Nov 21

The Kingdom Commission

In Luke’s gospel, the two of the last sentences uttered by Jesus from the cross are undeserved words of mercy. For the soldiers who have nailed him to the tree and the leaders who have conspired against him and mocked him, Jesus prays for forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And for the criminal—villain, really, is what the Greek word means—Jesus promises, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” His whole life Jesus has preached good news to the poor, release to the captives, and love for neighbor and enemy alike; here, on the cross, in excruciating agony, Christ remains faithful to his preaching, to the life he has dedicated to the kingdom of God. Mercy is Christ’s final word before death. Mercy is Christ’s word to us this morning. Continue reading

Oct 31

Zacchaeus: Identity Crisis

Luke sets us up, right at the beginning of this familiar Bible study, the story of Zacchaeus—the wee little man. In chapter 19, verse 2, Luke tells us in no uncertain terms that Zacchaeus is a sinner. There was a man in Jericho named Zacchaeus, and he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. Tax collector, rich: in Luke’s gospel, these are both ways of saying, “Sinner! Outsider! Outcast!” The only question, it seems, is what kind of sinner Zacchaeus will turn out to be. Which side—the tax collector or the rich man—will win out? Continue reading

Oct 17

Perseverance: The Final Gift to the Faithful

Perseverance is a gift from God given at the end, and only at the end, to those who are faithful in Jesus Christ. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with an angel of the Lord at Jabbok, and Jacob persists throughout the fight, even when he is injured, unfairly, it seems, by the angel. But it is only at the end of the match that Jacob receives the gift of perseverance, when the angel of the Lord yields to Jacob and grants him his request. Then, at the end, the angel blesses Jacob with the gift of perseverance.

In the same way, in Jesus’s parable of the unjust judge, a woman persists in her quest for justice. But perseverance comes for her only when the judge grants her request. If she had given up, of course, the woman never would have received the justice she was owed, and so she would not have persevered to the end. And if Jacob had given up, say, when the angel touched his hip, Jacob would not have received his new name, Israel, would not have received the Lord’s blessing, and so he would not have persevered to the end. Continue reading

Jun 13

Galatians: Crucified with Christ

Jesus Christ is our gospel. We do not proclaim, first, a message about Christ. Our message is Christ himself, Jesus Christ. He is our gospel. Our gospel is not really about anything; our gospel is Jesus Christ. And when, through our words and deeds, we introduce people to the gospel, we are, or should be, introducing them to a person, fully God, yes, but a person named Jesus Christ. And when our lives, our autobiographies, tell about the gospel, our lives should, must, live out the story of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Mar 31

Fit for a King?

Was it fitting for Jesus to die this way? Is his death fit for a king? When a president dies, he is treated with the greatest dignity. His body lies in state in some public building so that mourners may come and keep vigil by his side. He is guaranteed, if he wants it, a funeral in one of the great churches of our country, the National Cathedral in D.C., perhaps, or some other similarly grand building. His death is a great and solemn event. But Jesus was given none of these tokens of greatness. He is treated with scorn, not dignity. His body hangs in the air on a cross, not in state. There is no funeral, and things are rushed along at the end, because everyone has other business to attend to. So again: is his death fit for a king? Was it fitting for Jesus to die this way? Continue reading