I am not 100% sure if I am going to be helpful at all but I would like to possibly suggest the New Interpreter's Bible.... This series has contributor's from conservative to more liberal... but they try to be fair with different views. Here are 3 samples:
LEVITICUS 22:17–33, HOLINESS IN SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS
While there is some connection between this section and the preceding five sections in 21:1–22:16 in that all six sections conclude with the closing formula, or colophon, “I am the LORD, who makes you/him/them holy,” this sixth section is addressed to all Israel (22:17–18a) and the priests, whereas the previous five are addressed exclusively to the priests (21:1). Therefore, treating it separately is best.
The concern in this section is for a jealous maintenance of the holiness of God in the quality of the offerings brought to God’s house. The first requirement is that they are to be “without defect” (vv. 19–21; see 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:3, 23, 28; cf. Mal 1:8, 13). Only for a freewill offering is an exception to this rule allowed: An animal can be brought that is not altogether perfect but is “deformed or stunted” (v. 23). But such an imperfect victim is not acceptable in making a vow to God. The prophet Malachi alludes to this very exclusion for the vow offerings when he sharply denounces the “cheats” who have an acceptable male in their flocks and who vow to give it to the Lord, “but then [sacrifice] a blemished animal to the LORD” (Mal 1:14 NIV). Can this be the way a great king ought to be treated? asks Malachi.
This unblemished animal has to be a male (see 1:3). It has to come from the cattle, sheep, or goats, not from the wild animals, which belong to no single offerer in particular. There can be no defect in the animals, such as “warts or festering or running sores” (v. 22). The sacrificial animal cannot be a gelding, i.e., castrated in any one of the four ways mentioned in v. 24: bruised, crushed, broken, or cut. Some have taken the clause here in v. 24 to mean that one was not to castrate any animal in the land for any purpose, but our versions are probably correct in taking it to apply only to sacrificial animals.
The second requirement is that this law about not offering blemished animals must be enforced when foreigners make sacrifices to the Lord (v. 25). Offering discount bargains where the holiness of God is involved is to be strictly forbidden; otherwise the offering will not be accepted by the Lord.
The third requirement sets a minimal limit on the age of a sacrificial animal. It has to be no less than eight days old (v. 27), and the mother and its young are not to be slaughtered for sacrifice on the same day (v. 28). One reason why the eighth day is chosen is that an animal is not fit for eating before the eighth day, hence its inappropriateness for sacrifice.
This section closes (vv. 29–30) by repeating the command already given in 7:15 that the meat of the thank offering is to be eaten on the same day in which it is offered.
A concluding admonition is given in vv. 31–33. Israel is urged, once again, to keep God’s commands and to obey them. Doing anything less amounts to profaning the name of the Lord. The word חלל (ḥillēl [piel]) means to “demean,” “degrade the sacred to the level of the חל (ḥōl), the profane, or secular.” Over against the human tendency to degrade God stand God’s holiness, lordship, and gracious act of redeeming Israel from Egypt.
1. Offering God the leftovers and scraps of our time, energies, funds, and talents is akin to vowing to give to God our best and then coming with whatever we can spare.
2. The ceremonial law has been repealed in its outward form, since the final and perfect sacrifice of Christ has been offered, yet it abides in its spirit and intention in that we profane the name or sanctuary of God by unholy lives or by lawless worship that fails to acknowledge that God is a great king, priest, and prophet after the orders of David, Aaron-Melchizedek, and Moses, respectively.
Walter C., Jr. Kaiser, “The Book of Leviticus,” in General Articles; Genesis-Leviticus, vol. 1 of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 1150-1152.
PSALM 23:1–6, LIKE A CHILD AT HOME
Certainly the most familiar psalm, and perhaps the most familiar passage in the whole Bible, Psalm 23 is a challenge for the interpreter. On the one hand, its familiarity and obvious power seem to make commentary superfluous. On the other hand, its very familiarity invites the attempt to hear it in a fresh way. The challenge in this regard is the fact that Psalm 23 has become what William L. Holladay calls “an American Secular Icon,”122 and it is almost exclusively associated with a particular contemporary setting: the funeral service. To be sure, it is appropriate that Psalm 23 be read and heard in the midst of death and dying. It may be more important, however, that this psalm be read and heard as a psalm about living, for it puts daily activities, such as eating, drinking, and seeking security, in a radically God-centered perspective that challenges our usual way of thinking. Furthermore, it calls us not simply to claim individual assurance but also to take our place with others in the household of God.
23:1–3. The psalm begins with a simple profession. In the ancient world, kings were known as shepherds of their people. Thus to profess “The LORD is my shepherd” is to declare one’s loyalty to God and intention to live under God’s reign. It was the responsibility of kings to provide for and protect the people, but they frequently failed to do so (see Jer 23:1–4; Ezek 34:1–10). In contrast to the failure of earthly kings, God does what a shepherd is supposed to do: provide life and security for the people (see Ezek 34:11–16). Thus the psalmist affirms, “I shall lack nothing,” as v. 1b is better translated (see Deut 2:7; Neh 9:21). The rest of the psalm explains how God fulfills the role of a good shepherd (see also Gen 49:24; Pss 28:9; 74:1; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Mic 7:14).
Contrary to the usual understanding, the imagery in vv. 2–3 is not aimed primarily at communicating a sense of peace and tranquility. It does this, to be sure, but its primary intent is to say that God keeps the psalmist alive. For a sheep, to be able to “lie down in green pastures” means to have food; to be led “beside still waters” means to have something to drink; to be led “in right paths” means that danger is avoided and proper shelter is attained (see Pss 5:8; 27:11). In short, God “restores my soul,” or, better translated, God “keeps me alive.” The sheep lack nothing, because the shepherd provides the basic necessities of life—food, drink, shelter. Thus the psalmist professes that his or her life depends solely on God and that God keeps the psalmist alive “for his name’s sake” (v. 3b)—that is, in keeping with God’s fundamental character.
By alluding to God’s character, v. 3b anticipates the mention of “goodness and mercy,” two fundamental attributes of God (see below on v. 6). Not surprisingly, the vocabulary of vv. 2–3 occurs elsewhere in relation to key events that reveal God’s character. For instance, the two Hebrew verbs translated “leads” in vv. 2–3 occur together in Exod 15:13 in the song that celebrates the exodus. The verb in v. 2 also occurs in Isa 40:11, where God is also portrayed as a shepherd who leads the people home from exile (see also Isa 49:10–11). Although the psalmist’s personal address to God as “my shepherd” is unique, the way the psalmist experiences God is entirely in keeping with God’s character and historic deeds.
23:4. This is the structural and theological center of Psalm 23. Even in the most life-threatening situation, God’s provision is sufficient. The word that the NIV translates “the shadow of death” elsewhere seems to mean simply “darkness” or “deep darkness” (see Job 3:5; 10:22; 12:22; 16:16; Pss 44:19; 107:10; Amos 5:8). The word, however, is unusual. It appears to be a compounding of words meaning “shadow” and “death,” and in Job 10:22 it describes the realm of the dead. Thus the traditional translation seems appropriate (see v. 4 NIV). The similarity between the Hebrew words for “evil” (רע raʿ) and “my shepherd” (רעי rōʿı̂) is striking, and the effect is to pit dramatically the shepherd against the threatening evil. The threat is real, but it is not to be feared, for the shepherd’s provision is sufficient. The expression “fear no evil” is reminiscent of the central feature of the prophetic salvation oracle, which is particularly prominent in Isaiah 40–55 (see Isa 41:11–13, 14–16; 43:1–7; 44:6–8; 54:4–8). The word “comfort” (נחם nḥm) is also thematic in Isaiah 40–55 (see Isa 40:1–2; 49:13; 51:3, 12, 19; 52:9). The historical setting of Isaiah 40–55 is that of exile, Israel’s “darkest valley.” The message of the prophet is that even in exile, God will provide. Indeed, the introductory oracle concludes that God “will feed his flock like a shepherd” (Isa 40:11 NRSV).
The central affirmation, “you are with me,” is made even more emphatic by the shift from third to second person in referring to God and by the presence of the Hebrew pronoun for “you.” The direct address heightens the expression of the intimacy of God’s presence. As Brueggemann points out, the only two occurrences of the personal name for God, Yahweh (LORD), occur in vv. 1 and 6, as if to indicate that Yahweh’s presence is all-surrounding.123
The “rod” in v. 4 makes sense as a shepherd’s implement; however, the word even more frequently signifies royal authority and rule (see “scepter” in Gen 49:10; Ps 45:6; Isa 14:5). What is ultimately comforting is the assurance that God is sovereign and that God’s powerful presence provides for our lives.
23:5–6. While some interpreters discern the sheep/shepherd imagery in these verses, it is more likely that God is here portrayed as a gracious host. In any case, whether the metaphor shifts is not crucial. The gracious host does for the guest exactly what the shepherd did for the sheep—provides food (“You prepare a table”), drink (“my cup overflows”), and shelter/protection (v. 6).
Like vv. 1–4, vv. 5–6 suggest that it is God’s very character to provide for God’s people. The clue in vv. 1–4 is the phrase “for his name’s sake.” The primary indication in vv. 5–6 is the Hebrew word חסד (ḥesed), which the NRSV translates as “mercy” and the NIV as “love.” God’s ḥesed lies at the very heart of God’s character, as suggested by the fact that the word occurs twice in God’s self-revelation to Moses in Exod 34:6–7 (see the Introduction). The word “goodness” (טוב ṭô
is also reminiscent of God’s self-revelation to Moses, for God’s “goodness” passes before Moses in Exod 33:19 (see Pss 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, where “goodness” and ḥesed are paired as reasons for praising God).
Most translations suggest that God’s goodness and ḥesed will “follow” the psalmist, but the Hebrew verb (רדף rādap) has the more active sense of “pursue.” God is in active pursuit of the psalmist! This affirmation is particularly noteworthy in view of “the presence of my enemies.” Ordinarily in the psalms, it is precisely the enemies who “pursue” the psalmist (see 7:5; 71:11; 109:16). Here the enemies are present but have been rendered harmless, while God is in active pursuit.
The mention of “the house of the LORD” in v. 6 may indicate the Temple and, along with the mention of “a table” in v. 5, may be a clue to the psalm’s original cultic setting. It is possible that the psalm was used at a meal sponsored by a worshiper as part of his or her thanksgiving offering (see Commentary on Ps 22:22–26), perhaps in gratitude for deliverance from enemies (v. 5). Other scholars take v. 6b very literally and conclude that the psalmist was one of the temple personnel or that she or he spent the night in the Temple during a distressing time to await a reassuring oracle. It is more likely, however, that the “stay in the sanctuary is probably metaphorical for keeping close contact with the personal God.”124
In any case, the mention of “the house of the LORD” is significant. To be in “the house of the LORD,” literally or metaphorically, provides a communal dimension to this psalm that is usually heard exclusively individualistically. This communal dimension is reinforced when Psalm 23 is heard in conjunction with Psalm 22, as the editors of the psalter may have intended. Not only can the depth of trust expressed in Psalm 23 be appreciated more fully after reading Psalm 22, but also the conclusion of Psalm 22 (vv. 22–31) seems to anticipate the ending of Psalm 23 (vv. 5–6). Psalm 22 ends with the psalmist in the “congregation” (vv. 22, 25), which would have been found in the house of the Lord (23:6). Thus the personal assurance articulated by the psalmist is finally experienced in the community of God’s people.
1. In a consumer-oriented society, it is extremely difficult to hear the simple but radical message of Psalm 23: God is the only necessity of life! While v. 1 is best translated “I shall lack nothing,” the traditional translation preserved by the NIV and the NRSV is particularly appropriate in a culture that teaches people to want everything. Driven by greed rather than need, we can hardly imagine having only the necessities of life—food, drink, shelter/protection. Clever advertisers have succeeded in convincing us that what former generations considered incredible luxuries are now basic necessities. To say in our prosperous context that God is the only necessity of life sounds hopelessly quaint and naive. Then again, the words of Jesus also strike us as naive:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt 6:25, 33 NRSV)
In effect, to make Psalm 23 our words is to affirm that we do not need to worry about our lives (or our deaths). God will provide, and God’s provision is grounded in the reality of God’s reign. The proper response to the simple good news of Psalm 23 and Jesus Christ is to trust God. But this is precisely the rub. In a secular society, we are encouraged to trust first ourselves and to work first to secure our own lives and futures. Psalm 23 thus challenges us to affirm with the psalmist: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” To say that means to live humbly and gratefully as a child of God.
The third stanza of Isaac Watts’s beautiful metrical version of Psalm 23 expresses eloquently the simple trust that Psalm 23 communicates and commends to us:
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Your House be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest,
But like a child at home.125
Not only does Watts’s paraphrase capture the childlike trust articulated by Psalm 23, recalling Jesus’ words about entering the reign of God “like a little child” (Mark 10:15 NIV), but also it calls to our attention the communal dimension of Psalm 23.
To be a child at home means inevitably to be part of a family, to share community around a table (see v. 5). Thus we are led to reflect on what it means to be a part of God’s household (see v. 6). The implications are profound and radical: We are not our own! We belong to God and to one another! In his book God the Economist, M. Douglas Meeks recognizes the radical implications of Psalm 23. He quotes Aubrey R. Johnson’s rendering of Psalm 23:6:
Yea, I shall be pursued in unfailing kindness every day of my life,
finding a home in the Household of Yahweh for many a long year.
Meeks understands Psalm 23 to be an articulation of the same message ultimately embodied in the Lord’s Supper, which also has to do with God’s gracious provision of food, drink, and security within God’s household. Meeks puts it as follows:
The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is under orders from God the Economist and is a concrete instance of God’s providential oikonomia [the Greek word from which our word economy is derived; it means literally “law of the household”] with implications for all eating and drinking everywhere. For this reason, the disciples of Jesus should pray boldly for daily bread (Luke 11:3). They should keep the command to eat and drink, recognizing that it includes the command that they should share daily bread with all of God’s people.
. . . Psalm 23 depicts the work of God’s economy overcoming scarcity in God’s household.126
Because, as Psalm 23 affirms, God is the source of all food and drink and security, because we belong first and forever to God’s household, our lives are transformed. Daily realities are not to be taken for granted and certainly not to be treated as rewards we have earned. Psalm 23, like the Lord’s Supper, becomes finally an invitation to live under God’s rule and in solidarity with all God’s children. Thus to make Psalm 23 our own is a profoundly radical affirmation of faith that transforms our lives and our world. To be sure, Psalm 23 is to be heard in the midst of death and dying, but it is also to be heard amid the ordinary daily activities of living. And it gives these daily activities an extraordinary significance, for it invites us to share daily bread with all of God’s people.
2. It is inevitable that Christians hear in Psalm 23 testimony to Jesus Christ. Jesus became the gracious host who prepares a table that reconciles enemies and offers life (see Mark 14:22–25; interestingly, Mark 14:27 alludes to Zech 13:7, a passage about sheep and shepherds). In a story with obvious eucharistic overtones (Mark 6:30–44, esp. vv. 41–42), Jesus feeds people. The crowd is to “sit down . . . on the green grass” (Mark 6:39 NRSV), a detail that recalls Ps 23:2. That the allusion is not coincidental is suggested by Mark’s description of Jesus’ motivation for having compassion on the crowd: “they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 NRSV). Jesus serves as both host and shepherd, acting out the two metaphors of Psalm 23.
Jesus is cast even more clearly in the role of shepherd in John 10:1–17. As in Psalm 23, the shepherd leads the sheep (John 10:3), providing food (John 10:9) and protection (John 10:12–13) for the purpose of sustaining life itself (John 10:10). And Jesus says specifically, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14 NRSV). Interesting too in John 10 is the enigmatic mention of “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” (v. 16 NRSV). Does this refer to Christians beyond the Johannine community? Does this refer more broadly to adherents of other world religions? The solution is unclear, but in the light of the communal conclusion to Psalm 23 (especially in view of the conclusion of Psalm 22, where “all the ends of the earth” and “all the families of the nations” are to “turn to the LORD” and “worship before him” [22:27]); it is worthy of note that John 10 envisions God’s household in very open terms, with room perhaps for “enemies” (Ps 23:5) and even for “all the families of the nations” (Ps 22:27).
This thrust toward universality is present too in the relationship between Jesus and Ps 23:4, “you are with me.” According to Matthew, Jesus is to be named “Emmanuel . . . ‘God is with us’ ” (Matt 1:23 NRSV). This affirmation provides a frame for the Gospel, the final words of which are “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20 NRSV). This final affirmation of Emmanuel is in the context of Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19 NRSV). God intends for God’s household to include “the ends of the earth” (Ps 22:27).
In short, in NT terms, Jesus is shepherd, host, Emmanuel. When Psalm 23 is heard in the context of Psalm 22 and of Jesus Christ, its profoundly radical implications are even clearer: God is with us, but God is not ours to own; the God who shepherds us to life also gives life to the world; the table at which we are hosted is one to which the whole world is invited.
J. Clinton, Jr. McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” in 1 Maccabees-Psalms, vol. 4 of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 766-771.
LUKE 3:1–6, THE SETTING OF JOHN’S MINISTRY
The introduction to John’s prophetic ministry blends patterns from Greco-Roman historiography (chronology) and the Hebrew prophets (call). The date of John’s call is fixed (vv. 1–2a), and the call is described in a manner reminiscent of the prophets (v. 2b). The location and essence of John’s ministry are recorded (v. 3), and its fulfillment of the Scriptures is noted with a quotation from Isaiah (vv. 4–6). The chronological data given here are more detailed than earlier references in 1:5 and 2:1–2, signaling that John’s ministry of preaching and baptizing marks the real beginning of the period of Jesus’ ministry.
In the days before events were dated according to the years of the Christian era (which was initiated in 533 CE by Dionysius Exiguus), events were dated in relation to the rulers of the period or the number of years since the founding of Rome. Luke follows the former method, fixing the date of John’s call by six chronological vectors. Even taken together, however, they do not provide a precise date because of the uncertainties that surround ancient calendars and systems of reckoning. “The fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius” is the most promising vector, but it does not furnish us with a reliable date because we do not know which calendar Luke was using or the event from which he counted the years. The Julian, Jewish, Syrian-Macedonian, and Egyptian calendars each reckoned the years differently. Neither is the date of the beginning of Tiberius’s reign clearly established. Tiberius’s co-regency with Augustus began in 11 or 12 CE; Augustus died in 14 CE; and we do not know whether Luke counted the year of Tiberius’s accession as one of the years of his reign. Counting from 14 CE, and counting part of a year as a whole year, brings us to about 28 CE, which accords well with Luke’s later note that Jesus was “about thirty years old when he began his work” (3:23; see Commentary on v. 23).
The five other references are less helpful. Procurators governed Judea following the removal of Archelaus from office in 6 CE. Pontius Pilate was procurator from 26 to 36 CE. Herod Antipas remained tetrarch over Galilee, serving the Romans from the death of Herod the Great (4 BCE) until 39 CE, while Herod Philip governed his territories east of the Jordan until 34 CE. Luke’s reference to “Lysanias ruler of Abilene [in Syria]” cannot be identified with any known tetrarch and therefore provides no further chronological information.
This detailed correlation of the events of John’s ministry with the political events of the period reflects Luke’s attention to the form of historical writing, but it also resonates with his emphasis that through Jesus God brought salvation for all persons. The coming of the kingdom of God is set in relation to the events of the reign of human rulers. The reference to “the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (v. 2) also sets the inauguration of the work of John and Jesus in opposition to the priestly hierarchy. The ambiguous references to both Annas and Caiaphas reflect the continued influence of Annas and his family. Annas was high priest from 6 to 15 CE, and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, was high priest from 18 to 36 CE (see John 11:49; 18:13, 19; Acts 4:6). Pilate, Herod Antipas, and the high priest are also important later in the Gospel. Jesus is brought before the high priest and is tried by Pilate. Herod Antipas, similarly, plays a greater role in Luke than in any of the other Gospels: He imprisoned John (3:19–20), speculated that Jesus was John redivivus (9:7, 9), sought to kill Jesus (13:31), and questioned Jesus before his death (23:7–8, 11–12, 15).
If the chronological data of vv. 1–2 reflect the conventions of Greco-Roman historiography, the call of John echoes the call of a prophet. (The parallels are especially clear in Jer 1:1–5, but see also Isa 6:1; Ezek 1:1–3; and Hos 1:1.) Typically the call of a prophet records that (a) “the word of the Lord came” to or upon (
the prophet; © the son of (the name of his father) is recorded; (d) it occurred in a certain location; and that (e) it came “in the days of” a certain king. The last element is expanded and placed first in Luke 3:1–2a. The remaining elements of the story of the call of a prophet follow in v. 2b. The reference to Zechariah serves also to recall the earlier account of John’s annunciation and birth, and the note that John was in the wilderness ties his call to the last previous reference to John in 1:80. It also sets the scene for the events that follow. Here for the first time Luke’s account employs traditional material found in the other Gospels. The account of John’s ministry and preaching weaves together material from the Gospel of Mark and Q, a collection of the teachings of Jesus used by both Matthew and Luke. At various points Luke’s handling of his source material sets his thematic and theological interests in relief.
The wilderness was a desolate area. Some scholars have speculated that John may have lived with the Essenes for a period of time and that his practice of baptizing those who responded to his call for repentance was drawn from the Essene initiation ceremonies and repeated washings. John’s baptism predates by fifty years the first reference in Jewish writings to a baptism of proselytes to Judaism, nevertheless a connection with Essene practices cannot be taken for granted. Like the Essenes, John called Israelites to repentance in the wilderness and subjected converts to a ceremony of water cleansing that either expressed their repentance or conveyed God’s cleansing to the convert. The water ritual was not effective apart from genuine repentance. In both cases, the washing was probably also understood as a fulfillment of the levitical requirements for purification (see Leviticus 15) and metaphorical references to washing in the OT (see Ps 51:7; Isa 1:16; Jer 4:14).
The Gospel of Mark begins with a quotation from Isaiah 40 and a description of John’s baptizing ministry. Luke sets the quotation in the context of the infancy material and the preceding account of John’s call. Luke also extends the quotation from Isaiah and deletes the description of John’s clothing and diet, while adding an extended account of John’s preaching. The effect is to emphasize three Lukan themes: (1) John’s role as a prophet, (2) the call for an ethical renewal in Israel, and (3) the extension of the work of salvation to all peoples.
Luke’s omission of the description of John as “clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6 NRSV; cf. Lev 11:21–22; 2 Kgs 1:8) is puzzling because it would have served to further characterize John as a prophet. The association of John with the role of Elijah has been affirmed from even before John’s birth, however: “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (1:17). The quotation of Isaiah 40 repeats not only v. 3 but the next two verses as well. Although Isa 40:3 is quoted in Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; and John 1:23, only Luke quotes Isa 40:4–5 with its universalizing allusions to “every valley,” “every mountain and hill,” and “all flesh.” The quotation follows the Septuagint text with minor changes. Luke changes “make our God’s paths straight” to “make his paths straight” so that it can apply to Jesus more easily, and omits the following clause from v. 6: “and the glory of the Lord will be seen” (cf. Luke 2:9). The last phrase, “the salvation of God,” also appears in Acts 28:28 (see also Luke 2:30).
The introduction to this chapter, therefore, fixes the call of John to a prophetic ministry chronologically and describes that ministry as both the fulfillment of the prophets and the preparation for Jesus’ ministry. John’s preaching was an important part of God’s plan for Israel.
1. The first several verses fix the time and political circumstances of John’s call. The story begins with a roll call of important persons: governors and kings, even the high priest. In surprising contrast, however, “the word of God” comes not to any of these but to an unknown prophet out in the wilderness. The redemptive work of which Mary sang in the Magnificat is under way: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,/ and lifted up the lowly” (1:52). In all ages, God’s work proceeds among the poor and the dispossessed. A middle-class church in a nominally Christian society that enjoys religious liberty will have a hard time grasping the fact that Luke does not use these terms in a merely metaphorical or spiritual sense.
2. Moreover, the redemptive events that began with John in a remote corner of Judea were, by God’s design, the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s concern for the salvation of “all flesh.” Repeatedly in Luke we find this theme underscored. Our human tendency is to circumscribe God’s activity and limit it to our own kind of people and the causes that are socially and ethically important to us. But God’s concern for all continually pushes us to break across the boundaries that we set for it. In many respects, the story of the ministry of Jesus in Luke and the spread of the early church in Acts is the story of God’s challenge to social, ethnic, economic, and racial barriers to the spread of the gospel. “All flesh” always includes precisely those groups who are not present in our religious assemblies, either because we have not allowed them to be there or because we have maintained cultural patterns that have excluded them.
3. Because God’s redemptive work is still unfinished—the salvation of “all flesh” has not yet been realized—John serves as a role model for the church. The Gospel announces not only what God has done through Jesus but also what God is still in the process of doing. All who hear “the word of God” (v. 2) are called to declare what God is doing in our midst and to point ahead to the fulfillment of God’s reign as king. John was a forerunner, announcing the great things of God that are yet to come, a vision of a society redeemed and renewed by the vision of the prophets. As John’s preaching (in the next section) shows, he held the vision before others, issued a challenge for them, and called for repentance. He is, therefore, an appropriate model for the church as it seeks to recover its vocation as a prophetic voice in a secular culture.
R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” in The Gospel of Luke-The Gospel of John, vol. 9 of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 79-82.
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