Jesus Among Luke’s Marginalized

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2017

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Abstract

Many first-century Jewish leaders considered the marginalized outside the reach of God’s mercy. But Jesus seemed to challenge this social and religious value. This study explores the paths to restoration for society’s outcasts in the Gospel of Luke, whether their outside status was the result of sinful “conduct” (prostitution, tax-collection, etc.) or a culturally-defined “condition” (blindness, leprosy, nationality, gender, etc.). I attempt to show that Jesus drew a distinction between the “conduct marginalized” and the “condition marginalized” and sought to meet their needs differently based on their proper classification. Jesus addressed the specific needs of these outsiders which avoided over-condemning on the one hand and premature restoration on the other hand. He did not regard the condition marginalized beyond the pale of redemption; he did not regard the conduct marginalized beyond the possibility of repentance. Both were worthy to hear the message of the gospel.

The Gospel of Luke provides unparalleled resources for my investigation. This Gospel emphasizes society’s outcasts more than the other Gospels, especially Gentiles, lepers, the poor, and women. According to Simeon, the Christ child will be responsible for the rise and fall of many in Israel (Luke 2:34) reversing the status imposed by culture on the powerful and the weak alike. Jesus’ warning that those who exalt themselves will be humbled while those who humble themselves will be exalted is repeated twice only in Luke’s Gospel (14:11; 18:14). Jesus inaugurates his public ministry by citing Isaiah’s liberating promises to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18). The dinner table in Luke 14 is occupied by the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, while the entitled powerful “will not taste of my banquet,” Jesus says (Luke 14:16-24). Jesus tends unconditionally to invite these outcasts to gather to him on the “outside” (away from Jerusalem, away from Jewish leaders, etc.). Instead of perpetuating the condemnation of the condition marginalized, Jesus seems to invite their restoration by confronting the myth that some sin lies at the root of their condition.

At the same time that Luke elevates these condition marginalized, he also places a greater stress on “repentance” for the conduct marginalized than we find in the other Gospels. It is Luke’s Jesus, after all, who famously adds “to repentance” in 5:32 to the expression, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” in Matthew 9:13 and Mark 2:17. It seems that some outcasts are victims of societal injustice while others are suffering the consequence of marginalization as a result of their own choices. To further complicate matters, we find Jesus dining with “tax collectors and sinners” throughout the Gospel of Luke. This table fellowship is noted and condemned by some Jewish leaders who find Jesus too welcoming. But Jesus rejects the insult that he is a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” along with being labelled a glutton and a drunkard. Instead of unconditionally accepting the conduct marginalized, Jesus invites their repentance for community restoration.

Many additional questions are raised in the process of this research: Does the Gospel of Luke allow us to classify the marginalized as “conduct” or “condition” and, if so, who might fit into those categories (alternative category labels might be “active” and “passive” marginalized—as in those who actively contributed to their marginalization through their behavior and those who were passively marginalized through no fault of their own)? Do these categories still exist today? How much cultural luggage is involved in the station of the first century’s outcasts? Was Jesus more accepting of people than his followers are today? Did Jesus consider himself a friend of tax collectors and sinners, unconditionally welcoming them? Did he use table fellowship as a means to drawing sinners into a relationship with himself? Is it culturally objectionable to refuse anyone inclusion today, as it seemed culturally objectionable to welcome everyone in Jesus’ day?

The path to restoration for society’s outcasts in the Gospel of Luke ran through Jesus. How they were restored by Jesus, however, seemed to take on different forms depending on why that person was marginalized in the first place. This study concludes that those who were marginalize through no fault of their own (condition outcasts) were unconditionally redignified by Jesus, whereas those who were marginalized due to sin (conduct outcasts) were offered forgiveness in exchange for repentance. Jesus did not hesitate to classify people as sinners. Those who thus repented were celebrated with large meals fitting those found who were formally lost. Furthermore, Jesus directly confronted self-righteousness and those who were guilty of oppression. If we seek to model ourselves after Jesus, we may require a measure of correction that aligns us with this portrait of Jesus presented in Luke’s Gospel.

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Miller, Jeffrey E. (2017). Jesus Among Luke’s Marginalized. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20176.

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