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Metaphor in the
Life of Jesus

Morris A. Inch
 

 






 

 

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EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
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Metaphor in the
Life of Jesus

Morris A. Inch

 

 

PREFACE

Since there are several thousand lives of Jesus, one might assume that would suffice. However, additional studies have served to highlight some particular aspect of his life and ministry, providing profitable insights into what has been described as the greatest life ever lived, or alternatively identified as the greatest story every told. One can only hope that the present study will fall into this privileged category.

In fact, this is at least the third time I have attempted something of this sort. Initially, it resulted in the publication of Celebrating Jesus as Lord (1974). This served as an introduction to Matthew’s Gospel in the light of its alleged popularity among the early house churches. As such, it served for some time as a study guide.

The second appeared as the first of two entries in Two Gospel Motifs: The Original Quest & The Messianic Theophany (2001). In this regard, I reasoned that Luke’s Gospel was deserving of being considered as the original quest for the historical Jesus (cf. Luke 1:3-4). Qualifications aside, it should then be embraced as normative for the rest: such as Ernest Renan’s classic work The Life of Jesus, C. H. Dodd’s insightful The Founder of Christianity, and Hugh Schoenfield’s innovative The Passover Plot.

Now, in my third retirement, I have been impressed to reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus in terms of metaphor. I employ the term concerning something that represents anything else. For instance, a hearty handshake conveys the notion of good will. Moreover, when tempted to take metaphor for granted, we miss out on some of life’s finer nuances.

Three considerations helped shaped the end result. First, I have been admittedly selective. This seemed best to suit my purposes, and not unnecessarily to labor the topic. Accordingly, the reader may readily extrapolate.

Second, I have focused primarily on Luke’s Gospel, since he more than the other gospel writers provides a compelling precedent. While he does not elaborate on what is meant by providing an orderly account, the text with little exception could be written in chronological order.

Finally, while I have from time to time made explicit reference to metaphor, it is more often implicit in my approach to the text. Conversely, if the allusions seem a bit redundant, please bear with it—as a conscientious effort to alert the reader. All things considered, the text provides a provocative alternative to the existing lives of Jesus, without taking undue liberty with the biblical text.

 

 

* * *

TEMPLE & HOME

Every year Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. It was on this occasion that the Jewish people recalled as the seminal event in their corporate history the deliverance from bondage. Most notable among the affirmations growing out of this event was “the notion that God is present in human lives, that he hears the cries of the suffering and tormented, and that he intervenes in history to deliver man from affliction and to redeem him from oppression.”1 The ritual was carefully crafted to reflect these convictions.

When Jesus was twelve years of age, they went up in pilgrim terms to observe the occasion, and Jesus was with them. After the celebration was concluded, they were returning home—supposing that the lad was with relatives or friends. Along toward night, they went looking for him, but he was nowhere to be found.

Accordingly, they hastened back to Jerusalem. “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46). While the term three is sometimes employed to mean an extended time, it is likely used more specifically in this instance.

Now Jesus was not instructing the rabbis, as sometimes alleged. The portrait is of a precocious lad, bent on learning and strikingly insightful. As a result, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at this understanding and his answers.”

Joseph and Mary were, in turn, amazed. In context, either because his expertise, his seeming disregard for the worry he had caused them, or a combination of the two.

“Son,” Mary addressed him, “why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Jesus replied. He thus sets your father and I over against my Father. Who is a person ultimately responsible to, one’s parents or the Almighty. The rabbis concluded that it was the latter, although the parents served as God’s delegates.

Jesus’ tarrying at the temple was thus calculated to alert his legal parents to his divine mission. This would involve leaving family and friends, to assume an itinerant ministry. It would also to lead to violent death, followed by a triumphant resurrection. While perhaps a subtle metaphor, its implications would increasingly become evident.

As a reality check, each of us has his or her own peculiar calling in life, meant to be embraced with similar devotion. In greater detail, William Shakespeare observed:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts.2

Jesus proved to be no exception, although he was certainly exceptional.

So he went down to Nazareth with them, and was obedient to them. Luke apparently wants to assure us that Jesus meant no disrespect by his discreet reply. How does one honor his or her parents? Initially, by abiding by their wishes. Especially when one is not inclined to do so. The rabbis reasoned that one is to be more commended for obeying in such instances than when disposed to comply.

Then, too, by appreciatively accepting their provision. Decidedly not in taking such for granted, or depreciating them in any way. Otherwise, one also shows a disrespect for the Almighty, who structured the family so as to nurture its offspring.

Moreover, we honor our parents by taking care of their needs as they grow older. Not their physical needs alone, but their social and religious needs as well. Emphatically not leaving them to find for themselves, or leaving to others that for which we are responsible.

Once our parents have passed away, we are to remember them in appropriate ways. As when we recall cherished moments together, or some sage saying. In more tangible fashion, by placing flowers on their grave-site. Accordingly, metaphor is as metaphor does.

“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” He matured in a natural manner. As sometimes expressed, “One must learn to walk before he can run.” Jesus proved to be no exception.

In favor with God and men serves as a comprehensive idiom, signifying that Jesus matured commendably in all regards. As such, he exemplified what parents would desire of their children. Then, by implication, he was more rather than less human for being divine.

 

 

* * *

DRAMA OF DECISION

John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This was in keeping with the prophecy: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation’” (Luke 3:4-6; cf. Isa. 40:3-5).

Baptism was not an unfamiliar rite. For instance, proselyte baptism was administered to non-Jews. Then, too, the Qumran community practiced baptism, but as a repeated act of ritual cleansing.

It goes without saying that water served admirably in this connection. As such, there was nothing subtle in its application. It was only as it took on some finer distinction that its use required explanation. As in the case of John, and as it applied to the advent of the Messiah.

More expressly, the text from Isaiah assumed the imagery of preparing the roadway for the arrival of royalty. They were to fill in the ruts, and smooth out the approach. In particular, by repenting of their sins and seeking forgiveness.

As for apt commentary, “This willingness to unconditional confrontation with the messianic figure reponded to the core demand of John’s message. The decision to submit to this was dramatized in the rite of baptism.”3 Accordingly, it constituted a drama of decision.

“You brood of vipers!” John caustically greeted those coming to be baptized by him. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Whereupon, he urged them: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Rather than taking consolation in the fact that they were descended from Abraham. “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What shall we do then,” the people earnestly inquired. They perhaps hoped for some simple resolution.

John replied in concrete terms, “The man with two tunics should share with them who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” This was in keeping with the dual obligation to be industrious and generous. As for the former, the rabbis reasoned that one could not properly observe the Sabbath unless they had diligently applied themselves throughout the week. As for the latter, each according to his ability should share with those according to their needs.

Tax-collectors were among those who came to be baptized. “Often dishonest and rich and viewed as a collaborator with Israel’s Gentile oppressors, the tax collector was one of the most despised persons in Israel.”4 “Teacher,” they compliantly inquired, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he cautioned them. His admonition was aimed at the common practice of using their leverage so as to gain inordinate wealth.

Then certain soldiers approached him. These could readily employ coercion in order to indulge themselves. “And what shall we do?” they asked.

“Don’t exhort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay,” John pointedly responded. Thus greed appears as the culprit in both this and the former instance.

It can be readily seen from the above examples that John’s baptism necessitated the turning over of a new leaf; so as to leave behind a survival of the fittest mentality, and pick up a life where proper deference is given the Almighty and concern expressed for others. In this regard, it provided a parabolic event in the lives of its participants.

Now there was considerable ambiguity concerning the identity of the Messiah.

On the one hand, it appeared as if God Himself would intervene; on the other, as if through a chosen agent. On the one hand, the Messiah appeared as a military figure, on the other, as a heavenly agent. On the one hand, he was represented as the royal heir to David’s throne; on the other, as a suffering servant.5

Not surprising, then, the populace wondered if John might qualify.

Conversely, he did not leave the matter in doubt. “I baptize you with water,” he allowed. “But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” In this manner, he set before them the options of receiving the Spirit or bearing the consequences for failing to respond. In a qualified sense, the harvest had begun.

Jesus also came to be baptized. But John tried to deter him, saying: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:13). While reluctant, he seems open to some compelling rationale.

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” At this, John relented. Jesus thus manifestly “identifies himself with his people in a movement of national repentance. (His) own baptism demonstrates his solidarity with the people. He was not baptized because he needed to be forgiven of sin.”6 More expressly, his baptism symbolized the vicarious character of his mission.

After Jesus was baptized, the heaven was opened, and the Spirit of God descended on him in a form like that of a dove. And a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The dove was associated with sacrifice from antiquity (cf. Gen. 15:9). Later on, a dove was dispatched from the ark to determine if the flood waters had receded. Hence, the dove with an olive branch in its mouth assumed the role of a symbol of peace. All things considered, the appearance of the Spirit in a manner resembling a dove signified the anointing of Jesus for his public ministry. This was confirmed by the voice from heaven, identifying Jesus as my Son, hence one obligated to carrying out his Father’s redemptive strategy. The scene was thus set for all that would follow.

 

 

* * *

ONLY TWO WORDS

On another occasion, John saw Jesus coming toward him. “Look,” he exclaimed, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). In context, the lamb assumes a sacrificial role.

The next day John was with two of his disciples. “Look,” he again observed, “the Lamb of God!” As a result, the disciples followed Jesus.

Turning around, Jesus pointedly inquired: “What do you want?” As an aside, this provides an example of a common practice to apply a text in a metaphorical manner. Accordingly, what do you want raises the question of priorities. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal,” Jesus subsequently admonished. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and dust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).

“Rabbi,” they respectfully responded, “where are you staying?” This was by way of inquiring further concerning him.

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they accompanied him, and spent the day together. Needless to say, it was time well spent. As, in turn, is time spent in prayer.

Now Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother was one of the disciples. His initial response was to find Peter, and inform him: “We have found the Messiah.” Whereupon, be brought him to Jesus. This, moreover, provides a precedent for others to emulate.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he admonished him: “Follow me” (John 1:43). While only two words, they speak volumes.

Here we break away from the narrative to recall an extended illustration. It was Friday morning, and Pastor Maxwell was engaged in preparing his sermon—when interrupted by the door bell. Looking out the window, he saw a shabbily dressed man. He reluctantly responded to the invasion of his privacy, and made his way to the front door. It seems that the man was looking for employment, but the pastor could only wish him well.

Then, toward the close of the morning worship service, the man again made an appearance. Walking deliberately to the front of the sanctuary, he solemnly addressed the congregation. Allowing that he was without employment and in dire straights, he pointedly inquired: “What do you Christians mean by following in the steps of Jesus?”7

He suddenly lurched in the direction of the communion table, and put out his hand to steady himself. He passed the other hand across his eyes, and then fell heavily forward on his face. The pastor was the first to reach him, followed by a physician who was in attendance. The man was carried off into the pastor’s study, and subsequently to Maxwell’s home—where he died shortly thereafter.

However, his question remained as an incentive to soul-searching and outreach. This expressed itself in varied ways: given the differing gifts within the congregation, in the light of pressing concerns, and in response to the cost of discipleship. No further commentary would appear necessary.

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. He found Nathanael, and informed him: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth!” Nathanael protested. “Can anything good come from there?” While not a famous village, “we have no reason for thinking it was infamous. . . . Moreover since Nathanael himself came from Cana, it is not at all improbable that we have a trace of the rivalry that often grips small centers (and larger ones) not far from one another.”8 Then, too, it was assumed that for a place to be considered prominent it would be mentioned in the Old Testament text.

Not to be overlooked, God delights in using modest means to accomplish great things. Among other considerations, this assures that he will be given due consideration. Gideon’s greatly reduced contingent serves as a classic example (cf. Judges 7:2-3).

“Come and see,” Philip encouraged him.

“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he observed: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

“How do you know of me?” Nathanael incredously inquired.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Since the fig tree is often associated with one’s residence, something of this nature may be involved. In addition, “Its shade was certainly at a later time used as a place for prayer and mediation and study, and there is no reason for thinking that the practice does not go back as far as this.”9 Consequently, there may be metaphorical implications that are not readily evident.

“Rabbi,” he enthusiastically responded, “you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” Otherwise expressed, he was the Messiah.

At this, Jesus informed him that he would witness still greater things. In particular, “you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” God would reveal himself more fully in the course of time—especially in conjunction with Jesus’ life and ministry. Encouraged along this line, he was invited to follow the messianic Son of Man.

 

 

* * *

TEMPTED IN THE WILDERNESS

Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, “returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2). This assuredly recalls the time when Moses fasted for forty days and nights, having descended from Sinai with the Decalogue. This conclusion is reinforced by the identification of Jesus as the prophet like Moses (cf. Acts 3:22; Deut. 8:15). In keeping with this thesis, he pointedly quotes from Deuteronomy in conjunction with each of the temptations.

Then, too, the temptations recall the experience of Israel in the wilderness. In this connection, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut. 8:2).

In more general terms, the wilderness was life-threatening. One could readily succumb from lack of water, and under the sweltering sun. This, in turn, recalls an occasion when a colleague and I, along with our students were working our way down into the Jordan rift. Everyone seemed enthusiastic at the outset, before the heat began to take its toll. Soon several of the students felt that they could no longer continue, and pled that they be left behind. Whereupon, my colleague advised that I go on ahead with those who felt up to it, while he attempted to keep the others moving at a slower pace.

Just over the next ridge, we could make out a green line of foliage snaking its way toward the river in the distance. Alerting the stragglers, we all rushed toward an inviting stream, and were soon splashing around in a suitable pool. Such is the imagery that lingers concerning an encounter with the wilderness.

Of course, the wilderness was also associated with temptation—as noted above. Here the people wavered in their intent to follow their leaders into the promised land. Here natural inclinations were fostered by extenuating circumstances.

What then? One is supposed to press on with confidence in God’s sustaining grace. In this regard, “We are not tempted to do what we cannot do but what is within our power. The greater the strength, the greater the temptations. How fierce must have been Jesus’ battle!”10

As a result, one may anticipate experiencing God’s sustaining grace. So that the wilderness was associated with the giving of the Covenant and God’s providential care. It is in this context that the devout have retired to the wilderness so as to commune with the Almighty. Here there are few distractions, allowing one to put priorities in order.

Our attention shifts to the tempter. “The Scriptures variously characterize the power of the evil in the world: tendencies within ourselves; a personal being outside ourselves, apparently a powerful angel gone astray; a cosmic power; and organized forces arrayed against the will of God for the world.”11 Here the power of evil is personified.

Moreover, he is portrayed as the ruler of this world. As such, he has incredible influence. He is certainly not someone to be taken lightly. Even when getting the worse of the encounter, he simply retreats to a more opportune time.

Our attention again shifts to the temptations. “If your are the Son of God,” the evil one taunts Jesus, “tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus was famished by this time, and desperately in need of sustenance.

“It is written,” Jesus answered: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Instead, he is sustained by God’s faithful promises.

Then the temper lead him to a high place, from which he would see in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. He then declared: “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship, me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus does not challenge the assertion, but replied: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” In Jewish tradition, it is said that all evil stems from idolatry.

The devil then stood him on the pinnacle of the temple, and urged him: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” This brings to mind the sage observation, “A test without its context qualifies as a pretext.”

“It says,” Jesus countered: “‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” It was at this point that the tempter took his leave. In retrospect, the first temptation is not only personal but social, the second political, and the third explicitly religious. In combination, they seem meant to probe for some vulnerable access.

Are we to assume that these were actual events, visions, or some combination of the two? It is hard to say, since event and metaphor are often closely aligned. In any case, Luke means to convey the conviction that the temptations actually occurred—their parabolic intent notwithstanding.

 

 

* * *

THE FIRST MIRACLE

Little is known of Jesus’ early life. One would suppose that he worked at Joseph’s carpentry trade. He no doubt assumed the special privileges and duties associated with being the eldest in the family. This would normally involve taking care of the family once Joseph has passed away. All things considered, these were the silent years.

There seems to be no indication that Jesus performed miracles during these early years. Later on, there was a concerted effort to fill in this void. For instance, Joseph was said to have taken on the project of constructing the bed of a rich person. When one board was shorter than the corresponding one, he was at a loss as how to compensate. Accordingly, the child Jesus prompted him: “Put two boards down and line them up at one end.”12

When Joseph had done so, the shorter board could be stretched to the same length as the longer one. He marveled at this, hugged and kissed the youngster, while observing: “How fortunate I am that God has given this child to me.”

In contrast, John assures us that the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs occurred in connection with a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Initially, it is important to bear in mind that miracles are not simply extraordinary occurrences, but evidence of divine initiatives. As such, they as a rule proliferate at critical times in salvation history: such as with the exodus, the subsequent struggle with Baalism, and during the life and times of Jesus and the apostles. Otherwise, they may occur more often than we think, particularly if we are not disposed to allow for them.

The story unfolds quickly. Mary was among the invited guests; and probably because of her, Jesus and his disciples were included. When the wine was depleted, Mary informed Jesus. Her rationale is not given.

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” he replied. “My time has not yet come.” Jesus reveals here and elsewhere a sensitive awareness of the proper time to engage in some facet of his ministry.

At this, Mary turned to the servants. “Do whatever he tells you,” she instructed them. She apparently felt that their assistance might be necessary.

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used for ceremonial washing—each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. “Fill the jars with water,” Jesus instructed the servants. When they had complied, he told them: “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

Upon tasting the liquid, he observed: “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best till now.” Needless to say, the miracle resolved a potentially embarrassing situation. Then, too, there may be a spiritual significance as well, “for the ‘sign’ points to the truth that Christ abundantly supplies all the needs of his people.”13

In this connection, Jesus subsequently assures his listeners: “I am come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:1). He contrasts this to all those who steal, kill, and destroy.

The imagery associated with wine takes on both negative and positive connotations. As for the former, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler, whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). As for the latter, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound” (Psa. 4:7). In this context, wine is expressly associated with festivity.

John notes in conclusion, “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” “The glory of the Messiah was revealed to some and hidden from others. The disciples are now said to have ‘believed’ in him. . . . They had known enough about Jesus before this to follow him. Now in the miracle they saw his gory, and despite his outward lowliness they put their trust in him.”14 Consequently, it is not surprising that such narrative episodes take on the character of salvation parables.

This event provides a transition from a time of relative anonymity, in anticipation of Jesus’ public ministry. So it is that we are encouraged to bide our time until opportunity affords itself for some further ministry. Meanwhile, we are to put the time to good use, since God assuredly draws upon our previous experience. In proverbial terms, “Haste not and waste not.”

 

 

* * *

IT’S A METAPHOR

There was a prominent Pharisee named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night. He apparently meant to keep the visit secretive, since the Galilean was a controversial figure, who had drawn the ire of the religious hierarchy.

The incident appears to be couched in the setting of John’s preoccupation with the tension between the imagery of light and darkness. For instance, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:4-5). Moreover, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12).

The cryptic reference bonding life with light appears to draw from the creation account, although in reverse order. It will be recalled that light was necessary for the proliferation of life. Accordingly, life originated with light.

Then, too, this seems associated with the way of the righteous. In particular, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he mediates day and night” (Psa. 1:1-2). He resembles a tree planted by streams of water, so that it yields its fruit in season.

“Not so the wicked!” They more resemble chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, or sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

In contrasting terms, light is set over against darkness. “The antithesis is a natural one whether we are thinking of the physical world or the spiritual world. . . . Probably most religions express it to greater or lesser measure. But in both John and Qumran it is a prominent theme.”15 “Rabbi,” the Pharisee respectfully addresses Jesus, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).

Now the miraculous signs Jesus performed were such as revealed God’s gracious purposes with humanity. The evil powers were also thought to work wonders, but so as to deceive and intimidate persons. Consequently, the Pharisee appears persuaded of Jesus’ righteous intent.

“I tell you truth,” Jesus solemnly replied, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” This was calculated to introduce a radically new way of negotiating life.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” the Pharisee protested. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” He may or may not have been aware that Jesus was employing a metaphor. In any case, he hoped to get at the truth of the matter.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” This obscure reference to being born of water likely pertains to the onset of natural birth. The alternative identification of it with baptism seems strained.

Jesus supposes that he should not be surprised by the saying. Then, by way of explanation: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”Birth thus qualifies as a figurative expression concerning spiritual regeneration.

“How can this be?” Nicodemus incredulously inquires. As a result, we are alerted to the fact that this dialogue involves not only two persons, but two communities which they represent. “The thrust of the interview is negative: The community of Nicodemus can no more understand the community of Jesus than one can understand where the wind comes from or where it goes. The lives of those who are born again are an utter mystery to those who are not.”16

“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe,” Jesus continues: “how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” No one has ascended into heaven, and only one has descended from there. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send this Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” There is an implied invitation.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” Jesus assured him, “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This, then, is the verdict: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. . . . But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he had done has been done through God.” Accordingly, to openly declare one’s faith, rather slinking around under the cover of darkness. Nicodemus is thus left to ponder the alternatives.

 

 

* * *

CONTINUED

Jesus’ use of metaphor continues to confuse persons on different wave lengths, as we are reminded by his interchange with a Samaritan woman. Now the Pharisees heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although his disciples performed the baptism. Incidently, Jesus probably refrained so as not to give the impression that he was in competition. In any case, this leads him to withdraw, presumably to avoid a premature confrontation with the religious establishment.

“Now he had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). Since this was not the only route, it may have been because of the urgency of the situation or simply in keeping with the nature of his mission. John does not choose to clarify the point.

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus—being weary from his arduous journey—sat down by the well. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, he asked her to allow him a drink. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan women,” she protested. “How can you ask me for a drink?” At which, John explains that the Jews do not associate with the Samaritans.

That the woman came to the well by herself may indicate that she was avoided by others, because of her sexual promiscuity. Although the Pharisees warned against striking up a conversation with a woman in general, to address a Samaritan woman would be especially frowned upon. In this regard, the Jews maintained that the Samaritans were descended from alien people resettled by the Assyrians. Then, when beset by a plague of lions, they attempted to placate the patron deity (cf. 2 Kings 17:26).

In greater detail, “This God must be appeased by the new residents in the land. By being worshiped correctly alongside all other gods. But this is the extent of their religious obligations to the Lord. (Whereas) the God whom the remainder of Kings knows is the Lord of all peoples and all history.”17 Accordingly, the Jews caustically referred to their Samaritan neighbors as lion converts.

Of course, the Samaritans put a different spin on the situation. They claimed that the Jews had compromised the Mosaic legacy, by establishing a rival sanctuary for worship, and through their prophetic writings. As a result, Jewish travelers were unwelcome and on occasion in jeopardy.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Living water is an allusion to running water, which had not become stagnant water and unsafe for drinking.

“Sir,” the woman countered, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” It was commonly assumed that the patriarch was more highly esteemed than his posterity, barring some qualification.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” It turns out that Jesus was speaking in figurative terms concerning the refreshing of the Holy Spirit.

“The woman’s misunderstanding becomes crass. She asks for the magic water that Jesus has, so that she may not have to come daily for ordinary water.”18 “Sir,” she consequently petitions, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

“Go,” he enjoined her, “call your husband and come back.” This provides a needed transition into a more fruitful line of reasoning.

“I have no husband,” she allowed.

Jesus acknowledged, “You are right when you say that you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” This would confirm the earlier suspicion that she was sexually promiscuous.

“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet,” the woman made painfully clear her adversarial posture. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Recall that the Jewish prophets were not held in high esteem by the Samaritans.

Jesus declared, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” As a result, the controversy over sanctuaries is trivialized, and perhaps made altogether irrelevant.

The woman replied, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” She may have meant to terminate the discussion at this juncture.

However, Jesus informed her: “I who speak to you am he.” When the woman reported these things to the villagers, many believed. Others did so as well, once they had heard for themselves. In retrospect, the metaphor had served its purpose—as the believing Samaritans could readily testify.

 

 

* * *

SECOND MIRACLE

When Jesus arrived in Galilee, the people warmly welcomed him. Once again he visited Cana, where he had turned the water into wine. There was a certain official who begged him to heal his son, who was close to death. “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus allowed, “you will never believe” (John 4:48).

As John goes on to document, even though he employed ample signs, many would not believe. Expressly, some attributed Jesus’ miracles to an evil protagonists—bent on deceiving the populace. Others eventually concluded that he was simply a clever magician. Accordingly, contrary to a popular saying, seeing is not necessarily believing.

In any case, Jesus’ response was not meant to single out the man but directed to a larger audience. In fact, the petitioner would prove to be a notable exception. “Sir,” he interceded, “come down before my child dies.” Time was of the essence.

“You may go,” Jesus confidently informed him. “Your son will live.” Jesus later elaborated in parabolic fashion: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

The man took Jesus at his word, and went his way. “The man had been urging him to come down to Capernaum, evidently thinking that the Master’s presence was necessary to perform a cure. Jesus’ words impose a stiff text. The officer has nothing but Jesus’ bare word. But this is enough and he rises to the implied demand for faith.”19 This, in turn, serves to remind us: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Heb. 11:1-2). As are all those who exercise faith in response to God’s gracious initiatives.

While the official was still on his way, his servants met him with word that his son had survived the crisis. When he inquired as to when the lad had taken a turn for the better, he realized that it was the precise time that Jesus had informed him: “Your son will live.” Accordingly, the whole household believed.

No doubt they believed that Jesus was instrumental in healing the stricken boy, but John seems to imply a more comprehensive trust. This is coupled with obedience, since as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was want to remind us: “Those who obey believe, and those who believe obey.”

The incident, among others, would provide an incentive for the house church movement. From earliest times, we are told that the disciples “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). This naturally led to having worship in the context of the home. As a classic example, there is the remains of a house associated with Peter in Capernaum—which would subsequently take on the form of a Basilica.

The immediate concern of the house churches was to nurture its members in the faith. Along with this, it provided a means of outreach into the community. As a case in point, Paul enjoins: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house” (Rom. 16:3-4).

“This was the second miraculous sign Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.” John apparently wants us to understand that it was the second upon his return. Even so, Jesus appears to have been very selective at this early juncture in his public ministry. Otherwise, his mission might be readily misunderstood and put at considerable risk.

As previously noted, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Not only did they serve as an encouragement to believe, but portrayed its character.

As for extended commentary, “The narrator intends that this should happen to his readers as well. To him, faith is not a static thing that comes once to a person, only to lie dormant, but a response to God that comes to expression again and again as one is confronted afresh with the story of Jesus.”20 So it is that faith resonates from one generation to the text, and from one setting to another, as a cherished legacy.

 

 

* * *

AS WAS HIS CUSTOM

Now Jesus returned to Nazareth, where he was brought up, and according to his custom made his way to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Although the origin of the synagogue is uncertain, it is believed to have originated after the destruction of the first temple and during the Babylonian exile. It came to be described as a small sanctuary (or temple), a term sometimes also employed concerning the Jewish home.

“The essential structure fo the synagogue today reflects the physical structure of the Temple as well. At the front of the sanctuary space is the Holy Ark, containing the Torah scrolls. Hanging over it is the Eternal Light.”21 This is indicative of the fact that prayer and good deeds are thought to be an acceptable alternative to ritual sacrifice.

Jesus stood to read from the Sacred Scriptures, and the Isaiah scroll was handed to him. He then located the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19; cf. Isa. 61:1-2).

This consists of Jubilee imagery as applied to the Messianic Era. Jubilee was celebrated on the fiftieth year, as a special convocation. It was meant to recognize God’s sovereign rule and attending blessing. As such, it was eminently suitable to be associated with the Lord’s ultimate triumph over the resistive forces of evil.

Having concluded his reading, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. This was in anticipation for teaching. Accordingly, everyone gazed intently at him. He began by saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” “By this we are to understand that with the outset of Jesus’ ministry the long-awaited epoch of salvation had been inaugurated. He is the one anointed by the Spirit, the herald of good news, the one who brings the new era.”22 It constituted the best of glad tidings.

All were amazed at his gracious words. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they inquired. They thus embraced Jesus as one of their own. However, “The positive response to Jesus by his audience within the synagogue was based on a narrow, provincial understanding of his identity and mission. It is as thought at this juncture they have filtered his message through their restrictive presumptions about him.”23

Jesus was well aware of their shallow appraisal. Consequently, he observed, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your home-town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“I tell you the truth,” he went on to clarify, “no prophet is accepted in his home-town.” Whereupon, he cited the instances of Elijah ministering to the widow at Zarepath, and Elisha on behalf of Naaman the Syrian. In context, those from Nazareth may have associated Capernaum with the Gentiles that passed that way—along a branch of the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) international trade route.

In any case, all the people were furious when they heard Jesus’ comments. They rose to their feet, and drove him out of the town. Then they took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, with the intent of throwing him off the cliff. However, Jesus walked through their midst.

Luke offers no explanation. Were it a miracle, it was not the kind for which the populace had wished. If not, they perhaps wavered in the light of Jesus’ resolute determination to further engage in his mission.

In retrospect, the symbolism stands out in bold relief. As expressed elsewhere, “He came to that which was his own, and his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:11-13). Accordingly, while rejected at Nazareth, Jesus turned his attention to more receptive communities. As if to set the pattern down through the course of subsequent church history—in process of making disciples of all nations.

 

 

* * *

FISHERS OF MEN

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon called Peter and Andrew. They were casting a net into the water, since they were fishermen. More expressly, they appear to have accumulated the means to carry on their trade. As such, they were better off than most.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus enjoined them, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). The metaphor was especially apt, given the means by which they earned their livelihood. Given this indication, it occurred to me that it might be a profitable exercise to speculate on some of the facets of their previous occupation that might in analogical fashion have bearing on their subsequent experience.

First, in terms of their subsequent calling, they assumed the role of disciples—which is to say students. Jesus is their peerless instructor. If for no other reason, there was a faultless correspondence between what he taught and his practices. Then, too, he demonstrated considerable expertise—as with his creative use of parables.

In this connection, they brought with them a wealth of experience—soliciting the following observations. Initially, one must frequent the places where people congregate. It does no good to dangle bait where there are no fish to bite.

So it was that Jesus associated with sinners, non-observant Jews. Whereupon, the religious leaders muttered: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1). In response, Jesus told a story concerning a person who had a hundred sheep, one of which went astray. “Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” he pointedly inquired.

Then when he has found it, he rejoices with friends and neighbors. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,” he pointedly concluded.

What else might have been applicable? They were to persist in spite of ample discouragement. As in the case of the disciples who “went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3). Jesus, nonetheless, encouraged them: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” Upon complying, they were rewarded with a bountiful catch.

So, what is one to do when discouraged? Press on. There would also be times when personal resolve weakened. What then? Press on. There would be staunch resistence. What then? Press on. Some would turn aside. What then? In the lyrics of a gospel refrain, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.”

Then, too, the fisherman must cultivate courage. As in the instance when a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat—so that it was nearly swamped (cf. Mark 4:37). “The Sea of Galilee, surrounded by high mountains, is like a basin. Sudden violent storms on the sea were well known. Such a storm struck as fierce gusts of wind came upon the lake, driving the waves over the sides of the boat.”24 The prospect had to be taken into consideration along with the vocation.

A storm of a different sort subsequently released its furry. “On that day (when Stephen was martyred) a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). However, these preached the word wherever they went. Their courage thus rose to the occasion.

Finally, the fisherman must be willing to pay the price for diligence. It was a demanding lot, entailing long hours and often under adverse circumstances. “Teacher” one disciple assured Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Matt. 8:19).

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” In other words, they must be prepared to forsake the security of family and friends.

“Lord,” another implored, “let me go and bury my father.” That is to say, first fulfill his family obligations.

“Follow me,” Jesus insisted, “and let the dead bury their own dead.” Whereas this “is often interpreted to mean that the task of burying the physically dead is to be left to the spiritually dead, (it) is probably better to take it in a more general way of indicating that the ordinary priorities of this life are to give way to the demands of Christian discipleship”25 Although one need not forsake one to the exclusion of the other.

 

 

* * *

DUAL WITNESSES

When Jesus had come down to Capernaum, he entered into the synagogue, and began

to teach the people. Upon hearing him, they were amazed that he spoke with authority. This was unlike the accepted practice of employing religious precedent. It was as if he enjoyed some special prerogative, the nature of which was not evident.

Needless to say, Jesus did not mean to set aside sacred tradition. He affirmed on another occasion, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).

In what sense did he mean to fulfill the Law and the Prophets? “It could be a reference to (1) his obedience toward its precepts during his earthly life, (2) his role in fulfilling the Scriptures, or (3) the thrust of his teaching expressed in the love-comment from which the other commandments take their meaning and force.”26 Or some combination of the proposed alternatives.

It is striking that the initial emphasis is on his teaching. Miracles appear in a supplemental role, as attesting to the credibility of what he had to say. Thus deeds combine with words to provide the dual witness required in legal proceedings (cf. Deut. 17:6). One without the other would in symbolic terms appear suspect.

Now there was in the synagogue a man possessed with an evil spirit. “Ha!” he exclaimed, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34). The demon thus inadvertently provides the missing rationale for Jesus’ authoritative teaching.

“Be quiet!” Jesus rebuked him. “Come out of him!” It appears that he did not want the people indebted to evil spirits for the revelation of his identity. If dependent in one regard, then perhaps in others as well.

At this, the demon threw the man down before them all, without injuring him. All the people were again amazed (repeated by way of emphasis), and inquired of one another: “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Not to be overlooked, he had not employed an incantation or anything of that sort, but simply demanded compliance from the evil spirit.

As a relevant aside, demonic possession is portrayed as a rather common occurrence. It consists of evil spirits exercising control over an individual. The symptoms vary, sometimes similar to a physical malady, and other times less so. The extensive literature on the subject points out the singular importance of an aura of evil associated with demonic possession.

In any case, news concerning Jesus spread throughout the region. The stage was now set for his extended public ministry. Anonymity proved largely to become a thing of the past.

Upon leaving the synagogue, Jesus made his way to Simon’s house. If correctly identified, these were in close proximity to one another. Now Simon’s mother was suffering from a high fever, and they implored Jesus to restore her to health. He bent over the stricken woman, rebuking the fever, and it left her. She immediately got up and ministered to them.

This instance would serve as a reminder that the disciples were to gladly serve one another as the opportunity afforded itself. In this regard, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Conversely, one ought not to expect other to do for him what he is unwilling to do for himself.

When the sun was setting, the populace brought their infirm to Jesus. We are meant to conclude that they refrained from doing so earlier out of deference to the Sabbath. Laying his hands on them individually, Jesus healed them. He also cast out demons, again forbidding them from identifying him as the Son of God. We are to gather from this that it was a common practice.

At daybreak, Jesus retired to a solitary place. “The wilderness has thus far served as a site for preparation and achieving vocational clarity. . . . The crowds are still potential disciples. They do not understand his mission, and, therefore, like the devil before them, function as a force set on waylaying Jesus from his vocation.”27 While ignorant accomplices, they were still an impediment to his redemptive mission.

The people were searching for him, intent on keeping him from leaving them. However, he remonstrated: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” It brings to mind the rhetorical question, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before some have not heard it for the first time?”

“The fresh element introduced in Jesus’ statement of mission is his reference to the ‘kingdom of God.’ (In context, it) connotes a new world order where the demonized, the sick, women, and other living on the margins of society are embraced in the redemptive purpose of God.”28 Thus concludes yet another episode in the life of Jesus, along with its rich associated symbolism.

 

 

* * *

HELPFUL NUANCES

Now as Jesus was laboring in God’s vineyard, a man came along who was suffering from leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he prostrated himself. “Lord,” he assured Jesus, “if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12).

By way of response, Jesus reached out his hand, and touched the man. “I am willing,” he confirmed his intent. “Be clean!” Immediately the dreaded disease left him. “Don’t tell anyone,” Jesus cautioned him, “but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

We do not know precisely what disease or cluster of diseases was designated as leprosy in Scripture. Suffice to say, it was highly contagious—requiring that the individual be isolated from society. It goes without saying that this compounded his or her dilemma.

When, if ever, the leper was healed, this was to be confirmed by a priest. Only then would the person be permitted to circulate freely among others. This event was observed by an appropriate ritual (cf. Lev. 14). It was common knowledge that only God heals, although he might employ different means.

“This elaborate ceremonial treatment of leprosy and its cleansing have naturally led Christians all down the centuries to regard (it) as a kind of picture of the uncleanness of sin, and Christ’s cleansing the leper as a parable of his ability to purify a man’s life.”29 Moreover, the author adds: “Leprosy is but one among many physical illnesses that can helpfully be used as a metaphor or parable of moral and spiritual disease.”

We are also alerted to the social implications of sin. While essentially a violation against the Almighty, it has social and personal implications as well. Whether for better or worse, our behavior impacts on others.

So also Jesus reached out and touched the afflicted person. This served initially to indicate his willingness to become involved. Then, in turn, to assume any risk that might be implicated. Then, finally, it provided the means by which the man was restored to health. All things considered, it is not surprising that subsequent generations would draw from this analogy to represent Jesus’ redemptive ministry.

Although Jesus had cautioned the man not to make a premature disclosure to others, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sickness.” But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places for the purpose of prayer. In a manner of speaking, he was too busy not to pray.

On another occasion, some men were carrying a paralytic, and could not get through the press of the crowed to bring him to the attention of Jesus. Accordingly, they went up on the roof, and lowered him on a mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd—right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he declared: “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20). “First, the unqualified plural their seems meant to include the whole party, the sick man as well as his friends, and secondly, it is impossible to think that the man’s sins were forgiven if he had no faith on his own.”30

“Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy?” the religious leaders inquired among themselves. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” It was common knowledge that only the Almighty could forgive sin.

“Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?” Jesus nonetheless asked. “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins be forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ,” his voice trailed off. The critics were thus left to ponder the implications of Jesus’ provocative reply, and determine what course of action was appropriate.

Then, as if to assure closure, Jesus enjoined the paralytic to take up his mat and return home. Immediately the man stood to his feet, took up what he was lying on, and went home—praising God for what had transpired. All were amazed, and joined him in returning thanks to the Almighty. They were likewise filled with awe, concluding: “We have seen remarkable things today.” Accordingly, while both episodes involved healing, each provided a different nuance. This, in turn, recalls the sage saying: “The more some things change, the more others remain constant.”

 

 

* * *

SACRED TIME

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees protested, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:2). What the disciples were doing would not be construed as stealing, since this practice was allowed (cf. Deut. 23:25). Consequently, the issue was not concerned with what they were doing, but when they were doing it—that is, on the Sabbath.

The scribal tradition came to “interpret ‘plucking’ as a form of ‘harvesting,’ and in fact, according to this developing interpretation, the disciples were culpable not only for ‘reaping’ but also for ‘threshing,’ and perhaps even ‘grinding.’”31 Even so, it is likely that this line of reasoning was promoted only by the more meticulous.

In any case, “Of all the holidays in the Jewish year, the weekly Sabbath is the most cherished and beloved. Conveying its grandeur and significance in the life of the observant Jew is a most formidable task, perhaps one inevitably doomed to failure. For Shabbat is ineffable”32 In other words, it must be experienced to genuinely be appreciated.

It is also said that those who observe the Sabbath it is as if they observed all of God’s mandates. Conversely, one can not properly observe it unless conscientious in other regards. Accordingly, it would appear that the Sabbath resembles a spiritual catalyst, without which life would lose its sacred focus.

It should come as no surprise that the Sabbath regulations consisted not only of prohibitions but practices. In particular, the observant Jew was expected to be diligent in the study of Torah, in prayer, participating in a festive meal, and engaging in fellowship with family and friends. One earnest rabbi observed that having sex with one’s wife was much preferable on the Sabbath. All this was by way of saying that there was much at stake in the issue raised by the Pharisees, their concern resembling the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for the priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Afterward, he added: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Initially, this seems to be a subtle reference to Jesus’ Davidic lineage, in keeping with his messianic identity.

Then, too, Mark couples this saying with the assertion: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2:27). First, this “challenges every legalism which makes the Sabbath a burden to bear rather than renewal for the road. Second, (it) affirms the authority of Jesus, the Son on Man, to interpret Sabbath law (so as to conform to God’s gracious purposes).”33

On another Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching. There was in attendance a man whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.

Jesus was well aware of their intent. “Get up and stand in front of everyone,” Jesus enjoined the man. Looking around at those assembled, he inquired whether it was lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath, whether to save life or destroy it. The Pharisees were of the opinion that the healing should be postponed, since the matter was not life-threatening.

“Stretch out your hand,” Jesus prompted the man. When he did so, his hand was completely restored. The Pharisees were furious, and discussed how they might do away with Jesus. Luke seems to suggest that their rage was kindled from a lack of understanding, and desire to retain their religious standing.

In conclusion, I am reminded of a question put to me by an orthodox rabbi. “What is wrong with building fences (against doing evil)?” he inquired.

In Jewish fashion, I deferred to him: “What is wrong with building fences?” This allowed him to continue his train of thought.

“Nothing!” he exclaimed. “Unless one worships the fences.” Now that would seem to be the point at issue in these controversies.

 

 

* * *

THE HIGH ROAD

Jesus located a place that would accommodate a large number of people. However, he opted to address his disciples in the presence of the multitude: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). The poor consist of those who are in some way disadvantaged, while the rich are especially privileged. Thus the terms take on metaphorical intent.

The blessed person enjoys God’s favor. This is in the sense that all things work together for good for such folk (cf. Rom. 8:28). Then, too, in that this realization comforts and encourages one in the midst of adversity.

“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied,” Jesus continued. Otherwise expressed, blessed are those who are not satisfied with the things of this world, but long for spiritual nourishment. Such persons enjoy the best of two worlds, the present and that to come.

In this regard, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3). “The sharpest learning curve and the most significant lesson to be learned came through the most basic and universal form of human need—hunger. Once again we notice the paradoxical bond between natural fact and divine intention.”34

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh,” Jesus commented further. “Luke overturns this negative image, portraying instead laughter and joy appropriate to divine restoration. Weeping and mourning are stock responses to rejection, ridicule, and loss.”35 Such as are common in the course of life.

Accordingly, I am reminded of the rabbinic story of a woman who had lost her husband, leaving her with several dependent children, and little means to provide for their needs. Upon hearing of her plight, the rabbi observed: “Only God can console you at such a time as this.” Just so!

“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject you as evil because of the Son of Man,” Jesus concluded. The terms are progressive: from hate to exclusion, and then from exclusion to insult. This, moreover, is in a social context where one’s reputation is of prime concern.

Christians would be castigated for various reasons. As irreligious, because they refused to worship the pagan deities. For eating human flesh, derived from the practice of communion. As hating humanity, given their warning concerning the end of the world. At such time, “Rejoice because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort,” Jesus shifted focus. “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for this is how your father s treated the false prophets.”

As for apt commentary, “People of the old order speak well only of those who follow its routines and conform to its canons. Those whose behaviors are grounded in a contrary world view can expect defamation.”36 Consequently, one who seeks to please God must be prepared to bear reproach.

Having thus alerted his hearers, Jesus admonished them: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” In brief, return good for evil. Incidently, the reference to turning one’s cheek likely concerns being struck with the back of one’s hand, as a means of insult. In such instances, one is not to retaliate—with insult for insult.

With these and other words, Jesus continued to exhort them. In a manner of speaking, he admonished to them to take the high road. Then, in so doing, to experience the best that life affords.

 

 

* * *

LEARNING EN ROUTE

“No good tree bears bad fruit,” Jesus insisted, “nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers” (Luke 6:43-44). Such would seem obvious.

Perhaps not so obvious, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Good and evil are thus depicted as arising from one’s disposition.

Whereupon, Jesus turned to a related matter: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Not waiting for a reply, he confided: “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.” Accordingly, it would remain firm during flooding.

In contrast, “the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” “It is in the storms, and the faithful seem to face more of them than anyone else, that the difference between interested listeners and obedient disciples will be evident.”37

There follows a series of narrative events calculated to illustrate what Jesus was saying. For instance, there was a centurion’s servant who was critically ill. He requested that certain of the Jewish elders intercede with Jesus to restore his cherished associate. Upon approaching him, they observed: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue” (Luke 7:4-5). So it was that Jesus accompanied them.

When they were not far from their destination, the centurion sent friends to alert Jesus: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” As a person in authority, he recognized the attribute in Jesus’ demeanor. Note also his humble appraisal of himself in contrast to the high regard held by the Jewish elders.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd following him, he declared: “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” “The point is obvious enough: Gentile faith can be just as great, sometimes even greater, than Jewish faith. Hinted at here is Israel’s unbelieving response to the gospel in contrast to the joyous reception among the Gentiles.”38

Providing, that is, it concerns a genuinely righteous Gentile. Such as were thought to keep God’s covenant with Noah, most notably in refraining from idolatry. The rabbis reasoned that these might be more pleasing to God than the High Priest.

When the delegation returned to the Centurion’s house, they found the servant well. Nothing more is recorded concerning the incident.

Soon afterward, Jesus approached the town of Nain—along with his disciples and a large entourage. The body of a recently deceased person was being carried out for burial, the only son of a grieving widow. When Jesus saw her, he was moved with compassion. “Don’t cry,” he encouraged her.

At this, he placed a firm hand on the coffin. Those carrying it stood still. “Young man,” Jesus addressed the deceased, “I say to you, get up!” The latter stood to his feet, and began to talk. Jesus then returned him to his joyful mother.

Those observing this remarkable recovery were filled with awe and praised the Almighty. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they concluded. “God has come to help his people.” Consequently, the news spread throughout the surrounding region.

Several observations would seem in order. Initially, there is a striking similarity between this incident and instances in the lives of Elijah and Elisha. This appears calculated to underscore a prophetic continuity.

Secondly, “this episode offers a dramatic example of Jesus’ ministry of compassion. The object of his compassion is the mother . . . who is a widow and whose only son, her sole means of support as well as being her whole family, is dead.”39 If for no other reason, this appears sufficiently compelling to spur Jesus to action.

Finally, this event is interpreted in the light of God’s intervention on behalf of his people. We are thus reminded of their corporate nature, along with their continuing obligation to respond to his initiatives, and faithfully exercise reciprocal concern for one another. Meanwhile, they are enjoined to refine their understanding while en route to the celestial city.

 

 

* * *

COMPARISONS

Comparisons can be revealing. So are we reminded when John sent two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:19). He seems uncertain at this juncture. Perhaps he had expected Jesus’ ministry to take a more political turn, and/or was discouraged over his incarceration. In any case, they did as directed.

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard,” Jesus subsequently admonished them. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” According to a sage saying, “The proof is in the pudding.”

Doubt is decidedly not uncommon, especially during trying circumstances. It remains to reflect back on what Jesus did, and take heart. This is in keeping with the conviction that it is always too soon to quit.

Once John’s emissaries had left, Jesus rhetorically inquired: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.”

“But what did you go out to see?” he continued. “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about who it is written, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” The expression more than sets John apart from all who went before him.

“I tell you,” Jesus assured them, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” “The language of the kingdom of God speaks to this new reality, just as Jesus’ articulation of John’s place in the kingdom urges all, including people like those who follow John, to put away conventional patterns and expectations.”40

“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? Jesus again inquired. “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’” Whatever the incentive, they refused to respond.

In particular, “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and drunkard, friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” As for clarification, wisdom’s children makes reference to those who walk in the way of righteousness.

The scene shifts. One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, and he acquiesced. When an immoral woman heard that Jesus was to eat in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, stood at his feet weeping, and began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed and poured perfume on them.

When the host saw this, he mused to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of a woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

“Simon,” Jesus addressed him, “I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” the Pharisee replied.

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender,” Jesus speculated. “One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon responded, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus commended him.

“Do you see this woman?” he went on to explain.

I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

He perhaps paused before continuing. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But (by way of comparison) he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Jesus then informed her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those present wondered what sort of a person could forgive one’s trespasses. Jesus did not choose to elaborate, but encourage the woman: “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” So concludes another provocative episode in the life and ministry of the Galilean.

 

 

* * * 

RECOURSE TO PARABLES

One of the most striking features of Jesus’ public ministry was his extensive use of parables. By way of example, such as those concerning the prodigal son and the good Samaritan. These were calculated to linger in the mind of the listeners, as an impetus to pious resolve.

Several general observations would seem in order. First, the parable provided a ready means of contact. As such, it detailed plausible situations with which the people could readily identify. Even when hyperbole was involved, since this simply expanded on what was already known.

As a prime example, a sheep strayed. Such was not all that surprising, given their disposition. The shepherd set out to find it, which was not an unlikely scenario. He perhaps left his guard dogs in charge of the flock, although this is not explicitly stated. Upon finding the sheep, he is delighted. He and his friends celebrate.

Second, the parable could be employed to clarify an obscure point. These were not lacking in Jesus’ public ministry. For instance, how was one to reconcile the portrait of the royal messiah with that of the suffering servant? Accordingly, the Qumran community opted for two messiahs.

Even so, “if one told stories without stating the point they were meant to illustrate, only those who listen most astutely and start with the insider’s knowledge could figure out one’s point.”41 Thus when the disciples inquired why Jesus taught in parables, he replied: “The knowledge of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them” (Matt. 13:11).

Third, the parable was a concrete expression of a spiritual truth. The Hebrew culture was decidedly event oriented. Something happened on some occasion to someone. This, in turn, had implication for others—not uncommonly far removed in time and location.

The wise person learns from the past, while the fool disregards it. As for the former, history never strictly speaking repeats itself. In graphic terms, there are always two horizons: the original and the current. As for the latter, those who fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat its tragic mistakes.

Fourth, the parable solicits the full range of human response. It appeals to the intellect, in that it encourages the listener to reflect on its implications. It appeals to the emotions, since one can identify with the feelings of those implicated. It also appeals to the volition, in that it incites people to choose wisely.

Consider the tragic person left to die along the Jericho road. A priest and then a Levite failed to come to his assistance. By way of contrast, the Samaritan whose prime concern was for the critically injured stranger. This drama touches on a wide range of human responses.

Finally, the parable was a less confrontational means for conveying a needed criticism. Persons are not as a rule singled out for rebuke, so that the perpetrators feel less threatened. Unless, that is, the application is quite obvious.

In this regard, Jesus’ purposes were constructive. As for confirmation, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). It remains for persons to gratefully respond to a gracious invitation.

Now Jesus told a parable concerning a farmer who sowed his seed. “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and chocked the plants.” By way of contrast, “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:5-8).

Jesus resembles the sower. He is engaged in sowing the word. He does so as a faithful steward, undeterred by disheartening conditions.

The disciples will also be involved in sowing the seed. God does not expect more, nor accept less. Jesus, moreover, serves as their paradigm.

The multitude resembles soil. The disciples are set aside. Accordingly, the two view one another across a widening chasm. Of course, the multitude is not uniform. Some are earnestly searching, while others are simply curious. Some will be rewarded for their effort, while others will remain essentially unaltered.

“Jesus concentrates on three possible outcomes of broadcasting the word of God: (1) no growth, (2) some growth but no fruit, (3) growth and bearing fruit. Growth, in turn, is linked to the twin attributes of faith and faithfulness.”42 Incidentally, a hundred-fold amounts to a bountiful harvest. As such, it provides a welcome incentive.

 

 

* * *

THE TEMPEST

The Sea of Galilee continues to figure prominently in Jesus’ public ministry. He had left his home town of Nazareth to set up a base of operations in Capernaum, located along its northwestern shore line. It was while walking along the shore that he came across Peter and Andrew, and enjoined them to follow him.

One day Jesus urged his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake” (Luke 8:22). So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came up, so that the boat was in danger of being swamped. The situation was critical. The reference to his disciples was perhaps limited to a select few, the twelve, or a larger number—depending on the capacity of the craft. In a larger sense, it would come to represent all those who would opt to follow Jesus.

“Master, Master,” they exclaimed, “we’re going to drown!” In the light of what would follow, one is reminded of the adage: “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” However, they were at the time driven by desperation.

Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters. Whereupon, the storm subsided, and all was calm. In similar fashion, something comparable occurred in the experience of the disciples. Previously troubled, they came to confident trust.

“Where is your faith?” Jesus asked them. “He does not describe them as faithless, but clearly wonders why their faith had not shown itself in these circumstances. Against the norms developed in Jesus’ explanation of the tale of the sower, (they) are portrayed as people whose faith has not yet proven itself in testing.”43

“What is this?” the disciples asked one another. “He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Tertullian ventures as an explanation, “the elements own their own Maker, just as they had been accustomed to obey His servants also.”44 He then goes on to cite examples from the Old Testament, such as when Moses parted the seas for the Israelites to pass over.

The episode also recalls the machinations of the psalmist. “Others went out on the sea in ships, they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up the tempest that lifted high the waves” (107:23-25).

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” In popular jargon, the disciples had been there, and done that.

Accordingly, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the counsel of the elders.” “No other basis is mentioned than the goodness of the Lord and the cry of those in trouble. The beneficiaries of the wonderful works are ‘the sons of men’ (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31). No special relation between Israel and the Lord is cited.”45

Upon reaching the other side of the lake, Jesus stepped ashore and was confronted by a demoniac. For a long time this man had gone naked, and lived among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man.

Jesus inquired of him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied—because the man was possessed by multiple demons. Furthermore, they implored Jesus not to dispatch them to the Abyss. Instead, they petitioned that he allow them to enter a herd of pigs that was feeding on the hillside. Worthy of note, the pig was considered ceremonially unclean.

When granted their wish, the pigs rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. This served as a graphic reminder of the fate that awaits all those who ally themselves with evil. As a person sows, so shall he reap.

When those tending the herd saw what had transpired, they hurried off to report the matter. Those who came to see for themselves found the former demoniac sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed, and in his right mind. Terrified by this awesome display, they pled with Jesus to leave them.

Conversely, the man who was delivered asked to accompany his benefactor. Jesus, however, urged him: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man complied, and Jesus went on his way. This would serve as an encouragement to those called up to undertake difficult missions.

 

 

* * *

ALONG THE WAY

Upon Jesus’ return, a crowd welcomed him. They were eagerly anticipating his arrival. There was a man named Jairus—a ruler of the synagogue, who came and fell at Jesus’ feet. He interceded on behalf of his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, who lay dying. Here Luke’s information appears more precise than on some other occasions.

Incidently, a ruler of the synagogue was “the official who was responsible for the arrangements at the synagogue services. He would select, for example, those who would lead in prayer, read the Scripture and preach. He was thus a man of eminence in the community.”46

As Jesus made his way toward Jairus’ house, the people crowded around him. Included in the press was a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, but could get no relief from the physicians. Her situation was stressful, not only for physical but social reasons—since she would be considered ceremonially unclean. Consequently, persons would be loth to associate with her.

She managed to work her way up behind Jesus, so as to touch the edge of his cloak. “Had she come openly, in the first instance people might not have allowed her to get close to Jesus, and in the second, she would have had to tell in front of all the people something of the illness for which she wanted a cure. In her embarrassment she preferred the secret touch.”47

“Who touched me?” Jesus inquired (Luke 8:45).

“Master,” Peter protested, “the people are crowding ard pressing against you.”In this regard, he fails to recognize Jesus’ metaphoric use of the term touch.

Luke offers no explanation, except to allow for Jesus’ acute awareness. As a pertinent aside, “a ‘mystery’ is something which has formerly been kept secret in the purpose of God but has not been disclosed. In Col. 1:27 the aspect of his purpose which has now been manifested to the people relates to their hope of glory, of which the indwelling Christ provides the guarantee here and now.”48

The woman, seeing that the matter could no longer be kept secret, fell at Jesus’ feet before all the people. She then explained why she had touched him, and how she was instantly healed. “Daughter,” Jesus assured her, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” It was not simply faith in faith, but faith in capacity of Jesus to heal.

In addition, faith and peace are coupled together in Jesus’ response. As for the former, the woman believed that if she could touch Jesus’ garment, she would be healed. As for the latter, she was not only restored to health, but was no longer ostracized by society. As such, it served as a comprehensive recovery.

While he was still speaking, a messenger arrived from the official’s house. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus enjoined him, “just believe, and she will be healed.” Mere faith was proven to be an illusive virtue from one generation to the next. Faith and good deeds, faith and ritual, or faith otherwise compromised falls tragically short.

Upon reaching their destination, they found the people wailing and mourning. “Stop wailing,” Jesus admonished them. “She is not dead but asleep.” Luke either means us to understand that she was not actually or irreversibly dead.

At this, they laughed at him—being quite persuaded that she was beyond help. But he took her by the hand, and exclaimed: “My child, get up!” Whereupon, she revived and stood to her feet. Then Jesus instructed them to give her something to eat. Even in the wake of such an astonishing event, he demonstrates a concern for practical matters.

Luke then rounds off the episode in characteristic fashion, with the observation that the parents were amazed at what had transpired. Then, too, Jesus tells the parents not to divulge what had happened. Conversely, Luke thinks it altogether proper at the time of his writing. Thus are we reminded of the importance of timing when it comes to sharing the good news.

 

 

* * *

THE MISSION

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out demons and heal the infirm. Thus fortified, they were despatched to proclaim the kingdom of God, and minister to the needs of the people.

“Take nothing for the journey,” he instructed them, “no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:3-5). Given the urgency of their mission, they were not to encumber themselves unnecessarily. Nor were they to prolong their stay by moving from one house to another.

Now it was common knowledge that the one sent should receive the deference given to the one who sends. This was borne out in one of Jesus’ parables concerning a man who planted a vineyard, and rented it to those who would tend it. “At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed” (Mark 12:7-8). Then he sent another servant, who was also treated shamefully. He sent still a third, whom they killed. He sent many others—some of whom they abused, while others they killed.

At long last, he sent his beloved son—supposing they would respect him. Instead, observing that he was the heir, they decided to do away with him. So they killed him, and cast his body outside the vineyard. “What will the owner do?” Jesus rhetorically inquired. “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

So the Twelve went from village to village, preaching the good news, and restoring the infirm. This, in turn, served to authenticate their apostolic credentials. In this regard, I identified forty-eight contexts in Acts where the Holy Spirit was manifest. “In less than twenty instances, assuming a more generous interpretation of what qualifies as a miracle, were extraordinary events reported. Likewise of interest, all but four were related to the apostles and might best be understood as attesting to their particular office.”49

Sometime later Jesus appointed seventy-two others, and sent them out two by two. “Whereas the Twelve may represent the reconstitution of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Seventy may represent the seventy Gentile nations of the word. Thus, the appointed Twelve and the Seventy would represent the Jewish-Gentile foundation of the church.”50 In corporate terms, they would then be depicted as the people of God. They were also to go two by two, so as to provide a legal testimony and by way of reciprocal support.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” Jesus pointedly observed. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road” (Luke 10:2-4). Pray first and then go, the order being significant. Expect opposition. Do not delay.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker is worthy of his wages.” The man of peace is one who gladly embraces the good news.

Jesus continued to exhort them along these lines. “He who listens to you listens to me,” he assured them; “he who rejects you rejects me, but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” So it is that rejection is twice removed.

The seventy-two returned rejoicing in the fact that “even the demons submit to your name.” They perhaps had not expected to be entrusted with such authority.

Whereupon, Jesus replied: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Thus Satan is portrayed as in a weakened position to inhibit their activity.

“However,” Jesus continued, “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In that temporal leverage will give way to eternal gratification. Two largely parallel thus evokes the imagery of stewardship and accountability.

 

 

* * *

THE MULTITUDE

Now when the disciples returned from their deployment, Jesus took them aside into a solitary place. It was simply one more instance of his concern for their welfare. However, the crowds learned of his departure, and followed him. Accordingly, they seem less inclined to await his return than previously.

Jesus welcomed them, any misgivings he may have not withstanding. This would allow him to elaborate further concerning the kingdom of God, and minister to those in need. It no doubt witnesses to a generous spirit.

Late in the afternoon, the Twelve came to him. “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging,” they advised him, “because we are in a remote place here” (Luke 9:12).

“You give them something to eat,” Jesus replied. You is emphatic, urging them to take an initiative.

They protested, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” There were about five thousand men present. “From John we learn that they were barley loaves (the food of the poor) and that Andrew had found a small boy with them. Evidently this was the boy’s own food supply, not much in the face of the multitude.”51 Since it seems unlikely that this constituted the only food available, it is perhaps in the form of hyperbole—to emphasize the inadequacy of their meager supplies.

“Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each,” Jesus instructed his disciples. When they had complied, he took the five loaves and the two fish, gave thanks, and had his disciples distribute them. After all were satisfied, the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of fragments.

“One does not have to search long and hard for reasons why the feeding of the crowds, reported by all four Evangelists, has received so much attention not only in the Gospels but in the church’s teaching, preaching, and worship.”52 Initially, it recalls God sustaining his people during their wilderness sojourn. As such, it draws upon a much cherished legacy.

On the downside, the people complained concerning the demands placed upon them. In this connection, “The demands placed on a slave people differ from those delivered from bondage. In particular, one does not have to make hard decisions, since that is the prerogative of others. Nor do they have to bear the consequences.”53 Conversely, those delivered from bondage must cope with life without a visible means of support.

Secondly, the feeding highlights Jesus’ compassion for those in need. He is attentive to their concerns, even before they have voiced them. He offers to share, although it appeared this would not be adequate.

The disciples assumed as much. They differed only in their approach to resolving the problem. In particular, they supposed that it was best to send the people away, in search for food and lodging. Jesus, by way of contrast, opted for a more radical approach. This, in turn, recalls the saying: “A little with God goes a long way.”

Thirdly, the church has discovered in this account a model for ministry. As such, it serves as a reminder that God as a rule works through human means. So it was that the disciples were involved in distributing what was available, and gathering what remained.

The Christian fellowship thus embraces the notion of a servant people. Sometimes as individuals, on other occasions in consort, and not uncommonly along with other people of good will. Jesus encouraged them along this line by suggesting that it is more blessed to give than to receive (cf. Acts 20:35).

Finally, there are striking messianic overtones to the passage. The messianic age was to be a time of festive celebration, and ample provision. In this regard, “Then will the lamb leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout with joy. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isa. 35:6, 10).

The incident thus serves as an earnest of the kingdom. As such, some have seen in it a parallel to the communion service: where one partakes of the elements in remembrance, and in anticipation of Christ’s return. Thus the use of metaphor proliferates.

 

 

* * *

THE TRANSFIGURATION

Peter’s confession provides a thematic lead into Jesus’ transfiguration. Once when Jesus was alone with his disciples, he asked them: “Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18). He apparently meant to prime them for what would follow.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” Notably lacking is any reference to the Messiah. How are we to account for this oversight? Probably in that Jesus was viewed as lacking political credentials, coupled with other uncertainties.

“But what about you?” Jesus inquired further. “Who do you say I am?” The conjunction but accents their privileged insight. Moreover, it appears to call for a consensus, unlike that registered by the populace.

Peter appears to have taken on himself to answer on their behalf, “The Christ of God.” If not, he speaks for himself—not waiting for the others to concur. This would be in keeping with his disposition to be outspoken.

Jesus strictly warned them not to share this insight, observing in this regard: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead.” Must qualifies as an imperative: accenting both the critical need of humanity, and God’s lavish provision in Christ.

Jesus then moves deftly from his own calling to that of his disciples. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” In literal terms, this entailed carrying the crossbeam of the cross from the place of sentencing to that of crucifixion. “Within Luke’s narrative, however, this act has been transformed into a metaphor by the addition of the phrase ‘day by day,’ signifying that one is to live on a daily basis as though one had been sentenced to death by crucifixion.”54

Day by day also implies the need of a continuing commitment. It would not uncommonly be in response to manifest obstacles, hostile threats, and lingering uncertainties. If not, one might readily be dissuaded by self-indulgence.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words,” Jesus also cautioned, “the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the Holy Angels.” This is in context of a society where shame plays a more prominent role that in our own. Accordingly, it was something that one ought to avoid if at all possible.

Moreover, “I tell you that some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Luke apparently associates Jesus’ allusion with his transfiguration. As such, it constituted an in-breaking of the kingdom.

About eight days later, Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and went up onto a mountain for prayer. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his garments became as bright as a flash of lightning. This seems expressive of God’s manifest glory.

Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, stood with him—discussing what would soon transpire in Jerusalem. This was by way of confirming what he had previously told them, and in keeping with what was prophesied concerning him.

“Master,” Peter observed as the visitors were about to take their leave, “it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He perhaps had in mind the construction of booths in association with the Feast of Tabernacles, in remembrance of God’s faithfulness during the wilderness sojourn. In any case, Luke observes that the apostle was at a loss to comprehend the implications of what was taking place.

While he was still speaking, a cloud engulfed them. This was accompanied by a voice speaking out of the cloud, saying: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to him.” As for apt commentary, “Although his work is built on and shaped by theirs, their interpreting and legitimating presence is no longer needed. God himself has unveiled and sanctioned Jesus’ status and mission.”55 When the voice had spoken, only Jesus remained—along with his disciples.

 

 

* * *

GOD IN THE VALLEY

There comes to mind the provocative gospel refrain, “The God on the mountain is the God in the valley.” As otherwise expressed, the God of the good times is the same as the God in the bad. This imagery seems especially appropriate as Jesus and his disciples descend from the mountain, to engage life below.

The next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a large crowd surrounded Jesus. “Teacher,” a desperate man implored, “I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not” (Luke 9:38-40).

Jesus appears exasperated. “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” he inquired. “Bring your son here.” Here he hints of his coming demise.

While the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. Jesus, in turn, rebuked the evil spirit, healed the lad, and restored him to his father. Needless to say, the demon was no match for Jesus.

While everyone was marveling at what Jesus had done, he turned to his disciples. “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you,” he admonished them. “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” This was not unlike the youth who was being held in the firm grip of an evil spirit.

An argument then arose among the disciples concerning who would be greatest in the kingdom. Jesus, perceiving their disposition, had a little child stand beside him. Whereupon, he observed: “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is greatest.”

“It may be that their concern with greatness prevented the disciples from comprehending Jesus’ statement about his fate.” In any case, “The notion that the weak and lowly will more readily gain admission into the kingdom of God than the rich and the mighty is stressed throughout Luke’s Gospel.”56

“Master,” John subsequently reported, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “That is, they had engaged in boundary-making on the basis of conventional notions of perceived honor. He did not belong to the community around Jesus, so his behavior was disallowed.”57 Thus the issue concerning who would be greatest persisted in yet another setting.

“Do not stop him,“ Jesus rebuked them, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” This likely recalls a familiar proverb, cited on appropriate occasions.

Now Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem, which would for him correspond to “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4). He sent emissaries ahead to a certain Samaritan village, to prepare for his arrival. When the people learned that they were headed for the rival sanctuary in Jerusalem, they refused them hospitality. When James and John learned of this, they inquired of Jesus: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?”

Whereupon, Jesus rebuked them for their vindictive spirit, and they made their way to a more hospitable village. This pattern would reoccur time and again in the course of Christian outreach. So that when one door closed, another would open.

As they were walking along, a certain man confidently assured Jesus: “I will follow you wherever you go.” He obviously took too much for granted.

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He thus alluded to the cost of discipleship. He then enjoined another person, “Follow me.”

“Lord,” the man responded, “first let me go and bury my father.” As noted earlier, he meant to fulfill his family obligations.

Jesus countered, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” We are to understand by this that spiritual concerns must take precedent over more material alternatives.

Still another declared, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” This would imply a more extended ritual, unacceptably postponing his response.

Jesus concluded, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” So things appear when we come to realize that the God on the mountain is the same in the valley. Only our perspectives differ.

 

 

* * *

MIXED METAPHORS

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the home of Martha, whose sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet—listening intently to what he had to say. Martha, however, was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. “Lord,” she adamantly protested, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40. She thus faulted both Jesus and Mary.

To sit at one’s feet was to assume the role of a student. It can be an all-consuming task. This, in turn, recalls the admonition of a colleague to matriculating students. “Now that you are students,” he would solemnly observe, “life has become more simplified. You will get adequate rest, eat properly, and exercise regularly. It goes without saying, you will also be diligent in your studies.” He might have cited Mary by way of precedent.

Luke draws a contrast between the two sisters. Martha assumes the traditional role of women by being engaged in domestic activities. For instance, my wife and I were once invited to visit a village family. The men were seated in the living room, discussing religious matters; while the women were engaged in preparing lunch. While the woman of the house (as sometimes identified) was captivated by the discussion, she felt obligated to oversee the preparation. This resulted in her drifting back from one focus to the other, while making an occasional comment. She thus exhibited a peculiar mix of the two sisters.

Upon closer scrutiny, “The nature of hospitality for which Jesus seeks is realized in attending to one’s guest, yet Martha’s speech is centered on ‘me’ talk (3 times). Though she refers to Jesus as ‘Lord,’ she is concerned to engage his assistance in her plans, not to learn from him.”58 As a result, the means have obscured the desired ends.

Then, finally, she is upset concerning many things, rather than establishing proper priorities. Luke perhaps had in mind the meticulous religious elite, who plagued Jesus’ efforts to emancipate the human spirit. Conversely, Clement of Alexandria cited her in his critique of the affluent: “And he was capable of busying himself about many things; but the one thing, the work of life, he was powerless and disinclined, and unable to accomplish.”59

Mary remains silent throughout. She has chosen for the better, and apparently does not intend to be dissuaded.

The scene shifts. One day Jesus was engaged in prayer, concerning his pursuance of the kingdom agenda. As a pertinent aside, the kingdom motif consists of the bonding of two earlier features, that “of the Ancient Near Eastern myth of the Kingship of God and the specifically Israelite myth of salvation history. Once established, the symbol depended for its effectiveness on the people using the symbol.”60 Whether, in fact, they take the construct seriously.

“Lord,” one of his disciples petitioned, “teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” The portrait of Jesus at prayer was already indelibly imprinted on the disciples’ collective psyche. Luke, moreover, is careful to draw attention to the fact that Jesus turned to prayer at critical moments in his public ministry. This served to illustrate the importance of including the Almighty in life’s equation.

Jesus provides a guideline, which does not preclude its use in a liturgical setting. At the outset, “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2). The term father primarily conveys the notion of authority. Jesus couples it with benevolent concern (cf. Matt. 7:11). Our human parents serve as an imperfect analogy.

“Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us, and lead us not into temptation.” The disciples were encouraged to pray for their daily sustenance, not for excess—so as to indulge themselves. They were also in need of divine forgiveness, contingent on their willingness to forgive others. Finally, they were to solicit the Lord’s help in foregoing temptation.

Then, by way of encouragement, Jesus enjoined them: “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be open.” Thus are we assured via a mix of metaphors, “More is accomplished through prayer than we can genuinely imagine.”

 

 

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SIX WOES

It serves to get a running start. Now some attempted to explain Jesus’ exorcism as sponsored by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. The name may be derived from that of a pagan deity, by way of derogation. Others set out to test him by asking for a sign from heaven, perhaps in terms of some celestial abnormality.

As for the former, Jesus replied: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fail. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:17-18). This recalls the sage observation, “The problem with common sense is that it is so uncommon.”

Then, along a related line, “Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out?” What applies to one situation ought to apply to the other. “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Since the finger of God is replaced in Matthew by the Spirit of God, one would assume that this pertains to a divine initiative.

Accordingly, “The presence of the kingdom is to be seen, not in good advice or pious practices, but in the power that expels the forces of evil. Now!”61 In other words, without equivocation. The metaphorical use of finger serves admirably to convey this particular nuance.

There can be no neutrality in this instance. “He who is not with me is against me,” Jesus insisted, “and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” The imagery appears in connection with the harvesting and winnowing of grain.

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman exuberantly cried out: “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Indeed!

However, Jesus replied: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” The recipients of God’s grace are even more blessed, not that this excludes Mary from their number.

As concerning a sign from heaven, Jesus protested: “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” Matthew clarifies Jesus’ intent: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (12:40).

Accordingly, “the men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” As evidenced by the resurrection.

Shortly thereafter, we come across six woes, associated with some calamity. When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee approached him. The latter was concerned that Jesus had not ceremonially washed before eating. “Now, then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness,” Jesus countered. “You foolish people. Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you” (Luke 11:39-41).

Tertullian observes that “it is in this passage evident that they were (reproved) when He prescribed to them figuratively the cleansing of their vessels, but really the word of merciful disposition. In like manner, He upbraids them for tithing paltry herbs, but at the same time passing over hospitality and the love of God.”62 This, then, is the first of the woes pronounced by Jesus.

“Woe to you Pharisees,” he continued, “because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greeting in the marketplaces.” Such have already received their reward, and ought not to expect further deference in eternity.

“Woe to you,” Jesus further remonstrates, “because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.” In this regard, “Inconspicuous tombs (or limestone ossuaries) would be white-washed each spring to warn a passerby to avoid them and so to avoid impurity, but the Pharisees lack this telltale warning sign. They are impure on the inside, but look religious on the outside.”63

“Teacher,” a scribe protested, “when you say these things, you insult us also.”

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” In establishing a religious pecking order, they unnecessarily burdened the common folk.

“Woe to you,” moreover, “because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. Therefore, this generation will be held responsible for the blood of the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world.” Since they manifest the same inclination.

Finally, “Woe to you experts of the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering. “They turned the Bible into a book of obscurities, a bundle of riddles which only the experts could understand. And the experts were so pleased and preoccupied with the mysteries they had manufactured that they missed the wonderful thing that God was saying.”64 All such behavior solicits the feeling associated with some calamity, such as the untimely death of a loved one.

 

 

* * *

HYPOCRISY

Although a crowd had gathered, Jesus began by cautioning his disciples: “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). “The metaphor would have been more obvious then than now, for people tended to make their own bread, and everyone would be familiar with the way a little leaven slowly transforms a large lump of dough. Leaven speaks of a penetration that is slow, insidious and constant.”65

In this instance, yeast (leaven) represents hypocrisy. The New Testament term is perhaps derived from two sources, one signifying pollution and the other playing a role. Accordingly, “Let hypocrites be regarded as like to pirates.”66 Inasmuch as they make off with one’s moral integrity.

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known,” Jesus continues. “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” In other words, hypocrisy is short-sighted—in that it fails to recognize that it will eventually be discovered.

“I tell you friends,” Jesus admonishes his disciples, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you who you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” Along this line, it is said: “Those who fear God have no one and nothing else to fear.”

The imagery associated with hell is derived from the Hinnom Valley, where trash collected. Flames smouldered day and night, consuming all in sight. Most striking in the analogy is the fact that it accommodated that which no longer served the purpose for which it was intended.

“I tell you,” Jesus repeats for emphasis, “whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.” This does not rule out the possibility that one may be forgiven, if there is genuine repentance.

Jesus now consoles his disciples: “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” In this manner, the gospel will be proclaimed, and God’s purposes furthered.

“Teacher,” someone in the crowd interrupted, “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” “Jewish laws of succession covered most cases (cf. Deut. 21:17), but there was sometimes room for doubt and in this case the man feels that an injustice was being done. He does not ask Jesus to decide on the merits of the two claims: he asks for a decision in his own favor.”67

“Man,” Jesus rhetorically inquired, “who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” He perhaps means to imply that the request was outside the framework of settling disputes. “Watch out!” he cautioned the petitioner. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Jesus then introduced a parable concerning a rich man whose land produced a bumper crop. “What shall I do?” he mused to himself. “I have no place to store my crops.” It apparently did not occur to him that he might share with those who were less fortunate. “This is what I’ll do,” he subsequently concluded. “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many year. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.’”

“You fool!” God rebuked him. “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This, in turn, recalls the story of another affluent person who passed away. “How much did he leave?” one individual inquired.

“So far as I know, all of it,” replied the other. Accordingly, Jesus pointedly concluded: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear,” he continued. “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” Consider the ravens, who do not sow, reap, or store away, and yet God provides for their needs. Consider also the lilies of the field, which neither labor nor spin. Then, too, who can add a single hour to his life through worry?

“Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus fondly admonishes his disciples, “for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Invest in eternity. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Summoning additional metaphors, be attired properly for service, and with your lamps burning. As in the case of those waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. Or with the owner who does not know when a thief may break in. “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus continued to exhort along this line until touching on a related matter. “Do you think that I came to bring peace on earth?” he inquired. “No, I tell you, but division.” In that it was his intent to call out a special people.

“Hypocrites!” Jesus addressed the gathering. “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret the present time?” How is it that they can be so aware of natural phenomena, and quite insensitive to spiritual realities? So it is that the discussion has come full circle, with his caution concerning the leaven of hypocrisy.

 

 

* * *

KINGDOM ECHOES

As touched on earlier, the kingdom of God is paramount in Jesus’ teaching. Now some of those present brought to Jesus’ attention certain Galileans who Pilate had slaughtered. This was perhaps meant as a subtle warning, since he was also a Galilean. In any case, it raised a question concerning how the kingdom could be present if such a tragedy were allowed. As expressed by a certain rabbi, “When there is shalom (peace, well-being), it will be time enough to consider if the Messiah has visited previously.”

Jesus inquired by way of response, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you will all perish” (Luke 13:2-3). His protest was calculated to eliminate any simple correlation between sinful behavior and suffering.

You too might be a reference to the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Conversely, “It would be understood that Jesus was using a real incident to illustrate a spiritual reality. Luke probably intended a combination of the two interpretations, for the temple’s destruction in A.D. 70 was both a temporal judgment on the nation and a spiritual one.”68

After this, Jesus told a parable by way illustrating his point. A man had a fig tree which bore no fruit. “Cut it down!” he instructed his underling. “Why should it use up the soil?”

“Sir,” the man pled, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” Jesus means to warn that time is running short for them to repent. Consequently, one should not assume that God’s longsuffering amounts to his approbation.

On another occasion, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, and there was a woman in attendance who had been crippled for eighteen years. “Woman,” Jesus invited her attention, “you are free from your infirmity.”Then when he placed his hands on her, she straightened up and praised the Almighty. Needless to say, this is portrayed as an earnest of the kingdom.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler protested to the assembled group: “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” This also served as a rebuke of Jesus for having performed the healing.

“You hypocrites,” Jesus included all those who sided with the ruler, “doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or ass and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” Jesus’ apt use of analogy prevailed: his opposition was humiliated, and the people rejoiced.

Such evidences of the in-breaking of the kingdom, while astonishing, fell far short of the comprehensive transformation anticipated with the coming of the Messianic Age. Accordingly, Jesus inquired: “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree (not actually, but large in size), and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” “There is an amazing difference between the insignificant mustard seed and its final product. The point Luke wanted Theophilus to get was that the consummation of God’s kingdom would be different from its inception as a mature mustard plant was from its seed.”69

Jesus continued to makes his way through the villages, bent on reaching Jerusalem. “Lord,” someone inquired of him “are only a few people going to be saved?”

Jesus admonished him, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” In other words, take the claims of the kingdom seriously.

“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out,” Jesus pointedly continued. “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast of the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” Consequently, privilege should not be squandered.

While the cause for weeping is not specified, it is perhaps in context associated with unrealized opportunity. As for the gnashing of teeth, this would as a rule be expressive of unrelenting anger. The impression one gets is of persons confirmed in their determination to frustrate God’s gracious purposes, but having failed to do so.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you will not willing!” Jesus laments. “Look, your home is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” While this may have an incidental reference to his triumphal entry, it awaits the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness.

 

 

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TABLE TALK

Jesus went to eat at the house of a prominent Pharisee on the Sabbath. It was a festive occasion, in keeping with the tone of the day. However, matters took a different turn when Jesus confronted a man suffering from dropsy. Accordingly, he inquired of the religious elite whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. When they remained silent, he healed the man and sent him away.

“The very act of eating with these legal experts and Pharisees conveys within it the potential for establishing redemptive community, as does the ensuing demonstration of Jesus’ persistence in sharing his message with them.”70 In this connection, it should be recalled that a common meal implied something akin to a covenant setting.

“If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day,” Jesus speculates, “will you not immediately pull him out?” (Luke 14:5). Again, they remained silent. This is important for at least three reasons: “(1) the silence of his table companions marks this scene as a struggle regarding Jesus’ relative position within the group, (2) it establishes Jesus as an authoritative teacher, and (3) this opens the door for his further instruction.”71

Then, noting how the guests opted for places of honor at the table, Jesus admonished them: “But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Turning to his host, Jesus enjoined him not to invite persons who will return the favor, but “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When one of those at the table overheard this, he responded: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

This prompted Jesus to give an account of a certain person who invited many guests. When it was time, he sent his servant to alert those who were invited: “Come, for everything is now ready.”

But they without exception began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.” It was not a likely scenario, because one would have surveyed the property before purchasing it. The other excuses were no more credible.

When this was reported back, the host instructed his servant: “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” When this was done, there was still room. So the servant was sent out to gather still others, but those who were previously invited were not among them.

This parable has multiple applications. For instance, it serves to account for Jesus’ appeal to sinners (non-observant Jews). Then, too, as a justification for ministering to those in need. Finally, as a precedent for outreach to the Gentiles.

Taking leave of his host, Jesus continued on his way. Large crowds were accompanying him. Turning to them, he declared: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life,—he cannot be my disciple.” This serves as a classic case of hyperbole, meant to say that one must not allow anything to intervene in the zealous pursuit of discipleship.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower,” Jesus says by way of illustration. “Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him.”

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king,” Jesus continues. “Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” Should he decide that he cannot overcome the adversary, he will send a delegation to petition for peace.

“Salt is good,” Jesus allowed, “but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” “Salt was particularly used as a seasoning agent for taste, and sometimes mixed in with manure to keep it fresh for use as fertilizer. The point is that disciples who do not live like disciples are worth as much as unsalty salt: nothing.”72

At this, Jesus succinctly concluded: “He who has ears, let him hear.” Not simply to hear what he said, but heed his admonition. Thus in keeping with his use of metaphor.

 

 

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LOST & FOUND

Now tax collectors and sinners (non-observant Jews) were gathering around Jesus, to hear what he had to say. As admonished above, they were employing their ears to hear. By way of contrast, the Pharisees and scribes complained: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

“Suppose that one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.” Jesus speculates by way of response. “Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” Then he summons his friends to rejoice with him. Incidentally, good things are better shared.

Who does the lost sheep represent? Initially, the sinners. In a more subtle fashion, the religious observant as well. Ultimately, everyone. As for commentary, “For who can glory that he has a clean heart? And who can boldly say that he is pure from sin? For we are all among the blameworthy. Let us still pray for them more earnestly, for there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.”73

In this regard, there is a notable contrast between the joyful attitude in heaven accompanying the restoration of one who was lost, and the displeasure expressed by the religious leaders. As for the former, “the more, the merrier.” As for the latter, they wanted to maintain a religious pecking order.

There is also an issue concerning the taking of initiative in reclaiming the lost. In terms of parable’s imagery, the religious establishment appears content to tend the flock—while ignoring the stray. Conversely, Jesus was manifestly intent on finding the lost sheep.

Now Jesus told a second parable with similar intent. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one,” he reflects. “Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” And when she finds it, she shares the good news with her friends. “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The parable especially concerns the unrelenting search of the woman. In this connection, she undertakes a calculated search for the valued possession. As such, it was in contrast to some token endeavor.

Jesus continued, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’” “The elder son would receive two thirds of the estate and the younger son one third (Deut. 21:17). Actually the younger son would receive slightly less than a third if there were daughters, for money would be needed for their dowries.”74 Since the inheritance would normally be distributed at the death of the parents, this constituted an unusual appeal. Nevertheless, his father complied.

Not long after, the younger sibling gathered his belongings, and departed for a distant country. This would make him unavailable to his parents during their declining years. Moreover, he proceeded to spend all he had received in wild living. After it was gone, a severe famine plagued the region, and he was in dire need. He turned to tending pigs, considered an unclean animal and representing a profligate life. He also attempted to satisfy his hunger by sharing their provision. No one offered to help him.

Upon coming to his senses, he reasoned: “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” So he got up and returned to his parental home.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “Father,” the prodigal allowed, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

“Quick!” the enthusiastic parent alerted his servants. “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the elder son was in the field. When he heard the commotion, he came to see what was transpiring. Upon being informed, he was angry and refused to enter the house. So his father went out, and pleaded with him.

“Look!” the elder sibling remonstrated. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“My son,” his father replied, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Note in this regard the pointed contrast between this son of yours and this brother of yours. We are thus left to ponder which of the two brothers was the more likely prodigal.

 

 

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SHOW & TELL

Much of Jesus’ public ministry might be described in terms of show and tell. The following will serve to illustrate. Now Jesus informed his disciples of a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. Faced with the prospect of losing his position, he mused to himself: “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg” (Luke 16:1). In other words, he was not up to manual labor, and felt it beneath his station to ask for assistance. Then it occured to him that he could ingratiate himself to others, as a means of coping with the perceived dilemma.

So he summoned each of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”

“Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,” the man replied.

At this, the manager instructed him: “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.” In similar fashion, he counseled the next.

When his master heard of this, he commended his manager for acting shrewdly. This invites as speculation: “(1) The steward lowered the bills by removing his commission. Thus he won approval and favor from the debtors, and as a result making his master look good, he received his favor also. (2) The steward lowered the bills by removing his master’s high and illegal interest.”75 If the latter instance, he protected his master from possible legal comunications, and was commended for this reason. In any case, the parable is meant to commend the manager’s shrewdness rather than the means by which it was expressed.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,” Jesus went on to observe, “and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches.?”

“In summary, therefore, the parable of the clever steward (suggests that) it is possible to manage goods in ways appropriate to life in the kingdom of God. . . . The life of the disciples is one of faithful attention to the frequent and familiar tasks of each day, however small and insignificant they may seem.”76

“No man can serve two masters,” Jesus insisted. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Here material possessions are personified, as if an instance of idolatry. Furthermore, Jewish tradition construes idolatry as being the ultimate source of all evil.

The Pharisees, who are depicted here as having a materialistic disposition, sneered at Jesus’ commentary. Inasmuch as they may have served as a precedent for the gospel of wealth, they hoped to harvest material benefits from spiritual piety. In any case, Jesus cautioned them: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

He then assured his listeners, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” He touches on divorce in this context.

It is necessary to force one’s way into the kingdom because of the array of adversaries that inhibit him. He can draw not only on the Law and Prophets in his struggle, but the Gospel as well. In proverbial terms, “One with God is in the majority.”

Money per se is not the problem, but our use of it. In this regard, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.” The dogs licked his sores, showing more compassion for him than the rich man.

Now when the beggar died, the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The affluent man also died, and was in torment. Calling out to the patriarch, he requested that Lazarus be sent to ease his suffering. “Son,” Abraham replied, “remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” And besides all this there was a chasm fixed so that no one could cross over.

At this, the destitute man in torment asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his five brothers of their imminent danger. “They have Moses and the Prophets,” the patriarch observed, “let them listen to them.” In response to the man’s insistence, he then replied: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” In retrospect, Luke no doubt recalls the disbelief associated with Jesus’ resurrection.

 

 

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WORD & DEED

It bears repeating, Jesus employed metaphor in both his speech and by way of his actions. In keeping with this thesis, he observed to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1-2).

The traditional millstone was about eighteen to thirty inches across. Jesus, however, likely had in mind a considerably larger variety. In any case, he means to make it quite clear that one would be well advised not to influence persons adversely.

“If your brother sins, rebuke him” Jesus elaborated, “and if he repents, forgive him.” The injunction is two-fold. Initially, if your brother sins, rebuke him. Not in a vindictive manner, but with compassion. Then, too, not self-righteously, but with the realization that none of us is above reproach.

Sin is said to be any lack of conformity to the will of God. Accordingly, it may result from commission or omission. It may even consist of the lesser good rather than some utterly despicable act.

Second, if he repents, forgive him. “Repentance is godly sorrow for one’s sin together with the resolution to turn from it. There are other forms of regret over one’s wrongdoing which are based upon different motivations. One form of regret may be motivated by little more than selfishness.”77

Forgiveness involves setting aside former grievances, that impair a relationship with the offending party. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to forge a friendship. Conversely, it is not a guarantee. Whether in this regard or some other, Jesus is profoundly realistic in his approach to the human condition.

“Increase our faith!” his apostles exclaimed. “The faith that the disciples wish Jesus to increase is the kind of faith that will not waver in the face of opposition but in a faith that will expect great things from God. (As such, it) is a faith that will readily forgive those who sin and then repent.”78

Jesus replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it will obey you.’” He thereby employs a situation contrary to fact as a means of hyperbole. In popular idiom, “ A little goes a long way.”

“Suppose one of you had a servant, plowing or looking after the sheep.” When he returned, would you offer to wait on him? Hardly! You would expect him to wait on you. “We certainly must never get it into our heads that we have served God so superbly well that now we have a right to put our own needs and satisfactions before his requirements.”79 Instead, it should inspire us to make the most of situation.

Now Jesus was making his way along the border between Samaria and Galilee, on his way to Jerusalem, when confronted by ten men suffering from leprosy. Standing at a distance, they called out to him: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

“Go,” he said to them, “show yourselves to the priests.” This was by way of authenticating their healing. As they went, they were healed. Accordingly, the initial step requires faith.

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned—praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, thanking him. He was a Samaritan, hence depreciated by his Jewish neighbors.

“Were not all ten cleansed?” Jesus inquired. “Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” As if to suggest that we readily take God’s blessings for granted.

Upon being asked when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied: “(It) does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” “The reason given for not looking for such premonitory signs can be either (1) that the (realized) kingdom has already come into their midst or (2) that the (consummated) kingdom will come suddenly and unexpectedly and when it comes all will know immediately.”80 Or perhaps both together; but if one or the other, the initial option best fits the context.

In any case, persons will be pursuing life without due consideration for the kingdom priorities. They will be “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building”—in routine manner. As such, they resemble prey for the vultures.

 

 

* * *

INTERRUPTIONS

I was assured as a child that life consists of interruptions. One could readily get that impression by way of even a casual reading of the life and ministry of Jesus. Some are welcome, while others are not. More in particular, prayer provides a prime means for coping with any eventuality.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Jesus urged his disciples to persist in prayer. In this connection, he observed: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary’” (Luke 18:2-3).

For some time he refused, but finally mused to himself: “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!” In brief, persistence pays off.

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” Jesus rhetorically inquired. “I tell you that they get justice, and quickly.” Since God is eminently more responsive than the uncaring official.

“However,” he adds, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” “The implication is that persistent prayer is needed in order to maintain a healthy faith. This idea should work two ways: faith prompts prayer, while prayer strengthens faith.”81

Now some were confident in their own righteousness, while looking down on others. This drew Jesus’ attention to two men who went up to the temple for prayer—the one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “God,” the Pharisee allowed, “I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

Conversely, the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breasts in remorse, pleading: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God,” Jesus concluded. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Initially, the application is two-fold. While rebuking the religious ostentation of the Pharisees, it also served to encourage the religiously non-observant—should they mend their ways.

Ultimately, it had implications for the Christian fellowship. In this regard, a story is told of a Sunday school teacher, who urged her pupils to thank God that they were not as the Pharisee. While meant as an attempt at humor, it reminds us of how easily we may fall prey to the faults we criticize in others.

Now people were bringing children to Jesus for his blessing, and interrupting his teaching. Whereupon, his disciples attempted to dissuade them. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,” Jesus cautioned them, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Not only are the children welcome, but others must emulate their sincerity and trust to join them. Then, too, one is reminded that the child has virtually a life-time of service ahead, unlike those whose life is winding down. All things considered, they constitute a good investment of one’s time and energies.

“Good teacher,” a certain ruler inquired of Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus replied. The response seems calculated to incite the inquirer to consider the deeper implications of his salutation. “No one is good—except God alone,” Jesus continued. “You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”

“All these things I have kept since I was a boy,” he observed.

“You still lack one thing,” Jesus responded. “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. At this, Jesus observed: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” While not expressly stated, the man appears to have disregarded the prohibition concerning covetousness. Then, by implication, the first—concerning loving God without restraint.

When those standing by heard this, they asked: “Who then can be saved?” “If a rich person—whose wealth was understood as a sign of God’s blessing and could offer more alms and sacrifices due to this wealth can scarcely be saved, how could others—who lacked this sign of God’s blessing and who could not be as generous in their alms and sacrifices—be saved?”82

Jesus responded, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” This, in turn, solicited Peter’s observation that the disciples had left everything to follow him. At this, Jesus assured him that their reward would more than compensate for their sacrifice. In this context, Jesus again predicts his imminent demise—eventuating in his resurrection. His disciples were at a loss to know what to make of his words, since they do not fit into their preconceived ideas.

 

 

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FAITHFUL STEWARDS

As Jesus was entering Jericho, there was a blind man sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the noise of the crowd, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” (Luke 18:37).

“Jesus, Son of David,” he called out, “have mercy on me!” His address has unmistakable messianic overtones. Those who led the procession rebuked him, and told him to be quiet. They were perhaps intent on reaching Jerusalem without delay. But he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and mandated that the man be brought to him. When he drew near, Jesus inquired of him: “What do you want me to do for you?” “Jesus’ question did not seek to supply his lack of knowledge about what the blind man wanted: the blind man clearly wanted healing. Jesus’ question sought rather to elicit faith from him.”83

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

“Receive your sight,” Jesus allowed; “your faith has healed you.” He immediately received his sight, and followed Jesus—while praising the Almighty. When all the people saw this, they too praised God.

“What do you read?” a hypothetical rabbi inquired of his attentive student.

“Just as Jesus opened the eyes of the physically blind, so he opens the eyes of those who are spiritually blind,” the pupil confidently replied. “After that, he follows Jesus—as would a faithful steward.”

“Well said,” applauded the rabbi.

Now Jesus had entered Jericho, and was passing through. Zacchaeus, a very wealthy chief tax collector, being short of stature, ran ahead, and climbed up into sycamore tree.

Incidently, short of stature may be a metaphor for lack of acceptance by the crowed lining the road. This would be in keeping with the negative portrayal of tax collectors elsewhere. Even where that the case, it would not necessarily preclude a reference to his physical height.

Once Jesus had reached the spot, he looked up and called out: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” “The ‘must’ implies a divine necessity to do so. Just as Jesus’ forthcoming passion in Jerusalem was divinely ordained, so Jesus individual actions all fit into the divine plan, even his bringing salvation to Zaccheus’ house.”84

When this was known, all the people began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” This is an example of the hyperbolic use of the term all, indicating that it had become a matter of public knowledge. As for accepting the hospitality of a non-observant Jew, it was thought to condone his behavior.

Now the sinner stood up, and declared: “Lord, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back for times the amount.” It seems best to understand this as giving an account of his established practice rather than simply resolve.

“Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus pointedly observed, “because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save what was lost.” His pronouncement is two-fold. First, he points out that the tax collector was of the lineage of Abraham. This is likely meant to extend beyond “a reference to his bloodline, for Luke has repeatedly indicated that one’s birthright is no grounds for any particular privilege in the divine economy. Rather, Jesus’ assertion vindicates (him) as one who embodies the qualities of those fit for the kingdom of God.”85

Second, Jesus goes on to vindicate his own ministry. In this regard, his practices are consistent with God’s purpose to recover the lost.

Jesus then told them a parable, since they were near Jerusalem, and the people anticipated that the kingdom of God was about to be manifest. A man of noble birth went to a distant country, to be anointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants, and instructed them: “Put this money to work, until I come back.” Upon returning, he required an accounting.

Each was rewarded according to his diligence. One was put in charge of ten cities, another five, and still another lost that with which he was entrusted. Thus participation in the kingdom is graphically portrayed in terms of stewardship.

 

 

* * *

HERALDED ENTRY

The above parable also provides a transition into Jesus’ heralded entry into Jerusalem. He continued on his ascent to Jerusalem, until he came to the Mount of Olives. “Go to the village ahead of you,” he instructed two of his disciples, “and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him ‘The Lord needs it’” (Luke 19:14).

This may imply that its use was pre-arranged. Otherwise, “The donkey’s owners probably see it as part of the hospitality to visitors to the feast, or perhaps as the honor of helping a famous rabbi on his way.”86 It would, in any case, be suitable for ceremonial purposes since it had not been previously ridden.

Jesus has been making his pilgrimage to Jerusalem on foot. “That he now rides a colt, for only the last mile of the journey, intimates the symbolic character of this act. The most obvious interpretation is proposed by Zech. 9:9: as the triumphant, victorious, yet humble king.”87 As such he comes in peace.

They brought the donkey to Jesus, and had him sit on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road before him. This, too, was in keeping with the acclaim given to royalty.

When he drew near the place where the road dips down from the crest of the Mount of Olives, his disciples began to joyfully praise God for all the miracles they had witnessed. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted. “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” It was the occasion for unbridled enthusiasm, brought on when the city came into view.

“Teacher,” some of the Pharisees in the crowd protested, “rebuke your disciples!” Their critical reaction puts the reader on notice that the euphoria of the moment would be short-lived.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus solemnly replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” While likely citing a proverb, it was perhaps derived from arranging stones as a memorial. For instance, Laban cautioned Jacob: “This heap is a witness between you and me today. (In this regard,) may the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other” (Gen. 31:48-49).

As Jesus approached the city, he wept over it. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes,” he lamented. “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. . . . They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

In proverbial terms, “The hand-writing was on the wall.” Things would turn from bad to worse. Consequently, Jesus was moved to tears.

This, in turn, recalls a story concerning a group of devout Jews witnessing the destruction of their beloved temple. All bemoaned the tragic event but one, who seemed euphoric. When asked how he could rejoice at a time such as this, he replied; “If the destruction of the temple elicits such anguish, think of the joy associated with its rebuilding.” It goes without saying that Jesus did not think that all was lost.

He subsequently entered into the temple, and began driving out those who were selling. “It is written,” he reminded them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’ but you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’” A den of robbers “recalls the caves to which ‘people of violence’ retreat in order to escape justice. (Accordingly, it serves as) an apt description of the Jewish leaders, whose economic power is grounded in the socio-religious significance of the temple.”88

Incidently, it appears that this commercial initiative took place within the Court of the Gentiles, thus demeaning the devout among the nations. Then, by implication, it was an affront to the sovereign Lord of all.

In any case, it was obviously a symbolic act. It would not be calculated to dissuade the merchants from giving up their profitable business. Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple precincts, while the religious establishment was searching for some way to eliminate him—without courting the ire of the people, who were impressed by what he had say.

 

 

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CONTROVERSY

One day when Jesus was teaching in the temple courts and sharing the good news, the religious authorities approached him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they demanded. “Who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20:2). No doubt they were still infuriated with his cleansing of the temple, and insisted that he give an account for his unwarranted intrusion into the religious affairs entrusted to them.

He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?” In Jewish custom, it is not uncommon to answer a question with a question. However, this particular question created a conundrum. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?” they speculated. “But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.’” So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

While this could be an instance of hyperbole, “the volatility of the people made something like this quite possible. Another possible interpretation is that by claiming John the Baptist was not a true prophet, the Jewish leadership would have been liable to the penalty for false prophesy—‘stoning’ (Deut. 13:1-11).”89

Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” He apparently felt that it would be useless to pursue the matter further with so biased and hostile a group. Subsequent developments would confirm this appraisal.

Jesus went on to employ a parable, touched on earlier in passing. It concerned a man who planted a vineyard, rented it to tenants, and went away for an extended period. At harvest time, he sent a servant to receive some of the produce in payment. But the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, who was also abused, without anything to show for his efforts. He sent yet a third, who they injured and cast out of the vineyard.

“What shall I do?” the owner mused to himself. “I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.”

But when the tenants saw him, they conspired: “Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” Jesus rhetorically inquired. “He will come and kill these tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

“May this never be!” the people exclaimed. As for commentary, “Surely the destruction of Jerusalem marks the obliteration of Israel as well! But this misses the careful distinction drawn in the parable between vineyard and tenants, and thus between Israel and its leaders.”90

Then what is meant by the text, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone?” (cf. Psa. 118:22). “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” Accordingly, their efforts to thwart Jesus’ mission would prove to be fruitless.

Keeping Jesus under close surveillance, the religious authorities incited some to see if they could discover a reason to accuse him. So it was that some inquired, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not” Should Jesus answer to the negative, they could charge him with revolt against Roman authority. But if he replies in the affirmative, he might lose favor with the general populace.

Sensing their duplicity, Jesus responded: “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it.”

“Caesar’s,” they acknowledged.

“Then render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he allowed, “and to God what is God’s.” Accordingly, legitimate political obligations fall within the province of religious commitment. Seeing that they were unable to entrap him and astonished at his astute reply, they became silent.

“Teacher,” certain of the Sadducees then addressed Jesus, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.” Josephus explains in this regard that while the Pharisees established many traditions “which are not written in the law of Moses, the Sadducees reject them and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers.”91

“Now then,” they cynically inquired, “at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” They hoped thereby to discredit his teaching.

Jesus countered by pointing out that the God of the patriarchs is not the God of the dead, but the living. Certain of the rabbis commended his response, and none ventured to press him further. Thus are we given to understand that Jesus got the better of the controversies, even though he failed to convince those resolutely apposed.

 

 

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A LIMITED HORIZON

“How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David?” Jesus inquired (Luke 20:41), since David expressly refers to him as Lord (cf. Psa. 110:1). This appeared not in keeping with the accepted practice of giving deference to the elder.

The point at issue concerned a misunderstanding that “envisaged the Messiah as someone who would defeat all Israel’s foes and bring in a new kingdom of David. They thought of David’s son as similar to David in being, outlook and achievement.”92 Conversely, they failed to grasp in what way the Messiah would excel David in administering his unique office.

Luke ventures no reply, leaving the impression that Jesus had discouraged his opposition from plying him with further questions. As a result, we are alerted to the fact that the want for a better answer is often the lack of a better question.

In the hearing of the people, Jesus cautioned his disciples: “Beware the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplace and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” Such devour widow’s houses, while making lengthy prayers. As a result, they will be severely punished.

“Jesus could mean that these teachers exploit widows’ resources by seeking extensive tithes (which they could set at 20-30 percent, on top of the heavy land taxes), or that they follow the letter of the law in legal decisions, rather than showing mercy to the poor as the law required.”93 In any case, they are portrayed as violating the spirit of the law, while giving the impression of being religiously meticulous.

The caution could be understood in objective or subjective terms, or a combination of the two. If objective, then be forewarned of their insidious behavior. If subjective, do not emulate them. Then likely not one to the exclusion of the other.

Upon looking up, Jesus saw the affluent depositing their gifts into the temple treasury. He also took note of a poor widow, who put in two small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he solemnly declared, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).

The inescapable conclusion is that one’s generosity does not consist in how much he or she gives, but how much remains. Then, too, it is not something we can readily evaluate. Consequently, it is best that we let God make the appraisal.

Now some of the disciples were remarking about how lavishly the temple was adorned. “As for what you see here,” Jesus countered, “the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” He uses hyperbole in this connection, meant to suggest utter destruction.

“Teacher,” they curiously inquired, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” It appears obvious that they associated the destruction with the consummation of the age.

He replied, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming , ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Jesus thus deftly distinguishes between the two events.

“But before all this, they will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.” At such time, they were not to be concerned about what to say, because the word would be given them. Furthermore, “By standing firm you will gain life.”

Jesus now focuses on the destruction of Jerusalem. “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near,” he warned them. “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.” It appears that some of Jesus’ followers heeded his advice, by fleeing to the Trans-Jordan to escape the impending destruction.

He next shifts attention to the climax of the age: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity of the roaring and tossing of the sea.” “In vivid apocalyptic imagery Jesus speaks of heavenly portents. It is not easy to see how literally the words are meant to be taken. Such language is often used in apocalyptic to denote sudden and violent change and the emergence of a new order.”94

“Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus allows by way of conclusion, “but my words will never pass away.” Consequently, watch and pray. In this manner, they could expect to cope with any eventuality.

 

 

* * *

THE LAST SUPPER

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) was approaching, and the religious establishment was looking for some way to get rid of Jesus. In general, the Jewish festivals provide “an opportunity to break through (the) mundane, humdrum lives and to inject into them spiritually rich, uplifting customs and rituals. (They) are also the primary vehicles for transmitting the Jewish heritage to the children, the next generation.”95

As touched on earlier, Passover as such recalled the seminal event in the history of the Jewish people, their deliverance from bondage. Consequently, it seems especially incongruous that the religious leaders were seeking Jesus’ death at a time when they were celebrating the birth of their corporate identity. We are thus alerted to the fact that the best intent can be readily turned to evil purposes.

Then Satan enlisted Judas to accomplish his purpose, in hopes to thwart Jesus’ redemptive mission. This has given rise to considerable speculation. As an example, some have supposed that Judas was intent on forcing Jesus’ hand, thereby bringing matters to a successful conclusion. Conversely, the text would seem to imply that he was more interested in monitary gain. In any case, he agreed to betray Jesus.

Now Jesus instructed Peter and John to make preparation for the Passover meal. In greater detail, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters,” and inform its owner that the Teacher inquires concerning a guest room (Luke 22:10-11). Since it was customary for women to carry jars of water, a man serving in this capacity would constitute a notable sign. Some have concluded that this abnormality resulted from there being an Essene community in the vicinity.

When preparation was made, they relined around the table. Then Jesus confided in them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” “Luke has shaped the tradition so as to present the evening as a classical occasion of farewell by a leader to his followers: first the meal (vv. 14-20) and then words of warning, instruction, and encouragement for the days that lie ahead (vv. 21-38).”96 Conversely, there seems no reason to doubt but that he was reporting the matter accurately.

Jesus took bread, broke it, and shared it with his disciples. “This is my body given you,” he observed; “do this in remembrance of me.” As previously noted, bread signified daily sustenance.

In similar manner and after having eaten, he took the cup, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” In this connection, “it seems clear that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper by associating it with the third cup of wine, which came after the Passover meal was eaten. It was known as the ‘cup of redemption’”—derived from the third of a four-fold promise (cf. Exod. 6:6-7).

He refused, however, the fourth cup—appropriately designated as the cup of consummation. This was based on the promise that God would take his people to be with him. Accordingly, the disciples were to anticipate his return in glory.

“The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed,” Jesus commented further, “but woe to the man who betrays him.” Whereupon, the disciples began to question among themselves who this might be.

This apparently incited a dispute among them as to which was the greatest. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors,” Jesus observed. “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you shall be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” Jesus, moreover, serves as the prime example.

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials,” Jesus allowed. “And I confer on you a kingdom.” Since they share in his suffering, they may anticipate sharing as well in his exaltation.

Jesus then singles out Peter for consideration: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back strengthen your brothers.” This would seem to confirm the sage observation, “The critical factor is not how many times one falls, but how often he regains his feet.”

“Lord,” Peter responds, “I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Jesus now alerts his disciples that they will soon encounter greater opposition and even outright persecution. Even as they have not lacked previously, neither will they in the future. In this context, Jesus’ allowance that two swords are enough does not envision conflict with the Roman legions. Accordingly, “The ‘sword’ is best understood in some metaphorical sense as indicating being spiritually armed and prepared for battle against the spiritual foes.”98

 

 

* * *

GOD’S WILL

As was his custom, Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. Elevated places have served as a special place for prayer from antiquity, no doubt for a number of associated reasons. Initially, they serve as a means of getting away from the routine of life—all that seemingly crowds in on us, and stifles our spirits.

Then, too, we appear drawn into the Lord’s presence. The air is crisp and refreshing. The clouds also reach out to embrace us. The sunlight breaking through the cloud layer appears to beam God’s approval. All things considered, we get the impression of entering a sanctuary.

Thus are we reminded of the need to come before the Lord with righteous resolve. In this regard, “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psa. 24:3-4). Such will assuredly receive a welcome blessing from the Almighty.

Finally, we gain perspective. As we survey the terrain spread out below, life appears less constricted. We are thus rescued from what has graphically been described as tunnel vision.

As a reality check, Jesus apparently made his way to an olive grove, nestled against the hillside. It provided privacy, conducive to spiritual reflection. Previous visits to the location assured that there would be recollections associated with prayer.

The disciples accompanied him. Or, if not, then at a distance and not all together—so as not to call attention to their gathering. The longer they remained in Jerusalem, the greater the risk. In any case, this serves to remind subsequent generations of their obligation to keep a prayer vigil.

Upon their arrival, Jesus admonished his disciples: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40). Why an appropriate caution in any case, it was especially needed given the testing that lay ahead.

He then withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down, and earnestly prayed: “Father, if you are willing take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” As touched on earlier, the notion of father implies benevolent authority. Accordingly, one can rest assured that his will is best.

It goes without saying that this cup makes reference to Jesus’ impending suffering and demise. In contrast to Socrates, who welcomed death as a release from material bondage, Jesus views it as a dreadful adversary. “He knows, of course, that the Father stands by to help him. He looks to him in this decisive moment as he had done throughout his life. He turns to God with all his human fear of this great enemy, death.”99

Whereupon, an angel from heaven appeared—strengthening him. He was thus encouraged to engage even more intently in prayer. As he prayed, his perspiration resembled drops of blood falling to the ground. This has encouraged some to speculate that the stress caused minute blood vessels to burst, so that blood was exuded along with perspiration. In any case, Luke makes it eminently clear that Jesus was under extreme duress.

When he rose from prayer and returned to where he had left his disciples, he found them asleep—being exhausted from their sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” Jesus inquired. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” This was the second time he had urged them along this line.

While he was still speaking, Judas arrived with an accompanying crowd. He was about to acknowledge Jesus with a kiss, when rebuked. When the disciples perceived what was about to happen, they inquired if they should resist. Peter, not waiting for a reply, struck a servant of the high priest—severing his right ear. “No more of that!” Jesus enjoined them. At this, he healed the wound.

“Jesus, who had struggled in prayer, comes to this encounter in a state of composed master; his disciples, who have been sleeping rather than praying, face the ordeal with agitation and miscomprehension.”100 The contrast is no doubt intended.

“Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?” Jesus protested. “Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—darkness reigns.” Hour in context is employed in a symbolic fashion, as is the reference to darkness. Consequently, evil momentarily appears to hold sway. We are, nonetheless, reminded of the sage saying: “It is darkest just before the dawn.”

In any case, Jesus does not waver. It is his overriding concern that God’s will be done. He thus qualifies as the great exemplar.

 

 

* * *

GOOD FRIDAY

Jesus’ crucifixion is cast in the context of judicial proceedings. Justice ran amuck as a result of the religious establishment’s determination to get rid of the troublesome prophet. They led him away to the house of the high priest, while Peter followed at a discreet distance.

But once they kindled a fire in the middle of the court yard, the apostle sat down with them. A servant girl observing him in the dim firelight, observed: “This man was with him.” On this and two other occasions, he vehemently denied being one of Jesus’ disciples.

As he was speaking, Jesus turned and looked at him. Then the apostle recalled how he was alerted concerning his betrayal. Whereupon, he went outside and wept bitterly. They were tears of repentance.

The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” (Luke 22:64). Not content, they insulted him in other ways. “Jewish law meticulously guarded the rights of the accused and erred on the side of mercy in official decisions; thus the behavior described here would have revolted the Pharisees and other pietists.”101

The Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) met at daybreak to interrogate Jesus. “If you are the Christ,” they inquired, “tell us.”

Jesus perceptively answered: “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

“Are you then the Son of God?” they pressed him. If God’s Son, then obedient to him.

He responded, “You are right in saying I am.” Upon hearing this, they concluded that he had incriminated himself. In particular, he had laid claim to being the Messiah—along with its political implications.

Jesus was then led off to appear before the Roman magistrate Pilate. “We have found this man subverting our nation,” they charged. “He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”

When Pilate had questioned him, he concluded: “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” Nor was he disposed to execute an innocent person.

When the accusers persisted, and Pilate learned that Jesus came Galilee, he referred him to Herod—who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. Herod welcomed the encounter, for he had heard of Jesus and hoped he would perform some miracle. When the accused remained silent, the security again ridiculed and m mocked him, and then returned him to Pilate.

The Roman official proposed having Jesus punished, and then released. However, the crowd—incited by the religious officials, insisted that he be crucified. Pilate reluctantly acquiesced, now concluding the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome) took precedence.

So they crucified Jesus, along with two criminals—one on either side of him. “Father,” Jesus implored, “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Crucifixion was an exceedingly painful experience, meant to act as a deterrent against crime. “Once a person is hanging in the vertical position, (it) is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation.”102 In brief, one reaches the point where he can not longer exhale.

The populace stood by watching the drama unfold. Certain of the religious leaders sneered, “he save others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also mocked him, and one of the criminals joined in.

“Don’t you fear God,” the other rebuked him, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. “Jesus,” he then petitioned, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Now darkness settled over the land from noon to three p.m. “The latter time, when Jesus dies, is close to the time of the evening offering in the temple. Darkness was one of the plagues in Egypt and occurs in the prophets as a judgment for the end time.”103 As such, it resembles turning back the clock on creation—before life proliferated.

The curtain of the temple was also torn in two—likely suggesting an earth tremor. In symbolic terms, it signified access to the Almighty.

“Father,” Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” He had finished the task assigned to him.

The centurion, having observed all that had transpired, concluded: “Surely this was a righteous man.” The populace beat their breasts, as a sign of mourning. Those who had followed Jesus from Galilee stood at a distance, watching the drama unfold. Only in retrospect could it viewed as Good Friday.

 

 

* * *

UP FROM THE GRAVE

Those who had agitated for Jesus’ execution must have heaved a collective sigh of relief. They at last thought themselves rid of the troublesome Galilean. They could now continue with business as usual. Luke, however, assures us that they had not heard the last from him.

Now there was man named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, and an upright person who waited expectantly for the kingdom of God. He requested Jesus’ body from Pilate, so as to give it a proper burial. Since the Sabbath was at hand, he wrapped it in linen cloths and placed it in a new tomb.

Early on the first day of the week, women who had prepared spices for anointing the body arrived at the tomb. They found the stone rolled away, and upon entering the tomb, they saw that the corpse had disappeared. While still wondering what to make of this, two persons in gleaming apparel appeared. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they inquired. “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5-6). Then they encouraged the frightened women to recall what Jesus had said concerning his resurrection while still with them.

Incidently, “The situation envisioned in the Gospels involves a cave-like tomb with a large wheel-like stone that was rolled down a channel to cover the tomb covering.”104 Then, too, the persons in gleaming apparel are subsequently identified as angels (cf. v. 23). Finally, it appears that Jesus’ disciples were slow to grasp the significance of his words. They perhaps confused them with the general resurrection, for which Jesus’ resurrection served as an earnest.

In terms of the liturgy, “He is risen!” Then, in response: “He is risen indeed!” As recalled in the memorable lyrics of Robert Lowry:

Death cannot keep his prey—Jesus my Savior, he tore the bars away—Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;

he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ Arose!

When the women had returned from the tomb, they informed the Eleven of all that had transpired. The latter were slow to believe. Peter, however, went to observe for himself. He found the strips of cloth lying by themselves, and went away—wondering what had happened.

Now the same day two of the disciples were making their way to the village of Emmaus, while discussing what had taken place. Jesus joined them, although they were kept from recognizing him. While Luke offers no explanation, this allowed Jesus the opportunity to elaborate on the significance of his death and resurrection.

“Stay with us,” they urged him, “for it is nearly evening.” Jesus acquiesced. When they were seated at the table, he took bread, gave thanks, and shared it. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. “Something in the action awoke a chord, or perhaps they say the nail-marks in Jesus’ hands for the first time. Or perhaps it was just God’s time.”105

At this, they recalled: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Then, without further delay, they returned at once to Jerusalem.

There they found the Eleven, and others gathered with them. “It is true!” they were told. “The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two shared with them their confirmation.

While they were still discussing the matter, Jesus appeared in their midst. “Peace be with you,” he greeted them. They were startled and frightened, supposing he was a spirit. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” Jesus inquired. “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself.”

“This is what is written,” he continued: “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things . . . but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power on high.” It is written, not only that he would suffer and rise from the dead, but that repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed—after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, they were to tarry until endued with power from on high.

Then, when he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While doing so, he was taken up into heaven. This, moreover, implies an empowerment to accomplish all that was intended in his redemptive ministry.

After this, the disciples made their way back to Jerusalem. There they remained continually in the temple precinct, praising God—for what he had done and was about to do. Thus concludes the first of Luke’s two volume work, concerning the life and ministry of Jesus—along with its pervasive use of metaphor.

 

 

CLOSING COMMENTS

My homiletics professor advised, “When you are through, stop!” With such in mind, I will keep my closing comments quite brief.

At the outset, we allowed that there has been a proliferation of lives of Jesus. This not only bears witness to the singular importance of the subject matter, but fresh insights that surface from time to time. While some of these are legitimate, others are not—such as the plethora of conspiracy theories generated. These reject the manifest teaching of the apostles, in favor of some unconvincing alternative. They also appeal to an elitist mentality, and confuse those ill equipped to evaluate the divergent claims.

It bears repeating, this is not my first attempt at writing a life of Jesus. Early on, I surveyed Matthew’s Gospel in the light of its alleged appeal to the early house church movement. More recently, I explored Luke’s narrative as qualifying as the original quest for the historical Jesus, and hence normative for the rest. Only now have I attempted to focus on the extensive use of metaphor in association with the highly cherished life and ministry of Jesus.

In doing so, I have wrestled with how extensively to delve into the topic. It is difficult to determine what is enough and not too much. As a result, the current text is something of a compromise between conflicting considerations.

Then, too, I have relied heavily on narrative—rather than more extensive analysis. This is more in keeping with the Hebrew antecedents; where, qualifications aside, the medium serves as the message. Accordingly, my commentary is relatively limited, and purposefully so. In so doing, my intent has been to draw the reader’s attention to the biblical text, instead of away from it.

Finally, this endeavor participates in the on-going consideration of the greatest story ever told. As I have insisted on other occasions, “The past serves as prologue.” Furthermore, as Augustine aptly remind us: “All truth is God’s truth.”

 

 

 

ENDNOTES

1. Yechiel Eckstein, How Firm a Foundation, p. 76.

2. William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7.

3. Oscar Brooks, The Drama of Decision, p. 31.

4. Craig Evans, Luke, p. 49.

5. Morris Inch, Exhortations of Jesus According to Matthew & Up From the Depths (Mark as Tragedy), p. 9.

6. Robert Mounce, Matthew, p. 25.

7. Charles Sheldon, In His Steps, p. 8.

8. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 145.

9. Ibid., p. 146.

10. Fred Craddock, Luke, p. 56.

11. Ibid., p. 55.

12. The Book of Infancy, 13, 2.

13. Morris, op. cit., p. 162.

14. Ibid., p. 164.

15. Ibid., p. 75.

16. J. Ramsey Michaels, John, p. 57.

17. Iain Proven, 1 and 2 Kings, p. 250.

18. George Beasely-Murray, John, p. 61.

19. Morris, op. cit., pp. 257-258.

20. Michaels, op. cit., p. 348.

21. George Robinson, Essential Judaism, p. 46.

22. Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, p. 214.

23. Ibid., pp. 215-216.

24. William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, p. 175.

25. Mounce, op. cit., pp. 77-78.

26. Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 81.

27. Green, op. cit., pp. 226-227.

28. Ibid., p. 227.

29. David Gooding, According to Luke, p. 105.

30. Leon Morris, Luke, p. 129.

31. Green, op. cit., p. 253.

32. Eckstein, op. cit., p. 63.

33. Lamar Williamson, Mark, p. 74.

34. Christopher Wright, Deuteronomy, p. 122.

35. Green, op. cit., pp. 267-268.

36. Ibid., p. 268.

37. Craddock, op. cit., p. 92.

38. Evans, op. cit., p. 124.

39. Craddock, op. cit., p. 96.

40. Green op. cit., p. 299.

41. Craig Keener, The Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, p. 210.

42. Green, op. cit., 328.

43. Ibid., p. 333.

44. Tertullian, Against Marion, IV, xx.

45. James Mays, Psalms, p. 347.

46. Morris, Luke, p. 173.

47. Ibid., p. 174.

48. F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Collossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, p. 261.

49. Morris Inch, “Manifestation of the Spirit,” The Living and Active Word of God (Inch and Youngblood, eds.), p. 149.

50. Evans, op. cit., p. 169.

51. Morris, Luke, p. 183.

52. Craddock, op. cit., p. 154.

53. Morris Inch, Two Mosaic Motifs, p. 65.

54. Green, op. cit., p. 373.

55. Ibid., p. 384.

56. Evans, op. cit., p. 158.

57. Green, op. cit., p. 392.

58. Ibid., p. 437.

59. Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, x.

60. Norman Perrin, Parable and Gospel, p. 21.

61. Morris, Luke, p. 217.

62. Tertullian, op. cit., xxvii.

63. Keener, op. cit., p. 221.

64. Morris, Luke, p. 226.

65. Ibid., pp. 227-228.

66. Epistle of Clement to James, xiv.

67. Morris, Luke, p. 232.

68. Robert Stein, Luke, p. 269.

69. Ibid., p. 376.

70. Green, op. cit., pp. 445-546.

71. Ibid., p. 548.

72. Keener, op. cit., p. 231.

73. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, viii.

74. Stein, op. cit., p. 405.

75. Ibid., p. 411.

76. Craddock, op. cit., p. 191.

77. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, vol. 3, p. 937.

78. Evans, op. cit., p. 254.

79. Gooding, op. cit., p. 280.

80. Stein, op. cit., p. 438.

81. Evans, op. cit., p. 267.

82. Stein, op. cit., pp. 458-459.

83. Ibid., p. 464.

84. Ibid., p. 467.

85. Green, op. cit., p. 672.

86. Keener, op. cit., p. 242.

87. Green, op. cit., p. 685.

88. Ibid., p. 693.

89. Stein, op. cit., p. 488.

90. Green, op. cit., p. 708.

91. Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 13, 10, 6.

92. Morris, Luke, p. 320.

93. Keener, op. cit., p. 246.

94. Morris, Luke, p. 327.

95. Eckstein, op. cit., pp. 75-76.

96. Craddock, op. cit., p. 255.

97. Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, p. 246.

98. Stein, op. cit., p. 555.

99. Oscar Cullmann, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?” Immortality and Resurrection
     
(Stendahl, ed.), p. 15.

100. Green, Luke, p. 782.

101. Keener, op. cit., p. 252.

102. Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, p. 198.

103. Keener, op. cit., p. 255.

104. Stein, op. cit., p. 604.

105. Morris, Luke, p. 371.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Beasely-Murray, George. John. Waco: Word, 1987.

The Book of Infancy.

Brooks, Oscar. The Drama of Decision. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.

Clement of Alexandria. Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?

Constitutions of the Holy Apostles.

Craddock, Fred. Luke. John Knox, 1990.

Cullmann, Oscar. “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Body,” Immortality and Resurrection (Stendahl, ed.), 9-53.

Eckstein, Yechiel. How Firm a Foundation. Brewster: Paraclete, 1997.

Epistle of Clement to James.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology, vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.

Evans, Craig. Luke. Peabody: Hendricson, 1993.

Gooding, David. According to Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

Green, Joel. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Harrington, Daniel. The Gospel of Matthew. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1991.

Inch, Morris. Exhortations of Jesus According to Matthew & Up From the Depths (Mark as Tragedy). Lanham: University Press of America, 1997.

_______ and Ronald Youngblood (eds). The Living and Active Word of God. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1983.

_______. “Manifestation of the Spirit,” The Living and Active Word of God (Inch and Youngblood, eds.), 149-155.

_______. Two Mosaic Motifs. Lanham: University Press of America, 2003.

Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews.

Keener, Craig. The Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993.

Lane, William. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. John. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993.

Mays, James. Psalms. Louisville: John Knox, 1994.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

_______. Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.

Mounce, Robert. Matthew. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991.

Perrin, Norman. Parable and Gospel. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.

Proven, Iain. 1 and 2 Kings. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995.

Robinson, George. Essential Judaism. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.

Shakespeare, William. As You Like It.

Sheldon, Charles. In His Steps. Uhrichsville: Barbour, 1984.

Stein, Robert. Luke. Nashville: Broadman, 1992.

Stendahl, Keister (ed.). Immortality and Resurrection. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervant, 1998.

Tertullain. Against Marion.

Williamson, Lamar. Mark. Louisville: John Knox, 1983.

Wilson, Marvin. Our Father Abraham. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

Wright, Christopher. Deuteronomy. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003.

 

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