Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Second Sunday of Advent
Text: Luke 3. 1-6 "Straightening Things Out "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Reflect on the life of your neighbourhood or local community.
- Where in the life of your local community do you sense that relationships might need to be straightened out?
- Where might ‘playing fields” need levelling?
- Where are dealings not quite as straightforward as one might wish?
A Window on the Text
The first words of this reading set the scene with just a few brush strokes.
- One stroke outlines the presence of a superpower, Rome. Tiberius is the Roman Emperor. Pontius Pilate is his representative in Jerusalem. Quirinius is the Pro-Consul at Antioch in Syria (Luke 2.2)
- Another reveals a second layer of rule. The Herodian dynasty rule the tetrarch, the four sub kingdoms, of Palestine.
- A third points to the religious power structure. Annas (Annanias) and Caiaphas are High Priests of the Temple in Jerusalem.
A few more brush strokes, a bit more historical colour, would reveal that all those parties are locked together in an uncomfortable and corrupt political accommodation.
- The Herodian dynasty are Edomites not Jews. They gained power in a bloody conflict with Hashmodean (Greek) kings in 40BC and are now kept in power at the behest of the Emperor, Tiberius.
- The High Priests too are puppets of the super-power. According to the historian, Josephus, Annas had just been appointed High Priest by Quirinius. He was later removed from office by another Roman procurator and replaced by his son-in-law, Caiaphas.
- Herod kept the High Priests in his pocket by commissioning a rebuilding of the Temple at huge expense and over a 60-year period.
- The Romans kept the High Priests in check by allowing Jewish worship to continue, but demanding that military flags be hung in the Temple.
The world to which John the Baptist speaks is similar in many ways to the world that we inhabit in 2009 with all its scheming, and political accommodation. If we need an image of Palestine in the first century we need look no further than Afghanistan in 2009 with its puppet ruler, super-power control and religious factions.
John was son of a priest, Zechariah, and no doubt familiar with the Temple and its politics. So it is significant that he goes into the desert, away from the capital city and its Temple to proclaim that the Lord is coming and that the way must be prepared. His message is one of repentance, turning away from old ways of living and starting again. It is the ordinary people who respond, those who instinctively know that there is a better way to organise society; ways that make level the hills of inequality and straighten out the crooked dealings. They are God’s ways and he is about to intervene as a human baby, born in a stable.
Responding as a community
The church in recent times has been expected to confine its talk of judgement and repentance to matters of personal relationships and family life. What other areas of life today might it legitimately speak about?
- To John the Baptist, preparing the way for the arrival of the Son of God had to be done from a desert place, not from the Temple of God. Does your church represent ‘Temple’ or Desert’ in the local community today?
- If church is not the best place from which to proclaim Jesus’ birth and to prepare for his ministry, where is ‘desert’ in your community from which you can speak?
- Pray for the officials who run your local community, local councellors, Police, magistrates, religious leaders etc.
- Pray too for the radical voices speaking from the ‘desert’ about issues of inequality, corruption, climate change, etc.
- Light a candle and say these words:
We light this candle for all God’s prophets,
confronting justice and restoring the dream
of a world of freedom and peace.
God, as we wait for your promise,
Give light, give hope.
From Candles and Conifers (P93)
Wild Goose Publication
- These first six verses of Luke 3 do more than simply outline the background to John’s ministry of preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. They also reveal some important elements of Luke’s theology, more of which will be seen as the year progresses. One strand of that theology concerns Christianity’s relationship with Roman rule. In his book “The New Testament, an Introduction”, Gerd Theissen notes that Luke sees the Roman Empire as an opportunity for Christians. It should not be seen as the great Satan, only bad officials are hindering it. And we shall see that good Roman soldiers feature in a number of places throughout Luke and Acts.