Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Jesus Questions (Page 1 of 2)

April 26, 2020 — What is happening?

by Sieger Koder

Today’s Bible reading

“Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’” — Luke 15:25-32

More thoughts for meditation

It can be easy for a Christian to fall to the same temptation as the older brother did in the story above. We can misread the father’s commands for a contract made up of if/then expectations rather than covenant founded on agreements and based in relationship. Depending on how Jesus’s demands are communicated  you might be hearing his words without love or relationship. But being a disciple of Jesus or a citizen in the society of God is not about a contract with rules but a covenant in love.

Throughout this week we have been tracking through the chapters 14, 15, and 16 in Luke’s Gospel. A common theme that has surfaced. Jesus demonstrates a gathering and scattering rhythm that his followers should imitate. What that looks like is people being reconciled to God and things becoming right-er in the world followed by celebration. Then the cycle repeats. The celebration is a crucial part of our life together. Work should never get in the way of our compulsion to celebrate.

That is why we’ve built rhythms into our year. Each quarter we celebrate our covenant and the newest members added our Jesus family at the love feast. Our singing, dancing, and feasting is as natural an expression of our participation with God as our inviting, protesting, and fasting. Our love feasts are a time to celebrate the love of God expressed among us. Then the cycle repeats. 

Compelled and compelling by love, the Spirit of God is keeping us moving. We gather together with our Good Shepherd and follow him back out from the pasture to the places where other sheep are waiting to be found.

Suggestions for action 

But what about during a global quarantine? How do we celebrate? How do we gather or scatter? Where is Jesus in all of this? The question we’re asking this season is: how and where is the spirit of God bringing resurrection? 

Reflect on those questions. Did one of them stick out to you? Take a few minutes to pray using our breath prayer for this week: Breathe in saying, “Holy Spirit” and breathe out saying, “open my heart to your love.”

April 25, 2020 — How should I follow?

Luke 14 Banquet by Hyatt Moore

Today’s Bible reading

“When one of those at the meal with Jesus heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will feast in the kingdom of God!”  But Jesus said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time for the banquet he sent his slave to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’  But one after another they all began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going out to examine them. Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I just got married, and I cannot come.’  So the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the master of the household was furious and said to his slave, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ Then the slave said, ‘Sir, what you instructed has been done, and there is still room.’  So the master said to his slave, ‘Go out to the highways and country roads and urge people to come in, so that my house will be filled. For I tell you, not one of those individuals who were invited will taste my banquet!’” — Luke 14:15-24

More thoughts for meditation

I want to believe the best for the person who exclaimed “Blessed is everyone who will feast in the kingdom of God!” (v. 15) after hearing Jesus give two teachings postured as a rebuke to most people in the room. Maybe it was the cripple who had been healed at the beginning of chapter 14. He certainly had reason to rejoice at the new thing God was doing. Jesus thinks the guests at this banquet need to go deeper into this teaching of status reversal. 

There are many reasons why accepting (and even hearing) God’s invitation to follow Jesus can be difficult to do. A lot of the reasons are circumstantial, like the responses the host receives when he sends out the first round of invitations. We never really know how our relationship with God is going to be played out until we actually get to play it out. In other words, it is impossible to predict what being a disciple of Jesus looks like specifically. We need to listen for the Spirit of Jesus to lead us along, step by step. If that weren’t the case, we might have planned to examine our oxen (v.19) on a different day. 

Often Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point. This parable has a kind of apocalyptic feel to it. As if those who miss their invitation from the host will be shut out of the party–eternally. It is easy to miss the presence of Jesus when we let our minds and hearts wander to the end of time. Jesus was standing in their midst, and is with us now, as the one bringing the invitation. Even as he tells this parable he is inviting those around him then and all through time, to accept the invitation to God’s way of living — to live in a way which takes part in the reversal of oppressive social norms and liberates all people to experience a full life. 

Suggestions for action 

We are living in a time when the party is still being prepared. The host is still gathering RSVPs and the co-hosts are still out in the towns sending invitations. How are you receiving the invitation? Reading it as a first step into Jesus’s way of being human might be a good place to rest for now. If you’re hearing this invitation and want to join Jesus in his movement towards liberation, talk to your cell leader or pastor about it. 

For many of us, when we apply this story to the here and now (and not just at the end of time) our next step is not into the banquet hall but out to the streets. In the same way that Jesus leaves the 99 “found” sheep to look for the one (Luke 15:3-7), Jesus continues to send invitations rather than wait for the guests to show up. Just as Jesus has been sent by the host, he is sending us on behalf of the host. 

Knowing that the banquet doesn’t start with my individual RSVP, what is there to do in the meantime? 

Take a few minutes and reflect: how do I see Jesus being sent to me? How do I see Jesus sending me?

Pray using our breath prayer for this week: Breathe in saying, “Holy Spirit” and breathe out saying, “open my heart to your love.”

April 24, 2020 — Where shall I sit?

Today’s Bible reading

Then when Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. He said to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, because a person more distinguished than you may have been invited by your host. So the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your place.’ Then, ashamed, you will begin to move to the least important place. But when you are invited, go and take the least important place, so that when your host approaches he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up here to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who share the meal with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” — Luke 14:7-14

More thoughts for meditation

In this time of quarantine, this teaching takes on another level of complexity. How can we speak about being guests and hosts right now when nobody is throwing parties? While we are in quarantine together, it will be good to reflect on the implications of Jesus’s reversal of social assumptions while praying about our posture towards our neighbor and our own assumptions.

A cultural connection we still somewhat maintain is the “order” of seating at our weddings. For many around the world, seating is still assigned, and often the people with more honor are seated closer to the wedding party. When Jesus told this parable it was because he was currently at a dinner party. Look at verse 7 “when Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.” Jesus was certainly not afraid of stepping on toes–or taking charge of a party and redirecting everybody’s focus. Jesus is contrasting what represented societal norms, at least the norms of the people in the room, with the society of God’s people, of which he is the head. 

Suggestions for action 

Jesus is addressing two major groups–the guests and the hosts. As a guest in God’s world how does this teaching affect our posture? What does it look like to seek the lowest “seat” of honor as a posture for a disciple? Let this question sink into your heart. Is this teaching offensive for you? Why does Jesus encourage a posture that assumes last rather than first? 

As a host, Jesus audaciously tells us to have a party and not just invite our friends and family. What is he getting at here? Are the two roles of being a guest and being a host connected at all? How can this teaching be applied for us in our contexts? Comment in the section below if some creative ideas to meet our culture with the teachings Jesus offers here. Answer the question: how can we host a party prioritizing the poor?

Imagine: Take a few minutes and imagine yourself at a wedding. There are hundreds of guests all mingling in a ballroom or outside in a large courtyard. Everybody from your neighborhood is there. As the guests begin to take their seats, you notice  instead of signs that tell you where to sit, you have to rely on the social capital and connection you have within your neighborhood. Where do you sit? As you scan the available seating arrangements you see friends and neighbors taking their seats, some are gathered at the front jockeying for seats close to the wedding party. Then you see Jesus. Where is he sitting? Imagine walking over to him and asking him for help in finding a seat.

Pray using our breath prayer for this week: Breathe in saying, “Holy Spirit” and breathe out saying, “open my heart to your love.”

April 23, 2020 — How many of my father’s workers have food enough to spare?

The prodigal son by Gwen Raverat, 1914

Today’s Bible reading

 Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again—he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. — Luke 15:12-24

More thoughts for meditation

Who knows how somebody is going to react when we ask them for forgiveness? — especially when the relationship has history and the offense can be even more personal and therefore hurtful. In the story above, the boy asks his father for his inheritance, something he only would have received when the father dies. To ask for this while he was still living is stronger than giving the finger to your father. “You mean nothing to me” is how that request would be interpreted. Ouch!

The father responds unexpectedly. This parable is often titled The Prodigal Son. According to Merriam-Webster, “prodigal” means “profuse [even wasteful] expenditure.” So maybe it should be called The Prodigal Father! Look again at the posture of the father at the son’s return. “But while [the son] was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.” The image is of a man who is waiting, scanning the horizon and holding onto hope that he will see his son again. Matt Williams teaches how it was shameful and humiliating for a grown man to run like that when Jesus told first this story. But even if you didn’t know that, it is easy to see the profuse and extravagant, even wasteful, love and joy this father is letting himself feel. It almost seems as if he couldn’t not feel it.

Did you use yesterday’s prayer? It was based on Luke 16:1-9. In it, there is a similar picture of an authority figure and one who manages that authority’s wealth. Luke puts these stories back to back to give insight to Jesus’ declaration in 16:8b: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their contemporaries than the people of light.” In both stories he contrasts what is strictly business and what is deeply familial. With Jesus, our relationship to God is more like family than business. It is more covenantal than contractual. [Know of any other blogs that differentiate this?]

Maybe you’ll want to just stay in this place of insensibly extravagant love and forgiveness in order to let the extent of God’s love for you sink in. Enjoy a long embrace that can’t help but violate social distancing.

Suggestions for action     

Jesus’s embrace is a salve to our wounds and gives our pain meaning. I imagine the son wept uncontrollably after he couldn’t even get his apology out because his father wouldn’t stop kissing him! All the pain and shame the boy had felt (and caused his father to feel) was being covered by love. If nothing else, this story shows us that “love [does indeed] cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8

Remember the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). Jesus invites us to participate with all those wounded healers who have embraced Jesus and embrace those still in their pain. And invite them to feel the embrace of Jesus, too. 

Take a few minutes and reflect:

 Has somebody made you feel like you mean nothing (even unintentionally) to them? Have you had some kind of reconciliation? Imagine what that would look like right now.

Pray using our breath prayer for this week: Breathe in saying, “Holy Spirit” and breathe out saying, “open my heart to your love.”

Today is Cesar Chavez Day! Appreciate his daring and practical witness at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

« Older posts