Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lucan Eschatology

Judaism viewed the Lord as the judge of the inner hearts. The Lord is a righteous judge who will judge all the peoples of the earth and Israel itself. Moses had taught that the Lord had promised He would punish “the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.”

The Prophet Ezekiel changed the basis of punishment for sin from collective to individual. The sentence sermon of Jeremiah that, “I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings” is now seen as the beginning of a change in thinking. Ezekiel sets forth the fundamental principle in these words: “According to their way I will do to them, and according to their own judgments I will judge them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.” The importance of individual responsibility is reaffirmed in the 33rd chapter of Ezekiel. The Lord judges not only peoples and nations but individuals, each according to his or her character. He judges both the righteous and the wicked, condemning the unfaithful and rewarding the poor and the humble.

Luke definitely has utilized the Book of Ezekiel. As noted in Band of strong men, there are at least three possible allusions in the Gospel of Luke to the 8th chapter of Ezekiel: the Parable of the unjust judge; “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me”; and the abomination saying of the 16th chapter of Luke.

Ezekiel 34 reminds us that the term “shepherd” is intended as another image for king in the ancient Near East. The shepherd image for David derives from a common metaphor for rulers in the ancient Near East. It suggested the care, concern, and protection that a shepherd was to provide his flock of people. When the kings of Israel prove to be bad shepherds, Ezekiel declares that the Lord will assume the role of shepherd. Luke tells us, “in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."

The words of Ezekiel were also spoken against Judah: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” The people who heard the Parable of the Wicked Tenants would be quite familiar with the idea of comparing the people to “vines” and “vineyards.”

More importantly Bock and those who interpret the Lucan version of the Parable to include the Jewish people in the condemnation ignore not only the explicit language that the chief priests knew that the parable had been told “against them” but more importantly “they feared the people.” However the Matthean version of the parable supports such an interpretation since Matthew has included “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits thereof,” which Luke lacks.

This Lucan interpretation, that the Wicked Tenants does not include the people, is strengthened by the unique point about judgment made by Luke in 20:18 which is consistent with Luke's views of individual responsibility. “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” Luke has based this verse on the “stone of stumbling” passage of Isa. 8:14 as a comment on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Combining two separate “stone” passages to provide a new understanding of the Song of the Vineyard is the type of midrash one would expect of a first century Jewish teacher.

The stone of stumbling passage is also quoted by Paul who has combined it with the stone passage of Isa. 28:16 which concludes with a positive note: “and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Thus Paul re-affirms that the decision to believe is an individual one as are the consequences.

The Lucan Parable of the Wicked Tenants is not directed against the people. It is, like the original Song of the Vineyard, directed against those who have accumulated excessive wealth at the expense of the peasants. These individuals are identified by Luke as the chief priests and scribes, the religious aristocracy of the Temple. Matthew and Mark have re-introduced collective responsibility which the Prophet Ezekiel (18:5-9) had abandoned. Matthew and Mark's belief in collective responsibility is consistent with their belief that the Gentiles replaced the Jews.

Luke has several sayings that support the interpretation of individual eschatology based upon the teaching of the Prophet Ezekiel. “For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” This saying may be Luke’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s fundamental principle. “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper." The third saying is perhaps the strongest example. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The apocalyptic Jewish thought of the second century B.C.E. to the first century C.E. is a product of great historical turmoil of this period. Our most important text for the question of judgment is the Book of Daniel (Dan 7-12). All the apocalyptic writers were in agreement that at the resurrection both the just and the unjust would be judged. Apocalyptic thought flourished because it was a message of hope for the poor and the oppressed.

Matthew and Mark writing later than Luke introduced a number of passages consistent with the rising tensions of apocalyticism. The image of a people, harassed and helpless without a shepherd, present in Matthew 9:36; 25:32; 26:31; Mark 6:34 and 14:27 is absent from Luke. Consistent with this theme, both Matthew and Mark include “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Matthew and Mark also added the verse “False messiahs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” Joel Marcus uses this verse as one argument for dating the publication of the Gospel of Mark near the end of the Jewish War. The emergence of false prophets appear to reflect the circumstances from the mid-fifties CE to the end of the Jewish War as described by Josephus. Matthew and Mark have heightened imminent eschatology.

For Luke, the Shepherd is always present. On the third day, the kingdom of God is established when the Lucan Jesus changes his role in the middle of the meal. “This indicates that in a sense the kingdom is a present reality, in the person of Jesus.”

Luke shows a special interest in the fate of the individual even as he provides us with the traditional passages about individual and collective eschatology. This is evidence of a theology influenced by the Prophet Ezekiel that is in transition.

Since this is a work in progress, I will return to this subject.

Copyrighted 2007


Post a Comment

<< Home