Category Archives: Lectionary

A Thief is Saved

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

Δε και is a Greek phrase often used by Luke to link segments of his writing.  It is found at the beginning of Chapter 16, so links the current story with the preceding story, or stories.  In chapter 15 we read the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the famous lost son, or prodigal son.  Therefore, we should understand that Jesus simply went on in the same theme.  Put simply, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager has the same theme as the other three parables.

But if you read Jeremiah and Psalms, you might wonder how they might be connected to the theme of God saving the lost.  Or for that matter, what saving the lost has to do with a dishonest manager.

Paul gives us some help in his missive to young Timothy who was working the difficult mission in Ephesus.  To pull it from the middle of the sentence, God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved.  That is the theme.  God wants every human to join Him in His New Jerusalem.

The problem is that we all sin.  Thus, Jeremiah records his own fears for the people.  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.  God had said in 8:13, What I have given them will be taken from them.  Jeremiah knew the suffering the people would soon experience and he wept for them.  But when we complete the reading of Jeremiah, we realize that he also knows that the suffering is a just punishment meant to force his people to return to the Ways of God.

We are fond of Psalms 23, 19, 117, and many others because they praise God and thank Him for His wonderful care.  79 is a bitter pill.  It was sung in the Temple to remind the people that God can and will punish evil.  It was particularly a reminder of the bitterness of the long captivity in the hands of Assyria and Babylon.  Yet, even here, we have the theme.  May your mercy come quickly to meet us. 

So what do we make of the rascal of a steward?  First, he has a great deal in common with the people carried into captivity.  He is a sinner.  His master has called him to account.  He is facing prison or slavery for himself and his family.  He finds himself on the way to Assyria.

As we know from the reading, that is not what happed.  For reasons the steward cannot understand, the master simply fired him.  “I cannot have a crook keeping my books.”  We modern Americans understand that position.  Send him down the road to fend for himself.  Neither would we be surprised if the employer filed criminal charges.

In Jesus day, firing the steward was unheard of.  Yet again, Jesus takes a common experience and stands it on its head.  I wonder how often people listened to Jesus, thinking he was going to say one thing, when he suddenly says the wrong thing, and they are turning to their neighbors asking, “What did he say?  Did he really mean that?”

Yes, he meant that.  The land owner fired his steward without sending him to prison, requiring him to pay back the stolen money, or selling him into slavery to pay him back.

Don’t get the idea it was all sweetness and light.  Once word got out he had been fired, the steward could never get another job; no one would trust him again.  He and his family would probably starve to death.  So he took advantage of the master’s soft head, or heart.  Without bothering to deny or haggle the issue, another common feature of the times, he rushed to get two of the larger tenet farmers to come to him and had them reduce their debts to the landowner by five hundred denarii each, about eighteen months wages for a worker.  Then he turned in the books demanded by the master.

This is where the story takes another twist when Jesus turns a thief into a hero.  The common people listening would have loved it, being David and Goliath, or the more modern Robin Hood.  By this time, the whole town is buzzing with the great gift the wealthy landowner has granted to the two men.  They are not talking about the dismissed steward.  The landowner knows he can never ask for the money to be returned.  The people would hate him instead of loving him.  He simply lets the man walk away, free and unpunished.

How is this like the lost sheep, coin, son?  In each, the mercy of God is at work.  Sheep are about the simplest minded animals on earth.  If one gets lost, it will stay lost until it is found.  Only by risking the herd can one shepherd find one lamb, yet he will take that risk.  The woman who has so few coins will expend great energy searching for the one that is lost.  The father who watched the road for his lost son and then disgraced himself by running through town like a mad-man to receive his son is perhaps the greatest expression of Grace except for the Cross itself.

There is an important addition in the current parable.  Grace is given to a thief who tricks his master and two renters.  He has not repented, but he avoids the suffering that is his due.  Jesus uses the common technique of lesser to greater.  If a wealthy landowner will allow grace to fall on an unrepentant thief, how much greater is the Grace of God?

The suffering predicted by Jeremiah was not as harsh as described.  God’s Grace returned His chosen to the land and prepared them for the coming Messiah.  It is by the Grace of God that the Jesus Messiah has once and for all bridged the gap caused by sin.  In spite of my sin, I can stand in the presence of God.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

God’s Patience

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

I spoke with Archangel Gaveriel in an effort to understand what Yahweh is doing with the Adams.  It is still confusing and I daresay I would have destroyed them long ago, but the One I serve is all knowing and I trust Him completely.

Gaveriel reminded me of Yahweh’s words to the Adams, that He would be faithful to them.  Yet, I remember Him saying, ‘What fools my people are!  They have no idea who I am.  A company of half-wits, dopes and donkeys all!’  Why does he waste His Preciousness on them?  I do not understand.

Gaveriel pointed out that even King David, a forerunner of Yahweh’s Son, said, Yahweh looks around to see ‘Useless, unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd.  The ninety and nine follow their fellow.’  Adam follows Adam instead of following Yahweh.  How can Yahweh care for them?  Even King David failed Him.  Why does Yahweh not do what He has promised to do?  He even allowed Jeremiah to catch a vision of it.  ‘I looked—this can’t be!  Not a man or woman in sight.’

No doubt!  Any Adam who does not turn back to Yahweh will be destroyed.  That is His promise.  The fire will burn away the evil of earth.  Nothing will be left but good, if there is any good to be found.

Yet, Gaveriel has pressed me on another point, Yahweh loves His Adams.  He desires all of them to be at his banquet table.  He wants the New Jerusalem to be filled with them.  He wants to spend eternity with them.

It is beyond my understanding.  Yahweh’s Son volunteered to become an Adam just so he could search out those who were lost and help them to see Yahweh again.  He suffered greatly for his effort, but I agree that their lives are changed.  Perhaps it was that very suffering that made it possible for the Adams to see God.  I have never known suffering, so it is difficult to judge.

Saul, or Paul as the Adams know him now, spoke of Grace.  As I understand it, an Adam who commits evil will be allowed into the New Jerusalem.  Only Yahweh and his Son seem to understand the policy.  Even Gaveriel was vague on it.  He said that the fires would burn away the murders committed by David and Paul and leave them otherwise untouched.  In some way that I do not understand, a sinner can now stand before Yahweh without the stain of sin.  There is something that the Son did, or does, that makes it possible.  I do not understand it.  I know it is true.  I trust Yahweh.

Quotes from The Message

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Can I be a slave too?

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

“Onesimus, I am sending you back to Philemon and you will carry a short letter from me.”

Master Paul, are you no longer happy with my work?”

“I keep telling you not to call me your master.  You are no longer a slave.”

“But if you send me back, I will be a slave to Master Philemon.”

“No, no, you are free in Christ and the equal of all who follow in the Way.  Philemon sees it that way as well.  You will return to work side by side with him in our true Master’s plans for you.”

“I like working with you and the others.  You are in prison and need me to bring you food and water.  Why are you sending me away?”

“Come, sit beside me and let us talk.  You were a good slave to Philemon, were you not?”  Onesimus shook his head in agreement.  “As I have said, you are no longer his slave and you are not my slave.”  Onesimus wasn’t sure which way to shake his head.  “But you have been teaching me what it is to be a slave.” Now Onesimus looked doubtful.  “Oh, yes.  I grew up in a house with slaves to wait on me.  I took them for granted.  I had no understanding of what it was about.  You have taught me important lessons.”

“There is nothing to being a slave.”

“Of course there is.  I have learned to take orders, to look out for others first.  I know now how hard it can be to work when others are resting or having a good time.  I even have to do dangerous things when my Master tells me to.”

“You are in jail now because God wanted you here.”

“That is right.  I take my orders from God, so I am a slave too.  That is why we are the same, you and I.  We are both slaves of Jesus.  Remember what God’s prophet, Jeremiah wrote, ‘If someone goes astray, doesn’t he turn back?’  Jesus is always showing me the true way.  When I stray, all I need to do is look to Jesus and the way is clear.”

“You never stray.”

“Onesimus, I stray every day, but Jesus always brings me back.  I am a slave who has to be constantly watched and corrected.  All too often, I want to do please myself instead of pleasing God.  God wants me to serve Him and everyone else first.  You know how hard that is.  You used to wake Philemon in the morning and still be working for him after he was asleep for the night.  You were a good slave to him and you are a good slave to Jesus.  You always think of others first.  That is a hard lesson to learn.  Jesus said that we must be willing to give up our father and mother to follow him.  We must even be willing to give up our lives for him.  Being his slave is not easy, but he makes it easy because our reward is great; the reward of life with God forever.”

Onesimus shook his head in agreement.  “I will return as you request and I will continue to be a slave beside Philemon.”

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

On Broken Cisterns

Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

 were in important element of life in the dryer parts of the country as they were throughout the dry parts of the world.  They are found in all sizes and shapes, but in the US were generally the size of a bedroom in a farm house.  To make a cistern, you need to dig a hole six to ten feet deep and about the same on all sides.  The walls have to be covered with concrete or something else that will hold the water in.  It’s a little like building a small swimming pool, except the top has to be covered as well.  Every roof needs gutters feeding rain water into pipes that run into the cistern.

You may know that the Temple platform in Jerusalem has a number of cisterns dug into the solid rock of the mountain.  They were used to store water for two purposes: to wash the sacrificial area and to supply the people with water if they were under siege, as they were in 70 CE.  But before you envision ten foot holes, the Temple cisterns could supply a million people water for months.

You may be wondering why this history lesson.  Jeremiah was told by God, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

If, a century ago, you were lucky enough to live close to a brook, stream, or river, you had no use for a cistern.  If you choose to live next to God, you have a constant stream of living water, but if you don’t want to live near God, you have to build a cistern because living water does not flow anywhere else.

The image in Jeremiah is of building a cistern to catch the occasional drops of life that God allows everyone to have.  Those drops have to be stored and held because they are so precious, thus the hole in the ground.  But, as God says, “they are broken and cannot hold water.”  It is a futile exercise, yet another human delusion.  We think we can get along without God.

The Scriptures are filled with opposing images to represent God and not God.  Light and dark, loving God and loving self, being righteous and being greedy; they all yield the same message: life only exists with God.

Let’s look back at the first sin God listed: “They have forsaken me.”  Jesus explains that to the Pharisees at the Sabbath dinner.  “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”  If you live next to the living water, offer some of it to others.  It is a river that can never run dry.

God wants to share with us and he wants us to share with others, especially those who are outside the range of the living water.  The author of Hebrews writes, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  “Keep on loving each other.  Do not forget to entertain strangers.”

So, what do I do Monday?  How do I live my life close to God when I spend most of my waking hours taking care of the kids, going to work, keeping up the house, the car, etc.  All those things seem to leave no time for God.

Take God with you.  Yes, it’s that simple, and that easy.  OK, maybe not easy at first.  Work at it day after day.  Accept your failures as learning experiences and strive to do better.  It cannot be done overnight, but it can be done.  Take God with you wherever you go.  The really Good News is that you will have help every step of the way.  Remember that some of those strangers are angles.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Second Chances

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Luke has done something very interesting by placing this event immediately after the fig tree parable which starts in verse 6.  Farmers understand the idea that a fig tree, or any other plant, that does not yield fruit has to be eliminated to make room for those that do yield.  Yet, in the parable, the tree was given another chance.  The main point being that God gives Israel and each of us second chances.
Now Luke places Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath with a woman.  Picture a room perhaps the size of the average Seven-Eleven.  There are benches along the sides, but most of the men are standing or sitting on the floor.  The elders use the benches.  At the very back, or if it is a well-to-do synagogue, in the balcony are the women.  Jesus, as a visiting rabbi, has been invited to read the scripture and comment on it, so he is near the front of the room where the ark is positioned.  The ark is the cabinet containing the Holy Scrolls.
So, Jesus is teaching and people are either enthralled or repealed by his words, when he spots the woman who can barely lift her eyes high enough to see him.  Jesus did the unthinkable.  No other Jewish man on earth that day would have done what he did.  His Twelve Apostles probably gasped out loud.  He asked the woman to come forward.
You have to understand that in the synagogue on Saturday, a man would not even look at his wife, even if she went into labor.  The other women would take care of her.  He probably wouldn’t even turn around for fear of catching a glimpse of her or any other woman.  And that was not just the Pharisees.  Even Jews who seldom went to synagogue would have known the rule.
I’m sure men were suddenly interested in the floor.  Let’s hope it has a beautiful mosaic to help them focus their attention away from the woman.  We wouldn’t want them to be defiled. Jesus, on the other hand, ignored all decorum.  He first spoke to her, then touched her.  I imagine some men hurried away at that point.  This was not a small infraction.  Jesus chose to do something that hit people between the eyes. He worked on the Sabbath by healing the woman.  He brought a woman to the front of the synagogue.  He spoke to a woman in the synagogue.  He touched a woman in the synagogue.  Tisk, tisk.
What was going on?  Why did Jesus make such a public display?  He had the power to heal the woman without even pausing in his teaching.  No one would have known the woman could now walk upright because of Jesus.
Which is the point; the people needed to know that Jesus had that power.  Psalms reads, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness.”  In Jeremiah, a pre-Messiah, God says, “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  The author of Hebrews writes of God saying, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” The Messiah is the power of God on earth to heal and fulfill.  The Messiah can take a bent, unfruitful fig tree and nourish it until it is as good as new.  He can un-bend a woman and give her new life.  He can untie her and lead her to living water.
The word “set free” in the NIV literally means “untie” which is instructive in verse 15 where the animals are untied to be watered. Two more notes about the healing.  Even the synagogue ruler believed that Jesus could heal the woman.  He simply wanted him to do it tomorrow, and not in his synagogue, thank you.  Which brings us to the last point I will make here; nothing is said about faith.  Many of the healing accounts have Jesus mentioning that faith healed the person, but not here.
Why?  I think the woman’s response tells us.  The woman already understood what had happened.  She praised God.  Not Jesus.  Healing comes from God as she knew.  We Christians sometimes forget God in our passion for Jesus.  Jesus never did.  He always gave God the credit, even when he hinted at or accepted the possibility that he might be God or the Son of God.  God is the source of all, period.
Be righteous and do good.
Mike Lawrence