Soon after I was called as senior minister of First Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont, a church member gave me a tour of the building. When we got to the formal church parlor, I paused to take in the portraits of my predecessors hanging on the walls. I was awestruck. “There they are,” I said.
The problem with Matthew 15:21-28 lies in the portrait of Jesus as neither the Jesus we have come to know and love nor, if we are honest, a Jesus we particularly like. The optional verses in the lectionary (Matt. 15:10-20) may elicit Peter’s reaction: “Explain yourself, Jesus!”
"It hasn’t always been like this.” These words can refer to church life, politics, international relations, urban crime or the economy. They might even refer to the latest Harry Potter novels, which seem to turned darker and darker—more serious, more ominous, and with the world coming closer and closer to the edge of doom. I don’t blame J. K.
When my daughter was in grade school, her teacher included a unit on table manners. The rule that amused me was, “When served food, you should never ask, ‘What is this?’” I don’t think I’ve asked that question aloud, but I’ve certainly thought it, especially at potlucks.
Christians throughout the ages have proclaimed that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb.13:8). The implicit teaching is that by being eternally the same, he is therefore divine: a Rock of Ages and, like the Father of Lights, beyond the shadow of changing. He is.
In this reading from Luke we confront stark and conflictual sayings of Jesus that sit poorly with contemporary images of God. Our culture seems to prize a God with an infinite capacity for empathy, a God who is “nice.” Luke challenges this thinking. He offers a glimpse of redemption for a world that is anything but nice—and that needs much more than a nice God to redeem it.
At the heart of the salvation doctrine is the proclamation that our lives and our deaths are in God’s hand; we are loved of God not by our own merit but by God’s gracious initiative toward us. We need not spend our lives in good works in order to be saved but only in grateful response to being so loved.
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