We often miss the most obvious point our sacred
authors are trying to make. Reading only small hunks of their writings, we
overlook their overall theology. No one liturgical reading can provide us
with the broad brushstrokes the writers employ to create their works.
That certainly is the case with Luke. In both
his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, he presents his theology against
the background of journeys. Frequently in Luke's double-volume work,
someone is either on the road or planning to go on the road.
His pattern starts with Jesus' birth.
Contradicting Matthew, who presumes that Joseph and Mary already live in
Bethlehem, Luke must get the sacred couple to David's City for Jesus'
birth (Lk 2: 1-14). So he conveniently posits a Roman census (which no
historian has yet surfaced) to force the pair to leave Nazareth and travel
to Bethlehem. But they're not the only travelers; even the shepherds are
told by the angels to travel to David's City to see the "savior born
On the move
Luke knows his Scripture. In the Genesis 12
call of Abraham and Sarah - the first Jews - Yahweh insists that people
of faith move. God never tells anyone, "Stay here! Don't budge!"
Luke presumes that when Mary told the angel, "Let it be done to me
according to your will!" she immediately began to pack.
Biblical conversion always presumes a change.
It might not be an actual move from one piece of real estate to another, but
at least a mental change of direction. Jesus certainly demands such a
change. In His basic "stump speech," He insists that anyone who
wants to follow Him "repent."
The Greek word, "metanoia," which
lies behind this command, refers to a change in one's value system. Jesus
expects us to move from one way of looking at things to another, and
eventually to reach a frame of mind that touches God's frame of mind. We're
expected to move from our value system to God's value system.
Isaiah expects no less of his audience (Is 9:
1-5). Though Christians have traditionally held that the "child born to
us, (the) son given to us" is Jesus, Scripture scholars are convinced
that the boy is actually King Ahaz' son, Hezekiah. The prophet is simply
informing his community that the "abundant joy and great
rejoicing" they're expecting will come about by God's working
through the ordinary events of their lives.
New frame of mind
There's no necessity for "external
forces" to step in and replace the natural forces that already
determine their destiny. If people let Hezekiah's natural, God-given
goodness play itself out, they'll eventually see the "great
light" of peace for which they long. The Israelites don't need a
heavenly change of leadership; they only need to move a little, to discover
a new angle from which to view the natural succession of leaders that Yahweh
has already brought about. They have to journey to a new frame of mind.
The unknown author of the letter to Titus makes
the same pitch (Titus 2: 11-14). Writing to people who already believe Jesus
is their savior, he insists that they also move. Just believing that Jesus
embodies the "blessed hope" Christians anticipate doesn't
necessarily make that hope a reality.
Before we can experience what this hope offers,
we must change our value system. As the author puts it, "Reject godless
ways and worldly desires....Live temperately, justly and devoutly in this
It's impossible to take a "still
photograph" of a true believer. He or she is constantly in motion. If
not moving their bodies, they're certainly moving their minds - always
changing their perspective of reality, always seeing things they've never
before noticed. If they continue on the journey, they'll eventually begin
to see things, people and events as God sees them.