Did Luke forget to read Romans 3? #LukeActs2014

I know these are not the verses that most people would focus on in the opening of Luke 1, but the description of John the Baptist’s parents caught my eye today while reading it.*

During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. (Luke 1:5-6, CEB)

They were both righteous and blameless before God. Really?

I wonder if this was a a temporary state or ongoing. Was it like David, who the Old Testament describes in one place as blameless before God, except for that matter with Uriah and Bathsheba. Or were Zechariah and Elizabeth truly righteous and blameless?

If so, someone call Romans 3 and break the news.

No, really.

Luke is saying these people — who obviously did not know Christ — were blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments. That word is “all.”

Here’s what John Wesley writes in his Notes on the New Testament: “Walking in all the moral commandments, and ceremonial ordinances, blameless – How admirable a character! May our behaviour be thus unblamable, and our obedience thus sincere and universal!”

How do we square these things with traditional teaching based on Romans that no one under the law can be righteous because the law cannot save? Do Zechariah and Elizabeth stand as a threat to traditional readings of Romans?

Or can we accommodate them by noting Zechariah’s disbelief and assume other sins on the part of the couple that Luke fails to notice or mention?

Or would a Wesleyan say they were outwardly observant but did not have inner heart religion? Wesley said of himself that he was blameless in his Christian observance for many years but that all that time he had no more religion than a stone. Would Wesley tell us that Zechariah and Elizabeth had the same stony hearts as young John Wesley?

As I began this post, I suspect these kinds of doctrinal speculations are not the point of this reading exercise. And yet, my mind is gripped by these questions.


*This is one of a series of posts responding to Bishop Ken Carter’s call for us to spend 2014 reading Luke-Acts together.

Reading Luke 13:31-35

A reading for the second Sunday in Lent: Luke 13:31-35

This is one of those texts that makes following the the Revised Common Lectionary a challenge. Often we people speak of the discipline of the lectionary, they talk about the way it forces you to deal with “hard” texts like divorce and carrying your cross and hating your mother. But it is texts like this one that I find the most challenging.

When I preach, I try to find a way past lecturing about a passage. I don’t want to educate people about the Bible, I want to preach a message that comes out of the Bible but gets as close to the gut and as far from the head as possible.

With texts like this one, I have a hard time doing that. I have a hard time opening up questions that speak to the spiritual state of the congregation. The closest I come feels like missing the heart of the text: Jesus did today’s work today and did not let what was coming down the road intimidate him.

I think of the hymn “Work for the Night is Coming.”

There is a sermon in there somewhere, but this week I think I’ll end up preaching on Philippians.