Friday, June 22, 2012

What was Luke up to?

All joking about Luke being a proto-Anglican aside, what was Luke up to when he wrote his two part narrative of the mission of Jesus?

Consider the sense in which by Acts 28 the mission of Jesus has made it to Rome, the seat of imperial power, yet one of the powerful motivations highlighted by Luke which pushes the mission forward in the days of Jesus himself is concern for the poor. Is Luke a communist or a charitable conservative?

But the same Luke is the original Pentecostal. No other gospel writer has the same sense that the power at work in and through Jesus is the Holy Spirit. Nor that the same Holy Spirit is the continuity in the mission of Jesus between the days of the earthly Jesus and the days of the ascended Jesus. Miracles, speaking in tongues, prophecies, dreams, words of knowledge, Luke knows all the gifts of the Spirit.

Yet the politically radical Luke is not confined to concern for the poor ... (to be continued tomorrow morning).

... picking up from last night, Luke is intriguing about the role of women in the history of the mission of Jesus. Whereas Matthew tells us about the birth of Jesus from Joseph's perspective (with Mary, more or less, merely being the woman who bears and gives birth to the Saviour), Luke develops a strong Marian perspective (to say nothing of an Elizabethan input). Only Luke of the gospel writers tells us as much as he does about the supportive role of leading women as disciples behind the disciples of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3). Acts features women in leading roles in the life of the fledgling church (Mary the mother of Jesus, Tabitha, Mary the mother of John Mark, Lydia, Priscilla, Philip's four unmarried daughters with the gift of prophecy), albeit a church with strong male leadership. Nevertheless Acts flows with the Spirit of Pentecost whom Joel had predicted would be poured out on men and women.

In other words, the Lukan interest in women following Jesus in his gospel is a continuing interest in the history of the ancient church.

But these interests, a bias (to remint a now familiar phrase) towards the poor, towards women, is also a bias towards Gentiles: the point of the burgeoning story of the mission of Jesus is that it radiates outwards, geographically from Judea to Italy, but also sociologically, from the rich to the poor, from men to women, from Jew to Gentile. What is Luke up to? Luke is telling Jesus' story for the world in a manner which consciously speaks to certain people groups (the poor, women, Gentiles). The other gospel writers have a keen interest in the gospel for the whole world, but they take little trouble to connect with specific groups which might hear the gospel as an inclusive gospel but wonder if that really means them. But to do what Luke does is to open up the possibilities of a new world when people are converted to Christ: in this world the poor will be loved (in such a way that they will no longer be poor because, e.g., the Zacchaeus' of the old world will have shared their wealth), women will be heard and Gentiles will be included in table fellowship. This new world is a subversion of the old world, not just the old world populated by people converted to Christianity.

What is Luke up to? Precisely what Christians are accused of in Thessalonica:

"These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also." (Acts 17:6)
PS I have typed part of this post using a loaned MacBook Air. The ideal blogging tool when on the road. I am sure Luke, were he telling his stories today, would be using one!

9 comments:

Shawn said...

"Is Luke a communist or a charitable conservative?"

I would think the latter. Concern for the poor is not communism, or any form of Marxism. Concern for the poor existed long before either of these ideologies came into being.

The term "radical" is overused in theological circles. It tends to ignore that the concerns expressed by Luke were not out of the mainstream of society at the time.

Father Ron Smith said...

This infatuation with Karl Marx is obviously a harking-back to a previous fascination with the world of Communism. With this dialectic going on - with regard to modern thing and praxis in the Church - it can be confusing to those of us who want to live into the future - without constantly hearing trite reference to the ideologies of the past century. (Converts often are most vehement against their past experiences).

Jesus had a love for the poor - and so did Karl Marx. It is there the comparison ends.

Peter Carrell said...

There are a lot more comparisons, Ron, with Marx than a shared love for the poor. Like Jesus, Marx envisaged a future time when justice would be wrought on earth; like Jesus, Marx believed in an eschatological judgement on the unrighteous.

I do not think Marx's day is done just because we are in the 21st century.

Father Ron Smith said...

And, as you have declared elsewhere, Peter, you obviously do share Karl Marx's belief in an 'eschatological' judgement!

My own thoughts about judgement are a little more imminently pragmatic, I think; in that I feel Judgement ought to be measured out, & justice secured, in the 'here and now'. "By their fruits, you shall know them"' - Are we preaching God's justice and mercy - or God's punishment and vilification?

Part of the continuum of God's 'everlasting life' is in the present. And the preaching of God's mercy and forgiveness is the paramount objective of human reconciliation - in which all Christians - especially teachers of The Gospel - ought to be engaged.

Hell-fire and Damnation are not the Gospel - which is Good News to all who will hear, and be convinced of, the Love and Mercy of God.

How will they be convinced? By our Mercy, Forgiveness and Loving behaviour to ALL Sinners, of whom we are a part- not thinking ourselves more worthy than any others. Jesu, Mercy; Mary, Pray!

Shawn said...

Marxism, especially in its Frankfurt school form, is alive and well in the world today, so I am hardly "harcking back" to anything, let alone the last century. Liberation theology, which is still (sadly) popular in many mainline denominations, Anglican included, is a form of Marxism. Thus when dealing with issues of economics, poverty and Church thinking, Marxism is one of the issues that must be dealt with.

There is nothing "trite" about this. It is trite to assume that it is no longer a relevant issue.

Shawn said...

"Hell-fire and Damnation are not the Gospel"

They are in so far that Jesus repeatedly warned people that a failure to recieve the Gospel would lead to damnation.

Hell and damnation are mentioned more times on the lips of Jesus than in any other part of Scripture.

In the Biblical worldview, blessings always come with warnings about curses.

Shawn said...

Back to the issue at hand. Was Luke a radical and subversive in his approach to the poor? Was he (and Jesus) a "proto-Marxist” as the liberation theologians claim?

I think a careful reading of Scripture in its totality would lead to the conclusion that the above is not the case.

Over three quarters of the laws in the Mosaic legal code were concerned with the protection and preservation of property rights. The commandment against stealing presupposes the right to private property. Even the Jubilee laws, which are often trotted out in the most facile ways in “social justice” circles as an excuse for state imposed socialism, were far more concerned with preserving kinship/family ties to the land, than with any kind of redistributive economics for the poor.

Thus we must be very careful in using words like "radical" and "subversive", especially given the way these words are used and understood today.
That said, what DID Jesus, Luke, and the Prophets have in mind with regards to the poor?
Again, a careful reading of all of Scripture is important.
I would argue that, historically speaking, the Biblical view was best expressed in the medieval ideals of chivalry and noblesse oblige. Those who are wealthy, and/or hold power, have a special responsibility to the poor, widows and orphans. They are to uphold the property rights of the poor, defend them from unjust exploitation, and share wealth with them when they in need.

But in the Biblical view, these things must be done voluntarily, and within the context of a traditional social structure. Nowhere does Scripture advocate a coercive, authoritarian welfare state. Nowhere is the radical equality and levelling of Marxism/Liberalism advocated. Healthy societies, and certainly Biblically based ones, are hierarchical in nature. Differences in wealth and power are a normal part of the natural order. The Bibles does place a special responsibility on those who are wealthy, one which they are not to ignore without risking the wrath of God, the Father of orphans. But this does not entail radical egalitarianism or an overturning of the natural order.

Peter Carrell said...

Voluntary socialism is the socialism of Luke-Acts!

Shawn said...

Voluntary charity, or voluntary socialism? There is a big difference!