The gospel of Luke is written with a Gentile or Greek-speaking cultured people in mind. To them the author writes an account, composed using eyewitness accounts, of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Luke, compared to the other gospels, includes more of the role and importance of women and the poor, and relates the most parable teachings of Jesus in his story of who Jesus is, how he was and is in the world, and how that changes even us, today.
In the unfolding story of Jesus, his fame has grown. He is ascending in public opinion, seemingly passing that of John the Baptizer who came before him. The Jesus People saw John as the long ago prophesied preparer of the Messiah’s arrival. Today we parachute into the story just after the long series of teachings of Jesus which reveal the heart of his message. We most commonly call them the “sermon on the mount,” recorded in both Luke 6:17-49 and Matthew 5:1-7:29.
The crowds of anonymous people are moved and inspired. It’s not merely his words which breathe new life into a stagnant situation, it’s his radical example of active love that transcends the tribalism that divides their culture (and ours still today). As his message goes viral, John seems to struggle in his faith and hope, sending disciples of his own to ascertain if Jesus is the real deal, the promised Messiah of who he’s been preaching, or if he’s merely a spiritual supernova enjoying 15 minutes of fame in the public eye.
John’s doubt comes from his understanding of scripture, the long held God-given promises about the future God is midwifing into existence in a world of oppression, occupation and moral bankruptcy. Jesus responds by quoting scripture from the prophets (Isaiah 28:18-21; 35:5-6 and 61:1) – giving a verbal accounting of the ways in which he is accomplishing the promise of being filled with the Spirit of God to bring freedom, deliverance, healing and hope (as he preached in his first sermon in Luke 4:16-29). Jesus doesn’t condemn his doubt or belittle his fear, rather shines a clarifying light on his bewilderment, inviting to trust.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What strikes you in this passage? How does it interact with your life today, the questions you have, the issues you’re facing?
- At the root of this encounter is the experience of doubt born of confusion and expectations. How could John have been confused about the purpose and legitimacy of Jesus? How do you struggle with confusion about the role and power of Jesus in your life?
- Doubt is often cast as a sin, a horrible thing to avoid. Could it be that it’s instead an undeniable part of life, like two sides of a coin? How do you experience that paradox? How might embracing our doubt, as part of life, free you to dare deeper faith? Talk with God about your fears, doubts, or unmet expectations.
Link to Textual Study Sheet we use for a weekly Bible-based discussion HERE.