One of my old seminary professors (yes, he was old then and that was nearly 30 years ago 🙂 ) once wrote a book titled The Hard Sayings of Paul. Dr. Brauch’s book added to the hard sayings series where various authors addressed difficult biblical passages. FF Bruce wrote the volume covering the sayings of Jesus. As I slowly read through Luke’s gospel again, I wonder if any of Jesus’ words could be excluded from a hard sayings book.
Some of Jesus’ words may be hard to understand, but the real problem is how Jesus’ words call for radical new life in the kingdom. Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, words, death, and resurrection all underscore this reality. If we could easily follow Jesus’ words, then His death represented a wasteful slaughter. Jesus’ hard sayings would fill volumes. Easy sayings might fit on a 3X5 card.
Reading Luke 17 I find the challenge in hearing Jesus places me in good company. Luke begins this section (yes, chapter headings came later, but the ordering of the stories goes back to Luke) with the reality of offending one another and the call to forgive. Offending a believer makes one eligible for a trip to the bottom of the sea in something that looks like a mobster’s most recent hit. While offending makes us worthy of that end, the harder saying calls us to Jesus’ brand of forgiveness. His brand of forgiveness calls for confronting (or carefronting to borrow from another of my old professors) the offender so they can repent. If they repent, then you can forgive.
I think I would rather just forgive without all of the messiness of seeking restored relationship. Why not make it an easy saying by just forgiving without confronting and accepting the possibility of being rejected again? Why not get emotional freedom by just forgiving even if they don’t want to repent? The disciples thought the same way. While they went from Jesus’ instructions to cast out demons in Luke 9 without a backward glance, the call to forgive the hard way caused them to cry out, “Lord, Increase our faith!”
Could it be that real spiritual warfare comes in confronting, repenting, and forgiving one another? Could it be we exercise our faith in praying against devils because we do not have enough courageous faith to live in Jesus’ kind of kingdom relationships? I guess Jesus really did give hard sayings.
Jesus did not let up the pressure. He said they (we) have enough faith to move trees. The problem was not the lack of faith; they already had enough faith. Jesus said the problem was obeying as servants should. Servants do not even earn rest after coming in from labor in the field; they get the master’s dinner.
Kingdom living challenges me today. Kingdom living also frees me today. I cannot earn status with the Master, but I also do not have to understand why or how the Master’s plans will come to pass. I am free to do the impractical with my life … follow the hard sayings of Jesus. Success does not earn me status; Jesus’ hard behaviors already provided the healing and wholeness. We see this in Luke 17 when a Samaritan ex-leper returned to glorify God. The stranger bowed when he saw the changes that came by walking in faith. He knew he would never get to see the priest as Jesus directed. His Jewish friends would have access to the priest, but he would be left on the outside looking in again. He received undeserved healing. He had to worship. Jesus piled wholeness on top of the healing. Kingdom living frees me from trying to earn wholeness. Kingdom living frees me to simply and joyfully obey.
Luke added some eschatology questions from the Pharisees to this series of narratives. They wanted to hear Jesus’ prediction of when the kingdom of God would come. They participated in a whole cottage industry of kingdom-coming prognostication. Everyone had a guess. Everyone wanted to be the person who could tell others, “I told you so.” They were like the futurist in 1960s who just knew the work week would be down to 24 hours and we would be flying around in personal car-planes by now. Instead American’s work longer hours than in the past couple of generations and the have the privilege of spending even more hours in traffic jams.
Jesus lovingly answered their question and continued the discussion with His disciples. The kingdom of God would not come with that kind of prognostication – a prognostication of how good everyone had to be for the messiah to come and restore Israel’s freedom. Instead the kingdom was already among them! And they missed it! The kingdom had already started and would eventually be completed in an unpredictable moment that would separate believers from unbelievers.
I am free today, and I feel it. Thank you for Your sacrificial redemptive work that set me free. Thank you for helping me know I cannot earn this kind of loving relationship with You. I accept it in the faith You provide. Forgive me for those times when I revert to the ‘easier’ way of trying to prove I am good enough to be loved, that I deserve to be included. Forgive me for the times I resist your hard sayings as impractical or undoable.
I realize I do not need more faith. I need to exercise the faith You have already placed in me and do those things You have lovingly commanded.
Thank you for welcoming strangers like me who come to worship. Thank you for the kingdom that is already present and flourishing. I begin this day with anticipation of the ongoing expansion of the kingdom. I look forward to serving as a kingdom witness, as a kingdom ambassador in a world in such need. We cry out together, “Master, have mercy on us!”
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In Jesus’ name,
Thank you for walking with me through Luke 17. Perhaps Jesus’ hard sayings challenge you from time to time as well. Trust His wisdom and ways. Trust His work in you. Trust His promise that the kingdom has already begun even though you do not yet see in completed. Trust Him by simply following His sayings rather than earning status on your own. Don’t be afraid to confront, repent, and forgive.