A Scandalous God Matthew 22:1-14

Have you ever thought of the Gospel as something that is scandalous? Normally, we call the Gospel “Good News.” It is because of what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection. The Gospel is for us, salvation. So how can something that is so good for us be a scandal? It is scandalous for us to hear because God doesn’t follow our understanding of value, worth or importance. Instead, the Gospel destroys our false claims.

A king is throwing a wedding party (a symbol for salvation) for his son. Nobody responds. A second invitation is sent out but some of the invited guests were too busy with the farm or their business. They were too busy doing the things which we define as bestowing worth to a person. The king’s invitation is what graciously declared their importance in the kingdom but they refused. The other invited guests abused and killed the king’s messengers. They violently snubbed the king’s gracious invite. So what does a king do to those who snub his kindness? Naturally, he destroys them.

There needs to be a word of caution given here. If we aren’t careful, we end up taking one of Jesus’ parables about God’s kingdom and make them about supporting our claims for worthiness and power. The actions of the king can be used to justify violence (in God’s name) and anti-Semitic beliefs. Jesus was using this parable to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom. He wasn’t reducing God to a tyrannical human king seeking vengeance for being snubbed.

Since none of the first invitees were willing to attend the party, the king sent out more servants to invite who ever they could find, good or bad. In the end, these folk had a valued place in the kingdom which exceeded those busy with farm, business or direct opposition could never attain. The kingdom of God is about and will always be about grace.

A curious point was made about a guest present at the party without a wedding robe. When asked, the guest gave no answer to why they were at the party and were then thrown out. The person didn’t comprehend the kindness and grace given by the king’s invitation.

So what do we do with this parable? We live in a crucial time when we are divided and the value of human worth is being debated. Black Lives Matter, immigration policy, suburb vs. inner city, rich vs. poor are all being played out as to who is worthy and who is not to be a part of this country and world. The violence being lived out today and as shown in the parable is how we choose to define our own value and worth.

Jesus told this parable as a way of describing the kingdom of God. We are important not because of our wealth or stubborn ideology. Value in the kingdom of God comes by God’s invitation. The invitation is sent out to all people. Therefore, all are the same.

So will we finally get this through our heads? Will we abandon our efforts to define ourselves by tyrannical force? Are we really going to let ourselves be on the outside looking in at the salvation God has invited us to in Christ? Or, are we going to let God be the one who defines us by that gracious and wonderful invitation to salvation?

Peace

What Is Life Worth? Matthew 16:21-28

The struggle for the worth of human life is going on before our eyes. Opponents to abortion emphasize the value of the unborn. Black Lives Matter seeks justice for lives that have been denied worth. The immigrant poor are labelled to deny their human dignity and rights. The list goes on and on. It seems the more the struggle goes on to lift up the value of life, the more brutal the opposition works to strip it all away.

So what is your life worth? You knew this question was going to come. The answer comes quickly in Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Yet we are fast to forget this truth for ourselves and for others. Our actions show how easily we sell out life for the cheap.

Jesus said in the reading from Matthew,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Matthew 16: 24-26

What is life worth? It is priceless. No amount of money is going to buy back a life that has been forfeited on the cheap. So remember that your life has value. This is what Jesus is telling us and so where we invest our lives is critical. The reality is that we have no choice. We are either giving ourselves over to the world or to being a follower of Jesus. Only one will give value to life that God intends for all peoples (creation too).

Jesus has just told the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem where he will suffer, be killed and raised up to life on the third day. Peter (who had correctly named Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God) challenged Jesus saying that this must never happen. Jesus’ response was to call Peter’s words satanic. Obviously Peter didn’t fully grasp the consequences and purpose for which Jesus was speaking (this understanding would come later). However, Peter’s response showed where his life was currently invested. His life was focused on the traditions and the power structures which rewarded a few and denied others their value. This is why Peter’s response was called from Satan. His words spoke to a way of life that opposed what Jesus taught, did, died and was raised to accomplish.

Remember that your life is priceless. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection prove that value. So where are you going to put that valuable gift of life that God has given to you? Will you sell out on the cheap for traditions, power structures and labels that reward the few while taking away the value and dignity of others? Or, will you give your life over to a life defined by Jesus?

The fight to define the value of life is going on in protests on the street and over the Internet. The question that each of us has no option but to answer is this, “What is life worth?”

Peace

The Value of One Luke 15:1-10

I have always liked the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  They describe the passionate desire of God to reach out to one and all, even me.  A shepherd has one of the flock wandering off.  Leaving the remaining ninety-nine, the shepherd searches high and low until it is found.  A party is held to celebrate.  A woman loses a coin and searches the house from top to bottom until it is found.  A party is held to celebrate.  It is comforting to know that God values the one enough to face a cross, a grave, to have me securely in his kingdom.  The great sadness is that I am more like the Pharisees muttering over Jesus’ behavior.

Jesus is being criticized.  This was not unusual.  The complaint was his willingness to socialize and eat with sinners.  If Jesus did this, it meant that he accepted them.  No self respecting authority on the Scriptures would allow themselves to be ‘tainted’ by association with sinners, would they?  Jesus did.  He socialized with them.  He ate with them.  He welcomed them.  He celebrated their return as active citizens of God’s kingdom.  We could learn a lot from Jesus.

We seem to be obsessed with division.  We are determined to maintain the ‘purity’ of our beliefs and not be ‘tainted’ by association with others.  The result is we accuse, nasty Tweet, undercut, spread lies, shun, etc.  However if we follow Christ, we follow the God who is relentless until even the ‘one’ is restored in his kingdom.  Jesus’ example would have the liberal and conservative stop the attacks and eat together.  The white and black put away the distrust and eat together.  The Christian and Muslim put away the fear and eat together.  Radical behavior like this would be a tremendous threat to those holding power by keeping the divisions alive.  In Jesus, we see God willing to face the cross, the grave and finally rise from death to defeat those powers and for us all to know the true power of his kingdom.  The kingdom of God is where a great celebration is held for sinners who repent (this is all of us).  So you see there really is value even of one.  The end result is we get to party together.

Peace.