• Going Deeper: Growing in Faith and Knowledge

Jesus: Universal Savior

The Rev. Patrick Ward
November 23, 2015

 

Related Forum Video

 

Memory Verse

“But he said to them, I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

 

Passages

Luke 3:1-17 (The Proclamation of John the Baptist)
Luke 4:16-30 (Jesus’ “Inaugural Address” and rejection at Nazareth)
Luke 10:25-42 (The Good Samaritan, Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary)

 

Luke’s Gospel: Where Everyone is “In”

On Sunday morning, November 29 (Advent 1), Christians all over the world begin a new church year. For those of us following the revised common lectionary, we begin Year C, in which Luke’s Gospel provides the heart of our Sunday worship. Of the three–year cycle (which also includes Matthew as “A” and Mark as “B”) I love this coming year best. That’s because I love Luke’s Gospel more than any other of the four “canonicals.” For one thing, Luke is the best story teller, the most evolved literary stylist of the four evangelists. Dante referred to Luke as the “scribe of the gentleness of Christ,” and I hope by the end of the year you’ll have a deep sense of the aptness of that description.

Luke’s most unforgettable stories are those in which the outsider, the person on the margins, is drawn most deeply and deliberately into the heart of community and the heart of God. Luke alone brings shepherds—the poorest of the poor—to the manger in Bethlehem. Luke alone brings the Good Samaritan to the rescue of the beaten and robbed traveler near Jericho. Luke alone brings the prodigal home to the rescuing embrace of his father, and Zaccheus down out of his tree.

Beginning with Mary and Elizabeth and Anna, women are active and recognized members of the body of Christ both in Luke’s Gospel and in his “Volume 2,” the Acts of the Apostles. Repeatedly in Luke and Acts the evangelist makes it clear that God in Christ offers love to all, freely and regardless of gender status, race or background. “’And all flesh shall see the salvation of God,’” says Luke’s John the Baptist (3:6), heralding the advent of Christ’s transforming ministry in Galilee. John is quoting Isaiah here, and he is the only one of the four evangelists to include that key quotation in his proclamation about exalted valleys and straightened paths.

All flesh. That is, you and me and those we or anyone else would segregate from the realm of God’s grace. This insistence on “everyone in” was as inconvenient and unpopular in the time of Christ as it is in our own time and place. When Luke’s Jesus picks up on John’s word in his own “inaugural address,” the reception in Nazareth is hostile and the aftershocks almost fatal. The events to follow in Jerusalem are deftly foreshadowed by Luke across the chapters we will be reading together this week. The struggles of the nascent church—who’s in? who’s out?—that are at the heart of the Book of Acts are foreshadowed in these pages as well.

Good story telling is always to me about concrete detail, and Luke (recognized by discrete strands of Christian tradition as both painter and doctor) is always making it clear that our relationship to the material world is of tremendous importance. That world, according to Luke, is where our salvation is being worked out. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none,” says John the Baptist to the crowds on Jordan’s bank.

In other words, matter matters. Think of the oil and wine poured on a stranger’s wounds by the Good Samaritan. Think of the robe, the ring and the fatted calf offered by a rejoicing father to celebrate the homecoming of an estranged son. Think of the bread broken by a mysterious stranger at an inn on the Emmaus road. As you read Luke, the details have a way of piling up. Where Mark would say “a man with a withered hand,” Luke specifies that it’s the man’s “right hand.” Luke specifies that the roof through which some friends lower down a paralytic man for Jesus’ healing is tile (Roman construction more familiar, perhaps, to Gentiles). In Luke’s telling, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, handled so deliberately by Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue, seems pregnant with fresh meaning.

In Luke’s telling, the world around us is imbued with holiness. I don’t think it’s a stretch to understand Luke’s relationship to the physical world as especially “sacramental” – the visible continually pointing to the invisible love of God for the world. Here is how the priest and poet Malcolm Guite sees this sensibility at work in Luke:

His gospel is itself a living creature
A ground and glory round the throne of God,
Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature
And One upon the throne sees it is good.

I hope, as you read these chapters with us in sequence this week (3-14) that you discern fresh meaning in passages you thought you already knew well. And I hope as this new year progresses that Luke’s particular sensibility will shape your own identity as a follower of Christ.

Advent blessings,
Patrick

 

Questions for Reflection

1. In his proclamation on the banks of the Jordan, Luke’s John the Baptist tells the crowds to “bear fruit worthy of repentance” (3:8). In response to questions from the crowd, he then dispenses career-specific advice as to how a number of them should do this concretely. Consider your own career or activities away from church. Based on how you spend your own time, what would the Baptist tell you? 

2. After speaking well of Jesus in the synagogue, the citizens of Nazareth turn against him suddenly. Read this episode (4:16-30) closely. What accounts for the shift? Consider your own experience and the communities you have recognized as “home.” How do these communities define their own borders? How has “home” supported and/or constrained your own life of faith?

3. Luke follows Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan immediately with an account of his visit to Martha and Mary. Does one story have anything to do with the other? How do you understand Jesus’ term “the better part” in 10:42? How do these stories speak to you about hospitality? See also 14:7-14 on “humility and hospitality.” Do you understand Martha as “wrong” or not?

 

Poem

“Luke” by Malcolm Guite (b. 1955)

From Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year (Used by permission)

His gospel is itself a living creature
A ground and glory round the throne of God,
Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature
And One upon the throne sees it is good.
Luke is the living pillar of our healing,
A lowly ox, the servant of the four,
We turn his page to find his face revealing
The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.
He breathes good news to all who bear a burden
Good news to all who turn and try again,
The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,
A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,
The voiceless find their voice in every word
And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.

 

Music

"Psalm 147" (appointed for the Feast of St. Luke)

Anglican Chant by Charles Villiers Stanford, 
Kings College Cambridge under the direction of Sir David Willcocks

 

Prayer

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (BCP, p. 244)

 

Art

"St. Luke" by Guercino (Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy)

Guercino Luke

"Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" by Vincenzo Campi (Galleria Estense, Modena, Italy) - See Above

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