- Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 & Psalm 119:137-144
- 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
- Luke 19:1-10
First Reading: Habakkuk
The first reading this week strikes a prophetic tone that fits well with the eschatological themes that will dominate the next few Sundays as the liturgical year draws to a close.
It seems that this prophetic message was shaped by the crisis in Jerusalem during the decade or two prior to the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. Out of the darkness of that difficult time this prophet wonders "how long" it will be before the end comes:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous-- therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
The answer that Habakkuk received continues to reverberate across the centuries thanks to the way Paul used one line from this prophet:
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
The first part of that message is directly relevant to issues about the delay in Christ's parousia that lie at the heart of 2 Thessalonians, but the final line in that excerpt was to be taken up by Paul of Tarsus as a key theological principle: those who are just live by their faith/trust. For Paul that becomes not so much the key to "when will it all end," as the key to how to live within the blessing here and now. In the process he exploits an ambiguity in the Hebrew text which can be rendered, "the just by-their-faith-will-live" or even (as in Paul) "those who are justified-by-faith will live."
In Paul's lexicon of faith, Jesus is both "the Just One, the Righteous One" and also the one whose unwavering trust in God brought blessings to all humanity just as Abraham's unwavering trust brought blessing to his physical progeny.
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians
Having completed a series of readings from the Pastoral Epistles, the RCL will conclude the year with a short series from 2 Thessalonians:
- Proper 31C - 2Thess 1:1-4, 11-12
- Proper 32C - 2Thess 2:1-5, 13-17
- Proper 33C - 2Thess 3:6-13
Quite unintentionally, this letter indicates just how important the legacy of Paul was in some Christian circles towards the end of the first century. As a self-conscious forgery that seeks to pass itself off as a genuine letter from Paul even while condemning other spurious letters circulating in his name, 2 Thessalonians reveals the importance of Paul's authority even some decades after his death.
Bart Ehrman comments on the question of forgeries in the ancient world:
The frequent occurence of forgery in this period does not suggest a basic tolerance of the practice. In actuality, it was widely and strongly condemned, sometimes even within documents that are themselves patently forged. This latter ploy serves, of course, to throw the scent off one's own deceit. One of its striking occurrences is in the orthodox Apostolic Constitutions, a book of ecclesiastical instructions, ostensibly written in the name of Jesus' apostles, which warns its readers to avoid books falsely written in the name of Jesus' apostles (VI, 16). One cannot help thinking of 2 Thessalonians, which cautions against letters falsely penned in Paul's name (2:1-2); many New Testament scholars believe that 2 Thessalonians is itself non-Pauline." [The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 23]
For further resources on 2 Thessalonians, see Peter Kirby's Early Christian Writings page.
Gospel: Jesus and Zaccheus
This week's Gospel is the last of the units to be taken from the long narrative section that is unique to Luke, and it comes near the end of that extended reflection on discipleship.
Several units that occur between last week's story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) and this week's lection have been skipped by the lectionary editors:
- Jesus Blesses the Children (18:15–17 = Mark 10:13-16 & Matt 19:13-15)
- The Rich Young Man (18:18–30 = Mark 10:17-31 & Matt 19:16-30)
- The Third Prediction of the Passion (18:31–34 = Mark 10:32-34 & Matt 20:17-19)
- Healing of Bartimaeus (18:35–43 = Mark 10:46-52 & Matt 20:29-34)
After the Zacchaeus story (another item with no parallel in the other Gospels) Luke has the Parable of the Pounds (19:11-27), which is also unique to his Gospel. His narrative then rejoins the Markan order with the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
When dealing with a story that is known only from a single source there is always the possibility that we have an example of the author's literary creativity rather than the chance survival of earlier material taken over from pre-existing tradition. While it is always possible that an authentic saying has survived in just a single witness, the probability of an item with single attestation being authentic is lower than an item that enjoys multiple independent attestation.
This is a significant issue when reading Luke-Acts since so much of the tradition found there is not attested in any other source, for example:
- Of the 522 items in John Dominic Crossan's inventory of historical Jesus materials 342 items have single attestation
- Luke uses 262 of the 522 items: 143 of these come from the 342 with single attestation, and 49 of them occur only in Luke. (The remaining 94 items with single attestation also occur in related texts such as Mark or Matthew, but the duplicate attestation is not independent.) These 143 items, and especially the subset of 49 unique to Luke, give us a window into the distinctive emphases of the Jesus movement known to Luke. It may be worth reflecting what our understanding of Christianity would be if we had only the material unique to Luke?
The items unique to Luke include such classics as:
- Conception of John the Baptist
- Birth of John the Baptist
- Jesus (in the Temple) at Twelve
- The Good Samaritan
- Martha and Mary
- The Lost Coin
- The Prodigal Son
- The Unjust Steward
- Rich Man and Lazarus
- The Unjust Judge
- Pharisee and the Publican
- Salvation for Zacchaeus
- Ascension of Jesus
For further detailed information about the special Lucan material and its use in the lectionary, see:
The Jesus Seminar developed a set of rules of evidence as it went about its task of reviewing all the extant Jesus materials. One of the subsets comprised the "Rules of Attestation" [A1—A4] and this outlines the issues when considering varying degrees of attestation:
A1. Sayings or parables that are attested in two or more independent sources are likely to be old.
A2. Sayings or parables that are attested in two different contexts probably circulated independently at an earlier time.
A3. The same or similar content attested in two or more different forms has a life of its own and therefore may stem from old tradition.
A4. Unwritten tradition that was captured by the written gospels relatively late may preserve very old memories.
(These rules of evidence are outlined with examples and brief commentary in Robert W. Funk & Mahlon H. Smith, The Gospel of Mark, Red Letter Edition. Polebridge, 1991. Pages 29-52.)
In this case, there seems to be general agreement that the story of Jesus converting Zacchaeus is a Lukan creation rather than being an older tradition that he took over and adapted. Most commentators see it as a remake of the story of Jesus calling Levi. For example, the conclusion of the Jesus Seminar is expressed as follows in The Acts of Jesus:
Luke has constructed this scene to counterbalance the story of the rich ruler who has just rejected Jesus' advice that he give his wealth to the poor (18:22). Although the ruler had observed the commandments his whole life, he apparently could not be saved without that final act of obedience (18:26). Zacchaeus is presented as Luke's model for gaining the salvation the rich ruler failed to attain. (page 335)
Taking our lead from that comment, we might note the way that the stories in 18:18-30 (The Rich Man) and 19:1-10 (Salvation for Zacchaeus) relate to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 1:9-14. The observant and respectable believer fails to find salvation, while the humble and repentant tax farmer enjoys God's favor in both cases.
As a footnote, it is interesting that we know of a wealthy (and presumably respectable) tax collector at Jericho with the name Zacchaeus, as well as another from Caesarea with the name John. [E. Schurer, History of the Jewish People. (rev.ed. Vermes & Millar) I.374-76]
- 475 Salvation for Zacchaeus - (1) Luke 19:1-9
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor's Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.