Thursday, August 16, 2007

Luke 11

Luke 11:1-13: When one pays attention to it, it can be fun and interesting to see how the gospel writer composes his material, how he moves from one thing to the next. Right after the episode with Mary and Martha, which seems to have something to do with the importance for the spiritual life of paying attention, Luke places Jesus teaching on prayer. In Matthew, much of this material is a part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here Luke places the material in a different location. It does not radically alter the meaning of these sayings of Jesus, but it is fun to note the creativity at work in the gospel writers. The disciple notice Jesus at prayer and ask to be taught how to pray. Jesus teaches them what has come to be called “The Lord’s Prayer,” though here in Luke it is in a slightly different version than we found in Matthew. God is addressed in familial and intimate terms (Father), yet God’s sacred nature is also acknowledged (hallowed). God’s nature as Father is elaborated in this section. “In an environment in which fathers wielded such far-reaching, coercive power, it was important that the fatherhood of God be qualified in terms of generosity, compassion, care, and faithful activity on behalf of God’s children” (New Interpreters Study Bible). Those who address God in familial terms also pray that God’s dream for the world will become a reality. Some other ancient manuscripts read “Your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.” The prayer for daily bread can also be translated “essential bread” – asking God for what is needed for life (physical and spiritual). Prayer for forgiveness follows, and is linked with prayer for the strength to forgive. The early Christian community experienced times of great testing and trial, and the prayer here asks God to be with them in such times, and to help them through. This prayer is a vital part of our Christian faith tradition and we should feel free to pray it often. The story Jesus tells following the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer is unique to Luke. It is often read as an encouragement of persistence in prayer. Apparently verse 8 is a tricky one to translate, and it probably has more to do with what is going on in the one who has heard the request for bread and the “persistence” of the one asking for bread. The man with the bread responds out of his own desire to be persistent in goodness – just like the God one may pray to as “father.” Like a kind and generous parent, God will give, and will give God’s own Spirit to those who ask. Verses 9-11 are no guarantee that we will get whatever we ask for, if our asking arises out of impurity of heart. In context, these verses seem to suggest that as we keep praying along the lines Jesus has given, prayers such as these – for God’s kingdom, for essential bread, for forgiveness and the strength to forgive, for courage and strength in the midst of life’s trials – will be responded to. Notice the humor Jesus uses in these verses

Luke 11:14-23: Jesus work of healing and freeing continues, here he casts out a demon. Some who witness this claim that Jesus is able to do this because he is in league with demonic forces. Jesus argues against the logic of such a claim – would evil really divide against itself to weaken itself? Beyond that, Jesus then makes a stronger point, if he is really doing good because of the power of God’s Spirit, then the kingdom of God has come near. And while he does not say this in exactly these words, the logic of the next verses is that if God’s kingdom has come near, you will want to get with it. “Whoever is not with me, is against me. And whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This seems in tension with 9:50 where Jesus says, “whoever is not against you is for you.” In context the tension between these verses is mitigated. There good was being done in the name of Jesus, and Jesus wanted the disciples to welcome good whatever its source. Here, good has been called evil, and when one cannot make that basic distinction, then one is missing out on the movement of God’s kingdom. Think about people who are unable to believe that anything good can ever come from the church or any religious institution. They will never be open to receiving what good they have to offer.

Luke 11:24-26: Jesus uses the occasion to say more about the spiritual life. Dramatic deliverance from demons is not the end, but only the beginning. “Following Jesus does not mean merely clearing out one’s life of what is objectionable, getting rid of evil spirits, but being filled with the Spirit of God” (Peoples New Testament Commentary).

Luke 11:27-28: These verses, found only in Luke, form part of the Rosary prayer in Roman Catholic Christianity. Some have criticized Jesus, others believe him blessed and so must the one who gave birth to him be blessed. Jesus reiterates that those are truly blessed who follow God’s way. In a series of stories about making decisions for God’s kingdom and for Jesus’ way, here is yet another.

Luke 11:29-32: Jesus sometimes has a funny way of attracting followers. Just as the crowds are increasing, he call this generation evil. Given what has gone on to this point, it is difficult to believe that people would ask for something more in the way of a sign. If we witnessed the kind of healings and exorcisms reported in the gospel, wouldn’t we at least be curious? Wouldn’t we work hard at trying to figure out what was going on rather than ask for something more? In Jesus day and time, he was not the only healer or exorcist (see verse 19). He was not the only traveling teacher. Maybe their request for a sign does not seem so out of place. What Jesus seems to be saying, in return, is “Listen!” “Pay attention!” It is already there in the combination of teaching and preaching and healing and freeing. To demand more is to be captive to the spectacular, rather than attentive to the sacred. The Queen of Sheba was a Gentile, and Ninevah a Gentile city. They responded when others didn’t. A positive response is what Jesus (and Luke) are encouraging.

Luke 11:33-36: Luke has already used a saying about light (8:16), but here he gathers together a few sayings about light that were a part of the teaching of Jesus. These verses reflect an ancient view of how eyes functioned. We think of the eye as a recipient of outside light. The ancients thought of the eye more like a flashlight, inner light was projected out, enabling people to see. So if you want to see the world rightly, the light within must be healthy. Jesus uses different imagery to again invite people to look at their lives. Is their light within? If there is really some light within, one probably sees God’s Spirit at work in Jesus.

Luke 11:37-54:
While we have seen some controversy surrounding Jesus to this point in Luke’s gospel, and experienced some of that coming from Jewish quarters, there has not been to this point the same intensity of feeling against Jesus coming from Jewish leaders (chapter 6 has some, but this is relatively slight compared with the earlier intense opposition found in Matthew and Mark). Here the controversy heats up considerably and Jesus pointedly criticizes some of the spirituality of the leaders. We do well in reading such passages not to focus on how awful some people from the past were. Instead, we can use such passages to ask how our own lives may have slipped into some of these unhealthy patterns of spirituality. Where have we so externalized our life of faith, that it fails to reach the deepest places within, so that we have become almost grave-like in our spirituality? Where have we neglected justice and the love of God and focused instead on rather minor aspects of the faith tradition? Where have we used our faith in a game of oneupsmanship? We should ask ourselves such questions not to induce guilt, but to ask where we can grow as people of faith, people of the Spirit. Jesus harsh words, meant to startle his listeners to a faithful response to God’s Spirit at work in Jesus, move them to hostility. They begin seeking a way to trap him.

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