Summary Luke Chapter 12

Due to editorial oversight, this follows hot on the heels of the Summary to Chapter 11. But then, maybe it will be useful to read the two in close proximity.

Text:

There are two main themes in the chapter by my reading. Or perhaps one, with a couple of subdivisions. The first provides something of a ring composition. We start with it in the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees, and ends with it with the admonition about being hauled off to gaol*. Both these relate to the primary theme, which is the coming of the kingdom. It’s happening, so we best be ready for it. Preparatory to that, there will be strife and dissension here on earth. Luke does warn about being hauled before the authorities, and assures us that we will be given what to say by the sacred breath. This is in Matthew, and even in Mark. But here it gets a slightly different treatment, that leads in something of a different direction.

The idea of the sacred breath providing one’s defense is, after all, one way in which God will take care of us. And Luke assures us of this with metaphors from Nature: the ravens, the lilies, and sparrows. God provides for them, so God will take care of us humans, too. And here is where and how the second theme comes in: we need not be, we should not be, concerned about the things of this world, because God will provide. So we should not be afraid of those who can only kill the body, but of those who can throw us into Gehenna, and I think “Hell” is not entirely inappropriate. The concept has not reached full maturity in this writing, not by a long shot, but it’s progressing towards that final goal (and not gaol). And who can throw us into that awful place? Why, God of course. And because of this, we need to be watchful about the coming kingdom by avoiding the “leaven of the Pharisees” and not being contentious in litigations with our fellow humans, lest you end up being hauled off to the gaol, which at the end of the chapter is a metaphor for Gehenna. Luke applied his writer’s craft very effectively: By starting off the section with Gehenna, that image is there to be alluded to by the threat of jail.

This is a very sophisticated literary construction. Part of the reason I felt the seams, I think, is that I break these chapters into small sections and then take these sections piecemeal. Only now that I’ve taken that moment to step back and look at the chapter as a whole do I see how well this is all arranged. IMO, it’s much more masterful than Chapters 5-7 of Matthew, which feel like beads of different material strung together on a single string, but otherwise not relating to each other all that much.

The result is a message that it very “Christian” in the sense of the word that most of us understand it. Luke is giving us a very clear warning: behave, because the kingdom is coming at some time unknown. If we are not watchful, and if we do not behave properly, we will end up in gaol, by which he means Gehenna, or Hell. And one way to be watchful, and to behave properly, is not to be concerned with worldly things, like the rich man who wants to build new barns to hold his wealth. Rather, be simple, let the sacred breath tell you what to say, and give no more thought to what you eat or what you wear than the ravens or the lilies, and be mindful that the master may come at any moment. Now, much of this is implicit in Mark and Matthew, but this feels like a much more thorough and sophisticated expression of this message that had always been rather disparate, or separate, or disjointed until now. We got flashes of this in Matthew, but here we get the synthesized and homogenized and all-encompassing version. The idea, the concept has developed, and been developed. Going back to the analogy I used about Mark, Luke has woven many of the separate threads of M&M together into a piece of whole cloth, into a single garment. Maybe it was there in Matthew as well, but I don’t think so. No doubt my perceptions and understandings have evolved as we’ve moved along, but I was very conscious of what I was not reading in M&M.

Having been raised in the Roman Rite, as a Catholic, my understanding of Christianity was very simple: Do good, or go to Hell. Simple, straightforward, and binary. Yes, the Purgatory thing sort of muddled the issue somewhat, but not all that much. And yes, I get the whole hellfire and brimstone sort of preaching, which is not considered something the Catholics are not known for, something they don’t do all that often or all that well. Instead there is that binary choice that is absolutely foundational, and expressed in such crystal-clear language and repeated so often that the whole hellfire and brimstone thing seemed…unnecessary. I never got Billy Graham. My religious message did not come from inspired rhetoric, but from pure fear. And here in this chapter we get the bottom-line formulation of this message that had not been present to this point. I do need to add the caveat, or the qualifier, that I did attend a Catholic school, run by Dominicans, for grades 2-8. As such, I was available to receive the message for six hours per day, 180 days per year. But that’s just it: the message was not elaborate. It was blunt, as blunt as the paddle that Sister Janice, the principal of the elementary school, used to carry.

One question that occurred to me about this: has the sense of urgency about the return of “the master” has been ratcheted upward again. Remember, this is the first gospel written that was aware of Paul’s career, and that Galatians, one of Paul’s earliest letters, was written in almost breathless anticipation that the return should be expected momentarily. By the time of 1 Corinthians, however, this feeling of immediacy had abated significantly. In the first two gospels the expectation of return also felt muted. In this chapter, however, I felt that Luke was a bit more concerned about this. The problem with this judgement is, of course, that it’s a judgement. As such, it’s necessarily subjective, like saying Matthew’s handling of the alleged Q material is masterful. As mentioned, this occurred to me; whether the judgement is justified or not is a matter for speculation, and for different readers to consider individually.

The second theme of the chapter, or theme 1)B is the sense of other-worldliness. Here again it feels like Luke has become much more closely aligned with later Christian doctrine than his predecessors. Luke weaves this theme skillfully into his narrative, using the story of the foolish rich man as his jumping-off point. We are told the uselessness of placing value on wealth because the rich man was unaware of his impending death. The vanity of riches is a theme with a long future ahead of it. The empty (the Latin root of vanity actually means empty) promise of wealth is sort of the obverse side of being unconcerned about the empty value of the things that money can buy. These latter include clothes, food, etc. Of course, food is necessary, but God provide for the ravens, so God will provide for us. That is a bit step to the sort of asceticism that will take deep root in the Middle Ages; at least, for a few centuries. It is what will give rise to the monastic ideal, even if that ideal eventually will fall short in practice. This feels like a major development in Christian practice.

So, either I haven’t been paying attention, or Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel is a pivotal point in the history of Christianity. We will start getting into more of those stories unique to Luke; as we progress, we need to keep this chapter in our minds to see if it truly is such a point.

 

*Gaol: the danger, and possible price of pretentiousness. I just looked this up. Apparently, the current British pronunciation of this word is “jail”. Originally, the word had a hard ‘g’ sound (as goat) that eventually softened into the ‘j’ sound. The two spellings actually come from the same root, but via two different routes. The hard G is Middle English, while the J is Parisian French, both deriving from the same Latin root. I have been (mentally) pronouncing the hard G as “ga-ole”. Good thing I’ve never used it conversationally, or I would have been shown up for the pretentious bastard that I am. Of course, it would hardly be the first time. “Ennui”: Pronounced “En-you-ee”, right? Oh? It’s “en-nwi“? Oops. Now how about “homage”? What is given to a king, as in “give HOM-age” vs paying respect to a literary precursor, paying ‘oh-MAJE”? Whatever. I am much more likely to encounter new words in written form rather than hearing them, so I assign them a pronunciation that is, all too often, incorrect. The same thing happens with sports stars. I read sports, I don’t watch the programming so much.

About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on August 12, 2018, in Chapter 12, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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