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Luke’s Story of Jesus as Counter-Narrative. Reading Luke in Communion. Luke story of Jesus was written not to describe what happened in the past so much as to motivate hearers to enact the new age in the present

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Luke’s Story of Jesus as Counter-Narrative

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reading luke in communion
Reading Luke in Communion
  • Luke story of Jesus was written not to describe what happened in the past so much as to motivate hearers to enact the new age in the present
  • In antiquity are texts are rhetorical, that is, they were designed to change the attitudes (μετανοια) and actions of those who heard them
living the gospel of luke
Living the Gospel of Luke
  • Reading for transformation: the Gospels envision a new future in an imperial world after the destruction of Jerusalem
  • We read Luke as history and so are preoccupied with what really happened, but Luke depicts Jesus as a prophet who exemplifies the pattern of life for the new age
  • Reading Luke in communion should always lead to the question: How should we then live?
  • In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is depicted as exemplar of a pattern of life that befits the new age
the priority of practice
The Priority of Practice
  • The focus in Luke is not so much on Jesus’ identity (orthodoxy) as in shaping the identity and practice of Jesus’ followers (orthopraxis)
  • The Gospel of Luke is designed to effect transformation by inviting the audience to align their convictions and actions with the narrative’s vision of life
identity and practice
Identity and Practice
  • Questions about how we should then live or what we should do always raise questions about who we are, and vice versa.
  • We know that in the everyday the sense of a self, and of a self identity is tied to mundane practices in which people locate themselves by reference to a routine of action and expectations about themselves and others that remain relatively stable in particular social settings.
converging competing stories
Converging & Competing Stories
  • Luke’s story of Jesus is interwoven with the story of Israel
    • Luke interprets the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus in terms of Israel’s Scriptures
    • Luke depiction of the words and deeds of Jesus serve as a compass for Israel in a post-70 world
  • Luke’s story of Jesus is in competition with imperial propaganda
narrative and identity
Narrative and Identity
  • Personal identity is expressed and shaped by narratives
  • Narrative identities are not stable entities
  • An act of listening or reading is a possible provocation to be and act differently
  • Biblical texts distance and disorient us by drawing us into an alternative narrative world and invite us to contemplate our sense of belonging and reorient our being in the world
engaging cultural systems
Engaging Cultural Systems
  • The tacit frame of reference of New Testament texts is an imperial system that kept most people beholden and downtrodden
  • Biblical texts envision an alternative way of life predicated on counter-cultural and life-giving values and practices
truth as praxis
Truth as Praxis
  • Christian faith does not offer a set of true or false propositions about a non-textual reality, but a form of life which has its own language
  • Gospel practices: healing, feeding, forgiveness, hospitality, witness, discernment, Sabbath, grace, gratitude, etc. as practices
intimations of empire
Intimations of Empire
  • Luke sets the story of Jesus on the imperial stage by naming the power brokers in the first chapters: Herod, Augustus, Tiberis Caesar, Pontius Pilate Annas & Caiaphas, and the Devil
  • Luke’s story of Jesus reflects and challenges the way the imperial world works
  • In the Magnificant and throughout Luke issues of power, status and social stratification are paramount
a decree went out from caesar augustus luke 2 1
“… a decree went out from Caesar Augustus … (Luke 2:1)”

Augustan inscription from Priene (9 BCE)

“Since the Providence which has ordered all things

and is deeply interested in our life has set in most

perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled

with virtue [divine power] that he might benefit

mankind, sending him as savior … that he might

end war and arrange all things, and since he,

Caesar … surpassing all previous benefactors …

and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the

beginning for the world of the gospelthat came

by reason of him.”

jesus and the restoration of israel
Jesus and the Restoration of Israel
  • Luke tells the story of Jesus as a story of God fulfilling promises of salvation for Israel and the nations
    • Covenant with Abraham (1:54-55, 72-75)
    • Covenant with David (1:32-33)
    • Isaiah’s vision of the nations (2:25-35)
  • Salvation is defined in terms of the “consolation”/restoration of Israel and deliverance from its enemies to usher in the time of peace
luke 1 67 78
Luke 1:67-78

Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for God has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. God has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, … that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us…”

luke s story of jesus as a story of salvation
Luke’s Story of Jesus as a Story of “Salvation”
  • Salvation in OED: “The saving of the soul; deliverance from sin and its consequences and admission to eternal life, brought about by Christ.”
  • Luke uses terms for salvation more than any NT text (sōteria, sōtēr & sōzō)
  • How do we understand salvation?
salvation in biblical judaism
Salvation in Biblical Judaism
  • The Hebrew Bible and much post-biblical tradition employ the Hebrew root ysh and the Greek verb and noun sōzō/sōtēria as well as a number of other terms and metaphors, to denote a range of divine activity that includes rescue from one’s enemies, healing from illness, and deliverance from death, in addition to forgiveness of sin and release from its consequences. Much of that is defined as “salvation” does not involve God saving anyone from anything. Rather, God is bestowing on the covenant people the blessings they have been promised, without any sense that they have hitherto been deprived of these things (Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period)
salvation in luke
Salvation in Luke
  • The Gospel of Luke begs the question of what salvation looks like on the ground as a present reality (10:9, 23-24;17:20)
  • The salvation word group also had currency in Greco-Roman society. The emperor was referred to as sōtēr and imperial propaganda often depicted him and the empire as rescuing people from the same things God’s people are rescued from in the Bible, including sin.
  • Salvation encompasses all nations/people and is construed as the restoration of society
salvation in luke as restoration of society
Salvation in Luke as Restoration of Society
  • For Luke’s audience of Jews and Gentiles being “saved from our enemies” refers to deliverance from the dehumanizing effects of imperial society
  • Luke graphically depicts how imperial society works and sets against it the mercy of God as it is embodied by Jesus
performing the gospel
Performing the Gospel
  • The Gospel of Luke is a counter-narrative that re-present the story of Jesus as a way of life his followers then and now are to emulate
  • Jesus proclaims and enacts the kingdom of God as a vision of what it means to be human in a world in which people are oppressed and dehumanized.
formation of identity and practice
Formation of Identity and Practice
  • Luke serves to reshape the identity and practices of those who follow Jesus
  • Identity is covenantal and communal
  • Priority of practice over belief:“every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action” (MacIntyre, After Virtue).
discussion redefining salvation
Discussion:Redefining Salvation
  • As a counter-narrative of salvation Luke challenges the promises and patterns of imperial society that demean and deform peoples’ lives
  • Any serious engagement with and appropriation of Luke must reckon with contemporary cultural promises and patterns
  • What are our cultural myths of salvation?
pattern of resistance release in luke 3 4
Pattern of Resistance & Release in Luke 3-4
  • The Gospels were written to change the way people think and act
  • The Gospel of Luke invites hearers to contemplate who they are and how they should then live in the light of the teaching, ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus
  • Jesus’ baptism, testing & inaugural sermon provide a pattern for living in the power of the Spirit
john s baptism
John’s Baptism
  • John’s baptism of repentance (3:3): the imperial system isn’t working – time for change!
  • “bear fruits worthy of repentance”: transformation through practice
  • “he will baptize with the Holy Spirit: promise of leader who empowers others
jesus baptism
Jesus’ Baptism
  • Jesus’ followers submit to John baptism just as he did
  • Just as Jesus is called “Son of the Most High”, those who “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” are called “children of the Most High”
  • Jesus’ baptism invokes our own baptismal covenant
testing in the wilderness
Testing in the Wilderness
  • In 3:1-3 Luke introduces the brokers of the imperial system and in 4:3-11 the devil is depicted as the self-styled broker of the world’s kingdoms
  • Like Israel, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where is covenant fidelity is tested
  • The devil challenges Jesus to live according to the values and practices of world that is not in tune with God’s purposes
power and self interest
Power and Self-Interest
  • Life is more than “bread”: Jesus resists using power to feed himself and instead feeds others (9:12-17)
  • To you I give all this authority and their glory”: Jesus resists using divine power for self aggrandizement
  • “He will give his angels charge over you”: Jesus resists using power to save himself and instead empowers others (23:35)
the purpose of spirit power
The Purpose of Spirit Power
  • Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit”: he is strengthened by resisting the devil/world
  • Nazareth sermon on Isaiah 61 discloses the purpose of Spirit power: to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives … to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” 4:18-19
ministry of release
Ministry of Release
  • Luke 4:16-30 is Jesus’ mission statement and describes his mission as one of “releasing” people who are oppressed
  • One of the most frequently used word groups in Luke are words that mean set free and “release”
resistance release from the imperial system
Resistance & Release from the Imperial System
  • Throughout Luke Jesus is empowered by the Spirit to disturb the equilibrium of the imperial system and release people who are held captive by it
  • Middle class people are frequently reminded of their complicity in a system that oppresses others, but they are also themselves oppressed by it
  • It is time for middle class people to have honest conversations about how they are “impoverished” and held captive by the “system”
  • What would it look and feel like us to engage in Jesus’ ministry of resistance and release in our own contexts?
reading for transformation luke 5 1 11
Reading for Transformation:Luke 5:1-11
  • How do you account for Peter’s transformation in this text?
  • What happens to Peter that would cause him to leave everything and follow Jesus?
  • How does following Jesus benefit him or improve the quality of his life?
how the world works the galilean fishing economy
Looking at the story of Simon Peter’s call in the context of the Galilean fishing economy sheds some light on the encounter between him and Jesus and suggests a more practical explanation of the fact that “they left everything and followed him”. The parables and metaphors, anecdotes and social network of Jesus are heavily influenced by the Sea of Galilee and its fish, fishing, fishermen, and fishing villages. Fishers were part of a state-regulated elite-profiting enterprise. The Galilean fishing economy was an “embedded economy” (not a market economy) characteristic of aristocratic empires in which most surplus went to brokers and ruling elite. How the World Works: the Galilean Fishing Economy
sin and shame in luke
Sin and Shame in Luke
  • In Luke Jesus has a reputation for associate primarily with “sinners and tax collectors”, i.e. people who have no honor in Judaism and in society (5:29-32; 7:31-50; 15:1-2; 19:7).
  • “Sinner” is a label attributed by someone or some group that determines a person’s status vis-à-vis God and the covenant community. “Sin” and “Sinner” are always a matter of interpretation and cultural conditioning, and labeling one a “Sinner” is a matter of power and control.
contemplating divine beneficence
Contemplating Divine Beneficence
  • What are the systems we are embedded in and how do they define and shape our lives?
  • What is not “life-giving” about our way of life and what changes might we make that would allow us to live more in harmony with the Spirit?
  • What would it mean for us to “put out into the deep”? What are our fears and anxieties?
  • What would “abundance” look like for us?
  • What would we need to let go of or relinquish to embrace new life?
honor patronage as the foundation of imperial society
Honor & Patronage as the Foundation of Imperial Society
  • Honor was the desideratum of antiquity and was embedded in a system of reciprocal relationships of mutual benefit between unequals known as patronage.
  • The patron obtained honor by means of the “gift” (charis), which came with a variety of strings attached.
  • Patron-client relationships in which one individual is dominant and the other subordinate and dependent predominated in Greco-Roman society.
social impact of patronage
Social Impact of Patronage
  • The dominance of the elite also required the ritualized performance of others’ submission on a day-to-day basis.
  • The inculcation of negative shame, the social inverse of honor, was one result of the repeated experience of social inferiority among the large underclass.
  • The social elevation of the elite came at the expense of the non-elite, who were socialized into roles that took on the zero-sum burdens of various grades of poverty, shame, impurity. The resultant physical “weakness” of the poor was often read as evidence of their “sinfulness” before God and human patrons alike.

Luke 6:32-36“… But love your enemies, and do good, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

challenging the way the world works luke 6 27 36
Challenging the Way the World Works: Luke 6:27-36
  • Jesus challenges foundational model of reciprocity and power in Greco-Roman society that keep people beholden and submissive
  • Jesus’ ministry of release (Lk 4) needs to be understood in terms of the patronage system that keeps people in a continual state of debt and dispossession
divine generosity
Divine Generosity
  • In Luke the new age is experienced as God’s lavish self-expression, and Jesus is proof of that generosity
  • Imitatio Dei: From Luke’s perspective those who enjoy the benefits conferred by the Divine parent of Jesus are obligated to reflect the character of the Supreme Benefactor
divine generosity as the basis of the new age
Divine Generosity as the Basis of the New Age
  • In the Nazareth sermon, sermon on the plain (Lk 6) and throughout Luke Jesus challenges the way imperial society works and outlines the new values, commitments and practices of a new age that reflects God’s character and purposes
  • Jesus releases people from their captivity to the system
  • The Divine generosity he models is the basis for new patterns of relationships
reading luke in communion40
Reading Luke in Communion
  • What does the text disclose about the way the world works?
  • How does Jesus challenge the system?
  • What response or practice does the text call for?
  • How is Divine Generosity experienced and embodied?

The Lord’s Prayer (Lk 11:2-4)He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

the practice of divine generosity
The Practice of Divine Generosity
  • Even as followers are encouraged to trust God’s goodness and generosity for daily needs they are expected to practice that same generosity by releasing everyone indebted to them
  • In Luke almsgiving is another type of exchange predicated on Divine generosity that the basis of his vision of a new society
  • In Luke the practice of hospitality modeled by Jesus is how the new age is actualized

Politics begins not when you organize to defend an individual or particular or local interest, but when you organize to further the ‘general’ interest within which your particular interest may be represented … politics does not happen when you act on behalf of your own damaged good, but when you act, without awareness, for the good of all – this is to take the risk of the universal interest (Gillian Rose)


“… Christian ethics is relentlessly political, because it cannot be adequately expressed in terms of atomized rights invested in individuals or groups, but looks beyond to the kind of community in which free interaction for the sake of each other is made possible” (Rowan Williams)

children of the market or wisdom
Children of the Market or Wisdom?

“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” (Luke 7:31-35)

the market system
The Market System

The All-Seeing Eye of Providence: “God has favored our undertaking”

“New Order of the Ages”

market as totalizing system that determines value

Market as Totalizing System that Determines Value

The sacred order which structures individual action is primarily represented in the economic realm. Capitalism in not only a system of production & exchange but also of value creation. In this sacred order the individual is sacred, and the monetarized economy is the indicator of social worth (Boli, “The Economic Absorption of the Sacred”).

how the world works
How the World Works
  • The market system is a societywide coordination of human activities not by central command but by mutual interactions in the form of transactions. Like the state, the market system is a method of controlling and coordinating people’s behavior. That market participants see themselves as making free and voluntary choices does not deny that they are controlled by purchase and sales (Lindblom, The Market System)
  • The meaning of life is full participation in the exchange economy, as both producer of value and consumer of goods. The purpose of life is full development of the individual, both through value production and voluntary consumption (Boli, “The Economic Absorption of the Sacred”)
the persistence of patronage

The Persistence of Patronage

Patron-client relations, with one person dependent and behoven to another, are one of the most diffuse in the modern world. In most modern forms, in contrast to patronage in antiquity, the client rarely has rights or powers, agreements are most often personal and informal. “Powerful patrons are mostly middle-aged or elderly men, to whom other men and women are often locked in hopeless dependency. Patron-client relations … may inspire a devotion which knows neither limits, nor scruples nor remorse. They are not, though, the stuff of which citizenship is made. The dominant social values they foster are those of submissiveness and gratitude, not of equality and mutual respect” (Paul Ginsborg, The Politics of Everyday Life)

the challenge of grace

The Challenge of Grace

The moment the gift is infected with the slightest hint of calculation, the moment it takes account of knowledge or recognition, it falls within the ambit of an economy: it exchanges, in short it gives counterfeit money, since it gives in exchange for payment. To want to be noticed means wanting recognition and payment in terms of calculable salary, in terms of thanks or recompense (Derrida, The Gift of Death)

loving without reciprocity

Loving without Reciprocity

“… reciprocity governs all commerce, even the carnal sort. When, then, does the lover appear? Precisely when, during the encounter, I suspend reciprocity, and no longer economize, engaging myself without any guarantee of assurance. The lover appears when one of the actors in the exchange no longer poses prior conditions, and loves without requiring to be loved, and thus, in the figure of the gift, abolishes economy” (Jean-Luc Marion, The Erotic Phenomenon)

luke 7 36 50 woman pharisee

Luke 7:36-50 Woman & Pharisee

“A certain creditor had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?”

from self to communal solidarity
From “Self” to Communal Solidarity

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? (Luke 9:23-25)

“Profit” and “forfeit” stem from the world of commerce. Radical self-denial leads to an emphasis on the practice of

generosity in the context of community.

relinquishing attachments
Relinquishing Attachments

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”(Luke 9:57-61)

luke 11 37 44 the practice of generosity

Luke 11:37-44 The Practice of Generosity

“But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.” (see 12;32-34)

luke 12 13 21 the rich fool

Luke 12:13-21 The Rich Fool

“Take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions…. So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

luke 14 15 24 the great banquet

Luke 14:15-24 The Great Banquet

“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled’.”

luke 16 1 13 the dishonest steward

Luke 16:1-13 The Dishonest Steward

“The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”

luke 16 19 31 rich man lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 Rich Man & Lazarus

“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”

luke 18 18 30 the rich ruler

Luke 18:18-30 The Rich Ruler

“Jesus said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me’.”

luke 191 10 zachaeus

Luke 191-10 Zachaeus

“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

jesus in jerusalem
Jesus in Jerusalem
  • “Triumphal Entry” - ruler in parable (19:11-27) vs. the “king who comes in the name of the Lord” (19:38)
  • Parable of the Vineyard (20:9-18)
  • On paying taxes to Caesar (20:20-26)
  • The destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-38)
a different kind of leader
A Different Kind of Leader

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)