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Friday, 29 April 2016

Luke 16:1-13: Wha??

I have to confess I've never understood this parable. Jesus seems to be commending a man for his dishonesty. Or his worldly wisdom.

Realising that he was about to get the push, he set about making friends with other business people so that he would be able to get a new job quickly.

I suppose Jesus is saying, look - your time on this earth is short, so you'd better make friends with those who can offer you a new position that will be to your liking. In terms of friends he means God; in terms iof position he means heaven.

The problem for me is that if I came across a steward who was so willing to double cross his old master, I wouldn't want to employ him for fear he would double cross me as soon as I did something he didn't like.

I've always thought honesty brings its own reward, and to be honest (NPI) I thought Jesus did too. Verses 10 to 12 seem to say as much.

So help me out, please! Leave me a comment explaining it to me. What is this parable all about?

If you need to know, NPI means no pun intended

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Luke 15.11-32: Lost a third time

Once again Jesus expounds the theme. This time, it's not a coin or a sheep, it's a son. Coins have no will of their own, sheep have some, but a human can choose.

This boy has chosen to turn his back on his father and his home, and set out for an adventure. He needs to learn for himself that money and fun are shortlived entertainment.

Dad meekly lets him go. One can only wonder what the older brother had to say at this point.There's a clue in the end of the story as to their different attitudes towards the young prodigal. When they talk about him, neither of them use his name. The older brother refers to "this son of yours," while the father calls him "your brother."

Older brother has disowned his wayward sibling. He's nothing to do with me any more. He's "your son," not "my brother." But the father resists this redefinition of the family. As far as he's concerned, he's still got two sons. One faithful, one wayward. But the faithful son is angry that his father won't denounce the wayward son.

The righteous pharisees are angry that Jesus refuses to denounce the tax collectors and sinners. So its clear that this pointed story is aimed at them.

They think they're upright. Jesus thinks they're uptight.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Luke 15:8-10: Lost again

Jesus turns to another example. A woman with a 10% shortfall in her most valued treasure. Commentators tell me these 10 coins were probably her dowry, which she would have kept sewed into a headscarf. Perhaps there was a little hole in the scarf, and one coin slipped out.

At once the day's plans are cancelled, and she goes into spring clean mode. Every item of furniture is pulled out, every corner is swept, the house is blitzed within an inch of its life.

In a similar way, Jesus is implying that he is coming and looking for something of value all over Israel, and he will leave no stone unturned in the search for something to rejoice his Fathers's heart. Jesus is hunting every sinner, and the woman is hunting her dowry. It is her birthright, it is her passport to a marriage and a future in her culture. She will not rest until it is found.

Jesus is indicating a similar determination: he will not falter in his quest to carry his appeal to all Israel. Repent, and believe the good news!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Luke 15.1-7: Losing things

Careless people are the focus of attention for the next couple of days.

 Jesus tells three very famous parables which seem to be initiated by the complaints of the pharisees about the disreputable people that were hanging around him.

Jesus begins to tell a story about a shepherd who wasn't very good at his job. Or so it seems -  because the man had 100 sheep to look after and had done pretty well. He had brought 99 through the winter safe and sound,  and there was just one that have gone astray.

And yet he left the 99 untended and went off in search of the one that was missing.

Fortunately he found it, and brought it home with great rejoicing.

This is a logical, it isn't rational, and it certainly isn't good economics. Why risk 99 for the sake of one?

But then it's not exactly good theology either to risk offending the righteous in order to win the hearts of one or two unrighteous people.

But if Jesus can't be the Messiah of all he can't be the Messiah at all, and so he is more concerned about the outcasts than it is about the "in casts."

One theme unites these three happy parables and it is the theme of rejoicing. There is joy as a shepherd brings home his lost sheep; there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Luke 14:25-35: Pricey!

The next parable doesn't seem to fit with the banquet scene. Perhaps it's some time later, when Jesus once again is with the familiar crowds.

Away from the swivel-eyed pharisees, we might expect him to be relaxed. But what he says seems calculated to put people off.

Have you worked out how much it's going to cost you to follow me? See those stakes at the crossroads, the ones the Romans nail people up on when they crucify them? You know how they make the poor sods carry their cross to the execution place? Have you realised that following me is going to be as hard as carrying your cross? Have you thought that you might have to deny your own family to be known as one of mine?

You'd work out what it costs to build a tower, wouldn't you? Or if you were a general, you'd make sure your army had what it takes to win before entering a battle?

Following me isn't just something to do in the summer, like an extended holiday. It's hard - like carrying your cross, or constructing a great landmark for all to see, or risking all in a war for what is right.

Have you thought about it? Are you ready for it? If not - what use are you? If you're like salt that's lost its savour, I don't want you hanging around me.

Last night I saw a commercial for a gambling website and at the bottom of the screen was the caption "Stop when it isn't fun any more." Good advice to avoid addiction.

Is this what Jesus is saying to his fair weather followers?

Friday, 22 April 2016

Luke 14.15-24: Rude!

The banquet theme continues. After a bland comment from a fellow diner, Jesus launches into a parable.

In the culture of the day, the guests in Jesus' story behave with shocking rudeness. The way is was done was to send out invitations twice; after the first one was accepted, a second went out saying, basically, "Come now, the food is getting cold." Etiquette dictated that you would immediately respond, and follow the messenger straight to the party. To make your excuses at this stage was, well, inexcusable.

And yet, three times over, this is what happens. The different guests suddenly decide they have more important things to do than attend a party they had already said they would come to. No wonder the host is angry. You just don't stand up a rich and powerful man like that.

Jesus' point is that this is precisely what Israel has gone to God. They said they would be his people, they said they would come to his banquet, but now the moment has come, they find excuses.

The host in Jesus' story then makes sure that his banquet is full somehow or other. "Go and get the people who never get invited," he tells his staff. So the outcasts are called in. Even then there's still room (quite a party, this!) so out go the servants again to the highways and byways, and drag people in.

Think how this sounds to the ultra-orthodox pharisees. Intent on purity, committed to righteousness, they find themselves characterised as rude, thoughtless and ignoring of God's invitation. They find themselves excluded in favour of the great unwashed. They find themselves banned.

Jesus is burning his boats with this parable. He is declaring the pharisees as his enemies. They will never support him after this.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Luke 14:7-14: Come dine with me

Jesus took a look around him at the dinner table. It was probably very subtle, but he could make out the power games that were being played. There was very definitely a hierarchy on the seating order, and, although conducted with smiles and signs of humility, there were skirmishes over the seats of highest honour.

So he decided to break another rule. He mentioned it.

If there's one thing that middle class people hate, it's bringing their competitiveness into the open. Whether its places at a coveted school, success for your child's football team, being more successful at work than your neighbours, or better looking than anyone else in the hairdressers, we love to be competitive. Anything, if you try hard enough, can be turned into a contest.

So Jesus, watching with amusement at the tabletop shenanigans, called out this behaviour. As if making conversation, he begins to remark that wouldn't it be good if everybody had a rush for the bottom, then you'd have the satisfaction of your host inviting you up to a better seat.

And he presses his point. Turning to his host, he tells him, don't invite people who can invite you back, invite the poor and the outcasts. Be like God, who is busy populating his kingdom with those you have rejected, under your very nose.

Oh, and you want a reward for this, do you? Well you'll get one. God will see, and God will reward you, according to your deeds. You might fool people,  you might win your little competitions more often than you lose, but God won't be playing by your rules.