Archive for the ‘St Luke’ Category

For some time I have been thankful that the Church dropped the dark notes of St. Stephen and Holy Innocents into the Feast of Christmas. In part, for the sake of those who mourn; in part, because it brings out Christmas’s natural patina — the patina that all beautiful things have, and without which brightness and comfort and joy devolve into triumphal kitsch. Mostly, though, I’m grateful for these days because they are helpful markers of what Christmas was, and is, in the story of the world: “a sign that will be opposed (and a sword will pierce your soul also).”

Wherever the gospel forms and moves a man to do good works in public, there will be envious informers and an angry mob with a Saul of Tarsus urging them to cast their stones. When the Light of the World dapples the walls of a cave in Bethlehem, then Herod the King — that oh-so typical political strongman who would co-opt the worship of God for his self-serving civil religion — will rage against the arrival of the Light.


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Were you there when He crawled atop skull hill,10-good-thief-2
Driven by Roman soldiers like a lamb,
Condemned and cursed by sons of Abraham
Who by perjury procured a true bill?

Were you there when His hands and feet were nailed
Down, His body lifted up, on a tree —
A spectacle for all the world to see
Where Israel’s sight and Rome’s Blind Justice failed?

Were you there when one man hanged by His side, 
One terrorist at death’s door, entered life,
And laid his “just cause” down, and ceased his strife,
And on the tree his King and God espied?

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VisitationMarytoElizChildinWombblogIn Advent we remember the absence of God — not to despair as though he were fully absent, but to hope for his fuller presence. Four hundred years of divine silence preceded the Exodus, and then the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Four hundred years of divine silence preceded the Word’s becoming flesh and dwelling — tabernacle-ing — among us. For so God loved the world, dark though it was.

In the Revelation to St John, the heavenly herald declared (21.3-4):

Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

The second promise — that God will scour us with all the old Creation –we do not yet see fulfilled. And long we have waited for it. Yet we know it is true, because the first promise was fulfilled, in the sight of unlikely but faithful witnesses, whose eyes had been tested almost to the limit in looking for God-With-Us, the glory of Israel and light to the nations.

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Text: St Luke 18:1-14

The more I look both at the Church and the world, the more I am persuaded that the pressing need of our time is a sound doctrine of judgment.  For while the word “judge” has fallen into disrepute, judgments are meted out with astonishing frequency, with little sense of proportionality and little seasoning of mercy.  The judges who decry “judgmentalism” hand down the harshest sentences, knowing not what they do.

We judge the way we breathe. Our judicial sentiments act as regularly, as unconsciously, as our breathing reflex.  The question we face, then, is not whether we will judge, but how well.

A first step toward learning to judge well is to acknowledge that God judges. We need to get over saying that. We need to rejoice in saying that. In his epistle to the Romans (2:16), St Paul said that God’s judging the world was part of his gospel. It is good news that we have a good judge who has the wisdom and power to sort things out, to make things clear, to right wrongs, to refute accusations, to justify justly.


The Publican and Pharisee (St Luke 18:9-14)

St Luke tells us, that as Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, he told two parables about the kind of Judge God is. In the first parable, a widow asks an unjust judge for judgment against her adversary. In the second, two parties, a Pharisee and a Publican (tax collector), appear in succession before God, presenting themselves for His judgment.

Note the posture in which the cases appear in the two parables. In the first, the widow appears as civil plaintiff.  Jesus says she is a model for something that the Church corporately, and her members individually, ought to do: come to the Father for judgment against oppressing adversaries — “for he will avenge them speedily” (18:7-8)  In the second, the Pharisee and Publican appear before God as criminal defendants — though only the Publican acknowledges that he’d done anything deserving condemnation (v. 13). Jesus says that for humbling himself, for casting himself wholly upon the mercy of God, the Publican was justified. He, not the Pharisee, walks out of the heavenly court an innocent man (v. 14).

Taken together, the two parables tell us about the kind of Judge God is, and the proper posture for His people to appear before Him. He is the Judge who liberates us from adversaries — and, as such, we should not shrink from approaching Him boldly as plaintiff, asking Him to grant judgment for us, against hardened enemies. We do this, however, knowing He also has absolute power and jurisdiction to judge us, and that only His mercy affords us hope of emerging from that examination justified. Both parables inform the manner in which we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. We need both to reform our imaginations, our hearts, our wills — and our judicial sentiments.

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Text: St Luke 15

Is anyone more lost than a man with a clear vision of a glorious idea, and no sense of where he is in a story? Javert praised the stars in their multitudes, not realizing he’d already fallen as Lucifer fell. The scribes and Pharisees fixed their gaze upon an idea of pure, faithful Israel, and grumbled at the tax collectors and sinners gathering to hear Jesus of Nazareth.

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Monday after Trinity 1

St Luke 2:21-40

My father died when I was six. I remember little from his last days. Most of what I know about those days, I learned from my grandfather (my mom’s dad, who loved my dad as dearly as his own son). He told me much about dad’s deathbed conversation — that he had no thought for himself, but only for his bride and his two young sons. I do not know — I wish I did know — more about whether hope for us prevailed over anxiety for us in his final thoughts, and whether something like a settled peace mingled with the sadness of his last days.

SimeonI mention this because today’s reading is a reading about death — the coincidence of the dawn of new life with one man’s glorious sunset. Simeon died well. He died well, in large part, because he died with no thought for himself, and a proper hope for his people and the world. He died well because he had read, marked, and inwardly digested the Word of God, and the encouragement he received from the Scriptures gave him hope(1), incorrigible hope that sustained him through long years of faithful waiting. When the thing he’d long waited for, “the consolation of Israel,” finally arrived, he departed in peace, according to the decree of the faithful God he loved. He died singing of a salvation not his own, but of

Thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the
glory of thy people Israel.

Simeon had seen Jesus, Israel’s consolation and glory. And as a faithful son of Abraham he knew what the arrival of Israel’s glory meant: light to the Gentiles, salvation going out to all people. The thing that’d been hinted at in Elijah’s mission to the widow of Zarephath, in Elisha’s cleansing of Naaman the Syrian, in Jonah’s mission to Nineveh, in the fool’s hope of a Moabitess who would not be parted from her despairing mother-in-law, was presently coming to fullness. So Simeon sang.

But not everyone loved the thing Simeon loved. Therefore Simeon died with something more than song on his lips; he had also some sharp truth, spoken with piercing deathbed clarity, for Mary:

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

In Jesus, Simeon saw that the promised shoot had sprung from the stump of Jesse(2) — that the true Davidic King had come to a land sick with the reigns of imposters and tyrants like Herod. And Simeon rightly foresaw, when the shoot from Jesse’s stump was yet a holy infant, tender and mild, that His appearing would provoke opposition and cause division.

Whatever peace Jesus, Prince of Peace, was born to bring, it was not, as Dorothy Sayers once said, the peace of amiable indifference(3). The little bundle of joy Simeon saw in the Temple was nothing less momentous than the beginning of Heaven’s decisive invasion of the world. Not everyone would treasure Him like Mary, or hail Him like Simeon. At the Lord’s birth, Simeon had finished his course, and his part was to depart in peace — though not before preparing Mary for the harder part of bearing a mother’s deepest possible grief: seeing her son opposed, rejected, and hanged on a cross.

(1) Romans 15:4

(2) Isaiah 11:1

(3) Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos? in Letters to a Diminished Church 55 (Thomas Nelson 2004).

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Text: St Luke 2:1-20

Trinity Season is the time of year when the Church calendar synchronizes with the present and plants us firmly on earth. After running through a six-month cycle of fasts and feasts which call us, by turns, to look backwards, forwards and upwards, we find ourselves ready for six months of attending to here, now.

Not that we forgot here, now during our annual tour of Christ’s blessed life, which ran from the first Sunday in Advent up to the Feast of Pentecost.  We didn’t, for example, pray to the baby Jesus at Christmastide, because the baby Jesus grew up, died on a Roman tree of torture, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

Neither do we now forget, however, that heaven received Jesus as our merciful and faithful high priest only because He was made like us, his brothers and sisters, in every respect. That means He has partaken of flesh and blood – and, at one time, of tender infant flesh. Isaiah prophesied about “the zeal of the LORD” establishing the kingdom of God, setting David’s greater son, the Prince of Peace, on the throne of the kingdom. Here is the zeal: the baby who would sit on David’s throne wasn’t just a messenger from God.  He wasn’t just David’s son, He was David’s Lord: very God Himself, the fullness of deity impressed upon baby flesh so that He could be, in every way, “God with us.”

St Luke tells us that when the baby in the manger had grown up into the fullness of manhood, he once pulled back the curtain of heaven to show what happens there when just one sinner comes to his senses and repents: the angels of God throw a party in celebration.[1] In his Nativity narrative, Luke likewise pulls back the curtain of heaven and reveals the heavenly host belting out a celebratory Gloria! to hail Jesus’s birth. The celebrations are of like kind. For in the manger in Bethlehem the angels saw the zeal of their Lord, going forth to call sinners to repentance.

[1] St Luke 15:10.

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