In my NT course this quarter, we were asked to write a simple explanation of a Parable, giving it’s setting, purpose, themes, etc.
I will be honest when I say that I have never sat down and read the entirety of the Luke and Acts in one sitting. It was so eye-opening. The connections between the stories, the emphasis on the poor– and then to realize that Luke wrote his gospel to encourage the Early Christians. He compiled the specific stories that were oral traditions, other writings, etc and put these all together in this specific order for a specific purpose.
Instead of sharing my own writing, I want to share an excerpt from my textbook. This book is ROCKING my world. I have never read the Bible the way diSilva writes about it.
This is an article entitled Luke and Ministry Formation.
David Arthur DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation, Second Edition. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018). p 325-328
Shaping a community of restoration.
Luke’s compilation of sayings and parables focused on the heart of God for the lost clearly indicates his desire to nurture the same heart among communities of disciples. The church that takes Luke’s word to heart will be a community of mercy and love, actively seeking the restoration of fallen people, reflecting the character of the God who called the community together.
Luke gives his successors, namely, contemporary Christian leaders, the ongoing task of building up the sort of community that can become a place for the broken to find healing. Only as individual church members are won over to the vision of a God who seeks and saves the lost, who heals the brokenhearted, and who yearns to impart his holiness and wholeness to our fragmented and broken selves will a church fulfill its service to God and to the world.
One of the obstacles to achieving this end is our tendency within the church to mask our own fallenness and brokenness, to put on our best face at church, and not trust one another to help us seek God’s full restoration of our own lives. We act like Simon the Pharisee, who may indeed believe he has little that needs to be forgiven, and so we are not free to lavish love on others like the woman who knew she had been forgiven much and forgiven deeply (Lk 7:36-50). That story encourages us to face the sins that weigh us down, to own them so that we can be released from them and experience the freedom to express the love and gratitude that follow. It also directs the community of faith to respond to such vulnerability as Jesus did rather than as Simon did. That is to say, the community cannot respond to someone who would work through serious hurt or vulnerability to temptation by suggesting that such activity is out of place among respectable people.
Only as the church takes on the character of a “Sinners Anonymous” group will we see deep, inner transformation happen. When such a community ethos is in place, the church can become a haven for all who seek to flee from sin and the wrath to come, where those who have not yet encountered God’s heart may find not condemnation but love, restoration, and freedom from a harmful way of life lived apart from God.
Luke seeks to nurture a community that values and invests itself not only in facilitating the restoration of the sinner and the lost but also in the liberation of those bound by cycles of poverty or oppression in any form (Lk 4:16-19). The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) and the example of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10) declare that we cannot be whole until we become sensitive and responsive to the needs of our destitute brothers and sisters. The plight of the poor is a social sickness, and as long as our hearts remain hardened to others in need, with our blinders on and our focus elsewhere, we ourselves participate in that sickness.
Luke’s Gospel, like the Fourth Gospel, gives more attention to the role of Samaritans in Jesus’ ministry. The animosity between Jews and Samaritans is well documented in the New Testament (Mt 10:5; Lk 9:51-56; Jn 4:9; 8:48) and has deep roots in the history of Israel (the tensions and strife between the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, with their rival cult centers of Gerizim and Jerusalem; the diverging stories of Israel and Judah as each was subjected to a different experience of exile and return). Nevertheless, Samaritans are prominently featured in Luke’s Gospel as exemplary models of discipleship (Lk 10:33; 17:16) and in Acts as the target of the Christian mission (Acts 8). In this way Luke provides a model for how Jesus’ disciples are to look on those who are designated outsiders, who are “not our kind,” who live on the “wrong side” of some set of tracks by the standards of ethnicity, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. Jesus and the early church looked at the Samaritans from the point of view of the plan of God, which sought the restoration of the house of David, of which the Samaritans (despite the strenuous objections of Judeans) were nevertheless a part, and therefore strove for their redemption and their inclusion. As we continue to heed God’s call to bring his salvation to all, we are challenged boldly to cross those humanly drawn boundaries in outreach and not to look on each person through the lens of any human prejudice or to respond to them in kind when they speak to us out of their prejudice (see Lk 9:51-56) but to seek their redemption in God’s love.
Freeing believers from national ideologies.
It was easy for people living in the first-century Mediterranean world to buy into the myth of their society, namely, the myth of the Roman peace. All the visible symbols of the deified emperors and the deified goddess Roma, the civic festivals and holidays built around the family of the emperor, and the public discourse about the great debt the world owed Augustus and his family conspired to lull people into believing in that ideology. Things have not changed much. Whether we live in China, Germany, Latin America, or the United States, we are born and bred into an ideology that promotes and supports the values, powers, and systems of that society.
Luke exemplifies an essential task of every Christian leader: the clear articulation of a distinctively Christian ideology. This invites disciples to discover where the values and assumptions they have imbibed since childhood differ from God’s values and purposes for humanity and for Christian community.
In effect this means liberating disciples from reducing their response to the gospel to what fits neatly into the value structures, expectations, and institutions of the secular society. Like Luke’s readership, modern churches will be enabled to take up a revolutionary witness (though, also like Luke’s communities, without bloody revolution). This is perhaps one of the most pressing tasks for American Christianity, whose distinctive history (with its ideology of the “Christian nation”) has tended to reduce Christianity to a civil religion. Christians from around the world, however, can identify with this task just as readily—from disciples who confront the conjunction of Shinto and political ideology in Japan to disciples in Taiwan learning how to disentangle themselves from ancestor worship while still honoring their families, often at the cost of rousing significant disapproval and suspicion.
A pastor need never be embarrassed to preach about money. He or she is only following Jesus’ example, especially the example set in Luke’s Gospel. Wealth is an even greater idol in the modern world than Mammon was in the ancient world. This is, of course, a special danger in America, Europe, and everywhere that new capitalist markets have arisen and global corporations established their presence, making the promise of wealth now so much more accessible (if only as promise) to so many more people. Because of the idolization of the abundance of wealth, however, even people in the Western world who live at a level far above the well-to-do in Majority World countries consider themselves and are looked on by others as poor. Within a culture that claims “more for me” it is difficult even to hear Luke’s word “share with all.”
Before an individual can respond to the gospel like Zacchaeus, he or she must unlearn the definitions of enough and sufficient that our society offers (if it understands these words at all) and learn a definition that is truly in keeping with human need rather than human wants and expecta- tions. This is a difficult task when the entire advertising industry lives by training us to “need” more. We must learn that to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must use our possessions as much for our neighbor’s good as for our own.
Luke is keenly aware of the divisive power of money. The hoarding of wealth cut off the rich man from Lazarus because the rich man valued money more than the life of his neighbor. Covetous- ness over an inheritance pitted one sibling against another (Lk 12:13-15)—they valued money more than kinship. For years Zacchaeus was cut off from his fellow Judeans because he valued money over solidarity with his people. How many close relation- ships are destroyed over money?
How much bitterness and tension creep into a relationship or even into the church through competition for control over how money is spent? Luke’s solution is simple, from a theoretical standpoint. A Christian’s wealth belongs to the Lord, to be used as the Lord directs for the good of all rather than the good of the “owner.” This attitude enabled the quality of fellowship found in the early church, the realization of God’s desires for human community (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). Ultimately the true good of the one can only be achieved in concert with the good of all.
Luke underscores the importance of prayer and waiting on the Lord throughout both volumes, sounding a reminder to pastors and laity that is always timely. Jesus prays throughout the Gospel at key points in his life and ministry: he prays at his baptism (Lk 3:21), at his transfiguration (Lk 9:29), in the garden for strength before his passion (Lk 22:39-46), and on the cross, for both others and himself (Lk 23:34, 46). He renews himself through prayer in the midst of his hectic ministry, withdrawing even from expectant and needy crowds who clamor for his attention (Lk 5:16). Jesus seeks God’s guidance in an all-night prayer vigil before selecting the Twelve (Lk 6:12) and prays for his own disciples to remain firm through times of testing (Lk 22:31-32).
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as a person of prayer whose prayer life is so powerful that the disciples want to learn to pray from him (Lk 11:1). Jesus models the prioritization of keeping ourselves close to the heart of God and refreshed by God’s presence so that our ministry will flow from God’s power rather than consume us.
Luke 11:5-13 assures us that God hears and is already favorably disposed toward us, even more than a good human parent toward his or her child. The parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8 encourages us to persist in prayer, for if a corrupt, human judge will eventually be moved to use his position to vindicate a persistent petitioner, how much more will the good Judge of all vindicate his people.
Luke does not turn these into blanket statements about how God will fulfill any prayer that we offer, however. Rather, he intends these sayings to spur us on to pray specifically for the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13) and for justice (Lk 18:7)— two petitions that Luke says God will not disappoint. This leads us to devote considerable energy in our corporate and individual prayers to seeking the guidance and empowerment of the Spirit for the advancement of God’s purposes, and to crying out before God on behalf of all who suffer injustice and oppression (e.g., our sisters and brothers throughout the world who suffer hostility and loss for the sake of their confession).
As in Mark, prayer remains the way to find strength to overcome trial and weakness, to remain firm in our loyalty, and to maintain consis- tency in our walk during the interim between Jesus’ ascension and return (Lk 21:36; 22:40).
In Acts prayer becomes even more prominent. Believers are always “devoted to prayer” (Acts 1:14; 2:42), and Christians frequently enjoy significant times of prayer together (Acts 12:5, 12; 16:25; 20:36; 21:5). In the face of the challenges of witness in an unsupportive society, the disciples find renewed courage and vision by means of praying together (Acts 4:23-31). Prayer always precedes receiving direct and timely guidance from God, often in the form of dreams or visions (Acts 9:11-12; 10:9).
If we take the apostles as our models, then ministers will be first and foremost women and men of prayer. Just as the apostles, faced with myriad tasks and responsibilities, decided that prayer and proclamation of God’s Word was their first priority, so Luke challenges the leaders of God’s church today to make prayer the center of their ministry. If the busyness of ministry threatens to shorten or eliminate our seasons of prayer, we can be sure that the effectiveness of our ministry will be proportionately diminished. Ministers and other Christian leaders will also not only pray alone (a side effect of our privatization of religion) but will spend significant time in prayer together with other ministers, lay leaders, and prayer partners.
Stability and the single mind.
The story of Mary and Martha speaks in a timely way to an increasingly frenetic and frantic society (Lk 10:38-42). Jesus points Martha—and all of us who are so very much like Martha—to the core necessity of life. If we possess this one thing, it gives life to all that we do; if we lack it, we cannot compensate for that lack no matter how much we do. The one needful thing is to sit at Jesus’ feet, spend time in his presence undistracted, and listen for his word. This is a hard word for many people to accept.
It is a hard word to believe in an active society where doing and visibly achieving are emphasized so strongly. But if anything must suffer this day, Luke says that it cannot be our spending time with God. We have books to read, committee meetings to attend, and leaves to rake, but first and above all, we have to sit at Jesus’ feet, wait on the Lord, and seek God’s face. This word is echoed in the psalms of ancient Israel: “Wait for the Lord,” “Seek God’s face,” “One thing have I desired, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and learn from God in God’s temple” (Ps 27:4, 8, 14).
From a worldly point of view, to “wait” on the Lord when there is work to be done seems like procrastination or avoidance. Jesus’ challenge to Martha and to all who resemble her more than her sister is to reverse that mindset and to let the way we spend our time help us to be guided in all things by God’s Spirit, not driven in all things by the demands of our studies, our congregations, or our own ambitions.
Luke speaks not only to religious professionals but to all who would make progress in discipleship, who seek to leave behind old pains and the patterns they have engraved on their minds and hearts. Inner healing, formation in the image of Jesus, growth in discipleship—all these depend on spending time in God’s presence, sitting at Jesus’ feet. Ultimately that is the place where lives are reordered, hearts healed, balance attained, and stability found. Our hearts will never find rest until they rest in God, and rest means spending time resting in God’s presence.
aAlcoholics Anonymous is so successful because all its members identify themselves as people in need of deliver- ance from addiction to alcohol, and because its members encourage and support one another in a most intentional way to keep each other from giving in to the craving for a drink. The organization, founded to a large extent on New Testament principles, can now teach much to churches that have lost that focus and energy.