A closer look at Luke (Part 11): Jesus’ ongoing call to selfless living

Luke 12

Today’s closer look at Luke examines another section of lengthy discourse. So many of the things Jesus says tie back to many of the topics we’ve already touched on in previous posts, with the core of the message being a radical faith that is lived out through selfless sacrifice to provide for everyone else. Basically, every step of the way, Jesus’ call contradicts what we naturally choose to pursue and the values of a materialistic world.

Jesus begins this section by warning about transparency and pointing out that nothing will remain hidden (2-3). He then again calls his followers to live a life of fearlessness. We examined such a message a couple weeks ago and how our current American “Christian” culture is in the midst of abusing it to justify selfishness.

Next, Jesus calls out a man for his greed and offers a parable about hording wealth: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (15). This warning leads again into another sermon on worry and trusting God. Both tie together with verse 31, which is often quoted and abused by Christians: “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

That verse has often been used to justify a prosperity gospel that tells people the greater their faith, the greater their material wealth will be. But Jesus is not saying that at all. He had previously gone through various comparisons of humans to birds and flowers and saying not to worry what you eat or drink. He never suggests extreme material wealth, especially considering that this topic comes directly after he warns against a greed that hordes wealth.

Instead, Jesus is instructing his followers to seek the priorities of the kingdom of God. This has been a running theme, and he’s repeatedly explained what that entails. It boils down to this: at all times, live selflessly. This directly contrasts with our human nature and larger society. It reminds me of a classic Seinfeld episode where George decides that every decision he makes turns out to be wrong, so he devotes himself to doing the exact opposite of what he thinks he should do at all times. The comedy comes in that doing the opposite actually leads him to a new girlfriend and a new job. Perhaps there’s something to this idea of not doing what comes naturally and instead pursuing a different purpose.

Back to the text, Jesus concludes this topic by saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (34). This comment is commonly used to point to our priorities: they are not what we say they are but really where we devote our time and money. We’ve heard such a suggestion many times, but it is clear that, as professed followers of Christ, we have not taken it to heart. Again, this ties back to his larger call to selfless living. If our treasure is in the kingdom of God, it means we are not hording wealth but giving everything away to care for others. It means we are not devoting all our time and efforts to temporary gains such as political authority but rather seeking to make a lasting impact by sacrificially serving others in every way possible.

While such a lifestyle seems impossible to us, I dare say none of us has ever actually tried it. You see, we’re so focused on material gain and selfish ambition in our culture that we can’t even comprehend what such a life would look like. Or, more likely, we can comprehend what it would look like: Jesus. Unfortunately, we see how Jesus lived a vagabond lifestyle and was executed and don’t see a life we really want to share. Also, our own human nature makes it virtually impossible for us to be selfless: doing so is a conscious decision, so choosing to do so at all times would be exhausting beyond imagination.

So if we can’t do it all the time, when should we live out such a life? It’s almost as if Jesus knew we would ask such a question, as he goes right into warning about watchfulness and being always alert. He uses a parable of a servant who does not keep the house prepared for the master’s return, facing his master’s wrath rather than receiving a reward. In fact, Jesus offers an ominous warning that I think we neglect:

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (47-48).

First, this lets us know that Spiderman’s Uncle Ben was essentially quoting Jesus with his mantra that “with great power comes great responsibility.” But further, I think this places immense pressure on those who serve as leaders of the faith, or even followers who have attained even the slightest level of maturity. Jesus is basically warning us that we know what he wants from us, so we need to be doing it. Particularly in the context of our current culture and just how devastatingly far from Jesus’ actual message (as we’ve seen throughout this closer look at Luke), our modern “Christian” teachings have become, this should strike terror in the hearts of pastors and any Christians who lead in any way (hint: that includes pretty much everyone who professes to be a Christian).

Next is one of the passages that is so commonly abused by Christians to establish an antagonistic “us versus them” approach to the world around us:

Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (51-53).

So often as Christians, we use this passage to pat ourselves on the back for our self-righteousness when we act in such a way (in Jesus’ name) that turns others against us. We close ourselves off from the “secular” world and decry all its evils while praising our greatness for not being like them. Aside from the fact that Jesus modeled the exact opposite approach to engaging with the world, I see this passage coming true for me personally in the same way Jesus experienced such division with the religious leaders. It was not the “sinners” he was speaking of dividing, but the religious. He did not experience division with the outsiders; the church leaders sought to put him to death.

Perhaps we should keep that in mind whenever we think of this passage: what division did Jesus bring? And what do we have today? We have extreme division between “Christians” and non-Christians, yes, but almost all of that – if we take an honest look – comes as a result of “Christians” speaking and living in ways that in no way resemble Jesus. However, as soon as someone within the Christian community seeks to re-evaluate and engage with Jesus rather than the dominant “Christian” culture, I’ve seen in my own experience family turning against one another.

I plan to write more on that at a later date focusing on my own personal journey, but I think beyond myself we can see so much warning here, and yet we continue to fall into the same trap. For now, I’ll just reiterate the ongoing point of Jesus’ discourse: live a life of selflessness at all times. Doing so follows Jesus’ own example and removes from our hearts the materialistic focuses that lead us to worry.


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