Today’s reading has hit me hard.
Today is day twenty-two of reading through the New Testament in 90 days. It’s been an intriguing journey for me. Spending twenty-two straight days in the gospels has opened my eyes to Jesus. I hope it has done the same for you.
Today’s reading is Luke 16 through Luke 18.
And, for the most part, Jesus is teaching his disciples some rough stuff. And, again, I feel that American Christianity has been all too willing to turn a blind eye to it.
To give us some perspective, Luke, in his narrative style, places Jesus turning and speaking to the disciples, and then to the Pharisees, and sometimes to the crowds, almost in succession.
It’s an interesting style, especially since Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, is now on his way to Jerusalem. He teaches one group, only to teach against the other group, all while “walking.”
It’s important to know that, too. Jesus is teaching his disciples to follow him, while they literally follow him to his death in Jerusalem. While he knows this way will lead to suffering and death, he teaches the same to his disciples, as they all walk this way together.
Here’s what I learned today, through these three chapters:
I am not that special.
Look closely at these teachings. Jesus is doing something here that I just didn’t see coming.
In Luke 16, there is the “parable of the shrewd manager.” It’s a tough read, but there is a great truth here. Jesus encourages his disciples to be as shrewd when their Lord comes, as the manager was when he was approached by his lord. This is serious business, and Jesus just tells them to be ready to accept truth when it shows up.
But commending this manager because of his crafty response to being fired can be tricky. Look, though, how this story is framed. It comes after Jesus answers the Pharisees’ claims that he eats with sinners (15:2), and before Luke’s claim that the Pharisees love money (16:14).
Jesus is making a rather serious point, here, even in a very interesting story. While the manager of the parable “gives away” money (even by reducing various amounts owed), Jesus is essentially saying that possessions and money matter very little. We shouldn’t be attached to it. It’s just stuff.
Here’s how The Message interprets this Luke 16:8, 9:
Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.
The way of the disciple, then, is to not be attached to stuff. When we are, when we are enslaved by our own pursuit of more stuff, we are committing idolatry. Seriously. The next iPhone, the next bit of clothing, the next car, the next home, the next travel destination, the next Groupon deal. If that’s what we want, then we really want very, very little. We want something that will always leave us empty. We want an idol.
We should rather be willing to part with all of it. And we should concentrate our attention on the bare essentials, so we can fully experience life.
Next, in Luke 16, we find the story of “the rich man and Lazarus.” The rich, wealthy man ignored the diseased Lazarus. The only attendants to Lazarus, in this story, were the dogs, who would come to lick his sores (16:21)
The wealthy man dies, and finds himself in Hades, while Lazarus dies, and finds angels, not dogs, caring for him.
But the wealthy man is in torment. And he still hasn’t learned his lesson. While in this torment, he still sees Lazarus as a lesser person, as a servant — he asks that Lazarus bring water to cool his tongue. He would’ve given the same command to his own servants, while he was alive.
(And by the way, this story isn’t about the afterlife. Don’t rob this story of its power by trying to figure out what happens when we die.)
So Lazarus is in the presence of the divine. The wealthy man is in extreme agony. And yet the wealthy man wants Lazarus to come to him. Yet, this wealthy man, and his brothers, were taught, their entire lives, through Moses and the Prophets, to have a different view of their wealth and possessions — to see them only as ways to care for others.
In life, this wealthy man ignored Lazarus’ constant pleas for help. Even though he was taught better.
Wealth, then — stuff, possessions, and money — is only useful for how it can bless others. Jesus is making this crystal clear.
Jesus ends this story with a pretty cool addendum, too: even one who was resurrected from the dead couldn’t change the minds of this wealthy family. They would still hoard their possessions at the expense of others.
And they couldn’t even fathom all that Jesus said with that statement.
Then Luke 17 comes. Jesus turns back to his disciples. And this is where my heart started to hurt.
Jesus ends this brief section with a comment about “unworthy servants” (17:10). But look what these unworthy servants are called to do:
- To not use the kingdom as a vehicle for controversy. (17:1, 2). Make no demands on piety, like the Pharisees.
- Forgive completely, without demand for personal justice (17:4).
- See faith as a gift, not as a right (17:6).
Jesus just tells his disciples that they aren’t that special. Instead, disciples willing endure self-sacrifice.
Be humble. Forgive every offense. Accept the gift of faith as a gift, not as a right. And do them all without expecting anything in return.
The requirements of discipleship should never be seen as a guarantee for special rank or position in the lives of people. Disciples just do what they’re asked.
Man, that’s tough. Especially for someone, like me, who is a minister. I’m just not that special. My intersection in the lives of people, even if I am used as a blessing in their lives, is not a special calling.
I should not expect fame. I should not expect notoriety. I shouldn’t even expect a special parking place. And none of us in ministry should ever expect those things. If we do, we are doing all of this for the wrong reasons. Nor will we be following the way of a disciple of Jesus.
Think the man in Hades.
But even for those who aren’t ministers, it’s still the same. And Luke uses the healing of ten lepers to hammer this point home.
Faith can be easy to have. It took faith for all of ten of those lepers to be healed.
But gratitude is harder to find. Only one returned to praise and thank Jesus.
We’ve. All. Been. Healed. And our healing is a gift that should require us to give thanks, rather than to receive thanks, regardless of who we are, or what we do.
Oh, and that leper that returned? He was a Samaritan. An outsider.
And Jesus wasn’t even finished, as if we haven’t been squeezed enough.
Discipleship requires us to recognize the apparent, real, here-it-is kingdom of God. It’s among us. And we must give it all for this kingdom.
There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our pleasures (17:27).
There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our relationships (17:27).
There is no time to look back for, or hold on to, our possession, investments, and stuff (17:28).
If we are disciples, we must lighten our load. We aren’t special. We willingly follow a path that leads to sacrifice.
And we can’t follow by thinking of our own holiness, or by the stuff in the grip of our hands.
And he tells them this, as they continue to follow him to his death, in Jerusalem, by the way.
All I can say with today’s reading is what the disciples said in 16:5:
“Increase my faith.”