Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Last Pericope

It being the 4th of July, the thunderstorm having canceled my golf outing with my son, I thought I would present some random thoughts on the eschatological high priest that are suggested by the last pericope of the Gospel of Luke.

What seemed so clear and concise to me on the 4th now requires additional explanatory paragraphs to establish my point. These paragraphs explain the anointment at Bethany, why the “son of man” refers to the eschatological high priest, the significance of Sirach 50 for Luke and the irony of Luke’s ascension pericope.

Luke is clear that Jesus is “a prophet like Moses” not greater than Moses as in Matthew and Mark. The unknown woman does not pour the oil on his head; instead she uses the oil to massage his feet. The responses of Jesus to the HP are not offensive. Luke does not include the phrase added by Matthew and Mark: “You will see the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Thus in omitting this phrase offensive to Theophilus, Luke is consistent in his irenical presentation. Luke does not consider Jesus to be the eschatological high priest. To the extent that Matthew and Mark present Jesus as the eschatological high priest, this is a later theological development.

The anointment at Bethany is an example where Mark has added High Priestly imagery to the passion narrative. According to Leviticus 8, Moses poured some of the anointing oil onto Aaron's head to consecrate him. In Mark, an unknown woman poured anointing oil onto Jesus' head. Aus say this event took place to represent Jesus as the High Priest. Thus it is significant that the head of Jesus is not anointed in Luke. Luke tells the story of the woman who poured oil on the feet of Jesus during his Galilean ministry. The High Priestly imagery is missing from this account. Luke avoids presenting Jesus as a prophet greater than Moses. He also avoids any hints that Jesus is anointed the High Priest or that Jesus has replaced the High Priest.

The real irony would be that the High Priest failed to recognize that the Lucan Jesus is the new eschatological High Priest. The irony would provide the actual reversal that some commentators complain is missing from Luke-Acts since Jesus is, inter alia, a failed insurrectionist whose death had no meaning.

However, there are some interesting aspects of the priestly blessing uniquely conferred by the Lucan Jesus that have caused me to rethink my opinion. Initially it should be noted that Zachariah was unable to bless the people at the conclusion of his priestly duties because he had lost his voice by doubting the words of Gabriel. After John the Baptist was born, his father, Zachariah recovered his voice and delivered a prophecy that has been known as the Benedictus. Luke ends his irenical presentation to Theophilus with the blessing that Zechariah was unable to give at the beginning of his account.

Luke concludes his Gospel with these words:

“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

It has been suggested that Luke supplies the blessing at the end of the gospel which Zachariah was unable to give. But Zachariah did give the Benedictus in the form of a prophecy after the John the Baptist was born. Consequently it may not be accurate to say Luke supplies the missing blessing. However the fact that the Lucan Jesus raised his hands and gave a blessing is clearly a priestly act worthy of note.

We are not told the words of the blessing Jesus pronounced but whatever he said it was in fact a blessing. Yet when the ascension is described again at the beginning of Acts, no blessing is mentioned. Thus the significance of the blessing is not clear. It is not an act done to provide meaning to the ascension.

Andre Lacocque initially proposed that “the vision in Chapter 7 has the Temple as its framework” and that the “one like a son of man” refers to the eschatological high priest. Fletcher-Louis further develops the idea by first demonstrating that “Daniel 7 is ultimately Temple centred” and that the missing link to the understanding of Daniel 7 is the fact that “one like a son of man” and Enoch are both priests citing Suter, Nickelsburg, Kvanvig and Hemmelfarb.

Fletcher-Louis after his analysis of 1 Enoch 14 states: “We are thus led to the conclusion that Dan 7:9-14 describes the eschatological Day of Atonement (perhaps a jubilee) when the true high priest will come to the Ancient of Days surrounded by clouds of incense.” With this background, “The charge of blasphemy in response to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man now begins to make sense.”

Luke is said to use Ben Sira as a model or source but the ascension pericope can easily be explained by reference to Levitical blessing and the Prophet Elijah. Bock recognized that “Many compare this scene with the action of Simon II, the high priest (Sir. 50:20-21), and note that Jesus is acting like a priest here (Grundmann 1963:453-54; Ernst 1977:672). But Luke lacks an emphasis on Jesus as priest (Fitzmyer 1985:1590; Nolland 1993b: 1227). When Jesus offers beatitudes in Luke 6:20-26, he is speaking as a prophet-teacher, not as a priest.”

Marshall observed that “P.A. van Stempvoort has noted that the doxological motif which characterizes the present account with its stress on Jesus’ priestly action in blessing the disciples and on their praise to God in the temple” but does not develop the idea. Van Stempvoort considers Sir. 50:20-22 to be “the literary background of Luke’s description of the last Christophany.” According to Hamm, the priestly blessing of Jesus in Luke 24 must be understood not only in light of the annual atonement service but also the twice-daily whole offering or the Tamid service.

Dillon noted the appeal of Sir. 50:20-22 to Luke because the passage “exults in the bodily ascensions of Enoch (Sir. [44:16] 49:14) and Elijah (Sir. 48:9)” and places “special emphasis on the endowment of powerful prophecy transmitted through the generations of Israel’s wonder-working viri illustres.” Dillon also relied upon “the “raising” of hands in levitical gesture (only in Lev. 9:22; Sir 50:20: Lk. 24:50), the blessing (ελογω), the proskynesis of those assembled and following the “liturgy”, their praise of God.”

The idea that Jesus is the eschatological High Priest is muted in Luke-Acts for good reason. Luke is making an irenical presentation to Theophilus, the High Priest. Identifying most excellent Theophilus as the High Priest permits us to find new meaning for those verses and pericopes that have previously been unintelligible.

In the last pericope, Luke for the first time refers to worship being offered to Jesus. The frequent mention of worship of Jesus in Matthew and Mark is an anachronism because the recognition of the divinity did not precede the resurrection. An anachronism is “something out of place in time.” Turton's second criterion is “No anachronisms are historical.” Luke has no anachronisms. The act of worship occurred at the moment when the disciples finally realized who Jesus is.

As noted Lucan scholars have not been able to find other instances in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus acts like a priest. There are no instances because he does not assume this role until the ascension. Thus it is not accurate to say that the idea is muted.

The “final irony” is the title of my commentary of the last pericope. In the theatre, the phrase “dramatic irony” refers to those situations whose meanings are understood by the audience but not by the characters. In this instance, Theophilus, the addressee, understood because he is the High Priest. Theophilus recognized that Jesus is now the eschatological High Priest who will be “coming on the clouds of heaven.” The current audience of the Gospel of Luke has not understood the irony because they have not recognized that most excellent Theophilus is the High Priest. As noted, recognition of this fact allows other facts to be appreciated. Consequently, they have not recognized the final irony that the Lucan Jesus is now the eschatological High Priest.

Thus, we have Luke addressing his gospel to Theophilus, the High Priest, wherein Jesus, accused of blasphemy, appears before the High Priest who considered himself the eschatological high priest surrounded on the Day of Atonement by clouds of incense.

Luke’s presentation is the first class use of irony as a tool of rhetoric because Jesus by the power of God is raised from the dead and does appear at the right hand of the power of God as the eschatological high priest.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008


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