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Isaiah 57:14-21 | Seventh Sunday after Trinity B

John Michael Gutierrez, PhD

 14  And it will be said,

     “Rise up, Rise up, Clear the path,

      Remove the obstacle from the path of my people”

15  For this is what the Exalted and Supreme One says:

    — One who resides permanently, his name is Holy One:

     “I reside in an elevated and sacred place,

     and also with the oppressed and downcast,

     to revive the vitality of the dispirited,

     to revive the desire of the downcast.

16 Indeed, I will not contend endlessly,

     nor will I always be angry;

     Otherwise life itself would become weak before me,

      specifically humankind whom I myself made.

17  I was angry on account of the evil of his greed,

      so I struck him; 

      hiding I was angry when he lived

      turning back into the way of his heart.

18  I have diagnosed his condition and decided to heal him;

      I will make compensation for his sorrows,

      especially his heartaches”.

      For this is what the Exalted and Supreme One says:

19  — One who creates speech:

      “Peace, peace, to the one far and to the one near,”

      Yahweh says: “Truly, I have decided to heal him

20  but the disobedient are like the turbulent sea;

      when it is unable to be calm,

      and its breakers toss up mire and muck”.

21 My God says: “There is no peace for the disobedient.”

Isaiah (57:14-21)

The Word of the Lord

Please turn in your pew Bible or tablet to the first of the later prophets Isaiah – chapter 56.1-2. We’ll start there and wind our way to this morning’s lesson in ch. 57.14-21 

Once upon a time, long, long ago, an American flew out of So. California and made a right hand turn at Greenland heading toward Sheffield’s city centre by way of Manchester’s airport. David Clines, one of the American’s advisors, made a gracious rescue from sub-zero English weather. Adapting to the North of England took some time. Adapting to the rigors of post-graduate British Biblical studies also took time. Eventually it was agreed by the American’s advisors that he would take a seat at the grown ups table of Isaiah studies. At the head of the table was the most respected and influential scholar in European and British studies in the last 100 years – Bernhard Duhm. In his published research he asserted chapters 56-66 were a  “collection of unconnected verses” (allerlei zitaten) strung together by a post-Exilic “Third Isaiah”. These assertions had become the standard starting point. All of the others at the table were genuine scholars having done brilliant work. Seated at the table with such highly regarded scholarship, the American wasn’t confident he merited even crumbs from under the table. So the American, deeply respectful of their work, decided that persuasion rather than argument, criticism could reset the table at which he now sat. He would write that an alternative to 100 years of  “accepted scholarly conclusions about a collection of unconnected verses” could be achieved by a close literary reading of Isaiah 56-59 grounded in prophetic judgement speech.  

Like that American, my hope this morning is to persuade you to develop a habit of reading the Bible in its literary forms. Bible literacy, being a serious student of biblical literature, is the greatest asset you can carry into the days ahead. Careful and faithful reading of the divine library will equip you to lay hold of instruction and guidance. 

In the prophetic library, prophets are representatives for the covenant YHWH revealed at Sinai. The Prophetic Judgement Speeches have two priorities. One is showing YHWH as an incomparable, covenantally faithful Ruler and the other is showing the covenant is a close, intimate, voluntary relationship well beyond political, legal or social confinement. Judgement speeches are genuine back and forth dialog by means of a poetic literary convention. So the prophets intend for us to hear the voice of YHWH and others. The use of voice directly involves us in instruction, distress, hopes, questioning, laughter at absurdities and grief about broken relationships, especially with YHWH.

The Covenant theme 56.1-2

Following a thematic introduction at 56.1-2, our lesson will only have its most important meanings when read as a conclusion to the prophetic judgement speech begun at 56.9. Let’s read the theme:

1 This is what YHWH says:

“Watch over what is just

    Do what is right,

for my salvation is close by

    and my deliverance is nearly here.

2 Blessed is the one who does this;

    the person who grasps it,

Watching over the Sabbath without desecrating it,

Watching over one’s hand from doing any evil.”

The command’s objects, Just/Right, are Sinai covenant themes that have been frequent companions throughout Isaiah. For example, read the first chapter of Isaiah for a preview of this text. The Sinai Covenant shaped Israel’s way of life expecting voluntary obedience to the revealed standards balancing encouragement for obedience against warning for those turning from obedience. Biblical themes Just/Right woven into the Sinai covenant opened horizons for newly freed Israel beyond the scope of merely political legality because they are rooted in relationships reaching for allegiance, faithfulness, forgiveness, reconciliation and longings for peace. In other words, Just/Right are dynamically linked to behavior as a display of voluntary obedience to morally informed covenant shaped revelation.

Not immediately apparent in English, the commands “Watch over what is just, Do what is right” are plural not singular – “y’all” –  it’s about community not the individual. Contemporary emphasis on individual faith has caused us to lose sight of the fact that biblical faith is formed in community. Every person in Israel is to know that she and he is absolutely essential for the wellbeing of the whole.The organic idea in the covenant community is that it forgoes authority over one another and works selflessly to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself”.

Maintaining community unity requires attention “for my salvation is close by and my deliverance is nearly here” (vs. 1) and effort “Watching over the Sabbath without desecrating it, Watching over one’s hand from doing any evil” (vs.2). There are many secular powers working against the household of faith. So we must measure unity constantly to the scripture’s narratives in order to discern the Spirit’s true bonds “Blessed is the one who does this; the person who grasps it” (vs. 2). Each member must hold each other accountable when unity is fractured by attitudes, conduct, utterances or choices. These thoughts bring us to Isaiah’s prophetic judgement speech, 56.9-57.21.

The Watchmen, 56.9-57.13

Moving our fingers down the page to 56.9, to the prophetic judgement speech itself, we’re about to hear an interplay of voices. YHWH commands “All wild animals of the field, Come to devour! all wild animals in the forest” (vs. 9). Clearly this is different from the commands at 56.1. Clearly a little short on the Just/Right bits. Right? But it’s Isaiah who gives us an explanation restaging the scene (vs. 10-11). 

10 His (YHWH’s) watchmen are blind- all of them

    they are not alert;

All of them are mute dogs,

    they are unable even to growl;

    Panting, lying sprawled out, desiring to slumber.

11 Those dogs are ravenous;

    they never know satisfaction.

Ah, these are wicked;

They lack discernment.

All of them turn to their own way,

    Each one in pursuit of unlawful personal gain – without exception

After calling the wild animals to attack Israel, the foreboding realization is there are already wild animals inside Israel – more offensive, more dangerous than those approaching. The Watchmen, the supposed guardians, have been revealed as self-serving, brutal, indifferent to the defense of the community yet alert to opportunistic personal benefit.  Clearly they are at odds with the virtues justice/right expected of all in the covenant community, again 56.1-2.

But a watchman interrupts the prophet’s explanation with his own commands worthy of any college frat house (vs. 12)  “Come,” “let us fetch wine! Let us guzzle an intoxicating drink! Tomorrow will be like this day – even far better.”

Having had enough of this Watchman’s defiance and faulty sundial, YHWH re-enters to confront the Watchmen directly with 12 interrogative accusations that would impress Law and Order’s Jack McCoy. I’ll summarize YHWH’s fast paced accusations uncovering the Watchmen’s misguided, misdirected behavior and motivations in 57.3-13. Perpetually hurried, restless, they move fast but they break things – a lot of things. They have a problematic track record. Things don’t go as planned. They have spent most of their time free-lancing. Their apparent charm and dynamism disguised a lack of serious intellectual formation and capability. Abandoning their pursuit of covenant holiness, they sing of hedonism, consumerist narcissism and secularism. They have blocked the covenant path with religious abuse, corruption, betrayal, deception.   

So who are these Watchmen?  Not immediately apparent in translation, “Watchmen” is, first of all, a pointed, skillful  play on words. It’s a form of the verb “watch over” used 3x in 56.1-2. But second, not immediately apparent in translation, it’s a pointed, skillful theological identification.  Watchmen is the covenant identification for the priestly guardians (השומרים) of the sanctuary and temple and YHWH’s priestly agents of covenant teaching (BDB 1036-1038; TLOT 3.1380ff).   

Now hit the pause button: It is important for us to grasp the intentions of a Judgement Speech. The issue is:  the Watchmen have abandoned their pastoral vocation to abuse their position with authority and power. YHWH is in a struggle for their very life. The accusations do not want to drive the Watchmen away but to draw them back through repentance to obedience, faithfulness, back to “watching over” the community. 

So here’s the big idea:  it’s crucial that one does his/her religious leadership job well in Israel and the church, by extension. And here’s the important difference. It’s not our corporate format of top down – follower leadership . No, biblical leadership is pastoral. It’s a release of authority to take responsibility as a servant who serves well. That’s a very difficult idea to put our head around, especially in our follow the leader culture. It’s an ancient issue even Jesus commented on: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk.10.42-45). The pastoral vocation is to become equippers, prodders, encouragers, promoters of all in the household so that each one fulfills his or her vocation. The pastoral vocation in discipleship is not something to be marketed, a commodity to buy, to be successful at. The household of faith isn’t a vending machine of religious goods and services catering to people’s wishes, whims, tastes. Rather a faithful community is an educated, commissioned body of people sent on a mission. Pastoral discipleship is the nurturing of missionary people who warn, evangelize, educate and speak prophetically – risking displeasure and scorn at times. Rightly understood, the pastoral vocation in Israel and the church has been and will always be a highly demanding calling.

The Community 57.14-21

Let’s move our fingers down the verses to our lesson – 57.14-21. I’ll summarize the thoughts. Certainly Israel suffered from the decisions of leaders who sacrificed the good of the people for celebrity, success, and profit. They were unconcerned with the safety, faith or holiness of the men and women YHWH put under their care. Much to everyone’s horror, then, when the leader’s failed, the community was negatively impacted. YHWH’s commands “Rise up, Rise up, Clear the path! Remove the obstacle from the path of my people” direct the first of his closing remarks to the Remnant – those faithful people surviving the Watchmen catastrophe (vs. 14).  In a thematic sense, we’re back where we started – 56.1-2. YHWH’s command, once again, is to every single person in Israel that she and he is absolutely essential for the wellbeing of the whole. Everyone has a responsibility to watch over the work of the Lord in, for and through them. 

After all the accusations against the Watchmen and the disaster that has come down on Israel, it’s YHWH’s internal questioning, wrestling and deliberations in vs. 15-21 that are eye opening. YHWH’s penetrating, thoughtful self-examination leads him to decide to revive (v. 15) and to restore (v.18). Limiting his power and authority, the gravity of the sinfulness is mercifully healed rather than punished “I have diagnosed his condition and decided to heal him” (vs. 17).  Judgement’s sentence is not his choice. Shocking no doubt to a great many who would argue the covenant condemns. But lest you think thoughtful divine decision making is a one off, fast forward to the deliberation embedded in these words: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3.16-17).

The underlying tension in prophetic judgement speeches is always the need for a grounded, embedded faith and obedience that can withstand assaults within and without. I’ll be honest. The process of healing from trauma such as inflicted by the Watchmen is not easy. It can be hard to disentangle the Lord who loves me and the household of faith from misrepresentation by an unhealthy religious leader. We’re left with the shards of broken faith cutting us. The pain seems unstoppable. Understandably, many people get angry, bitter. Others decide to leave all together. Possibly the hardest thing to do when you and I experience the failure of a religious leader is to hold the tension between grace and truth, between justice and reconciliation. Will any of us hold the tension perfectly? No. Does this release us from trying? No. That’s why it’s important to recognize the example of YHWH’s many sided deliberations in vs.15-21. They call us to wisdom, to keep watch over our speech so our response doesn’t add to the tearing down that’s already in action. We must always have the expectation to speak up. But following YHWH’s example, sometimes, this means taking a step back processing the situation before saying anything. It is important to step back for a moment and remind ourselves who the Lord is apart from some hurtful leaders. The life of a first or second covenant believer will always be highly demanding. By the way, I suppose by now you realize I’m that American.

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Mark 5:1-20 | Trinity 3B

John Michael Gutierrez, PhD

1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs, a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea. 14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Mark 5:1-20

The Gospel of the Lord

Two things this morning. Turn in your Bibles or tablet  to Mark 4 & 5 and pull up in your head a map of Northern Israel, specifically the NW area of Lake Galilee around Capernaum and then look SE to “the other side of the lake” to the Decapolis. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is a very busy person. Ch 4 begins a day with the crush of villagers, pushing Jesus into a fishing boat along the NW lake shore (vs.1-2). Once seated he talks about aspects of the Kingdom in four Wisdom sayings or parables: first, about how Kingdom Words scattered like seed produce an amazing harvest in spite of seemingly impossible obstacles (vs. 3-20), second,  about how Kingdom truth, more than an oil lamp, can light up a whole life, astonishingly pushing back darkness, revealing the smallest of details (vs. 21-25), third, how the kingdom when planted is unstoppable like seeds that grow into a full harvest (vs. 26-29) and lastly, about how the Kingdom, insignificant like mustard seed, will grow beyond expectation (vs. 30-32).  

Mark details the four parables with four stories taking us to the end of the next day. In the first story (4.35-41), readers ponder Kingdom power over nature. From a boat Jesus quiets  a hurricane tossed lake.  In a demon exorcism story, 5.1-20, our Gospel lesson, readers consider Kingdom power in conflict with evil spirit power. In two interwoven stories, the resurrection of a child and the healing of a hemorrhaging woman (5.21-43), readers ponder Kingdom power as it loosens the grip of death and illness.  

Here’s how I would summarize Mark’s theological intentions in bringing the parables and stories together in a day in the life of Jesus. In Jesus, the Kingdom has been planted in human experience through the Spirit, Word and power.  The kingdom is an insurgent uprising establishing YHWH’s rule and presence in ever increasing proportion.   My goal this morning is to highlight some of the challenges of, the impact of and responses to the Kingdom we read in the exorcism.

 In 1981 at the traditional site of ch. 5, near Gerasa, Israel constructed a state park. The shoreline is level but rises quickly to a hilly wilderness, pocketed with caves – a place suitable for tombs (vs. 2,5) and grazing livestock (vs. 11). I suppose that, in the best of times, it  was a grim place. In the first century, the site was certainly not a place for a stroll in the park. 

On “the other side of the lake”, this site is a place of spiritual opposition. The anguished cries of a man pierce the silence. A terrifying man driven forcefully to the margins of society.  He’s so violent his family, others had tried to shackle him, to bring him under control. He tore chains apart and broke irons from his feet. All attempts at control or subjugation were unsuccessful (vs. 4).  Everyone gave up. He is alive and mercilessly driven by demons among tombs (vs. 3). I suppose it’s natural to want to shut out someone like this man. He’s frightening.  But in the midst of the violent description, Mark turns to us with his hands extended calling attention to the anguish, the utter helplessness “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (vs. 5). Mark’s  gut wrenching cry observing  the man’s tormented life is intended to draw out our compassion. And to set us up for Jesus.

Having sailed to Gerasa with the Twelve, the Gospeler heightens the scene’s dramatic effect and intensity by removing everyone from the scene “They went to the other side of the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat….” (vs. 1-2). A solitary Jesus steps out of the boat to come face to face with a solitary man, whose fearsome force, whose madness was as wild as the hurricane tossed lake. 

In this wild place Mark bids us to remember the spiritual contest Jesus just experienced “resisting Satan in the wilderness” after his baptism (1.12-13).  Jesus exited from that wild place in the power of the Spirit. He won’t be distracted by this man’s craziness, nakedness. The man sees Jesus, adopts a posture of submission but howls in protest “what do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God!” (vs. 7). Jesus is about to engage in a tug of war between the Kingdom and an evil, spiritual power for control over the territory of this man. Momentarily, we reckon something within him can still recognize Jesus: the divine One, the Spirit empowered One, the Holy One.  But the utter helplessness of possession is heard when the man sometimes uses the singular pronoun, sometimes the plural “And he begged Jesus earnestly not to send them out of the country”(vs. 10). The irony of “Swear to God” should not be missed.  Jesus has been identified as “Son of the Most High God”. That’s not a messianic title but a divine one. The desperation invoking divine protection has no force – Jesus is the Son of God!

 But the numbered forces about to be revealed are much harder to understand, clearly frightening.  Before the howl of protest fades, a demon breaks into negotiation “I beg you, don’t torment me” (vs. 7). Why? – because Jesus was pushing past the nameless man demanding a truthful identification. Legion, for we are many – with this blood-curdling response, we learn a weapon-ized 5,000 demon force has set up a camp in the man.  Legion – a word rich in political/military, atrocious power that tears from family, from safety, from community, from everything that makes the world make any sense. Everyone in first century Palestine had seen Roman legions – the ruthless instrument of Roman peace.   

So beginning in vs. 10, YHWH’s salvific commander begins directing the Kingdom’s legion. The powerful demonic Legion, who for everyone but Jesus has been an object of terror, begins a desperate but unsuccessful retreat. Recognizing Jesus has authority to remove them from their camp, the demons negotiate a surrender. They think they might be better off in the nearby pigs.  Jesus says okay. Whereupon they break camp and enter the pigs.  Their violence so brutal and brutalizing to the man replays its vicious character in the pigs. But the pigs stampede, fly  over a cliff into the lake and drown.  The demons had driven a man to live among the dead. Ironically, they are dead;  the man is alive (vs. 11-13). sidebar to humans – even pigs reject evil spirit power!

Mark turns our attention to the dramatically unemployed pig herders (vs. 14).  They flee into the village with a tabloid story – Exorcism, demons fleeing into pigs, pigs stampeding, flying pigs. Not unexpectedly the village people go out to see for themselves looking for the pigs.  But instead, they see the man clothed, in his right mind, sitting calmly in front of Jesus (vs. 15). This demonstration of Kingdom power gets a markedly cool reception by the locals. Fear takes center stage “and they were afraid” (again vs. 15). They were as afraid of the man’s sanity as of his gruesome existence. And note carefully, they were more afraid of the One who had the power to bring about this change. In their hardening posture of suspicion, they plead with Jesus to depart (vs. 17). 

The crush of the villagers pushes Jesus back into the boat. The man wants to be with Jesus so badly, he tries to get into the boat too (vs. 18). He wants to sail away from everything, everyone.  Surprisingly,  Jesus tells the still nameless, once homeless man to Go home with this message “tell how much God has done for you” (vs. 19). But Mark then tells us the man replaces God with Jesus in the message.  Because for Mark Jesus is the Son of God, the promise of YHWH to Israel and now, dramatically to Gentiles also. This still unnamed man is the first messenger for the first mission to Gentiles to the amazement of many (vs. 20). His deliverance, message and mission are a foreshadowing of other Gentile victories expected of the Kingdom. 

Unarguably in words, the reality of supernatural evil and the societal destruction it brings is brought into sharp focus in this Gospel story.  I’m going to make two applications for us from this story.  First, when I first began to study the Bible seriously, to hear the Lord’s voice, I was taken aback that Jesus and the  NT talk about demonic and spiritual evil in very vivid ways. Ways that cannot be explained satisfactorily in modern pathological categories. Or, should I say, downplayed

I believe in and have experience with the real spirit driven evil described in this story. And so does our culture. Just look around. It’s full of books, movies, supermarket tabloids,  television shows, even documentaries that dwell on spiritual evil, demons at length. But this isn’t anything new. In the 4th cent. John Chrysostom in his Three Homilies on the Devil  argued that demonic evil is too often disguised as goodness in society. In our Gospel lesson, when demonic evil is localized, it can be readily recognized. The bigger problem is the more evil is diluted in our society, the more often it goes unrecognized. More often nothing much or specific is done about it.

As this scene in ch. 5 unfolds, let’s not lose sight of vs. 2 “a man with an unclean spirit”. His degraded existence is rooted in spiritual oppression/possession.  We’re not told how or why this happened. Somewhere/sometime the man in the story surrendered – just to the wrong power.  The power of spirit evil in a society may appear energetic, glamorous, compared to the supposedly prim world of holiness. That’s just an outward show as Chrysostom says. I would say from our lesson, in reality, spirit driven evil is flat and superficial. It has no capacity for living at any depth.  Demons are cynical creatures. Demons aren’t opposed to this or that human value. No, they’re opposed to all human value because it embodies the image of God. Demons itch to show humans for the miserable waste of space that they are. The voices of hell mock the preposterous idea that human existence could have any meaning or worth. Demons are cruel creatures. They infest dark, filthy places. They glory in decay and despair. They drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air. Their mission is to reap delight from the destructiveness that we read in this story.  Jesus confronts demonic powers that tear us from wholeness, from one another, from society. So we should note carefully the narrative is telling us Jesus’ kingdom deliverance wasn’t only healing a demon possessed man. He was reconciling and spiritually healing a community by restoring someone who had been shut out. 

Now I freely admit to you this is an area of theology and pastoral practice that’s filled with complications, pitfalls, mysteries, and, I believe sincerely, grave spiritual dangers. But what if we should find ourselves on the other side of the lake.  Should we not, as a believing community, be slow to misidentify, misunderstand, misjudge or dismiss spiritual oppression, possession and deliverance in its many forms? Mark’s Gospel says Jesus the messiah king has gotten out of the boat and is calling all disciples, gifted with the Holy Spirit to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. Should we not be extra careful then? Heaven forbid, we should be the ones to ask King Jesus to get back into the boat.

Now for the second application. Notice in the scene, the man’s name is never disclosed. We only know him by description “a man with an unclean spirit” (vs. 2). His isolation was absolute – cut off from family, from society and also from himself.  Names are nothing new. Starting in the Garden, the Bible’s narratives have always valued names. But it isn’t a name that hangs in the air in this story. It’s another kind of word – a label Legion – an evasive word, it turns out, intended to withhold the demon’s identification. 

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'” “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

“They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! (L. Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)

The perceived power in ideologically misrepresenting words/labels can subtly lull us into thinking by measuring, by judging, we are in control, have power over someone or something. Labels are relative, categorical. For good or for bad, as this Gospel suggests, labels influence identity affecting how to think about someone.  We live in a society run amok with evasive labels – political, social and religious.  In our Gospel, Through the Looking Glass and our society, misusing words/labels is a celebration of power.  Labels hope for the suspension of critical faculties so that assumptions go unexamined.

The campaign of changing word meaning is on the march taking control over large areas of our culture.  And the crowded crush of ideological labels in American society is pushing Jesus into the boat.  More and more in public discourse individuals are not free to use the name Jesus Christ, except as a curse, of course. Part of society has already assigned “hate” to the Bible’s words about marriage, conception, sexual identity, justice and race. It has gutted the Bible’s words about love and rejected its words about mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.   And it is no small matter that “pride” is a central word.  I’m with St Augustine on this. ‘Pride’, he said, ‘hates a fellowship of equality under God, and seeks to impose its own dominion on fellow humans, in place of God’s rule” (City of God 19.12). 

Words are at the heart of the conflict. Whenever conversations become irrational, violent, full of hate, scorn, that’s when you see the Devil’s military camp. That’s when you know it’s a spiritual conflict, a tug of war for the territory of someone’s mind/heart. By an Orwellian linguistic trick, a profound corruption/pollution of communication is taking shape, especially when furthered by spiritual evil. Whether Biblical words are politically/socially convenient or not, doesn’t affect their truth. The words of Biblical truth are a great campaign of sabotage against rebellious power and pride.

Whenever people set out to make others verbally, ideologically conform, there’ll always be someone like the Patristic John Chrysostom, the Baptist educator Voddie Bauchman, the Catholic Bishop Barron, the Orthodox writer Rod Dreher, the Anglican archbishops Beach and Sutton, hopefully you and me  – ambassadors of the rightful king, who will resist, push back. Christians can push past labels to speak to the heart of someone pursuing the wrong programs for cultural wholeness, to someone with the wrong interpretation of the human condition or identity. It’s because Kingdom Christians have a proper understanding of human nature and a proper understanding of healing words. 

Yes, it’s all about power. The surrender of power, the sitting of oneself calmly at the feet of Jesus. The solution to the corruption of words is Jesus the Word.  Jesus the Word opens hearts with words of saving power, saving love, repentance, forgiveness, truth, reconciliation. Heaven forbid, we should be the ones to silence Jesus the Word.

Luke 15.1-10 [11-32] | Trinity 13C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

[11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”]

Luke 15:1-32

The Gospel of the Lord

When I returned from England last century, I began teaching the Biblical Languages. The first Biblical Literature I taught was Luke-Acts. Luke and I have “history” so to speak. When Luke edited his Gospel for Theophilus – remember his introduction in ch. 1 (vs. 1-4), he placed three parables in a sequence: a parable about a wandering sheep, a parable about a misplaced coin and a parable about two equally lost sons (15.1-32). And notice all three have a similar pattern: (1) a crisis where something/someone is lost from a larger group, (2) an action where the leading character seeks out and finds the lost, (3) the finder then invites friends for a celebration and (4) Jesus makes a comment. So here’s my dilemma. In this morning’s Gospel lesson, the lectionary editors have us read only two of the parables. Twenty four weeks ago, we read Luke’s third parable, commonly called the prodigal son, on the fourth Sunday in Lent.  You’ll find Luke’s edit  printed in full in this morning’s  bulletin. Because as I began to prepare for this morning, I kept running up against his edit.  So I’ll ask for your forgiveness beforehand, since I will return to the entire scene of his final edit.

A first thought about Luke’s introduction in vs. 1-2: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and Scribes complained, “This man too freely puts his arms around sinners and eats with them.”. Remember in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is presented to the Jewish leaders in a prophetic role. The dominant role of Israel’s prophets is appeal. So in the pattern of the classical prophets, here’s how I imagine the prophet Jesus speaking to the religious authorities. He has his forearms stretched out and the palms of his hands turned up. He wants to embrace them. He is inviting them to consider three kinds of lost-ness and to not let their identification ideology lose sight of people in their real lives. There are lots of ways to be lost. Not only three. And if you’re a frequent visitor to Israel’s prophetic literature then you’ll not be surprised by creativity.   

As I’ve said previously, one of my favorite Jewish teachers Amy-Jill Levine observes parables are meant “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  She writes, “if we hear a parable and think, ‘I really like that’ or, worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough”. Luke’s edited intentions for Theophilus are subtle. So sometimes Wisdom can help. Parables belong to Israel’s Wisdom Literature so we know they’re multi-directional. Right off, these parables involve ideas of lost-ness and attitudes. And because they’re Wisdom Literature, they  lead everyone on a collision course with choices, decisions, responsiveness, forgiveness and changes in direction. A lot of attention focuses on: How do we read them? Who do we identify with? What will it take to get us involved? So from these questions we know the parables are not an all out attack on Scribes and Pharisees. But we do know this: the parables involve them just as much as everyone because the question in vs. 4 cleverly begins “Who among you….”?

The first parable focuses on a wandering sheep (vs. 3-7). This one sheep out of the 99 wasn’t a wild sheep but belonged to the flock from the beginning. Sheep wander. Jewish believers wander. Christian believers wander. Wandering is merely one of the things believers are most consistent at. Believers are complicated. Sometimes they never meant to wander away. They drifted away without knowing it. It’s taken the same amount of divine mercy to get them, me and you saved and grace to keep all of us saved. But the point is there’s a learning curve to living a believing life. Some are lambs, some are sheep. Not one among the flock, the community, is at the same point of obedience or faithfulness. Everyone, tax collectors, sinners, disciples, scribes and Pharisees, wander from faithfulness in different ways. Everyone encounters struggles with keeping focused. Knowing this, it takes a lot of grace to live as a wanderer in a flock with other wanderers.   

It’s been my great privilege to have a teaching vocation as a lamb, a sheep. For you see I’ve been involved in teaching men/women who want to be ordained shepherds. I have no ordained authority. If I have any authority it’s merely persuasion. I’ve spoken to them about the Bible and ministry as a sheep who knows wandering well. I’ve wanted them to know and understand how a sheep like me experiences the pasture, the wilderness. I’ve wanted them to know I’m not unaware of the experiences, the pains, the feelings of failure in my own life. And thank you Jesus there’s a better model for shepherding than a top down administration with cost benefit analysis of a one percent loss. Jesus has a place on his shoulders for even one wandering believer. 

From the very first time I sang the words of this Methodist revival hymn, even until today, they lay heavy on my soul: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood. O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above”.  It’s not about bureaucracy, programs, not about balance sheets. A believer’s life is challenging, hopeful and difficult. Shepherding ministry is knowing intimately what’s happening in the flock, the local community. Like Jesus with his open arms toward Scribes and Pharisees, I’ve wanted the aspiring shepherds to carefully know, to personally consider, to generously serve folk with instruction, compassion and kindness. If you’re going to search for wanderers then you will have to find them where they gather in their lost-ness. There you will find them trying to find something to satisfy, to deaden the pain of an empty heart. And when you find them, lay them on your shoulders rejoicing as Jesus did. What this means is: help them, undertake for them, assume some care for them, share your strength with them. This is what the Scribes/Pharisees, who thought of themselves as part of the 99, were supposed to do. Hopefully it stung some of them. It was always my prayer that it stung my aspiring shepherds.

The next parable focuses on another kind of lost-ness. A woman panics after misplacing a coin in her house (vs. 8-10). The coin was part of her life. It belonged to her. She uses a costly item – an oil lamp in her desperate search. I certainly, and perhaps you, walk around with lots of doubts about myself. And when I lose or misplace something or someone especially at home I feel it. And don’t I feel stoooopid – that’s four o’s in the spelling!  Sometimes stupid is all I’ve got! But there are ways to find what has been lost. I can do this one thing. I can admit I made a mistake. Admit it’s my fault. I can be more helpful to the household if I lighten up, uncovering with honesty my mistakes. I can, as it were, pull back the carpet and start sweeping in one corner, pull out the refrigerator from the cabinet, and move carefully across the room. She realized she would be working in darkness. She needed more light. Like her, I need the good, synagogue goin’ Scribe/Pharisee to hold the candle and not tell me what five steps I should have done to manage my wealth. Or to put it into Scribe/Pharisee speak “If you’d only fully obey the Tradition of the Elders such things wouldn’t happen”. Well, they do happen because things happen.

One time in my life, I lost someone. It was soccer season. Jason had practice on Tuesdays after school. I always came to fetch him after practice so we could go get dinner. Well, one thing after another went wrong that day. I was delayed. When I got to the practice field, I discovered it was empty, completely empty.  I remember the panic. My arms went numb; my mouth was dry and my head was pounding. May I suggest something of that panic is what we read in this parable. Like the woman, in a frenzy I dropped everything and rushed to different houses. At the third, thank God, there he was! Saying over and over I was so very sorry, I held him ever so tightly in my arms. He hadn’t been kidnapped. He hadn’t been left behind, unnoticed. A lot of things were held at arm’s length. Although, from time to time he wanted a Baskin Robbins ice cream reminding me the whole story hasn’t been told – YET.

And in Luke’s  third parable, the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son, we’re actually given two kinds of deliberate lost-ness and no small amount of attitude (vs. 11-32). Two sons in this parable belong to the family. Each one chooses to deliberately step away. Decisively, dramatically, the youngest son tosses aside his father, his family and the community nurturing him (vs.12-14).  Jesus tells us after a while he “came to his senses” in a far away country and in a skilled use of storytelling we hear what Junior is thinking. He will return, admit he has sinned against the Lord and wronged his father (vs. 17-19). Meaningful words of confession and  repentance over a broken relationship. 

The father enters the scene “moved with compassion” (vs. 20). Long ago he made up his mind. He would forgive his son if he ever showed up on the outskirts of the village. Seeing his son on the horizon, without hesitation he gets up, runs, embraces and affectionately kisses him. Interrupting the son’s confession he commands servants to accessorize the son with robe, ring, sandals – emblems of restoration to sonship and fatherly care. And he commands them to set the table with a festival meal (vs. 21-24). His son was lost and has been found.

What about the other son?  Appearing first on the same horizon the older brother stops short of the house and speaks to a slave – not his father (vs. 25-27). He’s angry. Now children, unlike sheep and coins, have long memories and a voice of their own. He’s confident he’s right. He knows the rules, the questions and the answers. This son blurts out his rage, scolding his father with bitter words. His father’s not following the rules. He should have left the “little brat” on the horizon and not welcome him back (vs. 28-30).

In this last parable, the father delights in the younger son’s repentance but probably would prefer he not sink so low before coming to his senses. And the father would have liked to see the older son go into the house, warmly embrace his brother, kiss him, and weep on his neck. For both, it’s never too late to make the right decisions.

This parable’s theological point: forgiveness is always available to the one who turns. Sometimes we’re so full of ourselves, we’d rather destroy ourselves than endure being forgiven, than find the humility to accept we’re loved. Sometimes accepting forgiveness can be hard. Sometimes circumstances will lead us to understand how valuable commitment to family love is. Sometimes we’ll understand forgiveness only when we realize what we’ve done and want to change. On the other hand, we’re taught to forgive. Forgiveness becomes an act of courage because it lifts the lost over very, very high walls of rejection in order to reunite them with family and community. Personally this parable reminds me who lost sons on more than one occasion, how fortunate not to have lost them permanently. That’s worth celebrating. 

So here’s a Jesus point for us: In the final parable we are to feel the father’s heart wrenching compassion over two sons at odds with him and each other. And I can see that Luke’s edit uses this parable to show compassion belongs in all three parables. Since compassion belongs to the very nature of what it means to the Lord. A Lord determined to seek and save the lost. To be such a Lord is to feel his insides churn over lost-ness and to act on it. To be such a Lord is to search for, to heal, restore, renew, and in all ways to help. Compassion is important as it allows such a Lord to imagine himself in our shoes. Compassion is what arises when he is confronted with our lost-ness and it motivates him to die on the cross to relieve it. And to rise joyously on the third day and take a seat on a throne in triumphant celebration.

Here’s a Jesus’ hook in the three parables for everyone who’s been listening. When someone is lost, either by wandering, being misplaced or deliberately choosing that someone is missed, longed after, and not only worth the search party but worth ringing bells, swinging from the chandeliers in unrestrained joy before the Father, Son and Spirit as that someone is brought back into the sheepfold (vs. 6-7), the purse (vs. 9-10) or the family (vs. 22-24).

Some folk wander, some are misplaced and some even deliberately reject the Lord. Each of these parables, then, reveals something of the attitude, and the activity the Lord undertakes on behalf of the lost. Each one helps believers to see as the Lord sees and to develop some understanding and sympathy for some of the reasons why someone can be lost. And we should see, in these parables “insider” attitudes toward the wandering, the misplaced and the rebellious and attitudes of those who disparage them. Bottom line – Jesus is inviting everyone within hearing to extend their arms, turn up the palms of their hands adopting an attitude of divine compassion, patience and love.  

Luke’s final edit tells us there are lots of ways to be lost. And it also tells us there is Jesus who came to seek and save the lost. Jesus values us enough to search us out, to restore us to who we were created to be and to celebrate whenever we return. This morning, if you’re feeling lost, misplaced or have merely kicked everything to the side of the road then you’re in the right place. There are lots of wandering sheep, misplaced coins and fathers/mothers, sons/daughters here. Ask anyone. There’s probably one sitting next to you. May I suggest to you, they’re more than willing to help you find your way back into the sheepfold, the purse and the family. And more than willing to celebrate with you. We’re Anglicans for heaven’s sake!

May the Lord richly bless you, my Beloved.

Luke 14.1-14 | Trinity 11C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the scribes and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[b] or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Luke 14:1-14

The Gospel of the Lord.

The New Testament’s pantry is full of food and eating in social, religious and family settings. Routinely Jesus’ teaching references everyday food items, e.g. salt, seeds, bread, fish.  In some of his miracles, multitudes are fed with bread and fish. And, famously, there are his interpretive words about bread and wine at his last Passover meal. But meals aren’t always about the menu. In his dining with “tax collectors and sinners” Jesus came to be viewed skeptically.  Careful reading of the later Jesus movement, reveals how meals unite believers and promote a distinctive identity for this newly forming group, although, not without some controversy (Gal. 2.11-14, Ac. 10-11, 1 Cor. 11-14) 

This morning’s lectionary scene features a Pharisaic leader who invited Jesus to a Sabbath meal.  Theophilus already knows from Luke “Jesus…Pharisee…meal…Sabbath” is a type-scene for controversy.  The Sabbath meals in chapters 5 (vs. 29-32) and 7 (vs. 36-50) ended with Pharisees on the defensive. The Sabbath meal in chapter 11 ended with Pharisees “lying in wait for Jesus, to catch him in something he might say” (11:37-54).  So we shouldn’t be surprised when we read here: “the Pharisees were watching him closely” (vs. 1).  Right from the start of this scene, we suppose something provocative, at least from the Pharisaic point-of-view, is likely to occur. On the other hand, by the time Jesus gets to Jerusalem’s temple, he will be skilled at flipping tables (cf. 19.45-46).

This meal in addition to being a religious gathering is also a political-social event.  In the Second Temple period and the Roman world-at-large, a banqueteer would usually invite one’s social equals or superiors.  Accepting an invitation to a dinner carried with it expectations the invited would return the favor at some future time.  More about this in a few minutes. Obviously, poorer folk would never give/accept an invitation since they would not be able to pay/repay in kind. 

In Luke’s Gospel, then, Jesus’ frequently open-ended dinner is a kingdom strategy calling “correct” rules into question. This helps readers understand why Jesus is viewed as a threat.  This scene also has an unstated tension involving the unnamed but “prominent” Pharisee.  Pharisees tended to be only slightly better off than the destitute poor (Josephus, Ant 13.171-173). So beginning with the  appetizers, the “hosting” of this meal would have been somewhat tenuous. Since a garden variety Pharisee, although prominent, might not be able to pull it off financially.  

Time to pile on the tension. Into the scene comes a man with edema (vs. 2). The man is clearly out of place in this socially networked dinner.  Considering the theological pattern Luke has been constructing, it might not be far off the mark to suppose this apparently abrupt intrusion is a setup to back Jesus into a theological corner. After all it’s the Sabbath and the room is filled with folk for whom “meticulous auditing of Sabbath Oral Tradition” is of paramount importance.  Consistently in Luke, Jesus’ healing on Sabbaths demonstrates valuing Sinai Torah over Pharisaic Oral Tradition. Jesus under intense Pharisaic scrutiny is able to see who is in front of him – a man his scrutinizers are unwilling to see. Jesus questions them  “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” (vs. 5). His question exposes their field of vision has narrowed through the binoculars of Oral Tradition. They no longer see the Torah’s landscape – the greater needs of individuals on the Sabbath.  They’re silent. Without comment Jesus heals the man and sends him away, perhaps, back to his own family meal!

And now back to the banquet and who Jesus sees “in front of him…”.  Jesus has been noticing how the religious authorities are working the tables like wily, campaign shoutin’ politicians (vs. 7).  Here’s the background to Jesus’ parable in vss. 8-10. The place of honor reserved for the most important guests at banquets was around the head end or middle of tables . It would be public embarrassment for someone to take a prominent place assuming they were an important guest only to give it up to a more honored guest. That person’s “assumed” view of himself/herself would be on public display. So being reseated would be a source of shame. 

Jesus’ parable leads into a teaching moment.  Luke has seated Jesus as a sage among these sages at dinner. Wisdom in Israel has advice about how to act when someone is on the receiving end of an invitation to a banquet. In Hezekiah’s collection of Proverbs (Pro. 25:6, 7) there is cautionary advice to young princelings about how to behave, where to sit, stand,and eat in the king’s court. Even down to the Second Temple Period, Sirach still advises invitees to be deferential at such meals (Sir. 31:12-18).  So formed in Israel’s Wisdom teaching, Jesus’ truism on conventional table manners “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (vs. 11) focuses on more than just “choosing” one’s seating. 

How are disciples to behave in the Kingdom? Certainly, proverbial advice can be misdirected, such as, play your cards right, and you can game the system’s social situations to your advantage. Neither is Jesus supporting conventional etiquette advice in a Dear Abigail column of his daily Judean Gazette. No, this is kingdom teaching: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (vs. 11). If you’re going to undo the thirst of status seeking then you can’t go to the best seat at the banquet. You have to go to the human heart. You have to go to the guest who is least likely to belong there in the first place. Jesus is pointing disciples in the direction of choosing to pursue humility.  This kingdom virtue marks disciples with honored status. His truism indicates humility turns the social world upside down. No doubt, humility is a tricky thing. It eludes us even when we try to define it in healthy ways. Very little in our culture recognizes, rewards or supports humility. Entertainment, politics, sports, and, regrettably, religion, have an unhealthy admiration for the loudest, the biggest, and the greatest.  Whether we recognize it or not, Christians too often idolize the superlatives “awesome” or  “cool”. Yet the discipleship thread Luke repeatedly turns to is: status in the kingdom is recognized not in social positions of power but in being a “servant” (cf. Luke 22:24-27).

Building on the truism’s reversal of social order, the scene’s narrative closure (vs. 12-14), narrows the focus from the banquet-at-large to the host – the one who holds the greater measure of control over the “rules of the table”.

In a second teaching moment, Jesus speaks directly to his host- the prominent pharisee. He will undermine one of the facets in the social system – patronage- that keeps the system on life support.  In the ancient world, society was strongly hierarchical. One’s place at dinner was guarded jealously. It seems for most it was a matter of survival to make sure they either stayed where they were. Position was a matter of individual achievement and community value. Self esteem was inseparable from what others thought about you. Most to be feared was to lose your seat publicly. Losing face was almost like losing one’s life.

Jesus challenges the Pharisee not to bolster his social status with friends, family or the famous. Instead, Jesus writes up a list of four guests “the poor and crippled, the lame, and blind” (vs. 13) and by implication the “uninvited” man with edema in the beginning scene (vs. 7). They’re of no social utility in the Second Temple banquet.  Jesus is encouraging his host to “dishonor” himself and his family. If he invites the poor and others, none of them can repay in kind. Through this guestlist, Jesus publicly disapproves of, at the very least, one Pharisee’s worldview.

We don’t know if the host responded to Jesus one way or another but this kind of censure and reversal of expectations and status is thematic in Luke. Turn back with me to a couple of sentences frequently read in evening prayer – Mary’s psalm “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (e.g., 1:52-53; also 6:20-26; 18:14). As disciples we are to hear a message unraveling society’s fabric of honor and status. Jesus has rewritten both the guest list and seating chart. In his teaching moments, Jesus subverts expectations disciples might have about social payment and repayment governing status in the kingdom community. His promise is that YHWH will repay Wisdom’s  hospitality at the “resurrection of the righteous” (vs. 14).  Because YHWH’s kingdom is not a kingdom of scarcity but of abundance:  all are already welcome, already loved, already cherished.  Because the status of that kingdom is humility not arrogance; compassion not indifference; service not self-promotion. For the time being disciples who eat and drink at YHWH’s table live in tension with pecking orders defining the society-around-them. That can be exhausting.  But it’s what disciples are called to do — to humble themselves placing hope in a radically different kingdom. YHWH is a host who will faithfully reward servant behavior.

Now the scribes and Pharisees weren’t the only ones listening. There’s the disciples, Theophilus and the readers.  Luke’s dinner scenes reveal some of the boundaries of human relationships. Tradition breaking discipleship, and/or  “lower-end-of-the-table” discipleship is deliberate not accidental, especially when things like status are being used as exclusion or power. Discipleship is about leveling the playing field not about defending turf. Where we choose to sit speaks volumes about relationships. And/or the people who we choose to invite reveal the character of discipleship. One of the messages of this lectionary reading is: disciples can become so distracted, so busy looking for a place at the table, and/or maintaining a place, they have missed the feast altogether. Keep this in mind: Jesus is skilled at flipping tables. So it seems to me the questions the Gospel lesson puts to disciples about commitments are: Do you really still think you hold the greater measure of control over the “rules of the table”. If so, then where have you seated Jesus at the table that is your life? For you see the actual discipleship issue is “If I’m going to sit at a table it needs to be where Jesus seats me because it’s a matter of the heart”. So the commitment question still remains “How can I best serve”?.

May the Lord richly bless you, my Beloved.

Luke 12.49-59 | Trinity 9C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law  and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ 54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57 And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

Luke 12:49-59

The Gospel of the Lord

In one sense, Jesus’ emphatic opening could be a proto-type for Cal Fire’s idea of controlled burning. For you see Jesus’ fire, furiously roiling through lives and comfort zones, is controlled, Spirit driven (cf. 4.18-19). Remember the Baptizer’s “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3.16). Now isolated from Luke’s narrative, no argument, a lot of folk read these as harsh words. But as close readers, let’s take the wider Lucan narrative into account. When we do, then these statements are not about Jesus dividing people but about a society’s smoke that gets in your eyes. So let’s begin with this. Since ch. 9.51, Jesus has been speaking sometimes to disciples, sometimes to religious leaders and sometimes to the “stepping all over each other” crowd (cf. 12.1).  Increasingly we realize some of the disciples and some in the crowd were listening. And some, such as the Pharisees, were listening suspiciously. But probably, the majority of the crowd was along for the ride: 1) because Jesus was becoming famous; 2) because he was feeding them and 3) because he was taking on the religious/political establishment. So I’m suggesting Luke’s aim in our lesson is this: Jesus starts to shrink the crowd by making discipleship more and more demanding.

In a big picture way, Jesus addresses everyone – their “across-the-board” inability to interpret “the present time” (v. 56), specifically, their national life. It’s a time of turmoil, division, and conflict. The Jewish people will soon pass painfully into a new age. They are not ready for the coming crisis. But they don’t get it. They can’t read the signs. But it’s not unique to Israel. Even to us Bob Dylan sings “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.

But here’s something they really don’t understand. Jesus says  ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (vs.49). And then he pours water on the fire:  “But I have a baptism to be baptized with” (vs. 50a). Again this is not Cal Fire hosing down a blaze. Fire/water are common images in Israel’s library concerning judgment not because they burn, flood and destroy but because they cleanse, purify, transform. For you see the Bible’s  theology of judgment is not primarily about punishment but about setting things right.  So the biblical point? In order to transform, sometimes something must be undone, either through burning or flooding. From that undoing, renewal emerges. Let me point you back to chapter 9.52-55. Remember James and John wanted to use pyro-theology on a Samaritan village. Luke tells us Jesus rebuked them. The point:  fire without transformation, that is, fire used merely for punishment, is rejected in kingdom ministry. Taking the wider view in Luke’s Gospel, this fire/this baptism in vs. 49-50 refers to Jesus’ death. Since 9:51 Jesus has fixed his sights on Jerusalem – a covert reference to his crucifixion. Out of this fiery baptismal cleansing will emerge the most miraculous of transformations — resurrection. But I’m getting ahead of Luke here.

And here’s one of the values of paying close attention to Luke’s simplest statements. Luke briefly lifts the lid on Jesus’ inner life “what stress I am under until it is completed!” (vs.50b). In our scene, Jesus acknowledges he is on the road to the cross. But he discloses he is having a difficult time holding himself together as the cross draws near The finish line is on the horizon. The cross is crucial. I suspect his mouth is dry, his arms are heavy and his heart is pounding. (you can read more about this in the Hebrews Epistle). Without Jesus’ faithfulness to death there would be no future for Israel, no renewal of the covenant, no outpouring of the Spirit, no redemption for the Gentiles, no transformation of creation.

In the shadow of the cross, the purifying fire and water reveal how completely and unreservedly transformation needs to be.  But not everyone grasps how urgent or how comprehensive. The topic of transformation now turns to statements exposing a disciple’s stress – the anxiety involved in personally committing to kingdom ministry, vs. 52ff. Allegiance will certainly generate divisions. Jesus goes right to the primary Jewish relationship: family. The commitment to family is prominently supported in Torah “Honor your father and your mother as YHWH your God has commanded you so that you may live long in the land YHWH your God is giving you” (Dt. 5:16). The family, along classic lines of inheritance and obligations, has been woven into this Gospel beginning in Galilee and especially during the journey to the cross. For starters, Jesus was rejected by his hometown and left his own family, even rejecting their later attempts to reel him in (4.28-30; 8.19-21). The 12, and we suppose the 70 plus many others, have also left their families and livelihoods.  Various unnamed folk at the border of the Galilee and Samaria have been challenged to cut inheritance, parental obligations to follow him (ch. 9.57-62). So Jesus’ statements here are not new.

But something fundamental is taking shape in Jesus’ teaching. Family is often given unquestioning allegiance around needs, status and wealth. But the family’s claims are restructured in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus challenges this formidable social-cultural structure because it can cloud one’s discipleship allegiance. In other words, that learning setting may subvert disciple teaching by Jesus. So Jesus encourages the potential disciple to “interpret the present time”, to step out of the family and place learning and allegiance into his family. 

Again the wider view from many statements already in Luke, we also know Jesus did come to bring peace (1:79, 2:14, 7:50, 8:48, 10:5). So let’s digress for a moment and consider in this narrative disciples are exposed to the dynamic of peace: peace is not peace unless it cleanses, transforms. Jesus didn’t shy away from talking about or getting involved in life’s mess.  But he is trying to burn/flood culture’s anger, frustration and anxiety out of a disciple’s life. And not merely to burn/flood but to purify in order to bring peace.

Jesus gathers the disciples with the crowd into a huddle. He softens the fire/water imagery to rain clouds and wind driven heat (vs. 54-55). But they’re still obvious signs of trouble. Then Jesus steps into his prophetic role confronting the close in crowd with the word “hypocrite” “actor”. I suggest this was intended to snap the entire crowd, especially disciples out of their thoughts.  

Here’s how I understand Jesus’ closing remarks in this scene specifically for disciples (vs. 56-59). The disciples have let ministry be sidetracked by the distractions of the “present time”, the spirit of the age. No doubt sometimes being faithful and following Jesus means you may just get caught in a storm. Sometimes disciples are to close the hatches, turning faces into the wind. Jesus never promised perfect weather. So this scene calls disciples to be realistic about the world. Bad things happen. Crises occur. People act violently and hurt others. The ruling powers can be unjust. Religious leaders can be corrupt. In times of stress, people can turn on each other, even family members. Realistically, Jesus does call disciples to embrace a faith and peace that can turn divisive. However, Biblical faith is transformational, changing ourselves and the community around us. So it seems to me, hypocrisy in this scene is subverting the Lord’s ethical and moral revelation with a culture’s spirit of the age. So you see Jesus pushes disciples and would be disciples in the crowd to read the signs of “this present time” intently. Again Bob Dylan sings “let us stop talking falsely now. The hour’s getting late”.

In a violent and suffering world, the ministry of the disciple is to practice kingdom behavior and peace now not later (4.18-19; 9.1-6; 10.1-20). Just like Jesus, the 12 and the 70 did. And here’s where we can further situate what seem to be abrupt statements in vs. 56-59. Jesus is underscoring the sense of ministry urgency. Disciples must live uncomplicated, straightforward lives that are not entangled in the spirit of the age.  Live lives free to devote oneself to the Lord. Acts of healing, compassion and reconciliation in a world of trouble and violence mend torn and tattered lives. Jesus definitely came into this world with a message calling disciples to get into relationships: real, messy, involved relationships.  And the sometimes unpleasant but ultimately beneficial reality is that that kind of ministry is disruptive. Why? Because it’s breaking what isn’t really working and creating new relationships ordered around Spirit transforming holiness.

Jesus is walking into a fiery baptism wanting to take others with him. We as disciples must reckon with the cost of this kind of discipleship. At a personal level, discipleship requires a clear-eyed walking into Jesus’ fiery waters of purification. As disciples we will make the world feel awkward when we live the way Jesus lived His life. It’s a different message than we’re used to hearing. But it is an important one. What needs to be broken in this world? What needs to be changed in this world? Defy political and cultural categories. Burn it, Flood it with the Spirit- transforming power of the crucifixion/resurrection/ascension! May I say this clearly: There’s fire and smoke on the water! certainly for me, maybe for some of you. May the Lord richly bless you my beloved.

Luke 10.21-37 | Trinity 4C               

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 

 21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” 23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Luke 10:21-37

The Gospel of the Lord

If you have been in/around liturgical communities for any length of time, then, the obvious lectionary induced difficulty is Jesus’s parables are familiar and beloved. Coming once again in the  three-year lectionary to the parable named “the Good Samaritan”, there is the strong temptation to assume that I “know” what is happening. 

In her study of Jesus’ parables, one of my favorite Jewish teachers Amy-Jill Levine suggests parables are meant “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  She writes, “if we hear a parable and think, ‘I really like that’ or, worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough”. Miss Amy Jill’s observation “I don’t experience them as afflictions” fits me like a tailored suit. I know many of the parables inside out, upside down and backwards — and, therein the great danger for me – they no longer afflict me. I translate them. I read them. I nod, I assemble lectures. I write sermons. And I move on to the next narrative scene. Too often the parables I love most don’t lay me bare. May the Lord have mercy on me. When I can fight off the pressures of moving on and instead settle into the narrative just a little longer, previously unnoticed details come into view allowing the Bible time to “afflict” my formation.

This parable, in Luke’s wider “journey to the cross in Jerusalem” narrative, is positioned after the 70 “disciples” return from Galilean, Samaritan and Gentile towns/villages where they harvested for YHWH’s kingdom, pronounced Shalom on households housing them and healed the sick and the weak. Pulling them aside upon their return Jesus debriefs them on their kingdom ministry experience (vs. 21-22). “Then turning to the disciples he said privately, Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (vss. 23-24)

But a religious authority, a scribe, interrupts the debriefing asking a question clearly intended to investigate the authoritative basis of this ministry “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (vs. 25). Luke tells us it’s a “test”. Our cultural “in the air” understanding of testing is usually a malicious aim to show up a weakness by setting a trap to catch a person in wrongdoing. But we need to understand “testing” in its biblical theology sense.  And that sense has the idea of exploring or validating the character, substance and authority of a person. In the Second Temple Period, any scribe worthy of his stylus would have been obligated to ask testing questions of Jesus.

Scribes were Temple academics trained in Written and Oral Torah, who knew about literature, definition of terms, tradition and various interpretations. And as those of you who participate in Daily Morning Prayer here at St. Stephen’s know first hand, the presence of an academic indicates complications are about to arise. Here’s an amplified version of the scribe’s question: How can I participate in the world to come after the resurrection of Israel? What kinds of choices does one have to make to be a part of the world to come when the Land is renewed? Now the dominant Temple personnel, the Sadducees and we suppose also, the scribes, didn’t subscribe to the resurrection. What is to be understood by “eternal life” is rather vague even in later rabbinic literature. So attempts to systematize or organize it during the Sadducean Period imposes upon it an order and consistency that does not exist. In other words, questions about the “world to come” or “eternal life” were still open for scholarly discussion. This scribe, then, is asking for Jesus’ position on an unsettled topic he considers central to Jesus’ ministry instructions to the 70.

Jesus, putting on his best Jewish rabbi, asks two questions to the one question asked of him. They begin sparing with each other, working out what a nuanced conversation might disclose. And we will hear, as we would say, they are on the same page. 

“What is written…What do you read? These questions are Jesus’ test of the scribe to determine if he has given careful thought first to the way the Torah is written and then how it is interpreted. The scribe responds with Israel’s Shema:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (cf. Dt. 6.5). But notice carefully, he omits the covenantal declaration “ Hear, O’ Israel, YHWH is our God. YHWH is one” and then inflates the Shema first with “and with all your mind” and  second from Leviticus’s holiness code “and your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19.18).

As usual when Torah is quoted, there is more text we need to hear. The Shema is said reasonably unchanged. But the scribe’s Leviticus quote is scaled way down from a more complete statement embedded in ch. 19. For example, vs. 18 reads “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am YHWH”. And a few sentences down the scroll in vs. 33-34 “When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you; you shall love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am YHWH your God”. In these sentences the  “foreigner” acquires neighbor density. The foreigner is declared to be the equivalent of one of the “sons of your own people”, therefore a “neighbor”.

Long story short “Love YHWH, love your neighbor,” says the scribe.  Remember, he was wondering about how to “inherit eternal life”. His Torah answer, while good, didn’t specifically address it.  And Jesus’ response? Well he could hardly have put it better himself.  “You have answered rightly”. Now take the next step. “Do this and you will live” (vs. 28). Jesus is focused on a covenantal obedient way of living in the present age well shy of the world to come.

Those who understand how rabbis converse are in no doubt Jesus’ pronouncement conveys a sense of authority. Luke observes the scribe wanted to “justify” himself. He asks another question “And who is my neighbor?” (vs.29).  Trigger Word. Red flag. über -Reformation minded folk consider it a severe theological error to think that anyone can justify himself.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and consider the possibility that neither this scribe nor Luke have read Luther, Calvin,Grudem or Piper.  So perhaps we can read Luke as meaning he wanted to be clear or have a better understanding. He wants more than Sabbath school theology. We might suspect he expected a definition of “neighbor”. This would have been important for any scribe.

I’m suggesting the scribe does not ask “Who is my neighbor?” out of ignorance. He knows the root idea is “one that comes near”. And based on his Levitical addition to the Shema, he knows his neighbor is both Israelite and foreigner. What he wants is to explore with Jesus how he can practically live and be right with YHWH.

Jesus launches their exploration in the form of a parable broadening the scribe’s interpretation of his Torah quote. If he thinks in terms of obligation he places himself as a person who has neighbors to whom he is obliged. Axiomatic to the covenant’s instruction about love and faithfulness, he doesn’t have neighbors rather he is a neighbor. It’s a covenantal way of being, not a way of obligation. So how he treats his “neighbors” and how he treats the LORD are inescapably linked. 

One of Jesus’ most famous parables begins with an act of brutal violence. An unidentified person going down the 17 mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho is beaten, stripped of everything and left half-dead by bandits.

Jesus then introduces two characters familiar to the scribe from the Deuteronomic formula “priest and Levite”(cf. chs. 18-27).  Both a priest and Levite are going down to Jericho from Jerusalem. Maybe they’ve completed a temple rotation.  Both see the wounded person and pass by, in the end doing nothing to help. In the Second temple period, a priest and Levite, in addition to being temple functionaries,  were public health officials. They were tasked with observation and discernment, that is, with coming into contact with and attending to the health and wellbeing of the sick and injured. This parable turns, then, on the observation the priest and Levite could have done what the Samaritan is about to do.

The third character to come down the road is a Samaritan. Now Jesus has the scribe’s full attention. A Samaritan is not, from the perspective of a Jewish academic, totally outside Israel, a complete foreigner. Samaritans are the “break-away’s”, the Leavers”. So Samaritans occupy a much more infuriating place: they are ones who are near; they are like Jews. Jews and Samaritans were in a prejudicial theological-social tug-o-war with each other. This Samaritan, after all, had a priesthood and temple on Mount Gerizim and was bound by the Torah telling him his “neighbor” is not only his kin and countryman but also the foreigner. 

At this point, the scribe may be thinking Samaritans live on the other side of the border. This one, who should keep out of this country, is traveling in Judea. It is not likely the half-dead person is concerned with the fine points about who is or is not a neighbor. 

So like the priest and Levite, the Samaritan is coming down the road and sees the beaten bloody person.  Whereas they “passed by on the other side,” the Samaritan jerks the reins of his animal to a stop. What he sees is “visceral, gut wrenching”. He refuses to pass by on the other side. His actions, described in detail, are oriented toward the man’s long-term wellbeing. He comes near to the man, touching him, binding and pouring oil and wine over the wounds – the sacrificial libations of the altar and the standard first aid remedies used by priests and Levites. He lifts him onto his animal and walks him to a Jericho inn. Extending this act of hospitality, he places himself at personal financial risk.

Jesus questions the scribe:  “Which of these three, do you think, came to be neighbor of the man?”  The scribe can’t bring himself to say out loud “Samaritan” so he answers with the indefinite:  “The one doing mercy to him.” Or in Second Temple speak, “the one practicing covenant fidelity”. And a second time Jesus tells the temple scholar to go and do the same (vs. 37).  

Since ch.9.51 where Jesus set his sights on the journey to the cross, Luke has at least two important themes to develop: the theology of the cross and the practice of discipleship.

In today’s and the previous two Sunday’s Gospel readings, the resolve of Jesus to train disciples as he heads toward Jerusalem is picking up momentum. Although this scene isolates Jesus and a scribe, we need to remember the 12, the 70 and many others are standing around listening in.

The discipleship intention of this parable is to continue forming them and us into a community. The parable points at them and us the need to need one another. Disciples can’t do a “neighborly” ministry on their own. Only together can kingdom change be effective.

Embedded in Jesus’ question: “What is written? How do you read?” is a discipleship review of a crucial operating principle. Jesus’ instructions to the 70 for their ministry contained implied tensions for Torah observance. They were going to encounter Samaritans, Gentiles not Jewish folk only. The 35 pairs have just returned from ministry where they encountered issues about being hospitable, being neighborly, being Torah observance, bringing blessing, healing and wellbeing for the sick and weak in practical ways (ch. 10.5-10).

Perhaps like the Scribe, the first –century Jewish folk listening in knew Torah well enough to have the right answers come to mind under questioning. Perhaps they also knew Torah well enough to make it work for them. 

Through the instruction to the 70 and through the parable Jesus is asking disciples to form a practice of Torah around the purposes it intends. He’s directing disciples to consider a person adds up to more than the sum of political, religious, racial, cultural, or economic identities.  He’s asking disciples to put aside the prejudices they’ve nursed.  He’s asking them to leave wiggle room in religious observance to make room for kingdom-altering surprises (10. 21-23).

A disciple’s life is formed in community relationships. In the biblical world-view my only access to meaningful discipleship is through my learning to love someone else. If the Samaritan can become a neighbor and Jesus implies the scribe can become a neighbor like the Samaritan then I can be a neighbor. As Jesus says “Go and do the same”

Lastly, Luke’s wider intent is to present a portrait of Jesus framed in the theological dimensions of the cross.  I suggest, then, Luke intends disciples to place themselves into the characterization of the wounded man so that Jesus becomes the Samaritan neighbor. This parable becomes a factor helping disciples to grasp deeply the gut wrenching decision of Jesus. He is determined to go up to Jerusalem to be wounded and die on a cross. 

Billy Graham’s father-in-law, L. Nelson Bell was a medical missionary to China. One of his Chinese colleagues told him this story: a man was walking along a path when he stumbled. He  fell into a deep mud filled ditch. The more he struggled to climb out, the more he sank into the pit’s grasp.  Eventually he heard some footsteps, looking up he saw Confucius and raised his arms for help. Confucius said: “if you had listened to me, you would not have fallen in the ditch”. And walked away. The man renewed his attempt to get out but soon became exhausted. Then he heard other footsteps, looking up he saw Buddha who said: “if you come up here I will show you how to walk”.  The man sank in hopeless despair. He heard the sound of other approaching steps. This time he looked up and saw Jesus but before he could lift a hand or say a word Jesus leaped into the ditch and lifted him out.  

Finally, allow me to reflect theologically on discipleship. I have been beaten, bruised and left half dead on the road by that bandit – Sin. When I, perhaps you, am trapped in a ditch, what matters is whether anyone will stop to show me mercy before I die. It is Jesus who is viscerally gut wrenched at the sight of my violent wounds.  It is Jesus who refuses to pass by on the other side. It is Jesus who is determined to bring me help and healing by paying the price for my well being.  Luke is most certainly telling me, perhaps you, in this Gospel Jesus has stretched out wounded hands on the cross to care for my/your wounds and the wounds of others. In the care of his/my/your and our wounded hands there is wellbeing and healing. Because  remember the 70’s discipleship instruction  “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ …. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you (10.5-9). Because remember Jesus says two times in this parable “Go and do the same”. Amen.

Luke 10.1-20 | Trinity 3C

John Michael Gutiérrrez, PhD
The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them;
if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to
house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near
to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to
you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. 13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago,
sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the
heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. 16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to
overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in
heaven.”

Luke 10:1-20

The Gospel of the Lord

Lectionaries, plans for reading Scripture, have been a consistent element in
Christian worship for many centuries.  In ancient times, they took the form of
excerpts from the Epistles and Gospels. In modern times, lectionary plans have
been expanded to include readings from the Hebrew Bible and the Psalms. The
point of expanded lectionary readings is, of course, to let Scripture speak for
itself, and to promote familiarity with its teachings in a broadly coherent way. 
One of the defining activities of the Anglican tradition, perhaps its prized activity,
is the way it reads Scripture when a community is assembled together for
morning/evening prayer and/or the Lord’s Supper.  Which is to say, without a lectionary, the corporate and ecclesial identity of Anglicanism would be much
diminished.


In spite of historical and ecclesial strengths, American lectionary renewal, at least
since 1928, has increasingly omitted sections /sentences from scripture readings.
Ironically, their removal seems only to draw more attention to them. In the past,
this morning’s Gospel reading has felt the liturgist’s surgical steel removing vss.
12-15. Although never said outright, the reason seemed to be the omitted
passages might not go down well with American sensibilities about “all you need
is love, love is all you need”.


Speaking as a biblical academic, there are serious problems with removing
sections of biblical texts. So I am relieved they have been returned to the
lectionary in our prayer book. In the middle of Luke 10, Jesus begins to sound
some definite notes about those who reject the Kingdom message. As far as all
the Gospels are concerned, Jesus’ threats weren’t hiccups in his teachings. He
isn’t always the inclusive Jesus former lectionary compilers tried to create by
cutting out the “other” stuff. The purpose of lectionary readings is to proclaim the
mystery of the Gospel in a theologically coherent way. Removing sections
diminishes, even abandons coherence altogether. Reading/hearing Scripture in
its final forms, lets every faith community grapple with difficulties posed by such
texts.


Luke’s introductory, “After these things” (vs.1a) ties the start of the 70’s ministry
to the immediately preceding interactions with the 3 would-be disciples (9:57-62)
And it repeats on a “grander scale” the ministry of the 12 from ch. 9 (vs. 1-6).
Now those with an “ear” for Moses will hear in the 70 and the 12, Luke’s literary,
thematic and theological cross-referencing. For you see, in Luke’s worldview
Jesus is in one way like Moses. He’s resetting Israel. So his 12 were like the 12
Patriarchal clans and his 70 like the 70 clan leaders of the Exodus/Wilderness
stories (Ex. 24.1, 9-14; Num. 7; 11.16-30). But remember Luke clearly presents
Jesus as LORD, someone far greater than Moses.


Luke’s second introductory phrase “sent them before his face” (vs. 1b) builds on
the Gospel’s vision of discipleship. Remember again Jesus has just “set his face
toward Jerusalem” (9.51). Everything in the journey to Jerusalem is intentional.
The 70 are examples of those who participate in the journey to Jerusalem, even
if they didn’t grasp the details.


The rationale for 70 and their ministry: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers
are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his
harvest field.’” (vs. 2).  Here is a glimpse into Luke’s brilliance. The “LORD of the
harvest” is a two sided coin. Theologically it clearly refers to Israel’s lord YHWH
who harvests (vs. 2b). But note carefully in numerous contexts and when the 70
return, Luke refers to Jesus as “LORD” (7:13, 19; 10: 20, 39, 41). So Theophilus, other readers/hearers like us could be forgiven for concluding this Jesus who
sends out the 70 is also Israel’s “LORD who harvests”.


Jesus’ flurry of instructions – the setting aside of standard travel gear- sounds a
cautionary note. The 70 are to take no supplies: wallet, suitcase or extra sandals.
And then in a time saving measure underscoring the urgency, they are to “greet
no one along the way”. They will not be going exclusively to the “lost sheep of
Israel” like the 12 (for example,Matt. 10:5-6). In this ministry, they will be “like
lambs surrounded by wolves” (vs. 3). Geographically Luke has placed Jesus and
the disciples at the borderlands of the Galilee next to Samaria. So the 70 are
being sent into villages having Jewish/Samaritan populations. And also sizable
non-Jewish populations. Pay attention how the 70’s ministry is set out in a string
of indefinites: “Whatever house you enter… if anyone there…remain in the
same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide…whenever you enter a
town and its people welcome you, eat whatever is set before you…”
On the one hand, all in all these instructions might seem to heighten uncertainty.
And please note uncertainty and caution are not fear. Yes, they will be engaging
society in an unconventional way. Yet even with supposed disadvantages, they
will be armed with a prophetic message: “The kingdom has come near” and a
priestly blessing: “Shalom” – well-being for those who open their households.
They are to aid those who are weak as a basic practice of Kingdom ministry.
Jesus, who ate with “tax collectors and sinners”, tells the 70 they will need to be
more relaxed regarding dietary regulation. They are to eat what is given to them.
It seems to me in Second Temple Literature, dietary observances were hit-n-miss
among ordinary Jewish folk. Samaritans, regulated by Torah, were hit-n-miss
also. Is it too obvious to say anything about any dietary restrictions in Gentile
households?


So the 70 are about to disappear two-by-two over the dusty horizon as kingdom
harvesters. They will proclaim the prophet’s Kingdom and priest’s Shalom to
those who offer them hospitality as well to those who do not. They are still well
shy of Jerusalem. Yet the disciples will experience something of the rejection
Jesus will soon experience. They will come to know not everyone will appreciate,
to say the least, hearing the Kingdom is near. And think back, the 70 have the
same dramatic gesture in their back pocket as the 12 did (cf. 9.5). “Shake dust
from their feet”. A response to those who reject them. For if they had been proper
hosts, who washed the feet of their guests, there would be no dust to shake! 
The 70’s imminent departure is of enormous significance and emotion. The
prophetic-like woes on the Jewish villages/towns in verses 12-15, just might be
the point of this scene. These are Jesus’ final words to the 70 about the burden
of their responsibility. They are to do all they can to ensure the positive reception
of kingdom and blessing. Using Jewish villages/towns as reference points Jesus
emphases Israel’s opportunities. And, therefore, its greater accountability. Don’t
look to the Jewish Bethsaida, Capernaum or Chorazim, where he did great things, and think they’re a cut above. Position, privilege, influence and pride are
not the right starting places. Rather it’s humility, reception and hospitality. In
reality, these towns could be worse off than even the legendary inhospitable
Sodom. Because these Jewish towns’ pride of being on the A-Team can blind
them to the hospitable reception of Tyre and Sidon who “had come to hear Jesus
to be healed of their diseases. For in them those who were troubled with unclean
spirits were cured.” (6:17). Lastly, Jesus makes it clear that any rejection of the
70 is actually rejection of him, and, in turn, a rejection of the LORD who harvests
(vs. 16). Here’s the intention: In the fading echo of the woes, then, Jesus wants
the departing 70 to feel the heavy weight of Israel’s classical prophets: rejection
of the kingdom and its shalom is an opening to the tragedy of divine judgment.
The 70 come back to Jesus addressing him as “LORD”. They were wildly
successful, or so they think, since “in your name even the demons submit to us!”
(vs.17).  They appear to have been completely caught off guard. Jesus, also,
seems overjoyed by this development “I was seeing Satan fall like lightning out of
heaven” (vs. 18). It’s an indication one core feature of Jesus’ messianic mission
is a spiritual-cosmological tug-o-war. Satan is more than an idea, a “myth,” or
medieval superstition. Satan and demons were/are a real force committed to
damaging and destroying Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles. Through Jesus, the
kingdom is advancing with the intention of disarming all demonic forces. Jesus
reminds them discipleship and ministry is about the name and authority of the
One the 70 represent rather than what they are able to accomplish.


Several things occur to me about the 70 and their discipleship. The 70 would
seem to have accepted the three disciple-ing challenges in the previous scene
(9.57-62). No longer in families or crowds, they have been singled out, sent out
to proclaim the kingdom, to bless with Shalom, to eat with all kinds of folk, to care
for those who have lost their strength. In stepping out they were transformed
from bystanders to active participants.


In Jesus’ unfolding journey, Luke urges Theophilus and us to walk with Jesus
and with the 12/70. His narrative intention is to speak to every generation of
would-be disciples. Like the 12/70 we’re not to withdraw from society but we’re to
walk in it very differently. Like the 12/70, my discipleship can send/has sent me
into unknown territory. Like the 12/70 I can, if I’m not careful, use my theology to
keep doors closed and tables unoccupied, absolutely sure of my privilege and
certain in my judgments. And it is ever so easy for me to stay in the anonymous
crowd safe from real engagement with the issues Jesus calls me to face.
However, in the footsteps of the 12/70, not actually knowing where I’m going, I
can become a low-maintenance member of any household welcoming me,
bringing wellbeing, learning to listen to and aiding those who are weak.
By sending the 12/70 out in pairs, Jesus made sure they learned discipleship and
ministry involves community. By sending them out in pairs, Jesus taught them
they were not alone. Jesus was telling them “You’re going to need each other”.

I’m sure they didn’t always get along. Sometimes teams have a tough time
working together. Sometimes they get stones in their sandals. It seems to me
there was more than one disagreement among the 35 pairs about table manners.
Still, they learned they needed each other. Here’s Luke’s point: discipling is not
an individual endeavor. I need you, we need each other. It seems to me,
kingdom ministry is served by seeing how we can “pair” ourselves with each
other. It also seems to me, in light of their joyful experience, there are few things
more satisfying and life-giving than sharing with others, giving and receiving in
humility, and all the while being united more closely together as a community.
Lastly, Jesus warned the 70 to expect resistance, rejection, danger. Like Luke’s
audiences, we know the reference to lambs and wolves described danger (vs. 3).
The similarities between the Greco-Roman setting and ours are striking. Then as
now, proclamation of kingdom and blessing is for neither “the faint-hearted nor
the impatient” disciple. Now here comes a couple of long sentences. The
intensifying assault on biblical faith/practice in America is prosecuted by a
secularism promoting ethical-moral autonomy, actually insurrection. A
considerable swath of the polarized, political Right and Left, academic, legal,
media and entertainment industries, supported by corporate America, produces,
justifies, spearheads and finances assaulting Biblical truth, attitudes, behaviors,
thoughts and speech. The driving narrative is policed as an extension of “my
lived experience” and “justice”. A Christian’s refusal to affirm the cultural
ideology, what Orwell called “goodthink doublespeak”, is identified as phobia,
bigotry or hate. Like the early Christians, identified disciples will soon find it
difficult to live peaceably within this progressive society, unless, of course, you
shut up.


Know this: the substance of our supposed “intolerance”, like that of the early
Christians, was allegiance to the Lord Jesus, choosing to think and behave with
mercy, holiness, Spirit guided virtues, forgiveness, reconciliation and moral
boundaries. In the troubled waters of America, Christians are increasingly seen
as threats to social stability because we won’t harvest for their lords. So the
Jesus ministry will require more and more alertness, looking intently for anyone
opening a household door. And it seems to me, like the 12/70, believing
communities must begin to find ways to be actively hospitable and grace-filled in
this country. Like the early Christians, being identified as Jesus’ disciple will yield
a far greater harvest because it will come at a far greater cost. Disciples and
would-be disciples would do well to walk the Jesus journey with eyes wide open
looking for, on the one hand, opening doors and on the other expecting rejection.
And I’ll close with this exhortation from the Ep. of Jude: “Be merciful to those who
doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed
with caution—hating even clothing stained by corrupted flesh (vs. 22-23). In other
words, returning again to vs. 12-15, there is no place in the prophetic harvest of
the kingdom and its shalom for a disciple to be indifferent to the tragedy of divine
judgment about to come down on this world and the world to come. One heart,
one mind, one household at a time. Amen.

Luke 9.51-62 | Trinity 2C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village. 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:51-62

The Gospel of the Lord

Close readers of Luke’s Gospel, and I’m including Theophilus and us, have long recognized the strategic importance of this morning’s first sentence “… as the days were being fulfilled for his ascension, he set his face on Jerusalem”.  It’s a “game changer” to use our language. Everything from this point will be focused on Luke’s recognizable “Journey to Jerusalem” serialized story. Once there, Jesus will fulfill his messianic mission by crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. 

Geographically Jesus leaves the Galilee and for the next ten chapters heads south to Jerusalem.  Theologically two themes will dominate the long, deliberate journey. Unquestionably one issue explores what the messiah’s approaching suffering and death looks like in kingdom theology. And for would be and close followers, the travel narrative focuses on discipleship and community in kingdom theology. So in year C, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is placed near the beginning of our Trinity lessons to focus us on our discipleship journey. 

Previously Jesus twice cautioned the disciples regarding his impending suffering (9:21-27, 44-45). And the disciples confessed their faith in him as Messiah (9:18-20). And three of them saw him transfigured with Moses and Elijah (9:28-36). Still, they cannot, as yet, begin to imagine the horror of Jesus’ last days. But Jesus knows. And still he “sets his face” toward Jerusalem (vs. 51). The idiom “sets his face” is understood here as “fixed purpose” or “resolute determination” expressing an unwavering trust in the LORD.  And Lord knows, he will need it!

One of Luke’s focusing features is the frequent weaving of Old Testament characters and themes into the journey.  The insertion of the phrase, “… as the days were being fulfilled” turns the reader back to the prior scene, the Transfiguration and to Israel’s prophetic tradition. Remember, Moses and Elijah, prophetic models, discussed with Jesus his redemptive Exodus. I’m suggesting Luke positioned the Transfiguration as the opening set piece for the “redemption journey”. And keep this in mind, Luke will have a prophetic bookend when Jesus explains to two disciples on the Emmaus path what ‘Moses and all the prophets’ said about him (Luke 24.27). 

The new/old redemptive Exodus of Jesus will become, as the narrative unfolds, a paradigm for Jesus’ followers. Luke repeatedly sets up ‘training sessions’ and ‘immersion experiences’ in mission. The Gospel’s study guide for  “would-be” disciples involves some instruction in prophetic preaching (6.17-35) and parables (15.1-32), – some fieldwork about prayer, healings and exorcisms (9.1-6), – some “table talk” in their eating, drinking with each other (22.14-38). 

Please note today’s lectionary has arranged four immersion experiences. There will be a brief narrative scene as Jesus passes by a Samaritan village. This is followed by Jesus’ three responses highlighting the challenges to discipleship. A would-be disciple voices a willingness to join in with Jesus (vs. 57). To which Jesus points out the inconvenience of being a disciple. Discipleship is a journey involving being unsettled as well as experiencing rejection. A second would-be disciple takes a different approach (vs. 59). He lists the important commitments he has limiting his ability to follow. And to a third would be disciple (vs. 61), Jesus makes use of Israel’s wisdom tradition. Proverbially, if you are plowing a field, you need to focus ahead in order to plow straight. If you look around or to one side, you will fail to steer the plow in a straight line. The proverbial connection sends Theophilus and the reader back to vs. 51 where Jesus “sets his face” plowing straight toward Jerusalem and the LORD’s purposes.

So let’s look more closely at the beginnings of this “journey to Jerusalem”. Beginning outside a Samaritan village, advance “messengers” — one might call them the “Hospitality Committee” — went “before his face” into a village to do their job (vs. 52).  Luke implies the ‘hospitality committee” made the arrangements, put out the welcome mat but never got the opportunity to welcome Jesus.  Luke tells us for a second time, vs. 53, Jesus had “set his face toward Jerusalem” passing by the Samaritan village. He decided to stick with his decison. 

Now it’s surprising to me how many folk routinely point out it’s the Samaritans turning Jesus away. Close reading of this narrative suggests something different. Luke’s focus is not on what the Samaritans did or did not do. But on what Jesus decided to do – stick with his determination. Now notice Luke shifts the scene’s tension to two disciples. It seems they “read” Jesus’ staying with his original plan as Samaritan rejection. Mistaken, they want to pin the issue to the Samaritans. “Samaritans”.  For heaven’s sake, they’re  historic “break-aways”, with a competing Temple, Torah and monarchy. So into this scene, simmering with imagined inhospitality, James and John fresh off their transfiguration experience with Elijah, mix in some of Sodom’s legendary inhospitality. Voila! Both Elijah and Sodom had pyrotechnic solutions (Gen. 19; 1 Kgs. 18; 2 Kgs. 1). So  “ Hey, Lord, do you want us to give them the “fire-from-heaven” treatment and bump ‘em off”? (vs. 54).  “Pyro-theology” and they’re the ones to administer it!  Luke says simply Jesus rebuked them.  

As I’m pointing out, a close reading of the Lukan “journey narrative” focuses us on discipleship training. So may I suggest Luke has a purpose for Elijah in the transfiguration different than shock and awe. It seems to me Luke’s theological focus is discipleship mission. Having trained his disciple Elisha, Elijah is taken away and his mission is passed to Elisha (2 Kings (2: 9-15). And remember both Moses and Elijah transferred their leadership at the end of their ministry and a greater than Moses or Elijah is here. So in like manner at the end of his exodus journey Jesus’ mission will be passed on to his disciples (24.45-49). 

Reading Luke’s discipleship training theme this way highlights Jesus’ rejection of the violence expressed by his disciples. Jesus’ crucifixion mission will not involve a misdirected action. Further his rebuke of the disciples’ knee jerk bias against Samaritans-at-large will come into sharper focus soon enough when He tells the parable of a Samaritan “neighbor” (10:25-37). To read this text in the manner in which I am suggesting, is to more properly feel Jesus’ censure of his disciples for having resorted to a visceral act. Luke’s instructive point regarding discipleship, it seems to me, is this: Violence is the loss of a moral capacity to love one’s imagined enemies. So the overreach for violence is an insidious impulse to a dangerous power. In the end, violence is alien to the kingdom’s capacity for justice in judgment. And Jesus will have nothing to do with violence.

After Jesus and the disciples passed by one Samaritan village, setting off toward another on their way to Jerusalem, three persons approached Jesus wanting to be among his disciples.  And you would expect Jesus might say, “Come on then”.  But consistently Jesus does not encourage just anyone to become his disciple. Actually He seems to discourage them. He points out to them the radical call he is making.  And the study guide point: disciple-ing takes a greater commitment than some may be willing to give. 

In Luke’s discipleship theme, these episodes at the start of his journey to Jerusalem become striking illustrations of the cost of discipleship – anywhere, any time.  Jesus’ response to the first two cut right across normal social expectations of the Second Temple Period, while the third response underlined the calvary road, once chosen whether by Jesus or by any of his followers, should not be sidetracked.  He chides those who have excuses for not immediately following him. Here is yet another connection to the Elijah-Elisha story where Elisha was allowed to return home to settle his affairs. Jesus is so much more than Elijah – so more is required. Luke highlights the person’s desire to observe burial customs (vs. 59). Note the irony the journey to Jerusalem entails – death, dying to self with every step. Nevertheless, the journey must be made by Jesus and by his disciples because this is the only journey that leads to life. There will be no escape clause for Jesus in this unfolding story. And there might not be one for those who follow him.

 Broadly, Jesus is saying a disciple can’t fence off parts of their lives from the total claims he makes.  People have houses, says Jesus, even animals have burrows and nests, but a kingdom-seeking person must be ready to have “weaned affections”.  A home is a blessing, indeed, but a kingdom-seeking person needs to recognize it is a blessing and not a right. In first-century Palestine, it was customary for the eldest son to stay home, manage the property of his aging parents, and finally see to their proper burial. If that is the situation here, Jesus’ reply is not a command to skip a parent’s funeral. Rather it is a challenge to leave home now—not some thirty years hence—to join in the Kingdom’s mission. To look back from the plow, whether to family living or dead, was to risk cutting a crooked furrow and thus ruining the work altogether. There is no place for looking back or sideways.  Rather, a would-be disciple must be single-minded in purpose, setting their face like Jesus on the task at hand.

No one is forced to make this journey with Jesus. Lukan discipleship is a choice to be seized. Jesus’ responses can be interpreted as recognition that important things are happening every day in my life. So opportunities must be acted upon while they are still available. Today’s opportunities will never return. There is wisdom in identifying those things impeding the mission, understanding sometimes I have to walk on to the next village. 

When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he turned his back on Nazareth, on the Galilee, on his life as a contractor, small town teacher and preacher. When Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, he knew he was going to his death, he knew he was, from that very moment, walking to the cross. In the urgency of the story, I as a reader and a “would be” disciple am invited to discover the urgency of what discipleship entails. I am to learn from this beginning, Jesus encounters obstacles both from his closest followers and from those who want to postpone commitment to a more convenient time. In these interactions Jesus is calling me, a would-be disciple and us, a believing community into question and that’s never easy, fun, or comfortable. Many folk are ardent for their families, hobbies, talents, professions, favorite sport teams. They need reminders about priorities. All of us do. Jesus is calling into question the direction of my life, the values I claim to hold, and how I am living and embodying those values.  All earthly anxieties must be evaluated as part of the total call to discipleship. Discipleship can involve rejection, personal sacrifices, foxes and birds, family alienation, a funeral but most certainly always involve single-mindedness. Often opposition and conflict enable me/us to clarify goals, strengthen convictions, and increase courage in kingdom ministry. This lectionary lesson is most obvious when I/we see the obligation to follow Jesus as first priority. Only then will I/we be able to follow his resolve to our Jerusalem. Once there, only then will we recognize how what we learned along the way prepared us for the challenge of the cross. 
So Jesus’ would-be disciples need to look ahead rather than sideways or backward. Discipleship in community is a challenge, an adventure to healing and wholeness, forgiveness. Setting out on this redemptive journey, the destination might well be unexpected and surprising. We will need to let go of familiar patterns, social requirements, and relational certainties and most certainly, violence.  Jesus’ intent is for us to see family and obligations in a new light – to love, but love without possessing, to own but without greed, to save but to give generously, and to care for loved ones but willing to break out of patterns standing in the way of kingdom ministry. Jesus’s kingdom is not some inclusive community, where all belong in order to make them feel self affirmed. Rather his kingdom community involves a redemptive exodus journey of transformation. That alone is the way to live. The journey is demanding because he walked this demanding path himself. Discipleship means living in Spirit-transformed ways we would not otherwise experience. Once a disciple comes to realize the kingdom Jesus came to announce does contain the cosmic power for salvation for all people and all creation, then we cannot overstate the claim its call has on someone’s life.  We cannot exaggerate enough the demands of this kingdom and the gracious Father who through our Lord Jesus Christ has saved us from darkness bringing us into light. That’s a message for our times.

John 16.5-15 | Trinity C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John

(Jesus said to his disciples) 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:5-15

The Gospel of the Lord

This is Trinity Sunday.  The lectionary sages would have us deal with realities much deeper than the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana trench. Trinitarian theology involves issues around the closeness/separation of the interrelationship between Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit. The evidence for the issues is observable in the New Testament writings and especially evident in the Fourth Gospel’s Passover setting, chs. 13-17. At its simplest, the three are all linked together like one of those Celtic knot thingies. You can’t split one off without getting an unbalanced image. 

In the Fourth Gospel the theological theme is: the Spirit will continue to declare what the Father is like, just as Jesus himself came to do (cf. 1:18). So in revealing Jesus to the disciples, the Spirit will also be revealing the Father, just as Jesus did. Now this is also the ninth and final time in Year C the lectionary sages have us reading from the Fourth Gospel. And this is the third time they send us back to Jesus’ concluding Passover communication with his disciples. 

So remember at the Passover meal,  Jesus had washed their feet, dispatched Judas, emphasized the World’s gathering hatred for the disciples standing in stark contrast to his abiding love for them. In chapter 14 he has sketched the multi-faceted activity of the soon-to-be-present Spirit. Certainly for the disciples this Passover festival was full of puzzling thoughts, agonized affections, perplexing questions, parting words and longing glances. Abruptly Jesus says “Get up, let us go from here” (14.31b).  Having left the Passover table, Jesus and the Eleven begin a  fate-filled trek. In chapters 15-17, they will wander the stone streets of Jerusalem before crossing through the Kidron ravine, making their way toward Gethsemanie’s orchard. The narrator alerts us Jesus is well aware of their uncertainty and the anxiety  gnawing at them as they walk. So He opens this walking conversation with a soft start up. “But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” However, remember both Peter (13.6) and Thomas (14.5) had asked him this very question.  Yet Jesus knows it’s possible to see his lips moving but not hear what he’s saying.  The point is they were and are overwhelmed, distracted with their own thoughts. Nevertheless, Jesus is firmly committed to preparing them for what is about to happen. So in this 3 chapter city walk about, he circles back to his Passover table talk: opposition they will experience, necessity of obedience to his instruction, selfless commitments to one another and today’s appointed lectionary reading – the role the soon-to-be-present Spirit will play in supporting them against cultural/social/political pressures.

Jesus asserts he is now going “to the one who sent me.” But he qualifies his leaving  “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (vs. 7). Jesus has to go in order for the Spirit to come.  But the soon-to-arrive-Spirit is not Plan B.

In this  post-Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension lectionary reading, we know the narrative has the suffering and crucifixion in the foreground “When Judas Iscariot was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him” (13.31).  And we as readers also know the Gospel attaches complex associations to the crucifixion.  In Jesus, Israel and the World were presented with a renewed understanding of God. God loved the world. So he gave his very own Son, an image bearer,  as an ambassador to bring a renewed relationship and way of living (1.14; 3.16). But the bottom fell out.  He was handed over and crucified. And we don’t really know “how” what happened next – happened. We call it Resurrection.  The resurrection and then the seating of Jesus beside the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7. Jn. 19.) play a central role indicating the faithfulness of Jesus in fulfilling the Father’s will.  A series of events, then, the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension– fill out his “going away” and “glorification”.  In chapters 13-17, the Spirit is the gift of Jesus’ resurrection/ascension. There is a buildup of ideas around the Spirit – the Prosecutor/Advocate/Teacher proceeding from the Father and the Son. In the main the Spirit is the One who comes to prove popular assessment of Jesus is mistaken.

 Jesus lays out three topics for the Spirit’s multidimensional assessment – sin, righteousness and judgment. Now in some American religious circles laying aside sin, holiness and judgment  “love is love” has become a popular sound bite. But in this Gospel, the Spirit as prosecutor has verdicts: 1.  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 2.  concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer and 3. concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (vs. 8-11). 

In Johannine theology, “world” refers to spiritual principalities and powers as well as human rulers, whose religious/cultural systems govern, organize and dominate societies. The ideology and “principled posturing” of the rulers of this world has been critiqued by the Spirit and found wanting.  No doubt, the World’s established orthodoxies are attractive, offering stability through economic, political, religious, military and social programs. Of these, the Spirit is a relentless critic. The World does not understand its own ideological situation. The world’s pragmatism is slippery.  It takes the Spirit as prosecutor to argue  truth, justice, integrity and faithfulness. These values are compromised and twisted out of shape by the World’s unremitting propaganda of individualistic, self-determined moral relativism. The truth is truth is the Spirit’s gift to this wayward world. Spirit driven truth unmasks evil in human hearts. Only the Spirit understands how the inner workings of the human heart function.  Only the Spirit as prosecutor can give a vulnerable human heart, defenses against the dark arts of the World’s evil. In this Gospel, “love is love” is God’s unconditional, transforming love. A supernatural love driven by the Spirit as a Prosecutor standing before believing communities teaching them/us to resist cultural subversions and as the Ep. of Jude writes reach out to “be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (vs. 22-23). A most serious summation, indeed! 

From the role of the Spirit as prosecutor, Jesus now turns to the Spirit’s role as Advocate/Teacher to the disciples (vs. 12-15). The Spirit will be prodding them toward the truth; toward a faith, without the presence of Jesus, a faith trusting the Father is with them.

Now the transition from being a band of Jesus’ followers to being disciples, to being a community with its responsibilities, to witnessing about who Jesus is, will not/was not/has not been easy. So the Spirit steps in as Advocate/Teacher enabling the disciples to become a community, to understand and speak to the truth about Jesus and the Father.  The Spirit is the assurance they will not face the future alone. The Spirit will make the teachings of Jesus relevant to them in the times when they are least able to trust, understand, or persevere in new and changing circumstances. The Spirit will help them interpret what they hear/experience in the new circumstances.

Jesus did not promise the Spirit for First or even Second Century Christians only.

The world keeps on turning. Believing communities through the centuries always find themselves trying to understand and live out faith in the midst of changing social, cultural, and moral circumstances.  As heirs of Pentecost our Jesus believing community has received the promised Spirit. In other words, the Spirit makes it possible to understand what Jesus means for “our” time. The challenge to us, then, is where and how do we see Jesus’ teaching played out in our World, in our community? 

It seems to me the future is as open for us as it was for the early church. Our future requires our discernment, our listening, our watching for, and our trusting Jesus will continue to reveal the Father through the Spirit.  Jesus’s sending of the Spirit is not dependent on our complete understanding.  So can we, like the Eleven, learn to trust the Father Jesus has shown us. Can we dare to acknowledge humbly there are still many truths we are not able to grasp? Can we dare to acknowledge humbly the Spirit still urges us along the path toward truth?  Why these questions? Well, to highlight there is no shortcut to long and deep christian character transformation partnered with the Spirit. 

Just like us, the early communities, living in a hostile World, needed to put words to what Jesus taught. Like them, we can learn the Advocate/Teacher Spirit, contemplating human behavior, is not a spirit of “whatever”. Instead, it is time Jesus faith communities stop trying to reconcile the narrative of biblical beliefs with those of a hostile World. We must understand one thing clearly through this lectionary lesson. We have Jesus’s teaching. His disciples were urged not to accommodate themselves to their age.  Instead they were, and we are, to learn the message from the Father taught by the Spirit about life through the Son for all those who would believe. This is the point in the final statement:  “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you” (vs. 15).

To this end, then, a faith community, our faith community need not be hesitant in practicing its faith in a hostile world. The point I am trying to make is this: the mission of disciples, then and now,  is to help in the healing and reconciliation of a broken, hostile World.  It is a weighty and humbling responsibility.  And since this is a Sunday morning, one way, we, as a liturgical community, do this, sometimes unaware, is through Eucharistic liturgy. 

The Eucharistic Liturgy is a public work by our faith community on behalf of the whole world. In the liturgy we have a blueprint, a design for healthy and holy living: gathering, prayer, praise, song, lament, Word, Body, Blood, confession, thanksgiving, dismissal. Eucharistic worship involves our self-offering in prayer and worship to the Trinity on behalf of the World so that all may come to know, love, and serve them fully.  In and through the liturgy, our community shows the World,  it might be transformed to what it was always intended to be through Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and  the placing of the Spirit among us. 

Although, much traveled “spiritually ”, Annie Dillard has described, insightfully and humorously, the impact Spirit infused liturgy could/should have on us and on into the world:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”

(Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), “Living like Weasels”,  pp. 40-41).

As these last words from Annie Dillard fade out, let us return to a renewed hearing of Jesus’ words, for why, then, are we so surprised when the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son makes his presence known to us? Amen.

John 14.8-17 | Pentecost C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

John 14:8-17

The Gospel of the Lord


Welcome to Pentecost!  This is an important day in the life of the Church: This is
the day of the Spirit. After seven weeks of the Easter season we finally come to
the great Feast of Pentecost and one more lectionary reading from the Fourth
Gospel. The tomb has been empty for a while now. The ripples of the
resurrection’s waters have smoothed out. There’s less startling news to tell, no
one running to see the grave cloths, no one walking away scratching his/her
head, no one sticking their fingers out, no one astonished, no one shuffling feet
beside a charcoal fire. Pretty soon, in fact, the church will settle in for a long
summer of ordinary time or Trinity season. But, not quite yet!


For Jewish folk, after the Exile, three festivals- Passover, Shavuot and Sukkoth –
were formed into pilgrimage feasts. The expectation for Jews, especially
Diaspora Jews, was a journey to Jerusalem. For Christians, Shavuot or Pentecost
is a festival carried over from Israel’s liturgical calendar. Since about the second
century C.E., Christians have celebrated Pentecost as the occasion of the
sending of the Spirit approximately fifty days after the death and resurrection of
Jesus.


Almost automatically Christians visualize Pentecost from Luke’s, quite literally
earth shaking, second volume account. Whatever happened on that Lukan Day,
we clearly think it was different from an average Tuesday morning or Friday
afternoon. But for this Sunday led by the lectionary sages, we’re going to look at “Pentecost” from the pre-crucifixion, pre-resurrection perspective of the guest
room Passover meal. In John 14, Jesus speaks at length about the Spirit as
Teacher/Advocate/Counselor. The Spirit is the enrichment of the Father’s and the
Son’s presence. The Spirit is an everyday experience in the community. The
Spirit will stand beside them, to help them out, to do well by them, to live in their
midst.


Jesus says loving him, keeping his commandments will enable the Father and
the Spirit to come and live with the disciples in community (vs. 15-17). Now
here’s what I’m suggesting about Pentecost from John 14. A believing
community is not going to be merely condo housing for the Spirit. A believing
community will be caught up into the very life and love between the Father, the
Son and the Spirit. That’s the mystery Jesus’ pending departure and the Spirit’s
pending arrival will bring about. That’s the mystery the disciples didn’t understand
yet.


Jesus says simply: the Spirit will reside in the community. We’ll be asking
ourselves what the sending of the Spirit might have meant to the disciples and, of
course, by extension, to our community.


Keep in mind in ch. 14, Jesus’ announcement about the Father’s and the Spirit’s
presence in a community, his exhortations about love and obedience and his
promises of peace were all spoken on the night he was betrayed and arrested.
Let’s just state the merely obvious here. In the next 48-72 or so hours the
remaining Eleven disciples would have plenty of occasions to be very, very
afraid, frightened, disoriented. Feeling “peace” about anything would shortly
become the remotest of any/all possibilities. Over the years I have come to
imagine Jesus’ voice choked with emotion, maybe even something a little
desperate comes through as he urges the remaining Eleven to be calm. It’s
probably the tone of voice you’d hear right after the bus slid off a snowy highway,
landing on its side in a ditch. And someone stands up, with real fear and
trembling in their voice, with eyes widened in fright saying to everyone, “OK,
everybody, now DON’T PANIC!!!!” The truth is in my life—and maybe in your
life—every time someone has told me not to be afraid or not to panic it was
because all things being equal, fear and panic were the best option at that very
moment. But seriously, in this Gospel, the disciples’ deer-in-the-headlights stares
are gathered into Philip’s outburst: “Just show us the Father, already, Master,
and it’ll be good enough for us!” Philip has two speaking parts in the Fourth
Gospel. In both he is portrayed as a “half-empty glass kind of guy” fussing about
what they don’t have.  Remember previously, Philip fretted there wouldn’t be
“enough” food to feed a large crowd (6:7). 


So it’s not likely Philip or the others grasped Jesus’ response. “Have I been with
you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? (vs. 9). It’s not the length
of chronological time, so to speak, leading to “knowing”, but rather grasping who Jesus is.  “The one who has seen me has seen the Father,” he says.  “Seeing”
is one of the Fourth Gospel’s ways of saying someone “gets it.” 


In this Passover table talk, the festival’s child-like FAQs take a different shape.
The disciples ask: Will you show us the Father? Where are you going? Why do
you have to go? Can’t we go with you? Who’ll stay with us when you’re gone?
Answering their childlike inquiries, Jesus promises another, a
Teacher/Advocate/Counselor, the Spirit of Truth who will teach them and will stay
with them as they carry on his ministry. When life gets tough, when the bottom
falls out, the Father via the Spirit will quite surely be there.


Jesus’ words assure the disciples when he is gone from them, they won’t need to
reevaluate their loyalties. He will still be with them. They will still know they are
serving the Father by doing the same works he did while he was among them.
And Jesus offers them his abiding presence through the Spirit. One of the roles
of the Spirit, then, is continuing education. But the Spirit is not merely a substitute
teacher. The teaching role of the Spirit includes Jesus’ previous words. But it also
encompasses new lessons because learning is an ongoing process between
teacher and student. And this is where we come in. The Spirit is in our
community to orient us to the ways of Jesus and the Father. This means each of
us, united in a community, need to be attentive to what the Spirit is teaching us
today for the benefit of the community.


One of the outcomes of Pentecost is: the spirit-driven community is empowered
to do Jesus’ works. It is the Advocate/Counselor who turns us, not simply into
servants or even merely partners but actually, icons, that is, image bearers, if you
will–portals through whom Jesus’ presence, power and work are visible in this
world. We “act” because Jesus and the Father are present with us by the Spirit. 
The focus, however, isn’t on our action so much as our willingness to let the
Spirit be free to work through us in the world.  And the promise embedded in the
table talk is the community indwelt by the Spirit will do greater works than those
done by Jesus.  What these are and how they should be experienced isn’t
revealed.  It’s just a promise from the One who sends the Advocate/Counselor,
who lives among us in community. Pentecost from the perspective of the Fourth
Gospel, then, is essentially experiencing a breakthrough in our experience of
Jesus-led activity. From this Gospel’s “Pentecost”, we are to begin to learn from
the Spirit because the Spirit can be seen and found most readily in the
community. Now there is much work to be done in the world.  And the Spirit is
ready to guide/teach us.  For example, Jesus reminds us the power of the Spirit
comes to us through the ministry of intercession:  “When you ask me for anything
in my name, I will do it” (vs. 14). The Fourth Gospel points us as a community to
reckon ‘greater works’ begin in intercession – in becoming a community of
people who position themselves in the world through prayer. “We are an
intercessory people – a community of go-betweens, fellow-advocates with the
Spirit, bringing Truth to the world, bringing the suffering of the world to the
Father, and bringing the Father’s peace to the world. This invitation to prayer is primarily communal. These words are Jesus’ last words to the remaining
disciples. It’s simply not possible to follow Jesus on our own; we need one
another — ALL of us.


Pentecost, then, is a time to remember the Father and Jesus are present through
the advocacy of the Spirit in an everyday way. For when we encounter nothing
less than the presence of the Father, Son and Spirit, we come to know we cannot
limit who the divine person is, much less how the divine person acts. That’s why
our worship, for example, can’t be reduced to “nothing but” music, readings and a
sermon. The Eucharist can never be described as “nothing but” bread and wine,
any more than baptism is “nothing but” water and words. That is far too limiting.
We are to, in the words of the dismissal, “Go in peace to love and serve the
Lord”. We are empowered to do this by the presence of the Spirit we experience
in our community worship. We who follow Jesus now are called to act on and
share the servant love Jesus brings into the world. We are to share servant love
freely, without limitations. We are to take this Good News and share it by our acts
as well as our words with everyone we meet.


“Wanted: Growing organization looking for workers. Great rewards for great
results. Successful applicants are expected not only to meet but to exceed the
high standards set by the company’s founder.” Sound like a difficult job? It’s the
job description of an ordinary, everyday disciple in community according to
today’s “Pentecost” reading. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will
also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (vs. 12).
Greater works than Jesus? How is that possible? In part, it’s possible because of
the Spirit’s working in the lives of different people in a believing community.
Whereas there was only one Jesus, there are many in a community. All together
are capable of drawing on the resources of the Spirit to accomplish great things.
Jesus went about teaching, healing, and telling others “Good News”. As his
disciples, we are called to carry forward his ministries. Which might mean at
times, laying our hands on people, praying for them to be healed. And at other
times, it might mean visiting and encouraging others during their illness.
Sometimes we may be giving time and money to an organization working to find
a cure for our society’s ills. But in all things and all ways we are to be passing on
to others our understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Maybe we don’t fancy ourselves
something like an evangelist, but by our Spirit-empowered “greater works” we
can lead others to glorify Jesus and the Father. Today’s “Pentecost” reading from
John presents a challenging job description. Would you like an application to fill
out? You can pick up one here at the eucharist table. And there is a cover letter
you should carefully read – the prayer of humble access. Amen.

John 14. 21-29 | Easter 6C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John

21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who
loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself
to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my
teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with
them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you
hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25 “All this I have spoken
while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my
name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do
not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going
away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going
to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens,
so that when it does happen you will believe.

John 14:21-29

The Gospel of the Lord

On this the sixth Sunday after Easter in year C, we continue to consider the
complexity of Jesus’ resurrection by reading once again the Passover tabletalk,
the pre-crucifixion teaching emphasizing the central place of Jesus in the life and
calling of faith communities through the presence of the Holy Spirit.


This Passover table is punctuated by anxious questions from his disciples. Our
lesson is excerpted from an answer to a question from Judas (not Iscariot). Jesus
had said, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me;
because I live, you also will live” (vs. 19) Judas pressing Jesus for more
information asks: “How is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the
world?” The answer: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will
love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever
does not love me does not keep my words” (vs. 23-24a). Who better than a
Judas to ask such a question? For you see, Jesus is offering another Judas (that
is, Iscariot) at this table a chance to stay at the table. But that Judas chooses to
leave, seeking to force Jesus to show himself in another way -a way using
violence instead of non-violence. It remains forever night for that Judas.


Now remember, we’re reading this post-resurrection. Don’t we think the disciples
could have known beforehand what was going to happen? But remember again,
if we were reading the Gospel from the start we would be discovering the
disciples never seem to get what Jesus tells them—or shows them—the first time
round. At this last Passover, they hear Jesus talking about leaving. His Exodus ,
so to speak. The Eleven are confused, uncertain about what to do, unable to formulate a response. Jesus attempts to explain. After he has gone, a
euphemism for his crucifixion, the Spirit will teach them, guiding out the
significance of Jesus’ teachings. When the disciples revisit Jesus’ teaching they
will recognize and then know what has happened. The Spirit will confirm what
Jesus had said.


No question, I have much the same learning curve as any of the Eleven. But may
I suggest there is some subtle wisdom at work this morning. The lectionary
invites me to recognize myself not as an individual but as a disciple knit into a
faith community. And it’s calling me to voice questions and listen to questions. It
is in listening and hearing, believing communities understand how the Gospel’s
story speaks. For me, for us, like the disciples, often with retrospection, the
penny drops and the light lights. At a new time and in a new place we often see
something more, or see more clearly, or more fully grasp the significance of
Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is an expression of the Spirit’s work in
community. It is seriously important to be knit together into a community.


Now the Fourth Gospel seldom tells us how speech is to be heard. It doesn’t
have descriptive adverbs like “He said sternly” or softly.” So we’re left to imagine
in what tones various sentences were spoken. It seems to me for a long time I
heard Jesus speaking confidently, strongly. But over the years I now hear Jesus
speaking to the Eleven in a tone of voice matching the acoustics of the room.
What if—having just watched one of the Twelve walk out the door to betray him
and having told one of the remaining Eleven, he would soon deny him, not once
but three times—what if Jesus’ tone were, well—what if his lips trembled and
tears formed in the corners of his eyes. Anyone who’s ever been in a similar
situation will understand heartbreak tears. Then the heartfelt sincerity of this
moment finds a home. This will be a dark night. He will be betrayed by one of
them, abandoned by all of them.


So at this Passover, Jesus makes it clear his followers love him by serving others
in word and action. Not in the manner of the one who just left. “Those who love
me will keep my word” (vs. 15). In the Fourth Gospel, love for Jesus is the
touchstone for everything.  Love in Jesus’ teaching is love in action – acts of
service. In Jesus’ day, the Second Temple period, “keeping” or “obeying” Torah
was the acceptable, normal way of expressing a life of faithfulness. “Keeping” or
‘practicing” meant internalizing the teachings of Torah to the extent they shaped
every aspect of one’s daily life.  Jesus is teaching the Eleven faithfulness is
expressed in a “serving love”. This will be a crucial factor in their future.


Coming at it from another angle. The Gospel’s author cannot stress enough that
love for Jesus is the key mark of disciples in community. For them to experience
the love of the Father, they must keep the words of Jesus. To love Jesus is to
love the Father. Not to keep Jesus’ words is to disobey the Father (v. 24). This
furthers the theme from earlier chapters – whoever has seen Jesus has seen the
Father. Jesus adds to the theme “and we will come to them and make our home with them” (vs. 23).  Here the “home” is the disciples in community. The Father
comes to them as a community. The Father will work among them since they will
remain in the world even as Jesus leaves.  In the time of Jesus, the Judeans
believed YHWH’s “dwelling place” was the Jerusalem Temple. In the Fourth
Gospel, Temple has been replaced by Jesus who makes his “dwelling place” in a
community of those who love and follow him. Jesus and the Father call
communities to be at home with them. Disciples will never be unwelcome guests
in this household. So our calling as a disciple-ing community is to make time and
space now to welcome Jesus in his relationship to the Father. Welcoming Jesus
to live with us as we live with him is the primary and preferred way the Fourth
Gospel describes faith – discipleship and community. It should be the primary and
preferred priority of our lives.


This, in turn, lays the groundwork for the close relationship of Jesus with the
Spirit, identified as Teacher. As the Father has sent Jesus into the world, so
Jesus has asked the Spirit be sent to continue teaching them. The return of
Jesus to the Father means the future unfolding of the Father’s purposes.. Feeling
alone can be a profoundly difficult thing to experience, as many of us personally
know. And this is what the disciples are likely to fear most. They sense they are
losing their teacher, their friend. All that they have done for the last three years
has been about being part of Jesus’ life and journey.  But knowing he will be
leaving soon and understanding what that meant for them personally were
probably two different things.


The role of the Spirit is twofold: to “teach” the disciples, and to “remind” them of
what Jesus had taught them (v. 26). He will bring nothing new to the table; the
Father has already revealed Himself fully in Jesus. But the Spirit – Teacher will
deepen their understanding of revelation in ways leading them to follow Jesus
into ministry and to change the world in so many ways.


Countless stories have been told of teachers making an impact on a person’s life
in ways that turned them around or helped them fulfill their potential in profound
ways. I am married to a teacher, who yearly with humility brings home stories
from students, who return to tell her of known but sometimes unknown influences
she has had in their education. I have, myself, had two teachers who have
effected profoundly important directions to my life. All of us need someone
present “in our corner”. Jesus did that for the disciples and all future faith
communities in sending the Spirit – Teacher so they could face the future with a
sense of purpose. The Spirit guides communities when reflecting on what they
have experienced of Jesus. The Spirit guides communities to let love for Jesus
show up in the ways they relate to others. The Spirit helps the disciple-ing
community to understand Jesus and his word and to love Jesus by keeping his
word for the world’s sake.


Understood this way, there is nothing about Jesus’ words suggesting either he’s
promising the disciple-ing community an end to problems or he’s inviting them to ignore problems. Rather, he promises peace.  We need to be cautious about the
meaning of peace, especially if we look in a Webster’s dictionary. The entry you
will find is “freedom from disturbance, the absence of war, or strife”. Now in the
Second Temple period this “dictionary” definition of peace would fit. There was
the so-called “Pax Romana”, a ruthlessly imposed peace by crushing military
force.  But there is another “peace”, a Biblical concept standing against
political/military violence. For Jesus “Peace” is the covenantal or Torah concept
of shalom. Shalom envisions total wellbeing not only for the stand alone
individual but also for the total wellbeing of those bound together as people of
God.  Shalom is biblically characterized by community wholeness, healing,
abundance, concord, reconciliation, harmony, and health both spiritual and
physical. Biblical Peace is, therefore, framed in its corporate aspect, by the way
people get along with one another for the common good, rather than focused on
an individual’s inner tranquility.  The Spirit enables peace in the disciple-ing
community and creates calm concerning fears and doubts about the present and
the future. But more importantly, the Spirit intends to inspire us as a community
to meet our fears with peace so that our love can work to address the world’s
wounds with justice.


All dimensions of a faith community need to be governed by the Spirit. A faith
community is not just a collection of people who share common beliefs or
common efforts. Instead, it is a unity reinforced by the presence of the Spirit who
teaches and calls each one to remembrance who they are: Jesus’ followers. We
are not alone trying to make our own way as best we can. We are guided by the
presence of the Father through the Spirit -Teacher just as they were taught by
the Father through Jesus. And if we receive the Teacher, the Spirit of truth, we
will experience biblical peace going far beyond lack of conflict. It should be
noted, however, there is no guarantee the presence of the Spirit will eliminate
disagreements among those in the community. As a people who are called out of
the world into the community of Christ, it seems to me our protest and
disagreement, in whatever form it takes, should be noticeably different.  There is
a clear sense here. If a community is not governed by love through the work of
the Spirit in their midst, there will be no peace of the kind Jesus gives.


One of the shortcomings with American Chrisitanity is faith has become overly
individualized. Becoming a Christian too often means personal assent to a set of
beliefs rather than to a “lived-in-community”faith. Being a Christian, or better,
being a disciple or even better, being a “disciple-in-community” are not the same
thing. Someone can be a Christian, attend church services, hear sermons, pay
tithes, receive communion, and not be a disciple. A would-be disciple seeks out a
community in order to follow the example and teaching of the One who is called
Lord. A “disciple-in-community” gains a greater awareness of how the Father in
Jesus is at work with them. And how, by becoming more aware of that, they can
become more committed to follow Jesus along the path the Spirit directs. Faith
communities should be attentive to the rhythms and rituals constituting the background hum of life and should consider the end toward which these activities
are oriented.

Jesus is, of course, the key to this. I as an individual am called into a community
by his name, shaped by his life, death, and resurrection and empowered by his
Spirit for “serving love”. The Father does all of this in the effort to install on earth
his own life through human agents loving one another and overseeing the spread
of shalom. I’ve heard this statement ascribed to both Francis of Assisi and Martin
Luther, and I’m not sure either said it, but today Luther won the coin toss so I’ll
claim it for him: Once asked what he would do if he thought the world would end
tomorrow, Luther replied, “I would plant a tree today.” That’s not optimism, but
hope; not simply a lack of fear, but courage; not only the absence of disturbance,
but peace — Jesus’ peace, a peace the world cannot give.

Psalm 100 | Easter 4C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

1     Shout out joyfully to the LORD, all the Land!

2     Serve the LORD with gladness!

       Come into His presence with singing!

3     Acknowledge this:  the LORD He is God!

            He made us, and we are His,       

           His people, the flock He shepherds.

4    Enter His gates with thanksgiving,

      Enter His courtyard with acclamation!

      Give thanks to Him; 

      Bless His name!

5          For the LORD is good;

            His steadfast love endures forever,

            and His faithfulness to all generations

Psalm 100
Translation by john-michael gutierrez, phd

Some of us from Episcopal/Anglican origins have become familiar with Psalm 100 in three ways: First, in 1549 Cranmer’s liturgical Latin inserted Psalm 100’s Jubilate deo into Anglican morning prayer after Psalm 95’s Venite. Second, about a decade later the exiled Wm. Kethe’s paraphrased poetry for the Geneva Bible found its way into Anglican choral tradition with oft jailed Louis Bourgeois’ adapted melody under the heading “The Old Hundredth”. Third is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s beautiful arrangement for Queen Elizabeth’s processional at Westminster Abbey in 1953. Not to overlook contemporary music: Give a listen to Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” from 1997’s Slow Train Coming album where he strums the right chords to the psalm’s theology from vs. 2 “Serve the Lord”. And lastly, not to overlook literature from the pen of Mark Twain, we hear Psalm 100 as a song celebrating the safe return of Tom Sawyer.     

Now this morning let’s go back to Israel.  I invite you to turn to Psalm 100 in the bulletin so you can follow along. By the end of this message, as is my well known habit, I’ll have asked y’all to hold a lot of theology up in the air all at one time. It seems to me it’s worth the effort because this psalm is a poetic masterpiece expressing the fundamental theology of Israel. And it opens the door to the heart of Easter’s realities in our Christian community. 

The volley of invitations to worship actions: Shout out joyfully. Serve gladly. Come singing. Enter thankfully. Enter praising. Give thanks. Bless him – are the psalm’s obvious framework (vss. 1,2,4).

But here’s the teaching point for Israel and by all means include us. Covenant is the psalm’s big idea poetically voiced at the center point, vs. 3 “Acknowledge this:  YHWH He is God! He made us, and we are His. His people, the flock He shepherds” and at its conclusion, vs. 5 “For YHWH is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations”. Covenant is a treaty calling Israel to live by revealed instruction enabling them to be formed into a holy community. This psalm restates what Israel understands – the Covenant’s deep, intimate revelation of YHWH’s character and acts has a claim on their loyalty and allegiance. The Covenant is compelling, demanding but not coercive. YHWH does not overwhelm Israel with imperatives. He is interested in genuine relationships and obedience. He bends his knee, accommodating Israel’s humanness and fallibility. He “evangelizes” Israel, not through overpowering logical propositions but through participating in their very earthly life offering them costly love over and over and over again. Allow me to direct you to one of many similar wordings. This one from Deuteronomy: “Acknowledge and take to heart this day YHWH is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land YHWH your God gives you for all time” (4.39-40). Covenant, then, is an extraordinary blueprint for what Israel’s life can genuinely become when lived in obedience to divine instruction. Understanding the unsurpassing beauty of and practicing this blueprint is what calls forth the delightful, boisterous, rousing invitations in this psalm. 

 In vs. 3 and 5, then, we hear the poet’s skill retracing the language of YHWH’s character, status and acts.  Although portrayed as kings and shepherds, gods and kings in the ANE were seldom described as good, loving, safe or kind.  Not so YHWH, king and shepherd! When YHWH delivered Israel out of slavery, He acted as a great divine king. He made a covenant with them, creating them to be, not slaves, but a priestly serving people – vs. 3a “Acknowledge this: YHWH He is God. He made us. We are his”. In the Exodus-Wilderness, he revealed himself as a great Shepherd King – vs, 3b “His people, the flock He shepherds”. He redeemed them, not to get rid of them but to walk with them, even in the valley of shadows. And through covenant faithfulness, teaching and guidance, he has shown himself to be good, merciful and loyal – vs. 5 “for YHWH is good, his covenant loyalty and faithfulness endures in every generation”.

Together these statements encourage ordinary Israelites (and us) to recalibrate motivations when entering into the realm of the sacred for worship. So I want to put a few more items into your hands. First, worship in Israel is not an individual, isolated experience but is deliberately carried out with others assembled in community. I can’t worship alone. Second, YHWH is approachable. Make my way into his presence acknowledging his character, his saving, mighty acts. He desires me to darken his gate – a doorway into reconciliation. Third, the theological richness and imagery of Exodus-Sinai-Wilderness language pervading scripture and this psalm shouldn’t surprise me. Accepting YHWH’s kingship radically shapes worship’s experience. Which is to say, worship in Israel is a divinely informed, lived experience. Fourth, worship in the psalms is usually multi -directional. Notice how this psalm motions the worshiper back to the Exodus-Sinai foundation of faith. Once again:  “Acknowledge this: YHWH He is God. He made us” (vs. 3a). The poet says this to make the present real in the eight invitations. And yet it doesn’t stop there. Vs. 5 pulls the worshippers into the future “covenant faithfulness endures in every generation”. Worship finds me wherever I am.

Acknowledging who YHWH is roots Israel’s worldview in thankfulness, gratitude. Drawing out their emotions, the revealed word loosens their tongues to sing redemption’s song. The constellation of invitations picture an intimate relationship, sincere mindset and faithful behavior unimaginable without the Covenant’s structure. The invitations affirm the Covenant adds security to Israel’s life – stability, well defined moral, social order. All of which make Israel’s public expressions possible and meaningful.

So Israel’s praise resonates strongly with Covenant’s realities. YHWH is always faithful to his covenant promises. And these promises extend beyond Israel to the nations. How? Well look at the word “Land” in vs. 1. Certainly in Israel’s view “land” is the geography promised to Abraham. But here’s what I’ve come to love about theology in Hebrew poetry – a refusal to be pinned down. The word “land” can also be read as earth. And “earth” can also be read as non-Jewish folk, the “Nations”. That’s us. We also will see, know and experience the commitments and loyalty of YHWH.  YHWH’s covenant loyalty was fulfilled for the Nations in a very creative, innovative way. Listen to the words of St. Paul “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the covenant, to redeem those who were under it, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4.4-7).

Yes! Jesus is the person in whom Covenant and faithfulness come together for the Nations, They come together in an actual event which consisted surprisingly and shockingly in the shameful and cruel death by crucifixion of the One who fulfilled the divine purposes. But the explosive force lies in something radically new, something shocking, something up to that point in time unthinkable. Something the Judean authorities, the Romans, even Satan couldn’t grasp. There was a deeper relationship they did not know. If they could have looked further back into the stillness, the darkness before Time, they would have found there God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. And from them would emerge a willing Son who would break open the bonds of Sin and Death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet by his death and resurrection

In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we move from enslavement to sonship, from covenant to new covenant. In Jesus’ resurrection, we move to a new type of human forged in the Spirit- image of the risen Son. This is the shock wave vibrating throughout all of creation at Easter. 

In the Easter weeks, we join a vast community of praise. We bear witness to YHWH’s faithfulness, loyalty and goodness in Jesus. We walk in a procession stretching across time and place. We celebrate the LORD’s enduring commitment to the redemption of the world. Our loud shouts of praise affirm our common identity as His people, the flock He shepherds. Amen.