On the First Sunday of Luke

Sermon by Fr. Antony Hughes from Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Reading is from Luke 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today we begin reading Gospel passages from Luke on Sunday mornings. This is called the First Sunday of Luke.  Seeing that Luke will be our companion for the next weeks, it might be good to take a look at a few of his themes. Every Gospel has its own perspective and agenda.  Luke's Gospel presents a vision of Christ and the Christian life that is radical. It is not exclusive to Luke, of course, but very much emphasized by him.

Today Jesus meets Simon whom He will later rename, Peter.  Simon is a simple, rough fisherman. Not a wealthy or educated man for sure.  He would not demand much respect in his society, if any at all.  But these are the people Jesus seems to value most highly in all the Gospels and most particularly in Luke's.  Not only does Luke want us to see Jesus as the friend of the poor, but also the friend of the outcast.  Luke pushes the envelope.  Jesus reaches out to Gentiles!  Since St. Luke was Greek, not Jewish, he had a horse in this race.

In the Lord's famous sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth he uses two examples from the Old Testament where the prophets Elijah and Elisha both favor Gentiles over Jews.  Jesus meets much resistance in Nazareth and can do no miracles there. So He warns them that His Father had no problem reaching out to their perceived enemies, even Samaritans!  For this they attempt to kill him.  In Luke's Gospel we find the story of the Good Samaritan, the unclean woman with the issue of blood, the one Samaritan leper out of ten who came back to give thanks for his healing, Zaccheus (the tax collector who was the only rich man in the Gospels to find favor with God because he gave away half his wealth), the Pharisee and the Publican, Lazarus the heaven-bound beggar who is scorned by the Rich Man and the sinful woman the Pharisees scorn as a sinner in chapter 7, but of whom the Lord says, "her sins are forgiven because she has loved much."  It is implied that she was a prostitute, but Jesus honored her because "she loved much." So many outcasts, so many poor, so many despised and rejected, so many of the "least of the brethren."  Luke does not shy away from presenting Jesus as the Messiah of the downtrodden.  The Jesus of Luke's Gospel is a radical Messiah.

In Luke Jesus exclaims, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven."  The Lord excoriates the priestly Sadducees, the zealous Pharisees and the learned Scribes.  "Do not be like them," He says.  And they knew of His disdain.  From Matthew's Gospel we read this, "When the high priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they recognized He was describing them." (Mt. 21:45)  "For anyone lifting himself up will be abased, and anyone abasing himself will be lifted up." (Lk. 14:11)  Jesus knew what He was doing. He knew that the attempt to kill Him in Nazareth would not be the last.  Still, He did not tweek his agenda.  

Samaritans, prostitutes and tax collectors listened to Jesus because He loved and respected them. Jesus spoke, they said, not like the Pharisees, but as one who "had authority", that is, as one with integrity, one whose words and deeds matched one another.  

Jesus did not judge outcasts, nor did He treat them as outcasts. He preferred their company and saved his rebukes for hypocrites.  God's love is all inclusive, but to some His love is heaven and to others it is fire.  To the sinners He is the redeemer. To the self-righteous He is judge.  He did not hate the self-righteous, He wanted to wake them up. They are harder to wake up than sinners are.  Sinners only need to know that they are loved, so what they need is the gentle touch of the Master.  The self-righteous need to hear His voice loud and clear, so He tells them like it is.

St. James echoes the teaching and spirit of Christ in his general letter and minces no words.

My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet" have you not...become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen...brethren, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom...? But you have dishonored the poor man.  (James 2:1-6a)

Jesus turns everything upside down.  Death becomes life, poverty becomes wealth, fame becomes dishonor, the least become the greatest, the first become last. Remember this quote:  The saints become what they are not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else?  Many of the greatest saints suffered persecution and from Church authorities for the same reasons the Pharisee, Sadducees and Scribes persecuted Jesus; because their sanctity was a revealed the masquerade of their false piety.

This must not be us.  Jesus cares nothing for the accumulation of wealth or He would have taken a much different road. If you say He didn't do that because He knew His life would be short, I would answer, but our lives are short as well!  Unlike Christ we are too frightened to admit it. He was not interested in fame or He would not have consorted with the small, insignificant and unsavory people in society. He would rather have done everything to place Himself in the highest eschalons.  Instead He railed against them and ate with sinners.  He was not interested in empires and political gain.  He proclaimed consistently that His kingdom is not of this world and did not allow others to ride His coattails into the halls of imperial power.  Had He been interested in power, He would not have allowed Himself to be publically stripped, beaten, abused and crucified.  

We are called to the same road He took. Nothing more, nothing less.