Monday, March 22, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Luke 12-16

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Luke, chapters 12-16.

Chapter 12

  • Verse 1: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" - Both Matthew and Mark include a passage where Jesus says something very like the first half of this sentence.  But whereas both of those gospels use that teaching to demonstrate an example of how the disciples get confused, Luke not only doesn't do this, but actually has Jesus explain what he means by the end of the sentence.  And that's it.  No confusion at all.  Just a quick sentence, and Luke moves on.
  • Verses 4-7 - I'm sure the close coupling of "fear him" and "don't be afraid" is no accident.
  • Verses 6-7 - I wonder if some of Jesus' message is lost on us, today.  Since we do not sell sparrows for so cheaply, do really get what it is the Jesus says when he talks about God not forgetting (even) them?
  • Verses 16-21 - I find it curious that Jesus spends so much time telling people not to worry about accumulating resources (and even, in the case of this parable, saving them for potential future use), but doesn't really get to saying what one should do with any excess resources until verse 33.
  • Verses 41-48 - Yet again, someone asks Jesus a straightforward question, which Jesus declines to give a straightforward answer to.  Why does Peter even ask the question in the first place?  
  • Verse 53 - Although Jesus refers to both men and women in this teaching, it's interesting that he only ever pits male against male and female against female.  Never male against female.  I don't know if this is significant or not.
Chapter 13
  • Verses 1-5 - I constantly find myself annoyed when certain Christian leaders look at some tragic event (the earthquake in Haiti provided at least one recent example) and suggest that the tragedy is God's judgment upon them for some sinful behavior.  It seems to me that one clear implication of this teaching is that Jesus thinks we shouldn't do that.
  • Verses 6-8 - Coming right on the heels of the previous verses, Jesus tells us we're on "borrowed time."  There is an urgency to the need to repent.1
  • Verses 20-21 - This parable is an odd one.  Generally speaking, when yeast is mentioned in the Bible (both Old and New Testament), it is a bad thing.  Usually, it refers to the contaminating effects of sin on a person or a people's life.  Here, it seems to refer to the pervasive power of God.
  • Verse 22-30 - It is teachings like this that make a "universalist" doctrine of salvation difficult (if not impossible) for me to accept, as much as I would like to believe in such a reality.  Even so, I do find myself wondering if the disciples understood what it is to be "saved" (as they ask the question of verse 23) in the same way as we understand the concept today.
  • Verses 31-35 - In a recent lecture by Fuller professor Marianne Meye Thompson (available here, go to 24:17 for the appropriate part), Thompson observes that Jesus is behaving rather the opposite of how Jonah acted in regard to his prophetic call.  While Jonah didn't want to go to assigned city, didn't want them to repent (already believing that they would, and that God would thus show them mercy), and was in fact recieved in his city by a response of repentance, Jesus is moving earnestly in the direction of Jerusalem, and longs for them to repent, yet fully expects them not to.
Chapter 14
  • Verse 1 - For all of the negative press the Pharisees get in the gospels, Jesus doesn't seem to be above eating in their homes....
  • Verses 7-11 - I may need to reassess just exactly what a "parable" is.  I've come to think of it as a story told (in the 3rd person) to illustrate a point.  However, this bit here seems to be a straightforward, 2nd-person teaching, yet the word "parable" is explicitly used to describe it.
  • Verses 15-24 - I'm starting to notice that Jesus occasionally takes statements made to him, statements that seem neither objectionable nor controversial (as in verse 15 here), and responds with a teaching that suggests that the seemingly non-controversial statement is in fact problematic.
  • Verse 24 - If the master of this story is so intent on making sure the house is full with banquet guests, why does he make the explicitly sweeping statement that "not one" of the previously invited guests would "get a taste"?  Aren't these sentiments contradictory?
Chapter 15
  • Verses 1-2 - In another lecture by Dr. Thompson (I'll link to it below, since it's most explicitly about the parable of the prodigal son), Dr. Thompson notes some things about Pharisees and "sinners" that are not necessarily obvious to us today:
    • Pharisees are lay people.  Not "church leaders" in any professional sense.  They are lay people who take a certain committment to adhere to the law, and do so not only because they have a zeal for following God (which means following the law, they especially would say), but because they believe that if the people of Israel fail to follow the law, God might do something like send them into exile again (the exile having been brought about by God as punishment for Israel's failure to follow the law).
    • "Sinners" in this context doesn't just mean "people who sin" (i.e., everyone), but rather people who seem to explicitly ignore the law, and who show no signs of turning back to God.  These people, as the Pharisees see it, pose a danger to the whole nation if other people see them and choose to follow their ways.  If Jesus, by eating with these "sinners," gives them credibility, it could pose a very grave threat indeed.
  • Verse 11-32 - Here is the link to Dr. Thompson's lecture on the prodigal son (it's about 45 minutes long).  Dr. Thompson notes that efforts to "re-name" the parable (what would you call it if you didn't already "know" it was called "the prodigal son"?) tend to emphasize either the younger (prodigal) son or the father.  "Almost no one" tries to name this parable after the older son (although the one exception she notes, that of a Lutheran from Minnesota who calls it "the lament of the responsible child" is quite amusing and appropriate).  I truly value lectures like these, especially for passages that we have heard so often that it becomes hard for us to think of them in ways that are at all "new."  I'm also particularly fond of a sermon by Rev. Tom Are, Jr., from back when I was in high school, that references this storyHere's a link to a story out of that sermon (and here's the whole thing, if you want to read it).  Perhaps they will help to look at this familiar story in a new light.
Chapter 16
  • Verses 1-9 - This is a very strange parable.  Jesus seems (on the surface) to commend a character for dishonesty.  Verse 8 (esp. "For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.") helps to explain Jesus' position somewhat.  He is not commending the dishonesty, so much as pointing out that such people are better at dealing with others (of "their own kind") than people of God often are.  Geldenhuys has an especially insightful point here: "Instead of behaving in such a manner that (members of the kingdom of light) bind others to themselves, they act so that people are unnecessarily repulsed."2  Why does this reality seem to persist, even to today?
  • Verses 19-31 - It is intriguing that the rich man is not named, yet the poor man is.  I also wonder at the poor man's name: "Lazarus."  It seems to be a coincidence that this name is shared by a friend of Jesus (in the gospel of John) that Jesus raises from the dead.3  This passage is referenced in a recent article by Christian ethicist David Gushee on the centrality of the theme of justice to biblical faith.

1See Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1951, p. 372.
2Geldenhuys, p. 416.
3Geldenhuys suggests, on p. 428, that the name Lazarus, which is a Greek form of a Hebrew name meaning "God has helped," is a name that "occurred frequently." I note that in the Bible itself, it only ever occurs in this passage and of Jesus' friend in the gospel of John.

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