3rd. Sunday before Advent
The Reflections using Luke’s gospel will end with the final Sundays before Advent. This Gospel has given us a syllabus on the meaning and cost of discipleship. The passage for the week is just one of the five battles Jesus faced before his trial. In its context it follows an earlier encounter with the Pharisees who had been trying to trap him, by sending spies, pretending to ask sincere yet double-edged questions, saying “is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?” The wrong answer here could lay Jesus open to treason! In this case the Lord not only saw their deceit and avoided the trap, but declared his own conviction that it was possible to be both loyal citizens of the state but also to fulfil commitments to God.
Now Jesus faces another trap with the stricter party of Sadducees who accepted the Torah, the five books of the Law of Moses. This battle with Sadducee lawyers was a theologically complex trap involving marriage and the resurrection, by which they tried to ridicule Jesus and drive him into the party of the Pharisees. The trap used a popular controversy of the time about remarriage which Jesus answered at a far deeper level. He explains that for those who love God deeply that life does not end with death but will be transformed at the resurrection through the love God, or in words of St. Paul, “and now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”, [1 Corinthians 13;13]
These passages before his Passion have several purposes. They are based upon the Lord’s own experiences which are used as important guides for the first disciples. Jesus was facing a real human world of intrigue, trickery, deceit and entrapment in which he and we, and all his followers need to be alert to at all times responding in ways that reflect not the world of mankind but the kingdom and love of God. “Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.” It will get more and more difficult with more vicious and sophisticated traps set by the enemies of Christ. Facing this adversary is like facing “a prowling lion seeking whom he may devour”.
Although the arguments and battles Christians face today are different to those in the gospel, the traps and deceits remain ever present. Indeed they may be more difficult and intimidating today because the means of manipulation are far greater and far more widespread as a result of global communication which sets up controversy across the internet in matters of seconds. For example the battle over abortion or gender, over human rights (whatever they are) or the stewardship of the world of nature are examples of new moralities that have the power to override orthodox belief. The State is now using every means to increasingly manipulate public opinion and taking greater and greater powers to enforce compliance with the new and godless mind. The enemy is a creeping totalitarianism we are all now confront. Mass media manages propaganda radically restricting freedom of speech and belief.
These are changes now facing Christians across the entire world as huge numbers are becoming trapped by state regulations enforced by the police. Others who would like to be openly faithful are feeling impotent to react to mass conditioning. St. Paul in his writing to his disciple Timothy was urgent in making him aware of the dangers of entrapment, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned. The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but they will …… turn their ears away from the truth….but you, be watchful in all things”. [2 Timothy 3;12ff]
This lesson is so very serious for us that the NCC together with our friends in the Union of Scranton are heavily engaged in making a future in which faithful disciples in the fragmented denominations can work together for the truth, supporting each other in the battles, and avoiding the traps.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal