Prologue of Assurance

Can Luke teach us how to start again, to have faith in uncertain times? It seems we’ve spent a lifetime trying, becoming conscious, becoming developmentally appropriate. Could we start again, as Jesus Christ Superstar asks?

As some of us had seen the Jesus Christ Superstar show the night before, the question of how such a radical critique and low Christology still evokes faith came up. It makes people ask who Jesus really was, past church dogma and the overemphasis on Christ’s divinity. His humanity makes him more accessible. But the play is possibly docetic in how it portrayed Jesus too above the fray, with his stock iconic "Jesus Gestures". Judas is the correction of Jesus’ denial of humanity, at least in this interpretation. "Can we start again," is Judas calling Jesus down to earth. Judas is another in for this story; just another human, trying to use his reason, why did he get such a bad rap? The relationship between Judas and Jesus is like that between Jesus and God.

Luke and Jesus Christ Superstar deal with the same material but to different ends; they both illustrate how story weaves its way into our lives. Does the meta-myth come through so strongly it survives a radical deconstruction? Paul talked about how Jesus Christ Superstar put the Christian story in a medium and idiom that he could related to in ’69. It made him ask deeply what is the story behind the critique. It also built on his memory of a Christian upbringing (like the eyewitness accounts of Luke). The purpose of story is to touch us subjectively; it gets under your skin and into your context. The content becomes relevant. Paul remembers singing "What’s the buzz", and later when listening to the 39 lashes, remembering the 39 years of his father’s life. Dave’s friend Jay and a buddy hitchhiked across Canada singing the entire opera. Jesus Christ Superstar critiques cultural interpretations of Christianity, like the church. It shows how narratives and metaphor can get to us and move us.

Luke is addressed to Theophilus, who was probably a Gentile and possibly a Roman official. He needed reassurance during the conflict and social upheavals of the late 1st century. With the Jewish war and the dispersion of the Jewish people, people’s lives were disrupted and destroyed. The temple, the center of their faith was gone. The tradition of the reliable village storyteller was being broken as villages uprooted and many people left or were killed. There was a need to write down the eyewitness accounts.

The oral tradition was seen as more reliable because you could look into the speaker’s eyes to verify if what they were saying was true. To deal with this transition, ancient historians, making the shift from oral to written accounts, came up with a technique and template to assure readers their accounts were as reliable as storytellers. They used stock phrases like:

  • "drawn up an account" - an account ordered for persuasion.
  • "eye witness" - eye witnesses were still alive and facts could be checked.
  • "servants of the words" referred to the storyteller.
  • "carefully investigated everything from the beginning" - refers to the very beginning of God’s story, this is The Story.

Debunking the sometimes reductionistic use of higher criticism, recent scholarship shows the Gospels had much more reliance on eye witnesses than originally thought (this is a post critical stance). The material was still formed by the Gospel writers, but around eye witness accounts that kept it tethered to the tradition, to self-critique, unlike Jesus Christ Superstar or The Da Vinci Code which has no critique, coming out of the post-modern milieu. History was about listening to stories in order to develop character. You were invited in to participate in the story. Luke is writing as an ancient historian. His motive is assurance of the reliability of the gospel, and more importantly of the God whose purposes he paints with his stories. Luke is comprehensive and expansive; he added many stories (over 30) that the other synoptic gospels don’t have.

Some of our impressions of Jesus:

  • calm, wise (informed by God, human, cared for people).
  • second person perspective.
  • pointed towards God (it wasn’t about him).
  • very engaged (the poor and the pharisees), not self-referential.
  • affected by people’s plight.
  • a lot of simple eating encounters (Book resource: Eating your way through Luke).

Luke is about how to be a disciple; Paul the apostle is more about life in the Spirit. Jesus was indifferent to wealth - he didn’t own a lot but he wasn’t an aesthete. He wasn’t ideological, but was all about an encounter with God. Jesus didn’t try to make the poor into the middle class, but made them see they can participate in the Kingdom as they are. He didn’t have a social agenda.

The question came up about who we have joy for; often we only have joy for ourselves. It’s good to have joy for other people’s faith.

Joy can also be grief, although anger is the shortcut we usually take. We need to enter each other’s joy and grief; we need to sit with anger to get to grief. It’s easier to have joy/grief for others when you have faith; when not in faith we move to self-pity and others’ faith threatens us.

The parables turn reason around; they rely on Spirit not reason. Reason can lead to rules, logic-chopping. Spirit is about being grasped by God. Jesus didn’t advocate rules but Spirit-inspired principles. Jesus always read the context and responded into what was needed. For example, the context of the question of taxes was about The Pharisees worrying about revolutionary implications of not paying taxes, as previous Messiahs had advocated. Jesus’ response to "give to Caesar what is Caesar’s" is evocative and ironic. He isn’t advocating protest (you could still pay taxes and be a disciple), but there is a deeper critique that everything created belongs to God.

Another characteristic of the movement around Jesus was that women are equally a part of the kingdom as men. This is quite radical, even today. There is a community emphasis throughout, incarnational, creational. The post-resurrection period is all about eating, suggesting a new creation, a new body, not just Spirit. Spirit-filled bodies, listening to God telling them what to do; discernment rather than decision is emphasized.

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