Rebukes in Luke

Posted: October 26, 2012 by J in Bible, Theology

Ok here’s my approach: we’re going to use the rebukes in Luke as an index of what part sin is playing in the story. Who gets rebuked or condemned in his writings, and why? Where did they go wrong? This should help us get a handle on Luke’s view of sin.

For you to be challenged in your view of sin, you’re going to need to see the evidence. That takes a bit of space. I hope you come with me on this journey – it’ll be worth it.

The first rebuke is copped by the priest Zechariah. Gabriel the angel has told him about his wife’s pregnancy, and Zechariah doesn’t believe it. Mildly corrected in 1:12-13

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid…

Fear was a wrong response. But the major problem comes in 1:18

Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute…

The words were true, Zechariah should have realised this and welcomed them. But he feared and did not believe.

Luke here introduces his favourite pair of negative responses to the gospel: fear and unbelief. There is a kind of mental disorder at work so that people do not respond appropriately to God’s blessing. Where they should be happy and feel honoured, they are scared and doubting. And for no reason. This is not malicious, it is not selfish or actively defiant. It is foolish. An inability to recognise the true from the false. Zechariah does not act in his own best interests.

(Mary is the direct contrast: when Gabriel visits her, she believes, welcomes the word, and rejoices (1:26-55). She is wise where the priest is foolish.)

The next rebuke comes in 2:48. Mary and Joseph have lost Jesus, and search for days before finding him in the temple.

“Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he said to them.

A mild rebuke. Jesus’ parents should have known where to find him. But they did not understand him the way they should have. Again a problem in the realm of wisdom. Mental disorder: they could not see what was in front of their noses.

John the Baptist brings an implied rebuke, in his call to change, in 3:10:

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”  Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Those who have power over others are rebuked for greed which exploits the weak and is hard-hearted towards the needy. Sin here is in the realm of social injustice. Along with fear and unbelief, oppressive greed will feature quite a lot in Luke.

John also rebukes Herod, another powerful man, 3:19:

But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done,  added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Herod’s sins here are two: flouting the laws of marriage, and oppressing John. Both sins are in the realm of the misuse of power. But Herod features as one actively opposed to God, mistreating his prophet.

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