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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Luke

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Preface ( 1:1–4 )

This highly-stylized sentence places Luke's writings firmly in the Graeco-Roman world. Just what genre it suggests, however, is not easily determined. Biographies did not often have prefaces and those of historical writings were usually much longer. It has been suggested (Alexander 1993 ) that it is like those that introduced semi-popular scientific and technical treatises and which were largely designed to hand on the traditions of their particular disciplines. Others (‘many’ may be for stylistic effect) have written ‘narratives’, that is purposefully ordered accounts, and Luke joins his own to theirs, not without a hint that he is offering an improvement. The subject of these narratives is ‘the events that have been fulfilled among us’. They are not disinterested accounts but their contents are viewed as the outcome of God's purposes and, probably, as the fulfilment of earlier expectations. The sources for these narratives were ‘eyewitnesses and servants of the word’, most probably a single group who handed down their witness in the service of the gospel. Luke is not claiming to have been their contemporary: his own ‘orderly account’ rests rather on careful research.

Theophilus (‘lover of God’) to whom Luke addresses his work is most likely to have been a real person of some standing and may have been Luke's literary patron. It has sometimes been suggested that he was a Roman official, that he was not a Christian, and that Luke was writing to make a case for Christianity and its political innocuousness. If so, the ‘instruction’ he had received was false, or at least biased, and Luke was seeking to give him the true picture. Luke–Acts as a whole, however, does not suggest that it was written for non-Christians: it contains too much Christian reflection for that and its stories of the trials of Jesus and Paul express little confidence in Roman justice. Theophilus is more likely to have been one who was knowledgeable about the Christian faith (Acts 18:25 ) and who was in fact already a Christian. In giving him ‘the truth’, Luke was seeking to offer him a firm foundation for his beliefs, to confirm them, and perhaps even to strengthen them when they were undergoing some trials. Luke's work is, of course, meant for public consumption and, through Theophilus, he is addressing every reader.

Infancy Narratives ( 1:5–2:52 )

The narratives of the infancy stand in some tension with those of the rest of the gospel. Jesus is accorded a dignity otherwise not bestowed on him before the ascension, the Spirit is active in people in a way which in the narrative proper does not happen until after Pentecost, and Jesus and John are brought together in the closest possible manner which seems to belie their sharp separation later. These differences led possibly the greatest interpreter of Lucan theology of the twentieth century to leave them out from his exposition (Conzelmann 1960 ). This was undoubtedly a mistake though it remains likely that they were added at the conclusion, if not of the two volumes, then at least of the gospel. They are best understood as the prologue to Luke's whole work, summing up its message, proclaiming it, and giving it a firm basis in Israel's story. To pass from Luke's preface to his infancy narratives is to move into another world. The tight, carefully constructed sentence is followed by a piece where the expansive craft of the storyteller is supreme. Graeco-Roman literary sophistication gives place to a biblical style that makes a fitting vehicle for episodes that in their outlook and atmosphere are one with some of the most characteristic of the OT accounts of God's approach to humankind. They are a pastiche of OT words, sentences, images, and ideas and are formed by a conscious imitation of incidents taken from various parts of Israel's story. The coming of Jesus into the world is the fulfilment of—and of one kind with—that which was begun in God's earlier activity. The narratives exude the spirit of joy, of wonder, and of worship—though also of a certain puzzlement. God's final redemptive work has been brought about through the life, death, and resurrection of the child whose birth these stories celebrate. That is the faith they express.

( 1:5–25 ) The Annunciation to Zechariah

The infancy narratives begin in the temple with the promise of the wondrous birth of John the Baptist who was in Luke's eyes the last and greatest of the Hebrew prophets and the immediate herald of the Messiah. His parents are both of priestly stock and represent all that is good in the temple and its piety. Following all the commands of the moral and ritual law, they were ‘righteous before God’, accepted and acknowledged by him. Law, temple, and prophecy together were to produce John who, while yet in the womb, would acknowledge his Lord and witness to him ( 1:44 ). Zechariah was a member of one of the twenty-four orders of priests who twice a year for a week officiated at the temple services. On this occasion he was within the sanctuary itself where the altar of incense stood immediately before the holy of holies. At this holy place, the angel of God appeared to announce a new climactic stage in God's redeeming work. The main emphasis is upon the task assigned to John. OT tradition looked for Elijah to return to restore a people within Israel who would be acceptable to God when he came to establish his righteousness among them (Mal 4:5–6; Sir 48:10 ). John, having been made a nazirite (Num 6:3 ) from the womb to show his permanent dedication to God, will do this ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’. Both Matthew and Mark picture John as Elijah returned (Mt 7:12; Mk 1:6 ). Luke actually avoids saying this. John, as Elisha before him (2 Kings 2:15 ) would be like Elijah rather than a new Elijah. This is probably because Luke saw Jesus himself in terms of Elijah and did not wish the Elijah typology to be exhausted in John ( 4:25; 7:15; 9:57–62 ).

Agents of God in the OT were often said to have been empowered by the Spirit in order to do their work (Judg 6:34; 1 Sam 11:6; Isa 61:1 ). As the climax of God's agents in Israel, John would be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb’. His was no temporary commission; it was a full endowment to be exceeded only by that of Jesus who would actually be conceived by the Spirit. Yet Zechariah demurs. Even for a faithful servant of the covenant, going forward into its climax in Jesus is not easy and he had to receive a demonstration of its truth which was at the same time a judgement on his lack of trust. Elizabeth conceives but remains hidden for five months, rejoicing alone at the sign of God's favour. The note of time binds her part into that of Mary and means that when Mary comes to visit her, the babe is formed enough to acknowledge the one who is carrying his Lord.

( 1:26–38 ) The Annunciation to Mary

By placing it ‘in the sixth month’ Luke binds the annunciation to Mary into that to Zechariah. The parallelism of the two accounts serves not only to join the events together, as part of God's final coming to his people, but also to put the climax on that to Mary for which the angel's visit to Zechariah is but a prelude. The fulfilment of its promise guarantees that those to Mary will not fail. The annunciation scene to Mary outstrips that to Zechariah in the wonder of the birth, the status of the child, the nature of his work, and the response of the one addressed.

Luke is emphatic that Mary, though betrothed to Joseph, was a virgin. Betrothal meant the entering into the legal contract of marriage though consummation did not normally occur until the time when, probably around a year later, the bride left her father's house to join her husband's. The angel's greeting, ‘Rejoice’, may have overtones of Zeph 3:14–17 and Zech 9:9 where God announces redemption to Jerusalem and her people. Mary is ‘the favoured one’ in that her life has revealed a response to God that suggests that she will respond faithfully to his further approach to her. She will conceive and bear a son whom she must name ‘Jesus’ (‘the Lord saves’).

The declaration of Jesus' status is unfolded in two stages. Gabriel's initial announcement is made in terms of a reading of the OT account of God's promises to David (2 Sam 7:11–16; Ps 132:11–18 ). Though these passages said that the promise was to be fulfilled in an ongoing line rather than in a single person, the Psalms tended to apply it to an individual king (Ps 2:7; 110:4 ) and these were later read as referring to a messianic figure. Jesus is to be the recipient of the promises for he will inherit David's throne, will reign over Israel (‘the house of Jacob’) for ever, ‘and of his kingdom there will be no end’. This last part of the promise suggests a rule wider than over Israel alone. ‘Son of the Most High’, though found in the Graeco-Roman world, reflects biblical usage where God is addressed as ‘Lord of Hosts’ (Isa 6:3 ). Luke uses it more than any other NT writer ( 1:35, 76; 6:35; Acts 7:48 ). ‘Son of God’ could be applied to angels (Job 1:6 ), to the Davidic king (Ps 2:7 ), to the individual faithful Israelite (Wis 2:12–18 ), and, later, to a messianic figure (Dead Sea scrolls). It meant that the one addressed was thought of as having a special relationship with God. Just what the nature of that relationship was, however, it did not specify.

Mary demurs, not like Zechariah demanding some sign to back up the promise, but rather questioning its possibility. This enables a further declaration of Jesus' status which actually strengthens Gabriel's initial statement. God will be wholly operative in Jesus' conception. Whereas earlier agents of God's activity had been possessed by the Spirit to perform a particular task and John had been filled by the Holy Spirit from the womb, Jesus, whose status far exceeded that of John's, was actually to be conceived through the Spirit. His whole creation, his very being, was itself the work of the Spirit. For Luke, the Spirit is essentially the agent and sign of God's eschatological redemptive activity (Acts 2:17–21, 10:44 ). Jesus, as the one to realize that, is wholly one with the Spirit. The Spirit is associated with God's power (Acts 1:8 ) which is here said to ‘overshadow’ Mary.

This total endowment with the Spirit marks Jesus as unique. He is ‘holy’, that is embraced within God's outreach and reflecting him (Lev 19:2 ), and ‘Son of God’. Though ‘Son of God’ means the same as ‘Son of the Most High’, its climactic place here in Gabriel's message suggests that it pushes out beyond the boundaries of the OT imagery. Luke appears to see Son of God as more than a messianic title and endows it with something like Paul's declaration in Rom 1:4 ( 22:70; Acts 9:20 ).

In this passage, Luke uses the narrative to present a careful declaration of the nature of Jesus and his work. At the same time, through his presentation of Mary and the relation this has to that of Zechariah in the previous episode, he is able to show the ideal response of the faithful in Israel and to give some picture of discipleship.

Luke insists that Mary is a virgin, and it is this belief that enables the narrative to move to a climax. The declaration of Jesus' sonship does not, however, rest upon that but depends rather upon his total possession of the Spirit which unites him to God. The virginal conception witnesses to his possession of the Spirit rather than being the cause of it. Though Luke's narrative expresses a firm belief in the virginal conception, it is unlikely to present the basis in history for that belief. To focus a young betrothed girl's consternation on child-bearing rather than upon the wondrous nature of the child she is called upon to bear suggests literary and theological concerns rather than strictly historical ones.

Justification of Mary's response on the grounds either that she mistook the announcement for one of an immediate conception or that she had already entered upon a vow of virginity is to import external considerations into the story (Brown 1977 ). Rather, in it we have Luke's response to the tradition that he shared with Matthew. Luke gives us little help in assessing the historical basis for the tradition. What he has done is, in the light of the traditions he received and of his belief in the OT's witness to Christ, to present in narrative form his proclamation of the significance of Jesus and to see it summed up in his birth.

( 1:39–56 ) Mary Visits Elizabeth

Luke binds the lives of John and Jesus together in this episode which enables the child in Elizabeth's womb to acknowledge the status of the one in Mary's, allows Elizabeth to greet Mary, and makes a setting for Mary's song. Mary remains the ideal disciple even as she is acknowledged as ‘the mother of my Lord’. ‘Lord’ is Luke's most characteristic title for Jesus and his favourite address to him. Breaking out of the nationalistic overtones of Messiah (‘Christ’) it points to the universality of Jesus' sway (Acts 10:36 ). Since God is also called ‘Lord’ ( 2:45, 46 ), it points to Jesus' close relationship to him though, because its main influence in Luke's usage is provided by Ps 110:1 (Acts 2:34 ), it retains that subordination and instrumentality that is so characteristic of Luke's Christology.

Luke brings the episode to its climax with the song of Mary. This has much in common with that of Zechariah which follows closely upon it and a number of commentators would see both (together, perhaps, with that of Simeon in 2:29–32 ) as incorporated by Luke from some source. It is pointed out that they sit only loosely to their contexts, that this is emphasized by a few MSS attributing Mary's song to Elizabeth, that they are not wholly appropriate for their respective singers, and that they are not particularly closely related either to Luke's theology or his vocabulary. However, though full value must be given to these opinions, it remains more likely that Luke himself was responsible for them. They are in fact an appropriate expression of Luke's outlook. Mary's song is strongly influenced by that of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1–10 which, celebrating the birth of the young Samuel, sees the wonder of God's action in this event as an illustration of the nature of his whole work for his people. Hannah's piety makes her a fitting forerunner of Mary, and Samuel's role as prophet and leader under God in Israel makes his work a type of that of Jesus. In choosing Mary as the mother of his son, God has rewarded her ‘lowliness’ and lifted her high. His dealings with her become a paradigm of the redemption that he effects through Jesus. The militaristic imagery of vv. 49, 51 , and 52 is taken over from Hannah's song and is used by Luke, either of God or of Jesus in 24:19; Acts 13:17; 19:20 . It is not out of place in a psalm-like canticle that celebrates God's powerful act of redemption through Jesus in biblical terms. The theme of reversal, taken over here from 1 Samuel, is particularly amenable to Luke who has already, in his two annunciation narratives, focused God's work in Jesus upon his approach to those who, out of a piety which looks to God for fulfilment and hope, are open to receive his redemption. As in the Lukan form of the Beatitudes (see LK 6:20–6 ) this redemption is centred upon the sociologically marginalized for, in accordance with the biblical tradition (Ps 34:6; 72:12 ), it is they who are thought likely to exhibit this outlook. The reverse side of the coin is that those who are ‘proud’, ‘powerful’, and ‘rich’, and who therefore maintain and exploit their self-sufficiency, are unlikely to be open to God's future. In Jesus, that self-sufficiency has been shown to be foolish and blameworthy ( 12:13–21; 16:19–31 ). Luke knows that it is those who are dissatisfied with the present who have responded to the gospel whilst those who have felt already fulfilled have missed out on its challenge and therefore on its redemption.

The use of the past tense in the hymn's proclamation of redemption has sometimes been felt inappropriate at this point in the story and so has been seen as evidence for Luke's having taken the hymn from a source. This, however, is to forget the function of the infancy narratives as the prologue rather than the first chapter of Luke's story. They sum up the whole event of Jesus and look at its beginnings in terms of its end. Mary's song is less one that would have been appropriate for her at that point in time than a hymn of praise which, through her, expresses the response of the ideal Israelite who had become a Christian disciple to God's whole work in Jesus.

( 1:59–80 ) The Naming of John

The circumcision of Jewish male children on the eighth day marked their incorporation into the people of God (Gen 17:11–12; Lev 12:3 ). It is not clear that naming necessarily occurred at the same time. Though Luke records a similar pattern of events for Jesus, he is not wholly reliable in his information about Jewish customs as they were practised in Israel itself. The story furthers Luke's interest in the fulfilment of prophecy and adds to the wonders surrounding the child. In challenging what Luke regards as the usual practice about names, it points to the new demands of Jesus; there is not an easy progression from the old to the new. The publicity surrounding John contrasts with the total obscurity that marked Jesus' birth. John will later question Jesus and will wonder whether his ministry measures up to what he expected of the figure for whom his own ministry was a preparation ( 7:19 ). In the light of these later events, Zechariah's witness in his song takes on an added significance.

Zechariah's song is essentially a witness to God's action in his Messiah, and the preparatory role of John is emphasized. Like the song of Mary, it comments upon the scene in which it is set only to transcend it and to view the actions of which it is a part in the light of the whole event of Jesus on which Luke looks back. It serves to sum up the significance of Jesus within the setting of God's actions in Israel. vv. 68–75 proclaim these as the fulfilment of God's promises to Israel. Through Jesus and the events surrounding him, God comes to establish his presence with his people and to confirm his covenantal promises. He has ‘visited and redeemed his people’ and has raised up a ‘horn of salvation’. ‘Horn’ is a symbol of strength. Ps 132:17 talks of a horn sprouting up for David, and the song sees this fulfilled in Jesus who is presented as the consummation of God's promises to Abraham, the ancestor of the whole Jewish people and the receiver of God's unconditional commitment to her. As ‘prophet of the Most High’ John becomes the preparer for him who is Son. He will ‘go before the Lord’ who here is really both God and Jesus. Through ‘bringing forgiveness of their sins’ to the people, he will prepare them to receive what is essentially God's redemption in Jesus who is ‘the dawn from on high’ who will bring ‘light’, ‘life’, and ‘peace’. So, in the narrative proper, John will be pictured, both through his baptism and his firm religious and ethical teaching, as preparing the way for Jesus' proclamation of the visitation of God in himself and in redemption.

The proclamation of redemption completed, and the ground prepared for the birth of the saviour, John awaits his proper time and the spotlight now falls on Jesus alone.

( 2:1–7 ) The Birth of Jesus

As at the beginning of chs. 1 and 3 , Luke is anxious to set the events of God's salvation through Jesus within the context of secular history. Though this has caused some to criticize him for reducing the eschatological dimension of Christianity and for making it into an event within world history (Conzelmann 1960 ), this relating of the gospel to the world in which it is acted out, and the more positive approach to that world which this displays, is a fundamental instinct that underlies Luke's understanding of Jesus and his work. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of his sortie into world history at this point does not measure up to his reasons for making it. Luke's notice of the census raises many virtually insurmountable problems. We have no evidence for an empire-wide census under Augustus and the likelihood of this including the land of a client king such as was Herod the Great is remote. Indeed, the census held when his son was deposed and Judea was incorporated into the Roman system was seen as such a novelty that it provoked a rebellion (Acts 5:37 ). Though there is some evidence from Roman sources in Egypt that participants were required to register in their own homes, this meant their present rather than their ancestral abodes. Herod died in 4 BCE and Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6–7 CE. (See the balanced discussion of the evidence in Evans 1990 .) Attempts to reconcile the differences have not met with widespread endorsement. A suggestion that Quirinius served an earlier term as an official in our area and that he was then involved in the census lacks real evidence. Perhaps the best attempt at harmonization is that which suggests that the Greek can be translated to read, ‘This registration happened before Quirinius became governor of Syria’ (Nolland 1989–93 ). It is not, however, a natural reading of the Greek and has about it something of the air of desperation (Fitzmyer 1981 ).

Luke, in contrast to Mt 2:21–3 , has Nazareth as the home of Joseph and Mary. The census is used by him as the means of enabling Jesus to be born at Bethlehem where the tradition on which he bases his proclamation places the birth. That, however, does not exhaust the significance he sees in it. The census is of ‘all the world’. Jesus is born at the time when all the world is on the move at the behest of one who, given a divine name, allowed himself to be addressed as Son of God and was regarded as having brought security to the world. Jesus, rather than the Roman power, however, is the real means of salvation from external oppression and the guarantee of unity to mankind. The timing of Jesus' birth proclaims his universal significance. The Roman power which, by the time Luke wrote, was uncomprehending of Christianity, often suspicious, sometimes hostile, and always threatening, unwittingly enabled Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, the place of David. The final power belonged, not to it, but to God.

Jesus' birth was nevertheless hidden, ignored by the world in its quest for security. Jesus, cared for by his mother, is placed in a ‘manger’, which could be either a feeding trough or a cattle stall, because ‘there was no room in the inn’. Luke uses the same word at 22:11 for the ‘guest chamber’ where the company is to eat the last supper. Jer 14:8 (LXX) uses the word when it laments that God is a stranger, like one who stays in a guest chamber for but a night. For Jesus, there is not room even in the guest-place; his birth points forward to the life of one who has nowhere to lay his head ( 9:58 ). No doubt the scene is infused with ideas taken from Isa 1:3 .

( 2:8–21 ) The Shepherds

At the heart of Luke's understanding of the redemption wrought by Jesus was his knowledge that in him the excluded had been included; the outsider had been brought within the people of God. His story will tell of the inclusion of tax-collectors and sinners, of women, of the poor, of the marginalized, and, ultimately, of the Gentiles. So it is right that his infancy narrative should tell of the message of angels to shepherds and that it should be they, rather than the Gentile sages of Matthew's gospel, who should visit the infant Jesus. David was called to Bethlehem from minding the sheep in order to receive anointing at the hands of Samuel (1 Sam 16:11 ), and later tradition emphasized the graciousness of the action (2 Sam 7:8 ). After the Exile, the shepherd's task became devalued and, outside the biblical period, was despised. Luke's story does not reflect that belittling, but it does picture them as outsiders, apart from the general ordering of society that was taking place at the time of the census. It is to them that the announcement of Jesus' birth is made.

Jesus is revealed as ‘Saviour’, Messiah', and ‘Lord’, three terms that sum up what the infancy narratives have said about Jesus and what the gospel as a whole will unfold and justify. The OT spoke frequently of God himself as saviour of his people, the one who would rescue them from their enemies and restore them to a relationship with himself (Ps 106:21; Isa 43:3; 60:16 ). Occasionally it spoke of his giving a saviour to his people (Judg 3:9; 6:14; 2 Kings 13:5 ). Jesus now brings the salvation of God himself ( 1:69 ). For Luke, it is all-important that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and that he fulfils OT expectations of him ( 24:26, 45 ). ‘Lord’ is his most characteristic term for Jesus, which sums up his exalted status, his universality, and the devotion he receives from his followers. Proclaimed at the birth, these three terms express the Christian response to Jesus which his career and exaltation will evoke (Acts 2:36; 13:23 ). The song of the angels recalls that of Isaiah in the temple (Isa 6:3 ) though now it is Jesus rather than the temple that realizes God's glory and enables it to be reflected on earth. As people on earth receive his ‘good pleasure’, they share in a ‘peace’ which, much more than an absence of strife, is a wholeness of person and unity with others. (This represents the reading of the majority of the Gk. MSS. Some have ‘peace, goodwill among people’. This reading however destroys the parallelism of the song and tends to make ‘goodwill’ a human response rather than one derived from a relationship with God. The whole outlook of the infancy narratives centres upon God's outreach to his people and the new possibilities he brings them.)

v. 19 (cf. v. 51 ) has sometimes been used to support the view that these parts of the infancy narratives rest upon reminiscences of Mary. There is in fact little to support this for we have seen that the annunciation story is shaped by literary rather than strictly historical influences. Mary is vitally important for Luke for she represents the ideal Israelite who becomes a disciple. Mary treasures the shepherd's witness and ‘pondered it in her heart’. This last expression has sometimes been interpreted as coming to a right understanding of its significance. More likely, however, in Luke's narrative it retains the idea of puzzlement. Here and in the episode in the temple, Mary has not yet come to a complete understanding of the significance of Jesus. Her greatness was to accept in obedience of faith the divine call, the full implications of which she had yet to enter into.

( 2:22–40 ) Jesus Presented in the Temple

This episode allows Jesus to be seen as acknowledging the Jewish religious tradition which was focused in the temple and which ultimately made possible God's final redemption in him. It also enables the temple to make its witness to him. Once more, Luke's purpose in recounting the story controls the way in which he tells it. Here, it has resulted in a slight confusion about the Jewish practices it describes. Three ceremonies are included, those of the purification of the mother, the redemption of the firstborn, and the presentation of a child to the service of God. ‘Their purification’ is a misnomer, for the ceremony involved the mother alone. After forty days the mother of a male child offered sacrifice as an act of cleansing. Mary makes the offering of the poor (Lev 12:6–8 ). The redemption of the firstborn is a separate ritual (Ex 13:2, 12–13 ) though there is nothing to suggest that it could not have happened in the temple and at the same time. Five shekels were paid to the priest. The third element is that of the dedication of the child to God. This was closely related to the redemption of the firstborn, though Luke gives it an emphasis which is no doubt determined both by his understanding of Jesus' significance and by the account of the dedication of Samuel (1 Sam 1:21–8 ) whose mother's song has already been used as a pattern for Mary's.

It is in the temple that Simeon, who is presented not merely as the ideal observer of the Jewish covenantal obligations, but also as one who is led by them to look for God's further action, comes and acknowledges Jesus as Christ. In the final song of the infancy narratives he makes what for Luke's gospel is the climactic declaration of the wide embrace of the redemption to be worked through Jesus. In words that reflect the Servant Song of Isaiah 49:5–6 , Jesus is proclaimed as having a significance for ‘all peoples’. He is a ‘light’ to reveal God to the nations. God's glory which is to be made known to them is to be seen in the child he holds in his arms whose birth in a manger causes the expectations of the earlier songs to be realized in an unexpected way. The salvation of God is to be achieved, not through naked power, but in the surrender of his Son. That salvation will make for the ‘glory’ of Israel. Her glory will be real but it will come about only as her expectations are confronted and re-formed. Jesus will cause the ‘falling and rising of many in Israel’ as he challenges their security and questions their confidence. Many will oppose him, but that will reveal the limited nature of their response to the God who has made them his people. Even Mary, the true Israelite, will be pierced by the sword, not only of suffering, but also of judgement as she herself is called to move into a deeper understanding of the implications of Jesus. To be real, the grounds of the confidence expressed in her song have to be reviewed in the light of the babe who confirms it and makes it possible. Finally, Anna makes her witness to ‘all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’. Jesus is the one through whom it will be accomplished, though again not in the manner that they will be expecting. Jerusalem will reject him and will instead follow a way that will lead to disaster ( 19:41–4 ). They will seem forsaken by God, but Anna is a reminder that the disaster is not God's last word: Jesus remains for Jerusalem a sign of hope.

( 2:41–52 ) Jesus at Age 12

The last episode in the infancy narratives stands rather apart from the rest and forms something of an anticlimax. It fits Luke's intention to write a narrative, however, and seems to be influenced by the episode of the child Samuel, which also forms a bridge between his dedication and the ministry he is to exercise (1 Sam 3:1–14 ). It has the character of a legend but is used by Luke to point to Jesus' natural authority and home in the temple, a point that he makes in his account of Jesus' final visit to Jerusalem ( 19:45–6 ). Though the teachers in the temple were ‘amazed at his understanding and his answers’, their wonder has the potential to turn into hostility. For his parents, too, it represents a learning situation. Jesus rebukes them, though the significance of the rebuke is not entirely clear. NRSV margin suggests the most literal meaning, ‘Did you not know that I must be about the things of my Father?’ ‘In the things of’ can mean ‘in the house of’. Either way, it represents a challenge to acknowledge him for what he is—son of ‘my Father’—and to accept that he is not bound to them or bounded by their expectations. Faithful Israelites are challenged by Jesus to raise their sights and to acknowledge that he cannot be constrained by their own preconceived understandings. He must be allowed to transcend these and move out to the Gentiles. Luke is perhaps here thinking of the conflicts in the early church which had difficulty in coming to terms with the Gentile mission. Like Mary and Joseph, the Jewish-Christian community had to learn not to constrict the freedom of the outreach which God's action in Jesus demanded. This freedom did not, however, mean a lessening of ties with the Jewish people. Jesus lived with his parents at Nazareth ‘and was obedient to them’.

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