Jesus’ Story – Day 35

March 24, Tuesday

rich man LazarusOne Sabbath day Jesus was invited to break bread in the home of a Pharisee. While they were dining, in came a man who had a disease that made his arms and legs extremely swollen. Everyone watched Jesus closely to see what He would do.

Jesus posed a question to the lawyers and Pharisees who were there. “Is it against the law for a person to heal on the Sabbath?” He asked.

They wouldn’t answer Him. So Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. Then Jesus said to His host and to the religious experts, “Which one of you, if your donkey or ox falls into a hole on the Sabbath, wouldn’t rush right out to help it?”

Again, they were silent.

Meanwhile, Jesus had noticed how the guests had all come in jockeying for the best seats, so He gave them something else to think about. “Next time you’re invited to a wedding feast, don’t rush to the best seat in the house because someone may come in who deserves the honor more than you do.  Then you will be humiliated as everyone watches as you get moved down to the end. Instead, pick a back row so that when the host sees you, he says, ‘My good friend, please, come sit by me.’ Folks will be impressed with that. My point is that everyone who is motivated by pride will be humbled, and everyone who is genuinely humble will be honored.”

Turning to the host, Jesus said, “Next time you put on a special event, don’t invite your peers who can reciprocate by inviting you to their homes.  Instead invite those who truly need special care: the poor, handicapped, and sick. Then you’ll be in for real blessing — not because any of them could possibly do something for you but because of the reward waiting for you at the resurrection of the upright.

Someone sitting nearby picked up on this and remarked what a blessing it would be to eat bread in the Kingdom of God.

So Jesus responded with this story: “Once upon a time a man planned a great feast and sent out dozens of invitations. On the day of the affair he sent out his staff to notify everyone that the meal was prepared.

“Well, much to the chagrin of the host, they all came up with excuses for missing the meal. One had to go check out some property he’d purchased, another had to try out his new yoke of oxen, and still another said he’d just gotten married and couldn’t make it.

“When the staff returned with this report, the man was furious. ‘Fine, then,’ he said, ‘go out in the streets and invite everyone you can find, even if they’re poor and handicapped!’

“After they realized there was still room for more guests, he told them to go further and find the homeless to fill up the empty seats.  There was no way he was going to welcome those he had first invited if they changed their mind.”

By this time Jesus was used to the crowds of people who accompanied Him everywhere. He decided to explain what it took to be a true disciple. “Do you want to be My disciples?” He asked. “Are you prepared to pay the price? Will you follow Me even if it costs you everything you now hold dear — family, friends, yes, even your own life? If you aren’t willing to take up your cross, you can’t go on with Me.

“I’m saying this to save you the embarrassment of starting something you can’t finish.  That would be like starting to build a house but not having enough money to ever finish it, or like a king recklessly going to war with another king before evaluating the odds of his success.

“In other words, following Me can’t be done without forsaking everything and everyone else. Those who hold on to their agenda while claiming to endorse mine are like salt that has no flavor, good for nothing but to be thrown out. I hope you are hearing and understanding all this.”

The Pharisees and scribes noticed that there were a lot of tax collectors and sinners in Jesus’ crowds. Jesus heard about their murmuring and decided to tell some stories to help them understand what was happening.

“A number of you own sheep, don’t you?” Jesus asked. “Suppose you have one hundred sheep and one wanders off on its own and gets lost. You think nothing of leaving the ninety-nine and searching high and low until you find it, right? Once you’ve rescued the wayward sheep, you call together all your friends to celebrate the good news. Don’t you know that there’s more celebrating in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine others who don’t need to repent?

“Ladies,” He went on to say, “when was the last time you lost a valuable coin? I’m sure you turned on all the lights and swept out every last corner until you found it.You, too, couldn’t wait to tell your friends your good news. I’m telling you that every time a sinner repents that’s how the angels in heaven rejoice!”

“Or think about it this way. A certain man had two sons. The younger one decided he didn’t want to wait for his dad to die before benefitting from the inheritance, so he asked for his portion ahead of time. The father complied and divided his estate.

“With all this money in hand, the young man left the confines of the ranch and headed for the big city. There he found plenty of ways to squander the wealth on pleasure. But the money was soon gone and the region where he was living went through a severe famine. The son ended up being so hungry he was willing to take a job feeding pigs out in the country just so he could eat something, even if it was pig food. No one gave him anything.

“One day as he thought over his life, he came to his senses and said to himself, ‘What am I doing here? I’m so much worse off than any of my dad’s hired hands; I should just go home and see if he’d hire me on as a servant.’ He made up his mind to go home, and he prepared just what he would say to his father.

“As the young man was nearing the home place but still quite a ways off, his father saw him. Overwhelmed with love, the father ran to meet his son and hugged and kissed and hugged some more.

“The son began his prepared speech, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you with what I’ve done. I’m no longer worthy to be treated as a son . . .’ But before he could explain about wanting simply to be a hired worker, the father called out to the servants, ‘Run, get my best robe to put on him, my signet ring for his hand, and new sandals for his feet. Go prepare a prime veal feast and call the neighbors! We’ve got reason to celebrate now that my son who was lost has been found. It’s like he was dead and has been raised to life again!’

“Did I mention that there were two sons? Well, the older brother was out in the fields when all this happened.  When he came in that evening and saw the festivities, he asked what all the noise was about. A servant let him know that his brother had finally returned home and that his dad had killed the fatted calf in celebration.

“This made the older brother so jealous and angry that he refused to join the party. His father came out and pleaded with him to join them. Fuming, the older son replied, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this for him! Here I’ve been slaving away while he’s been wasting your money on prostitutes. I’ve kept all your rules religiously all this time, and you’ve never so much as given me a goat to eat with my friends. But for him you’ve killed our best calf.’

“The father tried to reason with him, saying, ‘Son, yes, you’ve been faithful. Everything I have is yours, but don’t you see that we must celebrate this miracle? He was dead and is now alive. Your brother was lost, but now he’s found.’”

Later, when He was with His disciples, He told another story to warn them against being careless or passive in their responsibilities. “Once there was a wealthy banker who hired a manager to handle all his accounts. Someone had accused the manager of being irresponsible, so the banker called him in to get a full accounting of his activities.

“It ended up that the banker fired the manager. This put the manager in a tough dilemma. He knew he didn’t have skills to get another kind of job and he was too proud to beg for a living. So he came up with a scheme to get all his clients indebted to him.

“He called each of the clients who owed money to the banker and one-by-one authorized a significant reduction in the amount owed. One, who owed a hundred measures of oil, had it lowered to fifty; another owing a hundred bushels of wheat, he reduced to eighty; and so on.

“The banker had to admit the fellow had been creative in providing for his future, and he commended his ingenuity.”

Jesus concluded that story by observing that the pagans, in many cases, were more shrewd about these things than were the “sons of light.”

Jesus went on to explain the proper use of material goods. “Be shrewd in your use of money. Use it in ways that will benefit you and others for eternity and don’t be careless. Only when you are faithful in the little things, can you be entrusted with great ones. If you’re careless with money, how can you be trusted with true eternal riches? Be faithful with what others entrust to you and you will truly prosper.

“Having said that, I am not suggesting that you set your hearts on financial prosperity. If you do, you will end up becoming disloyal to God. You can’t serve both God and money; these are two different masters.”

There were Pharisees in the audience; and since in their hearts they loved money, they scoffed at Jesus’ warnings. Jesus put them in their place by stating, “You’re all about image and getting honor from men, but God knows what’s going on in your hearts. You can be sure that whatever men value is probably an abomination to God.”

Jesus continued, “The Law and the Prophets were your guides until John came preaching the Kingdom of God; now crowds are rushing to get in. That doesn’t mean the Law is null and void. For instance, ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another is committing adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman likewise is committing adultery’ is a law that hasn’t changed and won’t until heaven and earth disappear.”

“Once there was a very wealthy man who lived a life of luxury. Outside his gates sat a poor beggar named Lazarus whose body was covered in sores which the dogs came and licked. He survived off of scraps gleaned under the rich man’s table.

“Eventually, both Lazarus and the rich man died. Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, but the rich man found himself in the torments of Hades. Across the bottomless chasm he could see Lazarus being held in Abraham’s arms; so he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Could you send Lazarus here with a drip of water to cool my tongue? I’m burning up in these flames!’

“Abraham answered, saying, ‘Son, do you recall the luxury and abundance you enjoyed back on earth while Lazarus had nothing? Well, the tables are turned and he’s getting the blessing now. Besides, as you can see, there’s an impassable gulf between us; no one can get from one side to the other.’

“The rich man then begged Abraham to send someone to warn his five brothers who were still living so that they could avoid ending up in the torment he was suffering.

“Abraham again answered, saying, ‘They have the Scriptures which are adequate for their instruction if they will just listen to them.’

“The rich man countered with, ‘No, Father Abraham, it would be far more effective if someone would come back from the dead and speak with them.’

“But Abraham said, ‘If they’re not willing to listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even though one were to rise from the dead.’”

Speaking to His disciples (although the Pharisees may have been within earshot), Jesus said, “Everyone is bound to encounter temptations and stumbling-blocks along the way, but woe to those who cause them! They’ll wish someone had thrown them overboard at sea with a millstone tied around their neck to keep them from stumbling others. Let this be a warning to you.”

Then Jesus reiterated His instructions about forgiveness. “If someone wrongs you in some way, confront them about it. If he responds humbly, forgive him. Do this even if seven times in a single day he repents and asks you to forgive him. Forgive liberally!”

The disciples were flabbergasted. “Lord, you’re going to have to increase our faith if we have to treat others like that.”

Jesus said, “It’s not a matter of greater faith. Why, the tiniest amount of faith, rightly directed, could tell this mulberry tree to ‘go jump in the lake’ and it would do so.”

To help His disciples see that it wasn’t a matter of flexing some random faith muscle but that true faith was a matter of acting on what you’ve been told to do (just as Jesus trusted His Father’s wisdom and always did what He instructed), Jesus illustrated His point with this little word picture:

“When a wealthy landowner sees his servant coming in from a long day in the fields, he doesn’t say, ‘You must be ready for a good meal. Come, relax, eat with me.’ No, because he’s a servant, he’s expected to get right in the kitchen, fix the meal, serve it, and only when everything is cleaned up can he sit down to eat. And is the boss expected to come find the servant to thank him for all his work? Of course not.  The servant has just done what was expected of him. You are servants. At the end of the day, however long it has been, your attitude should be, ‘I’m blessed to be a servant, just doing my job.’”

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