This is a great week for me because my book receives a great review from Huffington Post by Jesus scholar Prof. Greg Carey who makes a methodological comparison between my work and that of another Jesus scholar, Amy-Jill Levine. Levine is someone whom I admire very much. I jokingly said that whenever I write about Jesus, the voice in my head is Levine’s. Yet, my book is deliberately different from Levine’s not because I don’t like what she does. I do. I just don’t think I can do what she does better.
I continue into the series of introductory excerpts from book Right Parables Wrong Perspectives. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon. Today’s excerpt from pp. 14-15 shows how setting the text in history of Luke’s reader would give proper applications.
The teaching of Jesus prepared the disciples not merely for lives of integrity. He was doing much more. He was teaching the disciples to deal with oppression. Jesus also taught about creating a community that should be circumspective and, more importantly, introspective in its judgment. The care members ought to take comes in the area of attitudes, words, and deeds.
For Theophilus, he was the default patron of the community. His literacy, privilege, and natural leadership would have allowed him to shape the attitude, words, and deeds of the community. As the head of this community, Theophilus would have recognized that the ultimate “lord” was Jesus Christ. In our free societies where individual rights are respected, we most likely don’t understand the word “lord” the same way as both the ancient author and reader. In Theophilus’s time, with the changing of Roman dynasties, the political flux demanded that he would choose the right master to ensure his own prosperity and political success. To call someone “lord” was to submit one’s life in its entirety. Yet, Luke used a lordship story to inform Theophilus about who the ultimate lord was, so that every decision he made in these uncertain times would reflect that relationship.
In terms of words, we ought to understand the way ancients viewed words. Jesus talked about the listening and practicing of his words. Leaders of his community would pass Jesus’ words down from generation to generation. Not only would they pass them down; they also had to put into practice these words. Just like when Jesus talked about leadership and teaching just prior in Luke 6:39–40, so Luke’s parable taught Theophilus about leadership and teaching. One special feature of the early Christ community was its continuation of the teaching tradition from the synagogue. Theophilus would eventually transmit Luke’s writing along with other traditions he received about Jesus. In those days, not everyone could use words to influence. Only the privileged and educated could do that because rhetorical training was only available to the most educated. Theophilus was among the privileged. When talking about words, we aren’t just talking about a literal faithfulness in passing down words of Jesus. We’re talking about using one’s privileged position to do the work of the kingdom. Jesus’ demand was precise. Words only meant something when they were modeled for recipients of the Christ community. Privilege was the means by which a person served that community. For someone like Theophilus, to call Jesus “lord” would by itself completely turn his world upside down, but for Luke, this was only the beginning. The words and deeds had to match for Theophilus to be a true disciple.
The context surrounding the discourse is oppression or persecution. The moral of Jesus’ teaching is quite simple. He wasn’t merely talking about listening and doing. He was talking about developing a strong community life in the habit of listening and doing, so much so that when persecution would come, nothing would shake and fall down.