In Luke 7, we get several stories that all point to Christ’s divine identity, revealing his power over sin, disease and even death. Response to him will be divided. Some see their need for him while others do not.
Dear Father in heaven,
We come before you in humility knowing that in ourselves there is nothing that would make us worthy to have you listen to our prayers. We truly have nothing to offer but our faith in Christ. We know that he came to proclaim forgiveness to sinners like ourselves, so we ask you to cleanse us of our sins.
We ask you to make us faithful intercessors, much like the centurion, with respect to those we love. Please hear the prayers that we offer up for others.
Help us to remain faithful in the midst of our own trials, even as John had to remain faithful in prison.
And as we recognize how great your forgiveness has been toward us, make us people who would show you great love.
After Jesus reassured the crowd that John the Baptist was pretty much the greatest man that ever lived, the tax collectors and various others present were satisfied. Not so much the Pharisees and lawyers, who rejected Jesus after rejecting John. Jesus went on to describe their response, or the lack of one.
31 To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.
Pastors and churches like to be relevant, and that is great – to a point. There is a temptation to let our thinking run wild in that direction. We may daydream, “Well, if we can only do this, and add this, talk like this, dress like this, and change the decor to this, then …”
The responses to John the Baptist and Jesus provide some much-needed counterweight to that tendency.
It would be hard to find two personalities or presentation styles that contrasted more starkly than Jesus and John. John was famous for wearing rough clothing, preaching in the wilderness and eating mainly bugs. Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He never seemed to turn down a free dinner or an invitation to a party. Rather than hanging out strictly in the wilderness, he wandered all over the countryside and traveled by water. He was found in the towns and cities of Galilee, in the synagogues or on the seashore, and then in Jerusalem for the holidays.
The message of both these men, however, was more or less the same. It may have sounded different, or looked different, if one looked at the messenger. But they mainly agreed that repentance from sin was needed, and that good works were a corollary to faith. Jesus drew people to himself, which John did not, but then John also pointed people to Jesus.
In the end what they said differed little. The difference was in how they said it. So what was the difference in response? Well, there was none. The same people who followed John also went after Jesus. Those who rejected John rejected Christ.
Jesus compares his detractors to children in the marketplace that won’t join the game no matter what game is being played.
“Let’s dance!” one shouts, and begins playing a flute. No response.
“How about a nice dirge!” (OK, it’s a weird idea, but Jesus is just making a point.) No response in that case either.
For those of us who are attracted to making the message relevant, let this be a caution. Sometimes, if we are faithful to the message itself, how we say it won’t make any difference.
Dear heavenly Father,
Help us to truly follow Jesus by renouncing all condemning, unloving and unforgiving attitudes that might still linger in us, even if we have held them for years. And let us turn all of that into positive action, learning to love our enemies, doing good to those who treat us badly. Teach us to pray for all those who oppose us, so that they might come to know your mercy even as we have.
Teach us to truly treat others just as we ourselves would wish to be treated.
May our lives be full of good works, all consistent with the teaching of Christ, and may the foundation of our spiritual house be built on the rock, so that it will stand when the inevitable storms of life pound against it.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Jesus mentioned this principle in the same breath with “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” and so on. The evidence indicates he meant what he said. This is extreme stuff.
It isn’t easy to love enemies. No matter how hard we try, or what action we take, they can possess the uncanny ability to treat us badly somehow once again. That is just how it is with enemies, right?
Yet, love in the truest sense needs to stay focused on others and their needs. That’s why Jesus made this command a positive one – a “Thou shalt” rather than a “Thou shalt not.” He didn’t want to give us an easy way out.
There is a story in the Talmud, in Shabbat 31a, that tells of a Gentile who came to a rabbi and said, “Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.” That rabbi had no good answer.
The same Gentile came to the sage Hillel the Elder, who was grandfather of Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul the Apostle. Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.” The man was converted.
It’s a great story and it is probably true, but with all due respect to the incomparable Hillel, we might say it is incomplete, based on this teaching of Jesus. If we don’t do that which is hateful to people and stop there, we might possibly not do much at all – even nothing! That’s the nature of the “Thou shalt not” in a command. It is a prohibition rather than a positive task.
Surely Hillel, if he had more time than the Gentile balancing on one foot was willing to give him at that moment, would choose to elaborate. Jesus was still young when the aged Hillel finally died and, perhaps while not under time constraints, may have even thought of his improved version of the golden rule based upon the rabbi’s words.
Again, he has us imagine what we might wish for ourselves in Luke 6:31. And again our text,
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Let’s leave that just as it is, without further elaboration.