Paul’s “Marxism”

In this coming Sunday’s Epistle reading (2 Cor 5:7-15), we see Paul at his most “communist”:

“Now finish doing [the collection of money for the needy in Jerusalem], so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’”

Not exactly Marx: this is from “each according to their means” to each according to their needs. Yet the goals are similar: that no one should “have too much” and that no one should “have too little.”

These principles were not unique to Paul. They were seen in the earliest church as reflected in the early stories of Acts. “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).

James Tissot, The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

And the earliest Christians were simply following the example of Jesus, the Messiah who led a band of followers funded by women of means, who taught his followers to give generously in answer to prayer for “our (collective) daily bread,” and who distributed food freely and equitably to the needy (Luke 8:1-3; 6:30-38; 11:1-4; 9:10-17).

All this is a far cry from our day. In January 2019 Oxfam reported that the world’s 26 richest people had as much wealth as the poorest 50% (3.8 billion people). All reports during the pandemic indicate that the rich have only gotten richer while the poor have stayed the same or gotten poorer.

Is the church any better? When adjusted for scale (there are few billionaires in the church of any denomination) it’s hard to say we are. The wealthier among us often hold disproportionate power and influence. We who have comforts really, really like them, while those without might get a Facebook post from us or a few cans for the food bank or maybe a march to the Legislature.

This is not to burden any of us individually with the pressure of dealing with systemic poverty—systemic issues require systemic change. But are there things we can do individually, as families, even more as congregations, as MCM and MC Canada, to help us as a society take constructive steps toward real and lasting economic justice?

This is not Marxism—it is walking in the way of Jesus, who walked in the way of Moses and the Prophets.

Who’s the “you” in the Ten Commandments?

Who’s the “you” in the Ten Commandments?

Or, another way to put it: Who are the commandments for? Who is being expected to obey these commandments?

For most Christians, the assumption is that these are universal moral laws: they are for everyone. The “you” in the Ten Commandments is “every person.”

This can make a lot of sense—with some of these commands. We read, “You shall not murder,” or “You shall not commit adultery,” or “You shall not steal,” and it can make perfect sense to hear these as “You—every person—must not do these things.”

But other commandments complicate this assumption.

Take the commandment to keep the Sabbath: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns” (Exod 20:8-10).

Who’s the “you” in this commandment? If you still think it’s “every person,” go back and read that last bit again.

Or, take the commandment not to covet: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour” (Exod 20:17).

Who’s the “you” in this commandment? Or, more appropriately, who’s the “neighbour”?

The “you,” and the “neighbour,” in these commandments is not “every person.” It’s not a universal “you.” The “you” does not include wives, sons or daughters, male or female slaves, or resident foreigners. The “you” here has a wife, sons and daughters, and male and female slaves.

The “you” in these commandments is a man, not a woman or a child. The “you” is a free man, not a slave. The “you” is a property-owning free man, a free man with a “household,” not someone landless and without wealth.

I’ve pointed this out in different teaching contexts, and responses range from bemusement to confusion to shock to denial. Even with the text staring them in the face, some insist that the “you” in the Ten Commandments must be “every person.”

“That’s your interpretation,” they say.

“Read it again,” I say. “That’s the text.”

Now, my point in raising this in teaching contexts is not to deny that the Ten Commandments have any ongoing moral relevance. I believe they do.

Rather, my point is that there is no straight line between the text of Scripture and what it means for us today. We do need to interpret the text—we all do anyway, actually, whether we realize it or not—and if we want to interpret the text well we must grapple with the reality of Scripture’s ancient cultural contexts.

And a big part of this is grappling with the various forms of patriarchy that underlie every single book in our Bibles.

This is disconcerting for us, even disturbing. And it should be.

The Ten Commandments assume—and even support—a patriarchy centred on free men with households, including wives, children, slaves, and other property. This is a slaveholding society, a society which allowed not only bonded servitude to pay a debt but also chattel slavery of conquered foreigners (Exod 21:2-11; Lev 25:44-46). It’s a society in which women are, at least in some sense, the “property” of a man: their father, then their husband (Exod 20:17; Numbers 30; Deut 22:13-21).

This should be disturbing for us.

And it’s not just the Ten Commandments, or even just the Old Testament. The New Testament assumes—and often supports—a similar form of patriarchy centred on free men with households, including subject wives and owned slaves. “Wives, accept the authority of your husbands, like Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him ‘lord’” (1 Pet 3:1-6). “Slaves, obey your masters in everything” (Col 3:22).

This should be disturbing for us.

But running right through the Bible, from Moses through the Prophets through to Jesus, there is a parallel thread highlighting God’s concern for the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Actually, it’s even stronger than that: there is a thread running through the Bible that emphasizes God’s solidarity with the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

Even the Ten Commandments, which assume and support a slave-owning, patriarchal society, open with these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” The God of Israel is the God of the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Any other “god” is not the true and living God, the Creator-of-All, the Redeemer-from-Slavery, the Sustainer-of-the-Oppressed.

Here’s a good way to see this biblical thread represented in a single passage. According to Luke’s Gospel, these are the words of Jesus in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

I say these are the words of Jesus through the Evangelist Luke (Luke 4:18-19), but this is Jesus quoting from the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 61:1-2), and referencing the Year of Jubilee in the Law of Moses (Lev 25). From Moses through the Prophets through to Jesus, there is a thread through the Bible that highlights God’s concern for, even God’s solidarity with, the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

The poor in a world of shocking economic disparity. The incarcerated in a world of authoritarian violence against minorities. The disabled in an ableist world. The indigenous in a colonized world. The queer in a heteronormative world.

And women in a patriarchal world.

The “you” in the Ten Commandments is not “every person”; it is people with power, especially men with power, people who need a law to restrain the abuse of their power.

But God is decidedly on the side of the powerless. The God who is enthroned in the heavens comes down to the lowest of the lowly, and dwells with them, and takes up their cause, and overthrows the powerful who violate the powerless.

This is how God is revealed in the Law and the Prophets. And this is how God is revealed in Jesus.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to use to his advantage,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death
—even execution on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)

#JesusEconomics

Imagine Jesus as a financial advisor, or maybe as an economic consultant to presidents and prime ministers…

“Okay, here’s my plan (endorsed by God): I’ve come to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim a ‘year of God’s favour’ – a Jubilee where all debts are forgiven.” (Luke 4:18-19) #JesusEconomics

“You who are poor, you who are hungry, *you* are the ones blessed by God. God’s political agenda favours *you*. The wealthy? You’re on the wrong side of history. Nothing but woe for you.” (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25) #JesusEconomics

“Give to everyone who begs from you. Yes, everyone. If someone in need steals something from you, let them keep it.” (Luke 6:30-31) #JesusEconomics

“Don’t lend only to those who can repay you. Lend, expecting nothing in return. Yes, nothing.” (Luke 6:34-36) #JesusEconomics

“If you simply want to preserve your life you’re going to lose it. There’s no profit in gaining the whole world if you lose your soul in the process!” (Luke 9:23-25) #JesusEconomics

“It’s true: a labourer deserves a fair wage. So share peaceful hospitality and enjoy food and drink together. Oh, and heal the sick among you, freely. This is God’s political agenda.” (Luke 10:5-9) #JesusEconomics

“That ‘heal the sick freely’ thing? I meant it. Even when it’s a foreigner, an enemy, someone you despise. They are your neighbour, and loving our neighbour is right up there with loving God.” (Luke 10:25-37) #JesusEconomics

“We need to yearn for God’s political agenda to be implemented. This means ‘daily bread’ for all of us. This means forgiving debts others owe us. Amen.” (Luke 11:2-4) #JesusEconomics

“We need to guard ourselves against every form of greed, always wanting more and bigger and better. True life is not about possessing things.” (Luke 12:15-21) #JesusEconomics

“We need to strive for God’s political agenda, and all our basic needs will be met.” (Luke 12:22-31) #JesusEconomics

“Sell your possessions before they possess you. Give to the poor and needy. Make these your treasure, for these are what is treasured by God.” (Luke 12:33-34) #JesusEconomics

“Don’t throw a party – or a state dinner – for those who can repay you. Lay out a feast for those who *can’t* repay you, especially those society most ignores – after all, they’re the ones who most need it.” (Luke 14:12-14) #JesusEconomics

“If you’re going to do a project you make sure you’ve got enough to pay for it. You might think this means you should save up every penny for yourself. Nope! It means you need to give up the whole idea of possessing anything yourself.” (Luke 14:25-33) #JesusEconomics

“Just to be clear: wealth is a god who will enslave you. Instead, become slaves of God who gives you freedom. Make your choice: you cannot serve both God and money. You cannot serve both God and The Economy.” (Luke 16:13) #JesusEconomics

“Here’s a story: Rich man ignores poor man right next door. Rich man dies. Poor man dies. Poor man goes to heaven. Rich man goes to hell. He should have listened to Moses and the prophets!” (Luke 16:19-31) #JesusEconomics

“If the wealthy refuse to distribute their wealth equitably, they’re not participating in God’s political agenda. They’re not ‘saved,’ no matter what they say. But God can work miracles!” (Luke 18:18-27) #JesusEconomics

“Here’s a better story: Rich man got rich by robbing from the poor. Rich man repents, gives half his wealth to the poor and pays back four times what he defrauded others. This is a billionaire who got ‘saved’!” (Luke 19:1-10) #JesusEconomics

“Yes, pay your taxes. Give to human rulers what they think they need: it’s only money. But make sure you give to God what belongs to God: ‘The earth is God’s and everything in it.'” (Luke 20:21-25) #JesusEconomics

“A poor woman who gives her entire widow’s pension for a good cause has given more than a multi-billionaire donating a hundred million dollars for a university with his name on it.” (Luke 21:1-4) #JesusEconomics

The Gospel of the Lord. #TheGospelAccordingToLuke #JesusEconomics

Faithful Disciples

From December 2017 through February 2018, I wrote a series of short articles for MennoMedia’s Adult Bible Study Online. Over the past three weeks I have reproduced those here in my blog. Here is the article for February 18, 2018, based on Acts 9:36-43.

“There was a disciple” who “was always doing good and helping the poor.”

If you only heard that description, you could be forgiven for assuming the biblical author was talking about a man. It is true, after all, that nearly all the New Testament descriptions of a “disciple” are referring to a man—nearly all, but not quite all. This is, in fact, the only clear reference to an individual woman as a “disciple,” the disciple Tabitha, or Dorcas.

This reflects Luke’s special emphasis on the universal impact of the gospel and the democratizing work of the Spirit. The gospel is for all people, the Spirit comes on all believers, regardless of their social status, their ethnic or religious background, their age, or their gender. For many of us today this might seem commonplace. In the first century world, this was radical.

Luke narrates the birth story of Jesus from Mary’s perspective, not Joseph’s (Luke 1-2). He tells not just of Simeon but also the prophetess Anna at Jesus’ purification in the temple (2:36-38). Luke, alone of all the Gospel authors, mentions by name the women who supported Jesus’ ministry (8:1-3). He alone tells of Mary of Bethany’s instruction at the feet of Jesus—the word “disciple” is not used of Mary, but Luke depicts her in the classic posture of a devoted disciple (10:38-42). Luke describes the women at the cross, at the empty tomb, and in the upper room. In Acts he mentions the four prophetess daughters of Philip (21:8-9), and he makes sure to highlight Priscilla’s role in instructing Apollos alongside her husband Aquila (18:24-26).

All this is right in line with Luke’s conviction that the Spirit of God has indeed been “poured out on all flesh,” both “sons and daughters,” both “men and women” (Acts 2:17-18).

I said above that for many of us today this egalitarianism might seem commonplace. But recent events in North American society have exposed how far we really are from seeing the full equality of women promised by Pentecost. Women are paid much less than men for the same work, even with the same expertise and experience. Women experience sexual harassment and violence at rates far higher than men. While there are encouraging steps forward in addressing these and other inequities, there are also discouraging steps back.

As Christians, proclaimers of the universal gospel, empowered by the democratizing Spirit, we should be leading the way in advocating for the full equality of women in every respect. And we can start by recognizing, listening to, and learning from Jesus’ women disciples—both past and present.

Bishop Curry, Luke and Acts, and “Christianity Lite”

There was a lot of buzz this past weekend about the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, now the Duchess and Duke of Sussex. And a good bit of that buzz was about the sermon by Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Responses to Bishop Curry’s sermon have ranged from astonishment to amusement, from enthusiastic applause to sharp criticism. Some of that criticism has come from Christians, including a former chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen who claimed that Bishop Curry’s sermon represented a watered down version of Christianity, a kind of “Christianity Lite.” The specific critiques are diverse, but in general they seem to boil down to three things: there was too much love, too much social justice, and not enough cross.

However, if this is “Christianity Lite”—showing compassionate love for all including the unrighteous and unrepentant, seeking equitable justice for all and especially the vulnerable and marginalized and oppressed, and all this without a strong penal substitutionary view of Jesus’ death—then Luke the Evangelist, author of a good 27% of our New Testament, is also implicated.

Yep: Luke and Acts are also “Christianity Lite.”

Consider the cross.

Like Bishop Curry in his sermon, Luke does in fact mention Jesus’ death—dozens of times in the Gospel and Acts. What’s more, Jesus’ death is mentioned at significant points in Luke’s accounts of Jesus and the Apostles: in the Gospel’s creed-like “passion predictions” taken up from Mark’s Gospel, anticipating Jesus’ death yet to come; in the Gospel’s “passion narrative,” as rich in meaning as that of any of the Gospels; and in Acts’ several “evangelistic speeches,” where the saving message about Jesus is proclaimed to those who don’t yet believe. In other words, as with Bishop Curry, the cross is pretty important to Luke’s theology.

However, the cross isn’t talked about by Luke in the way at least some of Bishop Curry’s detractors call for. There’s no “You’re a sinner and you’re going to hell, but—good news!—Jesus has died to pay the penalty for your sins” in Luke or Acts—not even in the Apostles’ evangelistic speeches. In fact, “penal substitution” is entirely absent from Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ death—there is nothing in Luke or Acts indicating that Jesus is punished on the cross for our sins, paying a penalty that should be ours to pay.

For Luke, that “Christ died for our sins” means that “Christ died because of our sins,” and “Christ died to show us the way out of our sins.”

The most common interpretation of Jesus’ death by Luke is this stark contrast: human powers have killed Jesus, but God has raised Jesus from the dead. This idea is found in both the Gospel and Acts, explicitly and repeatedly. This refrain fits a Christus victor view of atonement: God has resurrected the crucified Jesus, thus declaring him to be Lord over all powers. The necessary response? Repentance of our collaboration with the evil powers of this world—rulers and idols alike—and walking in the Way in full allegiance to Jesus, Messiah and Lord. And this, of course, is where the gospel preaching of Acts always goes.

The next most common interpretation of Jesus’ death in Luke-Acts is that of Jesus as example to follow: Jesus has taught the way of nonviolent, self-giving love for both neighbours and enemies, and in his own suffering and death he exemplifies this teaching. This is “the way of peace” anticipated by John the Baptist’s father. These are “the things that make for peace” that Jesus laments the people of Jerusalem have missed. Jesus’ followers are to “deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him” in these very ways—following Jesus in bringing about peace through nonviolent, self-giving love.

That’s the cross in Luke’s writings—unlikely to pass inspection from at least some of Bishop Curry’s critics. How about love?

Luke’s Gospel, of course, has the same key references to love found in Mark’s Gospel (which Luke almost certainly used) and Matthew’s (which Luke probably used). Love as the Greatest Commandment that sums up the whole Law of Moses: loving God with our whole being, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Love of enemy as a distinctive hallmark of Jesus-followers.

But Luke also blends in a good-sized helping of other sayings and stories of Jesus about love.

Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan

It is Luke’s Gospel that fleshes out love of neighbour by telling the story of the Good Samaritan—shockingly making a despised foreigner the epitome of neighbour love. It is Luke’s Gospel that has all three stories of lostness: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In this last story the father’s love for his prodigal son is particularly scandalous: generous from start to finish, watching for the prodigal and running for him without care for propriety, welcoming him home without any amends made or demanded.

Luke’s Gospel has more than the normal quota of stories of Jesus healing people and sharing meals with them, crossing bounds of purity and propriety to do so. He also tells his share of stories about Jesus forgiving sins on God’s behalf—sometimes in response to repentance, sometimes not. And it is Luke’s Gospel (or some manuscripts of it) that has Jesus calling on God to forgive his executioners even as he hangs on the cross, even while they remain ignorant of their heinous sin.

I suspect, then, that Luke’s Gospel has far too much emphasis on love for some—which brings us right to social justice.

One of the strangest criticisms of Bishop Curry’s sermon I’ve seen is that it focused too much on things like racial justice and poverty and the like. The thinking goes like this: the goal of Jesus’ ministry was to bring people into “the kingdom of heaven” (by which is meant simply “heaven,” or “an eternal, spiritual afterlife with God”). His ministry was “spiritual,” not “political”—and, in any case, things like sexism or racism or poverty aren’t really going to change in this world (you know, “the poor you will always have with you”).

But Luke the Evangelist will have none of this.

Leave aside the fact that “kingdom of heaven” is parallel to “kingdom of God,” and that the Jewish expectation of “God’s kingdom” was very much a this-earthly reality. Leave aside the fact that “give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and give to God that which belongs to God” would make any devout Jew think, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” And leave aside the fact that “the poor you will always have with you” is an allusion to Deuteronomy 15:11 where Moses is in fact urging generosity toward the poor.

Quite apart from these things, Luke’s Gospel is explicit in promoting what we today call “social justice,” even specifically along the lines of sex, race, and economics. There’s far too much to mention, so let’s just consider the issue of poverty.

James Tissot, Le magnificat

It is Luke’s Gospel that has Mary sing these words in anticipation of Jesus’ birth: “The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

It is Luke that makes Isaiah 61 into Jesus’ personal mission statement: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (in other words, Jubilee—look it up).

It is Luke that presents Jesus’ beatitudes this way: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” And he includes some accompanying woes in case we’re tempted to spiritualize this: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” And just to hammer this home, these are among his following words: “Give to everyone who begs from you.”

It is Luke’s Gospel that says, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” It is Luke that tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, making sure his hearers know the rich man was being judged for his callous disregard of poor Lazarus at his very gate. It is Luke that tells the story of Zacchaeus, declaring, once Zacchaeus had promised to give half his wealth to the poor and make restitution to any he had defrauded, that “Today salvation has come to this house.”

It is Luke that tells of the early Christians selling their property and giving to the poor among them, even holding all their possessions in common. It is Luke that describes the Apostles’ concern for widows in need, ensuring all received sufficient help regardless of cultural background. It is Luke that mentions the concern of believers in Antioch to provide aid for the poor in Jerusalem affected by famine.

If this is “Christianity Lite”—showing compassionate love for all including the unrighteous and unrepentant, seeking equitable justice for all and especially the vulnerable and marginalized and oppressed, and all this without a strong penal substitutionary view of Jesus’ death—then it’s not just Bishop Curry who is guilty of it. That’s Luke the Evangelist implicated as well, and—at least according to Luke—even Jesus himself.

Not bad company, I’d say.

“The Things that Make for Peace”

“Peace? Sure, we have peace. Jesus brings us peace with God. But no more war? Not in this world!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this sentiment. Not necessarily in those exact words, but the idea has been repeated so many times it’s become a truism.

“Yes, Jesus came to bring peace: peace with God and peace with each other. But while we can have peace with God now, which gives us peace in our hearts, and while we should strive for peace with each other, we need Jesus to come back before that ‘no more conflict, no more violence, no more war’ thing can become reality.”

Hogwash, I say.

Jesus has given us everything we need for peace now, peace in every way. Either we just don’t realize it, or we don’t really believe it.

At least, that’s how Luke describes things.

In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel is the well-known Advent-y story of John the Baptist’s birth. His father, the priest Zechariah, had been struck dumb during Elizabeth’s pregnancy. But now that the child is born and named he bursts out in praise of God. In the middle of all the hubbub, Zechariah speaks this prophecy:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Zechariah’s prophecy is linking back to Isaiah 40, the “Comfort, comfort my people” passage. And that prophecy, Isaiah 40, is written for Israel in Exile, scattered among the nations, immersed in a world of violence and oppression and injustice and fear. A world, in other words, that needed peace.

So here’s what Isaiah promised, and what Zechariah repeats: Good news! Yahweh, the God of Israel, is coming! The Lord, the Most High, is coming, and we must get ready! His coming will be like the coming of the dawn for a dark and dying world! His coming will bring salvation from our most ominous enemies, forgiveness from our most devastating and destructive sins! He will guide us in the way of peace!

What a promise! Imagine if, in our world of darkness and death, our world of genocide and carpet bombs, our world of armed robberies and hate crimes, our own hearts soaked in fear and anxiety—imagine if those words were said to us today. Don’t worry! Someone is coming who will show you how to have peace—peace within you, peace among you!

This is the first of Luke’s peace prophecies—exactly what that world needed, exactly what our world needs.

Simonet - Jesus Weeps Over JerusalemBut jump ahead now to a second peace prophecy, this one in Luke 19. It’s the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After years of intense ministry, Jesus is coming to his God-ordained end. And as he sees the city and its glorious temple, the jewel of his people, Jesus weeps. He weeps, and speaks this prophecy:

If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.

Jesus is speaking of the future destruction of Jerusalem, which happened within a generation of his prediction. The Roman armies indeed set up ramparts around Jerusalem and laid siege to the city. The citizens of Jerusalem were indeed crushed to the ground, they and their children within them. The city and its glorious temple were indeed pulled down, stone by stone by massive stone.

And why did that happen? According to Jesus here in Luke, because the people “did not recognize the time of their visitation from God.” They did not recognize “the things that make for peace.”

Luke is linking Jesus’ prophecy here to Zechariah’s prophecy back in chapter one. There, God is coming, God’s visitation is near. Here, God’s visitation has happened, but they’ve missed it. There, God in his coming would “guide their feet into the way of peace.” Here, God has come, but they have missed “the things that make for peace”—and so they would find themselves on the wrong side of a bloody, destructive war.

These two passages—one looking ahead to Jesus’ ministry, the other looking back at it—suggest that the “way of peace,” the “things that make for peace,” have in fact already been revealed during Jesus’ earthly ministry. According to Luke, then, if we want to know the “things that make for peace,” if we want to know God’s “way of peace” for the world, we need to look back at all those peace-making things Jesus has already done.

Here’s just a few of these “lessons in the way of peace” Luke’s Jesus has taught.

Luke 3: Jesus is baptized by John, anointed by the Spirit and appointed by God. He is God’s Son, the Messiah, the King who will bring in God’s kingdom, but he is also the well-pleasing Servant of Isaiah, who will bring about God’s purposes through suffering and death. The lesson? The way of peace is a path of self-giving, maybe even suffering.

Luke 4: Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, three times. He says no to satisfying his own needs through his power. He says no to keeping himself safe because of his special status. He says no to ruling over the world if it means venerating evil. The lesson? The way of peace requires us to resist the temptation to bring about even good things through raw power or evil means, or by putting our own provision and protection ahead of others.

Luke 5-6: Jesus heals any who are sick, laying hands on them, touching them in compassion in spite of any regulations about clean and unclean, in spite of any laws about Sabbath and holy days. The lesson? The way of peace is a way of compassion, choosing compassion over fear, choosing compassion over rules, choosing compassion regardless of what society thinks.

Tissot - Jesus TeachingLuke 6: Jesus pronounces both blessings and woes, and it’s absolutely the opposite of what we expect: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, are the blessed ones, while the rich, the full, the laughing, are warned with woe. And then Jesus keeps the surprises coming: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Give to everyone who asks. Do not judge, but instead forgive. In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” The lesson? The way of peace requires us to embrace the other, even the completely opposite other, with generous love.

Luke 11: Jesus teaches his followers to pray. “Father, you are holy. May your rule be established on earth. Provide for all of us, all our daily needs. Forgive all of us, all our sins, as we forgive each other. Protect all of us, from every evil.” The lesson? The way of peace means recognizing that we’re all in this together, one humanity under God, and basic provision and security and mercy for one requires provision and security and mercy for all.

Luke 12: Jesus teaches his followers to trust, and not to fear. “Don’t put your trust in riches, things that spoil and fade! Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but not touch the soul! Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear! Trust in God, who watches over even the smallest sparrow and clothes even the simplest flower.” The lesson? The way of peace is a path of faith, patiently trusting in God for all things and through all things.

These, and more, are Jesus’ lessons in the “way of peace.” Show compassion. Be generous. Reject violence and fear. Don’t judge others. Forgive them. Remember, we’re all in this together. In all things, trust in God.

In Luke’s Gospel these “things that make for peace” are repeated over and over, in many different ways. Deny yourself and take up your cross, daily. Love others like a good Samaritan. Joyfully embrace repentant sinners like a father of a prodigal son returned. Attend to those on the lowest rungs of society: the poor man outside your gates, the children sitting along the edges. Trust in God for the long haul, like a farmer patiently waiting for that little mustard seed to grow, like a baker patiently waiting for that yeast to do its work.

Simple things, but so hard to put into practice moment by moment and day by day. They go against the grain of our “fight or flight” instincts. They run counter to our inclination to fear, to judge, to lash out, to look out for number one. Yet these are the “things that make for peace,” these are God’s “way of peace,” peace within us, and peace among us.

Jesus has already brought everything we need for peace, in every way. And yet here we are, two thousand years later, still fighting wars and telling rumours of wars, still engaged in global conflicts and petty catfights, still resorting to physical and psychological and verbal and emotional violence against one another.

Will we learn “the things that make for peace”? Will we learn God’s “way of peace” through Jesus?

Or does Jesus weep over us as he wept over Jerusalem, because we too refuse to recognize the time of God’s visitation two thousand years ago, bringing God’s way of peace?

This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Morden Mennonite Church on December 20, 2015. For more from this sermon see my follow-up post, “MLK and ‘The Things that Make for Peace.'” Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl