October 31, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from the happy ending of Luke’s gospel — chapter 24, verses 49-53.
“And [behold] I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.
This is the only time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus blesses. Language fascinates me. To bless: it’s interesting that the Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of the word to mean “to mark (or effect in some way) with blood (or sacrifice); to consecrate….At a very early date the popular etymological consciousness began to associate this verb with bliss — benignity, blitheness, joy, happiness.” Here we have in the verses above the joining of Jesus’ consecration of his apostles by his sacrifice with their bliss, their joy.
Luke’s gospel begins and ends in the temple in Jerusalem to show the continuity between the old and the new covenant and to make it clear that the promise at the beginning was fulfilled at the end. The old man Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God, asking for His favor and saying “my eyes have seen your salvation.” At the end Jesus blessed his disciples, asking for God’s favor upon them and for their salvation.
This is the beginning of Christology in Luke’s gospel. It is the only time that he tells us that disciples worshipped or paid him homage. As Barclay writes, “There had to come a day of dividing when the Jesus of earth finally became the Christ of heaven.” And yet the disciples weren’t sad, wistful for the days they had spent living with Jesus, bathing in his patient, unconditional love. They were filled with great joy! Luke used the word for joy several times in his gospel with the sense signifying “a state of messianic exaltation and peace” according to Johnson in The Gospel of Luke. It was the joy and conviction that Paul describes in Romans, “For I am convinced neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus promised his disciples that they would be clothed in the power of the Holy Spirit. With his blessing upon them he transferred his mission from himself to them. Johnson reminds, “Now if we remember the prophet Moses and Elijah, we remember how their Spirit was transmitted to their successors at their departure. Joshua ‘was full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses laid his hands on him: so the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.’ Joshua inherited the Spirit and was able to lead the people into the Promised Land even though Moses could not. Likewise Elisha before the departure of his master Elijah asked for a double portion of the Spirit. When Elijah ascended into heaven, he left the prophetic ‘mantle’ for his successor Elisha to wear; so when Elijah had departed, his Spirit was still more actively present in his successor, who at once demonstrated the deeds of a prophet. Thus the imagery of ‘being clothed from on high’ is particularly fitting. Jesus’ followers will receive a double share of the Spirit, and the mantle of his prophecy; they will work signs and wonders in his name, and declare openly what they had once held in silence.” Luke will continue this story in Acts.
So, too, have I been blessed by Jesus with the expectation that I will be joyful and that, filled with the Holy Spirit, I will work wonders in his name. That’s the power of unconditional love and forgiveness. When I bless others with that love, which will entail sacrifice, both of us will be blissful. That’s the promise for me to fulfill.