Both the sciences and humanities look for ways to understand how the world works. Perhaps the quest to unlock this mystery represents a significant part of what it means to be human. Animals have instinct; humans have questions.
Some psychologists of the 20th century held a very mechanical view of human behavior. A few, like Pavlov and Skinner, thought human behavior could be understood by examining the conditioning and rewards people experience. Some of this holds true. We often learn certain behaviors get rewards; saying thank you gets a pat on the head while saying no to Mom gets a little stronger one on the bottom. Simple formulas, however, do not explain all human experience.
Luke 18 helps us see faith does not follow simple formulas either. Jesus told one parable with the emphasis on praying always. The very next story shows the ‘good’ guy who prays always goes away without God while the ‘bad’ guy mumbles a cry for mercy. According to Jesus the simple prayer transformed the second man into a justified state. At the end of the chapter a blind man only has a couple of sentences to say to Jesus, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me” and “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Jesus responded to the simple request by giving even more than the man asked. Jesus gave him sight and told him his faith saved him.
Should we pray always or not? Will God provide justice or send us home without relationship? Why pray always when two sentences can get such great results?
Other stories in the chapter examine a similar formula busting phenomenon. Jesus’ disciples pushed the children away. After all, if children can do very little, what would they add to the disciple group? Jesus rebuked such reasoning. Instead, Jesus told the disciples the only way to receive the Kingdom was as a child! Those who had no value find an open door.
A rich ruler also came to Jesus. He wanted to know what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus set him up like a few teachers I know. He told the man to keep the commandments. The man affirmed he had already done that. Jesus then gave him the real answer, “Sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me.” The man left in deep sorrow. He could follow 613 Old Testament rules, but he could not take these three simple steps. He had too much wealth to just be a follower.
The disciples showed astonishment when they saw an obviously blessed person walk away. If a rich person could scarcely be saved, then what chance did they have?
Reading further I hear the perplexity gave way to hope as Peter spoke for the team. While they were not wealthy like the rich guy, they had given all and followed Jesus. Jesus quickly let them know they were on the right track – giving up everything earned even more family now and in the age to come. Wow, we finally find the formula, the alchemy to transform mere human existence into eternal blessings!
Not so fast. Jesus had to tell the rest of the story, a story they would not understand.
Jesus chose this moment to give the prophecy fulfilling agenda for the coming weeks: Jesus would be delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, spitefully used, spit on, scourged, and put to death. After three days, He would rise again.
Jesus had just told them they would inherit rewards in this life and the next; now He tells them the One they had surrendered everything to follow would be put to death. We can almost see the “DOES NOT COMPUTE” graphic pop in their minds. They banked everything on Jesus’ success, and now He tells them He will voluntarily be shamed. Luke 18 uses the words, “This saying was hid from them” to convey the impossible cognitive challenge before them. They would follow their Messiah to death rather than to a Joshua-like victory.
This journey will not fit a formula.
Sometimes I wish faith could be figured out. I wish someone could teach me the magic formula where I could pray the right way and at the right times for the exact outcome I seek. After all, I have tried to give up everything and follow You.
Reading Your Word I know such a formula would be a curse. Rather than building a relationship with You, where we as Your people commune with You in prayer, study of the Word, and serving others, we would just go to the proven formula. Formulas have no faith.
I must repent again. I am sorry for trying to figure out the magic formula. I am sorry for the times when I would prefer a wand over faith that rests in the unseen. I know that my quest to understand it all stems from my fallen nature and an effort to control You and Your purposes. Forgive me I pray.
I accept the call to carry this treasure in earthen vessels. I accept the invitation to pray without ceasing in a way that hears Your voice and feels Your Spirit rather than in a way that seeks for my will to be done.
I receive Your blessings now. I also accept the reality of difficult places in the journey from here to there. I desire the touch You offered the children. I cry out with both the publican and the blind man, “Have mercy on me!” I accept healing of my eyes (and ears I might add) that comes only through faith.
Thank you for not being a formula I can control. Such a formula would come from my limited perspective — Your grace would not be seen. I would miss the women who have no advocate, the children who go untouched, the faithful disciples who have given up more than I would ever know, and the beggars considered unworthy for an audience with You. Since my formulas are too small, I pledge to resist writing them.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. No other formula will work.
In Jesus’ Name,
Thank you for walking with me through Luke 18. I hope the chapter helped you experience both the perplexity and absurdity of writing formulas that control God. Perhaps you will also find the courage to discard an outmoded formula or two as you seek to pray, give, receive healing, and suffer in accordance with the Word.