Mission of the Messiah

Fall 08 - Reflection paper on Tim Gray's book: Mission of the Messiah on the Gospel of Luke

by Carlo Juanola

 

All people are called to know their mission in life.  Tim Gray’s book, Mission of the Messiah: On The Gospel of Luke, is a response to that calling by exploring the meaning behind Jesus’ mission and life.  Tim Gray examines the words and deeds of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke to give readers insight into the mind of God.  It is extraordinary to read how Tim Gray explains how the intricate history and prophecies of the Old Testament shed light and understanding into the Incarnation.  Jesus’ messianic mission to free humanity from the bondage of sin is not only life-changing, but life-giving.


According to Tim Gray, one of the best ways to know Jesus is through Scripture.  He talked about how St. Therese of Lisieux believed that the study and contemplation of Christ through the Gospel is ‘the one thing needful’ (Gray 13).   He also quoted St. Jerome in that “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ” (Gray 14).   To the extent that we do not know the Bible, we likewise do not know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Gray 15).  This insight affirms how many people misunderstand the relevance of Jesus in their lives due in part to the lack of familiarity with Scripture.

Throughout the book, Tim Gray reveals the relationship between the Old and New Testaments to show how the prophecies and covenants are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Church has always taught that there is unity between the two testaments through what is called typology (Gray 10).  The Old Testament foretold the coming of a messiah, and the New Testament reveals the fulfillment of this.  Tim Gray’s book conveys how God reveals Himself through signs and wonders in the New Testament, and then is confirmed and authenticated by quoting the Old Testament.  The discussion questions highlight the importance of how both the Old and New Testaments supplement each other to give a continuity of understanding.  

The Jubilee year is elaborated by Tim Gray to provide foundation in understanding the heart of Jesus’ mission.  In the Biblical book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fifty years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest (Gray 32). The connection between the jubilee proclamation in the book of Leviticus and Jesus’ mission to set the world free from the bondage of sin is fascinating (Lev 25: 8; Lk. 4:18).  In both instances God calls his people to reconcile their relationship with God, and to remember their origins both historically and spiritually (Gray 34).  The book conveys how the history of salvation connects ‘the chosen people of Israel’ to the salvation of the entire world.  The Jubilee year shows how the struggles of Israel in the Old Testament become a model of reconciliation with God in the New Testament.
            Tim Gray further elaborates the purpose of the jubilee year by explaining the social legislation of releasing slaves in the book of Deuteronomy: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this [release of slaves] today” (Deut. 15:15).  The jubilee year was meant to celebrate the Exodus by reliving it (Gray 33).  Therefore, Israel was to do the same for the poor and needy in their midst (Gray 33).  However, God’s chosen people had failed to listen to His prophets.   Therefore, God would eventually repair the rift between humanity and Himself by revealing Himself in a radical way.  This sets the stage to understand why God had to come to earth in the Incarnation.
            According to Tim Gray, Israel failed to enact the jubilee liturgy and legislation because of its leaders during the time of the prophet Jeremiah (Gray 33).  It is strange to read how the leaders of Jerusalem swore a covenant oath to enact the jubilee release, but afterward they turned around and took back the slaves that they had set free (Jeremiah 34:11).  It is even more interesting to read how God responded with the essence that Israel will ‘reap what they sow’ for refusing His example and law (Jer 34:17).   This goes along the premise of how God allows suffering to bring about a greater good.
            It almost seems like humanity, in the example of ancient Israel, lives by trial in error.  Perhaps ancient Israel is God’s way of making an example of our humanity’s concupiscence and selfish desires.  Since ancient Israel bound their own kinsmen with debts and chains, Israel herself was bound in chains and taken to Babylon (Grey 35).  By ignoring the God of their Exodus, Israel ironically returned to an exile in Babylon as conveyed in the book of Jeremiah.

Despite this return to exile in Babylon, God did not abandon them.  God revealed through the prophet Isaiah that there would be a ‘new exodus’ (Gray 35).  God would once again liberate His people and set them free (Gray 35).  According to Isaiah, the servant of the Lord would be anointed in order to proclaim the year of God’s favor, the Jubilee year (Gray 35).   The Jubilee then became a symbol of liberation for Isaiah to use for those in captivity in Babylon.  This is the backdrop to the stage in which the Incarnate Word [Jesus] comes into the history of salvation. 

Tim Gray conveyed that the pain of exile remained in Israel even to the day of Jesus’ time.  During the time of Jesus, the Romans held Israel captive in their own land (Gray 36).  However, Jesus makes a radical claim that the Gentiles, such as the Romans, are not the real enemy (Gray 38).   Jesus reveals that Israel’s bondage is far stronger than iron chains or Roman soldiers.  Their captivity is not simply a captivity that keeps them from possessing their homeland, but a captivity of the heart, which keeps them from possessing God Himself (Gray 38).  

The release that Jesus proclaims and enacts is a release not from soldiers, but from the dominion of Satan.  Tim Gray conveyed that both Gentiles and Jews share this common enemy, and both will need the liberation and redemption that only Jesus can deliver (Gray 38).  The release Jesus proclaims is more profound than the old jubilee legislation because the slaves to be freed are those enslaved to sin (Gray 38).  The debts to be cancelled are the sins of the entire world.  The inheritance to be restored is not Palestine, but Heaven itself.   
The Messiah is the one whom the prophets foretold would redeem Israel and bring about this ‘New Exodus’.  It was known that the Messiah would be a king, because “the Lord’s anointed” was a title for the king of Israel (Gray 26).  After the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel (1 Sam. 10:1), he told him that one of the signs that the Lord had truly anointed Saul king over Israel was that “spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you” (1 Sam. 10:6).  This is the same sign that marks Jesus as the Messiah, for the Spirit comes upon Him at His baptism.   Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit” (Lk. 4:1).  Jesus is the Christ, because the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him (Gray 26).  
            Immediately after Jesus’ baptism and anointing in the Spirit, Luke gives us Jesus’ genealogy (Lk 3:23-28).  One of the key aspects of the genealogy is that it proves that Jesus is of the royal line of David (Gray 26).  Tim Gray shows the parallel between Jesus and David, who was also anointed in the power of the Spirit when he became king (1 Sam. 16:13).   Jesus is the son of David, the anointed heir and therefore the Messiah, the king of Israel (Gray 26).  When Luke traced Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, it implied that Jesus’ reign will extend not only over the family of Abraham, but over all humanity. 
The life of Jesus itself is a jubilee story involving the forgiveness of debt.  In the parable of the “Sinful Woman Forgiven”, the woman is no longer bound to sin but bound in gratitude to God (Lk. 7:37-38).    Just as the debts were forgiven in the parable, so now are the sins of the woman.  Jesus transforms the jubilee release of debts into the release of sins (Gray 47).  To be forgiven is to be released because forgiveness is freedom (Gray 47).  The woman, who is now freed from the bondage of sin, goes forth in the jubilation that comes from encountering Jesus Christ.  
            People then questioned Jesus’ authority to forgive people of their sins (Lk. 7:49). Jesus already been asked this question and he answered with the extraordinary healing of a paralytic (Gray 47).     Jesus clarifies the purpose of his power to heal: “that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”(Lk. 5:24).  The healing of the paralytic functions as a sign to confirm Jesus’ claim to have divine authority to forgive sins.  Secondly, the physical healing manifests the spiritual healing effected by Jesus’ forgiveness of sins (Gray 50).  Jesus’ power to heal and forgive sins is part of His jubilee mission: “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and to set free those who are oppressed”(Lk. 4:18).  By these actions and words, Christ makes the Father present among men (Navare 61[2]).
            Tim Gray conveys the significance of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic when he said, “Rise . . . and go home” (Lk. 5:24-25).  He explained that when Jesus forgives us of our sins, then we too “rise” and are able to “go home” to the Father (Gray 50).  Jesus’ mission and healings signify the liberation, or exodus, which He is bringing about in order to lead us to God.  The healings are messianic signs that the kingdom of God has arrived in the Person of Jesus. It is the good news to the poor, and a sign of the liberation offered to those who follow Him.  
            Jesus embarked on His New Exodus by confronting the social norms of the times.  To illustrate this, Tim Gray examined the role of table fellowship in Jesus’ ministry.   For example, Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors to the dismay of the scribes and Pharisees (Lk. 5:29-30; 15:2; 19:7).   Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ questioning of His table fellowship with an analogy, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”(Lk. 5:31-32).  Since this is how Jesus operates, the only way we can be saved is by admitting before God, in all simplicity, is that we are sinners (Navarre 72 [3]).

Tim Gray explains the mystery of Jesus’ unjust death by explaining the prophecy of the suffering servant foretold by the prophet Isaiah.    According to Isaiah, the suffering servant was chosen by the Lord to be the scapegoat for sinners (Gray 144).   By citing this prophecy from Isaiah, Jesus identifies Himself as the suffering servant foretold by Isaiah (Gray 144).     This again is an excellent example of typology that Tim Gray uses to explain the mission and life of Jesus Christ.   Tim Gray makes an important connection between revelations of the Old and New Testament on this theme because it helps to give meaning to an act that the world finds puzzling.  Some anti-Christians have asked, “If Jesus was God, then why would he commit suicide to save the world?”  In light of the history of salvation conveyed in the Old Testament, we see that sacrifice is pleasing to God.  However, we see that the prophecy of the ‘suffering servant’ is fulfilled by the Son of Man because no sacrifice can atone for the sins of the entire world except the unblemished offering of God Himself.  

 Jesus’ death on the cross is also explained in light of the covenants that were made with ancient Israel in the Old Testament.   According to Tim Gray, the oaths that Israel swore as part of the covenant, which included the curses, could not be taken back (Gray 148).  According to the curses, Israel had to be exiled and destroyed for her unfaithfulness unless one of the parties were to die (Deut. 28: 47-48).  God became incarnate in Jesus, who then takes upon Himself the curses of the covenant and dies on the Cross (Gray 149).  Therefore, the Old Covenant Curses are taken away on the Cross (Gray 149).   As Saint Paul says, God has “forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).  On the Cross the curse of sin is conquered.  

Israel was not alone in suffering under a curse.  The entire world was under a curse that goes all the way back to Adam.  Jesus’ suffering atones not only for Israel, but also for Adam and all his descendants.  Tim Gray explains that this is the reason why Luke traced Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam.  It is interesting that Tim Gray makes the contrast and distinction with the genealogy in the Gospel of Mathew which only goes as far back to Abraham.  By making several allusions to Adam in his account of Jesus’ Passion, Luke shows how Jesus is taking on the sin and curse, not only of Israel, but of Adam and all humanity (Gray 149).   

Another analogy that stuck me is Adam’s curse involving the ground bringing up thorns and the thorns used to make Jesus’ crown during His Passion (Gen. 3:18; Mt. 27:29; Mk. 15:17).  According to Tim Gray, this analogy of the thorns conveys how Jesus takes up the agony of Adam through the pain of His Passion (Gray 150).   Jesus seeks to atone mankind’s incredible rebellion by the punishment inflicted on his own innocent humanity.  He suffers what we suffer in just punishment for our sins (Navarre 176 [5]).  The physical and moral suffering that Jesus undergoes is proof of His love for the Heavenly Father.
            In the last section of the book, Tim Gray talks about the Resurrection and the Great Commission.  He conveyed about the story of the road to Emmaus when the two disciples fail to recognize Jesus until He blesses and breaks the bread at supper (Gray 151).   When Jesus took up the bread, blessed it, and then broke it, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him”(Lk. 24:31).  Earlier that day Jesus had “opened their minds by showing the relation between Himself and the Scriptures of Israel (Lk. 24:32).  Now Jesus opens their eyes in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist (Gray 152).  The Word written and the Word made flesh in the Eucharist are the means of “opening” the disciples up to the divine mystery of Jesus and His mission (Gray 152).  Here, in the story of Emmaus, we have a glimpse of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Gray 152).  
            Tim Gray also highlights the story of Emmaus in the Great Commission because it gives a glimpse into our human weaknesses and our need for God.  For example, Luke conveyed in his Gospel: “He [Jesus] appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, . . . “”(Lk. 24:28-29).  ‘Stay with us’ because our souls are shrouded in darkness and You [Jesus] alone are the light (Navarre 200 [4]).  Only God can satisfy the longing that consumes the heart of mankind.  The mission of the Messiah is not only to redeem the sins of the world, but to console our restless hearts as well. 

Jesus calls His disciples to proclaim the good news of His ‘new exodus’ to the whole world by proclaiming the “release” of sins (Gray 153).  “Release” is the jubilee term that Jesus had made a central part of His ministry, but would eventually be at the center of the Church’s mission through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Gray 153).  The disciples are to proclaim to the scattered children of Israel and Adam that there is a way out of their exile, for in Jesus one can find release from the bondage of sin and death.  
            Tim Gray’s book then conveyed the transition from the Great Commission to the beginning of the Church on earth by describing the “clothing with power”.   The disciples had to wait in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk.24:49).  Luke will describe this “clothing with power” in the sequel to his Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, with the Descent of the Holy Spirit.  The story of Acts is the story of the Church, and it begins in a strikingly similar way to the story of Jesus in the Gospel (Gray 153).  Jesus began His messianic mission with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Clothed in the power of the Spirit, Jesus is the anointed one, the Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew) (Gray 153).  Likewise, the Church is anointed with the Spirit at Pentacost, which occurs for the individual at Baptism and Confirmation.  Therefore, Christ’s disciples in every age can truly be called “Christian” for they literally are anointed ones (Gray 153).  The disciples are anointed in the Spirit to continue the mission of the Messiah and the work of Jesus’ exodus and jubilee.
           
Jesus used Scripture to open the minds of the disciples to the meaning of His messianic mission on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Lk. 24:45) as “he interpreted to them in all the scripture the things concerning himself”(Lk. 24:27).  No one knew the meaning of Sacred Scripture like Jesus. Even to this day, Jesus calls us to discover the meaning of the ‘good news’ and to apply it in our lives.  Tim Gray’s book, Mission of the Messiah, opens our minds to the mission of Jesus Christ that continues until the end of time.  As members of Christ’s body on earth, we are called to do our part in freeing our kinsmen from the bondage of sin by testifying to the way, the truth, and the life.

 

References
[1] Gray, Tim. Mission of the Messiah: On the Gospel of Luke. Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing 1998. Pp 43
[2] The Navarre Bible (RSV).  “St Luke: Commentary on 4:18-21”. New York: Scepter Publishers, 2005.  Pg. 61

[3] The Navarre Bible (RSV).  “St Luke: Commentary on 5:32”. New York: Scepter Publishers, 2005.  Pg. 72

[4] The Navarre Bible (RSV).  “St Luke: Commentary on 24:28-35”. New York: Scepter Publishers, 2005.  Pg. 200

[5] The Navarre Bible (RSV).  “St Matthew: Commentary on 12:26-50”. New York: Scepter Publishers, 2005.  Pg. 176