Monday, July 19, 2010

As One with Authority, Jesus and the Word (3)

Luke 4:31-37 (message)

Luke 4:38-39 (children)

Over the last two weeks, we’ve been looking at Luke 4 and focused on a common theme: Jesus and the Word. Again we find it today. The amazed people say, “What kind of word is this?” (4:36). We have noted another recurring theme: the energy and presence of the Holy Spirit. Today this shows up once more in the statement of the unclean demon, “You are the Holy One of God” (4:34; Fitzmyer, 543).

In the first week, Jesus’ Sonship was manifested as being formed by the Scriptures. Last week, Jesus embodied the promise of Scripture and was rejected, both for that incarnation and for the inclusion of the mission. This week, as last week, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. This week, the focus is on his teaching “with authority” (4:32,36; Bock, 146). The “word”, “utterance”, or “teaching” (4:36) that amazes them is one that comes with “authority” and “power” to command unclean spirits. If we read further in the chapter, Jesus rebukes the fever of Simon’s mother and she is healed immediately. In the context of this chapter, the work of exorcism and healing is not separate from the work of teaching. It happens because Jesus teaches “with authority”. We have the proverb, “Actions speak louder than words.” This story is a bit different. In this story, there is no contrast between actions and words. Instead, in the story, “Words Act.”

Part of the reason Jesus’ words act is that there is no dissonance between word and action in his life. When we way “actions speak louder” it is because the words don’t match up. Part of becoming Christ-like is lining up our words and our actions. Here at Bethany we talk about a spirituality that is giving, faithful, and real. Lining up words and actions is getting real.

When I was ordained, the Bishop said, “Take thou authority to preach the gospel, administer the holy sacraments, and order the life of the church.” From time to time I need to remind myself of the authority I have been given. These are three things that no one can keep me from doing, but does that mean that I do them? I have to “take” the authority. It is an authority to serve the gospel, offer Christ, and lead God’s people to do that with me. If, in the course of this work, someone is healed or cleansed, that’s not me. It’s the healing grace of Jesus Christ whom we preach and the community of the Spirit known as the Church of Jesus Christ.

Like Jesus, we are filled with the Spirit. Through that gift, authority is conveyed to us, authority to serve the gospel and offer Christ. If we choose to take that authority, things can happen. Will we take it?

My father is an expert at travel. The military will teach you that, and then add the fact that he grew up moving from place to place with his father’s naval career. My mother, on the other hand, doesn’t know the meaning of “packing light”. And, at one point while growing up, all four of us kids were teenagers at the same time. Imagine getting everyone on the road for vacation or even a day trip. This alone could be the reason why he has less hair than I. Dad expressed his frustration with this line: “I could get an entire battalion aboard ship quicker than I can get this family into the van.” Why the disconnect? A family isn’t the Marine Corps. The command authority he had in the Marines did not translate into the household.

“With authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” (4:36).

Of course, we are “God’s household”. God has given us the privilege of taking our own sweet time getting into the van. But if we take too long, we are definitely missing out.

Baseball is full of superstition. One of those is pretty common in many other areas of life as well. It is the superstition that if you talk about how good things are going, that’s exactly when something bad will happen. The big software conversion at work has been going smoothly, so far this school year the kids have stayed healthy, “knock on wood”. Dan Connolly, of The Baltimore Sun, writes and blogs on the Orioles. This week, he noted that the opposing pitcher was perfect through 4 innings – facing 12 batters and getting 12 outs. The very next Oriole, after this was posted, got a hit. Here’s the superstition, and it’s not limited to baseball: If you talk about how great things are going, you are going to ruin perfection. Because your words have power. And, if you time travel to the ancient world you find an oral culture that values and understands the power of the word much more than we do.

But what if words also had power to do something wonderful and good? What if “Words Act” for blessing? The Bible opens with just such a story: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . . . And the LORD said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light” (Genesis 1).

Jesus rebukes evil spirits, “and out they come”. Jesus rebukes disease, and Simon’s mom is up right away. In John’s gospel, he puts this creative power of the Word and the person of Jesus together when he calls Jesus “the Word”, the logos: “In the beginning was the Word . . . . Through him all things were made” (John 1:1,3). Here in Luke’s gospel, when the people ask, “What kind of word is this?” (4:36), the text uses the same Greek term, logos. Rather than the overtones from current Greek philosophy that we find in John’s use of logos, Luke is utilizing a theme from the Old Testament and perhaps quoting from an obscure story in 2 Samuel 1 in which David asks a messenger for news of Saul, who had been killed in battle: “What’s the word?” And the exact same expression shows up in Luke 4:36 as “What word is this?” (2 Samuel 1:4; see Fitzmyer, 546-547.)

“What word is this?” In this case, the Word is Jesus himself. Last week, he was rejected. This week, he is welcomed. This too is our choice. But there is no avoiding it.

John Wesley, Holy Communion as a “converting ordinance”
My father, receiving Jesus as receiving communion

Resources on Luke:
Darrell L. Bock, 1996, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, 1970-, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (volume 28) and X-XXIV (volume 28A), Doubleday/Yale University Press.

Orioles Insider (referenced blog):

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