Give It Back

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Luke 20:20-26 (NIV)

There was a time when I owned an inked stamp which I would use to mark books when I purchased them. The stamp indicated who the book belonged to and I would stamp the book on the inside cover. I did this so that if I lent the book to someone or accidently left it lying somewhere, it could be returned to me. The stamp indicated the book was my property and should be returned.

In today’s passage from Luke’s gospel, we encounter a question about taxes and returning what belongs to someone. The Jewish leadership sent spies to trap Jesus in saying something which would anger the Roman authorities.They determined this would be a good way to get rid of Jesus. The spies ask Jesus if it is right for Jews to pay tax to Caesar. Jesus knows what they are attempting so he has them produce a denarius. He then asks them whose image and inscription are on the denarius. They indicate it is Caesar’s so he instructs them to give back to Caesar what belongs to him while giving God what belongs to God.

Reading Jesus’s response, we are confronted with our own sense of civic responsibility and our responsibility to God. On a civic level, we are bound to return a portion of our government-issued money back to the government to assist in our protection and the care of all of the citizens in our country. Look at any paper bill or coin used as money and you will see the inscription, “The United States of America.”

Our responsibility to God is of even greater importance. Considering God created EVERYTHING, there is nothing outside the scope of what should be returned. God, however, does not need our money or anything else which is placed in our care. When we tithe, present an offering of any sort, we do so as an act of gratitude. What God desires most is our love. By giving our love to God and all which God has created, we are returning what has been begun by God. God gave love to us and filled our lives with love along with the results of that love. Love belongs to God and should be returned to God.

Give to the government (Caesar) what belongs to the government, and give to God what belongs to God which is everything but especially love.

Remove the Blinders

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Luke 18:31-43 (NIV)

Have you ever seen a horse who has blinders on its head? The purpose of these blinders are to prevent the horse from seeing behind it and on the sides of it at times. This keeps the horse focused forward and prevents it from being easily spooked. The blinders also improve the horse’s ability to remain focused on whatever tasks are being expected. Another benefit the blinders provide for the horse is a reduction in stress. With all the activity around most horses, their natural instincts to avoid anything perceived as a threat or predator can lead the horse to become overly stressed. For horses, blinders have many benefits which promote their safety and the safety of humans with whom they interact.

In today’s reading, we hear about Jesus’s interaction with a blind man along the road. Jesus predicts his death and the events leading up to his death which will occur upon arrival in Jerusalem. As he and his disciples are walking to Jerusalem, they encounter a blind man sitting by the road. The blind man cried out to Jesus seeking his mercy. People tried to silence the blind man but he only shouted more. Jesus stopped to ask the blind man what he wanted Jesus to do. The blind man requested to see. Jesus restored his sight indicating the man’s faith had healed him. The man then followed Jesus, praising God.

We, like horses, can sometimes have blinders on us metaphorically. Unlike the horses, most of our blinders are a detriment and not a benefit. When our blinders prevent us from seeing where the Lord is leading, they have a negative impact. If these blinders prevent us from seeing Christ in others, they are a problem. Blinders which do not allow us to experience the fullness of God limit us. We are then like the blind man who was sitting by the road.

We do not have to continue to wear the blinders. As the blind man did, we can cry out to our Lord. Our cry and request for the removal of our blinders has already been heard. The Lord invites us to grow our faith. As our faith grows and expands, our blindness reduces. Our eyes can open to new possibilities, new understandings, and new visions of God’s active work in our world. We can obtain this faith growth by studying God’s Word alone and with others. Expanding of our faith will occur as we engage in serving others and sharing in fellowship. Time in conversation with the Lord will increase our faith. Then, just as the blind man experienced, we can hear Jesus say that our faith has healed us.

Just Sit

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

Hosting guests or family gatherings can be a stressful experience. As host, making sure all the details for making your guests comfortable and cared for can be overwhelming. Preparing as much in advance as possible helps to reduce your to-do list when your guests arrive. Even if you prepare though, once the guests do arrive, there is still plenty to be accomplished. A person can be so tied up in tasks and on edge with worry about something forgotten or checking on the needs of the guests that you get little or no time to spend with your guests.

As we read from Luke’s telling of the Gospel, we hear about Jesus, Martha, Mary and the close disciples. Jesus and the disciples are in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to Jesus as he teaches. Martha is busy trying to be a good host by preparing food and other accommodations for the guests. Martha comes to Jesus frustrated because Mary is sitting instead of assisting her. She tries to get Jesus to instruct Mary to help her sister. Jesus responds that Marth is worried about too many details but Mary has chosen the only one which matters.

So often we are like Martha. If we had a guest of honor such as Jesus in our home, we would make every effort to be extremely accommodating. Instead of sitting so we could absorb all our guests have to offer, we would be wrapped up in detail so we could present a positive image. How many times do we let the opportunity to sit with the Lord pass us by because we are busy with life’s tasks? Jesus’s response to Martha reminds us to keep track of what is important. We must make time to be still with the Lord. We also must make time to be with the people in our lives. Those times are precious and will not always be available. Be wise like Mary.

Lost One

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:1-10 (NIV)

Have you ever had the experience of misplacing an important item, maybe car keys, your wallet, your identification, or your bank cand? I begin a deep search, retracing my steps, getting frustrated with myself, and worrying in large degrees. I am unable to rest or relax until the lost item is found.

We hear about such a frantic search in our passage for today. Jesus teaches using two stories. The first is about a lost sheep and the shepherd searching for it while leaving the rest of the flock behind. The second story is in regard to a woman who seeks out her lost coin. In both stories, the seeker rejoices greatly when the lost is found. Jesus tells those gathered that this is the reaction of God when one sinner repents.

Jesus’s message here is great news for each and everyone of us. There is not a person among us who has not been that lost sinner who Jesus refers to here. In fact, some of us get lost after having been found so we need to be searched for again. Our Lord will not relent on the search for each person. There is no limit to the number of times the Lord will search.

This leads to rejoicing all around. God rejoices every time a lost one is found. We rejoice in the knowledge that we are so valuable to the Lord that there is a search which never ends and will be repeated if necessary. We should also rejoice each and every time the lost one is found.

No Worries

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:22-31 (NIV)

In the late 1980s, reggae singer Bobby McFerrin released a song entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The tune is simple and the rhythms are energetic. The lyrics give a multitude of life situations which can cause stress and worry. One phrase reminds the listener that when we worry our troubles double. The solution is contained in a repetitive chorus of “don’t worry, be happy.” It is easy for the listener to start singing along unintentionally. A smile seems to naturally come across your face.

From Luke’s Gospel, we have Jesus lecturing his disciples to not worry. Jesus points out that the act of worrying adds nothing to a person’s life. He provides examples from nature to show that God provides all the true needs of creation. He concludes by telling his disciples to seek God’s kingdom because in so doing, a person will receive all which is needed.

This passage is as simple and straightforward as Bobby McFerrin’s song. The bump in the road is putting this advice into action. There is a natural sense of worry innate in all of us. There are some important steps to help us manage our natural worries.

First we must determine if we are dealing with a want or a need. There are a lot of wants which we have in our lives. A need is something which is necessary for our survival. An example may be the need for shelter. The want in this situation might be a 5500-square foot house with five bathrooms, an outdoor kitchen and a three stall garage.

Second, keep things in perspective. An expression which has gained some ground in society recently is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” This saying reminds us of the importance of perspective. Is what is causing you to worry that important or life-altering enough to cause you to expend a large amount of time, energy, sleep and mental health? Can you even do anything about the situation? If not, then stop worrying.

Third step is trusting. Jesus would remind us that we need to trust that our God is big enough to sort everything out and provide all which we truly need. Do you have enough trust that God is big enough? Are you able to believe that God will always provide your needs if not always your wants?

Owing Much

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 (NIV)

The New York Federal Reserve’s Center for Microeconomic Data reported that at the end of the fourth quarter in 2020 household debt rose to $14.56 trillion. The United States National Debt is currently over $128 trillion. We have become a people who live on credit and accumulate debt easily. Most of our debt is due to mortgages, car loans, medical expenses, student loans and credit cards.  There is not one of us who would refuse any debt relief given to us. If a creditor were to fully forgive our debt, our gratitude would be overwhelming.

In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of debt relief. A woman who had lived a sinful life comes to Jesus while he is at the home of a Pharisee. Without words, she stood behind him and cried. Then she used those tears to wet his feet. Taking her hair she dried them. Finally, she took a jar of expensive perfume and anointed them. The guests in attendance were critical of Jesus for allowing her actions. Jesus replied to them by asking Simon a question regarding debt relief. The point of his interaction with Simon was to show that one whose larger debt is forgiven will show more gratitude than the one with the smaller debt. The woman with more sin than the pious guests believed Jesus could forgive her sins. She showed greater gratitude than the ones who felt they had less sin and who did not believe Jesus could forgive even those.

This story causes us to pause. Do you identify with the woman or with the other guests? What do you do to express gratitude to the Lord for being forgiven? Do you believe the Lord can forgive sins or do you hold on to them? Here we are taught that the greater we understand our sin and the need for forgiveness, the more we are willing to offer in response to the sin being forgiven.

Authority

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Luke 7:1-10 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how some individuals seem to exude authority whenever you encounter them? The person seems to command a room from the moment of entering the room. Everyone in the room senses this authority even if they have no idea who the person is or what title the individual may carry. There are others who only have authority over people because of their titles. In some of the latter cases, the title does not fit the personality and the authority is not natural. True authority respects authority and earns the respect of others.

Jesus is one who exudes natural authority. This can plainly be seen from today’s passage. Jesus had just finished teaching on a hillside and was entering his home base of Capernaum. His reputation precedes him so when a centurion heard of Jesus’s return to the city, he sought help for a beloved servant. The Roman centurion respected and believed in Jesus’s authority. Understanding the dynamics of going through proper channels, the centurion went to the city’s Jewish leadership to request Jesus’s healing powers. When it appears that Jesus may come to his house, the Roman leader acknowledges Jesus’s authority and healing power. In this recognition of his power, Jesus is impressed because this is a recognition that most Jews had not even given him.

This passage begs the question of us, “Do we acknowledge Jesus’s authority and power?” Maybe we are like the people of Israel who admit Jesus is a unique servant of God but with limitations, and certainly not the Messiah or Savior. By acknowledging the authority of Jesus in our lives, we can unlock the power of the Lord to make a difference in our lives. Scripture tells us that the Father has given all authority in heaven and the earth to Jesus. All we must do is to believe and respect that authority.

Anchored Foundation

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49 (NIV)

In our community there seems to be an endless amount of homes being built. We live in a metropolitan community which continues to see a tremendous amount of population growth. Some of this new home construction has been very close to where we live. On my morning walks I have walked by many of these new homes and seen them at different points of the building process. The process is very similar in each build. Everything begins with a leveling of the ground, then a staking out of the perimeter of the home, followed by a more precise leveling within that perimeter. The ground is allowed to sit for a week or more so that it can settle before one final leveling. The next step in the process involves laying of pipes and other aspects of underground utilities. Once all of this is completed and a wood framework of the house isin place, a concrete slab is poured which will serve as the foundation and provide allow for the anchoring of the walls. Then the framing of the house can begin once the concrete has cured.

Jesus speaks of the importance of a foundation as part of  his teaching in today’s passage from Luke. He uses this imagery to emphasize putting his words into practice. The foolishness of people who hear what Jesus teaches but does not use these teachings as the basis for their lives is like a person who builds a house on the ground without a foundation Jesus says. When the storms come, the house is destroyed because it has no anchor. The opposite is true of the person whose life foundation is the words Jesus has shared.

We have been freely given the words of Jesus as presented in the gospels and applied by Paul and the apostles. What to do with these teachings is dependent upon us. If they serve as a foundation for our lives, we then have an anchor which will help us to navigate through and withstand the turbulent times in our lives. If we vaguely recall, or not recall at all, the teachings, they will have little value to us. The storms will come, they always do, and we will be battered and tossed around until our lives collapse into splinters and rubble. 

Reading the gospels and the epistles begins the building of our foundation. Listening to others as they interpret and teach these words strengthens our foundation. Interacting with the Lord through times of prayer and silence, cures our foundation. Be a wise builder by building your life upon the words of the Lord.

Contrasts

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)

Contrasts can be interesting to examine. Comparison of one item to a different one can result in some enlightening findings. Remember those assignments or test questions which invited you to compare and contrast two ideas, philosophies, arguments, or physical items? The assignment or question is designed to test your observations and ability to show the knowledge which you have in regard to those things being placed before you. Contrasting items can also be helpful in making decisions.

Jesus often taught using contrasts. His teachings were to show the greatest contrast in life, the contrast between God’s way of living and the human way of living. Whether Jesus was contrasting ways to lead, to love, or to make choices, he always explained God’s way versus humanity’s way. In our passage he sits up a series of contrasts. These contracts have to do with revenge, greed, generosity and love. Jesus is presenting how humans normally respond to one another versus how God responds and desires us to respond. The teaching here is difficult since it appears to stand in opposition to what humans consider to be natural.

As children of God, we are a contrast to the human understanding of life. Love instead of revenge, punishment, and fairness is counter to what we may declare as right. We do not see the equity in what Jesus proposed here. A fear of being trampled and used by others causes us to bristle at the instructions Jesus gives. However, Jesus is telling us that by always acting and responding out of love as demonstrated by the Father, we come out on top. There is nothing easy in Jesus’s words but we are given a standard which we must work toward every day.

Old Versus New

33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Luke 5:33-39 (NIV)

A custom around weddings is one regarding what a bride wears on her wedding day. The saying which guides the custom is… “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe.” This is an Old English rhyme, which if followed, is to bring good luck to the marriage. Many of us enjoy old sayings and customs. They bring a sense of comfort to us. In fact, even the progressives among us have some level of desire to hold on to something from the past. By doing so, we are able to be a bit grounded as we experience change and newness. The issue which can arise is when we hold on so tightly to the past that we lose the possibilities of the future.

Jesus brings this issue to the forefront during one of his frequent encounters with the Pharisees. He had just called Simon, Andrew, James, John and Levi. Levi, a tax collector, holds a banquet in Jesus’s honor where many of his fellow tax collectors attend. The Pharisees take issue with Jesus and his disciples eating and drinking with tax collectors, undesirables. Jesus explains he has come for the sick, not the healthy. Then the Pharisees question why Jesus’s disciples do not fast according to the customs. Jesus again explains that while he is present there is no need to fast; after he leaves there will be plenty of time for fasting. Jesus then tells a parable about putting old wine in new wine skins and the folly of such an action. He concludes with a statement pointing out how people tend to prefer the old. Jesus is speaking about preferring old customs and attitudes which leads to being left out of the possibilities of the new which are before them.

As mentioned above, the old can bring comfort and a grounding. There are important times for such things. But caution should be taken that holding on to the old and familiar does not lead us to lose out on the opportunities of the new. Scripture tells us that the Lord is doing a new thing. We must be alert to what the Lord is doing. There are possibilities each day which the Lord creates. If we are focused solely on our previous customs and attitudes, those possibilities will pass us by and we will be left wanting. Find strength in the old to experience the new. Remember what is old was new at one time.