Coveting can be right and proper. The Bible says to covet the best spiritual gifts and to covet to prophesy. The English word covet simply means to desire. Desire is wrong when we lust after what is not ours. The last of the Ten Commandments deals with lust. Coveting what does not belong to us causes us to lie, murder, steal, commit adultery and so on. Jesus addressed the folly of covetousness in the story of the unjust inheritance and the parable of the greedy farmer (Luke 12:13-21). One is the case of the brother unjustly treated in a family inheritance. We don’t need to lust after what others have rightly or wrongly gotten. It is also the case with the guy who built a barnyard retirement plan. We ought not to trust in selfish preparations but in God.
Our son asked our advice on his becoming a missionary. I told him the cold, hard facts. A missionary life is wonderful and adventurous and giving and heroic, but there is no retirement plan, no equity built up in a house, and no church cares that missionaries return home to retire with nothing. I know, I was a missionary of sorts myself, having been a pastor on three continents. Our retirement will probably be one of poverty, but that’s not a bad thing. The parable of the unjust inheritance (Luke 12:13-21) teaches a similar lesson. One brother was cheated out of a fair inheritance and Jesus simply taught that life does not consist of an abundance of things. The Bible teaches that a life of poverty is a blessed one. Relying upon God for our provision is an adventure.
Have we ever prayed for God to set things right but it seems like that God says no or to wait? In Luke 12:13-21 is such a situation. One brother has a larger portion of the inheritance. He may have manipulated his way into the bigger share. He may have simply not defended his younger brother against unjust parents playing favorites. Jesus’ advice is to take heed or watch out and avoid covetousness. The Greek word for covetousness is also often translated as greed, and means “lusting for a greater number of temporal things that go beyond what God determines is eternally best”. If someone has swindled us out of worldly goods let us realize that an abundance of possessions does not define a great life. Being satisfied with what God decides to give us is a great life.
In Luke 12:13-21 is the story of two brothers, one received a large inheritance and the other none or very little. The one brother cried out to Jesus for justice, but Jesus refused to intervene. Why? In our world today are billionaires who take far more than a fair share of the economy, by grossly overcharging, underpaying wages, cutting health benefits, unfair tax breaks, lobbying to deny workers a fair deal and in some cases outright criminal actions. Many people are crying out for justice today. Why does Jesus not intervene? If we have it within our power, it is our job to seek justice for others (Isaiah 1:17). It is not God’s timetable to right every wrong in this life. For some things, we must simply have the faith that God will eventually make all things right.
Whether it is royalty dividing a kingdom or a poor peasant deciding how the children are to inherit a few small family treasures, an inheritance is not always fair. I am thankful that my father negotiated equitably with his children and that we are still on good speaking terms. It’s not always that way. Whether the cause of the unfair inheritance in Luke 12:13-21 was favoritism or a child’s sins, or some other cause entirely, the fact is that one sibling felt grossly mistreated. Jesus did not want to get caught in the middle. His job was not to be a judge in a family lawsuit. One brother obviously got a larger slice of the pie. We don’t need to fret if others are greedy and we miss out, because life does not consist in an abundance of things.
Jesus taught that if we ask, it will be given (Luke 11:1-13). What if I ask for a million dollars? The context of that promise was our collective prayers. Despite its many weaknesses, one good thing about the King James Bible is the use of ye. Modern English has dropped using a different plural for you, except in colloquial English words like y’all. So we could translate verse 11 as, “So I say to y’all, Y’all ask and it will be given to y’all; y’all seek and y’all will find; y’all knock and the door will be opened to y’all.” The promise is to expect answers when we all pray together. So, what about the million dollar prayer? God may not say yes in this life, but in eternity we will all be so much more than mere millionaires.
We often see the Our Father (Luke 11:1-13) as a pious prayer, a begging prayer, but it is not. It is a bold and audacious prayer. We can see that intent in the parable of the midnight visitor which follows. Here we see two men in typical male trash-talk style yelling at each other through a locked door. This is not a religious sounding conversation, but a guy who wants to just go to sleep and his neighbor yelling to borrow three loaves of bread with shameless persistence. It is an audacious request and that is the type of prayer that Luke is portraying as the Lord’s prayer. We too brazenly ask that God gives us bread, our daily needs. We boldly ask that God brings his kingdom, forgives us and does not allow wrong things to entice us.
In Luke 11:1-13 we are encouraged to pray "lead us not into temptation." What does that mean? The Greek word is peirasmos and can mean either trial or temptation. Temptation is also enticement to do wrong. Why should we pray that? We live in a world where there are many enticements to miss the mark of a successful life. We want to stay faithful to God and have no other gods or idols of materialism. We are surrounded by those who misuse God’s name. We can be seduced into working without rest building bricks for corporate pharaohs. We can be tempted to dishonor our parents. We can be tempted in a moment of anger to kill. We can be enticed to be unfaithful to a spouse. We can be tempted to steal, lie and covet what is not ours.
There is a saying that we do forgive, but we want justice. When we miss the mark, which is what the word sin in Luke’s version of the Our Father means (Luke 11:1-13), then we have not lived up to life’s highest expectations. We have missed the mark. Our sins are an unfulfilled obligation to others and to God, an injustice that needs to be set right, a debt that we owe. When we forgive we release others, not only of their having missed the mark but also of the debt of justice that is owed to us. We give up the right to justice. For instance, if someone has unjustly swindled us out of something valuable, forgiveness means we give up the right to that thing. Because we do, we can rightly ask God to forgive our debts.
The Ten Commandments say it in the negative, You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. That includes OMG. The Our Father says it in the positive, hallowed be your name (Luke 11:1-13). Do we approach God’s name with reverence? Do we talk about him as someone that we love? Hallowed means "to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate." Do we get mad when our name is insulted? Why do we not glorify his name instead of ours? Do we use God’s name as holy, treating it with great respect and adoration? Do we begin our prayers by praising God and praying that his name be glorified? Do we promote our religion, our denomination, our theology or God’s name? All churches are polluted by sin. God is not. Let us glorify his name.
The Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-13) begins with two important words. Our, we, us is found throughout this the most perfect of all prayers. When we call God ours, he is not our God alone. Some people are offended by calling God a father, because they had an abusive earthly father and so substitute the word mother or prefer a gender-neutral word like parent, but there have been abusive mothers too and Jesus did not use parent but father. God does not describe himself with the metaphor of father to cause offense. He knows that no human parent is perfect. He wants us to understand perfect fatherhood through him. In Greek father means one who “imparts life.” In the Bible it does not refer to a “universal fatherhood” towards humanity, but to those in "intimate connection and relationship" with him.
In Luke 11:1-13 when one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, the first words from Jesus were, “When ye (or y’all or yous) pray...” Modern English has lost the word ye and in its absence is the confusing word you which is the same for singular and plural. Some dialects maintain a plural in y’all or yous and other regional variants. Some believe that the use of the plural you before the Our Father indicates that it is to be said as a group prayer and that certainly is a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps that is one reason why the first words are “Our Father” rather than “my Father”. Perhaps if we understood how unifying the prayer is supposed to be we would not see occasional silly arguments over which version of the prayer to use.
The stories of the Good Samaritan, and Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) show how we can all get too busy for the important things of God. The priest and Levite were too busy being super righteous that they had no time for one of the most important aspects of God’s work, showing love to a neighbor. Martha was too busy in kitchen preparation so that she could show love to her neighbors through food, that she could not show love to God by listening to Jesus. We all need to take time for God: faithful church attendance, praying often, Bible reading, tithes and offerings, meditating on and discussing the things of God and occasional fasting. Both loving God and loving neighbor are so intertwined that we cannot neglect the one and claim to be fully obedient to the other.
When I started studying for a master’s degree we were told in an introductory class that if we were not yet obsessive-compulsive, we had better become that way in order to succeed academically. I soon realized what was meant. Graduate studies have become a tiresome round of picayune rules with seemingly endless lists of things to do. No wonder that some administrators are trying to restructure seminaries along the lines of Jesus’ training of the twelve and move away from the Pharisaic world of academia! It is not just academics that has become obsessive-compulsive. Legislative overload has forced us all to become this way in order just to survive in the modern world. We are modern slaves. Where does Jesus fit into this? Do we take time to escape the rat race and rest at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42)?
I read a story of a lady in line for communion at her local church when her cell phone went off. The pastor did not miss an opportunity for a little fun and said to tell them that we don’t do take out. Our lives are filled with distractions. Family, friends, job, school, television, radio, email, social networking, home maintenance, shopping: all distract us. Advertisers try to distract us with endless forests of junk mail hoping that their endless destruction of trees will return just a little income. We go to church to get closer to God, but even there we find distractions that can even make a retired person forget to pray. Finding time to sit at the feet of the master (Luke 10:38-42) is an endless struggle. It takes self-discipline to be still and listen to God.
In a restaurant there are two areas of work. In the front of the house may be the maître d', wait staff and a cashier. In the back of the house may be food staff, a bookkeeper and cleaning staff. In a restaurant the most important people are the customers. No job may get in the way of a good customer experience. In church life it’s similar. Front of the house may be pastors, musicians, ushers and worship staff. Back of house may be a pastoral care team, individuals doing personal evangelism, secretary, bookkeeper, committees, cooking and cleaning staff. All jobs are important. However, sometimes we can become so busy doing God’s work that we don't take time for God. No job ought to prevent us from a most important task: sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).
Triangulation begins when a two-party relationship includes a third person. It can be natural and healthy as when a father exposes his child to the world outside the home away from its mother. It can be unhealthy as when the two parents fight over a child’s attention. The addition of a third person to any relationship has the potential for conflict. In our story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) we see Jesus placed in an awkward position between two sisters. In many cases it is wise for any third parties to keep their mouths shut lest they become the enemy of both. However, sometimes a third party can contribute wisdom and a solution to the conflict. Jesus simply reminded us all that while serving food is good, a spiritual meal is something which will not be taken away.
Martha, Martha (Luke 10:38-42)! The words are familiar to longtime Christians. We almost get a smile on our face as we remember the words. We have all known plenty of Martha’s in our lives, men and women who are too busy serving others to sit at Jesus’ feet, too preoccupied for prayer, a schedule too cluttered for church, a life too busy for personal Bible reading. It’s a common experience. We have family, friends, work or school, and material possessions which can all distract us from worship of God. We cannot discuss Martha without remembering the chapter’s context of loving God and neighbor. The parable of the Good Samaritan also precedes our story and focuses on what it means to love our neighbor. The story of Martha puts loving God in it’s proper priority, first. Nothing else comes first.
Which law do we Christians obey, the law of life or death (Romans 8:2)? In the southwest of the United States we could get arrested for giving a drink to a dehydrated Mexican attempting to cross the desert. That would be aiding and abetting an illegal immigrant. It is a law of death not life. In Jesus we obey a higher law, one that values human life no matter their status in this world. In the allegory of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) we are not told why the priest and Levite did not help the robbery victim. Perhaps they were attempting to obey Old Testament laws which forbade certain mingling with foreigners. Yet there were other laws which expressly instructed helping those in need. There is no ambiguity in Jesus. We are to love even our enemies.
We have all experienced the disappointment of false friends. We may have been a false friend by letting someone down when they needed us most. People in business often pretend to be customer friendly just to sell something but are not when the product injures our pocket books. People running for office as friends of the people make promises only to break them once elected. Worst of all are the disappointments we find in church life where we like to think that we have better standards than those of business and government. But, we don’t. We are all more like the priest and Levite than the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We have all failed to be good friends. Only Jesus is a faithful friend. Even in the church, we be deceived into considering him to be an enemy Samaritan.
Origen was a prolific Christian writer from Egypt born in the late 100’s. He suggested that the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) can be interpreted as an allegory, the story of salvation in pictures. He wrote that the injured man pictures Adam. The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem represents our journey from this world to paradise, the robbers who attacked, stripped and beat the man represent hostile powers. The priest pictures the law and the Levite the prophets. The Samaritan is Christ who we, in our fleshly lusts, treat as an enemy. The man’s wounds are what our disobedience to God does to us. The donkey pictures Jesus’ body which takes us first to the inn picturing the church, the manager is the head of the church, and the Samaritan promises to return just like Jesus will.
We occasionally hear stories of mafia dons giving away money to the poor, or drug lords helping their communities or corporate robber barons who give away millions in philanthropic donations. Some politicians who vote to allow the convenience killing of unborn babies have helped the poor more than those who voted to ban such abortions. Even evil and murderous Hitler helped his country out of the great depression. Why is it that bad people sometimes do better than good people? That is the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Many Christians are reluctant to use the resources of bad people to help others, but the truth is we are all sinners and all our resources are tainted by some wrongdoing. The bottom line is that, when enemies help and friends don’t care who are our true friends?
Many robbers attack, strip people naked, beat them and leave them half dead (Luke 10:25-37). Some attacks come from the corporate world of corruption and unjust wages. Some come from the government world of unrighteous laws and overregulation. Some come from natural disasters. War, famine, disease, declining union influence, lack of education, fathers leaving the family, divorce, teenage pregnancy, domestic abuse, employment abuse, immigrant status, minority status, prejudice, disability, loss of job, low wage rates, high medical bills, fraud, oppression, theft, disasters, fire, flood, inadequate health insurance, industrial change, foreign invasion, apathy, greed, laziness, overpopulation, inequality, abuse of power, indifference and many more things attack, strip and beat people, leaving them half dead. Are we the super-righteous who step over the hurting and ignore them, or are we the despised Samaritan that cares enough to do something to help?
Instead of the words Good Samaritan, perhaps we could think of the good Muslim or the good illegal alien or the good person of another race to name just a few hated groups of people. The point of the parable is that we who think that we are so good are often worse than others we disdain. Why are the super-religious priest and Levite the failures in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)? Why do some Christians look for personal miracles, or focus on physical experiences like tongues and healing, or material wealth, or an ego-boosting word from the Lord but ignore this word from God? Why are we in the church so reluctant to help the man on the street who has been attacked by corporate and government robbers, and been beaten and left half dead?
If we listen to politicians they will tell us that the illegal alien, the Moslem or the unborn baby are not our neighbors. But we let Jesus define our neighbor not politicians. We are willing to love our neighbor as long as it is not an enemy. We put boundaries on who is our neighbor. Jesus puts no boundaries on neighborliness. We want to do missionary work within our own towns, but not in another state or another country. Yet, the Gospel must go in word and deed to the whole world. We want to limit our responsibility to others but our responsibility has no bounds. The Greek word plésion means someone near but as Jesus explains (Luke 10:25-37) it also means any person “irrespective of race or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet”.
As we read Luke 10:25-37 we may notice the emphasis on the second of the two great commandments, loving our neighbor by doing. Some Christians claim we just need to believe and not do, but that contradicts Jesus. James put it succinctly when he said that faith without works is dead, useless (James 2:18-26). It’s similar to saying that love of God is useless without love for neighbor. That love is visible in action. We don’t do good works to gain favor with God, but because we love him and our neighbor. The works that we do in love of our neighbor are like a bright light in a prominent place in our communities that gives glory to God (Matthew 5:16). When concluding the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus’ teaching is to go and do likewise.
It’s very pleasant to be listened to, instead of being interrupted or someone only pretending to listen or worse, rejecting us and turning their backs. My father was a very successful salesman who loved the word no, because he knew it meant he did not have to waste any more time and could move on to the next potential customer. He taught me that sales was just a numbers game, and that the more people he met the more sales he made. Jesus Christ was despised and rejected and so will we be, but the more people we talk to the more we win. In Luke 10:1-20 he said that, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” People don't reject or accept us but Jesus. What a privilege and blessing to be listened to when we talk about Jesus.
What! Who’s the crazy guy claiming there were 70 apostles? Actually that is how the eastern church refers to them and with good reason. Eastern Christians do not use the word apostle as exclusively as does western tradition. It became fashionable in the west, which was further removed from the original Greek of the New Testament, to refer almost exclusively to the original twelve as apostles. However, the Greek term simply means someone sent away, in this case, on a mission. The opening words of Luke 10:1-20 could easily be translated as “the Lord appointed seventy-two others and apostled them two by two ahead of him” that is, if we made a verb out of the noun apostle as does Greek. We simply translate it that Jesus “sent” them, and that is just what apostle means, a person sent.
In Luke 10:1-20 we may notice that the disciples had joy in doing the work of God. This is how it is meant to be. When we have joy in doing church work such as board meetings, performing church service, choir practice, Bible studies, letting our light shine in the community, then we are on the right track. When we are no longer enjoying our service to God, it is often an indicator that we are doing something we ought not to be doing. It could be that we are not taking a Sabbath day’s rest. It could be that we are doing something on our own strength for which God has not gifted us. It could be any number of things. What truly gives us joy is being one of the people whose names are written in heaven.
In Luke 10:1-20 are important principles of mission. Go “two by two”, not alone. “The harvest is plentiful” and “the workers are few”, so we will need helpers. “Ask the Lord of the harvest”, prayer is important. We are “lambs among wolves”, open to attack. “Do not take a purse”, rely on God and “do not greet anyone on the road”, no loitering. Speak “peace” everywhere. Look for someone who “promotes peace” as fertile soil for the Gospel. Allow them to set the agenda and menu, don’t impose your culture. Graciously accept “wages” for your efforts. Stay put, so people know where to find you. Be a healing not a hurting presence. Tell people about the “kingdom of God.” Sometimes you are “not welcomed”, so just warn them and leave. Don’t put your mission work ahead of your salvation.
Every church has a great treasure trove of advice, some in the form of helpful analysis and some in the form of not so helpful criticism. Evangelism is the positive side of gossip. One brings good news; the other brings negative commentary. We have people who work in many different fields and have an incredible variety of training. Helpful advice is abundant, needed and welcomed. What most churches lack is harvest workers (Luke 10:1-20). We cannot do the work of Christ as loners who only go to church and ignore our communities. We must go out of our homes and be involved in neighborhood activities. There are many opportunities to get to know our neighbors and we need to take advantage of them. There are two kinds of people: spectators and players. Spectators analyse, players do. Let’s be doers.
Jesus makes spreading the Gospel simple. We just eat, heal and tell (Luke 10:1-20). Eating is a natural part of life and a good way to mix. Not everyone will invite you to eat with them, but we can often invite others to eat with us. Let us do the inviting and be known as hospitable people. We may not all be able to heal miraculously as Jesus did, but we can all help heal other people's hearts with kind words and encouragement. Let's look behind the outward show and see the need for healing. Along with eating and healing is the natural telling of each other's stories. That doesn't mean that we shove Jesus down people’s throat, but it does mean that we tell something. How much is up to us and the wisdom that God gives us.