Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 28

What I Read Today: Luke 20 & 21.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: Luke 20: 45-47, “As all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. They will receive a more severe punishment.’”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I was in a fraternity in college. Our reputation on campus was that we weren’t much for the fraternity system, but we through great parties and were a tightly knit band of brothers. In retrospect, that seems pretty accurate. I mean, while the other fraternities gathered with sorority girls to shove tissue paper into chicken wire with elaborate themes to win prizes, we were much more into throwing a party with the sorority girls with the budgeted money. The end result was an excellent party and a homecoming float that consisted of a pledge sitting in a chair hammered into some 10-foot 2×4’s holding a piece of notebook paper that said, “Go Tigers! Happy Homecoming!” We loved it. The other sorority, not so much (we’d told a little white lie that we’d build it over the week but never got around to it). The letter of reprimand from the university was a clue the administration wasn’t happy with our float, either. Over the years we got several letters on university letterhead.

Great parties? I’m sure other fraternities threw some equally as good, but I don’t know of many fraternities in which the sorority leadership would actually have meetings before parties with them to literally warn their members of the various methods that our guys would use to try to get them away from the main room and into their bedrooms. Sure, we’d all seen “Animal House” and derived a certain expectation of behavior, but our guys were serious about chasing skirts. World-class. And world-class with alcohol, too. And breaking stuff and fire, and in one case, firing weapons. In fact, when my wife and I started dating, her friends would say things like, “You’re dating one of them? They’re great to party with, but c’mon. They’re not guys who get serious and make honest commitments.”

And we were extremely close knit. It was one for all and all for one. If a fight started in a bar with one of our guys, it wasn’t long before you had 80 back ups. If a guy wanted to run for student government, it was all-out (and we never lost and election…which drove the other fraternities crazy that we controlled student government’s biggest offices yearly. Of course, we really only used that to get our football ticket block moved from the end zone–where the last-place fraternities had to sit–to the 40-yard line). We had a SERIOUS and inviolate “Bro-Code.”

I loved those guys. I was one of two that were outspoken in our beliefs about following Christ. I never took heat for it, either. The Bro-Code was also understood that if my thing was following Christ they’d support me in my thing. But it was like the student government deal. I might not be into student government, but I’ll lose sleep and paint signs and get t-shirts distributed and all that so my brother can get into student government because that’s his thing. Christ wasn’t their thing, but they were cool with me about it and even supported me in whatever ways they could awkwardly do that.

Really. I cared about these guys. In some ways, they were much more accepting of a Christ follower than my Christian friends were of me being in a fraternity like mine.

The reaction I got from my Christian friends (mostly in my Bible study group, and mostly members of a fraternity that was known for a strong Christian influence) was a lot of judgment. Asking questions like why I’d even want to be associated with a group that was known for world-class skirt-chasing. Wanting to know what was so funny about thumbing your nose at the school administration. Wondering why I wasn’t more vocal in speaking up for the sorority girls who were embarrassed by the homecoming “float.” They wanted to know how jumping into the fray during a bar fight was wise. And maybe their questions had merit.

See, they never purported to be anything they weren’t.

They never made any claims to be living a higher lifestyle. They were up-front about who they were and what they were about. They just wanted to save a few valuable college dollars by communal living and throw some great parties and have a great time. There was a code that solidified our community, too.

But my Christian friends were often involved in the same types of behavior.

They might not have been having sex but they were doing “everything else.” They might not have been chasing-skirts at parties but they’d be “serial daters” in that they’d date someone for a couple of months and then the physical stuff started and then they’d have a long discussion about how they weren’t good for each other spiritually and then break up. Then they’d repeat the process. They might not have been getting into scraps at bars but they’d have summer internships where they’d learn business practices that went by the letter of the law but not the intent…and then justify them. Plenty of Christian girls, in the words of The Nashville Scorchers, went to church in their party dress. One girl I met at church even told me that she liked me but wanted to just be friends because, if I was going to be in ministry, well, she wanted a different lifestyle than I could afford. And so it went.

In fact, my roommate (who wasn’t a Christian at the time) even remarked one time after I’d gone on a weekend retreat with my Bible study guys & leader to a ranch in eastern Georgia with no TV and all, that he felt that was what Christians should do rather than spend a ton of money to go skiing during spring break to “tell others about Jesus” on the slopes. It was the largest Christian organization on campus’ biggest ministry event each year. That trip to the barn was ours. Needless to say it was a much smaller organization.

So much about southern Christianity is cultural. It’s about appearances. It’s about what people want you to see. It’s about wanting people to see you as spiritual rather than actually being spiritual.

And that’s what is going on in Luke 20 & 21.

The chief priests and scribes have an agenda: Make Christ look foolish so the crowds will stop joining his movement. Remember, this is after about three years of Jesus teaching and preaching and miracles and such and now he’s in their very Temple teaching about the Gospel. So, they ask a question akin to “Have you stopped beating your wife?” There’s no winning answer. So, Jesus asks a question in which their response is lose/lose. Appearances.

Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who has representatives to get his share of the profits of what he owned. They workers killed the owner’s employees who were just doing their jobs. Then Jesus tells him that the owner would send his son because surely they wouldn’t kill his very own son, right? This should’ve elicited cries from the crowd when Jesus said that the son was killed. Nothing. Until Jesus said the owner was going to send in people to kill the out-of-control workers. Then the hearers cried out about how unfair that was. The leaders wanted to arrest Jesus then and there, but couldn’t because it would look petty given the story was about them. Appearances.

Then the leaders tried to get Jesus to claim allegiance to the government…again a trap. Jesus works his way around that, too…further frustrating the religious elite.

Then the leaders of another sect try to trap Jesus in a theological quandary. Jesus handles it again…and now this silences the public attempts to trap him once and for all. Their desire to stop asking questions was tied to their desire to stop being embarrassed. Appearances.

A widow’s small but sacrificial gift is valued more than the boys in the elaborate robes clanging bells to let everyone know how much they were giving. Jesus exposed their appearances.

People were admiring the architectural beauty of the Temple. Jesus reminded them that the impressive APPEARANCE of the Temple was irrelevant in light of the reality that one day it would become rubble. The end times had a series of wars and earthquakes and famine and family infighting and eventually the Son of Man would come back. The APPEARANCE of things wasn’t the reality of things. In fact, you’re looking at a fig tree and see the leaves now, folks…but you don’t see what the fig tree will be like in the future. Fun fact: Fig trees meant a lot to Israel. Kind of symbolic of their nation.

This section is about appearances.

And that’s why I thought my fraternity brothers were at least honest about who they were and what they were doing. Their Bro-Code meant something.

And that’s why I distanced from the other fraternity brother who used to play Amy Grant at top volume in the house while he was getting ready for church. He even said things like, “They kept me up before the Lord’s Day with their late night party. I’ll keep them up while I get ready for the party that really matters!” He meant this stuff, too.

But I was no better. I surely guarded my appearance and image. Still do. I value my perception like everyone else.

And today, I’m praying that I’ll focus a lot more about authentically following Christ than whatever image I might want others to see…

…even if it means that people don’t like what they see, at least what they see is real.

(Tomorrow’s Reading: Luke 22 & 23)