I’m currently preparing to return to St Andrew’s for my second year and have been reflecting on my experience in September of last year when I was moving out for the first time. I remember feeling completely terrified, knowing that I was moving to a new town where I knew no one at all. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and what was going to be expected of me. I remember feeling so weak and vulnerable for a lot longer than I had expected or anticipated in the lead up to moving away, and through this, I clung to God in desperation and felt myself relying on him.
In this time of feeling completely weak and helpless, it was up to God to make all the difference and to contribute everything to make me strong. And this is when I learned;
If we turn to God out of need and in desperation when we physically can’t contribute anything, then God has to contribute everything. And if God has to contribute everything then, in the end, we can praise Him for what He has done through us.
We see countless times throughout the Bible where God used the most unlikely candidate and completely transformed them for his work (such as King David, who’s own father saw him as underqualified).
It wasn’t until a couple of months ago when I really started to reflect on this idea of God using me in my time of weakness when I just happened to listen to a sermon surrounding this topic titled ‘Jesus, the saviour you need’. The sermon covered Luke 18:1-17, where Jesus is sharing parables with his disciples.
The first parable (vs 1-8) has the heading ‘The parable of the persistent widow’ which tells the story of an unjust judge and a widow who frequently pleaded for justice. Eventually, the judge gives in and sees that she gets justice and it ends with Jesus saying that those who cry out to God persistently will be granted what they asked for. Luke very kindly gives us the point of this parable in verse 1 – to show his disciples that they should always pray and not give up. But if we look further beneath the surface of this and look at the casting of this parable we can further analyse what Jesus is saying and the effect this would have had on his disciples listening at the time.
The judge is to represent God and the widow represents God’s people. A widow doesn’t have the same stigma today, but in biblical times a widow was seen as completely and utterly powerless. Not even her husband’s land would have been promised to her, but instead would belong to his family after his death, leaving her with nothing. She would have been socially and financially vulnerable, relying purely on the kindness of others to survive. This is who the disciples would have thought of upon hearing the story. The widow HAS to plead with the judge and does not have another choice, and Jesus is saying that his followers should be the same. So the point of this parable is that we (God’s people) are powerless until we look to God for help – if we want our needs to be met by God then we have to view ourselves as needy.
The second parable (vs 9-14) has the heading ‘The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector’ and once again, Luke gives us the central theme of the story at the beginning: it is told to rebuke self-righteous people who look down on others.
A Pharisee and a tax collector go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee thanks God that he is better than other people and tries to boast that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all he gets, meanwhile the tax collector can’t even look up to heaven and begs God to have mercy on him for his sins. Jesus explains that the tax collector was the one who went home justified and then hits us with a very powerful verse (Luke 18:14b):
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Once again, to understand the significance of what Jesus is saying we have to look at how the disciples would react to hearing this. Although we, in modern time, would view the Pharisee as a bad guy from the offset, we have to understand that Pharisees were viewed as heroes at this time historically, and so this story would be shocking to hear. Tax collectors, however, were despised because of their greediness, yet the tax collector was the one sent home righteous. The listeners might have even become angry at the outcome of this story given their experience with the dishonest tax collectors. And so the point Jesus is making is this;
God chases after even the people deemed as the worst and most unforgivable in the world. Whoever we are and whatever we have done, when we come to God in need He will respond.
Another important thing to point out is the Pharisee’s attitude– that he will be made right with God through fasting and giving. As modern-day Christians, however, we know that we are not made right with God through obeying the law, only by faith in Christ (Romans 3:28). And so our attitude towards prayer should be that we come to God in honesty and in reliance, that we are just sinners in need. A common misconception is that Christians view themselves as superior because we live a certain lifestyle, avoiding sin. But the truth is Christians are just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread (D.T. Niles), or in other words, Christians are just sinners telling other sinners where to find salvation.
The final section of this passage (vs 15-17) is called ‘The little children and Jesus’. Here people are bringing babies to Jesus so that He will put his hands on them. The disciples are disgusted by this, but Jesus tells them to let the children come to Him. To finish off, Jesus gives us another powerful and frequently quoted verse (Luke 18:17):
“Truly I tell you, anyone, who will not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Although we modernly view children as a blessing, in Jewish culture there was a high value placed on contribution within a family. Since young children couldn’t help out the family or make the family money they were often seen as a huge inconvenience. To see someone like Jesus blessing children would have been both surprising and very offensive for the disciples. He is inviting the non-contributors and vulnerable to meet with him. And so what Jesus means when he tells us to ‘receive the kingdom as a child’ is that we shouldn’t view ourselves as substantial or self-reliant, instead we should be needy, dependent and vulnerable.
When what we know is stripped away and we are pushed outside our comfort zone we have no choice but to be needy and rely on God fully. However, when we feel comfortable and stable it is challenging to seek God to the same extent and as our only option. We are not called to be put together and perfect as Christians, rather to be vulnerable with one another and share our struggles (James 5:16)
- Self-reliance pushes us away from God: God does not call us to come to him with our problems sorted and our lives in order. We need to own our need for a saviour and fully trust and rely on God to help us
- If dependence is the goal, then weakness is the advantage. God is attracted to those who have nothing to contribute.