Tag Archives: Parable

The Vineyard

Read Mark 12:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. Since your refuge is made of lies, a hailstorm will knock it down. Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.” (Isaiah 28:17 NLT)

The+VineyardJesus had stirred up a hornets nest. Just the day prior, he had gone into the temple, violently overturning the tables, let the animals loose, and drove out anyone who was buying or selling goods for sacrifice, as well as anyone changing their currency into the currency accepted in the Temple or vice versa. The next day, he had also told the religious leaders that he didn’t need to answer their questions, since they were unwilling to answer his. Things were about to get pretty ugly, and Jesus knew it.

Following this, Jesus began to tell a parable. He told of a man who built a vineyard and leased it out as a cropshare to other tenants. When it was time for the harvest, this man sent his servant to collect his share of the crops; however, the tenants grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back to the man empty handed. So he sent another, and another. Only, these times the servants were not only beaten but killed.

Finally, the man sends his son to show the tenants how sincere he was about getting his share of the crops. He figured the tenants would see his son, and see that the son came in his authority, and have a change of heart. He hoped they would finally give his share of the crops to his son to return back to the man. Instead, these wicked tenants took hold of the son, beat him and killed him with the intent of taking ownership of the entire estate.

Following the parable, Jesus asked the religious leaders what the man would do once he heard that his son had been killed. Instead of answering, they stood their quiet. They knew the answer, but could not bring themselves to answer it. So, Jesus answered it for them and said, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.'” (Mark 12:9-11 NLT)

Of the many parables that Jesus taught, this one seems to be one of the least understood. The end of the parable seems to overshadow people’s interpretation of the rest of it, meaning that God’s wrath seems to overshadow a parable that is otherwise filled with grace. Yet, despite the last couple of sentences, the whole verse gives us a clue as to Jesus’ mission on earth, which was ultimately a mission of God’s unconditional love and grace.

We often look at the cross as something Jesus had to go through in order for us to be saved from our sins. We view Jesus’ sacrifice as being substitutionary, that Jesus death was a substitute for our own. Those of us who understand Jesus’ sacrifice and death in this way, often view God as a just God, one who is angry at sin, and because of God’s absolute holiness, cannot allow for sin to go unpunished. Thus, God demands blood as a price for such sin and, knowing this, Jesus offered himself as the blameless, sinless lamb as an atonement for us.

Yet, when you look at this parable, I think it is clear that Jesus is pointing us to a different reality. That God’s plan was not to send Jesus to die; rather, God’s plan was to send Jesus to show us The Way back to God. Like the man in the parable, God’s son was sent to bring us who have sinned against God to a state of repentance. God’s son was sent to show us how wrong we have been in severing the relationship we used to have with God, and to call us back into a relationship. Yet, people were too sinful to care that God had sent God’s son and, instead of repenting, we doubled down in our sin and killed God’s son. Jesus did not die as a subsitution for our sins, but BECAUSE OF THEM.

The wrathful ending to the parable is a reflection that God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted by our sin. The very people who nailed Jesus to the cross had stumbled on the cornerstone and, no matter how much they thought they had won the day, they had totally lost the battle. While they further damaged their relationship with God and further corrupted their own souls in the process, God’s plan of redemption carried forward from the cross to the empty tomb. In other words, while sin put Jesus on the cross, God’s redemptive plan came to life again and walked right out of the tomb three days later. The challenge for us, as we journey through Lent, is this: will we humble ourselves, repent and be redeemed, or will we allow sin to further separate us from our loving Creator? In the end, it’s our choice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“May the perfect grace and eternal love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing protection and help.” – St. Ignatius

PRAYER
Lord, lead me to repentance and save me from the power of sin in my life. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: A Modern Parable

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

The Gospel Truth

Read Luke 20:9-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’” (Matthew Luke 20:9-19 CEB)

copy-of-jesus-faceIf I were to walk into any given church, or up to any random person, and ask them what the heart of the Gospel message is, I would more than like receive something like the following: “The Gospel message is that God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because Jesus was perfect and without sin, he became the spotless lamb led to the slaughter in order that he may die the death we deserve in order that those who believe in him might be atoned to God and saved.” This is the, in essence, the modern, popular Christian understanding of the heart of the Christian Gospel. Jesus came to die so that we might live.

Yet,  when you read the Gospels themselves, we find that Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins is just a part of the Gospel story. It is not the whole of it. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection are vitally important to Christian theology, Christology, and the Gospel message; however, only so when it is told in the context of the other components that we find in the Gospel. When those components are missing, what we end up is with a skewed, inaccurate portrait of the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a skewed and inaccurate portrait of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the Christ.

While it is certainly true that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought about salvific and transformative atonement from our sins, to only tell that part of the story does an injustice to the life and the teachings of the Christ. In fact, it not only does a disservice, but it completely ignores Jesus’ life and teachings altogether, as if they are simply secondary and/or non-important. Yet, was Jesus’ life and teachings trivial? Was his life and teachings secondary, just a necessary back-story to his ultimate death and resurrection? If that is the case, if Jesus’ teachings are trivial and secondary to the work of salvation in the world, then why go down the route of teaching and preaching at all. The Gospel writers could have simply just had Jesus proclaim that his the messiah and the son of God, have people reject that, have him crucified, died, buried, resurrected and be done with it.

But that is not what the Gospel writers did. Rather, they included the whole of Jesus’ life and they dedicated most of their time on Jesus’ teachings. For them, the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings were both as integral to God’s salvation plan as his death and resurrection were. Jesus came, not to die, but to bring TRUE LIFE into the world. To show them what God means by LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR. Jesus came to set the example and to personally deliver the beginnings of God’s reign in the world. But, like Jesus’ own parable of the wicked tenants suggests, some of those in the world to whom the father sent the son (e.g. the Romans, the politicians, some of the religious leaders, etc.), rejected his identity, as well as his authority, and tried to eliminate him.

That plot, though, ultimately failed; rather, what happened was that God made the greatest good EVER come out of both the life and the death of Jesus. Instead of remaining dead, Jesus resurrected and now sits in power and authority in a complete union with God. Those who believe in him have found the power of redemption, as well as the transformative presence of the Holy Spirit and the perfecting grace of God in their lives. They are not saved, but are transformed and are living out their FAITH in real and tangible ways.

The challenge for us is this, don’t be misled by a lopsided and misguided Gospel. Jesus wasn’t born merely to die. What kind of God would scheme up that kind of plan? Rather, Jesus was born so the he might LIVE in the world and that through him we might attain TRUE LIFE. Even in the face of evil, and even when finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus perservered and triumphed over death because in him was a presence greater than death…the very presence of GOD. Through our belief in Christ, through our following his example as detailed in the Gospel, and through his death and resurrection, we have found REDEMPTION and have been placed on the narrow path that leads to life. Let’s start walking it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We cannot have the fruits of the gospel without its roots.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

PRAYER
Lord, I open my heart to the truth of your Gospel. Perfect me in it and set me a part a witness to its power. Amen.

Cubic Zirconia

Read Matthew 15:44

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls.” (Matthew 13:45, NLT)

cz2webWhat do you value? What is it that you place all of your stock in? What is it that you would spare no expense for? What is your gleaming treasure? In today’s suggested reading, Jesus tells of a man who stumbles upon treasure hidden in a field that is so precious to him that he then sells everything he has in order to purchase that field and, by extension, purchase that treasure.

Now for those of us who really hear that parable and really give it some thought, we are left there stunned. I mean, why would someone stumble upon treasure hidden in a field and sell everything they own just to purchase the field with the treasure they stumbled on and could have had for nothing. That just doesn’t make any sense, does it? That seems like the most ridiculous and unlikely scenario ever told, does it not? Come on Jesus, surely you can do better than that?

Yet, the power in the parable is not in its plausibility but in its implausibility, for it is in the extreme and implausible actions of this seemingly lunatic man that we find the truthful point that Jesus is making. Sure, the man could have just taken the treasure and kept it for himself; however, that action would have been cheap and worthless and it would have rendered the treasure as such; rather, by selling everything and purchasing the land, and the treasure by necessity, makes that treasure the most valuable thing the man possesses, for he now owns nothing but the small plot of land and that treasure. The things we value the most will consume our very lives, and our actions will follow suit. Nothing else will stand a chance in competing for our devotion.

So, let me ask the question again. What do you value? The treasure above represents the Kingdom of God. Do you value the Kingdom of God…do you really, really value it? Do you value what God values? Do you value love, compassion, presence, respect, hospitality, service, sacrifice, grace, faith, faithfulness, justice, mercy, and social/economic/ecological/spiritual responsibility? Do you value the dignity and the divine spark within the all people you know and deal with. Do you treat everyone with equal respect and honor? Are you real in your values? Are your values real in you?

Plenty of people list their values and claim to live by them; however, values are not cheap like talk can be. The very word value denotes something of worth or cost, something to be treasured and sought after. When we claim to hold values that we don’t follow we show that those values are not real to us, we show that we are really seeking after Cubic Zirconia as opposed to the diamond in the rough. When we use values as a mask to hide the truth of who we are and/or the things we do, we are showing ourselves to be disingenuous and fake. We may fool some with that kind of an act, we may even fool ourselves, but we will never, ever fool God. God knows our hearts.

The Kingdom of Heaven is something of profound worth, something worth selling our very selves to purchase and to possess. The truth is that we can never, ever possess it; rather, it possesses us. Though we seek the Kingdom of Heaven, we discover that it searches us out. Though we may be Cubic Zirconia on the outside, God sees in us the diamond in the rough and chisels away the shells that surround us to reveal the inner gem. And once God does that we are transformed into a people who live by the very values that have claimed and shaped us. We become transformed to the point that the very values of the Kingdom of God become our own identity. We not only believe in them, we live by them. Not because we feel obligated, or because we’re putting up some sort of manufactured front, but because it’s who we are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” – Socrates

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only proclaim my values, but to actually live into the values I proclaim. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Holy Monday

Read Mark 11:12-14, 20-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’” (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV)

fig_tree2Have you ever been in an apple orchard, or in a strawberry field, or in a garden and really desire to eat the food you come upon? One of my favorite things to do is to eat the fruit fresh from the tree. I get hungry walking through the orchards and the fields and, for whatever reason, the fruit tastes so much more fresh and desirable when freshly picked. There is nothing like it.

I can only imagine that Jesus, heading in to Jerusalem on that Monday morning nearly 2,000 years ago would have felt the same way as he passed that fig tree. The only difference is that, as he was passing, the fig tree was not in season to grow fruit. It only had leaves on it. Jesus surely knew this and understood it, yet when he arrived at the tree he cursed it upon the sight of it not having fruit. Odd, right? His disciples must have thought so.

Then this Jesus headed into Jerusalem, and went straight to the Temple. It is there that he began teaching against the religious establishment of his time period. You see, Jesus felt that they had become more focused on upholding their power and status, rather than being servants of the people. Rather than leading the people closer to God, Jesus felt the establishment was crushing the very people it was meant to serve. Jesus did not parse words as he levied the indictment of those who stood to gain from the establishment. On the way out of Jerusalem on the morning after that long and tense day, the disciples had noticed that the tree had withered and they remembered the curse Jesus had pronounced against the tree.

The tree is a symbol, a metaphor, and it represents the religious establishment and all of those who would claim to be God’s. When God comes, when God shows looking for fruit, we had better be bearing some. There are no excuses that will fly. We cannot claim to be out of season, or unaware of the coming of the Lord. Rather, we are called to ALWAYS be bearing fruit and we are not only called to bear fruit for some…but for ALL!

The question for us, as it was for those in Jesus’ day, is this: are we bearing fruit, or are we just a tall trunk with leaves? Are our branches far reaching, do they reach out to all who are in need of the fruit they bear, or are short and sparce? Are we like the great tree that grew from the mustard seed that shelters all of the birds of the air in its shade? Or are we a tree that shelters only the few and privileged? The Son of God wants us to bear fruit. The Son of God is calling us to recognize that all are children of God and all are chosen to receive the fruit of God’s love…the fruit of God’s hope, healing and wholeness. All we need to do is to root ourselves in God’s unfailing love and grow.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 7:18-19 NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, produce in me a clean heart. Prune away the dead branches and nurture me into a strong tree that produces much fruit for your Kingdom of hope, healing, wholeness, love, peace, justice, compassion, mercy, and humility. Amen.

The Labyrinth

Read Mark 4:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)

The LabyrinthToday was just one of those days. You know, it was a Sunday afternoon, the sun was out and shining, the breeze was gentle and refreshing, and the temperature was perfect. It was one of those days that, despite having a terrible sinus infection, I just could not be inside. So, I decided to take a contemplative stroll through the labyrinth in my backyard. Yes, you read that right, I have a labyrinth in my backyard and I love it!

As I was walking around, though, I started to notice that it had become quite unkempt as things were finally springing to life after a cold, long and harsh winter. So, I got inspired to start moving the rocks, pulling weeds, leveling the dirt and mulch, and placing the rocks back in place. It felt so refreshing, spiritual and serene doing that simple, yet physical work. I felt very attuned with God as I worked at caring for and tending to the labyrinth.

As I was pulling the rocks away, I noticed the some of the grass and weeds surrounding them were very easy to pull out. It took no effort at all. As it turned out, the roots were growing in only a an inch or two of dirt that had collected in between the rock. Once I removed the rocks, I could easily get rid of them.

As I was weeding my way around the labyrinth, a parable of Jesus’s came to mind. The parable where Jesus talks about the seed that get sowed in rocks, in weedy areas, in shallow soil and the seeds that are sown in the good soil. He was saying that if the seeds are sown right, the plants that grows will grow hardily and not easily be removed. This was a metaphor for faith that Jesus was using to instruct his disciples, and those listening, on the importance of being rooted deeply in one’s faith and not just having a surface faith rooted in shallow soil or, worse yet, having a dead faith that never rooted at all because the seeds were tossed on rock and/or hard soil and eaten by birds.

But sometimes, like the weeds in the labyrinth, our faith seems to be rooted deep; however, that depth is no more than an illusion. Sometimes we discover that our faith is actually shallow and only appears to be deeply rooted because those roots and shallow soil are being secured by the boulders around us. Once those boulders are removed, our faith gets tested and shown to be nothing more than weeds that are easily plucked and thrown into the wind.

But there is good news here…there is indeed hope. As painful it is for us to remove the boulders weighing us down, once they are removed and once those shallow rooted weeds are plucked, we begin to clear a path that twists around like a labyrinth that leads us to the good soil. It is there that we begin to realize where our seeds of faith need to be sown. It is there that we begin to cultivate a holy and sacred garden, at the heart of God’s temple!

Christ is calling you to remove the boulders in your life! Christ is calling you to pluck the weeds that are hindering your path. God is calling you to journey further in the labyrinth, plucking and pulling out the shallow rooted weeds until you get to the center, until you get to the place of deep, good soil. Christ is sowing the seeds of God’s love…of God’s hope, healing and wholeness…of God’s Kingdom in your heart. Allow God to nurture and cultivate that divine garden and let the love of God spring forth from you like the well spring of life! God is recreating Eden within you and calling you join him in the Garden! I’ll see you there!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER

Lord, help me weed my way to the good soil, so that my faith may grow into a luscious, sacred and holy garden. Amen.