“Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime”

People in positions of privilege often can’t see the real point of Jesus’ teachings, as we learn today in Luke 16:19-31.

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied,
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Some interesting messages in today’s reading. One for those who live in comfort while those who are poor or disadvantaged live in discomfort, without doing anything to help them. Another for those who have God’s truth right before them but will refuse to listen, even if He were raised from the dead.

And this last message raises an interesting thought. Many claim to believe in Jesus the risen Christ. It’s easy to believe in someone you’re brought up to believe in, someone you’re taught to believe in, someone who is part of your cultural heritage. But what if God had waited until today to bring His Son to life on Earth? What if Jesus had walked the Earth now as a penniless rabbi who preached the streets, healing the sick and challenging the authority of its leaders? Who didn’t have a job but preached feeding the poor and taking care of widows and orphans and befriending the tax collector and giving to the government what is the government’s and spent time with sinners instead of with the self-righteous? How many of these same people would actually recognize this Jesus? How many would have stood by His side at the cross and how many would have chosen Barabbas instead? How many would have believed He had risen from the dead?

It’s easy to say you believe from the comfort of your cultural and temporal biases. It’s easy to say you believe because it lets you be one of the community in your comfort zone. But Jesus’ real messages are often ignored by those who say they believe. “Christian” becomes a convenient title instead of an actual belief. And then it goes back to that first message, “Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime,” for your belief wasn’t real and it was only for what comforted or benefited you.

Belief in Jesus the Christ requires that we read His words and get His whole message. Not just the parts that comfort us. They require that we love God first and others second, and that requires that we help one another out of that love. There would be no Lazaruses  suffering today if there were so many real Christians.

So maybe we should all look inward at what we believe and check them against what Jesus actually says and does in the Gospels and get real. After we die and look for a place in heaven, it will be too late.

“If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?”

There is you and there are others. Which master do you serve, asks Jesus in Luke 16:1-13.

Jesus said to his disciples,
“A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Here is the story of a man who squanders what is his master’s. When he is caught and threatened with expulsion, he adds insult to injury by trying to endear himself to his master’s debtors by rewriting their debts, further squandering what is his master’s.

Now, you might say this is about stealing, for squandering what is not yours is like theft. You might also say this is about way more.

You can squander more than property or wealth. You can squander time. You can squander love. You can squander relationships. You can squander trust. Often, these are more valuable to a person than their property or wealth. And once you squander them, they may be lost forever. And then if you have taken what belongs to another, as Jesus says, who will give you what is yours? Who then will be your friend or your spouse or your brother or sister or parent?

Jesus’ words in this reading aren’t just about how we deal with someone’s belongings. They are also about how we deal with one another. You cannot serve two masters, says Jesus. One master is yourself and another is others: God and your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, your children, your spouse. You cannot serve two masters; you can only serve others with love.

 

 

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world”

God is not here to condemn us, says the Gospel in John 3:13-17.

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.

What an interesting word, “condemn.” Here it may mean to cast us all into Hell. Or it may mean hold us accountable for our sins. Or it may mean blame us for our shortcomings.

This reading is traditionally given as the message of our eternal salvation. When we die, we have entry to heaven by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the only Son of God, if we have faith in Him.

But I hope we can also take this reading in the context of the rest of Jesus’ teachings. And that is to say that God does not want to condemn us for our sins or our shortcomings. Nor does he want us to condemn one another. He wants us to focus on our own sins and shortcomings and work to better ourselves and leave others to better themselves. If we focus on the sins and shortcomings of others, how can we focus on our own? It kind of gets back to the “don’t try to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye before you take the beam out of your own” reading from the other day.

If the all powerful, all merciful God won’t condemn us, how can we condemn one another?

No, God did not come here to condemn us — God came down to Earth in the form of Jesus, His Son, to save the world. To save the world from sin and to save the world from ourselves. It’s up to us to accept this gift.

 

 

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep”

Today in Luke 15:1-32 we have the full context of the story of “The Prodigal Son.” We have more than the story of the wayward son who returns to his forgiving father.

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”

Then he said,
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns,
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”

Here we find the full text to the story of the prodigal son. Often we are just presented with the latter half, the actual tale of the son who squanders his father’s legacy to live a life of debauchery only to realize he’s made a mistake and return to beg forgiveness. But today we see there’s more to the scripture reading.

In fuller context, this isn’t just about a father’s happiness in the repentance and return of his wayward son. We now see this is about the joy of Our Father in heaven about the truly repentant sinner over the one who daily needs no repentance. Or, seeing that Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and scribes, this is about the preference of God The Father for one repentant sinner rather than a whole flock of self-righteous hypocrites.

This is a beautiful Gospel passage in the depth it shows for God’s love. On the one hand, it relays the love of The Father for the repentant sinner. On another, it shows that the smug who rejoice in their own righteousness aren’t loved more than the one who sees the error of his or her ways and returns to The Father. And on still another, it says that God will not leave a lost sheep or coin –  metaphors for a person – unsought, His love is so great. It is also one more swipe at the self-righteous, who sneer at those they deem inferior for their sins.

Heaven itself lights up with joy each time one of us returns to God. As the father in the story in essence says to his steadfast son, I will love you always but “your brother has been lost and now is found”; it’s time to celebrate! For that reason, we must never look down on another person whom we perceive as a sinner. Jesus spent time with such as these, looking for the day they would be found or rejoicing on the day when they were. Ours shouldn’t be the supposition they never will be found but the expectation that one day they will – remember, with God all things are possible – and rejoice with The Father and all the angels in heaven.

I’m sorry to keep beating the same drum, but to me it’s the clearest message  in the Bible: God loves us and wants us to love Him and one another. When we focus on our own self-righteousness we can’t be focused on God and others. Everyone can be found and loved. Everyone can be celebrated. If God can do it, shouldn’t we?

“Remove the wooden beam from your eye first”

Having trouble with someone? Can’t see eye to eye? Maybe one or both of you have a beam in your eye, as Jesus explains in Luke 6:39-42.

Jesus told his disciples a parable:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”

We are all blind to something. As sinners, as people with some kind of agenda, perhaps even an agenda we aren’t aware of, as people with opinions or perceptions or views all our own, we have impediments that keep us from seeing the world as it really is. It makes us blind. And when we are blind, we can’t effectively lead others. That blindness is the beam in our eyes.

That person we disagree with, that we are having a fight with, that we see as wrong or sick or crazy or even evil. Maybe they aren’t quite who we think they are. Maybe that splinter in their eye isn’t what we think it is. And maybe we can’t see it because of the beam in our own eye.

Jesus has told us in the Gospels to judge not, lest we be judged. In this reading from Luke He tells us to first take the beam out of our own eye before trying to remove the splinter from the eye of another — really another way of saying, “Judge not.” For sometimes that beam in our own eye is very difficult to see, to identify, to pluck.

It’s true, some people have a splinter terribly in need of plucking. And that’s the beam in their own eye. But that’s a battle they need to wage. Just as you need to wage the battle to remove your own beam (or beams).

God wants us to love one another — Jesus commands it. And one way to get there is by learning what are the impediments to our relationships with others; what are the beams in our eye.

So the next time you find yourself in a disagreement or fight with another person, remember Jesus’ words. Ask yourself, what am I not seeing; what is the beam in my eye? And it might not hurt to remind them of Jesus’ words, if they are amenable to His words. And remember what Jesus said about the greatest commandments: To love God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. The goal has never been to be holier than thou but to love thou.

 

“They left everything and followed him”

Jesus’ ministry of love begins with His introduction to Peter, James, and John in Luke 5:1-11.

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

This story of Peter, James, and John can be about many things. Certainly, it is about conversion. And it is about Jesus the Christ’s beginning journey of ministry and building His church. But there’s also something subtle going on here: A building of trust in Our Lord by those who follow Him.

Like Peter, James, and John in this story, we see Jesus from afar teaching. We hear his message. Then he comes closer and engages us. He teaches us, touches us personally, provides for our needs in some way. Perhaps he heals us or calms us or answers our prayers. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus reassures us. And we find ourselves trusting the Son of God and following him.

God converts us through His personal relationships with us. He knows us as individuals and loves us. And when we can see that, feel that, are consoled by that, we enter into that relationship, too.

I firmly believe in God’s love of everyone of us. He calls on us to love Him, too, and to share that love with each other. In a world where hate is rising, the only way to break it is to indulge in God’s love and spread it. Jesus’ call to love began in a fishing boat by the Lake of Gennesaret. It continues to this day with each of us. Cannot we all be fishers of men (and women)? Peter, James, and John left everything to become the Apostles. Surely we can leave hate to become loving disciples.