Proper 24, Year C: Luke 18:1-8: Keep Praying

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 24, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

The Gospel reading this week starts by saying, “Then Jesus taught the followers that they should always pray and never lose hope.” I like that beginning. It tells us exactly what the story is about. No confusion there. He taught them by using a story, which he did so well so often. He told them about a judge in town who didn’t sound like such a great judge. He didn’t care about God or what people thought or apparently about what was right. A widow came to him and begged him to do justice for her because someone was mistreating her. In those days (and in some places today), women who lost their husbands had very few rights and abilities to take care of themselves or protect themselves. In this town, the judge was probably the only authority she had to go to for help. And he couldn’t care less. He didn’t want to be bothered to help her. But she kept on asking for justice, over and over. Finally, he decides he’ll help her just to get her to shut up and stop pestering him, even though he doesn’t care about God or the woman herself.

Jesus said, “Listen, there is meaning in what the bad judge said. God’s people shout to him night and day, and he will always give them what is right. He will not be slow to answer them. I tell you, God will help his people quickly.”

So if even this bad judge would come around and answer the woman’s plea, how much more would God himself answer our prayers?

So the theme of the week is prayer, and continuing to pray and have hope that God will answer. Of course God may not always answer the way we want, and people don’t always pray for the right things, but if you’re praying for something important, like justice, then you should keep on praying. Praying for material possessions are not as important as praying for good to happen in the world.

Keep praying, whether you will get an answer or not. The important thing is to just keep praying.

Proper 23, Year C: Luke 17:11-19: Noticing Others

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 23, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

The Gospel reading today is about one of the miracles Jesus performed and how the people he healed reacted. It’s kind of a cool story. Jesus walks into a small town and is met by ten men, though they keep their distance, because they have leprosy. You’ve probably heard of leprosy, but if you want more info, check here. You can also Google it, but I wouldn’t recommend an image search. Anyway, leprosy is pretty nasty and people back then thought that it was highly contagious (it’s actually not that contagious unless you have close and repeated contact–see link above). Those with leprosy were outcasts because they could no longer be near friends and family for fear of spreading the disease; they just had to hang out with other lepers. So that’s why they kept their distance and call out to him rather than coming close. They have obviously heard about Jesus and his power to heal so they ask for his help. He simply tells them to go to the priests, and on their way to see the priests they are healed. There was a law that said you had to go to the priests to have them examine you and prove if you had leprosy or not (and if they gave you a clean bill of health you could go back to your family). He hadn’t healed them yet, but sent them for that examination—they trusted him enough to go, and sure enough they were healed.  

Upon finding they are healed, nine men continue on, but one man turns back to go find Jesus again. He praised God and bowed in front of Jesus and thanked him. The Bible notes that he was a Samaritan, so not one of the Jewish people. Jesus says, “Ten men were healed, where are the other nine?” He says here’s a guy who’s not even one of our people and he’s the only one who came back to praise God? Then he sends the man on and tells him he was healed because he believed.

Jesus always notices the people the rest of society ignores: the poor, the sick, the troubled, the immigrants, even women (big deal back then). He notices these ten sick guys and heals them, and then he notices that the one who came back to thank him was not even Jewish but a Samaritan–another kind of marginalized person. We must also seek to notice people like Jesus did and to serve those who need our service most. We don’t seek to please the rich and powerful but to help and save those who need God’s love most.

Proper 22, Year C: Luke 17:5-10: Faith Is for Service

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 22, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

I love how this passage starts in the Easy-to-Read Version:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Give us more faith!”

It’s almost comical. I don’t know that I would think to request more faith.

So Jesus tells them if they have faith as big as a mustard seed they can tell a mulberry tree to hop up and plant itself in the ocean and the tree will obey. Jesus is still in hyperbole mode and it’s also a comic idea to see this tree picking up its bottom branches like lifting its skirt and waltzing into the sea.

Then Jesus tells them to imagine they have a servant who comes in from work and you don’t tell him to relax, you ask him to prepare you dinner. He is after all doing his job. He doesn’t get special recognition for doing what he is supposed to be doing anyway.

These two little stories seem like they’re telling the disciples not to get caught up in asking for rewards, but just to do the work. They are demanding more faith, when they should just be using their faith in God’s service.

Proper 21, Year C: Luke 16:19-31: Invisible People

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 21, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

This week’s lesson is again money or love-of-money related. There are a lot of things Christians like to harp on about related to morality, but Jesus talked about money more than a lot of those things. The only thing he talked about more was the Kingdom of God.  And he wasn’t talking about how we should all be making more of it and enjoying the good life, but more about how we should be sharing and taking care of the poor. I think we probably all know that, but there are some people out there that seem to teach the opposite. 

Here’s the basic story. There’s a really rich guy who lived in luxury and had a fine time of it. At his gate there is a beggar named Lazarus. (I just love how Jesus doesn’t bother giving the rich man a name but he names the poor man—how like him to humanize the weaker, needier person and just describe the other as a rich man—not what everyone would have done.) Lazarus is so poor that he wishes he could just eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (the implication is that the rich man didn’t even share these) and he was so bad off that he was covered in sores and the dogs licked his sores. It’s descriptive and horrific.  

Then both men die and Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s side (Abraham is considered the forefather to all the Jewish people and Jesus is talking to his Jewish audience–I think we can safely call it heaven) and the rich man goes to Hades (hell). Now the roles are switched. Lazarus is happy and comforted in heaven but the rich man is in agony. Now he is looking up and wishing he could just have a tiny piece of what Lazarus has. So he calls out to Abraham and asks him to send Lazarus to him with just a drop of water to soothe his agony. Abraham responds that it’s impossible to do so. So the (former) rich man asks that Abraham send Lazarus to his family to warn them to change their ways. Abraham says they have Moses and the Prophets (the Jewish scriptures) so they don’t need further warning. The man says they will repent if someone dead comes to them. And Abraham responds that even if someone rises from the dead, they will not be convinced.

I think it’s important to not get bogged down in the eschatology here. (Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.) From what I understand, that is not really the point of the story. Jesus didn’t say, “Look here’s what happens when you die” and go on to describe heaven and hell. The story is more about the two men, poor and rich, and how the rich man ignored the poverty at his own gate. A lot of the Bible studies I’ve read in preparation have talked about this issue and how Lazarus was invisible to the man until he was himself in agony and had to look up and see Lazarus finally happy. Who might be invisible to us? Have we ever felt invisible to others when we were in need?  I know there have been times my own kids probably felt invisible to me when I was caught up doing something (you know how they start repeating “Mommy mommy mommy” over and over because they seem to think you don’t hear them if they don’t repeat). Who might we pass by every day and not even see them–outcasts of society who are hurting and needing attention? What are we doing to help them and not hurt them further?

Proper 20, Year C: Luke 16:1-13: Love God Not Money

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 20, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

This week’s lesson is all about the money, or specifically the love of money and of course the love of what money can buy.  

Again Jesus is telling a parable. I love how much Jesus liked to teach with stories.  He was obviously never a boring teacher. He told them about a rich man who had a bad manager working for him. The rich boss finds out the manager isn’t doing a very good job, so he says he’s going to fire him. The manager decides he’d better do something to get the rest of his town to like him so when he’s out of a job they might be good to him. So what he does is call in people who owe his boss money and tell them to change the amount owed so that they pay less. Then those people are happy with him, but his boss isn’t paid all he’s owed. He’s pulling a trick that loses the boss money but pleases the rest of the town.  

Now here’s the tricky part. Jesus says the rich boss praised the manager for being clever, though he hadn’t been honest. Then he says that’s what the people of this world are like, and that they are smarter than God’s people. It sounds like Jesus is praising dishonesty, but I don’t think that’s what he means. He goes on to say that if you can be trusted with a little, you will be trusted with a lot, but if you can’t even be trusted with a little thing, then how could you be trusted with a lot? If you can’t take care of someone else’s property, how will you be able to have property of your own? Then comes a very famous line, “No servant can serve two masters at the same time. He will hate one of them and love the other. Or he will be faithful to one and dislike the other.  You can’t serve God and Money at the same time.” You may have heard you can’t serve God and “Mammon” but modern versions just make it money.  (See more about Mammon here.) This, I think, is the crux of the story. And when we love money and material things so much that our focus is on them and not on the things of God, then we can’t properly love God and follow Christ.  

Proper 19, Year C: Luke 15:1-10: Lost and Found

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 19, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

Jesus is criticized by religious leaders for teaching sinners and tax collectors.

So Jesus responds with a couple stories. First, he asks them to imagine you are someone who has 100 sheep and one is lost. The owner of the sheep goes and searches for it, leaving the other 99 in the field. When he finds it, he rejoices with his friends. Jesus says there is more joy for one lost sinner than 99 good people who don’t need to change.

Second, a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. She looks carefully until she finds it, and then she asks people to celebrate with her that she found it. Jesus says God is also happy when one sinner repents.

Again we must consider if we are living and loving like Jesus. Are we judging our fellow church members or fellow citizens of our towns and cities? Are we extending hospitality and mercy to those who need it most, to those who are hard to love as well as those who are easy to love and easy to look at? Look at your life and church today and see if you are reaching out and including people or judging and excluding people.

We can also consider the mercy extended to ourselves. We all have our moments (or years) of lostness, of failing and flailing. But God reaches out to us with love and forgiveness at all times. And we are all the same at God’s table–whether we are frequently lost or always on hand and serving. Thank God for his mercy.

Proper 18, Year C: Luke 14:25-33: Commitment to Jesus

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 18, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

Jesus says to the people traveling with them that they must hate their family and their lives–this seems like a strong hyperbole to make a point. They must love him more than their family, more than their lives. He says they must carry their crosses to follow him.

He also talks about planning before beginning a project. Basically they must examine their lives and how they will give up everything to follow him.

Following Jesus is not something one does lightly or easily. It takes commitment and sacrifice. To love as radically as Jesus will change your life and you have to be ready for it.

Proper 17, Year C: Luke 14:1, 7-14: Who Are You Helping?

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 17, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

Again Jesus chooses the side of the poor and oppressed. He’s at a fancy dinner given by a leading Pharisee and he notices people jockeying for position to get the best and most important seats. He says that the next time the Pharisee gives a dinner he shouldn’t invite friends, relatives, and rich neighbors. Instead he should invite people who can’t pay him back with other fancy invitations. He should invite those in need, the poor and sick–in other words the people who really need a good dinner and can’t respond with future benefits to the host.

It is true that we often choose who we break bread with based on a lot of self-interested reasons. Sometimes we even choose a church based on what we can get out of it. Does this church meet my own spiritual needs? Does this church have convenient meeting times? Perhaps we should be looking for a church that could benefit from our gifts. Ask not what your church can do for you, but what can you do for your church (and your community)? It’s something to chew on.

Proper 16, Year C: Luke 13:10-17: Hypocrisy vs. Healing

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 16, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when he sees a woman who has been crippled for 18 years and can’t stand up straight. He lays hands on her and tells her she’s now free of her sickness. She praises God.

Of course, the powers-that-be aren’t happy about this. They complain that he’s healing on the Sabbath Day. He tells people to show up on some other day to be healed.

Jesus declares the leaders hypocrites. He says they untie their animals and take them to drink water even on the Sabbath. He says it’s not wrong to heal someone on the Sabbath. The leaders are shamed and the people are happy.

Again, as in the last story, Jesus is not all about the warm fuzzies. He doesn’t agree with rules for rules’ sake. He helps someone in need and thumbs his nose at hypocritical leaders. May we be like Jesus. Help those who need help and call out those who do harm.

Proper 15, Year C: Luke 12:49-56: Speak Truth to Power

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 15, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

In this passage, Jesus has a different tone than he often takes. He talks about bringing fire to the world and to divide families against each other. It’s definitely hyperbolic and less peaceful than Jesus often seems (though Jesus is not just about peace–he calls out evil and greed often).

This reminds me of how often we confuse “niceness” with love. Yes, be nice to people. Yes, strive to get along. Be generous to those in need. But also speak truth to power. Don’t excuse the rich and powerful when they are cruel to the poor and marginalized. Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Speak out on the side of justice and be merciful to those who need it–that’s the division Jesus is talking about. We aren’t to be needlessly cruel to the weak, but we are to be outspoken to the rich and powerful.