Looking back on where our earthly pilgrimage has taken us is a healthy habit. We often do this in yearly intervals. I find for myself a particularly beneficial practice in reading some of my older posts. I see how far I’ve progressed and in what ways I may have regressed in the past months. A year ago seems like forever, yet this past year flew by. Time works like this. As I believe Einstein said (and I paraphrase), “An hour courting a pretty girl feels like a minute, while a minute with a hand on a hot stove feels like an hour. That’s relativity.” All this to point out that nearly one year ago I posted a bit on the book of Matthew which chronicled my free-flowing thoughts over the first ten chapters. Interestingly enough, I find myself this summer doing the same thing, albeit through the book of Luke on which I will proceed to comment.
I actually had no plans to read the gospels this summer, but having found myself in a particular Sunday School class which is reading a New Testament book a week, I reached Luke, by far my favorite of the gospels. I want to first put the disclaimer that I put on my post concerning Matthew: I wish in this blog to only approach the gospel as literature — what do we see in Luke’s gospel when we get rid of all the commentaries, all the headers, all the noise which often drowns the joy of discovering God’s word for yourself? My reasoning for this can be found in my other post.
The first thing I like to do when I read a book of the Bible is create my own outline of that book. This does two things: it shortens the gospel (while lengthening it, for only when we shorten it can we dive deeper), and it provides context. Reading any book, but especially the gospels, we can get really bogged down in the “sloppiness” of writing. Luke doesn’t transition his “chapters” like Dickens, nor does he flesh out his characters as well. Thus, it is imperative to get the whole picture by first reading quickly in chunks and mapping out our way before trying to figure out anything such as theme or purpose. If we don’t do this, we will only read the gospels as random and chaotic tales of miracles and teachings.
So having done this, I discovered (with a little help from a study Bible) my outline which looks something like this:
- Infancy narrative (1:1-2:52)
- Preparation for Christ’s Ministry (3:1-4:13)
- Christ’s Ministry in Galilee (4:14-9:50)
- Christ’s Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:28)
- Christ’s Ministry in Jerusalem (19:29-24:53)
One of the most interesting aspect of Luke’s gospel is the fact that his death, resurrection and ascension is alluded to so quickly. His ministry spans about 20 chapters, and a little over one-fifth of the way through it he is telling people that he must suffer many things, die and be raised (9:21). This heightens the suspense considerably. That Jesus is giving away the ending to this story before its gained too much speed is one thing, but the entirety of the gospel is going to hinge on this idea, this prophecy. It transitions beautifully into the core of Luke’s gospel: Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.
Three verses are key in understanding the geographical context of this gospel: In 9:51 we are told that Christ “set’s his face to go to Jerusalem”; in 13:22 we are told again that he was “journeying toward Jerusalem”; in 17:11 we see him again “on his way to Jerusalem”. Finally, in 19:28 he makes it there. For nearly ten chapters, Christ has been traveling to Jerusalem. In my opinion, on a literary level, the importance of these ten chapters being the actual “last trip” of Christ to Jerusalem is not as important as the truth which they convey about Christ: his face was set towards Jerusalem, and when he arrived he wept over it.
But significantly enough, the action of the gospel really slows down quite a bit once the long journey begins. In his ministry in Galilee which spans roughly five chapters, I count (always a dicey situation) Christ performing 12 miracles. In the next 10 chapters he does only five, and if we tack on the last 5 chapters he does only six in a span of 15 chapters, the sixth being his resurrection. Now, what significance has this except to say that his teachings were always more significant than his miracles? I wrote about this a little in my other post, but it should be noted that Christ often attaches teachings with his miracles. The point is not to merely heal the man physically but to present that as a symbol for the spiritual healing the sick man needs. He came to heal the sick not those who are well, but let us not forget the next sentence: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
And this will naturally lead to the overarching theme of this gospel which is that verse. Christ begins his ministry with it in 5:31, 32 and he ends it in on his journey in 19:10 when he tells Zacchaeus that he came “to seek and save the lost.” We find as well the most popular parable ever told nearly smack dab in the middle of his ministry and his journey to Jerusalem: the parable of the prodigal son. The outcasts, the widows, the lame, the robbed, the blind, the lepers, and the poor are over and over again alluded to and helped in this gospel. Christ takes the idea of social status’s and turns them on their head. We are told to be like children, to rejoice if we’re poor, hungry, hated, excluded, spurned, reviled and when we weep. We’re to lament if we’re rich, full, spoken well of, and when we laugh. In this gospel we see fiends acting like friends, shepherds leaving flocks to look for one sheep, thieves entering the kingdom of heaven. In this gospel we are taught to pray more than any other gospel and possibly any other book of the Bible. We are told to pray because this gospel lifts up the weak, the weary, and the worn out and tells them that they have hope, and that hope is Christ. The strong pray because they want more strength. The weak pray because they want more weakness. They have no other option but to rely fully on Christ for everything, and they know that the minute they feel strong they reject Christ. The weak are in line with Peter who cried out “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” The weak cry out with the apostles, “Increase our faith!” The weak beat their breast and cry “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
In all of this Christ never once alluded to a revolution for the weak. He never commanded the storming of the temple or the charging of Rome. The more you look at the gospels as if you were looking at them for the first time, the more you see Christ in all his odd splendid glory. He’s a crazed man who tells you to hate your mother and let your father bury himself. He’s incredibly vain, claiming that he is the greatest while at the same time telling his followers that the greatest among us realizes his utter weakness, how far he is away from greatness. Yet in all this, Jesus is the most compelling historical figure that has ever graced our planet. No more has been said to comfort and condemn. No more has been said about loving those around you and praying for your enemies. The Christ of this gospel, the one who calls those to follow him on his journey to Jerusalem, his journey to his death, is the same Christ that calls those today to follow him. And only those who are willing to give up all their strength, relying fully on their weakness are worthy to join in that death: to eat that bread and drink that wine with him when his Kingdom comes.
It happens that the faithful editor of this here blog, Sam Snow, happens to have a poetical turn. In his compilation of poems titled the Sea & the Snow, Sam has included a nice little poem derived from this gospel. I have reviewed it myself, and though I think he has certainly done better, this one isn’t too awful. He’s a bit timid in releasing his poetry, for it is always quite personal. With that too lengthy of a disclaimer (no poetry should have disclaimers), I hope you enjoy.
“Weakness”, or “Mercy” [An exposition of Luke’s Gospel]
Blind man: no path with which to tread,
No eyes to see, his way in fog
Tossed to and fro’, this sea he dreads.
Dense shadows in his sight great logs,
Led by brethren in pits he falls,
Yet Lord, “Mercy!” he calls.
Lost sheep: wanders for lack of sense,
Snow fur in pride blemished is damned.
Left all, enclosed by wolves so dense
In masks, costumed, appear as lambs,
Leading astray to eat a treat,
Yet Lord, “Help me!” it bleats.
Leper: among others so sick
Cast out, ignored, untouched, unclean
Lift up their voices, answered so quick.
Made clean, to priests they go so lean
“Come, forget him who cleansed,” they say,
Yet Lord, “Thank You!” One prays.
Neighbor: trav’ling, trampled by men,
Left there to die unless he’s found.
This Priest surely will help him send.
This Kin likely with him be bound.
This Fiend truly will pray he dies,
Yet Lord, “Help him!” he cries.
Widow: nothing to give but coins
persists for help, the judge relents.
Found dead yet raised, son of her loins.
His feet she kissed as she repents
The first to see him raised, she’s blessed,
For Lord, “He’s ris’n!” she ‘fessed.
Poor man: sick so, in need of wealth.
To cure his soul requires much more,
Such sins far weigh his need for health.
Led down by friends, health’s help sought for.
He’s told instead his sins are out.
Yet Lord, “Glory!” They shout.
I am: blind, lost, unclean, lame and maimed,
Widowed, poor, sick, robbed, and weak.
Left Father, my pleasure to claim,
Worthless, faithless, with whores I seek
To fill my soul with strength it needs.
Yet Lord, “Father!” I plead!
— Sam Snow, Editor-in-Chief, the fickle farce