Tag Archives: Luke

INDISCRIMINATE FORGIVENESS

JesusonCross_edited-4

Photography by D. Plasman

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Church tradition acknowledges that Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness comprises the first words he speaks from the cross. On several levels, it’s curious why Jesus prays “Father, forgive them” instead of saying “I forgive you.” Because Jesus is the object and target of their abuses and taunts, it would seem his choice to forgive or not to forgive them. Recall also the incident (Luke 5:17-26) of the disabled man lowered through the roof by his four friends; on that occasion, Jesus announces, “Your sins are forgiven.” Why not make the same announcement from the cross?

I don’t know the answer or whether there is one, but I suspect there may be a relationship between Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them,” and the lack of specificity in the word “them.” Who is “them”? To whom is Jesus referring? The soldiers obeying orders? It would seem so, but does Jesus’ prayer stop with the soldiers? Does “them” also include Pilate, who gave the order? And what about the array of religious leaders and temple thugs who plotted against him? What about the disciples who fled, and Peter who three times denied him, and Judas who betrayed him?

Where does “them” begin and where does “them” end? What’s the limit? Might “them” include all those present that day, all those who had lived before that day, and even all those who have lived since that day? Does Jesus’ prayer—vast in time and boundless in place—become a reality when the one universal God hears it? If so, is there anything or anyone who stands outside the scope of this prayer?

On a scale of 1(low) to 10 (high), how large is your circle of “them”?

[This reflection is one of 365 that appear in my book: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, available at Amazon.]

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TRADITIONAL FAMILIES

Temple Bar Dublin BLOG_edited-2Dublin, Ireland

Photography by D. Plasman

I ended up at the website of the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). It was an honest mistake on my part, but that’s hardly an excuse. Founded in 1980, TVC is a father-daughter operation that claims to be “America’s largest non-denominational, grassroots church lobby, speaking on behalf of more than 43,000 churches and millions of like-minded patriots.”

TVC’s homepage banners include: Battleground 2016 – Our Fight For Religious Freedom and Obama’s Push to Normalize Transsexuals Put Your Children at Risk. Further down the rabbit hole, several bullet points caught my eye: Securing the Constitution against the growing threat of Islam and Shariah Law and Protecting traditional marriage and family as the cornerstone of society.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Shariah Law, but I do know that Jesus knew a thing or two about traditional families. Here’s a reflection entitled “The New Traditional Family” in my book Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus’ mother and brothers were looking for him, but they couldn’t get near him because of the crowd. Some people said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are here and they want to see you.” Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear God’s teachings and do them.” (Luke 8:19-21)

Considering how often the phrase “traditional family” is uttered by religious folks, Christian talk show hosts, and some politicians, one would think the Bible has a lot to say on the topic. It doesn’t!

A traditional family, some say, consists of a man and a woman (gay couples not included), preferably in their first marriage (though no points are deducted if this isn’t the case), along with their children (adopted children count). The husband is the head of the home. Oddly enough, it’s nearly impossible to find a traditional family in the Bible.

I tested this out on Hebrews 11 where we find a spiritual Hall of Fame of fifteen biblical notables. I applied the following “anti-traditional family” filters: the person was part of a family where members murdered each other; the person murdered someone outside the family; the person got drunk and exposed himself to his children; the person offered his wife as a sexual partner to a world leader; the person was willing to sacrifice his son; the person had more than one wife (simultaneously), or one wife and many concubines (simultaneously), or many wives (simultaneously) and many concubines (simultaneously); the person was a prostitute; the person murdered his own daughter; the person was such a lousy father that God despised his sons.

After applying these “anti-traditional family” filters, only Enoch is left standing. We know little about Enoch other than that he “walked with God,” and apparently didn’t die a normal death (Genesis 5:24). If Enoch was married, you can bet he enjoyed the company of many concubines. The “anti-traditional family” filter would toss him out.

Jesus reminds us that the only family that ultimately counts is the community where the hearing and doing of the life-giving word is practiced. All other definitions are neither biblical nor moral.

By the way, the folks we met last November in Dublin and throughout Ireland think our election process is a source of great entertainment and craziness. We raised a few beers to that sentiment.

 

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Building a Christmas Wall

Mother&Child Jaipur Train

Jaipur, India

Photography by D. Plasman

The story of Christmas in essence is the story of a middle eastern family seeking refuge in a hostile world. What I heard in the most recent presidential debate is that we’d better close our borders, send the illegals home, and protect ourselves by building a wall that will dwarf all walls. The two narratives don’t match. Here’s my take on the Christmas story, an excerpt from my book available at Amazon: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

“God’s arm is strong and has scattered the proud who trust in themselves. God has brought down the powerful from important places, and lifted up the humble. God has filled the stomachs of the hungry, and sent away the rich with nothing. God has been merciful to the people of Israel, just as God promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.” After three months, Mary returned to her home. (Luke 1:51-56)

The second half of Mary’s prayer has endured a variety of labels: a war cry, a political platform, a revolutionary’s manifesto, even a subversive tract. Mary’s prayer moves beyond the personal and private into the reality of God’s great reversals. What starts as a lullaby is now laced with landmines.

Borrowing again from her ancestors, Mary uses imagery uttered by Moses (Exodus 15:1-18) and Deborah (Judges 5:1-31) and David (Psalms 33, 47, 136). The great deeds of God are declared in the past tense as works already accomplished in the life and history of Israel. However, as past actions, they are experienced in the present and will continue in the future. What God has done, God is doing, and God will continue to do.

If we find ourselves among the world’s humble, hungry, and poor, Mary’s Magnificat is powerful assurance of a God who sides with the oppressed and one day will turn the tables. However, if a proactive God troubles our status quo sensibilities, then we tend to spiritualize Mary’s radical message and fashion to our liking a domesticated God.

No doubt, it is from their parents—especially their mothers—that John the Baptist and Jesus learn the radical nature of living into God’s ongoing transformation of the world. From their parents, they learn of God’s deep connection with those who suffer disconnect. From their parents, they learn that God won’t let things sway forever in favor of the rich and powerful. From their parents, they learn of the God who stands in solidarity with the weakest and most vulnerable.

Where have you seen the great reversals of God?

 

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Minor Repairs

Book Repair

My book, Jesus, a Life, published three weeks ago, is suddenly not available for purchase—at least for a few more days. My friends at Amazon are making minor repairs. Apparently, personal computers and corporate computers don’t always communicate. The problem was pretty simple. It was a case of over-hyphenation! Words, which were properly hyphenated at the end of a line, sud-denly ap-peared as hy-phenated words in the mid-dle of lines. How an-noying! However, I’m pleased to say all will be well in several days or so when the book again will be available.

I wish to thank the 29,035 people who bought a copy of Jesus, a Life. Oops, that’s the height in feet of Mt. Everest. I am deeply grateful to the nearly 60 people who bought copies in the three weeks since my book was published. I’m in a good mood, and benevolent forces in the universe have made it possible for me to make this offer: If you already purchased a copy of Jesus, a Life, I’d like to send you (at no cost to you) a free copy of the repaired version. However, in most cases I don’t know who you are or where to send it. So, if you’d like a second book, absolutely free, contact me at dplasman@aol.com or find me on Facebook or call me at 616-828-2293. All I ask is that you let me know, in a word or two, what you think of the book.

Speaking of hyphens, an elongated one is called a dash. A dash is the line that separates the year of birth from the year of death—it’s the life we live. Jesus tells a story about a rich farmer who built bigger barns to store all his surplus. Here’s an excerpt from Jesus, a Life.

“But God said to the rich man, ‘You’re such a fool! Your life will end tonight, and who will benefit from all the things you’ve kept for yourself?’ That’s what it will be like for those who hoard treasures on earth but aren’t rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21)

God calls the rich man a fool, but there are many names he isn’t called. He isn’t called a crook, a scoundrel, or a thief. He isn’t called a liar, a scam artist, or a cheat. He isn’t guilty of bilking senior citizens out of their nest eggs. He isn’t accused of shredding documents before a pending IRS audit. God doesn’t call him a bad man or an evil man, just a foolish man. His grave marker says it all: He had lots of stuff. He built big barns. His harvests were awesome. He knew how to spend. So much potential. So many opportunities. So little to show for it in the end. 

The story begs a few questions: What people-investments did he make? Did he work to alleviate suffering? Were other lives better off because of him? Did he ever stop to think of the “have-nots” in his corner of the world, and what he could do to assist them?

If this were merely an ancient tale, we could easily forget about it and move on. However, it speaks to us today, prompting some personal inventory. For what will I be remembered? Whose life was touched because I was here? What in this world will be better because I lived?

What relationships in your life are in need of more investment?

 

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He Would Have Known!

Cobblestone Woman

From the Introduction to my forthcoming book, Jesus, a Life (365 musings on the life of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, with 29 black and white photographs, available from Amazon in mid-November):

“This collection is for people who deeply love Jesus, God, and the church, but it’s more purposely directed to those who’ve given up on all three because of the harm authority figures and religious institutions have inflicted on them. This is a long list that includes those who’ve been devalued, discouraged, and denounced because of their gender, their life experiences, their marital status, their ethnicity, their race, their addiction, their disability, their sexual orientation, their politics, their doubts, or their questions.”

 

 

 

HE WOULD HAVE KNOWN!

 As the religious leader watched the woman washing Jesus’ feet, he thought to himself, “If Jesus were a true prophet, he would know the dubious character of this woman touching him. We all know she’s nothing but a sinner. Luke 7:39

The host is offended, not only with the woman who crashed his party but with Jesus, who was far too at ease with the devotion she lavished on him.

Simon the Pharisee was right about many things; this woman violated all sense of religious propriety. In touching Jesus, she caused him defilement. By letting down her hair in public, she displayed immodesty. If Jesus were a real prophet, he would have protested graciously and sent her on her way. What good is a prophet if he doesn’t recognize sin and call sinners to task when they’re exposed? Like a bloodhound on the scent, Simon knows a sinner when he smells one. The conventional wisdom of the day labels this woman a definite sinner.

The wisdom of conventional religion is nothing if not decisively clear-cut and unambiguous. Conventional wisdom of any sort doesn’t put up with loose ends. That may be why we opt for conventional wisdom more often than not.

Conventional wisdom says: The poor are lazy.

Conventional wisdom says: Not in my neighborhood.

Conventional wisdom says: God helps those who help themselves.

Conventional wisdom says: Close our borders to the south.

Conventional wisdom says: America, right or wrong.

Conventional wisdom says: We’ve got Middle East oil to protect.

Conventional wisdom says: Gays will fray the fabric of the family.

“If Jesus were a true prophet,” Simon protests, “he’d know all about conventional wisdom.” That much Simon seems to get right. Jesus is well aware of conventional wisdom, and has no use for it.

With which conventional wisdom do you agree?

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Jesus, a Life

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This is for anyone who’s ever preached a sermon, or heard one. A Sunday morning excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book . . .

THE ESCAPE

The synagogue worshippers got up and drove Jesus to the hill on which their town was built. They were ready to push him off the cliff, but Jesus managed to escape and continued on his way. (Luke 4:29-30)

No one bothers to wait for the benediction. Nobody makes a motion for a congregational vote. In an apparent act of unanimous spontaneity, the synagogue worshippers rush the speaker’s chair and hustle Jesus out of town. So much for job security.

The word drove suggests in Greek, as it does in English, a hostile and aggressive action. Here’s blind rage fueled by mob mentality: “No one comes on our home court and makes those accusations. Hometown son or not, nobody gets a free pass spouting that God’s love is meant for people we can’t stand!”

With dust funnels swirling behind them and Jesus securely in tow, the crowd reaches a suitable execution spot. The preacher has to die, and in all likelihood, he would have were it not for a bizarre and mysterious turn of events.

Jesus somehow “managed to escape.” Huh? How’s that possible? Nobody sees him walk away? Are we to believe the hilltop altitude gives them bigger problems than the preacher’s message? Does their prolonged argument over who’s going to push him off the cliff actually provide Jesus the opportunity to give them the slip?

The fact that Luke doesn’t dwell on the logistics of the escape is reason enough to let the issue stand. The Sabbath crowd tries to kill Jesus. (Wait a minute, weren’t executions unlawful on the Sabbath?)

Rather than pointing to a divinely orchestrated rescue operation, this near-death episode is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t stay where his presence isn’t wanted. He may arrive an unannounced visitor, but he doesn’t remain an unwelcome guest. Yet, in spite of the treatment, Jesus doesn’t invoke on them fire and brimstone. There might be a lesson there if we choose to see it.

When was the last time you roasted a preacher?

 

 

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Decent White Guy

MLK DAY

Community Missionary Baptist Church, Elkhart, Indiana   

Photography by D. Plasman

I’m a decent white guy. I saw the movie Selma a few weeks ago. This past Monday, I attended a Martin Luther King Day service at the Community Missionary Baptist Church in Elkhart, IN. Decent white guys were in the minority. Next month—Black History Month—I’ll probably re-read King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Maybe Oprah will have something for me, too.

For sure, I’m a decent white guy. I even care—somewhat—about the Super Bowl. Will the Seahawks repeat as champions? Back-to-back wins haven’t happened since the Patriots did it in ‘04 and ’05. (Why would I know that?) Will New England’s quarterback, Tom Brady, in the twilight of his stunning career, finally receive his fourth, Super Bowl ring? I’m sure Gisele, his model wife, is cheering for him. (And why would I know that?)

Beneath this decent, white guy stuff, I wonder if I’m just another fool. Too easily distracted. Too slow to make lasting investments in people’s lives, especially those different from me.

In the book I’m working on: Jesus, a Life – Daily Meditations on the Gospel of Luke, I wrote the following reflection on the story of the rich man who builds bigger barns to store all his crops. “God said to the rich man, ‘You’re such a fool!’” (Luke 12:20)

God calls the rich man a fool, but there are many names he isn’t called. He isn’t called a crook, a scoundrel, or a thief. He isn’t called a liar, a scam artist, or a cheat. He isn’t guilty of bilking senior citizens out of their nest eggs. Never once, apparently, has he overcharged customers for his crops, even though he could have gotten away with it. He’s not a sweatshop operator. He’s a decent guy.

God doesn’t call him a bad man or an evil man, just a foolish man. He’s a fool for placing too much weight on the wrong things; a fool for thinking security can be measured down to the square foot; a fool for imagining that his materialist insulation could keep him from death’s cold grip. His grave marker will say it all: He had lots of stuff. He built big barns. His harvests were awesome. He knew how to spend. So much potential. So many opportunities. So little to show for it.

The story begs a few questions. What people-investments did he make? Did he work to alleviate suffering? Were other lives better off because of him? Did he ever stop to think of the “have-nots” in his corner of the world, and what he could do?

If this were merely an ancient tale, we could easily forget about it and move on. However, it speaks powerfully today, prompting some personal inventory. For what will I be remembered? Whose life was touched because I was here? What in this world will be better because I lived? Who are the people—different from me—I need to get to know?

 

 

 

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The Joseph Option

 

Nativity1Photography by D. Plasman

I share a selection from a forthcoming book of mine to be published in 2015 entitled: Jesus, a Life – Daily Meditations on the Gospel of Luke. The 365 meditations cover the entire third gospel.

This meditation, THE JOSEPH OPTION, is based on Luke 2:4-5 which reads: “Complying with the census, Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was a descendant of David. He traveled with Mary, to whom he was betrothed. She was pregnant.”

With no introduction, Joseph suddenly appears in the biblical narrative. A minor character playing a supportive role, Joseph speaks no words. We could easily conclude that Joseph’s only purpose in the story of Jesus’ birth is to get a very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem on time.

However, a more complete character sketch of Joseph emerges in the opening chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Joseph and Mary were betrothed to each other—engaged, but with legal implications. Jewish law contractually bound them together, though they still lived in the homes of their respective parents. When Mary tells Joseph she’s pregnant and he’s not the father, Joseph takes the high road and is prepared to go back to the rabbi and void the betrothal contract, sparing Mary public humiliation and possible punishment, including stoning.

Then comes a dream, and in it an angel explains to Joseph that God is at work in this messy situation. By taking Mary as his wife, Joseph will acknowledge this Divine activity. What happens next is one of the most amazing miracles recorded in the Bible. Joseph agrees. Going against conventional wisdom, laying aside his wounded manhood, re-evaluating his sense of right and wrong, throwing out the rule book, refusing to punish the one he loves, Joseph opts for the twofold responsibility of husbandhood and fatherhood. He fully commits himself to his pregnant fiancée.

Nowhere in the Bible does Joseph speak, at least not with words. He doesn’t have to. His actions tell all. Joseph reminds us that religious legalism has its limits. Doing what we have a right to do, and doing it to others when they are guilty of one thing or another, often puts us in conflict with the power of love.

Faced with more than one option, Joseph redefines what it means to be a moral person, where love is at the center and religious customs, certainties, and legalities lie on the periphery. No doubt, Joseph will end up modeling and teaching this option to Jesus every chance he gets.

When did someone act like a Joseph to you?

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A House Story, Chapter 3

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I haven’t found any hidden treasures in the house we’re ripping apart. No family heirlooms left behind. No stash of cash tucked in an interior wall. Not a single gem whose value went unnoticed by the previous owners. I’ve resigned myself that there’s nothing in this house that will get me on Antiques Roadshow.

But we’ve collected some items which, depending on your eye, could be considered a form of art: drawer handles, windows locks, and door knobs. Because of the accumulation of paint (lead based, I’m guessing) this hardware no longer functions the way it was intended to. Yet, when I stare at them long enough and set up a camera, I see something pleasing. That said, as soon as I get around to renting a 20-yard dumpster these paint-clogged relics will be the first to go.                ParisKnob&Hook - Copy_edited-1

I’ve been 60 years old for a week now. 34 years ago I was ordained into ministry. Something weird is happening to me. I catch myself stripping away layers and layers of paint – thick, theological, oil-based coats of orthodox paint. This de-layering started about ten years ago when I got serious about studying the life of Jesus. I turned to the gospel of Luke and read through it more times than I can count. I struggled through the Greek and relied on lots of English translations. I ended up with a manuscript I hope to publish: Jesus, a Life–365 Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

I ended up at a place where I had no intention of going. Here’s what I learned. In matters of faith and religion, as it concerns God and Jesus, believe what you want. It doesn’t matter. How we choose to live makes all the difference.  

In the 18th chapter of Luke, a seeker comes to Jesus with a heavy question: “How do I get eternal life?” Jesus’ answer is surprising and revealing. He doesn’t add layer upon layer of paint and say, “Believe in me and you’ll get what you wish for.” Or “I’m the Son of God and that should tell you something.”

Instead, Jesus points to the ethics of holy living, “Be faithful in your relationships. Protect life. Don’t steal. Speak truthfully. Honor your parents.” Without bragging, the seeker acknowledged he was already doing these things. Surely there was something he was missing. But what was it?

ParisWindowLock - Copy_edited-1

Jesus replies again, but not how we might expect. He doesn’t say, “OK, here’s the real deal. I’m going to die for your sins, so repent and look to me as your Lord and Savior.” Nor does he say, “Let me remind you, my mother was a virgin when she bore me.” Jesus tweaks the seeker’s life. “If you really want it all, sell all you have and equitably distribute the money to the poor.”

If this was the only occasion in Jesus’ ministry when he triumphed right living over right believing, we could easily ignore it. But it’s not. Most of Jesus’ parables say the same, so do the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount. In most churches, it’s the other way around. We promote what we believe over the ways we tend to the least and the last and care for the world. There’s just too many layers of paint on our theological handles.

[For previous installments of A House Story go to www.danielplasman.com/blog/ Pull down the CATEGORIES menu and select A House Story]

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