Blogging toward Sunday

July 30, 2007

As a woman was leaving church, she whispered to her pastor, “Do you
have some time for me to talk with you about a matter of concern?”

“What’s the problem?” he asked abruptly.

“Well, it’s personal, but I have just been offered a promotion in my
company. It is very flattering, and the money would be wonderful, but
it requires more travel and I’m already away from home more than I
would like, and. . .”

“Jesus doesn’t have any interest in any of
that!” the pastor said, interrupting. Then he turned and began greeting
other worshipers.

An earnest young man comes up to Jesus asking
the Lord to help him settle an inheritance dispute between him and his
brother. Jesus, who has been on a negative, judgmental jag for the past
few chapters in Luke, is given an opportunity to show how caring and
compassionate he really is. Time to get off the prophetic high horse
and get mushy, fuzzy and pastoral.

The man addresses Jesus
as “Teacher,” which presumes that the man wants instruction, but in the
next breath he demands that Jesus “tell my brother to divide the
inheritance with me.” The man knows, or thinks he knows, just what
ought to be done in this situation and just what Jesus will do for him.

As
happens so often, however, Jesus refuses to answer the question,
refuses to respond in the expected way and reframes the question,
reworks the expectation. “Friend” (the word Jesus tends to use when he
is preparing to thrust the dagger through someone’s heart), “who set me
to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”—which is ironic because the man
isn’t asking for judgment; he is asking for action on his behalf.

It is also ironic because even though Jesus says he is not a judge over
this man’s problems, he is judging this man’s preoccupations: “Take
care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” This judgment seems
unfair because nothing suggests that this man is being greedy. He is
asking for simple justice in the matter of an inheritance dispute.

I find it interesting that Jesus dismisses this concern over justice,
refusing to arbitrate or to attempt to make peace in a feuding family,
and instead tells a story about a successful, prudent rich man whom
Jesus calls a “fool.” It’s hard to see how the story has anything to do
with the question of inheritance since the rich man presumably didn’t
inherit his wealth but got it the old fashioned way—he worked for it
and earned it. Yet Jesus calls him a fool.

One reason why we
study scripture, one reason why we come to church on Sunday, is so that
we can receive answers to our questions, action on our petitions. We
come seeking help with our daily problems, solutions to our dilemmas.

And isn’t Jesus loving and compassionate? And doesn’t he care?

Well, not always, at least that’s what this Sunday’s exchange suggests.
Jesus must be about more important matters even than meeting my needs.
He is also judge of my need. The questions that consume me may not
consume Jesus. The matters in my life that I consider to be my biggest,
most pressing problems may not interest Jesus in the least. It’s always
a shock to have a conversation with Jesus and to find that he is more
than the answer to my questions and the solution to my problems.

What a challenge to worship a friend and savior who is also the true and living God!