Today I review the second in the new Belief series published by Westminster John Knox Press. Luke: (Belief: A Theological Commentary) is written by Justo L. González.
Again, I give my deepest thanks to WJK for giving me the opportunity to participate in reviewing this extraordinary series.
If Plachter’s book on Mark was excellent, this second offering by González, meets that standard in every way. While Plachter perhaps placed more emphasis on the exegetical-historical aspects of the gospel, González focuses a bit more on the theological implications of Luke to our world today.
In the end, this seemed most right to me. Quoting Gustaf Wingren:
All good interpretation of the Bible is contemporary. If it were not so, it would not be good. . . .The Bible is not on a par with the subsequent interpretation; it is above it, as the text is antecedent to the commentary. And the interpretation is always an interpretation for the time in which it is written or spoken.
There is also a distinctive flavor of liberation theology which permeates the text. This also seems logical to me, since any fair reading of Luke renders the conclusion that Luke portraits a Christ who favored the poor and the marginalized as the true inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
Paramount in González’s theology of Luke is that the evangelist emphasized above all that Jesus’ teaching was one of the “great reversal.” His teachings were indeed revolutionary to his world. His was a world of power held by Rome, of patriarchy, of Temple priests and church hierarchy. His teachings again and again told of the coming Kingdom where none of this would be so.
The poor, the marginalized, the unclean, the unwanted, the unworthy, the sinners, the children, the women–all these would find a new world in God’s Kingdom, one in which those who were served would serve, those first would be last, those most religious and pious would often find themselves judged less than the most simple of the country folk of Galilee, that most marginal of lands.
In fact, Mr. González suggests that if one were to remove all the “reversal” stories from the text, there would be few pages left.
Perhaps the most stunning theological commentary comes with González’s explanation of the Paralytic. He shows how Luke weaves a story of how the teachers and scribes, the Pharisees sat around listening to the teachings of Jesus. The friends of the lame man could not get through the crowd of the listeners to reach the Healer. The end up opening the roof to lower the man to Jesus inside.
González reflects on these “circles” about Christ that we as church construct. We sit as pious listeners before the Word. We block the way for those who come in need of healing and comfort.
“Today, just like then, there are lame people who cannot reach Jesus, because access is blocked by the numerous and tight circles, circles of religious leaders and wise and profound theologians, circles of ecclesiastical, academic, and social structures. . .”
He points out that these people are not necessarily bad, but in their zeal to be at the forefront, they (we) block the way of others. We are cautioned to open the doors to those who are marginalized outside the circle. These are the people Jesus most came to help.
Of special importance to me, are the continued references to Jesus’ table hospitality. Too many of our churches set themselves up as arbiters of who is invited to the table of Christ. Any fair reading of Luke, suggests this is a grave error.
Time and time again, as González points out, Jesus welcomed the sinner to the table, and did not require any repentance as a condition to the invitation. He teaches that we should be inviting those who cannot repay our offer, instead of those who will extend a return invitation to ourselves.
González powerfully reminds us that:
“All too often Christians have claimed control of the Table as if it were ours, and not his. We decide whose belief is sufficiently orthodox to share Communion with us, who is sufficiently good and pure, who belongs to the right church. . . .Rather than inviting those who seem most unworthy and cannot repay us, we invite the worthy. . .”
There is example after example of gentle, and not so gentle reminders to us as readers, that the Gospel of Luke calls us to a discipleship that is not easy, and not comfortable either. Luke tells of a Jesus who comes not preaching so much an afterlife of bliss but a life offered that is truly life. A full life, filled with the Spirit, faithful to God, bearing the cross of discomfort with the joy of knowing that we are doing God’s will as did He who was his image.
At the end, Mr. González ponders the church of tomorrow. And as we see a decline in the Western Church and a rise in the church of the South, the African, and the East, we see new thinking, new interpretation. We see reflections through the eyes of the poor and the marginalized. He asks:
“. . .could it be that God’s great gift to the worldwide church today is the growing church of the poor, who are teaching us to read the Bible anew? Could it be that God is using the last, the least, the poor, and the excluded to speak once again to the church of the first and the greatest?”
Is this the final reversal? Such questions as these do we ponder as we read this most excellent book. Do buy it. You will not regret the decision.