The Word Made Fresh
1Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over demons and diseases. 2He sent them to tell about the kingdom of God and to heal. 3He said, “Don’t take anything with you – no staff or purse or bread or money – not even an extra pair of clothing. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If you are not welcomed in a place, shake the dust off your feet when you leave as a witness against them.”
6They left and went through the villages announcing the good news and healing diseases everywhere.
7Herod the tetrarch heard about everything Jesus was doing and he was puzzled because some people were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 7or that Elijah had come, or that one of the old prophets had arisen. 9Herod said, “I had John beheaded, but who is this that I am hearing so much about?” And he began looking for him.
10When the apostles returned, they told Jesus all they had done. He went with them privately then to Bethsaida. 11But when the crowds learned where he was they followed him. He welcomed them and told them about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing.
12As the day ended the twelve came to him and said, “Send these people away so they can go find a place where they can get food and lodging. There’s nothing here for them.”
13But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
They replied, “We only have five loaves and two fish, unless you want us to go buy food for all these people.” 14About five thousand men were there.
Jesus said, “Tell them to sit in groups of fifty or so.”
15Once they had all the people sitting down, 16Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up towards heaven, blessed the food, and broke it and gave the pieces to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. 17All of them ate until they were full, and twelve baskets full of the broken pieces that remained were gathered.
18Once, when he was praying alone with only the disciples nearby, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
19They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, and others say Elijah, or that one of the other ancient prophets has returned.”
20“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah of God.”
21He strongly ordered them not to tell anyone. 22He said, “The Son of Man will suffer greatly, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be put to death; but on the third day he will be raised.” 23Then he told all of them, “Anyone who wants to be my follower must deny himself and take up his cross every day. 24And whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it. 25Does anyone really profit if they gain the whole world but lose themselves? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. 27The truth is that there are some standing here who will not die before they see the kingdom of God.”
28About eight days after saying these things, Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him up on a mountain to pray. 29While he was praying his appearance changed and his clothes became a brilliant white. 30Suddenly, two men appeared, Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. 31They were glorious in appearance, and were speaking with him about his leaving, which he would accomplish in Jerusalem. 32Peter and the others were very sleepy, but now they were fully awake, and they saw his glorious appearance and the two men who were with him.
33As the two were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it’s a good thing we are here; let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He didn’t know what he was talking about, 34but while he was speaking a cloud surrounded them and they were terrified.
35Then a voice came from the cloud, and said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” 36Then there was Jesus only. But the disciples kept silent about what they had seen and didn’t tell anyone about it at the time.
37The next day when they returned from the mountain they were met by a huge crowd. 38A man in the crowd yelled, “Teacher, please come and see my son. He is my only child, 39but a spirit will suddenly seize him, and he’ll scream. The spirit shakes him until he foams at the mouth. It punishes him, and scarcely ever leaves him. 40I begged your disciples to cast the spirit out, but they can’t!”
41Jesus said, “You faithless and stubborn generation! How much longer must I put up with you? Bring me your son!”
42While the boy approached him the demon threw him to the ground and shook him with convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the filthy spirit and healed the boy, then returned him to his father. 43Everyone was astounded by God’s greatness.
While everyone was talking about all the things Jesus was doing, he told his disciples, 44“Let this sink in; the Son of Man is going to be betrayed and turned over to other men.” 45But they didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. The real meaning of it was hidden from them and they couldn’t conceive of it. But they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
46They began to argue about which one of them was the most important, 47but Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he took a little child, stood the child beside him 48and said, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. The least important one among you is the greatest.”
49John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name. We tried to stop him because he’s not with us.”
50Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. Whoever is not against you is for you.”
51When the time approached for him to be taken up, Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem. 52He sent some messengers ahead. On their way they entered a Samaritan village to arrange for his lodging, 53but they refused to receive him because he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54When James and John learned about it they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?” 55But Jesus rebuked them, 56and they went on to another village.
57As they were walking along the road someone said to him, “I’ll follow you anywhere you go.”
58Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
59He said to another man, “Follow me,” but he replied, “First, let me go and bury my father.”
60But Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead, but as for you, go and announce the kingdom of God.”
61Another man said, “I’ll follow you, Lord, but first let me go and say goodbye to my family.” 62Jesus replied, “No one who takes the plow in hand and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
1-6: Jesus commissions the twelve apostles (named in 6:12-16). He tells them not to make any preparations for their journey. They are to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal,” tell folks about the sower and the seed, about loving your enemies and so forth, and if any are sick, to heal them. Simple enough.
7-9: Luke gives us no information about the fate of John the baptizer, and Herod will have nothing of the speculation that identifies Jesus with anyone come back from the grave. Interesting; he is right, of course, but before long he will be wrong. In any case, his interest in Jesus is surely not a good sign.
10-17: The apostles return, and Jesus takes them up to Bethsaida, a village a few miles east of Capernaum, for rest and relaxation. The crowds won’t leave them alone, though, and Jesus does what he told his disciples to do: he tells them about the kingdom of God and heals whoever needs to be healed. The twelve, however, are ready for a vacation, and beg Jesus to send the people away. We’ve read the story in both Matthew and Mark, of course. Many commentators have tried to find symbolic meaning in the numbers involved. We begin with “the twelve” in verse 12, observe five loaves and two fish being offered, and end with twelve baskets full. The five loaves and two fish make seven, which may be a hint that something of a new creation is being put forth here. The number twelve reminds us of the original twelve tribes of Israel, and might be a way of saying that God is working in Jesus to bring into being a new “Israel.”
18-22: Who is he? That is the burning question that everyone seems to be asking ever since the demon-possessed man cried, “I know who you are!” (4:34). The Pharisees asked the question indignantly: “Who does he think he is?” (5:21). John sent messengers to inquire, “Are you the one who is to come?” (7:19). At the home of Simon the Pharisee they again asked, “Who does he think he is, that he can forgive sins?” (7:49). On the lake when he calmed the storm his disciples fearfully asked, “Who is this?” (8:25).
Finally, Jesus asks, “Who are people saying that I am?” They give him the same answer Herod had been hearing — he is the resurrection of John or Elijah or some prophet. Then Jesus asks the question Luke has been building toward: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter spits it out, although it is doubtful at this point that he understands what the term “Christ of God” means. Jesus explains immediately that in contrast to the usual expectations of the Messiah he will be rejected and put to death, and be raised on the third day. One thing stands out: never again in Luke’s gospel does anyone ask, “Who is he?”
23-27: Not only is Jesus going to dismantle their image of the Messiah, but he is also dismantling their ideas about what it means to be his follower: self-denial, not self-improvement. Self-improvement is the motivation of many followers still today. If I follow Christ I will become a better person. If I follow Christ I will be healed. If I follow Christ I will be better equipped to deal with the difficulties and disappointments of life. But the only reason we should follow Christ is to become more like him. He turned the other cheek. He touched a leper, a dead body, a bleeding woman. To follow Christ is to abandon self-improvement in favor of self-denial. Self-improvement is easy — it is what the world offers. Self-denial takes courage, but it is the only way that allows Christ to live in us.
28-36: Matthew and Mark say this event takes place on “a high mountain apart.” Luke says it happens on “the mountain.” “The mountain” in Israel’s history was Sinai. It is clear that Luke sees this as a resetting of God’s covenant with God’s people. Moses represents the Law. Elijah represents the prophets. The totality of God’s revelation to Israel to this point in time rests in the Law and the Prophets. A new revelation of God is appearing here. God the Father is revealed in the Law. God the Holy Spirit is revealed in the prophets. God the Son is revealed in Jesus. The fullness of what we can know of God is on that mountain. Peter, James, and John are falling asleep when Moses and Elijah appear. Their awakening is symbolic of a new day dawning. What they see is too fantastic to tell anyone about until after the resurrection. They had been given a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
37-45: This is the third time we have met an only child in Luke’s gospel. He raised the only child of the widow of Nain from the dead (7:11-15). He raised the only child of Jairus from the dead (8:40-56). Now he is confronted with the only child of an unnamed man. This child is demon-possessed. The disciples have been of no help. Jesus seems to be impatient as he berates “this faithless and perverse generation.” Then he casts out the demon and gives the child back to his father. All these stories point to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, an only child. He tries to point out to his disciples yet again that his fate is one of suffering.
46-48: The disciples still think something big is afoot that will catapult them into prominence. A pecking order seems important, and they are jockeying for position in the new world order. Jesus uses a child to set them straight. The presence of a child should not come as a surprise. We have already seen that women as well as men are among his followers, and it is likely some of them are married with children. Be like a child, he tells them. If you are not a threat to others, they will be able to focus on what needs to be done instead of focusing on defending themselves and forwarding their own cause. Being like a child enables others to be like Jesus.
49-50: Ever since their successful mission the disciples have been fascinated with the power and authority Jesus gave them. John is concerned that somebody else is using Jesus’ name to cast out demons. Jesus is unconcerned. The man is one of the few people not trying to kill me, leave him alone, he seems to be saying.
51-56: By contrast, a Samaritan village wants nothing to do with Jesus or his followers. Jesus had granted the disciples the power to heal; now James and John want to use that power to destroy. Jesus simply turns away, and in that gesture perhaps they remember something he said about turning the other cheek.
57-62: Jesus interviews some others for the job of disciple. All three have excuses. Jesus points out to each the sacrifice that discipleship will require. Luke doesn’t tell us if any of the three follow him, but that is not the point. The point is that discipleship requires total commitment.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ demands of us humility, self-sacrifice, and a deep faith that God really is in charge. I can help others, but the point of being a follower of Jesus means that I allow myself to be used by God to help others.