Lectio Divina: Luke 4:18-21


 

Meditation.  Initial thoughts: Jesus is hopeful.  I am too cynical.  Lord deliver me from this overly-cynical body of death!

In reflecting on this passage I realized where my postmodern sensibilities stop. I believe one of the most dangerous temptations of living in a postmodern age, believe it or not, is not moral relativism (a danger to be sure…but one that needs qualification…the relativist still believes in something!).

It is cynicism. A quote from African-American poet Maya Angelou is apropos:

“There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.”

There is a fine line between being prophetic and being a cynic. The cynic can easily fall prey to a world void of hope with no possibility of a better day. Being suspicious of absolute truth claims can be a profound moral practice. Being overwhelmed by suspicion to the point where no ‘truth’ speaks and no one can embody the ‘good’ can easily lead one down a path of apathy…apathy towards life, the journey, walking closer to God, and participating in projects that make the world a better place (even if it is a small corner of the globe).

No! We can not let cynicism rule us. Be prophetic! Rail against the Powers! Imaginatively hope beyond the present boundaries erected by varied interests. Let us be hope-filled realists…not hope-less idealists.

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.” – H L Mencken

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16 thoughts on “Lectio Divina: Luke 4:18-21

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  1. Nice brother…and poetic.

    I do think cynics are the blind people Jesus (Isaiah) is referring to. They can’t see in the sunlight, so they prefer the darkness of a dungeon. Not sure if that’s what made you think of this, but that would be a very legitimate way to interpret the reading of the Isaiah passage. The phrase “pekaH-koaH” in Isaiah 61:1 is strong terminology…its like forcing something open. Just imagine Jesus taking a pair of pliers to someone’s eyes to force them open…and that’s kind of the effect.

    Cheers,
    Eric

  2. Ok here is my “Lectio Divina”. (Because you know I must) it is simply a reword:

    Is this a “fast” that pleases me…
    A day for a man to press his soul?
    To bow his head like a wilting reed
    And flop over sackcloth and ashes?

    Huh!? You call that “an acceptable day to Adonai”?!

    Is this not the fast that pleases me rather…
    To snap off the fetters of evil-doing
    And cast off the bands of the yoke?
    To send the dirt-pushers to freedom
    Until every cord is torn apart?

    -Isaiah 58:5-6

    The breath of Adonai HaShem is upon me
    Because He has messia-ed me
    To uplift the spirits of the bowed-down,
    He has sent me
    To swaddle up the broken-hearted,
    To give the captives the freedom of wheeling swallows,
    To force open the eyes dungeon-dwellers (blinking in the sunlight),
    And send the dirt-pushers to freedom
    To proclaim a year acceptable to Adonai.

    Jesus, Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 60:1-2 but inserting a fragment from Isaiah 58:6 to further describe the freed dungeon-dwellers. =)

  3. this nails it–cynicism! For all of the warts of the church it still changes lives daily…the hand of God is upon it…the gates of hell will not prevail…

    i think of the church I grew up in…it was racist, behind the times and ineffective by any measures and yet God used it to transform me.

  4. Eric,

    I am wondering. In our particular context who are the dungeon dwellers. Specifically here in Charlotte with some of the issues we have been facing with the way the ‘poor’ are being distributed throughout the city (of course…in ‘specific’ places).

    And not just in our context (importantly for our understanding of the church’s mission) in Jesus’ as well. Oftentimes I have seen this passage spiritualized. Meaning some kind of enslavement to ‘personal’ sin…a particular individual bondage.

    How do you suggest Christians, in our context, read these passages?

  5. Good Question Anthony.

    Who are they? I would start with Isaiah 58 and go from there. They are the oppressed servants of the Israelite poo-bahs who oppress them and make them work on a day of fasting. Hmm…who would that be in our age?

    In Christ’s context, my first thought follows yours. It is the cynics, the overly-confident, and self-possessed. The ones who prefer the darkness of the their dungeon to the sun that’s a’coming to shake up the world.

  6. Actually…scratch that last thought, Anthony.

    I don’t think Jesus actually cares about the cynics. I think he makes it clear that the “oppressed” are not in the audience.

    My friend Gary from Jerusalem is helping me change my thoughts about what pekaH-koaH means. It probably means an exuberant and liberating “opening”…a busting opening of the gates. An exuberant opening. Like a popping cork maybe.

    Revised wording:

    “To give the captives the joyful revelry of weeling swallows and the dungeon dwellers and joyful escape to the light”.

    How’s that?

    Cheers,
    Eric

  7. I’ve been reflecting further on the identity of the Dungeon-Dwellers (DD’s) in our day. Its a challenging question the more I think about it, and if we think of the innumerable contexts in how this particular passage has been read, the question of interpretation here becomes pertinent and daunting. I’m afraid, interpretation has been given to us without us actually thinking about the matter.

    Let me say what I do believe about the context of Luke 4, from what I’ve learned about Jesus and Jewish thought:

    1) Jesus is not just inaugurating his ministry. What he is announcing IS the message. It is the gospel.
    2) Jesus is invoking a world event that is on par with the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The associated blessings of that event are spoken by Isaiah and Jews anticipated those miraculous blessings as signs…Let’s call them “Sinaitic Signs”. [Isaiah 35 in particular is the source of the thought. Is. 35 is associated with the giving of the Torah at Sinai…because the text in Exodus says that ALL Israel saw, ALL heard, ALL spoke as one voice, ALL stood up, etc when the Law was given to Israel at Sinai…meaning, of course, that they eyes of the blind and ears of the deaf were opened (pekaH-koaH!), the lame leapt around like deer (see Acts 3:8), and the tongues of the mute were loosened.]
    3) Miraculous signs of healing (not extraordinary in that day) were in evidence before Jesus arrived. What is earth-shattering here is that he is claiming they are in fact Sinaitic Signs and that his ministry the Messianic one of Isaiah 61.
    4) Jesus implies that the DD’s are not in the audience.

    So who are the DD’s today? That’s more of a loaded question than you think. Answering that is the equivalent of pinpointing where the “Kingdom of God” is at work. The Kingdom is given not to the audience that thinks it deserves it…but the audience, it appears, that doesn’t.

  8. Anthony,

    So good, and speaks well and powerfully to me.

    I tend to go to either the good or the bad of what you’re talking about here. Lately I’ve been pulled and immersed more into the bad. “What the heck! It’s all games. What does this have to do with the kingdom of God, anyhow. What hope is there?” Thoughts related to that.

    But you’re so right. Thanks.

  9. i just came across your blog and this post on cynicism.

    i was quite thankful to read it today. i find myself falling into the trap of cynicism especially as i continue read the likes of brian mclaren, rob bell, etc. not that they create the cynicism, but i think i have gotten so frustrated with christianity/the church and in new perspectives… though refreshing, bring confusion and struggle to figure out just what i believe, what i should let go of, whats essential, what is debatable… thus leading to cynicism…
    idon’t know what to think about how church/christian practices should look because its all so gray right now…

    what is your encouragement for those who have become cynical?

  10. lacey,

    Good question. To be honest with you it is something I still wrestle with. A couple of things.

    1. I look to the saints of old and present who have wrestled and danced with the powers faithfully. Basically I look at the lives of faithful saints and ask how they did it. What I have learned is that many of them, those who are prophetic, embrace the tension of living between two paradigms. The cynicism comes mostly, I believe, from stepping in and out of present arrangements (socially, politically, economically) and having tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord (i.e. what God intends for our world). The cynicism comes when there appears to be a large gap between present arrangements of power (i.e. the world) and God’s desire for the nations. The present arrangement of things seems to be a forever reality…static and unchangeable.

    We see the possibilities…the alternative…we have tasted the passion of God for a new world. The cynicism comes when we have tasted the pathos of God and nothing seems to change. And in tasting the pathos of God we see how the present arrangement or status quo is anemic and is a part of a dying world.

    What McLaren and others are pointing out to us are the various ways American Christianity is wedded to the present arrangement of Empire. In our language, epistemology, and praxis. And because of that we cannot ‘see’ our complicity to the status quo in our theologizing. We cannot see how the way we talk and practice Christianity in our context sustains global social misery. And there some of us who are feelin’ what Mclaren and others are saying…but then we live in the midst of the present arrangement where the alternative is difficult to see.

    2. A disciplined spiritual life in community. Engaging in time-honored Christian practices of fasting, prayer, meditation, lectio divina, corporate worship, etc.. Also sustain us…especially if we are in a community that understands these realities or the prophetic and apostolic nature of the gospel.

    Those are initial thoughts….

    email me if you want to continue the discussion:

    postmodernegro@gmail.com

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