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Journeying with Luke by James Woodward, Paula Gooder & Mark Pryce

June 7, 2016

JWL 2At last, a book to put in the hands of laypeople who want to prepare for the upcoming Sunday’s readings, if not every week then at the start of each season of the Church’s year.

Each chapter has four parts: a section ‘exploring the text’, which gives some information on Luke’s narrative and connects it with the season; ‘imagining the text’ which is a poem or piece of imaginative writing from the perspective of a character in the gospel, or a modern-day re-working of the story (how about ‘out-of-character’ story of ‘shepherds’ in their Portakabin office! Or see Satan’s monologue after the bruising encounter with Jesus in the wilderness?); ‘reflecting on the text’, which makes more connections with our life today; and finally some suggestions for ‘action, conversation, questions, prayer’ prompt personal connections between faith and experience.

Gooder seems surprised that the Pharisees warned Jesus that King Herod was seeking to kill him. She shouldn’t because Jesus was either a Pharisee or very sympathetic to their  movement.

Pryce is wrong to suggest that the reason why priest and levite hurried past the wounded man was because they had to abide by purity laws on their way to the temple. The parable of the Good Samaritan states that they were journeying from, not to, Jerusalem.

One of the best bits is the prodigal son’s story told from his mother’s point of view.

JWLQuotations:

The attempt to ‘get to know’ any one of the Gospel writers is fraught with difficulty. So little is known about who wrote the Gospels that it is hard to discover much about their authors at all. This is partially due to their success in writing, since, after all, they were not writing a book about themselves but about Jesus. The Gospel writers, therefore, are skilled at merging into the background, fading from our sight as they point us onwards to the one they wish us to encounter – Jesus Christ. The author of Luke’s Gospel is no exception to the rule; beyond a few bald facts it is difficult to learn much about him.

He clearly acknowledges that his is a second-generation account, handed down by eyewitnesses and then crafted by a later writer. Thus we should look out in this Gospel, not for fresh eyewitness account, but thoughtful crafting of a tradition, carried out for a particular reason.

Many scholars believe that Luke was consciously adopting the role of ‘historian, both in this Gospel and even more obviously in Acts. There are interesting parallels between Luke and some of the famous Greek historians. So for example, the prologue to Luke’s Gospel bears very clear similarity to other prologues to historical works. It is particularly interesting to lay Luke’s prologue alongside that of the famous Jewish historian Josephus, who introduced his extensive Antiquities of the Jewish People as follows: Those who undertake to write histories, do not, I perceive, take that trouble on one and the same account, but for many reasons, and those such as are very different one-from another . . . Now of these various reasons for writing history, I must profess the two last were my own reasons also; for since I was myself involved in that war which we Jews had with the Romans, and knew myself its particular actions, and what conclusion it had, I was forced to give the history of it, because I saw that others per­verted the truth of those actions in their writings. (Antiquities 1.1-4)

Luke is well known for many things but perhaps the most important are his stories. Mark’s Gospel contains the fewest parables (only six); Matthew’s Gospel has the next in terms of numbers (17). But Luke’s Gospel not only contains the most parables (19 in all) but the best known. The good Samaritan, the prodigal son and the rich man and Lazarus, to name but a few, are all very well-known parables that appear only in Luke’s Gospel.

One of the themes which the passages we explore during Christmas and Epiphany bring to the fore is the question ‘Who is this Jesus?’ Who is the Jesus that the shepherds are summoned to visit? Who is the Jesus who can converse with his elders in the temple? Who is the Jesus recognized by Simeon and Anna in the temple? And who is this Jesus who one minute woos and the next minute infuriates the people at the synagogue?

We so often treat the Psalms as though they are entirely static, finished products but evidence from the Psalter itself (which contains versions of the Psalms in slightly different forms) and from the Judaism of the Second Temple Period (where we find non-canonical collections such as the Psalms of Solomon) indicate that the Psalms were seen more as dynamic texts. They were not so much like our hymns, which we turn to and sing as they are, but were explored, reflected upon and then adapted to people’s own lives. So that using the phrases, theology and ideas of this treasure trove of worship, new songs could be created out of old ones.

One of the major themes of Lent is, of course, temptation – or, more accurately, resistance to temptation. This theme arises from Jesus’ temptations but also challenges us to reflect upon our need to resist temptation in all its forms. One of the intriguing features of Luke’s Gospel, however, is that temptation is not restricted to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. In Luke it is a much bigger theme than for the other Gospel writers. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ temptations are focused almost entirely on the one narrative of his temptation by the devil in the wilderness, an event which is described only very briefly by Mark but in much more detail by Matthew (Mark 1.12–13; Matthew 4.1–11).

In the previous chapter we noted the way in which the theme of temptation weaves its way through the whole of the Gospel of Luke, reaching its climax at Jesus’ crucifixion where he is tempted three times – first by the leaders, then by the soldiers and finally by one of the criminals hanging next to him – to demonstrate that he is able to save people by saving himself. This brings to the fore one of Luke’s storytelling techniques that we have not yet explored: irony. The irony of the exchanges at the crucifixion – which is made even stronger by the fact that they come three times – is that Jesus knows, Luke knows and we also know that it is precisely Jesus’ refusal to save himself that is bringing salvation to the world. By painting the picture as he does here Luke is highlighting the salvific nature of Jesus’ death on the cross and reminding, us, his readers, of why it was so important that Jesus did not give in to the temptations that had beset him throughout his life and ministry.

We noted in the last chapter that chapters 7—18 of Luke’s Gospel, from which are drawn the passages read during Ordinary Time, contain the vast majority of Luke’s parables. Luke is well known for many things but perhaps the most important are his stories. Mark’s Gospel contains the fewest parables (only six); Matthew’s Gospel has the next in terms of numbers (17). But Luke’s Gospel not only contains the most parables (19 in all) but the best known. The good Samaritan, the prodigal son and the rich man and Lazarus, to name but a few, are all very well-known parables that appear only in Luke’s Gospel.

Without a doubt the story of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus must be one of the best-loved of the resurrection stories. Like so much else in Luke’s Gospel, its themes remind us of some of Luke’s major emphases throughout the Gospel and onwards into Acts.

Ordinary Time, the time that falls between Epiphany and the start of Lent and between Pentecost Sunday and the kingdom season, gains its name not from what we think of as the meaning of ordinary (i.e. everyday) but from the Latin term tempus ordinarium or ‘measured time’. The idea is that Ordinary Time is time that is measured or marked (i.e. first Sunday, second Sunday, etc. . . .). Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Equally important is the fact that Luke’s Gospel ends in the temple with the disciples continually praising God. The open­ing scene of the Gospel took place in the temple, with Zechariah, John’s father and a priest, and so too now does the closing scene. Luke’s Gospel may, as many have argued, be a Gospel to the Gentiles but it is not a Gospel that is either ignorant of or uncaring about its Jewish roots. The narrative of Acts will take the account onwards from the temple in Jerusalem to Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire, but Luke is clear that the origins of the story begin in worship of God in the temple and continue there until the day of Pentecost.

Luke leaves his story as he began it, in the temple, but it is very clear to all who have traced the narrative so far that although the beginning and the ending may be similar (with angels and worship and the temple), the world itself has changed for ever.

Ordinary Time, the time that falls between Epiphany and the start of Lent and between Pentecost Sunday and the kingdom season, gains its name not from what we think of as the meaning of ordinary (i.e. everyday) but from the Latin term tempus ordinarium or ‘measured time’. The idea is that Ordinary Time is time that is measured or marked (i.e. first Sunday, second Sunday, etc. . . .). Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

Given this, it seems somewhat appropriate that the major focus of the readings in Ordinary Time is that of Jesus’ life and ministry as he journeys to Jerusalem. Ordinary Time is a good time in which to reflect more deeply about the steps that eventually brought Jesus to the cross, resurrection and Ascension.

He tells it beautifully of course, the tale about my husband and our two sons. But like any storyteller, he doesn’t say it all. He leaves me out of the picture, for a start! On the whole I preferred it that way, given the headstrong men in our family — outbursts of anger, storming off, even the occasional punch-up. I seem to have spent my married life keeping the peace (an art I learnt from my own mother, come to think of it!). But though I’m in the background in this version of events, you should be under no illusions, I had my part to play; I have my own interpretation too, though that changes with the years. Stories don’t stand still . . . some bits drop off, new bits accrue. Every story has a starting place, but even that’s a matter of selection — call it artistry if you will, choosing some facts and not others, empha­sizing certain aspects and staying silent about others.

Why my son wanted his inheritance and how he had the bare­faced cheek to ask his father for it there and then . . . well, I won’t go into the years of waywardness and rebellion we had to put up with from him, nor the curses and thrashings he got for it from his father. Let me say that the boy’s decision to take what was his and quit the farm didn’t exactly come as a surprise. How is it that you can teach Honour your father and mother from the very start — a code we’ve always lived by ourselves — and end up with a son like that, a wild thing, no respect, no self-discipline? My God, his father tried to beat some sense into him, but it just seemed to make the boy angry, even more wayward, more out of control. All we ever did was to try and teach him the virtues of hard work, respectable conduct, a decent way of life. And all we got for it was demand after demand, as if everything we’d built up together was for his benefit. No sense of gratitude. As parents, our son hurt us, shamed us. Why couldn’t he be like other people’s children, or like his brother? (His brother was no trouble, good as gold …) The strain of it all changed us, made us short-tempered, exas­perated. We were at our wits’ end sometimes. I’m not going to speak against my husband, he’s a good man; but there were times when he overdid the chastisement. He was at the end of his tether. We both were . .. and I wanted the boy to learn

his lesson too, so I said nothing; but now I see that the violence was too much at times, and afterwards my husband would become so distant, so turned in on himself. I suppose he was ashamed.

So . . to be honest, it was something of a relief when he said he wanted to make his own way in the world. And the peace, once he’d gone, was bliss. We got on with our lives and hoped he would make a go of it. We hadn’t expected the weeks of silence to turn into months, a year .. . What he got up to you’ll know more about than me, and I don’t want to think about it . . but I remember how the quiet house began to feel too quiet, how our relief as parents gradually shifted to concern, and then to worry . . not hearing from him became an anxiety. I suppose we all knew it was a breakdown in the family, but we said nothing, talked business, steered clear of feelings: it was all too raw to bring out into the open. His father began to fret, lose concentration, became absorbed in his own thoughts. Perhaps it was regret: I wouldn’t accuse him of making a mistake, as such, but maybe for the first time in his life he had to think twice about his actions, his opinions, how he might have done it differently. He’s not a bad man, but he’s very determined. Once he’s made up his mind, nothing will change it. He and the younger boy are more alike than maybe they’d care to admit. It took that fracture with his younger son for my husband to learn that he too is vulnerable, and that sometimes in relationships, however wronged you feel, you have to accept a share of what’s gone wrong and find a new direction.

And all this time I was in the background, encouraging him to be patient, gently helping him to talk, trying to ease the sense of self-recrimination which took over from his fury. During those long months I was praying so hard that he would have his opportunity to show just how much of a father’s love he had for his boys, a love which could embrace as well as chastise.

And I was feeling so weary of the conflict, the rage, the self-pity. With my husband keeping silent lookout on the rooftop, and the young one sending not a word from wherever he was . .. it felt like it was only me doing the talking. The elder son kept his head down, doubled his efforts and worked hard enough for all three of them. He was there day in day out, so dutiful, so strong, but so frozen, so silent. Which is why, I guess, when the thaw came there was that great flood of bitterness and resentment when his brother returned to the rapturous welcome of his father. It was years of pent-up anger pouring out, years of ‘being good’, of not drawing attention to himself when we had our hands full with the other one, years of trying to make us happy, make things better, make everything all right. It seemed to him that he was taken for granted, and that his brother’s recklessness was met with indulgence. I see now that the older boy had been hurt too, had missed his brother, had felt the pain he caused us with his selfishness, had hated the conflict in the family, the beatings, the shouting and screaming, the sullen silences. But the love of a brother isn’t the love of a parent: he just couldn’t see that his father needed to show his profound relief, and to celebrate a change of heart — not just his wayward son’s return, but his own shift of character as a father and as a man.

Of course it was hard for him to see all that fuss being made of the reprobate. To hear the music after so many months of silence — the robe, the ring, the feast, the fatted calf — all the lovely things we had been preparing for his own wedding as our beloved son and heir, our fine, good, upstanding, success­ful son, all that indulged on a waster. I understand his hurt. Perhaps we could have used a little more discretion, and certainly we should have showed him more affection and appreciation. We just assumed he understood how we felt-about him, his father and I. But from my point of view his outburst was wonderful, the way he said to his father just what was in his heart, and how his father responded with such frankness, such love . . . such love for both of them. What a miracle that day, that there was so much love to go around, enough for each of them.

So have you asked yourselves what happened next? Well, it depends whose story you want to tell. As far as I’m concerned, ‘happy ever after’ doesn’t come without effort, if it ever comes at all. As it turned out, the younger son had learned his lesson and settled back in quite nicely. My husband recovered some­thing of his old self again, but better: he listened more, asked our opinions, he got us talking. And my perfect elder son? He’s a work in progress, the next chapter you might say. Yes indeed, he learnt a lesson that extraordinary day when his father welcomed back his reckless brother. He learnt that he can say what’s on his mind without it turning into an argument, make demands of us without causing a fight, that he can enjoy his father’s company and not always be trying to win his approval. He’s learning to be a son, not just a servant. He’s learning to be a brother, someone who also has his needs, not just a consolation for his parents’ disappointment and distress. Such a fundamental change of heart takes time, and trust, and the courage to write his own story.

The story continues …

Most of what remains beyond the telling he leaves to you, if you have ears to hear. The art of story is to unlock doors, pull back shutters, open up perspectives,

to create a world from nothing and leave its future in your hands.

You are free to tie down his words as solutions, but what he has unleashed in you is possibilities.

For the story is free as the heart’s freedom.

Each one is a garden which he leases for just the peppercorn rent of your soul’s attention.

Then: all yours!

What will you do with this gift of space?

Play in it?

Trace its boundaries?

Find its hidden places?

Run wild there like a child to discover your many selves?

Till it and tend it through seasons for the strange fruits it will bear?

Listener, reader, imaginer, do anything with what is yours, if you have heart and mind and soul and strength, do anything except wall it up and keep trespassers out.

If it’s rules you like, then for God’s sake make up a game and pretend to be a trespasser yourself, so you can see how it feels to be in the wrong, to be chased out, or welcomed in with the surging grace of forgiveness.

For the story is a live thing, to be nurtured; it is a crafted thing to be worn; it is a fund to be traded.

To enter a story is to set out on a journey and be put at risk.

Buried treasure thrills no hearts, throws no parties, wins no friends, buys no pleasure.

All he asks of you is to accept that he has made you rich, and to be generous with your own tales spilling over from life’s full cup.

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