Weekly Bible Reflection
LUKE'S SIGNS OF THE KINGDOM
Humanity is facing enormous life threatening challenges on a
planetary scale. We see violence in many places and worse still violence
justified on religious grounds. Global warming and climate change, massive
resource depletion, fossil fuels and precious minerals fast running out,
destruction of habitats and extinction of species all press in on us as the
human population continues to grow. The accumulation of wealth by a few at the
expense of the many and the recent financial storm have only served to deepen
the sense of crisis. As always, those who suffer most are the world's poor.
Can we avoid catastrophe and find new ways to live in harmony
with each other and with the Earth itself?
There is great wisdom to be found in ancient texts like Luke's
Gospel. The gospel speaks to our situation in powerful ways. It was written to
assure the Christian community at a time of social, cultural and political
turmoil. Christians needed to be reminded of the deep hope that resides in the
person of Jesus.
Luke is the longest of the four gospels and together with Acts
make up one quarter of the New Testament. There are many themes in Luke but
threaded through them all is that of the kingdom of God. It occurs 36 times in
the gospel compared with eight in Matthew. The kingdom is what the world would
be like were human freedom placed in God's hands. Jesus fills out the meaning
of the kingdom in his life, death and resurrection, in his relationships and
Luke's Jesus is inclusive. He welcomes all at his table,
particularly those of low social status (including women), people who are poor,
those sick and deemed unclean, all those who live in the shadows on the fringes
of society. For Luke, the good news is that there is a seat at the table for
people of all races and not just a chosen few. God's purpose according to Luke
is to seek and to save that which was lost. This marks a great reversal as
salvation comes first to those deemed undeserving (the lost coin Luke 15 and
Zacchaeus Luke 19).
Luke's community is to mirror Jesus. They are to reach beyond
the cultural confines of Judaism to include Samaritans (10 v 29-37) and Gentiles
(see 2 v 32; 13 v 29), even to enemies. No longer are there to be insiders and
outsiders. Jesus' rejection at Nazareth signals just how difficult it is to
change people's attitudes and to change an unjust system that is exclusive.
Luke's Jesus also turns power on its head. Jesus offers wholeness and forgiveness from a position of vulnerability and weakness. He speaks of love rather hatred of enemies. This is how God works. The path to peace is not through hatred and violence but through forgiving love. Jesus offers a third way to redemptive violence and passive submission to evil - non-violent resistance of evil. 'Luke asserts...that God will address violence and evil ultimately, and that history is in God's hands. This conviction should bring confidence in the midst of a violent present. It should encourage a community of disciples - not to violent vindictiveness, nor passive aggression-but to a confident and alert meditation on divine possibilities.
Luke's Jesus encourages us, in the face of today's great challenges, to live an alternative vision to that of western consumerism and militarism. To be faithful to Jesus in our time requires nothing less than a deep commitment to a radical Christian discipleship in community together as bearers of the great hope of the coming peaceful reign of God.
Some themes threaded through Luke's gospel to watch out for:
- concern for the sick and poor
- reaching out to the marginalized groups
- attitude towards and use of money and possessions
- service and humility
- challenging injustice and corruption
- the sovereignty of God and prayer
For more on inclusion see wn.anglican.org.nz/files/Inclusion-in-Luke.pdf.
See also 'Dining with Jesus in the Third Gospel' at: http://eapi.admu.edu.ph/eapr005/ibita.htm and 'A place at table' at: www.ccky.org/Resources/Ketteler/2009/07 02 09 A Place at the Table Gospel of Luke.pdf
The theme of Jesus and Violence is picked up superbly in J.M. Ford, 1984, My Enemy is My Guest: Jesus and Violence in Luke, Orbis, Maryknoll, NY. Also see John Dear's site at www.johndear.org.
On economic justice issues see Sang Chang's Bible study 'Justice of Jubilee in Luke' at www.warc.ch/dp/rw9512/12.html.
For those who would like a video resource, Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge and Professor Emeritus David Bartlett discuss the Gospel of Luke at www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvV5tBHU2Ik. Also see Tom Wright on the Kingdom of God at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHtJ94951Jg and go on to the next video. Although focused on Acts his talk picks up the theme well.
For a comprehensive list of resource material on Luke go to www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/luke.php.