In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. Luke 3: 1-2
I showed a video to my confirmation class this past week. It was a YouTube video of people of the streets of NYC answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” The responses were instructive on several levels. Predictably, people gave heretical, non-believing, flippant and ignorant answers. Some were brave in confessing the truth.
But a prominent answer that I did not expect was to say that Jesus was imaginary, that he was a fable, a made up story, that he never really existed. Such objections are answered in a way by Luke’s Gospel and by the verses above. Luke locates his narration of the events of Christ’s ministry squarely in history, squarely on the calendar, in this man’s reign, when this one was tetrarch, and that one was high priest. Luke does the same “locating” in the previous chapter when he tells of Christ’s birth. Luke is anxious to demonstrate to us, his hearers, the reality of Jesus in human history.
To locate Christ at a certain, verifiable time and place is not an academic concern, he is not trying to pass a test or get a paper published by adhering to the proper standards. He is placing Christ in our lives of time and space. Contrary to all myths and fables and stories which illustrate some esoteric point or give wings for escape of difficulties or amuse, Luke is proclaiming the central truth of Christianity : God took flesh and dwelt among us. The Christian God is not an idea or a means to something else or a Gnostic interior knowledge, he is real. He is the creator of all things, of the stuff of daily life and he in fact occupies that “stuff” in a personal and human way in the Virgin born, Jesus. The career of Jesus is the career of God most high who took flesh for our sakes.