Monday, April 09, 2007

Figured it out. I think?

One day, on a Sabbath, Jesus was in the synagogue and a woman came. She had been paralyzed eighteen years, and Jesus healed her. The synagogue ruler was indignant. "There are six days for work," (he said) "So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." (Luke 13:14)

Jesus rebukes this synagogue ruler, the people were delighted, and Jesus's opponents were humiliated.

The very next thing Luke tells us about is a pair of parables: one about the mustard seed and the birds, and another about some yeast that got mixed into a large amount of dough. I was always puzzled by these parables, but tonight I think I know what they are about, at least in this account in Luke 13.

What does Luke tell us immediately before the parables? Well, he just finished telling us about the synagogue ruler who was more concerned about Following Rules than he was about God's Love for his People. There's something out of place about this synagogue ruler; his attitude doesn't belong in a place where God's truth and love were supposed to be proclaimed and celebrated. OK, so now let's read the parables:
18Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches."

20Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
Luke 13:18-21
It struck me tonight, maybe for the first time, that the birds and the yeast are just like the attitude in this synagogue ruler; they don't belong there. The kingdom of God would probably mean something like "the people of Israel" in the minds of the hearers. Abraham left his father's household with a small band, and they became a nation -- like how the mustard seed is small and becomes a big tree. And there in the tree is a bird (representing deception in the parable of the sower, for example) that doesn't belong.

And this audience would have all kinds of negative associations with yeast. Jesus referred to "the leaven of the Pharisees" (hypocrisy). That doesn't belong in the kingdom of God, either.

Many years ago, someone gave me that explanation of these parables (which I didn't believe; I thought it was about how the Kingdom of God grows and spreads in the world), but I don't think I ever noticed before that the context here in Luke 13 very strongly favors the "bad stuff is mixed into the Kingdom" interpretation.

So what does this mean for you or for me? Well, I can take this as a picture of my own life. What are the "birds" or the "yeast" in my attitudes, my words, my actions? How can I be aware of these things? If Jesus said, "Beware the leaven... which is hypocrisy," how can I be aware, and what can I do?

One of my daughters pointed out that if our feelings, thoughts and actions aren't in sync, it can be for a good motive or a bad one. If I'm putting on a show, for you or even just for myself, then I think that's what hypocrisy is all about.

But if in my heart I'm saying, "I do believe; help my unbelief!" and doing the things that I believe will help my lack of faith, then I think that's something else. I think that's reaching for God, and my overall impression from the Scriptures is: This is a good thing. Reaching for God is a good thing to do, because anyone reaching for God is doing that because God is reaching out for him.

Which is what I want to do today. Lord, help me follow you, whether I feel like it or not. And when I don't feel much like it, please change my heart.


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