Sat, 26 January 2008
Beginning in Chapter 8, our study continues Luke's account of Jesus' active ministry. Accompanied by "the twelve [...], some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities; Mary, called Magdalene [...] and many others," Jesus draws large crowds when he preaches (v. 2-3).
To one great crowd, Jesus delivers the parable of the Sower and the Seed, or what we might more aptly call the Parable of the Soils. These different soils are a good illustration of a number of stages of the spiritual life. After Jesus lists the various soils, we see that each type represents richer grade of soil, and each is more able to bear and sustain a healthy spiritual life than the last. Lastly, He describes our final goal, "And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience" (v. 15). This and all the parables of this chapter relay that in order to achieve this, we must seek Him, persevere in our seeking, ask his aid and never relent.
Exhausted from His ministry, Jesus then falls asleep while traveling across the Sea of Galilee. Soon thereafter, a sudden storm of wind begins to overtake their boat. His apostles awake Him with such little faith that as soon as He has rebuked the wind and the water, he chastises them for their weak faith. How often do we act like the disciples and doubt whether God will protect His people in times of peril?
Upon arrival at the shore, we see the Lucan account of a man possessed by Legion who lives among the catacombs in the country of the Gerasenes. Confronting this man, Jesus casts out the numerous demons into a herd of swine that hurl themselves over a cliff and into the sea. Jesus then gives the healed man a mission to speak of God's miraculous power.
In verses 40 through 48, one faithful touch of Jesus' cloak heals a woman with a twelve-year hemorrhage, although the miraculous power of God will not go out into any other member of the jostling crowd surrounding Him. Jesus then raises Jairus' daughter from the dead amidst the of laughter her hired mourners (v. 49-56).
In the beginning of Chapter 9, Jesus sends out the twelve throughout the villages of Galilee with "no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money" to minister to the people through "preaching the gospel and healing" (v. 3). Even at this relatively early stage of Jesus' public ministry, Herod hears of all that has been done and seeks to see Jesus.
Upon the return of the disciples from their missionary activity, they gather with Jesus in the lonely desert area of Bethsaida. Here Jesus multiples five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand men, in addition to the accompanying women and children, with twelve baskets of food left over (v. 10-17).
Luke quickly relays crucial gospel events in verses 18-27: Peter confesses that He is "the Christ of God," Jesus speaks to the suffering He will undergo at the hands of the Jewish leaders, and Jesus describes what it means to truly be His disciple, "let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
At the Transfiguration of Jesus, John, James and Peter witness Jesus transfigured with Moses and Elijah (v. 28-36). Peter's impetuous line contrasts the voice of God calling heaven and bellowing "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!"
As Jesus and the three return from the mountain, they witness the plea of a father whose son foams from the mouth with a demon, one whom His own disciples could not expel. Luke, unlike the other synoptic writers chronicles Jesus response to the man's request, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?" (v. 41). The words of Jesus hearken to God's complaint against His people in the 14th chapter of Numbers, where people look only for miracles and have no recourse to God or His ways. As the crowd cheers that Jesus has expelled the violent demon, Jesus reminds them that He will go to the cross for them, but they do not understand.
The conclusion of Chapter 9 showcases three teachings on discipleship. Jesus shows the price of discipleship when he says "foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head," and later "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God" and finally "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (v. 57-62). In all of these, we see how Jesus calls all of his disciples to follow Him in total self-giving.
Sat, 19 January 2008
At the start of Chapter 6, the scribes and Pharisees confront Jesus on two occasions regarding how He and His disciples observe the sabbath. Jesus implies that while the law of the Lord is perfect and provides guidance, the law is not an end in and of itself, but a means to the end – a roadmap to God, if you will.
We see the scribes and Pharisees scrutinize the actions of Jesus and His disciples, watching for even the smallest mistake and demanding a strict observance of the law. When his disciples pluck heads of grain on the sabbath, Jesus transcends their reasoning and cites David's eating the bread of the Presence, claiming "the Son of man is lord of the sabbath" (v. 3-5). On another occasion, despite knowing the thoughts of the scribes and Pharisees, He heals on the sabbath after asking, "is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" (v. 9).
In verse 12, Jesus retires "in these days" to the mountain to pray, and spends all night in prayer before appointing twelve disciples, a period of time that is akin to Mt. Sinai and Moses' preparation prior to receiving God's covenant. From his numerous disciples, Jesus selects twelve by name to be His apostles. One sees in this the continuation of the Hebrew office of "shaliach" wherein a master sends out a representative, oftentimes giving them their full power.
In verse 17, Luke first expounds on the core of Jesus' message in the Sermon on the Plain. Among these tenets, we hear, "Blessed are you when men hate you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets" (v. 20-24).
Accompanying these promises and exhortations, Jesus expounds on the following warnings, in order that we might not follow imprudent paths, most notably He says, "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets" (v. 25-26).
Jesus demands a radical adherence to all of the gospel message in one's actions. He fleshes out many ethical teachings in verses 27-38. Overall, we see that we must rely completely on God instead of desiring security or clinging to what is comfortable. If we are not radical disciples of Jesus and only take His message half-heartedly, we are no better than blind men and possess no credible Christian identity (v. 39). Verses 40-49 further describe Jesus' lofty call, containing many wonderful images and lessons for us all.
The start of Chapter 7 describes the miraculous healings in Capernaum and Nain. In the first, Jesus says of the centurion "not even in Israel have I found such faith" before healing the man's son (v. 9). Soon after this, Jesus travels to Nain and raises a young man from the dead by touching the platform on which he is being carried out of the city, saying, "Young man, I say to you, arise" (v. 14).
Somewhat unlike the depiction of John the Baptist given to us in the Gospel of John, Luke describes that the Baptizer is in need for a final answer whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. After the disciples of John describe the events in Capernaum and Nain to him, John and Jesus communicate with one another through messengers. Giving the last statement, Jesus' disciples cite elements from Isaiah, imply His Messianic identity, acclaim John's ministry and justify those who receive John's baptism.
In verse 36, Luke describes a striking incident while Jesus dines in the house of Simon, a Pharisee. During the meal, a sinful woman enters, wetting his feet with her tears, kissing them, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with oil. Jesus contrasts her devotion with the lack of honor Simon bestows upon Him. He says, "her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (47). Simon who is only aware of formal religion, does not break through to God and thus cannot honor Jesus in the same manner. By following Jesus' message wholeheartedly, not only do we receive His forgiveness, but break beyond formal religion to encounter Christ Himself.
Sat, 12 January 2008
In Luke 4:31 Jesus teaches at the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. For the first time, Jesus publicly commands an unclean spirit to listen to Him, and instantly it comes out of the man. This very important event along with the healing of Peter's mother-in-law are the first episodes that bring Jesus into the public eye as a healer and miracle-worker. These form a turning point Jesus' ministry, for He is now unable to travel anywhere without large crowds following Him.
In Chapter 5, Luke opens with the catching of a multitude of fishes and Peter's confession on the Sea of Galilee where, amidst a tremendous haul of flopping fish, Peter becomes convicted, kneels down and asks Jesus to leave the boat (without realizing that there is no place to go). John's Gospel tells us that Jesus knows Peter before this event, but Luke here highlights the moment where Jesus first breaks through to the man who would become the Rock.
In verse 12, Jesus heals a man with leprosy, an event which compels "great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed." Because the recipients of Jesus' miracles do not heed his words to "tell no one," the crowds that follow Him become increasingly burdensome.
The healing of the paralytic is the dramatic moment that turns the Pharisees against Jesus. Luke says "the power of the Lord was with him to heal," a subtle reminder that Jesus did not even do miracles unless they were in accord with the will of the Father (v. 17). The room being full of dignitaries and scholars, earnest men creatively carry a paralytic up to the roof, seeking to bring him in through it and lay him before Jesus. One must note that Jesus "saw their faith," the faith of the majority in the crowd, before saying, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." Because God alone can forgive sins, this miracle forces all to decide whether He is God's chosen one or a blasphemer.
Luke then describes the call of Levi the tax collector, commanding him to "follow me" (v. 27). The Pharisees and scribes murmur at this, and Jesus responds, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (v. 31-32). His indictment of their maligned form of religion truth brings to mind the words of Fulton Sheen, "those who deny the disease make the cure impossible."
We close with the incident of verse 33, when they question "the disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink."
And Jesus said to them, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days." He told them a parable also: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it upon an old garment; if he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good...'" (36-39)
Jesus makes it clear that He has not come to fit inside ordinary Judaism, but to transform the establishment entirely in accord with the Father's will. All too often, those who are the most invested in traditional ways are the most unwilling to give up their old wine and accept God's challenging invitation to new wine.
As we read of Jesus coming into Galilee, we must digest these verses and examine where we stand with God, asking Him what we must to do follow Him. We must be like Levi, a man undoubtedly engrossed in the world who left everything to follow Him. Will we be among those religious that don't leave their comfortable lifestyle to follow Him, or will we respond to Jesus in a credible way and amend our lives?
Sat, 5 January 2008
At the start of the Gospel proper, Luke focuses on John the Baptist: his ministry and his message. It seems Christians today often shrink the role of John the Baptist and the roles other Prophets in the history of salvation, and instead embrace a "let's cut to the chase" mentality. The fact that John is present at the onset of all four Gospels speaks to his priority early Christians gave him. Far more than Jesus' emcee, John is a thundering voice who preaches repentance and preparation for the one who is to come after him.
Luke's Third Chapter records events of A.D. 29 or 30, when the word of God calls John out of his repose in the wilderness and into ministry. His "baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins," while not a Sacramental Baptism, shows how God's salvific grace acts throughout all history and looks forward to the grounds of forgiveness through Jesus Christ (v. 3). John is the "herald's voice in the desert, crying [...]" of the necessity of preparation for reception of the Gospel:
"You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Give some evidence that you mean to reform. Do not begin by saying to yourselves, 'Abraham is our father.' I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (v. 7-9)
Condemning injustices of all kinds, John's ministry is so electric that men of all kinds ask him whether or not he is the Christ. He clarifies that "there is one to come who is mightier than I [...] He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire" (v. 16).
As the Holy Spirit descends visibly in a "form like a dove" upon Jesus at his baptism, God shows John the one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit and whose "winnowing fan is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, but chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (v. 22). In no need of John's Baptism, Jesus travels to the Jordan to bless the waters and open the way for future Sacramental Baptism.
In verse 23, we see that Luke's genealogy that begins with Adam, Son of God. This contrasts Matthew's Judaic genealogy places Abraham as Jesus' eldest relative.
"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, then returned from the Jordan and was conducted by the spirit into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the devil (4:1). Although the devil tempts Jesus three times by using Scripture Jesus is able to rebuke the devil with Scripture and does not succumb. In all three instances, the devil proposes that Jesus compromise his principles to accomplish a so-called greater good.
In 4:14, Jesus returns into Galilee to begin his active ministry by teaching in the synagogues to much praise. Yet, Luke does not mention the arrest of John as the catalyst in the start of Jesus' active ministry as do the other Gospel writers.
In one notable instance, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth and reads powerfully from a scroll of Isaiah 61:11, announcing the advent of the Messianic age:
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release of prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord" (18).
Initially lauded by all in attendance, Jesus soon questions the assembly's sincerity and speaks of the hardness of their hearts. This enrages crowd, so much so they "rose up and expelled him from the town, leading him to the brow of the hill [...] and intending to hurl him over the edge" (29). Jesus, however, is able to pass through their mist and walk away. The first of many instances where Jesus' message pushes the limits of human receptiveness, we will contrast this noticeable instance with Jesus' teaching at Capernaum in next week's podcast.