Gospel According to St. Luke.
Gospel (good news) of Mercy, Prayer, Holy Spirit.
Commentary by Philip G. Roets STL SSL
LUKE’S STORY circa 75 A.D.
The Gospel according to Luke uses the preposition, “kata,” in the Greek title. This translates to “Gospel according to Luke.” This tells us that these ideas have Luke as their source but were not necessarily written down in this order by Luke.
Certain themes run through this Gospel. Luke is called the Gospel of Mercy or Pardons because this theme runs through some of the events. It is called the Gospel of the Poor because this theme is stressed and developed in several ways. It is called the Gospel of Total Renunciation or Self-Denial because there is great stress on giving up everything to follow Jesus. It is also called the Gospel of Prayer, Gospel of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel of Messianic Joy. This does not mean that Luke’s writings have an exclusive corner on these topics.
Luke tells us that many accounts of the life and works of Jesus exist.. He says that these come from eyewitnesses and ministers of the word and he does not, in any way, condemn them. However, he too has done some investigating and is now going to write an account to will develop certain aspects of teachings of Jesus. He is not claiming to put them in chronological order or to give every detail.
Luke’s purpose is twofold. He wants to present these ideas to “Theophilus” and wants to show how well founded all these teachings really are. Many attempts have been made to locate or identify this Theophilus but none have really succeeded. Later, in the introduction to Acts, he will dedicate that work also to Theophilus. It seems strange that someone so important as to have two major works dedicated to him is not remembered or referred to again.
The solution is obvious. “Theophilus” is a fictional name chosen by Luke to designate every open-minded person who picks up these writings to read or to listen to. The name means “Friend of God.” It is a generic name for a Christian. In this dedication, Luke stresses that anyone who reads these accounts will have to be a friend of God in order to benefit fully from them.
BIRTH OF JOHN BAPTIST FORETOLD. Luke 1:5-25.
The Gospel begins with this story about the parents of John the Baptist and his coming. John's parents were Zachary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a relative and close friend of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Zachary, her husband, was a priest at the Temple. Both were good people who lived according to the Law. They were also sad because they had no children. The couple were getting older and did not expect to have a child. This does not mean that they were real old people as is usually depicted in art works. At that time, childlessness was considered a curse and was usually blamed on the woman.
To understand the setting of this story, remember that the priests were divided into groups and took turns serving at the Temple. Zachary's group was on duty as this story begins. He was chosen by lot for the privilege of going into the Holy Place to burn incense before the Holy of Holies. Meanwhile the people would be gathered outside to pray.
Zachary went inside the Holy Place alone. There, above the altar of incense, was an angel of the Lord. Zachary almost fainted with fear. Then the angel spoke. He tells Zachary that their prayers for a child have been answered. His wife will conceive and bear a son. His name will be John and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit - the spirit and power of Elijah. He will preach and prepare for the coming of the Messiah.
Zachary was stunned, but he also decided it was some kind of hoax and he said as much. He did not believe what was being said. So the angel said that he was Gabriel and to prove that he was telling the truth, he says that Zachary will be mute until the child is born.
Meanwhile, the people were buzzing among themselves wondering what was keeping Zachary so long. Finally, he came out. Something was clearly wrong. Zachary could not speak. He could only gesture. They realized he had some kind of vision or apparition. When the time for his temple service ended, he went home. Elizabeth conceived a child and for five months she told no one about it. She saw the pregnancy as a great blessing from Yahweh himself.
THE ANNUNCIATION TO MARY. Luke 1:26-38.
Luke is a master storyteller. He carries more than one thread through the story and gradually ties them together. He picks up a new event.
It is now the 6th month since the conception of John Baptist. Gabriel is sent to Nazareth in Galilee to a girl who is engaged to a man named Joseph. He belonged to the house of David. The girl’s name was Mary. Gabriel salutes her: “Rejoice, Most Favored One! Yahweh is with you.”
Mary was disturbed by these words. What was he talking about? So Gabriel said: “Don’t be afraid. You have found favor with God. Behold! You shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father. He shall reign as king over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the Angel: “How shall this be since I know not man?” (Mary is asking whether she is to get married right away or what is her course of action.) The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. He that is born of you shall be holy and shall be called Son of God. And know this too: Elizabeth, your relative, has conceived a son in her old age and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible for God.” Mary said “Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord! Be it done unto me according to your word!” And then the angel left her.
This story is the subject of art, song, and history through the centuries. There is no doubt of this significant event. The whole plan of salvation is dependent on the consent of Mary and Joseph. Are they willing to take on the responsibility for this central event of all time and place?
Mary was already engaged to Joseph. This meant, according to the Jewish custom of the times, that they had the right to live together as husband and wife if they wanted. The engagement was as binding as marriage itself. If an engaged girl got pregnant, it was presumed that the fiance was the father. If he was not, the girl was guilty of adultery.
Mary is given a new name by the angel, the name “kecharitomene.” The total meaning of this word is hard to translate. The root of the word means “favor.” The form of the word signifies some quality that is present totally and in the highest possible way. So she is greeted as the “Fully Favored One.” It is a title or name that is not applied to any other human being in the whole of biblical history.
“Yahweh is with you!” Again, this is a technical phrase that has been used of many people in the past. All the holy and important people in the history of the chosen people had the privilege of Yahweh’s presence in a special way. Recall the stories of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others. Now Mary is said not only to enjoy his favor but her name is the “Fully Favored One.”
The Power of the Most High and the Holy Spirit are the source of this tremendous event. “Power of the Most High” is a phrase used of the Father. “Holy Spirit” is a reference to the creative spirit or breath of Yahweh in the act of creation. It is manifest in relation to the Kings of Israel, and especially in Elijah. The Holy Spirit becomes synonymous with the spirit of Elijah. John the Baptist will have a special share in this spirit. Jesus will be a special manifestation of this Holy Spirit and this starts with his conception by Mary. The apostles will be filled with this Spirit at Pentecost and begin their enthusiastic response to the spread of Jesus Kingdom.
Additional Information: We need a special note on “Holy Spirit” at this juncture because of its meaning and the importance of the concept throughout this Gospel story. Jesus is presented to us as the New Adam or the Second Adam. Creation got off to a poor start in the disobedience of the first Adam. The special happiness intended for mankind was lost through that disobedience. The special role of Jesus, the Messiah, is to restore this happiness to all of mankind.
The first Adam was fashioned in a special way according to the Biblical tradition. There was a lump of clay (Adamah), the creative power of God, and God’s breath. He breathed into the lump of clay and it became a living being. The second Adam is also going to come into being through this breath of Yahweh. It is the Holy Breath of Yahweh that will overshadow and surround Mary and she will conceive this child. This son is the special son of the Most High. The mission of this special son is to restore the dignity of mankind and to put the creative breath, the “Holy Spirit,” at the disposal of every person who accepts his ideas and plans and lives according to them.
The Holy Spirit is the Creative Breath of Yahweh that is now in the world in a special way as it was intended from the beginning. The Holy Spirit is divine in that it is the breath of Yahweh. Jesus is the Son of the Most High. He is the fulfillment of what had been promised in the Chosen People of the Old Covenant and the Kings of the Old Covenant. They had failed but Jesus did not. Jesus is divine in that he participated in the creative breath of Yahweh in a special way, cooperated perfectly, and made it possible for anyone who wants, to participate in this same way in the new creation of the second Adam.
Mary’s answer is a model for cooperation in the plan of God. She is a “servant,” a person who is ready and willing to cooperate in all details. She is ready and willing to do everything just as envisioned by God. Then, to clinch this whole event, Mary is told her relative, Elizabeth, has conceived a child and is now in her sixth month. Mary had asked for no signs but she was freely given one by the Angel.
As we read the two stories, there is little doubt that Luke wishes to contrast the difference between the faith and responses of Mary and Joseph and the hesitancy of Zachary. Zachary was a priest. He was expected to have a much deeper faith in and understanding of God and his actions. Mary was an ordinary young woman. Yet in the showdown, Zachary did not believe and even laughed at the suggestion. Mary believed fully and offered to do whatever was expected of her in this role.
The writer clearly wants his readers to see that the entire plan of salvation rested on the consent of this one young couple. There is no doubt why Mary and Joseph have held places of honor in the Christian world all through the ages. The important point is to give Mary and Joseph their due in the heart of the plan of salvation but not to destroy the picture by superstition.
The other phrase that needs special consideration in this scene is “Son of God.” This is a phrase that has been used often and with much meaning in the history of Israel. It is by no means something new. In fact, Mary is given a full picture of what her child will become.
In Exodus 4:22, the whole people of Israel is referred to as the “Son of the Most High.” This is a very special title and is contrasted to the other peoples in the world at the time. The same meaning is given to the phrase in Wisdom 8:13 and is referring to the same time setting.
In 2 Samuel 7:1-16, Nathan, the prophet, applied this phrase to David, as King. The phrase was to be applied to Solomon as David's successor and all the kings that followed him. In Sirach 3:30-4:11, the phrase, “Son of God,” became the special title of the person who was generous and kind towards the poor. In Wisdom 2:13,16,17 and 5:15, the notion was widened to include every virtuous or holy person. His life guaranteed him this special honor.
Thus the titles, Son of Yahweh, Son of the Most High, Son of God, were not something new. In fact, they were one of the best summaries of the special mission of Israel and the way in which this mission was applied in the historical evolution of the people.
MARY VISITS ELIZABETH. Luke 1:39-56.
As soon as Mary heard of the condition of Elizabeth, she knew her relative would need assistance. So Mary leaves immediately for Elizabeth's home. Luke does not say where it is but it is a town in the hill country of Judah.
When Mary arrived at the house, she greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s voice the child in Elizabeth’s womb moved. Elizabeth interprets this as recognition of Mary and her role as mother of Jesus. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Elijah, and she cries out “Blessed are you among all women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. How is it that I am honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord? The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child within my womb leapt with joy. Blessed is the one who believes in the words spoken to her by Yahweh.”
Luke has said that he went back to the sources for all his material. The only source available for the details of these introductory pictures is Mary herself. The other participants are all dead. Mary was still alive and we can be sure Luke made a special effort to hear the story of the life of Jesus from her lips.
Mary’s reaction to the whole event is expressed in a song called the “Magnificat” which is the Latin translation of the first word in Greek. The word means “to proclaim or shout out so that all may hear.”
Some people have questioned how a simple girl like Mary could have burst forth into such a beautiful and meaningful song. Others have claimed that this was a part of the prophetic spirit that Mary immediately shared. Neither of these comments is necessary. Mary, like a good Jewish child, knew her Old Testament well and knew many parts by heart. If you look to 1 Samuel 2:1-10, you find this song almost word for word being sung by another lady. The lady is Hannah or Annah, the mother of Samuel, around 1100 B.C. Mary gives the song new meaning in reference to Jesus.
The song is a marvelous response to the events in hand and gives the proper perspective that everyone should have. The event is the greatest of all the works of Yahweh and is evidence of his wisdom in calling an ordinary person to work with him. He shows his holiness, mercy, power, kindness, fairness, and above all, his fidelity to every promise he makes.
Luke says that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. She probably stayed until the baby was born and then returned home.
BIRTH OF JOHN BAPTIST. Luke. 1:59-80.
The child was born. Zachary and Elizabeth had a son. All the neighbors and relatives came to their home to offer their congratulations. On the eighth day, the baby was to be circumcised. They were going to call him “Zachary” after his father. Elizabeth spoke up and said, “He is to be called John.” The relatives were shocked and objected. Nobody in your relationship had this name. He should be named after the father. They signed to Zachary to find out what name he wanted. He called for a pencil and paper and wrote “John is his name.”
Everybody was surprised, but immediately Zachary’s punishment was removed and he began to talk. He really put his heart and soul into his praise of Yahweh. The people were amazed and asked each other what this child was going to become.
The song of Zachary is also named from the first word of the song in Latin. It is called the “Benedictus.” It is almost perfect poetry, but is easily understood since Zachary, as a priest, would have had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and would have known them from memory. It was almost a natural for him to use the phrasings of the Bible to express his personal feelings.
Luke now summed up the next thirty years in one sentence: John grew and matured. He lived in the wilderness until he appeared openly to Israel. This might seem strange to us. However, remember that John was destined to be a special person in the plan of salvation even before his birth. His parents would certainly have told him about this. Moses and many of the prophets had lived in the desert as a kind of hermit. They spent their time meditating on the plan of God so far manifested, and planning what was still to be done.
BIRTH OF JESUS. Luke 2:1-20.
(Additional Information: See End Note One)
When was Jesus born? Luke gives us a definite time but the references are hard to pinpoint. One thing is known for sure. Our present year, 1 A.D., is a miscalculation. According to the information given by Luke and our points of reference outside the Bible, Jesus was born somewhere around 8-6 B.C. This date does not make a particle of difference to the story. If you want further details, look up some of the technical articles and books written through the centuries.
The decree from Rome was concerned with a census to determine population for taxation. The people had to go to their town of origin to be registered. This meant that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem. In the course of that trip, Jesus was born. Luke’s account is very succinct. I think this is due to the account he received from Mary. There were lots of details she could have supplied but did not. Her son, her first-born, the son of the Most High, the son that had been foretold, the son whose lifework was to be so important, starts his life as a poor outcast of society.
The inns or motels of those days all carried a “no vacancy” sign because so many people were coming back to their hometowns for the census. Finally, Joseph decided on a sort of stable because there was a manger in it. Mary gave birth to her son and wrapped him in regular baby clothes of the times, and laid him in the manger.
Jesus was called the “first-born.” The first boy was always given the title of “first-born” even if there were seven sisters born before him. The title is technical and very important. The first-born was the boy who was to carry on the family name and look to the welfare of the whole family. For this reason, the first-born always received a double portion of the family inheritance.
Then Mary told about the shepherds coming to visit. These shepherds were from the area and were keeping the night watch over their flocks. This meant that the sheep of several smaller flocks were all brought together. Then the shepherds took turns watching over the flocks while the others slept. In this way, all the shepherds could get some rest during the night and the sheep were never left alone.
The shepherds received a special message about the birth of this child. The message stressed that it is good news and not for them alone but for all people, the whole world. Jesus was described as Savior, Messiah, and Lord. The sign would be that he appeared as an ordinary baby and had a manger for his bed. Then the whole chorus of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heavens and on earth peace to men of good will.”
The same question rose here as was treated earlier in the scenes with Zachary and Gabriel and Mary and Gabriel. Did angels take bodily form and actually appear to all these people? Or is this a literary artifice to explain the clarity and intensity of the ideas and the certainty that they are from God?
I have no trouble with either solution. The all important point, as far as Luke was concerned, was that all the people concerned knew from the very start who Jesus was and what his mission was to be. They were absolutely certain this was the plan of God that had been told over and over again through the centuries by reliable people.
The shepherds put their words into action and went to find this child. They came to the manger and they found Mary, Joseph and the child. They told Mary and Joseph what they had seen and heard. Then the shepherds returned to their pasture grounds and told everyone along the way about what had happened and how they understood it.
Luke made special mention of Mary in this incident. She sealed all these words in her heart and pondered them over and over again. Every mother does this with regard to her children. They remember details that everyone else forgets. Mary did exactly the same about Jesus. She didn’t forget a word he said or a word that was said about him, or an action he performed. Luke, of course, was stressing how reliable all his information is. Only Mary could tell him what she thought about or how she meditated on what she had seen and heard.
As Luke said, he went back to the sources for his ideas. We cannot imagine he asked Mary for the details of Jesus’ early life and then went to other people for everything else. Luke clearly had two major sources for his ideas about Jesus. One was Paul, who was his first contact. Paul would have had some harsh tones in his presentation. The other major source was Mary. Mary would have presented a mother’s picture and would certainly have stressed how deeply she felt the hardships her son endured from the very start of his public life. Jesus was an unusually sensitive person and he learned this sensitivity from his parents.
Another notion should be stressed here as a sort of preamble to the picture of Jesus. It is the background from the Old Testament that Mary learned and understood. This background is important for understanding all the Gospels, so I’ll jot it down here.
Background information on understanding the gospels.
These men formed the center of the story of the preparatory period of the Old Testament. We start with Adam, the man. His wife was Eve, or Life. These two people failed to get off to a good start because of disobedience. The struggle-aspect of human life was born. Jesus is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve. Mary’s role as Eve is explicitly stressed in the Gospel according to John.
Then we have Abram, or Noble Father. He was a man who traveled from the area of modern Iran to the land of Palestine. He married a girl named Sara, the Princess. His name was changed to Abraham, or Father of many nations. He was the founding father of the Chosen people.
Isaac came next. He was named “he smiles” because Sara smiled first in amazement and then in joy as she learned that she would truly have a child. From Isaac and Rebecca we got Jacob, the “Gripper.” Jacob was a twin and the second to be born. He was born “holding on” to his brother’s heel.
Jacob had twelve sons by his different wives and these became the founding fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Outstanding in the history of the people was Juda, from whom the people took its name, the Jews. Levi was important because he was the founder of the priestly tribe. Joseph is remembered specially because it was his wisdom that delivered the people from the slavery of Egypt. Benjamin, the son of Jacob’s last years, was well-known because his father specially loved him.
Moses came next. His name means “Drawn out” because he was saved from death by being left in a basket on the river and saved by the daughter of Pharaoh. (The name “Moses” is probably the Egyptian word for “son.” It was given a Hebrew derivation when he delivered the Israelites.) Moses was the liberator-leader of the people and the great Law-Giver. Joshua took over after Moses let himself be duped into a momentary doubt of the protective power of Yahweh. Joshua actually lead the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land.
Samuel was one of the great teachers of the people and his wisdom guided them in their early days as a people. Nathan came as a prophetic guide of Kings. He gave sound advice although it is not always followed.
The Kingdom was founded in Saul but he failed. David was the beloved and got off to a good start. He was able to establish the kingdom physically. Solomon took over and ruled in wisdom for a long time and was able to keep all the tribes together as one. He died. The Kingdom was established. David built the royal palace and Solomon built the world-famous Temple.
Then the Kingdom split in half and the prophets came to try to guide the rebellious people toward obedience to Yahweh. The prophets were many. We should remember Elijah, the father of the prophets. His spirit was the Holy Spirit in which all future prophets must share. John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles all shared in this Holy Spirit as they carried on their work.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel and Daniel were four more men whose spirit and teaching were so important in bringing the mission of the people down to the days of Jesus. Amos was noted for his bluntness of word. Hosea was remembered because of his description of love.
Read these men as they were the sources that Luke talked about. Their messages were the words that Mary learned as a child and passed on to Jesus as his mother. This was the Jesus presented by the Gospels as the fulfillment of all the ideas and ideals that had been handed down.
CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS. Luke 1:21.
The circumcision of a Jewish baby boy always took place on the eighth day. At that time he was given his name and became an official member of the people of God. Mary’s baby was called Jesus exactly as she had learned from the angel.
Frequently, we will see paintings of this event taking place in the Temple. This is not true. The circumcision was usually performed at home. It was frequently done by the father or some man in the community who was proficient at this work. The important parts were the name and introduction of the child into the people of God.
THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE. Luke 2:22-38.
Forty days after the birth of a boy and eighty days after the birth of a girl, the mother and child would come to the Temple in Jerusalem for the formal purification and presentation before God.
Remember, childbirth had been given a pejorative meaning at the time of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Jewish law, this penalty remained and had to be formally removed from the mother after the birth of each child.
Again there was something special for Jesus in this presentation because he was the “firstborn.” As such he belonged to the Lord in a special way. This custom went back to Egypt and the sparing of the firstborn of all the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. The child had to be redeemed. If the family was poor, as in the case of Mary and Joseph, they had to offer a pair of pigeons or doves.
In Jerusalem at that time, there was a holy old man named Simeon. He was ready to die but was convinced he would not die, until he had actually seen the Messiah. He was moved to come to the Temple on that day and moved by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Elijah, to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Then he sang his famous “swan song” of peace and joy that the savior of the whole world had actually come.
Simeon summed up his thoughts in a rather somber prophecy. Jesus was destined to be the catalyst for the rise or fall of all in Israel. He would become a sign that was rejected. All of this was going to bring deep sorrow to the heart of Mary.
Thus Luke’s Gospel pointed out very clearly that the child would be a source of unlimited joy and an equal depth of pain and sorrow. The reason was not to be found in the child, but in the reaction of the people to him and his teaching and work.
Another person, a lady by the name of Anna, was also living in and serving at the Temple. She, too, came in and spoke of Jesus as the source of deliverance for Jerusalem.
All these stories are important because they give us an introduction to the adult life of Jesus as Luke presents it. The stories are even more important because they show us Mary's picture of her son and what it meant to her from the opening message, to the dying words, and in the victory of Easter and Pentecost.
THE HIDDEN LIFE. Luke 2:39-52.
The first thirty years of the life of Jesus are summed up quickly. From his presentation in the Temple at the age of 40 days, until he was 12 years old, we are told “he grew in age, was filled with wisdom, and shared in the favor of God: age, wisdom, and favor.” During those first twelve years, the child was educated, primarily by the mother, in the meaning of the Torah and how it was to be followed in daily life.
At the age of twelve, Jesus was to go to Jerusalem again, to the Temple, and be accepted as an adult member of the people of God. The child was given a test by the Doctors of the Law at the Temple. This was the “Bar Mitzvah” or “Son of the Law” examination.
This story is unusual on several scores. The family had come to Jerusalem for the Passover. After the eight days, they started back for Nazareth. The women went in one group and the men in another. The children could go with either group. Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph thought he was with Mary. The first night, when Joseph and Mary met, there was no Jesus. They looked everywhere. Then they headed back to Jerusalem. On the third day, they found him. He was sitting among the doctors, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone was amazed at his intelligence and the depth of his questions and answers.
Mary goes to him and asked, “Son, why did you do this to us? Didn't you know your father and I were looking for you and really upset?” Jesus answered, “Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know I had to be about my Father's business?” But neither Joseph or Mary knew what he was talking about.
What does this incident tell us? Many writers have presupposed he was manifesting his divine knowledge and that he was God. I think this destroys the whole import of the story. Jesus was presenting himself as a typical young, teenage talented and gifted child. Because of his intelligence, his special guidance from Joseph and Mary, he had arrived at the fact that he had a special vocation in life. When he got to the Temple and took his Bar Mitzvah, he couldn't help but see the failure of the teachers to understand the Law. So he took it on himself to start the teaching. After all the help his parents had given him, he was surprised they had not arrived at the same conclusion.
However, he knew he was not ready to start his life's work as yet. So he went back to Nazareth with them and lived as an obedient and respectful teenage boy. Again, said Mary to Luke, “I really mulled over these events in the intervening years.” Jesus continues to grow in wisdom, age and favor before God and men.
INTRODUCTION TO THE PUBLIC LIFE OF JESUS. Luke. 3:1-4:13.
JOHN BAPTIST AT WORK.
Luke started his account of Jesus’ life as an adult with the story of his cousin, John. We already know who he is. Luke gave us a set of names from the history of the times so that we could put these events in their proper place. We will meet some of these men later: Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas.
John the Baptist was living the life of a hermit out in the desert. As he mulled over events and times he realized that the time for the coming of the Messiah was close at hand. He left his desert retreat and went out into public life as an itinerant preacher. John’s preaching topic was “metanoia” -- a Greek word that means a complete conversion and about-face from one's present way of thinking and acting.
The picture that Luke presented was taken from the Old Testament prophet known as Second Isaiah. He was a man from the 5th century B.C. Isaiah II had risen to urge the Jews who returned from exile to live according to the Law of Yahweh and not to fall into the fertility worship of the pagans around them.
The description that John the Baptist used of himself would be that of a forerunner for some very important person. In the days of the Prophet, their roads were more or less meandering footpaths. When an important person was coming, forerunners went to the surrounding towns to tell the citizens to send out road crews, to make a presentable path for the sedan-carriers to follow.
John used the forerunner image of his work. There was an important person about to appear in the world. He was the SAVIOR and he would bring SALVATION to all mankind. John's work was to prepare the hearts and minds of the people to receive this Savior.
John was a stern preacher and accepted no sham conversions. He addressed them as “brood of vipers.” We read that title and hardly react. However, if you Americanize the phrase, you'll see it carried a particular impact. John was calling them all snakes. He called them vipers which are the most poisonous kind. He called them not merely one snake but a whole brood. How far do you think a preacher would get, today, if he started his address with the words “You, Snakes!”?
John demanded proof from their lives that they were sincere. He warned them not to use the fact that they were descendants of Abraham as a point of leverage. John said that God could turn the stones of the desert into sons of Abraham if that was all he needed. What did John demand by way of sincere repentance and change of conduct? He stressed that they have to live by the laws of charity and justice. He spelled out the details for them.
John made such an impression on the crowds that they began to think he might be the Messiah himself. They said as much. John told them they were totally wrong. He said, “I am baptizing you in water, that is, with an external sign. The one who is coming after me will baptize with the HOLY SPIRIT and FIRE.”
If you take this phrase back to the Old Testament, you will find that it referred to Elijah, the father and founder of the Prophets. His spirit was called the Holy Spirit and he left this world in the fiery chariot. In short, said John, “I am not the Messiah but I’ll tell you what he will be like. You are looking forward to his coming. Just remember he will tolerate no double-dealing or failure to keep the Law.”
The Messiah is like a farmer harvesting his grain. His coming will be the winnowing process. This was the last stage of the harvest before the grain was gathered into the barns. The grain and chaff were thrown into the air. The wind blew the chaff off the threshing floor and the grain fell down on the floor - clean and ready to be carried inside. The chaff was taken aside and burned. This, said John, is the Good News. If you have not identified yourselves by your lives as “good grain” when the Messiah comes, you will be the chaff that is tossed aside and burned.
Meanwhile, Herod, the Jewish ruler of Palestine, was living with his sister-in-law for all to see. John the Baptist denounced him publicly for this and all his other crimes. So Herod tossed John into prison but was afraid to kill him because of his popularity with the people.
JESUS ENTERS THE PICTURE.
Luke says merely that Jesus was baptized with the crowds. How did John know Jesus? Remember, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John, were cousins and very good friends - as Luke had already pointed out. There is no doubt that Jesus and John grew up together. We know from Luke that Jesus was well aware of the difference between his ideas and those being commonly taught. This was seen in the incident in the Temple at the Bar Mitzvah. So when Jesus appeared, John knew Jesus was on the verge of starting his work. John feels that Jesus should take the lead.
Afterwards, while Jesus was at prayer, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. A voice was heard saying, “You are my son, the Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”
Here are several historical points of reference. Jesus was immersed in the Jordan River at about the same spot where the Israelites had crossed from the desert into the Promised Land about 13 centuries before. Jesus was about to establish the New Israel. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Elijah, came upon him. We have the return of Elijah, the father of the prophets. The form of a dove carries us back farther to the story of Noah. When Noah wanted to learn if it was safe to leave the Ark, he sent a dove which became the symbol of peace. Jesus was called the special Son of the Father. This phrase first indicated the whole people of Israel and then came to signify King David.
In these few verses, Jesus was pointed out as the new or real Israel entering the Promised Land. He was the return of the prophetic office of Elijah and the saving power of Noah. He was the fulness of the Kingship of David. Then Luke gave a short summary of the genealogy of Jesus, tracing him back to Adam.
Luke makes a special point of Jesus spending time in prayer. We will treat each incident in its proper place but it will be good to get the total perspective now.
Prayer: The Baptism of Jesus. Luke. 3:21.
We have seen how Jesus was at prayer after this Baptism. It was presented as a type of meditation on the role that was his in the fulfillment of all the promises made in the past. Jesus had worked out much of the picture of what was expected of him. However he still had a long way to go before the picture was complete.
Prayer: After the Cures. Luke 5: 16.
We are told that Jesus spent time praying. Again it is seen as a sort of meditation on what he had been able to do and the results that his works had on the people around him.
Prayer: Jesus Chooses the Twelve. Luke 6: 12.
Here is another important event in his life. Out of all his followers Jesus was going to choose the ones who would carry on his work as leaders and teachers. He spent the time in prayer, thinking over his choices, and then picked the twelve.
Prayer: Peter‘s Profession of Faith. Luke 9:18.
In Luke, Jesus asked what effect he was having on the crowds. It was almost a plea for understanding. He got a resounding act of confidence from Peter and the others went along with him. Jesus had just been praying. Luke seemed to hint that he was mulling this question over in his mind and needed reassurance.
Prayer: The Transfiguration. Luke 9:28-36.
Here again, Jesus had Peter, James, and John on the mountain. He was praying and they were sleeping. Jesus was moved with an extra strong understanding and acceptance of his vocation as Messiah. It showed in his face and whole deportment. This was something new for the apostles but they don’t tell anyone until after his glorification.
Jesus was praying again and the apostles wanted to learn to pray the way he did. They wanted this total absorption in their goals and works. So Jesus taught them the way to pray. The Lord’s prayer was recited. It was intended as a summary theology of all prayer as taught and modeled by Jesus.
Prayer: The Struggle In the Garden . Luke 22:41.
There is no doubt that this was a turning point in the story of Jesus in each of the Gospels. Luke’s picture is more detailed but we shall treat those details in their regular sequence.
The above paragraphs are a summary of the times that Jesus was at prayer in Luke’s Gospel. We see that the intent of the writer was to show that Jesus’ life was surrounded by prayer. It was prayer of petition but emphasized the meditative or thinking aspect more.
JESUS IS TEMPTED BY SATAN. Luke. 4:1-13.
This incident in the life of Jesus paralleled the events in the life of Elijah (1K. 17- 2K. 2). Elijah went out into the desert to live by himself and meditate on the work that he had to do. He knew it was going to be difficult and entail much abuse and suffering.
Now Luke tells us that this Spirit of Elijah led Jesus out into the desert. Luke says he was tested by the devil throughout the entire time. Jesus was on a 40 day ritual fast and, at the end of the time, he was hungry and weak. The devil presented Jesus with the same basic temptations as the Jewish people faced down through the centuries.
First was the temptation to set material wealth and power up as the only goal of their lives. These would become a god and their worship would be total pursuit of wealth and power to the exclusion of all else.
Jesus’ answer was prompt and accurate: “The Lord your God you shall worship and Him only shall you adore.” Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13 to show the answer the Jewish people should have given centuries before and must give at the present time.
Next came the temptation to foolish danger. Jesus was to go up to the top of the Temple. He was to stand on the parapet and jump down into the valley below. He did not have to worry, says the devil. God had put him in the care of the angels in a special way and they would keep him from getting hurt. Jesus answered again from Deuteronomy 6:16. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
The devil left when he saw his defeat. However, he would be back later when times look more auspicious. Now Jesus had established himself as ready to step into his role as Messiah.
JESUS AT WORK IN GALILEE: Luke 4:14-9:50.
A. Jesus returns to Galilee. Luke 4:14-15.
1. Luke stressed that it is the spirit of Elijah that turned Jesus’
footsteps back to his home area, of Galilee.
2. Luke also stressed that Jesus was well received. This was a strong
point with Luke, probably because of the way in which the
same people turned totally against Jesus in a short while.
(cf. 4:37; 5:15; 7:17).
3. This acceptance would also be a strong point with Luke in the
early days of the Christian mission. (cf. Acts 2:41+; 6:7+).
4. Luke also told us that Jesus taught in their synagogues and
everyone praised him. However, the opposition of the
leaders was quick to come because they saw Jesus as
a threat to their position of authority.
B. Jesus in Nazareth. Luke 4: 16-30.
Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue as was his custom. He offered to read. They handed him the scroll of Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll to 61:1-2.
It was a custom to ask any man who was willing, to pick a passage of the Scriptures and then comment on it. Jesus read: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to restore sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to announce the year of the Lord’s special favor.”
When he was finished reading, he carefully rolled the scroll, gave it back to the one in charge, then sat down. Luke noted that the eyes of everyone were fixed on him. People were waiting to see what he had to say.
Jesus began with a dramatic statement: “Today, this writing is being fulfilled in your very ears.” The audience liked what they heard and they were surprised that he could speak so well. “This is the son of Joseph?” they puzzled. Jesus picked up from this. He said: “You are no doubt thinking that I should do here what I did in Capernaum.” (Luke did not mention the healings until later.) “I’ll explain why I don’t. No prophet is ever accepted in his home territory.” Jesus told them to look back at the example of Elijah and Elisha.
Jesus’ approval rating plummeted. The people were ready to kill him. He was comparing them to the hard heads and hard hearts described in the time of Elijah and Elisha. They took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built to throw him down and hurt or kill him. Jesus slipped off through the crowd and left.
Jesus went from popular hero and home-town boy who makes good to the villain who was to be killed. All this happened during one short sermon. This fickleness was part of the reason why Jesus did not want the work of Messiah or Savior even though he knew it had to be done.
C. Jesus in Capernaum. Luke 4:31-37.
Jesus went down to a Galilean town, named Capernaum. There again he taught on the Sabbath. He really impressed the people because he sounded like someone who knew what he was talking about.
Then Jesus gave a sign of his authentic power. A man was present who was “possessed by an unclean spirit or a devil.” The description of the man was one who was affected by violent seizures as many epileptics are today. The medical men had little explanation for what was going on. In the popular mind, these seizures were the evidence of a person’s being completely taken over by an unclean spirit.
If you remember that breath is the evidence of the presence of God in people, you will see what the unclean breath or spirit represents. In the story of the creation of people, The Lord-God breathed the breath of life into the lump of clay and it became a person. Breath (or the Latin word “Spirit”) signified the creative presence of God in human beings and their total dependence on Him. So when a man is taken over by a seizure, there is no explanation, and they said that an unclean spirit or the devil had possessed him.
The devil showed its opposition to Jesus. Jesus publicly rebuked the spirit and commanded him to depart from the man. The man had one final seizure seen by the crowd and was then cured. The people couldn’t believe their eyes or ears. They spread the report everywhere.
D. Peter’s Mother-in-law Cured. Luke 4:38-39.
After the synagogue, Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a severe fever. Jesus went over and sternly commanded the fever to leave, and it left. The mother-in-law got up immediately and prepared a meal for her guests.
E. Summary of Jesus Healing. Luke 4:40-41.
Luke could have described one cure or event after another. Instead he gave us a summary saying that this was a good picture of the life of Jesus. He healed all the diseases the people put before him and he sent the demons howling on their way.
F. Off to Judea. Luke 4:42-44.
Jesus knew he could not stay too long in anyone spot. He had to get the news of the coming of the Messiah presented to everyone so that they could choose him and his work intelligently. He summed up his work as “proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.” The choice of words in this phrase is important and instructive. The word to “proclaim” is the verb used of the herald who goes about making known an official decree or announcement. Hence the manner in which Jesus was teaching had a sense of urgency to it. The “Good News” is a technical term used throughout the New Testament and borrowed from Isaiah. So many of the prophetic statements were warnings, or even threats, because of the sinful attitude of the listeners.
Now Jesus was appealing to the ideals and goodness of people. People who refused to listen had only themselves to blame. The “Kingdom of God” is not a simple territorial government or place. The word used is “Basileia.” It is an “eia” word in Greek. This means that it is an action word much as our English syllable “ing.” It is really the “Kinging of God” and refers to the people who are called to participate in the power and dignity and extent of the Kingship of God.
It may sound mundane but the “Kinging of God” has much the same notion as “kinging” in a game of checkers. The “kinged” checker has more influence because of earned position. The “Kinging of God” which Jesus preached and described did just exactly this to an ordinary person. The follower of Jesus had new power in all his actions. The Christians together are to change the face of the earth and the community of human beings.
G. Beginnings of the Twelve. Luke 5:1-11.
The crowds around Jesus were numerous but Jesus knew if his work was to succeed and spread, it had to have a s0lid nucleus of disciples who would carry it through the world. Now he began to select these special people out of the crowds listening to him.
Jesus was down by the shore of the Lake of Galilee. There were two boats tied up there and the men were on shore cleaning their nets. Jesus got into one of the boats and asked that he be moved a short way from the crowd. The crowd was so large and pushing so much that there was danger that Jesus would be pushed into the water.
The boat belonged to Simon. When Jesus finished speaking, he turned to Simon and said, “Move into the deep water and lower your nets for a good catch.” “Rabbi, we are the fishermen. We have been working here all night and there are no fish there. But if you want, we will drop the nets in the water.” Simon clearly did not think Jesus knew a whole lot about fishing. However, Simon decided to humor him.
The result was fantastic. They had so many fish, the nets began to tear. They signaled to their fellow fishermen in the other boat to help. When they had emptied the nets, they had a load in each boat.
Simon Peter was overcome with awe or fear. He said, “Depart from me, Lord. For I am a sinful man.” None of these fishermen could believe what had happened and yet the evidence was in their boats. Then Jesus carried the idea much farther. He says, “Don't worry! This is really nothing! From now on you will be catching men!”
They brought the boats to land and all four of them left their fishing and went with Jesus, full time. The four disciples were Simon (Peter), Andrew - his brother, and James and John - the Zebedee boys.
H. The Cure of the Leper. Luke 5:12-16.
The leper came right up to Jesus. This in itself is amazing. There was a standing practice or law that lepers had to stay outside the towns. When lepers saw people coming, they had to make some noise and tell everyone they were lepers. Thus no one would accidentally bump into them and perhaps contract the disease.
The leper fell prostrate at Jesus’ feet and made a supreme act of faith in Jesus. “Sir,” he said, “if you want, you can take away this uncleanness.” Jesus stretched out his hand and deliberately touched the man. He said, “I want it! Be made clean!” The leprosy was gone. Jesus said, “Now don’t tell anybody about this but go show yourself to the priests and make the offering commanded by Moses, as evidence for them.”
Luke gave a general summary again. He said that people talked about Jesus more and more, and the crowds grew and brought their sick to be cured. Jesus would always get away from the crowd to spend time alone in prayer. This would be the meditative type and would fit in with the picture Luke was unfolding. Jesus was gradually getting a clearer and clearer picture of what his convictions entail. He also saw the opposition that would soon become public and then it would be only a short time before he was put to death. Jesus was too great a threat to the false prestige and power of the leaders. Rome would go along with the leaders, even though unjust, because Rome did not want trouble with its conquered people.
I. Cure of the Paralytic. Luke 5: 17-26.
This story is well told. Jesus was teaching and in his crowd were Pharisees and lawyers from every village in Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher. They could not get through the crowd to Jesus so they went up on the roof of the building, removed some of the tiles, and left the stretcher down at the feet of Jesus. When Jesus saw the faith of the group, he said to the paralytic, “Sir, your sins are forgiven!”
This really shook the Scribes and Pharisees to the core. Only God could forgive sins and this man was forgiving sin. However, they said nothing aloud. Jesus knew what they were thinking so he brought their thoughts out into the open. He asked, “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ or to say ‘Arise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has the power on earth to forgive sins (here he turned to the paralytic and said) ‘I tell you, get up, roll up your pallet and go home.’ ” And the paralyzed man jumped up in front of their eyes, picked up his pallet, and went home praising God.
Note the way Jesus worded his question. There is no doubt it would be much easier to say “Your sins are forgiven.” This is something that cannot be seen and whether it happens or not is a matter of faith. But if he said to a paralyzed man, “Get up and walk” and the man stayed there paralyzed, everyone would know he was a fake. So Jesus performed the external sign to prove that the internal sign took place, and to give us an indication of what forgiveness actually achieves. Sin is a paralysis of the spiritual life of a person. Forgiveness removes this paralysis and restores the life of the spirit to the person.
The reaction to this scene in Luke was favorable to Jesus. The leaders did not necessarily accept him but they admitted that something unusual had taken place before them.
J. Levi is called. Luke 5:27-32.
Jesus had four of his special followers already picked. Now he called a fifth person. This man’s name was Levi (or Matthew). He was a tax-collector (publican) for the Romans. This meant he was a man despised both by the Romans and the Jews. The Romans despised him because he was a Jew and a member of a conquered people. This made him a “slave.” The Jews despised him because he was working for the hated Romans, their conquerors.
The role of the tax collector was an opportunity for open robbery. The tax collector was told by the Roman authorities how much revenue they expected from his territory. Rome did not care how much the person collected over and above the prescribed sum. So the tax-collector could ask any amount by way of taxes and he had the power of Rome to enforce his demands. Then he could skim off all above the asking price of the Romans for himself.
The tax collectors had to be exact in their bookkeeping because they never knew when the Romans would demand an accounting. Tax collectors were despised by all and so they tended to associate with their kind. Jesus was invited to join them for a dinner and he did not hesitate. As the leaders walked by and saw Jesus at table with this despised lot they complained to his followers. “If your Master is so great, why is he at table with the tax collectors and other sinners?”
Jesus gave his own answer. He cracked down hard on their hypocrisy. He said, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick people. I did not come to call just people, but sinners, to repentance.”
The Scribes and Pharisees pretended to be holy, law-abiding people. They did not need any forgiveness because they did not sin. At least, this was how they paraded themselves before the world. So, Jesus said, you would not want me to interfere in your lives.
K. Who Should Fast? Luke 5:33-39.
How does the Old Law relate to the New Dispensation that Jesus was establishing?
First, Jesus compared what he was doing to a wedding feast. He said that you do not ask the members of a wedding party or the invited guests to fast while they are celebrating the wedding. After the wedding is over and the newly-wed couple had gone its way, then the people could return to the routine of daily life.
The same was true for the followers of Jesus. His presence was like that of the Bridegroom. While he was with them he would be instructing them in how they were to live their lives and continue his work. However he would not impose all the obligations immediately. They would have to mature in their acceptance of the new code and way of life.
Then Jesus used two comparisons to bring out the relationship between the Old Law and the New Law. He talked first of putting a patch on an old cloak. He said you do not cut a piece out of a new cloak and sew it on to an old one. You will have torn the new cloak and the piece taken from the new cloak will not match the old cloak. The New Law or Dispensation that Jesus was talking about was not merely a patch on the Old Law. There was really no comparison between the Old and the New. The Old Law was a preparation for the New Law, but the New Law will stand on its own.
Secondly, Jesus compared the New Law and the Old Law to new wine. The bottles for wine were made each year out of the skins or the intestines of the animals. These skins were pliable and could stretch and then gradually harden and get set. This allowed the new wine to “work” or ferment until it was ready for use. If this new wine was put into old, hardened skins, the fermentation process would burst the skins. If the new wine was put into new skins, they could expand with the fermentation and then gradually get set.
Jesus also said that it took a while to get used to the difference between the old and the new wine. The old wine mellowed and had a “kick” to it. The new wine bit and had a sharp taste. Only if they were kept separate could they be truly appreciated.
L. Picking Grain On the Sabbath. Luke 6: 1-5.
To understand the importance of this story, two points must be kept in mind. First, there was the custom of picking grain as you walked through a farmer’s field. The grain was planted on both sides of the path. Anyone walking along the path was entitled to reach out and take a handful of the grain as long as the traveler did not leave the path to do so.
After the person had a handful of the grain, he had to rub the grain back and forth in the hands to remove the hulls from the kernels. Then, the prospective eater would blow the hulls out of his hand and the grain would be clean. Then it could be popped into the mouth and the person could begin to chew it. The grain would make paste, something like gum, and then it could be chewed or swallowed.
This practice was perfectly licit in the society of those days in Palestine. The problem, as the Pharisees saw it, was the Sabbath. People were not allowed to do any work from sun-up to sun-down. However, rubbing the grain back and forth in the hands was considered work. Therefore this was not permitted on the Sabbath.
Jesus advised these legal sticklers to go back to the life of David and read how he acted in reference to the Law about food. (1 Sam. 21:4-7; Lev. 24:5-9) The Loaves of Proposition were to be baked in a special way. They were to be put in the Holy Place and left there for a week. Then the priests, and the priests alone, were allowed to eat these “sacred” loaves. David stopped by the Tabernacle. He and his men were on the way to a fight. They were without food and were hungry. David went into the priests and talked them out of some of these “sacred loaves.” They were not supposed to get them, but David saw it as an emergency and so the law did not bind in the situation.
Jesus drew a basic principle from his conduct and that of David’s. “The Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.” He placed himself above the legalistic rituals of the Sabbath. This was the rankest audacity and heresy to the Pharisees. (Be sure to look up the comments on this incident in Matthew. The description is more thoroughly developed.)
SELF-IDENTITY OF JESUS. LUKE 5:6 ff.
Here is a bit of summary on the identity of Jesus. I think Jesus was, what we would call today, a talented and gifted student. He showed this publicly at age 12 when he came into his first formal contact with what was being taught officially in the Temple about the plan of God.
Up to that time, Jesus had been instructed primarily by his mother, Mary. Such was the custom of Jewish family life. Mary had a clear notion of this plan as is evident from her song, the Magnificat. She took a famous song from the Old Testament and brought it up to date with her role in this plan. She told Luke explicitly that she thought about all these ideas constantly and went deeper and deeper into their meaning.
These ideas she had shared with Jesus from his first days. At age 12, he was amazed at the legalistic interpretation of the Torah that was officially prevalent. Jesus did not hesitate to express his convictions. The teachers were amazed at his answers and they began to ask him questions for their own enlightenment.
Jesus went back to Galilee with his parents and continued to learn his trade as carpenter or handyman and mull over the meaning of life. Finally, as a full-grown adult at the age of 30, he stepped out on his own and began to teach his ideas. People liked them and began to follow him. Yahweh showed his approval of Jesus’ teaching as he had done for the prophets in the Old Testament times. He performed unusual deeds and miracles through them.
I will repeat one idea here about the mental development of Jesus. Mary and Elizabeth, the mother of John Baptist, were cousins and close friends. So it is quite reasonable to suppose that these two boys were together a lot of the time.
John was six months older than Jesus. We can see from his public life that he was a serious-minded person and was deeply concerned about the keeping of the Law of Yahweh. He did not hesitate to express his ideas or to warn people about the danger of sinful ways. In many ways he was much like Jeremiah of the Old Testament.
Jesus, too, was serious-minded. However, he was able to lighten up a bit more. The two boys went well together. When Jesus appeared at the river to be baptized, John wanted him to take over. Jesus refused and told John to keep on working exactly as he had been. Later, Jesus would give outstanding praise of John to his apostles.
THE CHOICE OF THE TWELVE. Luke 5:12-16.
This is another occasion when Jesus spent the night in prayer. It would be good here to look up the description of Moses in Exodus 33:7-11. Moses had a special tent outside the camp. When he wanted to consult with Yahweh about his next move, he would go to this tent alone and there receive his instructions.
Jesus, as the new Moses, went into the hills alone to spend the night in prayer. This time, the prayer was a prelude to the choosing of the twelve apostles. Luke did not make a big story of this event. He said they were picked from all his disciples or followers. They were called “apostles,” - the people SENT as ambassadors. There were twelve and their names are listed. Matthew would be the other name for Levi.
The number 12 was probably a deliberate and symbolic choice. They were to be the leaders of the New Israel and therefore there would be 12 of them as in the Old Israel. Judas, son of James, was the one called Jude or Thaddaeus. Judas Iscariot was always pointed out as the one who would be the traitor.
THE "BIG SERMON" - SERMON ON THE MOUNT. Luke 5: 17-49.
This is the collection of teachings that is known as the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew's Gospel. Luke presented a much shorter version. He introduced the ideas by telling us that they were on level ground. A large crowd of people were pressing around Jesus. He was healing all sorts of diseases and ills. Then Jesus began to talk.
Luke did not develop all these ideas. Instead he stressed poverty, hunger and sorrow. Christians were from among the poor classes and may have grumbled a bit at their lot. Luke tried to assure them that their hardships were not overlooked and they would be rewarded for them. He stressed the reward they would receive and that this was the same way in which they had treated the prophets before them.
Then Luke gave us a list of “Woes.” He was really saying the same thing again, except the language was more forceful. The word “woe” is a powerful word and has to be described rather than translated. Luke stressed that people who are rich, eat well, or enjoy life now, would be miserable and sorry later on. In fact, said Luke, if people like you and speak well of you, take another look at your life. This approval was the way in which the people of the past greeted the FALSE PROPHETS. If the world liked you, you may be on the wrong track.
Luke developed this idea thoroughly. We can understand why. Luke was writing for the communities established originally by Paul. They were in the Diaspora and would be pounced on by Jewish communities and the pagans alike. The tendency was to lash back and defend themselves. Luke said this would not win the good will of the people and lead them to the harmony, love and peace intended by Jesus. Their model was to be God himself who took care of the good and the bad alike.
Luke gave us a figure of speech to indicate how great our kindness and compassion to others should be. He used the example of a person selling a bushel of wheat. He said that the grain was to be put in the basket, then pressed down, shaken well, and even running over. Every Jew had a catch-all pocket in the front of his cloak on the chest. If the merchant followed the customs, he would fill the basket as described. Then he would open this pocket and throw extra grain into it.
Luke stressed that this kind of generosity is absolutely essential because you will receive according to the way in which you give.
Luke then talked about the necessity of sincerity in daily life. He stressed the fact that a Christian was not supposed to be bothering about the faults of others or correcting them until he had removed all his own faults completely.
The very thought of hypocrisy was taboo for these early Christians. If they were going to ask something of others, they had to be sure they were living the principle first. Sincere guidance to others can come only from a sincere heart in oneself. A person’s words must flow from the abundance of one’s own heart. In other words, one cannot pick delicious fruit from weeds.
The life of the Christian is like the building of a house. The most important part is the solid foundation. Then no matter what the storm, the superstructure will be able to withstand it. The Christian way of living has to have the stability of bedrock.
This story is really unusual for a couple of reasons. A centurion was a Roman soldier and officer. He had many men in his command. Literally, the title means he was in charge of 100 men. There is mention of several centurions in the New Testament. All of them were friendly to the Christians. (ct. Mt. 27:54; Lk. 23:47; Acts. 10:1, 22:25; 23:17; 27:1)
This centurion was concerned about one of his slaves. Slaves were considered the property of the master, to be bought, sold, treated well or mistreated according to the discretion of the master and owner. So this centurion’s concern about a slave was a rarity. Secondly, when Jesus proposed to go with the centurion to his house, the Roman protested and said “I am not worthy that you come under my roof. Just give a command from here and my servant will be healed.” Jesus marveled aloud at the humility and the faith of this man. He told him to go on home, and that what he asked for had already happened. The man left, full of confidence that his request had been answered.
The first Christians were so impressed by this incident that they recalled it at the Eucharistic meal each day. Even today, it has remained as an essential part of the ritual.
The WIDOW OF NAIN. Luke 7:11-17.
Jesus and a large crowd of people were coming near the city of Nain. At the gate of the town, they met a funeral procession. The corpse was a teenage boy. He was an only son and his mother was a widow. Jesus took in the whole story at a glance. He walked up to the lady and said, “Stop crying.” Then he went to the coffin and put his hand on it. The bearers stopped. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The teenager sat up and began to talk. Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luke says everyone was impressed by the incident and the report went around the whole countryside.
JOHN THE BAPTIST. Luke 7:18-35.
This incident was inserted at this spot to tie up Jesus’ relation to the Old Law and to set the New Law totally in motion. It also gives us a full assessment of John the Baptist and of all the prophets. John the Baptist had pointed Jesus out as the Messiah. His own followers were a bit on the envious side. They saw that everyone was following Jesus and ignoring John. They complained about this conduct of Jesus. John sent them over to Jesus. John himself had no doubts but he wanted his disciples to see who and what Jesus really was.
Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61, the Servant Songs, to answer their questions. Jesus was doing exactly what had been foretold by Isaiah II and III about 600 years before. Jesus praised John the Baptist and condemned the leaders of the Jews because they refused to follow the Baptist or himself. They looked on the Baptist as some kind of mental patient and considered Jesus a profligate. Therefore they refused to accept either one.
THE PENITENT WOMAN. Luke 7:36-50.
SIN -- SORROW -- FORGIVENESS
This is an exceptionally beautiful and pointed story. Jesus was invited to a dinner by a Pharisee, named Simon. Keep these points in mind about an occasion such as this. First of all, when a guest arrived, the host met him at the door. The host presented the visitor with water to wash the dust of travel from his feet. If possible, he would have a servant to do that menial task. Then the guest would be given a special cloak to wear during his stay and his head would be anointed with perfumed oil. These were all common courtesies expected in the society of that day.
Secondly, the guests reclined on long couches at the table. Their feet were stretched out away from the table so this lady could easily reach the feet of Jesus. Thirdly, we do not know who the woman was. Some try to make her Mary Magdalen or Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. There is no certainty for either of these identities.
In the middle of the dinner, this lady came into the banquet room. She went right up to Jesus and began to cry bitter tears over his feet. Then she dried them with her hair. Simon was amazed and said, “If Jesus knew who this woman is, he would not even let her touch him.”
Jesus picked up on the attitude immediately. He told his story about two men were in debt to the same person. One owed five hundred denarii and the other owed fifty. A denarius was a good wage for a whole day at the time. So the first man owed two years wages, the other owed seven weeks. Neither could pay his debt, so the creditor canceled both debts instead of putting them in debtor’s prison. Jesus asked, “Which man would love the creditor more?” Simon saw that there was only one possible answer. “The man who was forgiven more.”
Jesus said, “That’s right! Now apply this to the present situation. I came into your house as a guest and you insulted me socially by not showing me the amenities of a guest. This woman exceeded common courtesy to wash my feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Therefore her sins, even though many, have been forgiven. The person who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then he turned to the woman and said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”
The point of the story is clear. Jesus was not establishing a kingdom in a vacuum. The people who followed him would have their faults and commit their sins. However, if they were motivated by love in their lives, their sins would be forgiven. Without love there is no forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a matter of ritual or routine. Forgiveness demands evidence of true sorrow in the life of the person.
COMPANIONS OF JESUS AND THE TWELVE. Luke 8:1-3.
Jesus continued his travels through the towns and villages. He was accompanied by the twelve apostles and several women. One was Mary Magdalen, from whom seven demons had been driven. This is often taken to mean that she was a terrible public sinner. However, it can mean merely that she was a very sick person and was cured.
THE PARABLES. Luke 8:4-18.
The first important difference between Matthew and Luke in their account of the parables is the number and the orientation. Matthew listed seven parables - all in a cluster and all geared to developing the notion of the Kingdom of the Heavens. Luke listed only two of the parables and used the stories to stress how people must react to the teachings of Jesus.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER.
The parable is almost the same as that told in Matthew. The farmer was sowing his grain. Some of the seed fell on the footpath and was trampled on and the birds ate it. Some fell on the stones and sprouted immediately but then shriveled and died because of lack of moisture. Some seed fell among the weeds and was choked out by the weeds. Some of the seed fell on good ground and produced a hundred-fold.
In the explanation, Luke said that the seed was the word of God. The seed on the path represented the people who hear the teaching, but the devil came and snatched it away before they truly believed and were saved. The seeds on the stones were the people who received the word gladly but there was no follow-through. The word shriveled and died without fruit. The seeds among the weeds were the people who accepted the word but then the cares and worries about money and pleasure choked out the true values of life. The seed on the good soil was the people who received the word into dedicated and courageous hearts and they yielded a harvest of good works through patience and perseverance.
THE PARABLE OF THE LAMP STAND.
The second parable in Luke is the parable of the lamp. The lamp was lit and put on a lamp stand so that everyone in the household might see by the light of the lamp. This parable is part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Luke gives it a little different slant in his interpretation.
The purpose of the lamp is to make sure that everyone’s life is clear and out in the open for all to see. The person who uses his talents will be given more. The person who does not use his talents, will lose even the ones he thinks he has.
RELATIVES OF JESUS. Luke 8:19-21.
Luke interjects the thought about the family of Jesus at this point. He says that Mary and his relatives were there and wanted to talk with him. They could not reach him because of the size of the crowd. Jesus declares that his family is not just his physical relatives. Anyone who listens to the word of God and lives by it forms his true family.
This, of course, was no rejection of Mary, his Mother. She certainly lived by her own dictum: “Be it done unto me according to your word.” Mary was part of the family of Jesus on both scores.
THE STORM AT SEA. Luke 8:22-25.
Jesus was in the boat with his apostles. A sudden and threatening storm came up. This was a regular occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. These storms could be truly life-threatening. Jesus was tired from all his teaching and was sound asleep. The apostles awakened him and he rebuked the rough waters and they calmed down immediately. The apostles were amazed. They asked each other, “Who is he really? He talks to the wind and the water and they obey him!”
THE CURE OF THE DEMONIAC. Luke 8:26-39.
Luke placed this incident opposite Galilee, across the Lake. We are not sure exactly where the story took place. It could be modern Jerash or Kersa. The place is not really that important to the story.
As Jesus was stepping ashore, a possessed man came running towards him and shouting. He was a scary sight. He wore no clothes. He fell down at the feet of Jesus and begged him not to torture him. The man lived in the uninhabited area among the tombs. He would go into seizures and the people would bind him with chains but the man would break these. Then he would go out into the wild areas and rave like a truly mad man.
Jesus asked him his name and he said “Legion” because of all the devils in him. The devils pleaded with Jesus not to send them back to the Abyss or the bowels of the earth where demons were thought to dwell. There was a large herd of pigs in the area and the demons asked to be sent into the pigs. So Jesus sends them into the porcine flock. The pigs go mad and run off the cliff and drown in the Lake.
The swineherds were shook. Those pigs were their responsibility and their livelihood. Now they were gone. When the people came out to see what had happened, they saw the possessed man, fully clothed and sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. The people were amazed and they begged Jesus to leave the area. The man who was cured wanted to go with Jesus but Jesus told him to go back home and tell everybody what God had done for him. So the man went off and became a messenger of good news to his people.
The point of this story in Luke is not as clear as in Matthew. It certainly brings out some of the problems that the people of those days faced. It brings out some of their superstitions and beliefs. It shows that they do not want Jesus around stirring up change even if he does cure some ills.
It certainly should make us stop and ask what would happen if such an incident took place in our cities today. Would the person be handcuffed and put in a mental institute? Would the news media come running to get pictures for the 6:00 news? Would there be a flocking to the person or would he be ignored and driven out of town?
Luke was clearly linking a series of incidents and teachings together to develop his picture of Jesus. Remember, Luke was a convert from paganism and this whole picture would be totally new to him. He was a medical doctor of the times and therefore had a good formal education. He was a convert and companion of Paul and was certainly a well-liked person in the early Christian community.
DOUBLE MIRACLE. Luke 8:40-56.
This is a story within a story. Jesus and the apostles came back to the western side of the Lake. The crowd was waiting for him. There was a man named Jairus, an official in the synagogue. His twelve year old daughter was dying and he wanted Jesus to come and do something.
As they walked along, the crowd pressed tightly against Jesus. There was a woman there who was suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. No one could help her. She came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his garment and the hemorrhage stopped immediately.
Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” They thought he was joking. Everybody was pushing and shoving and he wanted to know who touched him? Jesus insisted, “Somebody touched me and power went out from me!” Then the woman realized she had been discovered and she came forward and explained what had happened. Jesus said kindly, “Daughter, your faith has restored your health. Go in peace.”
About that time a messenger from the house of the official got through to them. “Your daughter has died. Don't bother the Master any more.” Jesus heard the report and said to the father, “Don't be upset by this. Just keep believing and she will be all right.”
When they arrived at the house, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and went into the room. People were weeping and wailing. Jesus told them, “Stop crying. The girl is not dead, but asleep.” They laughed scornfully because they knew she was dead. Jesus went to the girl, took her by the hand and said, “Child, get up!” Her breath returned and she got up. He told them to get her something to eat. The parents were amazed but he told them to keep the incident to themselves.
Summary: Lukan Presentation of Jesus - Personality and Mission.
This will be a good place to summarize what Luke has told us about Jesus and his personality and mission so far. Who is the Jesus that Luke is presenting? Luke stresses that he is using only eye-witness accounts for the story that is unfolding. Why stress the point? By the time that Luke was writing, there were many accounts of the life of Jesus. Many of them were wild and false. Luke did not want the important message of Jesus to be weakened or destroyed by a lot of folklore and literary trash.
Luke told us that one of his principal sources was Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He stressed that she told him exactly what she saw and thought about deep down in her heart. We get the introduction of the two key characters, John Baptist and Jesus, even before they were conceived.
Zachary and Elizabeth were an older, childless couple. They had practically given up on having children. In fact, Zachary thought the whole idea was a joke for a man his age. John Baptist was conceived and born. He was a cousin of Jesus who went out to live the life of a hermit in the desert. People came out to him and he was adamant in his demands. There had to be "metanoia,” Greek word for a complete change of life and moral practices. If there was any hypocrisy, they would be cut off totally. John Baptist was a real “blood and thunder” preacher.
Jesus was born on the trip to Bethlehem. He was born in a little cave that belonged to some shepherds. Luke saw this as an omen about the mission of Jesus.
Jesus was taught a solid interpretation of the Law and Messianic hopes by Mary. When he got to the Temple at the age of twelve for his Bar Mitzvah, Jesus was surprised at the legalism and shallowness of the official teaching. He gave answers that amazed the teachers. And he asked questions that they had not even imagined.
At the age of 30, Jesus set out on his own mission. His mission arose out of a sense of urgency to show the world the plan that Yahweh had in store for mankind. At the same time, he had many a doubt as he saw the ignorance, stubbornness, and hesitancy to accept these ideas. He knew that the opposition would grow ever greater and lead finally to his own betrayal and death.
Then Luke presents Jesus in his work in Galilee and finally in his move to Judea and Jerusalem. Luke, like Matthew and Mark, sum the whole public life of Jesus up in a single year. John indicates that it took longer, probably about three years. However, the picture is the same. The climax of Jesus’ life will be his total giving of himself to prove the extent and sincerity of his zeal and his love.
THE MISSION OF THE TWELVE. Luke 9: 1-6.
The next stage of Jesus’ work began. He empowered the twelve to spread out and continue his work. He stressed that they should not worry about their livelihood, but spread the Good News from village to village.
HEROD AND JESUS. Luke 9:7-9.
Herod heard the reports about Jesus. They sounded like the reports that he had heard of John Baptist. He knew that John was dead because he had ordered him beheaded. Now, who was this Jesus?
THE APOSTLES RETURN. Luke 9:10-17.
The twelve apostles came back. They were pleased and proud that they were able to share in the works of Jesus. Jesus took the twelve to the town of Bethsaida so that they could be by themselves. However, the crowd learned of this and the people came flocking after them.
Late in the afternoon, the apostles approached Jesus and told him that he should send the people back to their homes to get food and night’s lodging. Jesus told them to feed the crowd themselves. The apostles objected that they had only a few pieces of bread and a couple fish. Jesus told them to seat the crowd in groups of fifty. There were about five thousand men plus all the women and children. Then Jesus blessed the five loaves and the two fish, broke them and gave them to the twelve to distribute. They fed all. After everyone one was filled, they gathered 12 baskets of leftovers.
The point of this story is to make sure that we share whatever we have with others. This can be done by selling it to those who can afford to buy and by giving it to those who are too poor to buy. Sharing is the heart of the message. If this sharing is carried out, there is no problem that cannot be answered totally.
Jesus and the twelve apostles were alone. Jesus asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They said that there was no solid agreement. Some thought he might be John the Baptist returned. He might be Elijah whom they were expecting to return before long. Or he might be one of the ancient prophets of whom they had heard so much.
Then Jesus asked the twelve, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter blurted out the answer for them all, “You are the Christ of God!” (This meant that they saw him as the Messiah sent by the Father.) Jesus told them not to mention this to anyone.
JESUS WILL SUFFER. Luke 9:22.
Jesus introduced this notion of suffering and death frequently into the picture. There were two reasons for this. First, Jesus did not want the apostles to be under any delusions of grandeur as was common in the popular picture of the Messiah. His suffering and death would be hard enough to accept without contributing to the false, idyllic picture. Secondly, Jesus had to handle this notion of suffering and death in his own personal life again and again. He knew from what he had seen how terrible the social rejection and the physical torture would be. He had to bolster his courage over and over again so as not to run away from it.
This fear was not some kind of superficial sham. Jesus was scared and honestly said, again and again, that he would like some other plan but he would accept what was coming.
DISCIPLES CARRY THE CROSS. Luke 9:23-26.
Jesus now transferred this notion of suffering and difficulty to all his followers. His point was clearly that the life of those who choose him and his ideals was not going to be easy or well accepted by the others. However, Jesus stressed that if anyone was ashamed of him and his ideas and ideals in this life, he would be ashamed of them in the next. In short, if you want the glory, you have to bear the pain.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE KINGDOM. Luke 9:27.
Jesus was not talking about some event that would take place years or centuries from that time. In fact, he said, there are people here right now who will see the fulfillment of all these promises.
THE TRANSFIGURATION. Luke. 9:28-36.
There is a good possibility that Luke connected the previous verse about seeing the Kingdom of God with the scene that he now described.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on to a mountain to spend time in prayer. While he was praying, his face suddenly began to glow brightly. Then there were two men talking to him about his death in Jerusalem. The two men were Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John were practically asleep but they watched what happened.
When it was over, Peter immediately came up with plans for three shrines, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He clearly was thinking of pilgrimages and the whole bit. As he was prattling on, a cloud came over them and a voice said, “This is my son, the Chosen One! Listen to him!” When the voice stopped speaking, they saw only Jesus as his usual self. The three apostles were mystified and told no one about the event until after the resurrection.
There is not much doubt why Luke arranged these events and sayings in this order. He was giving the entire picture. There would be rejection, suffering, death and shame. But there would also be glory and renown. The two come together, the first as the source of the second. The glory was the fulfillment of all the expectations of the Torah and the prophets.
ANOTHER CURE. Luke 9:37-43.
As they were coming down from the mountain, a man came up to intercede for his son. This son was an epileptic and had the grand mal seizures which left him completely exhausted. The man had asked the disciples to help him but they had failed. Now he approaches Jesus. Jesus blamed the failure on the lack of faith of the father and then he expelled the demon and the boy was cured. Luke drew no further conclusion from the incident.
SUFFERING AND DEATH, AGAIN. Luke 9:44-46.
Everyone was praising Jesus. His popularity could not have been greater. There was danger the twelve might forget what Jesus had said about the final outcome. So he told them about the coming rejection, suffering and death again. The apostles did not understand what he was driving at but they hesitated to ask for any further details or proofs.
WHO IS THE GREATEST? Luke 9:46-48.
No doubt this argument had arisen because of the obvious favors shown to Peter, James, and John. They were taken special places with Jesus and the others were left behind. They were told certain facts and told to keep them to themselves until the right time. Jealousy and envy arose. Who was the favorite of Jesus?
Jesus settled the whole question in a very dramatic way. He set a little child down beside himself and said: “Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name, welcomes me. Anyone who welcomes me, welcomes him who sent me. For the least among you is the greatest.”
In short there is room at the top for everyone. Greatness in this kingdom of Jesus is not external prestige or worldly honors and ribbons. Greatness is determined by service and simplicity.
WHO WORKS WITH YOU? Luke 9:49-50.
John brought up a new problem. They had found a man casting out demons in the name of Jesus. However, he was not one of them. He did not belong to the twelve. So they tried to stop him.
Jesus said: “Don't stop him. If he is not against you, then he is on your side.” If a person is doing the work of Jesus, it does not make a particle of difference who he is. He is working to make the world the brotherhood of man. In the end, all the works will be shown together.
If this principle had been followed from the Council of Nicea to the present day, much wrangling and enmity could have been avoided and much good could have been accomplished. The Roman structure insisted they were the “one and only” and all others were to be outcasts. The result has been greater and greater disunity.
THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM. LUKE 9:51-19:27.
Luke followed the time structure of Mark and Matthew. He presented only one trip to Jerusalem in the public ministry of Jesus. Jesus would arrive in Jerusalem, work there for a while, and then would follow the condemnation, suffering and death. John seemed to indicate that this public ministry lasted two or three years.
The disciples stopped at a Samaritan village to make preparations for Jesus to stop there. The townspeople would not accept him because he was on his way to Jerusalem. James and John immediately offered to call down fire from heaven to burn the town to a cinder. Jesus told them to hush up and they set out for another village.
DEMANDS OF THE LIFE OF AN APOSTLE. Luke 9:57-62.
Luke put together the stories of three different men who wanted to follow Jesus and work with him. None of them was willing to give up everything. The first was willing to go along until he heard that they were totally dependent on the charity of those for whom they work. There was no money in the work. The second was ready to come as soon as he had finished burying his dad. The third would come but he had to bid farewell to his family first.
Jesus’ answer to all of them was the same. Once you put your hand to the plow, you can’t look back. This work demanded total giving.
THE MISSION AND QUALITIES OF THE DISCIPLE. Luke 10:1-16.
Jesus intended to blanket all of Israel. He picked out 72 disciples and sent them in pairs to get the people ready for his coming. Here is a list of the demands of the job and the traits of the workers.
1) The harvest is rich and the laborers are few so they have to
ask the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers.
2) The disciples are going like lambs among wolves.
3) They are to take nothing extra for the trip. They
are to stop and talk with no one along the way.
4) When you enter a house, offer the people “Peace.”
5) Stay in that house and be content with the food, drink
and lodging put before you. The laborer deserves his
hire but he should not waste time looking for the best.
6) Offer everything you have to the people who receive you.
If a town does not accept your presence, leave that
town and shake its dust off your shoes. When the
Kingdom of God arrives, it will be worse for
that town than for Sodom.
7) The people who listen to you, listen to me.
The people who reject you, reject me.
The 72 disciples finished their mission and came back all aglow. They had great success. Even the "demons" listened to them when they invoked his name. They shared in the powers of Jesus.
JESUS FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Luke 10:21-37.
As Jesus listened to the report he was filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit that filled the father of all the prophets, Elijah.
The point that struck Jesus most forcibly was the caliber of his helpers. They were not the so-called educated and clever. They were the ordinary people of the times who had accepted the Good News that Jesus had brought. They went out and spread the news and prepared for him.
Jesus was really overcome by the fact that he was effecting what all the prophets and kings had been striving for. The Kingdom of God was truly being established by him and his disciples.
Then a lawyer came front and center and tried to make Jesus look bad. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knew what he was trying to do. He turned the tables right back on him. “You can read,” he said. “What is written in the Torah?”
The lawyer answered: “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole strength and with all your mind. You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
“That’s the right answer,” said Jesus. “Do this and you will live.”
The lawyer didn’t like the way this incident had ended. So he
asked another question. “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus told one of his most quoted stories. It was a story called the “Good Samaritan.” A certain man was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell in with a band of robbers. They took everything he had, beat him up, and left him half-dead alongside the road.
A priest came along. He saw the man, crossed over to the other side and kept going. A Levite came along. He, too, saw the man, crossed over and kept going. Then along came a Samaritan who was on a business trip. He saw the man and felt sorry for him. He bandaged his wounds, using his own oil and wine for the job. He put the man on his donkey and took him to the nearest inn. He left him there and gave the innkeeper two denarii (two days’ wages) to take care of the man. He said he would be back and if there was any further charge, he would take care of it.
“Now,” said Jesus, “who was friend to him who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who took pity on him.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise!”
Some social notes must be added here. The man who helped was a Samaritan. The man who was wounded was a Jew. Samaritans were absolutely hated by the Jews. If the Jew had been conscious he could very well have demanded the Samaritan’s death for daring to touch him. The Priest was a Jew. The Levite was a Jew. They were men who were finishing their stay at the Temple and going home. They actually looked right at their fellow Jew, turned and walked away.
The story has power and where these ideals are lived, the society is successful, peaceful, and growing. This is the ideal of love as Christ presented it to us.
MARTHA AND MARY. Luke 10:38-42.
This is a short human interest story that packs a wallop. It can be easily misconstrued and the wrong conclusions drawn.
Two women, Martha and Mary, lived in a village. They were the sisters of Lazarus as we know from other incidents. However that fact is unimportant here. Martha was a marvelous housekeeper. When anyone came to visit, she felt obliged to be doing something for their comfort - at all times. Mary preferred to sit and visit.
In this case, Martha was scrambling to make Jesus’ visit pleasant and Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus visiting with him. Finally, Martha stopped in front of Jesus and said, “Mary is leaving all the work to me. Tell her to give me a hand.” Jesus smiled and said, “Martha, Martha, you worry and are so busy about everything and yet so little is needed. Mary has chosen the better part and it shall not be taken from her.”
Jesus certainly appreciated the concern of Martha for his comfort. He wanted to stress that he was there on a visit. Mary was visiting, and therefore, she was doing exactly what she was supposed to.
This is not a condemnation of those who are busy and who keep the home rolling smoothly. However, they are reminded there is more to life than wearing yourself to a frazzle to get all the little details done. Enjoy people and life and do what is necessary to make things comfortable.
THE LORD’S PRAYER. Luke 11:1-4.
Jesus was praying and one of the twelve asked him to teach them how to pray as John Baptist had taught his followers. Jesus said,
“When you pray, pray thus: “Father,
“Holy be thy name,
“Your Kingdom come,
“Give us, each day, our daily bread,
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive
all who are indebted to us,
“And lead us not into the test."
The format is a bit different from that of Matthew, but all the essential elements are here. It is worthy of note that this is not presented as a prayer to be said. Rather it is a summary of the qualities of all prayer. It shows the kind of life a person must live in order to be able to approach God in prayer of any kind.
QUALITIES OF PRAYER. Luke 11:5-13.
The first and most important quality of prayer, as Jesus saw it, was persistence. He told a story. A person came to the door of a friend in the middle of the night. The first man was a visitor from a long trip and he needed food. Jesus said the man on the inside was apt to be irritated but he would give the man what he asked. His reason may not be friendship but he certainly knew that his whole family would be awakened by the noise if he did not get up immediately and answer the request. Jesus drew from this that all prayer to God needed this kind of persistence.
Secondly, he said no human father was going to give his son something that was harmful, just to get rid of him. He would give the child something that was good for him. Then how much more would the heavenly Father answer our prayers in a way that was good for us.
Luke stressed that the best gift of the Father is the “Holy Spirit.” Again I think it is very important to keep in mind that this refers to a mental attitude that is necessary to establish the Christian community. All the Gospels talk about this Holy Spirit but for Luke it is a central theme. It is the spirit of Elijah brought to fullness in Jesus and carried on by his followers. It is the spirit of zeal, cooperation, fervor, kindness, generosity and all that these entail.
This “holy spirit” also goes back farther. In the creation of Adam, we are told that Yahweh had a lump of clay. He breathed into it the “living breath” and that clay became a living being, the first man. Hence breath is the symbol of the origin of man and the creative power of Yahweh.
Jesus was the “second Adam.” He was to restore all that was lost by the first Adam and his rebellion. So he gave us the “holy breath” to become a member of the “second Adam” and his family.
JESUS AND THE PRINCE OF DEVILS. Luke 11:14-22.
The prince of demons or devils was known as Beelzebul or Beelzebub. The “Beel” is a form of “Baal” meaning lord or prince. “Zebul” means the city dump and “Zebub” means the flies that are found in the city dump. So there is no doubt the use of this name in this incident was intended to be ridicule and insult.
This is the story of a man who was mute. When the devil was cast out, the mute man could speak. This story, because of a misapplication, was often used to indicate that mute people were intellectually inferior or stupid in some way. This was not the intent of the author.
Some of the people admired Jesus for the cure that he had effected and others sneered at him. They said he was able to cast out these demons or devils because he received power from Beelzebul, the prince of demons.
Jesus took them up immediately on this point. He said that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.” If he was doing his work by the prince of demons, the prince of demons was working against himself.
He carried his remarks farther. If he was doing his work by the power of the demons, by whom did their experts do their works? “But,” said Jesus, “if I am doing my work by the power of God, then the Kingship of God is present among you.” Jesus drew the conclusion that he and his power were superior to the power of Satan.
FOR OR AGAINST. Luke 11:23.
Jesus said there was no possibility of standing on the fence with regard to him. Either they accepted his teaching and lived by it or they were opposed to his teaching and worked against him.
NO HALF-HEARTED CONVERSIONS. Luke 11:24-26.
When an unclean spirit is driven out of a person, that spirit roams the earth looking for a place to light. He finds none, so he decides to go back to his previous dwelling. When he gets there, he finds the person is healed and strong. So the demon gets seven other demons worse than himself and they come back and infest the man. The second condition of the person is worse than the first.
MARY IS PRAISED. Luke 11:27-28.
As Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd praised Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus accepted the praise but he added, “More blessed still is the person who hears the word of God and lives by it!” This, of course, is an even better description of Mary.
WISER THAN SOLOMON; GREATER THAN JONAH. Luke 11:29-32.
Jesus recalled a couple of heroes from the Old Testament: Jonah and Solomon. Jonah went to the people of Niniveh. This in itself was unusual since they were not members of the chosen people. He preached to them and they listened and converted from their evil ways. Solomon was so well known for his wisdom that the Queen of Sheba came to see him on a trade mission. What she saw so amazed her that she said he was greater even than the reports. (1 K. 10:1-10)
Jesus used these men and the incidents to point out that he was even greater than they, and yet he was not being accepted.
RESPONSIBILITY. Luke 11:33-36.
Why does a person light a lamp? Jesus said no one was so stupid as to light a lamp and then put it in a hidden place or under a tub or basket. You light the lamp and put it on the lamp stand so that everyone can see.
Jesus compared this lamp to the eye of the body. The purpose of the eye was to look around and come into contact with things and people visually. If the eye was working well, the whole person benefited. If the eye was dark or blinded, the whole person suffered. The blindness that Jesus was discussing in this passage was the deliberate refusal to let the teachings into your life, or the distortion of these teachings according to prejudices and preconceived ideas. The conclusion was very strong: Listen, with an open mind and heart, to everything that was said and accept it willingly and live by it generously.
THE LIST OF WOES. Luke 11:37-54.
This is one of the strongest attacks that Jesus made in his public life. He is so often presented as the meek and mild person who got along with everyone. He is shown with a benign smile for everyone. Hence we forget how tough Jesus really was toward willful opposition.
In this case, the opposition was coming from the Pharisees and the lawyers. The Scribes were included because they worked closely with the Pharisees. Jesus used the word, “Woe,” to start each of his condemnations. This word is so powerful and meaningful that it would not appear in modern literature if fully understood.
The incident that started this condemnation was that Jesus sat down to eat without first washing. When the guest arrived he was expected to be clean. However there would be the dust of travel, especially on his feet. The host was expected, according to the rules of social etiquette, to meet the guest and wash his feet. To refuse this social action was considered a deliberate insult to the guest and an “action-way” of saying, “you are here, but you are not welcome.”
This Pharisee was not smart enough to let well-enough alone. He drew attention to the fact that Jesus was at table without washing. Jesus brought the point out into the open. He said the Pharisees were so stupid that they washed the outside of the cup or dish and left the inner part dirty from previous meals.
Woe 1: They keep every tiny ritual prescription
but ignore justice and love.
Woe 2: They look for all the empty signs of honor
on the streets and in the synagogues.
Woe 3: They are unmarked tombs. People stumble
against them and are ritually unclean.
Woe 4: They load unbearable burdens on the shoulders of others
but do not lift a finger to carry the burdens themselves.
Woe 5: They build monuments to their ancestors
whose lives were filled with crime.
Woe 6: They take away the key of knowledge and are too
stupid to use the key for their own betterment.
Conclusion: The Pharisees and lawyers were furious and tried to trap Jesus with all kinds of tricky questions.
SPEAK OPENLY IN THE HOLY SPIRIT. Luke 12:1-12.
Jesus stressed that the teachings and ideas of the Pharisees were like a leaven. If you accepted them, they began to grow from the inside and gradually poisoned the whole being. Everything that was said would ultimately be proclaimed from the rooftops. Everything would be brought out into the open.
Don’t be afraid of the people who can do you physical harm. Be afraid of the people who can make you an outcast in Gehenna. God takes care of even the little sparrows. He will certainly take care of you.
Followers of Jesus are expected to show their allegiance to him and his teaching. If people fail against Jesus, they will be forgiven. But if they fail against the Holy Spirit, there is no forgiveness.
This Holy Spirit (holy breath) is the breath of the new creation. In the Genesis story of creation, God fashioned the lump of clay and then “breathed into it the breath of life and this lump became a living being.”
Jesus was the second Adam. He was picking up the pieces of the first story and brought them to fulfillment. His work would continue through the “Holy Breath” or the “new creation.”
This Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of Elijah - the spirit of zeal and love, fulfilled in Jesus and shared with his all followers. This Holy Spirit is the source of strength, courage and accomplishment in the midst of all difficulties. If you fail against this Holy Spirit, there is no place to turn for help. When you are arrested and dragged before the tribunals, the Holy Spirit, Spirit of “koinonia” - sharing - will show you exactly what to say.
ATTACHMENT TO MATERIAL WEALTH. Luke 12:13-21.
A man in the crowd wanted Jesus to decide on a money disagreement he had with his brother. Jesus said that he did not come to take care of such trivial problems. Then he drew a general application in a parable.
A man had harvests so large he had no room for storage. So he tore down his barns and silos and granaries and built bigger ones. Finally, his crops were all stored away. Then he relaxed to have a good time. Jesus said: “You fool! Tonight, you will die and then who gets all the things you slaved for? If you want to store treasure, do it with God where it is always safe and waiting for you.”
NO WORRY. NO FEAR. Luke 12:22-32.
Why worry? What can you accomplish by worrying and fretting? Look at the crows. They neither sow nor reap. They have no storehouses or barns. Yet God sees to it that they have plenty to eat. Look at the flowers. Is anything more beautiful than one of these? Yet they do not toil or spin and they are more beautiful than Solomon in all his splendor. Set your sights on the Kingship of the Father and all else will be added. The Kingship of the Father is at your disposal.
TREASURES . Luke 12:33-34.
Lay up treasure that will last. For where your treasure is, there is the center of your life also.
STAND READY AT ALL TIMES. Luke 12:35-48.
This story or parable contains some outstanding truths. First of all, it stresses the fact that death or the end of this life always appears to be sudden. Therefore we should always be ready to give an account of our stewardship at a moment's notice.
This story also stresses how much each person will have to answer for. The basic principle is: you will have to answer according to the talents or gifts you have received. This means that each person has responsibility according to what he/she has received by way of talent, trait, or gift.
If people say, “This person will really be missed!” then his/her life was probably a success. These people were in the midst of life doing their share in a responsible fashion. If your presence will not even be missed, you should take a check to make sure the reason is not because you have contributed nothing.
FIRE. BAPTISM. Luke 12:49-60.
Jesus saw his life and work as a fire that had to be kindled in each person until the whole world was ablaze with his work. He also saw it as a “baptism,” that is, something in which he was totally immersed. He knew it would be difficult but he was burning up with eagerness to get it fulfilled. The word used in Greek is “tetelestai” which means “finish,” in the sense of “bringing something to complete fulness.”
CAUSE OF DIVISION. Luke 12:61-63.
Jesus made an unusual statement here. “I did not come to bring peace on the earth, but division!” These words seem almost to contradict the whole message of the Gospel. However, if we read it carefully, we shall see it is just a practical statement of reality.
As the ideas and demands of Jesus are spread around the earth, family after family will hear them. Some members in the family will embrace the truths and the duties that follow. Other members will see the whole plan as idiotic or idealistic or interfering with their plans for life. Hence there will be division within the family itself.
Jesus said this division was not surprising. In fact, he said, it was necessary if we were to keep the essential quality of freedom in this whole picture. People are all free to choose or reject the plan of Jesus. The outcome of their lives depends on this choice.
SEE THE WHOLE PICTURE . Luke 12:54-59.
This little unit is a takeoff from Wisdom 13:8-9. The author of Wisdom was talking about the stupidity of people who could look at all the good things in the world around them and then develop a cult of idols. If they could see and understand the good things in the world, then they should be able to reach the God who made and takes care of these things.
Jesus picked up this same theme. He told the crowd that they read the weather signs constantly. They looked up at the sky and saw a cloud rising in the west, and they said there will be rain in a few hours or a few days. They felt the wind blowing in from the south out of the desert and they said it was going to be a “scorcher.” How could they read these weather signs so easily and yet could not read the signs of the selfishness in the society in which they lived?
He stressed one particular custom. As soon as there was a dispute, they did not try to settle it among themselves. Instead, they ran to a lawyer and the court. Lawsuits were as common as they are today. Jesus said this had to stop. People had to learn to settle their differences among themselves. This was a very important part of the sharing he was here to establish.
REPENT OR PERISH. Luke 13:1-5.
A group of Galileans came to Jesus to tell him about some outrageous conduct of Pilate. Pilate was the Roman Procurator of the time. He hated the job in Palestine and hated Jewish people. He seemed to take special delight in irritating them and especially in mistreating them physically.
Jesus told the Galileans not to get carried away with pointing the finger of blame. The lesson they should draw from all of this was to repent of their own failures and lead lives that were worthy of God. This would not stop the persecution, but it would give them a clear conscience with God.
THE BARREN FIG TREE. Luke 13:6-9.
A man had a fig tree planted in his orchard. For three years, he had looked for fruit. The tree had borne none. He told the gardener to cut it down because it was wasting space. The worker asked for one more year and, if there was no fruit, he would cut it down. There was no explicit moral drawn from the story. However, in the setting, Luke seemed to infer, either bear fruit or be cut down and cast out.
THE CRIPPLED WOMAN HEALED ON THE SABBATH. Luke 13:10-17.
This woman had been crippled for 18 years. She could not even lift her head up. Jesus saw her, placed his hands on her, and cured her. She immediately started to praise God.
The leader of the synagogue was outraged. This was the Sabbath. There were six other days in the week when she could have been healed. Why didn’t she come and get her cure on one of those days?
Jesus was angry: “Hypocrites!” He said, “Your donkey or your ox is tied to the manger. It needs water. Do you untie it and bring it to water on the Sabbath?” Of course, they did. Yet, this woman was a daughter of Abraham and she was not to be cured on the Sabbath. The adversaries had no answer and the people rejoiced.
THE MUSTARD SEED. Luke 13:18-19. THE LEAVEN. Luke 13:20-21.
There are two parables in a succinct form. The morals are not explicitly stated. Luke seemed to have presupposed that the readers or listeners could draw their own conclusions.
The comparison to the mustard seed stressed that the Kingship of God is to be established in the smallest of actions or people. The comparison to the leaven or yeast brings out that the Kingship of God works from the inside out. It is not an external coat but internal being.
NARROW DOOR: REJECTION OF JEWS, CALL OF GENTILES.
No one is going to fall into the Kingdom of God. Even after climbing the narrow path to the door, the door itself is narrow and you have to go through one at a time. You can’t lay any claim to favoritism because you were of a certain people, a certain place, or a certain family. The whole of salvation will depend entirely on the life you have lived and whether you have earned entry into eternal happiness.
HEROD THE FOX. Luke 13:31-33.
Some of the Pharisees brought a message to Jesus that he should leave immediately because Herod was seeking to kill him. Jesus sent back a clear message. “Tell that ‘fox’ to crawl into his hole. I have a certain amount of work I have to do. I’ll do that and then he can put me to death. It is not right for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem.”
JERUSALEM. JERUSALEM. Luke 13:34-35.
Jerusalem was the queen city of the kingdom of Yahweh. The leaders felt that it had some kind of divine privilege because it was Jerusalem. Jesus left no doubt about where he stood on the topic. Jerusalem had murdered prophets and missionaries all through its existence. The time was coming when the city would be totally demolished. Actually, it was to happen only a few years later, in 68-70 A.D.
Jesus said, “I’ll be back in my triumphal procession.” He was referring to the triumphal entrance a week before he died.
CURE ON THE SABBATH. Luke 14:1-6.
This is the same type of incident. Jesus was at the house of a leading Pharisee for dinner on the Sabbath. A man with dropsy was in front of him. They were waiting to see whether he would cure the man. Such an action on the Sabbath was illegal according to their interpretation.
Jesus faced them openly. “Is it against the law to cure a man on the Sabbath?” They kept total silence so they could not be blamed. Then Jesus asked, “Which of you, if his son or his ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, would not pull him out immediately?” They gave no answer because no matter what they said they would be trapped.
CHOOSING PLACES AT TABLE. Luke 14:7-11.
Jesus gave them a point of etiquette first. When they are invited to a wedding banquet, don’t take the best seats at table. Otherwise, the host will have to tell you, “Move down, sir, and make room for this person.” Then, in embarrassment, you will go to the lowest place. Rather, when you go to a banquet, take the lowest place and the host will come and say to you, “Friend, move up higher,” and you will be honored by all present.
INVITING GUESTS. Luke 14:12-14.
When you invite guests to your house, don’t invite only those who can invite you back. Look around and find the poor, the crippled, the lame, and all those who could expect no invitation. Invite them, knowing they cannot invite you back. You will be repaid in the resurrection.
GUESTS WHO MAKE EXCUSES. Luke 14:15-24.
A certain man had a big banquet planned. He had sent out invitations and they were all accepted. When the banquet was ready, he sent the servants out to bring the guests. They all made excuses for not coming. The servants told the master and he was furious. The banquet was ready. The guests did not come. He sent the servants out into the streets to bring in all the people they could find. But not one of those who was first invited would get into the banquet.
RENUNCIATION AND PERSECUTION. Luke 14:25-27.
Jesus stressed that following him was going to be a way of the cross. This meant it would be tough for many reasons. The main reason for those first Christians was isolation from their families. So often one person would become a convert and the rest of the family would disown him/her and throw the person out.
THINK BEFORE YOU ACT! Luke 14:28-33.
Following the ideas and ideals of Jesus is a choice. It must be a mature choice. No one can say it was foisted on him/her. The choice must be made with eyes wide open and with full realization of the burdens and responsibilities.
Salt is a valuable seasoning. If salt loses its power to season, it is good for nothing. There is nothing that will restore its seasoning. It cannot be thrown into the ground or a compost heap. It can only be tossed on a path or a road to be walked on.
THREE STORIES: GOD'S MERCY AND CONCERN. Luke 15:1-32.
These stories are referred to as the “Lost Sheep,” the “Lost Coin,” and the “Lost Son.” They have been topics of sermons for centuries and subjects of art for even longer times. The stories were told to emphasize a point. Jesus was accused of welcoming sinners and eating with them. No Jewish teacher would dare even think of such conduct. Jesus told the stories to show that his selection was deliberate and in perfect harmony with the action of God.
These stories can be given two titles according to the point of emphasis. They could be called: “Where did that sheep go?” “Lady Loses Social Security Check!” “I Wanna Go Home!” These titles stress the problem in each of the stories.
We can also stress the successful outcome and give different titles. “Lost Sheep Returned to Flock and Fold!” “Social Security Check Found and Lady Happy!” “Wayward Boy Home in Father's Arms!”
The stories all stress the same idea: happiness and joy at finding something or someone that was lost. They are all extremely appropriate to our society today. When driving through the farm country, we see many a herd of cattle or sheep or pens full of hogs. On any given day if one of the animals is lost or stolen, this would be a huge loss to the farmer or owner.
Social Security Checks arrive in the mail at the same time each month. On those days, people are flocking to the Post Offices or hovering near their doors to make sure they get the check immediately. For many people, this Social Security check is the difference between comfortable living or hunger and need.
Runaway young people are one of the serious problems of our society. These teenagers just pick up and go. They are sure they can make it on their own. Most of them have not finished High School and frequently have no training for any job. They hesitate to approach authorities for help because they will be sent home again. They drift into some group and easily fall victim to alcohol, drugs, or crime. Some few will hit bottom and finally decide to go home.
When they come back, some of them receive the glad hand of the story in the Gospel. Others find the same distasteful situation from which they ran in the first place.
The stories are still very appropriate but they have to be given a modern ring to see the necessity of the lessons they teach.
THE CONNIVING FOREMAN. Luke 16:1-15.
This story is given many titles. It has many different conclusions or morals in Luke. Rather than tell the story again and again, the writers merely told the story once, and then attached five different endings.
The story is about a foreman or manager who was dishonest and wasteful. His boss heard the accusations so he called the man in for an accounting, then told him to get the books in order because he was being fired.
The manager left the room and began to ponder. What was he going to do for a job? He certainly would get no good references from this present boss. He didn’t feel strong enough to take any hard labor job. He was ashamed to go on the streets and beg. Then he thought of a scam that would be sure-fire security when he was fired.
He reviewed the accounts of people who owed his boss money. He took each bill and cut a sizeable amount off the bill. Then, when he was put out on the street, he was sure he could expect help from these people.
Now come the varied conclusions:
1) The boss praised the cleverness of the crooked manager. He did not consider the action praiseworthy, but he said that these crooks work harder to commit their crimes than good people do to follow the law.
2) The second conclusion sounds like a bit of irony or sarcasm. He told people to use money so that when they no longer had it, they would be welcomed into the eternal dwellings. Money did not last and neither did the favors it could buy.
3) If you want to be trusted, you have to earn it. If you can’t be trusted in little things, how will anyone trust you in the big things? If you can’t be trusted with money, who will trust you with anything that is truly valuable? If you can’t be trusted with someone else’s property, how will you be trusted with your own?
4) You cannot serve two masters: in this case, you cannot serve God and money. You can use money in the service of God but you can’t use God in the service of money.
5) Then Jesus hurled an application directly into the faces of the Pharisees. They laughed when they heard Jesus talking about money because their whole lives were bound up with skimming off the profits for their pockets. Jesus told them that some people judge them by their external deportment, sham piety and holiness. God looked at their hearts: they could not fool Him. They were detestable in the eyes of God.
6) Up to the coming of Jesus, the Law and the Prophets were preached or taught. Now Jesus was preaching and teaching the Kingship of God. Jesus taught that only if you really work hard, can you expect to participate in this Kingship.
7) What has been taught in the name of God is as unchangeable as God. Every detail will be carried out and fulfilled.
8) The whole of visible creation could more easily pass away than that a single teaching of God could be dropped.
9) One particular application was about divorce. Divorces were allowed at the time for any tiniest reason. Jesus said, the marriage bond is sacred and the person who breaks that bond is guilty of adultery. You have to remember that this was not the final word on this topic in the early Christian community. Matthew made the same statement with one exception. (ct. Mt. 5:32; 19:9)
RICH MAN ... POOR MAN. Luke 16:19-31.
This is another of the great stories of Jesus. A certain very rich man wined and dined himself and his friends all through his life on earth. He died and went to Hades or Sheol. There was also a poor, outcast beggar who lay at the gates of this rich man hoping to get the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. He died and went to the Bosom of Abraham.
The rich man was languishing in Hades and saw Abraham far off in the distance. He saw the poor man, Lazarus, enjoying himself in the company of Abraham. The rich man cried out to Abraham for help. He even asked that Lazarus dip his finger in water and just bring him a drop of water. The plea did not work, and finally he asked that Lazarus be sent back to his five brothers still alive on earth. He was to warn them so that they would not end up in this place.
Abraham’s answer was: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” “They do not listen,” said the rich man, “but if someone returns from the dead they will listen.” The conclusion is succinct and powerful: “If they won’t listen to Moses or the prophets, they will not listen even if someone comes back from the dead.”
This is a truth that has to be revived in our world, today. People, young and old, waste their lives in frivolous and sinful living. People wonder if there is not some startling, astounding or miraculous way they could be reached. The answer is “no.” They have the wisdom of the ages at their disposal. The number and kinds of communication media today are almost unbelievable. If they do not want to listen and change their ways now, they will not listen to anything else.
The basic principle is: no one can enter into the mind and will of any person unless he/she lets them in. People have to convince themselves that they need the help of others. They have to listen and be convinced. They have to turn convictions into real living, each day. They have to say, "AMEN!” - honestly!
VARIED ADMONITIONS. Luke 17:1-19:38. SCANDAL. Luke 17: 1-3
Scandal means a stumbling block that causes a person to trip as he/she walks along. At times people become a source of scandal or stumbling to other people. This is too bad! It cannot be stopped as long as people are free. However, the one who is the source of scandal is in real trouble. Jesus suggested that the scandal-giver tie a huge millstone around his neck and then be thrown into the middle of the sea. He would plummet straight to the bottom, but this judgment would be easier for him than the punishment for scandal.
FORGIVE YOUR BROTHER. Luke 17: 4.
If someone does a wrong against you, there is nothing wrong in pointing this out to the perpetrator of the evil. However, after you have told him about the harm he has done to you, forgive him if he is sorry. How often do you forgive him? You forgive a person as often as he is sincerely sorry.
“INCREASE OUR FAITH” Luke 17:5-6.
The apostles could see immediately that they needed a deeper faith. Remember what Biblical faith means. The word is the Hebrew “Amen” and it contains four steps or stages: UNDERSTANDING - CONVICTION - COMMITMENT - ACTION. All four steps are necessary before a person can say he/she has faith. The word “Amen” is a statement of all four of these stages. This is the reason the response “Amen” is used over and over again in the liturgy. Jesus said this kind of faith is so powerful that even the smallest act of faith, if sincere, can do wonders.
TRUE SERVICE. Luke 17:7-10.
Jesus stressed the idea that there must be a true sense of humility in all the work that we do. No matter how important the work or essential the service, you must always remember that someone else can do the same. You are not essential to the plan.
In other words, a follower of Christ must realize that he/she is important enough to be loved and saved by Jesus and yet, at the same time, he/she is no more important than anyone else in the community. The importance of this notion is not quite as apparent in our society as it was at that time or as it is in some societies today. In a society where there are slaves or castes or classes, there is danger of looking down on or snubbing some people as beneath you. This is intolerable for a truly Christian community.
WHERE ARE THE OTHER NINE? Luke 17:11-19.
Jesus was traveling on the border between Samaria and Galilee. A group of ten lepers approached him. They begged that he help them. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests. On the way, their leprosy was removed from them. Nine of them kept right on going and did not even come back to thank Jesus. One of the cured men came back, praising God and thanking Jesus loudly.
Jesus looked at the man. His question was spontaneous. “Were not ten made clean? Where are the other nine?” This man was a Samaritan. If he had not returned, no one would have been surprised. Jesus commended him and sent him on his way.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN YOU. Luke 17:20-37.
The phrase that is used here is a puzzler: “entos hymon.” The question is whether it means that the Kingship of God is within each person individually - an internal quality which motivates all actions. Or does it mean that the Kingship of God is a trait that permeates the whole group and is manifested by their “koinonia” or sharing? Both aspects of the answer are possible and make good sense.
The point that Jesus made here was that the Kingship of God is not something that can be pinned down to a particular spot. It is not something that can be contained in a given area. In some sense, this Kingship is as big as God Himself. We are dealing with a fact that is beyond total human comprehension. It is a truth which will grow and grow and always be out in front to attract the believer to follow.
STORY OF THE JUDGE AND THE WIDOW. Luke 18:1-8.
This judge was an unscrupulous man who did as he pleased. He cared not for the laws of God or the feelings of man. Then this widow came along and demanded justice against her enemy. The judge tried to put her off but she stayed before him. Finally, he said to himself, “I am not afraid of God or man but this woman will pester me to death. I’ll give her an answer just to get rid of her and get some peace.”
Jesus said that God is going to see justice done. At that time the persecution of the Christians was beginning to run full force. It looked as though the faithful Christians were treated the worst. Jesus said that the Father would see to it that justice was done - provided the faith was persistent. Luke did not allow the Christians to think that salvation was some kind of magic formula. It is a way of life in the midst of harsh reality.
HOW GREAT ARE YOU? Luke 18:9-14.
This is another story told by Jesus. A certain Pharisee and a tax collector went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee stood out in the open for all to see and hear. He prayed aloud and explained his good qualities. He stressed that he was not greedy, unjust, and adulterous like the rest of mankind. Especially, he was better than the despised tax collector who was considered unjust and unfair by everyone. The Pharisee continued: I fast twice a week and pay tithes on all that I get.
Meanwhile the tax collector did not even dare to look up to the heavens. He bowed his head and said humbly, “Be merciful to me, 0 God, a sinner!”
Jesus concluded: This tax collector went home justified in the eyes of God. Everyone who puffed himself up would be humbled and he who humbled himself will be lifted up. The key point is to be your real self and to grow from that height.
PERMIT THE LITTLE CHILDREN. Luke 18:15-17.
In the society of the time of Jesus, children were not to be seen or heard. Public life was a place for adults, especially adult men. Now the people were bringing their children to Jesus and urging him to lay his hands on them in blessing.
The disciples saw this as a nuisance and tried to fend the parents and children off to the side. Jesus saw their actions and said to all: “Allow the little children to come to me. Don’t stop them. The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Anyone who does not accept the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Jesus was stressing the dispositions that were necessary to establish the Kingship of God in this life. There had to be the eagerness, the dedication, the cheerfulness, the effort of little children. In short, all adults should study children to see what traits should be present in their lives if they intend to establish the Kingship of God on earth.
ATTITUDE TOWARD WEALTH. Luke 18: 18-30.
Is material wealth good or bad? In the Christian ideal, it is neither. Wealth is what you make it. Material wealth cannot be the sole goal of your life. Living in utter poverty is not necessarily good. Everyone should strive for the material things that are necessary to live life in the society of their times. But this pursuit of wealth must never interfere with their pursuit of God.
The danger of too much wealth is that these possessions can easily become the sole pursuit of life. Jesus compared it to a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle. The image was one of utter impossibility. This was exactly what Jesus wanted to teach. Attachment to wealth makes salvation almost impossible.
The attitude that is stressed is the proper use of all material things. They are means to live in this world and a help toward sharing with each other. However, they must never become the goal of life. This danger must be carefully avoided at all times because it can creep up on a person so easily.
JESUS WILL SUFFER AND DIE. Luke 18:31-34.
This is the third time Jesus had talked about his suffering and death. Each time, he got more specific and the time for death got closer. This did not take special insight. He knew what he was teaching. He knew how opposed his ideas were to the teachings of the leaders of the Jews. He knew how fickle was the dedication of the crowds to him. So he knew he would be taken. He would be handed over to the Romans. He knew from visual experience what this entailed.
ANOTHER BLIND MAN CURED. Luke 18:35-43.
As they neared Jericho, a blind man sat by the side of the road begging. He heard the crowd and asked what was happening. He was told. The blind man cried out to Jesus for help. The people told him to be quiet so they can hear Jesus. Jesus had the man brought to him. He cured his blindness.
Several characteristics are given to make Zacchaeus a real man for the readers. He was a senior among tax collectors and a very wealthy man. Keep in mind the Roman system. They hired tax collectors from the conquered people. They assigned tax districts and amounts to be collected. They did not care how much the person collected or how he got the job done, as long as he turned in his quota to Rome regularly. Naturally, tax-collectors were not liked by their people and were considered by the leaders as public sinners.
Secondly, Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see over the crowd. So he went ahead and climbed a sycamore tree. Jesus came with the crowd and stopped under the tree. He called to Zacchaeus. “Come down from the tree. I am going to stay in your house, today.”
Zacchaeus was elated, and the leaders of the Jews were more convinced than ever that Jesus was a fake. Zacchaeus let his joy take over and become ideal generosity. He promised half of his property to the poor and anyone whom he had cheated would get four times the amount in return. Jesus looked around and said: “Today, salvation has come to this house because the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.”
USE YOUR GIFTS. Luke 19:11-27.
This is another story told by Jesus. A certain Jew was going to a foreign country to be appointed king. Many of the people did not like him and tried to block this appointment. However he became king.
Before he left, he gave ten of his servants each a pound of money. When he returned he asked for an accounting. The first came in and said: “Sir, your one pound has made ten.” The king was pleased and said, “Since you have been faithful in a small thing, you shall be given something big. You shall be the governor of ten cities.” Another servant had made five pounds profit and he in turn, was put in charge of five cities. Finally came one servant, who had the initial one pound. He said he was afraid of the king because he was such an exacting man. He was afraid he might lose it so he wrapped the one pound and hid it. He offered the same pound to the king. The king was angry. He had them take the one pound away and throw the man out. Then he gave the one pound to the man who already had ten.
The conclusion is important: “To him that has, more will be given. To him that has not, even that which he seems to have, will be taken away.” The application is important. Jesus was talking about the abilities that each person has received. You will not be judged on what you received, but on what you did with what you received. Talents and abilities are gifts that are to be used. If they are neglected or lost, you will have nothing.
THE JERUSALEM MINISTRY. Luke 19:25-21:38.
TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM. Luke 19:28-48.
Jesus was going into Jerusalem for his last visit. He was near Bethphage and Bethany. He sent the apostles in to borrow a colt. Apparently, Jesus knew the owner and he had agreed to let him borrow it. Jesus mounted the colt and the procession started. The people were convinced that Jesus was about to establish his kingdom in a physical sense and they began to shout their jubilation.
The song that Luke recorded was identically the same in content as the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus. Jesus was coming to establish peace on earth and manifest the glory of God in heaven. The Pharisees were really upset because they feared the reprisals of Rome. They told Jesus to quiet his followers down. Jesus said, “If they don't sing out, the very stones will sing for joy.”
As they drew near the city, Jesus was overcome with emotion and began to weep. He recalled the glory of this city and all that it was supposed to be as the center of the Kingship of God on earth. Here it was completely controlled by the Romans and, in just a few years, would be totally destroyed. The reason for all this destruction was the failure of the leaders to understand, to accept and to carry out the plan of God.
Jesus came to the Temple. There he saw all the buying and selling and haggling over prices that were going on as the people bought their victims for sacrifice. All the deep significance of sacrifice and religion had been forgotten, and ritual and externals had taken their place. The devotion to Yahweh, love of his plan, and zeal for their mission as People of Yahweh were completely forgotten. Jesus let his anger take over and he drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple.
Then Jesus taught every day in the Temple. The priests and scribes and leading citizens wanted to throw him out but they were afraid of a popular uprising if they tried it.
THE SOURCE OF YOUR AUTHORITY, SIR? Luke 20:1-47.
Finally, the leaders decided to form a coalition against Jesus and face him in front of the people. They commanded him to tell them by what authority he was acting as a leader and where he got this authority. Jesus, as usual, turned the tables on them. He asked, “Where did John's baptism come from? Heaven or man?”
This reply they had not expected. They saw their dilemma. If they said it was from heaven, Jesus would ask why they did not believe him when he pointed out the role of John. If they said John's mission came from man, the people would turn on them and stone them because they believed John was truly a prophet from Yahweh.
The leaders tried to sneak out by pleading ignorance. Jesus replied, “Then neither will I tell you the source of my authority.”
Then Jesus went on to tell them a very pointed story. A man planted a vineyard and leased it out to some tenants. The owner was gone a long time so he sent his servant to collect the rent. The renters beat the servant badly and sent him away empty-handed. The owner sent a second and a third servant and the treatment was worse each time. Finally, the owner decided to send his own son - figuring they would respect him as they would the owner himself. But the renters said, “This is the heir! Let's kill him and we'll get it all!” So they threw the son out of the vineyard and killed him.
Now the owner would come, get rid of the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Then Jesus applied the words of Ps. 118:22 to himself and threatened them with total destruction.
The leaders were extremely angry and would gladly have seized Jesus and killed him except for their fear of the people who idolized Jesus.
Again the leaders thought they had Jesus in an impossible dilemma. They acted as though they really admired his great honesty, wisdom, and forthright speech. They just wanted to know whether it was licit to pay taxes to Caesar or not.
This was a loaded question. If he said they should not pay the taxes, they would turn him over to the Roman authorities. If he said they were bound to pay the taxes, they would turn to the people and show that he was not loyal to their position as the Chosen People.
Jesus, again, tripped them up out of their own pockets. He asked one of them to hold up a denarius. “Whose image and name is that?” They answered, “Caesar's!” Then said Jesus, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
The leaders were completely silenced and tongue-tied by this answer. The Sadducees came forward with another seemingly sticky question. It concerned the Law of Levirate and the Resurrection.
According to the Law of Levirate, if a man died before he had children, his brother was to take the sister-in-law as wife and raise up children to the dead brother's name.
Now, there was a certain family who had seven boys. The eldest married and died without children. The second married the woman and also died without issue. And so on, until all seven had married this woman and died without children. Then the woman also died. The question: In the resurrection, whose wife would this woman be?
Jesus said this is a problem only because you do not understand the Resurrection. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is a God of the living not of the dead. When people rise from the dead, they live forever and all this Law of Levirate will be a useless appendage. This stopped the priestly leaders and some of the scribes actually admired Jesus for his wisdom and skill and said so.
JESUS ASKS HIS QUESTION. Luke 20:41-47.
David, in Psalm 110:1, referred to the Messiah as his Lord. If the Messiah is David’s Son, how can he also be his Lord?
Then Jesus said to his apostles in the hearing of everyone, “Beware of the scribes who walk around in ceremonial robes and delight in being recognized and fawned over. They take all the places of honor as their due and yet they do not hesitate to rob the poor and the widows. Their punishment will be the more severe.”
THE WIDOW’S TINY OFFERING. Luke 21:1-4.
Jesus watched as the people put their offerings in the public treasury box. Then a poor widow came up and put in two tiny coins. Jesus called attention to her. “This poor widow has given more than all of them. They gave only of their extra wealth. This poor widow gave from the tiny portion she had to live on.”
FATE OF JERUSALEM. Luke 21:5-36.
Some of the people were admiring the Temple, its beauty, size, architecture, and age. Jesus said, “The time is coming when there will not be a stone left on top of a stone. Everything will be wiped out.”
The apostles were stunned by the prediction and asked for a sign. As an answer, Jesus combined several events into one time sequence.
First he talked about the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 68-70 A.D. This was truly bad. It looked like nothing could be worse. Then Jesus talked about the early days of the apostles up to the conversion of Constantine in 313 A.D. Finally, Jesus talked about the end of time and the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven. He would lead the loyal followers in triumph and reject the unfaithful.
Some of these ideas Jesus could easily have known from the works of the prophets, and the evidence of the Roman armies and their destructive powers around him. Some of it would be the effect of a vivid imagination coupled with a clear understanding of the loyalty of human beings under stress. The end of the world picture is one that came over from the prophets and was corroborated by the punitive power of the Roman armies. Gradually, the picture became clearer.
The end of the world was to be completion, not destruction. People would be given the opportunity to do the work of God in developing this world and themselves to their full potential. Those who cooperated would be given their reward in their identity as members of the Kingship of God. Those who failed to cooperate would have no identity and would be abandoned as unknown people.
The evidence for all of this is found in the going and coming of the seasons, each year. With spring, we see the beginnings of new life and the promise of a rich harvest. With summer, the crops mature and with fall, they are harvested. Winter comes and everything looks bleak and dead but for those who know the rhythm of nature, they know that spring is not far behind.
Such is the destiny and development of this universe. It will all work forward under management of human beings until it becomes the universe God intended from the beginning. Jesus offers solemn warning to be on the alert to do your part in your daily life to cooperate in this plan of God.
THE ROUTINE OF JESUS. Luke 21:37-38.
Jesus spent his days in the Temple teaching. At night, he went to a hill, called the mount of Olives. Each morning, the people came to listen.
FINAL DAYS OF JESUS' LIFE. Luke 22:1-23:56.
THE ROLE OF JUDAS. Luke 22:1-6.
Luke presented this betrayal as a plot in which both sides were ready but had made no contact as yet. Then the opportunity came. Judas, one of the twelve, saw a way to make some extra money. There was no indication he was going to keep it for himself or that he actually expected Jesus to die. In fact, the indications in the text seem to say that Judas figured on selling Jesus for some money. After he had collected the money, Jesus would disappear as usual. He would be safe. The coffers would be richer at the expense of the leaders and Judas would be praised for his cleverness.
THE PASSOVER MEAL. Luke 22:7-38.
Peter and John were sent by Jesus to get a particular room and make the preparations for the Passover meal. The details they were given were so explicit that it seemed as though this man was a special acquaintance or friend of Jesus.
Jesus carried out the entire Passover ritual. He told the apostles how anxiously he had been looking forward to this particular Passover because he would fulfill his whole purpose in life in those few days.
Luke mentioned the initial cup of wine which signified that all the people present were friends and united in love. Then at the end of the meal, again Jesus took the ritual (friendship) cup and gave it a special significance. He had them all take a piece of the bread that he had broken off. Then they all dipped it into the cup of wine. This was regular procedure among the Jews at Passover and it signified the unity that was present and would grow among all the people through the next year.
This bread and cup were given a new meaning. The Old Passover was finished. The new Passover began. The Paschal Banquet, from now on, would commemorate the deliverance from the reign of sin and death. They signified the body and blood of Jesus which would be offered on the Cross in death the next day. Jesus knew it would happen because he knew of the betrayal of Judas and that he intended to let himself be captured.
The apostles got into a silly argument about who was the greatest and most important among them. Jesus laid down the rule for Christian greatness. The greatest is the person who SERVES others.
The whole new Israel was about to be established on these twelve men. The secret of the greatness of the New Israel would be the willingness with which they served each other and together served other people.
Jesus did not have his head in the clouds. He knew that one of the twelve had sold him for the price of a slave. He knew that Peter was going to deny him publicly, again and again, that very night.
To show that they had missed the whole point that Jesus was making when he said that it was time to go, they told him they had two swords for his defense.
THE FINAL EVENTS. Luke 22:39-23:56.
THE MOUNT OF OLIVES. Luke 22:39-46.
According to Luke, this Mount of Olives was a regular place for Jesus to go in the evening. When they arrived, Jesus warned them to pray that they would not succumb to any temptation.
Then he went away about a hundred feet and knelt down to pray. His prayer was a request to be delivered from the ordeal that was coming. Yet he was willing to accept it. Then Luke mentioned the arrival of an angel from heaven to give him strength. He also mentioned that his anguish became so great that he broke out into a sweat of blood.
He came back to the disciples. They were asleep. He awakened them.
THE ARREST. Luke 22:47-53.
Jesus was still speaking when a group of men appeared, with Judas in the lead. Judas walked up and kissed Jesus. Jesus asked Judas: “Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” The implication was obvious. Judas used the normal sign of friendship to make sure that the murderers got the right man.
It is important to note that Judas was not as callous as art and literature have portrayed him. He did not expect Jesus to remain a captive. That was why he wanted to make sure they got the right man. Judas had seen Jesus walk away from his enemies before. Judas expected Jesus to do the same this time. However, Judas would be thirty pieces of silver ahead and would be praised for his shrewd bargaining by Jesus himself.
The other apostles saw what was happening and wanted to take their swords to defend Jesus. Luke did not give the name, but one of the twelve struck the servant of the High Priest with his sword and cut off the right ear. Jesus told him to put the sword away and healed the wounded man.
Then Jesus faced his captors. “Am I a criminal that you come after me with swords and clubs? I was among you in the Temple, day after day, and you never made a move against me. But this is your the hour of the powers of darkness.”
PETER’S DENIALS. Luke 22:54-62.
They dragged Jesus away and Peter followed at a distance. It was a cool night and there was an open fire in the middle of the courtyard. Peter went over and sat among the people. A servant girl looked at him carefully and then announced, “This man was one of the group too.” Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus. Shortly afterward, someone else accused him of being a part of Jesus’ company. Peter denied the accusation again. An hour later, another man insisted that Peter was a Galilean and had definitely been with Jesus. Peter became adamant in his denial and at that moment the cock crowed. Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter. Peter recalled the words that Jesus had spoken at the supper table, and he went outside to weep bitterly. (Many private accounts hold that Peter wept every day for the rest of his life over this act of cowardice and betrayal.)
JESUS MOCKED BY THE GUARDS. Luke 22:63-65.
The guards had a helpless man. They knew how much Jesus was disliked and feared by the leaders. They decided to make sport of him. They did this by insulting his real powers as prophet and teacher.
JESUS AND THE SANHEDRIN. Luke 22:66-71.
The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews. Originally it had the power of life and death over all the Jews. The Romans had taken away this right to the death penalty and made it dependent on their judgment.
The members of the council were all there and all wanted to see Jesus condemned and killed. He admitted that he was the Messiah and the Son of God. This was the blasphemy they wanted to hear. The whole assembly rose and took him to Pilate, the Roman procurator.
JESUS BEFORE PILATE. Luke 23:2-7.
Pilate held a hearing and could find no reason to condemn Jesus. He told the leaders of the Jews this. They mentioned that he was from Galilee and Pilate saw an easy way out. He sent them to Herod who was in Jerusalem at the time.
JESUS BEFORE HEROD. Luke 23:8-12.
Herod was really glad to get in on this farce with Jesus. He had heard a lot about the man and hoped he would do something unusual or dramatic in his court. Jesus did not even deign to give him an answer. So Herod and his court made fun of Jesus and then Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. Luke stressed that the hostility between Pilate and Herod was removed by this action.
JESUS BEFORE PILATE AGAIN. Luke 23:13-25.
Pilate was really at a loss as to what to do. He said openly that he knew Jesus was innocent. He should simply have declared him free. But this was not politically expedient so he had Jesus scourged, Roman fashion. Then he was going to set him free, knowing he would die from the scourging. But the leaders and people demanded that Barabbas be set free and Jesus be crucified. In the end this was exactly what Pilate commanded.
THE ROAD TO CALVARY. Luke 23:26-32.
Luke mentioned that Simon of Cyrene was forced to help with the cross. Large crowds went along. Luke gave special mention to the women and said they were weeping for sorrow. Jesus turned and spoke to them: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children.” Then he went on to tell them of the terrible fate that was in store for them in the near future.
THE CRUCIFIXION. Luke 23:33-34.
Luke also mentioned the two criminals who were led to their execution that day. On top of the hill, called “The Skull,” they crucified all three - one criminal on either side of Jesus.
The first words of Jesus were: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then the soldiers cast lots for his clothing. This was an accepted practice of the times.
THE MOCKERY. Luke 23:35-38.
The leaders jeered at him. “He saved others. Himself he cannot save.” They offered him the sour wine which was supposed to deaden the sense of pain in the crucified person. Then they put the title on the cross: “This is the King of the Jews.”
THE GOOD THIEF. Luke 23:39-43.
One man who was crucified with Jesus joined the crowd in making fun of Jesus. The other man told him to hold his tongue. He said they were on the cross because their lives deserved the punishment. But Jesus was innocent. Then he said to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your Kingdom.” Jesus said: “I tell you solemnly, this day you will be with me in paradise.”
Many a point has been made of this scene. This man had been a thief. He was dying because of thievery. His last act was to “steal” heaven. He was the first beneficiary of the act of redemption and salvation.
THE DEATH OF JESUS. Luke 23:44-46.
At noon there was a major eclipse. The whole earth was darkened until three. The veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom. Jesus cried out in a loud voice: “Father, into your hands I commit my breath.” With that cry, he breathed his last. The second Adam gave back the breath of the first Adam to his maker. When he comes again, on the third day, he will have the breath of the second Adam. It is that breath, the breath of the new creation - the Holy Breath, that will inaugurate his kingdom on earth on Pentecost.
THE REACTION. Luke 23:47-49.
The centurion had followed each detail and his reaction was, “This was truly a just man!” The people who had gathered for the spectacle went home beating their breasts in sorrow for what they had witnessed. All the friends of Jesus and the women who came with him from Galilee saw all this happen.
One member of the Sanhedrin had objected to the conduct of all the rest but his protests went unheard. He was Joseph from Arimathea. Now he went to Pilate and asked for the body. He took the body down, made a hasty preparation for burial, and then placed it in a new tomb which had not yet been used.
The women took careful note of the tomb and the place of the body. Then they went home and prepared the spices and ointments used in a regular burial and waited for the Sabbath to pass.
Thus ended the saga of Jesus the Messiah as far as the world was concerned. A few women thought Jesus deserved better treatment.
THE RESURRECTION STORY. Luke 24:1-53.
THE EMPTY TOMB. Luke 24:1-8.
On Sunday morning, the first day of the week, the women came to the tomb with their spices. They were going to give Jesus proper burial. When they got to the tomb, they saw that the body of Jesus was gone. Suddenly two men in brilliant clothes stood beside them. They were properly scared. But the men said. “Why are you here looking for Jesus among the dead? He has risen as he told you he would.” Then the women remembered what Jesus had said.
REACTION OF THE ELEVEN. Luke 24:9-11.
The eleven apostles refused to believe the women. They took the message as the prattling of women.
PETER AT THE TOMB. Luke 24:12.
Peter went to the tomb and looked down. He saw the clothes all folded up. He went back home puzzled and amazed.
THE ROAD TO EMMAUS. Luke 24:13-35
Two disciples were on the road to a city about seven miles from Jerusalem. The name of the city is not certain. Many think it was Emmaus or Amwas. One of the men was Cleopas. As they walked along they were joined by Jesus but they did not recognize him. He asked them what they were talking about.
They were amazed. They figured he was the only person in the world who did not know the whole story. Then they repeated all the details and especially the empty tomb, the message of the angels, and the visit of the apostles to the empty tomb.
Jesus gave them a strong speech. He called them fools for taking so long to accept the obvious truth. When they arrived at the village, they urged Jesus to come in and he entered the house with them. Then he took the bread and broke it - and their eyes were opened. They recognized Jesus in this action and he disappeared.
Now they started to reassess the whole event, and they felt they had some inkling that it was Jesus. They did not want to appear as total fools.
JESUS APPEARS TO THE APOSTLES. Luke 24:36-43.
The apostles were still talking about all these events when Jesus appeared in their midst. His greeting: “Peace to you!” This is the new “Shalom” - the sum total of all that is good. This is the peace that is to be the fruit of the new age of Christian life.
The apostles were still afraid so Jesus pointed out that he could be no ghost since he had a body just as they did. He asked for food and ate some grilled fish. Finally they were convinced. It is important to note what the risen body is like. It is different and yet has all the qualities needed to recognize each individual.
INSTRUCTIONS. Luke 24:44-49.
Jesus spent the time recalling what he had said and done. He showed how all the promises were fulfilled. Their work was to spread the teaching and life of Jesus. The heart of the Christian message is the complete change of outlook (metanoia) and the forgiveness of all sin. They will receive the power from on high to do this work. It will be the Holy Breath, the Breath of the New Creation, given to and by the Second Adam.
JESUS ASCENDS. Luke 24:50-53.
Jesus blessed the apostles and then was lifted out of their midst. This time they were not sad or distraught. They went back to the city, full of joy, to begin their new life’s work.
End Note One: BIBLICAL BIRTHS: PRECEDENTS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT.
So many times as we start the comments on the Annunciation and birth passages in the gospels, we fail to recall the numerous precedents for these passages in the Old Testament. Something special is said about the conception and birth of Old Testament leaders. This does not mean that all of these births were difficult or impossible without the special intervention of God. It means only that from the very start of their lives these men were destined by God to have a special role in his plan.
This is characteristic of the lives of heroes in every age and every civilization. Take the two great heroes, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as examples. These men were little known until their adult public lives. Washington is honored as the great founding father of this country. Abraham Lincoln is noted as the savior of the country when it could easily have been destroyed by a fratricidal war.
Gradually, because of the magnitude of their contribution to the welfare of this country, stories about their early lives as young boys and young men are told and retold. Did all these things happen? Who knows. It would be impossible to verify the incidents now. But they glorify the men who are truly important for the foundation and preservation of the country and so they are told and retold. Everyone is free to accept the stories as historically accurate or mere folk-tale.
ABRAHAM .. SARAH .. ISAAC. Genesis 15-21.
Biblical examples are found in the story of Abraham and Sarah. When Abram was first told of the great future Yahweh had in store for him, the patriarch said to Yahweh: “This all sounds good but I do not have even one son to carry on my name. Any greatness I achieve will be short-lived.” Then followed the mysterious scene of the sacrifice Abram offered to Yahweh. In this event, or literary embellishment, Abram was told that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
When Sarah heard of the promise, she realized she was getting old for childbearing so she would have to follow the custom of the times. She would give Abram one of her maids, have a child by her, and claim it for her own. This was done and Hagar gave birth to a boy, named Ishmael. Then Hagar began to make fun of Sarah.
Yahweh struck the covenant with Abraham and they sealed it with the circumcision. This hardly seemed the start of a great people. Then Sarah did have a son. She called him “Isaac” which means “He laughs” in Hebrew. Sarah said she had reason to laugh with joy because she had given birth to the son of promise in her old age.
Did all these details take place as they are recorded? If they did, who recorded them and carried them along with the nomadic life of the people? Or are these stories developed to indicate that this person or child was important in the plan of Yahweh from the very beginning of his life?
ISAAC.. REBECCAH .. ESAU .. JACOB. Genesis..25-27.
Isaac and Rebecca had no children. Again it looked like the promises of Yahweh would end. However, Isaac prayed for Rebecca and she conceived. Then as she carried the child, the pains really became intolerable. Rebecca complained. She was told that she carried two nations in her womb. And sure enough, when the time of birth arrived, there were twins.
The circumstances of their births were unusual and a foreboding of their futures. The first baby was very red and covered with hair over his whole body. Hence the name Esau or “Hairy.” The second twin was born hanging on to the heel of his brother. He was called “The Gripper” or “Jacob.” Esau became a great hunter, loved the open country, and was the favorite of his father. Jacob was a quiet retiring lad who preferred to stay home among the tents, and was the favorite of his mother.
One day Jacob had just made a bit of soup. His brother came from the hunt empty-handed and his stomach growled with hunger pains. He asked Jacob for a bit of lunch. Jacob, quiet but sly, agreed to furnish dinner if Esau would give him his birthright.
As the older of the twins, Esau was the firstborn and therefore had a right to a double portion of the family heritage to carry on the family name. The double portion was to make sure family problems were settled. Esau was a bit shallow in his thinking. He said, “What good is the birthright if I die of starvation?” So he made the agreement and got the soup.
Now all he had to do was convince his father, Isaac, and the birthright was in the bag. The opportunity soon came. Isaac was old and sick,. He summoned Esau and told him to make his favorite wild meat dish. Isaac would eat the meal and then give his special blessing to Esau.
Rebecca heard what was going on and, while Esau was out on the hunt, she made a special dish for Isaac and told Jacob to carry it to Isaac's bedside and get that blessing. Jacob knew it was a lie and knew it was risky because Isaac might detect the deceit and curse him rather than bless him.
Again, Rebecca was ahead of the game. She covered Jacob's neck and arms with the skins of young goats. Then she sent him in. Isaac was a little surprised that Esau was back so soon. Jacob said he was very lucky. Then Isaac asked him to come near and let him feel his skin. Isaac, of course, was blind. When he touched, he still has doubts. He said, “Your voice is the voice of Jacob. But you feel like my son, Esau. You certainly have the smell of Esau.” So he ate the meal and gave Jacob the blessing. Jacob was now the official firstborn of the family.
Esau came in later. Isaac and Esau realized they had been duped but according to custom, the deed was done. There was no recourse. Esau would be second to Jacob in his lifetime, as will the descendants of Esau to the descendants of Jacob.
Note: Esau's name would be changed to Edom. His followers were the Edomites and they would be subjugated in a brutal war.
There was always hatred between the Israelites and the Edomites.
Again we have an elaborate story to explain the historical relationship of two peoples through the centuries. Is this the beginning of the story or were these details worked out centuries later to explain that all of this is in the plan of Yahweh?
JACOB .. RACHEL .. JOSEPH .. BENJAMIN. Genesis..28-30.
The story did not stop here. Jacob was still not done with intrigue. Isaac called Jacob to him and told him he was not to marry anyone from the land of Canaan. Esau had done that and the results were not palatable. Jacob was to go back to the land of Rebecca and there pick his wife.
This time, Jacob met someone who was almost his match in conniving and deceit. It was Laban, the brother of Rebecca, and thus, Jacob's uncle. Laban had a beautiful daughter, named Rachel, with whom Jacob fell in love. Jacob had left home in a hurry to save his life and had failed to bring along the dowry to buy his wife. So Jacob agreed to give seven years as Laban's herdsman to get Rachel as his wife in return. When the seven years were up, Laban gave Jacob the older sister, Leah. Jacob complained. Laban just said, “We have a custom that the younger sister cannot get married until the older sister is wed.” So Jacob had Leah as his wife. He wanted Rachel, so he worked another seven years and then married Rachel. Then he worked another six years for his flocks and property.
The amazing part of this whole picture is that no matter what Jacob does, he seemed to prosper above all of Laban's boys. They were on the verge of setting the slate straight when Jacob learned of the animosity and the danger. He realized that he could lose everything.
Finally, it dawned on Jacob that he could be here working all his life for his father-in-law and never become an independent man. So without a word to anyone, he took all his wives, children, herds, flocks and property and set off. Laban learned of the flight and took off in hot pursuit. There was quite an altercation when they met but no war because the sides were about equal. So they drew up a treaty and Jacob took his family and property and moved off.
As he drew near the old homestead, Esau came out with his men to meet him. Jacob put all his wives and children and property in a protected zone and got his men ready for full scale war. Then he worked out an elaborate system of bribes and they set off. Jacob had his famous wrestling match with God or with a representative of God and receives the new name “Yisra-el,” “He who had wrestled with God.” From that incident and name comes the name for the whole people, Israel and Israelites.
Jacob’s sons had learned well from their father. They told the Shechemites they would enter into a matrimonial alliance if the men were all circumcised. So all the Schechemites were circumcised, and on the third day, when the pain was the greatest, the Israelites attacked the camp and won a total victory over the helpless camp.
There are many more stories that show that these men were people of their times. Did all these things happen this way, or are these stories that grew up through folklore over the centuries to give them a glorious past? Most of them do not appear in writing before the Yahwist tradition which is gathered together in the 10th century B.C. The writing is at least eight centuries after the events. Then it is edited and re-edited to the second or first century B.C.
These stories do not stop here. Joseph was Jacob’s son by Rachel - his favorite wife. The boy in turn became the favorite son. Jacob gave him a beautiful coat that he wanted all to see. When the other boys saw this coat, they were jealous, angry, and envious. Joseph added to the problems. He was quite a dreamer and talked about these dreams. In the dreams he was always coming out ahead of his brothers.
As you read the stories, put them in a typical family of younger and older brothers. The older boys were doing the work and the younger boy was getting all the breaks. The younger boy was sharp and “mouthy.” The stage was set for an explosion and it came.
The older boys were with the flocks, far from the home place. Jacob wanted to know how things were going so he got some things together and sent Joseph to pick up a report. The brothers saw the “little pest” coming. They decide to take care of their problem in a sure but final way. They would kill him and tell Jacob that wild animals got him. Reuben objected, not because he loved his younger sibling but because he was responsible for anything that happened. He convinced the brothers that they should toss Joseph into a deep well. Then they took his cloak, dipped it in sheep’s blood, and told the dad that Joseph had been killed on his way to the fields. Jacob was inconsolable.
Meanwhile, some traders came, got Joseph and took him to the slave market in Egypt. They sold him to the Pharaoh’s daughter and Joseph became a member of the Pharaoh’s household. He grew up and continued to have dreams and interpret the future.
Then Pharaoh had dreams that no one could interpret. The head of servants or slaves remembered Joseph who was brought to the Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. There would be years of prosperity and good crops. Then there would be years of famine. The Pharaoh must save during the prosperous years and have plenty for the time of want. Pharaoh did exactly that and put Joseph in charge of the whole plan since he devised it.
As time went on, the neighboring countries and peoples ran out of food and hear about the prosperity of Egypt. They went to get supplies in Egypt and all negotiated with Joseph. Then came Joseph’s brothers, except for Benjamin. Joseph recognized them but they do not recognize him. He took care of their orders and asked about his Dad and younger brother. He told them not to return without Benjamin. Jacob said - absolutely not. But as their stomachs growl, Jacob relented and the boys came back to Egypt with Benjamin.
Joseph was hit very hard when he saw his brothers and went off to express his emotion in private. Then he had to prove to himself that these men were sorry for what they had done to him. So he put a special cup in Benjamin’s sack. After they were gone he sent his police out to catch them. He accused them of stealing this cup. Reuben said they would turn over anyone who had that cup. It was in Benjamin’s sack. Then Reuben offered to die in Benjamin’s place, rather than sadden their father a second time as they had done in the incident with Joseph.
Joseph now saw that his brothers were sincerely repentant. He revealed himself to them and they brought Jacob and everything they own to Egypt. They were given a special place to live and they prospered in this foreign land.
Every detail of this story could have happened exactly as it is written. However, it was not all written at the same time but over a period of centuries and in a series of editings. The point is that it is a beautiful epic story exactly like those among the people around them - with one exception. These stories honor Yahweh, the God of Israel, and there was not a hint of idolatry or fertility worship in any of the details.
There are more details that could be included from the Bible stories. I suggest that you read them as they are in the Bible account. What we have here is sufficient to show how masterful are the literary artifices to give background to the great Patriarchs whose lives will be fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
These stories can be followed by the extraordinary details of the preservation of baby Moses and his introduction into the home of the Pharaoh. Then we have a fine story to explain how Moses lived in the Sinai desert to prepare him for his role as liberator of the people from Egypt.
FIRST CHRISTIANS GREW UP WITH OLD TESTAMENT STORIES.
The first Christians grew up with all these stories and this rich tradition. They had seen what Jesus had done in his lifetime and what the apostles and their successors did in those first years of the Christian Era. They had learned some details from Mary about those early years but their imaginations and their Old Testament background were even more fertile sources for their ideas. These were put together and we have three different accounts of the conception, birth and early days of Jesus.
Mark has nothing. He starts with Jesus as a grown man in his public life. Luke tells us the stories that stress the shepherd and king. Matthew tells the stories that stress the queen mother, wise men (Magi), and the king. John wants us to know that the creative Word of Yahweh that was manifest in the opening days of the universe, is being manifest in its fulness in the New Creation in Jesus.
End Note Two:
Introduction to Luke and His Writings.
Luke was a medical doctor and convert of Paul. Luke became Paul's personal physician and companion on his missionary journeys. In fact, Luke probably came into contact with the Christian ideas and ideals because he was called on to tend Paul in one of his bouts of sickness.
Paul had a recurring sickness. Guesses have been made as to what was the problem but they remain guesses. He needed a doctor and Luke became his attending physician. Knowing Paul's intensity, he probably began to talk to Luke about Jesus, his teaching and his mission. Luke was caught up in the new ideas and ideals, became a convert, and stayed with Paul until Paul died.
Tradition tells us Luke left us three writings. Two we know for sure because they are in the Canon and claimed by him. One is this Gospel and the second is Acts of Apostles, which is primarily the story of some of the work of Peter and Paul, and ends before the death of these two men. The third work is not known. This seems really unusual, to say the least. For a man so important in the Pauline communities, for a man who had left such important writings, to have a whole writing lost without a trace seems almost impossible.
We do know that Luke edited some of the letters of Paul to remove the rough, insulting language that often appeared. At times this was an almost impossible task. Sometimes Luke succeeded very well in this work. At other times, even the genius of Luke could not remove the coarse bullying language of Paul.
My own theory is this: The third writing of Luke is the editing of all the letters of Paul as they are in the New Testament today.