LUKE 12: 1-12
And so, with such goings on, crowds of perhaps thousands were assembling together [in great expectation], jostling and treading on each other. This was when Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take a good look at the [impact of the] yeast of the Pharisees, which is nothing but hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered up which will not be uncovered, nor will there be anything hidden away [in secret] that will not be made known. And so, with you what things you say [confidentially] in the hours of darkness will be what will be heard [from you] in the full light of day, and whatever you have whispered in the ear in private will be what is proclaimed [loud and clear for all to hear] from the rooftops. And this is what I am [especially] saying to you, my friends.
“Do not be afraid of those [who threaten the] killing of the body and [since that is the limit of their activity] after that they have no more competence to make an impact upon you. But I am giving you fair warning of whom it is that you should fear. Fear the one who, after the killing, [still] has the power to [dump you by] emptying [you] into [the pit of] Gehenna. Yes that is the One whom you should fear.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents. And not one of them is ever forgotten from God’s court. After all, even the hairs of your head have all been accounted for [with their line item]. So just do not worry! You value is many, many sparrows.
“And I say to you, that whoever professes allegiance to me before men, the Son of Man will also profess allegiance to that person before the angels of God. And [likewise] he who disowns me before men shall shall also be disowned before the [self-same] angels of God. And anyone and all who shall say a word against the Son of Man it will [indeed] be forgiven that person; but to the one disrespectful to the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven.
“And when they bring [or drag] you before their congregations [synagogues], their powerful persons and authorities, don’t go getting distracted by [worry about] how you will answer and what you are going to say. For the Holy Spirit will [already be busy] in that very hour teaching you what you are to say.”
The title of this post may have led some readers to think that this will be a Christianised version of “Que sera, sera”. Remember Doris Day?
Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be.
In fact, when we consider the teaching of this passage, we may come to conclude that we need to take distance from the fateful world-view, with all its American “booster” optimism, of that popular song. In fact, the sweet sentimental lyrics of Doris Day’s 1956 cold-war “top of charts” song could very easily lead those who sing it astray.
This song was not like the “spirituals”, composed under the oppressive heel of cotton plantation owners with “Go down Moses, … Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go”; nor was it “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” in the “Glory Glory Hallelujah” battle-hymn of the Republic. Rather it was an American chant dripping with post World-War-2 sentiment about how guys and dolls could live the American dream since they were living within the greatest show on earth.
And these days it is surely being reprieved by new kinds of sweethearts longing for mythic gender rainbows day after day. And who knows? Maybe it will become the song to be sung by the trans-generational mosh-pit that turns up for the next American presidential inauguration in January!
Those readers wanting to deepen their understanding of how popular culture (and Doris Day’s song) has aided and abetted the “fateful” implosion of popular Christianity in the west might turn to Peter Conrad’s How the World was Won: the Americanization of Everywhere (2014). It is probably even more relevant that it was when it was first penned in 2014, now that polities like Australia, let alone local government administrations as Nurturing Justice has recently revealed, are poised to “Americanise” our politics even further.
Now readers who have called up this post of Nurturing Justice because it looks like it is going to be a “Bible study”, expecting that the content will stay away from politics by confining itself to the Biblical text may be somewhat disappointed even annoyed.
But what I have posted from Luke’s Gospel in recent days has been written to convince readers that Theophilus’ friend was writing his account to explain why the Messianic ministry of Jesus in its immediate political context demand wise political thinking of his disciples. As is attested repeatedly by this Gospel, as well as by the rest of the New Testament, the choice to follow Christ Jesus, is to get in step with the person God has elected as Israel’s Messiah. It is no more about “kicking out the Romans” then it is about us today finding a way to “kick political butt” or condemn all politicians as simply self-interest rat-bags. But it is political through and through because God’s Image Bearer is also always concerned for public justice.
For us it is about taking up the cross; it is about recognising that God in Christ Jesus has called us to become neighbour, and hence to serve our neighbour publicly with justice; to work diligently to contribute to the ordering of public governance in the complexity of human society – just as Joseph did as Pharoah’s PM and just as Daniel did as CEO in Nebuchadnezzar’s regime.
This is living a life that, to put it quite simply, is to recognise God’s rule in all the details of our life – “Your Kingdom come!” is our daily prayer – and that rule is Christ’s Kingship over us in private and in public, here and now, today and henceforth, as we busily fill up our life-time’s diary obligations as citizens in the Kingdom in which he is due to be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords on a day of his Father’s choosing. He is Prince of Princes designate and demands our political loyalty!
Luke takes care to depict Jesus’ teaching and modus operandi in a way that will encourage those putting their faith in him to keep their eye on their God-given public political responsibilities. It seems that Luke entered the “Christian story”, or maybe became a much more prominent person within the telling of it, while travelling with Paul and his companions on those Mediterranean journeys. And who could doubt the political dimensions of the Gospel after witnessing or hearing about Paul’s pleading with the frightened Roman Governor Felix in terms of “justice, self-control and future judgement” (Acts 24:22-27)?
No, this passage from Luke’s Gospel is not about an impersonal fate, and in fact although we are commanded to turn resolutely and completely away from anything that resembles a presumptuous “last judgement time table”, nevertheless we are given a definitive assurance that there will indeed be a Day of Reckoning, that our stewardship is noticed and we will due to the Lord’s mercy indeed enter into the Lord God’s Sabbath rest.
This passage then is a near-verbatim record of Jesus’ guaranteed promise to his disciples that they are completely under the care of their Father in Heaven. It is a record of what Jesus said when his ministry was under threat of being submerged by the mosh-pits that arrived after the Judaean countryside that had responded so repentantly to John was cunningly manipulated by what Jesus called the hypocritical yeast of the Pharisees.
So the initial paragraph above indicates Jesus’ admonition, but also advice, that following him does not involve any duplicity. It’s open and it’s to be consistent. If there is to be any delay between what is said among his disciples and what is subsequently disclosed in public there’s to be no duplicity whatsoever, and no doubt about how the friends of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, are to conduct their conversations.
Then, there is to be no double allegiance; trust in the Lord is to involve no wavering between two masters. In this life you may be subjected to threats, says Jesus, but keep those threats in perspective. You weren’t the one who got you here in the first place and in fact even your parents, let alone your rulers, were under the watchful eye of your father in heaven. So don’t go dropping your bundle when confronted by “hairy-chested” opposition. Sparrows have their own song to sing and it actually delights the Lord who made them who ensures that their vocal chords are in tune. So, says Jesus, keep in mind that as you sing Psalm 84:3-4 about the sparrows you are also thanking God for how He cares intimately, not fatefully – que sera sera – but personally, today and tomorrow because he not only has the hair of your head numbered, He also has your days numbered; you might say He’s got your number, if not you, in the palm of his hand. “Your value is many, many sparrows.”
As we read on we realise that these guarantees echo the Lord God’s promises to Moses. They are covenantal. They are promises that Jesus Christ remains utterly loyal that his word can be utterly relied upon. The Son of Man, says Jesus, is utterly loyal – you can be sure that any loyalty you have for him with be completely reciprocated. And he’s not about to force himself on anyone. But he goes on to say that as his disciples, they need to keep in mind that following him is all or nothing. To renounce your allegiance means that in return he has no allegiance to you. This is a hard saying, and then we read these strange sentences:
And anyone and all who shall say a word against the Son of Man it will [indeed] be forgiven that person; but to the one blatantly disrespectful [reviling] to the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven.
What are we to make of this? Presumably it suggests that there will be those forgiven who follow Christ Jesus after initially taking a stand as his enemy. Think of Paul and how Jesus appealed to him:
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” To which he replied, “Who are you, Lord?” And the other replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But now, get back up and enter the city and [there] you will be told what to do” (Acts 9:4-5).
Persecutors, even murderers, can be forgiven. Deniers like Peter and those like John whose courage fails them at vital moments, find forgiveness. And Jesus taught his disciples to expect repentance from sinners, even sinners who have spoken out against this Son of Man! Presumably they are not to spend time taking their enemies to court for saying such things. They have more important work to do than parading the fact that they have been offended by someone’s intemperate speech.
But what then do we make of the corollary? Does it mean that when the Holy Spirit is, in fulfillment of the prophets, poured out upon all flesh, those who live by ongoing resistance to the Spirit’s promptings and denounce the Spirit’s work, will not find forgiveness? Having put themselves on a path that announces there is simply no need for them to be rescued, and denying their need of the Spirit’s help (to give them breath) they are left to their own devices. It is surely a hard saying and no doubt many Christians have scratched their heads over this saying. Jesus, the Son of Man, has inaugurated a way of life and invites whoever comes across it to enter into its blessings, to find forgiveness. But to revile the Holy Spirit that seems to be a strategic alliance with Satan, the one who will be utterly overthrown, himself. And so it reiterates Jesus’ earlier statement about whom to fear.
Finally, Jesus foreshadows a political and legal struggle that is in store for his disciples. So having read this we might ask: if we are not anticipating our arraignment before an ecclesiastical tribunal because our faith is said to have violated some “code of conduct”, or before a faculty angry at our scholarly allegiance to bringing every thought captive to Christ Jesus, or at a meeting on the shop floor where we will have to answer the union’s heavy-weights, let alone a court where we have been dragged to answer some trumped-up charge, we should probably stop for a minute and ask why. For us, now, who claim to be his disciples in the once-Christian west, we should at least be wondering why it is seemingly so difficult to apply these foreshadowings to our own life, and maybe then to even to ‘fess up to the fact that we find it difficult to hear what Jesus is saying. Have we been lulled by our own version of a “Que será, será” sentimentalism, perhaps? After all, there are places in the world today where such reassurances as Jesus gives to the faithful will have their effect and that a genuine Holy-Spirited answer will be given in the face of the full fury that congregations [synagogues], powerful persons and authorities will unleash upon Jesus’ followers.