Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Luke 17

Questioning involves being able to preserve one’s orientation to openness. The art of questioning is the art of questioning even further. This is then the art of thinking.
Hans-George Gadamer

We bring our questions to the biblical text, we bring out best thinking, not simply to engage in a never-ending series of questions, but so as to shape our lives, or rather have our lives shaped by the Spirit of God as we engage these texts.

Luke 17:1-10: Jesus now turns from a conversation critical of the Pharisees to offering words directed toward his disciples. He is encouraging a life that contrasts with the life of the Pharisees as he has criticized it. In verses 1-5, Jesus encourages community care, especially for those who are most vulnerable. The life of discipleship is meant to be lived in community and I am convinced that the quality of a church’s life together is a significant factor in its ability to attract other persons to Christian faith. When our church communities are broken, fractious, riddled with unresolved conflict, they are not attractive places for those seeking a deeper spiritual life, nor are they a model of a more just and peaceful world. Our faith communities will have instances of stumbling and falling, but they should be taken seriously – hence the millstone image. But taking great care in attending to how we treat one another is only one part of the picture, forgiveness is another. A community that takes Christian faith seriously takes forgiveness seriously. Forgiveness does not mean we allow the forgiven person to continue to harm, or that such a person should not suffer the consequences of their misdeeds. Forgiveness means being willing to let go of the hurt and pain someone has caused us. One of my favorite “definitions” of forgiveness is one offered by Jack Kornfield. “Forgiveness is giving up hope of a better past." That forgiveness is complex and messy is no reason for us to give up on making it a reality. In light of the command to forgive, the apostles ask for faith! “The ability to forgive others depends on the awareness that one has been forgiven by God, and this is a matter of faith.” (Peoples New Testament Commentary) Faith is not so much a quantity, though, as a quality of life. The last saying in this series, which has to do with the kind of life in community the followers of Jesus should strive for, seems harsh – “we are worthless slaves.” Again, Jesus is not beyond exaggeration to make a point. The community life of Christians is intended to be a life of mutual service, but sometimes even service can lend itself to oneupsmanship. Try to avoid even that, just serve, just love, just forgive, and quit comparing.

Luke 17:11-19: As Jesus’ journey gets closer to its destination in Jerusalem we will read a number of stories that illustrate what a faithful response to Jesus might look like. “It is striking that these examples of faithfulness are drawn in each case from the margins of acceptable socioreligious society.” (New Interpreters Study Bible). Here the example of the most faithful response to Jesus is both a leper and a Samaritan. He is healed, along with nine others, but in a spontaneous (and technically disobedient – he does not go to the priest as Jesus had asked) action, he turns back to Jesus, and praises God with a loud voice. Jesus remark at the end is puzzling – “your faith has made you well.” He had already been healed, what’s this about? Perhaps there is more to healing than physical cure, perhaps wellness/wholeness are about more than the body (not less than the body, but more than the body). Gratitude is more than just a pleasantry. When we are grateful, we tend to be less grasping, less greedy for more. I want to say more about this on Sunday.

Luke 17:20-37: Another shift in conversation takes place. Some Pharisees ask Jesus a question about the coming of the kingdom of God. There is a wonderful irony to this question, following the previous story. The Samaritan leper sees that he is healed and responds with thanks and praise to God – God has acted for well-being. What is that but the kingdom of God? But the Pharisees don’t get it, so they ask. And Jesus tells them to look around, the kingdom of God is among you. Other translations read “within” you, and that has some validity as well. The Spirit of God with heals and frees is at work within and among us if we have eyes to see. But while the kingdom is among them there is still suffering ahead. When one sees what God is up to in Jesus, one must follow, even when to do so is risky. Trying to secure our lives in the usual way leads to losing them. Jesus makes use of traditional images from his religious culture to get the message across – keep paying attention, keep following the way where you find it. The disciples are unsure of just what he means – “where?” God’s kingdom will be as evident to those who are looking for it as vulture are in view when there is a dead animal around. Jesus sure uses some colorful images!

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