Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Can't Take It With You

The parable of the farmer in Luke 12:13-21 makes me a little uncomfortable. Is Jesus talking to me? I suppose I indentify a little too closely with the farmer. But wait a minute, this guy’s not a cheat; he’s worked hard for what he has. He provided well for his family and educated his children, after which he set some savings aside for the future. But was there ever really enough? If I just had a little more in the bank or if I could just get a better return on my investments without risking our future? Sure I can relate but isn’t he living the “American Dream?” Isn’t this what Max Weber espoused in his social-economic theories that have come to be known as the Protestant Ethic, in which certain Protestant denominations considered hard work in pursuit of economic gain as being as being a reflection of moral and spiritual blessings (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism)? This moral-economic philosophy gave birth to the rise of Capitalism and the unprecedented growth of the United States in virtually every sector. In many ways, it provided the directional compass for the youth of our generation who were instructed to use our God-given talents, work hard and get ahead. So, what’s wrong with that?

Luke prompts us to wonder what does it mean to get ahead? After all, there is an end to it all. This is the one very important thing for which the farmer has not planned -- his reckoning with God. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Despite our technological advances; our intellectual prowess or cultural achievement, the human condition guarantees that we cannot escape its legacy. As such, our lives are fraught with uncertainty and insecurity. Perhaps this may be the reason we strive for a measure of security and control over the vagaries of life through our own efforts or accomplishments.

The farmer has fallen prey to worshiping the most popular of gods: himself. The farmer is called a "fool" not because of his wealth or ambition but rather because he accords finite things infinite value. He has tried to insulate himself from his ultimate destiny through his own resourcefulness and in the end will have “come up empty.” He has all he believes he wants and more, yet, at the end - which comes that very night…it proves inadequate.

Life is all about priorities. Where is God is in our lives? How do we invest the gifts that God has given us? Are our lives aligned for our own goals and passing desires, or with God, our neighbor and what God has planned for us?


Luke 12:13-21

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lord, teach us to pray...


When my first child was born, I as a young father, was overwhelmed by how much I loved him. I couldn't get over how strong in the very first moments of his life was my desire to love, protect, and provide for him. In those initial months and years, I was overcome with the strength of my feelings for him. Then, as we approached the birth of our second child, I was uneasy about my feelings: “how could I possible love her (it was to be a girl), as much as I loved him; there’s no way, I thought, I could have all those strong feelings? However, after she was born, I realized that my feelings for her were the same…I learned that I did not have to divide my love or love one less than the other. It was just there, already “packaged” for me in my daughter as it was in my son. Today, I reflect on those early years of parenting, in which I was only a hare’s breath from being a child myself and wonder about how much greater is the love of God.

In our Gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Over the years I’m sure his lesson has created considerable controversy and raised much doubt about all prayers being answered: So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is this really true?

Our children can provide a unique perspective on our relationship with God. Over the years, my children would ask for many things. All requests were heard and I know all their requests were answered. In some cases they received what they asked for; in others they did not. Many times my alternate suggestion, which they resisted at the time, tuned out to be even better than what they had originally requested. I don’t remember ever not listening to their request, despite how outlandish in some cases, I thought they were. I don’t remember not answering them one way or another. Even when they were denied I listened and our love for each other never suffered despite some difficult encounters.

Children can provide a unique perspective on prayer and our relationship with God. Luke’s Gospel prompts me to think if this is the way it is with us, imagine how it is with God?

If you then...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things

The Story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) occurs as Jesus "set his face to go  to Jerusalem" and dispatches the seventy disciples ahead with no provisions; instructs them to waste no time; to travel lightly and to depend on the hospitality of anyone who would welcome them on their journey. Likewise, immediately preceding the visit to the home of Martha and Mary, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which reveals an example of extraordinary compassion for a complete stranger in need. So, in context of these preceding stories, are we not somewhat taken aback with his admonishing Martha and siding with Mary? Our instincts tell us that Jesus should not chide Martha as he affirmed Mary’s choice to join the disciples and disparaged her for being distracted with less important matters. Didn’t Jesus admonish Simon for being less than attentive to the needs of his “honored” guest (Luke 7:36) a few weeks ago? His affirmation of one woman's choice and criticism of the other seems out of character, especially because Jesus consistently emphasizes service and hospitality. So, what is the justification for his dismissal of Martha's attention to the care of her guests? We certainly can relate to Martha wanting the meal to go well, especially since we can assume that Martha and Mary were well aware of Jesus’ notoriety as an important religious teacher and they were honored to be able to host him…why else would they risk breaking the law by having a man in the house without the presence of a male relative? After all, isn’t Martha doing what is expected of her as a good hostess?

Our natural inclination is to justify what Jesus does. But perhaps this story is intended to disturb us. Luke portrays Jesus in an unexpected way to teach that the coming of God’s kingdom is the first priority and while he acknowledges the importance of Martha's service in ordinary circumstances, no earthly tasks should get in the way.

Sometimes we need our expectations to be challenged in order to hear what Jesus is trying to tell us.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Parable of The Man Who Fell Among Thieves


Is there a passage in the Bible or Gospel story more familiar to us than the parable of “The Good Samaritan?” (Luke 10:25-37). A man is traveling on a dangerous road when he’s attacked by bandits, robbed, and left for dead. Two people come by who we believe should care for this man, but they don’t. Then one comes who shouldn’t care, but does. It’s just a simple story of love your enemies right?  Of course, this is a beautiful story in which Jesus prompts us to think about whom we consider to be our neighbor. The two people who decided not to stop did not recognize the injured man as their neighbor; after all, he was a stranger to them.

Yes, this is an important story for us to tell and think about, since we are living in a time of major change in which our society has become more ethnically diverse.  Our culture, more than ever is a “mosaic” that contains many pieces different from and new to many of us.

But maybe, there’s more going on here? I may be reading more into the story but then, my “editor” is usually in complete agreement. OK, suppose we ask who the “main character” of this story is; doesn’t, the Samaritan get top billing; after all, it’s his parable? But is he really the main character? The injured stranger isn’t just our neighbor but a completely powerless “victim,” who serves as a model for our personal transformation in that he enables us to see how dependent we are on the least of our brethren to know compassion and give of ourselves. His role allows us to “let down our guard” and get out of our “comfort zone,” and not just proclaim our love for our neighbor but to “act out” our love, even though it’s a major inconvenience and the victim is not “one of us.”

Robert Capon Farrar in The Parables of Grace does not see this parable as a model for “niceness.” Jesus’ whole parable, especially with its piling up of detail after detail of extreme, even irrational behavior on the part of the Samaritan, points not to the meritorious exercise of good will but to the sharing of the passion as the main thrust of the story.

Maybe the only way we can truly “help” those who are in need is to recognize how often we have been the victim “left for dead” and completely vulnerable. The Samaritan knew what it was like to be ostracized and persecuted. He could to relate to the victim first-hand. Trading places with strangers in need for no other reason but love, transforms us in a way that changes our view of “who is our neighbor” forever.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves"


From an historical perspective (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20), “commissioning” the 70 in groups of two’s and three’s was a brilliant organizational strategy. We know all too well that John the Baptists’s movement was halted and his followers dispersed abruptly after he was executed by Herod. According to New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan,  Jesus’ disciples were “decentralized” and were virtually unstoppable. They scattered to hundreds of places too remote for Jesus to visit during his ministry, especially now… as his face was set on Jerusalem.  Crossan estimates that there were hundreds of commissioned ministers already in place by the time Jesus was crucified and unlikely to learn of his death for weeks and months. (The Historical Jesus)

The seventy overjoyed with the thrill of their first encounters were reluctant to hear or heed Jesus’ warnings, and were eager to share their joy. Jesus knew that they would be going as lambs in the midst of wolves as he too experienced rejection and death threats during his ministry, and most notably in his own home town. He knew all too well that rejection was the least of what they were going to encounter.

Yet, can’t we relate to the elation that the first wave of disciples felt as they shared their experiences with one another when they returned home? Can’t we relate to how good they felt after healing and ministering to their communities as Jesus taught. Like most of us they would be filled with hope that it all may be joyful and “fulfilling.” Yet Jesus tells us not to rejoice in citing what we’ve done, but quietly rejoice because we are living the Word to glorify God. To restate Jesus admonition: Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever accepts you accepts me, and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, commissioned his students in the Underground Church to go forth into the Third Reich and proclaim the gospel while facing the possibility of death. In so doing, he made the distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. Costly grace is that which is truly from Christ. “It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” Cheap grace, he said, expects endless pleasantness, and is unwilling to confront powers and principalities.  True grace knows that the cross is part of life in Christ.  (The Cost of Discipleship)