Progressive reflections on the lectionary #16

Luke 24: 44-53 An opened mind

Progressive reflections on the lectionary #16

The lectionary, this week, has two routes one might follow - and I’ve chosen to follow the readings which relate to ‘ascension’ which include the gospel passage from ‘Luke’ - the author of which is also understood to be the author of ‘Acts’.

The first eleven verses of the first chapter of Acts are also set as a lectionary reading for this coming Sunday, and people with an interest in context might note that the Messianic expectations of Jesus’ followers are not-very-subtly hinted at in that passage, in the sixth verse when they ask: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, ‘are you going to unite Judah and Benjamin with the lost tribes now? (It’s what we’ve all been waiting for, after all...)’

But rather than go into all that, and rather, even, than develop the theme of the whole gospel passage, I’m going to zoom in on one verse within the passage from Luke, specifically verse 45. The NRSV has it this way: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…”

As usual, the NRSV gives a clear rendering of the traditional way of understanding the Greek words that form this piece of writing, most scholars will agree that this passage indicates Jesus did something to the minds of those who were with him: he ‘opened them’. But all translation is also interpretation, we mustn’t forget that.

To read this verse as traditionally interpreted and therefore understood means that the reader can come away with the idea that ‘the scriptures’ (here we’re talking about the Hebrew Scriptures - also known as ‘the Old Testament’) are only really comprehensible if Jesus ‘opens your mind’. In other words, Jews may not understand their own holy writings because they’ve not had a spiritual encounter with Jesus.

Besides the obvious difficulties with this supersessionist idea, what this also allows for is a whole host of opportunities for people to claim direct, divine, insight into scriptural mysteries. Insights of the “God has shown/revealed to me…” variety.

Sadly this kind of special, secret, divinely granted knowledge has led to a litany of abuses over the centuries. It has led to the formation of cults and to the legitimisation of all sorts of wrong doing, on the grounds that the abuser or manipulator had access to some sort of special divinely granted insight. It is the basis of various forms of hierarchy too. It has poisoned the well.

Put simply, the traditional idea that the scriptures can only be understood by someone who has had their mind ‘opened’ in some supernatural way (by the unilateral action of divine power), is rather problematic.

There is, though, an alternative approach to this verse. One which works according to the Greek, even though it’s not represented, really, in traditional readings of the gospel passage. And it is basically this: “Then he proceeded to blow their minds...” In other words, what Jesus taught them was so radical and revolutionary, so mind-blowing, that it transformed the way they read and understood the Hebrew Scriptures.

Perhaps you think the difference is slight, or subtle, but it is important all the same. Because rather than meaning that one has to have a supernaturally ‘opened’ mind in order to ‘get’ the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, this proposes that we need a guide. A wise teacher can ‘open’ up those writings in a new way, can ‘blow our minds’ by showing us a different way to read them.

This doesn’t require us to tap into special, or hidden, or mystical knowledge, it requires us to listen to the voices which help us see beyond the ordinary. And Jesus does this, actually, throughout his career. According to the gospel accounts, he continually blows peoples minds by opening up to outsider perspective, and coming up with radical reinterpretations of traditional ideas. “You have heard it said, but I say…”

So here the author of ‘Luke’, looking back on, and summarising, Jesus’ ministry, gives a kind of tl:dr version of what Jesus has spent the last few years doing: “Then… he blew their minds.”

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Image: Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash


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