Blessed Nonetheless

What does it mean to be blessed? Early on, the word was applied mostly to the Greek gods. Homer used it rarely about mankind, and then only when man had left this material world and had entered the spirit realm. After all, only the gods could attain true happiness; only their life could be said to be fortunate. By the time of Aristotle, it was being used more to refer to men. It was often applied to the wealthy. They could make life bend to their whims much easier than could the poor. And that speaks of fortunate, doesn’t it? Not to mention the clinging idea that if someone had a lot of money he must be favored by the gods. Which, left the poor not blessed or favored. Many looked at children as a blessing. If you had many children and on top of that good children, well then, the gods must like you, and you could therefore be described as blessed. For the Jewish people blessings came from Yahweh in the form, mostly, of land, health, and progeny – lots of strong, adding to the good of society, children. And again, the poor, sick, childless people, were deemed misfortunate – not at all favored by God. And it seems that we use the word in the same way today. I am blessed to have three healthy functioning adult children. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife. I am blessed with a house and two cars to transport us through the frigid North Dakota winter air in relative comfort. But when I say these things, it may sound as if someone who doesn’t have children – or healthy children, a spouse, a home, vehicles, etc., is not favored by God. Hmm! That sounds a bit elitist.

              Luke 11:27-28 is a mere two verse and therefore might be overlooked. But this short passage, which belongs to a larger context, packs a punch. It came about as Jesus was talking about divided and empty houses, that some random woman in the crowd shouted out with a loud cry, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” The feeling of the text is that she could not contain herself; she could no longer be just part of the crowd listening to the message. She had something in her that would not be hushed. What was in her was a beatitude. Beatitudes were fairly common within both Jewish and Greek cultures at this time. And a common beatitude was to bless the parent of a person who was excelling. Well, that makes sense. And this woman, being a woman, thinks about Jesus’ mother. God must truly favor her to have given her such a son – a “battling against the evil strong man,” a “dismantling stinging accusations” son. For some, this cry represents a longing to have been so favored. Maybe. But what if she is just so overwhelmed with what an incredible person Jesus is, that she bursts out with a beatitude; and a fairly common beatitude at that?

              Jesus responded with “Yes, but rather blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” The word translated “on the contrary” in the NASB can introduce a contradiction such as “no, rather,” or an affirmation like “yes, indeed,” or a modification such as “yes, but.” That Mary should be blessed among women has already been stated in 1:42 by Elizabeth and in 1:48 Mary herself sings out “generations will count me blessed.” Jesus’ words here, then, are not a rebuke. Mary was favored by God to have been chosen to be the mother of the Christ. Jesus is most likely agreeing with that blessing, but then modifying it: “Yes, my mother is favored, but how much more . . .” And this is similar to Luke 8:21 where Jesus said, “My mother and My brother are those who hear the word of God and do it.” What makes someone blessed, fortunate, favored by Yahweh? The person who listens to God’s message and then keeps, guards, observes it. There is no promise here about the situation. This could be a childless, poor, sick person with no hint of anything improving. A better situation is not evidence of God’s favor. Elitism has no place in the kingdom of God. And interestingly, this description also applies to Mary. She was blessed mostly because when she heard the message she said, “may it be done to your slave.” She heard and observed.

              If you are serving the King, you are blessed. Period. Being single cannot lessen the blessing nor can being married increase it. The Greeks uttered beatitudes for finding a good spouse and for avoiding marriage all together. Being poor cannot make that blessing grungy nor can wealth dress it up. Children do not enhance nor diminish God’s favor. As a friend of mine always said when asked how he was doing, “Blessed nonetheless.” It is about hearing the word of God and observing it, treating it as a treasure to be guarded. Hear, obey and be blessed. Peace out. Walter

Empty Houses

There once was a man, or it could have been a woman, it really doesn’t matter to the story. Anyway, there was this person who was beset by difficulties. The world had become grey and depressingly hazy, like a lingering London fog. One day, after what seemed to be an eternity, the woman, or the man, or the person discovered that the sun had risen and the world was aglow in brilliant colors again. They took it as a sign that things were better; the day was seize-able again. Life was back on track. Work crackled and after-work thrived. Family and friends were friendlier and all-around better company. Every thing smelled, tasted, and seemed better. Then it wasn’t. A tsunami named cancer swept them up and carried them back into the foggy darkness.

              Luke 11:24-26 is a short parable, the meaning of which has stimulated a ton of debates. We start with an unclean spirit – a demon – who goes out of a man. It is important to note that the demon is not cast out. He seems to be able to come and go as he wishes. He is the one who decides; the one in control. And even though Jesus has a bigger point here, there is this message about playing around with things that are unclean. No matter how much posturing is done; no matter how much defending of one’s strength or abilities; evil will always corrupt and take control. Don’t play with unclean things! I know. That really should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Anyway, this unclean spirit traipses out of the man and moves on to waterless places. Why waterless places? Unclean things seem to frequent areas that are uninhabitable to mankind, such as deserts and ruins and the like. In Isaiah 34:14, night monsters are said to inhabit the wilderness along with wolves and hairy goats. This particular demon is seeking a place to rest. But all of his searching renders zero success. So, the unclean thing decides to go back. And notice that he calls the man “my house.” He has claimed ownership.

              And when the demon does return, he finds the house swept and put in order or made attractive. And isn’t that nice? Evil can rest here. Evil can throw a party here; a party of indeterminable duration; a party of eight. The original demon leaves again so that it can bring along with and welcome seven more demons to rest int his nice house. Again, the demon has all of the authority here. He goes out and comes back as he wills. He welcomes in seven (maybe emphasizing complete evil) other spirits who are more evil than itself. Can you say, “Yikes!” Sure you can. The final state of the man become worse than before when it was one unclean spirit he had to deal with.

              Debate time. Is Jesus advising us to not be empty houses? I mean if unclean spirits hang out in empty waterless lands, if that is the atmosphere they gravitate toward to seek out rest, they may just find a desolate soul attractive and just what the evil one ordered. Or is Jesus saying that you cannot merely repent of the evil, you have to say “yes” to Jesus? This is similar to the empty house idea. Don’t just clean house of the evil; fill it with good. The problem with this idea, is that the man didn’t cast the demon out. The demon left, fully confident in his right to come and go as he pleased. The sweeping and making the house attractive is merely a response to the demon being gone. The unclean spirit itself made the house or man empty. This doesn’t seem to be about repentance. Is this a statement about how Jesus exorcism is better than Jewish exorcism? I don’t see it.

              What if, in the context of the discussion about the strong man and the power of God, Jesus is making a statement about relying on situational respites from distress. If your situation improves, but the strong man is still in charge, your situation hasn’t really improved. A better economy is not a sign of anything other than people having more money. Improved health does not mean you have been touched by the finger of God. Jesus used the example of an unclean spirit because the previous conversation centered around demons and the ruler of demons in relation to the power and kingdom of God. He could have used any situation really. Numerical growth is not an indication that God sides with a church or a movement.

              Again, it is time to choose sides. Are you going to join Jesus in kingdom of God work or are you going to focus on attractiveness and situational improvements? It is Jesus who has finger of God power over the strong man. It is Jesus who can fill your soul. If your country experiences peace after a long war, that doesn’t mean God is with you. Follow Jesus. He has the power. He has already bound the strong man.

Time to Decide

People who do genuinely good things, will always have their critics. And if it is genuinely good; if the poor are being fed; the uneducated are being educated; the oppressed are being unshackled, is there anything to be critical about? What if their motives are bad though? The hungry are eating and you want to dig up bad motives? If Bill Gates gives away millions of dollars does it really make sense to suggest that it is merely a tax break? And really, so what if it is? Formerly naked people probably don’t care if their clothes are a tax break. People going to school for the first time most likely don’t shake their head and think things like, “He or she is just trying to make themselves look good.” Genuinely good deeds are genuinely good. Now, people can and do fake good deeds; pretending to raise money to end world maladies, while they stuff their own pockets. And that, my friends, is a horse of a different color.

              One day Jesus cast a demon out of a man. We are not told much other than that this demon made the man mute and when he was forced to leave, the man could talk. And the people were amazed. This doesn’t mean they were amazed at the goodness of Jesus. They were awed by the power. But power can be either good or bad. The crowd could not question the power here. So, some in the crowd question the source. O, sure he can cast out demons, he has Beelzebul on his side. Beelzebul, most likely means something like “lord of the princes,” or “lord of the Exalted Abode.” At this point it is a name ascribed to Satan. What the Canaanites had worshiped as lord was actually the prince of demons; the Satan; the adversary of God. Others in the crowd put Jesus to the test and ask for a sign from heaven. Most likely they are not willing to say that he was casting out demons by the power of the ruler of demons, but they couldn’t be sure the source of his power was heaven. “Do something absolutely good, so that we won’t have to wonder where your power comes from. Maybe you could call down fire from heaven like Elijah did. You know, something like that.”

              Even though, their words cannot have reached his ears, Jesus knew their thoughts. And he, first demonstrates the fault in their statement: a kingdom divided against itself is made into a waste land. Civil war is a tearing apart of your own land; your own people. The next phrase is literally, “a house upon a house falls.” If Jesus is forced to say the exact same thing here as he does in Mark and Matthew then he must mean “a house divided against itself falls.” But what if he is saying that kingdom strife tears apart families? In our own civil war brothers fought on opposite sides of the conflict. Satan’s kingdom; including every little strong hold, cannot stand a battle with itself. This is no fake exorcism. One of Satan’s beings had been forced out of his house. This is not a house of Satan upon another house of Satan. That would make Satan fairly stupid. And by the way, your sons who cast out demons may not appreciate the inference here. Your accusation against me could equally be applied to them.

              This is not about a civil war in the kingdom of Satan. This is the finger of God. The power the Egyptian magicians acknowledged when confronted by the power of Yahweh, the God of Israel (Exodus 8:19). And if the source of this power is God, then this is about God’s kingdom coming upon them. And this is the heart of the accusation. They didn’t like Jesus’ message, which reached out to the poor and the sinners, but they couldn’t discount that there was power here. But they could malign that power. This is about the stronghold of Satan being sacked; about Satan himself being unarmored; about his possessions being distributed as the spoils of war.

              Then Jesus tells them that it is time for them to choose sides. He is going to war with the prince of evil. And if they don’t side with him, that same finger of God power will be directed toward them. The kingdom of God is breaking into their reality. Choose sides. The second image is that of gathering the flock of Israel taken from Ezekiel 34. If they are not part of the gathering process, then they are actively scattering the flock. And that, boys and girls, is a working against the will of God.

              Jesus wielded the power of God, issuing in the kingdom of God. He came and said, “It is time to decide: will you fight with me or against me; will you gather with me or work against me to scatter?” There is no question of power here. The only real question is will you join Jesus in kingdom of God work? It is time to choose. Side with Jesus and genuinely do good in the Kingdom of God. Peace, Walter.

Ask, Seek, Knock

You have probably heard the proverbial statement, “God helps those who help themselves.” To be honest, I cringe when I hear people say this because I have a sneaky suspicion that they really mean that God doesn’t actually do anything. But it is true on some level. It is not true that God saves those who save themselves. That is an entirely different matter, and absolutely no one can save themselves. But let’s say there is this person who is out of work. They pray and pray to get a job. They like to eat and food cost money. But they don’t fill out applications; they don’t set up interviews; they don’t follow through when friends make suggestions. They just sit in their house. Does God swoop in and get them a job?

              In Luke 11:9-13 Jesus continues his instruction concerning prayer. He begins with “and I say to you,” which links this section with the preceding section. You know, where Jesus said you can approach God like a trusted friend. Here he gives three commands each followed with a promise. Keep asking – it will be given; keep seeking – you will find it; keep knocking – it will be opened. Is this a promise that God will give you anything you ask for? Maybe it is my lack of faith, but that doesn’t ring true. Some have suggested that the language is very similar to wisdom literature, which would make, what appears to be promises, more proverbs. Proverbs are generally true statements and not promises. But what if he is focusing on our end of things? What if he is saying, if you don’t keep asking – when nothing seems to be happening; when life is a mess; when your situation is stagnant – don’t expect to receive. You have a part in this. Ask. And if you stop seeking – even when the answers dance like pixies just out of your reach – don’t expect to find. Doors will not magically be opened for you if you don’t knock. There is more here, but I think this is part of the message. You have something to do: ask, seek, and knock. This is more than sitting in your house meditating. This is an active asking; seeking; knocking.

              Then Jesus gives us a parable to help us understand what he is talking about. Which one of you fathers . . . Again, this way of beginning a parable puts the listener into the scenario. Every father has experienced a child asking for food. If a child asks for a fish, you are not going to give him a snake are you? At this point many have mentioned that snakes and fish can resemble each other and that in the Sea of Galilee it is possible to snag a sea snake rather than a fish. I think that misses the point. This is not about a mistake. This is about giving your child something good as apposed to something bad. Serpents were considered dangerous and evil. When we call somebody a snake, it is not intended to be a compliment. So, your child asked for something good and just for kicks you give him something dangerous and evil. People have done the same thing with an egg and a scorpion. Yes, scorpions sometimes curl up into a ball and may look vaguely, if you squint your eyes, like an egg. But again, the point is the request and the gift. Something that is good to eat and another thing that is dangerous. Scorpions were well-known for their painful sting. Rehoboam unwisely threatens to discipline the people, not with whips, but with scorpions. Food or stinging torture. Every good father knows what to give.

              So, if humans, who are evil, and this may be an in comparison to God evil, know how to give food rather than poisonous danger, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? We may ask for things that are not good. God knows better than we do, how to give what is good. We will not receive everything we ask for because we don’t know a snake from a fish sometimes. And mostly, this is about giving the ultimate good – the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God fell on those who were prophets or prophetesses. Most people did not receive the Spirit. But a time was coming when the Spirit would be poured out on all people. (cf. Joel 2:28-29).

              I think there are two main themes here and they dance together. What God gives is good. As children we may not know how to ask appropriately. And what we need the most, the ultimate good, is the Holy Spirit. But don’t sit back thinking that God is going to slay you with the Spirit. Keep asking; keep seeking; keep knocking. You have a part in all of this. And there is a view of God that emerges from behind the scenes. God is anxious to give you good things. He is not a begrudging father, who gives his children good things because he would be viewed as evil if he didn’t. He is not the reluctant friend motivated by simple shame. He is the heavenly father who loves to give good things to his children. Ask, seek, knock.

Friendship Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

When You Pray

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

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

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

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

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

Ministry That Misses Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neighborly Action

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Love

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

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

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

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

Being Babies

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

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

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

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

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