Are the Pharisees “Saved”?

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Lk. 15:1-2 NAU)

And He said, “A man had two sons.” (Lk. 15:11 NAU)

We spend a lot of time snickering at the Pharisees described in the Gospels.  Jesus seems merciless in His denouncement of them many times.  And here, Jesus responds to their “grumbling” with a series of parables. But rather than say, as Jesus has before, that being descendant from Abraham won’t “save” you, Jesus seems to include them as sons, and “good sons” at that.  So are Pharisees “saved”? Or just these? Or is Jesus just making a different point about acceptance?

Keep in mind that Luke is writing to a different audience, a Gentile audience.  This audience of Luke has suffered at the hands of Jewish believers or Jews in general who sometimes required Jewish custom as part of the life of a believer.  This tension between the groups can be seen often in Acts and in the letters of Paul to various churches in both Europe and Asia.  It wasn’t simply a local problem centered around once church or city.

What makes this question all the more interesting is the preceding statements of Jesus about the cost of discipleship.  Those costs would beg the question whether these Pharisees and scribes have paid that cost.  I’m also asking this question with the understanding that the point of all three parables is the joy expressed by God over a repentant soul, and the invitation to join Him.  It’s not about whether the Pharisees and scribes were “saved” in any sense.  It’s about them welcoming back these sinners and tax collectors without expecting more punishment for them than they’ve already experienced.

The reason I’m exploring this is I sense that, while I’m expected to rejoice over the repentant, I’m not included in those who are rejoiced over when they repent.  In once sense I feel like an example of the younger brother who doesn’t get a party when he repents. Now, to use the setting of this parable (or abuse it, you decide), it’s isn’t that I’ve taken my inheritance into a far country.  Instead I’ve stayed home and run the family farm into the ground.  I suppose in one sense I reached a point where me and “dad” were sitting on the porch looking out over the desolation of what used to be a thriving farm.

I say this to bring up a point.  If the roles were switched, would the sinners and tax collectors rejoice over repentant Pharisees?  I think that had the older brother come in the house, the younger brother would have been grateful, but would he have rejoiced over what it took for the older brother to come in?  I don’t know if I’ve made this clear or not, but basic need for a “repentance party” isn’t restricted to the ones who travel out and come back.  Sometimes those who simply made a “local mess” want one too.  I believe that in heaven, when the “local sinning Pharisee” repents, they get a party too.

So, at the risk of wallowing in self-pity, and sounding like someone missed my birthday, let me just say that I’m not referring to a recent event.  You’re not likely to find something like what I’m referring to in my blog entries or even in my comments on other blogs.  It’s more like a regret from a former part of my life that still aches from time to time.  I hope I never make the mistake of not rejoicing over a repentant soul, regardless of how far or how close they’ve been.

Oh, and I believe the answer to the question is no.  Do you remember the question?  What’s your view through this knothole?


Who’s Who Among Followers of Jesus

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7 NASB)

One of the the things that bothers me about the “cost of discipleship” Luke records Jesus describing at the end of chapter 14 is how impacts evangelism.  I am to share my faith, what does that mean, and how is that done exactly?  In fact, it’s really easy to simply lift Luke 14:25-35 out by itself and construct a picture devoid of evangelism; how could you evangelize if Jesus puts such impressive barriers before would-be “disciples”?  So, this next section of three parables is really important as a balance to the expensive cost of discipleship.

Before diving into the three parables though, I want to point out two thins: 1) Jesus says in Matthew 18:17 that someone who will not return from sin is to be treated as a “Gentile and tax collector”, and here that such were following Jesus.  And 2) Pharisees and scribes made up part of those following Jesus.  We think of them as entirely adversarial, when it is probably more accurate to say that those following Jesus fit a spectrum of sinners all the way to “righteous”; including many in the middle of that spectrum.  The question is how committed were they to being “disciples”.  That’s how this passage connects to the previous one.

The context is the grumbling of one group following Jesus about another group also following Jesus.  The Pharisees and scribes grumble about Jesus cavorting with the sinners and tax collectors they scrupulously avoid.  Jesus explains the issue with three parables.  The first is about a lost sheep.  Ironically, this parable has a parallel in Matthew 18, where we find “church discipline”; and also where we seem to fail to connect the two dots.

The parable is about one who, having 100 sheep, loses one along the way somewhere.  He leaves the 99 in the field to find the lost one.  He’s secure in their safety in the flock.  Keep in mind this is a parable, and not necessarily a picture of actual events.  For once finding the lost sheep, the shepherd throws a party rather than returning to the flock in the story.  The point is that the shepherd rejoices and parties over the found one, not the 99 still in the flock in the field.

But keep in mind that the explanation includes a concept I will need to return to at some point, repentance. The party in heaven is over those returning to the faith, those who’s mind’s have changed to align with God’s mind; they’ve swapped their paradigm for His.  Having done that, the party begins.  What I question is whether all along their sinful path their acceptance had always been assured, but their enjoyment of the benefits of such acceptance had not.  In other words, had they excluded themselves from the benefits of the household of God, even while the access had always been available?

I ask for this reason, I wonder when or where along the spectrum of life with God, are people considered “saved”.  Although, as I read Scripture, I become more convinced that this is probably the wrong question.  I am becoming more convinced that the real question should be whether my relationship with Jesus is present or absent.  Am I enjoying the benefits of His acceptance, or have I rejected such benefits to pursue the enticements of the world.  Paul writes of Demas a few times, one of which includes a return to the faith and fellowship with Paul.  So, perhaps the issue should be about recovering those who have had a relationship and wandered off.  In which case, these parables are not about “evangelism” in any sense, but about recovery of followers.

On the other hand, the categories of tax collectors and sinners versus Pharisees and scribes argues for a more indistinct option.  These categories have more to do with fellowship within the worship of God by Israel than within the “church” so to speak.  In other words, the relationship is different.  Jesus seems to be teaching throughout that fellowship with Him restores fellowship with Israel and Israel’s worship of God.  What needs to be done is to extrapolate that and apply the concept to fellowships of believers.

Sorry for the abrupt ending, but here’s where you share what you find in this parable.  What do you find here?

The Silent Majority

And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”  But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away.  And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?”  And they could make no reply to this.  (Luke 14:3-6 NASB)

I have been reminded by my wife many times that when I prepare, my sermons are shorter.  I don’t preach any more, but the reminder has always stuck with me.  Now, when I do get the very rare opportunity to preach, my preparation is very different, and my sermon is often long.  So, I received the advice or reminder, but I didn’t necessarily heed it.  The thing is, preachers love to preach.  Getting us to keep our mouths shut isn’t easy.  So why were these dinner guests so quiet?

After the setting of this meal, we have the one-sided discourse.  The weird thing is, all the other guests are Pharisees and lawyers.  These guys make their mark in their society by arguing…and here they’re silent.  And we just glibly zip on by and don’t notice a bunch of silent professional debaters.  I think we should.  Because why they were silent may help us understand how Jesus behaves with them at this meal.  And, therefore, how He would respond to us when we practice such silliness.

First off, the obvious reason is probably the first and best reason for why they were silent: They were watching to see what Jesus would do without offering the “assistance” of their perspective.  I’m sure they thought they knew the answer without doubt, without question, without any option for another opinion.  But they were also pretty sure Jesus didn’t.  It was a trap, a snare, an opportunity for the offense of Jesus to become His downfall.  It was silly.

But I think there was something else going on here.  I believe, to some extent, they were aware they didn’t actually know and wanted to know what Jesus thought.  Think about it, these guys are smart.  Jesus goes about healing, which is a testimony that God is with Him, and even heals on the Sabbath, something they thought was a deal-breaker with God.  Jesus represents a conundrum.  How can it be that He can heal on the Sabbath and be acceptable to God?  And so  the wonder, is it real, does He actually heal on the Sabbath, could it be true that God actually accepts such behavior?  And more than that, if so why?  They have assumed that Sabbath-keeping is one of those things that separates them from Gentiles, rigorous keeping of the Sabbath would be vital to that distinction. So, how can Jesus flagrantly do what would be considered work on the Sabbath and God be okay with it?

They  want to see this for themselves.  They want to hear the explanation for themselves.  They have no idea what they’re in for, but they wander in ignorantly to the arena with Deity.  So, they set the trap and wait.  Their opponent shows up, sniffs about, and then sits down to eat the bait, licks their lips and looks around for more.  No trap.  It’s pretty underwhelming.  Jesus comes in, sees the man, asks a question of them, they don’t answer (it’s a test, no cheating), He heals the man, and sending him away asks about a basic loophole in their own Sabbath rules.  How did they not see that one coming?  I suspect they did.  I doubt Jesus was the first one to ask or challenge the group about what validly fits through the loophole.  Jesus is simply the first “Healer” to do it.

The thing I see here is that these guys were first silent to test, then silent because they were tested themselves.  They weren’t “bad guys” because they tested Jesus, they had, over the course of years and generations, argued themselves into a position that neglected the value of people, even their fellow Hebrews.  The irony is that those people were who they were trying to distinguish from the Gentiles through their interpretation of the Sabbath law. So while they succeeded in distinguishing, they failed to protect and value them.  Oh Dang!  I’m sure “Sabbath Law Discussions” kicked around the loophole of saving someone in well, or pulling an ox from a ditch, or watering the donkey, or whatever.  And clearly Jesus isn’t healing for money, the dropsy-man didn’t pay Jesus before he wandered off.  It wasn’t Jesus “occupation” as much as it was what occupied a lot of His time.  So you can understand their confusion perhaps.

I think they had nothing to say because a light bulb just lit in their head.  It was an “oh-yeah” moment.  It wasn’t revolutionary in the sense they’d never been down that particular road, it was transformational because they hadn’t noticed they had forgotten an important element, caring for and valuing the people.  And I doubt very seriously it was because they didn’t know that was important.  I suspect they got further and further away from it because a line crossed many years ago became blurred and forgotten.  They probably assumed that by distinguishing themselves as a people from Gentiles, they were taking care of and valuing their people.  I can see how it could happen.  I’ve seen people there who, if you were to point it out, would be as silent, and probably, like these people here, eventually react against being called out on it.  But I’ve also seen people change once called out on it.  I’m one.  I didn’t figure this out on my own, I’ve had to be shown where I was ignoring the people’s needs and valuing them.

Have you gotten to that point?  It’s been a while for me, and I’m now struggling against the tide in my church to point out need or encourage service.  But where are you in this struggle?  What do you learn from the silent dinner guests?  Or what do you learn from Jesus’ explanation of Sabbath law?

Answering The Visual Question

It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely.  And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy.  And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:1-3 NASB)

I don’t think anyone reading the Gospels, whether they believe what they read or not, can come away from the experience and think Jesus is not an enigma.  Jesus is an enigma to everyone who meets Him for the first time, and those who spend a great deal of time with Him.  All the people knew is that He did miracles and taught with authority.  The disciples knew that He taught as if He were God.  The Pharisees knew that He taught different than they did, and believed different things about the Scriptures.  What Jesus taught was often impossible to measure or intangible in other ways.  It was a call to authentic belief.

Knowing that, Pharisees can’t leave it alone.  I wonder if there was some internal competition between groups of Pharisees to see where Jesus’ weakness lay.  But they keep repeating their testing.  This is the third time Jesus heals on the Sabbath (Luke 6 and 13 are the previous ones).  Jesus has answered questions from the Pharisees about “work on the Sabbath” in Luke 4.  You’d think by now Jesus’ position on the Sabbath was pretty clear.  But no, not to this group, and so we have with this group another example of why it’s dangerous to have Jesus over for a meal (see my previous blog entries “Giving = Sanctifying” and “Lawyer Drawing Fire“).  This is the quintessential example of Jesus as a dangerous dinner guest.  All the elements are here in verses 1 through 24.

But Luke words this rather interestingly.  The scene is set, an invitation, a host, a “man-test”, and Jesus answers.  Luke is specific, Jesus answers when He asks His question of His host and other guests.  Think that through.  Jesus saw the scene as begging a question, He saw it as the test it was, the setup, the trap.  So He asks the question, in a sense “addressing the elephant in the room”.  But what He asks is the surface question, the one we would expect Him to be asked.  So, if the man before Him with the swollen limbs is a question Jesus answers, and the answer is the question the presence of the man seems to beg, then what is Jesus answering?  Or is it as simple as Jesus simply stating out loud the mute question before Him, He really is “addressing the elephant” everyone else sees but doesn’t acknowledge?  I don’t think so.

What other questions could the man represent?  He could represent, “Will you follow our pattern of practice?”  He could represent the question, “Who are you?”  He could represent the question, “Will you play our game?”  But I think the more likely question answered by the man before Jesus was, “Why did you invite me here?”  The man made clear that the invitation was not a peaceful gesture, but an aggressive one.  The presence of the man was a challenge to Who Jesus was, His role, His validity, His right to teach and lead people, and so on.  I doubt by this time the Pharisees were in doubt about what Jesus stood for, where He stood on various issues, or His interpretations of Scripture.  The man represented a trap, and as soon as Jesus arrived He understood the question, a challenge to Him.

“And Jesus answered and said,” Jesus did deal with the unspoken reason for His invitation, not just the man with a disease.  He entered into the ambush, now knowing why He was invited, and proceeded to dismantle His opponents.  He began by showing them the error of their assumptions about the Sabbath.

The reason I think this is important is that it begs the question from us, “Why do we go to Jesus?”  Why do we?  What do we hope to gain?  I assure you that whatever that is, however you answer that question, all you do is provide the starting point for Jesus, and it will also be the departure point for where He will take you.  It’s at that point that we have a decision to make: Continue to eat with Jesus or find a new dinner companion.  I can tell you that other companions are a lot easier to deal with, nicer, less challenging, and often a lot more boring.  Let’s continue on with this meal.  But I warn you it doesn’t get any easier.

What do you learn so far from Jesus as a dinner guest here?

Lawyer Drawing Fire

One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.”

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”  As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. (Luke 11:45, 52-54 ESV)

A soldier on patrol watches his team get chewed up by machine gun fire, and miraculously wasn’t hit.  So he stands up from the cover he was using and says, “Ha! Missed me!” and is promptly shot by the machine gun.  Such genius is this lawyer, this master of minutia, this detail-oriented interpreter of Moses.  He gets the small stuff, the minor stuff, and misses the rather important things by a rather wide margin.  Can’t hit the side of the barn, but seems to be able to hit everyone in front it…

The setting here is like the previous entry, dinner with the Pharisees.  A Pharisee sees that Jesus doesn’t wash His hands and is surprised.  Jesus then takes the opportunity to correct the Pharisee’s entire perspective claiming they are merely exterior believers but interior sinners.  It’s meal time, and Jesus is serving up the guests…again!  There’s Pharisee “woe” all over the floor, they’ve been criticized right to the core, below the surface, and to the heart.  I would think that the “lawyers” in the group would consider themselves in the category Jesus criticizes and be done with it, but no.  This guy has to suggest that Jesus unintentionally came close to criticizing the lawyers.  Not a bright guy.

Do you wonder how many of the other lawyers threw a roll at the guy who made the comment?  The audacious assumption on the part of the lawyer is that Jesus wouldn’t criticize the lawyers. Who would dare do such a thing?  For whatever reason (too important, too “dangerous”, too whatever) Jesus wouldn’t dare such a thing.  Or would He?   In a sense Jesus says, “Oh, wasn’t I being obvious enough? Okay, here’s some specifically for you guys.”  Jesus levels blow after blow (or woe after woe) on these experts in Scripture.  Not the attention the lawyer expected.

The criticisms include loading the people with burdens they refuse carry and participation in the slaughter of the prophets.  That wasn’t bad enough, Jesus then winds up with the charge that these lawyers have taken away the “key of knowledge”, the very thing they were supposed to provide to the people.  They have kept others from knowledge and refused to enter themselves.  These scholars have hindered knowledge rather than inspired it.  Essentially, Jesus describes their complete failure.

So, what’s the lesson?  Where’s the application for us?  What do I need to do in response?  Well, first and most obvious, don’t assume I’m above any lesson of Jesus.  But second, and more important, heed the woe!  Why not receive the criticism, examine my life, and make changes?  Where do I do the minor stuff and miss the greater issues of giving into the lives of others in love?  Where do I hide my weakness from others to gain their respect?  What do I instruct others to do that I don’t follow through on myself?  How do I claim to respect the heroes of faith, but really behave like those who murdered them?  How am I hindering faith and knowledge rather than providing the key?  Unless I’m willing to sit down to the meal with Jesus and hear His words and receive His correction I might as well be eating dust.

I like minutia.  But do I love my neighbor as myself?  Do I want the respect of others and do I hide who I am to get it?  What if I were to love the unlovable and the outcasts?  What do I teach?  Am I willing to live the lesson not just speak it?  Is it enough to confess that I can’t or that I haven’t?  Such a confession may make me more transparent, but does it still burden others with that I refuse to carry?  Do I want the “status quo” more than deeper experiential knowledge of God?  Am I threatened by change?  Do the views of others threaten me?  Personally, I think I hide behind my views so that in trying to be more fringe and “out there” in my views, I protect myself from the radical views of others.  On the other hand I really enjoy discussion at the edges of Scriptural Interpretation and theology.  I don’t know.  This will take some thought and prayer for me to really hear my Master reveal the areas I need to grow.  It’s time for me to have a meal with Jesus.  He says He stands at the door and knocks.  Perhaps I should open it and let the meal commence!

What do you learn from the woes of the lawyers?

Giving = Sanctifying?

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table.  The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?  But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.  (Luke 11:37-41 ESV)

I don’t know if it’s every church, but the one’s I’m most familiar with have problems in that the people don’t tithe.  So, the pastor and elders and leaders all work to persuade people to tithe.  We use various means, but typically it boils down to their devotion to God is reflected in their giving (guilting them into it).  But I think I’ve found a different approach in this passage.

As you read through this dinner party where, again Jesus seems to make His host and other guests uncomfortable, He also throws in this strange statement in the middle.  It’s weird so it’s easy to miss: “But if you give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.”  The problem I have with it is that Jesus attaches several elements together that I find difficult to connect.

Giving those things that are within makes some sense, if those things are good.  Of course if I give those things that are within as “alms” I suppose that would necessitate those things be good.  What sort of heart would produce something to give to others as “alms” if it wasn’t good, or striving to be good.  But Jesus connects those things that are within with “alms”.  How do I give what is within as alms?

Those things that are within are what?  My love (as God understands it).  My compassion?  Mercy?  Perhaps the ability to overlook negative judgments of others, what they look like, dress like, or smell like; how they talk.  Maybe what I can give as alms from within is my time, or a smile.  Perhaps a conversation, not trying to fix them, but getting to know them.  I honestly don’t know what it will or should look like, but these are possibilities.

But whatever the interior alms look like, giving them has a very unexpected effect.  The context of this statement has to do with washing the hands before eating a meal.  The statement Jesus makes is that the effect of giving alms from the interior is that “everything is clean for you.”  How does one affect the other?  How does what I give to others from those things that are within have anything to do with the cleanliness of what I eat?  Does Jesus even refer to the cleanliness of what I eat?  The context suggests that, and it would definitely be on the heart and mind of a Pharisee and lawyer (it probably never left their mind).  But how do the two connect?

I honestly don’t know.  I’m wracking my brain to get my head around this concept, and I’m really struggling.  Cleanliness of what the Jews ate is way too often rooted in safety or in health reasons.  I think most of the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus was more defining the Jews as distinct from those around them.  There may have been a practical side to the laws in that code, but there was one common thread that transcended “wisdom”.  It was simple obedience.  What truly made the Jews distinct was their whole devotion to the rules of God.  Sure some of those rules kept them safe from dangerous food and difficult laundering problems, but some were simply inexplicable as pragmatic rules.  I think it was supposed to come down to devotion to God.

In that case, what one eats is less important than devotion to God.  Therefore, perhaps Jesus is prioritizing the law of loving your neighbor over don’t eat certain animals.  Later on in this passage Jesus says, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”  I think that also applies here.  The Pharisees and lawyers were focusing on those rules that showed strict adherence to certain laws that made them look good to others.  But avoided adherence to those laws that actually cost them in their dealings with others.  They strove to merely look good to others rather than be good before God.

In that case, we, I, are just like them.  Churches are full of these people.  Superficiality is easier than true devotion.  Devotion to God really is inconvenient and disruptive to our lives, our activities, our work, what we do for fun, and our schedules.  My wife and I made the decision to search for a house that would enable more ministry.  God directed us to one that fit our budget and was more home than we imagined within our budget.  But it requires more work to keep up.  It requires more time to keep it available to ministry.  It means having to sacrifice our personal space.  Hospitality isn’t mine or my wife’s gifting it has become more our “calling”, so it doesn’t come easy.

But really that’s easier than others around me to make even greater decisions to inconvenience themselves for the Kingdom of God. What we’ve done helps us feel better about having a nice house, but truly we benefit tremendously from it.  Others have made decisions to be devoted to God in ways that hurt their business, endanger their work life, and possibly endanger their families.  We haven’t done that.  But we know enough of inconvenient devotion to God to know that we, even as limited as we have been, are weird in church.  We should be on the bottom of the devotion ladder, not near the middle or top.  That’s just embarrassing, or should be.  I believe Jesus is calling these Pharisees and lawyers to be authentic with their beliefs.  But what they heard was Jesus tearing down their practices.  He wanted them to be real Jews, but they heard Him try to remove their distinction from Gentiles.

So I suppose the question for you is, “What do you hear Jesus saying to you?”

Who’s For Dinner?

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table.  The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?  But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. (Luke 11:37-41 ESV)

I keep telling my fellow believers that Jesus was a most dangerous dinner guest.  They pretty much do the same thing, nodding with a wan smile and roll their eyes.  I’m crazy.  Who wouldn’t want Jesus to come to dinner?  Well, funny thing you should ask.  As it turns out, this passage is an excellent illustration of why we should be very careful to invite Jesus in for a meal.  As He says in Revelation, He stands at the door and knocks, and will come in and eat with anyone who opens the door.  So, should you?  Well, let’s see what you might be in for if you do.

Jesus has just finished castigating the “generation” asking for a sign and, before that, claiming He casts out demons by the power of their prince.  In Mark and Matthew, it seems it was the Pharisees who spawned that particular line of attack.  So, here in Luke it’s somewhat ironic that Pharisees are missing from the preceding events, and are now inviting Jesus in for a meal.  Seems nice enough.  Jesus accepts, just as He says He would later in Revelation.  So here we go, it’s dinner time!

This dinner discussion is broken up into two parts, one for the Pharisees, and a special edition for the lawyers.  But it begins with washing of the hands (literally “baptizing”).  Jesus doesn’t.  The Pharisee host is “astonished”.  He’s not angry, frustrated, patronizing, contemptuous, or other possible negative responses.  He’s surprised that Jesus wouldn’t wash His hands.  Ironically, many today would be scandalized if someone didn’t wash their hands before a meal as well, regardless of religious background.  Jesus’ response to the astonishment is what astonishes me.

Jesus’ response to the astonishment of the Pharisee drives at two layers of Pharisee life.  First their love for and priority of appearance.  Second their assumption that any righteous person would be just like they are and see things from their point of view.  Jesus points out that what’s inside is far more important for determining “cleanliness” before God.  In fact Jesus makes a rather shocking statement to this Pharisee, “But give as alms the things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you” (emphasis mine).

Do you see it?  The way Jesus sort of obliterates this essential difference between the Jew and the Gentile before God, did you catch that?  What? Everything being clean?  That can’t be right.  Of course making clear what Jesus meant by “give as alms the things that are within” isn’t exactly easy, but it isn’t rocket surgery either.  In its simplest form, perhaps it could be called a definition of love.  It doesn’t have to be complex.  It would connect well with much of Paul and 1 John 4:7,8 because between his teaching and John’s we learn that love is the “fruit” and “fingerprint” of God’s sanctifying presence in  a believer’s life.

Invite Jesus in for a meal when He knocks, and you will learn that it’s not a sanctified lifestyle that ushers us into His presence.  Rather His presence sanctifies our lifestyle.  It’s grace, but grace that influences change rather than justifying stasis.  This Pharisee host was challenged by his guest to completely change his paradigm.  Are you ready for that? You see, you and I are blind. And most people are happy and content that way.  Invite Jesus in for a meal, and suddenly He turns the light on (see verses 34-36).  Suddenly we see ourselves and our world as Jesus does.  Don’t think it will be pleasant.

The question for us is, “Are we willing to abandon our paradigm for His?”  On the surface, sure!  But as Jesus begins to assault our assumptions about holiness, acceptance, submission, obedience, change, perhaps our willingness may wane.  See, what happens is we assume we’re in good shape, so dinner with Jesus is the best thing we can imagine.  But the reality is that we more closely resemble one of the seven churches of Revelation, and will be challenged to change.  He influences us, He doesn’t force us to change.  So, will we?  Will I? Will you?

What do you learn from this divine Dinner Guest?  He’s knocking…it’s  decision time.

Upset About Rest

 On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.    The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.    But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward.    And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?”    After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored.    But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11 NASB)

This account closely follows another which takes place in fields where Jesus’ disciples are picking, rubbing and eating heads of the grain as they go.  There Jesus says that the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.  It’s a cryptic statement in which Jesus asserts His deity, but does so within the context of the Sabbath.  But this account is very different.

Continue reading “Upset About Rest”

Who’s More Important?

And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31,32 NASB)

One of most difficult things for me is to go to the doctor.  I hate it.  Not because they make me uncomfortable, but because most of the time, in our discussion, there’s nothing really that can be done for my cold, flu or whatever, and we agree that I just need to tough out the cold, the flu, or whatever.  But what happens when something really is wrong?  Having that resistance to going to the doctor isn’t helpful, only I don’t know it at the time.

Continue reading “Who’s More Important?”

Old and New, Good and Bad

“And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined.  But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.  And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'” (Luke 5:36-39 NASB)

Luke’s version of this parable is different than either Matthew or Mark. Those two match almost word-for-word. That Luke does not might mean he made an editorial choice to bring out a particular meaning. If that’s the case, then this meaning would be kind of important. The basic differences are 1) the reason for not using a new patch on old cloth is that they don’t match, and 2) the additional phrase of preference of old wine over new. Together these two differences may help us understand how Luke (and perhaps Paul) understood this parable.

Continue reading “Old and New, Good and Bad”