“That’s never what religion is for”

In Luke 18:9-14 we see the difference between a Pharisee and a tax collector in how they view themselves and what God thinks of them. 

And isn’t that where all our minds naturally lean – toward either what we think of ourselves, or to what God thinks of us? I grew up, for instance, without a thought in my head as to what God thought of me, because I was terribly self-conscious. I had a fairly dim view of myself too, based on how much more clever and sociable most kids my age were than me. It made me feel horribly inadequate and lacking, which wasn’t a pleasant experience. 

But when I started attending church regularly at the end of my teenage that’s when I switched to what God thought of me, based on what my church told me was expected of a Christian. But that wasn’t a pleasant experience either, because again I felt horribly inadequate and lacking, never being able to come up to the church’s standards. So now I was stuck with thinking I wasn’t likeable to either God or to my fellow humans, and that was the cloud I lived under for years. 

To deal with it I went the route of both the Pharisee in Luke 18 and the tax collector. I tried being very strict in my obedience to God like the Pharisee, so God would think well of me. But I discovered in doing so that I ended up just like the Pharisee, saying to myself as he did, “I thank God I’m not like all other men,” which for me included thinking I was far superior to other Christians too, because in my mind they weren’t obeying Scripture as strictly as I was. 

But when I met and mixed with other Christians, I discovered that many of them were wonderful people doing great things in their churches and in their communities, which thoroughly humbled me – to the point I too “stood at a distance” like the tax collector (verse 13) in my shame and embarrassment. I didn’t mix with other Christians (beyond the few I knew) for a long time, and I couldn’t “look up to heaven” with any feeling of confidence or acceptance before God either. But maybe that’s what I deserve, I thought, so I went the humble route of the tax collector in Luke 18, beating myself up and doubting I was even a Christian. 

It seemed I was on the right track, though, because in beating his breast and crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” the tax collector “went home justified before God” (verse 14). And “justified before God” obviously meant “accepted and approved” by God, because in verse 14 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

But does that mean I always have to be admitting I’m an abject failure in need of constant mercy to be accepted by God?  

Well, I could think that, and some Christians I know have thought it too, because they were constantly bewailing their inability to conquer some addiction they had, and they were always flagellating themselves for how weak and pathetic they were. And they kept on telling me that every time we met, in the hope, I suppose, that their humility regarding their condition would smooth over their sin in God’s eyes and make them not look so bad.

But that wasn’t the context of these verses in Luke 18. Jesus was aiming his story at “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else,” verse 9. He was talking to people who didn’t think they had any sins or unconquered addictions to flagellate themselves for. 

But it’s interesting what they thought made them so “righteous.” It was fasting twice a week and giving a tenth of all they earned, or received (verse 12). Both acts were on the fringes as far as being important and helpful, but they made the Pharisees feel superior to other people who weren’t so strict on themselves in such things. And what was their motive? Was it to be approved and accepted by God? No, it was entirely driven by the “right” they thought they now had to look down on other people. 

And how on earth did they think that made them “righteous,” or “justified before God,” when there wasn’t a law in the Bible that supported anyone looking down on other people? What these very “religious” Pharisees were doing was horrible. It separated people Into “us and them.” And hasn’t it been that way ever since? Dress a man up in religious robes, or closet him away in a monastery, and suddenly he’s operating on a “higher, deeper, more spiritual’ level than the rest of pathetic humanity. 

And such is the great danger of religion. It creates faith in self, and gives pious people the right in their own minds to judge others. On the other hand, don’t they have some right to judge those who aren’t doing anything but flagellating themselves for being sinners and aren’t doing any good religious works at all? No, because in Luke 18 it’s clear that’s never what religion is for.

“You can always pray, you know”

In Luke 18:1-8 a helpless widow manages to get her case heard by a judge who couldn’t care a hoot about her or what had happened to her. In context it was Jesus’ answer to the troubles his disciples would encounter in this world too.   

And it all came down to trust, as we see in Jesus’ last statement in verse 8: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” 

It’s a good question, especially in light of the Pharisees asking Jesus in Luke 17:20 when the kingdom would come, and Jesus answering in verse 21, “God’s kingdom is already among you.” So God’s kingdom had already begun, witness the amazing healings and other miracles Jesus was doing. Jesus was already putting their mess of a world to rights, in other words, so things were looking really good. But he also said in verse 22, “The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it.” So that suggests a delay in Jesus’ returning with the kind of power they were really looking forward to, the result being in verse 26, that “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” People would be living like things had never changed, and weren’t about to change either. 

Years would go by, therefore, when it would seem like Jesus putting the world to rights was just a pipe dream. And doesn’t it seem like that today as well? The idea that God’s kingdom is already here – and has been for the last two thousand years – is up against continuing violence and crime, horrible injustice for the abused, and a host of unsolved problems. If someone was to ask us, therefore, where is the proof that Jesus is making a difference, it can really knock the wind right out of our sails as his disciples. What can we say when this horrible mess continues unabated, and innocent people are still suffering? 

It can become awfully disheartening for us, because here we are trying to preach the good news that Jesus is putting the world to rights, but it all sounds pathetically hollow in a nasty world full of corporations ditching peoples’ needs for their own personal profit. People are now seeing little relevance in Christianity, therefore, and in many parts of the world we are hated. 

But Jesus then tells a parable to his disciples in the very next chapter, Luke 18, asking the question, “will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones?” Well, that’s what we long for, isn’t it? That everything we preach and labour for will be vindicated one day. It’s like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:58, that we “Always give ourselves fully to the work Jesus has given us to do, because we know our labour in his name is not in vain.” 

To those in Luke 18:6, then, “who cry out to him day and night” for this to be true, Jesus asks in verse 7, “Will God keep putting them off?” Will God ignore how disheartening it is for us living in this world, where our credibility and reputation are being battered, and our message has so little impact? To which Jesus answers: “God will see that they get justice, and quickly.” Rest assured, God is utterly aware of what’s happening to us, and he does not delay in answering us.  

And to get that point across to his disciples Jesus tells the story of a helpless widow who’d been thoroughly ignored by a thug of a judge. It was only after she’d badgered him again and again to put her situation to rights that he gave in – and then only because she’d upset his comfortable routine – but she got the answer she wanted.  

The point being, she never gave up. She certainly had reason to give up, because women in that culture weren’t even allowed in court, let alone badger a judge personally. She’d been wronged but no one cared, and being a widow she had no husband to fight for her either. She was helpless and alone. 

Talk about reason for being discouraged and disheartened, with no hope whatsoever of a solution or vindication. But she chose not to give up. 

And that took courage, just as it does for us to look hopelessness in the eye and say, “No, you’re not going to get the better of me, or turn my brain to mush.” But that brings us right down to the raw reality of our situation. Courage is great, but is there really a reason for it? Can we answer someone who asks us for the reason we have such hope when it seems insane to them (and us too at times) that we stick to being Christians? “You jolly well do have an answer,” says Jesus, “because you guys can always pray, you know.” 

That’s right; no matter how hopeless or helpless we feel, or what situation has us completely paralyzed emotionally, we can pray about it. And we’d be stupid not to, because who wouldn’t turn to the power driving this universe, when he’s so much more powerful than anything happening in it? Which is why Jesus says in Luke 18:1, “always pray and never give up” – or – never give up because we can always pray.” And isn’t that what Jesus longs for? It’s finding people when he comes again who realized there was no reason at all to give up, because it dawned on them from this parable that if a helpless widow got an answer because she didn’t give up, how much more would Jesus answer those who trust him? It made me ask, therefore, “Do I hear him saying to me too then, ‘You can always pray, you know’?”

Being introduced to a very different dimension

In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus healed ten lepers, which must have caused a few ripples, because nothing like the healing of ten lepers all at once had happened in the entire history of the Jews or Israel. But suddenly there they all were, knocking on the local village priest’s door, asking him to confirm their healing. 

And what was that? There’s a Samaritan among the ten too? What was he doing there? Samaritans would never be seen dead or alive at a Jewish priest’s door. So that was two shocking things the Jewish priest got hit with all at once. And now he had to blow the dust off Leviticus 13 and 14 and meticulously apply the detailed instructions ten times over to make absolutely sure all ten of them were healed. And rattling away in his mind, perhaps, was the Jewish tradition that full blown leprosy, the kind that had isolated and brought those ten lepers together in their own commune of misery, was only a disease the Messiah could truly heal, and now here were ten of them. And who was it who’d healed them? 

Oh, so that’s who it was. So what had Jesus actually done to heal them? Absolutely nothing, the lepers told him. After they’d begged Jesus to have pity on them, he’d simply told them to go to the local priest for conformation of their healing. And what was that the lepers were saying? They were saying Jesus hadn’t healed them before they left, but on the way to the priest’s house that’s when they’d been healed. And all ten of them at once too. 

And then, of course, the priest had to confirm the healing of the Samaritan, which was yet another shock to his already blown fuses, because what Jewish rabbi would have any dealings whatsoever with those rebel Samaritans, and why on earth would he actually heal one of them too? So, were there any more shocks the healed lepers had for him, or was that it?

Because in those first few minutes of the lepers’ arrival, the priest’s mind had been lifted into a very different dimension. He’d probably had a quite normal day up to that point, a morning reading and singing a Psalm or two at the synagogue, and then – this. 

What he did with it from that point on we don’t know, but we do know how one of the lepers reacted. After his healing was confirmed by the seriously shaken priest, he ran out the priest’s door and with a voice that sounded like he was shouting through a megaphone he yelled his thanks to God all the way back to Jesus, where he threw himself at Jesus’ feet thanking him over and over again. And well, well, well, wasn’t it the Samaritan too, the one person least likely to announce he’d been healed by a Jew. 

So it’s one shock after another, but there’s one more shock to come too, in Jesus’ reaction to the Samaritan. Jesus looks down at this one lone man at his feet and asks, “Weren’t all ten of you cleansed? So where are the other nine? Did none of them think to thank God except this foreign chap?” And now comes the shock, because Jesus says to the Samaritan, “Rise up and go; your faith has made you well.” 

Other translations use the word “whole” instead of “well,” because at its Greek root it means more than just the healing or “cleansing” of an immediate and single disease. It means “wholeness,” which is what Jesus had come for. He said so himself in John 10:10, that “I am come that they might have life, and that they may have it abundantly.” This is what he’d been sent by God to his fellow Jews for, and if they could only acknowledge that and turn to Jesus in total trust and obedience, this is what would open up to them. It went so much further than a physical healing. The windows would open to a very different dimension all together. 

And here Jesus was offering it to a Samaritan, of all people. And why was that? Because the Samaritan DID acknowledge this was what God had sent Jesus to do – his heartfelt gratitude to God and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet being the proof of it. And to Jesus this was terrific, because he could say to the man, “Rise up and go,” or “Hey, you’ve really woken up to the secret of life, old chum, so go on, get up and experience what happens next, now that your trust in why God sent me has opened up the windows to all the other blessings he sent me to bring you.” 

And shock upon shock, it didn’t matter if the man wasn’t a Jew. The abundant life was open to anyone. So wouldn’t we love to be able to say to any person today who obeyed and trusted Jesus with his desperate needs and came back full of gratitude to God for sending Jesus to do just that for him, that “Now, old chap, you’ve discovered the secret to abundant life that God sent his Son to open up to us. So, go on, go live your life, expecting many more extraordinary things to happen.”  

“In other words, my friend, you’re being introduced to a very different dimension.”

 

 

When Jesus asks the impossible of us

In Luke 17:5 the “apostles said to Jesus, ‘Increase our faith.’” In context it seems to be their reaction to Jesus telling them never to cause a person to sin (verses 1-2), and to always forgive a person who repents of a sin against them, no matter how many times the person repeats the sin (verses 3-4).

It’s the usual story of Jesus setting the bar so high there is no way they can jump over it. It’s like hating one’s parents as the condition for becoming a disciple in Luke 14, or throwing everything they held dear to one side to find just one lost sheep or lost coin in Luke 15, or giving up one’s life of riches and comfort to feed the hungry in Luke 16, and now these two things in Luke 17 too. Some things are just impossible to do, but Jesus was expecting them to be done anyway. 

The disciples reaction to making such impossible things possible is to ask Jesus   for more faith. But Jesus’ rather surprising reply in Luke 17:6 is that it’s not an increase in faith they need, because even the tiniest bit of faith the size of a mustard seed could make the impossibly deep-rooted mulberry tree uproot and plant itself in the sea if they told it to.

So what was it the disciples needed instead to make the impossible possible and do what Jesus expected of them? Well, assuming the next few verses from 6 to 10 are also following along with the context of the last three chapters and these first few verses in Luke 17, it was recognizing who Jesus was and what their relationship with him was as his disciples. 

Because Jesus puts the following three questions to them: “Suppose one of you had a servant ploughing or looking after the sheep. Would you say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat?’ Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink, and after that you may eat and drink’? And would he thank the servant too, because the servant did what he was told to do?” 

Well, the answers to all three questions are obvious, because of the relationship between a servant and his master. A servant’s job is to serve. But who is Jesus telling all this to? He’s talking to his disciples, which really opened my eyes to my relationship with Jesus as his disciple, as have the last three chapters of Luke, which I can also see were meant for his disciples too. 

Because for a disciple everything boils down to our relationship with Jesus, and in particular that we are his servants. And it’s not to get appreciation from him or a reward that we are his servants, it’s entirely because of his grace in calling us to be his disciples. As such we can never do enough for him, because it’s only by his grace and mercy that we can serve him at all. We were just blind outsiders without a clue what life was for before he drew us to him.

So it’s not favours from Jesus we ask for as his disciples, it’s serving him in response to his grace. That’s our job now; it’s to serve him. And that’s it. 

Going back to the disciples’ request to Jesus to increase their faith reminded me of Paul’s request to Jesus to heal him in 2 Corinthians 12:8. But Jesus’ response in verse 9 was, “My grace is sufficient.” And that’s the bottom line for a disciple, isn’t it? If it wasn’t for “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ “ (2 Corinthians 13:14) we’d have nothing. Our response to that is to serve Jesus in whatever way we can, always considering ourselves “unworthy servants,” who are only doing our duty when we serve him (Luke 17:10).  

The only “increase” we ask for is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In other words, help us get the point of what he’s done for us, so that we serve him for nothing more than that.  

And as far as the “increase in faith” his disciples asked for, it wasn’t faith they needed, it was recognizing they were Jesus’ servants, and if that meant doing the impossible things Jesus expected them to do, then so be it, we do them, no questions asked, no excuses, and no reward or appreciation asked for or expected either. We’re just doing our duty in response to who he is and our relationship to him because of his grace and mercy that made us his disciples in the first place.

Starving for truth from those who should be providing it

In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which is so strange it made me wonder who Jesus was aiming at. 

Well, he’s just left off talking to the Pharisees “who loved money,” verse 14, and how they valued what people value, not what God values – and then they actually “justify” it too (verse 15). In other words, they were more interested in feeding themselves than they were the nation, and somehow in their own minds they thought that was OK. 

Which obviously fits the story of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man being the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were supposed to be feeding the nation from God’s Word, and Lazarus representing the nation starving to be fed from God’s Word, and being totally ignored by their religious leaders who were pursuing money and power instead. 

In other words, the shepherds of Israel didn’t care one hoot about feeding their starving sheep, and we know from Ezekiel 34 how God felt about that. He nails the shepherds for exactly what the Pharisees were doing in Luke 16. In Ezekiel 34:2-3, God roars through Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves. Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.” 

And reminiscent of Jesus’ previous story in Luke 15 about searching for the lost sheep, Ezekiel continues blasting the shepherds in Ezekiel 34:4-5, “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost,” leaving those poor, lost, starving sheep of Israel to “become food for all the wild animals” instead. Or, in the case of Lazarus, leaving him at the rich man’s mansion gates, starving and covered in sores so raw that dogs took a liking to licking them (Luke 16:19-21). 

Well, in Luke 16 we see how God felt about that too, because in verses 22-23 we find the rich man in hell after he dies, which is exactly what Jesus threatened the Pharisees and teachers of the law – the shepherds of Israel in his day – with in Matthew 23:34 when he roared at them, “You snakes, you brood of vipers, how will you escape being condemned to hell?” 

And how does God respond when they’re in hell and in torment and begging for relief? Well, as Jesus tells it, Abraham tells the rich man that Lazarus is getting the comfort he needed that he didn’t get from the rich man, so it’s the rich man’s turn to know what it’s like to be in agony, and he can stay in hell to get his fill of it, which is all rather frightening for those claiming to be shepherds and pastors in any age who use religion to feather their own nests. They deserve an unending hell.  

And even if they’ve learnt their lesson and want to prevent it happening to others by having Lazarus warn them (verse 27), Abraham makes it clear that if those claiming to be shepherds and pastors didn’t get the message from Scripture what their job is, they won’t get it from someone who’s even been resurrected from the dead telling them what their job is. If they’re hooked already on using religion to gain power and money for themselves, rather than feed their flock, it’s an extremely dangerous position to be in. It’s like a virus has attacked their brain and they can’t escape it. 

As a shepherd, then, I think I’d want to take these verses very seriously, I have but one job to fulfill if I’m a pastor or shepherd, and that’s to feed my flock, just like Jesus told Peter to “Feed my sheep” in John 21:15-17. It’s not about building big, impressive church buildings, or going on missions, or trying to come up with splashy, music-churning church services to reach people’s emotions. It’s feeding people on God’s Word, like the main job of the pastors in Israel was to teach the Law and the Prophets (Luke 16:29), not create little empires around them that sucked the people dry of their time and money.   

It makes me wonder if the Christian church will ever shake itself from creating empires that make their leaders rich and drunk on power and money, because we certainly haven’t shaken ourselves of it yet. It makes Luke 16 highly relevant and very scary, therefore, for anyone looking to become a shepherd and teacher in the church. If his priority is not feeding his sheep by burying their noses in Scripture, and yet he’s taking a salary that’s enough to meet all his own physical needs and more from his flock’s hard-earned cash, and he’s only interested in being a big personality to get a following for himself and building his own little empire, he’s in the same spot as the rich man in Luke 16.

But at least he was warned by Luke 16, so he knows what track he should be on for his own safety and that of his flock too. Just feed the flock is all he’s being asked to do, and feed them so well that they are obviously content and at peace. And they won’t have wounds and sores bothering them, nor will they be vulnerable to or be bothered by other influences, nor will they likely stray or go elsewhere to be fed, because they are being fully fed where they are.

And to Jesus, as head of the church, what could be more pleasing to him than that?     

A little shrewdness in presenting the gospel wouldn’t go amiss

In Luke 16:1-9 Jesus tells the story of a financial manager about to lose his job for squandering his rich boss’s finances. So the manager cooks up a plan that will either make his boss want to keep him, or that will attract other people to hire him if he’s fired. 

So he contacts those in debt to the rich man and offers them a 20 to 50 per cent reduction in their payment – if, that is, they pay up immediately. They all happily pay up, so before his boss actually fires him the manager is able to stride into his boss’s office with a chunk of paid bills – not the complete amount paid, but it proved he could do a good job of managing money after all, and it saved his boss having to chase people to pay their debts too. 

The boss is impressed with his manager’s understanding of people, and for using it to make everyone “eternally grateful” to him (verse 9), including the boss himself. And it proved that even though the manager had made a mess of things he could actually be trusted. He’d allowed himself to veer off course, yes, but given the chance he’d got himself back on track. In other words, his heart was in the right place, he really did want to serve his boss, and here was the proof of it, even if it was partly about saving his own skin too.  

The Pharisees listening in sneered, however, which is ironic because they too had veered off course in their management of God’s riches, like his law, which they‘d turned into a benefit for themselves in power and money (verse 14). They’d also added so many unnecessary extras to the law that it had become a burden to people driving them away from God rather than to him, which, according to Jesus, had made people “twice as much a son of hell as you (teachers of the law and Pharisees) are,” Matthew 23:2 and 15. 

So in Matthew 23:33 Jesus threatens them with dire consequences (“How will you escape being condemned to hell?”), just as the rich man threatened his manager with the loss of his job. What, then, should the Pharisees have done, or could they have done, not only to save their own skins, but to come up with a solution that would make everyone “eternally grateful” to them, including God?    

Well, they could’ve taken a leaf out of Jesus’ story in Luke 16. They could have used their obvious skill at influencing people to convince their fellow Jews to listen to Jesus, because Jesus was all about forgiveness of sins and lifting the burdens off people, and imagine how eternally grateful people who felt so weighed down and guilty would have been to the Pharisees for doing that. How utterly stupid the Pharisees were, then, because in not doing that they would lose all the power and money they held so dear (Matthew 23:38).

But turning people to Jesus would require a heart in the right place, of serving God and their fellow Jews, which the Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t have, made obvious by their response to Jesus’ story. They couldn’t even see the value of the rich man’s manager using his skill at influencing people to turn the loss of his job into something everyone appreciated him for.  

It made me think of the people in my life who made me eternally grateful to them for making the gospel message so attractive in its lifting of burdens off me, that drew me to God and not away from him. I think of the people who very cleverly knew how to get through to me, and used their skill (like Nathan did with David in helping him repent in 2 Samuel 12:1-13) to get me on the right track when I was veering off course. 

And isn’t that the skill we all need as Christians in the presentation of the gospel, that we’re “as wise as serpents, but harmless as doves,” Matthew 10:16? Wouldn’t you love to hear someone say to you, “Am I ever glad you got to me the way you did, and stopped me heading off in the wrong direction,” as in James 5:19-20. It takes a shrewd understanding of what makes people tick and knowing what will get through to them, but that’s exactly what Jesus was getting at in Luke 16.  

In other words, how can we present the true gospel in such a way that people cannot resist it, that also makes them eternally grateful to us for knowing how to get through to people, and using our skill for their benefit? It’s like Jesus said in Luke 16, that a little shrewdness has its uses too.  

How different the kingdom of God is to religion

In Luke 15:3-10 Jesus tells the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In context it’s his answer to the Pharisees criticizing him for happily mixing with tax collectors and “sinners,” verse 2. “But so what if I’m mixing with these people,” is Jesus’ basic reply, “when we’re talking about the lost being found,” verse 31, and sinners repenting (verse 10).

What’s interesting here is that people who were viewed as rejects by the religious leaders were very happy listening to what Jesus had to say (verse 1). Which isn’t surprising, because he willingly welcomed them to chat with him and eat together (verse 2). He valued their company, no matter what their profession, or their weaknesses, or their odd ideas.

And it was that approach he took with people that made them like him, trust him, and figure that such a nice man must have a nice brain with good things to say too. So they willingly sat with him to hear him out. 

That obviously wasn’t the approach the Pharisees and teachers had taken, though, because people were sitting and eating with Jesus, and not with them. Which is probably for the good, because the Pharisees’ reason for living and the reason for their religion was a real turn off, because they weren’t concerned for people at all. And this is what Jesus is exposing here. Jesus uses the deep desire of a shepherd to recover a lost sheep – and the frantic search by a woman for a lost coin and wanting friends and family to share their joy at finding what they’d lost – to show what the Pharisees were totally lacking in their lives. They simply wanted people converted to their religious ideals, and gaining power and money in the process.

And when people didn’t fit in with their ideals they either tried to force them to comply, or they isolated and marginalized them. They weren’t the least bit interested in trying to help people feel valued or worth even talking to. It was a horribly arrogant approach to people, and it was unsettling too, because if you wandered off like a wayward sheep and got into trouble the Pharisees wouldn’t come looking for you, because they didn’t care.   

So I have to wonder what my version of Christianity has done to me. Has it made me so disdainful of certain people that it won’t let me value them, or want to help them? If it has then what hope have I got of helping them repent of some obvious sin or weakness they have, or want to look into Christianity, or want to gather round to listen to what I have to say? But the Pharisees were so wrapped up in their religious ideals and how superior their religion made them feel, that they couldn’t see that. 

So now we look at the state of the nation because of their attitude. It made hundreds of people follow Jesus wherever he went, and for a whole section of the nation to seek him out. Which meant that these people were turning to God, not through religion, take note, but through a man with God’s heart. And what a lovely picture of God’s heart it was, illustrated in Jesus’ stories of a shepherd dropping everything to go find a silly sheep that thought it knew better, and then happily carrying its exhausted body on his shoulders back to the comfort and protection of the flock. Or like the woman looking everywhere for that lost coin and wanting to share her utter joy with friends when she found it. This was so different to what religious people were like. 

But it was supposed to be different because this was the kingdom of God in operation, the driving force of which is a Father who loves his children so much he sent his Son to go search us out, get us out of our tangles, and help our exhausted, battered minds and bodies recover in the company of his church, where we find a huge welcome and rejoicing that we’re there with them. The lost has been found, and now we can be bandaged up and made to feel we totally belong as an equal too.     

Three things came to mind from Luke 15, then: first, that the kingdom of God Jesus came to announce is very different to religion in its attitude toward people. Second, that it’s the meek who inherit the earth, or the meek who’ll be the ones ruling in the kingdom of God in the future, because they care for people and that’s God’s heart. And thirdly, a question, as to how this picture of God stopping everything to go save the lost ties in with the Christian idea that God will throw sinners and rejects into hell to burn forever.