Luke 21-24 and 1 Corinthians 1

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Monday, June 2, Chapter 21

Americans fidget when we read about the widow’s offering.  We cannot see the sense of giving all we have.  Then what would we live on.  We would have to depend on other people to keep us alive.

It is not easy to trust God to provide for us.  In this country we only get food if we work.  Cyril of Alexandria wrote (430 AD):  This may perhaps irritate some among the rich.  We will therefore address a few remarks to them.  You delight, O rich person, in the abundance of your possessions…. You offer not so much in proportion to your means as merely that which when you give, you will never miss—out of great abundance, a little.

The disciples became impressed with the outward appearance of the Temple, forgetting its true importance.  The moved on to the end times and Jesus had to warn them that his Second Coming would not be of this world and it will not be right away.  Be patient.

Be patient because you will be persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, and killed.  But if you die you will die in Christ.  1 Peter 4:17-18: It’s judgment time for God’s own family. We’re first in line. If it starts with us, think what it’s going to be like for those who refuse God’s Message!  If good people barely make it, what’s in store for the bad?  Acts 9:16:  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.  1 Corinthians 4:9,13:  It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better.

In verse 20, Jesus speaks about the events of 66-70 AD when the Romans destroyed the city and the Temple.  Before the legions surrounded the city, the Jewish-Christian congregation fled to Pella, east of the Jordan, amid cries of “traitors.”

Verse 25 gives us the long view.  All of these things will occur, most over and over.  Isaiah 13:9-10:  Watch now. God’s Judgment Day comes. 
    Cruel it is, a day of wrath and anger,
A day to waste the earth
    and clean out all the sinners.
The stars in the sky, the great parade of constellations,
    will be nothing but black holes.
The sun will come up as a black disk,
    and the moon a blank nothing.

Verse 27:  they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud.  Lift up your heads, redemption is near.

In London, December 3, 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer opened his sermon describing the explosion of a mine in Derbyshire two weeks earlier.  Fourteen men, a mile below ground, lost their lives.  If you were in that tomb, how would you react if you heard the rescuers coming to release you?  What if you were slowly dying of an incurable disease?  Depressed with no hope?  In prison for life?  This is no time to shake your head, to doubt and look away—freedom, salvation, redemption is coming.  Look up and wait!  Raise your heads!  Be strong and without fear!—for Christ is coming.

A decade later, Bonhoeffer wrote from Tegel Prison to a friend.  Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes…the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.

Jesus spoke of the fig tree, a symbol of Judah.  When he says this generation, we cannot take it literally to mean twenty years or even until all the living are dead; that happened a long time ago.  My word will never pass away is likely the key.  The Word will last until the end of days.

 

Tuesday, June 3, Chapter 22

There is sometimes confusion over the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Jews then and now tend to run them together as one event, even as they know they are different.  Here are the facts: Passover is on the 15th of Nissan (April 15 this year).  Part of the confusion for us is that Jews begin a new day at sundown, so for our thinking, Passover begins at sundown of the 14th.

In Jesus’ day the Passover lambs were slaughtered the afternoon of the 14th to be eaten that night (the 15th).  On Nissan 16, the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins and runs for seven days.  In Jesus’ day no businesses were open and the week was spent at the Temple, in between meals.

The first day of the year is Nissan 1.  It is always the day of the new moon, so the full moon occurs on the 15th  (really 14-15).   According to the Bible, the Messiah was crucified on the night of a blood moon.

The rules for setting the date of Easter go back to the 4th Century, but have been altered numerous times since then to account for newer scientific calculations, ie, leap year.

The ecclesiastical rules are:

  • Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox;
  • this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon); and
  • the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21.

resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25.

So, now you know.

Verse 3 has an interesting statement, Satan entered Judas.  That tells us that Judas was a loyal Apostle until then.  He is the only one Jesus is recorded as calling friend.  It also tells us that Judas allowed Satan in because God has not allowed sin to force us to act against our wills.  Judas still had free choice; he chose to turn Jesus over to the authorities, we believe, to force Jesus to take action, to claim the throne they all knew he was destined for.  Judas did what the other disciples were thinking about.

Did Jesus know that Judas was the one when he called him to follow, to be an Apostle?  We do not know, but I do not think so.  Jesus had a human body with a human brain.  I believe God gave him the information he needed when he needed it.  The mind of God cannot fit into a human brain.  There is no doubt Jesus knew on that night as they ate, as he washed Judas’ feet.  I think Jesus was praying even then that Judas would change his heart at the last minute.  But Jesus did not send Judas away with condemnation.

Verse 7 is incorrect as Luke states it.  As I recorded above, the lamb was sacrificed on the 14th which was the day before Passover and two days before the start of the Feast.  But, again, common thinking lumped all the events together.

Verse 10 has a man carrying a jar of water.  Carrying water was women’s work.  To see a man doing that was so rare that the disciples could not have made a mistake about who to follow.  This is an example of God giving Jesus the information needed.

At the time of Passover, the largest of all celebrations, the population of Jerusalem rose from 80,000 to as many as a million.  The Passover Seder had to be eaten inside the city walls.  To accommodate that great influx, every home was to be opened.  Complete strangers were allowed in for the meal.  Nearly all homes had at least two groups eating, one inside and one on the roof.  Larger homes might have four or five separate groups in different rooms.

Jesus and his followers found a place with an upper room.  We generally picture it as a second story room as we would find in houses all over the world.  However, we must remember that the homes of that day were all flat roofed structures with stairs leading to the roof.  At Passover, the owners would put up a tent or two for different groups.  Those were called rooms.

Verse 14 describes the men reclining at the table.  It was generally done on the floor with pillows at a low table, each reclining on his left side.  To recline at a meal was proof they were free men.

Luke alone mentions two cups of wine.  Four cups were used in the Seder.  The wine was general mixed with water.  The statement, Take this and divide it among you, has suggested a common cup, each drinking from it in turn.  But it could just mean that each poured some from the common cup into his own cup.

In the Seder, each cup has a symbolic part to play in the story of the Passover.  Jesus would have followed the proper procedure for the first century which may differ somewhat from current practice.  If so, the cup in verse 17 would be number 2; the one in verse 20 number 3.

Unleavened bread (matzah in Hebrew) was eaten at the meal.  Today they are like crackers, but in the first century may have been more like tortillas.  There were three large pieces of the matzah, stacked together.  At the beginning of the meal, the middle piece was broken in half with one half being hidden for later.  Jewish-Christians (Messianic Jews) quickly identified the middle bread as the Messiah, broken for us.

Jeremiah 31:31:  The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.

Verses 26-27 are key verses we often overlook when reading about the last days of Jesus.  Even as he knows he is headed for death, he reminds us to be servants in all ways, at all times.

Jesus turns to Simon Peter and says that Satan has picked him out especially to join the dark side.  Ambrose (380 AD) has this to say about Peter that night:  Although Peter was ready in spirit, he was still weak in physical love.  Not even Peter could equal the steadfastness of the divine purpose.  The Lord’s Passion has imitators but no equals.  I do not criticize Peter’s denial, but I praise his weeping.  The one is common to nature, but the other is peculiar to virtue.

Both Peter and Judas vocally denied Jesus.  One cried, the other killed himself.  Judas could have asked for forgiveness as did Peter, in fact as did the other Apostles, all of whom turned away.

Verse 35 is unique to Luke.  It harkens back to chapter 9:1-6 and 10:3-4.

For verse 37, read Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

Two swords tells us that the Apostles did travel with weapons at times.  We can make some symbolism out of the two swords: they represent the Word of God in the Old Testament and in the New.

Jesus kneeling for prayer is interesting.  Normally Jews today only kneel for a special prayer on Rosh-Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  In ancient times, including in Jesus’ day, they did kneel for pray often, but not always.  After Christians adopted the custom, Jews stopped doing it except for the two times.

Verses 43-44 appear in about half the most ancient manuscripts while the others do not have it. Also, only Luke has it. Take your pick.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ arrest is the shortest of the Four Gospels.  All four mention swords but only John says Peter caused the damage.  Only Luke adds that Jesus healed the ear.

Verse 57 holds some strong Greek.  For denied we can read the Greek as abandoned.  Peter’s response is much like the official statement banning someone from a synagogue.

If you know anything about roosters, you will know that some of them crow throughout the night, so Peter may have heard one at two or three in the morning.

We know that Jesus spoke the truth in verses 68-69, but he also, knowingly, gave the authorities enough for execution; he claimed to be God, or at least his Messiah.  Saying he would sit at the right hand of God was itself condemning.  Only God sits in Heaven, all others must stand, according to the oral tradition.

Some rules of the court not followed that night.  In a capital case, the charged is presumed guilty and he is allowed to try to prove his innocence.  The vote of the Sanhedrin must have a majority of two to convict.  A capital case must be tried in public during the day.  If convicted, the condemned cannot be executed until the next day.  No capital case can begin the day before a festival.  There were some other minor rule violations.

Wednesday, June 4, Chapter 23

Everything leading to the appearance before Pilate was for show, only Pilate could condemn Jesus to death.  Pilate had recently been reprimanded by the Emperor for mishandling the Jews.  He was being very careful this time.  No doubt, the Jews waited until Pilate was awake and ready for business.  Luke does not give us the whole trial, but Pilate does decide there is not enough for crucifixion and sends him to Herod Antipas who was king in Galilee.  In fact, Pilate had no legal jurisdiction in Galilee.

We can feel sympathy for Pilate while reading this account.  He seems to give Jesus every chance to get off.  In fact, Pilate hated the Jews and before the dressing down, went out of his way to create excuses to kill them.  Some scholars think that the Gospel writers made him appear to be the good leader so as not to antagonize Rome.

Verse 31 seems strange until we learn that the dry tree represents sinners (us) and the green tree is the Messiah.  It is based loosely on Ezekiel 20:47:   “Tell the forest of the south, ‘Listen to the Message of God! God, the Master, says, I’ll set a fire in you that will burn up every tree, dead trees and live trees alike. Nobody will put out the fire. The whole country from south to north will be blackened by it. Everyone is going to see that I, God, started the fire and that it’s not going to be put out.’”

The word Calvary is the King James transliteration for the Latin calvaria, meaning skull.  Psalm 22:16-18:  Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes
.Psalm 22:6-8:  And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
“Let’s see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him
.Psalm 69:21:  They put poison in my soup,
Vinegar in my drink.

Still, Jesus thinks of the thief who confesses and repents.

Amos 8:9:  I’ll turn off the sun at noon.
    In the middle of the day the earth will go black.

Of the disciples, only the women witnessed the death of their Master.

The burial was supervised by Joseph.  He was a man of wealth, so had his servants actually touch the body.  Even those servants had to sleep outside Joseph’s house to avoid the ritual contamination that would have taken a week for Joseph to cleans.  Luke sets up Sunday morning by having the women see the tomb and go home to prepare for a proper burial.

Thursday, June 5, Chapter 24

Psalm 16:9-10:  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful[a] one see decay.

Saturday is the Sabbath, so the woman could not go to the tomb to properly prepare the body.  They waited for the first day of the week.  While we are throwing names around, note that Jews called the days of the week: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and Shabbat (Sabbath).  The reason was because the Greeks named the days after their gods and the Romans followed.  Jews would not commit such a sacrilege.  Our names have come from the Roman names and handed down from the German and old English.

Tuesday for example:

Tuesday — Tiu’s day

Middle English tiwesday or tewesday
Old English tiwesdæg “Tiw’s (Tiu’s) day”
Latin dies Martis “day of Mars”
Ancient Greek hemera Areos “day of Ares”
Tiu (Twia) is the English/Germanic god of war and the sky. He is identified with the Norse god Tyr.

Mars is the Roman god of war.

Ares is the Greek god of war.

 

We should notice that the first announcement of the resurrection was made to the women, only three of whom were named in verse 10.  They saw angels but not Jesus.  Peter ran to the tomb and saw it was empty but did not see Jesus.

So in Luke’s account, the first sighting was on the road to Emmaus where a stranger fell into step with the disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed man, and began to talk about the events of Passover.

In verse 24 we learn that several disciples saw the empty tomb but none saw Jesus.  We are told that Jesus tried to walk on past Emmaus but the other two insisted he eat with them.  Only when he broke the bread to give to them did they recognize Jesus.  Jesus could change his body at will, even walk through walls.

The two returned to Jerusalem at once, even though it was getting dark.  They arrived to discover that Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter as well. As they talked, and the noise level must have been high, Jesus appeared in the room.  We generally think of Jesus appearing to the Eleven, but this was a mixed group of Apostles and disciples.

With that visit, Jesus opened their minds and prepared them for Pentecost.  He walked with most of them to a place near Bethany where he was taken into Heaven.

Luke picks up the story again in Acts.

1-5 Dear Theophilus, in the first volume of this book I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together, he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.”

When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”

7-8 He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”

9-11 These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”

 

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Friday, June 6, 1 Corinthians Chapter 1

I will be using the work of Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, for much of this study on the letter to Corinth

Paul wrote this letter about 55 AD in his third year at Ephesus.  It is the longest of all his letters and is written to the church in the largest city in Greece.  It was a troubled church and Paul had to address several issues, most of which still plague churches today.

Corinth as a city had its own problems, starting with the population of 250,000 free people and 400,000 slaves.  It was a city built on commerce, primarily shipping of goods.  The city controlled two ports on either side of the narrow north-south isthmus connecting the two main portions of the nation.  Because it was cheaper, faster, and safer to stop at one harbor and haul the goods overland seven miles to the other harbor that is how Corinth made a living and why they needed all those slaves.

In ancient times, the term to Corinthianize was a common expression to describe sexual immorality.  The city was a sailor’s paradise.  It is little wonder the church faced problems.

Do not skip the first nine verses.  Notice in the greeting that God has a will and he is our Father.  In the Prayer of Thanksgiving, God extends grace and is faithful.

Notice in the same nine verses what we learn about Jesus: he calls Apostles, makes the Corinthians holy, gives all believers his name, extends grace and peace, is a source of thanksgiving, is a testimony available to the church, sustains his followers as guiltless, and he is the Son of God creating a unique fellowship with God.

Look again at the eight things said about the believing community: the church has apostles and brothers & sisters; they are mad holy and called to be saints; they (& we) are called by the name of Jesus; they received grace and peace; the grace is a source of thanksgiving; they are enriched by speech, knowledge and all spiritual gifts; they will be sustained guiltless to the end; and they are called into the fellowship of God’s Son.

You want to look back at Acts 18:17 and the attack on Paul by Sosthenes.  Having lost the case in court, he was beaten by his fellow Jews in front of the court while the Roman guards watched.  It seems likely that Paul would have taken the occasion to visit Sosthenes to provide whatever support he might.  It is further possible that the Sosthenes cited as co-author is the same man.  We do not know one way or the other, but I like the story.

What is pertinent is that Sosthenes, whichever one he was, was a Corinthian, so would loan Paul his hometown credence in the letter, making Paul less of an outsider.

Now Paul in verse 10 moves into the first problem; divisions.  Paul always starts with positives; this time with three: Jesus is Lord, no divisions, must unite.  Then he matches those with three negatives: there is quarreling, Is Christ divided, who was crucified for you?

The Greek word for quarreling is Eris, who was the Greek goddess who stirs up wars, probably because her brother was Aris, the god of war.  The point is Paul uses the strongest word possible to describe the division in the church.

Paul names Chloe, so she must have been secure enough not to worry about people being upset that she told Paul what was going on.  However, Paul uses a neat ID test for the main groups in the fight: Paul, Apollos, and Cephas.  What was happening was the age old struggle of:  who is more important.  Corinth was a Roman colony, and the Romans held all the political and much of the economic power.  The Greeks were second class, but still financially successful.  Everyone else, including the Jews were third class.  So, Paul, a Roman citizen represented the first class, Apollos, who was Greek, represented the second class, and Peter, named Cephas here, represented the third class.  All were on the Titanic fighting for the life boats.

To fight the holier-than-thou attitudes (I am closer to God because I am Roman [or American]), Paul brings out the big guns, baptism and the Cross of Christ.  It does not matter who baptized you, we are all equal on the Cross of Christ.

The message of the Cross is foolishness, the very foolishness of Jesus choosing to allow himself to be brutally executed.  The same foolishness that accepts Americans and Iranians to be equals.  There are no second class Christians.  We are all baptized into the Cross of Christ.

Verse 22 is at the center of Paul’s point in this section.  Signs and wisdom have not brought people closer to God.  Only the Cross of Christ can do that.

With 26 to the end, Paul strengthens his point that God is strong, man is weak.  Only through Christ can we have hope.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Not Of This World

Image courtesy of Idea Go FreeDigitalPhotos.net                                  Image courtesy of Idea Go FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

To follow Jesus means living in a different world.  There are people of other religions who meditate so that they can leave this world behind and ascend to the true spirit life.  There are also those who try to leave this world by using drugs and alcohol.  There are many ways people use to try to leave this world.

For Christians, it is about leaving this world by staying in it.  God is the God of paradox.  To have life we must die.  To be first we must be last.  To be free we must be a slave.  To know heaven we must live on earth.

Next Sunday is Pentecost when the followers received the Power of the Holy Spirit.  Today we see them gathered together in preparation.  They are in the world ready, and now eager, to begin the work that Jesus set before them.  They know that there are people in great need who want to know God, who need love, who need to be healed.  They are ready and eager.

Share the Good News.  The words of Peter in The Message:  You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Luke 16-20

Luke 15:11-12 - The Prodigal Son - Scene 01 - Young son leaves home

Monday, May 26, Chapter 16

Forget the breaks between the Father’s lost sons and this parable about a double-dealing estate manager.  Jesus and Luke intended for them to go together.  Here are five things they have in common.  1) Each has a noble master who demonstrates extraordinary grace to the wayward underling.  2) Both stories contain an ignoble underling who wastes the master’s resources.  3) In each the wayward underling reaches a moment of truth regarding those losses.  4) In both cases the underling throws himself on the mercy of the noble master.  5) Both parables deal with broken trust and the problems resulting from it.  (Adapted from Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.)

This parable does not glorify dishonesty.  It glorifies the Mercy of God.  We should do all that we can to please God so that we can receive his Mercy.

In verse 10 Jesus erases any notion that a thief is a good person.  There is an old Palestinian saying that sin will wedge itself between selling and buying.  1 Timothy 6:9-11:  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

In verses 16-18 Jesus is saying that the Law of God is in full effect.  We cannot change it.  In verse 18 he gives the example of divorce, a law that the Pharisees changed by allowing remarriage.

This is a difficult area for us to try to understand the mind of God.  Divorce is a sin. Killing is a sin.  Having sexual relations with the same sex is a sin.  All of these sins belong to all of us.  Married people often think their lives would be better without the spouse.  That is the same as getting a divorce.  Killing in a war or even thinking bad thoughts about a person is murder.  The fleeting thought that the other person looks pretty good is a sin.

What we do is come closer to the right relationship with God.  We never get there; we continue to violate the Law, to sin.

The Jesus begins the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  First, a word about Lazarus:  This is the only time Jesus names any person in a parable and the name means God Helps.

We are sure most of the listeners would have felt the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer described them.  Look at poor Lazarus, at how he is lying scorned before the rich man’s doorstep, and then look at how he receives God’s consolation with Abraham.  Blessed are you, you poor, for the kingdom of God is yours…. 

But now we must listen to quite a few shocked objections before we continue.

If something in the New Testament really sounds as rough as what we just said, you have to take it and spiritualize it.  We call that “sublimating,” that is, refining, elevating, spiritualizing, moralizing.  It’s not just simply the physically poor who are blessed and the physically rich who would be damned.  But the main thing is always what a person’s attitude is toward his poverty and toward his wealth….

That is precisely the frightening thing about this story—there is no moralizing here at all, but simply talk of poor and rich and of the promise and the threat given to the one and the other….

We must end this audacious, sanctimonious spiritualization of the gospel….

But a look at the Gospels shows us what is different here.  Jesus calls the poor blessed, but he does heal them, too, already here.  Yes, the kingdom of God is at hand, for the blind see and the lame walk.  He takes suffering so seriously that in a moment he must destroy it….

Up until now we have spoken of these two as if they actually had nothing to do with each other.  That is obviously not the case.  Lazarus lies in front of the rich man’s doorstep, and it is the poverty of Lazarus that makes the rich man rich, just as the wealth of the other man makes Lazarus poor….  In death the rich man is no longer rich, and the poor man no longer poor.  There they are one and the same….

Who is Lazarus? You know it yourself:  Your poorer brother or sister who cannot cope with life’s out ward or its spiritual aspects, often foolish, often impudent, often pushy, often godless, but yet endlessly needy and—whether knowing it or not—suffering, who craves the crumbs from under your table.  You may think with a little self-pity that you yourself are Lazarus….  Who is Lazarus?  Always the other one, the crucified Christ himself, who meets you in the form of a thousand people you would look down upon….

And now we must ask again:  Who is Lazarus?  And here at the end, in all humility, the last possibility must be considered, at the limits of all human and divine possibilities:  We are all Lazarus before God.  The rich man, too, is Lazarus.  He is the poor leper before God.  And only when we know that we are all Lazarus, because we all live through the mercy of God, do we see Lazarus in our neighbor.

Tuesday, May 27, Chapter 17

This first verse is one time when the King James is a bit closer to the Greek:  Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It is 100% certain that temptations to sin will occur for every human.  They occurred for Jesus just as often.  Do not be the one to create temptation.

Do not judge but help your fellow Christians.  We are expected to discuss what we believe is sin in the life of a brother or sister in Christ.

The Apostles asked that their faith be increased, made larger, not understanding that faith is either/or, on or off.  We can be stronger in our faith, meaning we will doubt ourselves less, but the faith is sufficient, weak or strong.

The short parable in verse 7 is a caution against acting like the Pharisees.  The short version is that we are servants of God and our work is never done.  We can take no credit for our work; it is our Master who gets all the credit.

This fact is acted out in the account of the Ten Lepers.  Here is part of a sermon by Joseph Novak given on November 20, 2012.

The great 20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but gratitude.  He once wrote, “What else can we say to what God gives us but stammering praise of the gift and its Giver?”

“To be or not to be?”  is life’s ultimate question according to Hamlet, but for Christians, the main question is, “to give thanks or not to give thanks?”  In our relationship to the Holy God, we as humans have one posture, one job, one vocation to live into:  thanksgiving….

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was traveling through the area between Samaria and Galilee. This is already an odd story, since Samaritans and Jews got along about as well as Protestants and Catholics in Ireland….

But here we are, Jesus walking the no-man’s land between Samaria and Galilee. And he enters a village for some unnamed reason. And as he does so, a small leper community, living on the outskirts of the town, away from the clean villagers, sees him with his disciples. And, keeping their distance, they call out to him: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”….

And Jesus, seeing them, calls back: “Go show yourselves to the priest.”….

And as they go, the text says, they were made clean. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Be healed”, he didn’t touch them and say, “You are clean.” Instead, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”….

Excited about receiving an answer to our prayers, we are often guilty of grabbing the blessing and running. We asked God for help to pay our bills….  And just as soon as the answer was in hand, just as soon as that check came in the mail… We just rush onto the next thing. It’s as if we say, “Well, I guess that prayer-thing works” or “Well, I deserved it, anyway” and we move on….

One of them, noticing his clean skin, turns back, and heads in the opposite direction. Heads away from the priest, away from his triumphant return to society, away from his reunion with family and friends, away from a feast at his father’s home, and instead he goes to Christ, praising God in a loud voice.

Perhaps his eyes are tear-filled, his throat open and singing those words from the thirtieth psalm: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent! O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”  In any case, he gets to Christ and he falls at his feet, laying down on his belly, extending his arms toward him and the text says, “he thanked him.” And the text goes on to say rather pointedly, “And he was a Samaritan.”

Luke now returns us to the conflict with the Pharisees when one asked about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ answer can be disturbing; it is here, now, and in us.  Do not wait for the Kingdom; live in it now by doing the will of God.

To the disciples he adds that we are not to think about the return of the Messiah.  We are to live as though it has already happened.  He adds another prediction of his crucifixion, the fifth of six in Luke:  9:22; 9:44; 12:50; 13:32: 17:25; and 18:32-33.

The problem is that people now are like people in the days of Noah; they were not paying attention to God.  When the bad times come, we cannot worry for ourselves.  We must continue to live the life of love for others.

The disciples ask, “Where will the judgment take place?”  The answer is simple.  “Anyone who is not with God is dead.”

Wednesday, May 28, Chapter 18

The parable of the Persistent Widow is built on the powerful force in the Middle East:  shame.  The woman appears before the judge until she shames him into listening to her plea.  That is the lesser point of the traditional Jewish style of teaching used by Jesus.  The greater point is that God will listen to our prayers

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is based on Isaiah 65:1-7.  Pharisees had a habit of avoiding anyone who was not a Pharisee so as not to be contaminated by the unclean common people.  They also liked to pray loudly in public so people would be impressed with their piety.

Jesus contrasted the two in prayer and announced the tax collector forgiven.  Kenneth E. Bailey added this detail.  Both the Pharisee and the tax collector are standing in front of the great high altar on which a lamb, without blemish, has just been sacrificed for the sins of Israel.  The tax collector stands far off, apart from the worshipers gathered around the altar, and watches the sacrifice of the lamb.  He listens to the blowing of the silver trumpets and the great clash of the cymbals, hears the reading of the psalm and watches the blood splashed on the sides of the altar.  He sees the priest disappear inside the temple to offer incense before God.  Shortly afterward, the priest reappears announcing that the sacrifice has been accepted and Israel’s sins washed away be the atoning sacrifice of the lamb.  The trumpets blow again, and the incense wafts to heaven.  The great choir sings, and the tax collector, distraught and beating his chest, stands far off and cries out, “O Lord, make an atonement for me, a sinner!”

Jesus emphasized the fact that he has come for everyone even children who cannot be expected to understand what the Kingdom is about.

When the rich ruler asked about inheriting eternal life his question suggested that he was in control; that he simply had to do one thing and he would get his reward.  Jesus did not say it directly, but his comments about being good hint to the fact that Jesus is the only human who deserves to be in the Kingdom of God.  There is nothing you and I can do to deserve the Kingdom.

Jesus gives the man a practical response:  you must love me more than your money.  Then he adds the famous words about needles and camels.  This is a typical Jewish contrast; the largest beast in the region with the smallest opening know to them.  The point is obvious, it will not happen.

In verse 27 Jesus softens the statement a bit; it is possible for God to put a camel through the eye of a needle and He can put us into the Kingdom.  Those who follow Jesus will already be in the Kingdom.

Jesus gives his last prediction of his death.

The chapter closes with the healing of the blind beggar.  Two times in the Gospels, Jesus is called Son of David, the other being by a Phoenician woman in Matthew 15:21.  A gentile and a blind man recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Why, in verse 41, did Jesus ask such an obvious question?  Probably to have the man say to the crowd that he wants to see.  Jesus has been giving difficult lessons.  Now he will heal a man who will see and understand.

Thursday, May 29, Chapter 19

For a fresh look at the account of Zacchaeus, let us read Ambrose (370 AD):  Zacchaeus in the sycamore; the blind man by the wayside.  The Lord waits for the one to have mercy on him and honors the other with the radiance of his visit.  He questions the one before healing him and attends the other’s house as an uninvited guest.  He knew that his host’s reward was to be rich.  Although Christ had not yet heard his voice of invitation, he has heard his good will.

Also Jerome (400 AD):  There certainly is much truth in a certain saying of a philosopher, “Every rich man is either wicked or the heir of wickedness.”  That is why the Lord and Savior says that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Someone may raise the objection, “How did wealthy Zacchaeus enter the kingdom of heaven?”  He gave away his wealth and immediately replaced it with the riches of the heavenly kingdom.

One more, this from Cyril of Alexandria (420 AD):  The story contains a puzzle.  In no other way can a person see Christ and believe in him except by climbing up into the sycamore, by making foolish his earthly members.

The parable of the ten minas describes the return of the Messiah, the Second Coming.  A mina was worth 100 days’ pay and the nobleman left ten of them in the story.  Verse 14 is aimed at those who oppose Jesus.  In the nobleman’s statement, until I come back, the Greek word, enho, can mean either until or because.  It seems likely that Jesus was thinking of because in his own case; Because I will return.

Notice that the servants who did well are rewarded with more work.

The servant who hid his mina is punished, teaching us that we are to work until the Messiah returns.

This parable of a nobleman who became a king is followed by the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  In ancient times throughout the Middle East, a king rode a horse to war and a donkey when coming peacefully.  There are several references in the Old Testament of kings riding donkeys, including Solomon and David.

Jesus came in peace.

In verse 37 Luke makes clear that the disciples were singing and praising Jesus.  They were even rebuked for it.  Jesus’ answer is right out of Habakkuk 2:11; The stones of the wall will cry out.

Check out 1 Kings 8:11; Jeremiah 9:1; Numbers 11:13; Judges 11:37; Deuteronomy 28:36; Isaiah 29:3; Jeremiah 6:6; and Ezekiel 4:2.

The end of the chapter has Jesus clearing the court of the improper activities that clutter up the House of God.  See Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11

Friday, May 30, Chapter 20

This opening battle between the Temple authorities and Jesus gives us great insight into the authority of Jesus.  The learned men of the Temple were correct in believing that Jesus had not been consecrated by the High Priest or trained by a great rabbi.  He did not even live in Jerusalem or Judea, but in Galilee.  None of his credentials would have impressed those men; rather they would have been inclined to stone him at once:  I was consecrated by God, in fact, I am His Son.

Since they were there only to spring a trap, Jesus slid the trap back to them un-sprung, but baited with a different question.

But what is authority?  Is it important?  Think about a baby, totally dependent on others, gradually learning that the dependence is a good thing.  Even as we strike out on our own, we take the information learned with us.  We are attracted to people who wield authority in the way we are used to seeing it.  Humans do not do well without authorities to lead us.

Jesus accepts authority; he rejects invalid authority.  In reality Jesus does answer their question by presenting them with John.  In the words of Paul Tillich:  He tells the leaders of His nation, you see the rise of an authority without ritual or legal foundation.  But you deny the possibility of it.  So you deny both the Baptist and myself.  You deny the possibility of an authority guaranteed by its inner power.  You have forgotten that the only test of the prophets was the power of what they had to say.  Listen to what the people say about us, namely, that we speak with authority and not as you, who are called the “authorities.”  That is what He tells them….

Even the authority of Jesus the Christ is not the consecrated image of the man who rules as a dictator, but it is the authority of him who emptied himself of all authority; it is the authority of the man on the Cross….

And you who are fighting against authorities and you who are searching for authorities, listen to the story in which Jesus fights against them and establishes an authority which cannot be established!  Here is an answer, namely, that no answer can be given except the one that, beyond all preliminary authorities, you must keep yourselves open to the power of Him who is the ground and the negation of everything which is authority on earth and in Heaven!…

The authority of Jesus is of a man who gave up all authority on a Cross.

The Parable of the Tenants is a retelling of Isaiah 5:1-7, the last verse being:

 Do you get it? The vineyard of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    is the country of Israel.
All the men and women of Judah
    are the garden he was so proud of.
He looked for a crop of justice
    and saw them murdering each other.
He looked for a harvest of righteousness
    and heard only the moans of victims.

The Hebrew word for stone is eben.  The Hebrew word for son is ben.  The eben the builders rejected is the ben.  Check out Psalm 118:22-23 and Isaiah 8:14-15.

The authorities returned with another trap.  Assuming the Messiah would oppose paying any taxes to a foreign government, they hoped to get him arrested by the Romans.

Asking them for a coin was a nice touch; it proved they carried foreign currency in violation of strict Jewish rules.  But that was not the main point.  We have to give our governments their due, but much more importantly, we must give everything to God.  Prepare yourselves; the authorities will make one more attempt to trick Jesus.

The attempt by the Sadducees is bizarre because they did not believe in life after death.  They believed only in the Torah, the first five books, and the power of the Temple sacrifices.  Yet, here they were trying to trip Jesus with another impossible question.  This is their only mention in Luke.

Jesus throws a couple of statements at them he knows they do not accept; the worthy will be resurrected and be like angels.  They also rejected the angels.  But Jesus went on with the account of Moses and the burning bush.  Since they believed the Torah, they were more likely to accept Exodus 3:6.

As an aside, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls records that King David wrote 3,600 Psalms and another 450 writings.  There is likely some truth in that.

Psalm 110:1,4 along with 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Malachi 3:1, and Micah 5:2 all promise a descendant of David to be the Messiah, though Samuel speaks first of Solomon.

Using the passage in Psalm 110 Jesus gives his enemies something to chew on.  To his disciples, he says, do not trust any of them.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Spirit of Truth

 Image courtesy of Victor Habbick FreeDigitalPhotos.net   Image courtesy of Victor Habbick FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Peter says, do not be frightened.  He is not talking about walking through a mine field or facing a pit viper.  Fear is a natural response that has kept humans alive for millennium.  What we need not fear is facing those who oppose Christianity.

We do need to be sure we are doing good in God’s sight.  Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the rest will take care of itself.

Why?  Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus lived with us as a human.  He, for 33 years, was not God.  He was born without sin, untouched by that blemish.  He continued to his last breath to remain loyal to God.  He was tempted over and over, even when, especially when he was minutes away from death.

Jesus told us that we can ask for anything and God will grant it.  Why did Jesus not ask God to at least make the pain disappear?  Why not ask for an easier death?  Why not ask for the same treatment Elijah received?

Because it was not God’s plan.  We tend to forget that part.  Asking God for what we want is not what it is about.  Asking God for what God wants for us is what Jesus had in mind.

The God who created the universe, who did all those things Paul described to the Athenians, also sent His Holy Spirit, His Essence to live with us.  That is why Paul could say, he is not far from each one of us.

Jesus words from The Message:  If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Luke 11-15

origin_4654599511   Courtesy of Stephen Cuyos

Monday, May 19, Chapter 11

What a way to start the week, with the Lord’s Prayer.  First, forget the prayer most of us memorized; it came from Matthew.

Luke does not even bother with our; just Father will do.  Jesus wants us to think of his Father as our Father.  Jesus even called him Daddy.

Having started on familiar terms, add hallowed.  It means:  holy, sanctified, blessed, consecrated, deified, sacred, revered, respected.  God is our Father, but He is beyond our knowing.  He has created and continues to create a universe that we can see (perhaps others we cannot see) that contains millions of trillions of stars, planets, asteroids, black holes, and at least seven billion humans.  Show Him respect.

Your Kingdom.  That is what we long for, whether we realize it or not.  Every one of the seven billion people want that Kingdom.  Let it come

Give us our daily bread; daily, like the manna.  Bread, as in the Bread of Life.  Give us the Bread and Water of Jesus, daily.  We need it EVERY day.

We sin.  That is a given.  That is who we are; sinners living in a sin filled universe.  If we could travel a million light years to another planet, it would be the same.  As beautiful and awesome as this universe is, it is not perfect, nor are we.  Father, forgive our sins.

But, better yet, forgive all those other eight billion people.  We all need Your forgiveness and Your Love.  Help me to forgive them too.

I am easily tempted.  Things that are bad look so good.  Give me strength to avoid what is hurtful.

That is it.  The ending we remember from Matthew was added centuries later.  It sounds good so do not worry about saying it, but it is not necessary.  In fact, when we pray, ninety percent of the time we say too much.  Most of our prayer time should be spent listening to our Father.

Notice that Luke places this lesson on prayer just after Mary and Martha’s different approaches to working in the Kingdom.  As we know from Acts, taking care of the day-to-day activities in the fellowship of believers involves such chores as taking out the trash.  Martha was doing what she did best.

But Mary was closer to the eternal things.  We cannot allow the business of living to distract us from the eternal.

With the eternal in mind, consider the parable of the friend at midnight.  It is about prayer so we should look to the prayer Jesus just gave as an example.  Go back over the things Jesus suggested we pray for.  Notice the lack of big houses and fancy cars.  When we pray we need to focus on God, on things eternal.

Jesus warns us about failing to replace the bad with the good.  When we make the decision to change our ways we cannot be satisfied to just get rid of the old ways, we must put Jesus’ ways in their places.  Evil will find the empty spots in our lives and take over.  I have to have Christ-like relationships with my spouse, my kids, my co-workers, my friends, my enemies.

This is a wicked generation.  Those words could be spoken of every generation, but Jesus was issuing a warning to his own people in his own time.  Jonah was in the ‘grave’ for three days.  That is the sign his people will get.  Jesus is saying, the Queen of the South (Sheba) believed in God because of Solomon and the Ninevites believed in God because of Jonah, why will you not believe in God because of me?  Notice too that the Queen and the Ninevites were both gentiles.

The eye beholds light.  If the eye is covered with sin, it will not see the light.

The six woes are patterned after the prophets.  See Isaiah 1:10:17.  The key word in all is justice.

Tuesday, May 20, Chapter 12

With the large crowds, Jesus warned his disciples not to become impressed.  They were no doubt smiling and thinking that Jesus was well on his way to taking the throne of David with them as his loyal lieutenants. The prophets were killed, John the Baptizer was killed, do not expect different treatment.  The word in verse 5 for hell is Gehenna, referring to the valley on the east side of the Temple where the garbage was dumped, along with criminals and the unclaimed.

The Parable of the Rich Fool is based on a specific request made to Jesus to act as the judge in a dispute between two brothers.  Most likely their father died without a will and the older brother was not willing to share with his younger brother.  It was normal in the case of two boys for the younger to be given one half to one-third of the estate.

The younger brother is asking for justice.  Jesus responds with a parable.  Your answer, younger brother, do not concentrate on things of this earth.  For Jews of the First Century the body and soul were one; they could not be separated.  What our bodies do affects our souls.

The statement about eating and drinking was not the problem.  That was based on Ecclesiastes 8:15; So, I’m all for just going ahead and having a good time—the best possible. The only earthly good men and women can look forward to is to eat and drink well and have a good time—compensation for the struggle for survival these few years God gives us on earth.  The problem was that the rich man never considered other people, never considered, as Augustine wrote, that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.

We always have to ask ourselves, have I put away the right amount of money for college, for starting that business, for retirement?  It is not easy to know how much is needed.

In verse 22 Jesus states two common concerns, eating and clothing, then responds to the first in verse 24 and the second in verse 27.  Jesus is not telling us not to eat or wear clothes.  He is telling us that what we have is enough, if we are close to God.

We need to willingly share what we have with those who have little.  The only treasure we need to consider storing is Kingdom Treasure.

Verse 35 begins a section on the need to prepare for Christ’s second coming.  To enter the Kingdom of God requires first entering the Kingdom of Service.

Verse 51 is often a stumbling block.  Of course Jesus brings peace to the earth.  The Message puts it this way, Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!  Jesus demands that people make decisions.  We cannot join the Kingdom if we remain rooted in the world.  The world does not like the peace that Jesus brings.

Wednesday, May 21, Chapter 13

In 1934 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was pastor of a church of German speaking people living in London.  The sermon was delivered just a week after the SS killed several hundred of Hitler’s followers, mostly those leaders of the SA, the Brown Shirts.

He used the first five verses of this chapter as his text.  Perhaps this text frightens you, and you think it sounds only too much like the news of the day—too dangerous for a worship service…. But it can never do any good to fool oneself into ignoring the truth….

Let us take a simple example:  suppose we see an accident happen in the street.  We see someone get run over.  We are unspeakably shocked and stand there stunned for a moment.  But then our first thought is:  Whose fault is it?….  Human beings are moralists through and through.  They want to accuse one person and exonerate the other.  They want to be the judges of what happens….

It is immeasurably valuable for us that Luke—alone among the gospel writers—has preserved for us the report of how Jesus reacted to such news of a catastrophe that had hit his country, a sensation for the newspapers, we might say, and what he had to say about it….

And now Jesus begins by joining them in the idea that in any case one cannot separate God from this terrible event….  But this very thought, that the hand of God is in this, means for Jesus something entirely different from what it means for public opinion.

Jesus does not say which side is right….  Jesus says No to the devout, he says No to their attempt to deal with this dreadful event by judging….  God is at work here….this is God’s holy mystery, and human beings are not meant to presume upon it.

Jesus said, Unless you repent, you too will all parish.

Jesus follows that call for repentance with the fig tree.  The fig is a common image of Israel.  Here, Jesus is saying that this wicked generation has not produced fruit for the Kingdom, but God will give more time to repent.

The crippled woman in the synagogue was just like the fig tree, bent and unable to bear fruit.  Jesus did something that stunned everyone in the room, he called the woman forward.  When a man entered the synagogue, he went to the front while his wife sat in the back.  A Pharisee would not even walk to the synagogue with his wife, nor would he look at her in public.

Jesus called on a woman he did not know and brought her into the men’s section of the synagogue.  He said to her, you have been untied.  And then he touched her.

To the hypocrites he said, you will untie a donkey on the Sabbath, why not untie a woman?

Luke several times has Jesus give pairs of parables, one with a man and the other with a woman.  Here Jesus takes two items so small as to be overlooked, showing how they become huge.  The Kingdom grows from the little things.

The narrow door is a clear teaching that getting into the Kingdom of God is not an easy thing.  In verse 26 he has the people saying, but we listened to you teaching in the streets.  It is not enough, you must respond in repentance.

Jesus is invited to stay away from Jerusalem, probably to avoid upsetting the Romans.  But Jesus points out that a prophet must die in Jerusalem.  Go tell that fox….  Jesus is ready for a fight.  Today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.  I am on my way to die and you cannot stop me.

Thursday, May 22, Chapter 14

Luke seems to go out of his way to record Jesus eating with Pharisees and healing people on the Sabbath.  No doubt it happened, but Luke seemed to see it as significant.  Here, Jesus is probably set up, again, with a man with dropsy, a swelling of the arms and legs from excess fluids.  Without much fanfare he heals the man and sends him on his way.

The lesson comes with the question, would you save your son?  There is only one possible answer and they cannot bring themselves to agree with Jesus, so they remain quiet.  Jesus then points out the seating arrangement and suggests none of us should assume we are the center of attraction.  He concludes the parable by suggesting service to those in need, if only to serve a meal.

One of the Pharisees thought to redirect Jesus’ thinking by referring to the Kingdom of God.  Jesus pulled out another parable about a banquet.  Do you want to eat at the banquet table in the Kingdom of God?  If so, you need to repent your ways.

The teaching of Jesus was in direct conflict with traditional teaching about the banquet of God in the Kingdom of God.  The Targum was the most important commentary on the Scriptures of the time.  In it we read, Yahweh of hosts will make for all the people in this mountain a meal.  And although they supposed it is an honor, it will be a shame for them and great plagues, plagues from which they will be unable to escape, plagues whereby they will come to their end.  The expectation was that only the most devout Jews had any hope of entering heaven.  No one else need apply.

The Book of Enoch, one of the most important books aside from Scripture in the First Century, described a banquet in which gentiles were present only to be slaughtered.  The saved Jews had to wade through their blood.  The writings of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran reject any possibility that a gentile could enter the Kingdom.  God would never allow a sinner or non-Jew into Heaven.

Jesus, in this parable, has God searching the streets for every beggar and thief to come into the Great Banquet.  Jews and Gentiles alike will sit together.

Connected to the theme of the banquet is the section starting at verse 25.  The only way to be a disciple is to love God more than anything or anyone.  Following Jesus involves giving up my personal rights, choices, desires, hopes and dreams.  We must be willing to pay the price.

 

Friday, May 23, Chapter 15

Luke has been leading up to this chapter since chapter 9 and he will provide similar events and lessons from chapter 16-19.  This chapter, then, is the center of a long lesson.  These three parables (stories) share the same four themes: joy, burden of restoration, gracious love, and repentance.

The lost sheep is an easy one for starters and sets the themes.  Nearly everyone in Jesus’ day had some understanding of sheep and shepherds.  Sheep were sacrificed by the thousands every day and provided the bulk of what little meat the average person ate in a week (generally one day a week only).

A young shepherd by the name of Muhammad ed-Deeb counted the goats in his care at 11 in the morning and saw that one was missing.  He left the other 55 goats in the care of his two assistants to search for the missing one.  He noticed the mouth of a cave on the cliff below him and thought the goat might have gotten in it.  Throwing a rock into the cave he heard a hollow thunk.  Investigating, he discovered the first of thousands of Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946.

The lost coin has a woman featured again.  It is the same idea as the lost sheep.  We will search for what is valuable to us.

The two stories are the introduction to the gem.  This parable should be called the two lost sons because the older son is just as lost as the younger.

This story is filled with images that strengthen its meaning.  Normally, a son would receive property only when the father died, so the son is really saying, “I wish you were dead, give me my share.”  The son turned his back on his people and the village would have held a qesasah, a kind of disowning of the young man.  To them he was dead.

To strengthen that image, Jesus has the youth go far away to a gentile country where he ends up feeding the most disgusting animals alive for Jews.  There are two types of carob pods in the Middle East.  One is sweet and sold even today as treats.  The other cannot be digested by humans, even if they could stand to eat it.

Verse 17 does not describe repentance, only a change in strategy.  In verse 18 he designs a crafty opening line sure to please the old man.  In verse 19 he sounds contrite by saying he is willing to give up being a son.  That happened with the qesasah.  He will become a hired man, not a slave, so he can earn enough money to leave again.  The boy is still thinking he is in control.

Now Jesus really throws some curve balls in the story.  The father is standing on the roof of the house (I know it does not say that, but it could be) and he runs to meet the son.  Throughout the Middle East then and now, no male over the age of 12 runs in public (though now it is done for soccer and other sports); un-hurried and dignified at all times, something like the old English stiff upper lip.  To add to the disgrace the father heaps on himself, he has to pull up his gown to run, exposing his lower legs in public.

The father runs to get to the son before the villagers have a chance to stone the boy for daring to return from the dead.  By kissing the boy, in public, he acknowledges him to everyone that the boy is his much loved son.

We can be sure that the father was a man of some wealth in the village just from the list of items given to the son.  Jesus’ listeners would have understood that the robe was the special one that the father wore on occasions of importance; the ring was the signet ring used to mark important documents and the fatted calf was a prize only the wealthy could afford.  All these things told both the villagers in the story and Jesus’ listeners that the son was to be treated as though he were the father.

The calf along announced to the whole village that there was to be a party.  A wealthy man might have a lamb or goat roasted for a special meal for family and a few guests, but a calf would have twenty times as much meat, enough for everyone.

We are not told of the younger son’s response, but it is easy to assume he dropped his pretense and genuinely repented.

The older son now comes into the scene, probably having been in the fields overseeing the work to be done on what was left of his father’s property (probably two-thirds).   He refuses to enter the house, a major insult to his father.  His father embarrasses himself again by going out to his son.  Those were the days when sons obeyed their parents.

The son equates himself to a slave instead of the number one son and builds a case against the rebellious son, possibly thinking of  Deuteronomy 21:18-21:  If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him,  his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.  They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.”  Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.  He heaps more shame on his father by refusing to do his duty as the elder son, to be the host of the party so his honored father can enjoy his guests.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence