Meditations on Luke: Forcing Our Way In

Luke 16:16-17

“. . . the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.”

It would be hard to count the gallons of ink that have been spilled over the years trying to interpret verse 16. For one thing, the wording in the original Greek is terse and difficult to translate into an English equivalent. Beyond that, the phrase deals in imagery that is awkward and feels out of place. What does it mean to force your way into the kingdom? Or, if you read a different translation, who are the violent ones who take the kingdom by storm?

We have to allow a little grace when it comes to interpretations of this verse, but if you look at the context, there does seem to be a relatively straightforward way to think about it. In the previous two verses, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees in one of their many conflicts. These religious leaders are once again put out with Jesus because he has said something that challenges their cherished understandings of life. Their resistance to Jesus highlights a contrast that could not be starker. The despised and outcast of the world are flocking to Jesus. Those who have no spiritual qualifications just can’t get enough of him. Meanwhile, the learned, esteemed, and credentialed religious leaders want nothing to do with him.

I believe that contrast stands behind this bizarre statement from Jesus. There are plenty of folks who are eager to rush into the fold of the good news that Jesus comes to proclaim. To use Jesus’ imagery, they are enthusiastically “forcing their way into” the kingdom. Meanwhile, the religious leaders stand there pouty faced and angry, unwilling to open themselves to this One who eats with sinners and challenges their understanding of God.

It’s easy for us to be critical of the Pharisees, but we good church folks are much more like them than we realize. Like them, we assume that we have already figured out who God is. We’ve squeezed him neatly into our box. For most of us, God looks like us, thinks like us, and votes like us, and we have little desire to see our cherished understandings turned upside down. Meanwhile, Jesus comes into the world in a way that no one expects, associates with people whom no one likes, tells stories that no one readily accepts, and calls us to a way of life that doesn’t fit into what anyone could reasonably call “common sense.” If we’ve never been offended by something Jesus says or does, then the chances are good that we haven’t really paid close attention to him.

Today, just like then, there are still plenty of people who are eager to rush into the fold of the good news of the kingdom. Today, just like then, there are plenty of people who prefer to resist that good news and keep the life they already have. To which group do we belong?

Holy God, give me a spirit of enthusiasm for the good news of your gospel. Through Christ, Amen.

This post originally appeared in Meditations on Luke: Daily Devotions from the Gentile Physician by Chris Cadenhead.

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