The Word Made Fresh

1There were some present on that occasion who told him about the people from Galilee whose blood Pilate had spilled while they were making their sacrifices. 2Jesus asked them, “Do you think those Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than everybody else in Galilee? 3No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will suffer the same fate. 4Or do you think the eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam collapsed on them were worse sinners than everyone else in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as did they.”

6Then he told them a parable. “A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard, but when he came looking for figs there were none. 7So, he told his vine dresser, ‘Look, I’ve been coming to look for figs on this tree for three years, and haven’t found one yet. Cut it down. Why let it just take up space?’

8“The man replied, ‘Let me dig around it and fertilize it with manure, and see how it does for another year. 9If it starts producing, fine; but if not you can have it cut down then.’”

10One Sabbath day when Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11a woman appeared who was bent over, unable to stand up straight, because she had a condition which crippled her. 12When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are free from your pain.” 13He laid his hands on her and right away she stood up straight, and began praising God.

14The synagogue leader was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and he kept telling the crowd, “There are six days on which work can be done. Come on one of those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath!”

15But the Lord said, “Don’t be such a hypocrite! Every one of you will untie your ox or donkey on the Sabbath and lead it to water, won’t you? 16So, shouldn’t this woman, a descendant of Abraham whom the devil bound for eighteen years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day?”

17When Jesus said this his opponents were ashamed, but all the people were delighted by the wonderful things he was doing. 18So, Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? To what can it be compared? 19It is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his garden. It grew as large as a tree, and the birds made their nests in its branches. 20And to what else can the kingdom of God be compared? 21It’s like the yeast a woman mixed thoroughly with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

22Jesus continued from one town or village to another, teaching as he made his way toward Jerusalem. 23Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

Jesus replied, 24“Try to enter through the narrow gate. A lot of people will try and not succeed. 25When the owner of the house has shut the door for the night, if you stand outside and knock and call out, ‘Lord, open the door!’ He’ll say, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!’ 26Then you will beg, ‘We ate and drank with you! You taught in our streets!’ 27But he’ll say, ‘I don’t know where you’re from. Go away, you reprobates!’ 28You will weep and grind your teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob with all the prophets in God’s kingdom, but you yourselves will be left out. 29Then people will come from all around – north, south, east, and west – and enjoy the feast in God’s kingdom. 30In fact, some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.”

31At that time some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “You’d better get away from here. Herod wants to see you dead!”

32Jesus said, “Tell that fox, ‘I am casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, but I’ll be finished with my work here on the third day. 33So, today and tomorrow and the next day I’ll be on my way because a prophet can’t be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I wanted to gather your children together like a hen gathering her chicks under her wing, but you were not willing! 35So look – your house is left to you. I tell you that you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD!’”


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 had 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 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, everyone 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 Christ 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 hands (roots) dirty and smelly. You must 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 the eighteen 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 confounding “infirmity” which has kept me from seeing much past my 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 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. Like the seed which 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 instead turn deaf ears to their pleas or laugh to scorn them. But one yet is coming.


So, it’s not that we must enter the Kingdom of Heaven; the Kingdom of Heaven must enter us. The Kingdom will guide our steps, show us where God wants us to be, and keep us on the right path throughout this earthly life.