Bailie on Luke 1-2

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of Luke”
Tape #2; Re: Luke 1-2

  • Opening Remarks: Where would we be without Luke’s Gospel?
    • Luke is a re-teller of stories (Mark’s, for one), but he also tells stories that none of the other gospel writers tells, some of our best loved stories. Luke was a master story-teller. His stories are the ones that leap out of the NT: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the road to Emmaus, and…
    • The Christmas story. We would have Christmas as we know it without Luke’s story? We conflate Matthew’s and Luke’s Christmas stories for our own. What would it be like to have only Matthew’s?
    • We wouldn’t have Mary as the church has come to know Mary without Luke’s Gospel.
  • Infancy Narratives
    • Matthew and Luke give conception and birth stories. Mark does not. John gives us a cosmic introduction to Jesus and the meaning of his life.
    • Matthew and Luke’s stories don’t fit together too well. They didn’t really know those details of Jesus’ conception and birth, anyway. They were responding to a literary convention of their day: that the life of a famous person must begin with a distinctive birth, usually a miraculous birth. The significance of this person’s life is already there at birth and infancy. Luke and Matthew take up this convention and have to fill in the blanks, and they do so with scripture, the Hebrew scriptures.
    • So is this story true? Yes. But not necessarily in a literal sense of factual accuracy. This story tells a truth, as long as we don’t define truth too narrowly as factual accuracy.
    • “Gospel in Miniature” (a phrase of Raymond Brown’s)
      • Luke’s Gospel provides these infancy narratives as a set of instructions on how to read a Gospel.
      • The whole story of the Gospel is given in these first two chapters precisely because Luke didn’t have a bunch of facts to draw on. He had Hebrew Scripture and the Gospel story as a whole, so he constructed a Gospel in Miniature. He wrote back into the infancy story the story of the Gospel.
      • It’s a quick run-through of the Gospel that prepares us fro reading the Gospel. The Gospel is the kind of thing that one can’t read only once. Only when you get to the end of it can you understand the beginning of it. This is true every time you read it. You get to the end and say to yourself, “Aha! I should go back and read this again.” In order to read for the first time, we have a little practice session, which is the infancy story.
      • In order to get the most out of the gospel of Luke, we should follow a main theme of these infancy narratives. We should follow the example of Mary: to treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts. We moderns do all kinds of other things. We unleash literary analysis, or philosophical, or theological analysis. This can produce some impressive results. But there is also the example of Mary.
  • Keeping Faith and Breaking Ground
    • Why did Luke write this gospel? To reinterpret the gospel for a Gentile audience. Luke didn’t quote Hebrew scriptures nearly as much as Matthew, except here in these infancy narratives.
    • Florilegia theme of “Keeping Faith and Breaking Ground.” Luke is a “steward of tradition.” Living tradition becomes creative precisely in its encounter with its own past.
    • Luke makes a different choice than Marcion. He doesn’t write a solely gentile gospel.
    • The Task of Christianity: Desacralize and yet heighten religious sensibilities at the same time. Reads Louis Simpson poem (entitled “In the Suburbs,” first published in his collection of poems At the End of the Open Road): “There’s no way out. You were born to waste your life. You were born to this middle class life As others before you Were born to walk in procession To the temple, singing.” Otherwise, what you have is a desacralization which is a secularization that sooner or later reconstitutes a new form of the sacred system. Complete breaks with the past usually lead to things like the guillotine coming out.
    • Unlike John’s Prologue, Luke is a storyteller and so begins with a story. Two stories about telling stories (from Martin Buber)
  • Luke 1:5-45: Structured in a diptych between the conceptions and births of John the Baptist and Jesus. There’s tremendous asymmetry between the two, which is the point.
    • Elizabeth and Zechariah. An angel appears to Zechariah in the temple.
      • “Do not be afraid”: a refrain of the angels in these opening stories. We need to remember the backdrop: religious terror. The message of the angels from God is to not be afraid; real news for archaic religion, suffused with holy terror.
      • The message is an old story: that of Abraham and Sarah. Zechariah doesn’t believe and is made mute.
    • The Visitation: Angel appears to Mary. Same message and same refrain. But, while Elizabeth is too old to have a child, Mary is too young; she is still a virgin, a young maiden.
    • Is Mary a virgin?
      • Dante’s Paradiso: at the beginning he says, ‘If you have eaten of the bread of angels (panis angelicus, the Eucharist), then go ahead and read; if you haven’t, then don’t bother reading because you aren’t going to get it.’ In other words, if the idea of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is something you can’t get your mind around, then there’s not a chance in the world you’re going to be able to get your mind around the Paradiso. If the mystery of that is a stumbling block, then there is a place beyond which you cannot go.
      • Similarly, with the virginity of Mary. A minimalist view: No attempt to account for the meaning of Jesus’ life can succeed in doing so without taking into account divine intervention. If God’s intervention is inconceivable to you, then there are aspects of the Christian mystery that are out of your range.
    • The meeting of Mary and Elizabeth is a surrogate meeting for the first meeting of John and Jesus. Elizabeth speaks for John and Mary speaks for Jesus.
      • Elizabeth bows and defers to Mary, the first point where the diptych becomes asymmetrical. John is the forerunner.
      • Mary responds with the Magnificat, which we need to focus on.
  • The Magnificat (1:46-55)
    • This song sung by Mary is based on Hannah’s song. And the story of Mary and Jesus is a filling in and fleshing out of the Hannah/Samuel story as the Elizabeth and Zechariah story is a filling in and fleshing out of the Abraham and Sarah story.
    • This song of praise summarizes the themes of the whole Old Testament.
      • In our world, we tend to think that if something new is going to come into the world, then you have to get rid of the old ideas. We’ve got to think for ourselves, to do something original.
      • But Mary is the vessel for the newest thing ever, and she’s nothing but the incarnation of the tradition.
      • Quote from Thomas Dehaney Benard (sp?), around the turn of the century:
        • “Do we not all know how sentences from the Bible or the liturgy glide into our prayers and offer their unsought aid to express kindred feelings of our own?”
        • He’s explaining how the Lukan Mary spontaneously irrupts with this glorious avalanche of themes that summarize the whole Hebrew experience.
        • Do we really know? Do sentences from the Bible and the liturgy glide into our prayers? He’s talking about something that’s not so true anymore.
        • “So here [namely, the Magnificat] the words, as well as the thoughts, are those of a high-souled Hebrew maiden of devout and meditative habit, whose mind has taken the tone of the Scriptures in which she has been nurtured. We feel the breath of the prophets; we catch the echoes of the psalms; we recognize most distinctly the vivid reminiscences of the song of Hannah.”
        • “The mind has taken the tone of the Scriptures in which she has been nurtured.” What is the corollary for that in our world? Today, what would we irrupt with? Would we irrupt with the Magnificat? Or with some TV commercial? What is forming us? And whatever it is, it’s anything but this because we believe, as Luke did not, that creativity is other than being steeped in the tradition.
  • Luke 2:1-20
    • “In those days…” Probably nothing historical here, but Luke is using it to make another contrast. Rome is the center of the known world. The emperor’s title is “Son of God.” Acting as the Son of God, Augustus declared that his whole realm should be counted, measured, an act of control and power coming out from Rome. And it causes Joseph to go to Bethlehem, which was nowhere. You have this juxtaposition of all this Roman power and these two simple people who go to this out-of-the-way place, and there the savior of the world is born.
    • And born into a lowly situation: “she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” This is the gospel in miniature. There’s three things here about the birth that tell us everything about the gospel:
      • There’s no room in the inn. (Luke 9:58) “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In the gospel of John (1:9): “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” It’s in the nature of the Messiah that he is always the one left out. He’s the stone the builders rejected. That there’s no room in the inn is not incidental to the story; this is what the Messiah is. There’s no room in Rome, so go to Israel. There’s not room in Israel, so go to Nazareth. There’s not room in Nazareth, so go to Bethlehem. There’s no room in the inn, so go out to the shed where the animals are. Out, out, out, out…. The Messiah is the one left out. The real truth breaks in on you when you recognize the stone the builders rejected that becomes the cornerstone.
      • Who first gets wind of this? The shepherds. We have to shake free of some of our Christmas piety. This is not some nice little pastoral scene. Shepherds in the first century represented something like bikers, socially. They were the unwashed, unscrupulous. People locked their doors when they came into town. They had the social mark of gypsies, with a very low social status. Luke always turns the social order on its head: Luke is always interested in the women, the outcast. And so the angel appears to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid!”
      • Shepherds can find the child by two signs:
        • The deeper implication of swaddling clothes: culture. The bands of cloth were used to shape the child physically, a way of physically forming the child. When we say that Jesus takes on human form, this story shows us that it includes being enculturated. Culture shapes us spiritually. Jesus, too, was a product of culture and not just nature. Its not like today in which we apologize for culture. Mary wouldn’t look over to Joseph and say, “Well, maybe we should let him decide for himself. Let’s not cram anything down his throat.” We think that somehow the blank slate is preferable. Jesus himself is swaddled; he’s enculturated.
        • Manger: a feeding trough, a place where the animals come to eat. At the end of the gospel: The disciples of Emmaus find Jesus in the breaking of bread, at an eating place. Where do you find him? These shepherds will also find Jesus in an eating place.
    • “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” –not her head, her heart. What’s the difference between pondering them in our heart or in our head. The gospel is an epistemological emancipation from superstition. But it’s not a recipe for Enlightenment rationalism, which is a modern superstition. It’s a mental narrowing. We’re lucky that the gospel stands there as a rock in the road, filled with stories of miracles and inscrutable things, because it’s a reminder that we live in a world of superstition. It just happens to be Enlightenment rationalist superstition. We assume that there’s an end to pondering, a point at which you have things figured out. There is no conclusion to the pondering. Pondering is a way of life that is synonymous with faith.
  • Luke 2:21-40
    • Simeon’s canticle proclaims the closing of the Old Testament portion in a sense. He represents the Jewish tradition and the recognition of Jesus’ fulfillment of it. The whole tradition is summed up and brought to conclusion; the Messiah has arrived.
    • Simeon’s prophecy to Mary (2:34-35): “the inner thoughts of man will be revealed.” Conscience leads to greater consciousness. There is an epistemological revolution underway; the question involves its locus, its driving force. Inner thoughts will be revealed by the fact that he is rejected.
      • Jump ahead to Luke 23:48: people walk away from the crucifixion suddenly aware of something about themselves; they beat their breasts. Conscience and consciousness are closely related. The real evolution of consciousness has to do with the workings of conscience. When the myth that justifies our sinfulness is shattered, our sinfulness becomes a problem. This is the beginning of interiority because we can begin to see our self from outside the mythological veil.
      • “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Girard calls this the first definition of the unconscious. Only several verses later, however, they saw (theoreo) what had happened, and they went home beating their breasts. The epistemological handicap had been removed, and immediately there was a pang of conscience and the beginning of consciousness.
  • Luke 2:41-52: The Boy Jesus in the Temple
    • Twelve years old is the age of bar-mitzvah; he becomes an adult male, able to participate fully in the Jewish life. Jesus goes to Jerusalem to fully participate in the Passover for the first time.
    • The “Journey to Jerusalem” is more dramatic in Luke’s Gospel. [Luke 9:51: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” And all that follows until Jesus arrives in ch. 19 is Luke’s telling of that journey.] As the Gospel in miniature, this story from Luke 1-2 tells of a preliminary journey to Jerusalem. It’s a story of going to Jerusalem for the Passover and finding that Jesus isn’t with us anymore. Where is he?
    • “After three days, they found him in the temple.” It’s a story about the crucifixion and the resurrection. It’s the overture, so that when we get to the journey to Jerusalem, we’ll remember something about it. You come away, Jesus isn’t with you, you’re anxious about it. At the very end of the Gospel, Jesus will tell his disciples to meet him in Jerusalem, from where they will go out to the ends of the earth, the second volume of Luke’s story.
    • It’s a rehearsal of the Easter story, and it ends on the theme of Luke’s infancy narratives: “Mary treasured all these things in her heart.”

 

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