Gospel Priorities w/ Rex Dela Pena
Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.
I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and I’m delighted to welcome this month’s guest, Rex Dela Pena. Rex graduated from Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas in 1994 and became a ministerial trainee in the Philippines. Right after graduation, he served as the national youth ministry coordinator and directed S.E.P. [Summer Educational Program] youth camps for 15 years.
He was ordained as a minister of the gospel in 1999, and now serves in the capacity of leadership development coordinator. Last year, he finished his MA in transformative spirituality from the Asian School of Development and Cross-cultural Studies. He is working on his PhD, (man, what an overachiever!) with an emphasis on postmodern Filipino counseling, particularly in formation, prayer, and spiritual direction.
He resides in Baguio City with his wife, Sheila, and they have been married for 24 years. And I have known Rex since 1990. So, we go a long way back. I love my brother. Yes, we are getting old, my man, but it’s so fun to have this conversation with you today. Rex, thank you for joining us. Welcome to the podcast.
And for those in our listening audience, who may not be familiar with you, we’d love to know a little bit about your story. Tell us about Rex.
Rex: Yeah, thank you, Anthony. I’m based here in, in Baguio City. And you’ve been here, I think in 2016. And it’s great to be here.
It’s great to be in a place where you can really help people and in the process, get to understand your own journey as well. And like what we talked about before, I am what you would call a lover of dogs. Yes. And you mentioned that I was able to finish my master’s in transformative spirituality, but I was telling Sheila that the other half of the diploma should go to my Labrador, Skippy, because he would always attend the zoom classes with me.
Anthony: Did he learn a lot in the process?
Rex: I think he enjoyed sleeping a lot.
Yeah, that it. I’m looking forward to hearing more of these stories with you when you and Elizabeth come over here.
Anthony: We’d love to come back. We had such an amazing experience. Not only with you and Sheila, but all the brothers and sisters in the Philippines. It was just one of those experiences that we will remember for a lifetime, and you were a great host.
And by the way, you have a fantastic laugh and hopefully that’ll come out as we have this conversation here today. It’s one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard.
Let’s get to the passages. We have four pericopes to unpack together:
Luke 14:25-33 “Gospel Priorities” Proper 18 (Sept 4)
Luke 15:1-10 “Lost and Found” Proper 19 (Sept 11)
Luke 16:1-13 “Trustworthy” Proper 20 (Sept 18)
Luke 16:19-31 “The Chasm Within” Proper 21 (Sept 25)
Anthony: I’ll read our first pericope, Luke 14:25-33. It’s from the New International Version. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 18, in Ordinary Time, on September 4.
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Now Rex, Jesus here has a very interesting way of recruiting disciples by telling them the ways they cannot be his disciple. What do you make of this high calling Jesus gives us as disciples?
Rex: It’s very different from how our leaders would recruit people to follow them. Whereas here, if Jesus is recruiting people and he’s laying down all these qualifications or criteria, the immediate response of people may be – perhaps people who are reading this now, they’re like, man, he’s making it really difficult for me to follow him! Especially, he says, if anyone comes to me and does not hate. A lot of people would need to understand why it was worded that way. It says if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife, children; it’s hate everybody including yourself.
But no, but we can understand that this is not about your emotion. It’s about your attitude. It’s about your mode of action toward the people you care most about. It doesn’t mean that you hate them. We read in Matthew 10:37 – Well, Matthew 10:37 softened that line. And for us, we understand it now as to love them less, that Jesus is your number one priority.
Of course, you love your parents, your brothers, your family, but that relationship, all of the relationships we have, they take second priority. Jesus is going to be our all in all.
And this is a very challenging criteria because come to think of it, many times we are torn between what we need to take care of – our priorities, our plans, our goals, but Jesus Christ here is telling us that we need to make that choice.
We need to make that commitment. That part of it is counting the cost and it cost that much to follow Jesus. Remember here, large crowds were traveling or following him. And then Jesus turned around and said, “Hey, if anyone wants to follow me, do this. Or unless you do this, you cannot be my disciple.”
And I’m just wondering, how did they react? What! You’re making it more difficult for us to follow you.
But now we can understand that when we consider being a follower of Jesus, we really need to count the cost. What are we doing? What are we going to prioritize? What are the things in our lives that we need to sacrifice or to let go?
Anthony: It’s interesting to me, Rex, that as we think about this passage, Christologically, Christ-centered, Jesus is never asking us to do something that we don’t see inherent in him. In other words, in his own journey on earth, we see him doing these very things he’s saying with his own family. Many of his own family members didn’t believe him in terms of who he was, but he, in obedience to the Father, went to his death, even death on a cross. And that had to be painful for his own family, but his priority was the Father’s priorities for his life.
And I think we see what he’s saying, in reality in Jesus, don’t we?
Rex: Yeah. And whoever does not carry their cross… just like what you said, Jesus did not say these things as if it was something that he wasn’t going to do. He did. He carried that cross, and he’s calling us to do the same to consider the spiritual sacrifice.
It’s like marriage, you don’t approach it haphazardly. You really think about it. What can I give? How can I really follow through with my commitments? What do I need to realign or reorder in my life or reenter in my life so that I can do this?
And the example here of building a tower, estimating how much money it would cost to complete it, or even a king going to war – it’s just us being mindfully aware of the cost. Because we really need to understand that we need to count the cause in the light of who Jesus is as well. That he is the God who never gives up, despite all the challenges we may face, despite the discouragement we may face. We can count all those things, but we can be encouraged knowing that we are not alone, that Jesus Christ is the one who’s leading us, is taking care of us. He’s our victory in all of these things. And that’s why we cannot follow him on our own. He’s the one who strengthen us, who is strengthening us to follow him and to even follow through in those commitments.
Anthony: You’ve mentioned counting the cost several times now. And I’m curious – we know that all Scripture points to Jesus. He said so himself as he was walking with the brothers on the Emmaus road. I’m curious, how can we interpret counting the cost in light of the God revealed in Jesus Christ?
Rex: If we can understand or even just reflect on what Jesus did, how much sacrifice he offered so that we can totally understand the depth of his love.
And his sacrifices will always point to us the victory has been won for us. It’s a done deal. We just need to appropriate in our lives all the things that have been promised for us and walk with courage that we’re not doing this out of our own strength. It’s him. It’s Jesus Christ sustaining us.
We count the cost. In other studies about this word, I heard a pastor said counting the cost would also mean bringing along our unlikeness, how far we are from the image of Jesus, bringing all of these things, our imperfections, all our brokenness, bring them all as we follow Jesus Christ. Because in the process of following, in the process of obeying and surrendering, we become transformed into his image.
Anthony: Yeah. Bring our whole self; that is what courage is. Wholeheartedness – our whole self. So, as I think about this per Rex: following Jesus is walking as he walks by the Spirit and sometimes, we call that discipleship. And I’m just curious as you exegete this passage, what really is discipleship about?
Rex: For me, discipleship is following Jesus. It’s about surrendering our relationships to him. Discipleship means giving up anything that takes precedence over Jesus Christ in my life. That means anything that gives me identity or security because he is to be my all in all.
And, this is not predicated upon my ability to do all those things, but I’m reminded of Philippians 1:6. It’s the deeper realization that Jesus has already started to work in us. And he will be faithful to complete it.
It’s about walking a daily walk with Jesus, asking Jesus, what do you want me to do today? Or where do you want me to join you? What are you telling me today? Or what do I need to surrender to you? What do I have to give? And it’s a real intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and it’s not … Discipleship, sometimes people get a little triggered with the word discipleship, because it can mean for many people a very structured program.
It’s about following Jesus. It’s about knowing him. It’s about experiencing him. When we pastor say, the Lord loves you, that for us is an experiential reality for us, rather than a theological concept.
So yeah, it’s a daily walk: Jesus, lead me today. Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? Use me in according to your divine pleasure. Use me. Make me a vessel or whatever you can do.
Anthony: Yeah. There is a big gap, is there not, between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus, relationally?
And we think about the triune persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. They’re persons – as in they’re personal, so of course the walk is going to be personal, is it not?
And I appreciated what you said. Sometimes we can be so structured. And structure matters; don’t get me wrong. But we can be so structured that it almost squeezes the life out of just walking with him in the cool of the evening, harkening back to Genesis and just talking with the Lord in that way. So yeah, that’s good. Thank you, Rex.
Let’s move on to our next passage. It’s going to be Luke 15:1–10. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 19 and Ordinary Time, which is September the 11th.
Rex, would you read it for us please?
1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Anthony: There goes that Man again, Rex, eating with sinners and welcoming them! What does this tell us about this God that we see in Jesus?
Rex: From this passage, it’s all about people or things being lost and being found and rejoicing for what was lost and now found. The tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus.
And what this passage tells us is that Jesus is a God who is not intimidated by sinners. In fact, he reaches out and welcomes them. The woman finding the coin, the shepherd finding the one, leaving the 99 – and what that tells me is that we are all valuable to him, that he’s willing to search for us.
(And one person said, if he’s willing to leave the 99, the shepherd’s making the 99 feel so unsafe, but that’s another altogether study on the cultural background of the time.) But the fact that Jesus Christ or that shepherd is willing to really go out and to really search for that one sheep or that one coin tells me that Jesus is really showing how loved we are.
We are important. We are valuable in his sight.
Anthony: I’ve heard it said that if Jesus didn’t dine with sinners, he would always eat alone. And so, I’m glad he welcomes me and eats with me and certainly is my sustenance on a day-to-day basis.
Rex: And the imagery of him eating with sinners, that is a powerful image of him being able to relationally accept them. They are loved. I’m just trying to put myself in a situation where, for example, I have made a huge mistake, or I have offended the person or something. And then this person would still ask me out or [say] let’s eat, let’s share a meal. That would communicate so much love. That would communicate forgiveness. That would communicate, Hey, everything is going to be alright. Eating together is such a powerful image of a community and [unintelligible] for a sinner to be eating with Jesus that’s — man! I’m ready to be in that banquet.
Anthony: Yes. Yes. Amen and amen. I’m getting the imagery in my mind, Rex, about the condescension of Jesus. Meaning, in his incarnation, he came to us; he came into the far country. And to sit down and dine with us is to, in one sense, to condescend. But that’s what love does.
It’s much like a parent getting down on the floor with their young child and playing with them. You condescend because love goes downward, if you will. And thanks be to God, that’s who he is!
And therefore, I think Jesus would say, go and do likewise. Not out of a, hey, this is a legalistic perspective, but this is what love does. And that’s all God can do, is act out of who he is. And he is love. And therefore, that’s why we see this imagery of the shepherd with the sheep.
So, tell us more. What would you want pastors, preachers, and teachers, and Bible students to know about the parable of the lost sheep?
Rex: I’d like to highlight verse 5 and when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder. I could just visualize here the sheep is too weak to return on its own.
And there are times when we as pastors need to understand that some of our friends, some of the people in the church may have, (I put it in quotes) may have lost their way, and they feel too weak or too embarrassed or feel too guilty to return on their own.
But Jesus Christ is modeling for us that there is so much joy when one lost is found and there is a (it’s in that passage) there’s a glaring contrast with the religious leaders who grumbled, but Jesus Christ is showing us the intense joy of someone being brought back. That’s why it’s consistent in the three parables, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the idea of searching.
There was this song, Anthony. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this song. It’s called, “When God Ran.” Have you heard of that?
Anthony: I have.
Rex: And the idea that God is searching; God is looking and the idea that we have been found. And many times, we cannot [accept it.] Maybe out of shame, out of guilt, out of our weaknesses, we feel as if we don’t deserve to be brought back or whatever situation we may have right now where we feel we are not worthy to be loved or to be accepted.
Then the idea of the shepherd placing the sheep on his shoulder. I would like to imagine that’s me being the sheep, and Jesus Christ carrying me on his shoulder when I feel lost, when I don’t know what to do, when I feel alone or I feel rejected, when you question your worth. I don’t belong to the hundred and they’re the 99. They’re the good ones. And I’m the bad one here. I didn’t make the cut.
But Jesus Christ is always ready to welcome us back. And not only that, when we are too weak, just like this shepherd, he lays it on his shoulder. I would like our listeners to understand it. Jesus Christ is always ready to pick you up.
Jesus Christ is always ready and willing because that’s how much he loves us. And there are times when we look at what we have done or the output of our hands, and we look at ourselves as not enough. Jesus Christ is always willing.
And that there’s an intense joy. Could you imagine a God who delights in you? Especially when you are not (I’ll put it quote here) you are not performing how some people would feel that they need to earn the grace, or they cannot accept fully the grace. That’s why they feel as if they still need to do something so at least they were able to have a share in whatever they’re enjoying right now in terms of the relationship with Jesus Christ.
Anthony: As I’m looking back over verse 5, Rex, Jesus joyfully puts the lost sheep on his shoulder. And I’ve mentioned this story in a previous podcast, but it bears repeating.
At the time of this recording, my wife, Elizabeth, and I just visited with her parents in West Virginia over the weekends. Jim and Sandy are their names. And Elizabeth’s favorite story to tell from her childhood is when she got lost at a church festival. There were thousands of people there, and it took her parents and the extended family quite a while to find her. And you can imagine the fear that was creeping up in her parents. We’ve lost our girl, our baby girl, the youngest of two. And they finally found her, and her dad took her into a room, and everybody thought that’s where she was going to get punished because, how dare you run off from us? Why weren’t you paying attention?
And she loves telling that her dad knelt down to look her in the eye and said, “Everybody expects me to punish you. But I’m just so glad I found you!” And he hugs her.
And you can imagine, even for a young girl (as Elizabeth was at the time), how much that taught her about a father’s love. And ultimately points to our heavenly Father who loves us with an intensity that goes beyond any earthly father. So, I just think that kind of bears or highlights this reality that God just rejoices to carry us home.
Rex: And let me add, as pastors, as ministry workers, or as under shepherds, I pray that through the Spirit, we may participate in the heart of God for those who still need to really know him. May we have that welcoming spirit of Jesus towards people who struggle. People who may have stumbled.
People who may have messed it up, who may have messed up their lives, or simply people who may not have it all together. It’s basically all of us anyway. And may we share in the joy, (the passages there says intense joy.) May we share in the joy. Celebrate when one who has been lost has been found.
Anthony: What else would you encourage preachers and teachers to focus on from this passage, if anything?
Rex: Our encouragement is Jesus alone.
I remember someone said, I’ve been preaching sermons for 30 years, and it seems that nothing’s changed. Their lives are not changed.” And this preacher basically asked: is worth it?
And the encouragement that he received was, yes, because it’s the work of Jesus. Jesus is really happy when we preach in and out of season for those people who are struggling, and we preach the message for people who are doing well in their lives and those who are down and out.
But there is a call for us to really go for those who are hurting, those who are feeling lost. And this is a very difficult task sometimes because there are times when the people who need help the most are the ones who will reject us first. But if we can also share in the passion of Jesus, in his love, in searching for these people and making them feel loved and welcome despite all of these challenges, I think that’s the encouragement – that we have Jesus.
And there are times when we may feel like we’re not able to help a lot of people who are hurting, but being able to simply participate in that, even experience how Jesus would bring a person back, how Jesus would heal and renew and transform. We’re just invited to join. And then in the process, really see the wonderful works of his hands in transforming the lives of so many people, sheep who are lost and being carried.
And I am just imagining the story you shared about Elizabeth. And because back in the day, it was really all about being disciplined, right? Your steps are measured. I remember when you were more scared of the ushers. But I could just imagine where people expected Elizabeth’s dad to really be harsh.
And I think that’s a very powerful story. Many times, people in general had that impression that God is like that. That he’s angry, that he is very exacting, that he is watching over a shoulder to see if we are checking off the right list.
Anthony: It’s a good word. I’m encouraged by this. Isn’t it beautiful how the Spirit ministers to us through Scripture? We can get so familiar with some of these parables and stories of our Lord, and yet to be refreshed and renewed once again by Scripture is such a beautiful thing.
Let’s transition to our next pericope, which is Luke 16:1 – 13. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 20 in Ordinary Time, which is on September the 18th.
And it reads,
1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Verse two tells us, Rex, to give an account of your management. What my experience is, most people dread hearing come to the principal’s office or we need to talk, or the boss wants to see you, man.
It can just elicit anxiety right away. So, why do we fear being held in accounts?
Rex: Because there is a big part of us that feels we are not able to measure up. When you’re called like that, we fear being held in account. What did I do wrong? We’re focused on my mistake or what did I miss?
Because usually when we are called by our superiors, especially in that tone of a voice, oh, it’s, “Give me an account of your manager.” So, I think it’s by default that we look at ourselves as not good enough. So, when someone ask us about something, whether it’s a report, or it’s a computation, or it’s a whatever we’re supposed to finish, or a project, and there is that fear. Is this good enough? Is this something that’s possible?
I’m a student right now, and I think you are too right, Anthony?
Anthony: I am. Yes.
Rex: Yeah. So, when you turn in your paper, and you look at your paper and you try to see the comments. And I remember even in college where you look for the red marks. You look for the encircled sentences.
And then no matter how well you have done sometimes, that one little red mark could really throw you off. So, no one’s going to say, Hey, come on, call me and ask me for an account of your management.
If you are a fiscal manager, just like what we have in this passage, he knew he was going to find out. He knew he’d be caught wasting the money of his boss. But what’s amazing here is that he was commended. And that’s why this parable really needs to be studied well, because if you just read it, your first reading would be like, what? You’d be asking, what? This is a dishonest steward, and yet he’s being commended?
It doesn’t make sense. What’s interesting here is that in Luke 16:8, the sons of this world. And there’s a comparison, the sons of this world and the sons of light. It’s a distinction. I think it’s a Jewish category of delineating good people. The good question that we need to ask is, why was he commended or why was he commended after all these things?
It’s getting clearer here that he was commended for his foresight. He was not being commended for his wickedness, but for his foresight to take care of his earthly future. And there is that call for us. I think I’m answering the second question here, but there is the point where we as Christians need to be as determined, as focused when we consider our life in eternity. Our eternal life needs to be as determined, needs to be very focused on our priorities, of making sure that our lives become an expression of who we are in Jesus.
Anthony: Yeah. I think sometimes accountability is seen in a negative light, but accountability is not persecution. The Lord wants us to grow up into the head who is Christ, to mature in him. And we always go back to the question: Who is God? Who is Jesus, who is the Spirit, who is the Father?
We realize in giving an account of ourselves (as you’ve already vividly and very eloquently talked about the love of God), there’s nothing to fear in being held in account. We will all give an account. And I think on some level, it is going to be excoriating — not because God doesn’t love us, but we’ll see and be thankful for what God has done for us to wipe the debt. So, in that way, I long for it.
But this is interesting, Jesus talks so much about fearing not, because he knows us. He’s human, and he knows what the human experience and condition is like. So, we’re going to have fear, but the more that we focus on our Lord, that fear begins to slowly dissipate and know that he has given an account for us, and his account says that he loves us. Hallelujah praise God for that.
The scripture goes on to say that no slave can serve two masters. And I hear that a lot. Sometimes it’s preached well sometimes, not. What is the big deal and how can we think through that statement?
Rex: Yes. I think for me, if I’m going to explain this to a person right next to me, I would begin with asking, what’s the most important thing in your life? Because Jesus is making that contrast between serving God and serving mammon. And he’s the one who already told us that you cannot serve both God and money.
He’s already telling us. And Jesus is talking about what we serve or what we worship. Clearly, some people serve money, but we are very much encouraged to really think again and ask. We are to serve God. We need to be making sure in our hearts that we are not serving mammon and money.
And the question is, so how can you tell? How can people serve money? Because typically we’ll just say, I own it, I spend it, I’m not serving it. But when we see it as having its power over us, when we see money as a source of our security, a source of things that we want, we need, when people work so hard to obtain it and treasure it, of course, and all of these things would indicate that money is worthy of all my energy, my time, and my attention.
And there are times when money is looked at as security for the future, or even as something that’s very essential.
There’s so much fear going on in the world right now. And what’s the first thing that a lot of people could think is: I will be unscathed if I have all these riches to protect me. That’s how people serve money when money becomes everything for them.
But the next question would be: how much do we value our relationship with God? How do we look at God? Is he really our security? Is God really a source of all things that we need and want? Do we treasure him? Are we so compelled by his love for us that all of the things that we have – time, money, talent, possessions, and all that – are offered to him?
Anthony: That’s a good word. And a very relevant word for our time, Rex. Thank you.
Our final pericope is Luke chapter 16:19 – 31. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 21 and Ordinary Time, which is September 25th.
Rex, read it for us, please.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Anthony: Rex, I mentioned in a recent podcast that when we come to parabolic teachings, we have to come with an open mind. Often, you’ll hear people say this parable means such and such clearly. And I think, clearly? I’m not sure.
So, let me ask you this – rich man and Lazarus (let’s first start with the gospel), where do we see good news in the preaching of this text?
Rex: There is that connotation where people think in their minds that you are blessed by the Lord when you have riches, that being rich or having all these goods that you are enjoying in your life right now would indicate being loved more by God, being blessed more by God.
And those like Lazarus – who’s begging, covered with sores, he’s basically longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table – that they are not loved by the Lord. They are way too far from the blessings that God could give to anyone.
Anthony: In thinking about that Rex, I’m struck how the rich man is still trying to get Lazarus to serve him in this “us and them” context, which we love to do that as human beings, don’t we? To put people in a category and think they’re less than and they’re more than.
But Jesus’ teachings seem to invest so much time describing the difference between wealth and poverty, rich and poor. And of course, as you just pointed out, it turns things on its head, upside down. Who we think are blessed, really might be standing alone in darkness in a way that they don’t recognize.
So why do you think Jesus invests so much of his time talking about the rich and the poor?
Rex: Because it’s easy for wealth or riches to take our attention, our centered-presence or awareness. It’s easy for wealth to become a God in our lives, whereas poverty being poor and being deprived of these things that this rich man is enjoying can open our hearts to the reality of how much we need the Lord, how much we are dependent on him for everything.
So, there is that danger. Jesus is talking about the dangers of wealth. And the difference between earthly wealth and heavenly – if I may say heavenly – wealth.
And it’s easy for the wealth that we may have accumulated to be our sense of security and even our identity, even our source of pride. Even entitlement – that’s why this rich man said, have pity on me, but please send Lazarus. He’s still a slave, he’s still a beggar, so send him because I can’t take it. I can’t take it anymore. Or okay, since you won’t ask him to do what I’m requesting you to do, but can you just at least send him to my family? It’s still, do it for me. A rich person has so much entitlement that they can just send people, use people to do their bidding.
And it’s very interesting, when we look at this passage talking about there’s the bridge across the chasm and when the rich man said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. Abraham responds, If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from of the dead.
For me, the point of this parable, this is not about the portrayal of heaven and hell. We really need to be careful not to just use this passage as such. But it’s judgment against the leadership of the time, even perhaps the selfish, rich people of all times. And the focus here is that in Jesus Christ, the son of God, he has always been reconciling the world to himself.
He’s the one who can cross that bridge from here to us or from us to you. He’s the only one who can cross that bridge and reconcile us – not our wealth, not our poverty.
Anthony, I’m going to have to give you a little bit of context here. Sometimes in our culture here [in the Philippines], the thinking is that you can even use your money to gain favor, to ask God for favor, but it’s not that. It’s not your money.
Or a person who is the outcast of society can use his situation as even a form of entitlement. See, I have nothing in this world, so you’re supposed to bless me now. If you’re God, if you love me, then you’re supposed to bless me. But it’s not that. It’s about him reaching out to us. It’s about him bridging, crossing the bridge for us.
Anthony: Yeah, he is the vicarious man who did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Hallelujah, that he is the one who entered into the far country and took us with him to the Father.
And I can’t help [but think] as I’m hearing you talk and looking at this passage again, just how wealth can blind us to the reality of how things are! Lazarus is still looked down upon, but the rich man, he’s not in a great place, but he can’t even see it really. He thinks things are still the way that he imagines them to be.
And that’s part of the myth, as you talked about earlier, that wealth means blessing from God. But if that’s the case, Rex, then Jesus himself, wasn’t blessed. If we’re going to use that metric — because he was born to a peasant family, born in a manger, probably amongst the animals, just in a poverty situation.
But he was blessed. And so, once again, the kingdom of God turns things upside down. Let me ask you this, Rex, is there a warning here for us beyond what you’ve mentioned so far?
Rex: For me, the warning in this teaching is that we really need to be aware that anything in our lives can distract us from our relationship with Jesus Christ. And particularly here, wealth.
And Anthony, I live in a third world country, and we send overseas Filipino workers by the thousands every day. And that’s for people to just be able to provide for what their family needs. But when we look at the people and categorize them according to the accumulation of wealth, and then use that as a determining factor for us to say whether they’re blessed or not, we really need to be very careful with that.
And that even goes [for churches], if I can use that analogy, as well. Because churches need to be careful with this mindset as well, where we look at megachurches and we look at everything that they have. And then we look at what we don’t have or what’s happening in our churches. And then we begin to question Lord, how come they seem to be more blessed than us?
It’s the same thing. It’s just taken in a community context. How come they have a nicer auditorium, where we meet in a non-descript place. They have all these wonderful instruments, and we only have one acoustic guitar. We need to be careful that we are not using wealth as the standard to measure God’s love for us.
Anthony: Yes. Amen. And amen brother. That was an important word to end on. God does not despise the day of small things. Does he? And often our churches are small and when I say ours, I’m talking, every denomination. The average church size is small. And I liked what you said about sometimes we meet non-descript places; it doesn’t look like the most attractive thing to enter into, but Jesus is the attraction, right?
When the love of Christ is made manifest in the community of believers, it is attractive. And people are longing for community. To commune with some relationship, and that we have in spades as we continue to surrender to the personal God who loves us so tenderly and yet, so fiercely in Jesus Christ. Hallelujah.
My brother Rex, I am so grateful for you. Thank you for joining us on the Gospel Reverb Podcast. This has been a blessing. We’ve been longtime friends, and I’m so grateful for that and long for our paths to cross again. But thank you, brother.
Our tradition here is to end in prayer, and so, Rex, if you’d be willing, would you pray over our listening audience?
Our triune God, we are ever so grateful for who you are and how you move in ways we may not fully comprehend in our lifetime. Thank you for the parables you’ve given us. Thank you for the word. Thank you for the illumination. Thank you for the discussion such as this, because we’re able to share and flesh out some of the details, the nuances that can shed light on the things that we need to hear and have those seeds planted in our hearts.
Thank you that you love us all. Thank you that we are special in your sight. Thank you that you are willing to reach out to us. Thank you that you have loved us even before we became aware of the concept of love. Thank you that you are walking with us. You are renewing us. You are showing yourself to us. You are allowing us to hear your voice in the different circumstances in our lives. So that again and again, we come to the realization of how loved we are, how much you are embracing us, how much you are just growing us so that we may fully experience your grace, even in the most ordinary ways in our lives.
God, would you bless the hearers of this podcast. Would you open their hearts to receive? And Holy Spirit, I pray that you’ll just continue to reveal the rich riches of your word to everyone, particularly to those who will be speaking and explaining and preaching in the pulpit because we need your word.
And so, thank you that you always have unhindered access in all of us. Thank you that your love is not diminished by our capacity to understand everything. So, I just thank you for all that you are to us and just surrender all that we are to you. Bless you for all of this. In Jesus name, amen.
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