Sat, 23 February 2008
Our study in Chapter 18 begins with two classic parables that urge religious individuals to go substantially deeper in their faith: The Corrupt Judge and the Pharisee and the Publican. In the first, Jesus again (cf. 11:5-10) teaches His disciples to persist in prayer, "you ought always to pray and not lose heart." In the second, He exhorts His disciples to humility and upbraids the haughty and self-righteous.
Verses 15-17 describe Jesus blessing the children faithful mothers bring to Him; these seldom-used verses form some of the Scriptural basis for infant Baptism. Far more than a magical bath, one can trace infant Baptism throughout the Early Church in the writings of Hippolytus and Origen.
In verse 18, a pious, precocious rich man questions Jesus about inheriting eternal life. Jesus speaks rather coldly to him at first, but looks with love upon this young man's earnestness. He says to him, "There is one thing further you must do. Sell all you have and give to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me" (v. 22). Jesus advises us to take on worldly obligations only when we are confident they are God's will for us: "I solemnly assure you, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers, parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive a plentiful return in this age and life everlasting in the age to come" (v. 29-30). He seeks to teach us that only in freedom from wealth and debt can we love to our brothers and sisters as He would.
Taking the Twelve aside, Jesus then foreshadows what will happen to Him in Jerusalem, but "His utterance remained obscure to them, and they did not grasp His meaning" (v. 34). Traveling through Jericho on the way up to Jerusalem, He then heals a blind man because of his persistence and faith.
Upon reaching Jericho, Jesus meets the short, chief tax collector named Zacchaeus. Because of his diminutive stature, this man climbs a tree to see Jesus. At the sight of this man in the tree, Jesus calls "Zacchaeus, hurry down, I mean to stay at your house today" (19:5) In the course of a meal with Jesus, this rich but sinful man confesses, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much" (v. 8). In a powerful scene, the Son of God responds by saying, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost" (v. 9-10).
As He and the Twelve draw near to Jerusalem, He describes the Parable of the Sums of Money, a profound teaching that concludes our study. Also known as the Parable of the Talents, many are familiar with the premise: "A man of noble birth went to a faraway country to become its king, and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves and gave them ten talents each, saying to them, 'Invest this until I get back'" (v. 12-13).
When the nobleman returns, he summons these slaves before him in order to see what they have done with their gifts. Learning that the first slave, whom he gave ten talents, has made a profit of ten more talents, he gives this slave authority over ten cities. The second slave has done likewise, gaining five talents, and gains control of five cities. However, one slothful or perhaps fearful slave reveals that he has buried his talent and gained nothing. The master casts this slave out after giving his one talent to the man who had ten. Thus Jesus speaks to God's expectation that we will make a spiritual return on those gifts He has bestowed upon us, and warns"whoever has will be given more, but the one who has not will lose the little he has" (v. 26). This is the lesson He seeks to teach the Twelve as He enters Jerusalem to be captured and crucified.
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Sat, 16 February 2008
Chapter 15 contains three classic parables, each targeting the self-righteous and speaking of the need to rejoice and repent. Jesus likens his close contact with sinners to that of a shepherd who risks death to save his lost sheep. Unlike the murmuring Pharisees, we must seek the lost, encourage our pastors to seek out the lost and then rejoice when sinners repent. The parable of the woman who finds her lost silver coin emphasizes our need to rejoice at the finding of the lost.
In the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus describes a man and his two sons. One of these sons squanders his inheritance on a sinful lifestyle before hitting rock bottom, and, coming to his senses, returns to his father. At this, the father calls for a great feast and reinstates him into the family. The other son, obedient throughout his entire life, has irrational hatred towards his brother and refuses to enter the feast. The father closes with, "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."
In Chapter 16, Jesus continues to teach in parables. The shrewd but dishonest steward who regains his master's approval illustrates the superior ability of worldly men to make friends among their own kind. Jesus encourages us to devote considerable time and money for the sake of the Kingdom, reminding the money-loving Pharisees "you cannot serve God and mammon."
Verses 14–18 show that the law has not passed away but that the new covenant heightens its requirements. For proof of this, one only needs to look at His interpretation of the law in regards to entering the Kingdom and the question of divorce. He then says, "the law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently." By "violently," Christ does not mean we work for salvation, but that we must be willing to toil as we embrace a radical discipleship.
The parable of poor Lazarus and the Rich Man shows the ease with which those who in their lifetime receive many good things without any concern for the poor lose their place in the Kingdom.
Chapter 17 provides firm warnings against sin and the punishment that is due those who lead others into it. His teachings are so strong that the disciples ask, "Increase our faith!" To this He responds, "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, 'Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
Of the ten lepers Jesus heals in verse 13, only one, a foreigner, returns to thank him. May we awaken to realize that we too often are like one of the other nine: greatly blessed but thankless. Jesus wishes for us to thank Him for all we have and then realize that "we are unworthy servants; we have only done what is our duty."
Verses 20-37 juxtapose the final, triumphant coming of the Son of man with the current generation that rejects Him. In these He also warns His disciples not to speculate about time of the parousia, a destruction that will come quickly when men will be taken out of the world. Note how Jesus' statements do not confirm a sort of pre-millenial "Rapture" that is popular among some Christians, but that He will sustain those who are truly faithful throughout epic tribulations.
Sat, 9 February 2008
Timeless Parables and True Discipleship
Beginning in Luke 12:13, we see that Jesus' teachings sharply contrast worldly notions of fiscal prudence and advocate extreme trust in God's provisions. Speaking tenderly to his disciples, Jesus is serious when he says "do not live in fear, little flock ... sell what you have and give alms."
Jesus gives an unprecedented promise to those who live justly and are prepared for the Day of the Lord's Coming, saying in a parable, "blessed are those servants who the master finds well-awake on his return, for ... the Master ... will put on an apron, seat them at table, and proceed to wait them."
Jesus warns, much will be required of those to whom much has been given, and also establishes, "I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were ignited! I have a baptism to receive [His suffering and death]. What an anguish I feel till it is over! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?" He answers, "the contrary is true ... I have come for division," prophesying that His words will even divide families.
In Luke 12:57, Jesus confirms the ancient idea of a purgatory, a time of purgation from sin prior to heaven, reminding us to settle our debts to God and our fellows now rather than later.
Chapter 13 begins full-throttle with urgent calls to penance, "you will all come to [death] unless you reform." After repentance, Jesus calls His disciples to bear fruit. Like a barren fig tree, He will cut those down who consistently bear no fruit.
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate." Many will come and press claims of their closeness to Christ, but he will say "away from me, you evildoers!" to those who are not true disciples. The Chapter ends with Jesus pining for the conversion of Jerusalem like a parent longs for a wayward child.
A Sabbath cure opens the 14th Chapter, when Jesus heals a man with dropsy. He illuminates the lack of compassion the lawyers show toward other afflicted Jews.
In parables, Jesus teaches that "everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted" and that attending the Master's banquet should be our highest priority. The wise servant puts the Kingdom before every other responsibility, even those to a husband or a wife.
Like he stated in 9:23-27, Jesus then reminds us of the high cost of discipleship in 14:26-27. He establishes that we must put God before everything else, even if displeases those closest to us.
The cost of discipleship is everything you have, your entire life; not a penny more or a penny less. Unless you are a disciple, you are like salt that loses its flavor or was never salt to begin with, and is worthless for the "land and dung heap" alike.
Sat, 2 February 2008
At the start of Chapter 10, Jesus sends out 70 missionaries to minister to the towns of Galilee. He sends them in pairs in order that they may be a microcosm of the Church, and also because Torah establishes the validity of a claim by the testimony of two witnesses.
Making no specific provisions for the lambs that He "sends among wolves," these missionaries are radically dependent upon their Heavenly Father and others' hospitality. Notice the "wages" Jesus gives His laborers: they receive nothing beyond food and lodging. Modern Christians do well to serve Christ radically, as much as their state in life will allow.
It will be worse for the towns of Galilee who reject these missionaries than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah. The 70 become God's powerful instruments and report wondrous signs of a great shake-up in Heaven. Truly, the Kingdom of God is at hand, just waiting to be grasped.
One cannot attain His Kingdom through study alone, as Jesus said, "I offer You praise, O Father ... because what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest of children." We are foolish if we do not trust fully in Jesus' promise that He and the Father will manifest themselves to those who keep His Commandments.
Blessed are we who are able to know and follow the Messiah, for all previous generations longed for the opportunity given to us. The least in the Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist.
A lawyer then questions Christ about eternal life, and Jesus confirms that the path to Heaven is by living the two great commandments expressed in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.’ When the lawyer asks who his "neighbor" is, Jesus tells him the parable of the Good Samaritan, which calls all who hear to practice mercy. Limiting the mercy we show distances us from our heavenly Father.
The house of Martha and Mary is the site of a key scenario: Mary listens devoutly to Jesus while He warns her sister, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, one thing alone is needful." As His disciples we take Him – the only necessary thing – into every part of our lives.
Chapter 11 begins with lessons on prayer: the Lord's Prayer and teachings on importunate (persistent) prayer. In every case, the Christian prays when he asks, keeps asking and continues to ask again in hopes that the door may be opened unto him. We must be fully engaged in our faith, even if this requires much practice in prayer.
Beelzebub, "Lord of the Fly", was originally a play on words mocking the name for the Canaanite god, "the Lord Prince." By the time of the Luke's gospel, the name refers to Satan. After one exorcism, some question whether Christ is in league with Satan, but He affirms "a Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand."
He exhorts those healed from demons to sanctify their lives and prepare for when the demon returns with seven others, attempting to reconquer their souls. Instead of acting like the woman who shouts praises in unbridled emotion, to truly praise Him we must "hear the word of God and keep it;" we must repent and allow the Word of God to become incarnate in our lives.
Christ gives them only the sign of Jonas, for signs and miracles alone will not produce faith. In every generation, those that seek only miracles or "religious fairy tales" are in grave error.
While at a dinner with some Pharisees, Jesus rebukes them for "washing the outside of the cup" while leaving the inside filthy; he criticizes other hypocritical acts. He also chastises the lawyers who exploit loopholes, steal and bury the key of knowledge from others. He then warns, "the blood of all the prophets shed from the of the foundation of the world may be required of this generation," and our punishment will be the same if we neglect so great a salvation. Everyone must beware the leaven of the Pharisees (especially their hypocrisy); we must have no fear about the body's death. Jesus acclaims both a fear of God and an awareness of His tender compassion and care for us. Our study concludes with promise that the Holy Spirit will be our advocate during times of persecution and a warning never to blaspheme against Him.