Thursday, 22 September 2016

Further than I want to go

I’m catching up late with the Gospel readings for the last two Sundays and am newly struck by the fact that roughly the same story comes up three times in Luke 15 and 16.  At least the basic shape is the same.  I’m catching up with the challenge they present which seems to go much further than I really want to go.

The Bible Study bit is easy.

First, read two Sundays ago, Jesus eats with tax-collectors and sinners, and the religious authorities of the day disapprove (so Jesus then tells two stories about seeking out what has been lost).

Second, read in Lent so skipped over in our Sunday readings this month, there is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Third, read last Sunday, there is the Parable of the Corrupt Steward (the one who is sacked and who immediately falsifies his master’s accounts to build favour with the master’s clients).

All three have a figure who is God: Jesus, the Prodigal’s father, and the Steward’s master.

All three have figures who are wastrels: the tax-collectors and sinners with whom Jesus eats, the Prodigal himself and the Corrupt Steward himself; it is possible that some of the sinners with whom Jesus eats are repentant, and the Prodigal does become so, but this isn’t the common theme

In all three cases the God figure celebrates the wastrel figure: eating with tax-collectors and sinners, slaughtering the fatted calf to throw a feast for the returned Prodigal, and commending the shrewdness of the Corrupt Manager.

In all three cases there are voices of incredulity from the respectable: the religious authorities of the day grumble at Jesus choice of eating companions, the Prodigal’s older brother is angry and resentful, and (I’m stretching a point here, but go with me) almost every preacher agonises, twists and turns to avoid joining Jesus in commending the actions of the Corrupt Manager.

And that is the point.  It shouldn’t be difficult to preach about the last of the three passages if one has just read the first two. 

The first two say that the great banquet (of which we catch the foretaste now, and to which we are promised full participation soon) will be chock full of bankers and wastrels and people not unlike me a lot of the time and worse.  That is how God is.  It is hardly surprising news.

So how can any reader be puzzled in any way by the third story?  As we stand ready to pronounce judgement on the corruption we see in it, we hear God say ‘you’ve got to admire his chaputz, his imagination, his sheer financial agility, haven’t you?’.

Perhaps it simply sets a standard for our inclusivity.  If there isn’t someone out there – or a something inside me  – screaming ‘how on earth could you include them?’ then I probably haven’t gone far enough.  Certainly not as far as loving my enemies and praying for my persecutors.

But how far should this take me?

From resisting the humiliation of convicted criminals (as St Nicolas’ was doing in 2008 - something I was remembering this week) right up to giving medical treatment to a bomber (not something commended by every candidate for high office – as we were all observing this week) we may only really playing at it.

Please God, may the abuse, bombing, corruption, deception, exploitation and fraud around us be exposed and ended, punished and prevented, and may the victims' needs never be forgotten, minimized or neglected.  Let justice prevail.  But even then, give us your longing for the lost perpetrators - however hard our inner being calls out against this prayer.


Joy Davis said...

"The first two say that the great banquet (of which we catch the foretaste now, and to which we are promised full participation soon) will be chock full of bankers and wastrels and people not unlike me a lot of the time and worse. That is how God is. It is hardly surprising news"............................. ONLY IF they repent of their sins and are born again as Jesus instructs all sinners to do.

Peter Mullins said...

You've combined two (or possibly three) things there, Joy. Luke does indeed refer to the need for repentance (he does so explicitly just three chapters earlier, although the word he uses is about radical reorientation of life and may not be quite what later Evangelical scholarship expands or narrows into a phrase like 'repent of your sins'), and John 3 does say that rebirth by water and the Spirit is needed to enter the Kingdom of God (although this reads much more like allowing the action of God than achieving reorientation by one's own efforts). The strange thing about the three stories at which I was looking is the plain fact that the feasting, embracing and praising isn't presented as conditional in any of them - it is almost as if God's seeking out includes and that reorientation of life and rebirth by God's work is the possibility opened up by this. Of course we all know both the constant challenge to 'sin no more' and also that if a particular form of self-aware acknowledgement of each sin was a requirement then none of us would be going to the final feast at all - both mainstream Christian teachings. Meanwhile, I hope you are well re-settled at your old Baptist church and being well fed there by less exploratory thoughts than mine like this!

Joy Davis said...

Apologies for having a simple Biblical faith Peter. Your exploratory thoughts are always appreciated for what they are.

Am happily re settled at GBC, the teaching is not quite so esoteric as yours but more in line with biblical truths.

WE each have our own personal walk with faith.

Peter Mullins said...

Thanks - I hope that there are very few of us whose faith is not simple (a radical trust that God in Christ can deal with the limiting nature of my sin, my mind and my works) while seeking biblical truth (attending closely to it all the time).