Tag Archives: Timothy

Acts 16-20

 

Corinth           Corinth     Ephesus             Ephesus

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, March 3, Chapter 16

At the end of 15, Paul and Barnabas argued and split up.  I like that because it reminds us that even the most saintly of the saints acted like the rest of us from time to time.  Even with the power of the Holy Spirit delivered in a blinding light and rush of noise, Paul could be petty-minded.

Silas is a prophet.  He supports and encourages the preachers and teachers, but mostly those who have just come into the faith.  He also interprets the Word of God when needed.  Questions from recent gentile converts who knew little of the scriptures filled his days.

Young Timothy is waiting for them in Lystra.  He is already filled with the Holy Spirit and Paul wants him on the journey, but he is uncircumcised.  No problem for Paul; he carried the argument against requiring circumcision while in Jerusalem.  The problem is asking Timothy, uncircumcised, to witness to the Jews in the region.  They already knew Timothy was the son of a Greek, so refused to listen to him.  Paul would not let anything stand in the way of presenting the Gospel, so he asked Timothy if he would go under the knife.

Verse 10 uses the word ‘we’ for the first time.  It is notable because Luke is writing himself into the account.  We do not know just where he and Paul meet, though Antioch seems likely.  (That is the Antioch in the center of modern Turkey, not the Antioch of the church headquarters in northern Syria.)  No details are given before Troas where ‘we’ first appears.

‘The Macedonian Call’ is today a common image associated with missionaries.  The truth is we all have Macedonian Calls.  God chooses a particular person because he or she is suited for a particular mission.  Paul was a young, highly educated Hebrew raised in the Greek world.  Timothy was literally both Greek and Hebrew.  God wanted him to help Paul bridge that gap, which is probably why God had Paul circumcise Timothy.  And then, God added the fully Greek Luke to continue the transition to a Greek Gospel.  They were then ready to cross into Macedonia and from there south to Greece.

Going to the river to worship in Philippi is necessary because so few Jews lived there; they could not afford a building.  They spoke only to women.  In order to have an ‘official’ worship, ten men made a quorum, a minyan.  Apparently there were not enough Jewish men to qualify, and the men chose not to join their wives.

Lydia was not just a woman who dyed clothes; she was a wealthy woman who had a business dying clothes.  We know that because she dealt in purple cloth used only by the elite and royals.  The dye came from boiling thousands of Bolinus brandaris snails for days, done well away from the city because of the prodigious stench.

Verse 16 tells us that our four missionaries got into the habit of going to the river on Shabbat to meet with the women.  On one such visit, the slave started advertising for them, but not in a good way.  Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, commanded the spirit to leave her.  There is no magic in the words Paul spoke.  The power of the Holy Spirit forced the evil spirit to leave the girl.

Sometimes we get the notion that if we say, “In the name of Jesus…” that whatever we say will happen.  No, only if the Spirit leads, and only if the Spirit wants to do the thing.

Besides, this time it put Paul and Silas in prison.  Why?  So the Spirit could do even greater things.  Last time Paul was in prison, the angel opened the doors and led him out.  This time the earthquake opens the doors, but Paul stays in his cell.  This was a non-prison break to save the souls of the guard and many others.

Just for good measure, Paul plays the Roman citizen card, encouraging his fellow believers before leaving town.

Tuesday, March 4, Chapter 17

Paul achieved success at the synagogue in Thessalonica, using the scriptures to show that the Messiah was promised from Genesis through Chronicles (the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures) and that the promise included death and resurrection.  Many Jews believed, and many prominent women, probably women who owned and ran their own businesses and were leaders in the city.

Because of agitation against them which put the believer Jason in danger, the men left for Berea.  The Berean ministry was successful among both the Jews and Greeks until the agitators from Thessalonica found them again.

Notice that Luke mentions the many women who came to believe.  Paul is often accused of being against women, but we neither see that in Acts nor in Paul’s letters.  He often names and complements women leaders in the churches.

Athens gives Paul the chance for a new approach to win the Greeks.  Verse 22 has Paul speaking to the Areopagus.  Ares was the Greek god of war, like the Roman Mars.  The men of the temple had once ruled the politics of Athens, but by Paul’s day were in charge of vetting foreign religions as well as preserving the morals of the city.

Paul did not seek their permission to practice his foreign religion, he used their own philosophical arguments to present the Truth of the Gospel.  The return was small in numbers but mighty in the Spirit.

Wednesday, March 5, Chapter 18

Corinth is located in southern Greece about 50 miles from Athens, and about two miles south of the narrow isthmus that forms a land bridge between the main landmass of Greece and the Peloponnesus. The isthmus is less than four miles wide. Corinth controlled the two major harbors and thus command of the trade routes between Asia and Rome. In ancient days small ships were dragged across the isthmus on a paved road; larger ships unloaded their cargo, which was then carried across the isthmus and reloaded on other ships.

A famous temple to Aphrodite had stood on the summit of Acrocorinth in the Classical Age… It had fallen into ruins by Paul’s time, but successors to its 1,000 cult prostitutes continued to ply their profession in the city below. Many of them were no doubt housed in the lofts above the 33 wine shops uncovered in the modern excavations. Corinth was a city catering to sailors and traveling salesmen. Even by the Classical Age it had earned an unsavory reputation for its libertine atmosphere; to call someone ‘a Corinthian lass’ was to impugn her morals. It may well be that one of Corinth’s attractions for Paul was precisely this reputation of immorality.

Paul works with Aquila and Priscilla making tents.  It was common for young men of even the wealthy families to learn a trade in case bad times come.  Paul uses his skills in two ways.  He is able to pay his own way, and he gets to talk with costumers and people passing by.

One reason Paul stayed so long in the city was because even the converts had a hard time changing their life styles.  Paul’s letters to the church speak to their problems.

Notice in verse 17 that Crispus is replaced by Sosthenes.  Sosthenes is included as an author of the first letter to the Corinthians, but we cannot be sure it is the same man.

Paul leaves Silas and Timothy to continue the work in Corinth while he travels with Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus.  Note that Priscilla is listed first, perhaps because she is the stronger Christian.  Paul continues to work well with women.  He leaves the two of them there to work as missionaries to the growing church.  Paul goes on to visit and strengthen churches along his earlier route.

Luke gives us a rare look at the work of someone other than Paul when Apollos arrives in Ephesus.  The key point about him is his baptism, a crucial issue when he moves on to Corinth.  Paul deals with the issue in his first letter to Corinth.

Thursday, March 6, Chapter 19

Meanwhile, Paul deals with the same issue when he returns to Ephesus, the issue of John’s baptism.  We read in the third chapter of Matthew about the baptism of Jesus; how the Holy Spirit came from Heaven like a dove and landed on Jesus.  The image in Acts 2 is stronger and Luke states that the disciples were ‘filled’ with the Spirit.  Jesus was already filled; God simply pointed him out.  The rest of us need to be filled with the Spirit, we need the baptism of Jesus.

Today, we combine the baptism of John with that of Jesus.  No baptism can occur without repenting our sins.  As we saw with Cornelius, the Spirit may fill us at any time, but we should follow his example and receive the baptism of Jesus.

Why did I not come out of the water speaking in tongues?  Paul writes in Romans, ‘We have different gifts,according to the grace given us.’  I have tried speaking in tongues and can now say ‘thank you’ in seven different languages, unlike people I know who can learn an entire language in a few months.  The Holy Spirit gives each of us the power to use the gifts, the talents, God gave us, and to use them for God’s work.

Paul ends up spending most of his 2+ years in Ephesus using the building of the teacher Tyrannus.  In that climate, classes were held in the morning so that they did not have to sit through the heat of the day.  Paul, however, had to teach in the afternoon because the building was open then.  No doubt, he spent the mornings working on tents, perhaps with Priscilla and Aquila.   Luke calls Christianity ‘the Way’, the most general name among believers in the first century.

Luke must have smiled as he wrote verses 13-16.  Again, the name of Jesus is not magic.

In verse 22, a new missionary is listed as working with Timothy in Corinth.  Paul adds in his letter to the Romans that Erastus is the director of public works in Corinth.

Rooted in money, the riot in Ephesus inflamed passions.  Paul was kept out of the fracas, though he was eager to join it.  Luke does not credit the Holy Spirit, but get to see how the Spirit can use people even to control Paul.  In the end, it was the most powerful city official who appealed to the rule of law and brought a peaceful end to the melee.

Friday, March 7. Chapter 20

Paul rejoins Timothy and Luke somewhere in Macedonia, probably Philippi.  He leaves after 3 months, sending Timothy and 6 others overland to Troas.  Paul and Luke sail to Troas from Philippi.  We can only guess why, but most likely Paul wanted to stay through Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Passover itself could only be celebrated inside the walls of Jerusalem, but Jews throughout the Empire spent that day much as they do today.

The first day of the week is Sunday and followers of the Way have already started to hold it as a special day, though the Sabbath is still Saturday for Jewish Christians.  Paul preaches to a receptive crowd, even as Eutychus falls asleep before falling to his death.  No problem, Paul holds him as the Spirit heals the man and continues his preaching until morning.  Please note that Paul did not sleep in the back of a car or even a cart; he walked.  The other 8 men sailed down the coast to Assos and gathered Paul there.

Luke gives us no hint about why Paul chose to walk alone to Assos, a short day’s hike.  Yet he gives us the itinerary for the next few days with no other details.

The crucial stop is Mitylene, a day’s walk south of Ephesus.  He spent more time in Ephesus than any other city, and he loved them more than any other church.  Yet, he could not stop there because it would cause trouble, so he sent for the church leaders to come see him.

His speech of support and blessing brings tears to all eyes and for Paul to stand on the ship the next day and watch the people he loved fade away for the last time must have been heart breaking.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Praise God No Matter What

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Jacob was about as low as a man can get and still be alive.  He had done the same thing almost every day for four months.  Morning again, campfire started, stinking tents belching lice ridden soldiers by the thousands; the same ugly faces, the same complaints, the same smells, the same Union Army.

With a small business, a wife and two children, he had taken little interest in the Southern Rebellion.  Drafted in Brooklyn City, trained and sent to southern Maryland to guard against an invasion, he was sick of it.  Every day he vowed to stop eating the weevil infested hardtack, but hunger always won out.  Every day he gagged on the half rotten pork and beef.  Every day he spent more time at the latrine than any human should.

Maybe today was the day he would slip away like a few others had.  Maybe he would be able to evade the deserter squad and live to see his wife again.  Maybe today.

There was Herman.  Singing.  How could he do that?  Every morning singing hymns like maybe God was actually listening to him.  Jacob’s family had never done with church, but here he was learning church hymns because he couldn’t avoid it.

“Hey, Herman.  Why you always singin’?  We in the deepest hole in Hell.  Ain’t nonethin’ to be happy about.”

“You right about one thing.  I ever visit Hell, I spect it be a mite nicer’n this.  But you wrong about happy.  Happy is having God beside me and He is always beside me so I always happy.”

“I’d be happy to have clean clothes and decent grub.  Nice slice of fresh butchered pork might make me sing a hymn.”

“I’d be happy with that too.  Nothin’ wrong with good grub.  But I ain’t starvin’, so I thank God for the hard tack.  At least we can throw it at the Rebs and knock ‘em out.”

 

Exposition

Jeremiah’s words must have jangled the already frayed nerves of the Hebrews.  They had gone through the long siege of Jerusalem and the long march into captivity.  Now they were being told they were to become model citizens of the very country that attacked them.

As always, God delivers a message to the people who first hear the words and he delivers a message to us as well.  God makes his Words timeless.

To the Hebrews, He says, ‘You are being punished.  Settle in for the long haul.  Learn to do what is right.  Think about your mistakes.  I have said that you will return to the Promised Land, but for now you must make the best of the bad times.’

Let’s be clear, God did not say to become Babylonians.  When we read these words in the context of the whole Bible, He said, ‘Become good Hebrews.’

For Americans today, the message is the same.  We live in a foreign land.  Our true home is the Promised Land, that New Jerusalem John pictured so dramatically in Revelation.  To be good Americans is not the same as being Americans.  We can never be Americans when America is wrong.  We must always be citizens of Heaven first and citizens of America second.

But doing that is not always so easy.  There is currently strong debate over national health care and Christians on both sides (or the two main positions) have reasonable arguments based on the Bible.  I’m not going to take a position here except to stress how important it is that we consider all that God has said.  In addition, it does not matter to a citizen of Heaven what happens.  We will live a life of joy with or without health care.

Verse 11 of the Psalm reading: You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.  And yet, we praise God.  No matter what happens.  Bankruptcy, infidelity, divorce, children gone wild, disease, hunger, God is with us and wants a better life for us and will give us that life in the New Jerusalem.  Now, the evil one is at work in our lives, but we praise God for what is to come.

Paul said this is my Gospel for which I am suffering.  Paul was a citizen of Rome and was often beaten and imprisoned illegally.  Romans were treated differently than others under the law.  Yet, he only used that status when it would bring praise to God.  He suffered so that others could see how devoted he was to God.  He claimed Roman citizenship when that would praise God.

Paul had been on his way to a safe, wealthy, pleasant life.  His family had enough money to send him to study under the most famous rabbi in history.  He, at a very young age, had an important position in the Temple hierarchy.  None of that was important to him after he meet Jesus.  He gave up the easy life so he could suffer for God.

When Jesus met ten lepers, interesting things happened.  They called to him, calling him Master, the only time that was done in Luke.  Jesus did not approach or touch them.  He simply told them to go to the priests.  Nothing was said about healing or faith.  Jesus walked on with the crowd of disciples, perhaps 200 people.

Since they were at the border between Galilee and Samaria, the ten men were probably from both regions.  Being unclean, they had nothing to fear from each other.  The Samaritans had to walk at least 30 miles to Mt. Gerizim to have the priests give them the ritual cleansing and the Galileans had to walk some 50 miles to Jerusalem for the same.

Samaritans had a temple at Gerizim where they offered sacrifices to Yahweh.  They accepted only the Torah, the first five books, as scripture and rejected all other writings and oral teachings.  That is why Jews in both Galilee and Judea looked on them with such scorn.

The Samaritan who returned to praise God and thank Jesus almost surely did so within minutes or hours.  He could not have made the two day walk, done the week of ritual, and walked back in much less than two weeks.  The story suggests immediacy.

The Samaritan is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, possibly even touching his feet, but he is still unclean because he did not go to the temple.  For Jesus, that’s not a problem.  He wonders out loud why the other nine aren’t there.  Jesus spent his life on earth in constant contact with the unclean of the world.  All he said to the man was your faith has made you well.  Yet, all ten men were healed.  It would seem that they all had faith in Jesus, but only one came to thank both God and his Son.

I assume the other nine made their way to one or the other temple for the rituals and were able to rejoin society and their families.  I like to think they praised God at some point.  That is what this lesson is about.

Never forget to praise God.  If times are bad, thank God it’s not worse.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

In A Foreign Land

Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

The mighty walls of Zion breached as I watched Babylon pour through her streets.  Men, women, children cut down by the sword.  Screams all around me, one long horrible outcry of agony.  Thousands trussed up like cattle and marched away to the foreign land where no mulberry tree can grow.

Where is God?  Can He be in Babylon?  He is the God of Judah.  Will He follow us to a foreign land?

God’s message to Zedekiah was to trust God, have faith and return to him.  Can I do less?  Abraham trusted God, gave up his life in Haran and followed His Word to a foreign land, our land given to us by God and the Faith of Abraham.  Surely, God will be with us in Babylon.

It will not be easy living with those who do not know God.  Yet, I have been living with my own people who do not know Him; can it be so different?

 

Exposition

It is fair to say that few Christians find much comfort in reading Lamentations; yet, it is there.  You have to read through a great deal of suffering and sadness before you find any relief and then only a vague promise that it will end sometime.

Why is it in the Bible?  There are several answers, but in the context of the four Scripture readings, it is there to remind us of what it means when we choose to live without God.  Simply put, if I follow God I can live in Jerusalem, but if I do not follow God, I will live in Babylon.

Psalm 137 is also a lament, possibly composed as a song shortly after the return to Judah to remind the people of the dangers of disobeying God.

Paul deals with faith in his second letter to Timothy.  Faith is the issue that binds each of these four readings.  It’s worth noting that Timothy’s father was Greek, so Timothy needed some special instruction from Paul.  Timothy was considered Jewish, however, because his mother was Jewish.  Paul praises her faith and that of his grandmother Lois.  We should not doubt that both women taught the faith to the boy as he grew, but he was expected to follow the religion of his father.  That presented a conflict for the boy that Paul helped him resolve.

In verse 12, Paul says, “That is why I am suffering….”  It is because of preaching the Good News that Paul has been beaten and thrown into prison.  It is suffering for the right reasons, but it is suffering nonetheless.  He no doubt had an understanding of the suffering of Jeremiah and the Hebrews in Babylon that most of us can never appreciate.  Even if they had earned the punishment, it still hurt.

The reading in Luke last week was of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  There are four short verses in between that reading and today’s.  It is a short reminder by Jesus to his disciples that sin would happen and it should be forgiven by them.  There is a whole lesson in those four verses, but that is for another time.  It does set the stage for the twelve to ask Jesus to increase their faith.

Their conception of faith was that it could run from zero to ten on a sliding scale.  If they were at seven, they wanted to move up, hopefully all the way to ten.  Jesus probably shook his head once again at their lack of understanding as he began to explain faith.

We all operate on faith every day.  We have faith that other drivers will stay on the left side of the road and stop at stop signs, even as we remember times our faith was disappointed.  That is a kind of sliding scale faith.  I cannot fully trust other drivers; I reserve the right to consider them dangerous.

Jesus says something quite different.  Faith in God is or is not.  I believe or I don’t.  It is on or off.

The reason is explained by Jesus in the short parable of the obedient servant.  His servant has been working in the field with the master, but when they return to the house the servant is expected to prepare the meal, somewhat the way American men treat their wives.  The master has hired the servant to do that work and the servant should expect no less, certainly not expect praise for doing his job.

How does that explain faith, you may be asking?  Remember that Jesus was talking to the apostles.  They needed to understand what they were getting into by being his talmidim.  A talmid was a student of a rabbi and they had a unique relationship.  They lived together, each talmid taking turns preparing meals and doing the chores.  In addition to learning from the rabbi, the talmidim were expected to become like the rabbi, to imitate him in the best way possible.  While they were close, they were always master and servants.

Faith is having trust in the master.  Part of that is the expectation that the master is always looking out for the talmidim.  Jesus reminds his apostles that he will always protect them as they do the things he has taught them to do.

It is the same lesson learned in the Babylonian exile.  When the people of God had finished crying, they began to realize how foolish they had been.  They repented and returned to God.  They became faithful servants again.

Being faithful is not the same as understanding.  Having faith is not having knowledge.  If I am told by my Master to walk a dark road, I must trust that He knows what He is doing and that I will be cared for.  If I have to fight off dangers and struggle to live, I cannot expect a reward.  Like a good soldier, I have done my duty and I should expect to keep on doing it without praise, secure in the knowledge that God knows what I have done.

Heaven, the New Jerusalem, is not my reward for doing good deeds.  Heaven is the place God may choose to put me if He wants to, regardless of my actions, good and bad.  If I stay faithful by doing what is expected of me, I take comfort in knowing that God will take care of me.

Those of us who follow Jesus live in a foreign land.  This earth and these bodies are not home.  We have faith that God wants more for us, that He has a special place for us when our work as servants is complete.  But here we have to live for now with those who do not know or care about God.  We have to find our way in a hostile world.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

 

Contentment

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

If you get a chance to visit the Eisenhower Library and Museum, you will want to walk through his boyhood home.  It is almost shockingly small, yet David and Ida raised six boys in it (one other died young), all of whom had successful careers.  In addition, the family income would have put them below the poverty line if we had had such a thing then.

How did that happen and why doesn’t it happen more often?

David and Ida were deeply religious and well educated, even reading the Bible in Greek.  They had daily devotions with the whole family, strict discipline, rotating chores at home, and loving, nurturing relationships within the family.  Dwight’s decision to apply for an appointment to the military academies deeply saddened his mother who was opposed to war on principle.  Yet, she accepted him as a person and did not oppose his choice.

We cannot judge the Eisenhowers as God does, but David and Ida do seem to be the kind of people Paul encouraged Timothy to be.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  The key word is contentment.  That word seems to apply to the Eisenhower parents.  Not that they chose to be poor, but that they accepted it with grace and dignity.  They also made sure their boys had good skills to survive whatever faced them.

Dwight, Little Ike as a youth and just Ike later, served in the army for 25 years before becoming a lieutenant colonel.  Most men would have given up and taken retirement at 20, but Ike accepted the role of teacher, coach, staff member, all the while learning the skills needed for the time he was to be called on for a top position.

Contentment.  We don’t see much of that in America today.

We do see it in Paul, Lazarus, Jeremiah, and the Psalmist.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Before Jeremiah bought his grave site, before he was thrown into prison for delivering an unpopular message, even before he heard the word of the Lord, Jeremiah knew God.  He trusted God and lived according to God’s directions.  Then when God spoke to him, Jeremiah heard Him.  It’s easy to gloss over that, but don’t.  Hearing God requires living close to Him and being willing to hear.

Yes, God spoke to some people like Jacob and Jonah who were not as happy to hear from Him.  Sometimes God had to poke and prod to get his chosen one to move or to speak, but they did hear and did respond.

Don’t get the idea that Jeremiah was Mr. Perfect.  He had some bad days and some grumpy ones too.  Through it all, he never gave up on God.  To give King Zedekiah one more solid message, he bought his own grave site.  He had already told Zedekiah that all the people of the kingdom would be taken into captivity, but he also told him they would return, though not the king.  If you expect to die in Babylon, you don’t buy a grave in Judah.

Jesus found himself walking in Jeremiah’s sandals as he delivered the word of God to the people and to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes.  Just before today’s reading, we see the Pharisees responding to Jesus by “lifting up their noses” at him.  That is the literal translation for a common Middle Eastern expression even today, one showing complete disdain.

Now, he seems to move on to a topic designed to upset the Sadducees in particular.  That may not have been his intent, but it might as well have been.  Sadducees, as far as we know, rejected any notion of life after death.  Since this is the only life, we must make the most of it, so many Sadducees worked hard to accumulate wealth.  That might seem a contradiction when you learn that most priest were Sadducees.  As far as we can tell, their belief system was centered on the Temple sacrifice and worship system.  They apparently believed God could only be reached by the smoke from the holocaustic fires.

Many Pharisees were wealthy also, so both groups would have been upset by the portrayal of the rich man as so cold hearted.  After all, they put coins in the collection trumpets at the Temple.  Besides, God chose me to be rich.  I deserve it.

That attitude is on display as the rich man says, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  He never speaks to Lazarus, even though he recognizes him, even though he knows his name.

He says, “Father, I am your son.  Send that worthless dog Lazarus to help me.”   He depends on his pedigree to get out of the fire and he still cannot accept Lazarus as his equal.  At least he does not dare chide Abraham for allowing such a nothing person at his banquet.

Abraham responds by accepting the rich man as his son.  In fact, he uses the Greek word teknon, the same word used by the father of the prodigal’s older brother.  It means, ‘my dear son’.  The most interesting point is that Abraham says that Lazarus is comforted.  Nothing was said about being healed or fed.  What Lazarus needed was comfort and the rich man gave him none.  His watch dogs showed compassion on Lazarus by trying to heal his wounds as best they could.  For Jews, dogs were only a tiny step above pigs.

Through it all, Lazarus was content in the knowledge that he was loved by God.  He never said a harsh word against the rich man, not even when he was burning for his lack of compassion.  By accepting the Love of God, he was also able to love.

Being wealthy is not a sin, but it is even more difficult to stay close to God as the bank account increases.  If there is enough ready money, why not buy that new car.  We live in America where God gave us the Interstate system, so we have to have a good set of wheels.  We consume things.  In all that hoopla, it is easy not to hear the voice of God.

Watch for the beggar at your gate.  Oh, the name Lazarus means, the one whom God helps.  My thanks to Kenneth E. Bailey for his observations on this parable.  I recommend all his books.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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