1 September, Luke 14:1-14
A banquet. A celebration. A good time for everyone! A table, filled to overflowing with food and drink. All the people who mattered would be there. An opportunity for networking, hobnobbing, social climbing. Just the kind of situation that you hope for, when you really want to get on in the world. Make sure you grab the best seats, the most strategic seats!
Not so, says Jesus. When you go to such a banquet, don’t expect to get back all sorts of benefits for yourself. Don’t sit in the best seats. Don’t go fixated on your own needs, your own wants, your own advancement. Instead, go to a banquet with your eyes firmly fixed on the needs of people who are not there. Remember those who never get invited to the table. Remember those who are always outside, uninvited, unwelcome, cast aside.
Remember them, and invite them in, and give them the places that you would earlier have given to the well-connected, the well-off, the wealthy and the powerful. Include the outsiders, enrich the poor, empower the weak, and share all you have. For that is the Gospel.
8 September, Luke 14:25-33
Carry the cross. Count the cost. Make your preparations. Divest your possessions. Clear words; compelling words; challenging words, indeed! We know these words, from the Gospels that tell of Jesus. Carry the cross. Count the cost. That’s what discipleship is, for us all.
Yet: how can we possibly live our lives in faithfulness to these commands? How realistic is it, to be always bent over double, bearing the weight of pressure and demand? Or to be alienated from those nearest to us, disconnected from family members we love?
Jesus speaks of hatred: you can’t be with him unless you hate your family members! How do you understand this disturbing instruction? Is it hyperbole, exaggeration to get an effect? Or is it a call to get our priorities straight, to give our primary allegiance to the one whom we follow by faith? Discipleship is always about being disturbed. This story certainly upends our familiar understandings.
15 September, Luke 15:1-10
Jesus tells two stories with the same point: Seek the lost. For that is the Gospel.
Now, that’s a standard catchcry in certain sections of the church. Seek the lost, to press them to convert. Seek the lost, so that they can gain their eternal salvation. But that’s not what the two stories actually say. They tell of people who go in search of the lost, not to convert them, to save them, to change them into something different. They tell of people who go I search of the lost in order to find them, just exactly as they are. Nothing about change; nothing about repentance; nothing about converting. Just, seek and look for and search—and find; and then rejoice, and celebrate, and resume life.
The coin stays the same, whilst it is lost and once it is found. The sheep remains the same, when it is wandering and once it is back with the fold. And remember—there is a third story about lost-and-found, told in this same chapter (the lost younger son, who returned home; and the lost older son, who stayed at home). In that story, also, each lost son is valued and celebrated simply for who they are. No requirement of change. Simply, you were lost; now you are found.
That’s the Gospel: seek, and find, and rejoice. No pressure. No expectation. Just open, welcoming, honest relating. Seek the lost. And rejoice.
22 September, Luke 16:1-13
Many of the stories that Jesus told are troubling. They niggle away at us. There are relatively few tales of comfort, many more stories of challenge and disturbance. This one is certainly one of them. The manager is labelled as dishonest. It looks like that, in our terms. But was he?
In ancient Semitic cultures, his actions were expected. Required, in fact. Looking out for your master—the one who gives you a job, the one who provides shelter for you—was expected. Brokering outcomes on behalf of the one who provided you with food and shelter was a cultural norm. He was being shrewd—not dishonest. He ensured that his master at least came out in the best way possible, given the circumstances. So the manager did what was expected in terms of his cultural context.
We read this, and squirm. It disturbs us. We value honesty, ethical behaviour, moral uprightness. The manager seems to behave in ways that are contrary to such expectations. We need to work at understanding this behaviour in a context quite different from our own cultural setting. And if that is so for this parable—how much more is it so, for other parts of scripture?
29 September, Luke 16:19-31
One way of understanding our Christian faith is that it is about rewards in heaven for the faithful and righteous. The flip side of this is the eternal judgement that is brought upon the unfaithful and unrighteous. This parable appears to substantiate that familiar way of understanding faith. You can probably name people who advocate for this understanding. A focus on the rewards of the afterlife and the promise of a place in heaven form part of the belief system of many people, both those who are “active” within the church as well as “lapsed” in the practice of their faith.
However: I see this parable in a different light. The punchline tag which Luke reports invites us to hear this, not as a vision of “what life will be like in the afterlife in heaven”, but rather as instruction as to how we are to live here on earth, in the here-and-now. Repentance in the present will mean that the poor man, Lazarus, will be treated entirely differently from the way that is described in verses 20-21. Faith doesn’t deliver us a guarantee from God about our eternal destiny. Faith invites us into costly, relational discipleship—including caring for those most vulnerable and in need.
Rev. Dr John Squires is currently undertaking an intentional interim ministry with Queanbeyan Uniting Church