The best storytellers paint pictures with words, using them to fill our minds with vivid imagery. I remember reading the first Harry Potter novel to my first-grade son. Each time we completed a chapter and I turned the page to start a new one he would shift in my lap and look away from the book. Finally I asked him what was wrong. He replied, “I don’t want to see the drawing on the first page of the chapter because I want to think about what things look like all by myself.”
Paul was in Rome, the epicenter of empire, the magnet for people on the lam such as fugitive slaves. He was a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” not only because the Messiah had captured his heart but also because he had boldly proclaimed the grace and peace he had found. Somehow, through the Christian grapevine, Onesimus found Paul and sought shelter with him. Now Onesimus is going back to his owner.
I got into trouble once. Big trouble. I was enjoying myself at a barbecue supper with several clergy in a small northern Kentucky town. When we ran out of some food items, I volunteered to drive my MG—with the top down, of course—to find a grocery store. I was on my way back to the barbecue when a local officer nailed me for speeding.
In a story that is unique to Luke, Jesus heals a nameless woman by giving her the freedom to unbend and stand up straight after she has lived for years in crippling bondage. The woman has not asked to be healed. She simply finds herself in Jesus’ presence—and that leads to healing and life for her. This beautiful story, however, is not without conflict.
In this reading from Luke we confront stark and conflictual sayings of Jesus that sit poorly with contemporary images of God. Our culture seems to prize a God with an infinite capacity for empathy, a God who is “nice.” Luke challenges this thinking. He offers a glimpse of redemption for a world that is anything but nice—and that needs much more than a nice God to redeem it.