Friday, July 26, 2013

7 Quick Takes

As mentioned yesterday, I am reading the book of Luke this week.  It is probably my favorite book to read and includes my favorite story (the Roman Centurion and Jesus) and my favorite parable (the sower).  I've read it so often and heard it so frequently at Mass, sometimes it can be difficult to slow down and read it fresh.  I've tried to focus on that this week, and I've been amazed at how well that has been going.  What have I seen differently?  So glad you asked!

We all know the shepherds were out in the field tending their flocks when the angels showed up and told them about the newborn King.  We are all pretty familiar with the scene.

I was thinking on it this week though, and I'm not sure we can really imagine how truly EPIC that must have been.  Think of the most exciting thing you've ever had happen and then multiply it by 100.  They're just out tending their flocks and WHAM, an angel appears.  These aren't the adorable fluffy angels you can get at Hallmark - biblical angels scare people to the point I'm surprised there is no mention of someone accidentally going in their pants when they encounter one.  I would find that to be an acceptable response.

When the angel is done with telling them the Good News, a huge group of angels shows up to praise God.  I can't even think what that must have looked like!  The spiritual world makes itself visible to celebrate the birth of God made flesh!  No wonder the shepherds rushed to see Jesus!

We can see the same joy later in the chapter when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus run into Simeon and Anna in the temple.  These holy people had been waiting patiently, praying and praising God.  And they were able to SEE the Messiah, and know that it was Him!

On the back end though, can you imagine how devastating it must have been when Jesus was arrested, much less crucified?  We know about the Resurrection now, but what about His followers before they saw Him again?  Or how about when they did?  What must they have thought when they found the empty tomb?  And can you imagine what it was like to be the two of them on the road to Emmaus, walking and talking with some random guy who turns out to be Jesus?  RISEN FROM THE DEAD?!

One exceptional roller coaster, start to end!

I always have the tendency to see Jesus' disciples as the people they were later, after they had been emboldened and were out spreading the Gospel, prepared for martyrdom.  As I slowed down, I was able to remember that they were kind of just random guys along for the ride much of the time.

If we look in Chapter 5, Jesus grabs a ride on Peter's boat to talk to the crowds.  After that, he tells Peter to let out his nets.  Peter goes along with it, not expecting anything.  Surprise!  There's a whole bunch of fish.  They need another boat to haul it all in.  Let's go back to imagining the scene and let's say you're Peter just out fishing and Jesus shows up and uses your equipment to preach.  We know from other times Jesus is recorded, His words always were different and exciting.  He then tells you to let out your nets, and a miracle happens.  To finish it all off, He tells you that you're going to be a fisher of men.

I know I'd be thinking "What is going on with this guy?!"  Sure, we know He's God, but they didn't know that right then.  This seems to happen a few times.   Jesus says or does something extraordinary, and his disciples just can't wrap their heads around it.  Can you blame them?

Sometimes in the past, I'd be tempted to wonder what was going on with the disciples.  For instance, Jesus goes up a mountain with Peter, James, and John.  Moses and Elijah show up and Jesus is suddenly dazzlingly white.   I always thought it was kind of odd the best thing Peter could come up with was something about making them tents, but on slower reflection, what else was he going to say?  What would you say if the eccentric preacher you'd befriended suddenly transfigured, two dead patriarchs of your people showed up, and a booming voice spoke from the heavens?  I'm surprised Peter formed a coherent sentence.

In the Catholicism series, Father Barron says Jesus was always a "deeply disconcerting figure."  He says we have a tendency to "domesticate" Him, and I think that's true.  He's an amazing God, but perhaps we've lost our sense of awe.  Jesus' disciples were in awe.  Slowing down certainly helps capture that!

Check out this except from that series, "Amazed and Afraid."

Chapters 5 and 6 show story after story of Jesus completely throwing off the religious leaders.  It seems they just didn't know what to do with Him.  Not that they were without problems, but I doubt anyone had it on their radar that God was going to take up humanity.  Not only that, but if someone would have guessed that, they would not have expected Him to come as He did, act as He did, or die as He did.  Jesus was entirely unexpected.  Does that make the infancy narrative a surprise birthday party?

Speaking of birthdays, slowing down helped me to remember things I'd learned or experienced in the past.  I did an online bible study somewhere once and remember the author of the book we were using said the infancy narratives were fabricated later.  The reasoning was that nobody was around then.  I didn't buy the argument then, and it was interesting to recall it now.

By the way, if anyone ever tells you that, you can argue pretty easily.  Luke explicitly states Mary remembered all of it, or kept it in her heart.  Is it all that unreasonable to think somebody asked Mary about her son at some point?  John would have had plenty of time to ask her about it and share with others, or perhaps Luke himself interviewed her.  Wouldn't you ask her?  Don't you think she'd remember?  I don't think a woman who just had a baby forgets random shepherds showing up flipping out over a host of angels who announced her child's arrival.

Another thing I've been able to notice by slowing way down is the impact chapter divisions and the headings have.  Those weren't in the original text - Luke didn't sub-divide based on the chapters we have.  I think there's the pull to see each chapter as its own little unit, but at the time, the start of one paragraph would have happened at the end of the last.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure they even had paragraphs.  So there are connections across chapters and headings I might not catch when I'm reading quickly or one chapter at a time, or even listening to the short readings at Mass.

For instance, I'd always seen the Pharisee stories as related in the sense they all had Pharisees in them and that was about it.  You get one or two parts at Mass and maybe assume the point is just so you know He was irritating the religious leaders, which explains why they wanted Him dead.

Luke 5:17-6:11 is one Pharisee story after another, and they all relate to Jesus doing something unexpected.  First, He cleanses a leper.  That gets the ball rolling because how often does someone exhibit healing power like that?  Then He heals and forgives sin, which is surely bothersome to those in charge, but also quite different for everyone else.  He hangs out with tax collectors and sinners, telling the Pharisees He's come to heal the sick.  His followers don't fast like everyone else and they collect and eat grain on the sabbath.  He also heals on the sabbath.  They've got to also be wondering what is up with this guy?!

So they are all stirred up and wondering what they might be able to do to Him.  The next section has Jesus praying and then selecting the twelve, followed by the Sermon on the Mount.  Was the stuff before just the attention getter?  I can't answer that of course, but I know it all goes together as a big whole, not just disconnected parts.

Jesus really, really, really bothers people who think they're doing fine in life without Him.  You can see it all over Luke - the people who thought they were righteous or thought they were good enough people or who otherwise just weren't looking at God were bothered by Jesus.  Some might follow Him for awhile for good show, but they didn't stay.  The people who knew they were sick, physically or spiritually, knew they needed Jesus and flocked to him.

That is no less true now than it was then.  I know of someone who doesn't like God and picked up the Bible with a poor mindset to begin with.  Halfway through Matthew, she decided Jesus was a bad man and stopped reading it.   That seems to be what happens when we're content with our own lives.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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