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Posts Tagged ‘gospel of luke’

“Father, Into Your Hand…” (Luke 23.46)

As in the first ‘word’ in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the Father again. We might remember that his very first words in the Gospel are about being in his Father’s house. So it may not surprise us that his final words prior to his death are about being taken into his Father’s hands. Jesus on the cross is consistent with the rest of Jesus’ life. Luke wants us to know that nothing, not even the cross, can stop Jesus from demonstrating the ways of God. He has already forgiven his executioners and made reservations for a criminal to enter paradise, now he commits his spirit to the Father.

We may find ourselves thinking of Psalm 31, especially the part where the psalmist says “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus was saturated in the Psalms. The Psalms reveal some rugged emotional terrain. So does the cross. Jesus knows about rugged terrain. It should not surprise us that in challenging moments he reaches into the language of the psalms and adds “Father” before he goes on to quote “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Again, we should not be surprised. It was Jesus who taught us when we pray to say “Our Father…”

When we read this “word” we should not forget the connection between spirit and breath. We are reminded of a true gift from God. We do not possess our breath. We cannot hold it in or keep it. It is gift. Given again and again and again. We inhale, we exhale – gift.

Jesus gives his spirit willingly. Like the rabbi at his own funeral, he commits his life to God the Father. His spirit is not taken from him by those who put him on the cross. He gives it back to the One who gave it to him. He gave away what they thought they were taking from him. Admittedly, this is contrary to the visible evidence. From all appearances, Jesus had his breath taken from him. Meanwhile, Jesus is trusting that the Father is greater than the power of death.

This text reminds us of our dependence on the Father. Our spirit, our very breath is a gift from the Father and our lives are dependent on him. Perhaps we can think of many things we easily take for granted that in wiser moments we recognize as gift. We have been given much. Just look around. Look at your clothes, hands, feet. Breathe deep. Color, smell, taste – all gift. During Lent, we are reminded that following Jesus demands thankful, grateful spirits. May we give even those back to him.

Perhaps it is fitting to conclude with an observation. While many were hostile toward Jesus, Luke highlights that Simon carried the cross, the daughters of Jerusalem mourned for him, a criminal was welcomed into paradise, the centurion praised God, and Joseph was waiting for the kingdom. Some of these may have been aware of the conclusion of Psalm 31 “Be strong and let your heart take courage, All you who hope in the Lord.” We too follow Jesus into the emotional terrain of a hostile world. May we also “Be strong… take courage… and hope in the Lord.”

A prayer from Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Thank you for the gift of life, Father God. There will come a day when I will meet you face-to-face. The One who gave me life and has numbered my days. As I take in each breath and exhale may I remember, by your grace, that my life is not my own. Just as Jesus gave His life up to save humanity, it is my desire to give my life in service and worship to you. In a world that invites me to worship and serve anything and everything but you, may I be fixed on the breath that you gave and remember the name of Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for your Lordship and leadership. It is my desire to follow you unto my last breath.”

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“Today You Will Be with Me…” (Luke 23.43)

We can be certain that things were not quiet the day of the crucifixion. Onlookers likely heard sounds of violence. There would have been shouts from soldiers and hammers pounding. There would have been gasps from the crowd and gambling for garments. The voices of Luke’s text are interesting. The rulers speak “Let him save himself.” The soldiers mock “Save yourself!” A criminal speaks “Save yourself and us.” Three times people hostile to Jesus tell him to save himself, he does not reply to any of them. And then we get the following short conversation. In response to the criminal who taunted Jesus, another criminal speaks “Do you not even fear God?” and then asks Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

This “word” from Jesus teaches us something about grace. This is exactly the kind of thing Jesus is executed for. He is killed because they could not tame him. The sympathetic criminal does not deserve grace. Yet, we learn about grace from the crucified Jesus. Not even a cross can stop him from his move “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Luke has included us on a journey. Not everyone responds to Jesus the same along the way. Some respond favorably. Others reject him. All the way to the cross we are faced with the question of how we will deal with Jesus. All the way to the cross we discover that not everyone agrees with the kind of people Jesus spent time with. Now we find that the one who “receives sinners and eats with them” also dies with them and for them. It is possible Jesus was not crucified because he claimed to save people, but because he would not stop saving the wrong people. Jesus never stops welcoming unlikely people into the kingdom, even a guilty criminal who has been sentenced for execution. No further questions are necessary, welcome to the kingdom.

Needless to say, this would have been difficult for onlookers to understand. From all appearances the powers of death were eliminating any hope of future and certainly something other than paradise. Yet, Jesus affirms a future for this criminal beyond this day. We do not know what else the three on the cross may have said to one another. If anything at all, Luke does not think it important to record it. Yet, the conversation continues. Every one of us is still asking for or receiving what we do not deserve. We are all either asking Jesus to do things the way we do them in the world or we are believing he knows what he is doing.

Reading this “word” of Jesus during Lent reminds us that an invitation to join the kingdom is an invitation to follow him. The text reminds us that following Jesus cannot be interrupted by the powers of the world. We are not limited by what the world offers. Following Jesus takes us beyond the borders of this world, beyond what we think we might deserve or think is in store for our future. Following Jesus may take us to a place full of the wrong people.

A prayer of response from Pastor Susan Vigliano; “Thank you Jesus for inviting me, a sinner, into your kingdom. You made the way for me and gave me the faith to believe. You loved me first. I admit to wondering if everyone is really good enough to make it into your kingdom.Sometimes I wonder if some sin or crime is just too much for grace and salvation. I confess my struggle to love and accept everyone regardless of their crime or sin. I ask you, Jesus, to soften my heart and to give me your eyes for everyone. Turn my heart of stone into a heart of flesh and give me your grace.”

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“Father Forgive Them…” (Luke 23.34)

We know how difficult forgiveness can be. It is often easier to not forgive than to forgive. I suspect we sometimes wish there a limit on things we are expected to forgive. We may wish that transgressions of a certain severity are optional as to whether we forgive them or not. Surely that would make navigating this difficult territory much easier.

Jesus does not draw a line or give permission to not forgive anything. If anything is beyond forgiveness, killing the Son of God might qualify. Still, from the cross, during his own execution, Luke tells us that Jesus says “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. “ In fact, Luke suggests this is the first thing he said. Perhaps he wants us to know that this is more than an account about a Friday afternoon execution. We are about to witness the way God works. We are witnesses of grace. The drama of Good Friday is changed because of these words. This is a prayer that reaches into a corrupted world and changes everything.

This is just the radical sort of thing we have come to expect from Jesus. Perhaps we could interpret his statement something like this, “Before I am executed I want you to know I will not hold a grudge, I will not seek revenge, instead I forgive the organizers of this execution, I forgive those who will carry out the killing, I forgive all who mock and jeer and those who gamble for my clothes, I forgive you all.” This is the way Jesus is. Jesus does not keep score. Forgiveness may not be our natural move but it is always his next move.

Crowds called for his execution. Rulers and priests mocked him. Soldiers hit him. Still, Jesus prays that they will be forgiven. This is revolutionary. Yet this is what Jesus does. This is his move. If there were doubts before, we can be certain he meant it when he said we should forgive seventy times seven. We can be sure he was serious when he taught us to love our enemies. This forgiveness theme just will not stop. Jesus refuses to participate in the way the world does business. He refuses to play that game. Even from the cross, his next move is forgiveness. We are reminded that God is not saving all the good news for Easter Sunday.

Luke is writing for people removed from the ministry of Jesus, removed by geography and time. He writes for people who live outside the region where these things occurred. People who live years after these things took place. People like us. This is Good News no matter what side of the planet we live on and no matter what century we live in.

When reading this “word” from Jesus we can be sure God is serious about forgiveness and desires to forgive us. Yet, during Lent we also have in mind his desire that we follow him. Our text makes clear that following him means we do not have to carry around old hate or revenge strategies. God has no interest in these things. The cross makes it clear that there is a huge difference between the way the world works and the ways of God. We follow a God whose next move is always forgiveness.

Pastor Susan Vigliano adds the following prayer to this meditation: “Lord, would you show me the hidden places in my heart that are holding on to unforgiveness and bitterness? I know in my head that holding on to unforgiveness leads to death and I desire the life you offer. My heart still feels the pain. Please heal my heart and take my pain. You paid for the sin committed against me and for the sinful way in which I have held on to unforgiveness. I need you in order to forgive. I need your strength, power, love, and mercy to release this hurt into your hands. I am calling on you, Jesus and choosing your way that leads to life.”

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Luke is a careful investigator. He passes along details learned from eyewitnesses and is a student of history. This is important enough that it is the first thing he tells us in his gospel. He wants us to know that what follows is set in history.

That may be why he goes on to tell us that Caesar Augustus issued a decree and that Quirinius was governor and that a census was taking place. But Luke also wants us to be aware that other things were happening also. Luke wants us to know that the plan of God is in full effect. A new kingdom is on the horizon. The existing powers may continue to act as if they possess some ultimate authority. So Caesar decrees, Quirinius governs, Mary and Joseph try to follow the laws of the land.

Meanwhile a new king is near and with him a new kingdom. Perhaps in effort to emphasize this Luke points out that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem the town of David (home of Israel’s greatest king) and that Joseph was related to David (Israel’s greatest king). Perhaps that is why he records the angel’s announcement that the child is born in the town of David. Is Luke hinting that here lies Israel’s next king? Has kingdom come in a manger?

We sometimes read Luke 2 as instructions to set up our nativity scene. Luke wants us to know that something else is going on. God has invaded history. We sometimes try to spiritualize the work of God as if He only works in some spiritual arena. Luke wants us to know that God invades our real time history. God invades time while Caesar is decreeing, while wanna-be-Caesars debate on network television, while planning menus, while Quirinius governs, while balancing the checkbook, while shepherds watch their flocks, while worrying about fuel prices, while a census is taken, while unexpected weather occurs, while looking for room at the inn. Christmas is the message of kingdom come in a manger.

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There is a whole list of songs we associate with this time of year. I am surprised some of these lyrics are allowed to be sung in public. We sing “Glory to the newborn King.” “Let earth receive her King.” “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King.” We recognize these as songs of Christmas and cannot overlook how they insist that a King is born. When we sing the songs of Christmas we are singing about a change in the political landscape. We are singing about Kingdom Come. We are offering tribute to the rightful King.

It should not surprise us to find Mary singing such a world changing song in Luke 1. Mary’s song does not come out of nowhere. It is a response to the activity of God. She learns of God’s activity in two prior conversations. First, Mary speaks with an angel, Gabriel. This is one of the better known conversations of Advent. Actually, this is the best known conversation in Advent. Simply, it goes like this;

Gabriel – “Greetings… you will bear a son… He will be great and will become King… He will reign forever and His Kingdom will have no end.”

Mary – “Impossible.”

Gabriel – “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

In the second conversation Mary speaks with a barren, elderly woman and we are again reminded “Nothing will be impossible with God.” No wonder Mary sings.

She never would have thought that she, a humble bondslave, would give birth to a King. Her song talks about a Kingdom where the proud will be scattered and rulers will be brought down from their thrones and humble will be exalted and hungry will be filled and rich will be empty handed. It should not be lost on us that Luke goes on to add that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, perhaps because he thought himself king, just prior to the birth of Mary’s child King. We might read these chapters and listen to these songs and say “Impossible.” And Luke might reply that this is exactly the territory where God likes to work.

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It is interesting that Luke includes a walk early in the Gospel,
where we are reminded it is possible to think Jesus is with us
when He is not, and concludes with another walk where we are
reminded there may be times we are uncertain about where He
is when He happens to be walking right beside us. What we can
count on is that He, just as surely as the words of the prophet,
enters into specific situations. He shows up in the middle of life
happening. I am reminded that we have not got this Jesus figured
out. I walk into innumerable places of familiarity and wonder
in which of those I might recognize His presence. Luke might
suggest a guide for our journey—perhaps a child.

The above paragraph is an excerpt from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 76

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Pontius Pilate, a prefect of Rome, who served under the Emperor Tiberius becomes part of Luke’s Gospel at chapter 23.  This has become a familiar part of the story for us but in some ways it is a strange twist as Jesus also meets Herod on this day.  Luke wants us to know that this religious story has become quite tangled with politics.

It is not only Luke, but each of the Gospels goes to some length to demonstrate the political context of the cross.  This is evident in the way the religious assembly turns to political leaders in order to get what they want.  We might ask why the political posturing at the end of the Gospel narratives?  Who invited Pilate and Herod to play such a significant role in a religious story?  Are the religious leaders trying to portray Jesus as a rival politician?  As an opponent to Caesar?

It is possibly implied that these religious leaders have learned the ways of the earthly kingdom.  They know how the world works.  They take the important decisions to the politicians because that is who handles the important issues of the world.  Before we point fingers at them, we would do well to ask ourselves if we believe any differently.  Or whether our actions demonstrate anything different.

The religious assembly talks about religion as if it is important but have somehow become convinced that real power is for those who align with the political powers.  By aligning with politicians, the religious leaders may have hoped to gain power, or at least guarantee they keep any power they already possess.  Could religious leaders of the first century have struggled with temptations similar to those we face today?  After all, we may be persuaded at times to believe that real power lies with the politicians.  We also have learned the way the world works and know who to turn to when we need to get something done.

Pilate also wants to benefit from the way the world works.  This likely explains his reluctance to make a firm decision regarding Jesus and may explain why he becomes friends with Herod who was his enemy prior to this day.  He wants to keep his power and fears what might happen if Jerusalem riots under his watch.  This situation with Jesus puts him at risk.  From this point forward the politician Pilate is forever connected to these religious leaders and the execution of Jesus.  He discovers what others in the Gospel narrative already know, life changes after an encounter with this Jesus.

The Gospels have no interest in validating or undermining any politicians resume.  Luke has more important things in mind.  He reports political history only as it fits in salvation history.  For example, Acts 12 talks of a speech given by Herod.  It appears to be a speech of some political importance since listeners claimed it was delivered with “the voice of a god.”  Yet we do not learn one word of it.  Meanwhile, in Acts 7 we find another speech given by Stephen before he is stoned to death.  At the very least we read a lengthy summary.  The same thing happens with Peter’s speech in chapter 2.  Luke is only interested in the most significant moves of history and wants readers to consider whether these are done by the actions of politicians or through the activity of God.

We cannot ignore the intersection of religion and politics in Luke and certainly not in this episode before the crucifixion.  We get the feeling that the religious leaders and politicians hoped to find a compromise that could make them both happy.  It is likely that they had done this before and many times since.  Yet, their efforts for stability and survival and power and status quo do not come out as expected on this occasion.  Jesus shows up and complicates things.

Luke may have yet another interest in telling this story.  Chapter after chapter we have encountered barriers to the Gospel.  And we have gotten accustomed to find that the activity of God could not be stopped by any of these barriers.  But one may wonder what will happen now that the good news encounters the power of politics?  Does Luke want the reader to wonder if this will be the final chapter of the Jesus story?

For Luke, not all history is equal because not all kingdoms are equal.  Although they sometimes become tangled together, the Kingdom we read about in the Gospel does not align with other existing political powers.  We gather as people who do not have confidence in the strategies of this world.  The established systems and the old certainties are no longer certain.  Another Kingdom is in play and we are called to participate by following the King of this Kingdom.

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