It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How Was I Supposed to Know? a Reflection on Luke 16:19-31

When alive, the rich man enjoyed being rich. He dressed well and ate well. He used his money to satisfy himself well beyond need although he might have shared some of it with that poor, sore-covered man who was right there by his front door.

We know that the rich man was aware of the poor guy--he even knew his name. I'm pausing here to wonder why I think that ignoring the needs of people whose names we know is different from ignoring those of strangers.

He not only knows the name of Lazarus; he wants to be waited on by him. "I need something. Send Lazarus to help me."

Abraham informs him that the situation is now reversed: the one who had good things now doesn't, and the one who had suffered in his lifetime is now comforted. Moreover, the time to change that is past. The rich man has lost the opportunity to use anything that he once controlled.

The rich man reacts by wanting to ensure that his relatives don't end up the way he has. He begs Abraham, "Send Lazarus to warn my brothers so they won't have to end up the way I have." Abraham reminds the rich man that those brothers have already received sufficient warning because they have access to the Bible. Abraham says that he doesn't think the Bible works for everyone, but that a visitation from someone who has died would.

I would be willing to interpret this remark as a reference to the resurrected Christ, but Abraham's next remark limits that willingness. He says, "If they don't believe the Old Testament, they won't believe the New one either."

Believing in Christ does not mean that we are to cut up and throw away the front part of our Bibles. And if we were to do that, we would miss a whole lot about the necessity of helping the poor. Just saying.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Father Had and Has Two Sons, a Reflection on Luke 15:25-32

If Jesus had stopped at verse 24, we still would have a powerful example of unmerited grace--a father forgiving his son and celebrating his return. When we sin, we can find hope that we will be forgiven. When someone sins against us, we can find an example of how to show forgiveness.

But, Jesus did not stop with the celebration.

Rather, he introduced the elder brother. Like the Pharisees and scribes who had been complaining that Jesus was associating with sinners, the elder brother had always been obedient. And, like them, he wasn't happy at all about the inclusion of someone who had not exhibited much obedience.

He's particularly upset by the extravagant celebration. "I've done everything you could have expected, and now, you are giving a dinner for him!"

The father reminded the elder son that he still was going to get everything that he had been expecting to get. Celebrating the return of the younger brother did not change the status of the elder brother. "But," the father insists, "You need to be happy about his return. He was lost to us and now has been found."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Radical Welcome, a reflection on Luke 15:20-24

I can read this parable as an illustration of repentance and forgiveness in a family. The younger son has sinned and recognized his sin. Or, at least, he has recognized that he needs his family. Admitted to himself not yet to those he has sinned against. But, before he can do that, his father comes to him, comes not reluctantly or grudgingly but running.

His father embraces him. Then, the son speaks his words of repentance.

Or, paying attention to the introductory words of this chapter about the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, I can read this parable metaphorically. Who is welcome at the table? What prevents someone from being worthy of sharing a meal with us? Who gets to decide? Which comes first--repentance or grace?

Further, what is this grace for, anyway--and, who's it for? Remember that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). Remember Jonah's assignment. (Thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again). Also, remember that foreigners had been included in the Exodus (Numbers 9:14; Judges 1:16)

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Prodigal, a Reflection on Luke 15:1-19

The respectable people sure didn't like it that Jesus was willing to associate with people who weren't so respectable. And they said so out loud. And Jesus answered them out loud.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, as some put it, the Parable of the Two Sons, or, as others put it, the Parable of the Waiting Father) is part of his response.

Something like what was upsetting the religious leaders keeps on happening. People who don't behave the way we want our children to grow up should be welcomed into our fellowship? Join our local church? Speak at the Annual Conference? Who makes the rules? Who gets to decide who is following them? Have they read the Bible? Don't they care?

These are questions that the respectable church members can ask. Jesus is talking to the respectable people of his time. But, before we address their attitude, let's look at an example of someone who inarguably does not behave the way he should have.

In the parable, the younger son does behave in an unquestionably poor way. He demands his inheritance before his father dies. He squanders it in dissolute living. Then the economy turns against him. Just as he runs out of money, so does the whole country. He finds an unpleasant job that doesn't even pay well.

So hungry that he's eating pig food, he starts comparing his situation with the one his father provides for his employees.

Whether he would have repented even if his circumstances had been different, we don't know.

What we are told is that even though he no longer feels that he deserves to have the status of a son, he wants to return to his father--because his father treats non-sons well.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Out from under, a Reflection on Luke 13:33-35

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem," Jesus laments. "How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you wouldn't let me."

Jesus wanted to protect them, and they chose not to let him. They didn't need him. They could take care of themselves.

Certainly we can recognize that impulse.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fair Warning, a Reflection on Luke 13:31-32

Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem. On the way, some Pharisees warn him that Herod wants to kill him. That's the same Herod that when confronted by John the Baptist had him beheaded.

The Pharisees warn him. We are accustomed to thinking of them as enemies of Jesus. Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C points out that in Luke's gospel, offers a more favorable description of this group than do the other gospels; e.g., many are open to Jesus (7:36; 11:37; 14:1) even though they do disagree with his interpretation of the law. Another example is the Pharisee, Gamaliel, and Paul, of course (see Acts 4:34; 23:6).

Jesus hears their warning, but stresses to them that despite certain dangers, his work must be done.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Repent, Now, a Reflection on Luke 13:1-9

Jesus had said to the crowds "You can look at a cloud and know when it's going to rain, but you seem to be missing more important signals (my rewording of Luke 12:54-56).

He then brought up some recent misfortunes. "They weren't repayments for misdeeds, but sin does have consequences."

Not all misfortunes indicate that the sufferer deserved what happened. Bad things do happen to good people. But, don't let that lull you into a misunderstanding. Repentance is necessary.

Jesus then told them the parable of the fig tree. The fig tree owner was ready to cut down the fig tree that hadn't produced any figs for three years, but his gardener argued for one more chance, "Let me dig around it and fertilize it, and then if it produces fruit, well and good. But, if it doesn't show any change after this other chance, then cut it down.

Unlike the Galileans sacrificed by Pilate or the eighteen who were killed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam, we may well deserve punishment. Let us look at our lives for the last three years and measure how much fruit we have produced. What would the owner of the orchard have to say? Would the resources we consume be more profitably put to use by other trees?

Don't confuse a delay in judgment with approval of what we're doing.
Let us not be lulled by all the mercy we have received. It's time to repent.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mary and Martha, a reflection on Luke 10:38-42

I was amazed when as an adult I learned that a traditional interpretation of the roles of Mary and Martha was that Martha depicted service and Mary contemplation. Therefore, whereas good works are good, they aren't as good as listening.

Mary had been my model for a different reason. I had interpreted the distinction between their actions as doing unseen work back in the kitchen or getting to sit in the room where people are discussing important things. I really liked the idea that Jesus thought this was the better part.

Shelly Cochran, in The Pastor's Underground Guide to the Revised Common Lectionary stresses that we shouldn't use it to make women like Martha fell inferior to others. I concur with her and can say that I have heard words of discomfort about this passage from several women whose call has been to work in the kitchen so the other church folks--including a happy-to-be-fed me--can enjoy good meals and companionship.

A further point--is Jesus saying silent listening is the only best thing a follower can do? No, go back and read about the good Samaritan again.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Love God and Neighbor, a reflection on Luke 10:25-28

Jesus had just prayed "All things have been handed over to me by my Father" and "No one knows who the Father is except the Son chooses to reveal him." (10:21-24).

Then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. From the text, I'm not sure whether he has walked in among the group of seventy that have just returned joyously from their mission or whether we are being told about a totally different occurrence.

In either case, this expert asks a provocative question--we're assuming provocation over sincerity since Luke says he asked it to test Jesus. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Tangent: Even after looking up the Greek words that are translated as "do" and "inherit,"  in my Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, I don't know what the connotations of the word "inherit" is. I think I have usually read this question as if he asked what he had to do to deserve or merit eternal life.

If the expert had asked the question to see if Jesus could get the answer right, then I think he would have been reassured on that point anyway. Jesus told him that since the answer to his question was in the Bible, he could recite it himself.

And he could and he did, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself." (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18)

He had asked about how to inherit eternal life and Jesus responded by asking him what the Bible said. He responded to Jesus' questions about the law by quoting passages about loving God and loving neighbor.

Leaving aside the concern about whether believing or doing is more important--or even if we can do one of those without the other--the lawyer answered the question about eternal life by talking about something that begins immediately. Eternal life does not have to wait until after we die. It can be now.

Another tangent (but to me not an unimportant one): Asked a very important question, Jesus quotes the scriptures, what we often term the Old Testament. He does not make a distinction between the Old Testament God and the New Testament one.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

When you're in a ditch, a Reflection on Luke 10:29-37

The lawyer asks for more clarification. He knows that he is supposed to love his neighbor but asks who is his neighbor.

When Jesus doesn't answer a question with a question, he often answers with a parable (in effect, a longer form of a question). Here, he responds with what we are accustomed to call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

You remember it--a traveller is attacked by robbers, left half dead on the road. Two different respectable religious professionals saw him but crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid him. Yet, a foreigner stopped to help him and helped him with great generosity.

Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of these three is the neighbor?" The lawyer knew the right answer. Jesus told him to "go and do likewise."

We might translate Jesus' instruction to mean that if he (or we) came across someone in great need, he was supposed to offer help. But, read Jesus' question again, "Which of these three is the neighbor?" That is, from whom are we willing to accept help?

Can we get our heads around the idea that a foreigner of what seems to be us dubious religious outlook would be willing to do something that people we have always respected think is too difficult to do?