Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Luke 16:19-17:19

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
17:1 Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.
"If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them."
5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
6 He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.
7 "Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8 Won't he rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

Points of Interest:
• ‘There was a rich man’—Jesus is still speaking in response to the Pharisees’ scoffing about not being able to serve God and Money. In yesterday’s passage, Jesus told a story in order to recommend generosity to his disciples. In today’s, he tells another story to illustrate to the Pharisees what could happen if you don’t choose generosity.

• ‘dressed in purple and fine linen’—this man is wearing expensive designer clothes.
• ‘a beggar named Lazarus’—in reality, the rich playboy’s name would be known and the homeless man would be nameless; but in Jesus’ story, we know the beggar’s name, but not the rich man’s.

• ‘carried him to Abraham's side’—this is sort of like our pop culture picture of St. Peter welcoming us at the pearly gates.

• ‘send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue’—the formerly rich man has moxie. He yells up from hell to heaven to catch Abraham’s attention, and he is bold enough to ask Abraham to send someone—in fact, the very person he’s ignored his entire life—down to hell to bring him a drink. I don’t think he’s gotten completely used to his new station in life.

• ‘in your lifetime you received your good things’—this rich man gains the whole world, but loses his soul (9:25). Like the dishonest manager, he’s been wasteful with his possessions; he doesn’t use them to make friends who would welcome him into eternal dwellings (yesterday’s passage). He invites only his friends and relatives to his party, not those in need; so, he’s already gotten his reward (14:12-14)

• ‘a great chasm has been set in place’—Abraham doesn’t say that he won’t send Lazarus, but that he can’t, because a chasm has been put in the way. He doesn’t say exactly who put the chasm there. I think a good argument could be made that it is the rich man himself who dug the chasm—when he built the gate that kept Lazarus out. He erected his own barrier between himself and God’s kingdom.

• ‘They have Moses and the Prophets’—Jesus’ words about the importance of loving others are not new. The writings of Moses and the prophets are full of encouragements to love strangers, promises of God’s reward for those who do, and warnings of trouble for those who do not. The rich man’s relatives cannot reasonably say that they’ve never been warned.
Jesus clearly has the Pharisees in his sights with this comment. Being such experts in the Law, such students of Moses, they should know very well what God expects. They are exceedingly attentive to such things as exact tithing and exact definitions of work, but they overlook the much more important issue of mercy and generosity toward others.

• ‘they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’—Jesus intrudes a real-life prediction into his story. Being hardened as they are to God’s heart, they will not even be convinced by his resurrection.

• ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come’ —earlier (3:4), Luke described John’s preaching as the work of making a straight path so that the Lord could come to people. Now, we have another image of a clear path. Not only is God making his way to people, but people are also making their way toward God. They’re bound to trip a few times along the way, but that doesn’t make it okay to stick a leg out. Jesus expects his followers to make it easier for people to get to him, not to get in the way. This is in direct contrast to the law experts, who do put barriers in the way of people entering the kingdom of God (11:52).

• ‘thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck’—handcuff a twenty-five pound weight to your hand, take a boat a couple of miles out to sea, then dive into the water and try to swim back to shore: that’s a safer choice than taking advantage of someone who is small or weak. Picking on someone smaller than you might look like something you can get away with, but God will weigh in on the side of the vulnerable one. I take the ‘little ones’ to be people who are just starting out in their journey toward God. Tripping someone is hardly ever as funny as the one sticking his leg out thinks it is, but it would be downright cruel to trip a child who is just learning to walk.

• ‘rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them’—the disciples don’t need to pretend nothing happened, but they do need to let go of their desire to punish the person who did it.

• ‘Increase our faith’—the disciples recognize that what Jesus is asking, while simple in concept, is very hard to do. I think the faith they need is the faith to believe that they won’t be taken advantage of, that God will also protect them if they let down their guard and forgive.

• ‘we have only done our duty’—this presents an interesting contrast with Jesus’ earlier story about the master who does indeed serve dinner to his servants (12:37). I think that what Jesus is addressing here is an attitude of entitlement. God is indeed like a master who serves his servants. That doesn’t mean, though, that God somehow owes us his service. God serves us out of his generosity, not because we’ve done so much for him that it’s about time he does something for us. I think this image is referring back to the older child from the story of the two sons (Monday’s passage).

• ‘They stood at a distance’—the lepers are respectfully keeping their distance, so that no one else will become sick or ritually unclean.

• ‘Where are the other nine?’—only the Samaritan returns to thank Jesus. Over the course of Luke’s story, Jesus has mentioned several examples of outsiders who respond to God more enthusiastically than God’s own people: Naaman the Syrian, who was healed of leprosy by Elisha (4:27); the Queen of the South who came to hear Solomon’s wisdom (11:31); even the Roman centurion who showed such great faith in Jesus’ healing power (7:9). Meanwhile, Jesus is able to accomplish less in his hometown than anywhere else (4:24), and many people refuse to listen to John because they rely instead on their relation to Abraham (3:8). Jesus goes so far as to leave his own family waiting outside (8:21) to stress the point that what matters is not some special pre-existing relationship with him, but faith and responsiveness to God’s work.
In Jesus’ day, it was the Jews who might be tempted to rely on the label ‘child of Abraham,’ as an automatic pass into God’s good graces. Today, it’s Christians or churchgoers—maybe even religious people of any kind—who could similarly assume they have some sort of automatic ‘in’ with God. Luke’s story makes it abundantly clear that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what label you wear. No matter who you are, you can find yourself welcomed into God’s party—or left out. It might not be overstating it to say that which way it goes rests almost completely on how grateful you are to receive the invitation.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Imitate the prayer of the disciples. Ask God to give you more faith. Pray particularly that, by faith, God would increase your ability to forgive others. Pray that God would give you the boldness to speak up when you’ve been wronged, the grace to forgive, and the trust in God that you will not be taken advantage of.

For your friends: Are any of your friends sick? Pray that God would heal them. If they do get well, pray that they would recognize God’s work in their lives and turn toward him with gratitude.

For our city: Pray for the relationship between the rich and poor of our city. Pray that barriers would be broken down and relationships built. Pray for mutual blessing between the rich and the poor. Ask God to allow our church to play a part in tearing down the barriers between rich and poor. Pray for our church, and particularly for Hannah, as she works toward fostering these relationships in a real and useful way, through community development and partnership.