Jesus has a lot to say.
Written by Blue Pipe Thoughts.
I thought it would be nice to remind myself of the Christmas story by reading Luke’s Gospel which has (along with Matthew) an account of the arrival of Jesus in the world as a baby:
- The angel Gabriel announces the conception of special sons; first to Zechariah (who doubts), and then to Mary (who rejoices fiercely)
- The special status of Jesus is confirmed first by choirs of angels and faithful people, and later in childhood he is drawn to the temple in Jerusalem
- John awakens to his ministry; exhorting and baptising for repentance; many flock to him for baptism, including Joseph’s son Jesus
- Jesus uses Deuteronomic law to defend himself from temptation, and begins teaching in the synagogues attracting both positive and negative attention
- Disciples and people in need of healing flock to Jesus willy nilly; when disapproving observers compare him unfavourably to cousin John, he hints at different kind of calling
- Jesus teaches his followers the purpose of Jewish law, and the even higher standards for those who want the closest relationship with God
- Compassion for unsavoury but repentant sufferers brings Jesus into conflict with the self-appointed righteous – even cousin John expresses doubt in Jesus’ ministry
- Jesus goes on a preaching tour, and on the way fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy by setting people free from the things tormenting them (the sign he told doubting cousin John to look out for in chapter 7)
- Jesus intensifies the training of his disciples; teaching, challenging and testing them, and they often seem to struggle with what he’s trying to tell them
- A large group of disciples is sent out by Jesus and he rejoices when they come back triumphant, meanwhile he continues to preach and teach in public places and private homes
- Jesus encourages his disciples to seek God’s aid as they would from a good father or neighbour, but berates the people who appear to be looking for signs from God while not heeding the signs already there
- Jesus tells his disciples and the crowds about God’s love for them, but also warns them to prioritise seeking God above all else
- Jesus teaches that seeking God’s will requires a change of heart, mind and habits, while also suggesting that few really want to discover God’s transformative will for their lives
- Jesus exhorts his followers not to put their own or their family’s status foremost if they truly want to serve God
- In response to those who are uncomfortable with some of the company he keeps, Jesus tells many stories, each emphasising a reckless love for the lost
- Jesus observes that those who highly value their wealth and high status are very good at making the world bend to their will, and are therefore unlikely to hear God calling them to a different way of living
- Cryptic words from Jesus about belonging, duty and signs, suggest that Godly things will not happen the way people expect them to
- Continuing to teach a range of people in parables, Jesus challenges concepts of righteousness, discipleship and leadership
- As he draws near and then enters Jerusalem, Jesus’ behaviour and teaching continue to alienate many respectable citizens, but attract the disreputable
- Experts try to catch Jesus out on complex matters relating to Jewish law, he confounds these attempts, and warns others against these kinds of tricks
- Observing people in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus warns that the signs of God’s coming will be alarming, and that to be prepared people should focus on God – like the widow who offered her ‘mite’, rather than the wealthy who gave what they could easily afford
- After celebrating the Passover feast with his closest disciples, Jesus is betrayed by one, denied by another and finally led out alone, to face judgement for the disruption his activities have caused
- Those who believed Jesus to be an agitator have their way; he is condemned and crucified, while his faithful followers can only watch him die, and then care for his corpse
- The disciples of Jesus are initially distressed to discover that his body has gone from the tomb, but gradually a sense of joy grows as they encounter him in person, and all that he taught them falls into place
Jesus said, Jesus said, Jesus said… We hear a lot from Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. A different ratio of action and speech than Marks gospel, which makes Jesus seem more approachable – you can imagine being able to talk to him and ask questions. It’s therefore very striking how little Jesus says in chapter 23, when he is judged and executed – it’s so clear that he could have talked his way out of the sentence had he chosen to do so.
It was very challenging to make some of these chapters into a single sentences. Chapters 7 and 8 were particularly hard, as I felt that everything about the interaction between John the Baptist and Jesus was significant but there were other interesting things going on too, such as Luke’s strong emphasis on the importance of various women to Jesus’ ministry.
The CEB translation in chapter 3 led me on an interesting thought process. It reads:
“People supposed that [Jesus] was the son of…” (verse 23)
This is followed by the genealogy of Joseph’s male line all the way back through Adam to God. As I thought about that word ‘supposed’ I began to feel that it’s important to remember that Joseph was Jesus’ dad – in every way that mattered during his earthly life. Joseph’s story doesn’t get much mention in Luke’s gospel, especially compared to John’s dad Zechariah, but his part in Jesus’ life must have been as significant as that other dad was in his son’s. I wondered if part of the reason we downplay Joseph’s part is because we tend to have a bias towards understanding parenthood in genetic terms. Whatever the reason, I don’t think I previously thought of Joseph as Jesus’ dad, but more like some kind of back up/spare/dad- prop to provide a front for his real dad – God. I don’t think Mary or Jesus could have made it without Joseph. I also don’t think Jesus would have ascribed father imagery to God so effectively if his own dad hadn’t been pretty special to him.
Unlike Marks gospel, which really felt like a ‘bare bones’ account, Luke’s gospel feels like it has a lot more ‘padding’. As the author explains at the beginning, this gospel is the result of investigation (Luke 1:3); and there are instances where you feel that we are getting the same stories repeated from different viewpoints, but set up as different events. I sometimes find this frustrating, as it leads me to wonder which account is the best – the most accurate. I can remember when I first learned that the four gospels were four different versions of the same story (I received no Christian instruction when I was young and knew very little about the contents of the bible until I was in my 30s), back then I thought it was a bit of a swizz. Nowadays I’m constantly amazed and thankful for the multifaceted view of the Christian story we have available in the bible, the fact that it exists in this form for most mainstream denominations has to be a testament to God’s Spirit in action. In entirely human hands it would surely have been edited into something much less confusing and more palatable – something like this project I’m undertaking perhaps?!
The ending of Luke is joyful and satisfying – it is part one of a sequel, but I don’t think I’ll move straight on to the Book of Acts just yet.