3. The Good Friend

Meditating on the Parables of Luke:  3. The Good Friend

Luke 11:5-8  Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

Purpose: The purpose of this parable is apparently to motivate us to pray, if for no other reason, than just do it to get results. I’ll open up on this shortly.

Context: The chapter starts with, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11:1) which is followed by the teaching we often refer to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. That perhaps doesn’t help us a great deal but what follows the parable certainly does: So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk 11:9,10) Note that word ‘So’ at the beginning which links it to the parable before it. It is all about prayer – the disciples’ desire to pray, the prayer outline given by Jesus, and then the direct teaching to ask and keep on asking (as the verb tense indicates)

Facts of the Parable: The story or illustration includes the following:

  • there is a person in need of bread (quite a lot actually!).
  • he has a friend who he feels might be able to help out.
  • he goes to him at the middle of the night, knocks on his door and explains his need.
  • his friend, put out by the time of night, replies, ‘Don’t bother me.’
  • he explains that the house is locked and the family asleep; it is inconvenient.
  • yet (implied) the original person continues to ask.
  • the friend inside, to keep the peace, opens up and gives him what he wants.

The Teaching: Jesus explains the following:

  • friendship was not enough to get him to open up,
  • however shear audacity, keeping on asking in the middle of the night, did.

A Picture of God? If this is about asking in prayer, doesn’t the home-owner / friend appear as God? And doesn’t this put God in a poor light? The answer to this comes in verses further on: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) In other words, these verses should be read with the parable to conclude, ‘If the home-owner will respond because of his friend’s audacity, how much more will God respond to His children calling out to Him. We thus have a parable that gets its full meaning only by being read in the light of the surrounding teaching.

Repeated Teaching: First of all there is the repeated asking. In the parable the first man asks and asks, and eventually gets. In the teaching of v.9,10 the tense of the verbs indicates it should be, ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. But then there is the repetition of the teaching itself: the parable says keep on asking, the verbs say keep on asking and the conclusion that the Father will give good gifts to His children implies keep on asking. (Later on in chapter 18 there is the parable of the unrighteous judge which teaches the same thing – keep asking).

Why the Need? We often have to ask, why would Jesus tell a parable like this, and the answer has to be to meet a specific need. The need in this case, I suggest, is that prayers don’t always get immediate answers. I have several reasons for this, I believe. First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realising what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

The Encouragement: For these reasons above, we find we need that encouragement to keep on praying. This particular parable seems to suggest, don’t go on logic, but just keep on praying even if (and especially if) you think God is getting fed up with it. There are times in scripture when God says don’t pray, but until you hear Him say that to you – keep at it!

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2. The Good Samaritan

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 2. The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:30-37  In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”   The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Context: We have said that context is often important in understanding the purpose of the parable. Here a ‘smart-alec’ expert in the law sought to test Jesus by asking about how to get eternal life (v.25). Jesus directed him to the Law summarised by “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” Having established that he then asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The parable comes as the answer.

The Facts of the Story: The story that Jesus tells comprises

  • a traveler going from Jerusalem who was attacked, beaten and stripped and left for dead.
  • a priest passes by and ignores him. So does a Levite.
  • then a Samaritan arrives, stops and cares for him, takes him to an inn and pays for ongoing care.

The Punchline: The story provides a not unfamiliar situation but the crucial point comes with the question that follows: ”Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The right answer is given, “The one who had mercy on him.”

The Point of the Parable: Now I suspect many of us have heard this parable preached on so many times that we have heard that the injured man was ignored by the two religious Jews but was cared for by someone who would have been considered an alien by the legalistic Jews of the day. But how can we summarise the story in a meaningful way? Perhaps we should simply say that ‘your neighbour’ has nothing to do with location, race, etc. but is all to do with need. Having said that, the ‘neighbour’ was not the injured man, it was the Samaritan. In Jesus’ eyes, therefore’ anyone who sees another in need becomes their ‘neighbour’.

Pertinent  Questions: Now if we say that, and I believe it is right to say that, it opens up the whole world before us. Picking up on the story, it suggests that being religious can be a stumbling block to our becoming a ‘neighbour’.   So here is the logical first uncomfortable question that arises here: is there any criteria that excludes anyone in need and lets me off the hook from being their ‘neighbour’? No.

It is possible that the two passers-by thought a variety of things that let them off the caring hook, for example, I’m too busy to stop / this might be a trap to catch me / it’s probably his own fault that he didn’t take care / he’s not from our culture and we have problems with his people / I might be accused of taking advantage of him and get dragged into this / I’m not medically trained (or trained in any other relevant way) to be able to help in these circumstances / this is going to need ongoing caring and I already have too many calls on my time. There is another crucial question that arises here: isn’t love just feeling good about someone, and the answer has to be, no, love is demonstrated by actions.

Modern-life Confusions: We live in a very confusing world today. Everything is not always as it seems. For example, here is a family on benefit who come to a weekly Saturday brunch our church provides. After a number of weeks when they eventually open up, it turns out the father actually earns more than our pastor; their apparent poverty is because they spend a lot. Another family called and asked for help because they were having trouble making ends meet, and when the Pastor visited he found both parents with iPhones and each of four children with an iPad and a large modern flat-screen TV on the table. Sometimes the truth is that being a neighbour means loving in such a way that channels of communication are opened up so that offers of lessons in budgeting is more appropriate than just handing out food or money.

The Heart of the Parable: The thing that opened up the way for this story was the command to love. My starting point has to be, how can I love? To this I must add, how I can I love people I don’t know, and the answer is in theory but practice can only be with those I encounter, talk to, get to know, in such an unjudging way that they open up to me. At that point love needs supplementing with wisdom: what is the right way to offer help here? That then may open a door to a whole load more considerations that only a whole church can hope to handle.  So, probably a very familiar story, even learnt in Sunday School, yet one which raises serious questions to be thought through by us as individuals and as church.

Beat-Up People: The man on the road was beaten up and left on his own.  In this fallen world many people have been beaten up by life and desperately need a good Samaritan to come alongside, yes some because of their own folly but is God put off by that? No. When we look back over our lives we maybe see a battlefield that involved loss of loved ones through death, loss of loved ones who walked away, illnesses that had to be fought, operations that had to be endured, accidents that were unforeseen with ongoing trying circumstances. Then there were hopes that were dashed, expectations that were never fulfilled. Some suffered the identity conflict we call the midlife crisis. Marriages broke up, individuals fell in with wrong company and crimes were committed – and then paid for. Injuries, ailments, hurts, disillusionments. All of these things – and we could no doubt find many more – are the things that characterize this fallen world. And God’s answer? You and me, to be there for one another and for whoever He brings across our path. He is the healer, the restorer, the comforter, the encourager, but He looks for ‘Samaritans’ like you and me. May we collectively be a healing force in our communities.

1. The Two Debtors

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 1. The Two Debtors

Luke 7:41-43  “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Purpose: The purpose of parables, generally, is to convey a truth through a simple story, usually involving everyday life that would be understood by all. In this series we are picking up the nineteen ‘parables’ (although we’ll deal with two of them together) that appear uniquely in Luke’s Gospel. Why these ones do not appear in the other Gospels is unknown but we must assume that the people Luke spoke to in gathering the data for his Gospel (see Lk 1:1-4) picked them out, and it also may be that these are stories he heard passed on that particularly touched him as a doctor. This present one certainly has a very personal content.

Context: I think we often forget to check the context of Jesus’ parables which is a shame because often they specifically respond to something that has just happened or just been said, and so if we observe that we will more fully understand the parable. The context here in Luke 7 is that Jesus has just had a meal in a Pharisees house (7:36) when a women with a very dubious reputation comes in and weeps and pours perfume over Jesus’ feet (v.37,38) Jesus picks up that the Pharisee is criticizing Jesus for allowing this sinful woman to do this to him (v.39) and it is in response to his negative reaction that Jesus speaks this parable to him.

The Facts of the Parable: In this short story / illustration we see

  • two people who owe money to a moneylender.
  • one owed a lot, the other a lot less.
  • neither of them has the money so he forgives both debts.

Those are the simple facts of the story. The punchline of this, if you like, comes in a question that Jesus then asks his host, the Pharisee: “Which of them will love him more?” It’s a pretty obvious question with a pretty obvious answer: “the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

The Immediate Application: This is seen in what he says in what follows: “Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (v.44-47) Jesus compares the woman to the Pharisee: he hadn’t provided water to wash guests’ feet; she had washed Jesus feet with her tears. He hadn’t welcomed them with a kiss, but she kept kissing Jesus’ feet. He hadn’t provided oil for the heads of his guests but she poured our perfume on Jesus’ feet.

In three ways the Pharisee showed his almost indifference to Jesus. In three ways she showed her love for him. Now we don’t know why she felt this strongly; perhaps Jesus had met her earlier, perhaps she just realised the wonder of who he was. The cutting point of the account follows: “whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” Simon the Pharisee was no doubt a righteous man, but does not appreciate Jesus, has not entered into any meaningful relationship with him, really does not see his own failings and sees little need for forgiveness. The women, by comparison, is hyper aware of her failings but is also hyper aware of the sort of person Jesus is – one who has come to forgive sinners. Her actions stand out accordingly.

Wider Application: Perhaps we might start by saying that a person’s response to Jesus when they become a Christian, is an indicator of the depth of understanding they have about their plight. The person who thinks they had been a righteous person will rarely get excited about their salvation. The person who – and they may or may not have been a ‘bad’ person in the eyes of society – catches a sense of the reality of their lostness without Christ, is going to rejoice and celebrate over their salvation.

We tend to focus on the ‘badness’ of a person in this sort of instance, which then creates a difficulty for the person who came to Christ as a child, say. I had heard such a person bemoan the fact that they never knew what it was like to live a sinful life because they were saved at such an early age, but the truth is that the outward acts may or may not be indicators of the heart of our sinfulness. I define sin as self-centred godlessness which results in unrighteous acts. A child can be just as self-centred and godless as an older person who has lived a dissolute life. It’s not the acts, it’s the heart.

Now Application: If you struggle with this, ask the Lord to show you the reality of your ‘lostness’ before you turned to him, regardless of what you did or did not do. Ask for the revelation of what he saved you from in your future as well – and rejoice. Rejoice in the wonder of God having dealt with your past, provided for your present living now, and the wonder of your eternity with Him to come.

52. The Ten Virgins

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 52.  The Ten Virgins 

Mt 25:1-4   At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.

Now there is something special about this particular parable: see how it starts: At that time.” (v.1a) What time is Jesus referring to? Well, he has just been speaking of the “the coming of the Son of Man” (24:39) and then concluded with the parable of the servants waiting for their master to return (24:45-51) so he is clearly speaking about the End Time when he will return. This is a story that is a warning that more obviously brings the warning, that the previous parable only had as a subtitle – he WILL come again and so to those in the future he says, be ready!

Again, as always, the parable was simple and easily understood by the people of his day. There was an impending wedding and so ten young girls went to meet the bridegroom who would be coming to the wedding festivities and because that time might go on beyond dusk, they needed to have lamps with them. That was part of their role, to provide lamps that would light the way for the bridegroom and light up the wedding festivities. That is the background here. (v.1)

Now here is the thing. Of these ten, only five of them were properly prepared, having made sure they had plenty of oil in their lamps and a backup bottle or jar of oil as well. They were described as wise, but the other five didn’t take ‘any oil’ it says, and they were described as foolish. (v.2-4).  Now we are then told, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep,” but then, “At midnight the cry rang out: `Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” (v.5,6)

So of course they all wake up and at that point chaos ensues because the ones without an oil supply find their lamps are going out so they can’t be light providers (v.7,8) and ask the others for oil, but the others protest, hey, we can’t do that otherwise our lamps will go out, you need to go and buy some more oil quickly. So the ‘foolish’ girls depart and while they’ve gone, the bridegroom arrives and so both he and the five ‘wise’ girls go into the wedding banquet. (v.9,10) and the door is shut. Thus it was that when the other five returned, it was too late and they were refused entry (v.11,12)

Now Jesus does not explain this parable, even to his disciples, and so we are left to reflect and ponder on it by ourselves. In general terms there are two things that come through in this story. First, there are apparently some things you just can’t get hold of at the last moment. Second, there are apparently some things that you can’t just borrow from others at the last moment. This is a story about having your own supplies.

So what are those ‘supplies’? Well in Christian terms they are the things that a born-again believer has which an apparently religious person does not have: the experience of surrender, repentance, being forgiven and cleansed, being adopted into the family of God and of being empowered by His Holy Spirit and being given a future inheritance. Those are all the things that the born-again believer has but, equally, they are the things that the self-centred apparently religious person, the self-righteous person, does NOT have. The have a form of religion, a form of godliness, without the power of it. (2 Tim 3;5). These people, says Jesus, will not in an instance be able to conjure up genuine repentance and receive a genuine experience of being born again, and so when they go away to try to do something about it, it will be too late, Jesus will have come and they will be on the wrong side.

Now there are many aspects of this story that are unclear – and Jesus didn’t try and explain them. Such as who are the ten girls? Simply those who are drawn to the wedding and have desire to be part of it. Who are the foolish ones? Those who ignore the basic requirements for entry into the kingdom of heaven and rely upon their own endeavours and ignore God’s way of salvation through Christ. What are their lamps? Essentially an expression of their lives and their ability to bring light to the wedding. How do they provide light? By oil. What is the oil? Well, usually in the Scriptures it is a picture of the Holy Spirit but here even the unprepared ones appeared to have a measure, even though it ran it. Perhaps it is just the life source given by God that is intended to enable a relationship with Him in eternity to come about. The foolish ones don’t replenish that and therefore miss out. The wise ones ensure they have more than enough. Enough of what? Perhaps the truth of the Gospel, being sure that you ARE saved and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have the witness that you are a born-again child of God. Perhaps the foolish ones simply heard these truths but never reached out to experience the fullness of them.

But all this is pure speculation and the danger when we focus on the secondary issues is that we lose sight of the main two things we noted previously – there are some things you just can’t get hold of at the last moment and there are some things that you can’t just borrow from others at the last moment –and the final warning is given by Jesus to round off the parable: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (v.13) Enough said! Be prepared, make sure you have a sound and sure faith as God provides it!

51. Owners, Servants & Thieves

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 51.  Owners, Servants and Thieves

Mt 24:42,43   Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

Again there are two analogies here and again we will run them together because of the unity of what is being said. Remember, the context is the teaching Jesus has just been giving his disciples about the characteristics of the Church age, the coming disaster on Jerusalem and Israel, and the signs of the End Time just before he returns.  It is in the light of all this that he now says, Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (v.42) and then a little later,So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (v.44) and sandwiched between those two exhortations comes the first analogy-cum-parable. Keep watch and be ready are the two direct instructions.

“If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” (v.43) What? Where did that come from? Well just look at the two instructions again. First, keep watch. Ah!, “he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” Second, be ready. Be ready for what? “If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming.” Ah! Yes, the potential of a burglar coming.

Most of the time we probably don’t think about these things but in this last week there have been three burglaries in the street in which I live!!! Suddenly we are all alert to the possibility that ‘we might be next’ and so we are alert and taking extra precaution to be ready to keep out intruders!

And so Jesus says have these two things in mind all the time as you pass through your life, being ready because we know one day – either at his coming or our going to heaven before, maybe – we will see him face to face. So be alert because you don’t know when it will be, but the signs in the sky will give you a good indication that there’s not much time left.

Be quite clear on the structure of this chapter that we considered in the previous study. The things we see in the first section are just the general characteristics of this age, so wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, false Christs, deceptive teaching sometimes, all this is just par for the course and will carry on until the end of this age whenever that will be. It’s when the big things start happening. Remember in the previous section, squeezed between two references to his coming again we find, “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (24:29) The ‘distress of those days’ refers to the Church period which is often stressful. Now whether these ‘signs in the sky’ are literal or figurative referring to persons, only time will tell, but those things haven’t happened yet, so be at peace – but be ready and be alert for they could be tomorrow.

But then Jesus adds what is more a parable than an analogy – or is it? “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.” (v.45,46)  That is the ideal picture, Jesus implies. There is a household and the owner has put a servant in charge of the household who is faithful and wise and always makes sure the rest of the servants are looked after all the time. He is commended. Surely this has to be a reference to spiritual leaders who provide for the rest of God’s children and will keep doing so faithfully until Jesus returns again. Jesus concludes, “I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (v.47)

But that isn’t the end of his analogy-cum-parable, there is a ‘But’! There is an alternative then portrayed: “But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, `My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.” (v.48,49) Wow! That is bad! That chief servant takes advantage of the fact that the master seems to be staying away a long time and he takes advantage of the other servants. That is bad. So Jesus gives a severe warning: “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v.50,51) The master IS going to come back one day, Jesus IS going to return one day and if he finds abuse by those who should know better there will be a serious accounting!

Now in the light of all that has gone before we cannot help think of the Pharisees who Jesus said put burdens on the people and basically abused them with their additional interpretations of the Law. These surely must be in the firing line of Jesus’ story. Yet these are analogies that apply to all of us. As we concluded the previous study, it is relevant to note that Luke records Jesus saying, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) When Jesus comes again, will he find you and me people of faith? Will we be those with an ear open to the Lord and then be those who obey what we hear, whether it is what we ‘hear’ when we read His word, when we read bible notes, when we hear sermons or when we hear the quiet whisper of His Spirit into our hearts? Being faithful means being obedient to whatever we hear. May it be so.

48. Gnats and Camels

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 48.  Gnats and Camels

Mt 23:24   You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

The further we go through this last week of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem before his death, the more intense and more pointed his challenges become. So much of the time we will speak graciously and seeking to avoid offence, but Jesus has little time left to speak into the heart of this nation. The way he brings these challenges is designed to raise the spiritual temperature so that the truth thrown in their faces will raise the ire of the authorities so that eventually, and within a very short time, they will come to boiling point and act against him and arrest him and falsely try him and have him crucified, and thus the Lamb of God will be sacrificed.

Jesus now speaks to the gathered crowd – and it would have grown bigger and bigger hearing that he was there – and speaks quite openly about the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees who maintained they were the guardians of the Law. Observe: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (23:1-4) Obey the teaching, is what he says, but not them themselves, for they don’t do what they say and they just make life more difficult for you and do nothing to help you. Could that be an indictment of us? I hope not.

He goes on to speak against the way they act and culminates in using the language and teaching he has conveyed in the recent parables and analogies: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (v.11,12) but then he turns on these teachers of the law and we have a sevenfold series of ‘Woe’s   (v.13,15,16,23,25,27,27) against them, interspersed with such denunciations as, “You hypocrites” (v.13,15,23,25,27,29), “You blind fools” (v.17), “You blind men” (v.19), “You blind guides” (v.24), “Blind Pharisees” (v.26), and finally, “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” (v.33) It is devastating!

So, it is in the context of all of this that we find our strange little analogy: “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (v.24) The Message version, as always trying to put it in understandable but picturesque language, has it, Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?” We might put it, “In all your efforts to rationalise and apply the Law you end up taking out all the minor unclean issues and yet still accept the bigger unclean issues.” The strict Pharisee would carefully strain his drinking water through a cloth to be sure he did not swallow a gnat, for instance, the smallest of unclean animals but, without realizing it, was accepting or tolerating much bigger unclean creatures. ‘Creatures’ in this case meaning unacceptable behaviour.

Jesus has in fact just explained this pithy little analogy: “You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (v.23) There they were being so careful to even separate off and give a tenth of the herbs they used (was God really concerned with that????) to ensure they tithed on everything, but in the meanwhile they cared little for justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Mark records it more blatantly in an earlier incident: “And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother,’ and, `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.” (Mk 7:9-12) Appearing spiritual by giving to God meant they no longer were faithful and caring towards their parents.

Now I believe the application of this can be devastating for the Christian community as I have watched it for over forty years.  For instance, there are young people who, coming to Christ, in their newfound zeal to serve the Lord, opt out of all family activities and responsibilities and without realizing it portray a terrible witness to their unbelieving parents. On the other hand, I have known ‘good Christian’ parents whose lives are so filled with ‘meetings’ that they were rarely there for their families (this is especially true of leaders) and so their apparent spirituality was being used as an excuse for poor parenting. Good parenting should go far beyond setting rules, it should include being there for the children when they need a sense of care and security.

A balance needs to be made. In many ways we inadvertently abuse the Spirit of Christ by trying to be spiritual, by trying to be zealous – just like the Pharisees – while missing major issues in our lives. I believe the priority order for our lives (and this includes for leaders) is God – family – church/work, i.e. our relationship directly with the Lord is all important and that should then be followed by the way we express Christ in our families and then, and only then, how we express him in both church and in work.

If we fail to put God first, we are godless. If we fail to minister to our families second, we convey the message to them that they are not important and young people then become vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and fall away from the Lord. Yes, church is important, yes work is important, but if we sacrifice our relationship with the Lord or our relationships within our family because of either of those two things I identified in the paragraphs above, we will be going astray and are likely to make ourselves and our families especially vulnerable to the deception, the temptations and the outright attacks of the enemy.

This little sentence, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel,” can sound so minor but it can have serious negative effects in our lives and the lives of our family or of our church, and may even affect our work. The Pharisees were being challenged so strongly by Jesus because they had lost all sense of perspective. May that not be applicable to us.

47. The Wedding Banquet

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 47.  The Wedding Banquet

Mt 22:1-3   Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

In chapter 21 Jesus had told the parable of the bad tenants to remind the Jews of their past history of rejecting God’s prophets, as well as prophesying that they would reject and kill him. Then to drum home the point he used the references to the rejected capstone and when he had finished the two illustrations he declared, Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (21:43)

Thus we now arrive at the Parable of the Wedding Banquet where Jesus pushes this point even further. As always, the content of the story is simple: There is a king preparing a wedding banquet for his son. (v.2). In those days, a preliminary invitation would be given and replied to, but then as the time drew near, a second invitation was given saying, “Come now, we are ready for you”, but in this case as the servants went out with the second invitation they found everyone ignoring or rejecting this ‘come now’ invitation (v.3). So the king tells more of his servants to go out and do all they can to encourage those people to come (v.4) but they ignored them, one going to work in his field, another in his business (v.5) while others seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them (v.6). The king was understandably angry at this response and sent his army to kill them and destroy their city (v.7)

But the story doesn’t end there, as bad as that was. No, instead he sends his servant to go out into the city and gather all the people they could find, both good and bad (v.8-10). Now there is a little extra scenario included for the story continues. At the celebration the king spots a man without wedding clothes and challenges him but the man had nothing to say (v.11,12) and so, “the king told the attendants, `Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v.13)

Now most parables have just one main point to make but this one is unusual in that it appears to have THREE points to make:

  • First, all those invited and who rejected the invitation were killed.
  • Second, the king then simply invited others to come.
  • Third, once they came, the king expected the man to be properly dressed and when he wasn’t he inflicted the most severe punishment.

Now Jesus doesn’t spell out the interpretation of this three-part story but it seems fairly obvious, at least for the first two parts.

First of all, in the light of his previous teaching, the original invitation refers to that given to the Jews to be the people of God which had come about from the Exodus onwards. Over the centuries the Lord had sent prophets to call the people to Himself, again and again, and yet again and again they were rejected. The end conclusion is that (temporarily at least?) the Jews were rejected by God. This should not be seen as shocking because we see it in the ministry of the apostle Paul: “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:44-46) and that is how it continued.

Second, as we have just seen in those verses, the Gospel was then taken to the Gentiles. i.e. the rest of the world. Paul explained it, “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ” `I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:47,48)

The third part is not so simple. It has been suggested by commentators that it may have been the custom for the host to provide the guests with wedding garments. This would have been necessary for the guests at this banquet in particular, for they were brought in directly from the streets. The failure of the man in question to avail himself of a wedding garment was therefore an insult to the host, who had made the garments available, and thus he receives such a strong response.

A few more comments are applicable. First, note the context of the parable: a wedding banquet.  The Old Testament often speaks of the relationship of God to His people in terms of bride and bridegroom or of a marriage (see, for example, Isa 50:1, 54:1, 62:5,  Jer 2:32, 31:32) as does the New (e.g. Jn 3:29, 2 Cor 11:2, Eph 5:32, Rev 19:7). The wedding or the wedding banquet thus speak of the rejoicing in the coming together of Christ and the believer through salvation.

Second, note that the Gentiles who are invited in were ‘good or bad’. It is purely an act of grace on God’s behalf. Yes, we all come the same way – by receiving what He has already prepared for us.

Third, the wedding garments that the one man failed to put on, must speak of ‘putting on Christ’, the new self (Eph 4:24), being willing to let Christ transform you as he both imputes and imparts righteousness through the work of the Cross and the work of his Holy Spirit. The challenges in these things are obvious.

We should perhaps note the final verse in this passage: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (v.14) which the Message version has as, “That’s what I meant when I say, “Many get invited; only a few make it.” God calls to all, but many are self-absorbed and so don’t heed the call. Some hear and think about coming but don’t want to pay the price and put on Christ’s ‘robes’ and become like him. It is another set of stories all wrapped up in this one parable that are strong warnings, especially to the Jews who maintained the rejections of their history, but also to anyone else who hears the call but can’t be bothered or is so self-absorbed they fail to respond to the most wonderful invitation in history.