This week we continue the theme of what Jesus said about God.
Thus far Jesus has described God as Gardener, Pruner, Sower, Father, Investor in us of his “capital” which is love and the One who treats everyone equally. Big shoes that only God can fill! And so we go to the last teachings of Jesus about God: we are rewarded for following Christ, punished if we don’t. These sayings and parables echo similar passages in the Exodus story where God through Moses outlines how he will bless us if we follow his laws and curse us if we don’t.[Deut. 28]
Let’s look at these references. In Matthew 6:14-5 Jesus says that “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your father will not forgive your sins. There’s a quid pro quo to this saying: if we forgive others, we will be forgiven.
In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant[Matthew 18:21-35] a king forgave the debt of one of his servants when he was unable to pay, because he believed his servant’s promise that he would pay him back if the king were patient. That servant, in turn, contacted one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. When that servant couldn’t pay his debt, the first servant had him thrown into jail.
When other servants reported to the king what the first servant had done, he ordered the first servant thrown in jail because he hadn’t extended the mercy he had received to his fellow servant. We are expected to treat others as God has treated us.
In the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33ff[and Mark 12:1-9] a landowner planted a vineyard and rented it out to some farmers and moved to another place. He then sent his servants to collect his fruit. The tenants killed one, beat another and stoned yet another. Again he sent servants, and the same thing happened. At last he sent his son and they killed him, too. So those tenants came to a “wretched” end and the vineyard was rented out to other tenants.
Here are clear references to the prophets and to Jesus who were not only hated, but killed. God expects his messengers and especially his son to be treated well, but those who mistreat them will end up punished with a “wretched” end. Notice that he gave the tenants three chances, the last with his most cherished son.
In the parable of the Wedding Banquet a king prepared a wedding banquet for his son and sent his servants to tell the invitees that all was ready. But those who were invited sent their excuses; they couldn’t come. In the Matthew version(22:1-14) some even killed the servant messengers. The king sent his army and killed the murderers and burned their city.
Then the king told his servants to go out to the streets and to gather all the people they could find, the bad and the good. One man came not wear his wedding clothes, so he was thrown out. “For may are invited, but few are chosen,” says the text.
In the Luke version(14:15-24) the first invitees did not come, but they also did not kill the servants. But the man whose son was getting married sent the servants out to the streets and “bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”
Jesus told this parable while dining at the house of a Pharisee. He was clearly challenging the Pharisee and his guests by suggesting that they would be the ones too busy to come to the banquet, who would not recognize the authority of the man. So he invites all the rejects of the society, the ones who were not allowed into the temple to take their places.
In these six references it is clear that there are built-in good results in a person’s life if God’s law is followed and also built-in bad consequences for disobeying his law. I don’t see God who is giving everyone a chance to do the right thing coming after them in his wrath, riding in the chariot in the sky with his thunderbolt aimed and ready. Jesus is just describing what will happen if we are obedient and if we are not. I think we can see this in our own lives. When we treat others well and are not consumed with ourselves to the detriment of others, we see good accrue, especially in the form of being able to relax and enjoy our lives. If we aren’t following the law, abusing our neighbors, in any way through envy or greed or violation, then we build up a storehouse of paranoia from worrying that we’ll get caught, our consciences will not stop bothering us about what we’ve done; we will become more fearful and anxious and angry as time goes on. And more disengaged from God. We have created our own hell through our choices.
In the Exodus story it was the people who had left Egypt under God’s care who forgot what he had done for them in saving them from slavery and caring for them forty years in the wilderness –these were the people who had to die off before the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land. It was rebels that had no place in the kingdom of God. God is always looking for our obedience, not from fear of being punished, but out of our love for him. Then he opens up the grace and blessings for us. But if all he finds is our disinterest, our disdain and more, then he leaves us to the natural consequences of our actions which is a living hell.
In a summary of this week’s and last week’s post, here is how Jesus described God:
1) He is the Gardener/creator pruning our branches so that we can yield good and abundant fruit.
2) He is the Seed Sower who invites us to come to him throughout our lives.
3) He is our Father who meets our needs, physical, mental, and spiritual and answers our deepest hungers.
4) He Invests in us with his assets, peace, joy and love, plus our own gifts and talents—in hopes that we will shine the light of his kingdom here on this earth. He expects us to give to others what has been given to us.
5) He is Fair-minded; he treats every equally no matter how long they’ve been with him and rejoices in the latecomers and the long-timers.
6) He Trusts us, leaves it up to us where we stand with him. With our free will we can follow his laws—to love him with all of ourselves and our neighbors as ourselves—Jesus’ summation of the laws and the prophets—or we can choose to turn our backs on all that. Either way there is a payback, a return for our choices. We not only choose our choices, we choose the good or bad consequences, too.
I think that God and Jesus make it pretty clear in both the Old and New Testaments what happens when we follow God’s laws. From the Garden of Eden story of Adam and Eve disobeying God and getting thrown out of the Garden of Eden to the Exodus story in Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life….” From Deuteronomy to to John 15:6-8: If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I know God only from the Scriptures and what I’ve been taught about God? Or do I know God from my own experience of him? Which aspect of God is most real/essential to me? Gardener//Pruner? Inviter? Father? Investor in me? Fair-minded? The One who trusts me to come back to him even given my free will?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who know God in all his aspects/ all his dimensions. May we be led by God in all we do. May we love God with all of ourselves.
News from By the Waters:
All five of the videos about the Exodus story are up on YouTube. Here are the url’s to access them:
Part I: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKfouN0PNH0
Part II: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyvRsnqYrdg
Part IIIa: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZU32Y09UN8
Part IIIb: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHqKay89kjE
Part IV: www.youtube.com/watch?v=84z7KF_uv7Q
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.