Luke 5.17-26, Joel 2.12-17, 2 Cor. 6.11-13, Mt. 6.6, 6.14-15
Our passage in the Gospel of Luke has several character witnesses: Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the crowds inside and outside the house, the inner circle of disciples, and the paralyzed man with his four friends (Luke 5.17-26). Each one has a unique heart condition, but I will only discuss the Pharisees and the teachers of the law as well as the friends of the paralyzed man. Let’s turn now to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and look at the inward heart attitude.
Jesus knew what [the Pharisees and the teachers of the law] were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?” Luke 5.22
The juxtaposition of Jesus and the Pharisees view of the Kingdom of God – meaning the Law verses Grace – offers insight for us on the kind of heart conditions were at play here. The Pharisees were an unofficial body of leaders in Israel, a kind of pressure group, and they were easily offended. In this story they have come from all over Judea, Jerusalem, and Galilee to check out this new prophet messing with their business: The Kingdom of God. In some ways they were busybodies. They believed they had the corner on the market of what it meant for God to bring his Kingdom to earth and that meant complete observance of the Torah. They believed that observing the law would create the conditions for God to act on Israel’s behalf. But Jesus presents a different spin on the Kingdom of God. Jesus offers the Kingdom of God to those who practice their faith. Faith becomes the catalyst for God’s power to bring forgiveness and healing.
This is extraordinary grace! Jesus has usurped the authority of the Temple and the Day of the Atonement ritual. Jesus has claimed the authority of the Son of Man, a figure in Jewish history that would lend to certain imagery of political power and hope for the future of Israel’s place among the rulers in the region once again (King). Jesus has claimed his authority as a priestly figure who could forgive the sins of the people apart from the Temple rituals (Priest). Jesus has acted in power to heal (Prophet).
Without the support of the local religious politicians who are desiring the people to return to their legalistic roots, Jesus turns on the grace! The paralytic received an inside physical healing work of grace and outside work of grace in his relationships with God and the community. When friends care about you, friends are willing to break all the rules to get you to the One who can heal you and restore you. Health problems drive us to seek God with hearts filled with emotions – sometimes good feelings about God and sometimes bad emotions toward God. However, the man who was unable to walk received a double blessing – the healing of his body and the forgiveness of his sins. What the Law could not do, Grace did.
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love… Joel 2.12-13
Rend your heart means to present for inspection. The concept of rendering our hearts means we lay ourselves bare before God and each other for inspection (Joel 2.12-17). As disciples of Christ Jesus we are often referred to as sheep even sheep that have wandered off or gone astray. The Good Shepherd tends his flock with great care. Ever so often the shepherd needs to tend to the needs of the flock. Lent is the time that we set aside in the church calendar year to offer ourselves for inspection with Almighty God.
Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians invites the people into a deeper, more profound relationship than they have yet to participate.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. 2 Corinthians 6.11-13
The word for “wide open” means open heart, hiding nothing, standing open with no secrets. This description that Paul uses describes a relationship that is at least on his part completely ready for a deeper relationship heart to heart. The part that Paul is offering of himself is his deepest emotions and his feelings of compassion without the obligation that they would ever pay him back this privilege of intimacy. The desire is for two way relationship of intimacy with church, family and with God. Paul urges his people to join him in unrestricted fellowship where both sides completely yield to the affections of and for the other. This deep fellowship is complete reciprocal yet Paul knows that he can only give his love to the people, and not take it. The invitation remains for an unveiled relationship to be established between Paul and the people. And, that is what Jesus desires for all relationships to become, particularly our relationship with God himself. At its best our relationship with God is filled with integrity, authenticity, and truth-telling. We hold nothing back in our fellowship with God.
Matthew stretches us further by pointing to the need for secrecy in prayer. We can discover a deeply personal fellowship with God most prominently in the secret place of prayer.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6.6
When we become so accustomed in our inner lives to times of personal prayer then our relationships with others grow from the blessing of being in the quiet time with God, and forgiveness becomes an overflow quality of secretive prayer.
For if you forgive others 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. Matthew 6.14-15
Those in our community may not even know when they offend us because we are so quick to forgive that it never hinders or interferes in our relationship with each other. What joy it is to live with brothers and sisters in the harmony of peace and forgiveness. Real living comes not in the daily ritual of practicing our faith but in extending unconditional grace to others. The daily ritual practices provide only the avenue or means of grace by which we participate in the grace that is in Jesus Christ.
Lent provides us the opportunity to intentional rend our hearts for inspection and throw open doors of our inner lives to grow more deeply in love with God and neighbor. Join me as we choose to sacrifice in order to gain a better understanding of grace. May grace abound in your heart more each day!