#16: Thursday, 21 March, 2019.
Thursday, 21 March Luke 8:1-21
Written by Dr Graham Leo. ©2019.
The most prominent part of today’s reading is the parable of the sower. This is so well-known, and in any event, Jesus explains it in our reading, that I am going to let it go by for our reflection today. Instead, I want to focus on some of the less-obvious sections.
Luke starts by telling us about Jesus’ travelling party. We often see on images, the twelve disciples with Jesus, as indeed they were. But the party was much larger than that. Luke names three women but says that there were many others as well. These women used their own resources to support Jesus and the disciples in a practical sense. It costs money to feed 20-30 people every day, provide for clothing and sandals and perhaps occasionally even pay for accommodation.
One of the women named was Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s Household Manager. Her husband held a significant public service position. We have no idea of what he thought of his wife travelling around, spending his salary on Jesus. Mary Magdalene was she who was with Jesus at the cross, and one of the first to see the empty tomb. She was clearly a very faithful follower.
Just in case anyone has heard the nonsense peddled about her being secretly married to Jesus, let me put that to rest immediately. This is fanciful nonsense promoted by the likes of fiction-writer Dan Brown and some feminist theologians who like to overplay the role of Mary for the sake of their own agendas. No serious historian lends any credence to the idea that there is any documentary evidence that even goes close towards supporting that theory. It is a crackpot theory. If you hadn't heard of it, you're lucky. If you have, please delete it from the world of possibility in your mind.
This travelling company forms the introduction to Luke’s version of this parable. Perhaps he has in mind that these women are fine examples of the seed that fell on fertile soil, and was not choked by weeds and cares of this world.
After this parable, Luke gives us two little snippets.
There is a parable about a lamp on a stand. The Gospel brings light into the world. Light reveals what is hidden. In our day, we lose a lot of the power of this parable, and other similar ones about lamps, because we are accustomed to readily-available electric light.
Right up until just a couple of centuries ago, the world understood darkness. When the sun went down, and the moon was not shining, the world was very dark indeed. Inside largely windowless houses, the blackness was intense. Light was a welcome and soothing element, removing fear and making it possible to see where you could walk.
In Australia recently, we've had a number of Royal Commissions into matters of great public importance. The spotlight of justice was shone firmly on banking and financial institutions, on institutional sexual abuse and on the Aged Care industry. The purpose of a Royal Commission is to have a completely independent person with extensive legal experience in the court system investigate a matter without any possibility of political or other interference or influence.
The public has heaved collective sighs of relief when, at long last, that which was hidden has been made known. Some of the darkness had lasted for nearly a century, and there was massive satisfaction when it was finally dispelled.
This is the kind of relief that the parable (NB v17) has in focus when it promises that under the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating, nothing will be allowed to fester and continue corruptly. The Gospel will shine light into all wrongdoing. So when the church is implicated in some of these wrong actions, there is a double failure. Not only was it hiding its own wrongdoing, it was the very one which should have been holding up the light on others.
Remember that in Revelation, (1:12-20) John writes that the seven lampstands are the seven churches. He says that if they fail to hold their light faithfully, the lampstand will be removed. Note this carefully. The lampstand, not the lamp, will be removed. The lampstand in Revelation is the local church. Jesus is the Lamp, the Light. He pictures Jesus walking among the lampstands, as the Lord of the Church, watching, taking note.
Every church should read this parable, and John’s description, carefully and fearfully. If we do not perform our role of carrying light, and shining light from the high moral ground of Christian conviction with complete integrity, we can expect that the Lord of the Church will act to remove the church from its place.
Jesus’ message, as Luke is telling it, is becoming more and more divisive. You are either with him or against him. You will either stand with him to the end, or be lost. Even John the Baptist had to be told. The parable of the sower also makes this abundantly clear.
As though to sharpen the point to an even finer focus, Luke shows Jesus’ natural family coming to see him. In Mark 3:21 we get perhaps a glimpse of why they have come to see him. They have heard the reports of his actions, and they have formed the view that he has gone mad. They are seeking to have him ‘sectioned’, detained as a Mental Health patient.
Our reading started with women who had been generally diagnosed with being mad, now made whole and following Jesus. It ends with his own family seeking to have him declared non compos mentis, not the full quid, of being a sandwich short of a lunchbox, say it how you will. But the light has shone and made the darkness light for Mary Magdalene and many other unnamed women. The darkness surrounds those who think that Jesus is not light but darkness.
It was no wonder that Jesus turned to the enquirers and told them that his true family are those who see the light and live by it. On the surface, his reply sounds harsh. Put into its context, as Luke has put it, we see that Jesus was claiming his lampstand and refusing to let his light be put out by anyone – not even his family.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I know that I too often hide my light when it doesn't seem convenient for me to shine it brightly. Help me to show your light in my neighbourhood, in my family, in my church, in my community, in my school, or at my work. Help me to shine light on that which should be disclosed, and not be part of anything that looks even remotely like a cover-up. Amen.