Monday, April 11, 2022

Righteous Before God and Blameless

 “They were both righteous before God and blameless, following all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6)

Luke’s Gospel begins with the story of a pious couple, Zacharias and Elizabeth.

Zacharias is a priest working in the Temple. He is the first person in history to hear any inkling of the good news—direct from the mouth of the angel Gabriel.

He is performing rituals and burning incense alone in the sanctuary of the Temple when Gabriel appears.

Later, his wife Elizabeth receives the Holy Spirit from Jesus when Jesus is still in his mother’s womb.

They are the first to be transformed by Jesus’s coming into the world.

What prepares them for this transformation? It is the blameless life they lead—their righteousness and justice and willingness to do God’s will.

They take their religious obligations seriously.

They make that essential leap from being religious to having good hearts which shows they understand the inner meaning of religion. They are exemplars of their Jewish faith.

Their son John the Baptist, also deeply pious, would go on to live a very different and much less conventional life. He would finally offend the powers that be and pay a heavy price.

John would prepare the way for Jesus who likewise would live a life outside the religious mainstream, ultimately suffering a fate even worse than John’s.

On one hand, there are the radicals who shake things up like Jesus and John, and on the other, there are the ordinary faithful like John’s parents.

Their ordinary goodness made Elizabeth and Zacharias extraordinary. Extraordinary things happened through them, and the world is better forever because of them.

They were the ones God came to first when he decided to intervene in history in a new way.

And so it’s appropriate that, for Luke, Elizabeth and Zacharias’s simple piety is the beginning of the story of Jesus.

May we be more like them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

He Will Serve Them

 “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds awake when he arrives. Truly I tell you that he will make himself ready and seat them at table and come and serve them.” (Luke 12:37)

When I try to understand Jesus, I end up looking into his historical and political context.

If I understand his context, I can understand the political and social implications of his words.

It’s important to understand that Jesus’s Palestine was not free.

In a world in the iron grip of slavery and imperialism, Jesus’s teachings loosened the shackles.

Couldn’t Jesus have called down twelve legions of angels and abolished slavery and imperialism by force?

Without changing people’s minds, such force could only be another form of slavery and imperialism.

Force may be necessary eventually, but persuasion comes first.

All change in society begins with persuasion—with an articulated vision of how things could be different.

Jesus spoke a lot about slavery. Slavery was the institution familiar to everyone.

To be clear, slavery is abominable. When Jesus spoke about slavery, he couched moral truths in the terms of an immoral institution.

Jesus did not support slavery, but he used slavery as a point of reference familiar to his audience.

The moral truths he articulated ultimately proved incompatible with slavery.

Jesus said God is our true master. He said slaves should not beat other slaves. And he said true service is characterized by a vigilant and consistent integrity.

In the verse quoted above, Jesus describes a “slavery” characterized by mutual devoted service.

Though Jesus could have condemned slavery outright, he chose the long, slow, reliable path of moral development over the quick, violent, unreliable path of political rebellion.

Jesus appeals to our innate capacity for moral clarity. He said things that would ring true in the consciences of his hearers and begin to wake them up from their fixed ideas about how things must be.

If we understand it, the Spirit of Jesus’s words can be as liberating today as it ever was.