Gnostic America

July 12, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Monday of Trinity 3: Sinners Draw Near to Jesus to Hear Him

Image result for sinners drawing near to jesus
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

This passage from this week’s Gospel sets up the entire context of the three parables He tells. Few words better describe what it means to be a Christian. Sinners draw near to Jesus, to hear Him, to eat with Him, and He receives them.

First there’s the word “sinners.” As we commented in our previous devotion, not everyone is a sinner. Some don’t classify themselves as “sinners” but as “good people with some defects” that can be changed with a little willpower. Others don’t classify themselves as sinners at all, not believing in sin.

What then exactly is a sinner? Our instinct is to immediately jump to some sort of subjective, psychological, self-referential answer. “A sinner is someone who knows he’s broken God’s law.” “A sinner is someone feels sorry for his sins.”

But if you follow the rest of the parables, the “sinners” in these parables are a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Coins especially but even sheep do very little in the way of personal self-evaluation and introspection. The son, meanwhile, did “come to himself,” which suggests some self-awareness. But the actions which follow show misguided behavior. In any event whatever was going on in his mind was completely disregarded by the father.

What then is a sinner? Perhaps we should define it not subjectively, but objectively, that is, it’s someone who is the object of Jesus’ mission. Jesus defines sinners; sinners do not define themselves. And Jesus defines sinners as those He receives. By implication, it’s also those who do not reject this reception. Lots of “sinners” (in an abstract sense) will go all over the world to deal with their sin – self-help gurus, therapists, books, groups, or Jesus falsely understood (that’s the scary one!). Real sinners are those received by Jesus correctly understood.

I think an interesting question Christians should out of curiosity start asking others – particularly their lapsed acquaintances and relatives – is, “Do you believe you’re a sinner?” I think how that question is answered will reveal way more than “Do you believe in God?” or even “Do you believe in Jesus?” Everyone believes in God and everyone likes Jesus. But only sinners truly understand and know Jesus, for He is their friend.

The next phrase, “draw near” might suggest some sort of willful involvement of the sinner to come to Jesus, some psychological self-awareness. Yet, whatever powers are suggested in the sinners insofar as they “drew near” to Jesus, Jesus Himself deflates that power by the analogies he pins to them: sheep, coins, an ignorant son. Sheep are dumb animals who easily get lost. Coins do nothing to get lost. And the son wasn’t thinking clearly. Three totally different ways of ending up at that place of “being found.”

Rather, the point of the “draw near” is where it leads, “to Him,” that is, “to Jesus.” Interestingly, Jesus interprets the reality of sinners drawing near to Him, as Him drawing near to them. What was it that was drawing them near to Him, but the fact that He had first drawn near to them, by incarnating, by becoming God in flesh.

But the bigger and subtler point is that there is indeed movement from one to another. It’s like the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters and drawing the land out of the waters so as to create land and seas. At first there was just a hodgepodge of earth mixed with waters – chaos and void. His action drew the earth out of the waters. There was movement. There was separation. That is what the “Holy” Spirit does, He separates one thing from another.

Jesus was doing the same thing. He was drawing sinners to Himself. He’s separating them from the world. He didn’t come for the righteous. There’s a movement going on, and where it’s going to is to Jesus, the only Savior, the God in flesh. The Gnostics would say there need not be movement going on, because movement suggests spatial relationships, which can only occur in a material realm. They’d say you just have to “ascend” out of this shadow world of delusion into the realm of light, and that this all happens internally or psychologically. In the Gospel, as well as in the Church, however, there is indeed spacial movement going on. The sinner goes from one spatial location to another: whatever dark nook he’s wandered in, whatever dusty corner he’s fallen in, or whatever pig slop he’s lying in…to Jesus.

Finally we get some answer to the paradox we’ve been contemplating, whether the sinners are moving to Jesus or Jesus is moving toward the sinner. The setup of the parables says sinners “drew near” to Jesus, that the movement was all theirs. The parables say the movement was all on the part of the shepherd, woman, and father. How do we resolve this paradox?

The next line helps: “to hear Jesus.” Sinners drew near to Jesus to hear Him. His Word drew sinners to Himself. His Word was what flowed out into the highways and hedges seeking the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. It may have been the woman saying, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” It may have been crowds who were “the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Whatever it was, His Word was going forth and seeking sinners, to bring them to Himself, like a groom seeking His bride. As Isaiah says, “And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.”

But the foundation of Jesus’ ministry set up this marriage. The waters of the Jordan was where sinner and Jesus first met, where they were first introduced to one another. John had preached, “Repent and be baptized,” which amounted to saying, “Draw near to the Jordan – get over here – and here in that same Jordan you’ll find the one whom sinners need. You’ll find your husband.” So sinners go there. After that, Jesus opens His mouth and teaches the ins and outs of what this “sinner-Jesus” relationship means.

And it all culminates at the table, for as the Pharisees observed, not only did Jesus receive sinners, but He ate with them. Of course this brings up the Lord’s Supper, which is exactly what the Lord was receiving them to, His supper, and where He still receives sinners.

 

July 10, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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The Third Sunday after Trinity: The Lost Ones

Image result for lost sheep lost coin lost son

This week’s Gospel for the historic lectionary has two options. The first is what we’ll be meditating on for the most part, the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. The second is the Gospel that follows these two parables, the parable of the prodigal (or lost) son.

Each of these parables has several things in common, with some notable differences. First the similarities.

Each parable begins with a “situation normal.” There are a 100 sheep altogether, or 10 coins, or 2 sons and a dad, all in perfect fellowship. These each belong to, in order, a man, a woman, and a father. Then, one of them becomes lost. How they get lost is where the interesting differences come in, but as far as similarities go, all of them become lost. Next, that which was lost becomes found. Here, the parable of the prodigal son has some interesting commentary on how the lost became found, one of the differences we can explore. Finally, upon that which was lost becoming found, the one who had lost said items, animals, and children has a celebration and feast to rejoice.

Now the differences.

The first difference is in the numbering of the items lost: 1/100, 1/10, and then 1/2. One wonders if each parable is intended to steadily stretch our acceptance of what is credible. A shepherd losing a sheep going out to find it, this we can imagine as reasonable. It’s his job to keep the flock and not lose any. One can even possibly imagine him having a party to celebrate, if, for instance, he was charged with another man’s flock.

A woman scouring her house for one lost silver coin, a drachma, which is worth about $50. Was that worth it? Maybe. Is it worth having a party over? That’s stretching it a bit.

A man having a party for a son who wished him dead, squandered a third of his property, lived with prostitutes, and partied until he ran out of his money, that seems downright absurd. Be glad he’s alive, sure, but a party? In a culture that so cherished the honoring of parents, any story that didn’t end with that son being disowned or even stoned is absurd. Isn’t this how Hollywood would end the movie, with some sort of comeuppance for the son?

Next difference. This one concerns how the lost became lost. With the sheep, there’s some active participation in the sheep to get lost. Yet, it’s a sheep! That’s what sheep do. With the coin, there can be no active participation. Coins get lost. That’s what’s done to them.

With the son, however, we have a bit more. We have a whole story how he gets lost. There is guile, greed, incredible self absorption, love of pleasure, and lack of humanity. And it’s all seemingly willful, unlike the coin and to a certain extent the sheep.

Or is it? And is this why the father behaves as he does? In other words, could we say of the son what we said of the coin and sheep, that “this is what they do.” In the bigger picture, is this what sinners do? We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners. That’s what we learn in catechism class. Is Jesus making a point about the son by setting up the sheep and the coin?

Notice the language the father uses. “He was lost.” That is, like the sheep and coin, something passively fallen into due to the nature of the thing lost.

Next we get to how the items, animals, and children were found. In the first two instances, that of the sheep and coin, the one who lost them goes to all extremes to find what was lost. He or she is the actor; the lost thing is completely passive. Not so in the parable of the prodigal son. There seems to be action on both the father and the son, with a heavy emphasis on the actions of the son to “be found.” He’s the one, after all, who “comes to himself.” He’s the one who goes home. He’s the one who makes movement toward the father. True, the father finally runs toward the son and restores him, but the son came all the way from a far country back home.

But, using the first two parables as context for the lost son, we’d have to say that the son remained in his state of lostness up until the father ran out to embrace him. He had, after all, already disowned himself from the family. He lost his inheritance. He was in every sense of the way lost from his status, perhaps even moreso than when he was eating husks. At least then he still held to the status of son. But when he returned home, he went as a servant, as one fully excluded from the fellowship. Truly, his being found only happened once the father embraced him and put a ring on his finger, and had the feast for him.

Now let’s get to interpretation.

The thing that perhaps pops out more than anything is how little psychological profile there is of the nature of repentance. Sheep get lost because that’s what they do. Coins are as passive as can be imagined. The son is the closest thing we get to a psychological spin, with the phrase, “he came to himself,” but even this does not make him “found.” It just sets him up for some misguided thinking.

No, in all cases the focus is on the one who finds what was lost, the shepherd, the woman, and the father. Why were the sinners and tax collectors coming to hear Jesus? Based on Jesus’ parables, we’d have to answer this question in as passive a way as we can imagine. Sinners and tax collects sin and cheat; that’s what they do. And when Jesus comes, they get found. That’s also what they do. So, they draw near to hear him. It’s what sinners do. Sinners naturally flock to Jesus. Because, to be a sinner is to be lost, and Jesus is the finder.

Like the prodigal son, however misguided he was, his first thought at “coming to himself” was to go back home. Similarly, the sheep surely, once lost, will naturally receive the shepherd when he comes. And the coin will do nothing but be found. Again, if their nature is to get lost, their nature just as well seems to be to accept being found.

Sinners draw near and hear Jesus. It’s what they do.

Of course, not everyone is a sinner, at least a sinner as defined by being lost and dead, as the parables define it. No, when sin is defined as personal defect that some willpower can fix, that takes us into different territory where we will not find the sheep, the coin, or the son. We’ll find a sinner quite confident in his ability to restore himself.

Or when sin is not defined at all, of course we won’t find sinners, and therefore none to draw near and hear Jesus.

But where there are sinners, you will find Jesus. Because that’s what He does. He’s the shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep. He’s the woman who scours the earth to find the lost coin. He’s the father making a fool of himself to restore the lost son.

Jesus and sinners somehow seem to find each other. Of course, Jesus’ first act in His ministry was to go where all the sinners were, in the Jordan, which tells us something about the sort of sinners He was looking for. Lost ones.

July 10, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Saturday of Trinity 2: Compel Them To Come In

Image result for compel them to come in painting

“[A]nd compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”

“Compel them to come in.” What does this mean? There is no ambiguity in what the word “compel” means. It means exactly what it says: compel. But what does it mean theologically?

Does it mean the Church should force people to be baptized, as some interpreted it to mean in the early Middle Ages, when barbarian kings converting to Christianity would march their tribes through the river three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost?

Or does it justify the inquisition, when by force of torture representatives of the Church compelled correct thinking?

In a sermon on the phrase, the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon spent most of his sermon using several tactics to “compel” his hearers to come to faith. One of them was, “Sinner, in God’s name I command you to repent and believe.” He went on to try a loving approach, a threatening approach, a pleading approach, an apologetics approach, and finally simply weeping for them.

C. S. Lewis argued the phrase refers to God’s mercy: “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Does it support the Calvinistic idea of irresistible grace? Accordingly, once God has you in the cross hairs of His grace, you can run but you cannot hide. He will get you into the kingdom, and resistance is futile.

I think there’s a lot we can take from each of these interpretations. My simple take on the phrase is: the message of the Gospel is compelling.

Let’s begin discussing the various interpretations with a rather surprizing reality. Of all the Christians on earth today, or born throughout history, the vast, vast majority entered into the kingdom by “Plan A,” that is, the march-through-the-river way. Aren’t most Christians baptized as children? Did they have a choice? Most certainly, they were literally compelled. Yet, as they grew up, what they were compelled into became compelling. Why? Because all along it was the work of the Holy Spirit. Whether in baptism or catechism, it is the Holy Spirit’s work to call, gather, and enlighten the sinner into the Gospel.

As to the inquisitorial approach, the knee-jerk reaction is this is always wrong. You can’t force a confession of faith. Yet, is there not something to the truth, not only about faith but about lots of things, that sometimes you have to fake it til you make it, or that what at first must be forced will later be loved? How many parents will force their weeping kids to go to church, just as they’ll force them to eat vegetables, be polite to others, and do all sorts of things their Old Adam would not want them to do? How many of us force ourselves to go through the motions of faith even though our hearts may not be totally there? For how many of us is the liturgy like an inquisitor compelling our faith, because deep down we have a “heart of hearts” faith deeper than where our heart is at in any given moment? The “inquisitorial” approach to “compelling” is probably far more common than we would suspect.

The Spurgeon approach is a good reminder to pastors that the work of preaching is an act of pleading, exhorting, begging, and arguing. The message is compelling, and the preacher must faithfully proclaim that message in all its compelling force. But he himself is also part of that message, insofar as he’s burdened by a love for his flock, a love for the lost, and a vision of God’s plan regarding the lost that’s more acute than others, given his time spent in study of God’s Word. A faithful messenger cannot leave the presence of his Lord, where he’s getting his instructions, and not be overwhelmed, not only by the examples of Biblical messengers, but by the truths he’s encountering.

The Lewis line, “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men,” I think gets closest to a technical answer to what “compel” means. Another commentator wrote the word means God’s grace must overcome people’s natural desire to politely decline offers of grace. Imagine the pleading of the messengers to the vagabonds and travelers out in the highways and hedges. “Our master really wants you to join him. Please come! You need to be there. It’s a great meal.” It’s not a “Join us or else” threat, but a “Please come, I insist” approach. One is by force, the other is by love. This clearly is in the end what is intended by the word.

The Calvinistic idea of “irresistible grace” must in the end by rejected for doctrinal reasons – in the end man retains his ability to reject the Gospel – but there’s a takeaway here as well. Because yes, very often God’s Word is like a bounty hunter of the rebellious soul. Very often a convert will come kicking and screaming into the Church. And very often a Christian will come kicking and screaming into new growth. Hard is the heart indeed that is able to seal off the soul to any work of the Holy Spirit. It requires more than mere resistance, but a willful, knowing, ideological establishment of an alternative doctrine or idol shutting off all penetration by the Holy Spirit. (On these terms, this is why I’m not convinced atheists are really atheists, but simply resistors of the Holy Spirit trying to think Him out of pursuit, like someone plugging his ears and saying “Bla bla bla I don’t hear you.”)

All of these approaches can be subsumed under the banner of “compelling,” which when understood under the teaching about the Holy Spirit is a wonderful comment on God’s grace. The Gospel simply is compelling. Whatever way you look at it, it’s compelling.

It’s compelling doctrinally and intellectually, for the one who needs apologetics to get over the hurdle of philosophy. It’s compelling morally, for the one who fears the abyss of nihilistic libertinism. It’s compelling psychologically, for the one driven to despair because of guilt or fear.

It’s compelling institutionally, homiletically, prophetically, and practically, inserting and exerting itself into society, culture, and politics no matter the consequences.

It’s simply a message that cannot be stopped. The more people try to stop it, the more people literally flay its practitioners, the more force it has.

It’s compelling because the Holy Spirit is behind it, because God in His mercy wants the beggars, vagabonds, poor, maimed, lame, and blind at His supper.

 

July 9, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Friday of Trinity 2: The Spiritual Poor, Maimed, Lame, and Blind

Image result for beggar painting

“So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges,’ ”

Last meditation we focused on the literal meaning of the parable, that the Church should be a place which sends out its invitation to the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. The Church has always been about charity on account of texts like this. Yes, there is always lurking beneath the surface that the true poverty, the true lameness, and the true blindness we have is spiritual, but that doesn’t take away from what Jesus teaches about how the Church should deal with those with literal poverty, lameness, and blindness.

It’s that double meaning produced by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain. The former says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The latter says, “Blessed are the poor.” We shouldn’t play one against the other. Unfortunately, as everything is politicized in our culture today, very often we get just that. The left will focus on “blessed are the poor” and use such texts to prove that the church should be all about taking care of poor people (and almost nothing else). Meanwhile the right will be quick to bring up all the qualifiers to “blessed are the poor,” the favorite one being St. Paul’s, “If a man will not work, let him not eat.”

Rather, the literal meaning flows out of the spiritual. Interestingly, the spiritual meaning is probably Christ’s primary meaning – in a sense, the literal conclusion He was intending; meanwhile, the “literal meaning,” about taking care of the needy, is probably our allegorizing of the text.

Was Jesus teaching that the Church should be a place for the poor, maimed, lame, and blind? Or was He teaching that the Church’s doctrine should make it a place where the spiritual beggar is welcome? I believe He was teaching the latter, but that the Church rightly derives truths about care for the literal needy based on Jesus’ teaching. After all, the whole chapter began with Jesus tending to the needs of the man with dropsy.

But an overemphasis on the literal meaning will lead the church to be nothing more than a social organization. Of course, very often the literal meaning intersects with the spiritual, as it does in this week’s Gospel. What began with the man with dropsy ended with Jesus talking about the heavenly meal for the spiritual beggars and vagabonds of the world, even Gentiles.

Something similar happened with the Canaanite woman. She was poor, a beggar, with a load of debilitating challenges, and Jesus used her situation to teach about faith and the bread which He brings. She cried out, “Lord, have mercy,” and clung to the crumb of bread Jesus cast toward her. What a powerful lesson on grace, whose deeper spiritual meaning we are all quite familiar with! Because how often are we the beggar clinging to that one crumb?

So that is the proper way to read this week’s parable as well. It suggests we should be welcoming to the truly needy, that is true, but that is a derivative, not primary, meaning. The primary meaning is that the great banquet is a complete gift of grace for those who cannot take care of themselves. It is a true gift, not even preceded by an act of preparation like the Canaanite woman’s prayer, “Lord, have mercy.” The invitation, as it were, came completely out of the blue, a true gift dropped in their laps.

And then, when the banquet hall is still empty, we get an even more radical display of this grace, when the remaining vagabonds are “compelled” to come in. Very often grace has to compel, to overcome the natural human tendency to not receive gifts. It’s like the host insisting to her guest, “No, I insist, please have more pie.”

But this sort of meaning is the only way to make the Gospel consistent. The Gospel is not just a social message about the poor, as the liberation Gospel teaches. Nor will only the poor be in heaven – that’s ridiculous. But those in spiritual poverty are they who seek out the Gospel.

The spiritual poor are those who lack in what they can offer God spiritually. What can they give? They recognize the Lord for who He is, completely self-sufficient. He needs nothing from us. Many people, albeit rightly, are scoffing at the consumeristic idea that people seek a church which “fits their needs.” They’ll say, “We don’t go to church because what we get out of it, but what we can put into it.” Yet, this isn’t exactly accurate either. Church does center on the Lord’s invitation and gifts. We go to church as beggars, and if there’s something we offer there, it’s our confession, praise, and thanksgiving, which are each in reaction to the Lord’s gifts. And as we see in the parable, we dare not act as if our acts of worship are making effective the invitation.

The spiritual maimed are those who are missing something that prevents them from acting fully as God intended them. Wow. Where could we go with that one? Could we speak about some being maimed in their prayer life? Or maimed in their understanding of the Gospel? Perhaps we could. If nothing else it reminds us that, even for the spiritually maimed, it’s not their aptitude that makes the invitation effective, but the invitation. We might also note that, at the table, being maimed loses some of its negative effects. As long as you have a mouth that can open, you can receive the gifts. This speaks to a truth I’ve contemplated, that no member of a congregation looks so good as they do when they’re at the table with mouths opened – no griping, no bad doctrine, no trashing of other people, no sinning, no acts of being maimed – just pure reception of the gifts, perfect faith in action.

The spiritual lame are similar. They still have the body part, but it’s lame. They may have the form of whatever it is that would enable them to act as God intended, but it doesn’t work. Imagine the maimed as someone who simply has no capacity to do something, whereas the lame have the form of that capacity, but cannot live it out for whatever reason. Some Christians simply have no prayer life; they wouldn’t even know how to act on it if they could. Other Christians have the forms of a prayer life, but for whatever reason that part of their faith is lame.

Is this a proper interpretation of Jesus’ words? If so, could we apply them to other aspects of faith life? Are there some who are maimed as far as telling the truth, chastity, charity, or obedience goes? They are Christian but simply are missing that aspect of their soul. Or maybe they are lame; they still the forms of truth-telling, chastity, charity, or obedience, but for whatever reason cannot act on it? This is an interesting question.

Or was Jesus speaking strictly of doctrine relative to the Jewish misinterpretation of the Law. Such were the first converts to Christianity, those who, by the standards of the Pharisees, were unacceptable on account of their abysmal reception of their rules and regulations.

Whatever the case, the focus of the parable is on God’s grace.

Finally we get to the blind. The spiritually blind are they who are not clear-sighted as far as spiritual things goes. For the blind, there are no distinctions, no discernment of light and darkness, and by implication, between truth and error. These too are the spiritually numb, or poor.

Again, how wonderful that for them, as well as for the previous three, the meal is not dependent on their ability to apprehend it, but on the master’s invitation. The meal was prepared. The meat was slaughtered. The feast was ready. It just needed people to eat it.

This tells us so much about faith. Faith simply receives the meat slaughtered for us. The poor, maimed, lame, and blind can receive that. A baby can receive that. It’s difficult not to receive that. Of course, there are many who do not receive that. Who? Those who reject the invitation.

July 9, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Thursday of Trinity 2: Is Christian Self-Loathing about Charity Justified?

Image result for christian charity painting

“So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ ”

Once the original recipients of the master’s invitation rudely rejected his banquet, he goes after the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. This obviously has at least a dual meaning. Today we meditate on the meaning at face value.

This is the meaning Jesus Himself just set up by His actions with the man with dropsy. That is, He just showed by example how to receive at the table those who are disabled by physical ailments. The Church must always be a receptive place for those who are at the zero point in terms of physical ailments, who come seeking rest from their suffering.

Christians, American Christians in particular, are addicted to beating themselves up over how deficient they are in whatever area of sanctification. We love to focus on how far we fall short of praying enough, giving enough, loving enough, being good enough Christians.

They inherit this from Puritanism, of which we are told by one clever theologian, “Puritanism took people off the treadmill of indulgences but put them on the iron couch of introspection.”

Yes, American Christians love to wallow in self-loathing. It also fosters America’s revivalistic spirit. To wit, “The church I grew up in is cold, hypocritical, uncaring, and loveless, which is why me and other woke Christians will be filled with the Spirit and begin a true, authentic, spirit-filled church which has recaptured the true Christian mission.” Until they hit middle ages, and then, “Wash, rinse, and repeat” all over again with their children.

Which is all to say, when we hear Jesus teaching about receiving the poor, maimed, lame, and blind, I can already hear all the sermons about how loveless and cold and unwelcoming we are to visitors, and how we’re responsible for all the millennials leaving church, and how we’d better shape up and be true to our Christian roots or else Christ will spit us out.

Bunk!

I don’t mean this to pat ourselves on the back. But why does every teaching of Jesus have to be some big, dramatic, “I have sinned!” moment followed by a similarly dramatic, “I’ve turned my life around and now I spend all my moments dedicated to the poor.” Again, this fits the American ethos, which knows nothing of moderation. How about the example of the seed that Jesus uses? He plants the seed that we should help the poor, and sure, we can always do better, but yet, my bet is most Christians care more about the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind than they’d give themselves credit for.

I’ve seen the care Christians have for members of their church who are poor, maimed, lame, and blind. I’ve seen the amount of giving older Christians (because like it or not, we are about to hit a massive charitable giving decline as the older generations die off) donate to charities, private hospitals and schools, and other such entities. Christian charity as done by the older, “institutional” churches may not be dramatic and noticed by everyone – didn’t Jesus teach something about that? – but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been going on, in some cases at astoundingly praiseworthy levels.

Beyond that, Jesus is making a larger point about what the church is to be about as regards the poor the maimed, the lame, and the blind. Jewish Law as misinterpreted at the time put into question whether God’s people should receive those who most need the Lord’s grace. As Jesus pointed out, this was ridiculous, given the Law wasn’t even interpreted this way for animals. Are not people of more value than animals?

Jesus’ bigger point is about doctrine. Does our doctrine receive the beggar? That leads into the deeper meaning of the parable (which we’ll get into with the next meditation), but it also has bearing at the literal point. It’s because the doctrine of the Gospel receives all spiritual beggars that the church needs to be receptive of literal beggars.

This is our doctrine, and yes, people don’t always live up to it. Yes, often Christians will confess themselves to be horrific sinners in the abstract, but in actuality – as demonstrated by their attitude to truly hurting people – they take an attitude of, “Hey, I lifted myself up by the bootstraps and succeeded awesomely, so why can’t you?” So what is it, is sin a problem at our core that turns us into true beggars throughout our days? Or is sin something we overcome with a little “I think I can, I think I can” and therefore we’re not really in that beggar state anymore?

If the former, why don’t we accept that there are people – real poor, maimed, lame, and blind – who are in their conditions due to whatever infirmity they inherited at birth: a physical ailment, a mental or psychological ailment, an ailment of family dysfunction, an original sin ailment.

These are things to contemplate, as far as living out our doctrine goes, but they are not an indictment of our doctrine, which Jesus is focusing on.

So, we can take today’s meditation as the growth of the seed. Are we living up to our doctrine regarding the beggars? Jesus compares the poor, maimed, lame, and blind (like the man with dropsy) to an ox or donkey falling into a pit. He doesn’t compare them to spider monkeys. Which animal he uses tells a lot of how He understands our fallen condition. I’m an ox fallen down into a pit, not an agile spider monkey who can easily get out.

I know that to be true for me. I doctrinally confess that to be true for me. Now, do I apply that standard to those who come through the church doors, the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind? If not, that is an area in which Christ’s seed will grow.

July 3, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Wednesday of Trinity 2: Who Are the Excuse-Makers?

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Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’

Now we get to the heart of this week’s Gospel. Let’s interpret the various characters and themes.

Who is the “certain man” who’s giving the feast? At first glance we’d say “God,” as many commentators have. However, there’s good reason to believe, specifically, Jesus is referring to Himself. This would explain the ambiguity in the final sentence of the parable, when Jesus said, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” Jesus is mouthing the script of the “certain man” here, you can’t help but hear His words as addressed to the Pharisees He was eating with.

What is the “great supper”? Israel understood the prophecy of a great end-times banquet from the prophet Isaiah: “And in this mountain The LORD of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, A feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, Of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain The surface of the covering cast over all people, And the veil that is spread over all nations.”

As all Old Testament teachings ultimately find their source in the Torah, we also get this remarkable passage from Exodus: “And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’ Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

Eating and drinking in the presence of God, after His minister says, “This is the blood of the covenant.” That sounds familiar.

Finally, we might even find precedent for a great feast in the situation of Eden. “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.” These words came immediately after the Lord said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” which is to say, they are foundational. The Lord wants Paradise to be a place of feasting in His presence.

So yes, He is the “certain man” through Christ, and He’s creating a great banquet, for people to eat and drink in His presence. A feasting that originally would be vegetarian, on account of man’s sin, now requires the death of another, hence the sprinkling of blood, and hence the fulfillment of the great feast in the Lord’s Supper, the foretaste of the feast to come.

Now a bit of cultural background to understand what’s going on with the people’s excuses. It was the custom in ancient Israel that two notifications of a banquet would go out. First was the initial invitation, which those invited were to RSVP. Then was the announcement that the banquet was ready.

The Lord’s invitation went out in the Old Testament. Every Jew knew it. They knew the Word. They knew about the Lord’s Great Banquet, and they knew He was going to send a Messiah to institute it. So really, they are without excuse.

The time of the banquet being “ready” is clearly the day of Jesus, the fullness of time. Because He was the victim who would provide for the feast, it wasn’t “ready” until His death and resurrection. So, Pentecost is when the “certain man” (Jesus) sends out His servants, the apostles, to tell everyone the banquet is ready.

And what do they do? Every one of them made excuses. That’s the language in the parable: “They all with one accord began to make excuses.” At first thought we’d say, “How rude, given the social etiquette of the day, after having been invited, to not RSVP, and then, after the host has slaughtered all sorts of animals for his great feast, now they’re all – all of them! – going to stand him up?”

But clearly there was a conspiracy going on. The excuses they give are lame. They’re not real excuses. It’s like that trope you see in movies where, quite similarly to our parable, some stooge is having a party, but all his friends gang up on him and come up with lame excuses for why they’re not going to it. “I have to iron my underwear.” Sure you do.

Again, notice the rejection and excuse-making are universal. This is why it’s probably wrong to use this Gospel to beat people up for “not giving enough time for the Lord” or for skipping church now and then when their jobs demand it. The tone of the people in the parable is not, “I just don’t have time, sir,” but rather, “Umm, I think I have some oxen I need to check out; sorry, I can’t come to your feast.”

They knew the invitation, but when the feast was ready, they did not want to come. This is a specific slap in the face of Jesus, who offered the feast and died to make it ready. But that in fact is what happened.

So who were the ones who universally rejected Jesus? We can’t just say “the Jews” because clearly not all Jews rejected Jesus, and even in the parable we haven’t gotten to the “poor, maimed, lame, and blind” yet, who we could argue are the Jews who did believe in Jesus.

So was it the opposite of poor Jews who rejected Jesus, the rich? This can’t be the case, because we know there were wealthy Jewish followers of Jesus.

Who then? In the context of the whole chapter, it was those who cared more about status and career-climbing, about exchanging favors with those who could give in return. These were the ones who would have nothing to do with Jesus’ feast, because His cross made it ready, and the cross alienates the career-climbers from the world.

As it was then, so it is now. Today we call it “politically correct.” Those who would be politically correct have no room for the cross and its teachings, or the feast where all this goes on. Being associated with those “poor, maimed, lame, and blind” Christians will not advance ones station in life, but could be an embarrassment.

Given where American business is going, veering every more strongly each day toward the left, this will become more pronounced. The movers and shakers of the world don’t want anything to do with the Lord’s meal, and they’ll find every reason to avoid it. But for the rest of us poor, maimed, lame, and blind ones, we live for His feast.

July 2, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Tuesday of Trinity 2: What Is the Kingdom of God and Who Eats There?

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“Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

The “Kingdom of God” is one of those phrases that sort of pops up in the New Testament. Jesus uses the expression numerous times, along with “kingdom of heaven.”

But it didn’t come from nowhere. Like baptism – another biblical item that seems to pop up on the scene – there is an Old Testament background for it. Obviously the Old Testament was all about “kingdoms,” namely the kingdom of David. But does it ever talk about a “kingdom of God”? And if so, what’s going on with it?

The reason this is an interesting question is because the reality of the kingdom of God seems to be assumed in this week’s Gospel. It was some “rando” (as all the kids say) who popped up and said, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This may have been a Pharisee. Who knows. In any case, he references something that was in no way random, but had some sort of currency in the minds of those around him.

The first reference in the Bible where it’s suggested God has a kingdom is in these words the Lord intended for David, “He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.”

These words are enormously important as far as Biblical theology goes. In those words you have the Trinity, the basis of the confession of Jesus as the Christ the Son of God, the idea that God is a Father. You have hints of the ascension and resurrection, in the term “forever,” but also in the “He shall build Me a house,” a house we learn from John was Christ’s own body. You have mercy and forgiveness, that Jesus would remain an eternal intercessor before the throne of God.

It’s all there! And Jesus unpacked its mysteries for us, teaching the fatherhood of God, teaching His role as Son, teaching what the house He would build is (the Church, His body), teaching the extent of the mercy the Lord would not “take away” from Him. Truly blessed is He who eats bread in this kingdom!

The Psalms are loaded with references to God’s kingdom. Here, the focus is more on the Lord’s universal reign over the whole earth. Serving as a good backdrop to this week’s Gospel are these climactic verses to Psalm 22: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’s, And He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth Shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust Shall bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive.”

Yes, the poor (like the man with dropsy that serves as the context for this week’s Gospel about the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind) will eat bread in God’s Kingdom. Notably, among the poor who will eat and be satisfied include “those who go down to the dust” and “even he who cannot keep himself alive.”

That sounds a bit like all of us!

For those wondering where we get the line “we bless you” in the Gloria in Excelsis, another Psalm referencing the Kingdom of God explains why. “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.”

Another Psalm reference nicely backing up the “eating bread in the kingdom” theme is from Psalm 145: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

Beautiful in that Psalm are these words: “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.”

Isaiah has several references to the Kingdom of God, most notably the “unto us a Child is born” text, and Daniel has a lot of material on the Kingdom of God, as the successor kingdom to all the kingdoms of the earth. Daniel emphasizes how the Messiah will have an everlasting kingdom. He also adds this nice detail: “Then the kingdom and dominion, And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”

As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Also, that the disciples would be sitting on twelve thrones, ruling along with Him.

So what does all this material add up to, concerning the Kingdom of God?

The Kingdom of God will be ruled by a king (obviously) in the line of David, a Son of God to whom God would be a Father – so, Creed (confession of the Holy Trinity). This king would build a house, a kingdom that would topple every other kingdom, in which the poor – including those who have died – would be satisfied with food and bread – so, Church, ministry, absolution, communion, and resurrection. It’s a place where the ones who cry out to the Lord are lifted up, so, Kyrie. This king would sit between the cherubim (this is from Isaiah, not yet referenced) and be blessed – so, Gloria in Excelsis and Sanctus. It would be near to them that invoke the name of the Lord – so, Invocation.

Here’s another good example where a study on a Biblical theme yields a great bulk of the liturgy. Much like the “New Song,” the historic liturgy emerges from a survey of the Biblical material on the topic. The Kingdom of God is the Church in liturgy, gathering around the bread that Jesus gives, His flesh.

And really, what is the liturgy but, “blessed are those who eat bread in the kingdom of God.”?

July 2, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Monday of Trinity 2: Why Did the Pharisees Invite Jesus to Eat with Them?

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The Gospel for this week begins with this brief comment, “Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ ”

That sets up Jesus’ parable of the great banquet, teaching who exactly those blessed are. But what things did the one who said these words hear Jesus say, that prompted those words?

Jesus taught the parable of the great banquet on the Sabbath. Jesus was eating bread with the Pharisees, having been invited, and they were “watching Him closely.” It was here where a man with dropsy came up to Jesus, and Jesus asked them whether it were lawful for Him to heal on the Sabbath or not. Of course it was lawful, as Jesus teaches by His analogy of the man who had a donkey or ox who fell into a pit on the Sabbath, so Jesus heals the man with dropsy.

Jesus would “lift up the broken.” (And He lays down the prophetic teaching that, it is good for one to go into the pit on the Sabbath to lift up those who belong to him who have fallen, which is exactly what Jesus did on the Sabbath day after His death when He descended into Hades, or the grave.)

Then Jesus teaches that those invited to a feast should not seek out the best places, but wait to be invited to a higher spot. Now, the man with dropsy was one such person who was not exactly “invited” to the Pharisee’s table (like the rich man not “inviting” Lazarus to his table) – being excluded from it because of their interpretation of the Law. But Jesus lifted Him up, inviting him to his table, so to speak. He invited the humble to a higher spot.

And then Jesus summarizes what He just demonstrated to them when He said, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Amplifying this point, He goes back to the table theme, teaching those who invited Him that, when they invite someone, they shouldn’t just invite those who will invite them back one day, but rather invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. Such men as the man with dropsy.

The irony of this whole section is, Jesus was invited! So, Jesus says to those who invited Him, “You shouldn’t just invite those who will pay you back one day. Rather, you should invite guys like this man with dropsy.”

So which one was Jesus, the one who could repay or the poor, maimed, lame, and blind? Isn’t that an interesting question!

Likely the people inviting Jesus had some feeling that Jesus might truly be the Messiah. Perhaps they were hedging their bets. This chapter in Luke along with some other passages in his Gospel suggests the Pharisees were not complete enemies, but perhaps wondered if He were the one. Just prior to this chapter, for instance, some Pharisees warned Jesus about Herod.

If that’s the case, then their motives for inviting Jesus were wrong, Jesus says. They were merely hoping that by inviting Him, perhaps one day when He came into His kingdom (earthly kingdom), He would reward them and invite them to His table. At this point, the Pharisees seemed to see Jesus as the new kid in town, the flavor of the day. It’s always good to be associated with up-and-comers.

Instead, they should have been inviting the likes of the man with dropsy. And lurking in the background is Jesus’ teaching about the Law, of course. The “table fellowship” of their teaching should be directed toward those who are fallen and rely completely on the grace of others.

The irony, again, is that Jesus was in fact to become the poor, maimed, lame, and blind, on the cross. Meaning, Jesus was going to do nothing for those who invited Him. Not in this life. In this life would only be the cross. Jesus is foreshadowing the reality. Soon these Pharisees would have to decide whether they would go the way of earthly endowments and honors, of helping each other and keeping others away from their table who could not help them, or whether they’d receive the poor, maimed, lame, and blind of the world – the gentiles, the broken disciples, the new Christians following their crucified Jesus.

By the Pharisees not inviting the man with dropsy, they were dis-inviting Jesus. They just didn’t know it yet. Meanwhile, by Jesus inviting the man with dropsy, was setting the tone for a new way of table fellowship.

Who was it that said, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus makes no specific comment on this man, like He did to the woman who blessed Mary’s womb and breasts. The man could have been a Pharisee toasting something everyone could agree on – perhaps he sensed the exchange was getting heated and wanted to bring conviviality back to the feast.

Whatever it was, it was an obviously true statement, and Jesus used the statement to explain exactly who belonged among those eating bread in God’s kingdom. It should be men like the man with dropsy, people who can only be given to. In other words, those who administer the table had better make it a place of grace.

July 1, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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The Second Sunday after Trinity: The Great Banquet

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Christianity of necessity has a lot of negative messaging. The call to take up the cross sets the tone. It promises a life of struggle with one’s own flesh, with the devil’s accusations and doubts, and with the world’s mockery. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Yes, we are sheep led to the slaughter, and very often, as in Nigeria today, this results in literal slaughter. Why would anyone respond to that message?

Obviously, it’s because the positive messaging far outweighs the negative. What are those positive messages? Eternal life for one. Also eternal joy, without tears, thirst, or hunger. St. Paul describes what awaits as above or beyond anything we can ask for or even think. Spend all your days asking the Lord for heavenly gifts, or just thinking about them, and what you actually receive will be far better. That’s difficult to even contemplate…which is exactly how St. Paul describes it.

One of the greatest positive images we have of the world to come is that of a great banquet. We get in the Gospel for this week, which is supported by Old Testament prophecy and later the book of Revelation. Heaven will be a great, eternal banquet. What is it about feasting that is so wonderful? I see three dominant things: grace, comfort, and conversation.

The grace aspect is that, for you to eat, usually someone or something else has to sacrifice something. Whether plant or animal, something has to give its life for you to eat. And to prepare the meal, someone has to sacrifice time. Usually they do it out of love and hospitality, even as you do it for them. But the whole event is a lovely one that usually brings a lot of joy, for both giver and receiver. Of course, in the Lord’s Feast, He Himself is both the host and the willing victim who offered His flesh to eat.

The bottom line is, when you go to a banquet, you enjoy the sacrificial grace of another. You rejoice in the grace, and it’s a joyful thing to experience.

Eating is a concrete expression of the fact that God set up the world as a network of grace. Because of the creation’s physicality, everything is contingent on everything else to some degree. The very ground I walk on grants the gift of pushing up, so I don’t submerge into the depths with each step. Each breath makes me the recipient of gifts from my lungs, my blood, my muscles, gravity, the trees, and the air. Food works similarly.  Lots of things conspire together in the physical world for me to eat.

The comfort aspect is simply the comfort you get eating. Hunger is scary. Hunger is uncomfortable and reminds us we’re mortal. Fasting is a way of bringing our mortal nature to the fore, putting us in a posture of utter need before the Lord, punctuating our petition, “Give us this day our daily bread” and imbuing it with spiritual meaning.

Eating ends the scariness. There’s a physical joy in eating, a euphoria almost. Add the drinking of wine, “that makes the heart glad,” and we’re taken to a new level. Add the infusion of that food and drink with Christ’s body and blood, and the eternal life it brings, and now eating becomes a sublime joy.

As far as conversation goes, consider how eating is one of the few activities in the modern era drawing people together in fellowship. We have a lot of isolating forces at work, but eating remains an activity people prefer to do with others. Yes, far too often we see people gathered together at a meal and each one is buried in their smart phones, but at least they’re together. And aren’t some of the best conversations ones had while gathered around the dinner table?

That the world to come will be an eternal banquet lets us know it will be a place of grace, comfort, and conversation. Of course Christ is providing the meal, offering eternal grace. The comfort will be rich indeed. And imagine the heavenly conversation offered, from saints, from Old Testament characters, from historical characters, from our forefathers and foremothers. Given eternity, imagine the depths of good conversation to have with someone like Charlemagne, or Constantine, or Cyril of Alexandria. Imagine what you’ll be able to offer in good conversation.

It’s interesting that the entire Biblical saga began with rules about eating. One tree we could eat from, another we could not. One tree was grace and life. The other was not grace and death. One tree premised good conversation about life. The other introduced into human conversation this previously unknown concept of “evil,” directing the human mind toward everything the created world is not, which is nothingness. Eating to nothingness sets the new standard for life in this fallen world. “Feasting” on things which always “look good for eating,” but bring nothing.

This was the sin of those who ignored the man’s invitation. They were concerned about things which gave the appearance of responsible living, but kept them from the supper.

This week’s Gospel answers last week’s Gospel on Lazarus and the Rich Man. That Gospel centered on the table as well. It demonstrated how the table should not be administered, or perhaps how the Jews were administering it with regard to the Gentiles. It excluded the beggar. This week shows the “certain man” properly administering the table, but the recipients of his grace were not worthy. They didn’t know they were beggars, so the man has to go out and find the beggars.  The man this week will find Lazarus from last week, and Lazarus will eat.

June 29, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Saturday of Trinity 1: Is a Risen Witness Needed to Believe, or not?

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Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

Here’s an interesting conundrum. If “Moses and the prophets” were enough, so that we didn’t need the witness of another one who rose from the dead, then why do we get the following verses in the New Testament:

“For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

“And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah….And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ “

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,…But I say to you…”

There are more such verses, but these suffice to demonstrate the conundrum. If Moses and the prophets are enough for the rich man, so that they don’t need the witness of a resurrected one, why do all those verses teach that only in Christ is the veil taken away, that Jesus teaches a “new wineskins” teaching relative to Moses, that He is the one we should listen to? Clearly, these verses teach Moses and the prophets are not enough.

It doesn’t help simply to say, “Well, the rich man lived in the Old Testament. Moses and the prophets were all he had, and at that time, in God’s wisdom, they were sufficient for what was needed.” No, Abraham’s words to the rich man almost have the force of a doctrinal statement: “Moses and the prophets are enough; the witness of a risen man will not help things.”

Yet, the witness of a risen man is exactly what Jesus gives, and every indication is this was necessary for a proper understanding of truth.

Perhaps what Abraham was getting at, was that Moses and the prophets were sufficient for repentance, which is certainly true. By this interpretation, Jesus – the risen witness – would add nothing to the teaching of the Law that everyone didn’t already know. He would certainly add the Gospel, without which there can be no true understanding of the Word of God. But at that time, in the holding grounds that is Sheol, where Abraham’s bosom and Gehenna (and Hyperidon?) hold people until Jesus comes, Moses and the prophets were everything needed to get them properly prepared for the risen witness.

Or perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong, on two fronts. Perhaps Jesus is simply making a point about the nature of sin. When someone is in a state of rebellion, they get to a point of deliberate, intentional, willful embracing of their rejection. Nothing does a greater job than the Law and prophets teaching what right looks like. If they reject that, they have no hope. I recently heard the case of a person who declared that, even if they saw a confirmed miracle, they’d still not believe in a God.

On the second front, perhaps Jesus is making a point about the nature of sin, but not at this individual level, but at the level of the Jewish people. Perhaps that’s His point. If these people won’t hear their own testament regarding what right looks like, it certainly won’t matter if a risen witness comes in their midst. As we contemplated a few days ago, this could be referring to Jesus, or it could be referring to the other Lazarus, who indeed was a risen witness.

Perhaps the bottom line is, we are not in the rich man or Lazarus’ shoes. We are in the New Testament age. We are not left with only Moses and the prophets. Sure, they can lead us to repentance, but only the risen witness can get us over the finish line. Moses and the prophets can keep us from the torments in Hades and get us to Abraham’s bosom. But only the risen witness can get us from Abraham’s bosom into the life of the world to come.