“With authority and power he commands”

Jesus shows us how to use authority with love. We read about it in Luke 4:31-37.

Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee.
He taught them on the sabbath,
and they were astonished at his teaching
because he spoke with authority.
In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon,
and he cried out in a loud voice,
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!”
Then the demon threw the man down in front of them
and came out of him without doing him any harm.
They were all amazed and said to one another,
“What is there about his word?
For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits,
and they come out.”
And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region.

Twice in this passage Luke attributes the word “authority” to Our Lord Jesus Christ. He says that Jesus speaks with authority and that he acts with authority. Jesus is the Son of God and He has authority over everything on Earth, from the humans who hear His words to the demons who inhabit people. And from other Gospel passages, we know that He acts with authority over the Earth itself. He changes water into wine. He calms storms, even walks on water. Jesus tells us in other Gospel passages that if we but had faith we could move actual mountains, and with His authority and command He could do that, too.

But what is interesting about the Gospels is that despite Jesus’ authority, He never uses it except to do good for others. He doesn’t cause floods. He doesn’t create earthquakes. He doesn’t make people sick or lame or blind. Instead, he heals the sick, enables the lame to walk, makes the blind to see. He even expels demons and brings the dead back to life.

For all those who warn that God is punishing the world with natural disasters for this sin or that or that God hates this sinner or that sinner, Jesus shows  us that’s simply not true. Jesus shows us that God is about love, not about hate; about healing, not about destroying; about saving, not about killing. And He does so with authority.

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“Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”

In Luke 14:1,7-14, Jesus helps us set our priorities on who to serve and by what standards.

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.

He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When I first read this passage from the Gospel of Luke, it took my breath away. Jesus continually calls on us elsewhere in the Gospels to make sacrifices on behalf of others, in particular to do things to benefit the least among us, saying this is what else we must do to enter the Kingdom of heaven. There are plenty of people who say they obey the commandments, although that is known only by them and by God Himself, but that isn’t enough. We must take care of one another, and by one another He doesn’t mean just our family and friends — even pagans, even atheists, even people with no opinion on faith at all, do that. No, He means we must take care of others in need all around us. And here this passage He names the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, although I’m sure He means many more than that.

We live in troubling times. It’s a time when it has become all right among many to shame these least among us and let them fend for themselves and even call them out in public. Some of these people even try to use the Word of God to enable this kind of abuse. But this reading disproves them.

God loves us — each of us, regardless of our abilities or our disabilities, regardless of our wealth or our poverty, regardless of our health or our sickness. And He created us not to be unto ourselves but to be among one another, to aid each other. Jesus’ greatest commandments are to love God and to love one another. What greater gift of love is there than to serve one another?

And the greatness of your act of kindness is that you do it not because you can be repaid for it by the person receiving the kindness but precisely because you cannot be repaid by them. “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous,” says Jesus. Interesting word at the end: righteous. Some believe being righteous means you hold yourself above others in observing God’s laws. The question is, can you be held by God as meeting His standards for the greatest of His laws?

 

 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites”

In Matthew 23:13-22, Jesus has a message for those whose hearts are more attuned to wealth and possessions and leading others to seek the same, leading them astray.

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it.”

Beware those in positions of authority who place their emphasis on wealth and the fine things that wealth provides over God’s law and the fidelity it brings. That’s the message of this passage. Jesus addresses it in particular to the scribes and Pharisees — the priests, pastors, ministers, preachers, and church leaders of His day. They are those who “traverse sea and land to make one convert.” Woe to you, He says , “you lock the Kingdom of heaven before men and you do not enter yourselves.”

If your heart is in gold (wealth), if your heart is in the gift (possessions), if your heart is in the obligation (keep the wealth and the possessions coming), your heart is not in God, Jesus explains. Rather, it is the things of God (the altar, the temple, heaven and the throne of God) that are important. Among those things that are also of God are His commandments, and the greatest of these, we have seen Jesus say before, is love — love of God and love of neighbor.

I won’t point fingers at individuals, but there are supposed men and women of God who spend their days raising a lot of money and as a consequence living in large homes, driving expensive cars, wearing fine clothes. Some have even asked their congregations to raise funds for private jets! They justify it by twisting God’s words and God’s intentions. Furthermore, many encourage their congregants to seek out wealthy lives themselves.

We live in a world of excess. Yet there are people around the globe who are starving, who live in single room hovels made of flimsy cardboard or ramshackle metal or dried mud, who are lucky if they get a meal a day, who lack medical care, who lack clean water, who are ravaged by disease and war and famine and starvation. Yet these modern day scribes and Pharisees build megachurches and wear fine clothes and tell their congregations it’s just fine to live life large.

But how did Jesus and His disciples live? They traveled from town to town by foot. They carried only the clothing on their backs and the sandals on their feet, stayed with those who invited them into their homes, ate from the goodness of strangers, and shared from their abundance.

It’s not a crime to be rich. But when asked in another Gospel story what an otherwise conscientious but wealthy man needed to do to reach the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus said he must sell all he owned and give to the poor. He further said it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. It’s not being rich that is the problem but in keeping it for one’s self.

Woe to you “scribes and Pharisees,” said Jesus. Woe to you who put your stock in the things of the earth like gold and possessions. And woe to you who lead astray those who seek the Kingdom of heaven by the attraction to such wealth. Seek first and foremost those things which are God’s, and most important of those are to love. To love and care for others.

Turn off the TV evangelists. Shun the men and women of the cloth who wear only fine cloth. Indeed, woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites, even to this day. Don’t send them another dollar. Give your dollars to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the disabled, the orphans and widows, the displaced, the least among us. These are the people to whom Jesus gave his blessings.

“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments”

Love is what it’s all about, says Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law, tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

I have written about this passage before. It appears again as Friday’s reading, so it bears a revisit here. This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching: love. Love of God, love of one another. Your love bears fruit, in your heart, in your home, and in your community.

Jesus is adamant on his point. All of the law and all that the prophets taught were based on these commandments to love. Think about it: If you love God and if you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, won’t you automatically obey the rest of the commandments?

We seem to live in a world of hate today. When we love instead, we become the antidote to that hate. A hater has a hard time overcoming an act of love. As the popular saying goes, “Love wins.”

 

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it”

In Luke 11:27-28, Jesus calls on us to listen to his words. Moreover, he tells us to act on them.

While Jesus was speaking,
a woman from the crowd called out and said to him,
“Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed.”
He replied,
“Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it.”

A simple reading with a simple message: Hear Jesus’ word and act on it. What did Jesus actually say and how can you apply it in your life? Not, what did someone else tell you that Jesus said? What did Jesus say? How can you apply it in your life?

Social media is full of people who will tell you what God said and what you should think about it. Reading them, one wonders if they ever actually read Jesus’ words. The only way to know what Jesus thinks, what Jesus means, “What Would Jesus Do,” is to read what He said. In the Gospels. They can be hard to understand sometimes, but some reflection over time will help, opening yourself to God’s tender, loving inspiration. It’s not a quick process. Patience!

Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospels that He is one with the Father. To know Him is to know the Father, and to know the Father is to know Him. When we hear Jesus’ words, we hear the word of God. And blessed are we who hear it and observe it — act on it. We aren’t to be a passive people.

 

“If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?”

How many times must we forgive one another? Jesus stuns us with an answer in Matthew 18:21-19:1.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.

We have heard this story told before, of the servant who is forgiven by his compassionate master of his debt, only turn on a fellow servant for his own debt. This is the first time it is preceded by Peter’s question, “how many times must I forgive my brother?” Jesus’ answer is a stunner.

Jesus tells Peter you forgive your brother not seven times – which may seem reasonable on the surface – but seventy-seven! Seventy-seven? It might as well be an infinite number of times. And that’s really the point.

You might be tempted to wonder, won’t your brother take advantage of you if you forgive him so often? Jesus doesn’t want you to become a patsy. He doesn’t want your brother to take advantage of you. He does want you to forgive your brother. To “forgive your brother from your heart.”

And lest you think this is just a family matter, “brother” here means anyone who offends or injures you.

The hardest thing to do is to forgive someone who has offended or especially injured you. God wants us to dig deep into ourselves, deep into our hearts, and forgive them. God loves us. When we forgive, we share – express – that love. And the lessen from the rest of this reading is, to borrow from Jesus’ beautiful prayer the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer), God forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

It is human to hold something in, to have unresolved issues, to hold a grudge. It is divine to forgive. The Father sent the Son to teach us how to transform from the human to the divine. The divine is love — pure love. The road to the divine may take a lifetime. But to reach the Kingdom of God requires that we walk that road. And that means we must forgive one another from the heart “seventy-seven times,” in essence, every time.

It’s about love, everyone. God so loved the world and He wants us to love the world, too.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones”

In Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14, Jesus tells us how we should treat the children among us. Do we heed His command?

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”

Important words from Our Lord, Jesus the Christ:

“Unless you turn and become like children…”

“Whoever becomes humble like this child…”

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name…”

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones.”

Who are these children and children such as this? Actual children, of course, but also the childlike: the innocent, the humble, the loving, the trusting, the disabled, the small and vulnerable and unable to look out after themselves. And they are everywhere.

Some how we grow out of being childlike. We become teens with the angst and distrust and seeking of independence. Then we become adults with the lust and the greed and the anger and often hate. And we turn on children. Children, whom Jesus loved and lifted in his ministry.

We live in a society today that takes advantage of “children” of every kind. We refuse to take care of them when they are the most vulnerable and most in need. We prey on them and discard them and belittle them. Many of the wicked call themselves “Christians,” yet except to proselytize them for profit they fail to meet Jesus’ standards expressed in his very words today. God’s message to our evil ones? “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.”

And Jesus calls on us to be like these children: Open-hearted, open-minded, loving, embracing, and innocent, humble and open to God’s love and sharing that love.

Very powerful is the last sentence. Among us are those who are children and the childlike, and our Heavenly Father would be most displeased “that one of these little ones be lost.” Imagine his displeasure when those children are led astray or taken advantage of or turned to evil purposes. Woe to those who despise them for their color or their name or their race or their ethnic origin or their poverty or even their faith. Woe to those who prey upon them sexually or exploit them for their labor. Woe to those who seek to manipulate their minds for their own ends. Woe to those who rob them of their childhood. God is watching.

The world is full of adults who spend far too much time “being real” or seeing the world in “reality.” God wants us to see the world with the eyes of a child. He doesn’t want us to be fools, He wants us to love and be loved. What wonder there is in the eyes of a child who lives in a world of love. God’s love lived in the lives of all of us.