October – Upending Expectations
6 October, Luke 17:5-10
This passage speaks of faith. Faith is not doctrine or dogma. Faith is about openness and risk. Faith is an invitation to enter into a relationship of trust; to commit to walking onwards with Jesus, without certainty of the destination or even any guarantee about the nature of the journey. The dramatic picture of faith that Jesus paints in verse 6 is not to be taken literally; it is a word-picture, evocatively dramatic, inviting us to imagine: what would life be like if we had deep faith? I envisage a life filled with disturbances, akin to the uprooting of trees and the planting of those trees in the ocean. That is not a normal process. That is a disturbance to the regular flow of things.
Yet alongside this, the parable of verses 7-10 offers a reminder that the journey of faith places demands on us. Discipleship which disturbs our life beckons us into ways of living that bring sets of responsibilities with them. Like the servants in the story, we have work to do as people of faith.
13 October, Luke 17:11-19
Now here is a story to unsettle and disturb! The fraught relationship between Judeans and Samaritans in the first century was well known. Worship in the northern style, based at Shechem, was different from the southern style in Jerusalem. Beliefs were different, too, even though both groups claimed Moses as the key figure in their past. Both had the Ten Commandments, but they lived out their faith in different ways.
Jesus was not perturbed by the apparent differences between the southerners in Judea and those northern Samaritans. Indeed, for many chapters of Luke’s Gospel, he had been travelling amongst the Samaritans (see 9:51-62). He told a story which commended a Samaritan, of all people, for his faithful service (10:29-37). And here, he consciously heals a group of lepers which included, amongst their members, a despised Samaritan.
Yet it is that outcast who returns to thank Jesus for his healing powers. Jesus reinforces his surprise by calling this healed man a “foreigner” (in Greek, allogenes; literally, a person “from another people”). In the world of Jesus, boundaries and barriers are there to be breached! Inclusion means reaching out beyond barriers, incorporating outsiders, widening the scope of the circle to encompass a greater diversity. That’s the Gospel in action.
20 October, Luke 18:1-8
This parable is a story about persistence. Don’t give up! Yet a standard way of interpreting parables is to allegorise them. That means, drawing clear lines of connection between the characters in the story, and people in real life. Classically, the judge who is being disturbed by the widow is equated with God. The persistent widow is equated with faithful people, praying to God. If that is done, then we are provided a most disturbing picture of God. Whilst we pray, hopefully and persistently, God appears to be deaf to our pleas, and resents having to attend to our needs.
What about turning this on its head. Why not see the judge as a symbol of human systems, and the woman as a picture of God? The woman puts the requests of God into action. She represents people of faith who are active in seeking justice in this world. Such people regularly find disinterest, resistance, even strenuous opposition, to their pleas. The system remains unmoved by calls for compassion (think refugees and asylum seekers, think Indigenous peoples, think people below the poverty line on an inadequate income).
And, in fact, if we explore the word used to describe the widow, usually translated as “persistent”, we will find that the original Greek is “shameless”. How about that picture of God, as shamelessly persistent in his demands on we human beings? Does that disturb us? shock us?
27 October, Luke 18:9-14
Two men. Two actions. Two attitudes: righteousness, and contempt. What a contrast! One man affirms his absolute certainty about the whole of his life: “I thank God”, he declares, that he is morally upright and scrupulous in his religious observance. The other man shows vulnerability, demonstrating openness to whatever life will bring his way: “God, be merciful …”. One man represents prestigious power and dogmatic assurance. The other man signals risk and an openness to exploration.
The scene ends with a familiar refrain from Jesus, who perpetually upends expectations. The exalted will be humbled and the humble exalted … the first will be last and last first … the greatest will serve and the servant will be lifted up. Jesus learnt about this upheaval from his mother (Luke 1:46-55). He proclaimed it in his own keynote message (Luke 4:16-20). He lived it in his own actions, as he bent down to heal and knelt to wash feet. That is the disturbing pathway which is provided through faithful discipleship. As Jesus said, and did, so we are to follow and live.
The Lectionary Reflections for Spring were prepared by Rev. John Squires, who is currently undertaking an Intentional Interim Ministry with Queanbeyan Uniting Church.