Context and the In-Between

This Sunday is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. The gospel is the well known Lucan parable of the persistent widow encountering the dishonest judge. We do not arrive at this gospel directly from the gospel of last week telling of the 10 lepers who were cured and the one who returned to give thanks to Jesus. There is a portion of Luke’s gospel that is passed over in the Ordinary Time sequence – Luke 17:20-37.  You can find the reading here.

At first read this somewhat apocalyptic text seems misplaced – aren’t those readings located in Jerusalem just prior to the Passion? But Luke has a logic for inclusion of vv.20-37. The disciples had asked that their faith be increased and they were told that they did not understand the nature of faith (17:5-6). As almost a counterpoint, the one leper who returns in gratitude to Jesus (vv.15-16) is told that his faith has saved him (v.19). The experience of the leper, seeing his healing and praising God, offers an apt illustration that the kingdom of God is among you (v.21) even as the Pharisees ask in v.20 when the kingdom of God would come.

It is worth mentioning again Joel Green’s (The Gospel of Luke, 627) insight about Jesus words to the leper, your faith has saved you: “Here, something more than healing must be intended, since (1) the efficacy of faith is mentioned and (2) all ten lepers experienced cleansing. The Samaritan was not only cleansed, but on account of faith gained something more — namely, insight into Jesus’ role in the inbreaking kingdom. He is enabled to see and is thus enlightened, itself a metaphor for redemption.” [Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 636-43]

The account of the ten lepers relates a typical pattern of God’s activities throughout scriptures, namely, God acts first. Then our proper response to God’s actions is praise and thanksgiving as we come to see God’s hand in what has happened.  The one leper has given evidence in his life and praise that the kingdom is indeed among us. The Pharisees, still blind, are asking about signs of the kingdom – about the when and where of the in-breaking of God’s reign.

The Pharisees are told that the coming of the kingdom will not be preceded by observable signs, but also such phenomena will not even accompany the coming of the kingdom – indeed, the kingdom is already among you (v.21).

“Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Lacking the eyes of faith they misinterpret the signs all around them and are blind to the presence of the kingdom. This brings about the judgment described in 17:20-39 and makes a particularly poignant verse from our 29th Sunday text: But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (18:8).

One context of these sections of Luke is the connection between gratitude-vision/faith-judgment. With this in mind listen again to the words of St. Paul:

18 The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19 For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; 21 for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. (Rom 1:18-21)

As a technical note about Luke 17:21 (For behold, the kingdom of God is among you) – some translations of v.21 take entros to be “within you” versus “among you” leading some to over accent the idea of God’s indwelling as the location of the kingdom, thus a purely spiritual kingdom. Yet other texts speak of the kingdom as objective and coming (21:31; 22:16,18).  Given that in v.21 the pronoun “you” (hymeis) is plural “among you” or “in the midst of you” is a better translation – and thus more in-line with these other verses.

Image Credit: Братья Белоусовы (Палех), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Modified to include both parts of a larger plata.

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