Luke 1 (day 974) 31 August 2012
1-4: The author does not reveal his name, but it has been ascribed to Luke the physician (see Colossian 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24) since the early days of the church. In recent centuries more attention has probably been given to the identity of Theophilus. The name occurs only here and at Acts 1:1. A Greek name, it can be translated “friend of God,” and many scholars believe it is a general appellation which indicates that both Luke and Acts were intended for Greek audiences. “Friend of God” was a term often used by Jews for those Gentiles who were sympathetic to their faith. Luke assures the reader that he has made careful research into his subject, and that the purpose of his efforts is to lend credence to the religious instruction Theophilus has received.
5-7: He begins his history with the parents of John the baptizer, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Herod is on the throne. Zechariah is a priest. The “barren wife” motif occurs throughout the Bible and often heralds a miraculous birth.
8-20: We are not told the name of the town where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, other than that it was in the Judean hill country (verses 39-40). The custom was for priests to serve at the temple in Jerusalem for a week twice a year. Zechariah is chosen by lot to burn incense in the sanctuary, a special honor that might come only once in a lifetime. While he is in the sanctuary an angel appears beside the incense altar. “Do not be afraid” are the first words spoken in the gospel. The instructions given by the angel remind us of the birth of Samson (Judges 13:4-5), and prepare us for the birth of a special child. Elijah is mentioned in verse 17, and although it is never said in Luke, we know there was an early tradition that John the baptizer was the expected re-appearance of Elijah to herald the Messiah (see Matthew 11:14). Zechariah and Elizabeth are too old to have children, and that detail echoes the story of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. The angel then identifies himself as Gabriel, known in Jewish lore as one of the archangels who were at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of angels. Gabriel is a bit irked at Zechariah’s insistence on a sign, so the sign will be Zechariah’s inability to tell anybody about his encounter with an angel!
21-23: The people outside know that something has happened to him, and somehow gather that he has seen a vision, but he cannot speak to them, and goes home to remain dumb for nine months or so.
24-25: Dumb but not impotent. Elizabeth gets pregnant. The five months of seclusion was likely due to the dangers of pregnancy for one her age and also because folks might not believe she was pregnant until the condition became obvious.
26-38: Now we go to Nazareth where Elizabeth’s cousin Mary also has an encounter with that same Gabriel, who tells her she will become pregnant through an action of the Holy Spirit. The circumstances surrounding the birth of her child are therefore even more special than those surrounding the birth of Elizabeth’s child.
39-45: Mary visits Elizabeth, who also acknowledges the special nature of the child Mary is bearing – although she doesn’t question the fact that her unmarried cousin is pregnant. All of this is to establish the divine genesis of both John and Jesus.
46-56: The Magnificat is revered by Christians everywhere as an example of meek submission to the will of God and the blessings that are made manifest as a result. You might want to compare this with Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2.
57-66: Elizabeth’s child is born. Relatives were going to name him after his father but Elizabeth tells them the name John has been chosen (see verse 13 – Zechariah apparently found some way to communicate his angel experience to his wife). Zechariah confirms it, and his power of speech returns. All of this builds the supernatural atmosphere surrounding the births of these two children.
67-79: Zechariah’s prophecy, known in the church as the Benedictus, heralds John as God’s prophet who will prepare the way for “the Lord,” surely a reference to Jesus.
80: John’s formative years are shrouded in mystery, and we know nothing about him until he appears at the Jordan River baptizing people, calling the nation to repentance, and announcing the coming of the Messiah.
Luke 2 (day 975) 1 September 2012
1-7: Luke turns now to the birth of Jesus, and he begins by situating the tale in a solid historical setting. Augustus ruled Rome from 27 B.C. until 14 A.D. There is a problem, however, with the census of Quirinius which took place in 6 A.D. Matthew places the birth of Jesus squarely during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. (Matthew 2:1). However, Matthew failed to explain why Jesus, whose earthly parents were from Nazareth, should be born in Bethlehem, except that it fit an Old Testament passage Matthew wanted to use. Luke explains it by saying they were required by Roman law to take part in a government-mandated census by returning to their ancestral home. Many scholars believe Luke was mistaken in connecting the birth with the census. Luke, by the way, has the baby Jesus laid in a manger but doesn’t actually mention a stable. The stable was a setting used by St. Francis of Assisi when he came up with the brilliant idea of staging the birth story and invented the Christmas pageant. It is unlikely that in first century Judea scarce building materials would have been used for mangers and stables. The manger would most likely have been of stone and would have been outdoors or in a cave. As far as the inn is concerned, it is unlikely that a woman in labor would have been allowed to stay there whether there was room or not.
8-14: Luke is the only gospel that includes this pastoral scene of shepherds being the first to hear of the birth of the Messiah. We are left in no doubt that this is a divine event, for a whole bunch of angels stand around the shepherds and sing about God’s glory and the peace God is bringing to his people.
15-20: The shepherds go into the village, find the baby and tell everybody about their experience in the fields. They become the first evangelists.
21: As in the case of John, Jesus’ name was also revealed by the angel Gabriel, and as in the case of John the name is made public at the time of the circumcision.
22-24: Some scholars speculate that Luke was not very familiar with Jewish purification rituals, for he refers to “their” purification, when the Law called for the mother’s purification after having given birth. The child was not purified by sacrifice, but was to be redeemed by giving a redemption price, but Luke doesn’t mention this. The “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” is the sacrifice specified in the Law for those who could not afford the prescribed sacrifice of a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove (see Leviticus 12:6-8). This is important in Luke because Jesus is to be the lamb of sacrifice to “purify” the world.
25-35: Now we have another vignette, the kind of which Luke was fond: An otherwise uninvolved bystander confirms the divine status of the child’s nature. The Holy Spirit, who has been very active in the story, influences a man named Simeon to announce that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they have waited. His pronouncement has the elements of an oracle, ending with a veiled reference to some mysterious tragedy that would occur during the child’s later career and cause the mother’s grief.
36-40: Another witness appears to confirm Jesus’ special status before Joseph and Mary return home with their newborn. It is interesting how Luke presents those who recognize the Messiah: first, a woman (Elizabeth), then shepherds, then a man (Simeon), then another woman (Anna). This inclusion of women in the story is one of the hallmarks of Luke’s gospel.
41-51: Scholars have long noted similarities between the childhood accounts of Jesus and those of Samuel. Compare the information contained in verse 41 with 1 Samuel 1:21, for example. This story of Jesus in the temple at age 12 is the only information we have about him between infancy and baptism in any of the gospels. (By the way, there is a striking stained glass window in the choir room of Washington Street United Methodist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, depicting Jesus instructing the elders.)
52: We can hear in our imagination soft music playing in the background as Jesus grows up.
Luke 3 (day 976) 2 September 2012
1-6: Again Luke provides an historical setting that would connect with his Gentile readers. Tiberius Caesar succeeded Augustus in 14 A.D. and ruled until 37 A.D. Pontius Pilate was the fifth Prefect of the Roman Province of Judea, and held that position from 26 to 36 A.D. Herod Antipas was tetrarch (ruler of a fourth of a territory) of Galilee from his father Herod the Great’s death in 4 B.C. until at least 39 A.D., and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region east of Galilee until his death in 34 A.D. Lysanias is not nearly as well known nor is his rule as well attested as the Herods, and why Luke mentions him is a puzzle unless he expected to have readers in that territory which was north of Galilee and west of Mt. Hermon. Annas ben Seth was high priest from 6 to 15 A.D., and his son-in-law Joseph ben Caiaphas was high priest (appointed by the Roman governor) from 18 to 36 A.D. They could not have been high priests together, but the older Annas was apparently still active in religious and political affairs and Caiaphas, having been appointed by the Romans, may well have included him in some capacity to provide authentication. So, according to Luke, John began his ministry in the Jordan River valley sometime around 29 A.D., calling people to repentance and baptizing them in the river. Luke cites Isaiah 40:3-4, placing John’s ministry also squarely in the Old Testament’s chronology of God’s saving acts.
7-9: John sounds just like an Old Testament prophet, doesn’t he? Fleeing from the wrath to come was also one of John Wesley’s favorite images when he called people to repentance. In Israel’s history sinfulness often invited the wrath of God, even to the extreme of the Exile.
10-14: John gives practical advice: Share with those who have not. He doesn’t tell tax collectors to stop being tax collectors, or soldiers to stop being soldiers, but simply to conduct themselves honestly and carry out their work fairly.
15-17: John’s activities naturally invite speculation, so Luke makes it clear that John doesn’t claim to be anything but a herald of the “one who is more powerful than I.”
18-20: John must have been located at the Jordan River in the north, near the Sea of Galilee, for he was in Herod Antipas’ territory. Herod had married his brother Philip’s ex-wife Herodias. John publicly denounced him for it, and Herod had him imprisoned, but that comes a little later.
21-22: First he has to baptize Jesus. Luke does not seem to have been bothered with what was certainly a valid tradition that John had baptized Jesus, even though it was a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (verse 3). (Compare the apologetic included in Matthew 3:14.) The descent of the dove and the voice from heaven are also standard elements in the story; in Luke this is the first time the voice of God has publicly announced Jesus as his Son.
23-38: Luke’s genealogy of Jesus differs rather considerably from the one that begins Matthew’s gospel. For one thing, his list is in the other direction, from Jesus backward instead of from Abraham forward. For another, Luke goes all the way back to God as Jesus’ primal ancestor. Indeed, Jesus as the literal Son of God is more prominently featured in Luke that the other gospels. Many of the names in between, especially the generations closest to Jesus, are a different tradition from the one used by Matthew.
Luke 4 (day 977) 3 September 2012
1-13: Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus is similar to Matthew’s (4:1-11). Both record three temptations; Luke’s order is different. Both have Jesus responding to the devil by quoting the same passages of scripture. Matthew, who tends to be more mystical than Luke, has angels come to Jesus’ aid, while Luke simply notes that the devil leaves Jesus “until an opportune time.” Perhaps the point of the story for Luke is to demonstrate that from the very beginning of his ministry Jesus refuses to seek wealth or power or public acclaim.
14-15: One might wonder what report about Jesus is spread through the countryside, since he hasn’t done anything yet. Luke has gotten a little ahead of himself, for verse 23 will let us know that he has already performed miracles in Capernaum.
16-30: Nevertheless, people apparently have some expectations about him. Luke has him immediately go to his hometown of Nazareth. The wording of verse 16 indicates that he no longer lives there, and perhaps has not for some time. He reads the scripture of the day – a passage from Isaiah 61 – then sits down and tells them the scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing. That is to say, he has been anointed to preach and release. They’re proud of their hometown boy. But then he reminds them of the Old Testament stories about the widow of Zarephath (see 1 Kings 17:10-16) and Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5) and they are offended because they understand he is telling them he hasn’t come for their sake, and folks elsewhere may be more important than they. They run him out of town and he narrowly escapes with his hide.
31-37: Now Jesus goes to Capernaum where he also teaches in the synagogue. He is confronted by a demon-possessed man who identifies him as “the Holy One of God.” Jesus casts out the demon easily enough. The people are all amazed, and wonder about the utterance of the demon-possessed man, the title with which the demon had addressed him. The word spreads.
38-39: Luke tells this story before he has Jesus call any disciples; still, the Simon here is undoubtedly Simon Peter (see Matthew 8:14 and Mark 1:30).
40-41: People line up at the door. Curiously, in Luke’s gospel, it is the demons who are first to recognize Jesus publicly as the Son of God, which gives him a rather bizarre authenticity. Of course, angels had given him that recognition a little more privately at his birth and even before he was born.
42-44: Jesus tries to take a little vacation, but that doesn’t last long before people find out where he is. He disentangles himself by telling them God has sent him to proclaim the good news elsewhere.
Luke 5 (day 978) 4 September 2012
1-11: Lake Gennesaret is usually called the Sea of Galilee, or the Sea of Tiberius. Gennesaret means “harp.” The lake is about 700 feet below sea level and quite salty, covers 65 square miles and is vaguely in the shape of a lap harp. Luke is the only New Testament writer to call it Gennesaret, and uses that name only here. Elsewhere he simply calls it “the lake.” This scene takes place in Capernaum. Jesus uses Simon’s boat as a teaching platform; sound carries especially well over water. When he finishes the lesson he tells Simon to put out a little further and cast his nets. Simon protests, but only mildly. Real fishermen are always willing to cast one more time. So many fish are caught that another boat is brought to help, and both boats are nearly overloaded. Peter responds by falling to his knees and worshiping Jesus. I have always found some humor in Jesus’ response, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be fishing for people.” Translation – “You’re obviously inept at knowing where to catch fish; you’d better get a land job.”
Now here’s a curious thing: the way Luke tells the story we must conclude that Simon is the only other person in the boat with Jesus. So, when Luke says, “They put out the nets,” he’s referring to Simon and Jesus. Jesus helps him set out the nets. Jesus helps him pull them in. Jesus joins him in calling James and John to come help. And Jesus catches all three of them!
12-16: Luke tells us about a leper who begs Jesus to “make me clean.” In the Bible being clean can mean one of three things: the physical cleansing of bathing or being rid of a disease; the moral cleansing from sin; and the ritual cleansing making one fit to participate in the community. We are left to speculate exactly what it was the leper wanted of Jesus. Full blown leprosy is a dreadful and deadly disease, but in the Bible the term is widely cast and can include conditions as benign as psoriasis. Luke makes it clear that Jesus heals the leper of his illness, but refuses to pronounce him ritually clean; he can provide for the individual’s need, but the community must be responsible for restoring its members to participation. In that time and place the community did so through the function of the priesthood. Jesus touches the man, which renders Jesus unclean! Maybe that is why he asks the man not to tell. The man can’t stay quiet, though, and Jesus withdraws to the countryside, perhaps because he is “unclean” and does not wish to “contaminate” the crowds.
17-26: Compare Mark 2:1-12. Luke sets us up by stating at the outset that “the power of God was with him to heal.” What a surprise, then, when Jesus greets the paralyzed man with “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” The statement seems callous to the modern reader, but in those days people were superstitious about such infirmities; they believed it was a sure sign that some terrible sin had been committed. Jesus was addressing what the scribes and Pharisees perceived as the man’s primary problem; he was paralyzed by sin. Of course, if Jesus has been healing people, he has been forgiving sins all along. In this case, for the benefit of the religious authorities, Jesus forgives the man first and then heals him. The paralyzed man goes on his way rejoicing. The crowd is amazed. One man’s freedom from paralysis has revealed the paralysis of the rest of them.
27-28: Compare Matthew 9:9 and Mark 2:14. Levi is introduced. In Matthew’s gospel he is called Matthew, and when Luke lists the twelve disciples he does not name Levi but does name Matthew (see 6:15), so there is some confusion about his name. All agree that he is a hated tax collector, a servant of the Roman government, so Luke has Jesus recruiting the most sinful man in town. It surely makes bystanders wonder what sort of gang Jesus is gathering.
29-32: Levi throws a party for his pals to meet Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes protest, of course, but it should be clear to the reader that Jesus is systematically attacking the prejudices of the religious establishment. While acknowledging the authority of the priests to restore a person to the community (as we saw with the leper), Jesus denies their authority over an individual’s relationship with God (as we saw with the paralytic). Now he brings attention to their policy of excluding certain people. To their objections Jesus uses impeccable logic: he is in the business of turning people back to God, so he has to be in contact with those who need turning. This incident with Levi is an important one because Jesus has strayed from the normal activities of an itinerant rabbi. He has been careful to teach in the synagogues and preach only to crowds who gather to hear him. This is the first time he has chosen deliberately to mix with another segment of society. He is clearly beginning to draw a wider circle.
33-39: Luke does not identify “them.” “They” are likely not the Pharisees since “they” refer to “the disciples of the Pharisees.” I think “they” are the people Levi has invited to his party. They have observed Jesus for some time, and this is their opportunity to ask questions, so the question about fasting is not motivated by suspicion but by genuine interest. Jesus’ reply, however, is radical. The form of religious expression presented by John and the Pharisees is an old form that cannot express the new faith Jesus is teaching. Their faith is in a God of judgment. Their form is ascetic, solemn, rigid and judgmental. Jesus is preaching a new relationship with a God who is merciful, and the way to live out that faith is to celebrate and rejoice and rub elbows with the unclean, the sick and the sinners.
Don’t miss the veiled warning in the last verse. Once you’ve tasted the old wine, he says, you won’t want the new wine. Those who are comfortable with the old way of looking at God and life will have a hard time getting used to the good news Jesus is proclaiming. They’ll just keep singing, “That old time religion is good enough for me.” The main point of the passage is contained in the illustration of the bachelor party. The old view is that if you are close to God you will be solemn and rigid and disdainful of certain company. The view Jesus brings is that a close relationship with God results in celebration and rejoicing and enjoyment of life. It is when he is away from us that we should fast and pray.
Luke 6 (day 979) 5 September 2012
1-5: The Pharisees object to the disciples plucking and shucking grain on the sabbath. It was alright to eat on the sabbath, of course, but the preparation of the food (shucking the grain) must be done the day before. Jesus replies with a story from 1 Samuel 21 that has David eating the Bread of the Presence from the shrine at Nob. The sabbath is not mentioned in that story! Jesus has broadened the scope of their complaint and turned their question about a sabbath observance into a more far-reaching question about religious observances in general. The Law nowhere states that one may not shuck a few handfuls of grain on the sabbath; that was a Pharisaic interpretation of the Law about keeping the sabbath day holy. So, against their legalism Jesus is declaring himself to be an authority: “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” We are left to wonder if by “son of man” he was referring exclusively to himself, or was he saying that each one of us is responsible for deciding how we will keep the sabbath.
6-11: Another sabbath confrontation: the Pharisees jam into the synagogue specifically to see if Jesus will heal a man on the sabbath, which makes me suspect that the afflicted man might have been “planted” by them in an effort to entrap him. Jesus is no fool, though, and sees through their plot. Instead of simply ignoring it he confronts them face to face. The issue, he says, is not what you do on the Sabbath but why you do it. Needless to say, the Pharisees just get madder.
12-16: Jesus calls twelve of his disciples to be apostles, to be sent out by him on a mission. The most important thing to remember about these verses is that Jesus spent all night in prayer before he chose them.
It is often imagined that Jesus was praying over whom to choose, and that the choice was so crucial it required an entire night in prayer. But perhaps there is a deeper lesson here. I can picture him motionless on the rocky crest of a lonely rise, watching the sunlight fade from the sky until nothing but the stars are there; listening to every sound of every creature of the night; studying the faint shadows of rocks in the moonlight; breathing the fresh cool air of the Galilean countryside; and sharing it all – every shadow, every star, every sound, every stirring of a breeze, every falling meteor that burned a fiery streak across the dark – with the One who had said to him, “You are my precious child; I am well pleased with you.”
I learned a great many things from my mother and father, things they did not teach me. I learned just by being with them. Mom never told me it was a good thing to memorize hymns, but I listened to her sing while she prepared supper over the old wood stove and I could tell whether she was sad or lonely or happy or trying to sort out some problem or mulling over some situation by the hymn she was singing, and somehow I knew that her hymns were her prayers. Dad never sat me down and told me how to be a good husband, but I was there the night he brought her flowers for no reason and I heard him call her “Beautiful” a million times and I saw how gentle he always was with her and I could hear their muffled voices through the bedroom wall talking into the wee hours of the night and I knew they shared everything, and somehow I knew their conversations were prayers, too. So my own opinion is that Jesus spent the night in prayer not just to get advice or to get anything at all, but simply as an act of love, because my experience has been that it is love that makes us want to spend time with someone, and it is through love that we learn how to live.
17-19: These verses introduce the “Sermon on the Plain,” (following in verses 20-49) which roughly corresponds to the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7, although much shorter. So much is said of the twelve disciples that we tend to forget that Jesus had other followers. A huge crowd of them were awaiting his return from the night-long prayer vigil. In addition there were a large number of others from Jerusalem and Judea, and even some from Tyre and Sidon.
20-26: As in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with beatitudes, or blessings. But here there are only four, followed by four woes, or curses. In the Sermon on the Mount there were nine blessings and no curses. Luke’s pattern recalls the scene in which Joshua lined up the Israelites in the valley between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal and read to them the blessings and curses of the Law (Joshua 8:33-34). Here there are four blessings in verses 20-22, and four corresponding curses (that is, “blessed are you who are poor” is countered with “woe to you who are rich”) in verses 24-26, which means that verse 23 is in the middle, and in the middle of verse 23 is “your reward is great in heaven.”
27-36: John’s message to the crowds who came to be baptized (Luke 3:10-14) can be summarized by, “Don’t take advantage of those who are under your authority, and help those who are in need.” In this passage, Jesus’ advice at first seems similar, but then we see it goes much further. John’s advice had to do strictly with action, while Jesus’ has to do as much with attitude as with action as well. John’s advice was offered to the “haves,” while Jesus’ was offered to the “have nots” as well. John was telling those who have clothes to share with those who don’t, those who have food to share with those who don’t, tax collectors not to overtax, and soldiers not to use violence against the innocent. Jesus’ advice was given also to those who were being overtaxed and harassed and oppressed and excluded: endure, and repay unkindness with kindness.
The attitude which prefaces Jesus’ advice is love. The Greek word Luke chooses for the Aramaic which Jesus spoke is “agape” (pronounced ah-GAH-pay). Agape love has to do with the way you behave toward others regardless of how you might feel about them.
You will recognize verse 31 as “the Golden Rule.” It serves as both a summary of verses 27-30 and as an introduction to verses 31-35, which explain why we should live according to this rule: because it prevents us from behaving like godless people, and because it is the way God behaves toward us.
Verse 36,”So be merciful like the One who made you,” is both a summary of verses 31-35 and an introduction to what follows.
37-38: There are, of course, situations in which you have to judge others. You would not want to hire a babysitter who is a registered child sex offender, for example. But only God has the authority to condemn, and condemnation should be left up to God. Be forgiving and giving. God has provided all we need and more.
39-42: The blind can’t lead the blind. The student is not more knowledgeable than the teacher. Be sure you yourself understand before you attempt to correct anyone else. The “speck” and the “log” are not degrees of sin, but rather represent levels of ignorance, albeit an ignorance of spiritual things.
43-45: Most commentaries separate these verses from verses 39-42, but I believe that they are intended to be part of the same section. The bad and good fruit are to be understood as the kinds of knowledge one has to impart to others. Having established that, it is a small step to say that one’s intentions for good or for evil determines the quality of what is imparted.
46-49: Jesus ends the Sermon on the Plain in the same way he ended the Sermon on the Mount, with a challenge to his hearers to absorb and live by what he has taught them.
Luke 7 (day 980) 6 September 2012
1-17: Having delivered his sermon Jesus returns to his home base, Capernaum. Chapter 7 begins with two miracle stories which provide an example of the careful balance Luke tries to present. Both stories have Jesus restoring someone to health at the request of a third party – a servant for a Roman officer; a young man who has died for his grieving, widowed mother. The first is done for a man; the second for a woman. The first is done for a foreigner, the second for a native. The first is a sterling example of faith while faith is not mentioned in the second. In the first story Jesus’ authority is recognized before the miracle occurs; in the second, his authority is recognized only after the miracle has taken place. In the first story Jesus does not even see the person he heals; in the second he sees and speaks to the one who is restored. The first is the healing of an illness; the second a resuscitation from apparent death. The first is done for a relatively important government official; the second for a widow. The juxtaposition of these two stories is not accidental but carefully contrived to illustrate Luke’s emphasis on Jesus being the savior of the whole world, not just Israel. Note as well that another of Luke’s themes is represented here: it’s the foreigner who has faith.
18-35: If you walk up to a dead man’s body in the middle of a public funeral procession and bring him back to life, you’re likely to draw attention. We haven’t heard anything about John the baptizer since chapter 4, but while Jesus was traveling about Galilee John was still baptizing in the Jordan. He hears about the miracle and sends some folks to find out if Jesus is “the one who is to come,” clearly a reference to the Messiah. Jesus, as always, refuses to answer that question directly. He never claims to be the Messiah; that is a decision we have to make. He simply tells them to report what they’ve seen. When they leave he asks the crowd who they think John is, and verifies that John is the one prophesied to come to prepare the Messiah’s way. Most of the crowd accepts this because they had been baptized by John and they want to hear that John is a genuine messenger of God. The Pharisees and scribes have not been baptized, though, not being willing to recognize anybody’s authority but their own. Jesus likens them to children refusing to go along with the rules of a game; the Pharisees just wouldn’t dance with him. Or weep, either.
36-50: But, a lone Pharisee named Simon decides that he will try to dance with Jesus. He invites Jesus to his house; so far, so good. But Simon just isn’t ready to dance. He is the one who sets the time and place, provides the meal and chooses the guests – except for one woman who comes in uninvited. It turns out to be not much of a dance. Read the story again: There is no conversation at the table. Simon and his guests are eating silently. They’re just doing their duty, you see – have Jesus for dinner and get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible (sort of like a lot of worship services). Dance, but only a slow dance, and don’t talk while you’re on the dance floor.
That is okay, of course, because it isn’t a time to dance. It is a time to weep. The Pharisees have not been to the river, have not repented and been baptized for their forgiveness. They haven’t wept, so they have no reason to dance yet.
The woman who crashes the party shows them what to do. Weep! Let your aching soul pour out of your eyes! Kiss Jesus’ feet, because you’re not worthyto sit at a table with him! Pour sweet ointment on his feet because those feet brought him to your house and that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you!
That woman makes my soul ache. She must have been thinking, “I have to kiss those feet. I have to wash the dust from them and rub sweet ointment over them. I need to cry away every hurt, every pain, every shame, every sin and every sorrow onto those precious feet and let Jesus dance those things out of my life forever!”
Simon doesn’t understand, of course. He has done his duty and thinks it’s dancing. He makes the minimal gesture of hospitality toward Jesus; a house, a table, food. No kiss. No embrace. No refreshing water to wash his dusty feet. Simon thinks he can dance without having to cry first. He doesn’t understand that you have to pour the darkness out of your soul before you’re light enough to join the dance divine. He hasn’t repented, hasn’t wept, and obviously doesn’t know how to love.
She does. She knows how to love. Her tears are a lot more loving than Simon’s boring dinner party, and if she can love like that – make a fool of herself in a room full of fools – it seems only right that she should be forgiven of everything else. And that’s just what Jesus tells her.
But my guess is that she will wait until she is well away from that house before she starts dancing.
Luke 8 (day 981) 7 September 2012
1-3: Luke gives us a rare glimpse into the organization of Jesus’ movement by mentioning the group of women who have been working behind the scenes in support. Mary Magdalene is the only one about whom we know anything else. She will be present at the crucifixion and at the resurrection. Luke says Jesus had healed her from seven demons, but we know nothing else about that incident. Luke is the only evangelist to mention Joanna, the wife of an important government official, who also was a witness to the empty tomb, and Susanna, about whom nothing else is known.
4-8: In keeping with Luke’s pattern, following several stories of Jesus’ activities we now have a section focusing on his teaching. Right away we see that his teaching methods have changed. His first teaching was directly from scripture, reading the scroll from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth. His customary setting was in the synagogue. Then, in response to the large number of people who thronged about him, he began to teach outdoors, giving practical advice on how to live in the kingdom of God. Now his style changes again, and from now on parables will become a mainstay of his teachings. The subject is the kingdom of God (see 8:1). The kingdom of God is apparently a lot like the present world where farmers scatter seed and watch most of them succumb to path and bird and rock and thorn. There must be more to it, don’t you think?
9-15: The disciples think so, and ask him to say more. Jesus tells them that, while the parables are intended to be somewhat obscure, they are indeed intended to know more and proceeds to tell them how the parable relates to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God belongs to those who hold God’s word “fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” What a beautiful and simple description of the Christian life.
16-18: This lesson is practical and plain as day: there is no point in producing light unless it illuminates that on which it is intended to shine.
19-21: In one of the old Bibles I have these verses are introduced with the heading, “Jesus rejects his family.” No, he doesn’t. He is simply inviting his hearers to join his family.
22-25: Okay, enough teaching. Let’s have a few miracles. I mentioned before that Luke almost always refers to the Sea of Galilee simply as “the lake.” I believe he does so for a purpose and not just because he may not be personally familiar with the area. I believe that the lake, for Luke, represents the world into which the followers of Jesus must go. In the first incident on the lake the fishermen had fished all night long and caught nothing until after Jesus taught them; then the boat couldn’t hold the massive catch. Get it? Without Christ we toil unsuccessfully in the dark; with Christ there is light and our efforts are so rewarded that others must come and share. The world (the lake) is not always a benign environment for Christ’s followers, though. But Christ is still with us although it sometimes seems he is asleep (I’ve been in churches like that!). He is able to still every storm if we but call on him. The lack of faith Jesus refers to in verse 25 has nothing to do with their inability to still the storm, but rather with their “we’re gonna die!” mentality when confronted with a threatening situation. There Jesus was in the boat with them and they still thought they were doomed. Idiots.
26-33: The external storms of life are not the only ones we have to face. There are internal storms as well. On the other side of the lake they are confronted by a man who is filled with demons instead of with the presence of the LORD. He is naked, filthy and masochistic. He is very insane and frighteningly strong and loud and violent. He lives in tombs, caves scattered among the rocky banks along that side of the lake. No one can handle him. No one but Jesus, that is. After a brief conversation Jesus orders the demons to enter a herd of pigs and the man is set free. Then, given pig legs, the demons do what demons do; they rush back into the chaos from which they had sprung.
Note that the first miracle Jesus performed in Jewish territory was the casting out of a demon (4:31-37); now the first miracle he performs in Gentile territory is to cast out demons. Perhaps Luke is hinting that the casting out of evil is the first step to be taken in any community before anything of God can be accomplished.
34-39: Getting rid of demons often has an economic impact on a community, and that is probably what is going on here. The community would rather have the pigs and let the demons return. They had learned to live with the demons by letting them afflict one poor soul. They didn’t know how to live without the pigs, They would rather sacrifice one man to the torture of naked evil than suffer a little financial setback themselves. That’s how it is in communities where evil practices are allowed to thrive.
40-42a: Many of the miracles Jesus performs are in response to being interrupted. It seems that whenever he is on his way somewhere, someone pops out to ask for help. Back in Capernaum crowds are waiting to see him and hear him teach, and he is interrupted by a man named Jairus, whose daughter is dying.
42b-48: Off he goes to look in on the little girl, and guess what? He is interrupted! Her chronic menstrual flow has afflicted her for twelve years, ever since Jairus’ little girl was born, a curious confluence of details that has caused some speculation that she is perhaps Jairus’ wife and the mother of the child, and that perhaps her hemorrhaging began the day the girl was born. There is no way of knowing. Luke’s point, however, is that her faith brings her to Jesus and her contact with him, tenuous and fleeting as it is, makes her whole again, stops her flow of blood and restores her to the community. No longer is she “unclean.” A little contact with Jesus goes a long way.
49-56: The little girl is pronounced dead. Jesus disagrees. They laugh at him. Jairus and his wife join Jesus at her bedside with Peter, James and John. Jesus takes her hand (it is forbidden to touch a dead body) and calls her back to life. He tells them not to tell anyone what he has done, which means the crowd will simply think the diagnosis was incorrect. But then, with Christ any diagnosis of death always is.
Luke 9 (day 982) 8 September 2012
1-6: Jesus commissions the twelve apostles he had named back 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, 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 them 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 twelve 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).
Who is Jesus? Finally, Jesus asks the question: “Who are people saying 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, 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. Perhaps 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 guts, 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 his 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 the mountain. Peter, James and John are 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. Once the reality of Jesus’ resurrection begins to sink in, they will realize that they had seen with their own eyes the resurrection of the dead on the mountain. 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 “gave him back to his father.” All of these stories point to the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, an only child. He cries 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.
Luke 10 (day 983) 9 September 2012
1-12: We have to wonder if the disappointing behavior of the Twelve prompted Jesus to commissions seventy others to serve as his advance team in all the towns and villages he plans to visit. Luke is the only New Testament writer to tell of this event. Jesus’ explanation for sending them is that God has provided a bountiful harvest and more workers are needed. Twelve is not enough. Or perhaps these twelve are not enough. The instructions given the Seventy are virtually the same as those given the Twelve (see again 9:1-6), with the same four basic elements: 1) take no provisions with you, 2) do not move about but stay in one place, 3) heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near, and 4) shake the dust off your feet of any town than won’t receive you. The main difference is that Jesus gives the Seventy specific words to speak (verses 5, 9, 11).
13-15: We cannot determine whether Jesus utters these words before the Seventy depart, while they are gone, or upon their return. One of the more enticing theories is that Chorazin (completely unknown except for this reference in Luke and its counterpart in Matthew), Bethsaida and Capernaum must have rejected the twelve on their earlier missionary journey, thus invoking Jesus’ curse on them. Tyre and Sidon are trading city-states of some importance along the coast of Lebanon. The Jewish towns reject the message, but these pagan cities would repent if they were given such a powerful witness, Jesus says. We recall how Jonah preached in the pagan city of Nineveh, and how the Ninevites repented in sackcloth and ashes (Jonah 3:6-10).
17-24: We have to read this section as the record of how Jesus dealt with the growing crisis among his closest followers, the twelve apostles. In spite of Jesus’ attempts to teach and mold them, they have lately been revealing some dangerous tendencies which Jesus has to counter. They have argued over who is the greatest among them (9:46). They have tried to make their status exclusive by forbidding anyone else to use Jesus’ name (9:49). They have postured with righteous indignation when a Samaritan village refuses them hospitality, and arrogantly suggested that those villages be destroyed! (9:54). What’s worse, at the center of it all have been James and John, who had seen the Transfiguration and so are among those most trusted by Jesus. Jesus counters by demonstrating to the Twelve that they are not so superior as they might like to believe. He recruits seventy others and sends them out without any of the special training the Twelve had been given. Now they have returned brimming with excitement that even demons submit to them. Jesus responds that he has seen Satan defeated. Remember that at his temptation the devil had left Jesus “until an opportune time.” Perhaps that “opportune time” was the discord that had been growing among the Twelve, and sending out the Seventy has defeated Satan’s attempt to sow discord among Jesus’ closest followers. Note that Jesus is careful to guard the Seventy against the same presumption of superiority that had arisen among the Twelve. “Don’t get excited over being able to cast out demons,” he tells them. “Get excited over the fact that your names are written in heaven.” That is to say, God has taken note of your faithfulness. Using power for self gratification was one of the temptations Jesus overcame in the desert. The Twelve have failed that test; the Seventy have taught them a lesson. Having the power of Jesus is nothing; being called and sent by Jesus is everything.
21-22: “Thank you … for hiding these things from the wise and the educated, and revealing them to infants.” Through the centuries scholars have identified “the wise and educated” with one group or another, but I insist that in this context the wise and educated can only be a reference to the Twelve, and the infants are the Seventy.
23-24: Jesus now moves to reclaim the Twelve. They have seen and heard what prophets and kings have longed to see and hear. Translation: you are more important to God than prophets and kings. There will be no need to refer to the Seventy again.
25-28: The scene has changed. A scribe stands up to address Jesus, which indicates that we are now in a formal setting, perhaps a synagogue. The question he poses, Luke says, is a test, although the question does not seem to be loaded unless “inherit eternal life” is an attempt to get Jesus to side with either the Pharisees, who believe in the resurrection of the dead, or the Sadducees, who do not. Jesus doesn’t answer directly but, in good rabbinic fashion, first asks the man what he thinks. He repeats a popular interpretation of the Law: love God, love neighbor. Jesus replies, “Do this and you will live.” Translation: Yes, there will be a resurrection, but only of those dead who take seriously God’s claim on life.
29-37: Now the scribe feels it necessary to justify himself; after all, his initial question proved to be a simple one, the answer to which he already knew, as Jesus has so deftly demonstrated. So he tries to cover his ineptness by stammering out a cover-up question: “Yes, yes, I know what God requires according to the Law, but how do you define ‘neighbor?’ Jesus answers by telling a story in which a Samaritan is the hero. (Remember those Samaritan villages James and John wanted to destroy?) You can spend days mining life’s little lessons from the next six verses, but here is the main lesson: the question is not whether John Doe is your neighbor. The question is whether or not you going to treat John Doe as though you are his neighbor?
38-42: Luke has a rather careless understanding of the geography of the area. Mary and Martha (and their brother Lazarus) live in Bethany (see John 11:1). Since he obviously doesn’t know where this event took place, Luke must have some reason for placing it here at the end of a section on the meaning of discipleship. I have a theory that the trouble with the Twelve began right after their missionary journey. Do you remember what happened to them when they returned from their mission? Jesus took them to Bethsaida for a vacation, but they didn’t get it. Instead they were besieged by crowds wanting to hear Jesus. Instead of getting some time alone with Jesus they found themselves organizing a food giveaway for 5000 hungry people. So listen: in the story we are considering today, Mary is said to be sitting at Jesus’ feet listening as he taught. Martha is said to be “distracted with much serving.” In other words, Mary is doing what the 5000 people at Bethsaida were doing; sitting down, listening to Jesus, unconcerned about eating or anything else. Martha is doing what the Twelve were doing; fussing over the lateness of the day, the lack of food, their own hunger, etc. The Twelve had arranged for the seating of the crowd, had served the loaves and fishes, and had cleaned up afterward. They had been “distracted with much serving.” What, then, is the message for the disciples in this story of two women followers of Jesus? Relax. You do not have to always be busy. Much business creates an atmosphere that breeds competition, as we have seen. There is a time for serving, and there is a time for listening, and between the two right now listening is the most important.
Luke 11 (day 984) 10 September 2012
1-4: This section of Luke has to do with the retraining of the Twelve in an effort to overcome their competitiveness and fascination with power. It is interesting that since their argument over which one was the greatest Jesus has not performed a single miracle. Now we have a lesson on prayer. When we speak of the Lord’s Prayer we usually mean the more familiar and longer version of it recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13). We must admit that the version of the prayer recorded here is highly instructive for the Twelve, though. This is the first time since their mission journey and all the ensuing conflicts that the Twelve have asked Jesus to teach them anything, so this is a turning point of sorts in their education. The prayer Jesus now teaches them draw on selected events in more or less reverse order:
“Father …” “… wait until my father is dead and buried.” (9:59)
“…hallowed be your name.” “Even unclean spirits obey us when we use your name!” (10:13)
“May your kingdom come.” “He sent them out to tell about God’s kingdom.” (9:2)
“Give us our portion of bread each day.” “You give them something to eat.” (9:13)
“Forgive us our sins, for we forgive those who sin against us.” “There was a banker who had two people in debt to him. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other owed him fifty. When they couldn’t pay him back, he forgave both of them.” (7:41) “Jesus then said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” (7:48) “When Jesus saw this display of their faith, he said, “Sir, your sins are forgiven you.” (5:20)
“And do not bring us into temptation.” “When the temptations were over, the devil left Jesus and waited for another opportunity.” (4:13)
The prayer thus serves as a primer of some of the key points of his teachings.
5-8: He follows the prayer with a story to illustrate the importance of persistence in prayer. Persistence counts even more than being God’s friend. Now, there’s an idea to ponder!
9-13: Ask, seek, knock. Be persistent. Don’t give up. Trust that God knows what you need and is willing to provide it – a sentiment that sounds just a little too much like pie in the sky by and by. But then Jesus puts out the qualifying phrase: what God has to give is the Holy Spirit. Pray fervently enough for any need, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Why not just pray to receive the Holy Spirit?)
14-23: The Twelve are given another lesson when some people claim he is able to cast out demons only because he is in cahoots with the devil. Jesus neatly turns their charge against them, pointing out that the devil can’t survive if he’s fighting against his own. He says, “Some of you have been casting out demons, too. I’ll let them be your judges,” and flips their logic on its head when he tells them that if God is behind his healings God’s kingdom has obviously come near them. The devil (Beelzebub was a popular name for Satan) has been bested by someone stronger.
24-26: This is an odd observation that seems out of context. Maybe Jesus is simply warning the man that the demon he has just cast out of him will gather strength and come back and try to overpower him. Forewarned is forearmed.
27-28: A spontaneous exchange with an unknown woman in the crowd: obedience is high on the list of attributes of discipleship.
29-32: We can only imagine the growing pressure Jesus was under to perform. Whenever folks saw a miracle they insisted on seeing it again, or on seeing a bigger one. The Queen of the South is a reference to the Queen of Sheba, who came to see if the reports about Solomon were true. Jonah proclaimed God’s call to repentance at Nineveh. Jesus tells them that the things they are witnessing are greater than Solomon and greater than Jonah.
33-36: Once you realize, he is telling them, that what you are seeing is greater than Solomon and Jonah, you will be filled with light, and you will be able to give light to others.
37-44: Jesus is again invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee (compare 7:36ff). On the last occasion Jesus was a model guest, more or less. Now, however, he immediately attacks the rigid legalism of the Pharisees, exposing their traditions for what they really were; carefully choreographed evasions of the Law. He calls them fools and pronounces curses on them for various deceptive practices.
45-52: A lawyer (scribe?) defends the Pharisees, and Jesus lights into him as well. You scribes, he says, never learned how to live as God’s people, and you have done all you can to keep others from doing so.
53-54: Enemies have been made, and the stage is set for Jesus to be arrested, tried, and executed.
Luke 12 (day 985) 11 September 2012
1-3: Jesus is speaking to “his disciples” here, but it is impossible to tell whether Luke intends that to mean just the Twelve or all his followers, including the Seventy. He has just blasted the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and now he warns the disciples to beware of them. Their “yeast” is their hypocrisy. Jesus has drawn a line, clearly challenging the Pharisees to a contest, and the disciples need to understand that there is no longer any privacy. Everything they say can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion.
4-7: However, the Pharisees are not to be feared. God only is to be feared; indeed, the Son of God after he is killed still has the authority to judge. They are not to be afraid, however, for in God’s sight they are of great worth.
8-12: It is clear that Jesus is now speaking of the time after he has been dead and buried and has risen again. He warns them that they will be accused of heresy and worse in the synagogues, and promises them that the Holy Spirit will come to their defense. The sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would seem, then, to be a refusal to believe their testimony even though it comes from the Holy Spirit.
13-15: Amazingly, someone in the crowd – someone from among his disciples – actually tries to bring a case for Jesus to judge. The division of an estate was governed by the Law of Moses, and this unidentified voice wants Jesus to render a decision in a family dispute over the dispensation of a dead relative’s property. Jesus refuses to get involved, and then uses the occasion to issue a general warning about greed.
16-21: He tells a parable to press the point that we can’t take material things with us when we die. Why, then, expend so much effort accumulating wealth?
22-31: The birds of the air and the flowers of the field are proof that God can provide all that we need.
32-34: Do not be afraid to treat others the way God treats you.
35-38: A wedding banquet may last for a week or more, and travel time to and from may take even longer, but a good servant is always ready for the master to return from the banquet. Jesus goes so far as to say the appreciative master will actually become a slave to the slaves if he finds them diligently at work. That may never happen in the world, but the point is surely not lost on them that God is ready to provide for them if they are faithful.
39-40: This is a similar but separate statement. In verses 35-38 the disciples are depicted as slaves to the master. Now Jesus is likening them to owners of the house. (The problem with that interpretation is that it makes Jesus the thief. Maybe you can come up with a better explanation.)
41-48: Peter is confused, as am I, especially about that last statement. He asks for clarification. Jesus’ words are obviously intended for his followers in the years to come. Now there are three levels: master, slave manager, and slave. No doubt the master is the resurrected Christ. The slave manager represents those who are put in charge of the congregations of the early Church. The slaves are all the followers. Clearly, those who are placed in charge of the spiritual work of theC Church will be held to a higher standard than the others.
49-53: The Church will not be allowed to grow peacefully; there will be divisions, even among close family members.
54-56: These words are addressed to “the crowds,” with whom Jesus is becoming impatient. He chides them for not being able to discern the activity of God in their time, and calls them hypocrites – a stinging judgment indeed, considering it is the word he just used to describe the Pharisees.
57-59: Some sage advice: settle your disputes out of court whenever possible.
Luke 13 (day 986) 12 September 2012
1-5: Only Luke mentions these two incidents. In the first instance, in which Pilate had slaughtered some Galileans, the people who tell Jesus about it may have an ulterior motive because Jesus himself is a Galilean. Perhaps they wanted to warn him or perhaps they wanted to frighten him. I think the second is the most likely motive because Jesus responds by returning to an old theme of his preaching we haven’t heard for a while: repentance. He drives the message home further by bringing up another tragedy involving citizens of Jerusalem (that is, not Galileans), and warning them that if they do not repent, “all of you” will perish. If you imagine yourself to be one of those who is warning Jesus, what you might have heard would be something like this; unless we repent, everybody will perish. In other words, if I am not among those who try to live as a citizen in the kingdom of God, why should I expect anyone else to do so?
6-9: Let’s see what we can make of this strange little story about a poor lonely fig tree trying to grow in the middle of a bunch of grapevines. Growing fruit trees in vineyards was a common practice, so the point of the story won’t have anything to do with that detail. Here are four possible interpretations: 1) If you’re a fig tree in a vineyard you’re still expected to produce figs. Likewise, if you’re a Jew living in a Gentile city you’re still expected to observe Jewish customs. And, if you’re a new Christian in a hostile world, you’re still supposed to live the way Jesus teaches us to live. 2) If you’re a new Christian, you’re not expected to do any great works right away. You’ve got a few years to soak up all the nourishment you can before you’ll be ready to let your light shine. 3): You’re not going to produce any fruit as a disciple of Christ until you loosen up and get your hand (roots) dirty and smelly. You have to be fertilized before you can evangelize. 4): Maybe we’re supposed to see ourselves as the vine dresser. Maybe we’re supposed to be the ones to care for and nurture and encourage those who aren’t yet bearing fruit.
10-17: (Note: This is the first miracle reported since the healing of the demon-possessed boy right after the Transfiguration – see 9:37-42. Note also that this is the first time Jesus has entered a synagogue since early in chapter 6). There is not likely to be a connection between the eighteen people killed at Siloam and the eighteen years the woman has been suffering, but Luke does seem to have a penchant for connecting numbers (see, for example, how the number 12 reoccurs in the passage at 8:40-56). Yet, I am struck by the contrast that while they were crushed to the ground, she is raised to stand erect again. The synagogue leader’s objection is just silly. In fact, he is not really objecting to the miracle, but to the person performing it. We don’t have a diagnosis of the woman’s malady, but I’ve been crippled like that before, haven’t you? I’ve had that confounded “spirit of infirmity” which keeps us from seeing much past our own toes. I have had the experience of trying to walk through life all bent over from burdens I could not see. It is an uncomfortable way to live, but there are times when you just can’t stand up straight and look Mr. Future straight in the eye. If I were that woman, do you know what I would have said to that synagogue ruler? I would have said, “It’s okay with me! You can heal me on a Sunday or a Monday or a Tuesday or a Wednesday or a Thursday or a Friday or a Saturday. Just don’t heal me tomorrow. Heal me today. I don’t want to wait one day past eighteen years!”
18-19: Although the kingdom of God has been announced as the centerpiece of Jesus’ preaching, we really haven’t heard much about what the kingdom of God is like. It is like a mustard seed, almost invisible, escaping the notice of anyone not looking for it. It is in a garden, a place tilled and kept by a gardener. Find the gardener and you’re getting warm! It grows. God’s kingdom peeps out through the dirt; through my dirt. Under the humus of frail human living it germinates and pushes its way to the surface to be seen. It continues to grow until it is huge, and life takes up residence in it.
20-21: Having illustrated the kingdom of God with a man as the main character, now Jesus uses a very similar illustration for the women in the audience. The kingdom is like yeast which a woman takes and kneads into the dough. As the seed rises into a tree, the yeast rises into a loaf of bread. The lesson is the same: the kingdom of God is hidden and then grows. Both the mustard seed and the yeast are hidden in the place where they belong; the seed in the soil, the yeast in the dough. So, the kingdom of God only seems to be hidden. It is where it belongs, in the place where it can grow and become what God intends for it to become. Could that place be the human heart? Interestingly, the “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew and Mark is always something that we must enter. In Luke it is something that enters us (see, for example 17:21).
22-30: Jesus is heading for Jerusalem, and there is much speculation about a coming political upheaval and perhaps an uprising to throw off the yoke of Roman domination. The “kingdom of God” is for most of the crowd just another way of referring to Israel. The question, “will only a few be saved?” is not a question about going to heaven, but rather a question about surviving the coming conflict. The questioner wants to know, “When the revolution begins and the swords start to swing, how many of us do you think will be left alive?” Jesus answers the question he wants to answer rather than the question the questioner asks. For Jesus, the important thing is not how many will be left, but rather how many will be left out. He makes it clear that the kingdom of God is not a political entity but is instead an eschatological reality – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can only be at the banquet table in a different kind of kingdom. Still, the picture Jesus paints is of a victory celebration, the feast of the conquerors. It is being held in a great hall. Everybody wants to take part, but the owner of the house comes and closes the doors. Now there is only one way to enter, and that is through the so-called narrow door, the slaves’ entrance. So, it turns out that Jesus does answer the question, “Will there only be a few who will be saved?” The answer is, “Every slave. Every servant.”
31-35: Why the Pharisees warn him is a puzzle: perhaps they, too, think some sort of uprising is in the works which they would prefer not to happen. Jesus heeds the warning and decides to move on instead of remaining where he is. It would not do for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem. It would not do for Herod to put him to death as he had put John the baptizer to death. Jerusalem does not have a good track record in dealing with God’s prophets. We all have our Jerusalem, the place where we crown the kings of our lives; where the clamor of the world competes with the strange yearning for the temple; where truth and deceit battle for our allegiance; where God persistently sends holy messengers, harbingers of grace and peace and justice. We do not often believe them, and turn deaf ears to their pleas or laugh them to scorn.
One yet is coming.
Luke 14 (day 987) 13 September 2012
1-6: This miracle story is very similar to the one that involved a man with a withered hand (6:6-11). Both take place on a Sabbath and in both cases the Pharisees are watching him. I suspect both victims were planted by them to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath so they could bring accusations against him. In both stories Jesus challenges them with a question before he heals the sufferer. One major difference, though, is that this event takes place in the home of a Pharisee, not in a synagogue. Dropsy is a popular name for edema, swelling caused by poor circulation that allows fluid to collect around joints and organs. Jesus heals the man and then challenges the Pharisees, but they do not respond.
7-14: Jesus uses the occasion to make a point. If you want to determine who deserves to be honored, find those who do not seek to be honored. That’s the way things work in the kingdom of God. By the way, the phrase, “the resurrection of the righteous” does not occur anywhere else in the Bible.
15-24: This is an interesting parable. It makes me wonder what the reaction of fair weather church members would be if they arrived one Sunday morning to find the pews filled with strangers. Not just strangers, but unsavory strangers, people who literally stink up the place. They would probably turn around in disgust and never again set their soles (or seat their souls) in the church. I would guess the Pharisee and his guests were deeply offended. But don’t spend too much time pondering this. The main character in the parable is actually the servant whose only job is to invite people to the banquet. The host commands the servant to keep on inviting until the house was full. The servant makes three trips into the community, each time coming back to report that invitations have been given and the banquet hall still has empty seats, and each time the order is the same: go invite others. Get the point?
25-33: The word “cross” occurs only three times in Luke – at 9:23, here, and at 23:26. In all three, the cross is being carried by someone. In Luke the cross is not so much an instrument of torture as it is an instrument of submission. It’s hard to escape the impression that Jesus is trying to discourage any more followers. The requirements he gives here are so strict that he may as well have simply announced that he wasn’t going to take on any more disciples.
34-35: Many make the mistake of thinking these verses stand alone. There is a similar saying recorded in Matthew 5:13 where Jesus says to the crowd, “You are the salt of the earth.” But here the salt does not represent his listeners. Instead, in this case salt represents their possessions. Count the cost, like a builder comparing his resources to the cost of a tower, or like a general comparing his army to his enemy’s army. Compare the value of your earthly attachments – family, power, possessions – to the benefits of following Christ. You will discover that your earthly attachments are not nearly worth enough. They are like salt that is tasteless. If you don’t let go of them you will be like the builder who can’t finish the tower. If you do let go of them you will be like the king who wisely asks for peace. We read these verses and think the cost of following Jesus requires too great a sacrifice, but it does not, for it is no sacrifice to relinquish those things which have no eternal value.
Luke 15 (day 988) 14 September 2012
1-7: Tax collectors and sinners are now coming to Jesus rather than his going to them, as he has on other occasions. The now ever-present Pharisees find fault with that, too, so he tells them three stories to justify his actions. On an earlier occasion he had simply responded that those who are well don’t need a physician. The three-story response is basically the same reasoning; Jesus is here for the people who need him the most. The first story is usually referred to as the parable of the lost sheep. It begins with a question: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” I imagine their answer would have been, “Not me! I wouldn’t think of leaving 99% of my investment unprotected (they are in the wilderness, after all) just to recover 1%!” I am fairly certain that would be the reaction of the Pharisees. One’s finances could survive the loss of one sheep among a hundred, but to put the hundred at risk to recover the one? Unthinkable! And the very idea of carrying the one sheep home – the other ninety-nine still out in the wilderness, mind you – and calling your friends and neighbors to celebrate is ridiculous! You’d be advertising your folly to the whole town! They probably pooh-poohed the idea of heaven rejoicing more over one sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people, too. I wonder if they made the connection – if they, the Pharisees, are like the ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance, they must also therefore be like the ninety-nine sheep left in the wilderness. We need to recognize the spiritual economy of the kingdom of God: we who are within the flock are not more loved or more valuable than those who are without.
8-10: The lost coin is the next example. As is common with Luke, the subject this time is a woman. The 100 sheep are replaced with 10 coins (drachmas, a day’s wage). Once again, one is lost. In both cases there is a celebration in the house. The lesson is the same: Jesus has come to seek and save the lost. In this parable the thing to notice is that all the coins are equal in value.
11-24: 100 sheep, 10 coins, 2 sons. One of each gets lost. When they are found there is a celebration in the house. In each, the house is a metaphor for the kingdom of God. The shepherd in the first and the woman in the second clearly represent Jesus. The father in this one is God. We call this one the parable of the prodigal son. “Prodigal” is an old word that means “extravagant.” The youngest son was extravagant in the way he wasted his inheritance. But the word also applies to the father, doesn’t it, in his reception of the boy when he comes back home? Notice, too, that the son doesn’t get lost; he just leaves home. The father doesn’t search for him, but does let him go his own way – a great argument for John Wesley’s insistence on free will. And it occurs to me that “Welcome home!” is what God wants to say to every one of us.
25-32: If the younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners, the older son clearly represents the Pharisees. All of their pettiness and arrogance is revealed by his complaint in verse 29; “You have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.” The younger son was inside partying with the servants. The older son wanted nothing to do with them; he was above socializing with the servants. Such is precisely the pettiness and arrogance of the Pharisees. They enjoyed parties and feasts as much as anyone. They even invited Jesus on occasion. But the last time Jesus dined at the home of a Pharisee he chided his host for only inviting his friends and rich neighbors to the feast (14:12). The snobbishness of the Pharisees is mirrored in the parable by the snobbishness of the older son. But look at the ending! The father goes out to find the older son! “All I have belongs to you,” he says, and in those words God is speaking to the Pharisees. We see clearly now their fundamental flaw. It wasn’t that they were bad people, but they thought of themselves as better than others, and more deserving than anyone else, especially tax collectors and sinners. They wanted an exclusive place. Jesus is trying to teach them that God has a soft spot for the poor, the oppressed, the misguided, the unfortunate, the lost, and most especially the repentant sinner.
Luke 16 (day 989) 15 September 2012
1-9: Jesus turns to his disciples at this point, but the Pharisees are still listening (see verse 14) and we have to wonder if he is not really aiming this story at them. It is the story of a crafty manager who is not very good at bookkeeping. I say that because Jesus does not imply that he is dishonest, only that he squanders his master’s property. The master fires him and tells him to turn in his books. The manager then shows his real talents by arranging for his future needs by giving breaks to his master’s debtors. The master is impressed. Jesus does not say that he wins back his former position, but ends the story by advising the disciples to make friends by means of “dishonest wealth,” so that when it is all gone those friends “may receive you into the eternal homes.” That last statement reveals that the entire parable is drenched with sarcasm. It begins with the manager in the same position as the prodigal son, but the similarities disappear as the manager begins to implement his clever scheme. The Pharisees, lovers of money (verse 14), will see the advantage of the manager’s action, but as for being welcomed into “the eternal realms” through such behavior, they know good and well the kingdom of God doesn’t work that way. The true meaning of the parable, then, is the opposite of its apparent meaning. If you trust in riches to save you in this world, you are also trusting in riches to usher you into the world to come, and that idea is patently absurd and utterly foolish.
10-13: Jesus now makes that clear. Those who are unfaithful with “dishonest wealth” (which is exactly the case with the aforementioned manager) will never be entrusted with the “true riches.”
14-15: Most English versions (KJV, RSV, NRSV, etc.) place a comma after the word “Pharisees” in verse 14, but I prefer to leave it out – ancient manuscripts contain no punctuation, after all, so it is entirely speculative as to whether Luke meant that all Pharisees were lovers of money (comma in), or only some of them were (comma out). My take on the situation is that the remainder of Chapter 16 is addressed to those Pharisees who were lovers of money. Some of the Pharisees were actually pretty decent folks. The ones who did love wealth, though, turn up their noses at Jesus’ admonition that you can’t serve God and money. Since wealth means nothing to God, they are trying to justify themselves before others, which elevates peer review above divine judgment. But God knows that the love of money is symptomatic of wrong thinking – the idea that material riches somehow represent your true value. If you believe that righteousness results in prosperity, then for you prosperity is evidence of righteousness. Jesus says the truth is just the opposite. It is not a sin to be wealthy, but it is a sin to think that material wealth is a sign of your own worth. Neither is it a sin to be poor, but it is a sin to equate poverty with God’s displeasure. The sin of loving wealth is that it ascribes divine powers to material things; it is the worship of idols.
16-17: John’s appearance is a watershed moment in salvation history. Before John the Law and the prophets provided direction. Beginning with John, however, the good news of the kingdom of God is pointing us in a new direction. Jesus’ followers believe that this new kingdom of God is the restoration of the kingdom of David in Jerusalem, and only a bloody and violent revolution can accomplish such a thing. But the Pharisees Jesus is addressing have elevated the Law to God-like authority. They use the Law to justify themselves, and heaven and earth would pass away before they would change one letter of it.
18: But the Law has been superseded by the Gospel. This verse appears to be entirely out of place, but in fact is a case in point. What Jesus says in this verse is a direct contradiction of the Law. The Law says that if a man marries a woman, but she does not please him, he can write her a certificate of divorce and send her out of his house. She may then become another man’s wife (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). Why, then, does Jesus say this? It has to be an illustration that the Law has been superseded by the Gospel. The Law laid down rules for marriage and divorce in Israel. Jesus is making a statement about how marriage and divorce is viewed in the kingdom of God. Although marriage may not be legally binding in Israel, in God’s kingdom it is spiritually binding.
19-31: Jesus wraps up his argument with a parable about a rich man and a poor man. Which one do you think represents the Pharisees? We are given little detail about them other than their socio-economic status. One detail about them does stand out: the rich man is anonymous while the poor man’s name is given – Lazarus. The rich man never invites Lazarus to his table and is content to let him die. In death the rich man still sees himself as being above Lazarus and has the nerve to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to him! There is, however, a chasm between them which cannot be crossed. My interpretation of the chasm is that it symbolizes in death the barrier which the rich man had placed between himself and Lazarus in life. It cannot be crossed in death because he would not cross it when they were alive. By far the most striking feature of the parable is the ending of it. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them. Abraham simply says there is no point in doing so since they are already warned by Moses and the prophets. They have the same information the rich man had before he died. The point is that the Pharisees are the very people in Israel who claim to be the true followers of Moses. Jesus is exposing their hypocrisy – you cannot be obedient to the Law if you turn away from the poor.
Luke 17 (day 990) 16 September 2012
1-4: Jesus turns again to his disciples. Temptations are sure to come, and some may fall to temptations. The way to handle sins is to confess, and the way to handle confessions is to forgive, he tells them. The main thing is, don’t be the source of temptations for others.
5-6: I don’t believe Jesus meant us to understand that faith is equivalent to magical powers. A mustard seed is mindless. It has no will. It has no power over itself. Faith, therefore, has nothing to do with the concentration of mental powers, or the ability to focus one’s attention. Faith is not mind over matter. To have faith like a grain of mustard seed is simply to be so attuned to the will of God that we can do only God’s will and nothing else. That’s all a mustard seed can do.
7-10: To make the point further, faith means doing what God wants us to do without regard for rewards.
11-19: Luke has chosen to insert the account of the ten lepers at just this point in his narrative because it fits so well with the teachings just presented. For example, Jesus has emphasized to his disciples that they must practice mercy toward one another (verses 3-4); here the lepers beg Jesus for mercy. Jesus has just pointed out that a master doesn’t thank servants for doing their jobs (verse 9); here the Samaritan leper thanks Jesus for healing him, thus putting Jesus in the position of the master and the leper in the position of servant. Jesus has just responded to the apostles’ request to increase their faith (verse 5); here Jesus comments on the leper’s faith. There are other surprising things about this story. A Samaritan, a foreigner, may have just as much faith as a descendant of Abraham. That one of the ten lepers was a Samaritan indicates that there was more community and tolerance and acceptance among them than in society in general. Jesus didn’t heal them. He only saw them at a distance. He did not say to them, “Be clean.” He only told them to go show themselves to the priest. Their action in going proved their faith.
20-21: The Pharisees are still hanging around. They want to know when this much-ballyhooed “kingdom of God” is coming. Jesus tells them there are no signs for the coming of the kingdom because it is “within you,” or “among you.” In other words, the kingdom is the internalization of the way God wants us to live.
22-37: In these verses, and nowhere else in the gospels, Jesus tells his disciples about the “days of the Son of Man,” a phrase that most agree is a reference to the Second Coming. It is a difficult passage to understand, and the reader might profitably spend much time in it without exhausting all the insights it has to impart. We can only offer a few observations here. The “day of the Son of Man” is not to be understood as something that is immediate, although I doubt Luke ever dreamed it would be more than 2000 years. It might be preceded by sudden and brief appearances (verse 24), but when the day comes there will be no mistaking it. It will be a time of terror for many, an unsettling thought. The destruction, however, will be highly selective: of two people sleeping in the same bed or working side by side, one will not be affected while the other will. One thing is for sure: a fundamental and permanent change will occur in the very fabric of reality, although details are impossible to discern. The most familiar part of these verses, however, is the saying about preserving your life by losing it. Death, for those who believe, is a door that leads to more abundant life.
Luke 18 (day 991) 17 September 2012
1-8: Prayer has not been mentioned since chapter 11 (but has been an important part of Jesus’ practice – see 3:21, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, and 11:1). Now chapter 18 begins with two parables about prayer. The first has to do with persistence, the second with attitude.
Widows were nearly powerless, and judges notoriously powerful. She has nothing with which to bribe the judge, and thus has no reason to continue approaching him except her belief that her cause is just. The judge finally gives in for no reason except to get rid of her. A new feature is that in this case Luke introduces the parable with an explanation of it (it illustrates the virtue of persistence in prayer) which indicates that he might be afraid the parable will be misinterpreted. In other words, God is nothing like the judge in the parable, but we should be like the widow. Another new feature is that Jesus ends the parable with a series of three questions. The answer to the first is, “Yes” (and the reference to God’s “chosen” probably means the Jews). The answer to the second is, “No.” What’s the answer to the third?
9-14: The Pharisee is thankful that he fasts and tithes, unlike thieves, rogues, adulterers and tax collectors. The tax collector by contrast is ashamed of his behavior. The tax collector goes home “justified,” but not the Pharisee. The Pharisee does not need to be justified because he has done no wrong, but Jesus’ comment at the end warns us that the idea that we can secure our own justification by tithing and fasting is a bad idea. It strikes me, too, that our friend Luke has revealed one of his own shortcomings: His opening comment in verse 9 is the equivalent of saying, “Thank God I’m not like this Pharisee!”
15-17: These three little verses have inspired much of the reform that has taken place in our society’s attitudes toward children in our emphasis on providing protection for them and securing their rights. But Jesus wasn’t trying to make any reforms; he was simply teaching a lesson about the nature of God’s kingdom. What comes to mind for me is an old photo of my daughter as a four-year-old looking at a simple ball ornament on a Christmas tree. Her eyes are wide, her mouth is agape and her whole visage is a study in pure wonderment. Her wonder is uncluttered by the kind of knowledge adults have – the cost of the tree, the effort of hauling ornament boxes down from the attic, the anticipation of post-Christmas depression and credit card bills, and so forth. I don’t mean to suggest that we suspend real world knowledge and experience in order to receive the kingdom of God. I am suggesting that we are not to allow that real world knowledge and experience to cloud our perception of the simple beauty of everything God has made.
18-30: Luke’s account of this incident has subtle differences from the way Matthew (19:16) and Mark (10:17) tell it. The questioner is identified as a “ruler,” which probably means he was a presiding officer in the synagogue. Luke does not say he was a young man (Matthew) and we have no idea he is rich until we are well into the conversation. In Luke’s version he does not walk away when Jesus tells him to distribute his wealth to others, but stays put so that Jesus’ comment about a camel passing through a needle’s eye is directed to him. Then a question from the crowd prompts a response from Jesus. Finally, Peter points out that he and the other disciples have given up everything, and Jesus assures him that their willingness to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom of God will result in their inheriting eternal life. I hope the ruler learned the lesson.
31-34: It is interesting that Jesus pulls his disciples aside at precisely this point to tell them once again of his impending death and resurrection. It is an affirmation that possessions possess little attraction for one who is willing to die for others.
35-43: This story has parallels in Matthew (20:29) and Mark (10:46), each with unique features. Entering Jerusalem, Jesus is hailed by a blind beggar who has been told that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” The beggar knows exactly what he wants and boldly asks. Jesus simply tells him to see again. He does, and follows Jesus into the city glorifying God. Actually, Jesus tells him two things: to receive his sight, and that his faith has saved him, the word “saved” in this case simply meaning he is healed.
Luke 19 (day 992) 18 September 2012
1-10: Everything we know about Zacchaeus, the enigmatic tax collector of Jericho, is contained in this brief passage. Out of these ten verses we have an enormous amount of commentary and speculation and a cute children’s song about the “wee little man.” We are told four simple facts about him: He was a head tax collector, an administrator with others working under him. He was wealthy. He was shorter than the average citizen of Jericho. He was Jewish, a descendant of Abraham. We can deduce a few other details. His position probably means he was not a very young man, and his agility probably means he was not of an advanced age nor grossly obese as the very rich tended to be. My take on the story is that the arrival of Jesus to Jericho prompts Zacchaeus to zoom right through his midlife crisis and declare radical changes in who he wants to be.
11-27: At first glance verse 14 and 27 seem out of place, serving only to unnecessarily complicate the story. However, they introduce an historical note Luke’s first readers would have recognized. In 4 B.C. Herod the Great died, leaving his kingdom divided between his three sons, Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Archelaus. Archelaus actually made a trip to Rome to secure his portion of the inheritance. The Jews sent an embassy to inform the Emperor that they did not want Archelaus as their king. We don’t know what became of those who opposed him, but Augustus did indeed confirm Archelaus as the new king of Judea. Other elements of the parable are curious also. The ruler leaves ten servants in charge of ten portions of his financial holdings, clearly to test their business acumen. Two of them do well, a third does poorly, but the other seven are left out of the reckoning altogether!
But here is the real problem for me: Who is the Christ figure in the parable? Is Christ the ruler who is merciless and cruel? Or is Christ represented by those who oppose the ruler and lose their lives because of their opposition? The usual explanation is that the ruler who receives the kingdom is the Christ figure, that Christ is going away for awhile, leaving his kingdom to his servants, the Church, and that Christ is going to return and judge how well we’ve done with our stewardship. To me this explanation hangs a bit loosely, but after weeks of grappling with these sixteen verses I have found no better one. Perhaps Luke’s intention is to show how Jesus consistently steers his followers away from assuming an immediate end to the existing world order, and to resolve to be faithful in the meantime.
28-40: We see now that Jesus has carefully planned his entrance into Jerusalem by arranging to have a colt ready to carry him. The prophet Zechariah wrote, “See, your king is coming, triumphant and riding on a donkey; a colt, the offspring of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9), and Jesus acts out that prophecy. He sends two of his followers to fetch the donkey, and apparently also explains to his followers what is expected of them. He enters the city amid their shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” There really can be no question but that Jesus, entering the city in this way, is proclaiming himself to be the Messiah. To people present at the time, of course, the declaration may not be so obvious – a man entering the city on a donkey is not an uncommon sight, after all. This is so like Jesus! To take the common and make it uncommon; to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary – water, wine, bread, fish, fishermen.
41-44: Luke is the only writer to give us this snapshot of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Coming down the Mount of Olives he saw the city’s future; the siege works being erected, the walls being breached and the Roman soldiers destroying the buildings stone by stone. If you go to Jerusalem today and visit the Wailing Wall you will be standing before the only structure that remained standing after the Roman attack in 70 A.D. in response to an armed rebellion.
45-48: All four gospels tell of this incident. Luke’s is the briefest account. He mentions only “those who were selling things there.” When Jesus enters the temple, it is not into a building but into the outer courtyard where thousands are gathered. His display of holy anger would certainly not have gone unnoticed.
Luke 20 (day 993) 19 September 2012
1-8: Jesus’ actions in the temple attracted attention, to say the least. Representatives of the religious authorities are sent to challenge him. They want to know where his authority comes from. Jesus replies, as he so often does, by asking them from whence John the Baptizer’s authority came. They cannot answer because they do not believe John’s authority came from heaven, but if they say it publicly they will arouse the ire of the crowd, for John was very popular among the populace. Jesus then refuses to answer them. But in a way he has answered them – he has declared that his authority comes from his baptism. Would that all Christians would claim that authority!
9-19: The prevailing interpretation of the “parable of the wicked tenants” is that the vineyard is Israel, the owner of the vineyard is God, the tenants are the leaders of Israel, the servants are the prophets (the fact that there are three servants has precipitated much speculation over which three prophets are intended), the son is Jesus, and the others to whom the vineyard is ultimately given is the Church. Of course, the scribes and chief priests would have imagined the “others” to be the Romans, and that would have made them pretty hot.
20-26: The Jews had a law: Do not make for yourselves any engraved image or likeness of anything in the skies, on the ground, or in the water” (Exodus 20:4). But the Romans required that their taxes be paid with Roman coins which were stamped with the image of the emperor. It was a perfect “catch 22” for any would-be savior. Knuckle under to the Roman demand for taxes and risk losing your integrity as a serious revolutionary. But, if you stand up to the Romans and refuse to pay the levy you risk losing your freedom and even your life. Jesus’ response was pure genius. Notice that 1) it’s their coin, not his and 2) he gets them to point out whose picture is on it. That is just too cool.
27-36: The Sadducees have been watching the priests and scribes attempting to trick Jesus and getting sliced up by his superior logic, but they are a proud sort who cannot resist giving it a try. They present a complicated picture of a poor woman who buries seven husbands. In the resurrection, they ask, whose wife will she be? Their interest is to prove how silly the whole idea of a resurrection really is. I would have answered, “Whichever one she wants.” Jesus has a much more troubling answer: there will be no marriage in the resurrection. The reason he gives is that the resurrected will live forever. Some wags have speculated that no marriage can last that long, anyway. I wonder, though, that his answer may have more to do with the fact that those who live forever have no need to have children and thus the primary reason for the marriage covenant, which in old Israel served the purpose of protecting the transmission of estates to succeeding generations, will no longer be a factor.
37-40: The Sadducees, relying on reason, have failed in their attempt to disprove the idea of the resurrection and eternal life. Jesus, relying on revelation, turns to the scriptures to show how Moses speaks of the dead in the present tense, thus showing them to be still somehow alive. Some of the scribes (who were probably Pharisees) compliment Jesus on his answer.
41-44: A great deal of effort has been exerted to demonstrate that Jesus stands in David’s lineage. Jesus seems to be defeating the purpose of that designation. If the Messiah is to be a descendant of David, he says, why then does David refer to the Messiah as his “Lord?” (Psalm 110:1). I have some suspicion that Jesus made this argument only half seriously as a way of demonstrating the ineptness of the scribes so that he could then warn the people about them, as he does in the following verses. But perhaps the more likely explanation is that Jesus was distancing himself from the misguided expectations the people had about the Messiah, that the Messiah would be a David-like figure, a charismatic revolutionary who would galvanize the people against Rome and lead them into a new era of unrivaled international prominence. Jesus, however, was not the long-awaited Davidic Messiah; he was the long-awaited Suffering Servant Messiah foretold not by David but by Isaiah. It is not that Israel needed a military/political savior to restore the fortunes of Zion. It is rather that we all needed a sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world and God chose Israel as the altar.
45-47: Please take the commas out of verse 46. Jesus was not condemning all scribes. He was warning his disciples of those scribes who liked to flaunt their position by wearing long robes and misuse their legal training to cheat uneducated widows out of their inheritances.
Luke 21 (day 994) 20 September 2012
1-4: In contrast to the scribes, Jesus lifts up a poor widow as a model of all that is good and noble.
5-6: When the disciples, perfect examples of “country come to town,” are wide-eyed over the temple building and its adornments, Jesus tells them it will all come down one day; then follows a lengthy section on the signs of the end. A similar treatise is to be found in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.
7-11: Jesus prophesies false messiahs, wars and rebellions, earthquakes, famines and plagues – in other words, life will go on as usual.
12-19: However, in the nearer future the disciples can expect to be under suspicion of sedition and persecuted even by close friends and family. Jesus encourages them to keep the faith. They have no need to formulate a defense; he will give them the words to speak when the time comes. This is very like the promise made of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel.
20-24: Luke is the only one of the three synoptic gospels in which Jesus specifically refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, although “its desolation has come near” echoes the others’ predictions of the “desolating sacrilege” (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14).
25-28: Jesus describes indescribable things: signs in the sun, moon and stars; roaring of the seas causing distress among the nations; the shaking of the “powers of the heavens,” indicating a conflict which goes beyond the physical creation. At the height of all this “they” (who are “they?”) will see Jesus return in the clouds. We cannot understand what imagery such a statement might have summoned in the minds of his hearers, the disciples, but we recall that God appeared to the Hebrew people in the wilderness in a cloud. The bare bones of what Jesus is telling them are clear enough to us modern folks: A day will come when this old world will act very strangely, and Jesus will return.
29-33: It is even more curious that in the preceding verses Jesus never mentions his own death even though he clearly refers to his return! All of it is as certain and as near as the approaching springtime, he says – that’s the gist of the parable of the fig tree sprouting its leaves. By the time summer comes they will have witnessed the calamities he has described, but rather than being discouraged, they should accept the suffering as a sign that the kingdom of heaven has come near. In spite of the obscure references contained in this chapter, we recognize that this is one of the great paradoxes of our faith; God’s presence with us is never more assured than when we are in the throes of tribulations that make us think God has abandoned us.
34-36: The section ends with an exhortation to the disciples to keep the faith, to “be not dismayed whate’er betide.”
37-38: This is a transition sentence; the section on the signs of the times has ended and the hard facts of the last days before the crucifixion are now to be laid out for us.
Luke 22 (day 995) 21 September 2012
1-2: This is the second time Luke tells us that the chief priests and scribes were afraid of the people. On the first occasion they did not put Jesus to death because they were in a public setting and feared the reaction of the people (20:19). Now they plot to find a surreptitious way to kill him because of their fear of the people’s reaction.
3-6: This is only the second mention of Judas Iscariot in Luke; the first time he is named Luke tells us that he will betray Jesus (6:16). He conspires with the chief priests to do so and promises, for a fee, to do so when no crowd is around.
7-13: Once again we find that Jesus has made some advance preparations. He had arranged for a donkey to carry him into Jerusalem (19:29-31), and now we learn he has made preparations for the Passover meal with his disciples. He sends Peter and John to set things up. When they enter the city they are met by a man carrying a water jar. It is a task usually reserved for women, thus making him conspicuous when they arrive at the gate. He shows them the place and they make the preparations.
14-23: Luke’s version of the Lord’s Supper differs from Matthew’s (26:26-29) and Mark’s (14:22-25) account. For one thing, it is twice as long. Jesus begins by telling them that he has “eagerly desired to eat this Passover” with them but then there is no specific mention of anybody actually eating or drinking anything! It is in Luke’s account a highly symbolic meal. Just as the Passover stands at the center of Jewish faith and remembrance, the Last Supper stands at the center of Christian faith and remembrance. The Passover meal points to an event in history; so does the Last Supper. The Passover event resulted in the freedom of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. The Last Supper reminds us of the event which results in our freedom from slavery to sin and death. On the night of the Passover the first-born children of the Egyptians died. On the day after the Last Supper the first-born (and only) child of God was put to death. On the night of the Passover the people marked their doorways with the blood of the lamb. Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we drink the wine-now-blood, thus marking ourselves and our bodies with the blood of the Lamb. And here’s a strange twist: we think of Judas as the villain, which he was, but to continue the imagery of the Passover, Judas is the one who provides the lamb for the feast!
24-30: It is incredible that at this dramatic moment the disciples should renew their old quarrel about which of them is the most important. Once again Jesus reminds them, more gently this time, that servanthood is more important than status. Then, knowing his time is short, he begins to get his affairs in order and bequeaths to them seats at his table to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. In the context of Jesus’ teaching, however, we must remember that to judge means to render justice for, not to lord it over, the people.
31-34: It is already evening, and Jesus tells Simon that before the cock crows in the morning he will have denied Jesus three times; but he also tells him that such behavior is expected of him and he is not to wallow in regrets but rather must be a leader behind whom the others can rally.
35-38: Jesus knows that immediately after his death his followers will be in danger, and he tells them to prepare themselves to become hunted as outlaws, even to arm themselves. This advise is surprising given all we know about Jesus to this point, but when he indicates that two swords will be enough we begin to think that perhaps he is simply exaggerating the need for them to be prepared for the aftermath of his death.
39-46: It is a surprise to many, but the name Gethsemane is only mentioned twice in the Bible (Matthew 26:36 and Mark 14:32). Luke only tells us that Jesus had a custom of leaving the city and going to the Mt. of Olives for prayer. He leaves the disciples to pray alone, and is inspired by the appearance of an angel to pray more fervently until he is sweating profusely (though not all the ancient manuscripts contain verses 43-44). The disciples have trouble staying awake, a fact reported by Matthew and Mark as well, and we are led to believe that sleeping outdoors on the Mt. of Olives was the usual thing for them to do while they were in Jerusalem.
47-53: Judas arrives with the temple police to arrest Jesus. There is a brief skirmish, reported in all four gospels but only John tells us that Peter is the one who whacks off the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10 – John also tells us the servant’s name is Malchus).
54-62: Jesus is taken to the high priest’s house; Peter follows. A crowd has gathered in the courtyard and a fire kindled. Three times an onlooker connects Peter to Jesus, and three times he denies being involved with him. A rooster crows and Peter is convicted. Still, even though he has denied Jesus three times, he is the only one who followed them, and we must give him credit for that much.
63-65: Meanwhile, the violent treatment of Jesus begins in earnest.
66-71: This first “trial” is an unofficial one. They are looking for evidence to present to the Roman authorities. The chief priests and scribes attempt to get Jesus to convict himself, but he deftly dodges their interrogation, never really saying anything that can be used against him. Still, though he is noncommittal at the question about whether or not he is God’s Son, they twist his words to convict him of claiming to be God’s Son, the Messiah, and as such he is an enemy of Rome. Case closed.
Luke 23 (day 996) 22 September 2012
1-5: They drag Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor (from A.D. 26-37). He quickly sees through their ruse and dismisses the case. They are insistent, though, telling him that Jesus has been stirring up trouble from Galilee to Jerusalem.
6-12: Pilate jumps at the information that Jesus is a Galilean, and sends Jesus to Herod. This is Herod Antipas, one of the sons of that Herod the Great who had slaughtered the babies of Bethlehem when Jesus was born. He is ruling under appointment from Rome over Galilee and Peraea, a position he holds until 39 A.D. when the Romans will depose him and send him into exile. Herod makes fun of Jesus and sends him back to Pilate, a gesture that serves to erase their differences. The reader must not miss the irony that Jesus is responsible for the peace that now has come between them.
13-17: Pilate summons the Jews, and for the second time declares Jesus to be an innocent man. He says he’ll give Jesus a good beating and then they can all go home.
18-25: As far as Luke is concerned the blame for the death of Jesus rests squarely on the chief priests and scribes. Pilate insists that Jesus does not deserve to be put to death, and even Herod has declined to punish him. But the chief priests and scribes are so insistent that Pilate gives in to their demands; after all, why should he care about one bedraggled Jew?
26-31: “They,” from now on, is a reference to the Jewish officials. Jesus is paraded directly to the place of execution. He has been so brutally treated that they have to grab someone else to carry his cross; only Luke and Mark identify him as Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene was in northern Africa, in what is now Libya, and Simon is probably a pilgrim come to Jerusalem for the Passover. Quite a crowd gathers for the parade to the hanging grounds, and Luke reports an exchange between Jesus and some women as he tells them that more suffering is to come. The saying about the green wood and the dry wood means something like, “If they behave this way while I am with you, what will they do to you after I’m gone?” (See Ezekiel 17:24, 20:47)
32-38: Luke piles on details in no particular order. The place of crucifixion is called The Skull. Jesus is crucified between two criminals. He forgives his executioners. “They” cast lots for his clothes. A crowd of bystanders watch the proceedings. The leaders mock him, claiming that his suffering is proof he is no Messiah. The soldiers (the Romans have washed their hands of the whole spectacle, but are obliged to keep order at the scene) mock him as well, offering him wine that is soured, and hanging an inscription ridiculing him as “King of the Jews.”
39-43: The two criminals represent the two polar opposite responses to Jesus: ridicule and belief. The believing thief, like every believing sinner, is welcomed into paradise with Jesus. This is the only occurrence of the word “paradise” in the gospels, but the word does appear elsewhere (2 Corinthians 12:4, Revelation 2:7).
44-49: The three hours of darkness and the tearing of the curtain in the temple (the curtain hiding the “holy of holies” from view) are reported in Matthew and Mark as well as Luke, but only Luke records Jesus’ last words. The centurion is also mentioned in the three synoptic gospels. John’s account is somewhat different, but we’ll get to that. In Matthew and Mark the centurion pronounces Jesus to be God’s Son, but Luke has another agenda: the centurion echoes Pilate’s judgment: “Surely this man was innocent!”
50-56: Joseph of Arimathea appears in all four gospels to claim the body of Jesus, and the body is shrouded and laid in Joseph’s tomb. “The women” take note of where Jesus is buried. (There is no mention yet of the tomb being sealed with a stone.) Sundown is approaching. The women make preparations for anointing the body with burial spices, and the action stops as the Sabbath begins.
Luke 24 (day 997) 23 September 2012
1-12: At sunrise they return to the tomb – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and some other women (compare the list at Luke 8:2-3) – with their spices. The first thing they notice is that the stone (which Luke failed to mention before) is rolled away. They enter the cave and find the body missing. Two “men” (later identified as angels in verse 23) in “dazzling clothes” suddenly appear and tell them Jesus has risen just as he had told them. They go and tell the disciples and “all the rest,” who do not believe them, but Peter, perhaps with a rooster’s crow echoing in his head, decides to check it out. He finds the linen cloths lying there, has no idea how to interpret the data, and goes home, or wherever they are staying while in town.
13-27: Sunday morning is the beginning of a workday in ancient Israel, so the Sabbath restrictions on travel do not apply. Two followers, Cleopas and another man, are walking the seven miles to the village of Emmaus (exact location now unknown). The name Cleopas appears nowhere else in the scriptures, but some speculate it is the same man as the Clopas mentioned in John 19:25, who was the husband of Mary and father of James the Lesser, one of the Twelve. Whoever this Cleopas and his friend might be, as they walk a stranger joins them and asks what they are discussing. They tell him about the events in Jerusalem and he chides them for not knowing the prophets.
28-33: They invite him to stay the night in Emmaus with them. As they sit at table he breaks and blesses some bread and they suddenly recognize that it is Jesus. Jesus immediately is gone, no explanation given, and they hurry back to Jerusalem to report the sighting.
34-35: Back in Jerusalem with the disciples we learn that there has been another sighting by Peter, something not reported in any of the other gospels.
36-43: While they are talking Jesus suddenly appears. Given the information that Cleopas and the other man did not immediately recognize him we are perhaps not surprised that he would have been able to wander in unnoticed until the moment he chose to reveal himself. He shows them his wounds and asks for something to eat to prove his is not a ghost.
44-49: Jesus gives them the same lesson he had given Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, and tells them that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. He tells them they are to wait in the city until they have been “clothed with power from on high,” a reference to the Day of Pentecost described in Acts 2.
Each of the four gospels has a different ending. Luke emphasizes three aspects of Jesus’ leave-taking. First, there is the repeated insistence that everything that happened to Jesus, especially his suffering and death, happened in accordance with the scriptures – meaning the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets.
Second, Luke emphasizes repentance and the forgiveness of sins, an emphasis that begins with the preaching of John the Baptizer (see 3:3). We are mistaken if we take this as Law – repent and you will be forgiven, but if you don’t repent you’ll go to you-know-where. It is not a command; it is an invitation. We are invited to repent, to spend our lives turning ourselves over to the one who made us, because the one who made us can make us whole. As we repent, it is not so much that we receive forgiveness, but rather that we discover it.
Third, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ instructions for them to remain in Jerusalem until they receive power. He wants to make sure that we understand that the disciples of Jesus did not begin their work of spreading the good news until they were specifically empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.
50-52: They leave Jerusalem and walk to Bethany where Jesus is carried up in a scene that reminds us of Elijah’s ascension (2 Kings 2:11). Luke ends his gospel with the disciples in the temple worshiping, assured that Christ is alive and watching over them.
Even today the followers of Christ are assured that he is alive and watching over us, too.