Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Story Before the Story-- Part 1

The Bottom of the Pile
I am amazed at how God inspired his word to be written.  Each verse finds itself placed specifically in a larger section, which often are divided into chapters and found in complete books or letters written by men thousands of years ago.  Each book then finds itself in a broader meta-narrative that spans the entire collection of writings from Genesis to Revelation perfectly telling one story.  

A story of redemption.

A story about sinful men, who, in spite of their best efforts cannot rectify their broken relationship with God.
And a story about a God who relentlessly pursues these men, even though they don’t deserve it.

That having been said, the very unique thing about Luke chapter 15 is that it finds its place in this story, immediately following Luke chapter 14.  It sounds intuitive to say.  It seems like any first grader with any ability to count could lay this deep theological truth in your lap.  But too often in society, we are led to believe that all there is to a story is  22-minute bit of film seen on a popular sitcom, or a 30-minute sermon given by a pastor.  But ask any Hollywood writer, or any well-prepared preacher and you will soon discover that there is much more going on behind the scenes.  There is more to the story.  There is back story; there is context.

And so, before we dive into losing, and looking, and partying.  We must begin with the story behind the story.

Luke 14:1-2
One Sabbath, while he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees they were watching him carefully.  

The story begins with Jesus at a feast.  The Bible tells us that he is at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.  He is obviously a person of importance.  He is a powerful leader in the community and a member of the religious elite.  When it came to bubbles of power, in the Jewish world, they were all present in this room.  Apparently, it must have looked like some kind of political conventions.  I imagine a room where people didn’t really like to be around each other, but put on a smile and shook hands and jockeyed for position so that their picture could be made with the President.  And the reason they have gathered together?  To watch Jesus.  

Does Jesus know this?  Of course he does, but none the less he is there— in the midst of this political-religious battle of egos.  

And then Jesus does something, that is both amazing and just a bit funny.  

Luke 14:3-6
And behold there was a man before him who had dropsy.  And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”  But they remained silent.  Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.  And he said to them, “which of you , having a son or an ex that has fallen into a all on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”  And they could not reply to these things.

Knowing it is the sabbath, and knowing that he was surrounded by a group of individuals who had just gotten finished straining the gnats out of their wine for fear that they might accidentally break the law— Jesus asks them a question about the Law.  And then (in their eyes) he breaks it.

Of course it isn’t against the law to heal someone on the Sabbath.  But to the Pharisees, Jesus’ actions must have created an turmoil known only by the likes of Dave Ramsey at a MasterCard convention.

They were so confused the Bible says that they don’t even reply.  In fact it says they couldn’t.

But Jesus was just getting started.

Luke 14:7-10
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 

He then started calling them out.  Starting with his host.  He points out that they weren’t at this meal in order to experience fellowship with one another.  They simply wanted to see what Jesus might do, and be seen by others watching to see what Jesus would do.

He who exalts himself will be humbled.  He who humbles himself will be exalted. (vs 11)

The idea being planted in the Pharisees head is simple.  

Making it to the top of the social ladder doesn’t get you closer to God.
Your position in society, in the church, in your job, in the government— even your ability to adhere to the rules— none of that matters when it comes to God’s love. 

In fact, when it comes to God’s economy, there is only One at the top.  

And it isn’t us.

If you want to really know what is on God’s heart… you can't just look at the top of the heap; you have to look at the bottom of the pile.

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