Tossing life away

If we parse out the Lukan verses, the casting of the reprobate steward fits the likes of a good-for-nothing villain. Seems rather obvious that such a degenerate scoundrel decides to drive the wrong way on the wrong side of the road. A collision is inevitable. The beating Jesus projects sounds more like the end result of the demented property manager of a skyscraper taking a dive off the top floor. Sure, he may describe his escapade as having great fun flying through the air, tossing rocks through windows as he wildly flails his arms, shouting and scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Nonetheless, he races downwards. A pavement awaits.

A reprobate is not someone who just breaks the rules while having a little fun. They have abandoned the responsibility of their God-given authority, disregarded God’s interaction in their lives, and assumed a frightful demeanor. They toss their lives away. The very bad steward clearly understands the particulars of their authority and its expectations. Unbelievably, he has chosen a reprobate protocol.

Authority, suffering and the ilk of reprobates
Romans 6:12-18
Luke 12:39-48

It’s not hard to imagine those folks both above and below us in rankings of authority in our world. We have to think a bit about how we should relate to them. Our parents, for instance, even after their deaths, still deserve our respect and deference. With practice, this becomes natural. The children given to us deserve our attention and good example. With patience, this becomes immutable. 

There are those in charge, and then there are their charges. We shift along the numerous authority flow chart positions throughout our lives. Parents and children mark only two of them.

Authority, as most of us envision it, comes with responsibility. There is no escape from expectations, regardless of what we may think about responsibility. No matter where we fall in the lines of authority — and we by the very definition of our existence have an unending series of authority roles, both above and below — our place in the seating chart changes regularly. At one point the buck stops with us, and at another we wait for budget approval.

What happens, though, when we shirk our responsibilities? What can we expect when we get caught cheating? How far can we go before a guillotine drops our head into a basket?

As we read in Luke 12 the ultimate process of villainy, where God is forced to cut us into pieces and throw us into a pit, has to do with a mix of calumny particular to what I call the "reprobate." The combination of chief shirker, devious cheat, and violent overlord, as the verses describe the steward, will be severely beaten, drawn and quartered, and thrown out with the trash. 

Will there be beatings for those of us who operate with a modicum, just a portion of such a highly accomplished reprobate? If we deserve a beating, as Jesus frames this scoundrel, is that what we’ll get? Really? That's what God will do? Beat us to pieces?

If we parse out the Lukan verses, the casting of the reprobate steward fits the likes of a good-for-nothing villain. Seems rather obvious that such a degenerate scoundrel decides to drive the wrong way on the wrong side of the road. A collision is inevitable. The beating Jesus projects sounds more like the end result of the demented property manager of a skyscraper taking a dive off the top floor. Sure, he may describe his escapade as having great fun flying through the air, tossing rocks through windows as he wildly flails his arms, shouting and scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Nonetheless, he races downwards. A pavement awaits.

A reprobate is not someone who just breaks the rules while having a little fun. They have abandoned the responsibility of their God-given authority, disregarded God’s interaction in their lives, assumed a frightful demeanor. They toss their lives away. The very bad steward clearly understands the particulars of their authority and its expectations. Unbelievably, he has chosen a reprobate protocol.

Responsibility abounds in practically every set of relationships that we encounter. At work, at school, in the grocery store, driving on the highway, and even standing in line to buy tickets to a play. We always stand between two authorities. Those we defer to, and those who defer to us.

Stress and pressures can build in any position of authority. We might periodically, and almost certainly will, break from sanity and shake off a steady head. Everyone loses their temper. But what draws us back? What helps keep us in proper character?

Be faithful and prudent, says Jesus. These are his identifications of the ones he puts in charge. The steward of a house is the one given management of a property by the owner of that property. The men and maids who serve that property report to the steward. They have their duties, too, which also requires faithfulness and prudence. Trust forms tight bonds.

One — faithfulness — cannot survive without the other — prudence. They are symbiotic elements of human character. Jesus accurately points out the factors required in authority relationships.

A prudent person considers with care what is coming in the future. Prudence is more than just an affectation of wisdom. It is sensible to be thoughtful about what will be coming, shrewd in fact. Good advice suggests, and prayerful consideration weighs, the consequence which follows each of our actions. In our Christian faith, we believe prudence to be a revelatory, step by step awareness of God walking with us and living through us. We see both backwards and forwards, the events of our enfolding relationship with God.

Faithfulness refers to loyalty in a personal relationship. Loyalty marks the faithful person. With constancy, a faithful person remains resolute. Loyal to whom, though? God, of course. What promise does the faithful one keep? Where the physical world intertwines with the spiritual world we Christians grasp that God is to whom we should be faithful. Our God, in fact, became one of us in the ultimate act of a love relationship of incredible faithfulness to his promises. He set the example for our behavior. Our faithfulness makes sense, aligning with the source of holiness. 

God says he will not abandon us, and to confirm this as a reality, he gives us his Spirit to live in us. This helps us to understand the severity of the reprobate who twists God’s seeming physical absence into their own rueful desires. The reprobate goes postal because they see God as limited in his relationships. "Out of sight? Then, out of mind. Out of the way." God does not abandon or leave them, though. They disregard the God they don't see. They do not realize that God lives within them; or, worse, they have not allowed him in, but still grip onto the authority he has given them. 

What charge of authority does God give us? In our genealogy titles alone the breadth of authority can consume our day. We are parent, spouse, child, sibling, cousin, uncle or aunt, niece or nephew. As each of these relationships prosper and grow, their reach and our subsequent need to be available, can number in the hundreds of contacts. How can we properly live these many roles without the Spirit in us? Life is too overwhelming to allow our full participation in a mathematical increase of family members. We have to disengage with most of our 1st and 2nd level relationships just to get through the day!

Only a personal God can help us navigate.

In Luke 12, Jesus speaks specifically to his disciples about the ultimate villainous reprobate. As Peter notes, Jesus surely is directing his words to leaders, what we call the presbyterate — the stewards of the truth and shepherds of the Christian flock. At the end of the parable, Jesus answers Peter's question with an explanation that those who know their duties, the very apostles and disciples anointed with authority, thus practically everyone in ministry who hears Jesus speaking to them, all of these will be held to the highest standard. 

Those who minister in Jesus' name can fall from the highest peaks. Who else has scaled higher to the holy mountains of access to God?

The only ones who would not be subject to such standards are the ignorant, Jesus said. Jesus deals with those who do not follow God’s will out of ignorance as the only exception to damnation. He, in effect, places the full spectrum of his followers, those who know his will and who proceed under the expectations of a faithful and prudent authority, under the full light of faithful and prudent authority. 

We Christians who are not ignorant of our faith, who know God's will for us, are connected to each other in faith through a complicated series of authority relationships. This means we are not alone. We are ignorant of many things, we are certain. But two things we know. We know that God expects us to follow him, and we live with expectations from each other. Our membership in the Body of Christ is sealed.

This means that the hierarchy of Church is not a mistaken discombobulation of assignments. Pastors, teachers, prophets and ministers should not be dismissed as frauds, as if these men and women circumvent God’s hold on each of us. We may question their authority, but their authority comes from God. In fact, Jesus clearly outlined an inner circle of Peter, James and John. He embraced women into roles that the Church has honored, from Mother Mary to Mother Theresa. He chose twelve apostles. He named 72 missionary prophets. 

Jesus allowed for his authority to trace through a myriad of paths, an odd combination of folks, where we are all beholden to God, and also beholden to each other. 

Some leaders in our faith — and I mean all Christian avenues of believers, from cults, to denominations, to Catholic or universal expressions, yes, all of them — do overstep and warp the authority where God did place them. Whether they are rare or an infestation, they are subject to God’s return, God’s admonishment, and the penalty of all those unfaithful to God.

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

Jesus will be returning soon. Statistically, it appears that most of us will return to him before he returns here. Our own deaths, though, simulate the unknown date of Jesus’ triumphant return. Yet, as any analysis will conclude, the timing of Jesus’ return, just like our own deaths, is closer every moment we consider it. 

In addition, every step in both the awareness of our authority roles and the consequential expectations demanded from us requires a steady increase in time and effort regarding our intimate relationship with the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Without God, all authority that falls to us will overwhelm us, and all authority above us will be doubted as fraudulent. We cannot bear responsibilities above and below us without God’s partnership, and without our faithful and prudent friends, family, and fellow believers. 

For further proof of the symbiotic nurturing of God's divine collaboration, our lives continually increase in the numbers of holy relationships introduced to us as God walks with us. With God they are joyful. Without God, they are legions of annoyance.

The reprobate may simply be best defined as an unwilling participant with God and his followers; one who decides to cut off divine relationships. Consequently, the willing villain of God's parable rejects the gift of eternal life with God, choosing even to thwart the advance of any alliance in the inevitable restoration of creation to the creator's design. 

The ignorant reprobate, Jesus says, does not understand that God is with them, and that God has a path forward that they can walk to follow him. Reprobate behavior of the ignorant is still villainy. Their ignorance will lead them to consequential thrashings of sinful suffering upon his return, or their death. Their desire to escape the thrashing may well save them as they cry out. This may be the description of the "light beating," one where over the beatings they will hear his voice.

The guilty reprobate already knows that God is reaching out to them, and they must have experienced God’s presence in order to reject it. Secondly, they must willingly abandon the expectations of God's authority given to them, which I describe as flinging themselves off a great height. Their self-defined free fall of escape from the grips of a higher authority actually drops them into a vertical gauntlet. It is not freedom, but an ultimate and deserved barrage of deadly physical and spiritual beatings. An end escalated into their own dissimilation. The span of that barrage sounds unfortunately like an eternal cascade.

Prudence without understanding faithfulness must certainly allow a reprobate to pause. Again, though, prudence wanders without the recognition of the one to whom we should be faithful.

These verses speak only tangentially to the sufferings of the faithful in this life, much which is due to the presence of evil and the attacks from evil ones, reprobates living freely in a broken, sinful world. The innocent, assaulted by both ignorant and guilty reprobates, the sons and daughters of the devil himself, suffer only temporarily. A holy eternity, envisioned through blessed moments of relief here, await us, salving pain with unlimited grace. In that way, the suffering faithful journey through life with remarkable glee, because they trust in God through the most heinous of difficulties. 

The reprobate despises the apparent failed life of the suffering. The faithful, conversely, embrace the suffering, knowing that God's presence will fill both of them with holiness. The confused, or ignorant reprobate, struggles with this dichotomy of unfair suffering and inevitable beatings. 

The faithful sufferer, though, can inspire the ignorant to cry for God. The ignorant have fallen prey to the power of disorder, which they inevitably know is an aberration. They have not yet been embraced, perhaps.

Reprobates exchange wisdom for desire. The suffering of others marks the path of their awful feasting and their heights are reached by the piling of corpses. They have no desire for embrace from the holy. 

Prudence, enlightened through the revelation of God's immovable presence, suggests another path. Faithfulness to God provides the signposts, the sandals, the protections, and the companions on the way. 

Ah yes, there will be beatings. We pray that they will be light. We embrace our suffering, because it is temporary. We embrace those who suffer, because that's often how God draws us together.

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