Everyday Justice in Conversation (4)

Here We Go Again – Confusion Reigns

“Under the Government’s plan, a postal vote asking if the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry will be sent out to everyone on the electoral roll.” (ABC web site 9 August 2017).

This is so naive and so ignorant of the public-legal matter itself, and of the way in which our elected Parliaments have a major player in misshaping public understanding for so long. It is politically embarrassing.

It is wilfully ignorant of the way people are currently using the term “marriage” in their every-day discussions. This is a pragmatic device fraught with deep contradictions. And these contradictions are not going to go away, whatever the outcome of “letting-the-people-have-their-say”. It is a kite-strategy, we recall, initially flown a couple of weeks ago, by the newly installed “multi-department” Minister for Home Affairs.

Nurturing Justice is certainly not commending this latest populist initiative. It is more an attempt to hold a political coalition together than it is about finding just policies in relation to a problem generated by a populist surge that is not going to go away any time soon.

Yesterday, we identified the initial step that is being avoided by “both sides” as they continue to avoid elaborating their political vision for how marriage, family, and household matters, if not also friendship, contribute to our national life.

This unprecedented (voluntary) initiative confirms that the Liberal-National “side” of politics is no longer a coalition of parties, as it bends itself backwards on its public-relations path to shore up electoral support for elected members of its “side” as the next election beckons. Such political self-interest at the expense of the national interest can only confirm the political and legal misunderstanding of the current state of affairs. And meanwhile deep factionalism still tears it apart. Genuine public discussion about marriage, if not of the institution itself, is made hostage to this political mob’s fortune.

We will say it one more time (not for the last time): read what two competent jurists say about the complex legal situation we currently confront in the administration of marriage law across the Commonwealth, Ask yourself whether a citizens free postal vote is going to do anything more than confuse a confused situation. Ask the couple who have moved in next door or your own adult children who have entered into permanent living arrangements how they see their relationship and their entitlements and how their relationship functions in relation to legal requirements).

As it stands the key phrase in the news report – “[whether] the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry” – is so fully ambiguous it may well provoke many to opt out. The wording strongly suggests that the current state of affairs in everyday life is being ignored. The formulation assumes that somehow the current legislation prevents freedom of speech, if not freedom of association. And it does no such thing. When has the definition of lawful marriage ever prevented same-sex couples from saying they are married, from referring to each other as marriage partners as thousands of de facto (“hetero” if not same-sex) couples have done for decades?

Moreover, whichever way this search for a legislative path goes, the presumption of those initiating this ballot is that the nation’s view on this matter can be properly gauged by it. It cannot. The issue presupposes a gross falsehood, namely that the political parties – via their receipt of public funding for elections – have educated the electorate already about the state of affairs governed by the Marriage Act. That is the offensiveness of this initiative, Mr Dutton. To send this out to all registered voters is to assume that the voters are competent to make a judgement in public-legal terms, when in fact they have to a large degree rendered incompetent by the studied self-interested negligence of our major political parties since at least 2004 (we’ll only refer to the mass media en passant here).

The above formulation assumes that the State by law prevents same-sex couples from asserting their belief that they are married.

The above formulation does nothing to challenge the implicit Statism in the populist view that marriage is a creature of Government. It is a confirmation that Parliament does not now know how to politically answer the accusation that the definition of lawful marriage in the Marriage Act, which both sides endorsed in Marriage Act amendments from 2004,  is an implicit violation of the human rights of same-sex couples. Some imply that such a definition of lawful in the Act is implicitly homophobic. Parliament has long since given up the task of defending the bi-partisan changes “both sides” endorsed in 2004 to the Marriage Act. If they are now no longer wanting to support that bi-partisanship, why aren’t they busy explaining themselves? The answer is: they are too busy “running for cover”. Mr Shorten’s current anger at the Government with predictions of an efflorescence of hate speech are merely a political cover-up of his own party’s contribution to public confusion. When has his party ever explained its pragmatic U-Turn on this matter, let alone his “side’s” failure to have the matter properly and publicly debated?

Do you believe that the current definition of lawful marriage as contained in the Marriage Act represents a violation of human rights?

We have suggested that this is the question that needs to be asked of this matter. But Labor as much as the Liberal-National coalition simply do not trust the electorate on this matter to raise it in these terms. For it part the electorate gives many signs that it is paying them back in like manner. These parties in their elevated privilege continue production of “both sides” core and non-core electoral agitprop. And they are so eager, so very eager, to display their post-modern credentials even as the “absolutes” of their respective “sides” dissolve in their rhetoric (ref the definition of post-modernity according to Jean-Francois Lyotard as incredulity to all meta-narratives). Labor’s absolutes are now “civil rights”; for the Liberal Coalition it is their tattered banner of “Vox Populi Vox Dei”.

There’s more to be said. For instance, what role does a Government have in relation to language? Can definitions of terms be legislated? Will some read the ballot question in terms of whether it is Government that can determine the meaning of the words we use? [While the Christian church has no mandate to depart from the teaching of Jesus about marriage, what it is, see here the wise words of N T Wright on the political danger of asking Government to legislate to define the meaning of words.] Further posts on how and why the reform of political parties is necessary for our ongoing state-crafting will follow. It is and will continue to be an important part of our everyday conversation about justice.

BCW 11.8.17

 

 

Australia’s Sunday Suburban Secularisation

In our society, we used to refer to Sunday as the “day of rest”. This was taken for granted week-by-week in the 1950s. For the generation of my parents, the generation of those now twenty or thirty years senior to me (I was born in 1951), that was when Sunday was still the day of ‘going to church’. This didn’t mean that everyone went to church, but as the day for going to church it was still viewed as the day of rest, and respected as such by most people. Most people included my dad who never went but insisted I go to Sunday School even when I told him I didn’t want to go. Most of my school friends and neighbours, especially those who were not Catholics, went to Sunday School. The Catholics, as families, went off to Mass and during the week the Catholic children our age went to the local Catholic Parish school. But at my State School it seemed that Sunday School – whether Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist or Congregational – was what we school-children did on Sundays, usually Sunday mornings.

By the mid-1960s, many of those who went with me to Sunday School in the 50s, had started to avoid church and even if they did the “right thing” and got confirmed, as many in my cohort did, they didn’t then stick around to become church members or regular churchgoers. Many who went with me to the local Anglican parish church and were confirmed in the 1960s, as I was later to discover, didn’t actually seem to believe what we said we believed in the liturgy when the Archbishop placed his hands upon our youthful heads. Those were the years that the brave ones began to say they didn’t believe all that religious stuff, and they were also the ones to ask difficult questions in the Religious Instruction classes that we still had to endure in State High Schools in the 1960s.

RI classes were a real trial, but as a consequence of becoming confirmed, I decided that I should join the lunch-time gathering of the Inter-School Christian Fellowship.

But it took some time for the true character of this ‘spiritual’ state of affairs to become evident to me and even to this day, I suspect, there were ‘spiritual’ changes in the lives of my fellow confirmation candidates that simply were not talked about.  My peers who had been confirmed developed a view of themselves in an inexorable drift away from believing what confirmation class had taught us we were doing by giving an affirmative answer in the confirmation service. (John Stott Your Confirmation Hodder 1958).

I may be wrong but I suspect that many have grown so used to a kind of secularised urban maturity, that they may not even remember what they were affirming in the confirmation service. And if so would it be surprising that they have simply become oblivious to the changes that were taking place in their own hearts. Some did notice, and some were embarrassed.

Some teachers seem to have been aware of these changes among students, for instance when I became ISCF leader in my Matriculation year. One teacher told me some years later that he noticed it and interpreted it kindly in terms my “getting religion”. But from his comment, many years later at an open day, I got the distinct impression that he thought it was merely the onset of an adolescent complex, an adjustment to an increased hormonal activity.

But then how would a young person respond when, having taken seriously the public affirmation of his or her baptismal vows at a service of “confirmation”, the confirmed candidate then became increasingly suspicious that that confirmation for many, if not most, of his fellow candidates, signalled the beginning of the end of their involvement with the church? Was it really the last stop before they drifted away altogether from any public allegiance to Jesus Christ? That is what it seemed to be. And if so, what did that imply about the entire confirmation process itself? How was the young Christian to interpret the significance of a public affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ in a church service that as the year’s passed seemed to mark the onset of a spiritual parting of the ways from many peers?

Now I am aware that my discussion has shifted somewhat. I started off this blog with a discussion of Sundays in the 1950s, and that brings us to the stark contrast to how Sundays are now lived in these early decades of the 21st century. When Sunday was so closely associated with the Christian way of life, and a “day of rest” at the end and beginning of the working week made sense in terms of a Christian way of life and Christian world-view.

What are we to conclude about that “confirmation” in the 1960s? The problem was that the sustained effort to retain the twenty or so confirmed candidates over a period of 2 or 3 years could not stop the drift away as many no longer saw any need to join in public worship. Of course, we cannot discern a general trend merely from my sketchy remembrances of what was and was not done with the youth of the parish after they were confirmed. But questions are raised and we have to  conclude that that particular parish, like many other parish churches and congregations in other denominations, has simply had to learn to live with the emergent lack of belief among those baptised (or ‘Christened’) and confirmed, So has the church then become the social source that has unintentionally produced a “been there, done that” sceptical spirituality from its former Sunday School students? The agnosticism of young adults of my generation was well and truly on the march, and our retrospective judgement is that the church in its variant denominational manifestations was simply unable to halt the declension from any profession of Christian faith.

To return to the question of Sundays: these days, Sundays seem even busier than Monday to Saturday as people rush here and there to find ‘rest’ and ‘recreation’. And this is especially so for young men and women who take advantage of what is thrown up to them in sporting opportunities. Many have chosen, and many more are in the process of chosing, sporting careers for themselves, playing their ‘fave’ sports to get their weekly pay packet. At first it may only augment their pay from their ‘other’ work, but for some it becomes a full time, even life-time, engagement. And in some sports the lure is indeed pure lucre.

That’s just one of the aspects of our life by which we say things have become ‘more secular’. Back in the 1960s, Sunday Television Sporting programmes (World of Sport) were broadcast only after midday. Now we are but ten days away from what one Murdoch tabloid robotically refers to as the ‘historic’ first AFL game to be played on Good Friday. These days Sunday morning television will only stop on Sunday morning for half an hour for the BBC Songs of Praise which still seems to hold its ABC rating. But my elderly friends, having experienced the drift for so long, anticipate its demise. They say it won’t be showing at that time slot in a decade’s time. They may be right, but the judgement itself – of the seemingly inexorable commercialised encroachment upon Sundays, as it is upon everything else Monday to Saturday – is something to which we should carefully listen.

I have three ‘hats’ at the local aged-care facility, what I prefer to call a village. For almost three years now I have convened a group of residents who have joined together to read the bible and pray together for themselves, their little community, and the world in which we live. As well, for a full decade I have shown films, first at Coorabin until it was closed in the face of much community and resident anguish, and then at the supervening for-profit facility. I have also been called upon to help with the community library service, first via the mobile library and more recently in a revamped supply delivered to the 4 year-old aged care residence. When Coorabin was so peremptorily closed, in my volunteering I took on what could be called a ‘pastoral care’ role as well, and so took the opportunity to convene the monthly Sunday morning bible reading and prayer ‘litany’.

When I talk with others about what I do at this aged-care residence, it is usual for discussion to consider films and the library. I am rarely put on the spot about why I continue in the first Sunday of the month to join together with a group of residents in reading the bible and praying together for their community. It would please me if that happened. And yet, I still have to think and pray about what I am doing. It is not just something I do today because I did it last month. It is not merely a formality, and it is not motivated by a desire to keep a 1950s version of Sunday morning alive for those who hitherto have been used to ‘church going’. As with the films and as with the library, it is important to be open and public about what we are doing when we  gather together to read the bible and to pray. In this ‘secularised’ culture, society, mindset, we Christian bible readers and pray-ers need to speak out clearly about what we are doing. We do what Christians have been encouraged to do wherever they are and whatever their circumstances may be.

So to close here is my attempt to formulate why we convene as a monthly gathering to read the Bible and to pray. We formulate this in the face of an increasing ‘social secularisation’, or at least the increasing evidence that the primary forces that shape our way of life on Sunday as much as Monday-to-Saturday are those of an individualistic, mechanistic and utilitarian ‘spirituality’.

We join together in reading the bible and praying together as disciples of Jesus Christ, God’s only son, Mary’s son, the one who redeems us and brings us to God. We join knowing we live today late in the human journey and we are very much aware of our needs, and the needs of those around us. And here we are , even as we live in these senior days of our life that God has bequeathed to us, closer each day to entering our rest and God’s kingdom, closer today than it has ever been before. But we believe Jesus has come and met us through His Spirit. And so, we meet together to pray that He continue to walk with us, just as He has promised, as He continues His rules over all things. And we meet to acknowledge this rule over all things in our life – including the all crazy things that are going on in our world – events far away and those closer to home, including us here in our retirement home with all that happens to us here, now, at this stage of our lives. Since all the things are under His watch, we can rely on Him all our days, since everything will find its completion when God decides it is time for His rest, His sabbath, the very good culmination that He has been intending for His work ever since the beginning. And so we meet in response to His persistent invitation which comes to us again and again.

AND THAT WAS IT; THEN HE HAD GONE.

Luke 24: 13-43

And around the same time on that same day, two of them were journeying to Emmaus a village some 60 stadia [furlongs] from Jerusalem. They were discussing [earnestly] with each other all that had happened. And that was when, as they talked together, tossing it all over, that Jesus himself drew near to journey with them. But their eyes were restrained and [so] they did not recognize him. And he said to them:
“So tell me what you are discussing [so seriously] between yourselves as you walk?”
They stopped, downcast, and one of them, Cleopas by name, answered him:
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who has not known what has been going on in Jerusalem in these past days?”
And he said to them:
“What things are these?”
And they said to him: “The events relating to Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and in word, before God and all the people. And [we have been discussing] how our chief priests and ruling elite had him handed over, having stitched up his crucifixion. But we had been hopeful that he was to be the one to emancipate Israel. But also [that’s not all], we are now in the third day since all of this happened and some of the women in our company have completely perplexed us. They went early to the tomb and not finding his body came back saying they had [together] seen a vision of angels who have said [to them] that he lives. And some of our number went to the tomb and indeed found it just as the women had said it had been, yet him they did not see.”
At this point he said this to them, “O you are so wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts to believe all the things that the prophets have spoken. Were not these things necessarily all part of what the Christ had to suffer before entering into his glory?”
And then beginning from Moses and [also] all of the prophets, he explained to them from the scriptures all the characteristics that pertained to himself. And they drew near to the village to which they were headed and he gave every indication to them that he was going further. And they constrained him, saying: “Remain with us since the evening is coming on and daylight is quickly fading.”
And he accepted their hospitality and went in with them.
And it then happened that as he sat down to dine with them, he took the loaf, gave thanks and, having broken it, he handed them [each] a piece. And from this their eyes were opened [well and truly] and they recognized who he was. And that was it. Then he was gone.
And from then [and thereafter] they said to one another: “Did not our hearts light up within us as he spoke to us on the way and as he threw open wide the scriptures?”
And that very same hour, they got back on the road, and returned to Jerusalem to find the eleven and the others with them having met together with their announcement:
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.”
And they related to them what had happened on their journey and how he had become known to them in the breaking of the bread.  And as they recounted these things, there he was standing there right in their midst. But they were in shock, even terrified, and began to think that maybe they were beholding a spirit. And he said to them:
“Why are you so troubled and why are those conflicting thoughts arising in your hearts? See my hands? Look at my feet! [Confirm this for yourselves.] It is truly me, myself. Take hold and look closely because a spirit that you may behold does not have the flesh and bones that you see me to have.”
And while they yet disbelieved from joy and with profound shock, he said to them:
“Have you any food here?” And they passed to him a piece of broiled fish. And taking it, he ate it [with them] in their presence.

Many Christians attest to the powerful impact that this penultimate part of Luke’s Gospel has had upon them. Indeed, the story of the meeting Jesus had with his two perplexed disciples on the road to Emmaus has maintained its profound contribution to the lives of men and women, boys and girls, generation to generation. These two, one named Cleopas and his nameless associate, had their own account and Luke includes it in his Gospel written for Theophilus. They too met the Risen Christ, and upon their hurried return journey to Jerusalem, they were able to tell the gathering that the account of the women had been confirmed to them by Jesus himself.

The women, of all of Jesus’ disciples, had been the first to trust what they were induced to recall of Jesus’ teaching about himself from the days back in Galilee. And now Jesus had come face-to-face with these two and reminded them of what he had, in fact, been teaching them all along. And on their return to Jerusalem, to meet the disciples who had been so saddened and perplexed, the two were to hear the disciples telling them:

The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.

Presumably, Luke means Peter (recall the interpolated v.12 we discussed briefly last time) even if, just a chapter or so earlier, he had introduced Theophilus to another “Simon” (23:26), the conscipted cross-bearer. At this point it is worth our while to try to put ourselves in the reading shoes of Luke’s reader.

Now, if I were Theophilus, might I not be wondering which “Simon” Luke is referring to here?

Apart from the carrier of Jesus’ cross, Luke tells us that Jesus also used the name “Simon” when he told Peter that he would be facing severe temptation in an hour or so’s time during the Passover celebration (22:31). And much earlier (Luke 7) there was another Simon, a Pharisee – but clearly he is not Luke’s referant on this occasion.

Let us think again and recall what Luke has already told us, and also how we have suggested that he (i.e. Luke) has “gone easy” on Peter in his account of his actions in Gethsemane as well as with respect to his three-fold denial. Then Luke tells us that at the cock-crow, Peter had gone out of the remand centre where Jesus was being held, and he was weeping bitterly. [There is also the question about the scribal interpolation of “Peter” in 23:12]. Theophilus will have known already, that is before receipt of Luke’s Gospel account, that Jesus had dealt mercifully with Peter who, after Pentecost, was clearly the prominent Apostle, the leader with John of those following “the way”.

So from all this we can, once more, affirm what we have said earlier about Luke’s account: he continues a story in which one thing he has discovered in his investigation leads on to another report of a further discovery. In this case, the one thing was the women’s report of the empty tomb and the angels and the initial inability of the disciples to consider it worthy of their trust. The next thing then is that the convocation of the disciples was presented with a further first-hand account of Jesus’ resurrection from two other disciples – this was a confirmation of the women’s report and their faith which also these two had hitherto found incredible.

And this return visit, Luke says, preceded, and also to some extent prepared the gathering of disciples for, Jesus’ next appearance to them. For this too helped to dispel the disbelief of the disciples, or at least to profoundly challenge it. When the two from Emmaus gave their report, they were to receive the report of the disciples that

The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.

And so Luke reports that these three reports affirmed Jesus’ resurrection.

But let us go back to when admonished the two walkers in the late afternoon. They had been trudging along despondently, walking and talking, on their way home to Emmaus. We get the sense of:

So much for what we had hoped! We thought this was it. He was our truly amazing teacher and with what wonderful deeds and teaching he had us wanting more and more! Do we really need more visions of angels being given to us by these hyperactive women?

And Luke’s account of Jesus’ admonition is presented as part of this most ordinary and everyday activity – his walking and talking with them. This was fellowship. This was friendliness. This was neighbourliness. This was going on a walk together. Slowly, slowly their sad perplexity seems to have been dissipated – their sadness is evaporated even while they don’t realise it. They absorbed this Stranger’s teaching.

And so they prevail upon him to visit with them and share an evening meal to bring the day to a close. We don’t read of their respective families sitting down and joining with them as they shared the meal with this Stranger. They may have offered him their hospitality but it was he who presided over the simple meal he shared with them. [We don’t even hear what was said as “Grace”!]

Our Father in Heaven thankyou for this day and this food. AMEN. Let’s eat!

I do not know how to properly understand the word [ἄφαντος] that is translated as “vanished” or “taken out of sight”. My preference is to avoid a translation that gives any implication of some kind of magical power, and yet clearly this Resurrected Person, the Lord Jesus, is beyond the grasp of those he meets, even when he meets them face to face, shaking hands, breathing the same air, eating the same food. And I also think it is well to recall that Luke is seeking to convey to his friend Theophilus why his faith is well-attested by reliable eye-witnesses who met the resurrected Jesus. His Gospel is in no way an appeal to him (or us) to believe in magic, to conjure up a resurrection in our own imagination even if we are invited to share in this mystery. Luke is reporting to his fellow, who is also walking with him on “the way”, something of how Jesus’ resurrection has been discussed among his disciples, among those to whom he appeared before his ascension. On that occasion:

And that was it. Then he had gone.

The emphasis here, and in fact throughout the entire Gospel, is of a Person who simply could not be subjected to human control. Even Pilate had discovered that before his execution, before he maintained his own control of the situation confronting Jesus by capitulating to the demands of the mob.

And so we might well reflect on what “that” (in my above transliteration) means in this instance.

As with much story-telling a “that” is as much a recognition of limits – as in “and that is the end of the story”. It is also referring to what had happened and how what had happened had a finish. Consider: how does one convey the ending of a meal, of a visit to your house, with a resurrected Person who then leaves? I think, in this case, it refers to the limits of the evidence given by firsthand witnesses and Luke tries to capture the lot by finishing it off –

And that was it. Then he had gone.

What then is Luke saying to Theophilus? Is it not something like:

And that is about all that can be said because it is all that Cleopas and his friend were able to say. He had walked with them. He had eaten with them. And then he went. They had begun to realize who he was and the next minute he was gone.

It bears repeating, as we have said last time: how does a writer of a Gospel convey a resurrection? I’m suggesting that Luke conveys the resurrection in ways that are not too dissimilar to how we live as those blessed by Jesus being raised from the grave:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And for my part in this I’m going to ask the Father, and he will give you another personal carer to be with you from hereon, the Spirit of truth, not for the world to receive, because it can neither see him nor know him. But you’ll know him, because he will dwell with you and in you [John 14:15-17].

We confess that this is the first resurrection, from which our own, in God’s good time, will follow. And here from Luke’s account there is absolutely no indication that the two were offended by any “impolite” departure of Jesus, even if we, reading this now, would wonder what else transpired during that meal. Luke tells us that the two fellows, previously so downcast and perplexed, had been lifted out of their depression, and a new chapter in their conversation, in their friendship, has been inaugurated. They begin to talk between themselves about what had taken place. Then, possibly before they realised what they were doing, they hot-footed it back to Jerusalem.

In retrospect, however recent, they lived in the realisation that something enormous, something incredible, something … how is one to ever talk about it? It is like creation – something that is self-evident but cannot be grasped or explained. But once confessed, we might say, a whole new world opens up … in fact God’s creational purposes for what he had made and redeemed become intensely palpable.

There have been disbelieving and unbelieving attempts to reduce the account of Luke (and the other Gospels) to cognitive dissonance that presume that the discovery of a such human propensity (of cognitive dissonance) is the explanation of the resurrection. It is no such thing. Luke’s account puts it exactly the other way around. It might better be said that Luke’s account tells us that the disciples who met Jesus face-to-face after his resurrection, found they were being addressed with great kindness and mercy, even as they were unable to bring themselves to believe.

And while they yet disbelieved from joy and with profound shock, he said to them:
“Have you any food here?” And they passed to him a piece of broiled fish. And taking it, he ate it [with them] in their presence.

In the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on them, they and those who follow them, were able to face up to their “cognitive dissonance” and not avoid it. Jesus had spoken.

O you are so wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts to believe all the things that prophets [you continue to say you have trusted] all the things they have spoken. Were not these things necessarily all part of what the Christ had to suffer before entering into his glory?

Jesus asks them, point blank:

Have you really, after all that has happened, and after all that you have been taught, really believed what the prophets have said?

And now with Jesus’ appearing to them, he makes it possible for their wilful ignorance and heart lethargy to be overcome! He calls them – face-to-face – to believe in him! It’s a call full to overflowing with merciful kindness. He makes it possible for those following him to believe. This is also what his resurrection does and continues to do in our lives.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ opens the way for the Spirit to be breathed again upon the image-bearers of the Lord Almighty, those He has all along be seeking to save, ever since the disastrous departure when they had made their wilful ignorance the raison d’etre of their life and their times. The overcoming of that rebellion by God’s own action in Christ, the Messiah of Israel, brings the joyous hope into which Jesus invites his disciples to live, here and now, right away, not to be avoided, here and hereafter. The resurrection of Jesus is given to his disciples, to us, to humankind, not to figure out how or whether it happened; it is a given personal reality in which the Living God reveals himself, in the way that he has chosen to make himself known for the whole world, the world of his creation – redeemed. And in doing so he carries of the fear of death, the dissolution and we might add, as the two on the road experienced, the disillusion.

This resurrection is not given so that the Messiah of Israel, the Son of Man who confirms the hope of all ages, can formulate a creed and hive off into a little self-contained ascetic community with their own rules and customs and emergent ethnicity. This is a resurrection for all the world, as it is a new birth for all of life.

The response then, as it has been subsequently, is what Luke said:

a joyous moment, a moment so unbelievable
in which he was happy to share a meal with them.

Simply Amazing

Luke 24: 1-11 (12)

But at the beginning of a new week, while it was still very early, these [same] women came carrying the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from [the entrance to] the tomb, and upon entering they could not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And so they were in great perplexity about this and at this point two men stood by them in shining garments. And as they bowed their faces to the ground, terrified, they said to them:
“Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here but has been raised. Recall how he spoke to you when you were still in Galilee saying, ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to be handed over into the hands of sinful men and to be crucified and on the third day to be raised.’”
And they did indeed recall these words of his and returning [home] from the tomb they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others as well.
Now it was Mary of Magdala and Joanna and Mary [mother] of James with all the other women who told the apostles these things. But it seemed to them that on the face of it that these words were just talk and so they did not trust it at all.

How does one include a report about a resurrection into one’s account of the events that are presupposed by what we, who confess faith in Jesus Christ, believe? Luke has already told us that Theophilus has come to faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the God-given Prince of Princes, the Lord of all.

The Good News proclaimed by the apostles has borne fruit. The faith of Theophilus is already the precedent, and perhaps the motivation, for Luke’s Gospel narrative. And so he, like us, believes that Jesus has indeed transformed our lives, and has indeed been raised even though he, and us, does not have first-hand (i.e. hand-shaking) experience of the Resurrected One. We were not there to meet with him in the 40 day period between his resurrection and ascension having thereafter been received from the apostles and the disciples to sit at God’s right hand. But this does not stop us from returning to this account and this precise point in Luke’s Gospel.

So how do he one report on the resurrection?

Luke reports on what he knows, presumably of what he has been told by reliable eye-witnesses of his coming among them, and who became custodians of his word (Luke 1:2). His Gospel is a narrative of what he has been able to collect from his investigations.
Of course, we are prone to ask: what about what is written in some Bibles in verse 12?

Why is there some question about whether this should be included in Luke’s account?

But Peter got up, and ran to the tomb, and stooping and looking in he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home amazed at what had happened (Luke 24:12).

We could speculate that this had been added by a transcriber of Luke’s Gospel at some later stage on the basis of what had been conveyed to him in the other Gospels. But if that is so, it is a transcription that simply confirms the initial amazement of the women, and all those others who would subsequently become caught up in the conviction that Jesus had been raised. And then we are confronted by the record of all 4 Gospels that Jesus presented himself to them and thus confirmed their faith that God had raised him. They then would live out their lives proclaiming his resurrection and ascension without any shadow of doubt.

It was an event of which they came to be convinced even though they had not been present when it occurred.

So there are questions for us as we turn to read this once more. We re-acquaint ourselves with Jesus’ resurrection, again and again, and not only at Easter time. This is the event that has brought us to the confession that our life is actually in the hands of this Person who was raised. But the question is not only:

How was one, like Luke, to include an account of a resurrection in his Gospel narrative? It is a valid question provoking us to reflection all the more because unlike Jesus’ last breath on the cross, there was no-one present at the precise time, watching and listening, when it occurred.

But also we might go further, having noted the above question about verse 12, and ask:

How does one transcribe Luke’s Gospel account of the resurrection when one knows, from other witnesses, that there was more to it than he has conveyed with what he has written?

And further:

How do we, in reading this book today, receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection and, in particular, reckon with what seems to be the main point of Luke’s account?

Luke says the women were terrified but when they were reminded by the angels, the messengers of God, that Jesus had already told them about this event, that he would be raised after a cruel death, they told the eleven and the others that they believed Jesus had been raised. But they were greeted with disbelief.

The Lukan amanuenses who added verse 12, seems keen to have us know that soon the return of the women Peter verified their story, at least that the tomb was empty, and yes he shared their utter amazement. And we can infer that this addition to Luke’s Gospel was based on the reports that are conveyed in the other Gospels.

Thus, we can suggest that Luke is saying to Theophilus:

This brief paragraph tells you what this is all about. It all comes down to this. It all hangs together on what happened on that first day of the week.

Luke, Paul’s loyal companion, who also seems to have been his chronicler, his scribe, now documents for Theophilus, the events that have been fulfilled in their midst. He does not call his correspondent to imagine “the moment”. Theophilus is enjoined to share in the women’s amazement.

Here is an account of a new creation, the raising of Jesus from the grave, that simply cannot be grasped by this or any literary account. The aim here is not to convey a picture; it is no appeal to Theophilus’s imagination. It is, however, what this book presupposes. Without this event this book would not have been written.

In that sense Jesus’ resurrection is like creation itself – our attempt to point to the creation is at every moment constrained by the creational ordering of our lives, of our thoughts, our imagination, our discussion, our writing, our reporting.

There is creational humility in Luke’s account. That is its glory. It is not as if Luke needed to psych himself into a special frame of mind. His “humble record” of this event is without any effort on his part to suggest “what happened”. We are simply told of the women’s loyalty, and their subsequent amazement. The Christian profession of the resurrection of Jesus can only ever be in the creaturely form of words put together to confess the new life that has been poured into our experience by this event. It is with such confessional fragility, such conviction about what God has done, that God has ordained that the Good News of his Son, Jesus Christ, is to be proclaimed.

Within the Shadow of the Most High

Luke 23: 32-43

There were others – two criminals – led away with him to be executed.
And they came to what is known as Skull Place and there they crucified him along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left.
And it was then that Jesus said:
“Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing!”
And they divided up his clothing [among themselves] and cast lots for it.
And the people were standing watching [as if they were spectators], among them the [city’s] leading men, turning up their noses at him: “He saved others. Let him [now] save himself, if he is indeed the Anointed of God, the chosen one. [Ha!]”
And the soldiers made sport of it all, making out to pay due respect, when offering him vinegar saying: “Well if you are King of the Jews [as the sign says, now is the time to] save yourself.”
For there was a public notice explaining: “This is the King of the Jews.”
And [with all this going on] one of the criminals [joined in and] abused him: “Are you not the Anointed? Save yourself and us!”
But the other countered this, rebuking him: “Have you no fear of God since you are now under the same sentence as he is. And we indeed now receive our just deserts for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, will you remember me when you come to inherit your Kingdom?”
And he said to him: “Truly I am telling you, today [this very day] you will be with me in paradise.”

Trust in the system of criminal justice under Roman dominance may have been busy undermining itself, as we have noted, with the kind of wheeling and dealing that had Jesus traded with the insurrectionist zealot, Barabbas. But in that hour of satirical brutality, there was one person there, one person who was able to take a stand, and he too was one of the criminal class. And Jesus’ own disciples had either fled or stood afar off.

Jesus not only suffered abuse from his sworn enemies. Luke presents us with those standing by, watching proceedings as if this barbaric cruelty was simply being depicted in street theatre terms. And so, for such a spectacle, the city’s elite offer, as if by perverted instinct, their cat-calls.

Luke catches this mood by depicting such abuse in sharp contrast with the intercession of the one criminally convicted.

Father, forgive them. They simply have no idea of what they are doing!

That is not only putting it kindly, it remains the evidence that God’s Anointed did not turn away from those bent on destruction of himself and themselves but turned to them in love. The gallery of spectators, at least those who came close to get a clear picture of the agony, obviously could not face the gruesome reality. Not really. They needed to turn it into something else. The soldiers turned it into a dice game, playing among themselves for the royal robe. Jesus had been given this robe thanks to Herod’s condescending satirical brutality and this, as we have said, set the scene; for Herod and Pilate it was now as much entertainment, a distraction, and as their entertainment it was their invitation to others standing by to endure its bloody cruelty as a joke.

And so, Luke tells us, the Jerusalem elite played their obsequious part, making stupid, abusive cat-calls and their cruel conduct was confirmed by Pilate’s own prop, a multi-lingual bill-board (his equivalent for his time of a Face Book page).
Here hangs the King of the Jews!

And then, as if this is not over-the-top already, one of the criminals – no doubt in horrendous pain as his life began to ebb away – gets caught up in the blood-lust, the pagan mood and joins in.

Will there be no-one to come to Jesus’ aid in all this cruelty, in this resounding chorus of satirical abuse? Does Jesus have to suffer this thoroughly demeaning invective as a value-added part of his punishment?

And here, in the full agony of this sorry tale – a tale we now read as a story which should evoke our tears – were people just like ourselves, people who could be so cruel and unremitting in their venom even there, in the context of an execution that made an abattoirs look squeaky clean.

Here, in the midst of this miscarriage of justice, this gross administrative and government sin, is the thoroughly undignified, foul and obscene attempt to turn it into a mere theatrical event so that those who have responsibility for carrying it out can cope. Forget the needs of the three who have to be despatched from this life. They have to be done and dusted, but those involved in carrying out the execution have to get on with the rest of their lives. Treating it as a game, as theatre, was claimed to be simply part of the gruesome reality they had to deal with.

And yet, here is this other criminal, who demonstrated that this was a view that spits in the face of God himself. For him, it simply was not right. Faced with his companion’s blast of life-concluding anger, pouring out his venom onto the innocent hanging helplessly alongside him, he has had enough of this sport. He turned to his friend and rebuked him, reminding him that this was no theatre of the kind that his words suggest. He tells his fellow that this grievous moment is being played out before the Almighty’s Throne. He might as well have been singing Psalm 91:

He who dwells within the shelter
Of the Most High finds his place,
He who lives beneath the shadow
Of the Almighty’s word of grace,
Says straight up: “You are my lookout,
Refuge sure that’s built to last!
Your love is the source of power,
My life long you’ll have my trust!”

With his last gasps he makes this appeal to his still unrepentant colleague:

Have you no fear of God at all?

Yes, this is a rebuke of unrighteousness arising from the agony of crucifixion. Luke details this courage effort to distance himself from those who are wanting to pretend it is all a matter of cat-calls and abuse. In the presence of the One who has been satirically proclaimed as king, this dying criminal refuses to be part of a game that reviles Israel’s hope of a coming Messiah. We do not know anything else about this man. The two of them were executed together for their crimes. It may be a fair question to ask whether the two of them had been convicted along with Barabbas for insurrection. Luke does not tell us. Yes, Jesus is interchange for the one who has been granted the Passover release.

We do not know whether these two were Barabbas’s accomplices but with Jesus hanging there too we are left to wonder. Luke hasn’t deemed it necessary to say so. What he does tell us is that this man, dying with Jesus, turned to him and asked him for his merciful attention.

Remember me, Jesus, when you come to inherit what is rightfully yours in God’s Kingdom!

And Jesus’ response – can it ever be penned without tears, stated in words without a lump rising in the throat? – is to tell him, a criminal who will die a criminal’s death, that having given his allegiance to God’s servant in this way, means he will inherit a share with him in his Father’s vineyard:

Truly, I am telling you, today, this very day, you will be with me in Paradise!
  • How did Pilate and Herod respond to the challenge of having to pass judgement on a Galilean Rabbi who had been betrayed into the hands of those who had long conspired against him?
  • How did the soldiers, provoked by the lamentation of the women and the song with which Jesus joined in their paean of woe, conscript an extra for the drama in which they were required to play their part?
  • Why should they have played dice while these dying men breathed their last? Why grab the opportunity to score a royal robe?
  • Why should the city’s elite have felt constrained to be there, let alone resort to satirical cat-calls? Why should the soldiers, whose job it was to oversee this barbaric punishment until the victim had died, mimic such cruel abuse?
  • And then Pilate whose sense of justice failed him, also grabbed the opportunity to advertise his strong arm, using Jesus’ cross as a bill-board announcing his intolerance of this all too Messianic Jewish hope. Was it not a pantomime anyway? Did he not seek to advertise his judgement on this case so all could read his billboard, whatever their language?

And then one of the criminals chimed in, only to be countered by his associate:

Have you no fear of God?

This indeed was no play. This was not theatre.

If this is to be seen by you, with your foul dying breath, as theatre, look again, look again at what we have here. Here is a righteous man alongside of us! Does he not remind you of your need to plead to God for mercy?

But that was not all. He turned to Jesus and Jesus replied with kindness and with compassion.

Truly, I am telling you, today, this very day, you will be with me in Paradise!

His turning to Jesus had been confirmed by Jesus’ own assurance; Jesus speaking to him minutes before both of them breathed their last. Luke’s informant here seems to be via the Centurion who was on duty and who listened in wonder to this exchange.

Friendship Wrought From a Theatrical Moment

Pilate and Herod Become Best Mates
Luke 23: 1-25

And the entire assembly rose as one and brought him to Pilate. And they began to make their accusations saying: “We find this man has been corrupting our nation, forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar, saying that he is the Christ and thus a King.”
And Pilate cross-examined him saying, “So, you are the King of the Jews are you?”
And he replied, “That is what you say! [Those are your words].”
And [finally] Pilate said to the chief priests and the assembled crowd: “I can find no crime in this man!”
But they were insistent, saying, “He stirs up the people with his teaching throughout all of Judaea, beginning with Galilee and now he has come here.”
Having heard of Galilee, Pilate made enquiries as to whether he was a Galilean. And as soon as he realised he was from Herod’s jurisdiction he arranged for him to be taken to Herod, since he too had come up to Jerusalem at that time.
And upon seeing Jesus, Herod was very pleased. He had been hearing about him for some time and was hoped to see some sign wrought by him. And he questioned him at length but Jesus said not a word.
Meanwhile, the chief priests and the scribes were also present, throwing malicious accusations at him. Having come to despise him, Herod and his soldiers mocked him by dressing him in a gorgeous robe to be then sent back to Pilate. And from that day, Pilate and Herod became friends because up to that point they had been each other’s enemies.
And Pilate called together chief priests and the rulers, with the people, to tell them:
“You brought this man before me accusing him of corrupting the people. And now, take note, I have examined him before you and found he has done nothing worthy of death. Neither has Herod for he sent him back to us. I will reprimand him and release him.”
But the crowd shouted in reply: “Away with this man and release Barabbas for us!”
This was the man imprisoned because of a rebellion staged in the city and for murder. But Pilate called out to them, pleading, wishing to release Jesus. But they shouted back:
“Crucify! Crucify him!”
He, now for a third time, replied to them: “What evil has he done? I found nothing in the case [you brought against him] that deserves death. I will reprimand him and let him go.”
But with a concerted chant they demanded his crucifixion. And their voices prevailed.
And that was how Pilate came to pass judgement at their request, releasing [at the same time] the one who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder, according to their request. But Jesus he handed him over according to their will.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial and committal hearing tells Theophilus that the Roman Governor had no special interest in this case. He obviously knew little about Jesus; it was only from the Jewish Council that he now learned about him. We can speculate upon what took place beyond what the Gospels tell us, but Jesus’ case was achieved with what seems relative efficiency. There is Pilate’s uncertainty , and his wife’s dream. But what we have here is in many respects a similar account to what is reported in John 18:28-40. Luke is telling his account with an emphasis upon the haste with which his judicial murder was carried out. Barabbas was obviously guilty and he was still in prison and his crime had taken place some time previously. Barabbas was presumably subject to some negotiation between the Governor’s administration and those wanting to make political capital for themselves from his incarceration.

But with Jesus’ “trial”, if we can call it that, it is the haste of his enemies that Luke emphasizes. But there is one feature that Luke adds to our Gospel knowledge of Jesus’ crucifixion – before he was nailed to the cross he was sent over to the (holidaying) Herod. Presumably, this was Pilate’s device to get himself off the hook, and Jesus’ enemies off his back.

And whatever Pilate’s exact motive may have been, Luke is also reminding Theophilus of the man who ended the life of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. The actual story of John’s beheading is not recounted by Luke – we find it in Matthew (14:1-12) and Mark (6:14-29). But Luke’s account tells us explicitly that Jesus did not take the opportunity to discuss “religion” or any other relevant topic with the gutless monarch. He remained silent.

That silence, says Luke, simply inflamed Herod’s instinctive abuse and mockery. He had this “king” dressed in a royal robe and sent him back to Pilate.

We have to wonder why it was that they became friends from that day on. Was it not that they had shared a theatrical event that goes them a moment’s respite from their respective uncertainty when faced by this innocent Teacher, let alone their boredom with the duties of public office.

And so, Herod entertained Pilate on that day – one can only wonder how Pilate greeted the mob of High Priests and rulers who brought him back to Pilate for concluding the charade. Herod had endeared himself to Pilate; we guess it was the royal robe. And with that development, Pilate resolved – Matthew tells us he was subject to his wife’s plea (Matthew 27:19) – to let him go.

And so the negotiation begins again with Jesus’ enemies and this time he is ready with a carefully formulated judgement

You brought me this man accusing him of sedition. Take note, I have examined him before you and found he has done nothing worthy of death. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. I will reprimand him and release him.

But Jesus’ accusers are ready. They have the Barabbas issue to resolve and besides it’s the day when a prisoner can be released.

Come on you guys. We know each other, don’t we. I can’t condemn this innocent man. You haven’t told me what evil he has done!

But what was he to do with demands for Barabbas’ release now being shouted from the roof-tops?

Luke tells us what we already know: Pilate’s uncertainty caved in.

We may now wonder whether Pilate had to deal with his wife’s subsequent sleepless night because of the injustice wrought on “that innocent man”, but Luke was telling Theophilus that efficiency prevailed and that a most convenient political friendship had arisen from a theatrical moment in the proceedings. Herod obviously knew how to engage in the art of dealing with conflicting demands. Nice touch that. Good theatre with that gorgeous royal robe. Helps a lot.

It may have been a difficult day for Pilate, as he confronted the organised insistence of Jesus’ enemies, but then his action betrays the realpolitik cop-out: that’s the reality of political life, isn’t it?

Besides he and Herod had shared a theatrical moment together, a joke that may have been at this poor man’s expense, but then the friendship between the Judaean Monarch and the Roman Governor was forged wasn’t it? Public administration, especially of such a difficult polity, needs such friendships, doesn’t it? It’s all part of the deal!

BCW 17th February 2017.

Just Who Was on Trial?

Luke 22: 66-23:1

And then when day dawns, the people’s elders, the Chief Priests and the scribes, had him brought [from where he was remanded] to their council where they asked him:
“If you are indeed the Christ, then [have the courtesy to] tell us.”
And he said: “Even if I were to answer your question you would not believe me! Likewise, were I to put questions to you, you would refuse to answer me. But from here on the Son of Man will be sitting [taking his seat] at the right hand of God’s power”
And they together demanded:
“Are you the Son of God!”
And to this he answered:
“It is you who say that I am.”
And they said, “What further witness do we need? Have we not heard this from his own mouth?”
At this, the entire assembly rose as one and brought him to Pilate.

Luke’s account to Theophilus raises the possibility of a hastily convened meeting of the Sanhedrin council. It is now Friday morning after all and those pulling the strings do not want things to drag out. It is thus necessary that the Council convenes and transacts its business at the earliest possible hour.

But what is the charge? What are they going to enter into their books concerning the crime of the man? They are not the civil authority. What they will say to Pilate is well in hand. They can allege his rebellion against Caesar and with Herod in town they can tell of Jesus’ challenge to the tax farming with all the evidence that has come from Zacchaeus’ public commitment to a new way of collecting taxes. They can also say that he has called himself, or allowed himself to be called, a king. How can there be more than one king of Caesar’s realm? But fine, what of the specific offence that brings him before this religious court?

So those in charge of proceedings felt they had to cut to the chase:

Now Jesus, you don’t want this to drag on unnecessarily do you? After all, you’d like us to release your wouldn’t you, so you can go on to the Temple and continue your teaching. Tomorrow is the Sabbath and a good day’s teaching will prepare us all for the holy day. So please let’s not drag this out. let’s have it short and sweet. Tell us whether or not you are the Christ, the Anointed, Israel’s Messiah, God’s true son.

And again, when we compare what Luke says in comparison with the other Gospels, we are impressed by Luke’s brevity. The above prologue to the examination is purely my imagination, putting words into the mouth of the President of the Sanhedrin. But what Luke is emphasizing, is what I have there inferred from my reading of this, comparing and contrasting it with the other accounts. Luke is focusing upon the haste. Those engineering Jesus’ demise, want it done and dusted. It is Friday. Sunset means that no more activity can be contemplated until after the Sabbath. These are events orchestrated by schemers who are grasping their “window of opportunity”. They have to work fast. They have to form the event so that they can counter the sympathies of any crowd that gathers when Jesus is brought before Pilate.

Their colleagues in crime are obviously busy finding a convenient “rent a mob”. (These days would they not be using Twitter to cause maximum distraction and agitation to entrench their dodgy processes?).

Jesus’ reply, as here reported, suggests that he simply told them that he knew that they were primarily interested in getting the formalities of his execution over and done with. This was no opportunity for the Sanhedrin to engage the Galilean Rabbi in discussion about his teaching.

Were I to play your game and give you an answer to your question about who I am, and why I have been sent, do you really think I am going to believe that that you are serious and that you might even believe what I say? Of course you are not! You’ve already decided who I am and in your view I am the one for whom you paid cash, bug bucks, to get me here; I am the one you want to drag over to Pilate’s pavement to accuse me of sedition. I am the one you’ve decided will have to be crucified. And anyway, if I were to ask you questions about your actions, and what they are saying to the whole world, are you suggesting that you are going to allow yourselves to discuss your conduct with me?

This is our interpolation to confirm Luke’s effort to convey to Theophilus that Jesus continued to maintain a true and righteous stand. he has already conveyed to Theophilus that they have covenanted among themselves to have Jesus murdered (11:53-54; 19:47-48; 20:19; 22:1-6).

Interestingly Luke does not include the Pharisees among the plotters. The yeast of the Pharisees was being mixed with the yeast of Herod in the crowds that came to hear him in Galilee and Judaea, but the Pharisees, we are told (Luke 13:31), had got wind of Herod’s plot against Jesus and wanted Jesus to escape.

As much as we have seen already indications of Luke’s pastoral concern for Peter, we might also discern from this, an educative role for Paul’s edification, by recounting, again and again, Jesus’ attitude to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Was the persecution following Stephen’s definitive retelling of the story of God’s covenant, the moment when the Pharisees, led by a fanatical Paul, stiffened in their opposition to Jesus? Jesus’ words to Saul as he groped his way on the Damascus road, as Luke tell it, should seem to suggest that it was!

At this point in the Council’s deliberations, Luke tells us that Jesus referred them to the apocalyptic account of Daniel (Daniel 7:9-13) concerning the final judgement, the opening of the books, and the handing over of power to the Son of Man. It was Jesus’ reminded to them that their court was under heaven’s jurisdiction.

This also indicates to Theophilus that Jesus had taken his position before the Sanhedrin by appeal to what David had prophesied concerning the seating of the priest of the order of Melchizedek at God’s right hand. To plumb the depths of Jesus retort to his fellow Israelites, these murderous Jewish religious leaders, Theophilus will need to immerse himself in the teaching of the Old Testament.

If Luke is signalling here the need for a new New Testament scroll to be written, we have that with the Letter to the Hebrews.

As a Gentile believer, Theophilus is being made aware of his need for his fellow Jewish believers to help him understand what is being referred to in the confrontation.

And so Luke concludes the interrogation of the Council by reference to an ambiguous, final exchange:

Are you the Son of God then?

The question comes from the Council as a body. Jesus’ reply is to confront head-on the ambiguous hypocrisy that is implicit in the question.

It is you who are saying that I am.

I guess that Theophilus, like ourselves, appreciate that Luke’s account is but a sketch by an outsider to another outsider and he is trying to convey the main drift of this orchestrated interrogation (that sought to use Jesus’ words to confirm their plot) and Jesus’ reply:

It is you who say that I am i.e. the Son of God.

Are we meant to read and hear this as Jesus’ commentary, his summing up, of what the action of the Sanhedrin (including this question) is saying? By reference to Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 it would seem that Jesus is well aware of communication ambiguity and breakdown when evil distorts the exchange. So could this be read as Jesus’ invitation to the Sanhedrin to make the kind of confession that Peter had made earlier in Jesus’ ministry in answer to a question of Jesus that is somewhat similar to that he now puts to the Sanhedrin:

But who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)

Except, however, as Luke tells it, Jesus seems to be telling the Sanhedrin that they are putting themselves in a position where they are conceding that he is agreeing with the words that they are wishing to pin on him.

This was also the profession made by demons, right at the outset of his ministry after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.

And demons came out of many with the cry: “You are the son of God!” And rebuking them, he would not allow them to speak, because they knew him to by the Christ (Luke 4:41).

This then stands as background to Luke’s account – the accusation that he was casting out demons by an alliance with Beelzebul (Luke 11:15). And that accusation had presumably arisen from the yeast of the Pharisees and scribes when it was mixed with that of Herod (Luke 12).

We note here that Luke says that Jesus’ reply was sufficient for their purposes. We do not actually have to grasp the logic of what they concluded. It simply followed from an authoritative judgement that Jesus’ reply was sufficient. Rather than go further and explore what Jesus may have meant they push on in their haste; they have already decided that they will not take his statement seriously and in fact Jesus had already pointed that out to them.

But what does it mean to consider Jesus’ answer: “You say that I am!”? Might it not be an invitation to finding out what he meant? Might it not mean actually listening to his exposition of Daniel and the Psalms? Might it not mean listening to his teaching?
It seems to imply the following:

You brought me here even as I was fully aware that at some point I would have to confront you. So if I am Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, I will only be so in a righteous way according to the law and the prophets. That means it is your confession that is invited here!

That, I am suggesting, is why they could say:

What further witness do we need here? Have we not now heard the words out of his mouth?

Luke has already told us that Jesus has said that he knows they are not interested in a genuine conversation about his calling. Given what Luke has repeatedly told Theophilus of Jesus’ teaching about the sufferings of the Lord’s anointed, that from “Jesus side” of this exchange we can infer that the co-opted Sanhedrin is confirming their deepest fears.

You say that I am.

So, we imagine some silent member of the Council, asking himself:

Could it be so? Could we, as Council, be involved in fulfilling the apocalyptic disclosures of Daniel and David? Is it possible?

And the pencilled judgement that is just waiting to be inked in is handed down:

What further evidence do we need? No more witnesses are needed! Have we not just heard these words which confirm our accusations from his own mouth?

And before he can think further about this, the presiding High Priest says:

Times up. No more time for discussion. It’s Friday remember. We have what we need – the words of his own mouth are enough for our purposes to condemn him. We’ve wasted enough time.

Due process. Due process. Due process. Transparency! Transparency! And we need to avoid any more delays. We’ve got to get him to Pilate so we can now get his tax evasion scheme nailed as well as his seditious claims to be King.

And with that, Luke tells us, the hastily convened Sanhedrin council was just as hastily dissolved and as one body they hauled him off to Pilate.

 

BCW 15.2.2017