Saturday, September 01, 2007

Eugene, Luke, Holy Spirit, Power

I have been reading, Christ plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson. I have been meditating on the Gospel of Luke almost since last November. A few thoughts from Eugene on Luke:

  • St. Luke is probably the only Gentile writer in the New Testament
  • He is also the only Gospel writer who was not an eyewitness to Jesus
  • He has the unique experience among the Gospel writers of knowing Jesus exclusively through the work of the Holy Spirit in the community of Jesus’ followers
  • His Gospel begins with a visitation of the Holy Spirit that results in conception; the book of Acts (authored by Luke) begins similarly, also with a visitation of the Holy Spirit that results in conception.
  • In the Gospel it is Jesus, the Savior who is conceived, in Acts it is the church.
  • The two Holy Spirit conceptions are meant to be understood as parallel beginnings in the parallel narratives: both Jesus Christ and the community of Jesus Christ similarly conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Eugene goes on to lay out the story of the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work in the conception of Jesus and his cousin John. However miraculous the Spirit’s work in conception of life does not shortcut or skip anything human – There is nothing in a Holy Spirit—conceived life that exempts that life from the common lot of humanity. Both births were completely natural. A nine-month pregnancy preceded each birth; they were both weaned at the breast, gradually acquired the ability to eat solid food, sit up, one day rolled over and started to crawl. The long, complex, often painful process of growth from fetus to infancy to adulthood to parenthood and then on into old age is embraced and given meaning as God in Christ continues to be present in and for us by his Holy Spirit.

The marriage of God and humanity is inseparable. Not to embrace our humanity is in my opinion to deny our very essence. Living out my true humanity means I embrace my very life from the creative work of the Spirit of God who gave me this life.


At the end of the Gospel and at the beginning of Acts, Jesus tells his friends that he will send the Holy Spirit to them, he also says that this coming of the Spirit will be accompanied by power. Power is a critical word in the context of the Story. Luke uses the word “power” to instruct Mary on how she will conceive “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” Here the Holy Spirit power makes a woman pregnant. All five of the Holy Spirit references in Luke 1-2 are related to pregnancy and birth. This is an interesting use of “power”-- Eugene suggests this is not at all the way power is conventionally used. Sexual impregnation is associated with intimacy and lovemaking, gentleness and mutuality. If the sexual act is impersonal or harsh or forced, it is understood as a violation. One way then to look at “power” from the context of our Story is that it would be inconceivable to understand power as anything impersonal or imposed by force.

The second occurrence of the term “power” by Luke is in the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus is tempted by the devil to command stones to become bread, to become the ruler of the kingdoms of the world, and to prove his divinity by performing a spectacular circus trick by diving off the pinnacle of the temple and commanding an angel to save him at the last minute.

Each is a temptation that has to do with the exercise of power: power to impose his will on the creation, power to impose his will on the nations, and power to become a celebrity. Each of these exercises of power could be good, feeding a lot of people, ruling the whole world justly, demonstrating the miraculous ever-present providence of God to the people on the street. Jesus said "no" to each in turn. Why?

Eugene’s conclusion: Because in each case it would have been power used impersonally, power abstracted from relationships, power without any engagement in love, power imposed from the outside. Each instance—and Jesus’ citations of sentences from the Story each time highlight this—would have been a use of power that was ripped out of the context of the Story and therefore ripped out of the participating context of people’s lives. And here is the punch …Whatever the power of the Spirit means, bullying force isn’t part of it…the power of God is always exercised in personal ways, creating and saving and blessing.

After the three refusals to use power to do good things, in the wrong way, Luke tells us this: “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee…He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” We watch the narrative unfold, Jesus whether teaching in word or act, he is always personal and relational. Jesus employing the “power of the Spirit” is set in explicit contrast to the three depersonalized, decontextualized uses of power in the wilderness: power to feed the hungry, power to do justice and power to evangelize by miracle.

The moment the community exercises power apart from the story of Jesus, tries to manipulate people or events in ways that short-circuit personal relationships and intimacies, we can be sure it is not the power of the Holy Spirit; it is the devil’s work. The Holy Spirit, no matter how loudly or fervently or piously invoked in such settings, is a stranger to such religious blasphemies…

Wow, Eugene lays down the smack...

1 comment:

Jason Campbell said...

I love Peterson and this book is my favorite so far. The second and third are definitely worth reading, but not quite as useful.