Monday, July 29, 2019

Fences: Luke 14:23

In Luke 14, Jesus tells a story of a man who prepared a great feast and invited all his friends. However, on the day of the feast, when the guests were called to come, they all began to make excuses. “The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’   Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’   Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20) The host was angry and decided to invite others to take their place. “Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ (Luke 14:21) However, that being done, there was still room at the feast. “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.   For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’” (Luke 14:23-24)

The word translated here as “hedges” is the Greek word for “fence” and, in that time period, was used in two senses. The first referred to the fences around the homes of wealthy landowners. This is where the vagabonds and beggars would loiter waiting for a handout. In this sense, the master of the feast is sending an invitation to the lowliest of society; those at the bottom of the social latter. Those who saw themselves as worthy were rejected, and those who were perceived by society as unworthy were invited. However, this same Greek word is also used by Paul to describe the separation of the Jews and Gentiles. Paul says that Jesus “Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” (Eph 2:14) The word translated here a “barrier” is the same word translated above as “hedges.” Here, the host is seen inviting those who are on the outside; those who have bee separated, marginalized, and pushed aside by society. In either case, we see the invitation of God (which is the interpretation of this parable) going out to those who live at the fences. Those who are unworthy, who live on the wrong side of the tracks, and those who do not fit in.

Understanding this scripture in this way causes me to consider how I view myself and others. Do I view myself as on the outside and not fitting in? If so, then the Gospel is good news because these are the people God is calling to himself. Similarly, when looking at others who are outcast and ostracized, do I see them as the ones for whom Jesus died and to whom his invitation goes out? If not, then maybe I need to learn to see myself, and the world, through Jesus' eyes; eyes which welcome all to his banquet feast.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Becoming a neighbor: Luke 10:36

In the story of the Good Samaritan, a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jerico. Along the way, he was attacked by robbers and left for dead. While lying beside the road, both a priest and a Levite came by but refused to help. Finally, a Samaritan came by and helped the man, taking him to an inn and paying for his care. In telling this story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” (Luke 10:36). The Greek word translated here as “proved to be” is an interesting word and has a wide range of meanings. It can also be translated “to have become.” We could retranslate Jesus’ question as, “Which one of the three has become a neighbor to the man?”

In asking this question, Jesus redefines for us who our neighbor is. His definition of neighbor is not static but dynamic. A neighbor is not simply someone we live close to but includes all we invite into our lives. The Samaritan did not know the man who was beaten by robbers. The man was not a neighbor in the normal sense of the word, but the Samaritan took pity on him and gave of his time and money to care for him. The Samaritan was willing to bring this man into the realm of his relationships and treated him like any other neighbor he might have. The important point here is that the Samaritan made himself a neighbor to one who was not formally his neighbor.

This scripture causes me to ask myself, “In expressing the love of God to others, do I only consider those close to me, only my neighbors, or am I willing to extend God’s love even to strangers in, to become a neighbor to those in need?” While we were still enemies of God, he came down and became our neighbor. He gave all he had to heal and care for us and to bring us into a relationship with himself. Ought we not do likewise to others in need?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dependent upon Jesus: Luke 9:16

In the story of how Jesus fed the five thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread, we read, “Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people.” (Luke 9:16) In the Greek, the verb “giving” is in the imperfect tense, which represents a past continuous action. Here, it is translated as “kept giving” but could also be translated as “was giving.” What is important is that Luke did not use a simple aorist form of the verb, which represents a past point action. Luke did not say that Jesus “gave” the fish and bread to the disciples, but that he “was giving” them to the disciples. The disciples were privileged to participate in a tremendous miracle of God, but that miracle originated with Jesus. Without Jesus breaking and giving the bread and fish, there would be no miracle for the disciples to perform. They were dependent upon Jesus for the miracle and for the means of feeding the multitude with them.

This story reminds me of how, in my daily life, I am dependent upon Jesus. Jesus did not give us all we would need for life and then sent us on our way. Rather, he gives us only what we need now, thus necessitating our continual coming to him for what we need. Daily, and moment by moment, we need him. This truth causes me to ask myself, “Am I trying to live life on my own and by my own wisdom and strength, or have I come to understand that it is only by coming to Jesus that I will receive what I need for each moment and opportunity in life?” The choice is ours. We can either live life on or own or by that which Jesus so richly and generously supplies to those who come to him.