning! He can be as evil as he wants and still remain a hauntingly beautiful young man. But his life is shallow and ugly and eventually he knows it. He slashes the painting and all of the ugly drains out of the picture into him and he dies. Now you don’t have to read the book. You’re welcome.

              Luke 11:37-44 is about more than outward actions; it is about ugly insides. Luke ties the words of Jesus (Luke 11:17-36) to the event of Jesus eating an early meal with a Pharisee. And there is good reason to see this connection. Jesus is the light. The Pharisee is dark inside and unable to see that light. Once again, we see Jesus eating at the house of a Pharisee. This is significant and often overlooked. Yes, Jesus did eat with sinners and tax collectors. But he didn’t do so to the exclusion of the religious elite. He went to their houses as well. That Jesus! Trying to teach anyone who may have an ear to hear.

              And Jesus has a lesson to teach here. He reclines at table without ceremonial washing his hands. I don’t think this was just an oversight on his part, like the smell of good food clogged his reason. He knew that the Pharisee would notice and be shocked by the lapse of ritual. The word “wash” here is the word “baptize” and it means to immerse or dip. There is some debate today concerning what the actual custom was. It may be that various sects of Pharisees had different traditions. Some poured water over their hands; some sprinkled them; some immersed them. That seems likely to me. Either way, this particular Pharisee expected Jesus to meet his ceremonial expectations and was shocked when he didn’t. Can you say “Teaching moment”? Sure, I knew you could.

              Jesus responded with “You Pharisees are all about cleaning the outside of cups and plates, but inside of you – where it really matters – you are full of violent greed and wickedness.” But God made both the outside and the inside. And the way God made us, when the inside is good and full of relationship with him, the outside shows it with good works like giving to the poor. But here’s a quandary for you: we can do the same thing with giving. Jesus said as much on the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-4). Jesus is not telling us that if we see someone giving to the poor, you can know they are clean on the inside. The Pharisees would have practiced charitable giving – you know, when a crowd was around to witness it.

              Then Jesus pronounces some woes on them. A woe is like saying, “the horror!” or “how dreadful!” They get all worked up about making sure they tithe, even to the point of tithing things that are not commanded, like rue. And then they pass right on over things like justice and love of God. These are the things they should have practiced without leaving undone the tithing thing. Jesus is not suggesting they love God and respect people and then just ignore the ritual. If they love God and justice, the rest will not be left undone. He also woes them for cherishing the first seats in the synagogue and respectful greetings in the market place. In the two main social gathering places, they wanted to be respected above others. But on the inside, they are like concealed or unnoticed tombs. In Numbers 19:16 if you come into contact with a tomb, you are considered unclean for seven days. So, interacting with a Pharisee is like walking on an unmarked tomb. The result is uncleanness. Much more so than any lack of ritualistic washing of hands. The real danger is inside. The outside may look fine, but beware, there be dead things here; things that rob and defile.

              Going to church is important. But I’m afraid that there are many walking tombs sitting and singing in many a worship. They wear suits and they have learned the lingo. But the light of Jesus has not reached inside. They may even have theological degrees attached to their names. They sound smart and impressive. But there be dead things here. So, clean up. But start on the inside. Love God and justice so much that it shows up in your actions; in how you treat the poor and oppressed. Anybody can wear a suit. Anyone can sound religious. Be beautiful on the inside and the outside will follow. Grace and peace.

Jesus Lenses

I wear corrective lenses. I did not choose to be visionally impaired. No one blames me for being near sighted. They may make fun of my lack of sight or my glasses or, you know, whatever people tend to make fun of, but they don’t blame me. That would be ridiculous. It’s not like I asked a doctor to altar my vision so that I could see worse. And that would be more than ridiculous. The truth is, I want to see as clearly as possible in spite of my genetic deficiency. But what if it was my fault? What if I hired a doctor to perform destructive surgery? All so that I could walk through life wondering who is who and what time it is and getting into all manner of accidents. Would people be sympathetic to my numerous head injuries? Would it invoke compassion if I cried out mightily, “I can’t see!”?

              Luke 11:33-36 seems familiar. Maybe that’s because Jesus said something similar in 8:16. And yet no one questions that Jesus is telling the same parable for a slightly different emphasis here. No theories of why Luke is using different words than himself here. So, once again, Jesus can and does say the same or similar things in different contexts to emphasize different things. We all do. This parable starts pretty much the same as the one in chapter 8. The only difference really is the addition of another place where no one puts a lit lamp. You don’t put it under a basket that is used for measuring grain. That would be silly. But you also don’t put it in a crypt or cellar. The word is used only here in the Bible. It could refer to any hidden place; any nook or cranny really. A lit lamp is placed on a lampstand so that everyone who enters the house can see. In chapter 8 the parable is about hearing and obeying the message. Here, it is similar. Jesus is the sign; he is the light. What are you going to do with him? Not tuck him away somewhere in a cellar. Surely not.

              Then Jesus talks about the eye being the lamp of the body. The Greeks believed that sight worked because a person had a light within themselves that received and accepted the light from outside of the body. The Jewish people had similar ideas. If that light inside of you is healthy or clear, it effects your whole body – just like the gift of sight effects everything; you are full of light. But if it is diseased, well, then you are full of darkness. There is some truth here. I remember seeing an interview with Charles Manson years ago. The eyes told a story of madness and darkness.

              Interestingly, Jesus puts the blame squarely on the individual. If you are full of darkness and your eyes are diseased, that is on you. Keep watch over, notice carefully, beware – all definitions for the first word in verse 35. Make sure that the light in you is not darkness. You have some control here. Darkness on the inside is not an accident of birth. It is a perception problem that can damage one’s vision. Why didn’t people understand that Jesus was the message; that he was the lit lamp that could illuminate the whole house? They had allowed darkness to creep into them and that darkness became the lamp that is their eyes. Now their eyes cannot see the light. Their vision is impaired and it is, on some level, their fault.

              The goal is for the whole body to be full of light and therefore, to be fully illumined; all lit up inside with the light that is Jesus. So, you see the light that is Jesus and the light that is in you takes Jesus in and the brightness increases so that others around can see the brilliant display. But if you have darkness in you, you will see the light that is Jesus as something other than light and you will reject him and then your diseased eyes will become even gloomier. You will see as if you have cataracts – when the natural eye lens becomes cloudy and keeps the light from reaching the eye. My mom has cataracts and can no longer see colors. There are no glasses that will fix this or the fuzziness she sees. The only thing to be done is to remove the effected natural lenses and replace them.

              There is hope here. If you see Jesus and he appears fuzzy or dark, it is because you have spiritual cataracts. You have allowed darkness to descend inside of you and your eyesight has become wacky. The good news is that you can remove your lenses and replace them with Jesus lenses and Jesus lenses let all the light come in. And when that happens, your whole body is illumined – lit up. And anyone entering here will be able to see because of the light shining into you and from you. Your choice. You can continue to embrace the darkness and complain about your vision, or you can embrace the light of Jesus and shine inside out. Be illumined. Replace your worn-out lenses with Jesus-lenses and see more clearly. Peace.

Taste

Psalm 34:8 says “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” I kind of think there is truth here. But if this is true, why do so few people take refuge in Yahweh? Can it be that all of those doubters; those deserters of the faith; or those who just plain refuse to believe, have never, none of them, tasted God – or put him to the test? Maybe there is a difference between tasting and testing. Sometimes people put others to the test, not to discover truth, but to bolster their doubts. This kind of testing does not tend to bring about trust. Kind of like when a child has already made up their mind that something is going to taste bad. They might nibble, they may even swallow, but with mind made up, they don’t truly taste – they test so that their parents will leave them alone. People can be such children in their tasting of God.

              Luke 11:29-32 is about the wrong kind of testing. In verse 16 we were told that some were testing Jesus by demanding for a sign from heaven. As the crowd begins to press in on him, Jesus said, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign.” But is it wrong to seek out some kind of evidence; something that will help your faith along? Maybe the problem is not the seeking in and of itself. Maybe it is a seeking for a sign, when the sign was already there, walking, teaching, breathing God all around them. It is a demand that God do more than create all things and save our souls. It is saying, “If you heal my wife, I’ll believe in you.” Or, “If my mom gives up drugs and takes care of me, I’ll believe.” Or maybe even an “If you submit to my idea of who God should be, why then we can be best friends.” But if you will just taste, you will see that Yahweh is good. I am convinced of that.

              Jesus tells this gathering in upon him crowd that they will receive no sign but the sign of Jonah. Is he saying that they will be given no sign except the sign or is he saying that they will not be given the kind of sign they are looking for but rather the sign that is Jonah? That is the question and the wording could be taken either way. From the context it seems likely that he is letting them know that they are seeking the wrong kind of sign so he will give them the correct kind. Jonah didn’t work miracles; he did nothing that the Ninevites could look at and declare that he was from God. He showed up and pronounced a message of judgment. The sign of the Son of Man will be the same. Again, Son of Man most likely takes us back to Daniel 7, back to the prophesy about the one like the Son of Man who will go up to the Ancient of Days and receive an everlasting kingdom – you know, Jesus. The sign of Jesus is Jesus himself and the message of the coming of kingdom of God authority.

              Sandwiched between the discussion of Jonah and Nineveh, is the example of the Queen of Sheba. The story of the Queen of the South traveling to discover for herself the wisdom of Solomon is found in 1 Kings 10:1-29. She will rise up at the judgment and condemn the wicked generation. Why? Because she traveled all that distance (ends of the earth is hyperbole and common biblical idiom for a great distance) based on what she heard. She didn’t wait for a sign. She didn’t demand evidence. She went. And someone greater than Solomon and all his wisdom was galivanting all around their own lands and they were sitting around demanding a sign.

              In the same way the people of Nineveh will stand up to judge and condemn them because they repented of their evil without miracles or signs. As a matter of fact, Jonah didn’t even preach repentance. He proclaimed God’s coming judgment and they responded. They tasted and decided to do something about it. So, the Ninevites – wicked Gentiles that they were – acted more honorably than the Jews of Jesus’ day. They heard Jonah and believed his message. Jesus is greater than Jonah boys and girls.

              God is good. Taste and see. Really taste. C. S. Lewis set out to disprove the Bible. But as he tested, he began to taste. And his doubts turned into beliefs. Unfortunately, there are many who never taste. O, to be sure they have read the stories; they may even know the Bible more than many a Christian. But they have never really tasted. It is even possible for someone to forget the taste of God. They are so hopped up on the cotton candy of the world, that they can no longer taste the meat of Yahweh’s word. Spit out the sickly-sweet message of Satan. Rinse out your mouth and taste anew. Let your taste buds dance with God-flavor. God is good – all the time. All the time – God is good. Taste and see. Grace, Walter