Listening to Jesus

As his narrative turns from Jesus' healing & teaching ministry in the countryside of Galilee towards his long trek to Jerusalem in which he teaches his disciples about true discipleship, Luke is reminding his listeners that Jesus is no ordinary prophet.

Luke is saying Jesus is not John the fiery preacher. Nor is he Moses the great law-giver or the larger-than-life prophet Elijah. Jesus, as Peter confesses first, is greater than all of these -- the very Messiah of God. He is the radiant Son of Man who has a profound connection to God.

There is urgency to Luke's voice that focuses the story, both in the narrative in Jesus' time as well as in the writer's context. There is no strategic plan that Jesus is using. He is ministering in a radical new way -- where there is need, with no preferential treatment given to anyone. There is an eschatological sense of time used in Luke's gospel. "Go out and don't take anything with you." When Jesus is present there is provision for everything necessary. The Kingdom of God is here. You can trust in that. In the 'church' period after Jesus left, we can trust that there will be provision, but it's more ambiguous. It will likely happen in different ways than when Jesus was walking the earth. When Jesus 'returns' though (whatever that means) there will be a kind of jubilee time.

During Jesus' time the disciples lose track of this basic reality of provision, even as Jesus proves it again and again. They panic when they are without food for the crowd. They are more inclined to bicker about who is the 'greatest' among them rather than spiritually perceiving the urgency of how little time they have left to learn from Jesus.

The Feeding of the 5000

This is the only miracle story, other than the Resurrection, that is highlighted in all four canonical gospels. Was it literal? is a common question. Possibly, but in a way the literal miracle leads to distraction. It can point to the 'magic' rather than the enduring Presence of God everywhere. In a way it would have been more symbolic if the miracle was that each individual shared what they were hiding to the extent that everyone was fed. What does the miracle mean today? It is saying to us that we have access to Jesus' authority. In asking the Spirit for help, it can urge us in the right direction. What are we to do, in this context, today? Praying for daily bread, echoes the Lord's Prayer.

The disciples were initially distressed but why? They couldn't believe that provision was there in Jesus. But hadn't Jesus already healed many and raised others from the dead? Why were they anxious about the more mundane problem of food? It's like we who have experienced forgiveness through community, others or prayer, yet we still have persistent areas of mistrust. The feeding of the crowd underscores the chapter's thesis: Listen to me. It's a Christological message that is at the gospel's core. It's a telling message for when we live our lives episodically or through our various idols. It's a call to listen and be dependent only on Christ, rather than lesser 'gods'.

We discussed the little girl that keeps coming to one of our homes for food. 'Treat her as a person' was the word. There is more to her than her need for fruit. Is there a real physical need present? Perhaps the gift is a simple relationship outside the chaos of her home. We discussed how 'feeding the poor' is not simply literally doing that, as a welfare state would. The kingdom is more about an invitation to reciprocity, which solves deeper problems. We are the poor too, and a faith that only sees others as the needy lacks something. To be Spirit-inspired is not about following rules, but asking the question: What am I to do? How do I treat people? Pray for daily bread. It could mean literally to give food; to others it could mean asking pertinent questions.

There is more teaching and less healing now in the narrative. It's a major turning point. Peter obviously has triumphalistic ideas when he called Jesus the Messiah. The way Jesus is messiah is so different than what was expected, even by his closest friends! To minister effectively we must be led to change our views of what is called of us sometimes. Like the disciples we have misguided ideas of what it is to follow Christ. Beneath the surface don't we believe that if we are submitted or obedient we will receive uncommon serenity, happiness and deep self-knowledge? Yet we forget that in the gospels what is really promised, Paul said, is suffering, indifference and rejection. We may also be under the misunderstanding that the kingdom is only about us and people like us. But the kingdom is much bigger; it will include everybody!

The Transformation and Our Projects

As Luke compellingly narrates, revelatory experiences like The Transfiguration are formative yet potentially dangerous. The best that they can do is point to the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ rather than pointing to those having the experience. The disciples' quick assessment of wanting to build shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses was well-intentioned. Yet it also was a way for them to acquire status in the process. They so easily lost sight of the overall process of the kingdom coming in because they resorted to making a practical plan of action. Our egos will grab onto anything to assert itself as the center of reality. What is more contextual for us is to despair of our own abilities -- our own projects -- but to stay connected to the hope of Christ. We are continually mystified by less than ideal responses from people, but we need to see that a cross-centered life does indeed contain crosses. We should be more concerned if our projects are overwhelmingly successful. We would then be more like a mega-church where we have reduced the message to its lowest common denominator. People do flock and run towards easy lives of faith that promise success.

In The Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah are attesting to the legitimacy of Jesus. Why? Because Luke's community is asking what to do with the Jewish tradition. Both the Law and the Prophets are interpreted as being in line with this new revelation in Jesus.

Discipleship has to do with compassionate healing. Mission means living the kingdom of God in a sense of celebration, despite all manner of responses from others. The priority is developing one’s relationship to God. In order to avoid the errors that our instincts supply discipleship must be a priority (spiritual disciplines). We must understand that the world will not comprehend when we go in a different direction from certain cultural expectations.

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