Why was Luke so precise? …….. In the 15th year of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod ruler of Galilee, Philip ruler of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias ruler of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas. ……. Why was Luke so precise?
We know that he was a doctor, an ordered man, who at the beginning of his Gospel says that he’d decided to write a careful, orderly account for a friend Theophilus – so that he may know the truth concerning the things about which he had been instructed.
In the early chapters of his Gospel he is at pains to root the story of Jesus in the historical events of the day – its as if he=s saying, “This is not just a story – it’s the truth! I’m not just telling stories to encourage you – I’m telling it like it is! It’s true, God did really become human – I can date the story pretty exactly.”
There’s a danger that when we read the Bible we see it as a mixture of nice stories and good quotes. A kind of moral almanac which we can dip into when we feel the need. A spiritual help – keeping us in touch with God. And in one way the Bible is like this – but it is so much more.
The Bible is a historical document – not only telling stories, but interpreting them. It is the story of human history told from God’s perspective. One Hindu teacher said that it was not so much a religious book as “a unique interpretation of human history and God at work in it.”
So, Luke wants us to grasp that this is a historical story. But it seems to me that he has more than this in mind: it’s like the whole world is lined up at the start of our gospel reading – ugly and foreboding.
Tiberius – the head of the Roman Empire – who’d brought peace to the world – but peace at great cost in human life. No one dared challenge the power of Rome, & those who did … were crushed.
Pilate – manipulating governor – concerned to protect his own skin.
Herod and his family – half jews – not really concerned for the people they governed.
Annas and Caiaphas – high priests who should’ve been guarding their flock, but who were more concerned for their own status.
In the midst of all this power, and abuse of power, what is God’s solution? A mad man crying in the wilderness – John the Baptist clothed in animal skins. Not the solution we would have chosen – but perhaps this is Luke’s point. First, God is born as a baby in a stable, then he chooses as his herald an unrespected mad-man, then he comes healing and talking of a Kingdom that is not of this world, a finally he achieves his victory not in terms of political power, but by stretching out his arms on the cross.
God’s purposes are achieved not through physical or political power, but through the mad-man crying in the wilderness, through humility and suffering.
Luke wants us to know that it is through people like us. Those with no power, those with difficulties and problems, those even who feel that if people knew what we were really like they would think us mad! That God chooses to work. Here in the reality of our lives God will work – not just to make us feel good – but to reach out to others around us. It is us who are called to be prophets. It is us who are called to prepare the way, to clear the way so that Christ can come to others.