Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not Likely Luke by Easter 1: Luke 1

Under the headings of "are you crazy" and "failures in the making," I read Luke 1 in Greek today. Chuck Davis had the idea of a chapter a day starting Friday, a Facebook group called Spring into Luke.

I was looking for interesting things (to me) in chapter 1 and here's what I noticed:

1:6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were blameless.
The New Testament knows nothing of "I'm not perfect, just forgiven." For one thing, blamelessness did not mean absolute moral perfection of the sort we now seem to picture. Good grief, what were the sacrifices for then. It did mean that, both for the OT and NT, there was a sense that a person could keep the Law to God's expectations, which entailed the possibility for repentance and sacrifice if necessary.

1:30 Gabriel tells Mary that she has found grace.
The word is usually translated favor, and rightly so. However, it points to an inadequacy in the way grace is usually conceptualized. We so often speak of grace as getting off the hook when we deserve to be skewered. But here, grace is not in the face of Mary's explicit undeserving. It is an extra, an above and beyond. She has done nothing to unsuit her for this grace, even though she has done nothing to merit it either. Grace is simply a gift rather than something that one has earned or paid for.

1:55 to Abraham and his seed forever...
Hmmm. Sounds like something Paul argued over... and Tom Wright... although I think Luke is thinking of ethnic Israel here.

1:59 they circumcised the child [John the Baptist]
A Christian writing seems here to endorse Jews circumcising their children, certainly before Christ, but not a word denies it afterword, nor does Acts or Paul.

1:68 redemption for God's people
Luke very much sees the sequence of John-Jesus as the redemption of Israel. You will not find any ultimate replacement theology in Luke, even if we are currently in his paradigm in the "times of the Gentiles." This redemption was meant to be political (1:71). If I were to go all the way through Acts, I would argue that the turning from the Jews in Acts 28 is not permanent in Luke's mind, but that Luke is giving us an implicit explanation for the destruction of Jerusalem.

1 comment:

David said...


Do you think that there is a significance to the qualification of Zechariah and Elizabeth's righteousness as according to the "Lord’s commandments and regulations"? I'm wondering what you think, because my study of this passage suggests that Luke is intending the reader (hearer) to draw a distinction between the two characters in these very similar stories.

It is interesting that Luke does not describe Mary as "righteous" in terms of observing the laws of the Torah, particularly since this was how righteousness was measured by most Jews at the time. They, ironically and paradoxically, called it the "yoke of Torah" -- meaning that they saw strict obedience and servitude to God's law as liberating.

But the New Testament reveals that God has changed that forever. When Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, challenges the idea that God's ultimate desire for our lives is strict obedience to the Laws of Torah, he takes away the "yoke of Torah" as a measuring rod by which our righteousness is gauged. He claims that if, as Gentiles, they accept the "yoke of Torah" they are willing accepting slavery and death. Having taken that away with his left hand, Paul gives them (and us) with his right hand a new measuring rod – a vision of life empowered by the presence of the Spirit that is shaped by the pattern of Jesus' own faith and love! It is a wonderful summary of a new and grand vision of what God desires of and for His people.

Luke's parallel stories of Zechariah and Mary (Luke 1:5-38) reveals that God’s favor and activity in our lives is not only often surprising and paradoxical, but, more importantly, it is always invested in those who respond wisely to God's will for their lives (that is, Mary responded with faith while Zechariah responded with unbelief).

In other words, Mary's "righteousness" comes, not by way of her strict obedience to the Law, but by way of her faith; a faith which responds humbly in obedience and service. Mary's self-description as the Lord's servant (or, "handmaiden") does two things. First, it reveals her submission to God's desire and purpose not only in her life, but also for the entire world. Second, through it she acknowledges her role in bringing into reality God's will in our world. Moreover, through the verbal expression of the submission in her heart, Mary claims a place in God's household. This has potential serious social and religious ramifications for her. By doing so she has placed her future position and status in Joseph's household in jeopardy. Her faith shows us that partnership in God's work in the world transcends any claim society or family can place on us. In the first century, the status of a slave was determined by the status of the Master of the house. By characterizing herself, literally, as a "[female] slave of the Lord," Mary teaches us that social, political, gender, economic, geographical and even religious status has no bearing in determining our position in God's household or our role in His plan. Now, as illustrated in Jesus' teachings and in the rest of the New Testament, our position in God's house is determined by the depth of our faith and degree of our obedience. This is why Gabriel proclaims her one "favored by God" (1:28).