LUKE 2-10: Luke’s Gospel strikes me as also the gospel of Mary, for we find in it stories and insights no other Gospel records, stories that would most likely have come from Mary herself. She is a prominent figure in this Gospel. By tradition, the author is Luke, “the beloved physician” of Colossians 4: 14. Such a person could have had the writing and historian’s skills to compile this “orderly account” (1:3). As the same style and purpose continue in Acts of the Apostles by the same hand, who sometimes writes there in first person singular, as a witness and participant of events, to the same person “Theophilus”), tradition does have some internal evidence behind it. Mary must have been one of his sources. The reader must decide if the intended audience, Theophilus, which means “friend of God,” is a person or is a name given to all interested readers. Luke is said to be the only Gentile among the biblical writers, but his grasp of the Hebrew Bible and of Judaism is so extensive that I wonder if he wasn’t a Hellenized Jew instead.

The similarities and differences between the genealogy of Luke (ch. 3) and Matthew are hard to iron out. But don’t assume that either list is complete, or that all other biblical genealogies are either. Like the other Gospels, Luke’s gospel is focused on: 1) Jesus’ messianic nature; 2) Jesus’ identification with and preferential option for the poor, oppressed and marginalized, including women; 3) the hospitable and transforming nature of God’s mercy; 4) new possibilities for the humble and repentant; 5) the grand reversal of status and favor that come with the kingdom of God; 6) generosity and downward mobility as key features of discipleship. All of these are prefigured in the songs of Mary (1:46-56) and of Zechariah (1:67-79).

PSALM 89 is a royal lament that reverses the usual order: it starts with a hymn of praise and of confidence (vv. 1-18), and then moves into lament over the seeming failure of God’s promises to King David’s dynasty (19-52). The Yiddish term “chutzpah” comes to mind, the way that the biblical psalmists can lay their emotions and their case out before God, even the emotions of anger at God and confusion over the mystery of his workings in the world. Other psalms and prophets will lay the blame for the decline of the Davidic dynasty at the feet of the kings themselves, in keeping with the covenant. But sometimes we have to work through our anger and confusion to get to clarity.

PSALM 90, ascribed to Moses, the Man of God (most likely The Moses of the Exodus) is a lament over the brevity and futility of life in the face of our mortality and relative powerlessness, given the inescapable reality of God’s judgment. As God did at Babel, by frustrating the plans of the people, so God still does, enforcing the limits to our plans, powers and life spans and bringing to light all the dark and dirty secrets behind our grasping for Godhood; no one escapes the laws of consequences nor the light of divine scrutiny. “Relent!” is the psalmist’s prayer. Grant us some respite, and may something of enduring value result from the labors of our short and feeble lives (v. 17).

PSALM 91 reads almost as a gracious response from God to the lament of Psalm 90, leaving me to wonder if the two psalms formed a litany of lament and response. It even ends with a direct prophecy from God, promising the blessings for which Moses prayed in Psalm 90. Over time, this psalm became a favorite of Jewish exorcists, who understood the dangers of verse 3, and the beasts of verse 13, to be the names of demonic spirits. There is some New Testament evidence for this (Luke 10:19). That may be why Satan quoted verse 12 to Jesus, because he had heard little else but Psalm 91. Whatever the situation, whatever the need, Psalm 91 reminds us of the bigger picture of God’s grace in which we face the challenges of Psalm 90.


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