Tag Archives: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Beatitudes, part 12: Luke’s Curses

Read Luke 6:24-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. (Matthew 7:13 NRSV)

theoldruggedcrossWe all have an idealistic image of Jesus in our heads, do we not? Growing up, we who grew up in the church learned about a Jesus who loves us, who welcomes us, who loves all the little children, and who came to save the world from hate and evil. We learned of a cheery, jovial man who was no ordinary human, but the Son of God; what’s more, Jesus was God in the flesh. We also learned how sinful people rejected Jesus’ message of love and crucified him to a cross, following extensive torture, and left him there to die. Of course the story doesn’t end there, as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven after appearing to his many disciples.

This just about summarizes our Sunday School/Church understanding of Jesus. It just about sums up every movie that has been created about him, and it sums up what I believe to be wholly an American Jesus who gives us eternity but asks nothing of us in return. This, in essence, is a cheap Jesus who presents to a us a cheap grace.

Don’t get me wrong, the summary is true in that Jesus does love us, welcome us and calls us to follow him. It is true that Jesus came to save us and that people rejected his message of love. But the reason people rejected his message of love, is because it often did not feel so loving. I guess one could say that Jesus’ love was often tough, challenging, and sometimes downright impossible for people to subscribe to.

In Luke’s account of the beatitudes, we get a picture perfect example of Jesus’ tough love. Following the blessings he pronounces on the poor, Jesus hauls off on the rich, cursing them to a series of four “woes” or afflictions. He does this to drive home the message of the four beatitudes, that God stands in solidarity with the poor and will show them partiality when these eschatological (judgment day) blessings take place.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26 NRSV). Yikes! Remember, Jesus is not speaking this to strangers, nor to his enemies; rather, Jesus is speaking this directly to his disciples!!

No doubt, there were disciples who had given up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; 18:28); however, there were also those who had not given up everything. Jesus’ teaching of God’s blessing on the impoverished, as well as his teaching of God’s judgment upon the rich, was meant to be a warning that God’s Kingdom is the ONLY thing we should be seeking to attain. Jesus is also clear elsewhere that one cannot serve two masters, that one will either serve God or they will serve materialistic gain (Luke 16:13 NRSV).

Again, if there was a way to soften this message and remain true to what Jesus is teaching here, I would; however, softening it only serves to add more sugar coating to the idol we continue to build up and name Jesus. Jesus’ message, as hard as it was in his time for people to hear, is really hard for us to hear. A majority of us in America claim to believe in God, and a majority of those who do claim to be Christian in one form or another; however, how many of us Christians really put God/Jesus first and foremost in our lives, foresaking all else in the process? That’s a tall order and most of us, myself included, fall very short of that!

Thank God that Luke’s Gospel doesn’t have the final say on what Jesus taught and/or meant by his teachings; however, we should NOT shrug it off as being irrelevant either. Luke’s Gospel gives us the bitter truth, as hard as it is to swallow, that we are not always aligned with God. What’s more, woe to us who think we are only to find out we never were (Matthew 7:13, 23; Luke 16:19-31 NRSV).

Luke rightfully has us pause and reflect on where we are in our relationship with God, a humility we should be daily embracing. Rather than viewing these woes as personal attacks against our faith, our lifestyles, and/or our wealth, we should be humbled by them and view them as true blessings in our lives. Why, you ask? Because they point us to the way, the truth, and the life and serve as a guide to keep us on the long and narrow road that leads to the Kingdom of God. Christ is teaching us of what our priorities should be, that they should be aligning with the priorities of God. If we heed that warning, we will be the “richer” for it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…what has cost God so much cannot be cheap for us.” – Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with humility so that I may see how I need to change in order to truly follow you. Amen.

All Authority

Read Luke 9:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20, NLT)

magic_gateway_wallpaper_by_jerry8448d4nyul6For those of us who are Christian, how easy it is for us to call ourselves people of faith, right? We often set ourselves apart from the “non-believing world.” We often separate ourselves from those who “don’t believe” and/or those who “don’t have faith” and see ourselves in an “us versus them” kind of way. I am not pointing this out in order to point out Christians in a way that is different from any other human religion, institution or group. All humans see their group in an “us versus them” kind of way. That is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the human condition.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that Christians do see themselves as being people of faith. I am pretty sure that all Christians, everywhere, would agree with that statement. Yet, in my own observance, many Western Christians (in American especially) do not live out their faith with much conviction. Sure, we are good at being convicted about certain things. I mean, many Christians will flip over backwards to tell you how we’ve fallen from God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23), how Christ’s death was God’s plan to save us from our sins and close the chasm that lay between us and God, and that all we need to do to be saved is to say the sinner’s prayer (whatever that is) and accept Jesus into our hearts. Once that has been done, we are saved and no longer a slave to sin and death (Romans 8:1-2); what’s more, once we’ve been saved nothing can ever separate us from the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

We are convicted to tell you that part of the Gospel story, but that is just about where our conviction ends. As a result, Western Christianity is rather shallow and completely skips over the ACTUAL end of the Gospel. Being forgiven of our sins is only a part of the Gospel story…and it happens to be the beginning of it, not the end. You see, anyone who has read any part of the Hebrew Scriptures could figure out we’re sinners and that God is working to forgive us of our sins. It’s not like God wasn’t forgiving sins before Jesus. Yes, Jesus sacrifice for us and the salvation that sacrifice brings is a part of the Gospel story, but not the whole of it; rather, when we accept Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we also accept the authority Christ has given us.

What authority you ask? The authority to represent Christ in the world. We have been the authority to fight against injustice and oppression, the authority to care for and bring healing to the sick, the authority to be present with the lost, the depressed and the lonely. We have been given authority over the powers of darkness and over the inner demons that try to take us and others down. To accept Christ’s forgiveness, to attain salvation in Christ, is to accept the authority that Christ is giving us over such things. But that’s not the end of it either. Once we’ve accepted Christ, and Christ’s authority, we being sent out by Christ into the world proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In other words, we are to proclaim to the world that the day of equality, social justice, mercy, compassion, peace, love, and God’s presence has finally arrived. This is exactly what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he spoke to the nation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, India. It was what Bonhoeffer was doing in Nazi Germany. This is not an activity reserved for a few who are called; rather, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. All Christians have been equipped with spiritual gifts to do such.

Of course, this will not make Christians the most popular people in a world that wants to keep the have-nots in their places. Yet, if we are truly convicted in our beliefs, if we are truly a people of faith, then we will bless those who hear and accept the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and shake the dust off of our feet when it comes to those who refuse to. The latter is not intended to be our judgment against them; rather, Christ is telling us to leave the opponents of God to God and is calling us to focus on those who would ally themselves with God and with the arrival of God’s Kingdom of hope, healing and wholeness. The question for us is this, how convicted are we? How much faith do we possess. God knows what tree we are by our fruit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is much easier to call oneself “a person of faith” than it is to ACTUALLY live a life of faith.
PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me and continually work in me so that I may move beyond my fear and accept the authority you have given me. Amen.

Disciple

Read Luke 8:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

Mary MagdaleneIn the film that came out a little while ago, Son of God, the story of Jesus of Nazareth was chronicled. It started off with Jesus walking toward the Sea of Galilee, heading to its shores to recruit a certain fisherman by the name of Peter. From there he gathered up more disciples, twelve in all. Of course, Jesus also had many followers who followed him around from place to place as he traveled the Galilean countryside.

In this film, they actually have an extra disciple. Now, I bet you are pausing here and questioning: “An extra disciple? If Jesus had an extra disciple there would’ve been thirteen disciples, but the Bible clearly says twelve.” But you did hear me right. In this film, the extra disciple was a woman by the name of Mary of Magdala (also known as Mary Magdalene). In the film, they show her following Jesus around, handing out the loaves and the fish, sitting in on his lessons to his disciples, and even questioning him on how they should pray. “Mary Magdalene,” you might be asking, “wasn’t she the prostitute who followed Jesus and ended up witnessing his resurrection at the tomb on Easter morning? How could she be considered a disciple?”

If you are questioning that I would like to pause here for you and explain. Mary Magdalene is often mistakenly identified as a prostitute; however, if one reads the Gospel accounts you will not find such a description of her anywhere. The most one can find of Mary, prior to her knowing and following Jesus, is that she was among the women whom Jesus “cured of evil spirits and infirmities.” In fact, the author of Luke says that Jesus had cast “seven demons” out of her (Luke 8:2).

Luke’s Gospel, which was the third one written (circa 80-90 C.E.), is the only Gospel to mention that Mary was possessed by demons, so it is hard to tell whether or not Mary was known for being demonically possessed in the time of the earlier accounts of Mark and Matthew (Note: Mark 16:9 also mentions that Mary was possessed by seven demons; however, Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition to Mark and not in the original manuscripts), or if it is a later addition to the story. Regardless, Mary was certainly not a prostitute and was certainly a close follower of Jesus as she is mentioned as such multiple times throughout all four Gospels.

With that said, being a follower does not necessarily make one a disciple. Disciples were students, and thus as Jesus students the disciples had greater access to the Jesus than the mere follower did. They learned from him, they aided him in his ministry and they were given an inside look at his parables and at Jesus’ messianic plan. While the Gospels do not explicitly name Mary as a disciple of Jesus’ in the formal sense, they do show her being among the women following Jesus. Not only that, but she and the other women were supporting Jesus’ ministry with their resources (Luke 8:3). What’s more, it is to Mary Magdalene and the other women, that Jesus reveals himself to immediately following his resurrection. It is Mary and the other women who first get the command to go and tell others of the Good News (aka Gospel) of Jesus’ resurrection.

Again, while the Gospels may not explicitly call Mary a disciple, I feel there is little doubt she was. The Gospels, ALL FOUR OF THEM, have Mary being the first witness of the risen Christ and the first one to spread the Good News to the rest of the disciples. If Mary, in a time when women were considered little more than property, can be considered a disciple of Christ, who can’t be? That is, indeed, the GOOD NEWS! Jesus Christ has risen and ALL are called to be in on what he’s about to do next! ALL are called to be a part of his messianic plan of redeeming the world and returning it back to a paradise where all creation lives in love and peace! Are you ready for what God is going to do? Be like Mary and respond to that call!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is only because he became like us that we can become like him.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

PRAYER
Lord, I wish to be your disciple. Teach me all that I need to do your work in this world. I give to you my time, my presence, my treasures, and my all. Amen.