Our Year of Luke is winding down, and I’m more in love with Luke than ever. Maybe it’s because Luke’s account is written for people like us: educated, professional, cosmopolitan, the sort of people who buy coffees out and who can confidently navigate a big city. The joy of Luke – and there’s a LOT of joy – is found when we allow God to confound our expectations and turn the world on its head. Hospitality is a big deal, and Luke teaches that we experience God’s hospitality when we welcome the stranger. Guests become hosts, outsiders know grace, the poor are blessed, and resurrection life can be experienced in this life now.
Of course, being written for people like us means that, along with the joy, Luke’s challenges can hit us hard. The theologian Athol Gill noted that, for the rich, the gospel is bad news before it becomes good news: and this is clear in Luke. Over and over again, the rich are confronted by a choice: Will we be possessed by our possessions, or will we be possessed by Christ? What will we pour our time, energy and money into? And what will we give up when we encounter God’s hospitality here and now?
A second challenge is the extravagance of grace. Most of us are ‘insiders’: people who have been in and around churches forever. Again and again, Luke depicts Jesus eating with outsiders while the insiders grumble. I wonder, then, how do we, as individuals and as a church, respond to seeing Christ alive in a gathering of LGBTI+ atheists, or in an ultra-conservative congregation? Do we even ever go there? Do we grumble and turn our backs? Or do we join the party and model an extravagant hospitality of our own?
Finally, in Luke’s account, outward signs of salvation are seen in abundant joy, praise, partying and proclamation. And I wonder, are these signs evident in our own lives, or in the life of the church? And if not, why not? And what will we do about it?
This Sunday, we will hear one of the most extravagant stories of them all. It’s so offensive to insiders that most translations render the text ambiguous and gloss over the bombshell: but I hope you will join me as we explore the Greek, and discover and celebrate the extraordinary magnitude of grace.
PS: This year, we’ve read through Luke piecemeal. If you’d like to get a sense of Luke as a whole, get an old Bible and some pens. Go through Luke’s gospel and highlight in orange every occurrence of the words ‘joy’, ‘rejoice’, ‘gladness’, or similar. Grab a green highlighter, and mark every meal or party or moment of hospitality. Go through once more, and underline in red every challenge to the rich. Finally, asterisk scenes of righteous grumbling in black. Now ask yourself: What leaps out? Who’s at the meal tables? What triggers the grumbling? Which characters are you most like? And where would you like to belong?
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