Thursday, September 23, 2010

Answering a question

I was reading in Luke 13 this morning and was struck by how Jesus answered--or did he fail to answer?--a direct question. Before we get to the question, I need to give you the immediately preceding segment. I think it provides context for the question. After we've digested the context and the question, then I'd like to remark on the answer:
He said . . . , "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches."
And again he said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened."

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"

--Luke 13:18-23a, ESV

In context, I think the question makes sense. The Jews had always been taught that they were a special people, set apart by God from everyone else. They were few. The nations were many. So what was this that Jesus was talking about that the kingdom of God would become a tree in which all the birds of the air might make their nests, or a kind of leavening that could leaven a batch of bread so large that it could make a small modern commercial bakery proud.

"So how many are really going to be saved?" someone asks. "Is it many . . . or few?

And then Jesus answers:
And he said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!' In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

--Luke 13:23b-30, ESV

What struck me: Jesus doesn't answer the question directly. In some ways, he doesn't answer it at all.

However, he urges his hearers to pay attention to the primary point: "Don't worry about how many, in general. Look to yourself! What are you doing? Where are you going? How are you getting there?"
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