NEVER STOP LEARNING 4-8-18
NEVER STOP LEARNING
April 8th, 2018
I just spent two days down in Springfield for Course of Study, a requirement for pastors in the United Methodist Church. I will going again the first Friday and Saturday in May. This is only the beginning of a series of studies that I will be pursuing during the coming years. This particular study is on the subject of Bible exegesis, which is the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. There are often levels of meaning in a passage of Scripture, that can escape from those who only read on the surface. While sometimes a person might read into Scripture something that is not there, because they want it to be there (and this is not a good thing), there are also times that we might neglect to see a deeper meaning that is there, either because we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to interpret and reveal all that is there for us, or because it is something we personally don’t want to be there (again, not a good thing).
The parables of Jesus illustrate this very well. In our first Scripture reading (Matthew 13:1-16) when Jesus was asked by His disciples why He spoke in parables, He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them”, and quoted the prophecy of Isaiah concerning those who would refuse to hear the truth. If you remember the parable of the wicked tenants that I included in my sermon on Good Friday found in Luke 20:9-18, about how the workers in the vineyard killed the servants the owner sent to collect his share of the fruit, including the owner’s son whom the Father was certain the tenants would respect, in verse 19 we read that “the scribes and chief priests realized that Jesus had spoken this parable against them”. They realized Jesus was saying something about them, but they didn’t know what. They didn’t realize He was saying that they would kill God’s son, even as they were already plotting to do so.
But when we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us as we read the Word of God, or hear it preached, we are often enlightened with revelations that we otherwise would have completely missed. We need only open our hearts and minds to hear what God wants to tell us, setting aside pre-conceived beliefs instilled in us either by our own desires, or those of other people.
The two parables I have selected as our second and third Scripture readings (Matthew 20:1-16 and Luke 15:11-32) are very familiar to most Christians. In the first, the initial reaction of most is the unfairness of the landowner in paying the same wage to the workers who worked for an entire day and to those who only worked for an hour. We think of ourselves and how we would feel as employees in a similar situation. Or we might resent those who have a deathbed conversion and ask Christ to save them in their final hour, when we have served Him all of our lives. But we neglect to see the deeper meaning. In the Old Testament there were many laws that the Jews were required to follow. However, these laws all pointed to one thing, the coming Messiah, who would fulfill the Law for us, and provide the final sacrifice to cleanse us from sin, which would enable us to enter heaven by grace alone, through faith. The Pharisees and teachers of the law did not want their people to be relieved of their yoke of bondage, the heavy burden they were required to carry, and the sacrifices they were required to bring to the temple. Nor did they want to see the Gentiles receive salvation without having to submit to all their religious law required. They thought since they had to work through the heat of the day by strict adherence to the Law since they were young, they should not be made equal either to a Jew who becomes a Christian, or even less to a Gentile saved through grace. What can we learn from this? None of us, Jew or Gentile, deserves God’s salvation. We, as Christians, are only saved by grace, not by works (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus salvation is an equal gift to all sinners who come to Christ, no matter what ‘time of the day’ they receive Him. If our Lord calls us, as the landowner called the workers, we should rejoice that we are called, and not look on our fellow Christian with envy or contempt. We each will be rewarded for our service if we do well with the work that we are given to do. There is a parable for that, too – the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.
Our third Scripture reading, the parable of the Prodigal Son, shows the love and mercy of God towards those who have strayed, and His desire that they come home, similar to the parable of the lost coin or the lost sheep. Most often it is used to illustrate this concept - that no matter what you have done, what sins you have committed, or how far you have wandered from the truth, God will forgive you and welcome you back into his family if you return to him realizing the error of your ways, and repenting of your sins. But when another pastor recently preached on this parable at Evenglow (Rev. Canessa Lagan) during chapel service, she asked everyone if they knew what the unspoken ending of that parable was. The unspoken ending? I had never thought about it. The pastor looked out at all the confused faces, and said that after the party the older son killed the father. Say what? And then I thought about it. Most often the part about the jealous older son is downplayed - the son who had served his father all his life and didn’t think it fair that the prodigal son who squandered his share of the inheritance should be welcomed back in such an extravagant manner. Just like in the first parable I referenced, the older son represented the Jewish leaders, who didn’t think the landowner was being fair. The older son also was the Jewish leaders symbolized by the wicked tenants in the parable you heard on Good Friday who plotted and killed the Son the landowner sent to them. But because the parable of the prodigal son speaks of a father, we don’t automatically think of Jesus. However, didn’t Jesus himself say, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30)? And, of course, the younger son is the Gentiles, or even Jews who had strayed from the faith, who come to Christ for redemption, and whom Jesus is overjoyed to welcome home. For Jesus told us that He will never turn away anyone who comes to Him (see John 6:37), no matter who it is or what they have done.
Yes, we all need to keep learning. We need to pray when we read the Scriptures or hear them being preached, that God would “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth you have for me”, just as we sang in our second hymn. For as Albert Einstein once said, “The moment you stop learning, you start dying”. Amen.