This is one of my favorite quotations by Martin Luther about the use of the law, and it comes from the sermons in his Church Postils. See other quotes here.
This is one of my favorite quotations by Martin Luther about the use of the law, and it comes from the sermons in his Church Postils. See other quotes here.
Martin Luther had a practical way of understanding the rules/laws/instructions given in the Bible:
2 Kings 5:1-14 and Luke 17:11-19
Three years ago, I developed a pinched rotator cuff in my left shoulder. It began limiting the things I could do. I tried several months of chiropractic treatments, which included some basic exercises. It subsided for a while, but it didn’t go away. I finally went to an Orthopedic Surgeon, expecting the worst. It had been nine months and I was tired of the discomfort. I was ready to be cut on. So he tested my shoulder, and said, “All you need is some physical therapy. Here’s a prescription to get into one.”
Then I went to a physical therapist who said, “Number one, you need to sit up straight, stand straight, and hold your shoulders back. Working at a desk and computer for long periods can tempt you to start to hunch over. And here’s a few specific exercises to strengthen the muscles that connect your shoulder to the clavicle bone.” She said, “Put these stretchy things on a door knob and swing your arms across your body. Then lay on the edge of a bed and raise your arm ten times. Do it two times a day.”
“That’s all I have to do? No surgery? Hold my shoulders back. Do a few exercises? No expensive medicine?” Within six weeks, my pain was gone. A very simple and unimpressive solution to my problem. That’s why this week’s Old Testament lesson resonates with me.
Naaman was a great and mighty commander of the king’s army. He sounds like the kind of person who liked things done in a big way. Maybe he had a flair for the dramatic, for the complex. Naaman had leprosy. And he wanted a miracle to make it go away. He went to Elisha the prophet, hoping for a cure. He was told to wash seven times in the Jordan River.
“What? I’ve come all this way for a miracle and this is what I get? I get a prophet who doesn’t even bother to come out and do his work personally. He sends a peon to tell me I should wash seven times in that dirty Jordan River. Our rivers back home are cleaner than what you dream of around here! I expected the prophet to wave his hand and ‘poof’, away goes the leprosy! Wash seven times? That’s it? I don’t believe that can cure me. I expected at least to have to muster up the courage and inner fortitude to fight my way through this cancer-like battle for healing. Then I could be the hero in my own healing – and the victory would be partly mine.”
But sometimes God wants to show us His miracles are not the result of our incredible efforts. Sometimes His answers are simple so that God will be glorified, instead of people crediting their own efforts for His miracles. But the little people around Naaman convinced him that the simple answer was worth trying. “Have faith in the treatment Naaman.”
Maybe we don’t have to work so hard or struggle so intensely to participate in a miracle of God. Naaman washed seven times in the Jordan River, and his leprosy disappeared. He followed the simple, unimpressive answer sent from God, and his life was changed forever.
Look at the ten lepers in the Gospel lesson. They didn’t question Jesus after he told them what they should do. They said, “Have mercy on us, Lord.” Instead of waving his wand over them and chanting some magical words, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priest.”
The lepers didn’t say, “What? That’s all we have to do? You’re not going to drum up some special potion for us to cover our sores, or to scrub these scabs off with steel wool and soak them in lye, or call upon Elijah to bring something down from heaven to heal us?”
No. Just take a hike to the nearest priest. They did. And they were healed.
The other thing is that if you want answers to your health problems, you also must say, “I am willing to be part of any solution you propose, God.” You can’t pray any prayer and expect a miracle unless you are willing to be part of the answer. Maybe that’s why Naaman was irritated. He had to go do something to help himself…wash in the river. Sometimes we want a grand and glorious miracle to take place but we don’t want to be involved in doing anything to make it happen. How can our prayers for miracles be effective if we refuse to participate in the solution? Sometimes all we have to do is wash in the river.
All ten lepers were healed along the way.
But only one came back to thank the person who helped them, who gave them a simple solution to their problem. How many of you have gone back to your PT or nurse or doctor to say, “Thank you”? How many of you have gone back to a teacher who helped you find an easy answer to your problem to say, “thank you”?
This isn’t rocket science. Don’t take easy answers for granted or the people that give them. They are often the answer to your biggest nightmare.
Do you have a health condition you want to have healed? If you are diabetic and your doctor says, “Don’t eat foods with high fructose sugar” – then don’t eat them. If your therapist says “do these exercises” – do the exercises faithfully. If your nurse says, “take these pills every six hours” – take the pills every six hours. If you have high blood pressure and your doctor says, “don’t eat salty foods” – don’t eat salty foods. If you are needing to lose weight and your counselor says, “don’t eat more than 1200 calories per day” – don’t eat more than 1200 calories per day. The easy answer is often better than the hocus-pocus, dramatic medical treatment.
In the 20th century, people needed a pill to get well. Today people expect to have surgery to get well. Maybe there’s an easy answer. Your faith will make you well. Last week, we learned that the Greek word for faith (pistueo) also means trust. You have to trust the treatment prescribed to you will work, otherwise, you won’t follow it. Trust the advice of your doctor. Trust is important.
Another word for pistueo is “confidence or determination.” You may simply have to be determined to take better care of yourself. Jesus said to the Samaritan who came back to say thank you, “Your faith, your determination, has made you well.”
Your determination to be healed, is often the biggest factor in receiving healing. Faith means both trusting and having the determination to see it through—the same way I kept up the physical therapy exercises, and sitting up straight, not for just six weeks – but I continue to include them in my weekly exercises. I am determined. It’s not always easy, but it’s simple. I have faith that if I continue to do the right things to bring health to my body, I’m going to enjoy better health. Your faith will make you whole. Your determination and commitment to doing the right things will make you whole. When you do them, you can give God praise that the simple answer was the best answer.
In 2005, a tornado ripped through Benton, KY. A year later, my wife and I bought a lot that had been in its path. What remained on the lot was a huge pile of limbs and logs pushed together by bulldozers. Before we could get started on building a house, we had to burn that mountain of wood. Many of the trees had been uprooted and their roots were still covered with dirt. The roots were like fingers clinging to the dirt. The dirt was keeping air from reaching the wood and it couldn’t burn like the rest.
I bring up that image because those roots holding onto the suffocating dirt is a picture of unforgiveness. At one point, Jesus said, “If you had conviction (pisteuo) like a mustard seed, you could tell this sycamine tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.” Unfortunately, translators put in the word “faith” instead of conviction. They said if you had faith like a mustard seed. But that doesn’t make sense. Mustard seeds don’t have faith. They have conviction. They will grow wherever they are planted.
The sycamine tree in the Middle East (kind of like our mulberry tree) has one of the deepest and broadest root structures of all the trees. The roots can be bigger than what’s above ground. They are massive, intertwined and extraordinarily strong. To pull that kind of tree up – roots and all – and plant it in the sea would have been impossible.
Many of us have roots that are holding tight to some dirt that is suffocating us and we can’t let go of it. Today, I’m going to teach you how to let go of the dirt. And it will take the conviction of a mustard seed to do it.
I’m reading a book, Personal Power through Awareness, that like many others suggests what you say creates your world. What you speak or even think becomes your reality. Think about it. When someone has hurt you deeply, or has created a huge loss in your life, what do you say? You typically say, “I’ll never be able to forgive him.” Or “I can’t forgive him.” Or “I won’t forgive him.” And so you never do. You hold onto the dirt. You hold onto the hurt. And it suffocates the joy and the peace and the freedom you could have it you only let it go.
Previously, I read a book called “The Wisdom of the Subconscious Mind.” In a nutshell, the conscious mind is like the captain of a big ship and the subconscious mind is like the crew of men below in the engine room. The men below do the mechanics of getting the work done, but they only know what to do based on what the captain says. The conscious mind sends orders through your mouth, your ears send it down to the subconscious which starts right away to make sure those orders are followed.
Pay attention to what you say. Because what you say is what you get.
Stop saying things like, “I’m fat. I’m too old. I’m tired. I’m no good. I can’t afford this. I have no ability to change this. I don’t like Hillary. I don’t like Donald. This country is going to hell in a handbasket.” When you say it, your subconscious mind immediately starts looking for anything and everything to prove you are right. And it will ignore or deny any evidence contrary to what you said. You and I choose what we want to see.
In the same way, you and I choose whether or not to hold onto the dirt, the hurt, the loss, that could make or break our peace of mind. The Greek word for forgive means to let go, to release, to set free. One way to loosen some of that dirt you’re holding onto, is to ask yourself some questions: why is this bothering me so much? What is so important about this that I’m letting it steal my joy and my peace of mind? What am I threatened by? What do I fear losing? Am I being realistic? Why did this hurt my feelings so much? What is it that makes me so defensive about it? Dig deeper, search your own heart, try to understand what is making your roots grip so tightly around the dirt.
Once you’ve come to a better understanding of why you are holding onto the pain and hurt, you can start to say to your sycamine tree, “Be uprooted. I let go of the dirt and I send you to be planted in the sea.” You can do it. But you have to want to do it. And you need the conviction to keep giving that same order so the men below keep working at sending your ship in that direction.
Control what you say. Control what you think. And you will gain control of the direction of your life. Speak the truth that you want to see happen. And say it like it is already a reality. It doesn’t work if you project it into the future. It doesn’t work to say, “I’m going to get healthy, or I’m going to get more productive, or I’m going to get over this incident one day.” Speak as if it is a present reality.
Say, out loud, “I have let this incident go. I’ve let it go.” Keep saying it every time the dirt wants to come back into your mind. Saying it just once isn’t going to cover a year of “I’m never going to forgive her.” Keep saying it. Be convicted that you are going to regain your peace. Say, “I am good at letting things go that use to bother me. I am secure in myself. I’m at peace. I’m a happy person. I don’t let anyone get under my skin.”
It takes the conviction of a mustard seed that can grow anywhere it wants to grow to keep saying, “I can do this.” You can do what appears impossible. And regain your peace of mind.
Practice that right now. If you want peace in your heart and mind, forgive someone right now. Picture an incident that you have been holding onto, and imagine you are holding it in your hands. Say, “I’m forgiving this. I set this offense free.” Lift your hands up and give it to God. Let go of it. And you will realize that your anger and hurt will be released with it.
When you do your job of forgiving, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Peace, hope, love, joy return. May God grant you the conviction of a mustard seed so you can secure your peace of mind.
You are the means of God’s grace. God is within you. Grace is unconditional love. It’s for everyone. Unconditional. And God’s grace is never ending. It’s simple. So start giving freely. Where else can grace come from? Where else can unconditional love come from ?
God is in the trees. God is in the mountains. God is in the clouds. They all give freely. Unconditionally. They don’t discriminate between who they think should get their oxygen, beauty, or rain. Everyone gets it. God is within you. Are you giving (or forgiving) unconditionally?
Why did I go off on this grace tangent?
Partly because the Revised Common Lectionary left out the set up to the lesson for this Sunday. Maybe it assumed you would look at the previous verses in order to find the context of what is being talked about in verses 5-10. In Luke 16, Jesus spoke of a rich man who received negative consequences because of ignoring a poor man, and I equated Lazarus with a divorced woman.
Then, in verses 1-4, Jesus connects laws in the Scriptures (Moses and the Prophets) that do damage to people with stumbling blocks. It’s hard for people conditioned in the truth of the Bible that does not differentiate between Old and New Testament writings to think there might be some question about how a God of love would do terrible things to people. They keep going back to what they were conditioned to believe as children. It takes time for many to change their minds (repent).
Take a look at my translation of the verses left out, then the RCL verses:
Then he said to the disciples, “It is unavoidable that stumbling blocksa might come, but woe to the one through whom it comes! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should unfavorably judgeb any of the lowest of these (connecting to the poor man, Lazarus, and in my estimation, to a divorced woman). 3 Be attentive yourselves. If your brother wanders from the path of uprightness, severely censure him; and if he changes his mind, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns saying, ‘I am changing my mind and will amend my ways,’ you shall set him free.”
5 Even the apostles said to the Master, “Increase our conviction.”
6 So the Master said, “If you have conviction/determination like a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 Nevertheless, which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding livestock, after he has come in from the field, will order him, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 Instead, will he not command him, ‘Prepare something for supper. Also, restrain yourself to serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Has he no gratitudec for that servant who did all that he had been commanded? I think not. 10 So you, in this same way, when you have done all those things which you were commanded, say, ‘We are good for nothing servants. We have done what we were expected to do.’”d
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a the stumbling blocks of ancient writings that were not universal or correct when trying to describe the wishes of God as found in the Law and the Prophets.
c charis, usually translated as grace, but also can mean kindness, gratitude, affection, thanks.
d in this context, it refers back to verse 4 – the command or expectation was that they should forgive their brother 7 times in the same day. Your brother doesn’t have to literally hurt you 7 times for you to forgive the unloving action 7 times. In a practical application, you might need to forgive, i.e., let go of (forgive) thinking about how your brother/sister hurt you once that day, because thinking about it has the same effect as re-living it again and again.
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Liberals, take note. Be patient with your conservative friends. Have faith. Increase your conviction in the truth of a loving, gracious God who is working and growing in everyone. You might think it’s too hard to pull up a tree with roots so deeply embedded and intertwined around laws and holy writings, i.e., Moses and the prophets.
But with determination (confidence, faith) keep at it. If they sin against you seven times in a day with anger and condemnation, when they repent, that’s progress. Forgive them. It’s just going to take more time. It’s part of their journey. And don’t expect to bells and whistles to reward you for your efforts. You will be doing what is expected of you. Giving grace. Loving unconditionally. God is within you and God’s grace is never ending.
If you only read the verses selected by the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday (Luke 16:19-31), you might think the story Jesus made up about the conversation in Hades between Abraham, the rich man, and Lazarus simply refers to the rich man’s lack of compassion and not feeding the poor. That’s what I always thought. Yet, more than ever I am seeing the importance of context in deciphering the meanings.
Why would Jesus offer this story at this time? Well, you need to look at the verses leading up to the story.
Last week, the RCL gave us Luke 16:1-13, where Jesus told the Pharisees they could not serve both God and mammon (an unfair economic system based on unequal weights and balances with the accumulation of money as the objective). This week the RCL gives us Luke 16:19-31, skipping verses 14-18.
I kind of understand why they left five verses out. It appears to be somewhat confusing the way it was originally translated into English…early in the 1600’s…in a male dominated culture. But it steals any ability to connect Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man with what came before it. Read any other version and then compare vits erses 14-18 with mine:
LUKE 16 [my additions are in green and identify what I believe to be the meaning, and the footnotes are explained after my interpretation of the story]
14 Upon hearing all these things, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, scoffed at him.
15 So [Jesus] said to them, “You are those who pronounce yourselves moralh in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts, in that what is exalted [in verses 1-13, money was the focus; but in the next verse, the focus turns toward the Law and Prophets] among men is an abominationh2 in the sight of God.
16 “Until John (the Baptist) arrived, the Law and the Prophets were exalted. From that point forward, the kingdom of Godi is being proclaimed as the good news. Indeed, everyone is being strongly urged toward it.j
17 But for you, it is easier for the skyk and the earth to pass away than for one tiny mark of the Law to fall from its elevated position.
18 “Anyone who dismisses his wife and marries another commits adultery; and a man who marries a woman dismissed from a husband commits adultery.
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Something is missing that connects verse 17 to what Jesus said next in verse 18. To think that Jesus decided, all of a sudden, from out of the blue, to remind the Pharisees about adultery at this point in the conversation, as if he was agreeing with it, doesn’t make any sense. Either no conjunction was used because it was understood as part of a cultural way of saying things, or it was redacted (edited out) by a scribe. Try this: insert this conjunction between verses 17 & 18 and see if it makes a connection: [For example:]
Then immediately after verse 18, listen as Jesus might have intended to finish his thought:
[“This is a ridiculous law. A divorced woman often has no choice in this culture and society. Why is she declared to be off-limits for any man to remarry her because of a husband’s arbitrary decision to abandon her?l She has no way to support herself except to turn to prostitution. That would be cruel. In fact, let me tell you a story about those who exalt the Law even when it brings pain to the innocent (rejected wives).]
This is the point (now that you know the context) when Jesus tells the story about a rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham. This is my translation:
19 “A certain man was rich, dressed in purple and fine yellow linen, and he celebrated extravagantly every day. 20 Now there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who had been put out at his gate and 21 hoping to be fed with anything that dropped from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 Now it came time for the beggar to die and to be carried by angels into the arms of Abraham. But the rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham in the distance, and Lazarus in his arms.
24 “So he called out and said, ‘Father Abraham, show mercy to me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this fire.’l 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember how you experienced your good things during your lifetime, yet in the same way, Lazarus experienced troublesome things. Nevertheless, now he is being comforted and you are being tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great gulf has been established, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot, nor can those from there cross over to us.’
27 “Therefore he said, ‘I beg you, father, that you might send him to the household of my father, 28 for I have five brothers, that he might warn them, lest they might come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them learn from them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone (namely, Lazarus) from among the dead goes to them, they will change the way they think.’m 31 So he said to him, ‘If they do not learn from Moses and the prophets [the ones they esteem most highly], neither will they be persuaded if someone (like Lazarus) might appearn from among the dead.’”
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h just; righteous, impartial, honorable, fair, moral, unbiased.
h2 abomination. How many things Jesus did call an abomination? A term we might use today would be “disgusting.”
i kingdom of God: the establishment of Oneness, development of Unity (the Aramaic word for God is Alaha, which means “oneness” or “unity”).
j strongly being urged toward it, is suggested by NRSV as well as is pressing forward toward it.
k heaven, the sky.
l fire is an image of purification, and also as the negative consequences of unloving actions.
m Metanoia means to change one’s mind, or change the way one thinks.
n anistēmi; rise up, stand up, come forth, appear. Since Jesus is referring to Lazarus when Luke says “someone,” it makes more sense to use “appear” so as to reduce the chance of readers being led to think Jesus was predicting his own resurrection. Those who exalt the Law above people would not listen to the spirit of a beggar returning to warn them.
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The story itself is an insult to the traditional Jewish male way of thinking. Jewish men believed anyone who was rich was favored by God. Poor people were being punished by God. Why would a rich man end up in Hades? Except that Hades was not the picture of Hell that some promote in the 21st century. Hades was the place where the spirit of EVERY person ended up when a person died. Thus, the rich man could “see” Abraham and Lazarus in the distance. They were all in Hades.
Maybe Jesus replaced the image of a woman dismissed by her husband with a male character—Lazarus. The suggestion of Abraham holding a divorced woman in his arms would not be imaginable by the Pharisees and they would immediately stop listening to the story. But in the 21st century, surely we are advanced enough to tolerate a picture of Abraham holding and comforting a woman in public other than Sarah (?).
Men are exalted while women are treated poorly by men. So a divorced woman is placed outside the gates of patriarchy to fend for herself. The dogs are the Gentiles who buy her flesh so she can barely stay alive. At least the dogs see some worth in her (small comfort to her that they will pay attention to her wounds, or shame).
The chasm is a person’s hardness of heart, absence of compassion, and closed ears that cannot hear the cries of those who suffer because of laws that uphold patriarchy and male domination.
The kingdom of God, as I explained in my book, is the development or establishment of unity, harmony, equity, or oneness among people on earth.
The bottom line: Jesus was fighting patriarchy and the inability of men to discern the damage that male-dominated, inequitable divorce laws were doing to women. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
I get really frustrated when I get my explanation of benefits for health insurance claims. During the first year I was retired, I used the Kentucky Healthcare Cooperative for my health insurance. I had an annual physical and because it was a preventative medicine procedure, it was supposed to be paid at 100%. The doctor’s office submitted the claim for $186. Because I was paying monthly for health insurance, the bill was reduced by about half. To $93. That’s the advantage of paying for health insurance. The insurance companies broker a deal with medical providers to get a better price. If the provider won’t agree to their terms, then they send you to someone who will take less. If you don’t agree to be part of the system, you can’t play the game.
So you pay the insurance company for your health care whether you need it or not, for fear that something drastic will happen. If a person can’t afford to pay for health insurance because ten dollars an hour won’t feed, clothe, and shelter a family of four, then what happens when you have to see the doctor for a health concern? You get charged $186 for the appointment. No deal has been brokered because you have no buying power. You have no way of sending business away from that doctor. You have to pay $186. If you cannot pay the bill, a collection agency is called in and you get a black mark on your credit rating.
The problem I’m talking about is the problem of unequal weights and measures. One person pays a different price than another person. And it’s usually those living from week to week, or day to day, who pay higher prices.
Let me give you another example. In many states including Kentucky, there’s a system called Payday Lending that permits people who have money to prey on the desperate and vulnerable in our society. Cash for your paycheck after the bank has closed. Or cash on Wednesday to pay that light bill because your paycheck doesn’t come until Friday. That is, your paycheck plus $20. Or your car breaks down and you need $300 to get it running so you can go to work. $40 is all it costs to borrow $300 for two weeks. But $40 to be able to borrow $300 for two weeks comes out to an Annual Percentage Rate of 320%. And if you can’t pay it in full, even higher penalties are tacked onto it for late payments. Why can’t they get a credit card or a loan from a bank for lower interest rates? Banks only like to give money to people who have money, or collateral, and you have to have good credit. It’s predatory lending and its target is the working poor.
At one point, Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you.” And we will always have the poor as long as we keep using a system of unequal weights and measures that allows people to prey on them. The Old Testament has laws designed to prevent this unfairness from happening. The Jews were not supposed to charge interest on money that was loaned to other Jews. They were allowed to charge interest to foreigners, because the scriptures say the Hebronites and Ammonites and other Gentiles are not the chosen descendants of Abraham. You can take advantage of others, but not those of your own nation. However, just because Moses laid out these rules for the Israelites doesn’t mean they followed them. People are greedy. And others are desperate. And when people are desperate, they do desperate things. They pay 320% interest to keep a bill collector from taking their car or home. And the laws of our land allow that to happen.
There’s a different name for unequal weights and measures in the New Testament. It’s called unrighteous mammon. We often think mammon is simply money or wealth. But it’s more than that. It’s an unfair system of economics that is based on charging one price to one person and a different price to another. The Old Testament called using unequal weights and measures an abomination. When it takes money to make money, the rich get richer while the poor get taken advantage of. Unequal weights and measures, or unrighteous mammon, is a system where a small number of people at the top dominate a huge number of people at the bottom who are barely getting by.
Insurance companies. The banking industry. The pharmaceutical industry. They are in it for only one purpose – to make a profit. And it ends up hurting the most vulnerable of our society. That’s the abomination.
So I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know. And here we are in Kentucky with our own set of financial problems. How can we think we can change an economic system so old and widespread and inequitable that everyone of us has bought into?
Well, it’s easier than you think. And it’s based on the wisdom of thousands of years. You will reap what you sow. You don’t have to change what others do. You don’t have to change the whole world. You just have to change yourself and the world immediately within your reach.
In the words of Mahatma Ghandi: Be the change you want to see in the world. In the words of Jesus, be a shepherd, be my disciple, follow me, do what I did. Be the change. Feed the hungry yourself if you have extra. Do you have a neighbor who’s fallen on some hard times and is losing weight because he doesn’t have any food in the house? Pick up a couple of cans of some healthy food when you’re at the store, and drop it off.
Do you know someone who needed car repairs or a root canal and doesn’t have a credit card or good credit at the bank? If God has given you extra and it’s just sitting in the bank, offer to cover the cost and say, “I know you’ll pay me back. Two or three months is fine.” Don’t worry if you lend money to someone that they won’t pay you back. God gave you a little extra to help someone today. If you are faithful with a small amount, God knows you will be faithful with a larger amount. Are you worried about trusting the person in need that you loan money to? Again, don’t worry about them. Trust that God is faithful. That’s why in the sermon on the mount Jesus said, “lend to anyone who asks for help from you.” Just like the dishonest manager in today’s lesson, if you are kind to others, then when you become desperate, they may be willing to help you out temporarily.
Do you know someone who’s lost a loved one, and is now alone most if not all day long? If you’re planning a trip to the grocery or the mall or the movie, why not pick them up and fill a few hours of the day? That will be bringing the kingdom of heaven to someone today. You don’t have to change anyone but yourself to change the world for someone else. Be the change. Be a disciple. Leave the 99 sheep who have everything they need and help someone in trouble. Do you know someone who died of cancer because there wasn’t a cure? Give from what the Master has given you for research to find a cure that heals the sick and trust that if you are faithful in a small amount, you will be trusted to manage a larger amount faithfully.
Jesus said “Don’t store up for yourself treasures on earth that will rust.” Gold and silver that sits in banks and doesn’t get circulated gets rusty and tarnished. It does no good to anyone if it doesn’t go back into circulation. In the same way, if you store love in your heart, it won’t circulate and return to you. If you keep joy and hope in your heart and never give it away, it will get rusty and moths will eat it away, so it can never return to you. What you sow is what you will reap. So be generous.
Last week, we heard that if we are not willing to risk going into the darkness to help lost sheep, but instead, sit back and condemn them for the trouble they’ve gotten themselves into, we aren’t worthy to be disciples of Jesus. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much.” May we become more fair in the way we treat people no matter what their race, creed, financial status, or nationality; and more generous with what the Master has given to us. Amen.
This is my interpretation/translation of Luke 16:1-13 with some footnotes at the end to explain some of the changes.
Then [Jesus] also said to the disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager, and this manager was being accused of handling his goods wastefully. 2 So he summoned him and asked, ‘What is this I hear about you? Hand over the reports of your administration, for you can no longer manage my household affairs.’
3 “Now the manager thought to himself, ‘What shall I do because my boss is removing me from my management job. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what might work so that as soon as I am removed from the management position, they might take me into their houses.’
5 “So after summoning every one of his boss’s debtors, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘Nine hundred gallonsa of olive oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your invoice, and sit down quickly and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then he said to the next debtor, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘One thousand bushelsb of wheat.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your invoice, and write eight hundred bushels.’ 8 Even the master applauded the dishonest manager because he had acted cleverly; for the heirs of this system of thingsc are more shrewd in what they generated for themselves than the heirs of light.e
9 “I also say to you, make friends for yourselvesf from among those who use an unfair system of economicsg, so that if you fail, they might be willing to accept you into a temporaryh home.
The bottom line is this:
10 The one who is trustworthy with small things is also trustworthy with large things; but he who is not trustworthy with small things is also not trustworthy with large things.
11 Therefore if you have not become trustworthy within an unfair system of economics, who will entrust to you what is true?i 12 And if you have not become trustworthy with what belongs to another, who of our own people will give to you? 13 No servant has the power/ability to serve two masters; for either he will slight the one and be committed to the other, or else he will be attentive to one and disregard the other. You cannot serve God and [at the same time] this system of economics.”
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a one hundred measures of oil, about 900 gallons or 3400 liters.
b one hundreds measures of wheat.
c age, the way things are done in this age, meaning the rich dominate the poor, the 1% control the 99%. the way things are done in this age, meaning the rich dominate the poor, the 1% control the 99%. See Walter Wink’s book, Engaging the Powers.
d light, in classic Greek, φῶς is used metaphorically to stand for knowledge.
e in their generation, could also mean in what they produce, generate, create, or devise.
f Jesus is not advocating using the same unjust methods, he’s suggesting it’s good to have a backup plan based in kindness for the day you are left homeless.
g unrighteous mammon. Mammon is not simply wealth. It’s a system or way of doing things in which people use unequal weights and measures (they charge people differing prices for the same product or service – poor people tend to pay more than rich people for the same product) as well as a system that suggests a person is worth only as much as they earn (Richard Rohr). The system of dishonest or unjust mammon doesn’t correspond with Jesus’s focus on caring for the poor, sick, prisoners, etc., who are often the ones taken advantage of.
h aionios, inaccurately translated as “eternal” (which makes no sense in this context). My newest book (not published yet) explains in great detail why aionios means “an undefined period of time within the age,” i.e., temporary.
i what is true: the knowledge and wisdom of God/Oneness; the heavenly treasures.
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sermons on Luke 13:1-13, what is unrighteous mammon,
Jesus had been teaching a crowd about the cost of choosing discipleship when he responded to the Pharisees with the story of a shepherd finding a lost sheep. Everyone who was listening understood that when you lose something of value, it makes perfect sense that there is much joy when its owner finds it. Some of the religious leaders showed they did not value some of the sheep – tax collectors and sinners.
Who are you in this story? Are you one of the ninety-nine sheep that are not lost? Are you a lost sheep, meaning a tax collector or a sinner? Are you a shepherd rescuing lost sheep? Are you a Pharisee making judgment on the sheep?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been all four. I’ve been one of the sheep in the pasture, a lost sheep, a shepherd, and a Pharisee. And, I’m afraid, I continue to be all of the above.
(1) I’ve been one of the flock as a layperson in several churches, and even when I was in-between churches, trying to do the best I could to get along in the world without getting in anyone’s way or hurting anyone. Sheep don’t try to lead anyone. They just follow along and do what they do best – eat and grow hair. I don’t think you have to be a Christian to be a sheep. Every person is valuable no matter where they live or what they believe. Everyone has the capacity for bearing good fruit and being of value to others. Remember that Jesus once said in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” So at times, I’m simply one of the flock that doesn’t need to be rescued from any trouble I’ve gotten myself into.
(2) And then, I’ve been a lost sheep. At times, I have wondered into places where I didn’t know how to get out and I needed someone to lead me out. I brought pain and struggle upon myself by wandering away from the narrow road of goodness. There have been times when I have placed the pursuit of worldly gain and possessions and recognition ahead of integrity and honesty. When you’re not honest, you’ve left the pasture and you can be sure, you’re going to get into some briars that bring pain and struggle.
(3) There have been times when I’ve been a shepherd. I was a shepherd before I ever went to school to become an ordained minister. It’s too easy to claim Jesus is the only shepherd. But you have to think about the context of this teaching. Jesus had just told the people that they were supposed to be salt, making everything better in the world. That’s what we talked about last week. He said, “You can’t be my disciple, or you can’t follow my example or teachings if you are so worried about what your family will think, or if you won’t suffer for doing what is right.”
The shepherd Jesus describes is one who rescues a lost sheep. A shepherd is one who helps people to realize that honesty is the best policy. Honesty keeps you in the pasture and out of trouble. Or it’s a person who leaves the pasture and risks his/her own life to rescue sheep who have wandered and helps them return to the peace and joy of the pasture. To be a disciple is to be a shepherd, willing to lay down your life and take risks for the sake of others.
(4) And then, I’m sorry to say, I’ve been a Pharisee. I’ve been a person who thinks my religion makes me capable of proclaiming judgment on and about others, judging both good sheep who are not hurting anyone as well as lost sheep who wander away, get into trouble, and end up hurting themselves and sometimes others. Today, I have to work real hard keep from thinking my religion makes me better than sheep who don’t believe what I believe. I’ve come to the conclusion that when I’m a Pharisee, it puts me in the same category as the lost sheep. You cannot condemn someone else and feel joy or peace at the same time. Pharisees are angry, unsettled religious people. They don’t live in the peace of the pasture.
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Jesus told the story for the benefit, and chastisement, of the religious folks who thought they were better than everyone else. He also taught it because he wanted those who followed him to know the cost of discipleship.
Jesus was not putting down sheep. Everyone is valuable. Jesus was not putting down lost sheep. Every person is so valuable that a shepherd will risk his or her own life to help a lost sheep return to the pasture and live in peace.
Jesus was not saying shepherds are better than sheep. This story is part of counting the cost of being a follower—a disciple—of Jesus. Are you willing to risk anything to help someone else return to a place of peace and security in their lives? And if you don’t want to be a shepherd, if you don’t want to risk anything to help someone else, he’s not saying that’s a bad thing. You can be a sheep. Sheep are valuable. It’s okay to be a sheep. Keep eating and growing hair – be of benefit to the world. But don’t claim you’re a disciple and a follower of Jesus’s teachings and example if you don’t want to risk anything on behalf of the wellbeing of others. Jesus risked everything for the sheep. Even his life. To be his disciple, you must follow his example.
So the two main points of the story are these: try not to be a Pharisee. Don’t think your religion makes you better than anyone else in the eyes of the Owner. All sheep are valuable, even the lost ones. Those who judge the value or the future of those they think are below them, may just be one of the lost sheep who needs a shepherd who is willing to risk everything to rescue them and return them to a place of peace, security, and joy in this life. When that happens, the angels of God will rejoice to see a lost one has returned.
And second, if you truly want to claim you are a disciple of Jesus, be willing to risk your life and reputation for the sake of helping others in pain.
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Here’s my translation of the text:
Now all kinds of tax collectors and sinners were coming near to him to listen to him. 2 And both the Pharisees and scribes grumbled, saying that this man receives sinners and eats with them. 3 So he spoke this illustration to them, saying:
4 “What man among you, having a hundred sheep, after losing one of them, will not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 Then when he arrives at home, he calls together friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I found my sheep that was lost!’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be joy in heavena over one unloving personb who changes his ways than over ninety-nine persons who are doing what is good and right who need not change their ways.
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I found the coin that I lost!’ 10 Accordingly, I am telling you joy arises in the presence of the messengersc of God over one sinner who changes his ways.”
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a in heaven, as symbolism, this could refer to the higher state of consciousness, the mind.
b sinner, sin is defined as “missing the mark” which I propose is love.
c angels, many people including myself believe there are angelic spirits without physical forms who are messengers of God, as well as spirits inhabiting physical bodies, like you and me, who are also sent by God.
the cost of discipleship, sermons on Luke 15:1-10, the lost sheep, who is the good shepherd
Luke 14:25-33 + 2
According to Sunday’s gospel reading, Luke 14:25-33, you must (1) hate your family, (2) take up your cross – which is an image of suffering and persecution, and (3) give up your possessions to be a disciple of Jesus. I wonder how many church members in the pews will hear the good news in this text. Is that the message we are supposed to be spreading? Maybe this text needs a little salt.
In Jewish teaching fashion, the end of the teaching is the main point. But the people who chose the texts for the Revised Common Lectionary managed to amputate the summary of Jesus’s teaching. How do I know the summary of the teaching is left out? Read the two verses that follow:
34 “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can it be used for seasoning? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Let anyone with ears to hear listen. That usually comes at the conclusion of a larger body of teaching. It doesn’t come after a “by the way, this is one added thing.” Salt is the summary to what preceded it.
What are the purposes of salt? Salt makes other things taste better than they are if left to themselves. Salt helps things that might spoil to stay good longer. Salt is helpful in healing wounds because it stops bacteria from festering and prevents infections. But if salt is not accomplishing its purpose, it is worthless. You may as well throw it out.
We are supposed to be the salt of the earth. We are supposed to help in making everything and everyone around us better than they could be without us. We are to help in preserving others from decay. We are to help in keeping their wounds from festering. That’s what discipleship is all about. How does a disciple lose his or her ability to make others better, or to preserve and keep people from degenerating, or to lose his or her ability to help someone heal?
The short answer is: by being pulled away from his/her purpose, which is to be salt in the world. Discipleship is being salt in the world.
It’s possible for us to lose our ability to be effective disciples. How can we lose it? Jesus gave these examples: family and possessions. We can be drawn away from the purpose to which we were called in baptism by those closest to us and by being so attached to possessions. You get preached to about possessions all the time, so I’ll focus on family here.
When Jesus said unless you hate your parents, spouse, children, self – the word in both Greek and Aramaic means something closer to your ability to detach yourself from them. You can lose your ability to help others by worrying if your family or friends are going to approve of your actions, choices, or beliefs…allowing them to influence you not to do the things Jesus taught. You can’t help those in real need if you are pandering to the selfish needs of family members or their prejudices. If you allow the opinions and expectations of others that are contrary to Jesus’s teachings overwhelm you, you lose your saltiness.
What teachings of Jesus might they oppose? “Love your enemy.” Killing them with drones is not loving them. “Don’t resist an evil person—turn the other cheek.” The typical response of our government is shock and awe. Pummel them. If you believe we shouldn’t be planning to kill terrorists or bad people in Syria or Afghanistan, some of your family and friends are going to get angry with you.
Jesus didn’t stop healing or teaching kindness just because his brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5). His actions were not dependent upon their approval. He didn’t cater to their lack of goodness. He was salt because he continued to be an example of unconditional love. He was detached from the human need to meet the approval of his peers. He didn’t let them overwhelm his own sense of what were the right things to do.
Sometimes when you do the right thing, it will bring pain and even suffering. But bear the cross, receive their anger without returning it. Those closest to you will inflict pain, like nails on a cross. Jesus said you must carry the cross to be his disciple. Don’t pummel them when they hurt you with their words. Do not resist an evil (in Aramaic it means unripe, undeveloped, immature) person. Turn the other cheek. Be salt and enhance their better traits.
So I think the crux of Jesus’ teaching is this: You cannot be salt if you are inextricably attached to or swayed by the opinions and demands of family or possessions.
This is the way I translate the text (I’ve added some words to clarify what I think is the intent):
25 Now a large crowd assembled around him. And he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone is drawn to me and is not able to detach from the emotional ties or to the presence and/or approval of his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and unable to detach from his own egob as well, he is not able to be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his own crossc and follow me has no ability to remain my disciple. 28 For example, which of you, wanting to build a watch-tower, does not at the beginning sit down to calculate the expense, if he has enough to complete it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying that this man began to build upd and was not able to finish? 31 Or what ruler, going into battle against another ruler, does not sit down first to deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is still far from him, he sends a message asking for peace. 33 Therefore anyone of you who does not renounce all that he has is not capable of being be my disciple. 34 Salt is good; but if salt has become tasteless, with what shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land nor for manure. It is cast out. He who has ears to hear, listen!”
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b psuche, soul, life, ego, personality
c bear his own cross, to receive pain from others without giving it back.
d build up, edify or grow his own house, his own self.
We are to live together and bring out the best in each other as we are salt in the world.