Let’s recapitulate, especially from the healing of the man with the shakes (Luke 14:1-4). On his way to a Sabbath meal after the invitation of a Pharisee, Jesus healed a man with the shakes, dropsy (14:1-6). He then offered teaching to his fellow guests about right conduct at such an event (7-11), and thereby affirmed parties with friends and the hosting of celebrations as part of our creaturely communal life.
He then proceeded to give advice to his host about how such celebrations are to be viewed from a Kingdom of God perspective as times for showing compassion to the poor, to those who simply do not have the opportunity to throw parties (12-14). He then went further and gave a parable that described how a rich man would turn to such a mode of feasting, like a Kingdom of God party, when his meticulous planning and long-established invitations had been snubbed. If such an angry fellow would insist on filling all places at his banquet, how much more would the Lord God of Israel, the King of Glory, throw the feast he has ever been planning to hold for the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind!
Jesus then followed that up with explicit instructions to his disciples that in following him they are confronted with a choice, an urgent “either/or” decision: is the management of everything in your life to be left in his hands? Is the disciple going to accede completely to the Master’s authority in all things, with all possessions, over all relationships? This is part and parcel of a way of life that requires ongoing self-criticism in one’s openness to others.
And this, of course, meant a living application of:
Forgive us our sins because we have forgiven those who have sinned against us …
… and so endorsed an openness that actually attracted “sinners” – those who knew themselves to be sinners as well as those who by public reputation and the attitudes of the “righteous” felt themselves to be on the outer – and they flocked to Jesus wanting to hear more. And so “righteous” eye-brows were raised, the whispering gallery of the Pharisees and the scribes sent its echoes far and wide.
This is a Rabbi who is welcoming sinners!
And Luke tells us how Jesus countered this tide of “righteous public opinion” with three parables describing Kingdom of God celebrations – repentance of sinners brings joys into the very courts of heaven. One had to wait until the end of that third parable about the wasteful son to get the double-edged point – it was also about how those who suffer (yes the word is the right one!) from “hardness of heart” are bveing perpetually confronted by a Merciful Father’s confronting invitation: “Come and join the party!”
Jesus’ parables also include specific teaching to his disciples. Since the love of money (and reputation) is the root of all kinds of evil there is a problem: how is one to live day-by-day in te market-place. How does one, in that case, where the rule of money, Mammon, seems to be so ubiquitous, engage in the necessary tasks of buying and selling?
Jesus’ teaching instructs his disciples to view money as a very little thing, the very minor thing it is in the perspective of God’s Kingdom and Heaven’s riches (16:10-11), even if such a tiny creature can become a merciless tyrant.
And so, Jesus tells his disciples that it is one or the other! Take your pick! God or Mammon!
“Completely ridiculous!” murmured the Pharisees, “it’s a teaching that can never, ever take off.”
And Jesus heard that murmur, loud and clear it seems, and it seems Luke is telling us he could have quite rightly said to them:
“Of course. I expected you fellows to say that. Just look at what you didn’t say or what you didn’t do or even tried to say to prevent the execution of my cousin!”
And in the middle of that exchange Jesus said enough to challenge the inability of the Pharisees to advocate righteousness. The law that proscribes adultery was updated.
Luke therefore actually gives us cause to relate what Jesus was teaching to John and Herod by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It is “either/or” once more, and this time it is pitched with ongoing consequences beyond this life. Those living indulgently off the fat of the land are ignoring the needs of those at their front gate. And father Abraham’s response in the parable is clear enough: unlike Herod, who was panicked by the possibility that, with Jesus’ ministry developing, John had been raised, those who will believe in someone God raises from the grave, are already those living in line with the Law and the Prophets.
There follows further teaching that defines how the disciples are to understand themselves as servants in the Kingdom of God. Their entire inherited way of seeing things is, with their allegiance to Jesus, now in the balance.
The open welcome that is part of the ethic of the kingdom of God was also on display when ten lepers were cleansed, as was Jesus’ adherence to Moses’ insistence upon priestly care for those suffering this affliction. And then there is also the notable fact, to which Jesus draws attention, of the Samaritan’s open thanks to God for his assistance in his healing. Jesus was preparing the way for a Samaritan embrace of the Good News as Luke would later recount (Acts 9:31).
The Kingdom of God is not subject to an elite composed of self-appointed “watchmen on the city gate.” In fact, the Pharisees and the scribes have adopted a pose that makes it highly likely they will overlook what is coming to fulfillment right in front of their eyes. Citizenship in God’s Kingdom is decisive because the emancipation it brings has Divine judgement as its other side. Jesus instructs his disciples in how they should read the Old Testament’s story to their daily benefit.
Jesus’ teaching about prayer (18:1-8) means banging away on God’s door and not merely going through the motions. Justice before God means right-standing in your heart when you pray. It’s not at all a matter of gaining some kind of public reputation for piety, that you then parade to yourself (and to God if he is listening).
And yet, even with all this teaching, his disciples, his hand-picked twelve, demonstrated a persistent tardiness in actually understanding God’s rule in their lives.
Ladies, this is a teaching seminar for grown-ups. Please take your children away. Jesus is far too busy. You can’t be blamed, I guess. Obviously you just don’t realise how much effort he puts into composing his parables. They are to have a world-wide reach you know …
Luke continues by telling us that Jesus’ openness caught his disciples completely by surprise. And then he goes on to tell us that such openness included wealthy people. We don’t hear that the disciples attempted to usher this fellow away. Jesus was quite willing and able to engage with such prominent people, wealthy members of the community, the “movers and shakers” we might say.
In wanting to have something to say about this exchange I found myself unsatisfied with just retelling the story of the confrontation. I went back over what we have just discussed and it becomes quite obvious that at every point in Luke’s narrative in the pages that precede the account of this meeting, that what Jesus says –
Cash it all in! Distribute to those most in need! You shall have your treasure in heaven – count on it – and come follow me!
… is completely consistent with what we have read of his teaching and ministry to this point. And when Jesus noted the difficulty confronted by wealthy people like this fellow – who turn away sad because they have counted the cost and simply cannot take the plunge – we learn that those listening were perplexed. Jesus’ teaching startled them.
My hunch is that Jesus’ compassion for the man was also part of their bewilderment. But Jesus confirmed their inability to comprehend. Luke notes Peter’s affirmation – and he expressed what was presumably the twelve’s willingness to forsake everything to follow Jesus.
Jesus’ reply is a reiteration of the promise he made to his disciples if they would seek God’s Kingdom above all else – Peter here is still “leaving everything behind and following him” (5:11, 12:22-32 espec. v. 31).
The encounter with the “rich young ruler” – before, during and after the exchange – shows us that Jesus was completely open to the wealthy. No doubt Jesus was aware of the prophesy:
… his tomb will be with the rich (Isaiah 53:9)
and here we are told of his complete sympathy with those who simply find following him all too difficult because of the riches with which their lives are cluttered.
The parable of the tower alerted his disciples and anyone else who was taking notice of this confrontation and its aftermath that it is not just a matter of “going with the flow”.
Discipleship requires decisive obedience. It requires thought that arises from a heart fully attentive to God’s word.
18th January 2017.