Sunday, November 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus went on to tell another story to illustrate the heavenly regime that he was inaugurating. “It will be like ten young women -- bridesmaids -- who went out with their lamps to the road to wait for the groom and his wedding parade. 2-4 Five of them wisely planned ahead and carried containers of extra lamp oil. However, five of them foolishly failed to plan and neglected to take extra oil.

5 “As often happened, the groom was inexplicably delayed. And the young women became drowsy and dozed off to sleep. 6 But at midnight they were all jolted awake by the forerunner’s cry for them to join the matrimonial parade. The groom was just about there.

7-8 “All the women jumped up and trimmed their lamps. However, at that point the ill-prepared women noticed a problem and turned to the others in panic. ‘Please give us some of your oil. We’ve run out!’

9 But the wise women replied, ‘If we did that we’d run out of oil ourselves and the parade would go dark before arriving at the bride’s house. You need to go buy some more oil for yourselves.’

10 “But while the ill-prepared bridesmaids were out in the dark at midnight shopping for oil, the groom arrived. And those who were ready went with him into the wedding. The door was then shut and locked.

11 “Eventually the other women who had been shopping for oil arrived and began pounding on the door and calling out, ‘Master, we’re here. The festivities can begin. Open up and let us in!’

12 “But doorkeeper replied, ‘I most certainly don’t know who you are.’

13 “So, it would behoove you to stay awake and prepared. For there is no way to know the exact time when the wedding festivities will begin -- and you don’t want to miss out.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus responded to the efforts of the religious leaders to throttle him by telling yet another set of parables. He said, 2 “Think of the emerging regime headquartered in heaven as being like a king who prepared a huge wedding party for his son. 3 He then sent his servants to fetch the invited guests. But -- surprise! They refused to come. 4 So the king sent yet another team of servants to gather the invited guests -- this time with even more instructions. ‘Make sure you tell them, “Look, the food is all ready. The meat is on the table -- prime rib and tri-tip. Don’t dilly dally, the party is starting!”’ 5 But many invitees couldn’t be bothered and drifted off to tend to their fields or businesses. 6 Some of the people became abusive and began knocking the servant-messengers around -- until they were dead. (Go figure! How is it that a people so honored by their king with an invitation to a great event with a great meal would be so clueless as to dishonor him? What were they thinking?)

7 “Predictably, the king was livid. Seething with anger he sent his soldiers to wipe those thugs from the face of the earth. They even burned their city to the ground.

8 “Then the king instructed his servants to extend the invitation to those who are unworthy of an invite. ‘After all, the worthy have blown me off. The wedding party is ready, so 9 go find some street people and druggies who live in the seedier parts of town. Invite them all -- everyone you can find -- to the wedding party.’

10 “So the servants moved out to cover the ghettos and the streets. And they gathered everyone they could find, both the evil and the good. Finally, the wedding party was full of guests. 11 However, when the king walked into the crowded room and panned the guests, he noticed that there was a man dressed inappropriately for a wedding party. 12 So the king said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here dressed like that?’ But the clueless man was also speechless. 13 Then the king instructed his servants, ‘Tie this guy up and dispatch him to the darkness of hell where people weep and grind their teeth.’

14 “Many people are invited, but ‘the chosen’ are those few who respond appropriately.”

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Listen closely,” Jesus said, “I’ve got yet another story to tell you -- and yes it involves a vineyard. Think of Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:8-16. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He made all the typical improvements -- such as fencing it in, digging a winepress, and building a security tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and left the area to go on a trip. 34 At harvest time, he sent some of his servants to collect the rent from the tenant farmers -- a share of the crop. 35 But the farmers attacked his servants -- beating some, killing some, and hurling stones at some of the others.

36 “The landowner sent a second, even larger group of servants to collect rent. But those tenants -- they treated them in the same exact way. 37 Finally, he sent his son thinking that they’d respect him.

38 “But when the tenant farmers saw the son arrive, their greedy minds went into overdrive, and they said to each other, ‘This guy is the heir. If we take him out we can squat here until it becomes ours and who will be able to stop us -- the old man? The whole estate will be ours!’ 39 So they bushwhacked the son, dragged him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

40 “What do you think will happen to those scoundrels when the owner of the vineyard himself shows up?”

41 The religious leaders piped-in, “He’ll put those evil men to a horrible death and then he’ll find new tenants to lease his vineyard -- people who will pay him his share of the fruit at the harvest.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read Psalm 118:22-23, The stone discarded by the builders has become the cornerstone of the foundation. This is the wonderful doing of the Lord himself -- so amazing that we’re stretched to believe what we’re seeing? 43 Now, don’t miss the point -- the emerging regime of God will not belong to you. It’s being yanked from your hands and handed over to a people who produce the fruit of the kingdom. 44 Whoever trips over this rejected stone will actually end up crushed by it. For the stone crushes the person who falls on it. Noodle on that for awhile.”

45 Now while the chief priests and the Pharisees were dense, they were smart enough to eventually realize that Jesus’ story was about them. 46 So they were trying to arrest him. But they couldn’t pull it off because they were afraid of what the crowds might do to them. In contrast to the religious leaders, the people thought that Jesus was a prophet.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus returned to the temple and began to teach. The top ranking priests along with the elders of the people confronted him and demanded his credentials, asking, “Who authorized you to storm through here, to act like a prophet over-turning tables, to practice medicine, and to teach?”

24 Jesus replied, “If you answer my question, I’ll answer yours and tell you about my authority.” 25 Then he asked them, “Where did John the Baptizer get his authority -- from heaven or from humans?”

Jesus put the religious officials in a tight spot -- which became more evident as they tried to talk through their response among themselves. They reasoned, “Well, if we say John’s authority came ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say that John’s authority was ‘merely human’ the crowd will turn on us because they all think he was a prophet.”

27 So they responded to Jesus’ question, “We don’t know.”

“Well, then,” Jesus said to them, “I’m not going to tell you where my credentials come from.” (But, of course, his wise response was clearly an indirect answer to the question.)

28 “I’ve got a story for you,” said Jesus, “Tell me what you think. A certain man had two sons. The father approached the first and said to him, ‘Son, I need you to go do some work in the vineyard today.’

29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘I don’t want to.’ However, later on he came to his senses, changed his mind, and did as his father instructed.

30 “Meanwhile, the father said the same thing to his other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir. Will do!’ But then that son didn’t go.

31 “So, which of these two sons did what his father wanted them to do?”

They replied, “The first, of course.”

Jesus then said to the religious leaders, “Don’t miss the point -- corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes are walking ahead of you into God’s kingdom. 32 For John the Baptizer came to show you the righteous road to justice. But in spite of your religious credentials, you blew him off and believed neither him nor his message. Tax collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand, believed. And yet even after you saw the change in them, you didn’t come to your senses and change your minds. You certainly didn’t believe!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

“The regime headquartered in heaven is like a vintner who went out early one morning to hire workers to tend his vineyard*. 2 He offered to pay the standard daily wage of a silver coin -- a denarius -- and sent the recruited workers to his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning the vintner ventured out again and noticed that there were additional potential workers standing around the marketplace with nothing to do. 4 So he said to them, ‘Go join the others in my vineyard and I’ll pay you a fair wage.’ 5 They accepted the offer and went to work in the vineyard. 

“The vintner did the same thing, offering work to those standing around the marketplace, at about noon and then again at three in the afternoon.

6 Then at about 5 PM he ventured out yet again and found some more people standing idly around. So he asked them, ‘Why are you frittering away the whole day doing nothing?’ 

“They replied, ‘Well, nobody has hired us.’

“The vintner responded, ‘Go join the crew in my vineyard.’

8 “At 6 o’clock, as evening came, the vintner instructed the crew supervisor, ‘Call over all the workers and pay them. But start with the last hires and move sequentially up the list so that those hired first are the last paid.’

9 Those who were hired at 5 PM came and each one received a coin. 10 Those who were hired first noticed that the later hires were each receiving one silver coin and they assumed that the early workers would receive more. But each of them also received one silver coin.

11 This annoyed the early hires and they began to air their complaints to the vintner. 12 ‘Hey, what’s going on? The people who were hired last only worked one hour -- yet they received the same amount as those of us who worked the whole sweaty day in the scorching heat.’

13 “Finally, he responded to one of the complainants, ‘Friend, how have I cheated you? Didn’t I agree to pay you a silver denarius? Isn’t that what you agreed to work for? And isn’t that what I’ve paid you? 14-15 Take your money and go home. If I want to generously pay the last hires the same as the early hires, that's my business -- and right. After all it’s my money. Or has my generosity turned you into a jealous green-eyed monster?’”

16 So once again we see the great upside down nature of God’s kingdom -- those who are last in the world-based regime will end up first in the regime emanating from heaven. And those who are first in the pecking order of the world will end up dead last in the new order that God is establishing through Christ Jesus.

*A vineyard was a common Old Testament metaphor for the nation or people of Israel.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Peter finally worked up enough nerve to ask Jesus about how forgiveness fits into the discussion of reconciliation. He said to him, “Lord, just how many times should I extend forgiveness to a sibling who wrongs me? Seven times?”

22 Jesus responded, “I’m telling you that while seven sounds like a generous number -- don’t stop there. No, keep forgiving until you’ve done it 77 gazillion times.

23 “So, the regime headquartered in heaven can be somewhat analogous to a king who decided that he needed to collect the money the administrators in his service owed him. 24 As we went through his records he confronted a certain administrative servant who owed him millions of dollars. 25 Because the servant couldn’t pay up, the king ordered that he should be sold into slavery -- along with his wife and children. He also ordered that everything the servant owned should be sold in order to pay off what he owed. 26 However, the servant groveled on the ground before the king, ‘Please, I beg you, be patient with me -- I’ll pay you.’ 27 The king felt sorry for the servant and with compassion he released him from custody -- and then he even forgave the debt.

28 “Upon his release that very same servant went out and found one of his co-workers -- a man who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up!’

29 “Then the desperate co-worker groveled on the ground before him and begged, ‘Be patient with me -- I’ll pay you.’ 30 But the first servant had no pity and refused. Instead, he threw his co-worker into debtor’s prison to be held until the debt could be paid.

31 “Now, some other servants working for the king saw what had happened and were disturbed at the injustice of it all. They brought a full report of the situation to the king. 32 He in turn, summoned the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! When you appealed to me I forgave you the millions that you owed. 33 In the same way that I had mercy on you, shouldn’t you also have mercy on your co-worker?’

34 The king continued with his fury and handed him over to the guard responsible for torturing prisoners -- with whom the servant would remain until he could pay the whole of his original debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also hold you to account if you fail to extend to others the forgiveness you have received from me. For if you can’t find it in your heart to forgive, your heart has rejected the forgiveness that I have extended to you.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Matthew 18:15-20

15 “If one of your siblings in Christ hurts you, go and work out the situation privately between the two of you. If the sibling is responsive and admits fault -- congratulations -- you’ve facilitated reconciliation. 16 However, if the brother or sister is unresponsive you’ll have to get all formal about the situation. So take one or two believers with you and return to the offender. Say your piece again in the presence of two or three witnesses who can confirm your actions. 17 If the person still remains unresponsive, take your case to the church. And then if he or she refuses to listen to the church, consider that person to be an outsider -- as though he or she is not a sibling in Christ -- someone in need of an elementary encounter with the good news of Jesus. Treat them in the same firm but honest way that you’d treat a pagan -- or even a crooked tax collector.

18 “As I said in Matthew 16:19, take what I’m saying with extreme certainty -- the judgments you render now have heavenly implications. When you say ‘no’ to something on earth, that ‘no’ carries on into heaven. And when you say ‘yes’ to something on earth that ‘yes’ carries on into heaven. When it comes to these matters the demarcation between heaven and earth is porous. So don’t make flippant judgments. With great power comes great responsibility.

19-20 “I also say this to you with equal certainty: I am present in your midst so when even two or three of you my followers are in agreement with me on these matters it’s going to happen. Even if just two of you down on earth agree with me on the matter and ask the heavenly Father for something, he will do it for you.”