These last few weeks I’ve been journeying with the Lukan Jesus to the deep recesses of my soul, mind and body. He’s made me happy, joyful, relieved, uncomfortable and even frustrated. This journey has been mostly due to sermon research and preparation but also to my being a gospel junkie. I’m pretty obsessed with learning whatever I can about the gospels so as to better understand the message of Jesus and how his early communities would have understood him so that, in turn, I can understand him better. What makes learning from Luke even more powerful at this time is everything that’s going on right now regarding the race for the White House. The Trump Clinton race has really brought out some interesting reactions, a good portion of which are riddled with the sort of end of the world fear mongering that makes America great (Oops! No pun intended there!). Strange occurrences are happening, like faithful voters who never had a problem with the system until now, chagrined by all that has gone on to the point in which they may not vote or vote for a third party candidate.
In the midst of all of this comes a stark contrast: the Lukan Jesus and his teachings. Candidates and their supporters invest in their journey to become the most powerful person in the world. In contrast, the Lukan Jesus makes it pretty clear that this is simply not true. While there is campaign to get to the top, to this most coveted position in the world, the voice of the Lukan Jesus reminds me that I must go in the opposite direction.
In Luke 17 Jesus warns his disciples against scandalizing “these little ones” and to pay attention to themselves and their community so that they continue to follow Jesus’ teachings. Jesus’ disciples were often seeking after the same things that the Pharisees had been seeking after. Namely, wealth, honor, status. In their living the Pharisees had caused the little ones to stumble which is one of the reasons for Jesus’ condemnation of them in the parallel passage found in Luke 11, the good ole’ Woes section. Instead, the disciples were to become like a grain of mustard seed, to have the faith of something as small and insignificant as that. Then, we learn, trees could be uprooted and planted. In other words, what Jesus is getting at is if the disciples are going to do amazing things it will begin not at the top but at the bottom. We disciples today might as well call out to the Lord also and say, “Lord, increase our faith!”
That’s what’s so powerful to me. It’s rather stunning. We are raised being told that success is defined in terms of wealth or power or both. Donald Trump, because he has billions, is a symbol of monetary success. Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, senator, secretary of state, can easily be held up as the pinnacle of success because of the positions she has held. To become the President of the United States is to truly be at the top and to truly be able to make a difference. Instead of journeying in such directions the Lukan Jesus is clear: we must go in the opposite direction. And he goes so far as to claim that by doing so you or I will do great things. Talk about counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, illogical and destructive.
Maybe my motto for these days or all days should be, “Lord, increase my faith!” Because this certainly doesn’t seem like a good time to be messed with or maybe it is. Last evening I turned on the Vice Presidential debate near its end and in that brief period I certainly witnessed the power of the divider’s schemes. Both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence are avowed Christians. Yet, neither, because of political considerations are truly pro-life. Kaine explained that, while personally pro-life, he was pro-choice because he respects the courts and a woman’s right to choose. One wonders, though, why a devout Roman Catholic would stop there considering his social justice concerns. If the courts ruled that certain persons were unequal in comparison to other persons would he respect the courts then? On the flipside, Mike Pence said he was pro-life all while being the running mate of a guy who has gone on record and said he doesn’t need forgiveness and denigrates all kinds people made in the image of God. It’s scary but both of these men reveal the compromises of the faith needed when in the higher political realm. These are great examples of what’s lost as human beings climb the social ladder. In order to become palatable to such a large constituency as the American public convictions are things that can easily be molded, expended or ignored. Sure, they do plenty of good, too, but the question that needs to be asked is: at what or whose expense?
Earlier in the Gospel of Luke the devil tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world. In so doing he says something that is often overlooked and not given much attention by pastors and theologians. The devil says, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” Jacques Ellul notes that Jesus never disputed this point made by Satan. Revelation seems to agree with this claim by Satan as well.
No matter what, this line should give us pause as we evaluate the race for the White House. Is climbing the ladder to that final rung that gets one to the top truly worth the cost? Jesus words that he who would save his life will lose it seem ever poignant at this moment. We can talk all we want about vocation, but the reality is that sin scars and hardens and compartmentalizing and categorizing things in such a way can hurt more than it can help. Thus, Jesus’ warning to his disciples in Luke 17 about not causing scandal. I think of the Academy Award winning movie Spotlight and the justification given for the Roman Catholic Church’s cover up of the clergy child sex abuse rampant in Boston and elsewhere. The argument was that because they (the Church) were doing so much good, in the form of organizations like Catholic Charities, bringing to light all corruption would be bad. What was overlooked in this effort to do good was the very evil and damage that had been done and continued to be done to the victims in the form of suicide, addiction, depression and instability. The least of these were caused to stumble so that the Church could continue on unabated.
As we get closer to Election Day it might be good for those who bear the name Christian to keep in mind what Jesus said to the Pharisees a few verses later in Luke 17. They asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come. To this Jesus responded,
“The kingdom of God is not coming through organization. They will not say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look here!’ for the Kingdom of God is within you.”
Maybe the answer lies to closer to us than we realize.
Parts of the Luke 17 translation taken from Luke Kammrath’s “Father, Into Your Hands”: The Way According to Jesus.