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
, 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
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.
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."