Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Week Fourteen: February 22-28, 2016 - Luke 6:46-7:17

The very first verse of this week's passage is deserving of our time, reflection and prayer:  Jesus says, Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you? (vs. 46)

Read this verse a few times slowly.  As you read it, ask the Lord this question: Jesus, where in my life do I not practice what you teach?  Pray about this question until the Lord reveals to you where you need to adhere to His teaching.  As the answer(s) is revealed to you, ask God for the grace to bring your life into alignment with His teaching.  Reflecting on last week's passage from Luke 6:27-45 may help you answer this question.  Do you love your enemies? Do you do to others as you would have them do to you? Do you judge and condemn others? Do you forgive? Do you give generously to meet the needs of others?

The issue in verse forty-six is "true discipleship."  Can we be a disciple of Jesus if we only confess to know Him?  Or does being a disciple of Jesus require more?  What defines true discipleship?  Jesus leads us to consider in this verse how right confession needs to be joined with right practice (obedience).  What good is it to call Jesus "Lord" and not treat Him as "Lord" by following His teachings and commands?

Verse forty-six leads us into the familiar words of Jesus (vv. 47-49) which admonish us to build our house (our lives) on the firm foundation of the rock.  To build our lives on the rock of Jesus, He teaches us that we must hear His words and act on them.  I'm reminded of the words of the Psalmist David who said, For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)  Such is the joy and confidence of those who build their lives upon Jesus and His teachings.  Alan Culpepper says in the New Interpreter's Bible, "We do not choose whether we will face severe storms in life; we only get to choose the foundation on which we will stand."

Luke 7:1-17 tells us of two healing stories.  The first, in verses 1-10, tells us of a Gentile centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus.  The miracle beyond the miracle is that Jesus never actually sees or talks directly with the centurion or the servant who is healed.  This teaches us an important lesson: we do not have to be in front of Jesus (physically) to receive His healing.  Through prayer, Jesus can bring healing to ourselves or others in the same way he healed the centurion's servant.  Just as the friends of the centurion served as mediators between the centurion and Jesus, we can serve as mediators between others and Jesus through our prayers.

Second, in verses 11-17, Luke tells us of a healing that mirrors a healing story in 1 Kings 17.  For "extra credit" this week, read the story of Elijah healing the widow's son in 1 Kings 17 and see if you can find all of the similarities between the two stories.  Luke frames Jesus' raising of the dead man in Luke 7:11-17 to make a very important statement: Jesus is the Messiah who is greater than a prophet (like Elijah).

The Luke passage this week leads us to consider the foundation on which we stand.  Is your life firmly rooted and grounded in Jesus?  How does your heart need to be transformed by His grace so that you can answer this question in the affirmative?  How do your actions need to conform to the teaching of Jesus?  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. - 1 Corinthians 3:11

Monday, February 15, 2016

Week Thirteen: February 15-21, 2016 - Luke 6:27-45

Jesus' teaching this week in Luke 6 is a continuation of the "Sermon on the Plain" that began in verse 17 of last week's reading.  As we study this passage, we might find ourselves being overwhelmed with how we actually put these words into practice.  There are two realizations that might keep us from becoming overwhelmed.

1) Only a life that is transformed by the grace of Jesus can implement these teachings. All of Jesus' teachings in this passage are the opposite of how we normally act and react to negative treatment by others.  From our sinful nature, we typically meet the aggression of an enemy with retaliation and violent force.   Only a heart that is being transformed by Jesus can meet the aggression or unfair treatment of an enemy with mercy and forgiveness.  (The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart. - vs. 45)  Thus, these are heart matters and not simply matters of action.  When our hearts are captured and transformed by the grace of Jesus, we find ourselves looking at enemies and those who harm us with love and mercy rather than hatred.

2) The application of these teachings make us like Jesus.  It doesn't makes sense initially to allow someone to strike us without retaliation or to pray blessings for those who curse us...until we realize that this is exactly the way God reacts toward humanity...including ourselves.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful - vs. 36  We become "sons of the Most High" (vs. 35) when we show mercy to those who do not deserve it.

Here is an outline of this week's reading:
1) vs. 27-36  - Jesus gives a simple command, love your enemies, followed by three variations of it.
Jesus then provides four applications of the command.  One of those applications is the Golden Rule in verse 31 - do to others as you would have them do to you.

2) vs. 37-38 - Two negative commands are given that relate to the authority of God to do what ONLY God can do - judge and condemn.  Two positive commands are given that relate to actions of God that we are both allowed and commanded to emulate - forgive and give.

3) vs. 39-45 - Three parables highlight the need for us as disciples to be guided by the Master who transforms our inner nature so that we can carry out these teachings.

How do we apply these verses: we need to ask ourselves, with whom do I need to put these teachings into practice?  If I did, what would be the outcome? We will likely find that putting these teachings into practice leads to better outcomes in the long-run than reacting with violence and retaliation.  We will also find that practicing these teachings will reveal the glory of Christ to those who mistreat us.

A Jesus-shaped faith is defined by the actions of love, mercy, and forgiveness toward those who least deserve it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Week Twelve - February 8-14, 2016 - Luke 6:1-26

Luke began his Gospel account by giving us these words from Mary: He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. - Luke 1:51-53 (NRSV) In summary, Luke tells us that the Gospel of Jesus will bring about a new framework, a new reality, and a new set of values.  The old order of the world based on human rituals is out.  The new order of God's Kingdom has become present in Jesus.  As you read Luke 6:1-26 this week, how does Jesus present the value system of the Kingdom of God?

In Luke 6:1-5, Jesus and His disciples pick grain and prepare food on the Sabbath.  The Jews of the first century had placed a rigid rule of refraining from food preparation on the Sabbath above the human need to eat.  Jesus in His actions and teachings reveals that human need (hunger) is given priority over ritual observance/religious rules.  

Luke 6:6-11 adds to this teaching as Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.  The Rabbis wrote in the Talmud that only someone who had a life threatening illness should be healed on the Sabbath.  Jesus highlights the error of placing rituals and rules above human need by healing a withered hand (not a life threatening illness) on the Sabbath.  In the Kingdom of God, meeting human need and bringing healing to others is the way we show love to God - not by simply observing man-made rules.

In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus chooses disciples from a group of men who were not the elite of Jewish society.  St. Ambrose writes, "He chose not wise men, nor rich men, nor nobles, but fishermen and tax collectors, whom he would direct, lest they seem to have seduced some by wisdom, or bought them with riches, or attracted them to their own grace with authority of power and nobility."  Jesus teaches us in His choice of disciples that in the Kingdom of God, God scatters the proud and lifts up the lowly.

Luke 6:17-26 gives us a glimpse of Jesus teaching His disciples.  What did He teach them?  Jesus taught them that the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are persecuted for His sake will inherit the Kingdom of God and receive great reward.  On the other hand, He taught them that the rich, the satisfied with self, the laughing, and the revered will be left empty.  From the beginning of Luke's Gospel, Luke has been telling us that Jesus has come to give His Kingdom to those who are on the outskirts and fringes of the elite of society.  A poor, young virgin will give birth to Jesus.  Shepherds will be the first to hail Him as King.  Lepers will be cleansed and paralytics will be healed. The low-in-status will be His disciples.  Jesus has come to bring the Kingdom of God, and the world order will not align with it.

In the Kingdom of God, we find life when we love God and love neighbor.  Our life is not found in money or food or the high opinion of others.  Our life is found in joining Jesus' mission to heal the broken-hearted and to let the oppressed go free.

One final note: the Kingdom of God is not a reality Jesus invites us to realize after death.  The Kingdom of God is a reality Jesus invites us to join here and now.  Jesus invites us to submit our lives to His Kingship and to live by His values...the values that lift up the lowly, scatter the proud, and love God through loving the neighbor. How does this reality clash with how you presently live and see God...yourself...others?  How is God calling you through this passage to join His Kingdom in the here and now?

For final reflection, here is Luke 6:20-26 from Eugene Peterson's The Message:
You're blessed when you've lost it all.  God's kingdom is there for the finding. You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry. Then you're ready for the Messianic meal. You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.  Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens-skip like a lamb, if you like!-for even though they don't like it, I do...and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you'll ever get. And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games. There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it. There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests-look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.