LIVING LIKE JESUS: The Gospel of Luke—Week 4
Luke 18:18-30; 19:1-10; 21:1-4
With this week’s passages, we are wrapping up our 4-week review of the first of Jesus’ spiritual practices: simplicity. While some equate the concept of simplicity with self-denial, I think that really misses the mark, for what Jesus is teaching us is so much deeper than that. For example, if simplicity were simply about giving up worldly possessions for the cause of Christ, how would we then be equipped to show generosity in caring for the needs of others? As we see in this week’s passages, true, kingdom-minded simplicity is about a faith in God and his goodness that transcends circumstances. It is a faith that re-orders our priorities and perspectives. It is a faith enables Zacchaeus to be generous in his abundance, and the widow to be generous in her extreme poverty. It is also a faith that can elude even the most pious of us, as it did the rich young ruler.
In the story of the rich young ruler, we see a young man with whom many of us can identify. He has done well for himself financially, something his contemporaries would have considered a mark of his personal righteousness and God’s favor. (This explains the disciples’ shock when Jesus speaks of how difficult it is for the rich to get into the kingdom.) This young man also knows the Law and has been fastidious in his keeping of it. He wants to be sure of his eternal destiny. He is everything that his culture considers worthy of eternal life. Yet, Jesus sees into this young man’s soul. Jesus sees a young man who has no room for Jesus to be Lord of his life because he already has a lord in place—money. This young man wants to be a part of God’s kingdom, but only to the extent it doesn’t impact his lifestyle. Thus, this young man, whom Mark tells us Jesus loved, walks away sorrowful because he cannot have salvation on his own terms.
In the story of Zacchaeus, we find a man who responds much differently to Jesus’ radical call to discipleship. Jesus doesn’t even have to ask Zacchaeus to disavow his wealth—he readily puts his wealth on the line for the kingdom. After encountering the generous love of Jesus, Zacchaeus happily gives away half of his wealth to the poor. What wealth he does retain he retains so that he can make restitution in accordance with the law to those he has defrauded. This tax collector, who is considered the lowest of the sinners in his culture, does what the righteous young ruler could not. He puts everything he is and everything he has at God’s disposal.
We see this same attitude in the story of the widow and her offering of 2 copper coins. Most would look at her offering with disdain. What difference would 2 pennies make? Why would she give all that she has when she clearly needs it? Yet, Jesus commends her generosity, declaring that in God’s economy, her gift is far more valuable than the extravagant gifts of the wealthy. Like a New Testament version of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17, this widow has learned to trust God completely. She is the living embodiment of what Jesus describes in Luke 12—she is seeking God first and trusting that he will meet all her needs.
It has been said that faith is not believing in spite of evidence but rather obeying in spite of circumstance or consequence. It is such faith that is really the heart of what Jesus is trying to teach us through the call to simplicity. It is such faith that Paul speaks of in Phil. 4 when he says that whether he is facing lack or abundance, he had learned to be content. For it is when we value God and his kingdom above all else that we truly find freedom and peace.
- Of the 3 characters discussed this week, with whom do you most identify? Why?
- What do you think of the widow’s gift? If you saw someone you know in a similar circumstance giving as she did, how would you respond? Would you try to stop them?
- What are some ways you can embrace Jesus’ call to simplicity in your own life? What are the obstacles to you being fully devoted to Jesus, no matter what he asks of you?