Prone to Wander: Luke 15

Hot as H-E-C-K

parable of the lost coinFor the Thursday Triennium sessions, the lesson was Prone to Wander from Luke 15. It contains three parables. Our Albany group talked about two of them, the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.

Our collective had already been using an app called What’s App to communicate, especially on such a big campus. Cleverly, the room was split in two and we had conversations about the parables using the app, instead of talking. It was a useful attempt to have an intergenerational dialogue, and it allowed those who might not feel comfortable speaking up.

Is finding one sheep worth it when you already have 99? Sweeping the whole house was thought to be a whole lot of effort for one coin. I’m texting about metaphors to my group. What, I’m texting?

Incidentally, that day, I got a notification from my phone carrier that I’d used 85% percent of my high-speed data, which had never happened before. The next day, they clearly had reduced my data speeds through the following Monday.

The sermon that day also referenced the third parable, about the prodigal son who was welcomed back.

One important thing I had not mentioned was that, by Tuesday, it was hot as H-E-double hockey sticks, as some friends used to say when I was a kid. The temperatures were in the mid-90s, at least, and it was dreadfully humid. It felt like 104F (40C) or so every day.

I just couldn’t walk nearly a mile for dinner Wednesday night. By Thursday, I surrendered and got rides from one of the golf carts that were driving around after I would walk to breakfast.

The problem is that they had six or seven carts that could carry five people each. They anticipated about 40 people using the carts, but they were moving about 140. So that day, I got to dinner very early – it was better than walking.

I went up to the lounge of Earhart Hall, yes, named for Amelia, above the dining area. I’d see the Purdue students come out of the hallway, only to see this massive line of Presbyterians. No one had told them about the invasion: “they never tell us anything.”

Back at our dorm, I played 8-ball (billiards) with some kids. I loved playing in college, though I was quite terrible. Good to know these things hadn’t changed.

One last nightly task: a bunch of the chaperones had to check rooms between 10:30 and 11 p.m. to make sure they were present. They weren’t kids from the Albany delegation but were randomly assigned. By 11:30 lights out, I was ready for sleep.

Jesus Sought Me: Luke 19

Come down from that tree!

Zacchaeus tree.Palestine_Jericho
Zacchaeus tree in Jericho, Palestine
Now it’s the second day of Triennium, so it’s Tuesday. No, wait, it’s Wednesday. We left on Monday, got here on Tuesday. It WAS Wednesday.

The scripture of the day was Luke 19, specifically the first ten verses, and the theme of the day is Jesus Sought Me. After breakfast, there are discussions with our group of 18. We were joined by a couple of women from Connecticut, who were their entire delegation.

Jerry, the pastor, led the discussion about Zacchaeus, the tax collector. It was a despised profession because they only made a real profit when they overcharged those who owed money. And he was the chief tax collector in the area, so he was particularly loathed

Verse 3: He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. The first “he” was Zacchaeus. But Jerry opined that the second he was NOT Zaccheus but Jesus and that Jesus was short.

Ha! That dovetails with my working theory that Jesus was not only height-challenged but homely as well, which I shared with one of our visitors afterward.

The broader message was that Jesus picked that unlikely guy, deciding he needed to stay at Zacchaeus’ house that night. The crowd grumbled, “Why is Jesus hanging out with THAT dude?” Zacchaeus declared he’d give up half of his possessions to the poor, and if he cheated anybody, he’d pay them back four times the amount.

The message continued later that morning in the small group discussions. I was probably older than the instructor and there was only one other person over 40. The rest appeared to be older teens or in their early twenties. I enjoyed the intergenerational interaction.

I should explain the worship services. It’s in a hall that holds most of the 5000 people attending the conference.

The session started, always, with what they called “The Energizer”, doing various exercises to pop music from a variety of artists, including Taylor Swift and BTS, the latter which thrilled my daughter. I thought it was, in the words of Frank Zappa, “enforced recreation,” but I was clearly in the minority.

Our group showed up closer to the start time of the worship services, but the Energizers started slightly before the scheduled time. The kids in our group would try to get there early.

There was a band who sang and played a folk/gospel/rock amalgam. They were quite good. The lyrics to the songs, all but one of which were unfamiliar to me, were shown on a couple of screens. It’s usually not my cuppa, but most of the songs were pretty good.

The sermons during the week, from five diverse speakers, were good across the board. They spoke of an inclusive, rather than exclusionary God, a God that would welcome even a tax collector.

While no specific political statements were made, it was clear that the speakers were cognizant of a certain rhetorical disconnect out of the District of Columbia.

What Would Jesus Be Packing?

The interpretation of the verses in Luke 22:36-38 can follow either a strictly physical direction in which swords must be used, or a nonphysical one in which swords must not be used, during Jesus’ last hours.

jesus-gun-wwjd41First I read that churches in Kentucky are using gun giveaways to help people find Jesus. Then, in a front-page story in my area, the pastor of a local Baptist church plans to give away an AR-15 assault rifle to the winner of a free raffle at an upcoming Sunday service.

From the Troy, NY church’s website:

We have decided to hold a special service honouring hunters and gun owners who have been so viciously attacked by the antichristian socialist media and antichristian socialist politicians the last few years. Our country was built with the King James Bible and the gun.

My theology is very different from this, and I struggled to understand it. Part of the issue has to do with the notion of “a long-standing and deep sense of a special and unique American Destiny, the belief that… America is a nation called to a special destiny by God.” This thought process fueled Manifest Destiny in the 19th Century, for instance.

Thus, embracing the Second Amendment rights, if I am sussing this out correctly, is akin to embracing God. “The notion that there was some providential purpose to the European discovery and eventual conquest of the landmasses ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus was present from the beginning.” Ah, American exceptionalism. It’s not “America, right or wrong”; America has ALWAYS been right unless the socialists have taken over, trying to take away “our guns” and “our freedom.”

But what is the Biblical theology defending guns? More than one person online cited Luke 22:36. From the King James Bible, which seems to be the only version that matters to this church:

36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

What IS Jesus saying here? That we need weapons to defend ourselves? Continuing:

37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.

38 And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.

Rev. Alan Rudnick, who wrote about the gun giveaway, pointed me to this interpretation, which I need to quote at length:

The interpretation of the verses can follow either a strictly physical direction in which swords must be used, or a nonphysical one in which swords must not be used, during Jesus’ last hours… first we analyze why the literal one will not fit into Luke 22:34-38 and into the passage about the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-53).

Violent use of the swords

Jesus says to the disciples to buy swords, but when they show him two, Jesus says the two are enough. The literal [direction] is inadequate for two reasons.

First, the obvious question is: two swords are enough for what? Are they enough for a physical fight to resist arrest? This is hardly the case because during Jesus’ arrest… Jesus sternly tells Peter to put away his sword, “No more of this!” and then he heals the servant, restoring his ear (Luke 22:49-51). Resisting arrest cannot be the purpose of the two swords.

Second, were the two swords enough for an armed rebellion to resist the authorities and to impose the new Jesus movement in a political and military way? Jesus denounces this purpose in Luke 22:52, as the authorities are in the process of arresting him: “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs?” The answer is no, as he is seized and led away (v. 54).

The contextual meaning of the swords…

Jesus reminds the disciples of his mission for them before he arrived in Jerusalem (Luke 9:3; 10:1-17). Did they need a purse, a bag, or extra sandals? No, because people were friendlier, and their opposition to him was spread out over three years. Now, however, he is in Jerusalem, and he has undergone the compacted antagonism of religious leaders seeking to trap him with self-incriminating words. When the authorities are not present, they send their spies…

Second, “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered among the lawless'” (Luke 22:37). By far the clearest purpose of the two swords is Jesus’ reference to Isaiah’s prophecy (53:12). He was destined to be arrested like a criminal, put on trial like a criminal, and even crucified like a criminal (but his arrest, trial, and execution were based on false evidence. He did nothing but good.) Yet, he was hung on the cross between two thieves, which is also a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Luke 23:32; 39-43). What are criminals known for carrying with them? Weapons, and to be numbered among criminals, Jesus must also have weapons. That is why he said that only two swords would be enough—to fulfill this prophecy.

The argument that Jesus was fulfilling Scripture, and/or that two swords would not be sufficient if meant literally for defense, was noted HERE and HERE and especially on the Wikipedia page. The “armor of God”, in my belief system, does not require OUR literal weaponry.

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