Monday, August 29, 2016

Singular Focus!



OUR READING for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the scribal pen of Saint Luke. The lesson offered describes the purpose and priorities for Christian discipleship…

Now great multitudes accompanied him (Jesus); and he turned and said to them, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 
 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' 
 Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. 
 So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  "Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Luke 14:25-35)


Love-Hate?
According to the scriptural witness, our Lord laid down some very serious conditions upon those who would be his disciples. In the midst of the communities located in the Greco-Roman world in the late first century, the author related that Jesus told his audience that those who wish to be disciples must “hate” an unbelieving wife, or family and friends. However we must be very cautious here, for to say that our Lord advocates hate would go against his teachings. Surely we are admonished to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Would our Lord be hypocritical then in this teaching? “No”, I dare say.
 To be sure, in using the Greek word, “miseo”, we must consider that Luke was deliberately depicting Jesus as speaking hyperbolically… in other words dramatically indicating that we should have priorities against sin.., and we must love God more than all.
 Therefore to examine this mandate further, we find that here it is apparent that both Luke and Matthew used the same source materials. We find that Matthew warned all of the divisive nature of the gospel message (Matthew 10:37-38). However, Matthew’s message was given to a community in Antioch in Syria, which is far removed from the communities of Luke and thus not delivered to the infant Christian churches undergoing the same worldly forces. Thus Matthew certainly did not radicalize "miseo" in relating the message as Luke had related the same. The profound implication is that we see the household schism within the synagogues was more highly pronounced in this Lukan discourse. This I believe is because of the dynamics between the church and the tighter rule of Rome throughout the provinces of Asia-Minor. We must contextualize this reading variance between the gospels.
 Consequently, we now rightly ask what is apparently under the societal currents within Lukan communities. What was present in shadows that may not have been in Matthew’s church? What caused the harsher word to emerge... even though both gospels were penned during the same decade of writing and the scribes used many of the same sources?
 For Luke’s churches, as we read here…  I contend that the disciples of Christ were not all being crucified, but most apostles had already met that fate… and others were in great danger. With rising societal tumult, therefore, all Christians were being warned by Luke that they must be prepared to bear ostracism and the cross. If need be, they were to bear these burdens dutifully. Jesus was thus portrayed by Luke as bidding his disciples to count on carrying salvation’s message over against those who would hatefully harm them. By recording his message in that way, Luke warns we who are in the church today, that even we need to consider the possible impact of our faith expression. We need to embrace the perils that may arise through our expressing the gospel. As we see from recent turmoil in the Middle East, we know this to be true.
 You see, I firmly contend that the text teaches us that if we wish to be disciples, we need to be careful not to grow slack in our profession of faith. We need to consider the cross... and yet not be afraid...for salvation comes through the cross and the separation from the world that it cleaves. Jesus expected this behavior, and the Spirit carries this forward into our own day. The sooner we realize and act upon this, the sooner will we shall know peace beyond all understanding.

Truth Frees!
We see that Jesus’ words as related by Luke were harshly aimed. They reproved disciples who ministering in the Jewish nation of Israel... and also in the breadth of Greco-Roman Empire. These both were chided somewhat for their unwillingness to dismiss those persons who neglect of the offer of Christ's grace, and move on to witness beyond their circumstances.
 For Luke, you see, many had already walked the path of faith. He was most likely aware that James and other apostles had already been martyred. Indeed the word “hate” revealed the depth of backwardness that was found being in the synagogue populace, and their harsh legalistic traditions that hindered Christian proclamation. The late first century rabbinacal documents retrieved testify to that resistance.
 In coming times then, we too may find ourselves in a place where we must be willing to stamp our feet harshly against those who are remain closed to the gospel call. As our Lord’s church we may also feel the ingratitude to God expressed by those who reject the gospel, and show contempt upon belief in the kingdom of God poured out. Surely, these issues justly provoke. They seemingly did so to our Savior during his earthly life... and thus are still a stumbling block for us.
 Consider this! According to the historical record of Luke communities, the apostolic commission was being adapted by Paul and others to bring in the Gentiles, delivering the gospel message to them when so many of the Hebrew family had refused them bounteous and graceful offer. Therefore, I consider that the term made in hyperbolic speech here by Luke... was clearly present for emphasis.
 I offer that he wished to emphasize and forward the church into a wider ethnic witness in order spread the gospel of Christ. Consequently in Luke we meet an emotional, tearful stomping of dust and ash. The author stressed that Jesus firmly instructed disciples not waste time looking back upon community, family, or friends that reject the good news. Simply pray for them and ask God for blessings upon them.
 Let us be reminded! Our efforts of the gospel message poured out by the Spirit’s power are not made in vain. While some persons shall reject our message... and choose to remain in sinfulness... others will thankfully believe! The lowly and poor in spirit shall turn and be forgiven... and welcomed into the kingdom. In Christ they shall become truly the rich and the great. It is in this way that God’s kingdom shall at last be filled.
 Admit it! Jesus’ admonition is not easy for us to hear, especially in light of our natural, human love for those who are close to us. We must be prepared, however, to center our gospel proclamation to those who may respond in the Spirit.
 Remember! Proclaim universally... and pray for all! This sums up the warning that we, as the salt of the redeemed earth are called to pray and not linger. If we do so, we risk losing the zest found in our salvific message.


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