Christian life: a final thought

From David Lose: So after setting out his crazy – at least according to our experience in the world – vision for the Christian life, he does two things. First, he assails the logic of the kingdom of the world. How can we honor things we do out of our own self interest? Doing good to those who do good to us, loving those who love us, may be the norm, but it is essentially self-centered and nothing to be admired or emulated. And following in that pattern won’t move us beyond the violence-saturated and scarcity-driven history of the world. We have to find a new way forward. Continue reading

Christian life: patronage

As previously mentioned, the world often (mostly?) operates on a system of patronage. The hallmarks of which are consistency and reciprocity: act in such-and-such a way so that you will be treated the same. And depending on where you are in the social or economic strata, you can establish obligations and dependence by other (or to others). It seems to describe lives marked by the calculations of balanced reciprocity—that is, by a circle of exchange that turns gifts into debts that must be repaid. To that worldly equilibrium, Jesus says:

32 For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit (is) that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners and get back the same amount. 35 But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful.

Note that v.27 was “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” How can a patronal system exemplify this basic command to love the one we would call enemy? Is loving someone who already loves you more than a fulfillment of a prior obligation? If that is all that love is, indeed, what credit is that? Picking up the triplet noted earlier (vv 27, 30) of loving, doing good, and giving/lending, Jesus clarifies the distinction between the practices he advocates and those symptomatic of the larger Mediterranean world. Jesus is asking the listeners to put aside the cycle of obligation, so that reactions are not predetermined by what one owes to whom, nor by what one expects to receive from another. In doing so, there is now the possibility of a new dynamic wherein love of enemy is possible.

In v.35 ff Jesus repeats the triplet of love, doing good, and lending/giving as challenges the listener to exercise all three action freely, without obligation, and without the expectation of return. He is advocating an inversion of the social norms in order to establish a new people, a new family on different ethic and calling. What is the motivation? “…expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High” Note that this still “something given in return” but not from the act of one’s beneficial act or the gratitude of the recipient, rather, it is God who rewards them. In a new way, God become the great benefactor and protector, but not it a contractual manner – but in a covenantal way. It is not an exchange of goods or services or favor, but a giving of oneself wholly to the other even as the other gives one wholly to you.

God, in Jesus, has given God’s self wholly to the human race, even to those who, by  their ingratitude and wickedness, portray themselves as his enemies. Just as God is merciful—that is, just as God is active graciously and creatively to bring redemption—so should his children be merciful. Hence, the critical value is not reciprocity but behavior rooted in the imitation of God.

37 “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. 38 Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

The dynamic of love, doing good, and lending/giving asserted in v.35 is now fleshed out. Jesus’ followers are to behave in certain ways toward others, and God will behave in seemingly symmetrical ways toward Jesus’ followers. The symmetry is only apparent, since v.38b borrows imagery from the marketplace to show the extravagant generosity of God, now compared to a merchant who is neither stingy nor fair to himself but excessively fills the measuring vessel. The practices Jesus outlines follow immediately and grow out of the practices of God (vv. 35–36). Just as the merciful God does not predetermine who will or will not be the recipients of his kindness, so Jesus’ followers must refuse to “judge”—that is, to prejudge, to predetermine who might be the recipients of their graciousness. This is nothing but the command to love one’s enemies restated negatively. In an important sense, Jesus’ instructions are to refuse to act as those scribes and Pharisees had done in 5:27–32, as they calculated beforehand the status of those toll collectors and sinners and thereby excluded them from their circles of social interaction. By “forgive,” Jesus means “release” — that is, “release from obligations,” or “give, without expectation of return”; again, and throughout these two verses, Jesus states negatively what has been asserted previously. The one difference is that the reciprocity denied in vv.32–35 has been restored, with one telling exception. Jesus’ followers give freely, without dragging others and especially those in need into the quagmire of never-ending cycles of repayment and liability. And God will lavishly repay them.

God is to be our one and only patron – the one who gave us everything in his Son.


Sources

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. Print. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (271-275)

Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004. 146–149.

Christian life: love for enemies

27 “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

I think most readers would recognize the “golden rule” in v.31. It has a distinguished pedigree in Hellenistic and Jewish literature long before the time of Jesus. In Hellenistic discussion of ethics, it was ordinarily contextualized within an ethic of consistency and reciprocity: act in such-and-such a way so that you will be treated the same. It has a bit of the quid pro quo about it or in more modern language, tit-for-tat. But if one looks at the verse preceding v.31, the usual understanding seems to not be applicable herein. In fact, almost out of place; the action and reaction don’t point to a reciprocity. Continue reading

On the plain: sermon

This passage is the introduction to a new major section of the book of Luke (6:17-9:50). While previous passages have dealt with the early ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus, and have only referred to the teachings of Jesus, here for the first time the actual content of his teaching to the crowds is presented. Also, for the first time, teachings are addressed directly to Jesus’ disciples. There has been a steady progression within Luke from a focus on God’s work in the world in Jesus (the infancy narratives, chs. 1-2), to the preparation for Jesus’ ministry by John the Baptizer (3:1-20), to Jesus himself and his own preparation for ministry (3:21-4:13). Then Luke begins to highlight how Jesus and his teachings were received, beginning with the hometown folks in Nazareth (4:14-30) and concluding with the choosing of the twelve, who were among those who responded by leaving everything to follow him (6:12-16). In this section, Luke begins expanding that dimension of response by focusing on Jesus’ teaching related to the “ethics of the Kingdom,” the responsibilities and consequences of being disciples. Luke continues this focus on discipleship until the journey toward Jerusalem begins (9:51), where it takes on a slightly different tone. Continue reading

On the plain: blessing and woes

At this point in his narrative, Luke incorporates part of the same material that Matthew had included in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7). But instead of staying on the mountain to deliver his discourse, Jesus comes down from the mountain like Moses descending to deliver the law to the people (Exod 34:15). As before, people crowd around him to hear the word of God and to be healed (5:1, 15).

And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way. Continue reading

On the plain: more context

And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon  came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured.

As you have already considered, this Lucan passage is very similar to Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” – the beginning part referred to as the Beatitudes. Both versions are (and will, no doubt, continue to be) the source of much scholarly inquiry and debate. Some ask whether this is a single-setting sermon or if this is a compilation of Jesus’ sayings arranged in a “sermon.” As we have been doing throughout our study of Luke, it is helpful to compare Luke with the parallel passages in Matthew to help understand Luke’s concerns here (there are no parallels in Mark or John, although some of the same sayings are found scattered throughout the books). While questions about origin, sources, and redaction of the text are certainly valid and interesting, it will probably be sufficient here simply to acknowledge the fact that Luke and Matthew differ in how they have constructed these sermons. Continue reading

On the plain: context

And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured.  Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all. And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way. Continue reading