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CHRIST’S PARABLES

The Sower and the Seeds (Mark 4:3-9; Matt 13:3-9; Luke 8:5-8)
Scripture: Luke 8:4-15 (Mark 4:3-9; Matthew 13:3-9)

4 And when a great crowd came together and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

Meditation: What do you know about sowing seeds? For a rural community that lived off the land, sowing was absolutely necessary for survival. The mere act of sowing brought great hope in the anticipation of a fruitful harvest. Jesus’ story, however, gives a warning. A seed can’t mature into fruit without the proper conditions for growth. Even the prophet Jeremiah gave similar advice several hundred years earlier: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns” (Jer. 4:3).

What’s the point of this story for Jesus’ audience and for us?  Jesus’ parable of the sower is aimed at the hearers of his word. There are different ways of accepting God’s word and they produce different kinds of fruit accordingly. There is the prejudiced hearer who has a shut mind. Such a person is unteachable and blind to the things of God. Then there is the shallow hearer who fails to think things out or think them through; such a person lacks spiritual depth. They may initially respond with an emotional fervor, but when it wears off their mind wanders to something else. Another type of hearer is the person who has many interests or cares, but who lacks the ability to hear or comprehend what is truly important. Such a person is for ever too busy to pray or too preoccupied to study and meditate on God’s word. They may work so hard that they are too tired to even think of anything else but their work. Then there is the one whose mind is open. Such a person is at all times willing to listen and to learn. He or she is never too proud or too busy to learn. They listen in order tounderstand. God’s word has power to change and transform us into the likeness of Christ. God gives grace to those who hunger for his word that they may understand his will and have the strength and freedom to live according to it.  Do you hunger for God’s transforming word?

“Lord, faith in your word is the way to wisdom, and to ponder your divine plan is to grow in the truth.  May your word take deep root in my heart that I may grow strong in love and live in the hope of your everlasting kingdom.”

The Grain of Wheat (John 12:24)
Scripture: John 12:24-26

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  25  He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.

Meditation: What can a grain of wheat tell us about life and the kingdom of God? Jesus drew his parables from the common everyday circumstances of life.  His audience, rural folk in Palestine, could easily understand the principle of new life produced by dead seeds sown into the earth. What is the spiritual analogy which Jesus alludes to? Is this, perhaps, a veiled reference to his own impending death on the cross and resurrection? Or does he have another kind of “death and rebirth” in mind for his disciples? Jesus, no doubt, had both meanings in mind for his disciples. The image of the grain of wheat dying in the earth in order to grow and bear a harvest can be seen as a metaphor of Jesus’ own death and burial in the tomb and his resurrection. Jesus knew that the only way to victory over the power of sin and death was through the cross. Jesus reversed the curse of our first parents’ disobedience through his obedience to the Father’s will — his willingness to go to the cross to pay the just penalty for our sins and to defeat death once and for all. His obedience and death on the cross obtain for us freedom and new life in the Holy Spirit.  His cross frees us from the tyranny of sin and death and shows us the way of perfect love.

There is a great paradox here. Death leads to life. When we “die” to ourselves, we “rise” to new life in Jesus Christ. What does it mean to “die” to oneself? It certainly means that what is contrary to God’s will must be “crucified” or “put to death”. God gives us grace to say “yes” to his will and to reject whatever is contrary to his loving plan for our lives. Jesus also promises that we will bear much “fruit” for him, if we choose to deny ourselves for his sake. Jesus used forceful language to describe the kind of self-denial he had in mind for his disciples. What did he mean when he said that one must hate himself? The expression to hate something often meant to prefer less. Jesus says that nothing should get in the way of our preferring him and the will of our Father in heaven. Our hope is in Paul’s reminder that “What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible” (1 Cor. 15:42).  Do you hope in the Lord and follow joyfully the path he has chosen for you?

“Lord, let me be wheat sown in the earth, to be harvested for you.  I want to follow wherever you lead me.  Give me fresh hope and joy in serving you all the days of my life.”

The Weeds in the Grain or the Tares (Matt 13:24-30)
Scripture:  Matthew 13:24-30

24 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, `An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, `No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be  burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

Meditation:  What can malicious weed-sowing tell us about the kingdom of God? The image Jesus uses here is a common everyday example of planting, harvesting, and sorting the good fruit from the bad. Weeds can spoil and even kill a good harvest if they are not separated and destroyed at the proper time. Uprooting them too early, though, can destroy the good plants in the process. Just as nature teaches us patience, so God’s patience also teaches us to guard the word he has planted in our hearts and to beware of the destructive force of sin and evil which can destroy it. God’s word brings life, but Satan seeks to destroy the good seed which has been planted in the hearts of those who have heard God’s word. God’s judgment is not hasty, but it does come. And in the end, God will reward each according to what they have sown and reaped in this life. In that day God will separate the evil from the good. Do you allow God’s word to take deep root in your heart?

“Lord, may your word take deep root in my heart and that I may bear good fruit for your glory. May I hunger for your righteousness now that I may look forward to the day of judgment with joy rather than with dismay.”

The Net (Matthew 13:47-50)
Scripture: Matthew 13:47-53

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. 51 “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there.

Meditation: What can a story of a dragnet and a great catch of fish tell us about God’s kingdom? The two most common ways of fishing in Jesus’ time was with a casting-net (or hand-net) which was thrown from the shore and the drag-net or trawl which was let down or cast into the waters from a boat. As the boat moved through the waters the drag-net was drawn into the shape of a great cone which indiscriminately took in all kinds of fish and flotsam and jetsam swept in its path. It usually took several men to haul such a net to shore. What is Jesus’ point here? Just as a drag-net catches every kind of fish in the sea, so the church acts as God’s instrument for gathering in all who will come. Just as the drag-net does not or cannot discriminate, so the church does not discriminate between the good and the bad, the useless and the useful. God’s kingdom is open to all who will accept and believe. But there will come a time of separation, at the close of the age, when the angels will send the good and the bad to their respective destinations.Our duty is to gather in all who will come. God, in the end, will give the good and the bad the reward they deserve.  God offers the treasure of his kingdom to all who believe. Do you hunger for God and his kingdom?

“Lord, increase my hunger for your kingdom and fill my heart with eager longing for you that I may one day gaze upon your face in everlasting bliss.”

The Seed Growing Secretly (Spontaneously) or The Patient Husbandman (Mark 4:26-29)
Scripture: Mark 4:26-29

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, 27 and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Meditation: This parable speaks of growth and harvest — a continual process both in the natural sphere as well as the spiritual.  A seed cannot bear fruit unless it first dies and is buried in the earth (see John 12:26). While harvest is the culmination or climax of nature’s cycle, it also provides seed for future sowing.  God’s kingdom works in similar fashion.  It starts from the smallest of beginnings in the hearts of men and women who are receptive to God’s word.  And it works unseen and causes a transformation from within.  Just as a seed has no power to produce life of itself until it is planted in the earth, so we cannot be born again as a new creation in Christ until God makes us new in the power of his Holy Spirit. In baptism we die with Christ and we are raised as sons and daughters of God.  The coming of God’s kingdom causes a transformation in life, like the tiny seed which first sprouts, then grows and bears fruit in abundance.  In like manner, the hidden life of Christ grows first in the receptive heart of a believer and then transforms that person into a noble and useful vessel of Christ-like holiness and spiritual power (see 2 Cor. 4:7 and 2 Tim. 2:21). Do you seek to be transformed in Christ?

“Lord, change and transform me into the Christ-like holiness you desire. Increase my zeal for your kingdom and instill in me a burning desire to live for your greater glory.”

The Mustard Seed (Matt 13:31 f.; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18 f.)
Scripture: Matthew 13:31-35 (Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18 f.)

31 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 34 All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

Meditation: What can mustard seeds and leaven teach us about the kingdom of God?  The tiny mustard seed literally grew to be a tree which attracted numerous birds because they loved the little black mustard seed it produced. God’s kingdom works in a similar fashion. It starts from the smallest beginnings in the hearts of men and women who are receptive to God’s word. And it works unseen and causes a transformation from within. Leaven is another powerful agent of change. A lump of dough left to itself remains just what it is, a lump of dough. But when the leaven is added to it a transformation takes place which produces rich and wholesome bread when heated — the staple of life for humans.The kingdom of God produces a transformation in those who receive the new life which Jesus Christ offers. When we yield to Jesus Christ, our lives are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Paul the Apostle says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Do you believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit?

“Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit and transform me into the Christ-like holiness you desire. Increase my zeal for your kingdom and instill in me a holy desire to live for your greater glory.”

The Leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20 f.)
Scripture: Matthew 13:31-35 (Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18 f.)

31 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 34 All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

Meditation: What can mustard seeds and leaven teach us about the kingdom of God?  The tiny mustard seed literally grew to be a tree which attracted numerous birds because they loved the little black mustard seed it produced. God’s kingdom works in a similar fashion. It starts from the smallest beginnings in the hearts of men and women who are receptive to God’s word. And it works unseen and causes a transformation from within. Leaven is another powerful agent of change. A lump of dough left to itself remains just what it is, a lump of dough. But when the leaven is added to it a transformation takes place which produces rich and wholesome bread when heated — the staple of life for humans.The kingdom of God produces a transformation in those who receive the new life which Jesus Christ offers. When we yield to Jesus Christ, our lives are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Paul the Apostle says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Do you believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit?

“Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit and transform me into the Christ-like holiness you desire. Increase my zeal for your kingdom and instill in me a holy desire to live for your greater glory.”

The Budding Fig Tree (Matt 24:32 f.; Mark 13:28 f.; Luke 21:19-31)
Scripture: Luke 21:29-33 (Matthew 24:32 f.; Mark 13:28 f.)

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Meditation: What can fig trees teach us about the coming of God’s kingdom?  The fig tree was a common and important source of food for the Jews. It bore fruit twice a year, in the autumn and in the early spring. The prophet Joel mentions its fruitbearing as a sign of favor from the Lord (Joel 2:22). The Talmud said that the first fruit came the day after Passover. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would usher in the kingdom of God at Passover time. This parable fortells the joy of God’s kingdom — the joy of new life and the promise of a new age of peace and blessing.  The signs of spring are evident for all who can see. Just so are the signs of God’s kingdom.  The “budding” of God’s kingdom begins first in the hearts of those who are receptive to God’s word. Those who trust in God’s word will bear the fruits of his kingdom.  And what are the fruits of that kingdom?  “The kingdom of God ..is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  Do you pray for God’s kingdom to be fully revealed?

“Lord, may your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Open my eyes that I may see your glory.  Open my ears that I may understand and obey your word. And open the door of my heart that I may welcome you in as my King and Savior.”

The Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)
Scripture: Luke 13:6-9

6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, `Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, `Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. 9 And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’

Meditation: What can barren fig trees tell us about the kingdom of God? Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the Jews.  Bad figs or a decaying fig tree was linked with evil deeds and spiritual decay.  The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel’s unresponsiveness to the word of God.  The prophets depicted the languishing fig tree as signifying the desolation and calamity of Israel due to her unfaithfulness to God (see Joel 1:7,12; Habakuk 3:17; and Jeremiah 8:13).  Jeremiah said that evil people are like rotten figs (Jeremiah 24:2-8).    This parable of Jesus depicts the patience of God, but it also contains a warning that we should not presume upon it.  God gives us time to get right with him, but that time is now.  We must not assume that there is no hurry. A sudden and unexpected death leaves one no time to prepare to settle one’s accounts when he or she must stand before the Lord on the day of judgment. Jesus warns us that we must be ready at all times. Tolerating sinful habits and excusing unrepentant sin will result in bad fruit and eventual destruction. The Lord in his mercy gives us both grace and time to turn away from sin and from worldliness, but that time is right now. If we delay, even for a day, we may discover that grace has passed us by and our time is up. Do you hunger for the Lord’s righteousness and holiness?

“Lord, increase my hunger for your righteousness and holiness.  May I not squander the grace of the present moment to say “yes” to you, to your will, and to your way of holiness.”

The Birds of Heaven (Matthew 6:26; Luke 12:24)
Scripture: Matthew 6:24-34 (Luke 12:24-27)

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more  value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O  men of little  faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Meditation: What does “serving two masters” and “anxiety” have in common?  They both have the same root problem — being divided within oneself.  The root word for “anxiety” literally means “being of two minds”.  An anxious person is often “tossed to and fro” and paralyzed by indecision. Fear of some bad outcome usually cripples those afflicted with anxiety.  It’s also the case with someone who wants to submit to God but also live according to the world’s standards of success and fulfillment.  Who is the master in charge of your life?  Our “master” is that which governs our thought-life, shapes our ideals, controls the desires of the heart and the values we choose to live by.  We can be ruled by many different things — the love of money or possessions, the power of position, the glamour of wealth and prestige, the driving force of unruly passions and addictions. Ultimately the choice boils down to two: God and “mammon”.  What is mammon?  “Mammon” stands for “material wealth or possessions” or whatever tends to “control our appetites and desires”.  There is one Master alone who has the power to set us free from the slavery of sin and fear.  That Master is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus uses the illustration of nature — the birds and the flowers — to show how God provides for them in the natural order of his creation. How much more can we, as his children, rely upon God’s providential care? God is utterly reliable.  In the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded that God is our provider when we pray: Give us this day our daily bread.  What is bread, but the very staple of life and symbol of all that we need to live and grow.  Anxiety is neither helpful nor necessary. It robs us of faith and confidence in God’s help and it saps our energy for doing good. Jesus admonishes his followers to put away anxiety and preoccupation with material things and instead to seek first the things of God — his kingdom and righteousness.  Anxiety robs the heart of trust in the mercy and goodness of God and in his loving care for us.  God knows our needs even before we ask and he gives generously to those who trust in him.  Who is your master — God or mammon?

“Lord, free me from needless worries and help me to put my trust in you.  Make my first concern your kingdom and your righteousness.  Help me to live each day with trust and gratitude for your providential care for me”.

The Flowers of the Field (Matt 6:28-30; Luke 12:27 f.)
Scripture: Matthew 6:24-34 (Luke 12:24-27)

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more  value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O  men of little  faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Meditation: What does “serving two masters” and “anxiety” have in common?  They both have the same root problem — being divided within oneself.  The root word for “anxiety” literally means “being of two minds”.  An anxious person is often “tossed to and fro” and paralyzed by indecision. Fear of some bad outcome usually cripples those afflicted with anxiety.  It’s also the case with someone who wants to submit to God but also live according to the world’s standards of success and fulfillment.  Who is the master in charge of your life?  Our “master” is that which governs our thought-life, shapes our ideals, controls the desires of the heart and the values we choose to live by.  We can be ruled by many different things — the love of money or possessions, the power of position, the glamour of wealth and prestige, the driving force of unruly passions and addictions. Ultimately the choice boils down to two: God and “mammon”.  What is mammon?  “Mammon” stands for “material wealth or possessions” or whatever tends to “control our appetites and desires”.  There is one Master alone who has the power to set us free from the slavery of sin and fear.  That Master is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus uses the illustration of nature — the birds and the flowers — to show how God provides for them in the natural order of his creation. How much more can we, as his children, rely upon God’s providential care? God is utterly reliable.  In the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded that God is our provider when we pray: Give us this day our daily bread.  What is bread, but the very staple of life and symbol of all that we need to live and grow.  Anxiety is neither helpful nor necessary. It robs us of faith and confidence in God’s help and it saps our energy for doing good. Jesus admonishes his followers to put away anxiety and preoccupation with material things and instead to seek first the things of God — his kingdom and righteousness.  Anxiety robs the heart of trust in the mercy and goodness of God and in his loving care for us.  God knows our needs even before we ask and he gives generously to those who trust in him.  Who is your master — God or mammon?

“Lord, free me from needless worries and help me to put my trust in you.  Make my first concern your kingdom and your righteousness.  Help me to live each day with trust and gratitude for your providential care for me”.

The Vultures & the Carcass (Matt 24:28; Luke 17:37)
Scripture:  Luke 17:37    (Matthew 24:28)

37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there the eagles (also translated vultures) will be gathered together.”

Meditation: What can nature teach us about the judgments of God? Jesus quoted a familiar proverb to his audience: Where the body is, there the eagles (or vultures) will be gathered together. Eagles, like vultures, are attracted to carrion.  The Book of Job describes the eagle spying out its prey from afar (Job 39:29).  What’s the point of this analogy?  It’s  inevitable that a thing will happen when the necessary conditions are fulfilled.  The return of the Lord is certain, but the time is unknown. The Lord’s judgment comes swiftly and often unexpectedly.  Jesus warns his listeners to not be caught off guard when that day arrives (see Luke 17:26-37). It will surely come in God’s good time! Those whose hope is firmly anchored in heaven will not be disappointed when God’s judgment comes. They rejoice even now that they will see the Lord in his glory! Is your hope firmly placed in God and his kingdom?

“Lord Jesus Christ , you are my hope and salvation.  Help me to never lose sight of the goal of heaven and give me fresh joy and zeal to live each day for your kingdom.”

The Tree and its Fruits (Matthew 7:16; Luke 6:43-49)
Scripture: Matthew 7:15-20

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?  17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.  18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Meditation: What do grapes, thorns, figs, and thistles have to teach us about the kingdom of God?  The imagery used by Jesus would have been very familiar to his audience.  A certain thornbush had berries which resembled grapes.  And a certain thistle had a flower, which at least from a distance, resembled the fig.  Isn’t it the same today?  What we “hear” might have a resemblance of the truth, but, in fact, when you inspect it closely, it’s actually false.  False prophets or teachers abound today as much as they did in biblical times.  What’s the test of a true or false teacher?  Jesus connects soundness with good fruit.  Something is sound when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living — living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood:Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20).  The fruits of falsehood produce an easy religion which takes the iron out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin. How do we avoid falsehood?  By being true — true to God, his word, and his grace.  And that takes character!  Those who are true to God know that their strength lies not in themselves but in God who supplies what we need.   The fruit of a disciple is marked by faith, hope and love, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance.  Do you cultivate good fruit in your life and reject whatever produces bad fruit?

“Lord, may I bear good fruit for your sake.  Help me to reject whatever will produce evil fruit.  And help me grow in faith, hope, love, sound judgment, justice, courage, and self control.”

The Weather Signs (Luke 12:54-56; cf. Matthew 26:2 f.; Mark 8:11-13)
Scripture:  Luke 12:54-59   (Matthew 26:2; Mark 8:11-13)

54 He also said to the multitudes, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, `A shower is coming'; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper.”

Meditation: How good are you at reading signs?  Jesus expects his disciples to read the signs of the times accurately! While modern technology gives us greater accuracy for pinpointing troublesome tempests and quakes, our ability for discerning spiritual trouble and averting spiritual disaster seems to be in need of desperate repair or at least improvement.  How good are you at reading signs?  The people of Jesus’ time expected that the coming of the Messiah would be accompanied by extraordinary signs and wonders. False messiahs had made great claims to attract followers, such as cleaving the Jordan River in two or causing the walls of Jerusalem to fall. Jesus knew the hearts of those who came to test him. They were more interested in signs and supernatural phenomena than they were in the word of God. Simeon had prophesied at Jesus’ birth that he was “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that inner thoughts of many will be revealed”(Luke 2:34-35). Jesus gave them no sign except himself and the ultimate proof of his divinity when he rose from the dead. The Lord reveals himself to us in many ways — in his word and in the “breaking of the bread” in the Lord’s supper or eucharist, in his Church — the body of Christ, in his creation, and even in the everyday circumstances of our lives. If we seek the Lord, we can be confident that he will give us everything we need to do his will. Most of all the Lord assures us of his presence and the promise that he will never leave us.  Theresa of Avila’s prayer book was found to contain a bookmark inscribed:  Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you; All things pass: God never changes.  Patience achieves all it strives for.  Whoever has God lacks nothing, God alone suffices. Is God enough for you?

Jesus used a vivid illustration to point out the urgency of getting right with God. What’s the point of the parable of the defendant? When you see trouble ahead,
foresight can help you avert the worst! If you were up against a bad cause and were likely to get severely penalized, would you not try to settle the case out-of-court to avoid a worse penalty?  Each of us stands in constant need of God’s love and mercy.   His light reveals what is in our hearts and his grace frees us from the tyranny of sin. God’s call is urgent and his grace is available for complete transformation in Christ.  Are you ready for his grace and action in your life?

“Lord, change my heart and my life that I may fully live for you.  Help me to choose what is right and to turn away from every sin and from every attachment to worldliness which keeps me from loving and serving you wholeheartedly.”

Master and Servant (Luke 17:7-10)
Scripture: Luke 17:7-10

7 “Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, `Come at once and sit down at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

Meditation:  We love to claim our rights! But who can satisfy the claims of love? Jesus used this parable of the dutiful servant to explain that we can never put God in our debt or make the claim that God owes us something. We must regard ourselves as God’s servants, just as Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve”. True love is sacrificial, generous, and boundless.  God honors the faithful servant who loves generously. He is ever ready to work through us and in us for his glory. We must remember, however, that God can never be indebted to us. We have no claim on him. His love compels us to give him our best!  And when we have done our best, we have simply done our duty. We can never outdo God. Does the love of God compel you to give your best?

“Lord, fill my heart with love, gratitude and generosity. Make me a faithful and zealous servant for you. May I generously pour out my life in loving service for you and for others, just as you have so generously poured yourself out for me.”

The Servant Entrusted with Authority or The Faithful and Unfaithful Servants (Matt. 24:45-51; Luke 12:42-46)
Scripture:   Luke 12:32-48

32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  33 Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35 “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, `My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and  drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him  with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. 48 But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be  required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

Meditation: What does treasure, a thief, a wedding feast, and a homecoming have in common?  Jesus loved to tell stories (in the form of parables) using common everyday images to draw some rather unusual comparisons and often quite unexpected lessons for his audience.  There is an element of surprise in the story of the master returning home unexpectedly after the marriage feast. Will he catch his servant sleeping rather than keeping watchful guard?  And how about the person who possessed great wealth, but woke up one day to discover that a thief had carried it all off. What does this say to us about the kingdom of heaven? The treasure God offers is of far greater value that any earthly treasure and more secure!  But it’s possible to lose this treasure if we do not guard what has been entrusted to us by God. What is this treasure?  The Lord offers us a relationship with him as his sons and daughters and the promise of eternal life as well.  The image Jesus uses here is a great wedding feast in which the master honors his guests by seating them in the place of honor and personally waiting on them himself.  This parable also contains a lesson in faithfulness and a warning against sloth. Why is faithfulness so important to God?  For one, it’s the foundation for any lasting and meaningful relationship.  Faithfulness or fidelity allows us to persevere in living out an unswerving commitment. The Lord is committed to us in a bond of unbreakable love and fidelity.  That is what covenant means — keeping one’s word, promise, and commitment no matter how tough or difficult it gets.  Faithfulness is a key character trait of God and one that he expects of us.  Fortunately God gives the grace and strength to be faithful.  He also rewards faithfulness. Why is fidelity or faithfulness so difficult today?  Modern society extols freedom over fidelity and doesn’t want to be bound to an unknown or uncertain future.  It’s also inconvenient and a burden to the pursuit of one’s own interests.  We badly need to recover this virtue, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the next generation as well.  If we want to pass on the faith then we need to first be faithful models for our youth. Faithfulness demands consistency, a determination to stay the course, and hard work. Cal Ripken, the American baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, is a sports hero simply because he always shows up and gives his best.  He hasn’t missed one game in his 26 years of playing baseball! Only one other player in history has come close to that record.  In 1983 he hurt his hand sliding on artificial turf and was unable to grip the bat at first; he somehow gritted his teeth and got five hits that night, two of them home runs.  The joy and privilege of being a son or daughter of God carries with it an awesome responsibility.  The Lord expects us to make good use of the gifts and graces he gives to us.  The more he gives, the more he requires.  The temptation while the Master is away is to put off for tomorrow what we know the Master expects us to do today!  Are you faithful to God and  ready to give him an account of your stewardship?

“Lord, you are faithful even when I fail.  Help me to remain ever faithful to you and to not shrink back when I encounter difficulties.  Make me diligent in the exercise of my responsibilities and wise and prudent in the use of my gifts, time and resources.”

The Waiting Servants (Luke 12:35-38; Mark 13:33-37)
Scripture:   Luke 12:32-48

32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  33 Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35 “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, `My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and  drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him  with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. 48 But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be  required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

Meditation: What does treasure, a thief, a wedding feast, and a homecoming have in common?  Jesus loved to tell stories (in the form of parables) using common everyday images to draw some rather unusual comparisons and often quite unexpected lessons for his audience.  There is an element of surprise in the story of the master returning home unexpectedly after the marriage feast. Will he catch his servant sleeping rather than keeping watchful guard?  And how about the person who possessed great wealth, but woke up one day to discover that a thief had carried it all off. What does this say to us about the kingdom of heaven? The treasure God offers is of far greater value that any earthly treasure and more secure!  But it’s possible to lose this treasure if we do not guard what has been entrusted to us by God. What is this treasure?  The Lord offers us a relationship with him as his sons and daughters and the promise of eternal life as well.  The image Jesus uses here is a great wedding feast in which the master honors his guests by seating them in the place of honor and personally waiting on them himself.  This parable also contains a lesson in faithfulness and a warning against sloth. Why is faithfulness so important to God?  For one, it’s the foundation for any lasting and meaningful relationship.  Faithfulness or fidelity allows us to persevere in living out an unswerving commitment. The Lord is committed to us in a bond of unbreakable love and fidelity.  That is what covenant means — keeping one’s word, promise, and commitment no matter how tough or difficult it gets.  Faithfulness is a key character trait of God and one that he expects of us.  Fortunately God gives the grace and strength to be faithful.  He also rewards faithfulness. Why is fidelity or faithfulness so difficult today?  Modern society extols freedom over fidelity and doesn’t want to be bound to an unknown or uncertain future.  It’s also inconvenient and a burden to the pursuit of one’s own interests.  We badly need to recover this virtue, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the next generation as well.  If we want to pass on the faith then we need to first be faithful models for our youth. Faithfulness demands consistency, a determination to stay the course, and hard work. Cal Ripken, the American baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, is a sports hero simply because he always shows up and gives his best.  He hasn’t missed one game in his 26 years of playing baseball! Only one other player in history has come close to that record.  In 1983 he hurt his hand sliding on artificial turf and was unable to grip the bat at first; he somehow gritted his teeth and got five hits that night, two of them home runs.  The joy and privilege of being a son or daughter of God carries with it an awesome responsibility.  The Lord expects us to make good use of the gifts and graces he gives to us.  The more he gives, the more he requires.  The temptation while the Master is away is to put off for tomorrow what we know the Master expects us to do today!  Are you faithful to God and  ready to give him an account of your stewardship?

“Lord, you are faithful even when I fail.  Help me to remain ever faithful to you and to not shrink back when I encounter difficulties.  Make me diligent in the exercise of my responsibilities and wise and prudent in the use of my gifts, time and resources.”

The Laborers in the Vineyard or The Generous Employer (Matthew 20:1-16)
Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to them he said, `You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, `Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, `You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, `Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12 saying, `These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Meditation: What can work and wages, welfare and the unemployed tell us about the kingdom of God?  In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard we see the extraordinary generosity and compassion of God. There is great tragedy in unemployment. In Jesus’ times hired laborers had to wait each day in the marketplace until someone hired them for a day’s job. No work that day usually meant no food on the family table. The laborers who worked all day and received their payment complain that the master pays the late afternoon laborers the same wage. The master, undoubtedly, hired them in the late afternoon so they wouldn’t go home payless and hungry. God is generous in opening the doors of his kingdom to all who will enter, both those who have labored a life-time for him and those who come at the last hour. While the reward is the same, the motive for one’s labor can make all the difference. Some work only for reward. They will only put as much effort in as they think they will get out. Others labor out of love and joy for the opportunity to work. The Lord calls his disciples to serve God and neighbor with generosity and joy. Do you find joy in giving freely to others?

“Lord, may I serve you and my neighbor with a glad and generous heart, not looking for how much I can get but rather looking for how much I can give.”

The Money in Trust or The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27)
Scripture:  Matthew 25:14-30       (see also Luke 19:12-27)

14 “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. 17 So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, `Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I  have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the  joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, `Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the  joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and  gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not  winnowed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken  away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

Meditation: What can economics and productivity teach us about the kingdom of heaven?  Jesus’ story about a businessman who leaves town and entrusts his money with his workers made perfect sense to his audience.  Wealthy merchants and businessmen often had to travel abroad and leave the business to others to handle while they were gone.  Why did Jesus tell this story?   Most importantly it tells us something about how God deals with us, his servants.  The parable speaks first of the Master’s trust in his servants.  While he goes away he leaves them with his money to use as they think best.  While there were no strings attached, this was obviously a test to see if the Master’s workers would be industrious and reliable in their use of the money entrusted to them.  Third, the master rewards those who are industrious and faithful and he punishes those who sit by idly and who do nothing with his money.  The essence of the parable seems to lie in the servants’ conception of responsibility. Each servant entrusted with the master’s money was faithful up to a certain point.  The servant who buried the master’s money was irresponsible.  One can bury seeds in the ground and expect them to  become productive because they obey natural laws. Coins, however, do not obey natural laws.  They obey economic laws and become productive in circulation.  The master expected his servants to be productive in the use of his money.  What do coins and the law of economics have to do with the kingdom of God?   The Lord entrusts the subjects of his kingdom with gifts and graces and he gives his subjects the freedom to use them as they think best. With each gift and talent, God gives sufficient the means (grace and wisdom) for using them in a fitting way. As the parable of the talents shows, God abhors indifference and an attitude that says it’s not worth trying. God honors those who use their talents and gifts for doing good. Those who are faithful with even a little are entrusted with more! But those who neglect or squander what God has entrusted to them will lose what they have. There is an important lesson here for us. No one can stand still for long in the Christian life. We either get more or we lose what we have. We either advance towards God or we slip back. Do you earnestly seek to serve God with the gifts, talents, and graces he has given to you?

“Lord, be the ruler of my heart and thoughts, be the king of my home and relationships, and be the master of my work and service.  Help me to make good use of the gifts, talents, time, and resources you give me for your glory and your kingdom.”

Scripture:  Luke 19:11-28

11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of  God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, `Trade with these till I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, `We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. 16 The first came before him, saying, `Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.’ 17 And he said to him, `Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, `Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19 And he said to him, `And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, `Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, `I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay  down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, `Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.’ 25 (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26 `I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.'” 28 And when he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

Meditation: Do you long for the coming of God’s kingdom in all its fullness?  The Jews in Jesus’ time had a heightened sense that the Messiah would appear and usher in the kingdom or reign of God on the earth.  Jesus, in fact, spoke in messianic terms of the coming reign of God.  Perhaps his entry into Jerusalem would bring about such a change and overthrow of Roman domination.  Jesus speaks to their longing for a new kingdom in the parable of a nobleman who went away to receive a kingdom.  The parable reveals something important about how God works his plan and purpose with humans.  The parable speaks first of the king’s trust in his subjects.  While he goes away he leaves them with his money to use as they think best.  While there were no strings attached, this was obviously a test to see if the king’s subjects would be faithful and reliable in their use of the money entrusted to them.  Third, the king rewards those who are faithful and he punishes those who sit by idly and who do nothing with his money.

The Lord gives his kingdom to those who are ready to receive his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  And he entrusts us with his gifts and graces and he gives us freedom to use them as we think best. With each gift and talent, God gives sufficient grace and energy for using them in a fitting way. As the parable of the talents shows, God abhors indifference and an attitude that says it’s not worth trying. God honors those who use their talents and gifts for doing good. Those who are faithful with even a little are entrusted with more! But those who neglect or squander what God has entrusted to them will lose what they have. There is an important lesson here for us. No one can stand still for long in the Christian life. We either get more or we lose what we have. We either advance towards God or we slip back. Do you trust in God’s grace to make good use of the gifts and talents he has given you?

“Lord, your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.  Come and be the ruler of my heart and thoughts and be the king of my home and family.  Help me to make good use of the gifts, talents, time, and resources you give me for your glory and your kingdom.”

The Lamp (Matt 5:14-16; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16, 11:31) and The City Set on a Hill (Matt. 5:14b)
Scripture: Matthew 5:14-16 (Luke 8:16-18, Mark 4:21)

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Meditation: What does the image of light and a lamp tell us about God’s kingdom? Lamps in the ancient world served a vital function, much like they do today. They enable people to see and work in the dark and to avoid stumbling. The Jews also understood “light” as an expression of the inner beauty, truth, and goodness of God. In his light we see light ( Psalm 36:9). His word is a lamp that guides our steps (Psalm 119:105). God’s grace not only illumines the darkness in our lives, but it also fills us with spiritual light, joy, and peace. Jesus used the image of a lamp to describe how his disciples are to live in the light of his truth and love. Just as natural light illumines the darkness and enables one to see visually, so the light of Christ shines in the hearts of believers and enables us to see the heavenly reality of God’s kingdom. In fact, our mission is to be light-bearers of Christ so that others may see the truth of the gospel and be freed from the blindness of sin and deception. Jesus remarks that nothing can remain hidden or secret. We can try to hide things from others, from ourselves, and from God. How tempting to shut our eyes from the consequences of our sinful ways and bad habits, even when we know what those consequences are. And how tempting to hide them form others and even from God. But, nonetheless, everything is known to God who sees all. There is great freedom and joy for those who live in God’s light and who seek this truth. Those who listen to God and heed his voice will receive more from him. Do you know the joy and freedom of living in God’s light?

“Lord, you guide me by the light of your saving truth. Fill my heart and mind with your light and truth and free me from the blindness of sin and deception that I may see your ways clearly and understand your will for my life. May I radiate your light and truth to others in word and deed”.

The Body's Lamp (Matthew 6:22 f.; Luke 11:34-36)
Scripture: Matthew 6:22-23 (Luke 11:34-36)

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Meditation: Jesus used the image of eyesight to convey an important spiritual principle. Bad eyesight is often used as a metaphor for stupidity and spiritual blindness. (For examples, see Matthew 15:14, 23:16 ff.; John 9:39-41; Romans 2 2:19; II Peter 1:9; and Revelations 3:17.) The eye is the window of the heart, mind, and “inner being” of a person.  If the window is clouded, dirty, or marred in any manner, the light will be deflected and diminished.  Just so with the “inner being” of a person!  How we “see” affects the “inner life”, “heart”, and “soul” of an individual.  What can blind or distort our “vision” of what is true, good, lovely, pure and everlasting (Philippians 4:8)?  Certainly prejudice, jealousy, and self-conceit cause distortion or blindness.  Prejudice destroys good judgment and blinds us to the facts and to their significance for us.  Jealousy makes us distrustful and suspicious of others and distorts our ability to accurately examine the facts. We need to fearlessly examine ourselves to see if we are living according to right principles or if we might be misguided by prejudice or some other conceit.  Love is not jealous …but rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:4-6). Do you rejoice in what is right and good and do you live your life in the light of God’s truth?

“Lord, your word is life for us.  Fill me with your light and truth, and give me understanding of your ways.  Free me from all that is false, illusory, ugly, and unloving. Let my heart know only one treasure — the joy and bliss of union with you — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The Discarded Salt (Matt 5:13; Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34 f.)
Scripture reading: Matthew 5:13-16 (Mark 9:50, Luke 14:34 f.)

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Meditation: Jesus used ordinary images, such as salt and light, to convey extraordinary truths. What does salt and light have to teach us about God and his reign on earth? Salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. People traded with it, like we trade with gold and stock. Salt also served a very useful purpose in hot climates before the invention of electricity and refrigeration. Salt not only gave food flavor, it also preserved meat from spoiling. Salt was used as a symbol of fellowship and the common meal.  The near-Eastern expression to betray the salt meant to betray one’s Master or some person who was owed loyalty and devotion.  Leonardo da Vinci in his painting of the Last Supper depicts Judas in the act of tipping over the salt shaker, thus symbolically identifying himself as the betrayer of his Master.  Jesus used the image of salt to describe how his disciples are to live in the world. As salt purifies, preserves, and penetrates, so the disciple must be as salt in the world of human society to purify, preserve, and penetrate that society for the kingdom of God and of his righteousness and peace. Why did Jesus speak of discarded salt as being useless?  Salt was often put in ovens to intensify the heat.  When the salt was burned off and no longer useful it was thrown out on the road or on the roof top where it would easily get trodden upon. Perhaps Jesus wanted to contrast useful salt used for giving flavor and for preserving food with salt which was burned and no longer of much benefit, to encourage his disciples to be faithful witnesses and to not neglect the opportunity to influence others for the kingdom of God through the witness of their lives and their testimony to the power of the kingdom of God.  Jesus also used the image of light and a lamp to further his illustration. Lamps in the ancient world served a vital function, much like they do today. They enable people to see and work in the dark and to avoid stumbling. The Jews also understood “light” as an expression of the inner beauty, truth, and goodness of God. In his light we see light ( Psalm 36:9). His word is a lamp that guides our steps(Psalm 119:105). God’s grace not only illumines the darkness in our lives, but it also fills us with spiritual light, joy, and peace. Jesus used the image of a lamp to describe how his disciples are to live in the light of his truth and love. Just as natural light illumines the darkness and enables one to see visually, so the light of Christ shines in the hearts of believers and enables us to see the heavenly reality of God’s kingdom. In fact, our mission is to be light-bearers of Christ so that others may see the truth of the gospel and be freed from the blindness of sin and deception. Jesus remarks that nothing can remain hidden or secret. We can try to hide things from others, from ourselves, and from God. How tempting to shut our eyes from the consequences of our sinful ways and bad habits, even when we know what those consequences are. And how tempting to hide them form others and even from God. But, nonetheless, everything is known to God who sees all. There is great freedom and joy for those who live in God’s light and who seek this truth. Those who listen to God and heed his voice will receive more from him. Do you know the joy and freedom of living in God’s light?

“Lord, you guide me by the light of your saving truth. Fill my heart and mind with your light and truth and free me from the blindness of sin and deception that I may see your ways clearly and understand your will for my life. May I radiate your light and truth to others in word and deed”.

The Patch and the Wineskins (Matthew 9:16 f.; Mark 2:21 f.; Luke 5:36-39)
Scripture:  Matthew 9:14-17 (Mark 2:21 f.; Luke 5:36-39)

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is  taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 And no one puts a piece of unsprung cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is  put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Meditation: Which comes first, fasting or feasting?  The disciples of John the Baptist were upset with Jesus’ disciples because they did not fast.  Fasting was one of the three most important religious duties, along with prayer and almsgiving.  Jesus gave a simple explanation.  There’s a time for fasting and a time for feasting (or celebrating). To walk as a disciple with Jesus is to experience a whole new joy of relationship akin to the joy of the wedding party in celebrating with the groom and bride their wedding bliss.  But there also comes a time when the Lord’s disciples must bear the cross of affliction and purification.  For the disciple there is both a time for rejoicing in the Lord’s presence and celebrating his goodness and a time for seeking the Lord with humility and fasting and for mourning over sin.  Do you take joy in the Lord’s presence with you and do you express sorrow and contrition for your sins?  Jesus goes on to warn his disciples about the problem of the “closed mind” that refuses to learn new things.  Jesus used an image familiar to his audience — new and old wineskins.  In Jesus’ times, wine was stored in wineskins, not bottles.  New wine poured into skins was still fermenting.  The gases exerted gave pressure.  New wine skins were elastic enough to take the pressure, but old wine skins easily burst because they were hard.  What did Jesus mean by this comparison?  Are we to reject the old in place of the new?  Just as there is a right place and a right time for fasting and for feasting, so there is a right place for the old as well as the new.  Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matthew 13:52).  How impoverished we would be if we only had the Old Testament or the New Testament, rather than both.  The Lord gives us wisdom so we can make the best use of both the old and the new. He doesn’t want us to hold rigidly to the past and to be resistent to the new work of his Holy Spirit in our lives.  He wants our minds and hearts to be like the new wine skins — open and ready to receive the new wine of the Holy Spirit.  Are you eager to grow in the knowledge and understanding of God’s word and plan for your life?

“Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit, that I may grow in the knowledge of your great love and truth.  Help me to seek you earnestly in prayer and fasting that I may turn away from sin and willfulness and conform my life more fully to your will. May I always find joy in knowing, loving, and serving you.”

The Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-12)
Scripture: Luke 16:1-12

1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ 3 And the steward said to himself, `What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, `A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, `Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, `And how much do you owe?’ He said, `A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations. 10 “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?

Meditation: Do you make good use of your money and possessions? Jesus seemed to praise a steward (a manager entrusted with his master’s goods) who misused his employer’s money. What did the steward do that made Jesus praise him? The steward was responsible for managing his wealthy landowner’s property.  He very likely overcharged his master’s tenants for their use of the land and kept more than his fair share of the commission. When the landowner discovers the steward’s dishonest practice he immediately removes him from his job, leaving him penniless and ashamed to beg or do manual work.  Before news of his dismissal becomes public knowledge, the shrewd steward strikes a deal with his master’s debtors. In discounting their debts he probably was giving up his generous commission.  Such a deal won him great favor with the debtors.  Since he acted as the landowner’s chief financial officer, such a deal made his master look very generous and forgiving towards those who owned him money. Surely everyone would praise such a generous landowner as the town hero!  Since the master could not undo the steward’s cancellation of the debts without losing face and making his debtors resent him, he praises the steward for outwitting him as a generous and merciful landowner.

Jesus obviously thought that the example of a very clever steward would be a perfect illustration for a spiritual lesson about the kingdom of God!  What’s the point of Jesus’s parable?  The dishonest steward is commended not for mishandling his master’s wealth, but for his shrewd provision in averting personal disaster and in securing his future livelihood. The original meaning of “shrewdness” is “foresight”.  A shrewd person grasps a critical situation with resolution, foresight, and the determination to avoid serious loss or disaster.  Jesus is concerned here with something more critical than a financial crisis.  His concern is that we avert spiritual crisis and personal disaster through the exercise of faith and foresight.  If Christians would only expend as much foresight and energy to spiritual matters which have eternal consequences as much as they do to earthly matters which have temporal consequences, then they would be truly better off, both in this life and in the age to come.

Ambrose, a 4th century bishop said: The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children are the barns which last forever. True wealth consists not in what we keep but in what we give away. Possessions are a great responsibility. The Lord expects us to use them honestly and responsibly and to put them at his service and the service of others. We are God’s servants and all that we have belongs to him. He expects us to make a good return on what he gives us. God loves generosity and he gives liberally to those who share his gifts with others. The Pharisees, however, had no room for God or others in their hearts. The gospel says they were lovers of money (Luke 16:14). Love of money and wealth crowd out love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus makes clear that our hearts must either be possessed by God’s love or our hearts will be possessed by the love of something else. What does your heart most treasure?

“Lord, all that I have is a gift from you.  May I love you freely and generously with all that I possess.  Help me to be a wise and faithful steward of my resources, including the use of my time, money, and possessions.”

The Unforgiving Official or The Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-35)
Scripture: Matthew 18:21-19:1

18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; 25 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” 19:1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.

Meditation: How does mercy and justice go together?  The prophet Amos speaks of God forgiving transgression three times, but warns that God may not revoke punishment for the fourth (see Amos 1:3-13; 2:1-6).  When Peter posed the question of forgiveness, he characteristically offered an answer he thought Jesus would be pleased with.  Why not forgive seven times!  How unthinkable for Jesus to counter with the proposition that one must forgive seventy times that.  Jesus made it clear that there is no reckonable limit to forgiveness.  And he drove the lesson home with a parable about two very different kinds of debts.  The first man owed an enormous sum of money — millions in our currency.  In Jesus’ time this amount was greater than the total revenue of a province — more than it would cost to ransom a king!  The man who was forgiven such an incredible debt could not, however bring himself to forgive his neighbor a very small debt which was about one-hundred-thousandth of his own debt.  The contrast could not have been greater!  No offence our neighbor can do to us can compare with our debt to God! We have been forgiven a debt which is beyond all paying; to ransom our debt of sin God gave up his only begotten Son. If God has forgiven each of us our debt, which was very great, we, too must forgive others the debt they owe us.  Jesus teaches that one must forgive in order to be forgiven. If we do not forgive our fellow man we cannot expect God to forgive us. James says that judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy (James 2:13). Mercy is truly a gift and it is offered in such a way that justice is not negated.  Mercy “seasons” justice as “salt” seasons meat and gives it flavor.  Mercy follows justice and perfects it.  To pardon the unrepentant is not mercy  but license.  C.S. Lewis, a contemporary Christian author wrote: “Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety.”  If we want mercy shown to us we must be ready to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Do you hold any grudge or resentment towards anyone?

“Lord, you have been kind and forgiving towards me. May I be merciful as you are merciful. Free me from all bitterness and resentment that I may truly forgive from the heart all who may have caused me injury or grief.”

The Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21)
Scripture:  Luke 12:13-21

13 One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; 17 and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Meditation: In Jesus’ time it was customary for people to take their disputes to the rabbis for settlement.  Jesus refuses such a case and instead gives the disputant a parable to “mull over”.  How would you react if Jesus refused to settle your dispute, but gave you a parable instead?  What is the point of Jesus’ story about a wealthy landowner and why does he call him a fool?   Jesus does not fault him for his industriousness, but for his egoism and selfishness. Like the rich man and Lazarus, he had lost the capacity to be concerned for others.  His life was consumed with his possessions and his only interests were in himself. His death was the final loss of his soul!  In the parable of the rich fool Jesus gives a lesson on using material possessions.  His lesson contains a warning to beware of all covetousness.  To covet is to wish to get wrongfully what another possesses or to begrudge what God gave him.  Jesus restates the commandment do not covet, but he also states that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  In this little parable Jesus probes the heart — where is your treasure? Treasure has a special connection to the heart, the place of desire and longing, the place of will and focus.  The thing we most set our heart on is our highest treasure. What do you treasure most?

“Lord, free me from all covetousness and from attachment to possessions.  May I wholly desire you as my treasure and portion.  Help me to make good use of the material blessings you give me that I may use them generously for your glory and for the good of others.”

The Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9-16)
Scripture: Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; 35 and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. 37 Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”

Meditation: What is the point of the parable of the vineyard?  Jesus’ story about an absentee landlord and his not-so-good tenants would have made sense to his audience. The hills of Galilee were lined with numerous vineyards, and it was quite common for the owners to let out their estates to tenants. Many did it for the sole purpose of collecting rent at the right time.Why did Jesus’ story about wicked tenants cause offense to the scribes and Pharisees?  It contained both a prophetic message and a warning.  Isaiah had spoken of the house of Israel as “the vineyard of the Lord” (Isaiah 5:7). Jesus’ listeners would likely understand this parable as referring to God’s dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people.

This parable speaks to us today as well.  It richly conveys some important truths about God and the way he deals with his people.  First, it tells us of God’s generosity and trust.  The vineyard is well equipped with everything the tenants need.  The owner went away and left the vineyard in the hands of the tenants.  God, likewise trusts us enough to give us freedom to run life as we choose.  This parable also tells us of God’s patience and justice.  Not once, but many times he forgives the tenants their debts.  But while the tenants take advantage of the owner’s patience, his judgment and justice prevail in the end.

Jesus foretold both his death and his ultimate triumph.  He knew he would be rejected and be killed, but he also knew that would not be the end. After rejection would come glory — the glory of resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. The Lord blesses his people today with the gift of his kingdom.  And he promises that we will bear much fruit if we abide in him (see John 15:1-11).  He entrusts his gifts and grace to each of us and he gives us work to do in his vineyard — the body of Christ.  He promises that our labor will not be in vain if we persevere with faith to the end (see 1 Cor. 15:58). We can expect trials and even persecution.  But in the end we will see triumph.  Do you labor for the Lord with joyful hope and with confidence in his victory?

“Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us; for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.  O most merciful redeemer, friend, and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, for you own sake.”(prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, 13th century)

The Two Builders (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49)
Scripture:  Matthew 7:21-29

21 “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  22 On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works  in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’  24 “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;  25 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  26 And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; 27 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Meditation: When Jesus told the story of the builders he likely had the following proverb in mind: When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand form for ever (Proverbs 10:25).  What’s the significance of the story for us?  The kind of foundation we build our lives upon will determine whether we can survive the storms that are sure to come.  Builders usually lay their foundations when the weather and soil conditions are at their best.  It takes foresight to know how a foundation will stand up against adverse conditions.  Building a house on a flood plain, such as a dry river-bed, is a sure bet for disaster!  Jesus prefaced his story with a warning: We may fool humans with our speech, but God cannot be deceived.  He sees the heart as it truly is — with its motives, intentions, desires, and choices (Psalm 139:2). There is only one way in which a person’s sincerity can be proved, and that is by one’s practice.  Fine words can never replace good deeds.  Our character is revealed in the choices we make, especially when we are tested.  Do you cheat on an exam or on your income taxes, especially when it will cost you?  Do you lie, or cover-up, when disclosing the truth will cause you  injury or embarrassment?  A true person is honest and reliable before God, himself, and his neighbor.  His word can be counted on.  What foundation is your life built upon?

“Lord, you are the sure foundation upon which we can build our lives and live securely.  Give me wisdom and strength to live according to your truth and to reject every false and erroneous way.  May I be a doer of your word and not a hearer only.”

The Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-43)
Scripture:  Luke 7:40-50

40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet  my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Meditation: Jesus, in his customary fashion, never lost the opportunity to draw a lesson from an incident.  When a noted rabbi invited Jesus to dinner, a public sinner crased the party and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (see Luke 7:36-39). Her action upset the host who complained to Jesus. Why did Jesus put the parable of the two debtors before his “learned host”, a rabbi and teacher of the people?  This parable is similar to the parable of the unforgiving official (see Matthew 18:23-35) in which the man who was forgiven much showed himself merciless and unforgiving. This man was completely callous because he could neither believe in love,accept it or give it. Who is to be pitied most? Those who cannot receive love or those who cannot give love? Jesus makes clear that great love springs from a heart forgiven and cleansed.  “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), “for love is of God” (1 John 4:7). The woman’s lavish expression of love was proof that she had found favor with God.  The stark contrast of attitudes between Simon and the woman of ill-repute, demonstrate how we can either accept or reject God’s mercy.  Simon, who regarded himself as an upright Pharisee, felt no need for love or mercy. His self-sufficiency kept him for acknowledging his need for God’s grace.  Are you grateful for God’s mercy and grace?

“Lord, your grace is sufficient for me.  Fill my heart with love and gratitude for the mercy you have shown to me and give me freedom and joy to love and serve others as you have taught.”

The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44)
Scripture: Matthew 13:44-46

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Meditation:  In a peasant community the best safe was often the earth.  The man in the parable “went in his joy” to sell everything. Why?  Because he found a treasure worth possessing above all else he had.  He did not, however, have enough to buy the treasure. Fortunately, he only needed enough to buy the field. In a similar fashion, God offers his kingdom as incomparable treasure at a price we can afford! We can’t pay the full price for the life which God gives us; but when we exchange our life for the life which God offers, we receive a treasure beyond compare. The pearl of great price also tells us a similar lesson.  Pearls in the ancient world came to represent the supremely valuable.  Jesus remarked that one should not cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Why would a merchant sell everything for a peerless pearl?  No doubt because he was attracted to what he thought was the greatest treasure he could possess. Discovering God’s kingdom is like stumbling across hidden treasure or finding the one pearl of great price.  When we discover the kingdom of God we receive the greatest possible treasure — the Lord himself. Selling all that we have to obtain this incomparable treasure could mean many things — our friends, job, our “style of life”, what we do with our free time. Treasure has a special connection to the heart, the place of desire and longing, the place of will and focus. The thing we most set our heart on is our highest treasure. In this parable what does the treasure of the kingdom refer to? It certainly refers to the kingdom of God in all its aspects. But in a special way, the Lord himself is the treasure we seek for. If the Almighty is your gold and your precious silver, then you will delight yourself in the Almighty (Job 22:22-23). Is the Lord the treasure and delight of your heart?

“Lord Jesus, reveal to me the true riches of your kingdom. Help me to set my heart on you alone as the treasure beyond compare with any other. Free my heart of any inordinate desires or attachment to other things that I may freely give to you all that I have in joy and gratitude for all that you have given to me. May I always find joy and delight in your presence.”

The Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45 f.)
Scripture: Matthew 13:44-46

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Meditation:  In a peasant community the best safe was often the earth.  The man in the parable “went in his joy” to sell everything. Why?  Because he found a treasure worth possessing above all else he had.  He did not, however, have enough to buy the treasure. Fortunately, he only needed enough to buy the field. In a similar fashion, God offers his kingdom as incomparable treasure at a price we can afford! We can’t pay the full price for the life which God gives us; but when we exchange our life for the life which God offers, we receive a treasure beyond compare. The pearl of great price also tells us a similar lesson.  Pearls in the ancient world came to represent the supremely valuable.  Jesus remarked that one should not cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Why would a merchant sell everything for a peerless pearl?  No doubt because he was attracted to what he thought was the greatest treasure he could possess. Discovering God’s kingdom is like stumbling across hidden treasure or finding the one pearl of great price.  When we discover the kingdom of God we receive the greatest possible treasure — the Lord himself. Selling all that we have to obtain this incomparable treasure could mean many things — our friends, job, our “style of life”, what we do with our free time. Treasure has a special connection to the heart, the place of desire and longing, the place of will and focus. The thing we most set our heart on is our highest treasure. In this parable what does the treasure of the kingdom refer to? It certainly refers to the kingdom of God in all its aspects. But in a special way, the Lord himself is the treasure we seek for. If the Almighty is your gold and your precious silver, then you will delight yourself in the Almighty (Job 22:22-23). Is the Lord the treasure and delight of your heart?

“Lord Jesus, reveal to me the true riches of your kingdom. Help me to set my heart on you alone as the treasure beyond compare with any other. Free my heart of any inordinate desires or attachment to other things that I may freely give to you all that I have in joy and gratitude for all that you have given to me. May I always find joy and delight in your presence.”

The Closed Door (Luke 13:24-30)
Scripture:   Luke 13:22-30

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, `Lord, open to  us.’ He will answer you, `I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, `We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, `I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ 28 There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. 29 And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Meditation: What does the image of a door say to us about the kingdom of God?  Jesus’ story about the door being shut to those who come too late suggests they had offended their host and deserved to be excluded. It was customary for teachers in Jesus’ time to close the door on tardy students and not allow them back for a whole week in order to teach them a lesson in discipline and faithfulness.  Jesus told this story in response to the question of who will make it to heaven.  Many rabbis held that all Israel would be saved, except for a few blatant sinners who excluded themselves!  After all, they were specially chosen by God when he established a covenant with them. Jesus doesn’t directly answer the question, however; but his response is nonetheless unsettling on two counts.  First,  Jesus surprised his listeners by saying that one’s membership as a covenanted people does not automatically mean entry into the kingdom of God. Second, Jesus asserts that many from the gentile nations would enter God’s kingdom. God’s invitation is open to Jew and Gentile alike.  But Jesus warns that we can be excluded if we do not strive to enter by the narrow door.  What did Jesus mean by this expression?  The door which Jesus had in mind was himself. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved (John 10:9).  Through the cross Jesus opens the way for us to enter into his kingdom.  But we must follow Jesus in the way of the cross.  The word strive can also be translated agony.  To enter the kingdom of God one must struggle against the forces of temptation and whatever would hinder us from doing the will of God (even apathy, indifference, and compromise).  The good news is that we do not struggle alone.  God is with us and his grace is sufficient!   As we strive side by side  for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27) Jesus assures us of complete victory!  Do you trust in God’s grace and help, especially in times of testing and temptation?

“Lord, help me to always trust in your saving grace, especially when I am tempted and put to the test.  Help me to be faithful to you and give me the courage and strength to resist temptation, especially temptation to compromise or to be indifferent to your word.”

The Thief in the Night and the Faithful Servants (Matthew 24:42-51.; Luke 12:32-48.)
Scripture:   Luke 12:32-48   (see also Matthew 24: 42-51)

32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  33 Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35 “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, `My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and  drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him  with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. 48 But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be  required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

Meditation: What does treasure, a thief, a wedding feast, and a homecoming have in common?  Jesus loved to tell stories (in the form of parables) using common everyday images to draw some rather unusual comparisons and often quite unexpected lessons for his audience.  There is an element of surprise in the story of the master returning home unexpectedly after the marriage feast. Will he catch his servant sleeping rather than keeping watchful guard?  And how about the person who possessed great wealth, but woke up one day to discover that a thief had carried it all off. What does this say to us about the kingdom of heaven? The treasure God offers is of far greater value that any earthly treasure and more secure!  But it’s possible to lose this treasure if we do not guard what has been entrusted to us by God. What is this treasure?  The Lord offers us a relationship with him as his sons and daughters and the promise of eternal life as well.  The image Jesus uses here is a great wedding feast in which the master honors his guests by seating them in the place of honor and personally waiting on them himself.  This parable also contains a lesson in faithfulness and a warning against sloth. Why is faithfulness so important to God?  For one, it’s the foundation for any lasting and meaningful relationship.  Faithfulness or fidelity allows us to persevere in living out an unswerving commitment. The Lord is committed to us in a bond of unbreakable love and fidelity.  That is what covenant means — keeping one’s word, promise, and commitment no matter how tough or difficult it gets.  Faithfulness is a key character trait of God and one that he expects of us.  Fortunately God gives the grace and strength to be faithful.  He also rewards faithfulness. Why is fidelity or faithfulness so difficult today?  Modern society extols freedom over fidelity and doesn’t want to be bound to an unknown or uncertain future.  It’s also inconvenient and a burden to the pursuit of one’s own interests.  We badly need to recover this virtue, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the next generation as well.  If we want to pass on the faith then we need to first be faithful models for our youth. Faithfulness demands consistency, a determination to stay the course, and hard work. Cal Ripken, the American baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, is a sports hero simply because he always shows up and gives his best.  He hasn’t missed one game in his 26 years of playing baseball! Only one other player in history has come close to that record.  In 1983 he hurt his hand sliding on artificial turf and was unable to grip the bat at first; he somehow gritted his teeth and got five hits that night, two of them home runs.  The joy and privilege of being a son or daughter of God carries with it an awesome responsibility.  The Lord expects us to make good use of the gifts and graces he gives to us.  The more he gives, the more he requires.  The temptation while the Master is away is to put off for tomorrow what we know the Master expects us to do today!  Are you faithful to God and  ready to give him an account of your stewardship?

“Lord, you are faithful even when I fail.  Help me to remain ever faithful to you and to not shrink back when I encounter difficulties.  Make me diligent in the exercise of my responsibilities and wise and prudent in the use of my gifts, time and resources.”

The Strong Man Bound (Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21 f.)
Scripture:  Luke 11:15-26 (Mark 3:24-27; Matthew 12:29)

15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Be-el’zebul, the prince of demons”; 16 while others, to test him, sought from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Be-el’zebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Be-el’zebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; 22 but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. 23 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, `I will return  to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.

Meditation: Do you make full use of the spiritual protection which the Lord provides for his people? The Lord assures us of his protection from spiritual harm. Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:9-11). Jesus’ numerous exorcisms brought freedom to many who were troubled and oppressed by the work of evil spirits. Jesus himself encountered personal opposition and battled with Satan when he was put to the test in the wilderness just before his public ministry. He overcame the evil one through his obedience to the will of his Father. Some of the Jewish leaders reacted vehemently to Jesus’ healings and exorcisms and they opposed him with malicious slander. How could he get the power and authority to release individuals from Satan’s power? They assumed that he had to be in league with Satan. They attributed his power to Satan rather than to God.

Jesus answers their charge with two arguments. There were many exorcists in Palestine in Jesus’ time. So Jesus retorted by saying that they also incriminate their own kin who cast out demons. If they condemn Jesus they also condemn themselves. In his second argument he asserts that no kingdom divided against itself can survive for long? We have witnessed enough civil wars in our own time to prove the destructive force at work here for the annihilation of whole peoples and their land. If Satan lends his power against his own forces then he is finished. How can a strong person  be defeated except by someone who is stronger? Jesus asserted his power and authority to cast out demons as a clear demonstration of the reign of God. Jesus’ reference to the finger of God points back to Moses’ confrontation with Pharoah and his magicians who represented Satan and the kingdom of darkness (see Exodus 8:19). Jesus claims to be carrying on the tradition of Moses whose miracles freed the Israelites from bondage by the finger of God. God’s power is clearly at work in the exorcisms which Jesus performed and they give evidence that God’s kingdom has come.

What is the point of  Jesus’ grim story about a vacant house being occupied by an evil force? It is not enough to banish evil thoughts and habits. We must also fill the void with God who is the source of all that is good and upright. Augustine of Hippo said that our lives have a God-shaped void which only God can fill satisfactory. If we attempt to leave it vacant or to fill it with something else, we will be worse in the end. What do you fill the void in your life with? Jesus makes it clear that there are no neutral parties. We are either for Jesus or against him, for the kingdom of God or against it. There are two kingdoms in opposition to one another – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness under the rule of Satan. If we  disobey God’s word, we open to door to the power of sin and Satan. If we want to live in freedom from sin and Satan, then our house must be occupied by Jesus where he is enthroned as Lord and Savior.  Do you know the peace and security of a life submitted to God and his word?

“Lord Jesus, be the ruler of my heart and the master of my home. May there be nothing in my life that is not under your lordship.”

The Divided Realm (Mark 3:24-26; Luke 11:17-20)
Scripture:  Mark 3:22-27 (Luke 11:17-20)

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-el’zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.

Meditation:  Are you adequately protected from spiritual danger and evil? Jesus’ numerous exorcisms brought freedom to many who were troubled and oppressed by the works of evil spirits. Jesus himself encountered personal opposition and battle with Satan when he was put to the test in the wilderness just before his public ministry. He overcame the evil one through his obedience to the will of his Father. Some of the Jewish leaders reacted vehemently to Jesus’ healings and exorcisms and they opposed him with malicious slander. How could he get the power and authority to release individuals from Satan’s power? They assumed that he had to be in league with Satan. They attributed his power to Satan rather than to God. Jesus answers their charge with two arguments. There were many exorcists in Palestine in Jesus’ time. So Jesus retorted by saying that they also incriminate their own kin who cast out demons. If they condemn Jesus they also condemn themselves. In his second argument he asserts that no kingdom divided against itself can survive for long? We have witnessed enough civil wars in our own time to prove the destructive force at work here for the annihilation of whole peoples and their land. If Satan lends his power against his own forces then he is finished. How can a strong person  be defeated except by someone who is stronger? Jesus asserted his authority to cast out demons as a clear demonstration of the reign of God.  God’s power is clearly at work in the exorcisms which Jesus performed and they give evidence that God’s kingdom has come.

What is the point of  Jesus’ grim story about a strong man’s house being occupied by an evil force?  Our foe and the arch-enemy of God, who is Satan, is stronger than us. Unless we are clothed in God’s strength, we cannot withstand Satan with our own strength. What does Satan wish to take from us? Our faith and confidence in God and our submission to his kingly rule. Satan can only have power or dominion over us if we listen to his lies and succumb to his will which is contrary to the will of God. Jesus makes it clear that there are no neutral parties in this world. We are either for Jesus or against him, for the kingdom of God or against it. There are two kingdoms in opposition to one another – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness under the rule of Satan. If we disobey God’s word, we open to door to the power of sin and Satan. If we want to live in freedom from sin and Satan, then our house must be occupied by Jesus where he is enthroned as Lord as Savior. Do you know the peace and security of a life submitted to God and his word?

“Lord Jesus, you are my hope and salvation. Be the ruler of my heart and the master of my home. May there be nothing in my life that is not under your lordship.”

The Unoccupied House or The Demon's Invasion (Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26)
Scripture:  Luke 11:15-26 (Mark 3:24-27; Matthew 12:29)

15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Be-el’zebul, the prince of demons”; 16 while others, to test him, sought from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Be-el’zebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Be-el’zebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; 22 but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. 23 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, `I will return  to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.

Meditation: Do you make full use of the spiritual protection which the Lord provides for his people? The Lord assures us of his protection from spiritual harm. Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:9-11). Jesus’ numerous exorcisms brought freedom to many who were troubled and oppressed by the work of evil spirits. Jesus himself encountered personal opposition and battled with Satan when he was put to the test in the wilderness just before his public ministry. He overcame the evil one through his obedience to the will of his Father. Some of the Jewish leaders reacted vehemently to Jesus’ healings and exorcisms and they opposed him with malicious slander. How could he get the power and authority to release individuals from Satan’s power? They assumed that he had to be in league with Satan. They attributed his power to Satan rather than to God.

Jesus answers their charge with two arguments. There were many exorcists in Palestine in Jesus’ time. So Jesus retorted by saying that they also incriminate their own kin who cast out demons. If they condemn Jesus they also condemn themselves. In his second argument he asserts that no kingdom divided against itself can survive for long? We have witnessed enough civil wars in our own time to prove the destructive force at work here for the annihilation of whole peoples and their land. If Satan lends his power against his own forces then he is finished. How can a strong person  be defeated except by someone who is stronger? Jesus asserted his power and authority to cast out demons as a clear demonstration of the reign of God. Jesus’ reference to the finger of God points back to Moses’ confrontation with Pharoah and his magicians who represented Satan and the kingdom of darkness (see Exodus 8:19). Jesus claims to be carrying on the tradition of Moses whose miracles freed the Israelites from bondage by the finger of God. God’s power is clearly at work in the exorcisms which Jesus performed and they give evidence that God’s kingdom has come.

What is the point of  Jesus’ grim story about a vacant house being occupied by an evil force? It is not enough to banish evil thoughts and habits. We must also fill the void with God who is the source of all that is good and upright. Augustine of Hippo said that our lives have a God-shaped void which only God can fill satisfactory. If we attempt to leave it vacant or to fill it with something else, we will be worse in the end. What do you fill the void in your life with? Jesus makes it clear that there are no neutral parties. We are either for Jesus or against him, for the kingdom of God or against it. There are two kingdoms in opposition to one another – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness under the rule of Satan. If we  disobey God’s word, we open to door to the power of sin and Satan. If we want to live in freedom from sin and Satan, then our house must be occupied by Jesus where he is enthroned as Lord and Savior.  Do you know the peace and security of a life submitted to God and his word?

“Lord Jesus, be the ruler of my heart and the master of my home. May there be nothing in my life that is not under your lordship.

The Importunate Neighbor (Luke 11:5-8)
Scripture:  Luke 11:5-8

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; 7 and he will answer from within, `Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him  whatever he needs.

Meditation: What can we expect from God, especially when we recognize that he doesn’t owe us anything and that we don’t deserve his grace and favor? Jesus used an illustration from the hospitality customs of his time to show how God is always ready to treat us with the best he has to offer. The rule of hospitality in biblical times required that every guest, whether stranger or friend, be warmly welcomed, refreshed (which often involved the washing of feet), and fed with the best food and drink available. It didn’t matter what time of the day or night the guests might show up, it was your duty to stop what you were doing so you could give the guests the best care and shelter you could provide. If there wasn’t adequate sleeping accomdation for both your guests and your family, the family slept outside under the stars. When guests showed up in a village, the whole community could be prevailed upon to provide whatever was needed.

Jesus’ parable of the importunate and bothersome neighbor shows a worst case scenario of what might happen when an unexpected guest shows up in the middle of the night! The family awakens, unbolts the locked door to receive the guest, then washes the guest’s feet, and the wife begins to prepare a meal. When the wife discovers that she has no bread to set before the guest, she prevails on her husband to go and get bread from a nearby family, who by now is also asleep with their door bolted shut. In a small village it would be easy for the wife to know who had baked bread that day. Bread was essential for a meal because it served as a utensil for dipping and eating from the common dishes. Asking for bread from one’s neighbor was both a common occurrence and an expected favor. To refuse to give bread would bring shame because it was a sign of inhospitality.

God’s generosity towards us
If a neighbor can be imposed upon and coerced into giving bread in the middle of the night, will not God, our heavenly Father and provider, also treat us with kind  and generous care no matter how troubling or inconvenient the circumstances might appear? Jesus states emphatically, How much more will the heavenly Father give! St. Augustine of Hippo (340-425 AD) reminds us that “God, who does not sleep and who awakens us from sleep that we may ask, gives much more graciously.” The Lord Jesus assures us that we can bring our needs to our heavenly Father who is always ready to give not only what we need, but more than we can ask. God gives the best he has. He freely pours out the blessing of his Holy Spirit upon us so that we may be filled with the abundance of his provision. Do you approach your heavenly Father with confidence in his mercy and kindness towards you?

“Heaven Father, you are merciful, gracious and kind. May we never doubt your love nor hesitate to seek you with confidence in order to obtain the gifts, graces, and daily provision we need to live as your beloved sons and daughters and disciples of Jesus Christ our Savior.”

The Son's Request (Matthew 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13)
Scripture: Luke 11:5-13 (Matthew 7:9-11)

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; 7 and he will answer from within, `Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Meditation: Jesus’ illustrations of food and hospitality tell us something about the generosity of a loving God towards his people.  What can we expect from God, especially when we recognize that he doesn’t owe us anything and that we don’t deserve his grace and favor?   In the first parable we see how a neighbor is coerced into giving his friend what he needs to meet the demands of hospitality.  The second parable of the father feeding his son illustrates the unthinkable!  How could a loving father refuse to give his son what is good; or worse, to give him what is harmful?   In conclusion Jesus makes a startling claim: How much more will the heavenly Father give to those who ask! Our heavenly Father graciously gives beyond our expectations.  That is why we can boldly pray: Give us this day our daily bread.  Do you pray with confident expectation that your heavenly Father will give you what you need to live and serve him?

“Heavenly Father, your grace knows no bounds, for you are merciful, gracious and kind.  May I never doubt your love nor hesitate to seek you with confidence in order to obtain the gifts, graces, and daily provision I need to live as your disciple and child.”

The Unjust Judge or The Importunate Widow (Luke 18:1-8)
Scripture: Luke 18:1-8

1 And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, `Vindicate me against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, `Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Meditation: Persistence pays off, and that’s especially true for those who trust in God.  Jesus tells a story that is all too true — a defenseless widow is taken advantaged of and refused her rights. Through sheer persistence she wears down an unscrupulous judge until he gives her justice.  Jesus illustrates how God as our Judge is much quicker to bring us his justice, blessing, and help when we need it.  But we can easily loose heart and forget to ask our Heavenly Father for his grace and help.  Jesus told this parable to give fresh hope and confidence to his disciples. In this present life we can expect adversity and trials, but we are not without hope in God’s provident care and justice. When trials come your way and setbacks disappoint you, where do you turn for help? Do you pray with expectant faith and confidence in God’s merciful care and providence for you?

“Lord, give me faith to believe your promises and give me perseverance and hope to withstand trials and adversities. Help me to trust in your unfailing love and to find joy and contentment in you alone.”

The Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14)
Scripture: Luke 18:9-14

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Meditation: What did Jesus wish to tell his hearers in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector?  Luke gives us a hint: Jesus warns us about the danger of despising others.  Contempt is more than being mean-minded.  It springs from the assumption that one is qualified to sit in the seat of judgment and to ascertain who is good and just.  Jesus’ story caused offense for those who regarded “tax collectors” as unworthy of God’s grace and favor.  How could Jesus put down a “religious leader” and raise up a “public sinner”?  Jesus’ parable speaks about the nature of prayer and our relationship with God.  It does this by contrasting two very different attitudes towards prayer.  The Pharisee, who represented those who take pride in their religious practices, exalted himself at the expense of others.  Absorbed with his own sense of “self-satisfaction” and “self-congratulation” he mainly prayed with himself. His prayer consisted of prideful boasts of what he did and of disdain for those he despised. The Pharisee tried to justify himself; but only God can justify. The tax collector, who represented those despised by religious people, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy.  His prayer was heard by God because he had remorse for his sins. He sought God with humility rather than with pride. This parable presents both an opportunity and a warning. Pride leads to illusion and self-deception. Humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are and it inclines us to God’s grace and mercy.   God dwells with the humble of heart who recognize their own sinfulness and who acknowledge God’s mercy and saving grace.  I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15).  God cannot hear us if we despise others. Do you humbly seek God’s mercy and do you show mercy to others, especially those you find difficult to love and to forgive?

“Lord, may your love control my thoughts and actions that I may do what is pleasing to you. Show me where I lack charity, mercy, and forgiveness toward my neighbor.  And help me to be generous in giving to others what you have so generously given to me.”

The Sulking Children or The Children in the Marketplace (Matthew 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-35)
Scripture reading: Luke 7: 31-35

31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, `We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ 33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, `He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Meditation: What do children’s games have to do with the kingdom of God?  The children in Jesus’ parable react with disappoint because they cannot induce anyone to join in their musical medley.  They complain that if they play their music at weddings, no one will dance or sing; and if they play at funerals, it is the same.  This refrain echoes the words of Ecclesiastes 3:4 — there is a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God is a proclamation of good news and of great joy for those who will listen; but it is also a warning for those who refuse.  Why did the message of John the Baptist and the message of Jesus meet with resistance and deaf ears?  It was out of jealously and spiritual blindness that the scribes and Pharisees attributed John the Baptist’s austerities to the devil and they attributed Jesus’ table fellowship as evidence for messianic pretense. They succeeded in frustrating God’s plan for their lives because they had closed their hearts to the message of  John the Baptist and now to Jesus. What can make us spiritually dull and slow to hear God’s voice?  Like the generation of Jesus’ time, our age is marked by indifference and contempt, especially in regards to the things of heaven.  Indifference dulls our ears to God’s voice and to the good news of the gospel.   Only the humble of heart can find joy in God’s grace and favor. Do you know the joy of the gospel?

“Lord, open my ears to hear the good news of your kingdom and set my heart free to love and serve you joyfully.  May nothing keep me from following you wholeheartedly.”

The Arrogant Guest (Luke 14:7-11)
Scripture: Luke 14:1, 7-14

1 One sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, `Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, `Friend, go up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your  kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you  be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Meditation: Who do you honor at your table?  The Lord is ever ready to receive us at his table.  As far as we can tell from the gospel accounts, Jesus never refused a dinner invitation!  Why, in this particular instance, does Jesus lecture his host on who he should or shouldn’t invite to dinner?  Did his host expect some favor or reward from Jesus?  Did he want to impress his neighbors with the honor of hosting the “miracle worker” from Galilee? Jesus’ parable of the arrogant guest who attempts to upstage others at the wedding banquet echoes the warning in the Book of Proverbs:  Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of the prince'” (Proverbs 25:6-7).  Jesus parable shows us the paradox of the kingdom:  the last shall be first, and the first last.  Pride estranges us from others and conceit in spiritual things alienates us from God.  Humility frees the heart to love and serve others generously without prejudice, conceit, or favoritism. Jesus probes our hearts.  Do you show favor and generosity to those who will repay you in kind?  What about those who do not have the means to repay you — the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged?  True generosity springs from a heart full of mercy and compassion. We cannot outgive God in his generosity towards us.  Do you give freely as Jesus gives without expectation for personal gain or reward?

“Lord, fill me with gratitude for your boundless love and mercy towards me.  And purify my love for others that I may seek their good rather than my own benefit or gain.  Free me to love others as you love.”

The Bride's Girlfriends or Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13)
Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13  

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, `Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, `Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Meditation: You know the look of disappointment when you miss a “once in a life-time” opportunity.  Being unprepared can lead to disastrous consequences!  What good is a forgotten life-jacket, when the boat is sinking?  Jesus’ story of ten girlfriends of the bride being caught off-guard by the groom’s party seems strange to westerners today.  But his audience knew all too well how easily this could happen to them.  Wedding customs in ancient Palestine required extra vigilance and preparation for everyone involved.  (Some near eastern villages still follow this custom.)  The bride and groom did not go away for their honeymoon, but celebrated for a whole week with their family and friends.  It was the custom for the groom to come at his discretion and get his bride and bring her to the wedding party. If he came at night lamps were required by necessity.  To show up for a wedding party at night without proper attire, such as a lamp and a wedding garment, is like showing up for an important event today which requires a reservation and a ticket.  You just don’t get in without the proper pass.  Can you imagine the frustration one experiences in traveling abroad and finding out you can’t get into some country because you don’t have a valid passport or visa?  Jesus warns us that there are consequences for being unprepared.  There are certain things you cannot obtain at the last moment. For example, a student cannot prepare for his exam when the day of testing is upon him.  A person cannot get the right kind of character or skill required for a task at hand unless he already possesses it. Our eternal welfare depends on our hearing, and many have trained themselves to not hear.  We will not be prepared to meet the Lord, face to face, when he calls us on the day of judgment, unless we listen to him today.  The Lord invites us to feast at his banquet table.  Are you ready to meet him when he calls?

“Lord, make me vigilant and attentive to your voice that I may heed your call at all times.  May I find joy in your presence and delight in doing your will.”

The Tower Builder and The Warring King (Luke 14:28-32)
Scripture: Luke 14:27-33

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. 33 So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Meditation:  What does the parable of the tower builder and a ruler on a war campaign have in common?  Both risk serious loss if they don’t carefully plan ahead.  In a shame and honor culture they want to avoid at all costs being mocked by their community for failing to complete a task they began in earnest.This double parable echoes the instruction of Proverbs: “By wisdom a house is built” and “by wise guidance you can wage a war” to ensure victory (Proverbs 24:3-6). Every landowner who could afford it walled in his orchard as a protection from intruders who might steal or harm his produce. A tower was usually built in a corner of the wall and a guard posted especially during harvest time when thieves would likely try to make off with the goods.  Starting a building-project, like a watchtower, and leaving it unfinished because of poor planning would invite the scorn of the whole village.  Likewise a king who decided to wage a war against an opponent who was much stronger, would be considered foolish if he did not come up with a plan that had a decent chance of success.

Jesus tells his would-be disciples that they, too, must count the cost if they want to succeed as his disciples. Jesus assures success for those willing to pay the price. All it cost is everything! What does Jesus have to offer that’s worth giving up everything else? More than we can imagine! Jesus offers the gift of abundant life and everlasting peace and happiness with God. (See the parable of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:44-45).  It’s natural to ask what it’s going to cost before you sign up or pay for something. Jesus was utterly honest and spared no words to tell his disciples that it would cost them dearly to follow after him.  There can be no room for compromise or concession with God.  We either give our lives over to him completely or we keep them for ourselves.  Paul the Apostle says, “We are not our own.  We were bought with a price” ( 1 Cor. 6:19b,20).  That price is the blood of Jesus shed for us on the cross.

Jesus knew that the way of the cross was the Father’s way to glory and victory over sin and death.  He counted the cost and said “yes” to his Father’s will.  We, too, must “count the cost” and be ready to follow Jesus in the way of the cross if we want to share in his glory and victory.  What is the “way of the cross” for you and for me?  When my will crosses with God’s will, then his will must be done.  The way of the cross involves sacrifice, the sacrifice of laying down my life each and every day for Jesus’ sake.  What makes such sacrifice possible and “sweet” for us is the love of God poured out for us in the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul the Apostle reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). We can never outgive God.  He always gives us more than we can expect or imagine. Do you allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with the love of God?

The love of God compels us to choose who or what will be first in our lives.  To place any relationship or any possession above God is a form of idolatry.  Jesus challenges his disciples to examine who they love first.  Jesus’ way to glory and power is opposite the world’s way of glory and power.  The choice is ours, but the Lord does not leave us alone if we choose to follow him.   Does the love of Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (see 2 Cor. 5)?

“Lord, may your love consume me and transform my life that I may truly desire nothing more than life with you.  Help me to count the cost and to joyfully embrace the cross for your sake.”

The Wedding Feast or The Unwilling Guests (Matt 22:1-10; Luke 14:16-24)
Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14  (Luke 14:16-24)

1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son,3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast;but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, `Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ 5 But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; 12 and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Meditation: What can a royal wedding party tell us about God’s kingdom?  One of the most beautiful images of heaven in the scriptures is the banquet and wedding celebration given by the King for his son.  We, in fact, have been invited to the most important banquet of all! The last book in the bible ends with an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb and his Bride, the church: The Spirit and the Bride say, Come! (Rev. 22:17). Why does Jesus’ parable seem to focus on an angry king who ends up punishing those who refused his invitation and who mistreated his servants?  Jesus’ parable contains two stories.  The first has to do with the original guests invited to the feast.  The king had sent out invitations well in advance to his subjects, so they would have plenty of time to prepare for coming to the feast.  How insulting for the invited guests to then refuse when the time for celebrating came! They made light of the King’s request because they put their own interests above his.  They not only insulted the King but the heir to the throne as well. The king’s anger is justified because they openly refused to give the king the honor he was due.  Jesus directed this warning to the Jews of his day, both to convey how much God wanted them to share in the joy of his kingdom, but also to give a warning about the consequences of refusing his Son, their Messiah and Savior.  The second part of the story focuses on those who had no claim on the king and who would never have considered getting such an invitation.  The “good and the bad” along the highways certainly referred to the Gentiles and to sinners.  This is certainly an invitation of grace — undeserved, unmerited favor and kindness!  But this invitation also contains a warning for those who refuse it or who approach the wedding feast unworthily.  Grace is a free gift, but it is also an awesome responsibility.  Dieterich Bonhoeffer contrasts “cheap grace” and “costly grace”.  “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves ..the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance ..grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. ..Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.  Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”  God invites each of us to his banquet that we may share in his joy.  Are you ready to feast at the Lord’s banquet table?

“Lord, may I always know the joy of living in your presence and grow in the hope of seeing you face to face in your everlasting kingdom.”

The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
Scripture: Luke 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz’arus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”

Meditation: What sustains you when trials and affliction come your way and how do you treat others in their affliction? In this story Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts – riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. We also see an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortune. Lazarus was not only poor, but sick and unable to lift himself. He was laid at the gates of the rich man’s house. The dogs which licked his sores probably also stole the little bread he got for himself. Dogs in the ancient world symbolized contempt. Enduring the torment of these savage dogs only added to the poor man’s miseries and sufferings. The rich man treated the beggar with contempt and indifference, until he found his fortunes reversed at the end of his life! In God’s economy, those who hold on possessively to what they have, lose it all in the end, while those who share generously receive back many times more than they gave way.

The name Lazarus means God is my help. Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus did not lose hope in God. His eyes were set on a treasure stored up for him in heaven. The rich man, however, could not see beyond his material wealth and possessions. He not only had every thing he needed, he selfishly spent all he had on himself. He was too absorbed in what he possessed to notice the needs of those around him. He lost sight of God and  the treasure of heaven because he was preoccupied with seeking happiness in material things. He served wealth rather than God. In the end the rich man became a beggar! Do you know the joy and freedom of possessing God as your true and lasting treasure? Those who put their hope and security in heaven will not be disappointed (see Hebrews 6:19)?

“Lord Jesus, you are my joy and my treasure. Make me rich in the things of heaven and give me a generous heart  that I may freely share with others the spiritual and material treasures you have given to me.”

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” 27 And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, 34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Meditation:  When you encounter others in trouble, especially with people you want to avoid, how do you respond?  Jesus posed such a scenario to the religious experts of his day.  He contrasted the attitudes of three bystanders to the scene of a bloody victim beaten half-dead. Why did the religious leaders refuse help while an outsider, a Samaritan who was despised by the Jews, came to the rescue?  Who showed true compassion and mercy?  Jesus makes the supposed villain, the despised Samaritan, the merciful one as an example for the status conscious Jews.  Why didn’t the priest and Levite stop to help?  The priest probably didn’t want to risk the possibility of ritual impurity.  His piety got in the way of charity.  The Levite approached close to the victim, but stopped short of actually helping him.  Perhaps he feared that bandits might be waiting to ambush him.  The Levite put personal safety ahead of saving his neighbor. Are you willing and ready to do good for others, even to those you do not want to associate with?

“Lord, may your love always be the foundation of my life. And may my love for you express itself in an eagerness to do good for others.”

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The Prodigal Son or The Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32)
Scripture: Luke 15:11-32

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable:

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in  loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced  him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I  might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 31 And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

Meditation: Jesus’ story of the father and his two sons (sometimes called the parable of the prodigal son) is the longest parable in the gospels. What is the main point or focus of the story? Is it the contrast between an obedient and a disobedient son or is it between the warm reception given to a spendthrift son by his father and the cold reception given by the eldest son? Jesus contrasts the father’s merciful love with the eldest son’s somewhat harsh reaction to his errant brother and to the lavish party his joyful father throws for his repentant son. While the errant son had wasted his father’s money, his father, nonetheless, maintained unbroken love for his son. The son, while he was away, learned a lot about himself. And he realized that his father had given him love which he had not returned. He had yet to learn about the depth of his father’s love for him. His deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed on the husks of pigs and his reflection on all he had lost, led to his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father.  While he hoped for reconciliation with his father, he could not have imagined a full restoration of relationship. The father did not need to speak words of forgiveness to his son; his actions spoke more loudly and clearly! The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet symbolize the new life – pure, worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God.

The prodigal could not return to the garden of innocence, but he was welcomed and reinstated as a son. The errant son’s dramatic change from grief and guilt to forgiveness and restoration express in picture-language the resurrection from the dead, a rebirth to new life from spiritual death. The parable also contrasts mercy and its opposite – unforgiveness. The father who had been wronged, was forgiving. But the eldest son, who had not been wronged, was unforgiving. His unforgiveness turns into contempt and pride. And his resentment leads to his isolation and estrangement from the community of forgiven sinners. In this parable Jesus gives a vivid picture of God and what God is like. God is truly kinder than us. He does not lose hope or give up when we stray. He rejoices in finding the lost and in welcoming them home. Do you know the joy of repentance and the restoration of relationship as a son or daughter of your heavenly Father?

“Lord Jesus, may I never doubt your love nor take for granted the mercy you have shown to me. Fill me with your transforming love that I may be merciful as you are merciful.”

The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10)
Scripture: Luke 15:3-10  (see also Matthew 18:12-14)

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Meditation: The parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep can be linked with the parable of the lost son (see The Prodigal Son).  While each story emphasizes something different from the other, all three depict a seeker in search of something or someone lost.

What can we learn from the lesson of Jesus’ parable about a lost sheep? This parable gives us a glimpse of the heart of a true shepherd, and the joy of a community reunited with its lost members. Shepherds not only had to watch over their sheep by day and by night; they also had to protect them from wolves and lions who preyed upon them, and from dangerous terrain and storms. Shepherds often had large flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands.  It was common to inspect and count the sheep at the end of the day. You can imagine the surprise and grief of the shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is missing! Does he wait until the next day to go looking for it? Or does he ask a neighboring shepherd if he might has seen the stray sheep? No, he goes immediately in search of this lost sheep. Delay for even one night could mean disaster leading to death. Sheep by nature are very social creatures. An isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered, disoriented, and even neurotic. Easy prey for wolves and lions!

The shepherd’s grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. The shepherd  searches until what he has lost is found. His persistence pays off. What was new in Jesus’ teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out time and time again.  How easy to forget and be distracted with other matters while the lost become prey for devouring wolves of the soul. The Apostle Peter reminds us that the “devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that we be saved and restored to friendship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. God is on a rescue mission today to save us from the destructive forces of sin and evil. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watches over every step we take. Do you listen to his voice and heed his wise counsel? Do you follow the path he has set for you – a path that leads to life rather than death?

The housewife who lost a coin faced something of an economic disaster, since the value of the coin would be equivalent to her husband’s daily wage.  What would she say to her husband when he returned home from work?  They were poor and would suffer greatly because of the loss. Her grief and anxiety turn to joy when she finds the coin.

Both the shepherd and the housewife “search until what they have lost is found”.  Their persistence pays off.  They both instinctively share their joy with the whole community.  The poor are particularly good at sharing in one another’s sorrows and joys.  The restoration of the prodigal son ends with a festive party celebrated by the whole community.  What was new in Jesus’ teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out and not merely mourned for.  God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that all be saved and restored to fellowship with him.  That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God.

“Lord Jesus, nothing escapes your watchful gaze and care. May I always walk in the light of your truth and never stray from your loving presence.”

The Lost Sheep (Matthew 28:12-14; Luke 15:4-7)
Scripture: Luke 15:3-10  (see also Matthew 18:12-14)

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Meditation: The parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep can be linked with the parable of the lost son (see The Prodigal Son).  While each story emphasizes something different from the other, all three depict a seeker in search of something or someone lost.

What can we learn from the lesson of Jesus’ parable about a lost sheep? This parable gives us a glimpse of the heart of a true shepherd, and the joy of a community reunited with its lost members. Shepherds not only had to watch over their sheep by day and by night; they also had to protect them from wolves and lions who preyed upon them, and from dangerous terrain and storms. Shepherds often had large flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands.  It was common to inspect and count the sheep at the end of the day. You can imagine the surprise and grief of the shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is missing! Does he wait until the next day to go looking for it? Or does he ask a neighboring shepherd if he might has seen the stray sheep? No, he goes immediately in search of this lost sheep. Delay for even one night could mean disaster leading to death. Sheep by nature are very social creatures. An isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered, disoriented, and even neurotic. Easy prey for wolves and lions!

The shepherd’s grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. The shepherd  searches until what he has lost is found. His persistence pays off. What was new in Jesus’ teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out time and time again.  How easy to forget and be distracted with other matters while the lost become prey for devouring wolves of the soul. The Apostle Peter reminds us that the “devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that we be saved and restored to friendship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. God is on a rescue mission today to save us from the destructive forces of sin and evil. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watches over every step we take. Do you listen to his voice and heed his wise counsel? Do you follow the path he has set for you – a path that leads to life rather than death?

The housewife who lost a coin faced something of an economic disaster, since the value of the coin would be equivalent to her husband’s daily wage.  What would she say to her husband when he returned home from work?  They were poor and would suffer greatly because of the loss. Her grief and anxiety turn to joy when she finds the coin.

Both the shepherd and the housewife “search until what they have lost is found”.  Their persistence pays off.  They both instinctively share their joy with the whole community.  The poor are particularly good at sharing in one another’s sorrows and joys.  The restoration of the prodigal son ends with a festive party celebrated by the whole community.  What was new in Jesus’ teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out and not merely mourned for.  God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that all be saved and restored to fellowship with him.  That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God.

“Lord Jesus, nothing escapes your watchful gaze and care. May I always walk in the light of your truth and never stray from your loving presence.”

The Doctor and the Sick (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5: 31 f.)
Scripture:   Luke 5:27-32 (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17)

27 After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he left everything, and rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Meditation: People in Palestine were divided into roughly two groups: the orthodox Jews who rigidly kept the law and all its petty regulations, and the rest who didn’t keep all the minute regulations. The orthodox treated the latter like second class citizens.  They scrupulously avoided their company, refused to do business with them, refused to give or receive anything from them, refused to intermarry, and avoided any form of entertainment with them, including table fellowship. Jesus’ association with the latter, especially  with tax collectors and sinners, shocked the sensibilities of these orthodox Jews.  In calling Matthew to be one of his disciples, Jesus picked one of the unlikeliest of men — a tax collector who by profession was despised by the Jewish people.  When the Pharisees challenged his unorthodox behavior in eating with public sinners, Jesus’ defense was quite simple.  A doctor doesn’t need to visit healthy people; instead he goes to those who are sick.  Jesus likewise sought out those in the greatest need. A true physician seeks healing of the whole person — body, mind, and spirit.  Jesus came as the divine physician and good shepherd to care for his people and to restore them to wholeness of life. The orthodox were so preoccupied with their own practice of religion that they neglected to help the very people who needed the greatest care. Their religion was selfish because they didn’t want to have anything to do with people not like themselves. Jesus stated his mission in unequivocal terms: I came  not to call the righteous, but to call sinners.  Ironically the orthodox were as needy as those they despised.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom show them mercy and kindness?

“Lord Jesus, our Savior, let us now come to you: Our hearts are cold; Lord, warm them with your selfless love.  Our hearts are sinful; cleanse them with your precious blood.  Our hearts are weak; strengthen them with your joyous Spirit.  Our hearts are empty; fill them with your divine presence.  Lord Jesus, our hearts are yours; possess them always and only for yourself.”  (Prayer of Augustine, 354-430)

The Great Assize or The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ 40 And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ 45 Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Meditation: What kind of future are you preparing for? What about the life to come after our death?  God puts in the heart of every living person the desire for unending life and happiness with him. While death claims each of us at the appointed time, God gives us something which death cannot touch – his own divine life and sustaining power. We can either accept or reject the offer which God makes to us in Christ Jesus the Lord. The Day of the Lord will reveal what kind of life we have chosen for the age to come – a life of peace and joy with God or a life of misery and separation apart from God.

Jesus’ parable of the separation of goats and sheep invites his audience to consider their lives in view of the age to come. What happens when you put sheep and goats together? Jesus’ audience readily understood the need for separating the two. In arid lands, like Israel, goats and sheep often grazed together during the day because green pasture was sparse. At nightfall, when the shepherd brought the sheep and goats to their place of rest, he separated them into two groups. Goats by temperament are aggressive, domineering, restless, and territorial. They butt heads with their horns whenever they think someone is intruding on their space.

What’s the point of this story for us? The kind of life we choose to live now and the moral choices we make will have consequences that determine our future – for better or for worse. Separation is an inevitable consequence of judgement. The Day of Judgement will reveal who had true faith in God and who lived according to God’s command to love him first above all else and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, with true compassion and mercy. Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are not called to flee the society around us nor to disdain those who treat us unfavorably or unfairly. We are to be leaven in a society that needs God’s healing love and forgiveness. When we let our light shine we allow others to see God’s love, truth, and compassion in the way we speak and treat them. God has shown us his incredible mercy and loving-kindness through his Son, Jesus Christ, who came to save us from the tyranny of sin and Satan, and a world blinded by vanity and deception. We are ambassadors for Christ and our mission is to bring his light, truth, and merciful love to those who stumble in darkness, ignorance, and unbelief.

As much as we might like to judge the parables, the parables, nonetheless, judge us by pointing out the consequences of the choices we make and the kind of life we choose to follow. Jesus teaches us a very important lesson about loving our neighbor and taking responsibility for others. God will judge us not only for the wrong we have done but also for what we have failed to do. Now is the time of God’s mercy, for seeking his help and grace to turn away from sin, and to walk in his way of love. We can love freely, generously, and unconditionally because God has already poured his love into our hearts through the gift and working of his Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Ask the Holy Spirit to purify your heart that you may love as God loves and live charitably with all.

This parable is similar to the parable about Lazarus and the rich man.  The rich man let Lazarus die on his doorstep and was doomed to crave for drops of cold water he had not thought of giving to the poor man. When Martin of Tours (who lived in the 4th century), a young Roman soldier and seeker of the Christian faith, met an unclothed man begging for alms in the freezing cold, he stopped and cut his coat in two and gave half to the stranger.  That night he dreamt he saw the heavenly court with Jesus robed in a torn cloak.  One of the angels present asked, “Master, why do you wear that battered cloak?”  Jesus replied, “My servant Martin gave it to me.” Martin’s disciple and biographer Sulpicius Severus states that as a consequence of this vision Martin “flew to be baptized.” God is gracious and merciful; his love compels us to treat others with mercy and kindness. When we do something for one of Christ’s little ones, we do it for Christ. Do you treat your neighbor with mercy and love as Christ has treated you?

The scriptures present us with the choice between two kingdoms – the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. The choice is ours. Which kingdom do you serve? God’s kingdom lasts forever because it is built on the foundation of God’s love and justice. To accept Jesus as Lord and King is to enter a kingdom that will last forever where righteousness, love, truth, and peace dwell. Is your life submitted to the Lordship of Jesus?

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are my Lord and King and there is no other. May your love rule in my heart that I may think and act with charity towards all.”

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