Part of my closer look at Luke project has been seeking out snippets and sections that I have overlooked previously and/or that I feel like have been overlooked by “Christian” culture at large in our country. Another part, one that will be the driving force behind today’s post, is taking seriously some of the things that have been repeated so much as to become cliché and to have lost their meaning within that same “Christian” culture.
The key message at the heart of this chapter is one that has been commonly repeated, but I believe it has been robbed of its meaning:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (23-25)
The last piece of that is something I’ve clung to over the last several years and, to be honest, something that helped spark a transformation in my own thinking and faith. But while it tidily sums up so much of Jesus’ heart, everything around it both in this short quote and in the rest of the chapter support and confirm this truth.
*NOTE* I realize there are groups who either cannot wear masks for health reasons (such as breathing issues) or do not feel comfortable wearing masks in public due to the color of their skin and the threat of racism that is so endemic to our culture. This message is intended for people who do not have to consider such unfair challenges each time they go out in public (or in some cases, just sit in their homes).
While life is full of opportunities to learn, on occasion we face significant moments that can dramatically reshape how we think about something. Sometimes we even discover a simple test that serves a tremendous service in revealing a person’s character.
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided countless situations like these. But the one that fascinates me most right now is the purpose of masks.
I’ll start with the first half of my above statement: the opportunity to learn. While this seems like such an obvious thing (and I feel a little stupid for not realizing it before), it wasn’t until quite recently that I learned the true purpose of medical masks. In fact, I always had it backwards.
I always thought masks were about protecting the wearer.
As we approach this chapter in our closer look at Luke, we see that most of it consists of stories that are very commonly taught in the Jesus narrative: Jesus sharing the parable of the sower, calming the storm, healing a demon-possessed man and sending the demons into a herd of pigs, and healing a dead girl and a sick woman.
Many of these sections have been mined for content, and they all offer important glimpses into the ministry of Jesus. However, I want to focus on just a couple key passages that, as has been the theme of this study, I have not previously noticed and fully considered.
The last section we reviewed included some of the most well-known words of Jesus, and today we look at what happened immediately after the Sermon on the Plain. In the seventh chapter of Luke, we read several short stories about Jesus providing healing and encouraging words, and I believe the two key takeaways that I’ve previously missed are humility and action.
Today I’m taking a quick break from my Closer look at Luke posts to write about something that’s been on my heart and mind throughout this pandemic.
In scrolling through social media, I have friends who espouse both conservative and liberal views. As you might expect, most fall under the traditional demographic markers for such political affiliations. And the political posts can be heated and frustrating.
Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke parallel’s the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew, although it is much shorter. Either way, this passage contains some of the most-quoted words of Jesus. We could devote thousands of words to almost every snippet of what Jesus says, but since most of the words are so well-known, my plan for much of this section will be to heavily quote the words straight from the text with only short interjections of thought. My reason for this is essentially the core of this project: some of Jesus’ words and deeds we’ve overlooked and never given proper consideration, but even some of his most famous words are basically ignored (and in many ways completely contradicted) by American culture.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at Luke 5, as we see Jesus begin to establish the type of people he wants as his closest friends and his opposition among the religious elites begins to solidify. Let’s get to it!
Chapter 4 of Luke turns the attention fully to Jesus, and within this chapter’s 44 verses we learn of Jesus’ early temptations, rejection, and healings. As I mentioned in the introduction to this project, my goal is to highlight things that I haven’t noticed in the past or feel have been overlooked. This means that there will be sections I look at closely and others that I gloss over. In no way am I suggesting those passages are less important; in many cases it will be the opposite: the section is vitally important and therefore has been dissected deeply with little left out.
Without further ado, we join Jesus in the desert, where he was tempted for 40 days and did not eat or drink. In what could be considered a severe understatement, we are told that “at the end of them [the 40 days] he was hungry” (2). Naturally, the first temptation Luke tells us about (although Luke says in verse two that he was tempted throughout the 40 days, so it likely was not the first temptation) is about food to satisfy Jesus’ hunger.
A couple days ago I began a closer look through the Gospel according to Luke, reading through the first two chapters in an effort to really see some things that I may have missed before. Click here if you’d like to go back and check out that post.
Today, I’m looking at Chapter 3. While my first post ran almost 2,000 words, I’m hoping to keep these quite a bit shorter (which is always a struggle for me), so I’ll be focusing on one chapter today.
I’m going to try something new, and we’ll see how it goes. With everything upended by the pandemic, I have more time available for a project I’ve never tried: blogging through the Gospel.
Those who’ve read much of my writing should at least know a bit about my background, but here’s the several sentence version. I’ve been part of white American evangelical Christianity all my life, with pastors, Sunday School teachers, and church leaders in my family. I grew up attending AWANA and Bible quizzing; after graduating from a public high school, I pursued degrees in religion and communications at Pacific Lutheran University. Unfortunately, the capstone class for each program was only offered once and the times conflicted, so rather than staying an extra year to earn my double-major, I pursued a degree in communications (with an emphasis in journalism) while settling for a religion minor. In the 10 years since, I’ve seen my faith grow and shift as I’ve witnessed what I consider to be the debasement of my religious brethren to a point where they’ve traded the Gospel of Jesus for a gospel of Trump. All this is to say, while I have spent much time and enjoyed tremendous educational opportunities to consider difficult questions about God, I am not a pastor. Even so, I am someone who is heavily invested in the mission of Christ as laid out in the Gospel stories.
So here we are. I can’t promise this will be a daily thing, but my hope is to do at least a few of these each week. I will be reading the Gospel according to Luke and sharing things that stick out to me throughout. As detailed above, I’ve heard these stories many times, so my goal is to read it with a fresh mindset and see things I either haven’t noticed before or that I rarely see highlighted. I hope you join me in this process for two reasons: 1. It’s always good to read about Jesus and 2. I think we’re going to see some things that really don’t line up with the message white American evangelical Christians in particular are promoting in our current culture. In the spirit of the “back to the Bible” movement that supposedly informs their theology, I’m narrowing it down and going back to Jesus. If we truly seek to follow him, isn’t this where we should start?
A quick note: I will be primarily reading from a Zondervan NIV Study Bible that uses the 1984 New International Version. In no way am I saying this is the best translation or the one you should or shouldn’t use; it’s just the one I have that’s most convenient. Unless otherwise stated, quotes will be from this version.