Luke 13:31-35 – Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord, by José Luis Castrillo

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you – you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (New International Version)

King Herod of Judea, who was in the pocket of the Roman Empire, was issuing threats against Jesus. And those threats had some teeth behind them. Herod had recently beheaded Christ’s friend and cousin, John the Baptist (Luke 9:7-9). Yet, Jesus seemed unconcerned by the warnings. He made it clear that he was going to keep doing what he was doing, unfazed by Herod’s bluster.

Jesus had no intention of halting his travels, even because of a credible threat by the governing powers. Christ emphasizes his words by assuring his listeners that the work he is doing will be done today, and the next, and the day after that—building ultimately to his greatest work of securing redemption through his crucifixion and resurrection. 

I hope to be always journeying towards Jerusalem with a heart full of compassion that will not waver in the midst of violent killing and injustice. That isn’t easy, yet I know that my humble pilgrimage with Jesus will be worth it all, in the end.

Yet, for now, I need to make a stop in Bethlehem. I must follow the star to the place where Christ the newborn king is lying in a simple stinky feeding trough. The juxtaposition of that reality could not be more pronounced. The rightful Lord of all, far more powerful than old King Herod or the Roman Emperor, comes to earth not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)

What’s more, Jesus deliberately donned the clothing and postured himself as a lowly servant throughout his earthly ministry. Whereas Herod acted the predictable part of a power hungry worldly ruler, squelching all rivals to the throne, Jesus shared his authority with others, along with a promise of continual presence. (Matthew 2:16-18, 28:16-20)

“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; So that, at the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.” 

Book of Common Prayer

Jesus is down for the struggle. He knows that injustice and systemic evil must be carefully rooted out. He understands that hearts and minds aren’t changed overnight. It will take time. Yet, Christ is in it for the long haul. The Lord is patiently, and sometimes imperceptibly, using divine power and authority to preserve the good and weed out the bad.

It will take a long time, and will be an extended process, because there are so many hard hearts. Jesus was ready, willing, and able to gather people together, as a mother hen gathers her chicks – yet there was an unwillingness to it. And Christ isn’t in the business of twisting arms and manipulating others, like Herod.

Jesus invites. He doesn’t squeeze people like an orange to get their juice. Christ carefully prepares a meal. He sets the table himself. He gives of himself. Like some wildly potent superfood, a bit of wine and morsel of bread is more than enough to fill the hungry soul and thirsty spirit.

There is always room at the Table.

There is room for you and for me. There is room for every kind of person – from every nation, race, gender, ethnicity, class – no matter the distinctions and no matter the past. It is the love of God in Christ, not the judgment, which brings people peace and salvation. It comes through a baby, not some wily old fox of a ruler.

Eventually, the phrase will be uttered, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus pulled this phrase from the Old Testament psalms. He did this, knowing quite well the context surrounding the verse:

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. (Psalm 118:22-26, NIV)

The chicks might scatter and refuse to be gathered. The builders may reject the crucial cornerstone and still try to build. Yet, it will not always be this way. As we celebrate the first advent of Christ in his incarnation, the second advent is continually in view. Christ is coming… again. The time is near….

Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
    And everyone will see him—
    even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
    will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen! (Revelation 1:7, NLT)

The triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday is followed by a triumphal entry into my heart, and the hearts of many. And there is coming yet another triumphal entry, back to this earth. All things will made new….

“There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.” Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:4-5, GNT)

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Luke 7:31-35 – Dealing with the Dull and Foolish

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (New International Version)

I am sure all of us, at some point in our lives, have been in a no-win type of situation. Even Jesus experienced it. 

John the Baptist came as an ascetic, eating no bread and being a teetotaler. Some people thought he had a demon. Then, when Jesus came on the scene doing just the opposite – eating, drinking, and having a grand old time – the people accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton. 

Jesus was like the Rodney Dangerfield of the ancient world – he never got any respect from the religious authorities.

I’m actually a bit relieved that Jesus went through that kind of scenario. Sometimes, it just seems that, with some people, they’ll grump and complain at us, no matter what we do or say. Wise King Solomon was familiar with such people; he called them fools: 

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5, NIV) 

So, which is it? How do I handle a fool? The answer is: you don’t. A fool is going to be a fool no matter what you do or say. Handling them is a no-win situation.

It seems to me the way Jesus responded to the foolish around him was to express something of a lament. The saying he quoted has to do with weddings and funerals. Jesus was lamenting that the crowd standing right in front of him, seeing him and seeing his works, are like people who don’t dance at weddings, and don’t cry at funerals. 

In other words, they are plain dull and stupid. They have Jesus right in front of their faces, and they don’t see him because they are expecting someone else. The people just cannot get over the fact that Jesus hangs out with people other than them.

Jesus was likening the religious authorities to a bunch of bratty little kids. They sit and do nothing but heckle and bully others walking by, while they idly wait for their idea of Messiah to come waltzing along.

Messiah did come along. And they foolishly and dully missed it, and treated Jesus like any other Joe Schmo.

So, what do we do with such irritating and obnoxious people, like those who were never happy with Jesus? 

Well, frankly, Jesus just went about his mission – despite what the foolish generation was saying about him. 

And we must do the same. Some folks are going to backbite, gossip, slander, misunderstand and misrepresent you – and there’s not a dang thing you can do about it. We are not to take our cues from fools. We are to find our security and our solace in Jesus. We are to focus on living and loving, just like him.

And, as for the self-appointed critics and judges among us, let them blow their empty words out their blowholes into the air. The wise don’t have time to engage such blowhards. Leave them to God.

Wise Jesus, you handled people as well as anyone could, yet they still criticized you. Help me to live a sage life, and speak with circumspection, so that when irrational people talk their sinful jabbering, it isn’t because of my foolishness, but because of my love. Amen.

Luke 9:1-6 – On Power, Authority, and Mission

Jesus and the Disciples by Rudolph Bostic (1941-2021)

Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (Common English Bible)

You have likely heard the old nineteenth century adage from a member of the British Parliament, Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The rest of the quote, which we seldom hear is this: “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”

It’s almost as if Jesus knew this well before Lord Acton uttered it nearly two millennia later. Jesus Christ, in a truly wise and generous display of leadership, shared his power and authority with others. Rather than hoarding power and using authority to gain more authority, the Lord Jesus, rightful Ruler of the universe, delegated power and enabled those who ministered with him to share in carrying out his mission.

The only real Christian ministry is a bestowed ministry, granted to us by the delegation of Jesus. What this means for us, practically, is that believers minister as servants of God and stewards of the power and authority given to us. Grasping this basic accountability helps us to truly serve others with sensitivity and care – knowing we must give an account for the privilege of ministering in Christ’s name.

“There is no stronger test of a person’s character than power and authority, exciting as they do every passion, and discovering every latent vice.”

Plutarch (46-119, C.E.)

This has tremendous implications for us in all areas of life. Within the family, this means that parental authority can and ought to be delegated in wise increments, over time, as children grow and mature. The concept that a dad should be some sort of supreme leader who barks orders and demands fealty from mom and the kids is downright misguided, not to mention incredibly weird.

It also means that in the church and in faith communities, the wise use of power and authority will seek to identify and mentor younger disciples who will be given appropriate authority for expected ministry. Church leadership will listen to and equip those who have passions for particular service with the requisite authority to engage in effective ministry.

At the workplace, this involves forsaking a top-down approach of authority in favor of distributing power equitably amongst the workers with the greatest responsibilities.

In the political arena, this means Christians won’t tie their hopes in gaining power but rather in giving it away. They will seek equity and the common good of all citizens. And if that means deferring to a voice which isn’t being heard, then that is precisely what we do. Perhaps we see so little civility and concern for the other because Christians are much too enamored with dramatic miracles fueled by power.

Mosaic in the Papal Basilica, Rome, of Jesus and Disciples

Let’s not lose sight of the reality that healing sicknesses and suppressing the demonic is solely derived from Christ’s own authority, not ours. To press this reality home, Jesus instructed his disciples to take nothing with them. No staff, bread, bag, or money. Live among the locals, with them, on their turf and with their activities. Use the power and authority given to improve their lives and in so doing, lead them to greater spiritual truths.

If they don’t accept this gracious ministry, move on. No arm-twisting. No manipulation. No guilt-tripping. And definitely no using your given authority for grandstanding. A simple warning with shaking the dust off the feet is sufficient.

Every detail of the mission Christ gave to the disciples was a lesson in sheer and total dependence on God. Humble ministry and modest lifestyle will set the best table for a proper focus on benevolent and compassionate ministry. Just as increased knowledge ought to be used to love better and show us how much we actually don’t know, so increased authority ought to be used to serve others better and show us how much power we don’t have so that we might continually seek after the God who possesses all power and authority.

The good news is that God’s infinite and supreme power is given and focused in the person of Jesus Christ, who in turn, graciously bestows the authority to his followers so that they may proclaim forgiveness and new life. It’s a big message requiring large authority. And Jesus freely gives it:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NRSV)

It’s enough to make old Lord Acton smile in his grave.

Eternal God, you call us to live with faith in a world filled with so many challenges. Help us remember our mandate and our mission to use our given authority properly, lovingly, and confidently with obedience to our Lord.

Teach us by your Word, through our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in our prayers to learn and understand what you would have us to be and to do, so that we may fulfil our calling as Christ’s Body here on earth.

Draw your church together into one great company of disciples, together following our Lord Jesus Christ into every walk of life, together serving him in his mission to the world, and together witnessing to his love, in the strength of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Matthew 20:29-34 – The Irony of the Gospel

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (New International Version)

“Irony” is a term used to describe when an outcome of an event is contrary or different from what is expected.  Here are a few examples: The firehouse burnt down. The police officer got arrested. When I was a little kid, my family doctor’s name was (and I’m not kidding) Dr. Fail. And he smoked like a chimney in his doctor office.

There is an ironic lesson in today’s Gospel lesson: A crowd of people with 20/20 vision are spiritually blind. 

The great need of the crowd is the same need of the two physically blind men: They both needed their eyes opened to Jesus and to what God was doing around them.

Just so you know, Matthew tends not to use the term “crowd” in a favorable way. He views the crowd as a mass of people who are mostly lost, but the crowd themselves tend to think they are just fine. 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, anticipating his passion and death. And we know that it is the crowd that will be the ones who eventually cry to have him crucified. 

Two blind men are marvelously and miraculously healed by Jesus. Ironically, the crowd remained unchanged and in the dark.

First Irony: A large crowd follows Jesus to Jerusalem, but only a few (2, in fact) are actually his followers. 

Throughout Christ’s earthly ministry, all kinds of people followed Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Some wanted to bask in the latest celebrity buzz that Jesus generated. Others wanted to see all the cool stuff he does, like healing people. Some were just plain curious. And a few were interested in being like Jesus by showing selfless compassion. 

Jesus wants genuine, authentic, real disciples who will follow his teaching, and not follow the crowd.

Many people desire to conform, to not stand out, and go with the flow. That’s great if the crowd is godly. Yet many, if not most, crowds of people are not godly. In the Old Testament, a few unruly complainers got the Israelites all stirred up and the result was the making of a golden calf with a complete turning away from the God of Israel. (Exodus 32:1-35)

Second Irony: Out of the massive crowd, it is two blind men that actually see Jesus for who he is, the Son of David.

Spiritual blindness afflicted the crowd. The blind men, however, discern it is Messiah Jesus coming near them. That’s why they go against the crowd by shouting out to him. They don’t care how they look. It doesn’t matter to them that they stick out like a sore thumb. 

Jesus often avoided big crowds. Most of his earthly life occurred away from the centers of power and influence.  Christ constantly swam upstream of the prevailing notions of righteousness. Jesus didn’t cow-tow to the crowd, but paid attention to the powerless and those without influence. 

The Lord Jesus didn’t “work the crowd” as the means of establishing God’s kingdom. He didn’t cozy-up to the rich and powerful. He wanted to avoid celebrity status. Jesus showed extraordinary love to two lowly overlooked people. He used his immense power for the powerless.

Third Irony 3: The ones following Jesus were the ones trying to keep the two needy blind men from Jesus.

One of the most ironic things about church is that sometimes Christ’s own followers are the greatest obstacle to others following Jesus. 

I can just picture a group of ladies shushing the two blind men: “Don’t bother Jesus, he is such a busy man. He has important work to do.” And I can imagine some men standing next to the two blind men and nudging them for shouting at Jesus saying, “Just stop, man, you’re embarrassing yourselves.” 

But the two men won’t stop. They shout all the louder. True and genuine faith is two blind men crying out in desperation for Jesus to help them. 

And Jesus asks a beautiful question: “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered, “We want our sight.” So, Jesus showed compassion and gave them their sight. It’s all rather simple and straightforward. Not only do the two men not listen to the crowd – Jesus doesn’t either. Christ mercifully heals despite what the crowd is saying.

I wonder: Why is it so hard for us to simply ask for what we want?… 

Maybe because we don’t want to buck the crowd, don’t want to look different, or don’t want to admit our need in front of others, we just stick to superficial conversations and insist everything is okey-dokey when it isn’t. 

A crowd of people may not be able to see others because they don’t even see themselves and their place in this world. Perhaps there is a plank in our own eye hindering us from seeing a speck in another’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

It is the pure in heart who will see God (Matthew 5:8). As for the crowd, though seeing, they do not see (Matthew 13:13). If we are concerned about how we will be seen by others, it is likely we will not be seen by God. And we will miss Jesus when he walks by, right in front of us.

Jesus was attentive to the two blind men out of all the people in the crowd because he was listening for them.

Once Jesus listened, he took the time to heal the two men. Jesus could have simply healed them without even stopping. He could have started a healing factory where everyone with a need just got healed, as if they were on some divine conveyor belt to be fixed.

However, Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving the blessing of time and personal response. The gospel is never impersonal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. It isn’t about simply meeting a need; it is about blessing other people. And that takes the time of relating to a person.

Jesus, furthermore, touched the men’s eyes. He didn’t have to do that. Christ could have healed without touching. In fact, it may have been gross. Many people had eye diseases with runny pussy eyes in the ancient world. 

Listening, taking time to be personal, and physically touching is how Jesus blessed people. So, we have the dual privilege and opportunity of receiving blessing from Jesus and giving that same blessing to others.

May the God of hope fill you with joy as you seek to bless others in the name of Jesus. Amen.