(Today’s post by Adam Cooper)
Today we say good-bye to our friend Dr. Luke for a while. Depending on the translation you read this portion of the book of Luke could be divided into as many as three small sub-headings. These sub-headings we have to remember were not added by Luke when he wrote, but were instead placed into the text by the group translating the Bible for modern reading. Although, not Biblically inspired these sub-headings help us break the text into manageable and digestible pieces based on the topic of the text. The three small stories included within these sub-headings are the healing of a boy with an evil spirit, who will be the greatest, and a discussion about Samaritan opposition to Christ.
So the Biblical translators sub-divided the text and we, or at least our reading plan, have again subdivided the text. So why are these three stories lumped together the way they are? Seemingly they have very little in common, so why are they here together? You have to understand that Luke was a doctor and probably one of the most likely of the disciples to state fact with little or no embellishment. He was not a very verbose writer and so I believe it is a safe assumption that he packs as much into a few verses as he possibly can. As a matter of fact, when I look at this book, especially with the modern delineations placed upon the text, it appears like a well assembled bullet list of Christ’s miracles and journeys.
The first of the three subdivisions the NIV places within this portion of the text addresses one of Jesus’ miracles: freeing a boy from an evil spirit that was causing him to have seizures. During the exchange between Jesus and the townspeople Jesus comes off as short and almost agitated by the request, “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here. (Luke 9:41, NIV).” I believe Jesus is agitated by the refusal of the townspeople to have faith in anyone who came in His name. With all of the miracles Jesus has performed in the book of Luke up to this point people still do not have faith in the power of God but they have faith in Him as a healer. This is evident by the man’s initial statement about the disciples not being able to cast the evil spirit out themselves. We see this throughout the gospel: people believing in Christ only because they have witnessed His deeds, not because they have faith in Him as God. We also see here a brief foreshadowing of Christ’s departure and the necessity to believe beyond His physical presence.
The second of these subdivisions shows a bit of the power struggle that was occurring among the disciples as they jockeyed for position within Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus makes an example here using a child and explaining that anyone who welcomes the least of us (herein represented by the child) in Christ’s name welcomes God Himself. Almost immediately the text transitions to the disciples telling of a man, obviously not one of the disciples, casting out demons in the name of Christ. Jesus then tells them that they should let the man be because the man is trying to accomplish the same thing they are. He uses the phrase here, “whoever is not against you is for you (Luke 9:50, NIV).” This other healer has strong faith in Christ and he is not in the inner circle.
The third and final subdivision in today’s text speaks of Samaritan opposition to welcoming Jesus because He is on His way to Jerusalem. We see Jesus journeying through Samaria in other instances so this seems to point to an anomaly that is left unexplained. However, if you refer back to the previous subdivision and see the statement about those who welcome the least in His name the placement of this story seems to cast aspersions on the Samaritan people.
So what connection and lesson can we draw from these seemingly unrelated stories? A lack of faith in Christ, a faith based on something other than witnessed deeds, a faith based on belief in Him as God and as the savior of mankind, is not sufficient. The townspeople only believed in Him as a healer. They did not have faith in Him as the Messiah. On another level His own followers had a bit more faith in Him because they were trying to establish themselves position within His kingdom. However, their faith in Him did not seem to transcend their own personal relationship with Him as evidenced through the discussion about the other healer. Lastly, faith in Christ that transcends human division. The Samaritans were unable to look past their hatred of the Jews to accept Christ on His journey.
How many times do we find ourselves facing a lack of faith? If we examine our own faith can we honestly say our faith transcends what we have seen God do in our own lives? Can we honestly say our faith transcends our own personal relationship with Him to where we are accepting of those who we may dislike, or even hate? Can our faith transcend differences in denomination or even secondary and tertiary doctrine because we know that we are all in the same game? I know I find myself challenged at times with each of these. I hear of a theologian that may think a little differently than I do, or a church that does church differently than we do, and I initially want to question their faith or their Christianity. Jesus is telling us in these three small subdivisions of verses today that we are to overlook status, hatred, and differences and work together in His name, going forth in the confident belief that He is Christ, the Son of God, and espouse His message, His Gospel, His “good news” to everyone.