The “City Slickers” Answer

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

The “secret of life” is described in the movie, City Slickers as “just one thing” (must be said holding up the index finger).  When asked what the one thing is, we are told, “That’s what you need to figure out.”  The point in the movie is that a life with one thing at the center is more successful.  Ironically, Jesus says the same thing, but He challenges His listeners to make Him the center.  And that’s where it all falls apart for us.

I had a couple of teachers make the same joke about different people, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t original with either one.  They said this guy was a great theologian except he seemed to want to be “theo”.  This sums up a lot of the American church; and not just modern, but even in our early days.  Before the American Revolution, Jonathan Edwards who was famous as a preacher who sparked a few revivals, was fired from his church when he wanted more authenticity from his people.  Americans have been self-centered from the outset.

Again, it’s nothing new.  In Paul’s letters to nearly every church he addresses selfishness.  Even in his “nicest” letter to the Philippians, he has a famous passage all about selfishness (chapter 2).  He stresses the death of the “old man”, love for the fellow believers, and warring against the “flesh”.  The reality is that even Jesus, in His Eastern culture faced tremendous hurdles in preaching against selfishness.  With people from Pharisees to fishermen, plowmen to priests, Jesus addressed selfishness at the heart of the human problem.

On the other hand, people cannot be our center either.  Billy Crystal’s character focuses on his family, but Jesus says plainly that unless we hate our family we cannot be His disciple.  No one putting his hand to the plow but wanting to look back at his family obligations is fit for the Kingdom.  It’s harsh, but Jesus knows that only He can function as the fulfilling center of a life.  Here, Mary had chosen the better part.  Martha should have just set out snacks, veggies and dip, and sat down to listen.  Jesus was feeding them with more satisfying food and she was skipping the meal.

So, if you’ve been following this blog, and see a lot of my “conclusions” are about being selfish, and how that’s a bad thing, get ready, because here I go again.  I see in myself that selfishness is my number one problem.  I have emotional pain driving anger and other problems, but my core issue is selfishness.  It’s what keeps me from true repentance.  I don’t know what keeps you from true repentance, or even how to define that for anyone else, or whether you’ve actually truly repented or not.  I know that I continue to struggle with it.  I know that I need to practice spiritual disciplines that challenge my self-centered thinking, help change my behavior patterns to focus on the others my Master has placed in my life, and hopefully, eventually, make me more available to my Master for His purposes and His presence.  Mostly for His presence.

What do you learn from Jesus’ correction of Martha?


A Tail-Chaser Wants Help

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.  But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:38-40 NASB)

Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem.  Along the way, in an unnamed village, He stays with Martha and her sister Mary.  From John we learn that these two live in Bethany, and that they have a brother, Lazarus.  From John we also learn a bit more about the character of these two.  But from Luke we learn some of the  dark side of Martha.

When a person stays at your house, you want everything perfect.  When the guest is a surprise, that sort of desire just isn’t going to be met.  When the guest is a surprise and important person, well then the frustration at not getting the perfect house to host in is exponentially higher.  Martha, though, is not handling it well.  We have two clues (technically three).

First, she’s being “wheeled around” by the preparations.  Most translations use “distracted”, but this is too tame a word.  The Greek word used there is normally used to describe a rider “wheeling around” his horse to go in the opposite direction.  It was used of an army marching in formation being “wheeled around” to march in the opposite direction.  That rounding turn, or turning in circles, makes for a nice square dance in Virginia, but makes for a stressful work environment.  She’s basically spinning around in the house trying to make sure she has everything done.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  It will never be perfect.  In modern vernacular, “Chill out!”

Second, Martha basically disrespects Jesus.  Call it what you will, but the grammatical construction missing the “if not, then” construction is more…harsh.  It’s typically worded in English without the “if not,then” construct, but the tone is translated softer too.  It’s not here.  Martha sees Mary not “wheeling around” with her (and who likes to dance alone?), and is frustrated enough to be disrespectful of her guest.  Think that through.  Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens.  Martha is trying to get a meal ready, but when she speaks it’s disrespectful.  So, Martha is really being selfish because she’s concerned about how the house reflects upon her, more than about her guest.  In her concern to be seen as a good hostess, Martha forgot to be gracious to her guest.  Oops.

Martha is a great depiction of us, or at least of me.  I get so caught up in the good things of “church” or the activities of my relationship with Jesus, I forget to relate to Him.  My selfishness sneaks in to the forefront, and how I appear as I serve becomes more important than Who I serve.  I want to be thought of as great because I know I’m not really great.  This happens when you get closer to God, you simply get used to a completely unattainable definition of “great”.  Ironically, I’m still not close enough to God not to care that others see me as “great”.  It’s a mental illness, really; but tightly connected to a spiritual one.  I’m still alive in there somewhere in my interior, and I need to die.  I need to die so that my Master can then make me alive in Him.  Jesus won’t “quicken” my spirit if my willfulness thrives.  He waits for me to give up so that He is invited in.

The scary thing about dying to self, is the cross.  “…deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me…”  Okay, I admit it.  I don’t really want to.  I want Jesus on my own terms where I can still maintain the semblance of respectability to others.  I have a foot in the world and a foot in His Kingdom.  That’s not going to work.  It’s time to pray.

What lesson do you see in Martha this morning?

The Unloveable Hero

“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:31-34 NASB)

And so, having stood, having attempted to ascertain the quality of the Son of God, and having felt the desire to “justify” himself, now the lawyer is challenged on his own quality.  The core of this parable is that the hero is not the one the crowd or the lawyer are predisposed to like.  The challenge is to call this hated one a “neighbor”.  Neighbors are people we like, people like us, who live near us, who are “comfortable” even if annoying at times.  Not a hated people group with a cultural history of animosity going back hundreds of years.

There are lots of applications of the way Jesus constructs this parable, some especially applicable to the culture of America in the 20th or even the 21st centuries.  But there are European cultures for which this is true as well.  Middle Eastern and Eastern peoples for whom this parable is especially hard, far more directly applicable than even for the USA.  As it turns out, we’re actually not that interesting nor that intense compared to others after all.  But there’s a personal challenge here.

The priest and Levite represented the religious establishment.  A road to Jericho passed near by the Essene settlement at Qumran, a group who would have listened to this parable and really hated all three potential neighbors.  They were already actively rejecting the religious establishment of Israel by this time.  And there’s another element here.  Jesus is Himself on His way to Jerusalem.  He is planning on passing through Samaria.  In fact He has recently been rejected by Samaritan villages because He was on His way to Jerusalem.  The social/cultural tension is all around Him as the lawyer stands to test and as Jesus tells this parable.

I live in a city with an identity crisis.  The pervasive hopelessness and perceived poverty run deep.  But these perceptions are illusions.  Unfortunately, these illusions seem to drive decisions in city hall, they seem to the major influence in community decisions, and when challenged to do or be more they form the responses of those who refuse the challenge.  The desire of the people to have the expectations of others lowered to their comfort-level.  And after a while, it becomes difficult to resist this desire.  It’s easier to lower the expectations rather than fight to maintain the challenge to do and be more.

But the Samaritans, Levites, and priests mill about together grumbling and shuffling from discouragement to discouragement focused on what they don’t have.  They take turns being the source of frustration for the community, striving to maintain the pecking order, smug that they are not the other two.  It’s a common play acted on many stages across the country.  And I have become convinced that small-town America is pretty enamored with this particular diversion.  And so this parable is necessary.  We need to hear it.  And we need to begin living it.

The expectation should be that the priest, done with his duties in the temple, would stoop to help the wounded man.  The expectation should be that the Levite, having finished the holy work at Jerusalem, would help the wounded man.  And the expectation should be that the man representing a hated hating people group would stop and help the wounded man.  There’s really no excuse for any of them not to help.  That’s the surprising thing about the parable, the priest and Levite don’t help.  It surprises the people and the lawyer.  The next surprise is worse, the Samaritan does help.  We all begin to win and our enemy begins to lose when all three become neighbors.  The victory is achieved when we expect all three to be neighbors, and they are.

What do the three potential neighbors teach you?

Why Justify?

 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”  And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”  But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:26-29 NASB)

There had to be something about Jesus that drove the religious elite up the wall.  I’m guessing it had to do with His attitude, demeanor, or perhaps His refusal to show off how much He knew what others knew.  He seemed to only quote Scripture.  He never referred to any known scholars of the day.  He only used His own interpretation of Scripture.  Or maybe it was that being anywhere close to Him made one acutely aware of how unholy and unrighteous one was.

This lawyer stands to “test” Jesus.  It’s a test that desires to see the quality of what is tested.  I infer from the context that the lawyer asks without any assumption as to the expected outcome.  I think he really wants to know who this Jesus person is.  When he stands, the lawyer is in the “driver seat” directing the conversation to his desired outcome.  Yet that lasts two sentences into the conversation.  He asks, then Jesus asks, and the lawyer is now the “occupant.”  Something about Jesus’ question, his answer, and Jesus’ response leaves the lawyer wanting.  I wonder if this feeling of being “undone” was the expected outcome of the test.

The lawyer desires, wishes, wants to be justified.  He wants to justify himself.  So, he’s looking for validation from Jesus.  Why?  What is it about Jesus’ response that has this legal eagle so bugged?  Jesus gave the expected response.  When asked, it’s a teacher’s normal process to ask a question in response.  The lawyer gives a good answer, one Jesus will use later on in the Temple with other lawyers.  Jesus affirms the answer.  So what’s the problem, why the need to justify himself?

Jesus heals lepers.  Jesus speaks with and stays with Samaritans.  He travels to Gentile regions, and even heals someone there.  Jesus seems to accept women, even ones with dubious histories.  It’s a fairly safe bet this lawyer does none of this, or rather accepts no one in any of these categories.  To be near Jesus and talk with Him is to throw into sharp relief the distance between the love Jesus lives out and the love this lawyer lives out.  He needs this validation because he has just subordinated himself to the teaching of One who loves the unlovable.  That was not what was supposed to happen.  It left the lawyer undone, needing justification.

Me too.  Seriously, me too.  How can anyone read and really study the Gospels, sift through the life of Jesus, and not be undone?  How can we be confronted by this One accepting the unlovable, touching the unclean, taking the time to speak with women, holding up a child as an example of greatness, and then feel justified?  It’s not possible.  Even if the deeds match, something in the attitude would leave us undone.  Unless we don’t care.  Unless we really are not that interested in Jesus’ life and seeing where we fall short.  We can even justify ourselves by skipping parts.  But when we don’t skip, when we allow ourselves to be confronted by the Teacher who lives out perfect love, we feel the need for justification.

It’s the desire to justify ourselves that holds the danger.  The whole parable was designed to remove the option of self-justification.  The lawyer may have wanted to justify himself, but the Teacher was not going to give him that option.  It was necessary for the lawyer, and for us, to feel the need for justification.  We need it.  It’s part of why Jesus came, part of why He went to the cross, and part of why He needed to rise from the dead.  Justification is the result of knowing Jesus and submitting to Him as Lord of our lives.  Justification is available because Jesus suffered, died, and rose again.  Justification happens because our “defense attorney” is the Son of the Judge who has already paid for our crimes.  The court is rigged, the trial is predetermined in its outcome.  We win.

A fool has himself as his attorney.  The lawyer failed to justify himself.  We fail to justify ourselves.  But we can always take the option left to us by the Teacher.  Would you rather be your own defense attorney before the Judge, being accused by the Satan?  Or would you rather opt for the rigged trial where the Son of the Judge defends you?  The path to that outcome is through Jesus as your Master.  It’s not exactly “free”, it costs your submission and belief.  You declare Jesus is Lord with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.  But God does not believe lies.  Our life and heart are the litmus tests as to whether we have done this.  So, is Jesus your Advocate or are you still trying to justify yourself?

What do you see in the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer?

When A Lawyer Stands Up

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 NASB)

Last week, I decided to work ahead and complete my translation of this parable.  Unbeknownst to me (but knownst to God), I would need that last Sunday.  It worked out that I was asked to give a “devotional” in the Sunday service while the song before was playing.  Since this was fresh in my mind, I chose this.  But the divine element was that this parable dovetailed precisely with the sermon.  The person who was scheduled had a “fatherly” devotion planned, and my next scheduled speaking was on Father’s Day.

Yes, sure, all random chance, kind of like the universe, completely without orchestration or direction.  How do we “swim” in the pool of divine direction and intent?  Do we go with the current or fight against it, strive for the side, or even stay out of it all together?  As seventy “missionaries” return and they celebrate, up jumps a lawyer.  What timing!  Jesus has just praised God for revealing His purpose to the infants rather than the wise and intelligent.  How could this guy remain in his seat?  The infant believing he’s wise and intelligent could not remain silent.

As this lawyer stood to fight against the tide of Jesus’ ministry and direction, he stood as one of the wise and intelligent.  In representation of their group, he stands to “test” Jesus.  The word used combines “from out of” and “to test for quality or response”.  In other words, the Lawyer wanted to know what Jesus would do when asked a “hard” question.  Ironically, the group who just returned, had returned from healing and casting out demons, and so on.  Having returned from this dramatic demonstration of the power of God, Jesus says He saw the devil fall from heaven.  What a great time to ask a question about commandments!

This is one of those encounters where you have to wonder if the guy was even paying attention.  It’s a great example of what Jesus says in praise, that the Father revealed these things to the infants and not the wise and intelligent!  He didn’t get it.  He’s clueless about what’s going on, and focus’ only on his agenda: test Jesus to see what He will do.  “Yeah, yeah, I know all those miracles happened, and preaching and stuff, but I have a question about the law.”  Okay, thanks for playing.

In his wisdom and intelligence though, the lawyer provides an excellent opportunity for one of the parables of Jesus most quoted and misunderstood by masses of the unfaithful.  Anyone with a motorhome or camp trailer knows of the “Good Sam Club”.  Where did the name come from?  This parable.  Does the club have anything to do with the parable?  No, not really.  In 1966, several RV people banded together in a promise to help each other along the road (i.e. be a good Samaritan).

So, once again, a lawyer stood to speak.  I wonder if people groaned when he did.  “Great, not this guy again.”  I wonder if people looked on in interest wondering what would happen as well.  “This should be good.”  I wonder if people even noticed.  The thing is, this guy stands in the midst of a celebration and seeks to take the crowd and celebration in another direction.  I don’t know if he really expected Jesus to “fail” the test, the word used doesn’t suggest either way.  All I know is that his question has little or nothing to do with what’s going on, except as an example of Jesus’ claim his group missed the revelation.

So, what do I learn?  Well, first off, I learn to remain on a lookout for what Jesus is doing around me.  And along with that, I learn to jettison my agenda if it doesn’t seem to fit what I see my Master doing around me.  Regardless of whether Jesus was able to use this errant lawyer or not, he didn’t end up as an example of obedience to Jesus.  I would rather be one of faceless, nameless examples of faithful followers of Jesus.  It would be better to be one of the unnamed 120 in the upper room with the disciples than the named or mentioned opposition to Him.  It’s not that my name is written in Scripture, but that my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  That’s where I want to be mentioned.

So what do you see when the lawyer stands up to test Jesus?

Well, What Do You Know?

Turning to the disciples, He said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.” (Luke 10:23-24 NASB)

There is a certain aspect to the “prophets of old” that always intrigued me.  How much did they understand about what they were writing when it came to the “Messiah”?  Was it simply a “Messianic Hope”? O was there something more?  Or was there something less?  From what Jesus says here privately to His disciples, I get the impression there was something more and less.

This passage follows immediately on the return of the seventy sent ahead of Jesus into various villages.  They returned rejoicing and saying that even the demons were subject to them.  Jesus responds with a brief charge to be more joyful over their salvation than that demons were subject to them.  But He then praises the Father before everyone that He has revealed these things to such simple folk.  Then He says this to His disciples privately.

What I gain from this series of events is that these “prophets and kings” who wished to see and hear these things are the ones who prophesied Jesus’ coming.  And from how Jesus words it, they were aware that something big was coming without knowing the details.  They wanted to know more, but didn’t.  They longed to experience the things that they were saying was coming.

So in terms of inspiration of Scripture, this tells me a lot.  One of the problems I’ve had with so-called messianic prophesies is that they seem so vague.  I think sometimes people apply them to Jesus, when they could be applied to other events or people as well.  I know that sometimes it’s both-and, not one or the other (both then and in the future with Jesus).  But I think this nebulous wording really is what Jesus is getting at.  The prophets themselves really didn’t know any more.  They wanted to, but weren’t given more info.

What this means for me is that my Master really doesn’t feel the need or obligation to provide all the detail.  And I learn this is true even with the “big things”.  It’s frustrating, and I have to admit I find it confusing in the midst of the “big things”.  The truth is though, that these sorts of things build my faith.  Of course, I have to have a little faith first, but these then “bulk it up”.

Think about what it must have been like for the disciples to hear Jesus say that.  It was probably exhilarating, but also intimidating.  These same prophets and kings were the “heroes” and “fathers” of old.  They were the “great men” about whom were the stories on which these disciples were raised.  And here they were gaining a benefit these great ones wanted but never got.  I hope it gave them shivers.

Keep in mind, having experienced all this “greatness” they still didn’t understand who Jesus was, and had no idea what He was going to do.  So, hearing and seeing what the “great ones” never did didn’t make them “greater”. They were still ordinary men.  That’s comforting to me.  My Master may not reveal it all to me, but He also doesn’t expect me to be so great I’m able to “fill in the gaps”, understand the unstated, be suddenly brilliant.  That’s good, because I’m not likely to be or do anything like that.  I can be me, simply as I am, and He will show me what I need or what He wants.  And it all works out.

What’s your view through the knothole? (sorry if that seemed rather abrupt, but I was done…)

Revealing and Knowing, As Infants

At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.  All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Luke 10:21-22 NASB)

As my wife can attest, I have long struggled with pride.  In general, I love what I think, and hold it in high esteem.  I know I’m not alone in this, but I also know my Master has worked long and hard to lift me out of this visionless attitude.  Over that last 20 years, I have learned so much from others, that the realization has dawned on me that my ideas are never entirely my own, and rarely complete.  It’s true, I synthesize the ideas of others, and the new thesis I end up with requires the theses of others to morph into yet another, better idea.

I’m learning that I’m dependent.  That’s very different from learning to become dependent.  I’m learning that this isn’t a choice where my Master is concerned.  I am dependent upon the insight and wisdom of others to learn about my Master.  Any time I try to avoid dependence, I succeed in failing to learn about my Master.  So, this blog is somewhat of a learning vehicle for me.  It succeeds to the extent others contribute.  So, the invitation is always open.

Fortunately for all involved, my Master sees fit to hide Himself to a degree from the “wise and intelligent” and reveals Himself to the infants.  I think the more complex, the further afield from the truth we get.  On the other hand, sometimes the complexities of the Creator of the universe are revealed, but again, often to “simple-folk”.

So in this passage, Jesus is overcome with joy in the Spirit to see the Father’s reversal.  He sees these simple men, devoted to Him without really “getting it”, misunderstanding who He is, and ignorant of what they are all walking into in Jerusalem.  He sees them rejoicing that they have experienced such power of God to do the miraculous.  They rejoiced to see the Kingdom of God coming through them.  And yet not one understood it.  In a sense Jesus is saying, “Oh, if you only knew.”

And then Jesus declares something we expect to read (and do read) after the resurrection, at His ascension.  Jesus declares His authority from the Father.  He declares this authority to be complete, but specifically in knowledge of the relationship between the Father and the Son.  I can’t help but trip up as I read.  I run through this and have to go back and read again.  Only the Father knows the Son.  Only the Father knows the Son.  And only the Son knows the Father, and those who whom the Son reveals Him.  In other words, the knowledge of the Son isn’t shared like the knowledge of the Father.

Immediately, someone will probably think that this is completely off because the Son is right there, so of course they know the Son.  But remember, they’re infants.  Jesus’ point is that they don’t get it.  We see that they really don’t understand who Jesus is, so no, they don’t know the Son.  Only the Father really knows the Son.  Jesus walks with these men in the knowledge that they do not know Him, even as He reveals the Father to them, they still don’t know the One revealing the Father.  It’s lonely in a sense.  It’s frustrating in another sense, yet here we see Jesus’ joy in it.  He doesn’t have the expectation that they know Him.  He holds no illusions about His followers, and isn’t disappointed with them.

So, I don’t have to know it all.  I must be faithful to seek my Master all my time here He gives me on this plane of existence.  But I will not truly know Him until I finally see Him face to face.  It’s okay, that’s not a failure on my part, it’s how He designed it to work.  It’s not a test, it’s how my Master creates community.  And I am learning that I must have community.  Only within community can I begin to explore the deep things of my Master.  For I am simple folk, and I cannot understand on my own what my Master has to teach.

So basically, when you read but don’t comment, you wound me!  Not really.  This isn’t the only avenue I have to explore my Master within community.  But to the degree that there is participation here, I grow and learn so much more than whatever drivel I pour into these entries.

Okay, rant over.  What’s your view through the knothole?

Fearless Transmission of the Kingdom of God

But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’  I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.  Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.  But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.  The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  (Luke 10:10-16 ESV)

Rejection.  We fear it.  It’s a defensive part of volleyball and basketball.  We do it in fear and pain.  Rejection is a powerful human action.  In a sense, it’s also a divine action.  While the word is not used, the action of not regarding the sacrifice of Cain was rejection of the sacrifice.  But also keep in mind that God continued to speak with Cain.  It was rejection of his sacrifice, not of Cain, not until later after he killed Abel.

Here in this passage, rejection is referred to as “rejection” but also in terms of not being received.  And Jesus reserves a harsh judgement for such activity.  Consider that for a moment.  Rejection and harsh judgement are things we are not terribly comfortable with.  We fear them both.  Yet these woes and judgements of Jesus were to be encouragement to the seventy He was sending out.  In the face of rejection, the seventy were to respond with a challenge to the village.  Shaking the dust from the feet, but also a call that the Kingdom of God has come near regardless of your rejection.

The truth is I fear rejection.  I fear what others think of me.  And I shouldn’t.  Think about it sure, but fear it, no.  There’s no cause for me to fear it.  The truth is that when I bring the Kingdom of God near to others, they become responsible to receive or reject.  In a sense I have brought them to a terrible precipice.  The judgement they incur on themselves when they reject the Kingdom is severe.  Yet notice that the judgement is for the “day”.  In other words, once the Kingdom comes near, even should they reject it, they have time.  They can repent, change their minds.

So bringing the Kingdom of God near to people is both a danger to them, but also a hope.  They may reject, but they may, after rejecting, repent.  Yet all I can think of is myself, how will I feel, what if they don’t like me, how uncomfortable with I be, and so on in additional nauseating procession.  I want to be thought well of by others.  Well phoey on that!  Who cares?  While that’s easy to say and to write, it’s hard for me to live out.  But I must.  It’s not an option, it’s an imperative.  I must live out fearless transmission of the Kingdom of God to those around me.  For the Kingdom of God has indeed come near to them.  They need to know that.

I need to change.  What do you need to do?  What’s your view through the knothole?

Disentangling Metaphors and Similies

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20 ESV)

One of the teaching techniques I use is pretty cheap and easy.  In fact I use the term “technique” rather loosely.  What I do is try to use a completely different setting or circumstances to explain a concept I’m trying to teach.  The trick is to pick a new setting or circumstance the person understands better than the one I’m explaining, and to describe the concept  with the scant understanding I have of their setting/circumstance.  I have to say the results are mixed.  Usually I accomplish a thorough revealing of how ignorant I am of something in which they spend most of their lives.  So picking a workable metaphor or simile is difficult.  Jesus did it a lot, but for us today it’s not really that easy to follow, sometimes.

In this passage I see two or three things that immediately jump out at me and one which forms Jesus’ main point.  First, the seventy were so effective that they got Satan’s attention in a bad way.  Second, they have more power and protection than they knew, and third, and more important, their lives are secure with God in heaven, so they can safely risk everything and lose nothing.

Now, the thing that draws me into this passage, arrests my attention and captivates my mind is the reference to Satan.  It’s a statement that includes a simile, but is it itself a metaphor, or maybe it isn’t.  Did it actually happen right then?  If it did, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?  If it didn’t, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?

Here’s the problem: Jesus says He “saw” in the ESV, NIV and NLT, “was watching” in the NASB, “watched” in the HCSB, and “beheld” in the KJV (of course).  The problem is that the Greek tense here is the “perfect” tense.  Usually what this means is the action has completed, but still has a present and possibly future effect.  So, did Satan fall while the seventy were running about or way before during the war in heaven?  How far back did the fall happen?  It happened in the past, but so did the work of the seventy.  I believe Jesus referred to a recent past “falling” of the enemy.

“Why do you ask?” you ask. Or as my wife often puts it, “So what?”   But the timing is a valid question. The simile compares the enemy to “lightning” which is bright, but merely a flash and is gone.  The statement is in response to the joyful return of the seventy, so timing of the fall is important to make sense.  And lightning is an earthly event, so Jesus’ point of view to make the simile work would be earth, not heaven.  In other words, the way in which Jesus uses and times His statement about this enemy gives the distinct impression that it happened while He was waiting for them to return.

You may find Satan tramping about heaven difficult to accept, but this enemy seems to wander heaven at times accusing the people following God whenever the sons of God come meet in heaven for a council (see Job).  Paul mentions that our “fight” is against the “spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms” which means that enemies of God seem to exist in heaven, including Satan.

Here’s why I think Jesus may have said this with a very amused grin or laugh.  If this enemy, in response to the work of the disciples, has to “fall like lightning from heaven”, then it would seem he got caught with back door open or something.  Something about what the seventy were doing was so damaging to this enemy kingdom that he had to rush back to repair the damage or bolster his defenses.

Can you imagine what it would be like if this were happening a lot through our churches across the world?  What if some activity we were doing were so damaging to our enemy that he had to rush back to help fight?  When’s the last time you’ve heard of something that impressive being done by churches, especially in the Western “First World”?  Sometimes I get the impression that, in America, the churches are sort of “behind enemy lines” in a way.  We’ve capitulated the territory and don’t even notice any more, fooling ourselves that “we’re okay”.  What would have to happen to get Satan’s attention here instead of in those Third-World countries where the dead are being raised in Jesus’ name?

I would think one of the best things we could do to support our brethren in these oppressed regions is be so on fire here and so diligent in working in the power of the Spirit here, that we get the enemy’s attention off of them for a bit.  They’d probably really appreciate the break, however long it might last.

What do I need to do to do that?  Perhaps letting my faith replace my fear would be a good place to start.  On the other hand, I think the obedience of the seventy preceded their faith.  Go fearful and let my faith be grown.  I wonder.  I think I may need to go talk to my neighbors, I feel some grilling and “fellowship” coming on.

What’s your view through the knothole?

Rules For Apostles

 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.  And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.  (Luke 10:5-7 ESV)

Regardless of what you think the term “apostle” means, at the time of this event in Jesus’ ministry, the term was derived from the verb used for what Jesus did, “sent out” seventy.  So, if this is a special term for a special office for special people for you, keep in mind it meant something else before it ever meant that.  This passage is part of the set of rules for those being sent out by Jesus.

In Luke, this is the second “sending”.  The other writers have the sending of the Twelve, and so does Luke.  They record some of these rules there, and Luke includes some there, some here, and some that make it into both.  Luke is much more detailed in the rules in this second sending of so many more.  And this passage is one of those places of greater detail.

There are really two elements that different here.  First is the direction to bless the house with your peace.  The second is about the eating whatever is placed before them.  The third element of remaining in a single house is in both of Luke’s “sendings”, and Matthew and Mark.

The direction to bless the house with peace is interesting to me because of the way it’s described.  “If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him,” means that there is this understanding that hospitable people may also be peaceable.  If so, then the peace of the one following Jesus will rest there enhancing the peace.  But it also says, “But if not, it will return to you,” which means that hospitable people may not be peaceable, but they are to remain anyway.  Let the peace return means that the only peace in the house may  be the sent-one, and they are to be okay with that.  So, it may be a hard situation to be a part of, but they were to remain with it nonetheless.

The second element is repeated again in verse 8, eating whatever they set before you, but with a different emphasis.  In these verses, eating what is “provided” is a command to receive because their work is worth the “pay” of a meal.  Which means that “ministry” is understood by Jesus to be a sort of service worth a wage.  That a debate continues to rage as to whether ministers should be paid or derive their living  from it is really ironic.  But that could be because sometimes ministry for some stops being a “service” worth a wage.  When ministry becomes a regular routine where little is rendered to those “attending” then really nothing is gained, so where’s the return on the investment?

This is an embarrassingly easy trap to get caught in.  Ministry can be hard, should be hard, and sometimes taking an easy path becomes not a momentary rest, but a ministry approach.  Excuses are easy to come by, but the reality is that ministers can and do lose their first love of Jesus and His people.  Think of what it would mean if the first element were also a part of ministry.  If your “sheep” aren’t people of peace, let your peace return to you.  But you still minister in peace, even when you are the only peace present.  Can you imagine?  When the going gets tough, you remain the person of peace.  That gets difficult to sustain, and can only be done when ministering in the power of the Spirit, rather than ones own.  But when done, is worth being paid for.

So, what do I see here?  An excuse for not giving?  If you saw that, you will be punished.  You may see a reason to “garnish” wages, but not to limit giving, as you give to God, not to a minister.  What do I learn of peace?  If I am a man of peace and other aren’t, I am to remain a man of peace.  Wherever I am sent, whatever I am sent to do, I go and do in peace.  I share the peace, but retain it if it’s not received.  The peace I have in my Master remains regardless of those to whom I minister.

I also learn that what I do for others as a servant to my King must be of value.  I can’t simply go through motions, providing nothing enriching to their lives.  As my Master enriches my life, I need to share that with those to whom I minister, not hoard it.  As I do, there is a give-and-take of riches, spiritual for material.  On the other hand, I have eschewed material gain for ministry.  From my past experiences, I have lost my trust for any body of believers.  From this passage I see that I don’t really have that luxury.  Which I really don’t like, at all, not even a little.  I get that though.  The minister can then focus their attention to the ministry without distraction; and they are motivated to do good work (provide a marketable service?) because their living depends on it.

I feel like I’ve looked through the knothole and saw an at-bat I was trying to avoid seeing.  I suppose that indicates growth, or at least does if I permit what I learn to sink in and germinate, take root, and grow.  Well, what did you see through the knothole?  Something easier I hope!