Lent Course 2008: Christ on Trial

Luke: Knocking on The Window

See Luke 22:54; 22:63-71; 23:1-25.

Luke is the Gospel of the outsider. He starts each of his first three Chapters with crowned heads but soon places marginal people at the centre of his narrative. In Luke Jesus breaks down the idea of calculation in human transactions. Luke's interest in the marginal gives the trial dialogue extra colour: Jesus' reply to the question of whether he is the messiah is: "If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I question you, you will not answer." Jesus places himself with those who cannot be heard.

Luke takes Mark further by saying that God's transcendence is present in those without a voice: "God is not with them because they are naturally virtuous, or because they are martyrs; he is simply there in the fact that they are 'left over' when the social and moral score is added up by the managers of social and moral behaviour. ... God appears in and through the fact that our ways of arranging the world always leave someone's interest, welfare or reality out of account". It is not that the outsider is virtuous - clearly many described in Luke are not - but that if God is present in the connections we cannot make then the outsider reminds us of our incompleteness; I am not the whole story. The other has real claims.

Insoluble conflicts of rights over murderers and victims, for example, lead to the creation of outsiders. We also have unforgiving and unforgiven people in our biographies. It is difficult not to bring people into our own orbit, our own language, instead of dealing with otherness. This is reflected in our problem with disabled people and children in church.

Here is the challenge of the trial in Luke: faced with somebody who does not speak our language, do we retreat or do we allow ourselves to be taught something about our own incompleteness? We deal with otherness through ethics but human ethics are about order; what we need is a conversation towards truth. We need to see from the point of view of the excluded, to exercise the social imagination. In Luke Jesus needs a larger world than the rulers and the Temple. Today many people look for this wider world beyond the mundane in art and science but we must see transcendence in the outsider because we are in most danger when we deny our own limitation, which is particularly important for Christians.

Jesus' declaration of the gulf between his world and that of his judges provokes insult and abuse because he is powerless and will not compete; he is more of a threat than a rival. This is our problem with difference. The judges of Jesus - Herod and Pilate - have more in common with each other than him: "Luke ... challenges us not only to stand with those left out and left over, but to find in ourselves the poverty and exclusion we fear and run away from in others".

Starting Points for Discussion (Community):

  1. How do you know whether you are an 'insider' or an 'outsider'?
  2. What is the purpose of ethics?
  3. What is the relationship between Jesus and sinners?
  4. What do we mean by difference?
  5. Is art enough?
  6. What does Luke's account of the trial tell us about relationships?
Williams, Rowan Christ on Trial (Zondervan, December 2000)