Chapter 68: Ten Lessons about Life

The second book of Matthew’s Gospel is all about discipleship. Two of the three chapters are devoted to ten healing stories. Matthew sees healing and discipleship as two sides of the same coin.

The ten mighty deeds can be divided into three groups. Healing is brought to outcasts; a leper, a paralysed pagan and a Jewish woman. The second grouping has Jesus confronting evil; he calms the storms of conflict within communities, the powers of evil that dehumanise us are destroyed and the paralysing consequences of sin are vanquished. Finally Jesus addresses what causes us to reject truth; truth about our God, truth about ourselves. Two women are cured. The older, who is so cut off from society that she is a living dead person, the younger, a twelve year old on the brink of womanhood dies. Both are raised. Jesus cures the blindness and deafness that cut us off from “Truth”.

I suggest you read each healing story before reading the parts I will highlight.

A Leper (8:1 – 4)

Timidly the leper approaches Jesus asking for a cure. “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” How graciously Jesus’ replies, “I do choose.” As disciples, our response to those in need should be just as generous and enthusiastic. “Show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded.”   As an observant Jew, Jesus respects the Law’. Finally the man is told, “Go”. Do something about your situation. You have many gifts and talents, use them.

A pagan – the Centurion’s paralysed servant (8: 5-13)

This Roman officer is exceptional. An enemy of the Jews asks for a favour for his servant.   “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.” Once again Jesus replies generously. “I will come and cure him.” “Lord I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but speak only the word, and my servant will be healed.” He knows that Jesus will incur ritual uncleanness by entering his home. He respects Jesus and the Jewish customs and practices. Once more we are told to, “Go,” and do likewise.

Peter’s mother-in-law began to serve them. She is the first disciple to proclaim the Word. A woman!!! She probably played a leading role in Matthew’s Christian community. Everybody knew her – no need for names. Later, the two blind men who Jesus cured will react in the same way. “They went and spread the news about him throughout the district.” (9: 31)

“For the Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests.” (8: 19) Herod is the Fox and the birds of the air a derogatory reference to the Roman army of occupation. Jesus’ disciples should never aspire to Power.

21Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”       22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Put the kingdom first – hunger and thirst for goodness. (5: 6)

In the second group of healing stories Jesus dominates evil. “He rebuked the winds and the sea.” (8: 26) This is symbolic of conflict that destroys communities, our humanity and ultimately ourselves.

34Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw the healed man, they begged Jesus to leave their neighbourhood.” (8:28-34) This community valued pigs more than people. When we place money and possessions ahead of people we lose our very humanity.

The healing of the paralytic opens with people carrying the paralysed man. This simple kindness will bear much fruit. Sin, it was believed, had caused this paralysis and it is kindness that brings about the cure.

“5For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk?’ How difficult it is for us to forgive!

“6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He then said to the paralytic, “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” 7And he stood up and went to his home. 8When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.” “Authority to forgive”; Each one of us has the power to forgive. This is one of the most wonderful qualities we have received. When we forgive we are at our very best.

“Go, and learn what it means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” Jesus said during the meal celebrating the call of Matthew, a sinner and tax collector. He calls all to discipleship.

Our God is great. “The Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness, faithful and forgiving. (Ex 34: 6-7) Nothing and nobody should separate us from such a Good God. Spiritual death, blindness and deafness are defeated by Jesus.

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest,” Jesus exhorts us. (9: 37) God’s reply, “He summoned the twelve.”   (10: 1)

Chapter 67: Healing Stories / Mighty Deeds?

Walking across the school playground one morning I was greeted by a long lost friend. “I hear you are working miracles,” she said. What could she have meant?

The Gospels tell of Jesus performing many miracles.   John closes his Gospel with, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” Is this exaggeration, or is John trying to tell us something?

Instead of speaking of ‘miracles’ why not use, mighty deeds of power.

Mark tells us that Jesus received a cold reception when he went visiting Nazareth. He closes this unpleasant episode with, “So he was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.” (Mk 6: 5) This suggests that curing the sick was just one aspect of his healing ministry.

14 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve them. (Mt 8: 14 – 15) This healing was probably witnessed by Peter, his wife, other members of the family and of course the woman herself. This must have made a profound impact on all present. The story was told and re-told. Matthew, probably got the story second or third hand. His community did not experience this healing. All they had was a healing story.

Healing stories are a type of literature that the evangelists used to convey to their communities the teachings and values of Jesus. We must search out the message that Matthew wanted to convey and the lesson that story has for us.

God has a healing mission:

“I will heal their wounds and reveal an abundance of lasting peace. I will rebuild them as of old. I will cleanse them of all guilt ; all their offences I will forgive. Then Jerusalem shall be my joy, my praise, my glory, before all the nations of the earth, as they hear of all the good I will do among them. I will give her the benefits of peace. (Jer 33: 6-9)

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book; and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly shall ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Is 29: 18-19)

Jesus saw his healing mission in a similar light.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.” (Lk 4: 18)

Our healing mission is summed up:

“This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, lifting every burden, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58: 6-8)

According to Isaiah healing is a two way process.   Both the ‘sick’ and the ‘healer’ experience change in their lives.

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed. Your saving goodness will be recognized, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (Is 58: 8)

The feeding of the crowds appears six times in the Gospels, twice in Mark, twice in Matthew, once in Luke and once in John. This event must have been deeply significant for the early Christians. Mark, after the first feeding story tells us that, “They had not understood the incident of the loaves (Mk 6: 52) After the second feeding the disciples are in a boat and Jesus addresses them.

“Do you not understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? (Mk 8: 17) The disciples had witnessed the feeding. Mark is telling us that there is a deeper meaning to the feeding than handing out sandwiches.

He gives us one possible insight.   Immediately after arriving at Gennesaret the local people “scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was, and as many as he touched were healed.” (Mk 6: 55-56) This is true religion. The meaning of the feeding is summed up by James; “Religion that is pure and undefiled is this; to care for orphans and widows in their affliction.” (Jm 1: 27)

When we share with the hungry we exercise our healing ministry. (Is 58: 7) Matthew encourages us to share, care, heal, change people’s lives. Always let, “Your light shine before others.” (Mt 5: 16)

Chapter 66: Matthew Presents the New Moses

This year the Gospel texts for Sundays of Ordinary Time are taken from Matthew. We give the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, a variety of names: The Pentateuch, the Books of the Law or the Five Books of Moses. At one time it was suggested that Moses actually wrote them. We now realise that he did not.

In his Gospel, Matthew sets out to portray Jesus as the New Moses. He models his Gospel on these Five Books and tells the story of Jesus’ deeds and teaching in five books. Each book ends with, “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Go to these texts. 7: 29; 11: 1; 13: 53; 19: 1; 26; 1.

Let us look at how Matthew portrays Jesus, drawing parallels from the Old Testament. The wicked king of Egypt ordered the midwives, who helped the Hebrew women to give birth, to kill all the male babies. (Ex 2: 15) According to Matthew something similar happened at the time Jesus was born. When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, they foolishly asked Herod, the ruling King, “Where is the new born king of the Jews?” Most kings do not take kindly to being told that a rival has come on the scene. Neither did Herod. He ordered all the little boys in Bethlehem to be killed. As things turned out both Moses and Jesus were saved; Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, and Jesus by Joseph taking him and his mother to Egypt. Matthew further strengthens his argument by telling us, “He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.” (2: 15 and Hos 11: 1)

This is not the first time the evangelist quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to emphasise that Jesus is fulfilling what the prophets had said. It will not be the last time that he uses this technique. As you go through the Gospel you will find more instances where he quotes from the Old Testament.

Moses journeyed with the Hebrew people from Egypt and Matthew has Joseph being instructed, “Rise, and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” If Matthew wanted to portray Jesus as the New Moses then he had to have him following the same route into Israel.

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so it turned into dry land. The Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.” (Ex 14: 21 -22) Picture the Israelites climbing the beach on the other side.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry he also passes through the waters of John’s baptism. “After Jesus was baptised, he came up out of the water and behold the heavens opened, and a voice came from the heavens saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (3: 16-17) When God instructs Moses on the message he is to deliver to Pharaoh he says, “So you shall say to Pharaoh: Thus says the Lord, Israel is my son, my first-born. Hence I tell you: let my son go.” By alluding to this text Matthew leaves us in no doubt as to the identity of Jesus and his relationship with God. (Ex 4: 22)

Possibly one of the most significant parallels is when Moses brought ten plagues down on Egypt. On the contrary, Jesus, the New Moses, brings ten healings to the community; he cleanses the leper, cures the centurion’s servant, heals many people, calms the storm, frees the Gadarene demoniac, cures the paralytic, raises the daughter of the synagogue official from the dead, restores the haemorrhaging woman, gives sight to two blind men and gives hearing and speech to the dumb man. (Mt 8 & 9)

Chapter 62: Lazarus

Lk 16: 19 – 31

Note: Last month I briefly introduced the Parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus.’ We will now look deeper into this story. I suggest that you read this text once more.

St Basil   (died 379 AD)writes: “Aren’t you behaving like a thief when you consider yours, the riches of this world, while these riches have been entrusted to you for stewardship.”

Our World

19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

One man sporting the most expensive clothing and the other clothed in nothing, but sores. Only metres apart, one feasting sumptuously and the other longing for the bread the guests used to clean their fingers. Both were fully aware of the other’s existence and all that separated them was a gate. This describes South Africa and is repeated the world over.

In truth the tragedy of the story is that Lazarus is invisible. He has been erased from the rich man’s mind – deleted in the way that people of privilege delete the homeless from their personal landscapes.

At the centre of this totally unfair situation lies the fundamental belief that that we are owners of wealth rather than stewards. We should manage our wealth for the benefit of ourselves and others. “You shall love yourself, your neighbour and your God.”

22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. One was buried. Nobody bothered to bury Lazarus. He is regarded as less than human.

The arrogance of the Rich Man continues even in death. He orders Abraham and Lazarus to comfort him. “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”

26Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.

This is not a new development. Our story opened with a description of this chasm. Now, it is just that much bigger. If we do nothing, nothing will change.

“Your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed. If you remove oppression from among you, if you offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness. (Is 58: 8 – 10)

The Rich Man pleads, “I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house – to us the members of the kingdom – that he may warn them.” The chasm is not just between two people, it includes all humanity, my father’s house, the Kingdom of God.

Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets; the Scriptures, they should listen to them.”

He ponders, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets…. They will never be convinced?” Sounds ominous! I do not think so.

‘Lazarus’ means, God helps. God will help us to change. Start with a cup of cold water. (Mt 10: 42)

I will let St Basil have the last word. When someone steals another person’s clothes we call him thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the person who is hungry. The coat hanging, unused, in your wardrobe belongs to the person who needs it. The shoes rotting in your cupboard belong to the person who has no shoes. The money which you are hoarding belongs to the poor.

Chapter 61: Banquet of Life – Part 2

(Fifth and Sixth Banquets – Lk 14: 1 – 24; 16: 19 – 31)

Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. (11: 43)

Jesus must have shaken his head in disbelief when he saw the guests scrambling for the places of honour at the table. (14: 7) How slow we are to learn the secret for living life to the full. Surely life is all about being of service to others. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (14: 11) We need to be grateful that all have been invited to the banquet.

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!.’” (14: 15)

Jesus has told us: “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6: 51)   Everything that Jesus does, teaches and values, make up the banquet, to which we are all invited.

“Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.’” (14: 17) Three times the call is repeated but they all began to make excuses.

‘I bought land, unseen, and now I want to see it. I cannot come.

I bought and paid for five yoke of oxen! I am off to test them.

My wife does not want me to go. I cannot come.’  This is what happens when our light goes out. This is what happens when we cannot be bothered to go to the Banquet of the Word of God.

“Woe to you lawyers, because you took away the key of knowledge: you yourselves did not enter, and you managed to thwart those who were trying to enter.” (11: 52)

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”   (Jn 8: 12) “Now, in the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5: 16)

“Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in.” (14: 21b) We, too, are told to, “Go, tell John (others) what you have seen and heard; the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (7: 22)

Luke’s chain of banquets is brought to a close with his sixth banquet.:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table. (16: 19 – 21)

Recall the six banquets and ask yourself if the climax is true? “Between you and us (the rich and the poor; those with power and those without; those with knowledge and those without) a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” (16: 26)

Cross the chasm and you will live.

Chapter 59: Never Again?

(The fourth banquet in Luke)

Luke 11: 37 – 42

(This is a transcript of the conversation I, Joseph, a Pharisee, had with my Lawyer friend, Abel. The year was 31 AD, the place somewhere in Israel.)

37 While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table.

“It is two weeks since the unforgettable or forgettable dinner party, I gave.. Among my guests were fellow Pharisees, Lawyers and Jesus!”

39You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.

“Is what I hear about the dinner party you gave, true,” asked Abel?

“Much worse,” I replied! “I have never been so embarrassed in all my life. He had the cheek to compare us to a pot, shiny bright on the outside with the inside full of old scraps of rotting food. Was labelling us ‘street angels and house devils’? There was no need for him to tell us to practice what we preach.”

42 You tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God;

“I am told that he attacked our concern for tithing everything,” Abel commented.

“Not really. He quite approved of our emphasis on tithing. Bluntly, he told us that we had forgotten about the two greatest commandments, ‘You have been told, O man, what the Lord requires of you: act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.’ (Mic 6: 8) Speaking for myself I have to admit that there is room for improvement but why did he have to remind me in public and in my own home.”

Abel’s reply was to the point. “It is the ‘walk humbly’ that I take exception to!”

43You love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.

“Surely this is our due. You know, as well as I do, that we are a cut above the rest of society. Our concern for the smallest part of the Law places us apart and above everyone else,” responded Abel.

“Talking about places in the synagogue reminds me that I must chat to the chairman of the Synagogue Council about the re-whitewashing of our graves. You have no idea of the trouble Isaac got into. By mistake he trod on an unmarked grave. When he told the Rabbi he was promptly pronounced ritually unclean. It took ages to have his unclean status revoked. That brings me to what really cut me to the core.”

44 You are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it..  

“I really resent being told that people who come in contact with us become impure. It is unbelievable that Jesus should have such a low opinion of us.”

Abel went on, “I am told that we Lawyers caught the rough end of the stick, as well.”

“Yes, indeed,” I replied, thankful that we were now talking about the Lawyers. “He really thinks you people go over the top with your inventing sins and making up more and more rules that people have to keep. Jesus thinks that even you lawyers do not keep your own rules.”

46 Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.

Full of indignation Abel responded. “I take the strongest exception to that!”

“Calm down,” I said, “there is worse to come.”

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.

“Abel, I am not saying he is right, but you know it is our sacred duty to bring the Word of God to our people. We have to teach them that ours’ is a wonderful God. In the book of Micah we read:

‘Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sins; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins. You will show faithfulness to Jacob.’ (MIc 7: 18 – 20)

I just wish that my guests could have stopped for a moment to think about what was said and not react so extremely.”

53 When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

“I hope Jesus invites me to dinner some day.”

Chapter 58: Two Faces of Service

(The third banquet in Luke)

Luke 10: 38 – 42

This intimate dinner party is placed immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember that the Priest, the Levite, the wounded man, and the Samaritan were all on their way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Presumably all had been to the temple to pray and offer service to God. For their devotion they are worthy of our admiration. However it is only the Samaritan who pours wine and oil on the wounds of the victim. This symbolic action of offering sacrifice gives full meaning to Jesus’ call, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Mt 9: 13)

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks;

so she came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.

Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke continues to call us to us to a deeper and more meaningful spirituality. Mary welcomes Jesus, the Word, into her home and heart. She has already heard the Word of God. It is Mary’s turn, perhaps for the first time, to listen to God’s Word. “The Word of God is the first source of all Christian Spirituality. It gives rise to a personal relationship with the living God, and with his saving and sanctifying will.”   (John Paul ll, 25 March 1996)

Here is a diagram of illustrating what this text tells us about the centrality of the Word in our spiritual lives.

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 10.52.35 AM

Love is vitally important. It matters little where you start or finish. In line with John Paul’s teaching, the Word of God is essential. Is it?

“It is especially necessary that listening to the Word of God should become a life-giving encounter.. Which draws from the biblical text the living Word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.” (Starting Afresh from Christ 2002 (24))

“Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” This echoes the parable of the seed. “As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches an pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit.” (Lk 8: 14)

The occasion of this dinner party was Mary’s chance to listen to the Word. Martha should have accepted Mary where she was in her spiritual life, giving her space and time. When our service becomes heavy, a burden and lonely then the fruits turn sour.

“There is need for only one thing only”, “Bear fruit, bear more fruit, bear much fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15)

Why did the guest come to dinner? “He wants the assurance that people think it worthwhile to take time to listen to what he has to say. Before his disciples are doers of the Word, they are hearers of the Word. For if the Word of God is unheard in the disciples’ lives then it will be unspoken in their lives as well.

Chapter 57: Would You Invite Jesus to Dinner

(Two banquets in Luke)

Luke frequently uses the setting of “a dinner party” for Jesus teaching. Please read the stories in your Bible before continuing with this article.

Lk 5: 27 – 32

The host was a tax collector and his guests were sinners and others. “The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered, ‘I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’

Tax collectors and sinners; how uncomfortable would you have felt in such company? Would you have accepted this invitation?   Was it really necessary for Jesus to bring up the topic of repentance? Repentance is for sinners not the ‘pillars of the church.’ None of us like to be reminded that repentance means that we must change our way of thinking and acting.

Lk 7: 36 – 50

36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

“Scandalous!” thought Simon. After the parable about a great debtor, who is forgiven, he concedes that such a person will love much.

“Simon, do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Simon the Pharisee could never have predicted the outcome of his invitation to Jesus. How embarrassing the behaviour of Jesus and the woman sinner! We are not told why she was labelled a sinner. Perhaps as a woman she was far too outspoken for the Pharisees and local authorities. Simon cannot see Jesus as a prophet. “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him.” He is probably still recovering from the way Jesus compared him to the woman. “You gave me no water for my feet; you gave me no kiss; you did not anoint my head with oil; but she…”

Who had the greater debt forgiven, Simon or the woman?

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Perhaps this could be better expressed as, “Your humanity, your kindness to me and others, your courage in speaking the truth has brought you and others healing.”

Food for thought, Simon!

Chapter 61: Banquet of Life – Part 1

(Fifth Banquet Lk 14: 1 – 24)

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go. (Is 48: 17) “I call heaven and earth today to witness .. I have set before you life and death .. Choose life.” (Deut 30: 19)

Luke takes up this theme in the verses leading up to his “Banquet of Life.” “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” (12: 49) “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (12: 57) Look at who is teaching you. “Bear fruit – Set others free” (13: 9, 16) The kingdom of heaven is like “A mustard seed, the word, planted in the garden of our hearts.” (13: 19) We become the large bush where all are welcome. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed with three measures of wheat, us. The whole batch, us, is leavened.”   Each time we choose life we come to resemble our God just a little more.

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man (humanity) who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

The host at this banquet is a Leader of the Pharisees. Perhaps he is a member of the Sanhedran. Tensions are running at an all-time high. It is the Sabbath and there is a man with Oedema (excess water gathers in body tissues causing swelling and pain). In those days it was associated with venereal disease. Will Jesus heal this outcast sinner? Eight chapters earlier the Pharisees pulled the same stunt, planting the man with the withered hand. Once again Jesus takes up the challenge by healing on the Sabbath. “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?”

In this passage we find God, who gave us the gift of the Sabbath, present. This is a caring God, concerned for wounded humanity, the children and even the animals.

For us: Are we going to choose life or death, silently rejecting our God’s invitation to change. How skewed are our values?

46 And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. (11: 46)

Chapter 56: The Divine Story

Mark introduces us to the adult Jesus on the banks of the River Jordan. Later we will meet Jesus, the Suffering Son of Man. Matthew portrays Jesus as the New Moses and Luke as Son of David and Son of God. John opens his gospel, telling us about Jesus existing outside of time and place, always existing in the cosmos. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”   He takes this extraordinary understanding even further: “The Word was God.” (Jn 1; 1 – 2) Pause for a moment and try to take this in. How does this transform your understanding of Jesus?

The Word is God’s gift to us. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” This gives a totally new meaning to Genesis 1: 1 – 4

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the waters. God said: ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that the light was good.”

Now, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1: 5) Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever, follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8: 12)

John, the Witness, enters, bringing us down to earth. He testifies to the light .. so that all might believe through him.” We learn that, the true light, is Jesus come into the world to enlighten everyone.   (1: 6 – 9) We also hear the voice of Simeon in the distance, “Now, Master, my eyes have seen your salvation, a light to the Gentiles and the glory for your people Israel.” Jesus is our light and our life. (Lk 2: 29 – 32)

Jesus experienced rejection during his life. He taught, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (6: 54) We are called to accept Jesus, his teachings, every aspect of him, totally. The response was, “This is a hard saying; who can accept it?” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life.” (6: 54; 60; 66) The evangelist warns us of what is to come. “He came to his own, and his own people did not accept him. (1: 11)

The prologue reaches its climax.

“All who receive him, who believe in his name will become the children of God.” (1: 12)

We opened with the Godhead, outside of time and place. Now:

“ The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” (1: 14) Why? “So that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through this belief you may have life in his name.” (20: 31)