Sunday, October 20, 2019
“Increase our faith!” the disciples said. Something Jesus had said convinced them that it was imperative. “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:4). Is this even possible for a person to do?
DISCIPLES, CROWDS AND PHARISEES
Two of Jesus’ constants in Luke’s gospel are the disciples and the crowds. Punctuated throughout are the Pharisees who seem to be on the margins, criticizing Jesus for hanging out with the wrong people (Luke 15:1-2) and setting up false dichotomies between, for example, serving God or serving money (Luke 16:13). Whether it was true or whether it was an anecdotal observation of the Pharisees, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it” (Luke 16:16, NIV).
CHASMS AND MILLSTONES
The chasm that separated Lazarus in Paradise and the rich man in Hades (Luke 16:19-31, NIV) was obvious in real life between the religious elite and everyone else. They had become so ‘righteous’ that no one could realistically aspire to their level before God. The ‘sinners’ of the world gave up trying. That is, until John and Jesus started preaching the good news of repentance and the kingdom of God. Now they were storming the gates!
In the minds of the religious leaders, I would suppose, access to God was through the Law. These sinners and tax collectors break the Law daily. Therefore, Jesus–if He was truly a righteous Man–should know that He should be hanging out with them and not with the common ‘sinners’ and hated tax collectors (Luke 15:1-2, NIV). The stories of the lost lamb, the lost coin and the lost son drove home the point that God’s love and the Law are not mutually exclusive approaches to people; indeed, they complement each other!
The fact that this did not make sense to them was tragic, from Jesus’ perspective. This is obvious to the pleading father as he talks to the older brother (Luke 15:25-32, NIV). To the Pharisees, giving access to God to the uneducated and uninformed was compromising righteousness in favor of popularity. To them, Jesus is uncompromising: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:1-2, NIV).
FORGIVE REPEAT OFFENDERS
Opening the doors of the kingdom to everyone who repents means shedding our religious prejudices and seeing people from God’s perspective. When we become religiously righteous in our own eyes, we are in danger of holding others to impossible standards. So, to the disciples, Jesus says: “watch yourselves” (Luke 17:3).
“Jesus, Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns conveys Jesus’ message from Luke 17 beautifully.