Proper 5, Yr  C, Tr 1 (Trinity 2), 9.6.2013

Proper 5, Yr C, Tr 1 (Trinity 2), 9.6.2013
1 Kings 17.8-16, (17-24): Elijah feeds widow & raises son of widow of Zarephath
Ps 146: The Lord gives food to those who hunger
Gal 1.11-24: Paul as zealous Jew persecuted church then ‘changed’

Luke 7.11-17: Jesus raises son of widow of Nain & is hailed as a great prophet

Faithful Creator, whose mercy never fails: deepen our faithfulness to you
and to your living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1253)

Jesus as the last and greatest of the prophets

          Let me begin by saying three things.  The first is that in all four gospels Jesus himself says or is said by others to be a prophet, but it is only Luke who really stresses that Jesus is a prophet, a great prophet, and probably by implication, the last and greatest of the prophets.  The second is that Luke does this as part of his attempt to make the gospel appealing to as many Jews as possible.  The third is that Luke presents Jesus as a prophet as part of his clear avoidance of using a Wisdom Christology, that is, he avoids presenting Jesus as Wisdom itself.
           If you were to set out to write a gospel, how would you depict Jesus?  If you were going to model him on a great OT figure or type, what person or type would you choose?
          One possibility would be to present Jesus as a prophet.  And in today’s Gospel reading from Luke Jesus is, indeed, hailed as a ‘great prophet’.
          In Deut 18 Moses is said to speak of the Lord raising up a prophet like unto Moses himself, and this expectation was definitely in the air in Jesus’ day.  Thus it should come as no surprise that in Mark, Matthew, Luke and John Jesus speaks of himself as being a prophet or is spoken of as being a prophet.
          When we look at Mark (6.4) Jesus says, with reference to himself, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country, kin and house’, and this is repeated in Luke (4.24) and in John (4.44).  Furthermore in Mark when Herod asks for reports about Jesus it is said that people are saying that he is Elijah or one of the prophets (6.15).
          When we turn to Matthew, we find Jesus saying that ‘He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward’ (10.41). But it may well be that this refers to a prophet as a pastoral preacher, such as we find in Paul and Acts, rather than being s self-reference to Jesus as such.   However, in Matthew at the entry into Jerusalem the crowds say, ‘This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee ’ (21.11).
          In the Gospel of John, chapter 4, (4.19) the Samaritan woman by the well says: ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.’ In chapter 6 (6.14) people say of Jesus, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’  In chapter 7 in the story of the man born blind, (7.52) the chief priests and Pharisees say derisively, ‘Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise out of Galilee .’  But the man who has been healed says of Jesus, (9.17), ‘He is a prophet’.
                However, it is Luke, more than any of the other evangelists, who emphatically presents Jesus as a prophet in the line and stature of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. And in the Book of Acts he is proclaimed to be the fulfiller of the expectation of a prophet like Moses.  The raising of the sons of widows in today’s readings from 1 Kings and Luke make the link between Elijah and Jesus abundantly clear with Jesus being acclaimed as ‘a great prophet’.  In Luke at Jesus’ first ‘public’ appearance in the synagogue at Capernaum , Jesus specifically mentions both Elijah and Elisha, and he aligns himself with them.  In chapter 7 the Pharisees, objecting to the company that Jesus keeps, scoffingly say of Jesus, ‘If he is a prophet...’ (7.39).  In chapter nine in response to Herod’s inquiries about Jesus, the speculation includes Elijah being raised and Jesus as one of the prophets (9.8).  As Jesus approaches Jerusalem , he is presented as saying, ‘It cannot be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem’ (13.33).  And finally on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas speaks of ‘Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word’ (24.19).
          When we turn to Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, in Peter’s speech in Acts 3.22-26 we find Peter quoting Moses’ promise in Deut (18.15, 18, 19) of a prophet like himself and applying it to Jesus as the prophet who is to be obeyed in all things.  The same passage is picked up in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 (7.37). These are the only two times in the NT that the Deut passage occurs.
          All this is part of Luke’s presentation of Jesus as a human being called, guided and empowered by the Spirit, the selfsame spirit that was behind the prophetic ministry of Elijah and Elisha.  This is akin to our reading from Luke last week when the centurion, stated that he was a man under authority with authority over others having been delegated to him, and he recognizes the same in Jesus, that is, Jesus is also a man under authority to whom authority has been delegated.  It is striking that it is only Luke who has Jesus growing up as a boy who finds his place in the temple, not unlike the boy Samuel, who was one of the former prophets.  The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, plus the Magnificat, relates John the Baptist and Jesus to the story of Hannah and the birth of Samuel.
          Why did Luke choose to present Jesus as a ‘prophet’ rather than present Jesus as being God’s Wisdom as Paul, Matthew, and John do, and probably Mark as well?  Luke very clearly does not do so, which I can show you easily.  In Matthew, Jesus, speaking as Wisdom, says, ‘I am sending to you prophets and wise men and scribes’ (Mt 23.34); in the corresponding passage in Luke, Jesus says, ‘ Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them apostles and prophets”’ (Lk 1149). Now why does Luke clearly distinguish between Jesus and Wisdom?  I believe that he does so for a very good reason. He does so because he is trying to keep open the appeal of the gospel to the Jews.  If Jesus is presented as Wisdom, then Jesus replaces the authority of the written scriptures, which would be hard for many Jews to swallow.  Also, Wisdom is the agent of creation and this might also be a step too far for many Jews.  In short, Luke is marching to a different tune.  He is trying to keep the presentation of Jesus within the bounds of an easily grasped Jewish setting.
          This helps to explain why on the one hand we can find Luke emphasizing Jesus’ sonship twice on the cross itself.  He says ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’, directly connecting the cross with asking the Father to forgive. And then he says, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’, trusting in the Father to the end.  Yet in the whole of Acts Jesus is spoken of as Son of God only two times, and both times it is said by Paul in synagogue, that is, by a Jew in a Jewish setting where Jesus’ sonship would be understood in the customary OT and Jewish terms of dependence and obedience, not in the usual Greek and Roman terms of procreation.
          If you like this understanding of Jesus as the last and greatest of the prophets, who shows in everything that he does and says, the very will and loving nature of his Father and our Father, then know that you are in good company with St Luke and all those who find his gospel appealing.

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