The Comparison Trap: Luke 15:11-32

Focus Passage: Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Read Luke 15:11-32 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Comparing ourselves to others is a temptation we all face sooner or later. In our world today, it is hard not to compare what we have, such as our house, our car/truck, our income, or any number of other things to what others have around us.

It even gets trickier when we compare our relationships to other people’s relationships. Comparing my marriage to your marriage, or my relationship with my daughter with your relationship to your children is only a losing scenario.

But perhaps the most subtle comparison trap we can fall into is comparing our relationship with God to someone else’s relationship. There are no winners with this sort of comparison.

And that is what brings us to our passage for this journal entry. In one of Jesus’ most famous parables is hidden a truth regarding the dangers of the comparison trap. While reading/studying the Prodigal Son parable, I could find only two examples of comparison present.

The first place is in verse 17: “When he [the younger son] came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!’

This first example of comparison is internal. While technically it is comparing, the younger son realizes how the lowest servants were treated by his father. They probably were doing the same type of work he was doing, but the environment was way better. His Father treated them with respect.

This first comparison isn’t looking up or down on someone, but instead looking at the present circumstances we are in. It is only by objectively and honestly looking at where we are in life that we will ever choose something different – and that includes repenting and moving closer to God.

The second comparison is not at all like the first. It is found near the end of the parable in verses 29 and 30: “But he [the older son] answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

This second example of comparison is directly comparing a relationship: The older son is comparing his relationship to the father and how He was treated to the younger son’s disrespect, rebellion, and now celebration. The older brother is mad, not because there was a party happening, but because the reason for the party slams into the comparison game he had been playing all these years, because after all, he was the son who stayed.

But this brings us to God’s subtle truth in this parable: God wants a personal relationship with each one of us. The Father personally welcomed the younger son home, and the Father personally went out to talk with the older brother who would not enter the party. God is seeking a unique, personal relationship with each one of us – with no comparison games present.

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Staying Silent: John 7:53-8:11

Focus Passage: John 7:53-8:11 (CEV)

53 Everyone else went home, 8:but Jesus walked out to the Mount of Olives. Then early the next morning he went to the temple. The people came to him, and he sat down and started teaching them.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses brought in a woman who had been caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. They made her stand in the middle of the crowd. Then they said, “Teacher, this woman was caught sleeping with a man who isn’t her husband. The Law of Moses teaches that a woman like this should be stoned to death! What do you say?”

They asked Jesus this question, because they wanted to test him and bring some charge against him. But Jesus simply bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger.

They kept on asking Jesus about the woman. Finally, he stood up and said, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” Once again he bent over and began writing on the ground. The people left one by one, beginning with the oldest. Finally, Jesus and the woman were there alone.

10 Jesus stood up and asked her, “Where is everyone? Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?”

11 “No sir,” the woman answered.

Then Jesus told her, “I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

Read John 7:53-8:11 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading John’s gospel, specifically the passage that describes the woman caught in adultery being brought to Jesus, I am amazed by a detail that John includes in this event. When the law was clear, and when it would have been easy for Jesus to clearly answer the challenge that the religious leaders bring, Jesus does something unexpected; Jesus doesn’t actually respond to the challenge.

John describes this by saying, “They asked Jesus this question, because they wanted to test him and bring some charge against him. But Jesus simply bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger.” (v. 6)

Tradition says that instead of answering the question, Jesus starts writing the sins of the accusers in the sand. According to this line of thinking, Jesus chose to write in sand to subtly suggest that forgiven sins are easy to erase – because everyone who has chosen to write a message in the sand of a beach knows that the wind and waves erases everything equally.

However, Jesus could have simply bent down and begun to write out Old Testament passages that relate to God’s love and His forgiving character.

Regardless of what Jesus chose to write, the religious leaders wanted a clear direct answer to their clear direct challenge. The leaders “kept on asking Jesus about the woman. Finally, he stood up and said, ‘If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!’

Jesus only speaks after being pressured to respond. I believe this is because Jesus was more interested in avoiding condemning the woman who was hurting than He was in proving a point to those who brought the woman to Him.

In our own lives, Jesus is familiar with all the times we have failed, and all the times we have done things worthy of God’s condemnation. However, Jesus didn’t come to condemn people. He came to show everyone God’s love and His forgiveness. Jesus forgave the woman, and He offers forgiveness to each of us as well.

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Enjoying Our Presence: Mark 10:13-16

Focus Passage: Mark 10:13-16 (GW)

13 Some people brought little children to Jesus to have him hold them. But the disciples told the people not to do that.

14 When Jesus saw this, he became irritated. He told them, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me. Children like these are part of God’s kingdom. 15 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive God’s kingdom as a little child receives it will never enter it.”

16 Jesus put his arms around the children and blessed them by placing his hands on them.

Read Mark 10:13-16 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading from Mark’s gospel about Jesus inviting and blessing the children who were brought to Him, a verse stood out to me in a way I had never noticed before. In this event, Mark tells us that “Jesus put his arms around the children and blessed them by placing his hands on them.” (v. 16)

Mark is the only gospel that describes Jesus putting His arms around the children. In Mark’s gospel, the picture I get is that Jesus gives these children a hug (if they were old enough to walk), and if a baby happened to be among those who were brought to Jesus, Jesus didn’t shy away from holding the child.

When I read this last verse in Mark, I get the impression that Jesus first showed how He enjoyed being around the children who were brought (people don’t voluntarily hug those they don’t want to be around), and only afterwards does He place His hands on the child/children to give them His blessing.

I believe the order is important. Jesus is most interested in building a relationship with us – where we are in life right now – and only after a relationship is formed does He inspire change from within us.

While human nature tries to get us focused in on requiring visible change on the front end as evidence that we are moving in the right direction, Jesus knows that only after coming to Him will we be able to change the inside – and internal change will ultimately become external change as well.

Jesus’ invitation for everyone, regardless of age, is to come to Him and receive His love.

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The Death or the Life: Luke 13:1-9

Focus Passage: Luke 13:1-9 (NIV)

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Read Luke 13:1-9 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

One thing that always amazes me about Jesus is how He is able to avoid the traps and tricks of the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Time and time again Jesus sidesteps their logic and shares an even greater truth.

This passage doesn’t have a clear “Pharisee Trap” present, but Jesus does take the perspective of those present and redefines it. Like most interesting dialogs, some people bring Jesus a statement or question and wait to hear His response. Luke 13 begins by saying, “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.(verse 1)

These people may have wanted to simply inform Jesus about something bad that had just happened, or perhaps they were warning Him to consider moving His ministry to a different location, but in either case, they were asking for Jesus to give a response to this information. Like Jesus usually did, instead of responding directly to the surface statement, He responds to the underlying concept and perspective.

The subtle trick that is present here is not seen in the statement, but instead in Jesus’ response.

One thing those present were trying to pin Jesus into saying is that how one dies is more important than how they lived. The thought among those present seemed to be that one’s type of death, especially if they were killed while worshiping, would overshadow any wrong they had done during their lives.

The other big thing that those present were trying to get Jesus to say was that the type of death that someone experienced was directly a result of the type of life they had lived. It stood to reason that those who died early, especially if it was an “accident” like a tower falling, must have been hiding worse sins that only God knew about and that He determined it good to punish them for it.

These are the two sides to this seemingly innocent piece of news – and Jesus sees right into the preconceived ideas and into the trap. So Jesus takes the opportunity to shift the perspective of each side of the trick. Continuing in verse 2, we read, “Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’(verses 2-5)

First Jesus steps in and brings the implications to the surface. Is how one dies a revelation of how they lived? Does the type or time of death matter?

Then Jesus gives us the big truth: How one chooses to live from this point forward determines their ultimate destiny. Unless repenting, which means turning away from sin and towards God, is a part of your path forward, you will face the same fate. The amount/level of sin in our lives is not as important as the one we put our faith, hope, and trust in to deal with the sin that has stained our past.

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