Public Discussion and Christianity’s Decline

We have been discussing discussion. We have been talking about how we talk, how we converse inter-personally, but that also means we cannot avoid referring to how we communicate and disseminate information and “news”. In my last post the context of such a discussion about discussion was drawn in these terms:

… in a global context dominated by a constant babble of alternative and dissonant stories that now flood our post-post-modern consciousness on a daily, if not hourly, basis, is our own contribution going to be merely more “windy words”? Job’s words to his comforters can remind us how our speech can run out of control. “Will your windy words never end? Will you continue going on and on and on …?” (Job 16:3)

And so the question comes back again – the question is just as pertinent now with this latest post. Do we have any enduring task in all this? Should we even be seeking to make a contribution? Is it worth it?

The human art of everyday conversation is a skill to be learned. Just like complex diplomatic negotiation at a G20 convocation, it is part of the wonderful created reality of our social life. The crisis in discussion as a creaturely activity needs to be understood and overcome. That includes the crisis we experience in our own everyday public and private conversations. There is an ever-pervasive sense of  futility that threatens to swamp us, and it needs to be resisted, challenged with a new way of talking, a new way of approaching our task in this world, our cultural task.

Will windy words never cease? Well, we will need to become convinced that conversation is integral to who we are. We need to become convinced that telling stories, writing articles, giving literary form to our our scientific explorations, writing blogs like this one, are all part of what the Bible refers to in Genesis 1 as “the cultural mandate”. In fact those who have become disciples of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, listen to and attend to his parting words and realise that their cultural task now, with the announcement of His Kingly Power, is indeed their response to the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The unhealthy atmosphere of public cynicism and scepticism will not be overcome without the growth of a climate of healthy conversation. God’s knew that. That is why Christ was sent and Christian discipleship indeed may flourish in chat with one’s neighbour “over the back fence”. That is why Nurturing Justice says it again: we need to discuss how to form conversation, how to initiate discussion, how to form our contributes to public debates in ways that scrupulously avoid whatever destroys and vandalises the good gifts that God continues to shower upon us.

We need to recapture a sense of public conversation as part of who we are. It is not just something we add to our Christian lives to make our lives less boring by trying to be “more chatty”. Our calling is to converse as our calling, our vocation.

Now as I write this, I am reminded of what I read in The Australian last Saturday. These prominent articles by two leading journalists in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire might seem to be suggesting that a “Christian political option” is going to be initiated sometime soon. [Will it be Rerum Novarum rides again?] See what you think. I will give the two quotes from the pages of “The Inquirer” section and then I will conclude with some brief comments.

Here’s the first:

It is from Greg Sheridan “Six Roads to the West’s Strategic Crisis Point.” p.16 The Weekend Australian July 8,9 2017:
“… the sixth and final dynamic assaulting the strategic position of the West … is the growing distemper of Western electorates and populations generally.
“Since the global financial crisis a decade ago, middle class and below incomes in Western nations have been almost stagnant while a small group at the top has grown exponentially richer.
“This has led to bad-tempered and unstable electorates, willing to entertain all kinds of electoral experiments but not willing to undertake any further budgetary belt tightening.
This robs the Western political paradigm of some of its legitimacy and some of its stability when all the other factors listed above are undermining the grand Western narrative.
“The cyclical distemper born of economic woes feeds off two deeper structural changes in Western societies. The first is the eclipse of Christianity in the West. Several West European nations are more atheist than Christian and the religion with the fastest growth rate in Western societies, albeit off a low base, is Islam.
“Yet Christianity is basic to the Western cultural and political identity. The West for the moment is living off the draining moral capital of its Christian inheritance. Without transcendent belief, there is no ultimate philosophical obstacle to the pursuit of power as the highest human purpose.
“As Henry Kissinger has remarked, Western governments are no longer able to ask any sacrifice from their electorates.”

The second quote is this:

It is from Editor-at-Large Paul Kelly “Blessed be the egoistic individuals” p.19 The Weekend Australian July 8,9 2017:
“The reality is staring us in the face. Yet it cannot be spoken, cannot be entertained, cannot be discussed because there is no greater heresy and no more offensive ­notion than that the loss of Christian faith might have a downside…
“The rise of progressive values in the name of freedom and justice would march in parallel with the decline of religious faith. Put ­another way, they were different sides of the same coin. Eventually, the revolution took judicial and legal form. The greatest institution that embodied the new social order was the US Supreme Court.
“In a series of judgments, the court redefined the idea of freedom and human nature. Weigel captures this, quoting from the majority decision in the 1992 planned parenthood case. “At the heart of liberty,” the judges said, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” Led by Justice ­Anthony Kennedy, this philosophy was repeated in the more ­recent decision to impose same-sex marriage.
“At this point individual autonomy and human rights (what some might call “the Big Me”) replaced the concept of an objective moral order founded in the Christian tradition. The notion of a God-­ordained morality was swept aside along with its view of mankind as more than a bundle of desires to be sanctified as human rights. Man, not God, was enshrined at the centre of the universe.
“The judges reflected the spirit of the age and the cultural revolution that had transformed the West. The idea of freedom was separated from a higher order moral duty and tied to personal self-realisation and self-esteem. Narcissism was legitimised. Weigel says: “There is no claim here that the American democratic ­experiment rests on self-evident moral truths.” The upshot was a society of many truths; each person was granted autonomy to ­decide his or her own moral truth.
“What does this mean for ­politics?
“It requires little insight to conclude such a society and culture that prioritises a cult of “individualism” when translated into the political sphere is less cohesive and united, more divided over existing norms, less willing to accept the decisions and compromises of political leaders, far more difficult for politicians to manage and persuade and, above all, from which to extract a working majority position. In short, governing is harder, the gap between politicians and public more difficult to bridge and the society divided at its essence.
“There is, however, an even deeper problem.
“As the moral status of the church declines, the moral status of progressive ideology grows. Vacuums will be filled. Because the Christian ethos was tied to the past and tradition, it became a target for the new ideology of personal freedom. This is founded in the view that settler societies such as America and Australia have failed to come to terms with the racism, indigenous exploitation, sexism, patriarchy and monoculturalism at their heart. The task of community leaders was once to uphold the values of the civilisation; now, more often than not, it is to dismantle them.
“Pivotal to this transition is the progressive attack on the Aristo­telian framework that made the West a success. This concept was articulated at various stages by the popes, notably Leo XIII and Pius XI. As outlined by Tulsa University professor Russell Hit­tinger, this envisages three “necessary” elements for human happiness: domestic society (marriage and family), faith and church and, finally, political ­society. A brief reflection might confirm the wisdom of this ­framework.
“It is, however, now being dismantled in the new and manic crusade of human freedom. Pro­gressive doctrine denies any preferred model for family structure since that would be prejudicial and discriminatory; it now approaches its ultimate objective in the realm of faith — to drive ­religion from the public square and reject the role of religion and church as a mobiliser of social capital in a secular society.
“The final logic is that everything depends upon politics. As the society of family and marriage ­becomes mired in confusion, as the society of church and religion is the target of assault, so the ­society of politics is being asked to assume a role and burden utterly beyond its capacity and guaranteed to leave community-wide ­unhappiness.
“The tripartite design that made the West such a workable and ­successful proposition is being torn part. Once dismantled, it ­cannot be put back together. This is being done in the name of justice, rights and progress. There was an ­inevitability about the decline of Christian faith, but there was nothing inevitable about the dismal pretender that presents as its replacement.”

There are a few observations that I would make. Nurturing Justice might watch the development of a “Christian political option” that would develop from these analyses, but there are critical issues that need to be raised straight away.

To what extent is The Australian – and other mass media “outlets” of the Murdoch media empire like “the West … for the moment … living off the draining moral capital of its Christian inheritance”? What transcendent belief has motivated News Ltd’s pursuit of power as the highest human purpose? Again, are we to believe that The Australian has had not part to play in the rise of “progressive values” which in the name of freedom and justice have, we now hear from its pages, marched in parallel with the decline of religious faith? Is The Australian not so secular after all? Since when?

Instead of writing in terms of vague generalities, are we to suppose that there has been no political conversation motivated by “Big Me” individual autonomy and human rights promoted by The Australian and its owner? Where has The Australian been in support of the  moral order founded in the Christian tradition?

It somewhat takes the breath away to read how “the philosopher” made the West a success?  What has Aristotle got to do with Christian discipleship and the task of forming a Christian public discussion?

Both quotes suggest a journalistic style that attempts to discuss by standing outside, if not above, the “eclipse” and the “decline” they describe. There is no discussion about how this eclipse might be overcome with a genuine revival of “true religion and virtue”, nor is there any indication that anything can be done now to arrest the political decline by a Christian understanding of public justice. In fact there is no real discussion of how their analysis arises from their faith perspective. The assumption is that they are simply dealing with the facts, “nature”, the news. And the decline of “grace” is their lament.

Further, there is no indication that either journalist sees any inner connection between the West’s crisis due to the erosion of public trust and journalism. How are we to interpret these articles, these discussions? Are they not part of the very trends they lament? Could the dogmatic neo-Aristotelian objectivity they espouse merely be the other side of a syndrome of journalistic denial that forgets that they have been front-row contributors to the phenomenon they now seek to put in the headlines?

And as such these quotes from these contributions to public discussion by two respected journalists, give us no indication that we might be dealing with a cumulative tradition that demonstrates a Christian inability to mount and form public discussion with integrity. Remarkably, as those lamenting the decline of faith, or transcendent values, there is sadly no mention at all of the compromised contribution of senior clergy of the Roman Church who, despite inheriting “Catholic social teaching”, have aided and abetted the public denigration of marriage they so lament.




Local Government, Public Justice and the “Separation of Powers”

How can a serving policeman stand for public office. When did that change to our system of public governance come in? Why? 

Last time Nurturing Justice discussed the current “constitutional crisis” which has enveloped the Queenscliffe Borough Council. The term “constitutional crisis” may appear to some readers to be too strong, somewhat sensationalistic. Part of the crisis, I would maintain, is that though everyone knows that the election was compromised by the electioneering deceit of the candidate who won the most votes and subsequently became the Mayor, there has been only concern among electors that the election was compromised and among Councillors, State Government politicians and major parties it would seem that things just go on as usual. And that only deepens the crisis; our Borough’s constitutional crisis includes a widespread malaise and even if there is some concern about what has transpired in the Borough’s coffee shops, there is little evidence of a political effort to find a remedy.

As I pointed out last time, those who consider that local politics must be “above politics” will simply continue to see the Borough’s “situation” in such a-political terms. They probably won’t even see it as a “crisis” at all. The Liberal Party continue to ignore the impact of the crisis upon their own standing in the State electorate of Bellarine.

The Liberal Party machine is so politically incompetent – it is almost as if this is the distinctive characteristic of their political contribution to the entire system of Government at all levels; it is a persistent feature of their political contribution that they continue on, despite the scandals as if being blind that their own party’s crisis is part of their own party’s ongoing political contribution. They do not see themselves as part of the ongoing structural crisis in public governance in which they have been instrumental since 1974. They do not see their party in this way possibly because too many people are members who simply see the party as a path-way to their own status enhancement in the community. They do not seem to appreciate that their too-smart-by-half strategic attempt to use the Queenscliffe Mayor for their own electoral advantage had to back-fire.

As for the Mayor, or more accurately the person who occupies that office, he may well have resigned his Presidency of the Bellarine Liberal Party because of  potential “conflict of interest”. But what “conflict of interest” was it? Was it not because he is a Senior Sergeant in the police force and such a Presidency means he has to face an Opposition going ballistic over law and order issues. He has shown no sign whatsoever of appreciating the deeper “conflict of interest” between his public duties as a policeman and his standing as a Council candidate! To raise this will probably meet the same old “that is a cheap shot” accusation (his words to me in a phone-call in relation to my Geelong Advertiser letter) but the issue is not about “personalities”. To imply that it is, is a red herring.

The issue is about the constitutional presumption of a separation of powers in our system of public governance. The arm of law making is separated from that of law enforcement. To say it once again, the question is: how is it that a Senior Sergeant can be allowed to stand for public office in an LGA election?

Now what is obvious here is that the Liberal Party’s political opponents, the Labor Party,  have not actually drawn attention to this issue. They should have. Their silence is appalling. We should not thank them for their failure to speak up and explain. And so we have many people in the Borough, and across the State electorate (within which the Borough is located), now bemused and confused by this situation. Resident after resident continue to put it in these terms:

I would have thought that a serving policeman cannot stand for public office. When did that change come in? Why?

With that question on the lips of many, many citizens another dimension of our national political crisis is disclosed. I am referring to the fact that the citizens no longer know how our system of Public Governance has changed. We no longer know basic facts about the system for which we remain responsible and accountable. We have not been adequately informed about how the regulations governing our hard-working, even over-worked, law-enforcement officers, have been tweaked to allow “community involvement” to include standing for public office in an LGA.

And why are we ignorant? Here we confront again the brokenness of our public governance – and the major political parties have to take responsibility for this. They continue to stave off bankruptcy by fighting yet another election with all the electoral rubbish they send into our letter-boxes – paid for with public funds – they have the hide to convene raucous and inflammatory public meetings stirring up public fears about law and order as if their own time in Government has nothing to do with what they are complaining about and try to blame their opponents. And yet their involvement in political education is non-existent at local levels. Political understanding of how our system is formed withers. The lack of political education programmes at local levels by these bloated electoral machines tell us their operations are designed to keep us ignorant. And at the same time we will hear hollow talk about the responsibilities of electors to whom the elected members are supposedly accountable.

This is another root of our deep political crisis. We are dealing with the consequences of a way of “doing politics” that has dissolved the primary accountability of those elected to their electors. Public governance, at all levels in our Federated Commonwealth, is being swept along by a politically ignorant, populist and elitist class lurching to an unbridled authoritarianism. We may sneer at what has engulfed the American polity in recent times. But one root of our own political crisis is the political viewpoint among Australian citizens that local government has been, is and always should be, above politics.

As the current Mayor tried to tell us during the election last year: “I am not a politician!” This is nonsensical. And much of our political crisis starts on our own front door step because we refuse to acknowledge our own responsibilities for the way we are governed, and instead give free reign to such political nonsense.

In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area. But first we will pinpoint with greater precision the very serious misuse of political power by the Liberal Party in the above-mentioned crisis.

BCW  9.6.17

When Public Trust is Broken …

The article from this link confirms any intuitive suspicion we might have that a lot of “fake news” is already under construction to increase the credibility of the US President. What are we to believe when our political leaders speak up and commend the US President for ordering strikes on Syria? We already have well supported evidence that tells us that the Iraq invasion of 2003 was accompanied by a strategic propaganda attack dispensing “fake news” to electors back here in Australia.

And so, it may be just a little tiring to even ask whether we are reliably informed about he whose metanarrative is well and truly within the realms of all post-modern incredulity. But here we go again. This article is probably indicative of many that will be reading in the days ahead …

And let’s face it, we probably find it hard to know how to read the speculative reports that Steve Bannon is now in the sights of the US President’s daughter and her husband because they are wanting “closest advisor to the President” status for themselves. Problem here is that even if the President says, “You’re fired!” to his “chief strategist”, we simply do not know whether he is simply throwing up and smokescreen to suggest he is on the path the Murdoch press suggested last week – in the wake of the US strike against the Syrian airforce base, the pundits were telling us he had turned the corner and was become a “normal” president. But the same incredulity arises: Isn’t this simply more “fake news”? Haven’t the pundits ignored the underlying behaviourism of the incumbent of US White House?

Could not the media whisper about Steve Bannon the strategist be merely a carefully devised diversion, “fake news” that is sent out as part of a strategic effort to counter the widespread incredulity – within the US and around the globe – directed to the US President? Meanwhile, there is ongoing implementation of a strategy. And so, why should say that now it is a “strategic impatience” that leads the way in US action in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea?

The crisis of the compromised liberal-humanistic way of political life has been intensified since Donald Trump’s accession to the White House. But the mis-mash of point-and-counterpoint, of thesis-and-antithesis, is as it has been for decades. Those with an interest in keeping the political game going – maybe their careers are in the balance – continue to try to view our citizenship as a “choice”, taking a position somewhere on a spectrum between political extremes. And so we hear about how important it is to see the world in left and right terms. And when many begin to consider this a false choice advocates from both ends of the spectrum begin to change the debate and say:

Don’t listen to them because they are consorting with extremes! We need a politics of the middle ground!

But such “middling” opportunism simply confirms that the choice has become something else: one either commits oneself to one side or one quits paying attention.

It is the self-evidence of a political system that enhances individual “choice” that is evaporating. Instead, politics based on enhancing individual choice is no longer credible. And so, new forms of “certainty” come onto the political horizon.If we listen to what is called “news” we will also hear of that “certainty” that has affixed itself to the misguided fools who think that terror provides the path to life. Indeed, there are those who are sucked in. Nihilistic, psychopathic fascists sell their fantasy of a divinity pleased that they could blow themselves up into a billion splattered droplets by a cruel and mindless act, taking as many others as possible with them.

This is serious. A Christian political option is going to have to face this confused and highly compromised state of affairs. It is a question about how we are to live as Christian citizens. It has street-level, community, local, state, federal, regional and global dimensions. We are going to have to find ways of working on this concertedly and  prayerfully. We should also take heart. We are not on our own. We have a service to render in which we love our neighbours publicly with justice.

Family Life, The Good News and Resisting Invasion

As we have written in this blog, again and again, Nurturing Justice is seeking to promote a Christian political option. And any reader who has followed what I have been trying to formulate over the years will be aware of my conviction that a Christian political option stands in need of a deeper and living reading of Biblical teaching by Christian citizens.

So in this blog, I’m reporting on something that I have begun to think about from considering what the Gospel tell us about the early years of Jesus, as well as what the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament tell us about the marriage of Mary and Joseph and their family life. And yet there is deep, deep denial of the Gospel record that Mary had other children in some prominent quarters of Christendom. The Gospels do in fact speak about Jesus’ siblings (Luke 8:19-21; Mt 12:46-50; Mt 13:55; Mk 3:31-35; Acts 1:14). I am suggesting that such denial is unhelpful in many ways, and has led to many misunderstandings and wrong paths. And that means problems for developing a Christian political option as well. A Christian political option needs to talk about the human task given by God, generation to generation, of raising and nurturing children to maturity. Jesus’ coming also has much to say about that intensely meaningful part of human responsibility coram Deo.

But Luke also tells us that in the years of their nurturing Mary’s first-born, Joseph and Jesus’ mother had only a vague glimpse of what Jesus’ coming into their lives meant. So as we read Luke’s Gospel, and keep in mind that he is reporting what he has uncovered in his investigations for Theophilus, we need to be alert to what we can learn from what is implied by Luke’s approach to how the child Jesus was nurtured within his family circle. And it’s not so much what we “hear”, it’s more like what we “overhear” as we attend to what is written. And for that we need careful, but at the same time, bold discussion to arise among those who wish to seek public justice in Jesus’ name.

From Luke’s account we hear that the story of Jesus’ childhood was kept as a family treasure by his mother. And just at the point in text where we might think we are being invited to view the family’s photo-album, we discover Luke telling us that what he has written is all we will get to know and, presumably, all that he knows too.

Just because this was the childhood of the One who would be resurrected and ascended to God’s right hand, does not mean that we have to know the full family history of these years. We do not find ourselves diminished in any way by not knowing Jesus’ family’s history.

We do know from Luke and Matthew of Jesus’ conception, we know of his birth, we hear of his presentation to the temple and we know of the event that occurred when the family crowd “went up” to Jerusalem when he was twelve. Luke and Matthew also help us understand something of the political context in which the lad was raised.

But what we mainly have are accounts of Jesus’ adult ministry, his works and teaching as the Anointed of the Lord. He was a poor Galilean preacher, teacher and healer.

Similarly, we do not have any accounts of the childhood of Jesus’ cousin, John, and there are only indirect inferences we can make about the experience of children from the reports of events that took place when, years later, Jesus’ ministry took him around Judaea, Galilee and Samaria. And I have noted that there may be something similar at work here when Jairus and his wife, and with them Peter, James and John, were instructed by Jesus not to tell the story of the little girl’s raising – there would be no internet site, no selfies of Jairus’ daughter put up on that synagogue’s web-site. Wasn’t the little girl’s ongoing health in view when Jesus gave that instruction?

And yet, Jesus instructed his disciples to give their full attention to children. This did not mean that the details of their young lives, their particular stories, were to be proclaimed as so much free information for whomever may have wanted to know about such details. And that is why I am saying that there is indeed something here for us to attend to. Particularly today with the epidemic of undifferentiated “data” being strewn around. We need to respect the tender plant which is a child’s life, to wait, and not presume upon its public blossoming. There are delicate facets of parent-child relationships that are just not for public distribution. Celebration and treasuring in one’s heart are not without a context of God-given human responsibility. And this is not just a matter to be respected after family life goes pear-shaped and falls into tragedy, or violence or break-up of marriages.

The coming of the Saviour of the world, did not mean that he left behind a family scrap-book or photo-album or diary for his followers to get all sentimental about and leaf through when they didn’t have anything else to do. In fact what he left them was a meal, a meal reminiscent of a broken body and a bloody execution – until he comes again. And it is a meal to which all family members who love him are all invited

 Jesus seems to have assumed that his followers would have their own family traditions and stories to tell, even when his command also required them to leave that all behind in order to follow him.

So what were the parents, Mary and Joseph, to do when they could not find their son among their fellow-travellers on their trip home? Did they not, as parents, have responsibilities for which they were accountable to God? What we have here is but one little excerpt, one corner or one page from what was, no doubt, a rather full  family scrapbook.

The young Jesus, in his reply to his parents, tells those who were present (and, via Luke’s account, us as well so many, many years later) that he was taking the initiative in learning more about the teaching of the Law and the Prophets, and doing so alongside his own family and extended family network. He took the opportunity of the Jerusalem temple visit at Passover time to do so. Was not a twelve year-old’s education part of that trip up to Jerusalem celebrating the Passover, the deliverance from Egypt? Family life is so important for nurture; but there is also life beyond the strict limits of the family network and household. Young people mature and become adults. Jesus was on the path to adult maturity, even as, as Luke tells us here, he was still submissive to his parents.

So Luke tells Theophilus – and he will repeat it later on as well – that Jesus was indeed on his own learning curve. This learning curve involved coming to an appreciation of the intersection between himself as a child of God – and as a child, conceived as no other child had ever been conceived – and the household in which he was called by His Father in Heaven to learn the way of life of his parents, subject to their care and nurture.

Luke might have recounted more of his investigations about Jesus’ childhood, although, as we have said, he doesn’t tell us anything about John’s childhood except the occasion of his naming when Zacharias had to confirm Elisabeth’s choice of “John” as name their son.

There is the implication here that a family “outsider” (like Luke, like Theophilus, like ourselves) needs to develop respect when confronting the public record of a neighbour’s family and its members. Even if that family is the one from which the Son of God came to us, an “outsider” is to remain respectful of what is kept “within the family”, of what is considered that family’s business. This what is beyond the responsibility (and gaze) of “outsiders” like ourselves, no matter how aligned we as “outsiders” may be with the person concerned, is beyond our gaze. Full stop.

So let us ask: when exactly did Jesus make this response to his mother?

Why have you been hunting for me, mother? Did you not know that I must be busy in the things of my Father?

Are we not hearing the the young man Jesus, saying to his mother:

but haven’t you been telling me all these years of how it was that God my Heavenly Father gave me to you?

When Luke says that Joseph and Mary did not really understand what Jesus meant by his reply, he has given us a brief hint, a merest glimpse of what had to be managed within that household.

Mary says to Jesus:

Your father (πατὴρ) and I have been searching for you …

He replies:

I would have thought that you of all people mother would have understood I have to be busy with the things of my father (πατρὸς).

Luke is (presumably) writing in Greek; we believe on good authority the language in which Mary and Joseph was not Greek but that they conversed with in Aramaic. Here we have just a glimpse and Luke reassures us that, likewise, Joseph and Mary too had a mere glimpse of what all this meant. They too would have to be patient. The young man in their care would grow into an adult and perform a ministry that was unlike anything anyone else had ever undertaken. Just like their son, they too were on steep learning curves.

When earlier we have read of Mary’s compliance with the angel’s news –

“Take note please. I am the maid-servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me. Just as you have said it would.” (Luke 1:38)

we are not wrong to read it as the expression of pious obedience by a young woman to the revealed will of the Lord. But it indeed became the “signature tune” of her entire life, and she would in time have to deal with the enormous emotional roller-coaster of the betrayal of her first-born, his trial and crucifixion and then his resurrection and ascension. And we are not wrong in seeing this as the onset of a life-long “event”, we might say that it is a learning curve, and one unprecendented among all the sons and daughters of Adam. And the comments of Simeon and the affirmation of Anna at the temple in Jerusalem must have been a profound pastoral support, preparing Mary and Joseph for their work as parents as they took on the task of nurturing this boy and the other children of their family and household.

With the four Gospels at our disposal, we now reflect upon how this part of Jesus’ story became clarified for his mother with his crucifixion and resurrection. Was it only later on that the real significance of the angel’s message, and of the prophecies of Simeon and Anna (let alone the Jordan River announcements of John the Baptist) would begin to make sense? It seems so.

And as we reflect upon these events, with the profound mind re-directing questions that inevitably arise, we might note the quiet respect of Luke, patently evident also from all other New Testament writers as well, for this faithful woman and her husband, and their family. We keep in mind that apart from Luke’s report of Jesus’ birth, and what he recounts about two visits to Jerusalem’s temple (Luke 2:21-40, and 2:41-52), that there are only very slight references to the life of Jesus’ familial household.

From pondering this “absence” we seek a wisdom to better understand what God is doing by having met with us in Jesus Christ. What God has done with Mary and Joseph and their family and household was presumably left by Luke for them to work out between themselves and God! We are left outside of it. Why? We have our own family stuff and family background and grandchildren (if we have any) to work with, to work and serve those God has given us, and to do so personally, intimately as members of God’s family and kingdom.

And as with Jairus and his wife and household having their “inside story”, so all other families have theirs and ours. And so I am suggesting that as we develop a Christian political option, in the context of a Christian way of life, that is something vitally important for us to think about. It refers to the peculiar nurturing that God in his creational wisdom is pleased to see develop in our lives – first between ourselves and our parents, then between ourselves and our siblings (if there are any), then between us a married person (whether a husband or a wife (if we get married), between us as parents and children. And from decree of glory to another.

And so here too, with a deepened sense of responsibility coram Deo we can, helped so gently by God’s Spirit, understand our own family’s distinctive integrity and  resist all invasive intrusions forcing themselves upon us, whenever and however they attack. And at the same commit ourselves to the service of our neighbour in Jesus name, to all, in our family networks and beyond to the whole world in the knowledge of the grace and goodness of the Lord.

BCW 5.4.17

A Life of Continual Praise in the Temple of the Lord

Luke 24:44-53

And [this is what] he said to them:
“These words of mine are the words I spoke to you then when I was with you, [and I did so] in order that all the things written of me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms would be fulfilled.”
Then as he opened up the scriptures with them, so that they might understand, he said to them:
“So that is what is written concerning the Anointed, that he would suffer and be raised from the grave on the third day and that in his name repentance unto forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed. You are the witnesses of these things. And this is so that I can send you forth with the promise of my Father upon you. But you must sit [and wait] in the city until you are clothed with such power from above.”
And having led them out on the way to Bethany he lifted his hands in blessing to them. And that is when, while imparting his blessing upon them, he parted from them [and was transported away to heaven].
And they were to return to [their place in] Jerusalem with great joy and were continually seen in the temple praising God.

We have noted how there is some divergence in the ancient manuscripts with respect to Luke’s account of whether Peter ran to the tomb as it appears from 23:12. It seems that it is quite possible for a copyist to have entered a footnote or a marginal note which, in time, became part of the main Lukan text. There seems no reason to be unduly worried about this discrepancy; after all Luke would have come to know, from the Apostolic witness, if not the other evangelists, that this is indeed what happened. And no doubt Theophilus, having already been instructed in the Good News, would have also known this well enough already. There may be something similar we have to say about the discrepancy among the ancient manuscrupts we have bracketed:

[and was transported away to heaven]

in the second last sentence.

We, in the 21st century, are still beholden to the mythic and fundamentalistic imaginative reconstruction of mid-20th century film-makers who presumed to conclude their cinematic representation with their camera ascending into the clouds aboard a heli-copter or a balloon. In their pious efforts they seem to have ignored the fact that their film was suggesting that Jesus’ ascension was somehow to overcome and even deny the laws of gravity. The Bible is clear about Jesus’ ascension to the right-hand of his Father in heaven, namely to occupy the place of Lord over the entire creational project. On the other hand such imaginative cinematic representations move us away from what Luke is seeking to convey to Theophilus into a mythic realm of what is essentially technological speculation. A child seeing such films, and thinking about them will inevitably come to ask whether Jesus had booster rockets on his sandels.

The discrepancy among the texts seems to be an attempt to answer the question:

Where did he go?

by reference to what Luke records as the witness of the messengers in Acts:

And having said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, a cloud taking him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he departed from them, that was when two men stood there with them in their white robes, saying, “Men of Galilee, why stand looking into the heavens? This Jesus, who was taken up to be received from you into heaven, will come in the self-same way as you saw him depart into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).

Here, I am simply wanting to emphasise that we can be sure that Luke, in concluding his Gospel, is not wanting to answer speculative questions derived from aeronautics – in fact the discipline of the two men in their white robes is to redirect the concern of Jesus’ disciples to their earthly responsibilities. Luke is pointing out to Theophilus that that was it and what Theophilus has subsequently experienced of “the way” arose with the joyful and continual praise of the Lord God by Jesus’ disciples after he had left. Of course they had to ask or to answer when someone else who was not there asked them:

Where did he go?

But Luke seemingly has no interest in concluding his story, and confirming all that he has written in this sizeable Gospel, by trying to induce Theophilus to imagine an ascent into heaven as a rocket might speed through the clouds, riding an arrow fired into the heavenly realm. If we have been following his narrative this far, such a device does not appear as part of his stated authorial agenda.

It is indeed the case that in composing the Book of Acts, his second book, Luke had to continue to give an account of how Jesus had helped his disciples avoid being bamboozled. We read at this point how they were helped to overcome their gob-smacking bewilderment at his departure; but let us recall that Luke is fully occupied throughout his entire Gospel in confronting the lack of assurance with an account that encourages Theophilus to be certain and confident about his own belief in Christ:

… in order that you, my highly esteemed Theophilus, friend of God, might know the reliability of what you have been instructed, of what has been passed onto you by word of mouth (Luke 1:4).

Luke, now at the end of his narrative, tells us of the utter bemusement of Jesus’ disciples – even with their joy in the midst of this being so unbelievable for them (24:41) – but the disciples are those who found Jesus’ resurrection unbelievable, and when he was gasping his last breath on the cross they weren’t actually there taking it all in. And before that: what about their responsibility during his trial, and what were they expected to do when it was clear that one of their own number came to betray him?

And so we return to Luke’s theme throughout the Gospel. Those closest and dearest to Jesus – including nota bene his own pin-pointing of the serious misunderstanding of all of the disciples including John “the Apostle whom Jesus loved” (Luke 9:51-56) – were completely in the dark without Jesus’ own clarification of what his coming among them actually meant. And now that he had left them, Luke looks back on this time to tell us that they had the ten days until Pentecost to face up to the promises he had made to them and these he had given them as he spent those 40 days with them so that they, and those who believed because of their witness, would not remain ignorant and in the dark. They would live with a God-given sense of the reliability of the Good News.

Luke had been captured by the same message which was in the process of being fulfilled by the experiences of the young church. He reiterates at the conclusion of his Gospel what Jesus reiterated to his disciples in that period between his resurrection and his parting from them, what we now refer to as his ascension. This was the 40-day period in which the disciples were prepared for what the church has ever after referred to as “the great commission”. And then there was that other period of waiting – it would be ten days in Jerusalem until Pentecost.

As we carefully attend to this, it seems that Luke is indicating that in his meeting with his disciples after his resurrection, Jesus was instructing them about framing, or perhaps better re-framing, their reading of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms. What he gives them is the “nutshell” of how they were to understand what we call the Old Testament. It all comes down to this. What these ancient scriptures say of the grace of the Lord, of the covenant of mercy, is that the Anointed of the Lord, the servant-saviour who comes to maintain God’s purposes by redeeming his ever-beloved and specially chosen image-bearers, members of God’s own family, will suffer and be put to death but on the third day he will rise. It is as if he said:

  • This is actually what I have been teaching you ever since I began proclaming the Kingdom of God in Nazareth, just after John, my cousin, was arrested. Yes, after my resurrection I told you straight that you have been wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts. And I’m telling you that you will continue to doubt the prophets, those you continue to say you trust, without me here countering your unbelief. You even lack understanding about your lack of understanding. It is not just about your inability to have anticipated my resurrection which I’ve been trying to counter ever since I called you to join me. It’s a Kingdom of God consciousness that you can only be developed in God’s Kingdom! I am the one who opens the way for you to enter into that.

  • So the stories you’ve been telling among yourselves of your experience as my disciples are going to be told and as you do so you need to take this scriptural view of my mission, and thus also of your mission, fully into account.

  • All the nations and peoples of the earth, must come to hear this. They must be called to repentance for the forgiveness of sins that is available through my blood. And this proclamation should go on as long as the generations of humankind are called to fulfil the creational purposes given them by God from the outset and maintained to this day.

  • You are those who have shared with me in my sufferings and trial (Luke 22:28-30). You have the initial foretaste of the full glory of these events. And your task is to bear witness as you share in this fulfilment.

Jesus instructed them to remain in Jerusalem – to establish their community in Jerusalem. But they were to wait. To enable such a community to be established, a community with such a mission, with such a way of life, meant waiting – they were commanded to wait for what he would surely send them – and they could depend upon his assurance that this Spirit would be coming to them as this group of his disciples after his departure, because it was the same Spirit promised and then given to Jesus by his Father in order that he could do his work (ref. 22:24-27, 3:15-22). In effect:

And so stay, waiting patiently together, develop your community by waiting to be clothed with God’s own power.

In Acts, Luke records that the disciples put this question to Jesus:

Lord is this the time when you will finally be restoring the Kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)

And so we surmise further that what Jesus is recorded to have said by Luke’s account at the conclusion of his Gospel deals with many questions, including this vital one, put by the disciples to their Teacher, their Resurrected Teacher, at this time. The report of Jesus staying with them for 40 days suggests that it was indeed an “intensive” time; would it not take 39 of those days to discuss what “restoring the Kingdom to Israel” should now mean?

And here too is why John the Baptist has come to have such an important part in Luke’s story. He prepared Israel for the coming of God’s spirit, the descending Dove’s outpouring upon God’s Anointed. And now that the Anointed has done his work, those united with him, by believing in him, will share in that same Spirit.

The repentance that John preached was so that the people whose way of life was given with God’s promise to dwell in their midst could prepare for the coming of the Lamb of God who, through his death and suffering, takes away the sins of the world. Repentance is the only possible preparation for his coming. It is thus the continuation of a prayerful way of life, a perpetual request that God will fulfill his promises, allowing the Anointed One to continue to do in us what he was called to do in his time among us. It was not a preparation for kicking out the Romans. And at this point recall Luke 7:1-10 – the healing of the Centurion’s servant – and the second Centurion at Jesus’ cross (23:47). Luke is clearly aware that the “zealot option” had been nipped in the bud by Jesus’ words and by his works. And as much as these two references, now read in context, signal the breaking down of the wall between Jew and Gentile, we also recall the ripping of the temple curtain (23:45). If that were not enough, there is also the apocalyptic teaching Jesus gave concerning the future destruction of the temple itself (21:6). Luke, in speaking of the continual praise of Jesus’ disciples in God’s temple, could not have been oblivious to the profound anticipation of his concluding words.

It was preparation for a way of life that he made possible for his disciples then, and still makes possible for us today. A way oriented by his death and suffering, motivated by the power of his resurrection, and looking forward to his coming again to announce that his creational work focused in his image-bearers, has been redeemed, regained and renewed and has finally reached its fulfillment.

Broken Loaf; Poured-Out Wine

Luke 22: 14-23

And so, when the time came, he sat down [to celebrate the Passover] together with his disciples. And he said to them,
“I have so wanted to share this Passover with you before my own suffering. For I tell you I will no longer be able to dine in it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
And taking the cup and having given thanks he said, “Take this [and the meal that goes with it] and share it among yourselves; for this is what I say to you: I shall not drink of what is produced of the vine until the coming of the Kingdom of God.”
And then he took the bread and having [already] given thanks, he broke it, and he gave it to them saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this [act of liturgical celebration] as a memorial of me!”
And then, after the supper [the banquet celebration], he similarly took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for many.
“However, take careful and fearful note, that the hand of the person who is handing me over is [also] with me on the table. And truly [it is truly none other than] the Son of Man who now goes down the path that has been decreed for him. Nevertheless, woe indeed, to that man by whom he has been betrayed.”
And so they began a conversation among themselves as to whom it might be who was about to do this.

By reading this, as Luke’s account which he devised for Theophilus, we are confronted by his careful collation woven into an ongoing narrative reporting on what he ad discovered from his “field-work” interviews and collecting of first-hand accounts of Jesus’ ministry from those who were there, part of the action. These are the collected reminiscences of what they recalled of their experiences with the earthly ministry of the person they now claimed to the Lord, sitting at the right hand of power on high.

The Passover meal was a celebration Jesus had long wished to share with his disciples and he told them so. he had been telling them of his anticipated sufferings for some time although we receive from the Gospel writers the refrain that the disciples did not really catch on to what he was telling them about his sufferings until after the resurrection, and even after his ascension.

This then, he said, was his final celebration of Passover before it would be fulfilled in its fullest meaning from his own suffering and thereby inaugurate a new celebration, a new memorial looking forward to the fulfilment of all things in God’s Kingdom. To use the imagery of John the Baptist – which we note is not used by Luke in his Gospel despite his obvious and repeated effort to link John’s call for a baptism of repentance to Jesus’ work and ministry – this is the final Passover before the Lamb of God is to be slain, before the sins of the world are thereby to be taken away!

It seems that Jesus is saying something like:

This then is the Passover to end all Passover celebrations that I have laid out before you. This meal is to be shared among you, just as you are to share [in the fruits of] my suffering and what my suffering brings about in your lives is also to be shared, just like you are sharing together with me and yourselves in this supper.

Luke tells us that Jesus took the cup twice – the first time was as the cup of blessing to inaugurate the meal. Likewise the Passover and what it brought mind called forth what the disciples were then experiencing and what they were about to experience in the Passover’s fulfilment.

Jesus announces that his celebration of the Passover, and what it has long prefigured is about to be fulfilled in his suffering. This concluding celebration now anticipates the coming to an end of an era of anticipation – and now, just as it is coming to a fulfilment and reaching its end, the meal becomes the prefiguring , the anticipation of something new: this new, forward-looking memorial is now a meal in which the loaf, representing his body broken for them, is to be shared by them. They are to do this together when they gather together as the new memorial.

The sobering imagery of “my body broken for you”, “ here take eat this is my body”, anticipates that Jesus’ disciples may also have to take the loaf of this memorial and share their own broken lives, broken as they unreservedly follow the One who lays down his life for them. This is something new and yet it maintains ongoing trust that God indeed keeps his promises.

This shared meal, prepared under Jesus’ request, proceeded as the broken loaf became its main course, its staple.

The sharing of the meal done, Jesus is described as having taken the cup again, and now it is the cup that concludes the banquet, by which a blessing is conferred by looking forward. It is now the cup of the inauguration of the new covenant. It is no longer the old covenant, recalling the shedding of the blood of the lamb as in the Old Covenant, the sacrificial lamb of Passover.

This now is the blood of the new covenant which is to be poured out for you.

Jesus announces this remarkable teaching to his disciples. It is a teaching that has ever since been repeated, over and over again; as believers have shared in his cup, they have shared their communion with him. This remarkable report in Luke’s Gospel reminds us of what Christian congregations the world over remember in their liturgy, week after week, month after month, year after year.

Here, behold is the life giving blood of the Lamb who was slain but who was raised again to glory. Here is the liturgy confirming God’s mercy, His patience and his love “until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

But just as remarkable is what comes immediately after this historical indicator of the inauguration of what we know as “holy communion”, the Lord’s supper. We hear how Jesus set up a memorial for his disciples, a simple, profound ceremony, a sharing of a simple meal, by which their joining together as one body in the life that he gives to them (and us) is richly symbolised.

Would any disciple present be prone a state of mind in which the simple ceremony to carried him or her off into the realms of ecstatic bliss? We recall, don’t we, Peter’s comments on the mount when Jesus met Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28-36)? But what Luke says next would bring such a person to their senses. He had been teaching his disciples that he was on the path of suffering, headed to a trial, facing intense and unremitting opposition. He had told them on various occasions he was headed for an unjust execution. And such a murder does not happen without plots, scheming and betrayal.

However, take careful and fearful note, that on the table with mine is the hand of the person who is handing me over. And truly the Son of Man goes down the path decreed for him. But woe indeed, to that man by whom he has been betrayed.

This provoked deep anxiety among the disciples. And Luke has told us that Luke knew exactly what he was doing. He had “upped the price” of his betrayal with those seeking to be rid of Jesus. But how would Theophilus read this? Was this not also Jesus’ appeal to his betrayer?

The Truly Rich Give it All Away

Luke 18: 18-30.

And he was questioned by a certain leading person with these words:
“Good teacher, what should I be doing to inherit “eternal life” – the fulness of life henceforth?”
And Jesus replied to him: “Why do you call me good? You know the commandments: you shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not engage in falseood; honour your father and your mother.”
And he replied: “All these things I have been keeping [diligently] since my youth.”
And when he heard this, Jesus said to him, “Yet there is one thing that you lack. Of everything that you own, go and sell it all, distribute to those in need of it and you shall have treasure in heaven and come follow me.”
And on hearing this he became mighily grieved, for he was exceedingly rich.
And noting the impact of what he had said, Jesus said,”How instinctively resistant are those with riches to their entrance into the Kingdom of God [what a difficult time those with [extensive] property have with entering the Kingdom of God]. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man of great wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”
And those [who were then] listening said: “But then who can be rescued?” And he said: “Such things that men find to be impossible are possible with God.”
In response to this teaching, Peter said, “We have followed you by leaving our life behind [and we are in your hands].”
And his reply to this was: “It is true what I tell you. There is no one who has left household or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God who will not receive already many times over in this life, and in the life to come life perpetual.”

This is one of the most well-known of all Bible stories. This rich fellow knew well enough that his inheritance did not make any difference in God’s eyes. He was rich and powerful and wanted to know more about the inheritance God provides to those who do what God calls them to do. So what should he be doing? That is what he asked.

Jesus explained that God’s generosity would mean he had to give his own inheritance away. But the fellow’s countenance fell when he heard this. He turned away rather than trust Jesus for his treasure in heaven. Jesus then proceeded to teach His disciples the meaning of this discussion, showing sympathy for this man.

It is so hard, isn’t it, for those who are rich to enter God’s kingdom?

This fine fellow had walked away, sad. And Jesus was sad too. Mark, in his version of the encounter, says that Jesus loved the man. He understood how hard it was for him. Read it over … slowly. Jesus had just told His disciples that they must welcome the children.
The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these!

Mark has told us that this fellow ran up to Jesus. This was a request full of energy and urgent. Perhaps he had heard reports from servants and had decided he wanted Jesus for his Rabbi. He had inherited a lot of wealth, a man of his community, respected by all. He wanted to eye-ball Jesus for himself.

Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

This, in the context of all that was going on as Jesus went up to Jerusalem was courageous. He was admitting to Jesus that he did not have it all, that he did not fully understand the law and the prophets. He was asking Jesus to tell him what to do.
Jesus was friendly. He didn’t say:

“Oh you’ve got money. Oh well that means you can’t be interested in what I have to say.”

Jesus was no snob. He was open and friendly and replied by asking a question.

Why do you call me good?

Jesus did not expect the young wealthy ruler to answer. He continued:

No one is good but God alone. You’ll know the commandments!

But for us here at this point in Luke’s account, our question is about the inclusion of the story in the narrative tracing Jesus’ procession up to Jerusalem.

Jesus seems to be saying to him that he doesn’t need to play games. If this young ruler thinks that Jesus is a good teacher then he will get to the issue and not just be polite. Jesus was severe, in a kindly way. It was an open and public test. The young man wanted to show his respect for Jesus. Jesus knew what this young man needed.

He was close, very close, to the Kingdom of God, and it is here in the record because later the disciples would look back and remember that this man had almost become one of them at that time. Remember Jesus’ reply to John when the fellow healing in the name of Christ had not joined them (9:49-50)? That fellow didn’t need to join their group as they went up to Jerusalem. But Jesus did want this young man to come along; this rich young man was persistent.

Rabbi! I have observed all the commandments and have continued to do so since I was young!

Jesus was persistent too. His love went all the way. He challenged him to the utmost. This man was deeply committed to God’s law. He had great wealth, an important social position. His served his community. He was a good guy.

But you lack one thing!

Can you imagine this? Did the crowd go silent? Was there a pause? Did those listening take a deep breath. Was Jesus asking him to become their sponsor?

Sell up! Cash in your inheritance! Give it to those who are in real need. Give all the proceeds to the poor. That way you can count on having treasure in heaven. You will have a guaranteed inheritance in the Kingdom of God and then follow me!

This was a wealthy young man with a big inheritance, not from tax collecting but from his father and grand-father. His brothers and sisters would share in this wealth. He could provide for his own family, his wife and children, for life. But Jesus said:

Give it all up. Sell up. Give the proceeds to the poor …

And this he was unable to do! He was an important man in his community; he was like a mayor, a big property owner. He went away sad. We don’t know exactly why it was too hard for him. But it was. Perhaps he would anger his wife and children, his father and brothers. Whatever the reason was he went away sad. He could not take Jesus’ advice to inherit the Kingdom of God. He turned away sad but kept his wealth.

Maybe by the time Luke included this story, this man was better known to those following Jesus. We know his great sorrow about not being able to follow Jesus. But sorrow is not something that wealthy people will publicly display. So I have a hunch, a question. Is this man somewhere else in the various books and stories of the New Testament. We may not know who he is or whether he eventually took up Jesus’ offer and became an inheritor of the Kingdom of God. This we do not know. What we know of his story is this sad moment.

Rich people find it hard to follow Jesus. They think they have too much to lose. They think they have to control what they have been given. They think that to follow Jesus under such circumstances is irresponsible. But when Jesus calls us to follow Him we need to be sure that it is not our wealth – whatever that is – which controls us.

But the encounter is reported here by Luke to add to the account of what he reports about Jesus’ teaching as he proceeded on his way to Jerusalem. Luke is presenting Theophilus with a pretty comprehensive account of the disclosure of the full character of the Kingdom of God as Jesus teaches, and as he and his disciples meet various people “along the way”. Here is a further chapter in Luke’s account of Jesus’ “royal progress” through Samaria and Galilee and Judaea.

Next we will recapitulate how this account of Jesus’ encounter with the wealthy community leader fits into the account of the Good News Luke is telling us:

18th January 2017.