The Acts of the Disciples


(Spectrumbot) #1

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. —Luke 4:18,19

And Luke’s gospel says that Jesus “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were upon him.”

Let us sit with them for a moment, in that holy silence. Jesus carefully, reverently, rolls up the scroll. He does not hurry. He holds the knurled ends of the scroll in his hands, feels the polished wood turning against his palms, as the papyrus curls back to its resting position. The attendant reaches to take the scroll as Jesus sits down. No one stirs. It is the silence of expectancy, not of inattention and boredom.

What were they expecting, and why would they be transfixed, holding their breath for the next moment? Perhaps it was the way Jesus read the passage, ascending the hills of the text to each crest, hitting the “me” of each one with emphasis, descending to the plains in between, and then scaling the highest one to summit in triumph on “the year of the Lord’s favor.”

If you have always been told that a day was coming when everything that breaks you every day would vanish, and you would be able to take a full breath, and you could lift your head and you could stand up and you could smile and even laugh — then you will know what each person knew when Jesus said, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”

The people in that meeting place that Shabbat turned to one another excitedly and remarked at how well Jesus spoke. They were not talking about his elocutionary style, but about the thrill of hope that jolted through them in that moment. The words from Isaiah 61, so familiar and so tantalizing, rang in their ears.

But then there were doubts. Wouldn’t the Day of the Lord come with trumpets, thunder, signs in the heavens? And wouldn’t it be announced by the Messiah, the awesome figure of power and glory of whom the prophets spoke? Instead, we get a local boy, smart but shiftless, who left his mother and travels the countryside. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. “We’ve known him since he was a little kid. Is he saying that he’s the One? He’s getting way above himself.”

And then Jesus went off-script. You’ll probably tell me to heal myself, he said. You want me to do tricks, like what you think I did up in Capernaum. If I don’t do the same thing here, you won’t believe me. Well, let me tell you something. No prophet is ever welcomed in his own country. There were a lot of widows in Israel during the famine, but our own prophet, Elijah, was sent to a widow in Sidon instead of them. And there were a lot of lepers in our country, but Elisha was sent to heal Naaman, the Syrian. Not one of ours was healed.

As they say, ‘the optics weren’t good.’ Excitement and admiration turned to doubt, and doubt to hostility and rage. More than just grilling the preacher’s sermon over Sabbath lunch, they were infuriated. Leaping to their feet, the whole congregation — families, men, women, and children — dragged him to the cliff on which the town was built to fling him bodily out and down.

Imagine the scene: people so angry, so completely consumed by rage that they seem demon-possessed. Neighbors he has known all his life, shoving and kicking him, his arms stretched out in their grasp, and him falling and stumbling back up, his eyes riveted ahead to where the ground drops away for hundreds of feet.

This is a video that will go viral, but before it does, let us freeze the frame with Jesus at the lip of the cliff — and since this is imagination we can do this — and ask ourselves what they are thinking.

If you saw them on the street you would have no idea they were capable of killing. They look like ordinary people. But seeing them now, ranged behind the figure twisting in their grasp, we see the leers, the harsh laughter, the sweat. A woman’s face is framed behind his shoulder. She is jeering, the veins in her forehead distended and throbbing. She feels forgotten, neglected, the hopes that were stirred by the promises of the prophets have vanished, and all that fills her mind is the thought of foreigners receiving the healing that is rightfully hers. Next thing they’ll be pouring across the border, Syrians, Caananites, Samaritans, lepers! It is a betrayal of everything she stands for, made worse by one of her own, a traitor in their midst like a devil among them.

Luke places this story near the beginning of Jesus’ mission, while Mark and Matthew record it as further down the timeline. Commentators suggest that Luke’s purpose is to show us that this is how Jesus’ mission is going to play out. The rejection he endures by his own people is triggered by his hints that God’s Spirit will be poured out on all who need it, those in other nations as well as in Israel. The nationalist fervor that roils this crowd into a murderous rage fulfills the prophecy that Jesus speaks.

We know how the incident ends, although we don’t know how it is done. Jesus teeters on the cliff’s edge, and then suddenly he is striding back through the crowd, parting them before him as if a force-field surrounds him. Luke gives it one line, ending with “he went on his way.” What matters most is that the kingdom has been announced, the Spirit is present, and Jesus is on his way into the world. Evil is no longer safe.

Jesus announced the kingdom in that dusty town on that Sabbath. He also denounced the fear that gripped the congregation in a snake’s coils. Annunciation and denunciation, two sides of a coin that has been carried by prophets and preachers and ages of sages. Wherever there is denunciation by the prophets, annunciation can be found in the neighborhood. And where the announcement falls upon deaf ears, denunciation of their callous disregard soon follows. The denunciation clears away the thickets, allowing the annunciation to spring forth.

But we must add something else to this prophetic witness between these two movements: the renunciation of our sins. Denunciation of the power structures in church and society, the uncovering of that which is intentionally hidden, is a necessary step toward the freedom of justice. But for the Christian, and any person of good faith, there follows in response another step, equally important — that of renunciation.

Jesus began with the annunciation because he is the one who brings in the kingdom. In our time it is up to us as people of faith to begin with the denunciation of systems and structures that oppress and break the spirit of people. It would then be the most natural thing in the world to leap to the annunciation. Problem and solution; it’s how the world works.

But we are called to walk humbly as we act for justice. It is with the gospel in trust that we are invited to renounce our sins. The public renouncing of the sins of our discrimination opens the way to announce the good news of the gospel. And the gospel lived out is what reconciles us to God and to each other.

These are the acts of disciples who follow Jesus: they denounce, renounce, and announce. A movement begun by One is carried on through the Spirit by those who are willing to follow.

***

Twenty centuries after Jesus announced the kingdom, we tell ourselves that, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr., famously uttered that phrase we look up to see that arc crossing overhead, but with no discernible point on the horizon where it could touch down. That is, unless we prepare the way by renouncing our sins of injustice, as a nation, as a church, and as individuals.

Unity without equality for everyone is conformity to injustice for all.

Mark Oakley, in The Splash of Words, invokes a Franciscan blessing: “May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half -truths, and superficial relationships. May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation. May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, doing in his name what others claim cannot be done.”

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communications for 28 years at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, and business communication at Stevenson University for 7 years. He continues as adjunct professor in ethics and philosophy at Trinity Washington University, D.C. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9238

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

Apt, Instead of attempting to disown Him, The church has remade Him in their own image, sinful flesh and all. Speak out and you will be thrown off the cliff. Those who did the throwing will grow ceremonial beards to prove their domain.,


(William Noel) #3

I respectfully disagree. We live in a world where denunciation is used to decry without announcing anything else and where condemnation of something is used to make something else look better by contrast. Jesus didn’t have to denounce anything because just being what he was contrasted so powerfully ith what was around him. We are not called to denounce, but to represent the greatest and most powerful positive in the universe. We are called to be channels for God’s power to work through us announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God with power that contrasts with the world. Denunciation arouses opposition and prevents discovery where annunciation that is empowered by God overcomes opposition by drawing people to Him.

The great danger in denouncing injustice is becoming proponents of “social justice” which is based on ever-changing concepts that regularly are redefined depending on which way the political winds is blowing, or our historic political allegiances. Instead, Jesus has called us to follow Him and learn His ways by letting Him work through us.

As Dr. Alveda King said, if her late uncle were still alive today he would be shocked by how his teachings have been twisted and misapplied to legitimize all manner of political and social purposes that are at odds with his view of things.


#4

Well said, all the way through. To many it seems a dichotomy in terms, that Jesus and the disciples challenged Christians to be separate from sin, which at times involves frequenting the company of sinners, then at other instances, we are encouraged, more than that, commanded to mingle with sinners. Following the example of Jesus we discover that His purpose, and theirs, of mingling was purely for the gospel’s sake. It was not to engage in trifling party time, fun-filled occasions. It was not so He could learn what makes them tick, their way of doing things. It was not so they could see Him as “one of them” in the sense that He participated in whatever they had going.

It was purely and solely for the purpose of engaging them, bringing them to the gospel. A message that, even though it was spelled out loud and clear in the Old Testament writings, their traditions had otherwise buried.

The Devil has learned well through the centuries one principle that repeats itself time and again. If you can’t beat them, then join them. Today he is successfully playing on many consciences’ heart strings. We all believe injustices are wrong. Many, or perhaps most might be more accurate, of our countries have been built on injustices. We should resolve ourselves never to be one to bring on these things again.

But here’s the problem today which you touch on. In denouncing injustice, the Devil has surreptitiously made “social justice” in its modern form a supposed Christian virtue. Without any clear biblical support; and indeed much evidence, that social justice was so far down on the list of priorities of Jesus and the disciples, that it must be searched diligently for even an ambiguous reference.

Jesus and His disciples did not denounce slavery, horrific though it is at times. It has been said, that slavery today has far more in numbers than in former ages. We should support those organizations who engage in fighting these crimes. Although I believe in minimizing animal cruelty, we find that only hinted at in the Bible. There is more to be found in the SOP on that subject than in the Bible. Yet EGW was not an activist in this field, for biblical reasons I believe.

And so we come to the subject, sacrosanct in many eyes today. Social justice in its gender form. I know not the statement by Dr Alveda King, but I can believe it. Dr King sought to bring about change to people’s prejudicial thinking in the area of skin melanin differences to put it in its true perspective. Yes, skin color is purely the different levels of melanin we each have. In fact, if you think about it, white is not really white, but differing shades of pink as the blood vessels under the skin show through.

Dr King would, I believe, shake his head at the level of “social justice” now in vogue.

As Christians, we should talk about these issues open and frankly, but with a Christ-like spirit, making God’s word our anchor for every discussion on this, and other issues. But pride of position, agitation ability, and “no-one’s going to change me” attitude will always stall the process - and the Devil knows it. If any idea which has been soundly researched and rejected, yet is still agitated, then it no longer is about the perceived right of its premise, it is solely about a mind that loves agitation.

Someone has presented a well-thought-out summary, of a recent law that may go into effect in Tasmania, Australia. Under the disguise of “anti discrimination” the new law has the strong potential to cause law suits and upheaval for years to come before someone has the sense to change it again. The following is a short extract.

"I’m 6’7” with size 15 feet and my hands are hairy.

"If I lived in Tasmania (I don’t), and I was contemplating a gender experiment (I’m not), new laws would mean I could simply sign a statutory declaration to change my birth certificate and become a woman in a moment of time.

"You would laugh, but I’d sue you for offending me based on my gender identity. That’s section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act, in case you doubt.

"Women would know full well who I was, but they’d have no right to keep me out of their gym, their changeroom, their toilet, or even their women’s shelter. They’d be on the hook for discrimination.

"But their concern would be well-founded. Most trans-women are lesbians (in other words I would still like women, for those trying to keep up).

"Women Speak Tasmania have confirmed “numerous cases” of male-bodied “trans-women” gaining access to women’s only spaces, including gyms, shelters, bathrooms, and prisons and committing sexual assaults.

"I could even sign up for women’s rowing. I’d have to be accepted. I’d win. They’d have to shut up. Or else.

"In Canada, transwomen are even using anti-discrimination laws to extract compensation from women who refuse to wax their male genitalia.

"I’m flat out getting a pair of men’s shoes in Australian stores, but heels would be a whole other nightmare. ‘We don’t stock men’s sizes, sir’ the bewildered shop assistant would say. I’d sue her for failing to use my preferred gender pronouns (it’s ne/nym/nis/nymself). Bigot.

"For the first time in Australian law, we are contemplating crossing a threshold. Not merely prohibited speech, but now compelled speech. The law compels us to say things whether we like it or not.

“But the madness is not over yet.” Full article:
https://outlook.live.com/mail/inbox/id/AQMkADAwATYwMAItYzRmZC1iY2ViLTAwAi0wMAoARgAAA5hJQeZKAAhHhoMJNC3fzMgHAPkwExYTn0FLhRBGk2SHGDcAAAIBDAAAAPkwExYTn0FLhRBGk2SHGDcAAyVeWYkAAAA%3D

There are those who don’t think this is the natural outpouring of the “other” gender equality issue currently being agitated so much for, history is against such a hope.


(Patrick Travis) #5

Hi Barry,
As you know, the text comes from Isa. 61:1. Isa. is promising once the people repent they will be brought out of exile into a time of restored blessings. I think Christ’s reading is best understood as Christ declaring that by repentance and faith in Him they will be a part of the Kingdom which is beginning in Him. That Kingdom fully restored a future day of God’s choosing and a day of deliverance from exile(from the present order) and vengeance on His enemies. vs.2 Then eternal healing and blessing following in ch.61.
I think possibly we are tempted to use scripture through a filter which omits the parts we don’t like and flowing through the parts we do. To often on “social justice” today it is “fill in our favorite cause blank.” I suggest that while justice is most important to Christ/God and that was the primary reason for His death, the primary purpose here was to announce the beginning of His coming Kingdom to start in Him and grow until the consummation when all things truly will be made new.
Regards


(William Noel) #6

I agree. In scripture the concept of justice is primarily two-fold, us doing justly to others and the legal recourse to punish those who do not. Nowhere is it associated with anything resembling the modern concept of “social justice” which is used primarily to justify taking from those who have and enriching the government bureaucrats who oversee the taking and redistribution of what is left while claiming that they are improving the lives of those who do not have. Are we talking about helping people enjoy the basics of life, or the luxuries? Are they considered “deprived” if they don’t have access to high-speed internet service, or don’t own a luxury car? (I’ve heard both of those claims made in recent years.) The objectives of social justice are not based on the principles of charity as outlined in scripture while scripture is often used to give it a veneer of credibility. I have met Christians who were passionate in their promotion of social justice causes, but not one of them could show me that they had any more than a casual understanding from scripture about how God wants us ministering His love to others.


(Patrick Travis) #7

William, there are truly those in society that need assistance and I believe a social safety net. Our system is not perfect and there are at times legitimate reasons . I would also agree that the social network is often overly used and abused. I suggest one of those areas is the use of food stamps and Medicaid.
It seems nowadays “social justice” is used by many in ways never envisioned by scripture and at times it actually informs just the opposite.
That’s a religious view.
Now from the CIVIL side, I suggest legislation indeed does decide in our society not specifically the Christian faith. That said, I do believe there is judicial activism that should be relying on legislation of the majority of elected legislatures rather than dictating laws from the bench for which there is no clear constitutional right.


(James Peterson) #8

The statement, standing apart from the body of the text, sounds truly profound. Yet, upon reading it, my thoughts raced through the thousands of shelves of books in all the libraries I’ve visited to a single tiny little paperback: Animal Farm by George Orwell.

In it, Napoleon (Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon, Father of All Animals, Terror of Mankind, Protector of the Sheep-fold, or Ducklings’ Friend) abridged the Seven Commandments of Animal Farm to a single phrase, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

As Moses would learn (Exod. 2:11-15), and Jesus would suggest (Luke 22:47-53), revolution accomplishes nothing except a change for the same. Change, true change, must spring from within the heart of power: it must see and be touched by those who patiently endure discrimination, injustice and poverty and must want itself to help the helpless. If it cannot see that, then those who oppose it and remove it from its seat will in turn and in time become very much like their types on the Animal Farm.

Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and local farmers, with whom he celebrates a new alliance. He abolishes the practice of the revolutionary traditions and restores the name ‘The Manor Farm’. As the animals outside gaze at the scene and look from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, they can no longer distinguish between the two.

///


(Patrick Travis) #9

On a lighter philosophical note…
" If it’s true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for?" :slight_smile:


(Steve Mga) #10

1QOOL–
Helping to build community.


(Patrick Travis) #11

Who are the “others?”


(William Noel) #12

God’s plan has always been that His people would be the channel through which He would provide that “safety net.”


(Cfowler) #13

Why do you say that? Non-Christians, etc. provide safety nets for people. Not just Christians, right?


(Patrick Travis) #14

William, let’s be pragmatic. Gods people are the safety net for 350 million in US, some of whom may need one at various times?
They are part of it. But not the whole.
In the OT, there was a safety net of family and tribe…and land. In the NT, Paul describes how the church takes care of widows…not all of society. Society has a legitimate role, I suggest best handled through the states


(William Noel) #15

In scripture the state has no role in charity.


(William Noel) #16

God’s purpose for charity has always been so that people will see His love and power working through those who are performing personal acts of kindness. Will we do it God’s way with the purpose of sharing God’s love? Or, will we be servants of a state that is working hard to play a larger role in the lives of people than God?


(Patrick Travis) #17

I simply don’t understand how scripturally you arrive at this? I am “limited government” not libertarian.
The reason for this is historically recognizing there is a reason for civil authority, and “biblical” and on the other hand the dangers of “too much centralized power.”


(Cfowler) #18

I was just recognizing that there are people who care for others, and are extremely charitable and loving, even though they aren’t Christians. I wasn’t referring to “the state”.


(William Noel) #19

I hear you. I made that assumption because government plays such a large role in society and the concept so many people have of charity is government programs because they have never seen faith-based charity. My father-in-law was one of those people you spoke about. He was one of the most loving and generous people I have ever known, yet the only times I ever saw him enter a church was for weddings and funerals and he never became a believer until two days before he died at age 90.


(William Noel) #20

I got there by studying the instructions in scripture that God gave the ancient Israelites about how He wanted them practicing charity. For example, a person was prohibited from harvesting a field a second time because what they dropped was to be left for the poor. They did not harvest the corners of their fields for the same reason and the side of an orchard facing a road was to be left unharvested for the traveler to find food. Charity was to be a way of life for them. God held people individually accountable for practicing these things and failure to do it was considered sin.