Sunday 30 August 2020
This is another interesting, perhaps slightly weird, verse that is often read and glossed over. Luke writes of a prophecy delivered to Zechariah about his yet-to-be born son, John the Baptist:
"And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."Turn people back to God, return the disobedient to wisdom, prepare people to receive the Messiah ... these are unsurprising prophetic priorities. But turn the hearts of fathers to their children? Why was that a priority for God in that era?
Understanding this depends on knowing that it's actually a quote from Malachi 4:6:
"He [returning Elijah] will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction."Quoting that here makes sense because John the Baptist is later identified as acting in the spirit of Elijah, fulfilling this prophecy. Thus John will not just turn the hearts of fathers to their children, but also those of children to their fathers, i.e. strengthen familial love in general. Still, it's very interesting that while Biblical teaching often emphasizes the duty of children to honor their parents (e.g. the fifth Commandment), Luke has instead chosen to emphasize the duty of parents to love their children.
I think it's also interesting that Luke highlights familial love here when the rest of the Gospels often seem to give it short shrift. Jesus sometimes leaves his family waiting, he tells his followers they are his mother and brothers, and his disciples leave their families to follow him. Luke's choice here helps keep those events in perspective.