Future Hope vs. Present Distress

Mark tells the story of Yeshua focused on future hope. Luke tells the story of Yeshua focused on present distress.

What I mean is this: in Mark’s gospel, we see the theme of the identity of the veiled Son of Man. He is much more than he appears to be. Those who remain close to him see this gradually more and more. The coming Son of Man (Yeshua in his Second Coming) will bring all of that future hope to reality. So Mark is apocalyptic (interested in showing how the Eternal breaks through into the Present).

In Luke’s gospel, the reality of a disciple-community spread throughout the empire dealing with the problems of an absent Lord and an unbelieving Roman populace, is more obviously in the background. So Luke emphasizes the present need for faith and the Spirit. While we wait, we are in distress and our gospel seems impossible to believe.

This difference (not contradiction) in emphasis was clarified for me this morning as I considered how Luke follows up the Sower parable with a series of illuminating stories.

In presenting this outline, I am saying that Luke has taken the same stories from Mark’s gospel, and ordered them in a way that emphasizes the present situation of disciples: in need of faith and the Spirit while the current crisis of Yeshua’s absence is going on. If you are not used to the idea that a storyteller shapes a message in the order and details of the story, please let me be clear: I am not saying that Luke has distorted the stories or that his version contradicts Mark’s or Matthew’s.

SOWER PARABLE – Luke 8:4-15
As I have said in Yeshua in Context chapter 11 and in other commentary on the Sower parable, the issue of the whole parable is the word Yeshua is spreading about the kingdom’s arrival and the way the delay of the kingdom causes people to fall away, except for disciples who bear fruit like Yeshua.

THE LAMP ON A STAND – Luke 8:16-18
Yeshua is the lamp who will be put up on a stand (you know, the cross). Much will be revealed when the kingdom does not come as expected but when the hoped for king dies instead. Blessed is the disciple who grasps the truth. God will give much to those who have faith.

Those who are scandalized by Yeshua are not his true family. But those who believe even in crisis will hear and do what the word teaches. The word means the specific word Yeshua is teaching about the kingdom (that he will bring it and while waiting, his disciples are to bear the fruit of the kingdom–healing, serving, redeeming).

In a crisis, Yeshua asks, “Where is your faith?” Luke is asking the disciples in his generation the same question: the Second Coming is delayed and our message seems to be in crisis, but in this situation, do we have faith to keep going?

The story is a parallel to the Yeshua story. The demoniac is virtually a dead man who returns to life. His story is spreading in a gentile region. The people of the region are distrustful of the message and want nothing to do with Yeshua. The man tells his death-to-life story all over the gentile region. Isn’t Luke mirroring what is happening in his time? The basis of the faith the Yeshua-community is spreading is a story about a man who passed from death to life. And the eyewitness accounts that informed the gospel are the only reason the disciples can give a resistant people to believe.

Yeshua says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you.” He says to those who doubt he can raise Jairus’ daughter, “Do not fear; only believe.”

This whole section is stories reflecting on the meaning of the Sower parable. The word has been planted, Yeshua’s word that the exile is over and the kingdom is arriving, but is also delayed. The kingdom is present and future. Its present aspect is faith and fruit. Its future aspect is the Second Coming and the time of God’s direct reign. Luke’s way of presenting it all emphasizes what we, in this present distress, are to do: believe and teach. Our strength is in the witness of the past (Yeshua rose) and reminding ourselves of this belief is what will get us through this long crisis.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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