So many of you love the children’s stories told with my handmade dolls (yes, I knit every single one). I have gathered the stories together in order to tell the entire Gospel of Luke. There are some holes in continuity which I intend to fill in, and more stories will be added each week as we read through the Gospel of Luke (Year C, for those who know what that means).
By the last Sunday in our Christian year, the entire Gospel of Luke will be available in story form. The gospels of Matthew (Year A), Mark (Year B) and John will follow once Luke is complete.
Sometimes we have to think about Jesus in opposites, and this story is a good place to start: Everyone was expecting Jesus to enter Jerusalem as a mighty king, Jesus really came as someone humble and did not claim earthy power. A king would enter the city on a horse, Jesus went into Jerusalem on a donkey. A king would have a huge group travelling with him including soldiers, people carrying banners, and maybe musicians, Jesus came into Jerusalem with only some friends and local people with children, carrying palm branches and singing while they danced on the street beside him.
There are a lot of people in the church who keep expecting Jesus to be a King, and have all the fanfare and pageantry around him that humans think is important for Christ the King: parades, banners, guards, people crowding the streets but never allowed to be close. Jesus shows us that he was the opposite of all of that. He wanted people close, especially children. Jesus did not want people treating him like he was a king.
As we follow Jesus we have to remember to always push aside the things our world values, like money and power, and do the things that Jesus values, like helping others and spending time together.
Have you ever heard on the news or around town, people saying we shouldn’t help people we don’t know, those in other countries for example, we should help those here at home? And did you realize these complainers really didn’t want to help the people at home either, they just wanted a distraction.
Judas gives us that distraction in this lesson. He wasn’t really interested in helping the poor.
Mary and Jesus were very close friends, and she knew what Jesus was facing when he went into Jerusalem. She knew he would probably die. So together they shared a moment of friendship, a moment of relaxation where she made his tired feet feel and smell better. She wants Jesus to know he mattered.
Mary reminds us not to wait until after someone is gone to show them how important they are to us.
Jesus told this teaching story, called a parable, to those around him. He told about two sons, one who wanted his inheritance and wanted to leave the family to do his own thing, and the other son who stayed home and did what he was expected to do.
This might not seem like a strange story to us, but if we lived in the time of Jesus first followers, the behaviour of the first son would have been awful to hear about. First, he shouldn’t have inherited anything until his father died – you didn’t ask for money before then. It was very insulting to do that. Second, when the youngest son lost all his money and wanted to come home, he used the words that Pharaoh had used with Moses in the Exodus story, so they he wasn’t even sincere about feeling guilty. And third, when he got home he took all the special things his father did for him without saying he didn’t deserve it. The youngest son really didn’t repent.
The oldest son was angry and hurt. He had worked hard for his father. He hadn’t asked for anything, and he never had a big feast to share with his friends. His father realized the oldest son needed special treatment too.
Sometimes we forget to thank those who are always quietly doing the things that need to get done. We get caught up in the excitement of a party and forget that most good things in life are just slowly worked on, not getting attention.
In this story there were two lost sons, the selfish younger brother and the hurting quiet brother. The father had a lot of work to do to show both of his sons that they were important.
Jesus talked about two bad things that happened to the Hebrew people and reminded his followers that bad things did not happen to them because they were bad people. God does not hurt people who make bad choices. A lot of people in Bible times thought that, and some people today still think that, but that is not how God treats us.
For us to understand God better and to know that God only wants good things for us, we have to spend time learning more about God. That is the second part of this reading: the story of the fig tree.
Jesus used the fig tree story to show us that just because we go to church, attend Sunday school, and look like we are doing all the right things, that does not mean that deep down we are working to understand God. Just like the farmer who just assumed the fig tree would grow on its own without help, that’s what we often assume about people in church.
We have to try harder, pray more, do good things for others like Jesus taught us. Those are the ways to understand God, and we all have to do that work, children and grown-ups, just like the farmer had to work to make the fig tree produce good fruit.
The Bible uses a lot of images for God, not just ‘Father’. There are male images like father, and gender neutral images like wind, and female images like we see in this week’s story. God as a mother hen.
How does a mother hen act? When there is danger or her chicks are cold or wet, the mother hen brings them all under her wings and feathers to protect them. Even before they were born, the mother hen sat on the next and protected the eggs until they were about to hatch.
Our scripture today says God is like a mother hen, always wanting to protect us from whatever might hurt us. However we… like the people of Jerusalem… don’t often look to God for protection. We like to think we can handle everything on our own. Jesus was disappointed in people that they didn’t realize how much they needed God and how they should come to God for protection.
The scripture today talks about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness after his baptism, and having to deal with “Satan” or “the Devil”. Those are scary words and sadly the church has made them scary throughout history. But the original Hebrews did not think of a scary figure dressed in red and carrying a pitchfork – that was something artists created centuries later.
The Hebrews understood a character not called “Satan” by name, but “ha satan” as a description. This character was the tempter. That little voice that tells us to make poor decisions, that it doesn’t matter if we lie or steal. We know it is wrong but we really want to do it anyway – that is Temptation, ha satan.
In our story Jesus is tempted by that little voice in three ways: have everything you want, have all the power you want, and live forever. Jesus knew that he had a job to do and that job was not going to be popular. This was Jesus opportunity to work out his biggest fears and temptations, so he could feel strong enough to do the job of God in human form living on earth.
Why was Jesus meeting with Moses and Elijah? They were from different parts of the Hebrew Scriptures and lived a long time before Jesus did.
Moses and Elijah were very important people in the Hebrew tradition of Jesus’ day, and still remain very important to the Jewish people of today. Moses represented all the laws that the Hebrews were asked to follow, with his most famous laws being the Ten Commandments.
Elijah was a prophet and told the king and queen to stop worshiping foreign Gods (#1 on the Ten Commandments list). They refused and the queen tried everything to have Elijah killed. He hid in the mountains for a while with food being brought to him every morning and evening by ravens.
Moses died at a very old age after bringing the Hebrew people to the land of Israel. Elijah never died, he was the only other person in the Bible, either Hebrew or Christian scriptures, to ascend to heaven. Elijah ascended in a fiery chariot. This is the reason a lot of people thought Jesus might be the second coming of Elijah, coming back to earth to finish his work.
When the closest friends of Jesus saw these three men, they wanted to stop everything else and worship them, but God said no… as important as the laws were to the people (represented by Moses), and as important as the teaching by the prophets to stop worship other gods (represented by Elijah), God wanted people to follow the social change that Jesus was bringing. Moses and Elijah were just as important, God simply wanted the focus to shift to social justice.
This week we continue with Jesus and his followers together on the plain. Jesus is still teaching them about how to treat each other and how to treat people who might not agree with you.
One part of this story stands out: Often grown-ups and the church call it ‘turn the other cheek’, and think it was said to let people be mean to you for Jesus’ sake. That is not what it really means.
Jesus lived in a very different world than we live in. That culture believed in honour and shame. Anything you did that was bad would bring shame to you and your family, and anything you did that was good would bring honour to you and your family. People took this kind of behaviour very seriously. But as we know, Jesus wanted to change the world, not keep things the same as they were.
When Jesus said ‘if someone slaps you, give them the other cheek to slap too’, what he was really telling his people was to stand up to the shame culture. You see, anyone who was more important could slap you. So men could slap women in public, bosses could slap employees, everyone could slap children and slaves, but only on one cheek, and only by hitting them with the back of the hand one time. By offering the other cheek, what Jesus was saying was to shame them for their poor behaviour of hitting. It did not mean accept for more abuse and mistreatment. You shamed the hitting person by not bowing away and leaving. By standing tall you broke the accepted ritual of hitting and shamed the person who hit you, instead of being shamed yourself.
Jesus wants us to change the world, and little actions help to do that.
Luke’s gospel is the Social Justice gospel. About a hundred years ago Christians focused on asking “what would Jesus do”? when seeing all the problems in their communities, the churches looked to Luke’s gospel and read about these promises. They read how people needed to be fed, so the churches started feeding people. They read how the prisoners needed better care, so they started working for prison reform. They read how children needed to be loved, so they encouraged education for all children and supports for families. They read how the rich had to give up their wealth, so the church joined campaigns to have the rich pay for more social programs.
All of this is found in Luke’s gospel. And the great thing about the promise of food, comfort, happiness and respect for the poor is that the promise was to start immediately, not some imagined time in the future. The promise of equality in God’s world where everyone had enough and no one had too much or too little, was a promise that the church wanted to see happen today.
We are still that church and we still work to make things better for the poor, struggling, ignored and insulted people in our community. Jesus made the promise, and as disciples we are called to help make it reality.