Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
A few years ago before we had kids, Hope and I kept a friend’s children overnight. At the time this was a huge deal; I didn’t know what to do with kids and in an instant we had two. During the weekend we kept, Jorja, who was two and a half and her brother Collier who was almost one. That weekend was interesting, and remember observing some interesting behavior.
Collier adored his big sister and wanted to be around her at all times. Jorja, on the other hand, acted as if her brother doesn’t even exist. When their mom was leaving them at the house, Jorja was excited to stay at “Hopie and Will’s.” Without skipping a beat, though, she told her mom to take her brother back home. Jorja made it very clear that she wanted to spend time with Hope and myself without her brother. Later on, I was holding Collier who was crying, and Jorja told Hope, “Will take Bubba always; Will take Bubba always.” She wanted him out of her sight, so she could have some alone time.
Hope and I have this large ottoman in front of our couch, and Collier enjoyed this place and would use to it pull up on and play with his toys. As soon as you would turn your head, you heard a cry. What we found is that Jorja who had tons of toys would take the one toy her brother was playing with causing him to cry.
Though she had no reason to be; Jorja was jealous.
She had the perfect little life for a year and a half, then came her brother. Then she had to share everything with him, whether she liked it or not—and trust me, she didn’t like it. She was jealous. Today, I think she has come around a little with her brother, but back then it was rough.
If you are a parent, I am sure you have witnessed the jealousy between siblings. I know that Hope and I have also had the joy of experiencing this with our own kids. She has my toy! I want to play too! She has the iPad!
Thinking about my life, I have to imagine that when my little brother came along I was a little jealous too. As a child you think the world is about you; you think that only your needs and wants matter; so when you have to share it all comes crumbling down in heap of jealousy.
This jealousy thing isn’t just for little kids either. As adults we live in a world that is full of jealously. Recently I was reading an article about someone being passed over for a promotion. Instead of getting the promotion, it went to close friend. Though these people had been great friends from many years, this promotion bred jealousy in the heart of the one who didn’t get it. This jealousy was left unchecked and a relationship as torn asunder.
Jealousy is just a vicious thing that destroys relationships and breaks down love. People get jealous when someone gets a new car, or pays off a longtime debt, or goes on a nice vacation. We see jealousy everywhere and it steals our joy. It is impossible to be joyful with someone else or with ourselves when we are in the midst of jealousy.
We are not the first ones to have dealt with jealously. Humans have been dealing with jealousy since the beginning. Jesus knew something about the jealousy of people. You see, Jesus spent a lot of time with a lot of people, and people always wanted more. When we read about Jesus’ ministry in the Bible we see pictures of crowds following Jesus all the time. We find that the way that Jesus acted toward certain people often caused jealousy in others. Particularly, because Jesus liked to spend time with outcasts, and the so called, “good religious people” were often very jealous.
Today we are going to look at a time when the religious people were jealous about what Jesus was doing, and he confronts them with this behavior. The writer, Luke, tells us this story, and if you have your bible, feel free to turn with me to Luke 15:1-10.
Luke begins this story about Jesus by setting the scene. This is something Luke is always doing, giving us the context around what is about to happen. Luke tells us that,
“ All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Now, to really appreciate what's going on here, you have to know something about tax collectors.
In the time of Jesus tax collectors were people hated by society. These days you get a bill for your taxes or you have to file your income tax return. Nobody really likes paying taxes, but we know that the people that collect them are just doing their job. This was not the case in the first century, when Jesus lived. The only way that tax collectors made a living is by overcharging people on their taxes. So if your tax bill was $100, the tax collector might say, you owe me $150. The first hundred would go to the Roman government and the remaining would stay in the tax collector’s pocket. As you can imagine, this caused a lot of abuse by tax collectors, and people hated them.
So can you imagine, Jesus gathering around tax collectors and other sinners (who people thought were just as bad)?
The way that Luke presents Jesus throughout the gospel is that Jesus is one who is famous for feasting. He is always gathering with people to eat and have a party. Here, it is likely that Jesus is eating with these outcasts at one of his famous feasts.
In first century Palestine, feasts were a great and public affair. Even those who weren’t invited showed up anyways just to watch what was going on. It’s as if you have some friends over for cookout on your back patio and all the neighbors pull up lawn chairs to watch what you might say and what you might eat. I like to think of it was as a first century reality TV show—maybe it’s called “Eating with Jesus,” the commentator is constantly trying to figure out what people will do and who will be invited and what fights will happen.
This public nature of the feast explains why the Pharisees and scribes (the religious leaders of the day—you know, the so called “good religious folk”) were there; because there is no way that they would have been caught dead eating with these “low life’s.” Good church going folks would never dream of sharing a meal with tax collectors and sinners. They are shocked at what they see. These religious people are convinced that God only really loves them, so they are jealous at what they see. And they exclaim, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”
Think about your neighbor who pulled up a lawn chair exclaiming during your party, “You’re eating with those people!?!”
That’s not very nice. They are insulting the guests for the party. In these days, maybe in your backyard, those are probably fighting words. But, instead of fighting Jesus did what Jesus would often would do and told stories. It’s amazing how stories can often defuse a situation, and that’s exactly what Jesus begins to do here.
Jesus tells two stories about people that went searching for lost things. In the first story, Jesus tells of how a shepherd goes off and searches for one lost sheep. He says,
4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’
Then he changes the subject a little bit and says that the celebrations don’t just happen with sheep, but they happen with people too. Jesus continues and tells them that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.” He’s informing them that it’s good that these “so called sinners” are eating with him. And this dinner, he tells them, is cause for celebration.
Then he tells another story. This one about a woman who lost a coin. Jesus says,
8 “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? 9 When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
In these stories, Jesus is saying, yes, these people might have been lost, but now they are found. Losing one coin might not seem like a big deal. A lost sheep would return dirty with fleas and ticks, and these people might be outcasts to you, but they are found. Because they are found we are going to celebrate.
The main focus of these stories are not really the being lost part or the finding part—the main focus is the celebration part. The celebration isn’t something just left to Jesus and these so called outcasts—Jesus is telling us that it is for all. In the stories that Jesus tells we see whole communities who come together to celebrate what is found. One commentator notes that “Salvation consists not purely or even primarily in rescue, but in being drawn into the eternal celebration.” And that is what Jesus was offering.
But there is so much jealousy, so much hate. And jealousy steals the joy out of every celebration. The next time the religious leaders are mentioned, we discover that they didn’t join the celebration, in fact, all Luke tells us is that “the Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus” (Luke 16:14 CEB).
The religious leaders had a chance to celebrate with the king of kings, the Lord of Lords, to celebrate with one who throws outrageous parties, but they can’t experience the joy. They are so bound in the jealousy that they can’t find joy for others or for themselves. They are so bound up in picking sides, in judging others, in living jealousy, and they just can’t know joy.
Too many times we respond to God in the same way. When we are passed over for a promotion, when you are cut off in traffic, when we can’t have all the toys, when we can’t eat at the fancy restaurant, when someone else gets the attention of your best friend, when—when—when it’s easier to be jealous than to share in the joy of another.
Friends, let me ask you a question: If you saw Jesus eating with people you despised, what would be your response? Jesus is throwing a party with people that don’t fit in at church. Jesus is sharing a meal with those that don’t look like you; maybe he’s sharing a meal with someone who doesn’t work as hard as you. Maybe Jesus is sharing a meal with someone who just got out of prison for dealing drugs or someone who just spent their whole paycheck on booze. Are you jealous yet? Can you get a sense of what these religious leaders might have been feeling?
The Pharisees and religious leaders continued to harbor jealousy and did not join the celebration. But Jesus is addressing us in these stories too, and the main question we hear is whether or not we will join God’s celebration. There is a community party, an open invitation, a heavenly event where “joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels” (15:10). Will you be a part of this celebration? Or will we continue to be torn apart by jealousy, robbed of joy, and too weak to celebrate.
Jealousy is strong and is based on a competitive spirit, and I get it. Jealousy is based in a system of thinking that says there must be winners and there must be losers. There are those that get good grades and those that just don’t make it. There are those that live in the good neighborhood then those that live on the wrong side of the street. But God’s love is not competitive. It is not does God love her or does God love me? What the religious leaders failed to realize is that God loves the “so called” sinners and outcasts AND God loves the religious teachers. What we fail to realize is that God loves you AND God loves me. We find it difficult when others win, but God calls us to celebrate with him in God’s love for all people.
While it is so human to be jealous, God basically says that we just don’t get it. There is enough to go around. There is enough grace and enough love for all people, so instead of being jealous or fighting about who is more righteous, join the celebration. Jesus offers us this action of joy. Join the celebration of heaven and allow that joy to guard you from jealousy. Remember the words of the shepherd and the woman, “Celebrate with me.” God is inviting you to joy by saying, “Celebrate with me.” So let us celebrate. Let us live lives of joy.
Decatur United Methodist Church
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