Bailie on Luke 3-5

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of Luke”
Tape #3; Re: Luke 3-5

  1. Introductory Remarks on John the Baptist
    1. Luke 3 begins where Mark’s gospel begins, which is with the arrival of John the Baptist, the first historical event associated with the life of Jesus that we know about.
    2. One of the reasons we know this is that John the Baptist represented somewhat of an embarrassment to the early Christians. They wouldn’t have invented him. Jesus became what looked like a disciple of John, awkward for early Christians.
    3. It’s also clear that Jesus grew beyond. The Christians were right to consider John a precursor, rather than a teacher and initiator of what Jesus was going to do with his life.
    4. But then why did Jesus apparently submit to John in the baptism?
  2. Luke 3:1-18: Luke has a special way of dealing with the John the Baptist issue
    1. First, he sets things more in a historical perspective.
    2. After locating it like a historiographer, he tells of John the Baptist preaching a baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins…with a sense of tremendous urgency. (Gil would like to focus, as well, on the theme of forgiveness.) Time was running out. Perhaps this is why Jesus was attracted to John.
    3. Exegetes conjecture that the early Christians anticipated with urgency the second coming of Jesus.
    4. Luke described John with passages from Isaiah. Two things in this description relate to the urgency of forgiveness.
      1. The leveling process. Valleys filled, mountains laid low. The old hierarchical order was sustained by the sacred system, at the heart of which was sacred violence.
        1. The old artificial structures of sacred hierarchy are being destroyed in our world as we sit here this morning; and most of them have already been destroyed. We’re in a world that is rapidly desacralizing and has been for a long, long time. We can see the beginning of it in the Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah announcing it in this passage. It carries on decisively in the crucifixion, which is the definitive expose of the whole system of sacred violence on which this hierarchy depends. And so at the death of Jesus, the veil of the temple is rent from top to bottom. That’s the world we’re living in.
        2. The question is how we deal with the desacralization of the world. The Christian vocation is to mediate that de-sacralization so that our religious sensibilities are heightened and that we become more religious people. “Religious” in quotations marks. Some Girardians use “religion” only in an anthropological sense and when speaking of Christianity use the word “faith” [or “gospel”]. In any case, you can bet that a fully secularized world will invent forms of the old sacred in the same way that the French Revolution rolled out the guillotine as it was celebrating its emancipation from the old religious hierarchy.
        3. The backdrop to John’s urgent message is this leveling of the old sacred hierarchy. So one aspect of his message is condemnation, reminding people how wrong they have been.
      2. John also challenges the ethnocentric aspect of the religious system. We can no longer cling to our tribalism. Something universal is going to break in. To the extent that we cling to something less than universal, our religious structures will be undermined. Luke is writing to a Gentile community, so their inability to claim Abraham is not a hindrance to their Christian identity. This is a preliminary announcement of that fact.
    5. 3:10-14 — Luke’s John preaches in a Lukan way, concerned with social justice.
    6. 3:15-17 — Then, the crowds ask John if he is the Messiah. Luke’s context was that of conflicting claims between disciples of John and Jesus. So here John himself says that he is not the Messiah; another will come whose sandal straps he is unworthy to untie and who will baptize with fire and the Spirit, not just water.
    7. 3:17 — The metaphor of the winnowing fork to clear the threshing floor, a stark judgment metaphor. We tend to take this either literally and moralistically or to ignore it. We need some other response.
      1. In earlier sessions [of the Florilegia Institute] we’ve talked about this metaphor [mostly in connection with John 15] as relating to ontology, the nature of being. Our touchstones have been the phrases of two authors: Henri Delubac’s “the diminishing of our ontological density” as describing the modern psychological or spiritual crisis; Gabriel Marcel’s “loss of ontological moorings.”
      2. The idea of the wheat and the chaff is a metaphor that has to do with density. There is a separation that takes place which has to do with weight.
      3. We shouldn’t take this morally. It’s true that living an immoral life certainly has its consequences. We shouldn’t be so liberal and nice as to ignore that fact. But it’s better to see this as a matter of ontology.
      4. Something crucial is at stake. In other words, we can ask ourselves: can I make a profound enough mistake that can have consequences severe enough to produce such metaphors as unquenchable fire? Otherwise, what is at stake? If everything is taken care of in the end, then nothing is at stake.
      5. To know that the God that Jesus puts us in touch with is an infinitely merciful and loving and forgiving God is not to say that nothing is at stake.
      6. This gospel begins by saying there is an urgency; the old order is going to be undermined; the business of forgiveness is urgent; and something is at stake which could mean everything.
  3. Luke 3:19-22: The Baptism of Jesus.
    1. Luke gets John the Baptist out of the way as soon as possible. It takes a long time in the other gospels to get John off the stage, but here in Luke we get the arrest of John by Herod first, and then the account of Jesus’ baptism. This is out of order according to the accounts of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan. We have a baptism that’s the strangest one in the gospels.
    2. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying…” The baptism is almost mentioned as an afterthought in past tense. What Jesus is actually doing when the heavens open and the dove descends is praying. No John in this scene. It’s as if we look away and look back, and we see Jesus coming up out of the Jordan. We don’t see the actual thing. The dove descends and the voice speaks when he goes to pray. Perhaps this is closer to the actual event. He hears the voice when he prays.
  4. Luke 3:23-38 — The Genealogy
    1. Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy. But Luke waits until the voice from heaven says, “you are my Son.” Now the question is, “Whose son is this?”
    2. “…son of Adam, son of God.” The most ancient version of the creed.
  5. Luke 4:1-13 — The Temptation
    1. The profound call is followed by the profound question: what does it mean? How does one live out this call? Jesus goes to the desert and is tempted by all the traditional ways of living out this call.
    2. Taken to the desert by the Spirit.
    3. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God…” Right away, he has been called the Son of God by the voice from heaven, now the devil says, ‘Oh, if you are, prove it.’ Here’s how.
    4. Second temptation: Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
      1. There’s nothing to contradict the devil’s claim that all these kingdoms are his. The gospel assumes that it’s true; it assumes that all of these kingdoms are satanic kingdoms.
      2. Luke’s gospel: “the devil” (diabolos) all the way through. In Matthew’s gospel he is called Satan at the end of the story.
      3. Satan means the Accuser. Satan is the power behind all kingdoms because all kingdoms are based on scapegoating processes that bring social solidarity into being in the first instance, so that we still do generate our social solidarity at the expense of enemies and victims. In that sense, Satan is the mastermind behind the kingdoms of this world. So his claim is absolutely legitimate.
      4. Jesus is going to bring another kingdom into being, but it’s precisely not that kind of kingdom.
    5. Jesus quotes scripture in both these temptations. This goes back to last week (tape #2) about Mary erupting with song from the Hebrew scriptures. Quoted Benard: “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.” Associated with swaddling. Here Jesus speaks as the product of a religious culture. We need to appreciate what it means to be shaped by culture.
    6. The devil plays a role exactly like the serpent in the garden. He tries to get Jesus interested in the kingdoms of this world. Is Jesus going to imitate the devil, or vice versa? Jesus is not going to imitate the devil in any serious way. But for the third temptation the devil quotes scripture: for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
    7. Jesus is human and he is seriously tested. These are not mock tests. And he realizes this is not what he is called to do.
  6. Luke 4:14-30 — Preaching and Rejection at Nazareth
    1. Jesus ministry begins in his hometown: (Luke 4:14-21) When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
    2. We have to read this more carefully. He sat down. That was it. Then, all the eyes were fixed on him. He stopped the service. He didn’t read it and say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He read it and sat down. He stopped the show with everyone’s eyes on him, and then he said, “Today…”
      1. The gospel would seem to indicate that Jesus had no intention on commenting on this scripture when he went up to read it. It seems that he wasn’t moved to comment until all the eyes were upon him.
      2. And what does that mean to have all the eyes upon him? True ontology is to be grounded in God. And false ontology is to be the observed of all observers.
      3. So this is another temptation: to have all eyes fixed on him.
    3. (Luke 4:22-24) All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
      1. The question is why is this true? Why isn’t a prophet accepted in his hometown? A prophet is precisely the one who is not accepted. Not just because he has an unacceptable message, but because his prophetic vocation is all tied up with his rejection by his community. His prophetic vocation begins with some kind of social rejection… (End of side 1)
      2. …So that a prophet is rejected by those whose acceptance would have made his prophetic vocation unnecessary. Rejection endows the prophet with what Andrew McKenna calls the victim’s “epistemological privilege,” the ability to know things that other people can’t know. The victim is precisely the one who can see things that other people cannot see. The prophet is the one who can see and speak of these things. In order to have the victim’s epistemological privilege, he has to be one. To some extent, he has to suffer social rejection. We tend to think that the prophet gets rejected because of his message, which is, of course, true. But it’s also true that he has a message because he’s been rejected.
    4. Luke 4:25-28: Jesus mentions two scriptural events, involving Elijah and widow of Sidon and Elisha went to a Syrian leper, both outsiders, Gentiles. This is an echo of, ‘Don’t claim Abraham as your father and think that that’s going to solve the problem. The prophets go to those outside, those rejected. Jesus experiences both social castigation from his own people and being the chosen one of God.
    5. Luke 4:29-30 — They are immediately filled with rage and try to hurl him off a cliff. Put this rejection with the voice from heaven giving divine approval after the baptism.
  7. Luke 4:31-37 — The Man with an Unclean Spirit
    1. Jesus goes to Capernaum in the synagogue on the sabbath and drives an unclean demon out of a man.
    2. The many stories in the Bible of possession by demons and exorcism of demons seems a hoary, ancient matter that doesn’t have anything to do with us. Girard’s work may convince us otherwise.
    3. Jean-Michel Oughourlian, one of Girard’s most insightful students, has already begun to uncover that in all experiences of selfhood there is another, or others, in whom the self is substantiated. So when St. Paul says, ‘I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me,’ everybody could say, ‘I live now, not I, but                  lives in me.’ Fill in the blank: my father, a slew of people, Michael Jackson, whoever it is. The next person I see on the silver screen. But there’s always the Other in us. Cases of possession are simply cases when that Other has become problematic, and one is trying to get rid of it. It’s become a kind of enslavement; one wants to cast this Other. I think that every non-organic psychological distress has to do with the Other with whom we are entangled.
    4. Reads a passage from Sartre’s Being and Otherness: “The occasion which arouses hate is simply an act by the Other which puts me in a state of being subject to his freedom. This act is in itself humiliating. It is humiliating as the concrete revelation of my object-ness in the fact of the Other’s freedom. The revelation leaves in me the feeling that there is something to be destroyed if I am to be free myself.” In other words, to discover that one is subject to the Other means that the Other is having this inordinate influence, and I want to get rid of it. Sartre’s book is about ontology. He’s talking about a world with no transcendent Other. Possession by the Other is what Sartre describes in his book, so the biblical stories are much closer to our world than we may think. [skips over 4:38-44]
  8. Luke 5:1-11 — Jesus Calls the First Disciples. In this story is a representation of the two churches of the 1st century: Jewish and Gentile. On the lake of Gennesaret (Galilee), Jesus sees two boats, one belonging to Peter [the other unspecified]. Getting in Peter’s boat, Jesus has them cast their nets. They catch so many fish that “they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them.” This might be a reference to the Gentile churches of Paul.
  9. Luke 5:12-26 — Jesus heals a Leper and a paralytic. We will focus on the latter, but the former sets it up.
    1. 5:12-16 — Jesus touches the leper to heal him.
      1. We need to understand leprosy in terms of 1st century Judaism. Leprosy was a clear indication that one was sinful and thus cursed by God. To get anywhere near a leper, much less touch one, was to become infected by a religious scourge, not just a physical one. The uncleanness of the leper was a religious mark with both severe moral and religious implications. Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, always moves toward the outsider, the one left out. He himself will be the one left out, the stone which the builders rejected.
      2. The Sufi poet Rumi gives the advice: “Be like one who, when he enters the room, luck shifts to the one who needs it.”
      3. When Jesus touches the leper, he violates a religious taboo. He associates himself — physically, religiously, and morally — with the one cast out. And he cures him.
      4. Jesus orders the leper to tell no one and says, “Go, and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” This is being deferential to the old religious order. Telling no one has to do with: “But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” What does this cure represent? Forgiveness. Jesus is curing the leper of his social scourge — of a terrible physical affliction, too, of course — but he’s restoring him to social dignity and life. Simone Weil commented that the worst scourge is the social contempt that comes with the physical affliction. Jesus rescues the leper from being the one cast out. The gospel stories locate the one despised by others, and Jesus brings that one back into social dignity.
      5. The point is not so much to perform medical cures. In NT times, any medical affliction would have been seen religiously as stemming from divine disapproval. So what’s the point of medical cures? Jesus is on the planet precious few years. There’s many sick people, far too many to cure for one person. And he cures people who are going to die in a few years, anyway. So what? Why does he do that? Compassion is part of the answer. But in terms of the mission, these cures mean that they are no longer cast out, no longer despised. Jesus shows us a God who goes to the outsider.
    2. Luke 5:17-26 — We are now set up to hear the story of the paralytic.
      1. A paralyzed man is brought by his friends, who go through a lot of trouble circumventing the crowd and lowering him through the roof. We read: “When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.'”
      2. The Pharisees are up in arms. Forgiving a person’s sins is blasphemy. Jesus responds, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?” This is a good question. We invented psychological sciences only about a hundred years ago to cope with one glaring aspect of the modern crisis, and we underestimate what forgiveness means.
      3. Why is this man paralyzed? It’s a perfect metaphor for the problem.
      4. What this story tells us is that all the cures are really forgiveness miracles. The heart of the mission is forgiveness. Miracles are what the act of forgiveness looks like to those with an untrained eye. Jesus has an eye for the one left out.
  10. Luke 5:27-32 — Jesus Calls Levi, the Tax Collector
    1. James Breech, in The Silence of Jesus, says, “Jesus is the most loving and the least sentimental person who ever lived.” We think our sentimentality is love.
    2. Before we are too sentimental about those left out: The outcast is not only the poor widow, or the paralytic. They’re rich folks, too, like the tax collector. We’re all paralytics. And we’re paralyzed by that which can be forgiven. Forgiveness means freedom from those things which paralyze us.
  11. Luke 5:33-39 — The Question about fasting
    1. The Pharisees confront Jesus about his disciples not fasting on the sabbath. Jesus responds with two small parables. The first is, “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.”
      1. What’s being explored here is the relationship between what’s new — namely, the Gospel and what Jesus represents — and what’s old — namely, the Jewish tradition up to that point. It’s a complicated relationship that can’t be simply dealt with. Christianity is not an extension of Judaism; on the other hand, it is not separate from it. The temptation might be to the Gospel and patch up the old with it. This parable says that you can’t do that.
      2. Matthew’s version adds a detail: the new cloth is unshrunken, so when you use it to patch the old, it shrinks and tears away from the old cloth, causing more harm to the old — which is echoed in the next parable.
    2. The second parable is, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.'”
      1. We have something new. It is fermenting, and if you put it in the old, it will burst the old.
      2. If we see this metaphor in terms of culture, then the old wineskin is, in fact, being destroyed by the Gospel revelation.
      3. Recall the quip from Mark Twain in the first session [a lecture using Twain’s essay “The United States of Lyncherdom”]. He suggests that we bring the missionaries back from China because China doesn’t need them and we do. The missionaries need to come back home and speak to us about all the lynchings. And the Chinese are universally conceived to be an excellent people, and their converts would run the risk of catching our civilization. We ought to be careful of that! Quote: “Once civilized China can never be uncivilized again. We have not been thinking of that!” We might suggest that we substitute “demythologized” for “civilized.”
      4. The Gospel revelation demythologizes traditional culture. Fundamentally, the two genres are myth and Gospel. Gospel always deconstructs myth, so the new wine is demythologizing the old. If you pour it into an old culture, it will burst it. It will bring about a demythologization of that cultural structure. The Gospel brings its forgiveness and the restoration of dignity precisely to those people who would be the ones designated to be expelled. In the presence of the Gospel, no conventional culture can regenerate itself, because it will always regenerate itself at the expense of those who are designated as outsiders, outcasts, morally corrupt — all those marginal characters which the Gospels go straight to in order to redeem, forgive, restore their dignity. Even if Gospel people do it — and Christians do this as much as anybody else — meanwhile, the Gospel is calling attention to the one who is paying the price for that attempt to generate social order. That new cultural order ceases to be legitimate enough to be long-standing as a source of order. We live in a world in which the new wine is constantly causing the old wineskins to burst.
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