Commentary on Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11; Luke 15:11-32
[This is Week 3 of a 3-week preaching series on Sabbath.]
Week 3 (Sept. 1, 2019)
Preaching texts: Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11; Luke 15:11-32
Our Deuteronomy text is a striking illustration of the trust the Israelites are invited to live in. What a shift to go from many generations of slavery, to a generation of absolute and total dependence on God in the wilderness — both of these rigorous but fairly simple and very clear-cut ways to live — to now owning land, having power, shaping and living in a society with all the complications and messiness that brings. In case the wilderness manna wasn’t enough, in case the practice of resting every seventh day isn’t enough, God says every seventh year all debts will be erased.
God recognizes how insidious the mindset is, how sin creeps in and entices us to build ourselves up at others’ expense, to guard and protect our perceived worth and ignore others’ need. So, a clean slate every seven years ought to prevent the consolidation of power and the disempowering and dehumanizing of others. It ought to help them keep seeing each other as mutual caregivers, always belonging to each other and always able to help one another as God helps us. And it’s so pragmatic and honest — calling out the temptations before they happen — being tight-fisted and hard-hearted, resenting those in need as though they are taking something away from you.
There will never cease to be need upon the earth — no amount of vigilance or tireless work on our part could end the world’s need — so open your hand to the poor and needy. God is God and we are not. Therefore, as creatures of our Creator we’re invited to join with God in the ongoing meeting of one another’s needs. This is the way of freedom and trust.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is interpreted in lots of ways, but there’s a particular delight in seeing it through the lens of Sabbath. We are so tempted to measure, compare and earn our worth, that even those who are near to the Father, cared for in every way, feel threatened when someone else is shown grace. But grace is what we all exist within, claimed by God not because we’ve proven ourselves worthy, but because God is love. We are to abide in this love and find our joy there.
The younger son returns defeated, his efforts to define himself apart from and outside of the Father’s household are self-destructive and dehumanizing. He discovers he is loved and claimed simply for being a child of the Father. He is given a place, working alongside the father, in freedom and wholeness. The older son is invited into this same arrangement. But it’s harder to let go of the false idea that this place is earned when you’ve done such a comparatively and measurably good job of appearing to earn your place.
If the rules of this world are off the table, if we cannot assess our value and our standing by how productive, successful or good we are, the remaining grace and invitation to simply abide in the love that claims us can feel terrifying. Offensive, even. But we too can find ourselves shifted from slavery to freedom, awakened from death into life, feeling our joy made complete, and experiencing rest for our souls, if we can stop and let God meet us just as we are.
September 1, 2019