Earlier this week, I was talking with a minister friend who shared with me a problem that he termed “the separation of Church and Christian.” In modern, individualistic America, people become Christians but remain isolated from the body of Christ and the communal practices that allow us to grow and work together for God’s purposes. To a large extent, I think that this phenomenon stems from a short-sighted, single-moment understanding of salvation: say the right prayer, believe the right things, and get your “get out of hell free” card, because once saved, always saved. We’ve got evangelistic rallies that measure success by how many people crossed that line of belief that we’ve drawn; we’ve reduced grace to mere forgiveness without transformation or growth, as if God would pardon us and then leave us in the pits we’ve dug.
How do we keep from not reading the Bible when we read the Bible?
I just checked, and the three parables in this chapter haven’t changed since we last read them. The woman still lights a lamp and sweeps the house in search of her missing coin; it’s still the younger brother rather than the older who demands his early inheritance; there are still the same number of sheep. If anything was true that we previously said about these parables, it continues to be true even now. But we haven’t yet examined the context in which Jesus tells these parables. Where does he tell them? Who does he tell them to? Let’s step outside the parables and find some answers.
As I read through Luke 15’s parables of lost things yesterday, they readily brought to mind Relient K’s song “The Last, the Lost, the Least.” I considered mentioning it, but as I reflect further, I’m glad I didn’t. Relient K’s song is more about the dignity of human beings as created in God’s image, particularly those we dismiss as worthless because of their poverty or weakness. Jesus’ parables in Luke 15, on the other hand, underscore God’s love for sinners and his desire to bring them to repentance and restoration. While there’s some thematic overlap, for the most part the extent of the song and the chapter’s commonality is the word “lost,” and even then, they’re using the word in two different senses. It’s unjust societal marginalization vs. genuine spiritual neediness.
In a move that surprises even me, we’re putting our All the Paul study on hold as I begin Hope Church’s Triad Program. Over the next year or so, I’ll be meeting regularly with two of my friends in order to grow in following Jesus Christ with an eye toward spiritual multiplication. The Bible study portion of the program entails reading the week’s passage every day of the week. The Triad program coordinator, Pastor Bill Craig, described it as “soaking” or “marinating” in the passage, which is a little too touchy-feely a description for my tastes. But as an English major, I am all for a sustained engagement with the text, and I look forward to seeing what insights God can reveal to me through prolonged exposure to particular segments of scripture.
Welcome to 2017, and to Isaiah 62. The chapter continues to look ahead to Zion’s restoration, and as lines do, a few lines jumped out at me. Isaiah begins the chapter with a promise to keep prophesying; he tells us, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent” (62:1). He also promises that the watchmen of Jerusalem will not be silent either. And then we come to this bit: “You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (62:6-7). Now, God is omniscient, so we humans shouldn’t need to remind him of anything, and he’s going to refrain from resting whether we allow him to rest or not (Psalm 121:4). In short, these are eyebrow-raising verses.
First things first: remember that extended metaphor of the light at the end of the tunnel that I employed while discussing Isaiah 57? At the time, I felt a little odd framing the chapter that way, since it doesn’t use the words “light” or “dark” at all. But look at these lines from today’s chapter: “We hope for light, but behold, darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope along the wall like blind men, we grope like those who have no eyes” (59:9-10). It seems the metaphor hews a little closer to the source than expected.