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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for Oct 26, Lk14-15

Today's readings are Lk 14-15. Tomorrow's are Lk 16-17. 

The middle chapters of Luke should be read together as they have a common thread that links them together. This recurrent theme centers on the self-righteous and overly pious action and attitudes of the religious leaders, the lawyers, scribes, Pharisees, priests, etc. This is nowhere more true than in Lk 14-15. 

Lk 14 begins with the tale of a man healed of dropsy (abnormal and painful swelling) on the Sabbath. Jesus seems to be making a point of healing on the Sabbath. As usual, the lawyers and Pharisees take exception.

To expose the pride and arrogance of the lawyers and Pharisees, Jesus begins a series of teaching and parables. The first one has to do with a wedding feast (Lk 14:7-11) in which Jesus cautions them not to assume a place of honor but to humble themselves. 

He follows this with the parable of a great banquet (Lk 14:15-24). In this parable, a man invites his closest friends to a huge feast and they agree to attend. When it comes time for the banquet, his friends make lame excuses and refuse to attend. The man, in anger, invites undesirable and unwanted people who are grateful to attend. The obvious parallel is between the ungrateful friends who end up being excluded from the banquet and the religious leaders who will end up being excluded from the coming kingdom. Instead, those people the leaders deem unworthy will be invited into the kingdom just as the unworthy are invited to the banquet. 

Jesus emphasizes the difference between those who humbly receive the kingdom and those who arrogantly assume the kingdom is already theirs by counting the cost of following Him in Lk 14:25-33. Rather than seeking status and demanding special treatment as the religious leaders do, a disciple of Christ must be willing to lose everything for the sake of following Him.

Jesus uses salt to describe the leaders. Salt was precious and valuable in the 1st century, frequently used as a type of currency. As such, there were dishonest merchants and traders that tainted salt with unwanted materials. The resultant mixture would look like salt was not really salt. It would not retain the flavor of salt. Nor would it be capable of preserving food the way salt does. The tainted salt would, in the long run, prove to be of no value. It was to be discarded. The accusation in Lk 14:34-35 is that the lawyers and Pharisees would prove to be of no value in the long run. They look holy but are not really holy. 

Lk 15 can only be fully understood in light of Lk 14 and the indictment against the religious leaders who were opposing Jesus. It begins with the Pharisees and scribes lamenting the fact that Jesus pays more attention to sinners than them. They feel superior to the sinners. They feel they have more value to the kingdom than sinners have. Jesus sets them straight with three parables that explain who truly has value in the kingdom. 

The parable of the lost sheep shows the value of one lost sheep (Lk 15:3-7). The good shepherd will go after the lost sheep even though it seems to have little value compared to the entire flock.  This is not about people wandering away from the church. It's about one lost person who repents compared to ninety nine who feel they have no need to repent (Lk 15:7). Heaven rejoices over the one who repents. The implication is that heaven has no joy over the prideful people who think they are already holy.  This is another indictment against the lawyers and Pharisees who feel they are already holy. Jesus will recognize sinners who have no value in the eyes of the Pharisees, and turn away from those who reject Him. 

The parable of the lost coin is similar (Lk 15:8-10). The woman rejoices over finding one coin when it would seem to pale in value to the other nine. Heaven rejoices in one sinner who repents (Lk 15:10). The nine coins are the Pharisees, who feel that heaven should rejoice over them. Yet, we see the joy of heaven expressed over the one of presumed lesser value. 

The parable of the prodigal (Lk 15:11-32) is the same lesson again. This time, the Pharisees are compared to the older brother. Instead of rejoicing over the return of the younger brother, the older brother is more concerned with his presumed inheritance. He is so upset that he never enters the party. The clear message is that the Pharisees and scribes feel entitled to the kingdom and are offended by having to share it with those considered unworthy. The great irony in this is that the unworthy ones end up in the party (the kingdom) while those who feel they are worthy (the Pharisees and scribes) are left standing outside. Their own stubbornness and selfishness has excluded them from what they desired most.

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