Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We begin reading from the Gospel of Luke this week and will continue to do so until Advent.
One of the key themes in Luke is how the Lord turns things upside down. For example, in His opening discourse, Jesus says He has come to bring glad tidings to the poor — not the rich — and that He has come for the captives, the blind and the oppressed — not the powerful. We see Him choose fishermen to change the world; we remember that He chose shepherds to hear the good news of the Messiah’s birth, and proclaim it to others. He visits His hometown, and we remember that He chose Nazareth. Again and again, God chooses and exalts the lowly, turning the world’s expectations upside down.
And, if that’s not enough, God takes the slow route to accomplish His plans. He moves people by inviting them to conversion rather than by force. He takes the burden of sin upon Himself on the cross, rather than making others pay the price.
All of these are important lessons as we consider sins in our own society. It’s true enough that, in many ways, turning things upside down is needed. Human beings are sinful. Therefore, as we build culture and society, we build sinful structures into them. Jesus comes to upend sin and, as a consequence, sinful structures. We can’t deny that. In fact, Luke draws our attention to it!
But Luke also shows us how Jesus upends things according to God’s plan, not human plans. He shows us how Jesus upends things according to God’s method of an invitation to conversion, not worldly methods of force. And He shows us how Jesus purifies the world by taking the burden of sin upon Himself, not by inflicting that burden on others. At each point the Gospel plan challenges us to reach deeper.
At the beginning of Jesus’ public mission, according to Luke, the demons proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus silences them, knowing that the demons’ intention is to mislead people. But notice that they use truth to do so!
That’s a cautionary tale for us. There are sinful structures in the world. But we can’t let that truth mislead us. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his encyclical “Spe Salvi,” most utopian projects are doomed to failure because they don’t reckon with fallen human nature. They turn everything upside down according to fallen human plans, using worldly methods, and inflicting the price on others. The result is always greater chaos and oppression.
No society can ignore its sinful structures. To do so is to ignore the evidence, and cede the moral high ground to others. The only way to occupy the high ground is to heed this key theme of the Gospel of Luke: to recognize the structural implications of sin, to critique them according to God’s plan, and to propose solutions according to God’s methods. That’s a challenge worth pondering from now until Advent.