Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In Prayer: Luke 18

In Summary:

Luke 18 continues the travel of Jesus to Jerusalem. Along the way, he continues teaching his disciples. This chapter, the opening focus is on prayer. The stories used by Jesus to teach here are often misapplied. Let us sum up by noting that God is far more righteous than any earthly judge—the point of that parable about persistence is not that we have to keep bugging God—we should see here that the widow of 1-8 and the publican of 9-14 (oh, that a Republican would cry out for mercy like that!) understand their utter dependence. That is the primary point: prayer ought to be born out of a heart that knows there is no where else to go.

Skipping ahead, we meet Blind Bartimaeus in 35-43. He is near the city of Jericho and cries out for Jesus to “have mercy on him!” His prayer echoes the prayer of the lepers in Luke 17. There is something to acknowledging our need without specifying our remedy as we see in both of these events. And we see it in the story of the Pharisee and the publican: no instructions to God about what these men thought they needed, only a confession of their deep and dire need.

It is worthwhile in prayer to trust God and not ourselves. In fact, it is pointless to pray as if we know what we need and just need a little assist from God. That is, unfortunately, the background noise in our prayer life.

In Focus:

Turning to the middle narrative, it is the well-rehearsed story of the “rich young ruler” that many of us have seen and heard before. It’s in Luke 18:18-25 but also in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. This meeting comes immediately after Jesus’ rebukes the disciples that wanted to keep the children from coming to him. That’s not an accident.

For ease, we’ll refer to the man who comes to Jesus as the ruler, based on Luke’s description. He has, apparently, just seen Jesus be open and accepting of children. This was unusual in the time, as many important people did not have time for children. One a child grew up, then he was important (and often, that was an exclusive “he”), but until adulthood? Keep that kid away.

The ruler, then, wants to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. A few notes: he’s looking for an action. Jesus gives him an action. He rejects the action, and then Jesus notes how hard it is for the wealthy to follow Christ. This is a story recorded to teach us to give up all material wealth, right?

In Practice:

Practically, I think there’s more to it than that. Let’s apply some concepts here:

First, the ruler is looking for a specific action. Look at his question. What shall I do? He wants a checkbox. It’s the same thing we often look for, and when we find one or two things that fit, we make that checkbox our defining characteristic.

Jesus, though, does not give him a specific action. Wait, you think selling his stuff was supposed to be the action? Nonsense. Nowhere in Scripture do we find salvation based in the works an individual does, even if he gives all he has to the poor. (1 Corinthians 13:3, perhaps?) Eternal life is found in the following statement: “Come, follow me.” Following Christ is where life comes.

The idea of selling all the stuff is secondary to the relationship. Jesus tells the ruler to come into a relationship with him, to walk in obedience. The stuff has to go for the sake of freeing the ruler to obedience. Beyond that, discipleship is an open-ended, never-ending walk with Christ.

We often try to find “one thing” to do when it is “one relationship” we need to walk in obedience for. That is the essence of Christianity and the point of this event—your salvation does not have anything to do with your wealth and everything to do with your obedience.

In Nerdiness: 

There are some good examples here of what is called the Synoptic Problem. First, the focal passage is found in all three Synoptic Gospels. Those are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are called “Synoptics” because they see (optic) the events together (syn). There are many similarities between these three accounts of the life of Jesus.

Yet there are also significant differences. For example, is Bartimaeus on the way into Jericho or the way out? Mark 10:46, Luke 18:35 present different ideas. There are some suggestions about how this balances—but the truth is we do not know for sure. As you find these passages (there’s one person, there are two, or others) the real issue is this:

Do we trust God to know what He’s talking about? Or do we assume there’s an error?

Whatever the outcome, I will stand on this: Scripture says exactly what God intends for it to say. If we have to search harder to understand, that’s not his fault but rather our opportunity to rely that much more on the Holy Spirit to illuminate.

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