Friday, July 29, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 8

Zacchaeus' Story – Luke 19:1-10

          In our next text, we meet a person who returns to his Source, God in Jesus Christ, in an unexpected and unusual way. No one in the town of Jericho would ever have imagined that Jesus would invite Himself into wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus' house and heart, but that is exactly what happened, and Zacchaeus' life would never be the same again.
          Who was Zacchaeus? What was he like before he encountered Jesus along the road through Jericho? In our reflections on the Gospel of Luke, we have already met one tax collector, Levi, so we know that such publicans were despised by the Jews for collaborating with the Roman government and were generally denounced as thieves who practiced extortion on their fellow Israelites in order to line their own pockets with their dishonest gains. Zacchaeus, however, would have been hated even more than Levi, for the former held the job of chief tax collector, which probably meant that he was the supervisor of the other publicans in his district (19:2). (40) Unlike many of his subordinates, Zacchaeus had acquired significant wealth, making him all the more loathed by the Jews who, perhaps accurately, viewed his riches as the fruit of dishonesty and extortion. Like Levi, Zacchaeus, although a “son of Abraham,” a Jew, was designated a “sinner” and excluded from Jewish worship and community life (19:7,19). As such, Zacchaeus, in all likelihood, did not have much of a prayer life or a relationship with God, and presumably, he would have been far more interested in his worldly activities and material possessions than in Jesus and His “doctrine of universal mortification and self-denial.” (41) Zacchaeus, however, had a curious streak. When he had heard that Jesus was going to pass through Jericho, he thought he would at least go and see Who this Man was. Perhaps he was merely indulging a natural instinct to catch a glimpse of someone famous, but as Jesus approached, something deep within Zacchaeus was already beginning to change. (42)
          What happened to Zacchaeus? What kind of encounter did he experience with the transforming presence of God in Jesus Christ? The crowds were packing in around Zacchaeus on all sides; he was not the only one curious “to see who Jesus was,” but because of his short statue, his line of sight was cut off by the pressing crowd (19:3). Seemingly propelled by a sudden sense of urgency, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree, hoping perhaps for a true “bird's eye view” of Jesus (19:4). Was he simply responding to the excitement of his fellow townspeople, or was God's grace working in his heart, stirring him to a greater anticipation, a more intense longing for contact with Jesus Christ? In any case, Zacchaeus was motivated enough to forget his pride and risk appearing as a fool in the eyes of his astonished neighbors, for wealthy tax collectors typically did not spurn their dignity by running down the road and climbing a tree, no matter how curious they were about the latest celebrity passing through town. He was well rewarded for his humble deed. Jesus stopped beneath Zacchaeus' tree, looked up, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (19:5). Surprise! No one could have predicted this! Not only did Jesus already know Zacchaeus personally, for He called him by name, He actually put aside His plans to merely pass through Jericho and instead invited Himself into this “sinner's” home! Jesus was offering Zacchaeus a unique opportunity, an unmerited call to intimacy, to friendship, to new life. Albert Barnes remarks, “This was an honor which Zacchaeus did not expect. The utmost, it seems, which he aimed at was to see Jesus; but, instead of that, Jesus proposed to remain with him, and to give him the benefit of His personal instruction. It is but one among a thousand instances where the Saviour goes, in bestowing mercies, far beyond the desert, the desire, or the expectation of men.” (43) The crowd could not believe it, and they muttered among themselves. Why in the world would Jesus choose to stay with this sinful chief tax collector? Did He not realize who this was? Did He not know the miserable reputation of this man who so easily betrayed his own people?
          If Zacchaeus had surprised his neighbors by climbing a tree, he gave them an even greater shock by his response to Jesus' call, for he was no longer the person he had been even a few hours before. How was Zacchaeus' changed by this “chance” encounter with the presence of God in Jesus Christ? First of all, he accepted Jesus' invitation to become His “familiar acquaintance,” to enter into an intimate personal relationship with Him. (44) The instant Zacchaeus heard Jesus' command, he obeyed at once. He “made haste and came down” out of his tree, receiving Jesus joyfully into his home and, as many commentators note, into his heart and his life as well (19:6). (45) Did he realize that he was welcoming God Himself when he offered Jesus his humble hospitality? He probably did not, at least consciously, but he certainly would have been well aware of Jesus' teachings and miracles, of His reputation as God's representative among men. Consequently, by receiving God's “representative,” Zacchaeus was also consenting to a “familiar acquaintance” with God, although he likely did not grasp the extent or significance of his acceptance or of his burgeoning conversion. (46) Our tax collector did, however, realize the need to offer an external sign of the renewal he was experiencing deep within. He stood before Jesus in a solemn attitude of formal, public declaration and proclaimed, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold” (19:8). These words may be interpreted in different ways. Was Zacchaeus telling Jesus that he already gave half his goods to the poor and restored whatever he had extorted from his neighbors? If so, why did the crowd still consider such a generous man to be an infamous sinner, and why would Luke emphasize Zacchaeus' position as a wealthy chief tax collector, a plainly negative character in the eyes of his readers? On the contrary, was Zacchaeus promising that he would immediately begin to make amends for his sins out of gratitude for the honor Jesus had bestowed on him and in recognition of his new relationship with God? Marvin R. Vincent, in his Word Studies, holds the latter view, observing that the original Greek indicates that Zacchaeus was not vindicating himself by boasting about his previous good works but rather taking a vow to give away his wealth and restore whatever (not if) he had stolen. (47) Further, Zacchaeus offered to make his reparation according to the Roman law, which suggested a fourfold restitution, as opposed to the Jewish law, which required the principal plus one fifth more. (48) Why would a Jewish tax collector stealing from other Jews opt for the harsher Roman law unless he really had experienced a true conversion of heart and honestly wanted to show the depths of his internal repentance by a substantial external sign? Otherwise, if he had practiced this kind of restoration for a long time, would he not have chosen to follow the guidelines of the Jewish law, which was all that would have been demanded? Albert Barnes sums up the argument in favor of Zacchaeus' commitment to a new, grace-driven restitution:

"It is not necessary to understand this [verse] as affirming that this “had” been his practice, or that he said this in the way of proclaiming his own righteousness. It maybe understood rather as a purpose which he “then” formed under the teaching of Christ. He seems to have been sensible that he was a sinner. Of this he was convinced, as we may suppose, by the presence and discourse of Jesus. At first, attracted only by curiosity...he had sought to see the Saviour; but His presence and conversation convinced him of his guilt, and he stood and openly confessed his sins, and expressed his purpose to give half his ill-gotten property to the poor. This was not a proclamation of his “own” righteousness, nor the “ground” of his righteousness, but it was the “evidence” of the sincerity of his repentance..." (49)

Jesus accepted Zacchaeus' vow, and implicit apology, and declared in return, “Today salvation has come to this house...For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:9-10). Zacchaeus had been one of the lost, a man separated from God and steeped in sin and worldly pursuits, but now he had become the intimate friend of Jesus and, as such, had acquired a generous, joyful, repentant heart that reached out to others in fresh and unexpected ways. The rich tax collector had discovered a new kind of wealth, the treasures of God.
          What are these divine treasures that Jesus shared with Zacchaeus and that He reveals to us through the tax collector's story? As we reflect on Zacchaeus' experiences, we discover that Jesus desires a relationship with all people, no matter what the state of their hearts or the positions they hold in society. He searches out even the least likely candidate for intimacy and invites Himself into that individual's life, just as He did with Zacchaeus. Looking deeply into the person's soul, Jesus sees what others do not. He responds to the slightest inclination of the soul towards grace, the smallest tendency to turn toward Him, no matter what the motivation, and He showers the soul with mercy and love. This is how He fulfills His mission of seeking and saving the lost. Further, as we reflect on Zacchaeus' story, we notice that God's ways are not our ways. Jesus' behavior towards Zacchaeus was astonishing, at least by human standards. No one would ever have predicted that Jesus would choose to be the guest of a local publican, a notorious sinner. This should be comforting to us, for as St. Ambrose says, “He chooses a chief tax collector: who can despair when such a man obtains grace?” (50) Who can fail to hope in a God Who reaches out to the lost and draws them to himself? Who can fail to have faith in a God Who extends His hand to a sinner like Zacchaeus? Who can fail to love a God Who gives Himself to the broken hearted in order to make them whole?
          How might we reflect on Zacchaeus' story in light of our own experiences and circumstances? As always, we shall suggest a few meditation questions that will guide us in our quest to discover the transforming presence of God at work in us.

1. How are our lives similar to the life of Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector? Are we worldly and focused on acquiring money and possessions? Are we separated from God and other people? Are we lost in some way?

2. Do we seek Jesus? What is our motive for doing so? Are we allowing Jesus to seek and save us?

3. Are we willing to look like fools in the eyes of the world in order to respond to God's grace?

4. How is Jesus inviting Himself into our lives? Are we accepting that invitation with eager joy?

5. Do we acknowledge our sins and failings? Do we seek to make amends for them? Are we offering external signs of our internal conversion?

6. How generous are we with Jesus and with others? Are we attached to our wealth and material possessions, or are we willing to let go of them?

7. Do we receive Jesus with joy, especially in Holy Communion when He becomes a Guest in our hearts?
40. Barnes.
41. Clarke.
42. Gill; Barnes.
43. Barnes.
44. Gill.
45. Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008); Henry; Gill.
46. Gill.
47. Vincent.
48. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown.
49. Barnes.
50. Navarre, 159.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 7

The Leper's Story – Luke 17:11-19

          As we continue our quest to discover the dynamic, transforming presence of God in the Gospel of Luke and in our own lives, we meet the ten lepers of Luke 17:11-19. While all ten men were physically healed through their encounter with Jesus, we will focus our attention on one leper in particular, the one who came back with a heart filled with gratitude.
          What was life like for the leper before his encounter with Jesus? This poor man was the lowest of the low in the eyes of the Jews. First, he was a leper, and his skin disease was enough to ostracize him from the community. Accordingly to Leviticus 13, anyone with leprosy was considered “unclean.” This man, because of his condition, had to dwell apart from society, tear his garments, keep his head bare, and warn everyone he met of his outcast state by crying “Unclean!” He had no access to religious rites and may even have felt abandoned by God in the midst of his physical and emotional suffering. Further, this leprous man, who seems to have formed a community with nine other lepers, was probably an outcast even among his fellow outcasts, for he was a Samaritan (17:16). As the commentators of the Navarre Bible remind us, “There was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans.” (37) Jews considered Samaritans to be no better than wicked and ignorant heathens who followed a corrupt and immoral religion. (38) The text does not tell us the race and religion of the other lepers, but since they went readily to show themselves to the priests, we can assume that at least some of them were Jewish (17:14). In this case, the “shared pain” of the lepers may have overcome the “religious antipathy” between Jews and Samaritans, at least to a point. (39) The Samaritan leper was still, however, the lowest of the low in terms of Jewish societal hierarchy, and he, without a doubt, suffered the effects of his position every single day.
          What happened to this poor man, this leper who was an outcast among outcasts? Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when He entered a village between Samaria and Galilee (17:11). The leper and his nine companions had somehow learned of Jesus' arrival. Perhaps they had even heard of His miraculous healing of a leper in Galilee (see 5:12-16). They obviously believed that Jesus could do something to help them, to cure them, to restore them to society, for, standing at a distance, they called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (17:12-13). Their words were, in essence, a prayer. Was this prayer merely for physical healing? Did they seek any more than that? Was their faith based on selfishness, focused only on what Jesus could do for them? The text does not give us these details, so we can only speculate. Whatever their motives, however, Jesus took pity on these ten miserable lepers. As soon as He saw them, He said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (17:14). To the lepers' credit, they obeyed at once. Apparently, their faith was strong enough for that. As they went, they were cleansed (17:14). One of them, the Samaritan, realizing what had happened, came back a changed man.
          What was this former leper like now that he had personally encountered the presence of God in Jesus and been transformed by it? Most noticably, he was physically well. His leprosy was gone, and he could return to his village and his family without fear of contaminating anyone. He could also return to his religious practices, if he wished, to the Samaritan form of worship that would have been barred to him in his leprous condition. This in itself was a dramatic transformation in the man's life. The text shows us, however, that the restoration of this man extended beyond his physical cure and reestablishment in society, for his actions suggest an additional transformation deep within his mind and heart. The former leper seems to have discovered the spirit of true worship and prayer. When he realized that he was physically cured, he praised God quite vigorously in a loud voice, unaware that God was standing right in front of Him, and he humbly fell at Jesus' feet in gratitude and reverent recognition of his weakness in the face of Jesus' power (17:15-16). This man had advanced from petition for a personal need to adoration and thanksgiving, in which he praised God for Who His was and what He had done. The former leper's focus had turned from himself to God, from his needs to God's praise. Jesus accepted the man's gratitude and pointed out to those nearby that only this foreigner had come back to give thanks and praise for his healing (17:18). The other lepers, presumably, fulfilled their duty of showing themselves to the priests but had not grasped the true Source or meaning of their cure. Unlike the Samaritan, they had not learned how to worship. Jesus turned to the grateful man before Him, saying, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (17:19). Indeed, the leper was now well, both physically and spiritually. He could resume his way of life, but he would never be the same after his encounter with the love and power of God in Jesus.
          What might we learn about God incarnate in Jesus as we reflect on the leper's story? We first notice that Jesus answers prayers powerfully. In His great mercy, He responded to the lepers' plea and cured them without even a word. The leprosy that had probably affected these men for years was gone in an instant as soon as they obeyed Jesus' command to go and show themselves to the priests. Jesus has the same control over our lives and our world, and He can transform any circumstance at any time if such an action would be for our benefit. Further, our Lord desires a proper response to His power and mercy, namely, our praise and gratitude for answered prayers. He yearns for us to imitate the grateful leper and fall at His feet, worshiping Him and thanking Him for His favors and blessings, but like the other nine healed lepers, we often go on our way, quickly forgetting the Source of our miracles and neglecting to utter a simple “Thank You,” thereby wounding our God's compassionate Heart.
          We must finally ask the question, “How might we apply the experiences of the leper to our own lives?” How is God reaching out to transform us through this text? Reflecting on the following questions will help us discover God's special message for us in the leper's story.

1. What is the “leprosy” in our lives? What separates us from Jesus or from other people? In what ways do we need to be healed and made whole?

2. Do we stand at a distance from Jesus? Do we pray to Him from afar?

3. Do we believe that Jesus can and will answer our prayers? Do we have faith in His power and mercy?

4. Are we grateful people? Do we fall down before Jesus in thankfulness and praise when we receive an answer to our prayers, even if it is not the answer we are seeking, or do we forget Him as we go about our lives?

5. Do we always go back to our Source, the One Who is in control of our lives and our world? What would our lives be like if we constantly returned to God at every moment, praising Him, thanking Him, and receiving strength and grace from Him?
37. Navarre, 149.
38. Barnes; Clark; Gill.
39. Navarre, 149.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 6

The Gerasene Demoniac's Story – Luke 8:26-39

          We are about to begin our reflections on one of the most dramatic transformation stories in the Gospel of Luke. The main character was barely even human when he met Jesus among the tombs in the country of the Geasenes, but through his contact with the God-Man, he was restored to his humanity and, even more, became a true worshiper and witness of God, His Savior.
          What was this man like before his striking encounter with the dynamic presence of God in the Person of Jesus Christ? Possessed by a legion of demons, the man had lost most of his humanity (8:30). He spurned clothing; he lived among the tombs as one exceedingly unclean; he violently broke the chains and fetters his neighbors used in their attempts to bind and control him; he frequently fled into the desert wilderness, driven by the demons inhabiting him (8:27, 29). (31) He had no control over his mind, his person, or his actions. Alienated from society, he lived like a wild animal unable to sustain family or community connections or any human contact other than with those assigned to restrain him, and he was certainly incapable of maintaining any prayer, worship, or intimacy with God . (32) He was essentially dead to the world and worse, for he was completely under the influence of the adversary, the one who was bent on carrying him off to the fires of hell for all eternity.
          What happened to this man? How did he escape the clutches of the enemy who was dragging him to the very edge of his humanity and threatening to pull him over the brink? Quite simply, he encountered One Who was much more powerful than the legion of demons holding him captive. He met Jesus. Jesus had just arrived in the country of Gerasenes when the man approached Him. Recognizing the situation at once, Jesus commanded the unclean spirits to come out of the possessed man, but, still under the control of the demons, the man fell down before Him and cried out, “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech You, do not torment me” (8:28-29). Clearly, a demon was speaking these words, for the man himself could not have known Jesus' identity and authority. The evil spirits begged Jesus not to cast them into the abyss, which He did regardless, granting only their request to be allowed to enter into a nearby heard of swine (8:31-32). (33) By permitting the transfer, Jesus may have been offering the man, and any bystanders, a sign to reassure him that the demons were truly gone from his person, that he could start his life afresh. (34) The demons immediately left the man and possessed the pigs. The swine rushed down a steep bank into the lake and drowned (8:33). Instead of being impressed and consoled by Jesus' power and authority, the people of the surrounding areas were seized with great fear when the herdsmen reported what had occurred (8:37). They begged Jesus to leave them. Perhaps they were frightened that Jesus would bring judgment down upon their heads! (35) Jesus honored their request and left, retuning to Galilee (8:37).
          What of the demoniac? What was he like after his dramatic encounter with Jesus Christ? He was literally the antithesis of the man who had emerged from the tombs to confront Jesus. When his neighbors arrived to see what had happened, they found him sitting at Jesus' feet, “clothed and in his right mind” (8:35). He was in perfect control of himself, calmly and submissively resting on the ground near the One Who had saved him. Jesus may even have been teaching him a few things about the Kingdom of God, for often those who assumed the man's subordinate position acknowledged themselves to be students of a Master. (36) The former demoniac was human again, sane and sober and acceptable to human society and companionship. He would now be able to contribute to the well being of his community, able to have a family and a job and a normal life. Further, this man, who had probably cursed God under the influence of the demons within him, now recognized his intimate relationship with Jesus and, through Him, with God although he most likely did not realize the extent of the divine unity! He begged Jesus to permit him to follow Him out of the country of the Gerasenes (8:38). In his gratitude, he desired to take his place as a faithful disciple and to remain close to Jesus no matter where that commitment led him. Jesus, however, had another plan for him. He denied the man's request, commanding him instead, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (8:39). The man obeyed at once, apparently quite content to comply with Jesus' every word even if it did not conform to his own will. He began “proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (8:39). He was now a missionary, a witness to the power and authority of God in Jesus Christ. He had come a long way from the savage, uncontrollable, demon-possessed man he once was; his life story had been completely transformed by a personal encounter with the power and love of the divine presence that flowed in and through Jesus, his Savior.
          What does the restoration of the demoniac tell us about God incarnate in Jesus Christ? First, we must observe the divine power of the God-Man. Jesus drove out a whole legion of demons with little to no effort. His authority over the supernatural world is without limit, as is His compassion and ability to quickly resolve cases that are hopeless by human standards. Further, we learn that Jesus does not force Himself on people; He respects our free will. When the Gerasenes requested that He leave them, He did, at least to a point. He delegated the restored man, just as He appoints each and every Christian, to serve as a reminder and a witness of how completely God can transform minds, hearts, and lives.
          Finally, we must, as always, ask ourselves, “How does this text apply to our own lives?” How can we meet the Lord in and through the story of the Gerasene demoniac? A few questions will help us pinpoint possible areas for reflection.

1. Are we afraid of evil, or do we trust in the supreme divine power of Jesus?

2. What parts of our lives are out of control? How can we place them in Jesus' hands and let Him restore us?

3. Are we afraid of Jesus' power? Have we ever wanted Him to leave? Why?

4. How often do we sit at Jesus' feet, submissively listening to Him? Do we desire to follow Jesus wherever He goes?

5. Do we show gratitude for what Jesus has done for us? Do we witness to the great transformations He has accomplished in our minds, hearts, and lives?

6. Do we understand that Jesus has a plan, a mission, for each one of us? Do we conform to His will or try to follow our own?
31. Vincent.
32. Godet, 384.
33. Ibid., 386.
34. Ibid.
35. Henry.
36. Gill; Hahn and Mitch, 38.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 5

The Sinful Woman's Story – Luke 7:36-50

          In Levi's story, we saw Jesus choose and call a man who would have been, in the eyes of the Jews, the least likely person to be selected for a special relationship with God. In our next story of transformation, we shall meet a woman who was seeking Jesus, responding, perhaps, to some kind of initial encounter with Him but searching for the fullness of His transforming presence and love.
          Who was this woman, then? What was she like before her encounter with God the Son in Jesus Christ? Apparently, this woman was a notorious sinner. Simon the Pharisee and his guests, with whom Jesus was dining when the woman approached Him, were scandalized by her very presence. Her highly unfavorable reputation among the Jews made her an outcast, unable to formally worship God or participate in community life. (25) The text does not tell us what her sins were, but they seem to have been very many, very grave, or probably both, for Jesus compared her to a debtor for whom a great amount had been forgiven (7:41, 47). Some have speculated that she may have been a prostitute who had spent her life moving from crime to crime, but no matter what her sins, she was a broken individual, separated from God and in need of His mercy and healing. (26)
          What happened to this woman that drew her away from her sins and into the love of Jesus Christ? This story is unique among the texts we have chosen, for we meet this sinful woman in the midst of her transformation. Evidently, she had already experienced some kind of encounter with Jesus before she first appeared in chapter 7 of Luke's Gospel. She may have heard Him preach, met with Him, or even felt His heart-changing gaze as Levi had. (27) Whatever happened, it seemingly planted the seeds of faith, hope, love, repentance, and courage in this woman's heart. She could, perhaps, feel herself beginning to be transformed, and she was driven to further action to receive a confirmation of what was going on inside her and to complete the change. She sought Jesus out at Simon's home, and right in the middle of the meal, she stood behind Him, weeping, wetting His feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing them continually, and anointing them with ointment from an alabaster flask (7:38). In these actions, she revealed the depth of her repentance, humility, and love. Her tears indicated her sorrow for her sins. Her reverence and submission appeared as she meekly washed Jesus' feet and, spurning a towel in her humble poverty, wiped them with her own hair. She kissed Him, displaying her gratitude for the change already beginning deep within her and wordlessly declaring her love, subjection, and supplication. (28) She extravagantly anointed His feet with the same expensive ointment she may have used to prepare herself for her sinful deeds, and in doing so poured out her own vanity and worldly pride. (29) Essentially, she emptied herself at Jesus' feet, longing, perhaps, to hear Him speak reassuring words of love and forgiveness. Her actions were met with disgust on the part of Jesus' host and fellow guests. They were horrified that He would let such a woman touch Him. Jesus, however, welcomed her and taught Simon and the others, through a parable, that the debtor (i.e., sinner) who was forgiven much would love his creditor (i.e., God) more than the one who was forgiven little (7:41-42), and then, after comparing the woman's loving actions to Simon's own lack of courtesy and hospitality, Jesus informed His host that her many sins had been forgiven (7:47). To reinforce this in the woman's mind, to reassure her of His mercy and love, Jesus turned towards her and said again, “Your sins are forgiven....Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:48, 50).
          In these words, the woman's cherished hopes were fulfilled. What was she like after this transforming encounter with the God-Man? The text tells us nothing of this woman's later life, but we can deduce a few conclusions from her story. First, she was forgiven. She was no longer broken or separated from God. Her sins were gone, erased by Jesus' compassionate words. She could put the past behind her and start over, knowing that her relationship with God had been made right. Second, the woman had matured into a full and deep faith. Jesus recognized this when He told her that her faith had saved her. She believed absolutely in the power and love of Jesus Christ. She may not have realized the full extent of Who He was, but she trusted Him to save her, heal her, and set her free, and He did. Third, this woman, maybe for the first time in her life, could be at peace. According to John Gill, that one little word, “peace,” characterized her entire transformed existence; Jesus told her to go in peace “of conscience, and serenity of mind; let nothing disturb thee; not the remembrance of past sins, which are all forgiven, nor the suggestions of Satan, who may, at one time or another, present them to view; nor the troubles and afflictions of this present life; which are all in love; nor the reproaches and censures of men of a "pharisaic" spirit: go home to thy house, and about thy business, and cheerfully perform thy duty both to God and men; and when thou hast done thy generation work, thou shalt enter into eternal peace and joy.” (30) Having stood in the presence of the God-Man, having been transformed by His touch, the once-sinful woman could begin her new life, forgiven, healed, and greatly loved.
          Who is the God Who so touched and changed this sinful woman? What can we learn about Him by meditating on her story? As we think about how Jesus interacted with this woman, we discover His great mercy. He looked deeply into the woman's heart, acknowledged her repentance and love, and forgave her sins. He did not chastise her or even require that she confess her misdeeds. He simply erased her sins gently, kindly, and without hesitation. We also learn that Jesus is willing to accept us just as we are. When the sinful woman approached Him in the Pharisee's house, she was not yet fully converted (although she was well on her way), but that did not seem to matter to Jesus. He did not push her away or scold her for being presumptuous. Instead, He welcomed her, sinful as she still was, and even allowed her intimate contact with His Person. He did not, however, allow her to remain only partially transformed. Even as He received her in her current stage of the conversion process, He carried her beyond that level and into full spiritual restoration and communion with Him. We can be sure that He longs to do the same for us.
          What about us? How can we apply the story of the sinful woman to our circumstances? As always, we will present a few questions to help us discover the transforming presence of God in the text and in our own lives.

1. Do we approach Jesus in love and repentance? How do we show our love and repentance? Are we extravagant with God or only half-attentive?

2. What are we willing to give up for Jesus? Our pride? Our vanity? Are we willing to become poor and humble?

3. Do we have faith and hope that Jesus can and will forgive, save, and heal us? Have we known Jesus' forgiveness and healing? How have we responded?

4. Are we willing to put Jesus above all else? Do we do so?

5. Are we courageous enough to be a cause of “scandal” to others on account of Jesus, or do we care too much about what others think?

6. Do we go in peace after we experience Jesus' forgiveness, or do we continue to worry about our sins and focus on the past?
25. Hahn and Mitch, 35.
26. Barnes.
27. Godet, 358.
28. Clarke.
29. Hahn and Mitch, 35.
30. Gill.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 4

Levi's Story – Luke 5:27-32

          When Jesus left the house in which He had cured the paralyzed man, the first person He saw, Luke tells us, was a tax collector named Levi (5:27), and so begins our next transformation story. We shall see how Levi the tax collector became Matthew the apostle.
          What was Levi like before Jesus stopped by His tax office that day? Obviously, he was a tax collector, or publican, who practiced a profession despised by the Jews and typically characterized by fraud and extortion. (15) Publicans, the lowest level of Roman tax collectors, were typically drawn from the “dregs” of society. (16) While many of them, including Levi, were Jews, they were excommunicated from the Temple due to their collaboration with the Roman government; this excommunication prohibited them from practicing their religion or even swearing oaths before Jewish authorities. (17) Cut off from society and hated by their own people, many publicans turned to the dishonest practices of which they were so frequently accused, cheating their neighbors by collecting more than the required amount of tax and using the extra money to line their own pockets. Perhaps Levi also indulged in this kind of behavior; the text does not tell us, but we can be sure that, in any case, he was an outcast from the Jewish religious and social community, a great sinner in the eyes of the Jews. As such, he would probably have viewed himself as an outcast from God and even despised by God just as he was by his fellow Jews, but his encounter with the divine presence in Jesus Christ was soon to change all of this.
          What happened that transformed Levi's life story so dramatically? A look and two words. The translated text says that Jesus “saw” a tax collector (5:27), but in the original Greek, this word has the much stronger connotation of “looking attentively” or fixing one's eyes upon someone. (18) This was not a common glance; it was an intense gaze that must have reached to the depths of Levi's heart. The look was accompanied by two simple yet powerful words, “Follow Me” (5:27). Was this an invitation, a command, or both? Whatever the nature of the words, Jesus was clearly calling Levi to leave his old life behind and accept a new role as His disciple, and Levi, under the influence of divine grace and the “flash of divine sympathy” that passed between Jesus and himself, responded. (19) He rose from his post at the tax office, left everything, and followed Him (5:28).
          The Levi who sat down at the tax office that morning was not the same man who rose up a while later. How was he changed by his encounter with Jesus? Rather dramatically, he literally got up and left his whole life behind. He must have trusted Jesus unconditionally from the first moment of their acquaintance, for he abandoned his profession, his livelihood, to follow a Man he barely knew. There may even have been some physical risk involved in Levi's action; the Romans would not have been pleased to find that one of their publicans had left his job unfinished and gone off to join some traveling preacher. (20) Levi went anyway, without hesitation. (21) He chose to make Jesus his entire life. He accepted the grace offered to him and grasped the opportunity for discipleship, even if at that time he did not fully realize the intricacies and implications of his choice. He had gained a real, personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, God-made-Man. Further, Levi commenced his duties as Jesus' disciple immediately by hosting a great feast in Jesus' honor and inviting his fellow tax collectors, probably with the hope of introducing them to Jesus and offering them a chance at the new life he had just received (5:29). He thereby became a witness of the good news and an intermediary drawing others to Jesus. He was making his first attempt at mission. (22) On another level, Levi's feast was, perhaps, his way of showing gratitude to Jesus for His great gifts. The Greek word for “feast” can have the connotation of a reception. Was Levi receiving Jesus into his home as an outward sign and gesture of thanksgiving for having been allowed to receive Him into his heart? In any case, Jesus graciously consented to attend Levi's feast, much to the disgust of the Pharisees who were appalled to see Him sharing table fellowship with a group of notorious publicans and sinners (5:30). Jesus took this opportunity to explicitly state the purpose of His mission. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;” He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”(5:31). With these words, Jesus identified Himself as the divine Physician Who had come to heal and forgive a sick and sinful world. He had certainly healed and forgiven Levi, the tax collector, who was no longer a possibly-crooked publican but a faithful disciple, no longer a sinful outcast from God but a companion of the God-Man. Levi's conversion even warranted a new name, “Matthew,” which means “gift of God” and was probably first applied as a surname. (23) Gift of God, indeed. Levi knew full well what he had received with just a look and two words.
          What does Levi's story tell us about the God Who had become the intimate friend of a tax collector? First, we may discern Jesus' power. He can break into our lives and transform them in an instant. Father George Haydock notes that in Levi's conversion we can perceive “the marvelous efficacy of Christ's word and internal working, which in a moment can alter the heart of man, and cause him to despise what before was most near and dear to him.” (24) Further, we learn that Jesus seeks us and calls us to conversion. The whole purpose of His coming among us as a Man is to draw us to Himself, to forgive and heal us, and to immerse us in His loving presence. He desires a relationship with each of us, no matter what our state in life, and He challenges us to go beyond our normal ways of thinking and behaving so that we can accept His plan for our lives and be transformed in mind and heart just as Levi was.
          Finally, once again we must ask ourselves, “How does God reach out to touch and change our minds, hearts, and lives as we meditate on Levi's experiences?” We may reflect on the following questions:

1. Is God calling us to a particular mission? What is His plan for our lives?

2. Do we follow God's call without hesitancy and resistance? What causes us to resist Him?

3. How is God challenging us? Is He nudging us to let go of some carefully-guarded attitudes and behaviors? What does He want us to leave behind that we may follow Him?

4. How is God breaking into our daily lives? Do we understand the power of His grace to touch, change, and heal us?

5. Do we realize that God always has His eyes fixed intently on us? How would this realization change us?

6. Whom do we need to bring to Jesus? How can we be disciples and missionaries in the world?
15. Frederic Godet, A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889), 269.
16. Vincent.
17. Godet, 269.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid., 270.; Henry.
20. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke, Vol. I (Oxford: James Parker and Co., 1874), 190.
21. Ibid.
22. Godet, 272.
23. Ibid., 271.
24. George Leo Haydock, Catholic Family Bible and Commentary (New York: Edward Dunagan and Brother, 1859), (accessed January 27, 2010).--

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 3

The Paralyzed Man's Story – Luke 5:17-26

          God fulfilled Zechariah's prophecy in an amazing way when He came among us as God-made-Man in Jesus Christ, the divine Son, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The dynamic presence of God moving in and through Jesus Christ during the years of His hidden life and public ministry touched and transformed countless minds, hearts, and lives. The paralyzed man in Luke 5:17-26 offers us a prime example of a person restored to physical and spiritual wholeness through his contact with Jesus.
          What was this man like before his intimate encounter with God the Son? Physically, he was most likely totally incapacitated, unable to walk and so weak that he had to be carried on a pallet by several friends (5:18). His disability would have significantly impacted his life, for it would have prevented him from participating fruitfully in the activities, and even the worship, of his family and community. His physical difficulties, however, seem to have been only one aspect of his brokenness. This man required healing on more than one level, for Jesus, upon seeing him, did not focus on his physical condition. Instead, He forgave his sins. The paralyzed man, like all of us, was a sinner in need of forgiveness. His sin was crippling him as much as his physical disability, for it was impeding, perhaps even preventing, an intimate relationship with God. Further, this man appears to have possessed a weak faith at best. How can we deduce this from the text? Verse 20 tells us that Jesus saw “their faith.” To whom does the pronoun “their” refer? In the previous verse, the pronoun “they” has as its antecedent the paralyzed man's friends, who went up on the roof and lowered the man before Jesus. Clearly the pronoun could not refer to the man himself in this verse, so it most likely does not vary in its antecedent in verse 20 especially since there is no intervening noun to suggest such a change. What we have, then, is Jesus seeing and responding to the strong faith of the man's friends rather than that of the man himself. Does this mean that the paralyzed man did not have faith? Not necessarily, but we can at least tentatively surmise that the man's faith was weak and limited. He had enough faith to allow his friends to carry him to Jesus, but he remained totally passive. He did not take an active role in his healing. He did nothing. He said nothing. He did not plead or participate; he was merely silent and still as though he could hardly believe that this Man his friends trusted so much could do anything for him. In any case, this taciturn and helpless man was certainly blessed with loyal and caring friends, friends who were willing to go to extremes to give their companion a new chance at life.
          So what happened to this paralyzed man? Jesus was teaching inside a house, surrounded by Pharisees and scribes who had come from all over Israel to hear Him speak (5: 17). The man's friends did not seem to mind the presence of such an esteemed audience. Unable to push their way through the crowd while carrying their friend's pallet, they climbed up to the roof, lifted their companion up with them, removed some of the roof tiles, and lowered the paralyzed man down before Jesus (5:19). Recognizing the literal heights these men went to in their quest to help their comrade, Jesus responded to their faith-filled actions, albeit not in the way they probably expected. “Man,” He said to the person lying silently before Him, “your sins are forgiven you” (5:20). Jesus knew what kind of healing the paralyzed man needed most; he required forgiveness, spiritual renewal, and a reestablishment of his relationship with God more than any physical cure. The Pharisees and scribes began to question His declaration of forgiveness. “Who is this that speaks blasphemies?” they thought. “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (5:21). Perceiving their skepticism, Jesus answered their objections with a physical sign that confirmed the paralyzed man's spiritual healing and His own power to forgive sins. (13) “I say to you,” He told the man, “rise, take up your bed and go home” (5:24). The man did just that; he stood up before all, picked up his bed, and went home, glorifying God and leaving behind him an amazed group of scribes and Pharisees (5:25-26).
          Without a doubt, the paralyzed, now healed, man was a different person after his encounter with God-made-Man, Jesus Christ. What, exactly, had been transformed in him? How had his life story been changed? Most evidently, this man was physically cured. He was no longer a feeble, paralyzed person, unable to walk and dependent upon others to carry him from place to place. This in itself was a tremendous life change. Jesus gave this man the opportunity to live a full human life, to work, to play, to worship, to be independent (at least as much as anyone ever is in this life), and to form equal relationships with other people. The paralyzed man's transformation was not limited to physical healing, however. When Jesus forgave his sins, He made him clean and whole in God's sight and removed the obstacles that prevented him from cultivating the greatest relationship of all, his friendship with God. With his mind and heart, which had been weakened and broken by sin, restored, he was now capable of intimacy with God. The man joyfully accepted these divine gifts of spiritual and physical healing. Prepared and strengthened by the forgiveness he had received, he immediately and without hesitation obeyed Jesus' command to rise (5:25). Gone was his weak faith; he now trusted Jesus completely and submitted to Him fully, believing His words without doubt. Gone, too, was his passivity; he was now an actor in the divine drama, moving quickly under his own power and speaking in praise where he had previously failed to speak in supplication. He broke out in worship, glorifying and thanking God as he recognized the divine source of the great blessings that had been poured down upon him. (14) The physically-paralyzed, spiritually-broken, passive individual was gone, and standing in his place was a physically-strong, spiritually-whole, active, faith-filled, joyful worshiper of God.
          What does the story of the paralyzed man tell us about God, particularly about God the Son, Jesus Christ? How does He reveal Himself to us in this passage? First, we must note that Jesus, by actively forgiving this man's sins, is showing that He is indeed God. His authority is divine, not human, and He has the power to heal both physically and spirituality. Further, He places an emphasis and a priority on spiritual health, even to the point of making it a preparation, or perhaps, more accurately, a prerequisite, for physical healing. Certainly, in Jesus' eyes, the state of our soul, and our relationship with Him (and with the Father and the Holy Spirit), is far more important than our physical condition (although the latter is not insignificant because, as human beings, we are comprised of both body and soul). Finally, the story of the paralyzed man reveals something significant about Jesus' anticipatory response to the longings of our hearts. Jesus knows what we are thinking and what we need even before we ask Him. He knew the questions of the scribes and Pharisees; he recognized the intentions and the silent plea of the faithful friends. He may even have discerned the unexpressed desires of the paralyzed man's own heart, yearnings the man himself may not have realized were present. Jesus, our loving God, knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is always ready to reach out to us, to listen to our hearts, and to satisfy our deepest needs.
          Finally, we must ask ourselves, “How might we apply the story of the paralyzed man to our own life stories?” Again, we will provide several reflection questions designed to help us encounter God in His Word and in our hearts.

1. What paralyzes us in our spiritual life? What kinds of spiritual healing do we need? For what sins do we need forgiveness? Do we doubt God's power to forgive us?
2. Do we realize that spiritual healing is more important than physical healing? How might this awareness change the focus of our petitions and intercessions?

3. Do we intercede for our friends and family members? Do we realize the wonderful effects intercession can have on their lives? Are we determined and confident in setting our loved ones before the Lord?

4. What happens when God does not give us the answers we have been expecting? Do we question Him, or do we trust that He knows our needs better than we do?

5. Are we obedient to God's commands? Do we praise Him for the gifts and favors He gives us?
13. Cf. Hahn and Mitch, 30.
14. Gill.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 2

Zechariah's Story – Luke 1:1-25; 57-80

          Let us begin, then, with the very first chapter of Luke's Gospel, specifically with the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Who was Zechariah? What was he like before his personal encounter with God? Zechariah, as a descendent of Aaron's oldest son Eleazar, came from a high ranking Jewish family, and as a priest in the order of Abijah, the eighth of twenty-four orders in the Levitcial priesthood, he was specially consecrated to offer the prayers and sacrifices of old covenant worship. (3) He was also a pious and devout man, “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (1:6). In other words, he lived his Jewish faith; he kept the moral and ceremonial laws to the best of his ability, and even if he sinned sometimes, he still fulfilled his duty toward God and neighbor as well as any fallen human being could do. (4) Zechariah's life, however, was not perfect. There was a defect in his world that only a miracle, a transforming touch from God, could correct. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were childless, for Elizabeth was barren, and they were “both advanced in years” (1:7). The Jews cherished children as a gift from God, a source of great happiness, and their parents' legacy to the world. (5) Zechariah and Elizabeth must certainly have been saddened by their lack of heirs. They may even have thought themselves forgotten by God. Their friends and neighbors, despite the couple's righteousness before God, wondered, perhaps, what Zechariah and Elizabeth had done to miss out on such such a great blessing. Were they being punished for some secret sin? Such reproachful whispers would have echoed in Zechariah's ears (see 1:25). The stage was set for God to break into Zechariah's world, to touch and change the mind, heart, and life of His priest.
          What happened to Zechariah, then? How did he encounter the dynamic, transforming presence of God? We might say that Zechariah experienced God's touch in two “installations,” first, during his priestly service in the Temple and, second, at the circumcision of his son. Zechariah was chosen “by lot” to burn incense in the Temple's “Holy Place,” the area just outside the sacred “Holy of Holies” where God dwelt (1:9). (6) This task would have been the “crowning moment” of Zechariah's priesthood, for a priest was typically selected, in effect called by God, for this office only once in his lifetime. (7) As he was performing his duty before the altar of incense, Zechariah was startled by the sudden appearance of “an angel of the Lord,” who was standing at the right side of the altar (1:11). He was more than startled, in fact; he was terrified. John Chrysostom explains, “No matter how righteous a man be, he cannot look at an angel without feeling afraid; that is why Zechariah was alarmed; he could not but quake at the presence of the angel; he could not take the brightness that surrounded him.” (8) Zechariah need not have been quite so fearful, for he angel brought a message of great hope and joy. Zechariah's prayer had been heard; Elizabeth would bear a son (1:13), and not just any son, either, a son who would be “great before the Lord” and “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb” (1:15), a son who would “turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God” (1-16) and would go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” converting the “hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” (1:17), a son who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (1:17). The angelic messenger of the Most High, Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God, had just promised Zechariah that all his hopes, all his dreams, were about to be fulfilled (1:19). The Lord was going to come among His people, and the priest's own son, himself a miracle, would prepare the way for this new presence of the divine. What a message! Zechariah, however, did not seem ready to hear it. He doubted. He forgot God's almighty power; he forgot that nothing would ever be impossible for God, even making a barren couple fertile. (9) Moreover, he asked for a sign. “How shall I know this?” he demanded of the angel, or, in Luke's original Greek, “according to what” shall I know this? (10) Essentially Zechariah was asking, “What sign will you give me so I can be sure that this will happen, that what you say is true?” Despite his righteousness and his priestly office, his faith was weak. He did not fully trust that God could do exactly what He said He would do. Neither God's presence in the Temple nor in His messenger had as yet transformed this priest's mind and heart. Zechariah received his sign. He was literally struck dumb, and probably deaf, too, since his friends later resorted to making signs when they asked him what he wished to name his son (1:20, 62). Zechariah's loss of speech was both a judgment upon his unbelief and an indication of the truth of Gabriel's announcement. (11)

Apparently, after learning about faith the hard way, Zechariah believed enough to follow through on the angel's message, for Elizabeth became pregnant (1:24). Nine months later, Zechariah experienced the second “installment” of God's transforming touch. Elizabeth had given birth to a son, whom she named John on the day of his circumcision, just as the angel had instructed (1:60). The neighbors protested and turned to Zechariah for confirmation. “His name is John,” the silent priest wrote on a tablet, and “immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God” (1:63-64). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah broke out into a joyful prophesy. He proclaimed the imminent arrival of the God of Israel among His people; he declared the fulfillment of the covenant God had sworn to Abraham, that Israel would be delivered from its enemies and “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him”; and he predicted his own son's role in preparing the way of the Lord's salvation, forgiveness, and peace (1:67-79). At this point, Zechariah had personally encountered God twice, once through the mediation of an angel and once through the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was a changed man.
          We may now ask ourselves, “What was Zechariah like after his encounter with the divine?” How had God's transforming presence changed him? This doubtful, frightened man had become a faith-filled, joyful worshiper. This childless old man had become the father of a son who would be called “the prophet of the Most High” (1:76). The priest of the old covenant had become a prophet of the new covenant when, empowered by the Holy Spirit, he witnessed to the entire divine economy, praising God for His promises of the past, rejoicing in His blessings in the present, and proclaiming His salvation for the near future and beyond. (12) Zechariah had stood in God's presence. He had seen His promises come true. He had taken his place in God's plan of salvation. Greeted by an angel and filled by the Holy Spirit, he experienced the divine touch and was transformed in mind, in heart, and in life.
          What do Zechariah's experiences tell us about God? What is God trying to reveal about Himself in the transformation story of his priest? First, we see that God communicates with His people in many different ways. He might send an angel to give a divine message as He did with Zechariah, or He might even fill a person with His Holy Spirit, making him His instrument and witness to speak a prophecy of grace and truth. We also learn that God has a plan for His people, a plan of salvation, of deliverance, of blessing. In the fullness of time, He fulfilled His covenant promises and came among His people to carry out this plan for the good of Israel and the whole world. Further, as we study the story of Zechariah, we recognize God's omnipotence. What is impossible for human beings, like Zechariah and Elizabeth's conception of a child, can be easily accomplished by God, Who pours His graces and gifts upon His people in unexpected ways. Finally, we see that God is faithful and trustworthy. When He makes a promise, He keeps it. When He hears a prayer, He answers it. When He calls on a person to fulfill a task, He gives him the power and grace to do so.
          This leads us to our final question about the story of Zechariah: How can we apply Zechariah's experiences to our own lives in order to encounter the living presence of God in and through this text? Since each of us will answer this question differently according to our various vocations and circumstances, we will offer several reflection questions designed to guide us as we meditate on God's Word and help us open our hearts to receive God's message and allow Him to touch and transform us deep within our souls.

1. What messages are we receiving from God? Are we listening and responding to them, or do we doubt and resist?

2. Is there something in life that we think is impossible? Do we really believe that God is able to change the situation? Do we truly understand God's omnipotence? Do we realize that God is faithful and trustworthy?

3. How has God poured out His gifts in our lives? Do we respond to those gifts with joy and worship?

4. What role are we called to play in the divine economy of salvation? Do we understand that God has an individual plan for each of us? How might we discern this plan, and how would responding positively to our role change our attitudes and behaviors?

5. How might we allow God to use us as instruments and witnesses to spread His Word to others?
3. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008); Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008); John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008); Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008); Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The Gospel of Luke (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), 17. Note: all Scriptural quotations and references are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
4. Gill; Henry.
5. Henry; Gill.
6. Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, The Navarre Bible: St. Luke's Gospel (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003), 27.
7. Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008); Henry; Hahn and Mitch, 18.
8. Navarre, 28.
9. Ibid., 29.
10. Vincent.
11. Barnes.
12. James B. Shelton, Mighty in Word and Deed: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 23.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 1

          Everyone's life tells a story. It might be long or short, simple or complex, exciting or dull, but regardless of its specific characteristics, a person's life story is never static. Part of being human is change, transformation, movement from one situation or attitude to another. As Christians, we know that these transformations are specially orchestrated by our loving God. The Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, changes minds, changes hearts, and changes lives as He meets and surrounds His children with His dynamic presence, with His profound power and love. How do we know this? The Bible, the inspired and inerrant Word of God, shows it to us. The Scriptures are filled with stories of people who have been transformed by the power and love of a God Who reaches out to touch them in the deepest part of their being and, in that touch, to awaken them, to give them a hunger for Him, to lead them to repent of their sins, to empower them to witness to His work in their lives, and to provide them with a new and living knowledge of Him, of His love, and of His plan for their salvation.
          In this study, we will focus on stories of transformation in the Gospel of Luke. While nearly all Scriptural narratives involve some kind of change in the minds, hearts, and lives of the main characters, we will select only a few sample texts in order to illustrate a technique to help us recognize and respond to God's dynamic and transforming presence in the Bible. As we attentively read each passage, we will attempt to answer five questions. First, what was the main character like before his or her encounter with God? Here we will use clues from the text to determine the person's state of mind, heart, and life on the threshold of his or her intimate meeting with a Person of the Blessed Trinity. Second, what happened? We shall look closely at the events, the personal experiences of the divine presence, that produced a change in the main character's life story. Third, what was the person like after his or her encounter with God? To answer this question, we shall make note of transformations in the main character, paying special attention to differences in personality, way of life, and relations with God and others that can be directly attributed to the effects of the divine touch. Fourth, what does this person's story tell us about God? Vatican II's Dei Verbum declares that through Divine Revelation, including the Bible, God reveals not only His words and deeds; He reveals Himself. “[T]he invisible God,” the document continues, “out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends...and lives among that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Him.” (1) God longs for us to know Him, to love Him, to be with Him, so He offers Himself to us on every page of the Scriptures. Our job is to embrace Him and to figure out what He is revealing about Himself in the stories of His transforming power and love. Fifth, how can we tap into this transforming power and love of God by applying our Scriptural reflections to our own lives? The Scriptures are not a dead letter but a living Word. As we open our hearts to meet God in the Bible, as we meditate carefully on the transformations He worked in the minds, hearts, and lives of our Biblical counterparts, as we notice parallels between them and us, we may discover that we, too, are being touched and transformed by God through the powerful mediation of the Sacred Scriptures, which Dei Verbum calls “the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.” (2) As we progress through our texts, reflecting deeply on our five questions, we shall discover that God, through His dynamic, loving presence in the world and in each of us, does indeed transform His people's life stories, both those recounted in the Bible and those we live each and every day.

1. Vatican II Council, Dei Verbum (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1965), 3.
2. Ibid., 15.