Posts Tagged ‘Luke’

In a recent post I’ve noted the resolute anchoring of the events surrounding Jesus’ emergence in identifiable details that are open to debate, dispute, and falsification. The moment’s various layers of government and governance, the geographic and political entities in which these things took place, the calendar’s framing up of chronology and sequence, all these things mattered to Luke. Indeed, they matter twenty centuries later to people whose lives derive their meaning from Jesus himself and the early testimony about him.

Yet Luke was capable at the same time of asserting that common views of Jesus’ origin were mistaken ones. In the mist of a formulaic genealogy, where the pattern of one son and one father occur in a fixed rhythm, Luke marks an exception.

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph,the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai … (Luke 3:23–25 ESV)

So does Luke add genealogical weight to a claim he has already made in his narrative: Jesus’ origins were not normal.

He was the son of Mary, a matter that can be discussed with particular tenderness. He was also the son of Joseph, a father of a poignantly noble character. Yet he was not the son of Joseph in the way that people supposed.

The angel’s announcement, Mary’s question about how such things could come about ‘since I am a virgin’, and the generally momentous cadence of Luke’s story drive home a point that later theologizing would codify with enduring references to Jesus having been ‘born of a virgin’.

For now, Luke places before public opinion that claim that Jesus was born under circumstances that are familiar to anyone who cares to make a study of them. Except for one. His father was another, whose tracing lies beyond the capture of human genealogy.


Read Full Post »

Perhaps we should give up heaven for Lent.

Like a cleansing diet, it might be a good thing for us to lay aside our notions of an esoteric, heavenly faith. At least long enough to re-root in history, where YHWH’s redemption locates itself and—in its way—turns the world upside down.

Luke the evangelist could hardly initiate us into the story of Jesus’ adult life and work in a  more rooted, historically anchored way than the manner he has chosen.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:1–3 ESV)

We get Roman history. We get Jewish history. We get geography. We get John.

The gospel’s narrative names names, dates facts, anchors events in contested soil.

Into this mix, the venerably prophetic ‘word of the Lord’ arrives like a thunder clap.

We get the professions, too: real-world jobs, remunerated, food-on-the-table, sometimes graft-ridden occupations of real human beings with dust on their feet and sweat in their armpits. Before the scandalously biting rhetoric of this John, this desert prophet, recognizably employed people whose hearts have been bludgeoned tender by John’s impolitic truths, ask ‘What about us? What should we do?’

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ. (Luke 3:10–15 ESV)

It takes a lot of unpacking and unwinding of long theological habit to work our way back from common Christian notions of ‘heaven’ to the biblical texts that stand at the origin of our journey. It takes a lifetime of unwinding, for some of us.

Yet a modest beginning might consist of refocussing on this world as the normal and customary place where redemptive stories worth their trouble begin, take root, flourish.

And name names.


Read Full Post »

In Isaiah 56, YHWH comes as close as Hebrew grammar allows to naming himself with a new name.

The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, ‘I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.’ (Isaiah 56:8 ESV)

Indeed, one could almost read the preface to YHWH’s declaration as …

YHWH, the Gatherer of the outcasts of Israel, declares …

Two things stand out. First, on my reading, this gathering impulse is not reported as one registers an event that happened once and may or may not recur. Rather, it seems that the syntax presents this gathering of Israel’s wandering daughters and sons as nearly intrinsic to YHWH’s persona. He not only gathers them. He is their Gatherer. Time and again. (more…)

Read Full Post »

We live trapped, surrounded by walls.

We come to understand precisely what falls within our reach and what beyond. We learn early not to push the envelope, not to think beyond reality as it has been served to us with all its hard, claustrophobic barriers.

It’s hard to breathe. But we get enough air to go on, so we do.

For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:37 ESV)

Mary the mother of Jesus finds the well-regarded limitations of divine intervention punctured by angels who can’t stop saying crazy things.

Along the way, she finds out that she is not the only woman falling pregnant under the oddest of circumstances. Her relative Elizabeth, sprightly perhaps but unmistakably old, is expecting. Indeed showing, for it is already the sixth month.

What’s more, Elizabeth is one of those unfortunates—everyone knew this—who could not have children.

That’s gone, the angel advises Mary, who has not even been given time to stop reeling from the shock of her own announced pregnancy.

If Mary stands apart from the rest of us, it is perhaps because she could say words like this against the cold breath of impossibility:

And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38 ESV)

She was somehow unscandalized by it all.

Having taken note of this, the angel immediately departs. He’s busy, has work to do.

Impossible stuff.

As I write this, I am terrified, exhilarated by impossible things. They’re at the window, not yet in the house, announcing themselves, tapping insistently on the pane. They raise hope, elicit then ease fear. They remind a man that he still knows nothing about that boundary, that frontier, that line between things that can be.

And those that could never be. Impossible things.

Read Full Post »

When evil has become official policy, initial resistance is no less courageous for its quiet beginnings.

Luke narrates how 1st-century Jewish religious officialdom and the humid presence of Rome managed to collaborate in executing Jesus, this despite unsuccessful thrashing around for justifiable reasons to do so.

Not everyone agreed. But against this powerfully convenient coalition, what was one to do?

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (Luke 23:50–52 ESV)

This Joseph of Arimathea is described, as a righteous minority in a conflictive moment that demands silence and cooperation often is, from a variety of angles.

He was ‘a good and righteous man’. One surmises that it was this strength of character that explains his failure to ‘consent to their decision and action’ regarding the swift dispatching of Jesus to the rolls of for-a-while messiahs.

Yet there is more to Joseph. His eyes were among those that scan the landscape fore evidence that the God of Israel is quietly on the move. He was ‘looking’, this Joseph, ‘for the kingdom of God’. Most would imagine that the descriptions of power and the powerful were pretty well complete by the time one had taken the Herods and the Pilates into account.

Joseph did not. He was awaiting something more, something deeper, something enduring, something beyond the self-referential conspiracies of the religious and political elite.

What do you do in such dangerous times?

For Joseph, you do the next, merciful thing. You ask Pilate for the dead man’s body and give it a decent burial.

Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. (Luke 23:53 ESV)

Such is the this-worldly care of men and women who are better than this world, yet in loving it look for its true king.

Read Full Post »

By all reckoning, it should have been the end of Peter’s story.

Like Judas, he might have hanged himself. Or turned recluse. Or lurched in his bitterness towards Stockholm Syndrome, throwing in his lot with Jesus’ taunters.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61–62 ESV)

A text familiar with tears and their descriptors takes special care to characterize Peter’s particular kind of weeping. ‘He went out and wept bitterly.’

Nothing is left for Peter, even if Jesus‘ life might stagger on for a few more hours before the killing is over.

Indeed Luke’s narrative never pauses to allow a polite space for Peter’s grief. Hurrying on from Jesus’ and Peter’s fateful locking of glances, he reports:

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. (Luke 22:63–65 ESV)

But Peter is ended.

His credibility gone, his soul crushed by his own unforeseen betrayal of this man for whom he had vowed to die, what can possibly become of this once audacious follower of Jesus, whom the text now with increasing frequency calls simply ‘the Lord’?

Yet, stunningly, Peter is not over.

The events unfolding before eyes that have perhaps read them too quickly, too often, would produce more than one resurrection from the dead. Peter, the New Testament will lead us to understand, had a future, indeed a complex, contentious, and fruitful one.

Nor does the resurrection count end at just two.

For we are all Peter ended, capable of the unthinkable and often its very perpetrators, shattered by our own weak hand.

Yet we are all potentially Peter remade, remembering our nadir not as our end, but rather our beginning.

Read Full Post »

It is probably impossible for us credibly to imagine Jesus’ solitude in the garden called Gethsemane.

As his heart and mind writhed in agony before his impending execution and the lived experience of abandonment by his Father, his friends, too, deserted him for sleep. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »