I come from a family that likes to hug. When our second child was born, our first son toddled up to my wife as she held the new baby. He looked at her and said, “Two babies, Momma. Two babies.” He wanted to be held, like many of us who have a deep down need to be embraced. As we age, we may resist those hugs, or our need to be embraced. We think we can handle things by ourselves. We want to be strong and independent. We think we don’t need that embracing nearly as much as we did before.
Sometimes we turn away because we realize we’ve made mistakes that we want to run away from. Sometimes in the course of life, we simply get too busy to be held and then grow accustomed to a more self-centered routine. Why do we refuse embraces so often?
On a hill overlooking Jerusalem one day, Jesus laments this refusal to embrace. Those God loves have refused to embrace God’s ways, God’s compassion, God’s justice to neighbors and the oppressed, God’s holiness and devotion. Jesus desires, like a mother hen, to embrace us all as God’s beloved. Through Jesus, God says, How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (v. 34).
This story saddens me, for I know how often I’ve refused the embrace that might make all the difference in my life. I lament with Jesus. I lament for all of us who refuse his embrace. But Christ’s offer to hold us never expires. Today is another chance. Today is a good day to be held.
Why do you think God wants to embrace your life? How can you be a more willing recipient of God’s love?
Lord, hold me today and help me feel the loving Presence I need in my life now. Amen.
Undaunted. We should probably associate this powerful word with Jesus more often. Consider all of the obstacles he faces: disciples who don’t understand him and sometimes try to hinder his work; opponents who try to trap him with every question they ask; political forces that want to squelch his movement that sets people free; fickle crowds who cheer him one moment and jeer him another; and individuals with hearts that are hardened to love. Saving the world is no easy task.
Yet Jesus is undaunted. He demonstrates a firm trust in the goals of his Father, the one he calls Abba. He knows that God’s way, as mysterious, surprising, and frustrating as it can sometimes be, is the only way to live. Jesus commits himself to this path. So despite the many obstacles and threats before him, he remains undaunted. He embraces God’s vision and lives it.
This passage foreshadows his cross. Twice, he notes the importance of three days. He mentions sacrifice, suffering, death, and life. He will not back down. Why? Certainly he shows trust in Abba’s plans. Love motivates him also—love for God, for God’s people, for you and me. Jesus will not back down. He will remain undaunted. Whatever we face, we have someone in our corner. Nothing will stop this mission of love.
Not even Herod, that fox, whose threats begin these verses of lament (v. 32). A ruthless ruler, Herod represents the powers of this world that attempt to hinder God. I almost feel sad for brother fox to have his name associated with such a scoundrel. Yet, the undaunted Jesus follows God’s path for Herod’s sake too. Such love. Such amazing grace. We have so much reason to hope in the undaunted Jesus.
What does the truth of an undaunted Jesus mean for your life?
Lord, thank you for not backing down and for demonstrating your amazing grace, even for someone like me. Amen.
The healing of the bent woman is a beautiful story of restoration. But just as the woman, who now stands up straight, begins to praise God, someone who thinks he’s honoring God dismisses her genuine worship. If we’re honest, this synagogue leader is not so different from us. He lives by religious rules and thinks that he is glorifying God by enforcing them. God has laid out a reasonable plan for living, he believes, and so he argues that all we have to do is get on board with it. Jesus was a threat to his worldview. If we’re still being honest, Jesus often upsets our way of seeing things.
The synagogue leader wants this woman to wait to be healed. Just one more day. Surely there’s no harm in that, he thinks. Of course, she’s been waiting a long eighteen years for this healing when Jesus meets her on the Lord’s Day. What better day is there for her new life to begin? What better day is there for any life, including the lives of those animals Jesus mentions (v. 15), to be unleashed and untied, to experience freedom?
Does the synagogue leader come around? Focusing on the rules for so long has made him miss the needs of the person right in front of him. And while rules are good for us when they provide boundaries, guidelines, and ways to measure our faithfulness, I’m thankful Jesus looks through them to focus on people who are bent, like this woman, like me and maybe you. God made rules to help people rather than harm them. That’s loving God’s plan. Even as I’m convicted to see myself in this synagogue leader, I find so much hope in this story. I’d like to think that all who hear Jesus’ response, both then and now, realize that love is the greatest law and the purpose of all the others.
What role do rules play in your walk with God?
Lord, help me seek the law of love for everyone I meet today. Amen.
Every time I hear this story I think of Peggy. She reenacted this passage for our church one Sunday. I recall her slowly walking into the sanctuary, bent forward as she told us about her encounter with Jesus. Then, with a smile, she straightened to her full height as she praised God for all God had done for her. That was a powerful moment of worship for me. Certainly, this encounter with Jesus is a physical healing, but it is much more than that. Luke tells us that this woman has been bent by a spirit (v. 11) for eighteen years. What would that have been like, to be bent in one’s spirit?
Life has a way of bending a lot of us. We may walk tall on the outside, but inside we are hurting, bent, maybe bitter or sad. Sometimes we express this in our body language with our slumped shoulders, slow gait, or the worried look on our faces. So many things seem capable of bending us, like betrayal, injustice, and broken relationships.
The good news is that Jesus wants to mend the bent places in our lives. He works to “unbreak our hearts,” as the Toni Braxton song goes. He leads us to more wholesome lives and invites us to experience great joy. He inspires us to stand tall against the wrongs that threaten the well-being of many. With God’s help, restored hearts can make a difference.
What needs to be restored in you today? Ask God to mend what is broken and to offer healing and help.
This story results in praise. May that be your story too.
What part of your spirit feels “bent over”? How will you express your need to God and invite God to help you mend?
God, touch the bent places in my life so that I might praise you again for the mending work of your grace and love. Amen.
Expectations matter. When ours are met or exceeded, that uplifts us. When something we expect fails to measure up, we deflate. I once expected a big toy truck for Christmas. When I ran to find it under the tree, and it wasn’t there, I felt forgotten. Until I was handed a red-ink letter from Santa, explaining why my truck was delayed! I treasured that letter for a long time.
God, who loves us, has expectations for us. In today’s passage, Jesus tells a story about an unproductive fig tree to describe God’s unfruitful people. The vineyard owner expects to find figs and Jesus expects those who worship to become a beloved community where justice abounds. He laments the lack of fruitful relationships and uses this parable to make his grief known.
I need to hear this passage. Maybe you do too. We find it easier to go through the motions with God than to do the hard work of digging deeply to nurture spiritual growth. Sometimes we need to evaluate whether we’re producing the variety of fruit that Jesus wants to offer our world. Jesus longs for the fruits of goodness and compassion to be plentiful. He envisions the bounty that grows from good works and caring for the least among us, the expansive orchard that is planted and tended through meaningful connections with God.
So, how is your garden growing these days? Is your life producing what Jesus looks for from each of us? God is a gardener who wants to tend to our growth. Like the gardener of the fig tree, God sees more potential within us than what may appear on the surface. Like the gardener pleading for more time, such is God’s mercy. Why does God wait on us? Our expectant God envisions who we can be. Bear fruit, oh fig tree, bear fruit.
What expectations do you think God has for your life today?
God, help me to bear the fruit you long to see in my life. Amen.
Is Jesus having a stressful day? His words are not what we normally expect from our loving friend. He speaks of repentance and judgment, old words that were much more common in another era of church life. Maybe we need to hear hard truths spoken with fire.
Of course, what’s up with the crowd? Their minds are fixed on terrible things—the mingling of blood and terror, disasters both human and natural. Maybe they’re trying to get their judgment right; maybe they ask to protect themselves. “Jesus, I know I’ve got a lot to work on, but the folks in those tragedies were surely worse sinners than we are, right? Just look at what happened to them.” The attitude that bad things happen to bad people reigned even then. Maybe pointing to the misfortune of others took their minds off their own insecurities. None of us is perfect and we all fall short, but there’s always someone else worse off.
Instead of engaging with them about degrees of sinfulness and pronouncing judgment, Jesus offers something much better. “Come home.” That’s what I hear him say. “Repent” can involve changing our minds. It can mean that we turn around and head in a better direction. Jesus invites his audience, including us, to do some soul searching. Instead of looking out there for answers, look inside. Hear the simple call offered to each of us: “Come home.” Come to God.
Whatever life hands us, Jesus offers us comfort and acceptance. Jesus offers us a chance to come home to God’s love that will bring us new perspectives and will refresh our often bruised and sometimes stained spirits. So, come home. God is ready to embrace us as we are, and that makes all the difference. Our entrance to a new world comes through that embrace of God.
How do you respond to Jesus’ call to repent? What does that word mean to you?
God, help us come home to you today and feel your embrace. Amen.
The writer of Psalm 15 asks God two questions: “O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” (v. 1). These questions resemble the two that the lawyer asks in Luke 10, beginning with “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). The lawyer, versed in the Torah, already knows the right answer. In response, Jesus tells him a story that will leave him with a second, tougher question to consider: Am I a loving neighbor to whoever I meet?
God makes it clear to the psalmist that those who abide with God will pray with all that is within them to have a right relationship with God and their neighbors. Eternal life flows from a converted heart that offers mercy to the wounded, the ignored, the tearful, the excluded.
God responds to the psalmist’s questions with a description of what a holy life looks like, emphasizing, as Jesus does, that living as a loving neighbor prepares one’s heart for worship. Likewise, worshiping in God’s tent creates space in the worshiper’s heart to receive God’s mercy and to show that mercy to others.
Our world makes it uncertain whether we will be able to worship in our usual physical sanctuaries forever. Like the psalmist, God assures us that God’s tent will move with us through our lives, inviting us to worship God wherever we are. God’s welcome will be with us forever. It will be for all people. It will never be moved.
Describe a time when loving your neighbor prepared you for worship. What did that experience teach you about how to love God?
God, wherever I am, you call me to acts of worship. In your mercy, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer”(Ps 19:14). Amen.
Kathleen Norris said, “It is in the realm of the daily and the mundane that we must find our way to God.” Brother Lawrence, a lay brother in a French monastery, would agree with her. Like every other monk who entered there, Lawrence committed himself to seven periods of prayer every day. But he found that sitting through the daily liturgy with his eyes closed was more difficult than he imagined. Though initially disappointed when he was assigned kitchen duty, Brother Lawrence discovered that his time among the pots and pans helped him pray. In this place where he felt at home, he learned to practice his devotion and know the presence of God.
Did Brother Lawrence ever feel like Martha does in this story? Did he ever complain about colleagues who crowded the kitchen after a meal, trying to get just one more of his renowned pancakes? Did the pressures of helping feed the monastery influence his prayers? Did tasks like picking the ripe tomatoes for the next day’s soup or scraping burnt corn off the pans before vespers make him whine, “There’s too much to do! If only I had help”?
Like Martha, I’m good at chasing distractions. In pursuing many things, I lose my focus. Frantically chasing the many weakens my attention, and even diminishes my love for the one thing that matters most—drawing near to Jesus. Mary didn’t let that happen; Martha couldn’t savor this gift of Christ’s presence until she walked away from all that distracted her.
Remember what the Samaritan did when he saw the wounded man? He “came near.” When Jesus calls us to “come near” whoever needs a neighbor, he’s asking us to come near him and leave our distractions behind.
What good things keep you from focusing on the most important thing?
God, with all that we deal with daily, may our priority always be paying attention to you, for you are always near. Amen.
“I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me,” Martin Luther King Jr. preached in a sermon on Luke 10 during a national sanitation workers strike. “It’s possible they were afraid . . . and so the first question that the priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?’ . . . But then the good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop by to help the sanitation workers what will happen to them?’”
Many translations say that the Samaritan “came near” the man. Frederick Buechner describes such empathy when he writes, “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin.” Compassion draws near.
Some call this story “The Parable of the Merciful Samaritan.” Mercy involves close proximity, strong kindness, courageous rescue, and extravagant generosity. This expansive word reflects a spacious heart. Luke’s lawyer, along with the Gospel’s audience, understands that the Samaritan is doing what God does. Showing mercy and being moved with compassion reveals who the real neighbor is.
Mercy is the heart of a church’s prayers. Mercy prompts our intercession when we call upon God’s nearness and steadfast love. Prayer gets into our bones and moves us from speaking words to becoming signs of God’s reign. Time after time, Sunday after Sunday, litany after litany, prayer after prayer, we ask, “Lord have mercy.” Because all of us are on a treacherous road, Christ have mercy. For all of us who need wine and oil poured on our wounds, Lord have mercy upon us. With God’s help may we all become neighbors in Christ.
When did you become a neighbor, and to whom? Who has been a neighbor to you?
Have mercy on us, God. Make us more than good; make us merciful. Beyond bloodlines and country and creed, beyond color and race and religion, beyond gender and status, make us signs of your mercy to all we meet. Amen.
As I left the subway station in Prague, I started looking at street signs and tripped on the cobblestone pavement. The next thing I knew, I was on my knees; my mouth and nose were throbbing, and my lip bled profusely. I was more than physically hurt. I felt frustrated with myself for falling. This was as far from home as I’d ever felt. I tried to regain my balance and composure as people hurried past. Some dropped me tissues. A few asked me questions in Czech but moved on when I couldn’t answer them.
Finally, a kind presence bent down beside me. Realizing I didn’t understand her language, she tried German, then French. I was relieved when I finally heard, “How can I help you?”
“I need some water and a telephone.” She helped me to my feet and led me back to the station where I washed my face and deposited her coins into a pay phone. She dialed the seminary for me. She led me down the escalator and accompanied me on the train back to the place where I’d started my day.
As we waited for my ride in the 27-degree chill, I asked her to write down her name and address. “Do you live near here?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I just wanted to make sure that you got back safely.”
This woman has taken on a mythical quality in my memory. When I was in a vulnerable place, she appeared out of nowhere and offered help. A merciful Samaritan in a winter coat and woolen gloves befriended someone she would never see again. I never hesitate to call her an angel of mercy, yet nothing she did was beyond the reach of everyday kindness. The remarkable thing about that kind stranger is that she saw a person in need and did not pass by.
Remember a time when you gave or received healing gifts like those the Samaritan gave, none of which is beyond the reach of everyday kindness.
God, help me tell you my need and receive your gifts with gratitude. Amen.