discipleship, faith, father, grace, Jesus, kingdom, mercy, our hearts, Pharisee, prayer, pride

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, #24

Luke 18:9-14

e”He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’”

13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me,[c] a sinner!’ , 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He despised others. As a Pharisee he prided himself as a holy person; he stood before God and congratulated himself. I believe that self-righteousness has many levels. You can be blatant and obvious about it, or it can be subtle and hidden. But we must understand that the father sees and knows. Notice the “all” here in Isaiah 64:6:

“We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind.”

Hmm. A menstrual rag? You got to be kidding!

We often advance ourselves by demeaning those who struggle hard with their sin–there are those who see and somehow know that they’re superior. We don’t come out and say so; but we’ve arrived— but guess what— God (and scripture) know better than this.

But we’re not dealing here with a hidden self-righteousness. The Pharisee truly believes that he is different from the tax-collector. He stands and doesn’t kneel. He feels comfortable and confident in the holy presence of God Almighty. He’s not like the others. He is sure that he’s holy.

The tax-collector was brutally honest about himself.

He didn’t need anyone to tell him how sinful he was—he understood his own wickedness. Jesus’ story reveals God’s love for those who know that they’re twisted inside. Notice the heart of the tax-collector:

  • “He stood afar off” which showed his awareness of his separation from God.
  • “He wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven,” which declared his humility in the presence of God.
  • He kept “striking his chest,” which tells us of a deep pain over his sin against God.
  • He prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ This describes his desperate heart.

These both came to pray, but that is all they had in common.

The Pharisee came to the temple to show off his righteousness, the tax-collector out of a terrible despair. It strikes me that the text in verse 11 says the Pharisee “began praying to himself.” It seems that his prayer never really met God—he was proud and showy, doing the things God hates (Prov. 29:23).

Things really came to ahead in verse 14. That’s the critical point of the entire story—“one went down to his house justified rather than the other.” Wow! What a statement. One professionally religious man, sure of his holiness, the other a sinful sinner, who came humble and broken. One showed off his faith—boasting with a legalistic swagger. The other desperate and desolate, completely undone.

But it was the tax-man who became righteous in the eyes of God.

Humility is the foundation of the kingdom of Jesus. In Matthew 5:3-4 makes a lot of sense—to be “poor in spirit” and to “mourn” are the bedrock of a Christian’s discipleship. To be justified (made right) was a gift. He didn’t try to earn it, and there wasn’t a probationary period. The tax-collector now became righteous; the Pharisee carried his sin.

God wants us to have a broken-heart. He rejects everything else. I suppose that the question is this: Do you mourn over your sin?

“The Lord is near the brokenhearted;
he saves those crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18

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The Story of the Unmerciful Servant, #23

Matthew 18:22-34

23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. 25 Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

28 “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’”  

“And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed.”

God is generous. All that he does is grace. It’s also grace when we really meet another. He loves us, and we need to siphon that love to everyone we meet. When we come before the Lord, we don’t get the justice we deserve. He has forgiven us—the ten thousand ones.

God is generous. We owe him an outrageous kind of debt. Commentators list the modern value of 10,000 talents would be $1 billion USD. Granted this is figurative, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. Grace is God’s extravagant for scandalous sinners.

That is an insane amount of money. To settle our debt would far, far more than we can repay; but isn’t that the point. God’s grace on us, is a precious thing.

When he gets off his knees, we realize that he really hasn’t changed by grace. He’s teflon, and the mercy the father gave him isn’t really understood. His heart hasn’t really grasped his lesson in forgiveness. God forgave, the servant didn’t understand. His treatment of another proclaims this.

The story is all about grace and the law.

The $10,000 guy meets the $100 talent guy and we see our own inability to forgive. We shake down our brother and sister for just small things. Notice verse 28, the text tells us that he actually assualted him, “he started to choke him.” How bizarre and how disturbing. And yet, God sees, and responds.

Was the $10,000 guy really forgiven? Did he understand the spiritual transaction of what just happened? I don’t think so—and it scares me.

The other servants have seen the issue.

The key word is “distressed,” or lypeō in Greek, the word means “to throw into sorrow, to grieve or offend., to make heavy.” All that the forgiven servant did, was recognizable by others, and they reported what they saw to the master.

He’s called “wicked” in verse 32. What he did was awful, and again he’s brought in. Because of his mistreatment of the other who owed, he was now thrown into prison, owing a billion bucks. He gets what he now deserves. He gets justice instead of mercy.

“But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.”

Matthew 6:15

I’m pretty sure that God isn’t hammering us over our unforgiveness of others. I suspect it’s our sin that does that. When we consider our sin, how can we understand others who sin against us? We have been forgiven much (very much!) how can we not forgive others for sinning against us?

Many people ruin their health and their lives by taking the poison of bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness. Matthew 18:23-35 tells us that if we do not forgive people, we get turned over to the torturers.

    Joyce Meyer

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The Vineyard Workers, #19

Matthew 20:1-16, CSB

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius, he sent them into his vineyard for the day. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and about three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go into my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.’

13 “He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? 14 Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The market place in a first century Jewish community was also the hiring office. Land owners who need laborers would come there early in the morning to get day laborers. If you needed a job that’s where you went. Typically, you brought the tools, and waited until you were hired for the day’s work. The standard pay was a denarius a day.

Agriculture was always an irregular business. There were times when no workers were necessary, and then there were times (harvest) when you couldn’t have enough. Grapes were the biggest crop, and vineyards needed to be cultivated, but that took only a few; and probably more skilled men.

The weather was always an issue, harvest time and the rainy season happened pretty much at the same time. The trick was to get the harvest in as soon as possible. It was always a race against time, rains could come at any moment, and if they came too early, the entire crop would be lost. That’s why even a worker who only worked just an hour was welcomed.

The work day was divided up into four 3 hour increments: 6–9–12–3–6.

After the 6 am group was hired, the landowner made four other visits to the market place. Laborers were needed in the worst way—he would take anyone, even if only for an hour. Things were critical, and every worker made the difference. With each group, he told them that their wages would be appropriate. This was his agreement with them. “I’ll give you whatever is right.’”

When the day was done, a table was set up; the day laborers stood in line, the men who were hired last went first. They received a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work! The one-hour guys couldn’t believe it. This was generosity in the extreme. They were elated.

Word quickly spread down the line. The men who worked the hardest—(they were the dirtiest and sweatiest), just knew that they were going to get even more than they ever expected. They were already figuring out in their heads their adjusted wages were going to be. “If the landowner was forking out a full days wage for just one hour’s work, we’re going to get far more.”

Surprise!

It’s not going to happen. Everyone down the line gets one denarius. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked, or how long or how many blisters you got. Everyone gets the same! That dear one, didn’t seem right or fair. The Greek word used here is γογγύζω, we translate it as “grumble, muttering or angry whispering. To be extremely discontent.” They were offended. Plain and simple.

The guys who worked all day complained. It wasn’t right. They confronted their employer, “how could you do this to us?” They were angry. What the landowner did, in their minds, was wrong—how could he “reward” those who barely broke a sweat. “You made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.”

Verse 16 smashes our conceptions of law and grace.

The law tells us that we get what we deserve. That seems logical; everyone receives what is reasonable. We like the logic of it. But grace doesn’t work that way. Law is man’s perspective; grace is God’s. We don’t understand it, it doesn’t compute. We “get” the law, it’s an automatic; it makes sense to us—grace on the other hand is foolish. “Who in the world gives out salvation to those nasty, evil people?”

God deals with us according to who He is, not according to who we are.

The landowner isn’t unfair to anyone—true, he’s more generous to some, but he’s not wrong or unreasonable to anyone. We read this in verse 13. He has been completely appropriate. He paid what he said he would. Grace is totally foreign to us, we find it offensive. We can’t understand it—we come to God complaining about the grace he lavishes on junkies and homosexuals.

I shudder to think that I’ve accused him of being too merciful, too gracious to some others. The reality is that we deserve nothing. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would be here, we’d all be damned to hell. But he is good to all of us. And really, in the final analysis, what does it matter if we’re the first or the last? I should be thrilled that someone else is blessed by a grace that they never deserved.

I get it mixed up sometimes, and I don’t really understand it.

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The Older Brother, #10d

Luke 15:25-32, (part four of four)

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “”Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’”

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’””

Things get interesting here. The older brother can’t understand grace, love or real joy. They’re foreign concepts to him. The father and the younger son are partying, and he can’t make the connection from dot-to-dot. All that’s happening is really difficult. His religious diligence won’t let allow him to join in this raucous celebration. People are swinging on the chandeliers, and it really irritates him.

God’s grace is the most radical thing in the universe.

It must be experienced before it can really be explained. Things don’t compute for the elder son. He’s angry, and he feels like he needs to express his “righteous” indignation to his father. He has been holding it for so long that it finally erupts. Ultimately, it can’t, or won’t be contained.

On a religious basis, the older brother’s issues might be commendable to some readers. He works hard in the fields of his father. He’s unlike his flighty brother, and yes, he makes a point of that. There’s a certain logic here. But honestly, logic isn’t a part of the kingdom of God. It never was. It isn’t.

Anger and resentment drives this part of the parable.

You must understand anger in order to understand. Resenting others often comes when grace is absent. The basis of religion is always comparison. We can theorize grace, but we can’t or won’t receive it for ourselves. And to be painfully honest, we’ll never see it in others–even if we “profess” it. We might turn it into systematic theology, but it remains theoretical.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are, and does not leave us where it found us.”

Anne Lamott

Anger and resentment are the quiet killers of the spiritual life. We never get what we think we’ve earned by working in the fields. He didn’t understand what the fuss is all about when his younger brother came home. He didn’t understand grace, and the absolute joy that is a vital part of it.

Anger has made the older brother foolish.

That concept alone should alert us of trouble in our own hearts. To be “un-graceful” will take over our hearts and cause us to distort the Kingdom into something very ugly. When will we see this?

The father calls the older brother “son.” He also communicates his love and acceptance. But the father also shares his new-found joy over the prodigal’s return, (verse 32, Amplified). That particular vision communicates on a level that it violates the “rules” of being a good Christian.

This last part of this story very quickly shifts from religious anger to an unreal grace. I often ask myself, am I fully understanding God’s grace, do I see the Father’s joy?

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A Father Who is Running, #10c

The Father Runs

Luke 15:20-24, (part three of four)

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.”

“Cursed is the man that feeds the swine.” That’s the commentary on Jewish ritual cleanness. The prodigal knew this, but when you’re starving, tradition is thrown out the window. It’s really hard to be spiritually correct when your stomach is growling. In verse 17, we see that the prodigal suddenly realized his condition. Notice the change:

It took sometime for this to happen. But it was a true and a complete repentance. A total alteration of his mind and heart took place at that point. And I must assume, when he finally made the decision to return, he didn’t even say ‘good bye’ to the pigs.

It’s the Father’s reaction that fascinates me.

How does God see us? Is he angry or frustrated? And yes I suppose, there is ample reason for him to treat us with caution. Deep down, we know exactly how dark we are, and on a superficial level we realize our dirt doesn’t belong in heaven. And yet the father is in a party frame of mind. That isn’t rational.

And there were no tests given to evaluate the son’s sincerity. Did he really repent, or was it all for show? The text tell us that he was hungry, maybe he just wanted a hand-out? Did he meet the criteria needed for reinstatement? It amazes me, there wasn’t a 30 day waiting period to determine whether the prodigal had truly repented. No, the party started when the father hugged his son.

Do you see the “suddenness” of this part of the story?

At least for me, the pace quickens, and I imagine the whole household jumped up to get in the act. Verse 10 explains the joy that reverberates through heaven at this, Just so, I tell you, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy seems to be the key thought to really “get” these verses. If we can’t see it saturate (like a sponge) we’ll never understand this parable. Its not hard if you can read it with excitement and anticipation. If you decide to do so, it’ll make a lot of sense, and it’ll be less mysterious.

This story is as much about the father as it’s about the son.

In it we see the character of the Father revealed. We see his joy, and excitement over his son’s return. Right from the start we see him running, (v. 20) moving to his son. I can see a weeping father giving his son a big bear hug and lots of kisses. He has hoped and dreamed about this moment.

Golly, there is so much to be said: there’s rings and shoes and roasted calves. But I think that the tremendous lesson is the joy of the father. It tells me much about what he’s like–and he’s not at all what I thought he’d be.

He’s the Father who is always moving, and he runs to meet us. He’s the One who is filled with joy at our return. And honestly, aren’t we always returning?

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