Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reformation Day

On this day, I wanted to say something profound. In preparation, I generally read something on, or about Martin Luther and if possible something that Luther wrote. What few people realize is that many people wanted a reformation but only one man acted and what he did was utterly amazing. He preached the Word. Why was Luther successful when many others before him had advocated reform?

Martin Luther had personally persuaded every member of the faculty at Wittenberg University that the sale of indulgences was wrong. Only then did Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

The 95 theses undermined the capital fund campaign of the Pope Leo X for St. Peter’s Basilica. “When the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The campaign was a success. Leo X was made a saint. Selling indulgences is the most blatant model of marketing salvation. It did not bother Tetzel and the Pope that the first claim that indulgences benefited souls in purgatory appeared only in 1476. It did not bother Tetzel and the Pope that the theories of indulgences, the temporal punishment for sin, and the Church’s treasury of merits had no basis in Scripture.

Many people were thinking about what they could do to cause a reformation. Words were never followed by action.

Only one person acted.

Copyrighted 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Victory Motif in Martin Luther

Luther’s teaching on Atonement belongs to the classic type. This short presentation is based on these crucial words appearing in the Lesser Catechism describing the work of Christ: “He has delivered, purchased, and won me, a lost and doomed man, from all sins, from death and the devil’s powers.” In the Greater Catechism, Luther wrote: “What is it now to be a Lord? It is this, that He has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death and all woe. For before, I had not yet had any Lord, nor King, but had been held captive under the devil’s power, doomed to death, ensnared in sin and blindness. . . . Now, therefore, those tyrants and gaolers are all crushed, and in their place is come Jesus Christ, a Lord of Life, righteousness, all good and holiness, and He has snatched us poor lost men from the jaws of hell, won us, made us free, and brought us back to the Father’s goodness and grace.”

In the Longer Commentary on Galatians we read: “For if the blessing in Christ could yield, then God Himself would have been overcome. But that is impossible. Christ, who is God’s power, righteousness, blessing, grace, and life, overcomes and carries away these monsters, sin death and curse.”

In discussing the heresy of Arius, Luther wrote: “For, by Himself to overcome the world’s sin, death, the curse, and God’s wrath, this is not the work of any created being, but of almighty God. Therefore He who of Himself overcame these must actually in His nature be God. For against these mighty powers, sin, death, and the curse, which of themselves have dominion in the world and in all creation, another and a higher power must appear, which can be none other than God.”

The final example in my short presentation comes from the third verse of A Mighty Fortress is Our God:

“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.”

A number of scholars have not only demonstrated that Luther embraced the victory motif but also that “this interpretation of atonement coheres with the total pattern of Luther’s writing.”

Copyrighted 2006

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Slave Parables in the Gospel of Luke

It is disturbing that any Biblical passage has been used to support the institution of slavery and violence against slaves. The slave parables (Luke 12:35-48; 17:3-10 and 19:11-27) were so utilized in defense of slavery in the United States by Christian clergymen. In fact clergymen owned slaves. One such example, his name escapes me, was the president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Luke did not defend slavery but rather was following scriptural tradition that those belonging to the people of God are slaves of God. However, as slaves, they are not subjected to other human beings. The Lucan Jesus addressed the community with a message of liberation linked to the Exodus. The clue to this interpretation is provided by verse 35. “Let your loins be girded” is a citation to Exodus 12:11. This verse provides special instructions: “In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's passover.” These instructions of the manner in which the people are to eat the Paschal Lamb serve as a reminder of the escape from slavery in Egypt.

Mary Ann Beavis summarized her observations on the slave parables as follow: “The slave parables . . . do not directly attack the institution of slavery, but their tendency to dignify the role of the slave and to suggest that the slave owner identify with his/her human property might have been perceived as radical social teaching by ancient authors.”

Parables are the expressions of the radical nature of Christ’s works. I intend to return to the slave parables to demonstrate this point.

Copyrighted 2006

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Amish and the Pharisees

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, found only in Luke, was classified by Julicher as a parable of exemplary behavior. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector went up to the Temple to pray. Although the parable is about two individuals, it has been interpreted as if the individual Pharisee was representative member of his group and the individual tax collector was not.

Our information about the Pharisees of the first century is sparse. Saldarini has indicated that the Pharisees were a movement within Judaism devoted to observing Torah, including ritual purity, and to piety toward God. Josephus said the Pharisees were held in high regard by the people. Yet the prayer uttered by this particular Pharisee was mean-spirited and self-deceptive. The manner and content of the prayer was shocking. It was out of character.

When the comparison of the manner and content of the prayer is made with the prayer of the tax collector, a comparison that is actually invited by the Pharisee, the outcome is likewise shocking. Jesus in effect says the tax collector receives mercy and forgiveness and has re-established his relationship with God. God honors humility while religious pride is condemned. No statement is made about the conduct and business practices of the two individuals. The tax collector is not told that he need follow the example of Zacchaeus. What happened did not meet the expectations of those listening to the Lucan Jesus. In this parable, we see yet another example of Lucan eschatological reversal.

The Pharisees are credited with bringing religion into the home and making it part of everyday life. The house churches of early Christianity may have been inspired by the religious practices of the Pharisees. Although the term “Pharisee” means “separated one,” there is no real evidence that the Pharisees separated themselves from society living like monks. They in fact were active participants in society and noted for their works of charity.

The Amish first settled in Pennsylvania in the early 18th century and now reside in twenty-two states. Early in the 17th century, prior to their migration to the United States, the Amish separated from the Mennonites over the issue of how to handle discipline. In their endeavors to preserve elements of European rural culture of the 17th century, the Amish developed practices and customs which isolated them from American culture.

The Amish believe that no one is guaranteed salvation as a result of a conversion experience, baptism or joining the church. The Amish “would consider it arrogant or prideful to claim certainty of salvation.”

Perhaps the Amish better understand the meaning of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector than us “English.”

Copyrighted 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Treasure in Heaven

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark shocks everyone who hears it. Jesus makes several statements that continue to confound us. Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven. For God all things are possible. There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children of fields, for my sake and for the sake of good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age.

Between the second and third statement, one of the disciples said: “Then who can be saved?”

But I was thinking about the parable of the unjust steward. When this parable is discussed in its modern courtroom context, there is a question that is sometimes asked. Should this parable be considered together with the parable of the unjust judge even though the two do not appear together in the Gospel of Luke?

In his book, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as pedagogue of the oppressed, William R. Hezog suggested that perhaps the parables of Jesus were neither theological nor moral stories but political and economic ones. If true, then these two parables of the unjust steward and the unjust could be considered together recognizing that the economic disputes of the first century were often resolved by unjust judges who rendered decisions against the oppressed.

What message does the parables provide the unjust steward and the unjust judge?

Copyrighted 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Victory Motif in Irenaeus

For Irenaeus, the key to his theology is the answer to this question. For what purpose did Christ come down from heaven? Answer: “That He might destroy sin, death, and give life to man.” Thus according to Aulen on Irenaeus, “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which held mankind in bondage: sin, death and death.” Significantly, Irenaeus asserts that “the Word of God was made flesh in order that He might destroy death and bring man to life; for we were bound in sin, we were born in sin and live under the dominion of sin.” Irenaeus teaches that God Himself entered into the world of sin and death. The Divine victory accomplished in Christ stands at the center of the thought process of Irenaeus.

I plan to return to this theme.

Copyrighted 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

Divine Love in Paradise

As the Amish bury their children, they teach all of us about divine love and forgiveness. As the Swedish theologian, Gustaf Aulen wrote in 1969:

“Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you –out of love- takes upon himself the responsibility for the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness therefore, always entails a sacrifice.”

For me, the ideal retirement community would in Paradise near the Amish so that we may live in proximity to the real saints of this world.

Copyrighted 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Sometimes, all I can write is one sentence. Parables are the expressions of the radical nature of Christ’s works. There is nothing particularly original about the idea. I do intend to present a series on the parables of Luke illustrating this particular idea. Now all I have to do is write it.

Copyrighted 2006

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We are numb

Every Sunday, we see the Amish in their buggies. It seems so peaceful in Paradise. There are no answers. Perhaps, we should do as the Amish are doing, PRAY.

Copyrighted 2006