Luke's Hinge

March 17, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Psalm 58, Proverbs 17, and Luke 8–11:54.

Luke structures his narrative in an interesting way. From his introduction and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he moves along through a fairly short section of material before he describes Jesus’ turn toward Jerusalem. Starting as early as chapter 9—less than halfway through the book—Jesus begins predicting his death and discussing his plans to go to Jerusalem. In the sequences that follow, Jesus experiences the transfiguration, begins outright attacking the Pharisees and lawyers, and grows increasingly impatient with the crowds.

Even as many times as I have read these chapters, the force of them hit me anew today. Jesus remains the compassionate shepherd of the sheep, but with a startling suddenness he manifests his impatience with the people whom Paul would later describe by noting that “not all Israel is Israel” (see Romans 9:6ff.). The crowds who gathered around were not all true followers; the Pharisees and lawyers who knew best the word that spoke of him were those who most failed to understand him.

I have long found Jesus’ post-Transfiguration response to the man seeking healing for his son puzzling. Ordinarily, Jesus had been quick to compassion toward people like this. Only a chapter earlier, he had been praising the faith of a woman who had touched him and been healed, and responding to the earnest pleas of a family for the healing of their daughter. But here, he complains:

O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?

This is not what we expect.

In Luke’s narrative, there is a hinge in 9:21–36. Here, Jesus first predicts his death, then tells his disciples that they must take up their cross daily and follow him, and then experiences the Transfiguration. Afterward, this new impatience, which comes bubbling out not only in this encounter but in woes against unrepentant cities and against the teachers and lawyers. It is not that his compassion ceases, but that his frustration shows up alongside it.

The turn here highlighted several things for me. First, Jesus saw what I too easily miss, even in having read these passages so often. When he complains about bearing with a twisted and faithless generation, it is because that generation was twisted and faithless, even if to my eyes the difference is not immediately obvious. But the contrast should be clear, and it becomes clearer given this broader setting for the various confrontations. Luke sets up this encounter with a man seeking healing for his demoniac son against the backdrop of a gathered crowd, and only a few verses after Jesus has said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” He knew full well that the hearts of the crowd were not turned to him as the Messiah whom they should worship. They were people who wanted miracles and nothing more. The moment they were given the right opportunity, these same people could and would turn on him—as they did. So when we see Jesus acting in ways that surprise us, it points us back to the ways that his divinity and humanity mingled. He knew their hearts, as he knew what they would be doing to him soon enough.

This also highlights the reality of how Jesus partakes in the same attitude toward faithless generations that we see in the Godhead throughout the Old Testament. So often, we separate the two Testaments functionally, even if we consciously affirm their unity. But the same compassion we see in Christ is present in every interaction of God with his people and with the nations throughout the Old Testament. The same bubbling impatience that turns eventually to woe and judgment in the Old Testament is on display here in Christ. He is the loving savior who was marking the path toward Calvary, and he is the righteous judge who pronounced woe on those who rejected him.

It would be easy to make the same mistake that the crowds did in those days: to celebrate Jesus for what he does for us, without worshipping him as the Son of God or kneeling to him as the Anointed King. Indeed, so often this is exactly what we do. We want to take the blessings of salvation, the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, while continuing to go our own ways. We want to use God. Instead, we ought to humbly worship the one who calls us to leave behind everything to follow him and proclaim the kingdom (see Luke 9:57–62). We ought to rejoice that our names are written in the book of life, come what trials may, and worship the Christ of God who is risen and seated at the right hand of God.