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Proper 16, Year C

Luke 13:22-30 - link to NRSV text

I blogged on this passage back in Lent, when it was an optional set of verses one could read with Luke 13:31-35. I think if I were preaching this coming Sunday, I'd go with basically the same take, but perhaps adding something that I think I recall Brian McLaren saying (I couldn't find the quote -- perhaps it was said in personal conversation, or perhaps I'm saying what I think he'd say): If you claim to be a Christian and you don't think that universalism -- the idea that everyone will benefit from Christ's saving work -- is true, you should WISH with all your heart it were true.

Here's what I'd preach on, if I were preaching this Sunday: if you were asking Jesus the question, "Lord, are only a few being saved?" what answer would you be hoping to hear? What answer would make you breathe a sigh of relief, and what answer would make you want to weep or push for a different answer? If you can't say, with all your heart, that you hope Jesus would say that EVERYONE, including each one with whom you disagree and each one whom you see as an enemy, is being saved -- right now, as they are -- then here's my advice as a person with a passion for evangelism:

Before you go to do whatever you think needs to be done to make your neighbor save-able, ask God to work on your own heart. Until you want your neighbor's joy and peace more than you want to be right, you won't be able to communicate very effectively about the God who is Love, or about the man we testify is Love Incarnate.

That said, here's my blog entry from the Second Sunday of Lent, including comment on this coming Sunday's gospel:

Luke 13:(22-30)31-35 - link to NRSV text

This is a long entry, but I'm such a fan of Luke's craft as a writer that I can't keep myself from examining and admiring it here.

I can see why the good folks who crafted our lectionary decided to make verses 22-30 optional. A lot of commentary authors comment on it in a section apart from their comment on verses 31-35.

But Luke is a VERY careful writer, and I see a possible thematic connection here. It seems clearer to me when I read a larger section -- say, starting from Luke 11:37 and continuing through 18:14. I wouldn't say that this whole thing is one big thematic section, but there's a much higher concentration of material that mentions the Pharisees, or seems -- at least in Luke's seemingly idiosyncratic portrayal of the Pharisees -- to be targeted at them. And I'm interested in this, in part because I think it helps to answer the question most interests most folks commenting on Luke 13:31-35, the section in which Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod Antipas is out to get him -- namely, were the Pharisees here trying to do Jesus a favor, or were they trying to set him up in some destructive way?

So, check out Luke 13:10-17, the section just before the optional section of this Sunday's gospel. It's one of those controversial healings in a synagogue on the sabbath, criticized by "the leader of the synagogue." Jesus answers by saying that someone with a thirsty ox or donkey would untie it on the sabbath to give it water. Who met in synagogues? Pharisees. So even though the word isn't used here, Pharisees are Jesus' foils in the passage. And then look at Luke 13:31-35 -- it's the Pharisees again. Look at Luke 14:1-6.  It's another story of a controversial healing in front of Pharisees on the sabbath -- and to top it off, Jesus again (in some manuscripts, at least) talks about how one would treat an ox or donkey on the sabbath. And look at Luke 14:7-23, which, with 14:1-6, completes a trilogy of stories involving a host giving a dinner and pointing toward Pharisees. It's a good bet that that Luke 13:20-30 (and vs. 18-20 before that) little bit of text in between, also, for Luke's readers, has something to do with Pharisees. That's Luke's style.

This Sunday's gospel, including the optional part, ties well into the themes Luke is raising in this large section of the gospel. In the opening and optional part of the gospel, Luke 13:22-30, someone asks Jesus whether only a few will be saved. That was a live question, in Jesus' day. I wonder whether the questioner hoped the answer was "yes" -- only a few will be saved -- or "no" -- a great many will be saved.

Jesus' answer leads me to believe that he saw his questioner as exactly the sort of person Luke criticizes in Luke 11:53-54 -- a person who wants to see others tripped up, someone who takes more pleasure in seeing someone, or at least an "unrighteous" person, destroyed than in seeing that person saved. Jesus starts off talking about a "narrow door," and about "many" who will strive to enter it and won't be able to get in. His questioner probably would have perked up considerably at that point; he's being invited to think of himself not only as an insider, but as a very select group of insiders. Then the questioner hears about all those on the outside weeping and gnashing their teeth. So far, so good.

And then Jesus pulls the rug out. He talks about people coming "from east and west, from north and south" to "eat in the kingdom of God." That's a vision of the nations, ta ethne -- AKA "the Gentiles" -- feasting in God's kingdom. And Jesus says, "some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last" (13:30). Jesus doesn't condemn any group wholesale, but he observes that it's going to be very hard for people to get in who want to be invited to the feast because they think it's a selective affair. Once they see the guest list, they're going to have to tame some pretty major revulsion about the person who'd be passing them the salt at the feast, and that's just too hard for some folks who see themselves as among the "first." So some may find themselves shut out from Jesus' table in the only way one can make that happen: by refusing to share it with the others invited.

And then comes the Pharisees' warning to Jesus: Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, is out to get him. Were they trying to help him or harm him? Either way, they are trying to tame him. If they are doing Jesus a "favor," it's worth remembering that this is what anthropologists call an honor-shame culture, in which any favor someone pays you will be called in for a favor to be given in exchange at some point (think of the film The Godfather as a helpful comparison). If they are helping Jesus by encouraging him to flee from Galilee and Herod's power, Jesus will owe them one, and he'll be in their power.

And then it's worth pointing out that the Herod in question is Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee -- these people are telling Jesus to flee from Galilee to Jerusalem. They could full well be counseling Jesus to go where he is most likely to run afoul of Roman authority, and furthermore to look like a coward in doing so.

Jesus is too smart to be tamed that way. In his response, he says what we already know is true from Luke 9:31, which I blogged on a couple of weeks ago. That's in the story of Jesus' Transfiguration, in which Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus' "departure," his exodus, "which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem." Jesus knows he's headed for Jerusalem, regardless of what Herod Antipas does or does not want. He's not going to be distracted from his mission: freeing people from the powers and illnesses that hold them down and apart from community, and then finishing his work in Jerusalem (Luke 13:32). He refuses to act as the Pharisees' client or as Herod Antipas' subject here -- ironically, because he is headed for Jerusalem to be exposed, made vulnerable, and treated as a slave to all.

Luke's portrayal of the Pharisees is complicated; throughout Luke-Acts, some are friendly to Jesus and his disciples (see, for example, Gamaliel in Acts 5:33-39, and the Christian Pharisees who are present at the "apostolic council" in Acts 15:5). But in Luke's gospel (as in the work of the ancient historian Josephus), Pharisees are shown as having significant power and influence, and as a result Jesus' dealings with them are fraught. Whether they are trying to recruit him or trap him (and is there always such a big difference between those two things?), they present serious challenges. These are good people seeking to do right, but they're caught in a system, a kosmos or world order, in which good people seeking to do right sometimes end up persecuting prophets. When we who seek to follow Jesus read passages in which Jesus interacts with Pharisees, we're tempted to identify with Jesus. But I think that it's a good discipline for us, especially in Lent, to prayerfully ask how much we're like the Pharisees -- how much we good, religious folk manage, through our participation and complicity in unjust systems, end up despising those whom God honors, hurting God's healers, trying to silence God's prophets.

Thanks be to God for Jesus' life, ministry, and death, through which Jesus defeated the powers that oppress, and that turn us into oppressors.

August 16, 2004 in Luke, Ordinary Time, Pharisees, Year C | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Proper 16, Year C

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Proper 16, Year C

Luke 13:22-30 - link to NRSV text

I blogged on this passage back in Lent, when it was an optional set of verses one could read with Luke 13:31-35. I think if I were preaching this coming Sunday, I'd go with basically the same take, but perhaps adding something that I think I recall Brian McLaren saying (I couldn't find the quote -- perhaps it was said in personal conversation, or perhaps I'm saying what I think he'd say): If you claim to be a Christian and you don't think that universalism -- the idea that everyone will benefit from Christ's saving work -- is true, you should WISH with all your heart it were true.

Here's what I'd preach on, if I were preaching this Sunday: if you were asking Jesus the question, "Lord, are only a few being saved?" what answer would you be hoping to hear? What answer would make you breathe a sigh of relief, and what answer would make you want to weep or push for a different answer? If you can't say, with all your heart, that you hope Jesus would say that EVERYONE, including each one with whom you disagree and each one whom you see as an enemy, is being saved -- right now, as they are -- then here's my advice as a person with a passion for evangelism:

Before you go to do whatever you think needs to be done to make your neighbor save-able, ask God to work on your own heart. Until you want your neighbor's joy and peace more than you want to be right, you won't be able to communicate very effectively about the God who is Love, or about the man we testify is Love Incarnate.

That said, here's my blog entry from the Second Sunday of Lent, including comment on this coming Sunday's gospel:

Luke 13:(22-30)31-35 - link to NRSV text

This is a long entry, but I'm such a fan of Luke's craft as a writer that I can't keep myself from examining and admiring it here.

I can see why the good folks who crafted our lectionary decided to make verses 22-30 optional. A lot of commentary authors comment on it in a section apart from their comment on verses 31-35.

But Luke is a VERY careful writer, and I see a possible thematic connection here. It seems clearer to me when I read a larger section -- say, starting from Luke 11:37 and continuing through 18:14. I wouldn't say that this whole thing is one big thematic section, but there's a much higher concentration of material that mentions the Pharisees, or seems -- at least in Luke's seemingly idiosyncratic portrayal of the Pharisees -- to be targeted at them. And I'm interested in this, in part because I think it helps to answer the question most interests most folks commenting on Luke 13:31-35, the section in which Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod Antipas is out to get him -- namely, were the Pharisees here trying to do Jesus a favor, or were they trying to set him up in some destructive way?

So, check out Luke 13:10-17, the section just before the optional section of this Sunday's gospel. It's one of those controversial healings in a synagogue on the sabbath, criticized by "the leader of the synagogue." Jesus answers by saying that someone with a thirsty ox or donkey would untie it on the sabbath to give it water. Who met in synagogues? Pharisees. So even though the word isn't used here, Pharisees are Jesus' foils in the passage. And then look at Luke 13:31-35 -- it's the Pharisees again. Look at Luke 14:1-6.  It's another story of a controversial healing in front of Pharisees on the sabbath -- and to top it off, Jesus again (in some manuscripts, at least) talks about how one would treat an ox or donkey on the sabbath. And look at Luke 14:7-23, which, with 14:1-6, completes a trilogy of stories involving a host giving a dinner and pointing toward Pharisees. It's a good bet that that Luke 13:20-30 (and vs. 18-20 before that) little bit of text in between, also, for Luke's readers, has something to do with Pharisees. That's Luke's style.

This Sunday's gospel, including the optional part, ties well into the themes Luke is raising in this large section of the gospel. In the opening and optional part of the gospel, Luke 13:22-30, someone asks Jesus whether only a few will be saved. That was a live question, in Jesus' day. I wonder whether the questioner hoped the answer was "yes" -- only a few will be saved -- or "no" -- a great many will be saved.

Jesus' answer leads me to believe that he saw his questioner as exactly the sort of person Luke criticizes in Luke 11:53-54 -- a person who wants to see others tripped up, someone who takes more pleasure in seeing someone, or at least an "unrighteous" person, destroyed than in seeing that person saved. Jesus starts off talking about a "narrow door," and about "many" who will strive to enter it and won't be able to get in. His questioner probably would have perked up considerably at that point; he's being invited to think of himself not only as an insider, but as a very select group of insiders. Then the questioner hears about all those on the outside weeping and gnashing their teeth. So far, so good.

And then Jesus pulls the rug out. He talks about people coming "from east and west, from north and south" to "eat in the kingdom of God." That's a vision of the nations, ta ethne -- AKA "the Gentiles" -- feasting in God's kingdom. And Jesus says, "some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last" (13:30). Jesus doesn't condemn any group wholesale, but he observes that it's going to be very hard for people to get in who want to be invited to the feast because they think it's a selective affair. Once they see the guest list, they're going to have to tame some pretty major revulsion about the person who'd be passing them the salt at the feast, and that's just too hard for some folks who see themselves as among the "first." So some may find themselves shut out from Jesus' table in the only way one can make that happen: by refusing to share it with the others invited.

And then comes the Pharisees' warning to Jesus: Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, is out to get him. Were they trying to help him or harm him? Either way, they are trying to tame him. If they are doing Jesus a "favor," it's worth remembering that this is what anthropologists call an honor-shame culture, in which any favor someone pays you will be called in for a favor to be given in exchange at some point (think of the film The Godfather as a helpful comparison). If they are helping Jesus by encouraging him to flee from Galilee and Herod's power, Jesus will owe them one, and he'll be in their power.

And then it's worth pointing out that the Herod in question is Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee -- these people are telling Jesus to flee from Galilee to Jerusalem. They could full well be counseling Jesus to go where he is most likely to run afoul of Roman authority, and furthermore to look like a coward in doing so.

Jesus is too smart to be tamed that way. In his response, he says what we already know is true from Luke 9:31, which I blogged on a couple of weeks ago. That's in the story of Jesus' Transfiguration, in which Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus' "departure," his exodus, "which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem." Jesus knows he's headed for Jerusalem, regardless of what Herod Antipas does or does not want. He's not going to be distracted from his mission: freeing people from the powers and illnesses that hold them down and apart from community, and then finishing his work in Jerusalem (Luke 13:32). He refuses to act as the Pharisees' client or as Herod Antipas' subject here -- ironically, because he is headed for Jerusalem to be exposed, made vulnerable, and treated as a slave to all.

Luke's portrayal of the Pharisees is complicated; throughout Luke-Acts, some are friendly to Jesus and his disciples (see, for example, Gamaliel in Acts 5:33-39, and the Christian Pharisees who are present at the "apostolic council" in Acts 15:5). But in Luke's gospel (as in the work of the ancient historian Josephus), Pharisees are shown as having significant power and influence, and as a result Jesus' dealings with them are fraught. Whether they are trying to recruit him or trap him (and is there always such a big difference between those two things?), they present serious challenges. These are good people seeking to do right, but they're caught in a system, a kosmos or world order, in which good people seeking to do right sometimes end up persecuting prophets. When we who seek to follow Jesus read passages in which Jesus interacts with Pharisees, we're tempted to identify with Jesus. But I think that it's a good discipline for us, especially in Lent, to prayerfully ask how much we're like the Pharisees -- how much we good, religious folk manage, through our participation and complicity in unjust systems, end up despising those whom God honors, hurting God's healers, trying to silence God's prophets.

Thanks be to God for Jesus' life, ministry, and death, through which Jesus defeated the powers that oppress, and that turn us into oppressors.

August 16, 2004 in Luke, Ordinary Time, Pharisees, Year C | Permalink

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.