According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, July 29, 2013

Luke 7: A Gospel of Reversals - "Who Are the Invited? And Who Are the Sinners?"

 
Photographed by Peter Ruprecht

Three words come to mind when giving a meal or a dinner to invited guests: "Honor. Hospitality. Hosting." And so we see these three very important words re-enacted by Simon Levi, a tax collector who invites his friends to meet Jesus who had called him into discipleship. Earlier, Jesus had healed a leper and a paralytic. Now we find Jesus calling a despised tax collector by the name of Simon Levi. And behind each passage of Luke's accounts we find the ever-present religious Pharisees lurking around the edges questioning Jesus' every move and motive.

As the saying goes, "If Jesus were running for public office He might've been more careful about the company He was keeping." But Jesus has a higher mission than one of popularity:
 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
 
- Luke 4.18-19 (as quoted from the prophet Isaiah)
 
In first century Jewish culture the needy weren't always clean or respectable. Especially the hated tax collectors of Rome who requisitioned impossible duties upon the burden of the public in order to meet Rome's ever increasing demands for empire and their own ever-expanding appetites for material wealth and political power.
 
Into this environment Jesus calls Simon Levi to leave his employer and to become His own disciple in a ministry of collecting and disbursing the Kingdom of Heaven's funds from Jesus' wealth and store.
 
Within Luke's account (written on behalf of the Apostle Peter) we find seven meals where Jesus was present: twice with Simon Levi, at the feeding of the 5000, a meal with the Pharisees (where we find Jesus immediately breaking protocol in heated debate), a wedding banquet with its corollary Kingdom call, at a last Passover Meal with His disciples, and a final evening meal with Cleopas and his wife Mary after their long walk along the dusty road of Emmaus:

Luke 5.27-32 - Jesus calls Simon Levi then invites his friends to a meal with Jesus:

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 7.36-52 - A Pharisee questions Jesus at Simon's meal about an uninvited woman who bathes his feet with her tears:

38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

Luke 9.10 - 17 - Jesus feed the 5000
 
Luke 11.37-52 - Jesus attends a meal with the Pharisees:
 
37 While Jesus[e] was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.


Luke 14.1-24 - "A Sabbath Healing" and "Inviting the Uninvited"
 
Luke 22.14-38 - Jesus' last Passover Meal with His disciples on the eve of His trial and crucifixion.
 
Luke 24.28-32 - Jesus has an evening meal with two of his disciples, Cleopas and his wife Mary (one of the women who had visited Jesus' tomb earlier that Resurrection morning), after their travels to their village of Emmaus:
 
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He [Jesus] acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 
 

My interest today is in the Luke 7 account where Simon Levi's Pharisee friends are appalled by the presence of an uninvited, unclean woman who repeatedly weeps upon Jesus' feet while washing and perfuming His feet with her hair. As the story unfolds we find a crowd that has gathered to a meal; a host we now know by the name of Simon Levi; a honored guest, Jesus, who has been invited by Levi to attend as the designee of distinction; an uninvited woman who enters off the unwashed streets (otherwise known as a woman of prostitution servicing the men of the area); and an ensuing disruption of the first order that immediately splits the gathered guests in two - between those who believe Jesus to be Israel's prophet sent by God to release their shackles from under the bondage of the Roman empire, and those still in doubt.
 
From the outset we find Simon Levi, ever the political aspirant, socially arranging to have his well-connected associates meet Jesus so that he might introduce this self-proclaimed prophet of Israel to them and begin bringing about the support money and the political connections that Jesus would need.... Or so he thought. But the one who was also calling himself Israel's Messiah (Savior) had a far more sublime message than the one Levi had contemplated. Believing only that Jesus had called himself into service (e.g. "discipleship") so that through his connections he might be able to help Jesus create the political momentum required for Israel's insurrection from Rome. But it was to an insurrection that he had not surmised... one that would have surprising consequences for both himself and his guests as he would soon find out.

Into the midst of this auspicious gathering a social disruption soon occurs where no one can withhold from heated comment. A disruption that causes the invited guests to vent their considerable feelings upon a social faux-pas that wasn't acceptable. And quickly taking the lead were the "honored ones" within the ranks of Levi's guests - those that spoke for the Jewish community - who should naturally speak out their alarm to Levi their host. So that at once the Pharisees present at the dinner party turn to Levi demanding that he remove a woman of ill-repute who had come into their midst unwelcomed and socially stained. Into which fray Jesus has been benignly thrown into as this same woman falls upon His feet and begins to weep and anoint his feet over and over, again and again. A woman who understands Jesus' truer identity and more radical insurrection to be directed at the very foundations of Jewish society itself. And ultimately to every man and woman's faith and heart.

Meanwhile, in gapped silence everyone awaits Jesus' auspicious response. But His response is totally unlike their pronounced expectations. Instead, Jesus continues to allow the unwanted woman her remarkable prostrations to the horror of both the crowd and their societal representatives, as they each begin doubting Jesus' prophetic ambitions He had earlier announced in Luke 4, and demonstrated by the healing of the sick at the onset of Luke 5. Jesus does exactly the opposite of what they were expecting.

Growing bolder, and more dogmatically angry, the Pharisees none-too-politely ask Levi the question everyone is by now asking, "That if Jesus is a prophet He would've known whom this woman is!" they demanded and hissed as-in-one-breath. And by one fell utterance from the councils of high Jewish society both the woman and Jesus are rejected along with all pretentious claims made by Levi, their dinner host, to the same. Jesus' mission comes into immediate and deep ruin, and with it, any pretensions to what the guests had earlier thought about Jesus' claim of Davidic kingship and rule by power and might.

Most poignantly we, the readers and hearers of Luke's story, now understand that the argument was not so simply about compassion or love, mercy or forgiveness. But about who was really in, and who was really out, according to the covenantal dictates of the invited teachers, rabbis, and priests at the dinner table. In one collective voice Jesus was out. Why? Because He failed to recognize the harlot in their midst as they had: "How could Jesus be Israel's prophet, much less their Messiah King!" And the differences become even more startling when realizing that even as Simon had not washed, nor kissed, nor anointed Jesus' feet, even so had this woman done so with her hair (yet another symbol of heavy shame in the perspective of Jewish culture as related to her sexual trade). And to stretch the dishonor out completely, Jesus is now dishonored along with the woman, even as Simon Levi's quickly diminishing hopes plunged to the ground before his honored guests.

But in a role of reversals we quickly see Jesus lifting up this woman of ill-repute and claiming before one-and-all that she is the truer host and honored guest at the dinner party by virtue of her actions and function. And with one sling of accusation directed towards His newest recruit, Simon, but directed towards all found in attendance, Jesus asks who really were the blind among them? Who really was the spiritually sick and leper of society? Who really was the one that has truly honored Him? Who really was the sinner in their midst? Who really were the symbols of shame in this story? And just as quickly Jesus forgives the woman's sin and tells her to go in peace. That she is welcomed and honored before the presence of God for her repentance and faith. And by these pronouncements Jesus deftly demonstrates both His prophetic status sent against the wickedness of Israel, His Messiahship as one come to forgive sins, and the quality of His wisdom as Israel's newly resurrected Davidic King.


At which point the story is left unfinished. We don't know if a riot immediately ensued; if Levi collapsed into his seat in dispirited conviction; if those remaining began to understand how horribly wrong they had gotten everything; if the Pharisees found themselves divided in their opinion over Jesus; or, even if the police were called to throw Jesus out of the city. But within the story itself we find it ended so that we - the readers and listeners - become those who are gathered around the banquet table asking the same questions and thinking the same thoughts as those present in the story. A story which calls us to ask who I really am? What might I have done in this same situation? How blinded might I have been if present at this dinner in my opinions about Jesus, myself, or to others considered disrespectable? And whether I would've responded even as the woman of the story did in repentance and faith - rather than as the guests did in anger and disruption, hatred and despise?

If whether we might allow our Father God to take the things that shame us and to turn them around for His own glory and our own shalom. For without a doubt we are the invited ones to God's table who asks us to fully participate in His sacrificial love.... Even as we are to embrace all whom we might consider "unclean" and "unwashed" that comes to this same insurrection table laden with redemption and hope. And at the last, we are the ones who are to enjoy God's banquet meal of love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, especially with all those around us who have also come to the Passover table of peace and rest, fellowship and refuge. To be wary of following Jesus for any other motives than His call to insurrection to this wicked world of ours. To reclaim it for God by giving up everything we have - even as Simon Levi had belatedly discovered when God stripped him of any last lingering vestiges of worldly hopes and dreams before his peers and honorees. And there discovering that he had it all most horribly wrong. That it wasn't he that could help Jesus, but Jesus who had come to help him, and to deliver him into a more worthy service than his present masters of mammon that he served.

Levi's call was a costly call. And so we will find even in our own lives. That God's Spirit will not rest until all has been undone in our wicked lives of wail and woe until we have come to the end of ourselves and understand it to be chattel worthy only of fire and ash. That in calling us to Himself God is redeeming our souls in every way that a man or woman may be saved. From ourselves and from our crooked worldly aspirations to a life of insurrection meant to restore God's lost Kingdom into this broken world of ours. Who will use all our talents and abilities to wreck this world system we live in if only by heaven's diamond-hardened tools of love and forgiveness. Out of which God Himself will bring about the salvation of all as only He can. Even so Lord Jesus quickly come... coming through us as your human instruments of truth and justice, beauty and judgment, hope and dreams, to be used as swords and battlements to your all-glorious name. Even so, now come. Amen.

R.E. Slater
July 29, 2013

sic, The Cost of Discipleship in Luke - Mars Hill