Tag: luke

Prophets of Pentecost

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We were each of us, at our baptism, anointed with Christ as priests, prophets, and kings. Luke’s account of Pentecost, read alongside the Hebrew Bible, encourages us to reassess the extent to which we are living out the call to be prophets.

Elijah, so we are told in the second book of Kings, ascended into heaven. His spirit rested on Elisha, who went on to work miracles and continue the great prophet’s work. For Luke, Jesus is a great prophet (of course, he is not only that, but he certainly is that) whose teaching and works of power echo those of Elijah. It is little wonder then that Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, begins with the Spirit of this great prophet, the Spirit which had come upon Mary at the annunciation and Jesus himself at his baptism, resting on Jesus’ followers. They too go on to do what he had done before: proclaim God’s Kingdom (which is now seen as breaking through in the death and resurrection of Jesus) and proclaim mighty works.

The apostles continue Jesus’ work, and they do so by his Spirit. The point of the apostolic church is not simply to tell people about Jesus, or to remember him, or to do social outreach in his name. It is to be him to the world, to make him and the Kingdom he brings present, in its Spirit-inspired actions and proclamation. And that remains what the Church is for.

In some ways, the Catholic tradition has been particularly good at understanding this. Our sacramental life, and our doctrinal understanding of it, follows directly from an appreciation that the Church is a people amongst whom the Spirit is active. As does our belief in the Church’s teaching authority.

That is as it should be. But if we are to make present Christ’s prophetic ministry, that cannot just be a matter of celebrating the sacraments, or unpacking scripture. The challenges of reaching out to the margins, of prophetically confronting injustice: these too are ways in which we work with the Spirit to make present Christ and the Kingdom, and we need, I think, to be more open to the Spirit working with us in these ways.

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Luke in an age of Trump

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The gospel at this evening’s mass struck me as timely. It’s an interesting passage from Luke’s gospel for various somewhat geeky reasons. It is appealed to by those who want to date the gospel later than 70AD, describing as it does in some detail what happened to Jerusalem in that year. It also sits comfortably with the idea that Luke was written for a community grappling with the delay of the eschaton. Had they been forgotten? Had God failed to honour his promises? Was their hope in Jesus misplaced?

Throughout Luke the theme of not losing heart recurs; the reader is encouraged to keep on hoping. In this passage, the very collapse of the world as the gospel’s cast knew it is interpreted as a sign of the coming Day. “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The world at the moment is, it is fair to say, in a bit of a mess. The growth in racism and the politics of the radical right on a global scale makes contemporary life a frightening affair. Texts like today’s gospel are appealed to by the religious right who recently helped elect Donald Trump to underwrite a practical nihilism – who cares if the environment disintegrates? That, after all, might just hasten the rapture. Perhaps the “days of vengeance” are to be seen in contemporary Middle Eastern politics. Even if we reject the religious right’s reading as the nonsense it palpably is, isn’t there a danger of the gospel, and other similar passages in Luke, of us being encouraged to turn our backs on the world, hoping for pie in the sky when we die?

Well, there certainly is that danger, but succumbing to it is not compulsory. The thing about fear of the kind that we feel at today’s geopolitics is that it can be paralysing. Things are so bad, it is tempting to conclude, that we may as well just give up. The realisation that history is directed towards an end other than destruction, namely the Kingdom of God, which what Luke wants to instil in his readers, far from dragging us away from the world can give us the courage to remain engaged with it. We should not lose heart, because, after all, Donald Trump does not have the last word.