Forgiveness. We’ve all been there and have wrestled with this single task. Except, it isn’t a single task is it? Forgiveness happens over and over and over again. Forgiveness can be a hard concept to grasp. It is human nature to want to fall into our sinful desire to repay evil with evil, turn a blind eye to those who hurt us, or to decide that one is simply not deserving of our forgiveness. Luke 17:4 states, “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.” I find the next verse to be so interesting as the apostles reply back to Jesus as he’s teaching and call out, “Increase our faith!” How easy is it to feel like we do not have the kind of faith that is capable of believing in the teachings we’ve learned, to feel like we simply can’t trust God in every circumstance, or that we don’t have the strength to obey God’s commandments? We are not perfect by any means, but we are able to serve the Lord and fulfill our duty even with the smallest amount of faith.
In this chapter we are encouraged to do many things: to teach little ones, not causing them to stumble or cause a hindrance to their faith, to forgive anytime you can, and to serve with all that you have so that when you return to your master you can tell them that your duty has been fulfilled. Can you imagine the great and mighty things that can be done if we take our faith, no matter how small it may be, and place it into an all powerful, all knowing God? We as humans are not strong enough to bear the stumbling blocks of this world alone. May we rely on the strength that comes from God to overcome such things to live a life that is pleasing according to God’s perfect will.
“Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
– Kayla Elwell
Is there currently somebody you need to forgive? Do you feel like you need an increase in faith to do what Jesus has told you to do? What would Jesus say? (Check Luke 17.)
As today is Christmas Eve, consider the faith of those in Luke 1 & 2. Whose faith is an example for you to follow? Whose faith fell short for a time?
I love the parables of Jesus. But I’ve got to admit, this one about the shrewd manager threw me for a loop. Take a minute to read it.
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” (v.8)
Is Jesus commending this shrewd manager for cheating his master out of his money by canceling debt without his master’s permission? Can that possibly be true? The rich master found out that his money manager was misusing his money, so he fired him. The manager did not want to be homeless and live on the street begging, so he granted favors to the master’s debtors before his exit from his employment. The purpose of his deceit was to guarantee that he would have some “friends” from whom he could ask for future favors. Give so that you get. Sounds shrewd, right? Sounds like the master and Jesus seems to think so.
But, is his behavior ethical? His former boss commends his shrewdness, and it looks like Jesus is using him as an example that we should follow. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at this parable.
First, do not be confused about who the rich master is. In other parables, a master is considered to be God, but in this one, that is not true. God would not be commending us for being dishonest and a thief. So, what is the point? What is Jesus teaching?
“For the people of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (v8) Jesus is comparing us, the people of the light, with people of this world. People of the world look out for themselves, and people of the light are not doing this. So, how do we as people of the light look out for ourselves without being dishonest? It actually is simple, but we often find it very difficult.
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. (The shrewd manager’s game plan). But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14). (This should be our game plan!) Throughout His ministry Jesus told us to give to the needy, love your enemies, and do good without expecting anything in return. As a result, your reward will be great, and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
By doing these things, we are being shrewd by laying up treasures in heaven. We are taking care of ourselves by taking care of others. However, our focus is not on this present world, like the shrewd manager, but on our future at the resurrection of the righteous. This requires us to walk in faith, believing that God will indeed remember that we have been seeking “first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
Jesus shares another parable in this chapter, The Rich Man and Lazarus. So how are these two parables connected? The Rich Man was not just rich, but very rich. He had the finest clothes and he ate huge meals each day. Just outside his gate lay Lazarus. It is not that the Rich Man did not know that Lazarus was there, literally begging for some scraps off the Rich Man’s plate. Nevertheless, the Rich Man ignored the cries of Lazarus. Then the expected happened. Both men die. Because the Rich Man claimed Abraham as his father, he expected a great reward when he died. Instead, he experienced great pain and torment. And there in the midst of his pain and agony he saw Lazarus enjoying the peaceful and happy company of Abraham. So, the Rich Man cried out to Abraham to have Lazarus come to him, dip his finger in water, and cool his burning tongue. How ironic! This same Rich Man refused to give Lazarus scraps off his overflowing table. The Rich Man wanted grace and mercy, without giving grace and mercy. The big takeaway is that the Rich Man was not shrewd enough to lay up for himself treasures in heaven. What do you think?
Questions for reflection:
What is the difference between “give so that you get” and “give and you will get”?
What is the difference between being repaid and being blessed?
What is your motive for giving? Is storing up for yourself treasures in heaven a good motive for giving?
What does God expect from you when confronted with others in need?
There are so many layers to these three parables of Jesus, but today I want us to think about whom we most relate to in these short stories. Probably we all want to cross off the Pharisees. You know, those guys who stand on the sidelines, quick to distant themselves from the sinful people in the world. “And the Pharisees and scribes grumbled, saying ’This man receives sinners and eats with them’.”( v.2) None of us is like them, right? We are anxious to see all the sinners repent and enter the kingdom when Jesus returns. Most importantly, we are not quick to criticize people who reach out to sinners, as they did. They even thought it was their righteous duty to criticize Jesus because He ate with sinners. Surely, we cannot relate to them.
Parable One—The Lost Sheep
Jesus narrows in on the Pharisees’ pride in these three short stories. It seems as though he specifically chose the first two parables to increase the ire of the Pharisees. Jesus’ first words, “What man of YOU, having a hundred sheep…”(v3) stung. How dare He compare THEM to a shepherd? They were, after all, much above a lowly disgusting shepherd. Their beautiful robes and position in religious society proclaimed their superiority. Yes, really, the Pharisees thought they were much better than a shepherd was, and undoubtedly disliked Jesus’ comparison of them to a poor sheepherder.
Maybe, however, you relate most to the shepherd. Of course, you would rush out to find that one lost sheep, even though you have more than enough other sheep (who by the way, are safely gathered together). Think of a father, who rushes back into his burning home to save his one child who is still inside, even though his other children are safely outside. Just like Jesus, you would pick up that child and carry him with great joy to safety.
Parable Two–The Lost Coin
The second parable serves to further increase the ire and grumbling of the Pharisees. Once again, their beautiful flowing robes and position got in the way of doing God’s work. How dare He compare them to a woman, and, an obviously poor, careless woman at that! But this woman, like the shepherd, has lost something extremely important to her. Perhaps you relate most to this woman who would not stop or sleep until her valuable lost coin was found.
When Jesus uses this poor woman and shepherd as examples of God’s forgiveness, He is telling these Pharisees (and US), that this woman and shepherd represent God’s desire to seek lost sinners. To end these two parables, Jesus shares a wonderful scene of great rejoicing in heaven among the angels when the lost sinners are found. However, the Pharisees probably found it offensive to envision such rejoicing in heaven with sinners. Heaven forbid.
Parable Three—The Lost Sons
Traditionally, we think of this final parable as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. You know, the son who considered his father “as dead” and asked for his inheritance from him before the father had even died. He wanted to go out and live the good life, away from his father. Things did not turn out so well for him, and the prodigal son soon realizes that he made a huge mistake and decided to return home and beg for forgiveness.
“But the father said to his servant, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” vs. 22-24
This is a wonderful story of forgiveness, and probably the Pharisees think this story is tolerable because, after all, it is about a rich family, a beautiful robe, and a big party with music and dancing. But hold on, the rest of the story was about to be told.
The other brother, the good other brother, was in the field working for his father when he approaches and hears the dancing and music. He inquires and finds out the ugly truth. His brother has returned to his father, and the party is for him. Instead of going in and being happy that his brother was back home, the pity party began. He reminded his father how good he had been; always served the father, never disobeyed, and certainly was not a son who wasted his father’s wealth on prostitutes. He made it clear that in his mind his brother is a sinner. Once a sinner, always a sinner. How could his father receive his brother back and eat with him? He could not let it go.
“He was angry and refused to go in.”(v.28) Can you relate?
Questions for reflection:
Whom did the other good son represent in this last story?
Can you relate to the resentment and anger the good son felt? Why or why not.
Have you ever felt cheated, angry, upset, jealous, revengeful, or disappointed that you were not properly rewarded when others got recognition for lesser good works, or when others got forgiveness for messing up royally? Where do you believe that those feeling come from? A false sense of pride? A desire to get what is rightfully yours? Wanting to be better than others? Perhaps someone has hurt you deeply. How do those feelings apply in this last parable?
As life grows busier by the day, holidays grow nearer, preparations for travel are made, deadlines for school are due, or you find yourself putting in those time and a half hours at work, it is so easy to become all consumed in your own day to day life. The same was true in the parable told by Jesus in Luke 14, The Parable of The Great Banquet. As Jesus gathered around the table with the Pharisees and experts in the law, he spoke to them on humbling themselves and serving in the here and now, even when they are giving all and receiving none. He says that their payment will be paid at the resurrection of the righteous. At the mention of the resurrection, one man calls out, blessed is the one who will eat at the feast at the Kingdom of God. Jesus replies with a parable, explaining that a great feast has been prepared for many guests. When word spread that the feast had come, and that it was time to join, many of the guests were found to be caught up in their own world and did not attend with urgency. Excuses were made and the banquet was pushed off. “I just bought a field that I must go and see.” “I bought five yokes of oxen, I must go try them out.” “I just got married, I can’t come.” As a result, each of these guests lost their place in the banquet as they were not ready, not prepared, and were not willing to attend at the call of the host.
This parable serves as a wake up call to many as it is important to work hard each day and do your best with what has been bestowed upon you, however this life is temporary and our focus should always be on what is yet to come. In the meantime, we need to make sure that we are pursuing our faith, building a relationship with our heavenly father, and implementing spiritual disciplines daily so that when the banquet, otherwise known as the Kingdom of God draws nearer, our hearts will be prepared and our focus will be set on the right priorities.
As we enter into a busy holiday season, may we be present in the why. Why we celebrate, why we serve, why intentionality matters. Let’s not be a people who become so caught up in each day that we do not humble ourselves before the Lord and serve His great name, no matter the cost.
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
– Kayla Elwell
What does it mean to you that the invitation to the banquet in the Kingdom of God has been extended to everyone in the roads and country side? Who had been included in the original invitation – did it include you?
What excuses have you used when you were neglecting the most important things of God?
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”
In thinking about one’s faith, how easy is it to get caught up in the motions of religion. “I go to church every week, I attend Sunday school, I make food for the potlucks, I give an occasional offering, I went to church camp as a child, etc…when the kingdom comes, surely I will be known and in relationship with the Lord.”
“Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’”
Thinking about where your heart is and what kind of faith you have takes courage, honesty, and oftentimes real change within our daily habits.
Today is a perfect day to renew or strengthen your relationship with God and his son Jesus Christ. This looks different for all in many ways. When I picture a narrow door, I think of a door that not many choose to enter through. This “door” may not be the popular choice, the easy choice, or the fun choice. However, choosing to live a life that is pleasing to God is more rewarding than any earthly desire or temporary pleasure. I encourage you to take a moment today and consider one tangible way that you could get to know God on a deeper level this week. This may be through prayer, worship through song, spending time in nature, reading your Bible, serving others, etc.
May we be a people who stand outside the door and are fully known as our hearts align to God through his son Jesus Christ.
Choose at least one way you could get to know God on a deeper level this week? When will you do it? Where? How? Why?
How does “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door” work with Ephesians 2:8&9. Do you think Jesus would say that there are some people who rely too much on their works? Do you think Jesus would say there are some people who rely too much on God’s grace? How do you keep from being in either camp?