I’ve been reading through the gospel of Luke for the past couple of months. Reading through the whole of Luke has allowed me to come to new ways of seeing familiar passages as I read them in the context of what comes before and after them. In January, I heard Brian McLaren teach on how scripture’s meaning can change for us when we read it in context. That has helped me look at what I am reading more from a panoramic viewpoint rather than in isolation.
Luke 14 begins with Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Jesus then teaches us that discipleship demands that we be completely committed to him, willing even to give up all our possessions (note that this is said to all, not simply to the rich young ruler). Luke 15 gives stories about hospitality and welcoming, and in the first part of chapter 16 Jesus teaches about faithfulness with money. What follows are these five verses:
14 The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. 15 He said to them,“You are the ones who justify yourselves before other people, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God. 16 Until John, there was only the Law and the Prophets. Since then, the good news of God’s kingdom is preached, and everyone is urged to enter it.17 It’s easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest stroke of a pen in the Law to drop out. 18 Any man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and a man who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (CEB)
What follows is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, teachings about faithful service, and then Jesus heals ten lepers, and the only one who returns to thank him is a Samaritan. Through the passages before and after these verses, Jesus has done what is offensive to the Pharisees. Healing on the Sabbath violated the Law, giving up all ones possessions went way farther than the tithe prescribed by the Law, as did Jesus’ teachings about divorce. But Jesus also taught grace and forgiveness in the parable of the prodigal son and the manager who changed the accounts of his master’s debtors. Jesus also reached out to those whom society used the Law to avoid when he healed the ten lepers.
So in reading the familiar verse about how it’s easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the Law to drop out, I wonder if Jesus is speaking more to the rigidity of the Pharisees than he is praising the Law. The Pharisees highly valued the Law and often seemed to revere it over people. They seemed more concerned about preserving the Law than they did about extending love and grace and healing to others. Reading this verse in the context of this whole section of Luke causes me to wonder if Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were so unmovable in their adoration of the Law that even if they were shown a higher and better way, they would not let go of the Law.
Jesus says that what is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God. I wonder what it is that I might value highly that God finds offensive. What “values” blind me from being a bearer of good news to others? The Pharisees did not get singled out because they valued the Law, but because they put the Law ahead of compassion. I wonder if God is more offended by those who claim to be Christian but spew forth hatred and name-calling than God is by those who do evil without any claim of being a follower of God.
I don’t presume to know the “right” answer, but I believe with all my heart that because Jesus loved me enough to give himself for me and for all people—all races, all religious faiths, all nonreligious, all sexual orientations, all evildoers-repentant or not, and even those who offend me—my only response is to fall to my knees, exclaim, “God have mercy on me, a sinner” and then to love others without exclusion in humility and gratitude for the grace given to me. Jesus did not withhold his love from anyone and I am called to go and do likewise. I cannot take in the magnitude of God’s love for all creatures, but I will humbly try to share God’s love with others.