geezeronthequad: There’s a Seat For Us At the Party If We Want It – Luke 15:25-32
When we embrace truth but only walk in the shallows of it, we vaccinate ourselves from catching the life truth gives. When believing becomes “what we’re supposed to do” but no more, we wrap our soul in a full body cast. We wonder where the joy and meaning went if we ever had it. And we sometimes get nasty with anyone who has what we long for. Everything Jesus said in Luke 15 up till now (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) was His response to people who didn’t like Jesus’ dinner companions (Luke 15:1). Jesus laid out in spades how eagerly God sought after the hopelessly lost and utterly rejected, how much He loved and cherished them and how greatly He and all of heaven exploded in joy over even one found and turned around. This really frosted the Pharisees’ donuts ; Jesus knew it would. That was the plan and that’s why the story isn’t over. We still have one son on the front lawn. Jesus now drags His audience into story; the Pharisees and teachers of the law are the good son.
And they were good – not a felon among them. The key is verse 29. “…Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” I’ve done the God thing right, by Your rules all the way! Where are the “goodies” for me? Saul of Tarsus was a guy who did the God thing “right” and he did it hard, allowing neither himself nor others any slack. “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Phil 3:4b-6) He had the network, the blood lines, the credentials, quite a platform. That’s why the Christians drove him mad. Their transformation and joy ate through his barren soul like acid. He hated their guts – “breathing out threats and slaughter”, Acts 9:1 says. These Christians, Jewish traitors and heretics all, enjoyed everything he longed and hungered for – for free, without hard work of any kind.
Why should these “losers” have Jesus attention and favor like that? We’re the ones who work hard to please God. Actually, Jesus did eat with them too on occasion but it always ended with them getting hot and huffy because they never earned Jesus’ approval. Anytime we think anyone has to be like us in some way to come to Jesus, to be used by or be pleasing to Jesus, the Pharisee gene percolates in our spiritual DNA. Anytime someone has to like our music, dress like us, believe secondary doctrines like we do (Jonathan Edwards would be clueless as to what the “rapture” was.), use only our version of the Bible (or dares to use THAT OTHER Bible), agree with the infallibility of our favorite author or preacher or be part of our campus group to be right with God, we haven’t been enjoying tea and scones with Jesus.
The good son stands outside listening to the party warm up. Not only can he walk inside anytime he wants, the father tells him this was always there for him. He could have had the party whenever he wanted; all he had to do was tear himself away from the work that he thought insured his father’s love and approval. Jesus pays the Pharisees respect here. The Pharisees have become a buzzword for dead faith. But at one time, they were the heroes of the faith. Before we write off other Christians as being dead, maybe we should remember there’s more under the hood in any soul than we see. Many Christians, churches or groups that we’re tempted to write off (a chronic sin of self-righteousness for some under the age of forty) as dead have past chapters of fire, joy and glory. It’s as if Jesus says, “Look! You stood strong for God’s truth when it cost and you risked everything. All your rules have a good root; you want to keep the Law of God and help others to keep it too. You keep the feasts faithfully. You tithe even your spices and never miss a synagogue service on the sabbath. But you’ve lost track of what pleases the Father. You’ve been seduced quietly over a couple hundred years into the sins of respectability – pride, wealth, power and the approval of men. And you’ve reshaped the Father into your own image. You think He approves of you but can’t be sure so you can’t get off the performance and pretense trip. You need to stop hating these human scabs I eat with and join them. All the joys, love and satisfactions of knowing and loving God have been there for you all these many years, there whenever you wanted them. You’ve spent so much time fussing over wrappers that will be thrown away that you can’t recognize the gift. There’s still room between a tax collector and a prostitute. SO WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?”
A lot of students I’ve spoken to over the last thirty years came to campus from church youth groups. That’s not bad but if the campus group remains a youth group surrogate, these students will move into larger adult life in a full body cast of churchiness, seduced by the sins of religious respectability (Including self righteousness against other people and groups that don’t smell like them.) The great thing about campus ministry is that it gives us the time to shed the old wrappers and props that may have given real support and brought us to where we are in Jesus Christ. Much of what brought us to”now” will not take us to “later” – types of worship services, old theological beliefs, former leaders no matter how much we loved them, old cliques of Christian friends. Now Jesus offers us a seat with new people who aren’t like us, who agitate and aggravate us, who we once wondered if they could even be Christian. And these love Him more than we do, show more of the fruit of the Spirit than the daily rot we bring to our days and have boldness that both embarrasses us and provokes our criticisms. SO WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?
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