Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Being Political...



OUR BIBLE reading for this Second Sunday of Lent comes from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. This scripture sheds light upon Jesus’ path through this world, trod over against those who would challenge God’s power working in sinful human society. Thus we read…

 At that very hour some Pharisees came, and said to him (Jesus), "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."
 And he said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.' 
 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'"  (Luke 13:31-35)


Whom Do You Serve?
Some Pharisees came to Jesus as those who believed in both the written and spoken Torah (Law). They also believed in physical resurrection and a final judgment day for human beings. The Jews of that particular sect made profound efforts to be pious, adhering to strict purity and Sabbath laws. They did these things so that they would be judged righteous enough to earn resurrection into eternal life. They firmly believed persons could work their way into being reconciled with our Creator, and enter the heavenly realm by strict legalistic adherence to the Law. They maintained this theology throughout the days when the Jews were becoming dispersed widely across the Roman Empire.
 Historically, we find that the Pharisees appeared during the Maccabean era that had occurred just prior to Jesus’ birth. From that time forward, the Pharisees had evolved into a religious, political party. Subsequently, within Jesus’ earthly lifetime they had gained such influence that they stood over against the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the Jewish society’s religious upper crust and political elite. The Sadducees, however, did not believe in a resurrection. They believed that their high position in society was God's reward for their goodness. They promoted only the written Torah. They also believed the future of Israel would be found as restricted to a centralized Temple society… one of which of course… maintained their sociological priority. I find it revealing for us today how much this parallels the positions of present day religious progressives over against conservatives. Each group had its individual aims for the future of Israel in the ancient world, and looked to scripture as a tool to bolster their group’s politics. Consequently, we can see that political control issues were likely hard at work in the warning given to Jesus.
 We know from the text that Herod was the ruler of Israel at that time. He was viewed generally as a low class, throne usurper by the entire pious Jewish leadership. We know that the Sadducees certainly would have never accepted his low social station and endorsed his leadership. Herod was a politician that came to power by virtue of Roman alliances. He was known by all to be used as their political puppet. In his dealings, however, Herod usually catered a bit to Pharisees over against the haughty Sadducees, but the reality was that the Pharisees really didn’t care for him either.
 In this particular reading then, we must note with suspicion that “some” Pharisees came to warn Jesus… for most disagreed with our Lord's teachings concerning their Sabbath laws, purity restrictions and more. Also these likely knew of how the ruthless leader had caused the deaths of many adversaries. We must therefore ask, "Did they dislike Herod more than they feared Jesus? Was the warning designed to keep him from going to Jerusalem and interfering in their progressive politics? Or... was the warning a sign for us that placed Jesus in league with them as a closet Pharisee?”
 I believe the latter assumption to be the least likely. Let me stress that Jesus had cast aside their theology, that claimed that a good behavior code would get a person to heaven. His “by faith alone” position placed him over against the prime emphasis of their religious party. Given this glaring difference over salvation for mankind, we cannot assume that the warning was really meant to keep Jesus safe. Subsequently, I believe the warning was more a device to scare Jesus away from Jerusalem, for he was making persuasive inroads with people. He was pulling the popularity pillars from beneath Pharisaic political platform. Jesus had already swayed many of the poor, sick, lame and more than that, even some Pharisees themselves had become curious. Some even began to accept his interpretation of the Law… for Jesus taught that the Law of God was made for man, and not man for the Law.

What Are We Reading?
Textually we see that most passages that we read here are found only in Luke, and no other gospel records them. The remainder of the text, however, is found also in Matthew’s gospel. We can then assume that only a portion of the text may have a common source. Why does this matter? Consider that the final sentence we read here is an exclamatory proclamation, a firm retelling by Jesus from Psalm 118:26. From this we gather from the reading only cited by Lukan authorship, that possibly the incident was more relevant to his audience, and not so in other places and times.
 The scene shows that Jesus had a great care for the poor and was on his way to the cross for our salvation. Further consider that Luke by historical tradition, was likely a Greek physician who had a profound interest in care for the poor. Add to this that according the Jews, anyone who was a Gentile and not a Jew was considered as poor in spirit and beneath the chosen people in God’s eyes. Thus to be poor was a term that therefore described not merely a financial hardship, but a religious poverty. If this is so, Luke was championing the role of the Gentiles within the church.
 For me, it seems that as Luke highlighted Jesus’ use of the psalm in this confrontation, our author argued that the scene was an exclamation that God’s patience with Israel was running low. Was this then a deliberate warning by Luke to Jews who were present in the early Christian church during the later decades of the first century?
 This latter sentence of the text (vs. 34) comes from a source common to both Luke and Matthew, but is not found in Mark. This gives further evidence to the belief of many experts that an earlier common written source existed for Luke and Matthew. That source for the gospel writing is that which biblical scholars now call “Q” (which means quelle or “sayings”). While thought to have been in written existence, the document has disappeared from physical history. The written “Q” in ancient copy has not yet been found in the dusts of time. The document stands, however, as reconstructed by biblical authorities. As shown here, by the power of the Holy Spirit our author directed the scribal pen to weave together text from both Mark and “Q”… for an accurate account of Jesus’ ministry for both the Jews and Gentiles. Here it seems that he thus focused on providing a grip for the impoverished Gentiles of Asia Minor, giving them a firmer hold on the healing gospel. Most would agree that it is very good that he did. In that way, they saw… and we today also see as well… the healing work of God as performed through Christ Jesus.

Feel the Burn!
On the day recorded here, Jesus had been notably busy doing a teaching ministry in the synagogue. He was scorned by a rabbi because he healed on a Sabbath day. However, Jesus ignored the consternation. He continued to heal people and further told several parables about the kingdom of God. Being as such, when we hear this message how should we appropriate his healing?
 Jesus answered the Pharisees’ warning. He said that he knew of the prediction that prophets who speak against the powers of this world, such as those influential in the Jewish religious life of ancient Jerusalem, would pay a steep price. But notice that he then made his own prediction that the Temple would pay more of a price… for they would be forsaken by God. By this he prophetically predicted what would happen, and told that the destruction of the Temple would stand as a testimony… one which would be leveled until they recognized him as the One sent from above.
 As to Herod, Jesus called him a “fox” or “faux”, which means “false”.., a sly faker. Ultimately, he thus challenged both the Pharisees, Sadducees and any other strong political authority. He was unwavering in that he taught that the Commandments convict sinners because we cannot keep their entirety. He stressed that through God’s Law we are simply driven to seek salvation by other means. The conclusion we must draw then... is that we must look beyond our own resources… political or otherwise. We must look to God who alone is gracious. God is the person who saves us exclusively through the gift of his Son.
 Subsequently, consider this. If we today examine this text thoroughly, we find ourselves called to worship God and obey the instructions that our Lord Jesus has given us. Because of our sin revealed by the Law, and our salvation given in Christ... we are to follow Jesus Christ in three ways. We are first to love God, our Creator. Additionally then, we are to love one another as his people. And just as important, we are called finally to proclaim the good news to the world around us.
 I ask you therefore to stand up firmly in this politically-charged world. I ask, “What does this lesson say about faithful persons or religious organizations who become involved in railing against local, state, national and international politics?” Should any disciple work within these powers in the world to do good works, or should we simply stand outside the entire mess and only speak prophetically from a distance to these jaded centers of government? If we do either, what dangers might assail us? In this nation, if we rail against such as abortion, free birth control, or gay marriage... would religious freedom be brought under attack? As well, consider the internal strife that may be caused if a church or family does this? Church denominations have in the past separated much like the Sadducees and Pharisees! Therefore we need to be cautious, yet daring... for we may surely result in voicing a tumult that rivals the crowd who yelled, “Crucify Him!” during Jesus’ trial. Any Christian must finally ask, “What happens if a church bends, twists, or breaks that which Jesus taught in scripture to fit our own agenda?” Using this text, I offer to you that God will not look favorably on any who use and abuse scripture to forward any cause that does not fit into the plans laid out for the kingdom.
 I raise these issues so that we consider, “What should our servant path be?” Should we just stand aside and let Jesus’ words be reduced to trite messages made among religious and state powers? Rather, shouldn’t we stand strong amid them and boldly proclaim his words rightly, distinctly and boldly in the public square. Shouldn’t we stand as the holy church, set apart and independent among earthly powers? Indeed, that is the example our Lord has set for us in this text. We need remember that our Lord is the Servant King who accepted the messianic task of David. Is it not he who stayed in Jerusalem and went to the cross to accomplish our forgiveness and eternal membership in the kingdom? Should we forfeit that heritage?
 We consider then, “Does Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, expect his followers to do that same sort of proclamation of both Law and Gospel boldly?” I say, “Certainly!” We are expected through the Holy Spirit to continue his often perilous ministry. Guided thus by the Spirit in the here and now, what should our mission then be? In Christ our Lord, I ask you… as biblical students, what do you think?






 



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