This is the year of Luke. In addition to the daily readings set down by the Lectionary, I have decided to follow a simple program of reading each chapter and recording my own immediate reflections upon it.
It’s not in synch with the Lectionary, but that’s not the point.
I’m going to record some of these reflections, as an offering to whoever might benefit from them. I don’t pretend to be a New Testament scholar and these are not formal exegetical notes. Rather, these are reflections of one who seeks to live with the text in the hope that it will read me and direct me, rather than me control and dissect it.
Luke writes with a purpose, and that’s the thing I most want to get hold of.
It’s there in the ‘address’. But it’s not what you might think: and to get this clear makes a world of difference in how we read this wonderful Gospel.
Luke’s purpose is that that the present reader, whoever that might be, can know, or realize, the reliability, of the teachings which are contained in this book.
Luke has an eye to posterity. The issue, of course, is that the eye-witnesses to Jesus and his deeds, those who heard him teach, are now dead or almost all are gone. The normal reliability of witnesses must be replaced by an orderly account, written by Luke: so that people of faith can know the truth.
The teachings, the faith to be recounted, is itself reliable: but the reader, the follower, needs to know this. How will they know it?
It is not simply a matter of relying on Luke’s ‘orderly account’. The challenge is this: Luke wants the future disciple to come to know this for themselves. And that means he wants us to see and recognize the continuing reality of God’s presence.
The orderly account is given for the sake of knowing, but not in the sense of evidence of the distant past. That model of ‘history’ is a modern invention, and we do well not to impose it upon Luke. What he tells us has many ‘historical’ elements which do not stack up with our concept of history, as we shall see. That should help us to realize that this is not ‘history’ in that evidential sense.
No, this is another kind of knowing, that Luke wants us to receive. He wants us to enter into this knowing, to become part of it. That is why the journey motif becomes so important in his account, later on.
The challenges of ‘knowing’ are there right from the first chapter. Zechariah questions the angel, and is made speechless (v20). Mary questions the angel, but is not. Rather, her questioning gives rise—later—to praise. What is the meaning of Zechariah’s experience? Is this punishment, for daring to ask how this promise can be fulfilled? If it is, why is Mary not punished as well? I am inclined to think that this is a symbolic action, suggesting that human understanding must wait, and perhaps too that the male, priestly authority figure must wait, until God’s action is revealed.
The action of God, seen in this chapter, is to bring hope to a righteous couple—as God had done for so many other ‘mothers of Israel’ in the past: to give them a child.
Zechariah’s question, v. 18 How will I know this?, is a reasonable question.
For us as readers the same applies: How will we know what Luke has to offer? How will we know the saving acts of God? Is it ‘certainty’ that we seek, as one translation misleadingly renders Luke’s purpose in verse 4?
No, this is not about evidential certainty. This is about knowing the way of God with us now, through waiting, and the slow growth of a child in the womb, and the long, patient engagement with what God is doing in the messy every-day business of life. It is here that we will encounter the reality, the truth of the teachings we have received.