"And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:5)
Jesus addresses two aspects of normative religious practice in Judaism, from which He and his followers were diverting, and for which they were drawing the ire of the Pharisees. The Jews were unsettled by their neglect of fasting and the Sabbath. And Jesus is speaking to the reinterpretation and reapplication of the law in light of himself.
First, on fasting… Jesus isn’t discouraging the practice. In fact, he is reinforcing it’s legitimate place in our personal worship. However, the Pharisees, as we will see them do consistently, are thinking in the wrong categories. Their tradition of fasting was obligatory. They entered into this as a way of garnering favor from God. It was a sobering reminder of their inadequacy and guilt. Fasting, in the old paradigm, was a way And Jesus says that his followers don’t need to fast while he’s here because the connection fasting is supposed to nurture with God is being enjoyed personally, through Christ. But, following his death, resurrection and ascension, they will need to recover this practice. Only under the new paradigm of God’s Kingdom, fasting will no longer be a somber and heavy expression of their sin, but it will celebrate the lifting of their burden of sin. Rather than lamenting their need, they will be rejoicing in God’s provision for their need. Rather than a countenance that reflects the misery of their guilt, they will gladly fast as a way of feasting on God’s grace and entering into the fellowship made possible with Him through Jesus.
Whereas the old way of fasting highlighted sin, the new way of fasting highlights salvation. Jesus’ followers are not to be sad and overly serious people as much as they are to be a satisfied and celebratory people. And that’s what true fasting is… an acknowledgment and celebration of God’s grace in Jesus, who is the bread of life, and the One who satisfies the true hunger of our souls. Fasting is a physical reminder of God’s enoughness.
Second, on the Sabbath… Jesus, again, is not dispensing with the Sabbath, but he is correcting their restrictive traditions related to the Sabbath. He’s not going into a lot of detail at this point, or in this particular text, but when he says, “The son of man is Lord over the Sabbath,” he is claiming the authority to reinterpret and reapply what they think they know about the Sabbath. He’s letting the Pharisees know that their understanding of the Law, and how they use the Law needs correcting.
And I guess the important question for us is whether we’re clinging tightly to our preferences, traditions, religious understandings, things we’re comfortable with, or the way we’ve always done things, when Jesus came to show us a better way? I wonder if Jesus has the authority in our lives to correct what our church taught us, what our parents taught us, what our youth pastor taught us, or what culture is teaching us. That Jesus says he is Lord over the Sabbath is specific… but we must realize that Jesus is Lord over everything… our time, resources, talent, skill, relationships, stewardship, sexuality, vocation, free time, entertainment choices, eating and drinking, self-care, ministry involvement… he is Lord over our past, present and future. Are you living under that Lordship or are you compartmentalizing Jesus’ influence and authority to the areas where you are comfortable yielding it, while maintaining autonomy over parts of your life which you want to protect from Jesus?
A Prayer for the Lordship of Jesus:
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, forgive my pride and arrogance that presumes authority and ownership over my life. I confess that I want to rule my life and make my own choices. I even want you to be a factor in my life and choices, I just don't want you to be Lord over it. I resist that. I feel my impulse to guard my life from your Lordship rather than to gladly submit to your Lordship. Please forgive me that rebellion and distrust. Heal my self-destructive and sinful inclination to restrict you to the margins and periphery of my life. Holy Spirit, produce in me a desire to live under the Lordship of Jesus. Give me the wisdom and humility to want his authority, rather than to resent it. And help me diligently seek the wisdom only you can give for alignment with your ways, that I might find the joy of living under the gracious and good rule of the Lord Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.
"... so that they might find a reason to accuse him… who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases." (Luke 6:7, 18)
There are those who are fixated with the law and those who are fixated on Jesus. There are those who want to confine Jesus to their narrowly defined categories, and those who just want to be close to Jesus. There are those who want to accuse him and judge him, and those who want to receive from him all that he has to offer. There are those looking for any reason to reject and discredit Jesus, and those who are looking for any reason to follow Jesus because they recognize his ultimate credibility.
The difference is our hearts. Could the posture of your heart be accurately characterized a wide open to Jesus? That’s the key to finding life in him.
A Prayer for Openness:
Father, I admit that I’m way to self-assured in my cynicism and skepticism. I feel strongly about my doubts regarding Jesus, the gospel and the genuineness of my faith and salvation. I place so many limitations on you, and set so many boundaries to protect myself from you. I naturally resist what I can’t see and touch and taste physically. And because of these things, I close myself off from so much of the life Jesus came to give me. I repent of a hardened posture of the heart that presumes to determine what you can and can’t do, or what you will and won’t do. And right now, where I sit, I ask you to open my heart to the fullness of Jesus… I don’t want a part of him and his grace and his truth… I want the fullness of Him and all that he brings. Give me an open-hearted embrace of Jesus, that I might receive the healing I need, at the all the levels I need it. Amen.
Blessed are you... Woe to you...
These 7 verses contrast those who receive Jesus and all that he has to offer and those who miss out on Jesus and all he has to offer. He is not ascribing moral value to material poverty, physical hunger or emotional grief over material wealth, stuffed bellies, and emotional satisfaction. Jesus came to sufficiently and even abundantly provide for all of our need, But those who have no lack in and of themselves, have no need for him. And that’s the difference Jesus is juxtaposing: Need.
Jesus meets the needy where they are to supply for them what they cannot manufacture or produce on their own. To embrace our weakness and inability to provide for ourselves - spiritually and internally as well as materially and physically - is the necessary prerequisite for coming to Jesus. He isn’t looking for you to do for yourself what he came to do for you. He’s waiting for you to acknowledge you can’t do for yourself what only he can, and was meant to do, for you.
Will you stop trying to have your need met by earthly things, and look to have your needs, which are many, met in and through Jesus?
A Prayer for Need:
Lord God, help me to know and feel the deep need in my soul, for you. Cause me to distrust my own sense of okayness rooted in anything other than Christ. Let my heart feel, my mind know, and my mouth confess, as the song says, “Lord, I need you, oh I need you. Every hour I need you. My one defense, my righteousness. Oh God, how I need you.” Let that reality sink in deep so that I will come always to you in weakness, and not to try to live detached from the sufficiency, satisfaction and joy that your grace provides. Amen.
"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)
Jesus’ instructions are basically to resist every natural impulse you have in reacting to sinful and selfish people, and instead respond in the opposite spirit. Jesus came to give us glimpse of and invite us into the Kingdom of God, which has altogether different operating principles than those in the fallen world. But Jesus also recognizes his Kingdom has to infiltrate earthly Kingdoms and the structures they’ve produced. So he prepares us for oppression, injustice, exploitation, abuse, violence, poverty and all of these broken realities. He’s inviting us to combat the personal, systemic and cultural brokenness around us, by embodying a different ethic and an alternative approach.
In all that he’s saying not to day, he’s acknowledging the instincts which arise within each of us. He’s being honest about the temptation to respond to people and situations in normal and natural ways. But he’s also helping us to see how our normal and natural instincts are sinful and they perpetuate the cycles of chaos and dysfunction which are costing us our humanity. So, he’s telling us not to trust or follow our impulses and emotions. Instead, he’s saying let God’s mercy toward us, which is ultimately displayed in and through the finished work of Christ, reorder our thoughts and feelings and instincts so that we respond in an unnatural way… indeed, in a supernatural way.
Our natural and normal ways of interacting with and relating to people are chronically and compulsively self-centered, and that’s the cause of the brokenness in the world which we lament. The only way out of that is to reject what comes easiest to us, no matter how powerfully those urges come.
But Jesus’ way of change isn’t behavior modification. The various instructions he gives here in how to respond are powerless to produce the behaviors he’s advocating. We simply aren’t merciful. We can possibly act merciful for a time or in isolated scenarios, but we aren’t merciful, so we won’t consistently treat people mercifully.
Jesus doesn’t leave us to white knuckle it on our own. He grounds the command in the gospel. Behavior modification won’t work. We need heart transformation and an overall internal reorientation. That’s why he doesn’t stop at “Be Merciful.” He continues on with “even as your Father is merciful.” Mercy extended flows from mercy received. The only way we’ll even desire to fulfill Jesus’ commands here, much less have the power to obey them, is if we live with conscious of the mercy we’ve been given by God.
As we nurture a mindfulness and gratitude for the mercy we’ve been given in Christ, our capacity to give mercy to those who sin against us will increase. The world we all want, where oppression and injustice and evil and violence cease, is a world that can only be recreated by Jesus’ mercy landing on us, so it can emanate from us. We can’t and won’t see that fully until Jesus returns and ushers in a reign of mercy, but we can, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, provide glimpses of the world we long for and the reality which Christ died to unleash.
A Prayer for Mercy:
God, you have been merciful beyond my imagination. I have deserved nothing but your judgment and wrath and yet i’ve received nothing but your forgiveness and love. That’s a miracle. Please forgive me for growing callous to that. Forgive me for diminishing your mercy by my pride and self-righteousness and thoughts of how I deserve more and better from you and from people. Rather than clamoring for what I think or feel I deserve, would you help me feel my desperate need for mercy. And would you let me live inside the felt reality of your mercy, so that mercy might flow out of me. Give me the self-awareness and maturity to take my thoughts captive, to arrest my emotional reactions, and your mercy toward me to consciously reorder my responses to others. Amen.
"...for each tree is known by its own fruit." (Luke 6:44)
There’s a lot in this text. We all know deep down that we need to change, but the only way we’ll ever truly be able to change is if we recognize who we truly are and what truly needs to change. Jesus is giving us some insight into how to do that.
Jesus is teaching us to be self-reflective, understanding that we are responsible for our words and actions. The character and quality of our lives are the fruit of our inner life. How we relate and respond to others is evidence of our desires and attitudes. We can’t blame these things on other people or the circumstances surrounding us. We are responsible for ourselves. And Jesus is telling us that we can trace the tone of our relationships, the use of our words, the health of our emotions, the character of our lives back to the true condition of our hearts where we find unmet longings, disappointed expectations, retained bitterness, stubborn self-defense, low grade hatred, and a pathological need to distract from my own brokenness and contribution to dysfunction. Jesus is inviting us to know ourselves as we really are so that we can come to know him as he really is… to see the pervasiveness of our guilt, so we can receive the comprehensiveness of his grace.
We have to be willing, however, to take the time to self-reflect without self-justifying. We have to self-critique without self-loathing. We need to see beneath our best intentions, to the worst motivations. We have to stop being so skeptical of others hearts while giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and instead give others the benefit of the doubt while being skeptical of ourselves.
That takes time, solitude, humility, honesty, and objectivity. But it’s worth it. Growing in self-awareness with Jesus in full view is the most freeing thing you can do. This is what it means to come to Jesus and follow Jesus. To grow in our knowledge of ourselves while growing in our knowledge of God through Christ, so that we might walk in repentance and faith. Repentance for who we are and faith in who he is, so we can die, and Christ can live in and through us.
A Prayer for Self-Understanding:
Father, in your kindness, give me the discipline of silence and solitude, to prayerfully consider my life before you. Give me insight into my own heart, and the humility and wisdom to see myself as I really am, with all my competing desires and affections, many of them selfish and fleshly. Help me to see my own longings for sinful things as well as my inordinant desires for good things that elevate them beyond their designed place in my life. And give me eyes to see your beauty, your transcendence, and the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, that I might have controlling desires for you and to please you. I need your insight into my own heart to truly connect to your heart. And that is my deep desire. Amen.