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Lenten Devotion 9, Third Sunday

Luke 15: 1-32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (15:1-2)

The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling against Jesus. Well, there is nothing new about that. If there is anything you can expect from the Pharisees and scribes, it is that they will be grumbling. But it is significant to notice that this is exactly the same word that was used way back in Exodus, when the Israelites were grumbling, or sometimes translated as murmuring, against Moses. Back then, the Israelites were grumbling because they resented their freedom. They resented the responsibilities that came with freedom, such as providing for themselves, learning to live in community, and being accountable to one another and to God.

The Pharisees are resisting Jesus for exactly the same reasons. They have become enslaved by their interpretation of the law, allowing it to become more important than God’s own dearest desire for them. More important than freedom. The Pharisees would rather remain in bondage than embrace a freedom that would include “outsiders” and “undesirables.” If Israel’s freedom includes responsibility and accountability, the Israelites don’t want it. If Christ’s freedom includes sinners, the Pharisees don’t want it. Like the lawyer in Luke 10, the Pharisees want to control the Kingdom. They want to be in charge of who is in and who is out.

How often we want to dole out God’s judgment to others, without taking it on ourselves! But God’s judgment is for everyone. And God’s judgment, as it turns out, is acceptance, forgiveness, and love: God’s only Son, born into the world. Even the Israelites who murmured against Moses were brought into the promised land. Even the Pharisees were included in Jesus’ final words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Prayer: Forgiving God, You open Your arms wider than I can see, and welcome all to Your table. Give me the wisdom to accept freedom on Your terms, and the strength to push open the doors of Your Kingdom. Amen.

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