November – Disturbing Discipleship
3 November, Luke 19:1-10
Is this a story about eternal salvation? Look at verse 9; that clearly identifies salvation as the focus of the story. But is this eternal salvation in the future? What is happening in the present, within this story? Perhaps it is better understood as a story about incarnated hospitality? Notice the action of Zacchaeus in verse 6; he happily welcomed Jesus into his home.
Or perhaps this is more a story about economic responsibility? Look at what Zacchaeus promises in verse 8; he makes a serious and sustained financial commitment, to match his hospitable welcoming of Jesus. So perhaps this scene is telling us that salvation does not come unless behaviours change and relationships are fostered through persistent seeking and gracious hospitality? This is a scene of a life disrupted, of discipleship disturbed. Salvation is not held off into the promised future; salvation makes a tangible difference, here and now, in the present time: today salvation has come to this house!
10 November, Luke 20:27-38
Debate about the afterlife was common in the time of Jesus. Some scoffed at the idea. Others yearned to experience that reality beyond our current reality. God rewarded or punished people in this lifetime. There was no “life after death”, so the present was al there is for God to judge people. The Pharisees disagreed, drawing on a particular interpretation of some prophetic verses to argue that it was, indeed, in the afterlife that God bestowed his blessings or curses on people, in accordance with their faithfulness.
The same attitudes persist today. What will life be like in the “afterlife”? What will we be doing when we are in the mysterious presence of God into eternity? People still wonder. The hypothetical question of the Sadducees was intended to trip Jesus up. Jesus avoids the trap, jumps over the snare, and focusses on what is most important. Worry not about God in relation to the dead; focus on the now, on what we do in our lives, on how God is the God of the living.
17 November, Luke 21:5-19
We are drawing near to the end of “the Christian year”. It started with Advent, in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. As we draw near to the end of the yearly cycle, we encounter readings focussed on the end of time. How do we know what that time will look like? Three of the Gospel writers were bold enough to attribute words to Jesus which describe the events leading up to that end of time.
As Luke recounts the words of Jesus concerning these vents, he offers clear markers for us to note. He has Jesus disturb the orientation towards “how soon is the end coming?” Wars and insurrections do not signal the approaching end; do not get caught into thinking that the end is soon (v9-10). Times of persecution and trial will mark the lives of faithful disciples; but this is not a signal of the approaching end, for rather, this is a time to bear witness to your faith (v.12-13). The fundamental quality of faithful discipleship will be endurance (v.19). For Luke, the focus that Jesus offers is not about signs of the approaching end; rather, his concern is for faithful discipleship in our present lives.
24 November, Luke 23:33-43
At the very end of “the Christian year”, we have this story from the end of the earthly lifetime of Jesus. Next week, we start into Advent, the annual preparation for birth festivities. Before that, however, we pause and focus on this image of Jesus: hanging suspended on a cross, named as a common criminal, gasping desperately for breath, mocked by those charged to ensure that he dies, surrounded by others committed as criminals for their treasonous actions.
This scene contains paradox upon paradox. It is a passage set for the Sunday which bears the traditional name of “Christ the King” Sunday, but the image of the ruling anointed one is filled with human frailty and human despair, with political denigration and inhumane mistreatment. The way that Christ brings power and authority to bear into the world, is through submission to acts of insult and injury. The pattern of authority that we follow is through humble submission and non-violent advocacy, not through any flexing of muscle or imposing of power. That is the disturbing element of discipleship that this last Sunday of the year places before us.
The Lectionary Reflections for Spring were prepared by Rev. John Squires, who is currently undertaking an Intentional Interim Ministry with Queanbeyan Uniting Church.