Skip to main content

Portraits of Christ: Luke’s Gospel

Particularly in Luke, we see a Jesus born and raised in the backwaters of insignificant Jewish towns - born in Bethlehem, and growing up in the small farm village of Nazareth. You would think that if God mainly cared for or wanted to influence the powerful and mighty of the world, then Jesus should have been born in Rome, or Athens, or Alexandria, or at least Jerusalem. Instead he is born to a peasant girl named Mary in the middle of nowhere, at a time when the province of Judea suffered under poverty and oppression. Incredibly, her peasant son changed the world. But he never did it by allying himself with the rich and powerful or even seeking them out in order to implement his program. Usually if you want to start an influential movement, even as a grassroots movement, you would still recruit some wealthy donors and celebrities or leaders to promote your movement. Jesus did it totally opposite. He did not even focus on winning over the religious establishment; in fact, he often challenged it.

Consider his social circle and who he primarily ministered to - the common people. He reached out to the poor, the sinners, and tax collectors. What’s amazing is that he was a rabbi - a religious teacher - and he did this. In doing so, he violated a number of religious laws and cultural norms that other rabbis followed. He also violated the rule stating that rabbis were to never associate publicly with women. Jesus ministered to women, healed women, taught women. He had female followers (i.e., disciples), and he was derided for associating with the “immoral” women that he ministered to (Mk. 2, Jn. 8, Mt. 21.31). His radical behavior and teachings stoked the disdain of the religious and political establishment.

Though most Jewish people at the time were poor, he does not offer them promises of money, material blessings, or success. He does not give them advice for achieving success (nor does he moralize about needing to work harder). God is not so interested in those external worldly trappings, and people are already too consumed with them. He instead ministers to their more fundamental spiritual and emotional needs, and offers them an eternal hope that transcends their current difficulties in life.

All this shows that God has a heart for the poor, the excluded, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden. This is reflected in Mary’s song, the Magnificat (Latin for “[my soul] glorifies”), which celebrates God’s concern for the poor, and God’s rejection of the rich and powerful of the world. This is also reflected when he read from Isaiah (Luke 4) as his mission statement - setting captives (prisoners) free, healing the blind, freeing the oppressed, and preaching the gospel to the poor. We see this in his ministry of teaching his lost sheep the spiritual truths of his kingdom, as well as healing people physically and spiritually, and freeing people of their demons, that is, their spiritual, psychological, and emotional bondage.

This is the Jesus that prosperity gospel teachers completely miss. Worldly materialism as well as the sanctified materialism of prosperity theology take our eyes off God and focus them on temporary, fleeting things. It is human nature, for example, for us to want to be with rich, influential, or attractive people. In fact, we idolize celebrities with those traits, because we want to be like them - adoring celebrities is a projection of our own desires and wish-fulfillment.

The gospel challenges us to evaluate ourselves. Do we concern ourselves with Christ-centered, people-oriented kingdom values, or do we concern ourselves with our money, possessions, social status, and Facebook followers? Is the church all about being in our sanctuary on the weekends, or does it also include going out into the community and into the world? Jesus’ life and teaching call us to to focus on what God values, rather than our self-fulfillment wishes. It calls us to think more about the less trendy people, the hurting, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the down-and-out, and the poor. The gospel calls us to evaluate how our values align with God’s, and how our church priorities align with Jesus’ ministry priorities.


Popular posts from this blog

Portraits of Christ: John’s Gospel, part 2

In John’s Gospel we have an emphasis on Jesus that is unique compared to the other gospels. John not only emphasizes his deity, but his mysteriousness. The reader is left with an impression of Jesus as a mystical teacher, in the sense that his words and actions are not only those of a profound religious teacher, but of one who is other-worldly. So often in this gospel we read of Jesus making statements that the crowds, the religious teachers, and even his own disciples sometimes could not fathom. For starters, there are the “I am” statements (e.g., I am the bread of life; I am the living water; I am the good shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life), which were clearly claims to divinity, for these statements in the Jewish context referred to God’s title “I am,” given when Moses inquired of his name at the burning bush. Jesus makes much use of mystical metaphors like these and others, like all the ‘day’ and ‘night’ references in this book, which portrays him as mystical or my

Book review: Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Green eggs and ham, as a recolorized staple breakfast food, captures the reader's attention by turning this diurnal sustenance into an unexpected and apparently unappetizing foodstuff. It thus symbolizes the existential angst of modern life, wherein we are unfulfilled by modern life, and are repelled by something that might impart nourishment. The "protagonist" to be convinced of its desirability remains anonymous, while the other actor refers to himself with an emphatic identifier "Sam I am", formed with a pronominal subject and copular verb of existence. This character thus seeks to emphasize his existence and existential wholeness, and even establish a sense of self-existence, with an apparent Old Testament allusion to Elohim speaking to Moses as the "I Am". This emphatic personal identifier thus introduces a prominent theme of religious existentialism to the narrative, probably more in line with original Kierkegaardian religious existentialism, rat

Gossip, accusation and spiritual warfare

Paul once wrote to the Corinthians, “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” [1 Cor. 12:20]. Gossip is diagnosed as a serious spiritual problem, not a harmless form of conversation and social entertainment, as many in the secular world would view it.   God views it differently. Gossip is the opposite of the love and grace that God wants to display in our lives. Gossip is often exaggerated (and thus, untrue), or outright fabricated. Even church people engage in gossip in a seemingly sanctimonious guise (“We really ought to pray for X – you wouldn’t believe what he told me yesterday!...”). Whether secular or “christianized,” gossip betrays trust.          “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” [Prov. 11:13]; “A perverse person stirs up dissension, and a goss