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
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
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
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
* * *
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
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
“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
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
They have their exits and their
And one man in his time plays many
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
“Rabbi,” they respectfully
responded, “where are you staying?” This was by way of inquiring further
“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
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
“When Jesus saw Nathanael
approaching, he observed: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing
“How do you know of me?” Nathanael
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
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
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
“It is written,” Jesus answered:
‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Instead, he is sustained by God’s faithful
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
* * *
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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
* * *
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
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
“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
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
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.
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
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
* * *
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
* * *
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
“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.
* * *
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
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.
* * *
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
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
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
“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.”
* * *
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
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
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
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
“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
* * *
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
“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
* * *
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
“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
“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
“Do you see this woman?” he went on
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
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.
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
* * *
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
“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
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
Jesus inquired of him, “What is
“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
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
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
“Who touched me?” Jesus inquired
“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.
* * *
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
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
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
“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
“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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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
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
“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
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
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.
* * *
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
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
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
* * *
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
“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.
* * *
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
“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.
* * *
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
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.
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
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
“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.
* * *
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
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
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
“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.
* * *
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
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
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
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.
* * *
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
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
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.
* * *
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.
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
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
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
“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
“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
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.
* * *
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
“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
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
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.
* * *
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
“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
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’
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.
* * *
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
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.
* * *
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
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
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
“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.
* * *
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
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
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
“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
* * *
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
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
My homiletics professor advised,
“When you are through, stop!” With such in mind, I will keep my closing comments
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
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.”
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.
6. Robert Mounce, Matthew,
7. Charles Sheldon, In His Steps,
8. Leon Morris, The Gospel
According to John, p. 145.
9. Ibid., p. 146.
10. Fred Craddock, Luke, p.
11. Ibid., p. 55.
12. The Book of Infancy, 13,
13. Morris, op. cit., p.
14. Ibid., p. 164.
15. Ibid., p. 75.
16. J. Ramsey Michaels, John,
17. Iain Proven, 1 and 2 Kings,
18. George Beasely-Murray, John,
19. Morris, op. cit., pp.
20. Michaels, op. cit., p.
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.
26. Daniel Harrington, The
Gospel of Matthew, p. 81.
27. Green, op. cit., pp.
28. Ibid., p. 227.
29. David Gooding, According to
Luke, p. 105.
30. Leon Morris, Luke, p.
31. Green, op. cit., p. 253.
32. Eckstein, op. cit., p.
33. Lamar Williamson, Mark,
34. Christopher Wright,
Deuteronomy, p. 122.
35. Green, op. cit., pp.
36. Ibid., p. 268.
37. Craddock, op. cit., p.
38. Evans, op. cit., p. 124.
39. Craddock, op. cit., p.
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,
45. James Mays, Psalms, p.
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.
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.,
63. Keener, op. cit., p.
64. Morris, Luke, p. 226.
65. Ibid., pp. 227-228.
66. Epistle of Clement to James,
67. Morris, Luke, p. 232.
68. Robert Stein, Luke, p.
69. Ibid., p. 376.
70. Green, op. cit., pp.
71. Ibid., p. 548.
72. Keener, op. cit., p.
73. Constitutions of the Holy
74. Stein, op. cit., p. 405.
75. Ibid., p. 411.
76. Craddock, op. cit., p.
77. Millard Erickson, Christian
Theology, vol. 3, p. 937.
78. Evans, op. cit., p. 254.
79. Gooding, op. cit., p.
80. Stein, op. cit., p. 438.
81. Evans, op. cit., p. 267.
82. Stein, op. cit., pp.
83. Ibid., p. 464.
84. Ibid., p. 467.
85. Green, op. cit., p. 672.
86. Keener, op. cit., p.
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.
94. Morris, Luke, p. 327.
95. Eckstein, op. cit., pp.
96. Craddock, op. cit., p.
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.
102. Lee Strobel, The Case For
Christ, p. 198.
103. Keener, op. cit., p.
104. Stein, op. cit., p.
105. Morris, Luke, p. 371.
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