Luke’s Rebukes – pulling it together

Posted: October 31, 2012 by J in Bible, Theology

A number of most interesting features have stood out in this survey:

1. The ‘sinners’ are never rebuked. Never ever. We could say that the sinners are the only ones who are not sinners in Luke. In Luke’s moral ordering of things, the sinners are at the top of the heap, the ones least responsible for evil. Elsewhere in Luke Jesus portrays them as lost, in need of rescue; as sick needing healing; as outcast and needing encouragement.  But not as rebellious, needing rebuke. Instead, the message is again and again that God sides with these ones in the judgement.

2. The ordinary people are rarely rebuked. On the occasions when they are, it is for blindness. They need their eyes opened to what God is doing in their midst. However, this blindness, under the influence of wicked leaders, could prove fatal. And so it becomes clear that Jerusalem faces ruin.

3. The disciples and other ‘good guy’ characters like Zechariah and Mary are rebuked mainly for blindness and unbelief. These are their besetting sins. They cannot assess things clearly, because their minds so often distort the signal. Frequently they fail to grasp what God is doing in front of their noses. Occasionally the disciples start talking like Pharisees, and then they get a sharp rebuke – but these are lapses, not their typical character.

4. The Pharisees and other religious leaders get the huge bulk of the rebukes in Luke. Like 80% or so. And these are typically the most stinging rebukes. Jesus never lets up on these guys, and always about the same things: greed for money, hidden by a veneer of religious uprightness which they use the dominate and oppress others. They are exposed as foolish and unbelieving as well – but their distinctive sins are that they exalt themselves socially, at the expense of the poor and the outcasts. They care nothing for honour from God, only from man. This is the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Of the classic Lutheran ‘trying to earn favour with God’ or ‘hope that your own goodness will be good enough for God’ – type of self-righteousness, which we talk about so much today, there is no hint in Luke. Not from the Pharisees, not from anybody.

5. The group rebuked most after the religious leaders is the rich and powerful. They combine the blind folly of the ordinary people with the oppressive greed of the Pharisees, and so sit somewhere in between. They appear to lack the self-righteous instinct. The rich are sternly threatened with God’s wrath, while the poor are overtly not. Rather, the poor are offered the opposite: relief and restoration when God’s kingdom arrives.

Summary and Conclusion:

Not everyone in Luke’s Gospel is in the same position or condition under sin. Some people are definitely (to quote King Lear) more sinned against than sinning. For these ones God’s judgement will largely mean salvation and relief: he will judge for them. Most people are foolish and blind. These ones are rarely threatened with God’s wrath: much more often they are welcomed and invited and encouraged to be healed. It is largely the leaders and the rich and powerful who are viewed as actually and actively rebellious against God. In summary, they reject God and oppress men. The woes are exclusively pronounced against them.

  1. Dan W says:

    Hey Jono,

    Was waiting for that synthesis! As you know, I’m a Luke novice, but I get the impression that there’s a theme of Jesus marching on Jerusalem to take the throne of his father, to bring the end of exile. The twist being that he’s not acknowledged, neither on his way there, nor when he arrives. In relation to this theme is ‘failing to recognise the Christ’ a significant sin in Luke? (I think that’s part of what you’re saying…?)

    I think my main question is, what does this mean for the ‘sinners’ (outcasts) who don’t acknowledge Jesus? They don’t seem to get much of a look in in Luke.


    • Jonathan says:

      Exactly: failing to recognise Jesus is the big problem, and that’s what foolish people do.

      Sinners who don’t recognise Jesus: By the quotations, you’re refering to Luke’s technical term ‘sinners’, meaning the moral outcasts and others who are barred from temple and synagogue, and so excluded from the covenant with Yhwh. Lepers, maybe shepherds, tax-collectors, prostitutes and others.

      What about the sinners who don’t recognise Jesus? I reckon there are lots of these in Luke/Acts. What does Jesus do with these guys? He’s always being criticised for it by the scribes etc. You tell us, Dan. What does Jesus do with them?

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