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Minnesota Episcopal
Environmental
Stewardship
Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Church in Minnesota

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Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Advent 2
Gospel
Episcopal Standard Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary

Luke 3: 1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

 

Reflection on Luke 3: 1-6
by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Salvation history is anchored in world history. It is significant for Luke not only that the word of God came to John the Baptizer, but also that it came "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee…, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas."

Here we are confronted by "the scandal of particularity." As Luke sees it, Jesus has been made Messiah, the anointed One long promised now present. For Jesus the gospel at the heart of God's word carries universal meaning. But amazingly, this gospel of good news for all humanity was not at first perceived and received everywhere by everyone at once. It began in a very limited space and time, unobtrusively present at first under the governance of imperial and priestly persons in high places.

Who would know at its insignificant beginning that the seed planted there in that fifteenth year of a long-forgotten Roman emperor's rule would flower into a message significant for all time and all places? On the other hand, the more exact, concrete, specific a work of art is, the deeper and wider its significance may become. Particularity, far from being scandalous, can be the major key to universal meaning. We see that reality in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, in Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son, in Beethoven's Fifth Synphony…

So what was the particular seed sown there and then? Luke returns to Isaiah (as he had at 2:32) and the climatic concept of "the salvation of God" which is seen by "all flesh" (all living beings, not restricted to humanity). Our culture of individualism has grossly restricted "salvation" to individuals. In biblical thought generally, and in Luke's thought especially, salvation is a public rather than private concept, however, one that includes political Shalom (peace) no less than religious Shalom. Salvation is a holistic concept that embraces all creation including "all peoples" (cf. Luke 2:29-32; Psalm 104).

In his great study of "the significance of the fall of Jerusalem in the synoptic gospels" Lloyd Gaston repeatedly emphasizes the political content of the gospel. At one point he states: "A community characterized as a perfect harmony of free persons with their Lord and with one another is a political as well as a religious goal. This political goal of peace among the nations is an important part of the eschatological hope of Israel, in which the Messiah (Isaiah 9:2-7; Zechariah 9:9f; Micah 5:5) rules over a peaceful paradise (Isaiah 2:2-4=Mic 4:1-4). The proclamation to Israel during the first century that such a long-promised goal had become a reality could not possibly ignore the troubled political situation of the time. The redemption which the Messiah has come to bring to Israel will mean peace for all Israel and peace between Israel and the nations." [Gaston, No Stone On Another (Supplements to Novum Testamentum), XXIII; Leiden: EJ Brill, 1970), p. 335]

How ironic that the apparently insignificant seed of "salvation," which appeared unnoticed by most in the First Century, carried such holistic embrace of political and religious life "saved."

Printable version

 

 

To Reflections on other Readings for Year C, Advent 2:

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary
Revised Common
Lectionary
Old Testament
(Hebrew Scripture) Reading:
Baruch 5:1-9
Baruch 5:1-9, or
Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm
Psalm 126
Canticle 4 or 16
New Testament Reading:
Philippians 1:1-11
Philippians 1:3-11
Gospel
Luke 3:1-6
(this page)
Luke 3:1-6
(this page)

John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, resided in Park Rapids, MN, when he wrote this reflection in 2012. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John G. Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:


MEESC
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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