Luke’s gospel (LK 6:39-42) reminded me this morning of a saying on a coffee mug that I’ve also seen on a T-shirt. It says, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Luke is a bit more direct and is asking a question so I would expect a more forceful delivery. I can hear him challenging us, wanting to know: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”
There’s a lot to ponder in the lectionary readings for today: (Luke 6: 27-38). It’s all about love but because Jesus was speaking to his disciples rather than a large crowd the message was not flowery or sweet. It cut to the heart of how to live a good and meaningful life in the way that God would have us act. Spend some time with it if you will. I’ll just offer a taste to get you started, three thoughts that take some real honesty to get to the heart of things.
- Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…
- If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
- Stop judging and you will not be judged…Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Read the statements aloud. (How does it feel on the first read?) It will take some doing to go deeper than just recognizing the words. No squirming! Just stay with it until you’re ready to make a decision and a plan of how you can take a step toward this transformation in practice. (And then keep walking that path…)
There are so many ways to learn from the Scriptures. We can usually find literal meaning in the passages we read. Sometimes it is also really easy to see more than a literal meaning to the gospel stories. Today is a good example of that. (LK 18: 35-43)
When Jesus approaches the city of Jericho, he hears someone calling, “Jesus of Nazareth, have pity on me!” We already know that this man is blind, sitting on the roadside begging. (Could we be the blind man? Are we sometimes blind to what’s going on? Do we ever ask those around us for help?) Even though people try to get him to stop yelling, he keeps calling out for pity. (How persevering are we in our prayer?) Jesus has the man brought to him and asks the important question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Would you be ready for the question? Would you dare to ask for something or would you just say as many of us often do: “Oh, I’m okay…I don’t want to bother you…”) The man was brave enough to acknowledge what was wrong with him: “Please let me see,” he said. (Are we willing to ask God for what we need, even if it exposes some weakness or sinful behavior?)
The reward for honesty about ourselves is clear in this story. Jesus answers immediately: “Have sight!” and it’s clear that it is the man’s faith in the power of Jesus to heal that allows the healing. (What is your faith quotient these days? Are you sure that if you have faith you will get what you need? Would you be willing in your request to believe that God knows better than you do what you need and what will be good for you?)
I like this way of approaching the gospels and see it as an examination of consciousness because I really have to be awake if I’m going to get to the depth of meaning in my search. This story was easy to interpret. It’s the answers to the questions, however, that take time and honest digging. Are you willing to give it a try?
Today the gospel reminds us of a parable about a widow wanting justice from a judge who only saw her as an annoyance. You can read it if you choose (LK 18: 1-8) but right now I’m interested in the first and last verses between which the parable is sandwiched. The directive at the beginning and the question at the end of the passage should wake us up if the “meat” in the middle does not!
Jesus told his disciples parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. (vs. 1)…But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (vs. 8)
Occasionally there are in the translations of gospel passages a one word difference from the familiar that stops me in my tracks and causes me to reflect rather than to simply assume I “get it.” That happened this morning in a very familiar passage from Luke 17. Listen:
Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in reply, “The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”
Did you hear it? Haven’t we been saying “The Kingdom God is within you?” That’s been my favorite quote for a long time and what I believe: that God has set up housekeeping in my heart! Hard to believe for some of us who feel unworthy of such a gift, but we have it on good authority – centuries of theological study and the witness of so many sainted people. Today I was happy to see that word among instead of within. It’s a little risky to say that because it could also allow me to say things like, “Well, yes: in you but not in me.” That’s not it at all! For me, “among” makes me know that God’s love is in all of us and that we are called to see it that way — in the mutuality that is totally inclusive. I would venture to say that Luke might be tempted to explain it as the kingdom of God being everywhere we are: within, between and among us as a flowing energy that is the life of God in this realm.
Can you, will you, see it that way?
I awoke this morning from a dream of snow. It was so real I had to get up and look out the window to find it truly a dream. Our first snow is predicted for later in this week but not yet…not quite yet. I love the symbol of snow as a new beginning. I have no idea where I first heard that but I keep it close as a wake-up call. This morning it was so vivid in my dream that I believe God is calling, and the readings certainly corroborate the feeling. Paul’s Letter to the Romans says that we have differing gifts and we ought to use them. (See ROM 12: 5-16) and Luke calls us to pay attention when God invites us to dinner. If we refuse by making excuses, our seats may be taken by others. (LK 14: 15-24). In order to hear God’s invitation, however, I find the humility of the psalmist the most vivid instruction, speaking to me in Lynn Bauman’s translation of Psalm 131. Please read it aloud.
Lord, I have little or nothing. I am no one and can bring nothing to you at all. I am only a simple human being; I understand little of earth’s great affairs. But I know this, that I must still my soul in quietness, and like a child who rests upon its mother’s breast, await your presence in the silence, listening, and in this waiting silence, remain awake forever. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 336)
There are some lovely lines in today’s lectionary readings, starting right at the beginning with the declaration that “the Lord is a God of justice who knows no favorites.” I smile at that one because it’s followed immediately with a caveat about the fact that even though God “is not unduly partial toward the weak,” or deaf to the cry of orphans and widows, yet God hears the cries of the oppressed. There’s also a bow to those who serve God willingly and the lowly whose prayer “pierces the clouds.” In the end, we have the assurance that “the Most High responds and judges justly; the Lord will not delay.” So the question remains. Is God or is God not partial in response to prayer and good works?
It seems clear to me that the Psalmist writes on behalf of the poor, the just and the brokenhearted. (PS 34) and that Paul’s testimony this morning (2 TM 4) is evidence of his good living. Then Luke adds to the examples of those who will be rewarded the story of the Pharisee and the publican (LK 18). What are we to conclude from all these examples? It sounds to me like favoritism.
I have to stop and consider everything I have read. Then I think of the God I trust. I go back to the beginning of my reflection about the fact that God shows no favoritism…and see the first part of that sentence: “God is a God of justice.” Can I assume that as the overarching theme of God’s existence – adding the quality of compassion into the mix of God’s treatment of humankind? If so, I think I find a reasonable answer. God can look at us all as cherished creatures, love us all equally and expect us to live as we were created to: in unifying love toward one another. If we respond positively to that invitation, we will be rewarded. If we do not, the justice of God will enter for correction, always with the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation.
How does that sound?
Today on this feast of St. Luke, I read in his account (LK 10:1-9) about the appointment “by the Lord Jesus,” of 72 disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.” “The harvest is abundant,” he said, “but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Then Luke relates the simple (but not easy) directions from Jesus for how they are to act: taking nothing for the journey but depending on the people they meet for their needs. “The Kingdom of God,” he says, “is at hand for you.”
I find it ironic that in my e-mail this morning I found the FutureChurch FOCUS newsletter on this – Day 9 – of the Amazon Synod which is replete with stories and pleas about the value that it would be to the Roman Catholic Church to allow women deacons and married clergy. In places where the numbers of ordained ministers for such sacred duties are very small or non-existent, we ought to open our “Church eyes” to the people who are functioning in those ministries “as if” — in recognition that, just as in the time of the Lord Jesus, the Kingdom of God is at hand for us!
P.S. Luke was the only one of the gospel writers — perhaps the closest associates in the ministry of Jesus — who was a Gentile. He wrote not only the gospel attributed to him but also the book we call the Acts of the Apostles. What would we have done without him?!
I was lucky this past week during the retreat I was leading at the Spiritual Center where I live that quick action and skill avoided a serious accident. Participants were out in pairs pruning trees and observing how mindfully they could be in working together. Suddenly, a large branch that had been wind-tossed during a storm came down and left a small piece of bark in the eye of one of the participants. It was quickly removed (to my great relief) by another “guardian angel” in the group and the pruning continued.
You can, perhaps, guess that today’s gospel was the famous text from Luke 6 where Jesus uses hyperbole to make his point. He asks, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?” He sounds frustrated, even calling that kind of offender a hypocrite. “You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye!”
Even a speck of dust in my eye can be painful. I notice any such invasion right away. I should take note of that when I begin to speak about the failings of others that seem so offensive, and practice reminding myself each time I am rubbing my eye to see clearly that focusing on the gifts of others would be a better way to avoid spiritual blindness of any kind.
Today’s gospel from Luke 5:1-11 recounts a rather unique way of finding followers for his ministry. The scene is familiar. Jesus is by the lake. Not walking as usual, however, he just gets into a boat belonging to the fisherman named Simon (Peter). The fishermen have already been out on the lake all night with nothing to show for their work and are washing their nets, ready to go home for the day – somewhat discouraged, I would guess. As if he is in charge of things at the lake, Jesus tells Simon to “put out into deep water and lower the nets for a catch.”
There could have been many responses to that directive. Simon could have said, “Are you crazy? Do you see what we’re doing here?” or “No way! We’re going home!” or any of a number of reactions to what seemed a ridiculous suggestion at that point. But Simon must have encountered Jesus before – or at least have heard of him – because he addressed him as “Master.” Then came the decision that changed Simon’s life. He stated the obvious but then acquiesced to a possibility that Jesus knew something that he, Simon, did not or simply that there was more in the command than a simple request. “Master,” Simon said,” we have worked all night and have caught nothing, BUT at your command I will lower the nets.”
Has God (or God’s envoy) ever asked you to do anything that seemed impossible? ridiculous? just nonsensical? Are you listening for that kind of challenge? Could it change your life? Just a thought…a call to be ready, just in case…