Seeing Luke Differently
Author Graham Turner
Publisher OMG.TXTS £5
Readers seeking a provocative companion for their Year C journey through Luke will find Graham Turner’s book of ‘Reflections on spirituality and social justice from the third Gospel’ reliably challenging throughout. It offers a century of reflections on Sunday reading length sections of the whole Gospel, voiced as prayerful conversations with Jesus, each intended to inform private devotions, public intercessions or sermon writing.
Although the book reads Luke sequentially, it sets out to disrupt its narrative drive, the feeling that, as Turner puts it in his introduction ‘the words pass over me because “I know what happens next.”’ The form of each reflection’s interaction with the Gospel narrative varies, Turner sometimes offering his own free but direct translation (his version of the Magnificat is an example) but sometimes only alluding briefly to the substance of what are major events for Luke: ‘Remind us we are fickle and liable to betray you at any moment’ is all we hear of Peter’s denial of Christ. This creates another form of disruption, the disruption of the expectation that the reflections will be similar in character.
The disruption of all kinds of established expectations and assumptions is, of course, a key strategy of many contemporary approaches to reading the Bible and other literary and cultural products. Turner validates approaching Luke in this way by emphasizing Jesus’ own disruptiveness, and what he understands as the corresponding need for us all to pray, reflect and live ‘differently’. Importantly, the premise of the book’s title depends on its readers not having already learnt such disruptive responses and behaviours, and they are always implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, constructed as constrained by more conservative attitudes. For example, responding to the story of the widow’s mite (Luke 21.1-4), Turner writes: ‘For too long we have romanticised about this poor woman . . . we are blind to our affluent perspective,’ appealing to Jesus to ‘dismantle our systems which rob the poor . . . and establish justice . . . in place of over-extended piety.’ In the many confessional prayers Turner offers, ‘we’ are typically identified with the complacent ‘religionism’ of the Pharisees and other characters whose lives need to be disrupted, rather than, for example, the eager and committed, if sometimes misguided and naïve, disciples Luke writes about as already living lives disrupted by Christ. Some may feel this does a disservice to their own committed and disrupted positions, however these may be limited by sin, and that it somewhat undermines the joy inherent in the Good News.
The disruption Turner calls for most frequently is that of ‘non-violent defiant protest…against the status quo…where a minority of the population enjoyed the majority of the wealth at the expense of the many’. This is how he characterises Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19.28-40). The protests he calls on us to make are to defy all forms of ‘exploitation, oppression and injustice’, and in various places, Turner is explicit about challenging imperialism, elitist capitalism, prejudice of all kinds, and arrogant ecological destruction. He sometimes stretches the Gospel text to do this, for example, reading the widow’s tenacity in the parable of the widow and the judge (Luke 18.1-8) as an inspiration for our own tenacity ‘in fighting for social, racial and climate justice’. Readers may find themselves wondering which disruptions belong to Jesus, which to Luke, and which to Turner’s own very contemporary agenda for social justice and change. This, however, may be a response to a key effect of the book’s intentional provocativeness.
Reviewed by JOHN MOSS