BiND: Day 73
Hmm, by the third time through the stories start to sound pretty similar, don’t they? “Didn’t I just read this??” Well, yes and no. Luke of course puts his own twist on the good news, the story of Jesus’ life and teaching, etc! Luke was likely written near the end of the 1st century, but the location of the writer and/or his community is unknown. What we do know is that Luke writes very elegantly and that his story is in two volumes, the second volume being the book of Acts. And it starts right at the beginning—he says to “Theophilus” (both a common name and a word meaning “god-lover”) that he knows there are other gospels, other stories, floating around, and he’s decided it’s time for a carefully researched historiography. This is a Hellenistic literary form that involves telling “history” in such a way that it makes a point—in this case, to teach and to inform people’s identity in terms of Christ’s identity as long-awaited Messiah. Since in antiquity (and to a certain extent still today, in some cases) “older is better” Luke needs to make the case that Jesus (and therefore the Christian community to which he writes) is part of a line extending back to the beginning of time, all the way to God. Which he does, in his genealogy tracing Jesus, through Joseph, all the way back to Adam and then to God.
After establishing in his dedication what he’s setting out to do, Luke sets up the story carefully, beginning with the parents of John the Baptist (who were likely well off and of high social standing), then cutting to Mary (of no social standing), then back to JTB and then back to Jesus…and in the process he tells us the story that we are used to hearing at Advent and Christmas—angels, shepherds, glorias, songs, prophets, the whole nine yards. Then nothing until the infamous precocious-12-year-old incident, which is reported only by Luke and at least gives us a little comic relief in the midst of the story. The 12 year old Jesus gets left behind after Passover and is eventually found hanging out with the teachers in the Temple
(which, by the way, is still a common form of education in the Middle East—teachers sit in the porticoes of mosques and synagogues and students sit around them in a circle and they have Q-and-A sessions). His mother, frantic with worry, chastises him. He, being 12, sasses his mother. Then he appears to feel bad about it and goes home with them and “was obedient to them.” uh huh. Like all 12 year olds, I’m sure.
One of the characteristics of Luke is that he says “and Jesus went around Galilee doing stuff” and then gives examples—the examples aren’t necessarily in chronological order, and if you plot them on a map they don’t necessarily make itinerary sense, but they give the listener an idea of some of the things Jesus said and did. Luke’s primary goal seems to be to show Jesus crossing boundaries and drawing the circle of God’s people ever wider—he’s sometimes called the “gentile” gospel for this reason. Jesus constantly flouts purity laws and teaches that the righteousness so oft extolled may in fact not involve any right relationships at all (“right relationship” is the definition of “righteousness” in biblical language). He also is more directly justice-oriented than some of the other gospel writers—so for example, Luke’s beatitudes are very direct:
blessed are you who are poor, who are hungry, who weep, when people hate and exclude you. Woe to you who are rich, who are full, who are laughing, when all speak well of you. A great reversal is going to happen and there will be equity in God’s kingdom, not like today’s kingdom. Also, have you noticed yet the number of women in Jesus’ circle? Matthew included women in his genealogy (and some scandalous ones, too!) but Luke includes women in Jesus’ ministry. Women are part of the traveling cohort, are healed, are restored to community, are raised from the dead. It’s quite shocking, actually!
Speaking of healing…we’re going to talk about that in class. 🙂
What did you notice as you read the beginning of Luke (which, incidentally, is basically in 3 acts and today was Act 1.)??
photos are: artwork from a church at the Shepherd’s Field just outside Bethlehem; the manger in the crypt under the Church of the Nativity (visiting that was the first time I realized that mangers would have been hewn out of stone, not made of wood the way we always depict them in Christmas pageants); women studying at al-Azhar Mosque, center of Islamic learning, in Cairo; and the floor and altar at Tabgha, the traditional place of the feeding of the 5,000. Tradition says that Jesus broke the loaves and fishes on that rock, the one with the cup of oil on it. Churches have been built on basically every single potentially holy place in all of the Holy Land–you can’t turn around without running into one. Many thanks to Helena, mother of Constantine, for scouting out the places important in Jesus’ life, so we could visit them even 2000 years later! photos all by TCP.