From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Luke 13 to 24                                 Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

 

Quickly Understanding Luke

 

(Volume 2:  Chapters 13 to 24)

 

 

by

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

Copyright © 2019 by author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

 

Although Earthly Disaster May Befall You, That Is Far from Clear Proof That You Have Actually Done Terrible Evil (Luke 13:1-5):  1 Now there were some present on that occasion who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  He answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered these things?  No, I tell you!  But unless you repent, you will all perish as well! 

”Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you!  But unless you repent you will all perish as well!”

 

 

            13:1     There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  Jesus was a Galilean and would certainly have had a special interest in matters affecting it.  Hence this is the likely reason that certain who happened to be there shared with Him word about Pilate’s attack.  The fact that they felt the need to share the information argues that it was so recent that He was unlikely to have heard of it from any other source.      

            This incident is not mentioned by Josephus so it was probably considered a relatively minor incident at the time--simply another of those examples where Jewish-Roman tensions exploded.  Intervention in the temple complex, however, was not to be undertaken lightly, so the Galileans surely must have really gotten out of hand to cause the Romans to intervene at the most sensitive spot in their relations with the Jews.  Since Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee, this could easily have been the direct cause of the enmity that existed between the two rulers at the time of Jesus’ death (Luke 23:12).

 

            13:2     And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  If they hoped that Jesus would utter a vigorous rebuke of what Pilate had done, they failed.  Rather than condemn either the Galileans or the Roman ruler, He used the disaster to make a broader ethical point:  Earthly catastrophe does not prove sinfulness.  Did they really believe that those who died “were worse sinners” than all those many Galileans who were not harmed?  Did they really believe that suffering death proved them worse?  They, too, were Galileans:  It could just as easily have been them! 

            This did not deny the possibility that one or more of them were extremely evil.  Just that however true it might be in a specific case, it was far from universally true.  The Bible provides examples of those who endured humiliation or distress and were all too aware that their actions had led directly to it (Genesis 42:21; Judges 1:7).  The human tendency, though, is to carry this a step further and assume that whatever bad happens is “pay back” for personal evil.  Jesus encountered this “universalization” of a “sometimes” reality, when dealing with the man born blind in John 9:1-3:  He denied that either he or his parents had caused the affliction by their sin.   

           

            13:3     I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  “All” are sinners but not all are punished for it in this life.  There is a time coming, however, when all who have not reformed their lives--the idea behind “repentance”--will suffer catastrophe.  For another recent (rather than future) example consider. . . .         

 

            13:4     Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?  Unlike the unknown number of Galilean dead, they had a specific number for this earlier tragedy.  Did they really think these folk surpassed in degree of sinfulness every one else in Jerusalem?  In other words, what was true of Galileans was also true of Judeans:  Hence you judge a person individually rather than on the basis of ethnicity or group membership.

            Sidebar:  It is an ingenious, but of course uncertain conjecture of Ewald, that the death of these workmen was connected with the notion of retribution because they were engaged in building part of the aqueduct to the Pool of Siloam, for the construction of which Pilate had seized some of the sacred Corban-money (Mark 7:11; Jos. B.J. 11. 9, § 4)” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).

 

            13:5     I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  Note the personalization in verse 3 and here:  The common approach was to talk about the failures of other people; the far more important thing was talking about their own sinfulness.  By citing both Galileans and Jerusalemites, Jesus provided contemporary examples from both regions for the urgent need to reform.  By this line of argument, however, He broadens the need to every one both there and everywhere else as well.           

            In one sense--and it has appealed to many interpreters--this would obviously fit the events of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the very same city where the previous examples had occurred.  But the language is so broad, it is hard to see how He could possibly be referring (at least specifically) to anything that limited.  He is trying to convey the emphatic need for repentance rather than the temporal consequences of its lack.  

            It is hard to believe that any of His listeners really thought that Jesus was threatening everyone with death at the hand of the Romans or death from collapsing buildings.  For one thing, it wasn’t a secret that the Romans far preferred living subjects to dead corpses.  Only from living beings could you get work and taxes!

            And His listeners knew this too.  Hence they would have generalized from the earlier two very different examples of death, the principle that God would ultimately act in some form against them also unless they reformed their lives--whether the Romans were involved in it or not. 

            This can happen at multi-points in life:  in the ultimate and final sense, God does this at our death; He also does this in a different sense when He becomes so tired of our hard hearts in this life that He rejects us as reprobates.  He won’t say “no” if we come back, but now its wholly on our own shoulders.  Previously He had gone out of the way to help us; now we carry the whole burden.  (At least compared to what He had been willing to do previously.)   

 

 

A Parable:  God Gives Time to Repent—But There Is a Time Limit to It (Luke 13:6-9):   Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  So he said to the worker who tended the vineyard, ‘For three years now, I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and each time I inspect it I find none. Cut it down! Why should it continue to deplete the soil?’  But the worker answered him, ‘Sir, leave it alone this year too, until I dig around it and put fertilizer on it.  Then if it bears fruit next year, very well, but if not, you can cut it down.’ “ 

 

 

            13:6     He also spoke this parable:  “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  Although God certainly wants to see us repent, this parable (verses 6-9) illustrates that God's patience only goes so far.  He presents to us the property owner who had a certain fig tree in his vineyard and was disappointed to find no fruit on it as there should have been.  After all, you don’t plant, fertilize, and prune such trees for the “pleasure” of seeing only empty limbs!    

            Sidebar:  The image of having one or more fig trees planted in a vineyard was an ancient one and surely based upon actual usage (2 Kings 18:31; Song of Solomon 2:13).

 

            13:7     Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none.  Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’  The annoyance is not one of ill temper.  More than enough time has been given for there to be visible fruit--literally and figuratively--for all the labor put into it.  Hence the instruction to cut it down and destroy it was quite logical.  After all, surely the next tree planted would do better!  It couldn’t do worse!

 

            13:8     But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  The vineyard keeper asked for one last opportunity  and promised to give it special attention.  Today we would say “he is going to go the extra mile.”  If this doesn't work, there is no rational reason to believe it will ever work.  Likewise God gives each of us abundant time to change our lives around . . . if we wish to:  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

 

            13:9     And if it bears fruit, well.  But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ “  The natural hope of the vineyard keeper is to salvage his work, but he acknowledges that there comes a time when it no longer serves any good purpose to be putting such labor into it when time and effort could be transferred somewhere else far more productively.  He has bought opportunity for the tree but beyond that it all lies in the hands of the “tree” itself.

            In teaching this Jesus invokes the imagery used by John the Baptist; it was nothing new:

 

                        But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the          wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to             say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is         able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  10 And even now the ax is         laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is           cut down and thrown into the fire.  11 I indeed baptize you with water unto             repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am           not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His              winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing           floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with        unquenchable fire”  (Matthew 3).

 

            Far too few of that age heeded the warning.  But in all fairness . . . Do all that many heed its warning for our age either?  And can our fate be any different if we stubbornly refuse to embrace the redemptive lifestyle of repentance and following the Lord?

           

 

Jesus Successfully Defends Sabbath Day Healing Against His Critics—To the Pleasure of His Listeners (Luke 13:10-17):  10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath,11 and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely.  12 When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”  13 Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 

14 But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done!  So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.” 

15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water?  16 Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?”  17 When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.

 

 

            13:10   Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  All towns of any size had at least one.  In light of how seriously He took religious matters, where else would He be?  Furthermore synagogues offered a “pre-prepared” audience--already interested in spiritual matters and willing to see if they could learn more. 

            By this stage of His ministry, though, He had incurred considerable animosity from the dominant religious class in Jerusalem and it is quite possible that there were quite a few synagogues in which He was persona non grata--either officially rejected or at which, at most, His physical presence might be grudgingly tolerated but not His teaching.  One suspects that since there were so many synagogues in the land that He would, if possible, intentionally avoid these in the first place.

            Sidebar:  Although the Tabernacle and the Temple were ordained by direct command in the Old Testament, such is not the case for synagogues and the date of their first usage (under that name or some other) can not be determined.  On the other hand, it is hard to see how those specially interested in learning more of the Torah could have done much of it without the creation of synagogue like institutions from a rather early date.  Furthermore--in light of Jesus’ firm insistence upon following what God had authorized--would He have been congenial to the regular use of such facilities if they were of purely human invention?

            In Acts 15:21 we read that “from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.”  In other words, the institution dates back to--or close to--Moses.  The practice of having such institutions was, therefore, deeply rooted in Jewish history.  And the fact is treated as proper and Divinely authorized. 

            In Psalms 22:22 we read David speaking of how I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.”  The Temple had not yet been built; it can not possibly be under consideration.  What can the location be unless a synagogue or its functional equivalent? 

 

            13:11   And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  Her presence manifests her faith.  Many would have felt so “rejected by God” that they would have spurned everything religious--but not her.  In spite of her severely bent back--having endured it for going on two decades--she still made sure she attended worship. 

            The deformity was caused by the Devil (as Jesus points out in verse 16) but it is only labeled “a spirit of infirmity” and not demon possession--an expression reserved for when Satan inflicted severe behavioral extremes.  (Perhaps we should call this “Devil caused affliction” instead?)  In this kind of case she could carry on much of her “normal” life and was dangerous neither to herself or anyone else--but her life would be viewed by others (and surely often by herself) as nothing short of “miserable.”

 

            13:12   But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”  The woman had not asked His intervention; as far as we can tell she was simply there to join in the worship.  Yet Jesus singles her out for help since she so clearly needed it.  The language used is intriguing:  “You are loosed from your infirmity.”  It isn’t a demon being cast out; rather she is being “untied/loosed” from the physical “chains” of infirmity that have been attached to her.

 

            13:13   And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.  As soon as He touched her, her bones straightened and she was able to stand upright for the first time in eighteen years.  The fact that she “glorified God” was not only the natural result but the one any grateful person should have felt in such a circumstance.  This was not just a short shout of thankfulness but a lengthy one:  she poured forth her joy (as the tense of the verb implies) in a continuous strain of praise” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers). 

 

            13:14   But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”  About the only kind thing we can say about this synagogue official is that at least he had no problem concerning her being healed.  Nor even that it was in a synagogue--or by Jesus.  His wrath is over the day it is done: “there are six days on which men ought to work” and it would only have been proper to heal on one of them.  In other words, there were plenty of other opportunities available; it did not have to be done today. 

            This assumes, of course, that their paths would have crossed on a different day! 

            Sidebar:  This kind of reasoning was likely already dominant and it is certainly that found in the Talmud:  The traditional law for the work of the Jewish physician was that he might act in his calling in cases of emergency, life and death cases, but not in chronic diseases, such as this.  This law the ruler of the synagogue wished to impose as a check upon the work of the Healer here” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers).

 

            13:15   The Lord then answered him and said, Hypocrite!  Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?  Even though there was a certain logic to the leader’s argument, it certainly did not represent the reasoning he or any one else was likely to use concerning certain other important matters:  No one was going to leave an ox or a donkey in the stall all day.  At some point it was going to be led away to have water to drink--even on the Sabbath day.  Anything else would be cruel.

 

            13:16   So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”  If a mere animal is treated with compassionate concern on the Sabbath, is not a fellow Jew deserving of even better Sabbath day treatment?  Especially one who has endured such a hardship for so long?  (The animals had only endured their difficulties for less than a day.)  Furthermore the animal had been bound only by a mere rope, while this oppressed woman had been bound by Satan’s oppression!

 

            13:17   And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.  Two very different sets of reactions.  First of all, Jesus’ opponents (“adversaries”) were “all” embarrassed by the rebuke for it hit home and could hardly be denied by anyone.  They were “put to shame” (“humiliated” in a number of translations).  They had not only lost the argument; they had done so both badly and undeniably.  (Not that it was likely to change their convictions unfortunately.)   

            Secondly, the crowd at large was centered on what had happened and not on an empty intellectual exercise like the “clerical” types:  They “rejoiced” at “all the glorious things (plural) that were done by Him”--an affirmation that can be taken three ways.  First, it could argue that He healed others after the woman.  It may, however, simply refer to their joy that He continued to work miracles, not just in other towns but their own as well. 

            A more immediate connection explaining the “plural” usage would be their joy that He had not only cured the woman, but had also quickly exposed the shallow reasoning of the objectors.  Could religious leaders like these avoid eventually grating on the average synagogue goer’s nerves as well?  To see them “put in their place” as having limits to their own wisdom would surely have been pleasing.

 

 

Two Mini-Parables:  What the Kingdom of God Can Be Compared With (Luke 13:18-21):  18 Thus Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like?  To what should I compare it?  19 It is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden.  It grew and became a tree, and the wild birds nested in its branches.”

20 Again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God?  21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.”

 

 

            13:18   Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like?  And to what shall I compare it?  To set the stage for these two mini-parables, He makes plain the purpose of them:  to find ways to explain the nature of God’s kingdom.  A temporal Messianic kingdom would not need to be explained; they knew what that would be like--at least in broad terms.  But a spiritual Messianic kingdom was one they weren’t prepared for nor its implications.

            Sidebar:  “[This] is the only instance in which parables are connected with synagogue addresses as their occasion.  The connection is every way credible, both from the nature of the two parables, and from the fact that Jesus was wont to speak to the people in parables.  How many unrecorded parables He must have spoken in His synagogue addresses on His preaching tour through Galileee.g. (Mark 1:39)!”  (Expositor’s Greek Testament)

 

            13:19   It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”  The mustard seed is so tiny that it doesn’t seem like anything impressive could possibly grow out of it.  Similarly the Jesus movement began small and in despised Galilee.  Yet the “growth potential” of the kingdom that was preached was so profound that it would actually grow “large” and able to hold whatever came to “nest” within its sacred corridors--however different they might be.

            Sidebar:  In the late 19th century, this potential continued to impress visitors to that region--“In Eastern countries this little seed often becomes a tree, and stories are even told of mustard trees so tall that a man could climb up into their branches or ride beneath them on horseback.  Such instances are possibly very rare, but it is a common sight to see a mustard plant, raised from one of these minute grains, grown to the height of a fruit tree, putting forth branches on which birds build their nests.”  (Pulpit Commentary)

 

            13:20   And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?  He again throws out the rhetorical question and that implies that He is going to provide a different illustration to provoke their thinking.  Another one on its growth and expansion.

 

            13:21   It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”  A woman places it in the meal (“flour,” NET, NIV) and it disappears within as it is kneaded.  Yet that little leaven somehow manages to alter the entire loaf. 

            In a similar manner, the word of the kingdom that Jesus preached would produce a result out of all proportion to its perceived importance (in the sight of others) . . . transforming those who accepted it into a mighty tree (verse 19).  It would prove--in contrast to one’s assumptions--quite adequate to “leaven” (for the better) all into whom the message was “absorbed.”  It would seem impossible in both cases for such a disproportionate result, but it would still work out that way.

            Sidebar:  Many interpreters through the centuries have wanted to convert parables into tools for unending exegesis and seek elaborate hidden meanings--each of which can be elaborated on in mini-sermon depth.  As in the worst of rabbinic analysis, text becomes a pretext for in-reading into the passage an elaborate theology.

            I did not check how the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary treats other parables, but it very effectively points out how keeping our analysis short and to the point and avoiding fanciful exaggerations is particularly useful here (for that matter, in all cases): 

                       

                        The parable of “the Leaven” sets forth, perhaps, rather the inward growth          of the kingdom, while “the Mustard Seed” seems to point chiefly to the outward.    It being a woman’s work to knead, it seems a refinement to say that “the woman”     here represents the Church, as the instrument of depositing the leaven.  Nor does           it yield much satisfaction to understand the “three measures of meal” of that    threefold division of our nature into “spirit, soul, and body” (alluded to in 1 Thessalonians 5:23) or of the threefold partition of the world among the three     sons of Noah (Genesis 10:32), as some do.  It yields more real satisfaction to see         in this brief parable just the all-penetrating and assimilating quality of the Gospel,    by virtue of which it will yet mould all institutions and tribes of men, and exhibit   over the whole earth one “Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (see        Revelation 11:15).

 

            Speaking on this same parable, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges rightly comments:  Here the only point considered is its rapid, and unseen, and effectual working. . . .  The verisimilitude, simplicity, and vividness of the parables arise from the natural and specific details introduced into them.  To press these into separate lessons only leads to arbitrary exegesis and false theology. Probably the ‘three measures’ are only mentioned because they are the ordinary amount which [was used].”

 

 

At the Time of Judgment, Many Expecting to Be Saved Will Be Rejected and Many Supposed “Outsiders” Will Be Happily Embraced (Luke 13:22-30):  22 Then Jesus traveled throughout towns and villages, teaching and making his way toward Jerusalem.  23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”  So he said to them, 24 Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, ‘Lord, let us in!’  But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’

26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  27 But he will reply, ‘I don’t know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’  28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. 

29 ”Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God.  30 But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”  

 

 

            13:22   And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.  Jesus was not concerned with the size of the community--whether it rose to the population of being a “city” or was only a mere “village”--but wherever there was an opportunity to teach He took advantage of it.   The one thing constant throughout is that His ultimate destination is Jerusalem. 

 

            13:23a    Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”  A pillar of Jesus’ teaching was that a moral reformation was essential.  The mere fact of being a Jew was inadequate; one had to be a good Jew and, since Jesus was God’s spokesman for the new age, obedience to His teaching was included in that.  By definition “universal salvation” was not going to happen! 

            The question could have arisen out of a moment of idle curiosity . . . or out of concern for those who were barely interested in spiritual matters at all . . . or out of unease about how successful Jesus’ movement will actually be.  Indeed, if the man had understood the lesson of the parables of the dramatic growth of the kingdom in verses 18-21, he could rightly have found a tension between them and the fact of the great number who insisted upon rejecting His message.  Jesus’ response makes clear that many will be lost (verse 24) but that, paradoxically, there will also be the salvation of many who would not be expected (verses 29 -30).        

 

            13:23b-24    And He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  He implicitly answers the man’s question by emphasizing the difficulty of obtaining salvation--that numerically the number would be small compared to those who would not gain it.  But the answer is wrapped in a thick layer of self-preparation:  Are you ready . . . are you striving to enter through that “narrow gate” that so many will fail to do?  That is the far more important question. 

            The cause of the difficulty of entering--and why many fail--is not spelled out.  If this were being discussed in a different context, perhaps Jesus’ own explanation of the parable of the sower would provide the best short summary:  It shows the wide types of hindrances that may abort even an initially enthusiastic individual’s growth in faith and steadfastness.  But here He is concerned with a different situation--showing how many will expect salvation even though they had the most tenuous connection with Him.  Far less than those discussed in that parable.

 

            13:25   When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from.'  The parable presents a situation in which the Master of a house has imposed time limits upon when his guests may arise.  At that point he bars the door.  Any one who comes afterwards--even though they address the Master as “Lord, Lord”--are rejected.  They weren’t there when they were supposed to be.  Hence the Master has washed his hands of them, “I do not know you, where you are from.” 

            Even if he were to open the door, that wouldn’t have changed the fact that they had had abundant time to enter the house but had not taken advantage of the opportunity.  Now they have permanently lost the chance through their own inaction.  

            Clearly they thought themselves part of God’s people no matter how limited the relationship.  Even a casual acquaintance (verse 26) was imagined enough to get them by.  In other words, they had gone through life with the veneer of religion, but had not felt the need to make sure that God was as happy with it as they themselves were.  A vague sense of religiosity rather than clear cut commitment had been more than adequate for them.

 

            13:26   then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’  Those rejected protest that they had eaten and drunk with Him--why they may even have been in that crowd of 5,000 He fed one day or 4,000 a different one . . . or been one of the guests at the marriage feast where He turned water into wine . . . or been in one of those large traveling parties going to Jerusalem for the annual feasts where the parties would intermingle and either see or share in each other's food.

            Assuming they are telling the truth--and we have no particular reason to doubt it-- the Master’s dismissal of them as ones He had never known (verse 25) is not to be taken overly literalistically.  He had known them in the limited sense of dealing with them, but he had not known them in the sense of having their full commitment to His movement.  At most they were hangers on, fillers of pews and nothing more.  At worst, they were casually acquainted and thought that should be adequate in and of itself.          

 

            13:27   But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from.  Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’  Since they had not made themselves fully part of the household of faith when they had the opportunity, He has no obligations to them.  They were nothing more than outsiders:  “I do not know you” or “where you are from.”  The acquaintance is that token and that minimum . . . they are so far removed from His memory that He, so to speak, can’t even remember who they are.  And if they have been that much intentional outsiders, how could they possibly be anything but “workers of iniquity” who had not heeded the call for repentance and moral reform?  In contrast the faithful follower of Christ is quite recognizable by their Lord for they have heeded His demand that they depart from their sin (2 Timothy 2:19).

 

            13:28   There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.  Here the “house” of verse 25 is explained as being the “kingdom of God” and the full significance of not being in it laid out in all its horror.  There would be wails of sorrow and anguish because the ancient heroes would be seen as dwelling within but they--ones so absolutely certain of their own position because they are their physical and (on paper at least) their spiritual descendants--would be cast out of it.  They had been part of it superficially, but now they will not be permitted even that delusionary connection.

            Sidebar:  “Weeping” indicates deep sorrow; “gnashing of teeth” indicates anger and rage (as in Acts 7:54-60; cf. Job 16:9; Psalms 35:15-16).

 

            13:29   They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.  What they rejected, others would accept from throughout the world.  Jesus doesn’t call them Gentiles, but it is hard not to see here the conceptual “seed” of the Great Commission and of Paul’s taking the gospel far and wide.  After all, those in “the east, and the west, from the north and the south” were overwhelmingly Gentile.  But whoever it was in those places . . . Jew or Gentile . . . they were wanted in God's kingdom.  Not because of their ethnicity, but because they were obedient to God’s will revealed through His Son.

 

            13:30   And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”  Virtually all translations today render this in some variant of the far clearer:  And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (ESV).  Some of those gaining in status in God’s eyes will be Gentiles as is argued from the new recruits coming from throughout the world (verse 29).  Others, however, will be Jews who had previously been looked down upon but who have accepted Jesus and reformed their lives; as Jesus warned the religious authorities in the Temple:  Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (Matthew 21:31-32).  These are the “last” who have now moved into the top class of God’s people.    

            Hence those who are now “last” are likely those who were once faithful Jews but were now outsiders to the kingdom.  It was so different from what they thought it would be that they refused to embrace it.  It “couldn’t” be this way; therefore it wasn’t this way--even if it costs them their souls. 

 

 

Jesus Rebukes His Foes:  He Will Not Be Killed by Herod for His Fate Is to Die in Jerusalem Instead (Luke 13:31-35):  31 At that time, some Pharisees came up and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”  32 But he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I am casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work.  33 Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is impossible that a prophet should be killed outside Jerusalem.’ 

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you!  How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!  35 Look, your house is forsaken!  And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “

 

 

            13:31   On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.”  On the same day as the previous discussion about inclusion and exclusion from God’s kingdom (verses 22-30), some Pharisees warned Jesus that He should leave since Herod desired to kill Him.  (Or was this actually Herodias up to another of her schemes trying to manipulate her husband?)  This is odd counsel since the Pharisees rarely found Jesus someone they wished to encourage--it was a mighty good way to be ostracized from the more “faithful” members of the movement!

            Odd things do happen, however.  Hence could this be a  warning from a Pharisee faction who thought well of Jesus?  Or at least didn’t want Jesus elevated to hero-martyr level if Herod did to Him what he had done to John the Baptist?

            Alternatively, this could be a stratagem by hostile Pharisees to hurry Him into territory where they had far more influence and opportunity to act against Him themselves.  Let Him be their problem--not Herod’s!

            Sidebar:  Although Herod was quite capable of several emotional swings, when they met in Jerusalem it was with the hope--on Herod’s part--that Jesus would work a miracle of some sort (Luke 23:8).

 

            13:32   And He said to them, Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’  Jesus admits that He is leaving the region but it is not due to danger from Herod but His own conscious intent to carry out His own plans at His own pace.  At that point His work would be completed (= “perfected”) here.  He addresses Herod with that mixed praise / condemnatory term “fox.”  A term that can carry the overtone of censure but also of sly wisdom and skill as well.

            The fact that He instructs them, “Go, tell that fox” argues that these Pharisees were individuals whose work brought them in contact with the ruler.  (Or at least his secondary level managers who would be in a position to take word the rest of the way.)  Hence some have speculated that these were unofficial messengers from Herod--who did wish to speak with Jesus (Luke 23:8)--but who was trying to “shoo” Jesus out of his jurisdiction because Herodias was pressuring for His death just as she had pushed for John’s.  By simultaneously indicating that he both wanted to see Him and warning Him of the consequences if he did, was he not playing the role of a “sly fox?”      

 

            13:33   Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.  Even those who do not have a high opinion of Jesus will normally concede that He was not stupid.  To say that literally all prophets died in Jerusalem would have reflected an ignorance hard to come by among Jews who shared the deep interest in the Old Testament texts that Jesus had.  Hence if He is speaking of “prophets” in general, He is laying down a broad generalization that both He and His listeners knew was not literally true . . . but was so “true to life” that it represented what seemed like a universalism. 

            In other words there is a grim truth underlying the irony and hyperbole.  Literally, more than a few prophets had been killed in the city that was supposed, through its Temple, to be the center of Jewish holiness--as would happen yet again to Stephen.  In “killing by rejecting” even more often it had happened:  Think John the Baptist whose message of moral transformation the religious leadership there had rejected.  (Though they had been quite willing to go through the empty form of baptism so long as they didn’t have to change their behavior.)

            There is another approach to our text, however:  The Greek here is occasionally translated “the prophet” in other passages rather than “a prophet.”  If He has in mind “the (Messianic) prophet” the Old Testament had spoken of (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) death in Jerusalem was irrevocably true of Him and His fate.  He speaks in the third person of “prophet” because it stresses His ordained role of special spokesman for the Father and because it avoids having to deal with the question of how the Messiah could be permitted to be crucified in the first place.  In traditional thought--but not Biblical text--it was an impossibility.

            Sidebar:  There was a widespread anticipation of a unique prophet arising in the first century (John 6:14).  We may find that same belief in the Samaritan woman:  compare the use of both “prophet” (John 4:19) and “Messiah” to describe Him (verse 25).  Jesus Himself spoke of how Moses had written of His coming (John 5:45-47) and it is hard to imagine what other text He could have in mind than Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

 

            13:34   “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!  Jerusalem itself disappointed Him.  In it history the city was repeatedly characterized by assaulting and killing those prophets and messengers she was sent.  Even Jesus’ every effort to unite the city behind Him as a hen does its children under her wings had been rejected.

            Sidebar:  Of Jerusalem in particular when injustice struck her fancy one prophet wrote:  How the faithful city has become a harlot!  It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers.” (Isaiah 1:21).

            Of the mistreatment of prophets in particular, one apocryphal text sermonized:  When you offer oblations to me, I will turn my face from you; for I have rejected your festal days, and new moons, and circumcisions of the flesh.  I sent you my servants the prophets, but you have taken and killed them and torn their bodies in pieces; I will require their blood of you, says the Lord  (2 Esdras 1:31-32, NRSV).         

 

            13:35   See!  Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’   Typically this is interpreted as a reference to the Temple being left destroyed and the resulting despair.  So discouraged and downcast would they be that they would happily recognize anyone who “comes in the name of the Lord”--even the much rejected Jesus. 

            We might wish to “spiritualize” this beyond the mere physical for our own contemporary benefit:  When our spiritual/temporal edifice of hopes and dreams has been wrecked by our sins and delusions . . . we too--then and only then--may be willing to permit the Lord to rework our lives.  The physical destruction of the Temple offered many the opportunity for repentance; the destruction of our humanly invented “temples” can do the same.  And, yes, it hurts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

 

 

Jesus’ Challenges the Pharisees Whether It Would Be Right to Heal on the Sabbath (Luke 14:1-6):  1 Now one Sabbath when Jesus went to dine at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely.  There right in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.  So Jesus asked the experts in religious law and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”  But they remained silent. So Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away.  Then he said to them, “Which of you, if you have a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”  But they could not reply to this.

 

 

            14:1     Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.  Technically the Pharisees did not have any “rulers” over them, but there would still be ones recognized as more prestigious and more important than the others--such is inevitable even in any group of “equals.”  Alternatively, the expression could be used because he was a member of the Sanhedrin but also a Pharisee as well--the notation being useful since the Sadducees dominated that conclave.  (The covert disciple Nicodemus was one such individual--John 3:1; 7:50-51; 19:39.)

            Since “they watched Him closely,” the bulk of the guests--perhaps the host himself--were as much interested in finding something to criticize Him about as in having a good meal.  It may be an exaggeration, but probably not much of one, to suggest that He was there to be the afternoon’s “entertainment” as they pleasurably sought something to criticize in whatever He did or said.  And with their hyper-critical mind frame, there was always going to be something to criticize!

 

            14:2     And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy.  It is impossible to believe that he was an invited guest.  Their utter hyper-sensitivity to potential “contamination” from any “unclean” source would have surely prevented such.  However a great freedom was allowed in temporarily entering and leaving the dining place.  With servants bringing and removing food there was virtually no way to successfully prevent it--beyond the bounds of normal courtesy.  Under those conditions it is likely that this is simply someone who took the opportunity of the comparatively small crowd to get close to Jesus in the search for healing. 

            Sidebar:  “Dropsy,” only mentioned here in the Bible, is far from a medical term we run into very often today.  It involves a disfiguring swelling of the body.  The 1915 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia described it this way:  Both forms of this disease occur in Israel, that in which the limbs and body are distended with water called anasarca, depending generally on cardiac or renal disease, and the form confined to the abdomen, usually the result of liver infection. The latter is the commoner, as liver disease is a frequent result of recurrent attacks of malarial fever. The man was evidently able to move about, as he had entered into the Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:2).”  

 

            14:3     And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  Knowing from earlier encounters that these folks might easily criticize what He was about to do--like His healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath had been criticized (Luke 13:10-17)--He takes the initiative and allows them the opportunity to object before He does anything.  

 

            14:4     But they kept silent.  And He took him and healed him, and let him go.  Perhaps burnt by word of mouth reports of the earlier confrontation over the matter in Luke 13, they did not want to take the blame for actively preventing and prohibiting the healing.  Theologically they might have considered themselves fully justified in doing so, but they were surely aware that in the court of practical everyday public opinion--not to mention that of some of their own quieter members--a very different sentiment would be present. 

            Silence may not be consent, but it sure makes it harder to criticize afterwards!  But if they didn’t want to discuss the propriety of what had just been done, He was more than desirous to do so. . . .  

           

            14:5     Then He answered them, saying, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?”   “Then he answered them”--an odd wording.  Judging from the fact that nothing has overtly been said, we have to assume that He was responding to what He knew must be going through their minds.  He pointedly makes this quite personal; He demands “which of you” would not pull a donkey or ox from a pit, so it would be safe, even though it was the Sabbath day?   The action comes instinctively unless the humanitarian instinct has been crushed.  Unstated is that if you treat an animal this way, how much more should a fellow Israelite’s needs be met!

            Sidebar:  The popular Greek critical text prefers the reading of “son or ox” which would make it even more difficult for them to throw up objections.  Children were highly valued.  Would they dare admit they would--and they would have to if consistent--treat their own nearest kin in such a manner?  

 

            14:6     And they could not answer Him regarding these things.  The critics were unable to deal with His line of reasoning.  Dislike it, of course. Answer it adequately--much less successfully--no.  Perhaps all they did was sit there and mutter to themselves about this “blind fool Galilean.”

            Sidebar:  The Greek is, perhaps, a little more emphatic—‘They had no power, they were powerless to answer him.’   (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  The NASB conveys this by rendering, “They could make no reply to this.”

 

 

A Parable:  How Pride Can Lead to Public Humiliation (Luke 14:7-11):  Then when Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. He said to them, When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, because a person more distinguished than you may have been invited by your host.  So the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your place.’ Then, ashamed, you will begin to move to the least important place. 

10 But when you are invited, go and take the least important place, so that when your host approaches he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up here to a better place.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who share the meal with you.  11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 

 

            14:7     So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them:  A number of those present had consciously and visibly sought out the most prestigious places to sit that were available.  This produced a parable aimed at such self-centered egoism (verses 8-11).  They might take pride in working out the real and imagined technicalities of the Mosaical system as far as they could go, but just as important to them was gaining public recognition for their own importance.  It would probably be fair to say that to the degree that this attitude was present in a man, to that extent the elaborate “religious scholarship” he engaged in was merely a tool to advance his own self-image in the eyes of the world.  Not serving God one half as much as serving his own pride.  

 

            14:8     “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him.  Where misplaced pride was most likely to be exposed would be in such an important event as this “wedding feast,” where individuals might be coming from a considerable distance and we know nothing about their local significance or importance in the sight of the host.  Even if we knew their name and their special consequence, we might still easily make this kind of mistake due to our inability to connect a specific face with that respected name.

            Sidebar:  The words imply that the common practice was for the guests to seat themselves; then, as in the parable of the wedding garment (Matthew 22:11), the host came in ‘to see the guests.’   (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            14:9     and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.  In this kind of case, the host naturally feels the obligation of putting the most prestigious guest in the place of highest honor.  But this means he has no choice but to embarrass you by telling you to give up that seat.  In the case of a heavy crowd that could easily mean having to take the worst seat in the hall!

            Sidebar:  The Proverbist (25:6-7) makes the same point.  So these scriptural “experts” should have been aware of the mistake they were making.  But the gap between paper knowledge and personal ego can sometimes be quite profound.  Oddly enough the Talmud provides an explanation of how such egoism could be rationalized:  Wisdom is of such profound importance that it automatically entitles one to the best seats--even in the presence of rulers!

 

            14:10   But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’  Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.  They should take the least important seating voluntarily.  (Truth be told, in a large crowd you don’t really know for a certainty where the host puts you on the comparative social totem pole.)  That way if you are really that important in the host’s eyes, you would be invited up to a more prestigious sitting.  This would also assure that you would not assert rank in the presence of a host who was convinced that you were on a particularly vain ego trip.

            Sidebar:  This counsel in favor of voluntary humility is found in both testaments:  See on Luke 1:52, Luke 13:30, and Matthew 23:12.  A similar lesson is prominent in the Book of Proverbs (15:33, 16:18-19, 29:23), and is strongly enforced by Peter (1 Peter 5:5)..”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 

 

            14:11   For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  The example Jesus presents was an application of the general principle that self-exaltation results in humiliation and humility results in being raised to greater honor.  In other words, this earthly story is invoked to make a spiritual point.  There are always lessons to be learned from the surrounding world if we are only wise enough to have eyes that can see them.  

           

 

Having a Feast for the Poor and Injured Will Earn a Reward Far Beyond Giving One for the Prosperous and Well-To-Do (Luke 14:12-14):  12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid.  13 But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  14 Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” 

 

 

            14:12   Then He also said to him who invited Him, When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.  Having just rebuked pride and how it can be expressed in a meal setting (verses 7-11), He turns to another way it can occur there as well--by just inviting those you wish to make a good impression on.  There the unstated sine qua pro is that they will do the same for you.  If they give feasts for those they wish to impress, they are actually only exchanging or trading meals--they will be invited back by the attendees and thus “you [will] be repaid.”  Sociable as all this can be, it never comes under the category of “necessary” or “essential” to those who are invited.  On the other hand, there are those to whom such an invitation would make a world of difference to their lives. . . .

            Sidebar (1):  “Dinner” here refers to the one about noon and “supper” to the one around sunset.

            Sidebar (2)--On the nature of what is being prohibited.  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges has an excellent comment on this point:  It is obvious that our Lord did not mean to forbid the common hospitalities between kinsmen and equals, but only, as the context shows, (1) to discourage a mere interested hospitality intended to secure a return; and (2) to assert that unselfish generosity is superior to the common civilities of friendliness.  The ‘not’ therefore means, as often elsewhere in Scripture, ‘not only, but also,’ or ‘not so much . . . as,’ as in Proverbs 8:10; John 6:27; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Timothy 2:9, &c.  In other words, ‘not’ sometimes denies ‘not absolutely but conditionally (Galatians 5:21) and comparatively (1 Corinthians 1:17).’  See Matthew 9:13; Jeremiah 7:22; Joel 2:13; Hebrews 8:11.”

 

            14:13   But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.  These folk are not going to have a lot of money.  To them, this is not a time for proud gloating in the presence of others but of having a really good meal--for the first time in days?  weeks?  A variant of the same idea is found in Nehemiah 8:9-12:

 

                        And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and            the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to           the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.”  For all the people wept, when they           heard the words of the Law.  10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat,            drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared;           for this day is holy to our Lord.  Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your      strength.” 

                        11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”  12 And all the people went their way to eat and     drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that             were declared to them.

   

            Such generosity to others would be something they would remember for a long time because you didn’t have to do it and they got a lot of value out of it.  No wonder we read that. . . .

 

            14:14   And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  From the prestigious they will simply gain a meal in return (verse 12); for generosity toward the poorer, the “pay back” (so to speak) will be vastly more profound:  God will count you “blessed” and give to you generously for your effort--“shall be repaid,” in the words of our verse.  Jesus does not spell out the details, but is there any real need to do so?  Heaven being, inherently, profoundly different from earth, it will be obviously be in ways we are unacquainted with.

            Sidebar:  Although many think that the “love feasts” of Jude verse 12 are parts of the church worship assembly, Paul was hostile to any joining together--sequentially or simultaneously--of the worship service and such activities (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).  Indeed he stresses that these foods weren’t shared (verse 22) and that was part of the problem.  In contrast, the very fact that Jude calls his gatherings “love feasts” and the fact that Jesus urged the providing of such for the poorer, argues that they were expressions of the individual obligation that Jesus enjoins in our current text (verses 12-14).

 

 

All Those Who Claim Loyalty to God But Who Do Not Back It Up with Action Will Be Replaced By those Willing To Do So (Luke 14:15-24):  15 When one of those at the meal with Jesus heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will feast in the kingdom of God!”  16 But Jesus said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many guests.  17 At the time for the banquet he sent his slave to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’  18 But one after another they all began to make excuses.  The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please excuse me.’  19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going out to examine them. Please excuse me.’  20 Another said, ‘I just got married, and I cannot come.’ 

21 So the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the master of the household was furious and said to his slave, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’  22 Then the slave said, ‘Sir, what you instructed has been done, and there is still room.’  23 So the master said to his slave, ‘Go out to the highways and country roads and urge people to come in, so that my house will be filled.  24 For I tell you, not one of those individuals who were invited will taste my banquet!’ “ 

 

 

            14:15   Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  Whether friend or foe, on at least one point he is in full agreement:  That it is a tremendous honor to eat in God’s kingdom.  After all, to eat in it requires that one be in that kingdom doesn’t it?  Hence both are evidences of acceptance by God.  Even agreeing with Jesus can produce a further teaching moment, however. . . . 

 

            14:16   Then He said to him, A certain man gave a great supper and invited many.  Jesus used the idea of the eternal kingdom at the time of the resurrection (verse 14) as the jumping off point for another parable.  On an earthly level, it would be as if “a great supper” is given to which the prosperous host had invited a very large number of guests.  This reflects his wealth and status for he could not afford such an investment unless he had large scale resources.  It also assumes that because of his standing in the world, everyone would normally want to attend and share in the festive occasion.  They knew that the event was coming and had full opportunity to get anything out of the way that was in conflict with its timing.

 

            14:17   and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’  The day of the supper, at the time when all the preparations were completed, he sent out a servant to inform every one that it was time for them to gather together for the evening’s feast. 

            In its spiritual application, the servant refers to whoever urges individuals to accept the gospel message or, to use the language of John the Baptist, pleads for the need to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).  He is the one who urges you to act upon the Divine will here and now while there is time.

 

            14:18   But they all with one accord began to make excuses.  The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.  I ask you to have me excused.’  As noted, the working assumption of the parable is that the feast giver is of such high status that everyone would/should want to attend and would come barring the most extreme last minute complication.  Instead the very opposite occurs and no one wants to be there.

            One justified the absence on the grounds that he had purchased a piece of property and needed to examine it.  If he has already signed the papers, it is too late in any case.  If he hasn’t signed the papers (or merely wants to determine what will go where on the property) that will hardly be affected by a one day delay.  It is an excuse in the worst sense of the term--not a reason.

            In terms of its original setting, these excuses would come from those who took such confidence in the fact that they were God’s people (Jews) that this gave them the option to beg off actually doing anything more than that.  There is an arrogance here--found widely in today’s world as well--that “yes the gospel is important to me, but there are things I simply need to do.  The Lord will understand.”  Actually, He will but He will understand what lies beneath your politeness:  that you feel so entitled to His good will that you won’t let it affect how you actually act . . . and that He won’t be (very) upset with that decision at all.  He is “all loving” isn’t He?  We see in a few verses how that delusion fails to work out. . . .  

 

            14:19   And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.’  Oxen were expensive.  He had bought five pairs without making sure they were physically able to do the work he intended them for?  Could anyone take such an excuse seriously? 

 

            14:20   Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’  This man won’t even take responsibility for his refusal:  It's all his wife's fault!  He’s a married man and simply can’t go!  If there are legitimate family complications, he’s had time to work things out--and hasn’t.  It’s the mere fact that he is married that makes it “impossible.”  So you have laziness at the best and contempt at the worst.

 

            14:21   So that servant came and reported these things to his master.  Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’  Since those who were supposed to have come had reneged on their commitments, the master of the house was not about to let his preparations go to waste.  Paradoxically, he is going to do--even more emphatically and dramatically--what Jesus had urged other rich folk to do in verse 13:  He orders the servant to wander “quickly” through the streets and bring the poor and those who would normally be looked down upon as social inferiors . . . and those physically impaired who would normally never receive such an opportunity as this. 

            Those who were unimportant and even odious to “respectable society” would be honored by the rich man’s banquet.  The well-to-do who had been invited had showed contempt for him and now he will show his contempt for them as well.  Not to mention being abundantly generous for the lowest classes who would normally be ignored as irrelevant and to be scorned.  

 

            14:22   And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’  Having completed the task, the servant reports there is still ample room left for others.  Room after such a widespread miscellaneous invitation speaks to a feast on a grand scale, worthy emblem of the magnificence of Divine grace.”  (Expositor’s Greek Testament) Why let such space go to waste? thinks the banquet giver.  So. . . .

 

            14:23   Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  This time the servant was to search out less obvious places.  He was to travel on and around the nearby “highways and hedges” and gather those who would be passing through on the edge of town (“highways”) or camping out on the fringes (under “hedges”) due to their poverty and want.  (The most “down and out” of the poor.)  Now the interest has gone far beyond even the original invitations--to those who were strangers to the community and perhaps even foreigners.  There was room for more and the Master was determined that there be enough individuals persuaded to fill the banquet hall.

            He would need to “compel” them.  He was not to be stopped by their rejection and scorn, but He was to powerfully stress the sincerity of the offer and its advantages to them.  Why?  These are the “outer limits” of society.  They are like the ones described by Paul in Ephesians 2:12, “having no hope and without God in the world.”  The ones mentioned earlier in verse 21 might “dream” of being blessed at least temporarily by the rich host, but these are those who can’t even fantasize it as ever being an option.     

 

            14:24   For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’ ”  So far as he was concerned, the Master informed the servant, not one single individual among those who had originally been invited was going to be allowed in.  It was too late for an apology; too late for a change of mind.  They had had their opportunity and rejected it.  Having forfeited the feast, they would simply have to endure the pain and humiliation of those they regarded as worthless having taken their place. 

            In later decades, as Gentiles gained a numerical majority in the church, one can easily see how they would picture themselves as the scorned and previously rejected--though the wording obviously had immediate application to the “outcasts” of conventional Jewish society.

            There is also a gentle “shot over the bow” of His present listeners.  Those like them had repeatedly rejected Him in varied places throughout His ministry.  Although He wished them, too, to be partakers of the Great Feast, so long as they acted like the self-centered and self-important guests to this parabolic Feast, they would ultimately be rejected in a similar manner.  Hostile they were, but it is hard to believe that they were unaware that Jesus--ever so politely--was issuing this warning to them as well.

           

 

Being a Disciple of Jesus is Laudable, but They Must Also Remember That There Is a Cost and Danger to It As Well (Luke 14:25-35):  25 Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, 26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

28 For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him.  30 They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ 

31 ”Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  32 If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace.  33 In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions.

34 Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how can its flavor be restored?  35 It is of no value for the soil or for the manure pile; it is to be thrown out.  The one who has ears to hear had better listen!” 

 

 

            14:25   Now great multitudes went with Him.  And He turned and said to them.  “Went with” implies that they were--at least temporarily--traveling with Him.  In light of their favorable and enthusiastic attitudes, He wished to caution them that all will not go well with His disciples and that they needed to consider the consequences in openly embracing Him (verses 26-35).  This is not done to discourage them, but to assure that they were realistic--what with the traditional Messianic interpretation being that He would meet with full visible triumph over all foes . . . when the reality of the Divine plan was that He must first die for their sins.

 

            14:26   “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.   This a more emphatic way of making the point Jesus does in Matthew 10:37:  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  Hence “hating kin” translates into “loving them more than the Lord.”

            If it comes down to doing wrong to keep someone happy--even if it is ourselves or our spouse or our family or to assure our own survival in time of persecution--we must reject that desire.  We must “hate” rather than “embrace” the effort to subvert us from the right course.  Only that way can we be Jesus’ true disciples.

           

            14:27   And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  They would immediately recognize the allusion to the painful and harsh method the Romans used to punish their foes.  The personal reference would be read as meaning that everyone will have a painful “cross” of some kind to bear.  These extreme difficulties and hindrances and obstacles will vary from person to person but they will inevitably occur.  They may arise from others, from economic conditions, or from our own weaknesses but we will have to face them or be spiritually destroyed.  Hence they needed to count the cost of discipleship before they committed themselves:  Are they truly willing to undertake all that discipleship can bring? . . . .

 

            14:28   For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it   Goals may be desirable and even praiseworthy, but not all can be accomplished.  Take, for example, the situation where a person intends to build an impressive “tower.”  First comes the careful costing of the project to assure that there will be enough money to complete it.

 

            14:29   lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him.  Whatever excuses he may give, he is still going to be humiliated.  Whether anything is said to his face or not--and if he’s important enough it won’t be--there will be many who will privately “mock” (“ridicule,” NASB) the failure, if only in private.

 

            14:30   saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?  After all, the builder had begun the impressive and elaborate project and it hadn’t been hindered by war or bad weather or some external event that could, by its nature, never be prepared for.  Instead the failure was slowly in his own lap because of the fundamental and foolish flaw of not assuring whether there would be enough money to complete the project.

            Sidebar:  We know of such projects in Jerusalem by inference:  Jesus refers to one tower that collapsed and killed eighteen people (Luke 13:4)--which would have necessitated its rebuilding.  Or the suffering of embarrassment by not doing so.

 

            14:31   Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  Moving up the social totem pole, a king carefully considers going to war if he is outnumbered two to one.  There may be rare  circumstances of time or place or geography that equal things out.  But most times there simply won’t be. . . .

 

            14:32   Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.  If defeat is certain, war is folly.  It can cost the king both his throne and his life.  He will look as foolish as the builder who could not complete his project because he had not counted all the costs and complications that could arise. 

 

            14:33   So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.  The builder had made the fatal mistake of not accurately counting the cost.  In contrast the king had and never began combat.  Prudence and self-evaluation should come before commitment.  Hence every would be disciple should count the cost to themselves of their decision . . . for it involves the willingness to “forsake all” that stands in the way of faithful and persistent discipleship.  The apostle Paul spoke of how he had lived by such a standard:  But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).               

 

            14:34   “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?  Discipleship is like salt; if it no longer tastes like salt (“has lost its flavor”), there is no way it is going to regain that original flavor for the “disciple” has either openly rejected the faith or has left himself an empty shell merely going through empty motions.  Hence in a parallel vein to salt, whoever is once a disciple and then thoroughly repudiates that role by word and behavior, how in the world can he ever return to the fold?  Jesus isn’t saying that he can’t, but that a person reaches the point where he won’t.  In such cases the salt/unfaithful disciple. . . .

 

            14:35   It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”  Useless salt that has gone bad is not worth anything but being thrown out.  They should use their “ears” not merely to physically hear the warning of the danger of apostasy, but to “hear” in the sense of understanding and grasping the seriousness of the warning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

 

 

Parabolic Explanations for Why Jesus So Willingly Accepted the Previously Non-Religious into Discipleship:  The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7):  1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

So Jesus told them this parable:  ”Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it?  Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

”I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.”

 

 

            15:1     Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.  Tax collectors had ample opportunity for fraud to “feather their nests.”  “Sinners” covers all those who had found other ways a person could scorn the limits of moral law.  That they would be willing to listen to Jesus would be surprising; that Jesus reacted favorably was even more startling to many, utterly horrifying in fact. . . .

 

            15:2     And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”  This was utterly unthinkable to them.  They would not waste a minute of their time with such obvious scum.  And treating them as if equals by daring to have meals with them--unthinkable.  They wanted to “preach to the choir;” Jesus wanted to expand the choir.

            Now let us look at it from the standpoint of Jesus:  After some of the things said against Him by the “righteous” Pharisees and religious lawyers, this type of audience might actually have seemed a blessed relief!  Here, at least, there was no delusion of superiority to everyone else.  They knew they were sinners and were willing to listen to someone who taught sincere morality rather than mere religious ritualism.

 

            15:3     So He spoke this parable to them, saying:  To rebuke this mind frame that thought the reprobate could be safely ignored as unsalvageable--and not worth being salvaged even if they could be (a thought surely found among the more arrogant of them)--Jesus gave three parables to undermine the credibility of their assumption.  The first two are short, dealing with the inherent value of the lost soul.

 

            15:4     “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  The parable of the lost sheep (verses 4-7) tells of an incident that had surely happened, in some form or another, countless times in such an agricultural society.  A shepherd in charge of a hundred sheep discovered that one of them had strayed away.  The course of a responsible shepherd would be immediately obvious:  make sure the remaining 99 are safe (probably through the oversight of another shepherd) while he himself goes after the lost one.

            If this is a parable that the spiritually lost can be found, it is also a parable of persistence in seeking out the lost:  The shepherd seeks out the lost “until he finds it.”  He doesn't give up; he continues to make the effort.  If there is failure, it won’t be his fault.

 

            15:5     And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  A hard task accomplished, he returned with the sheep on his shoulders since he would be moving a lot faster than the sheep could.  After the hard search it was natural that he was extremely happy at his accomplishment.

 

            15:6     And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!  In a personal sense it is his sheep.  So he has every reason to be happy over its well being.  But not only was he personally joyful about the success, he was also convinced that others he knows well would share that sentiment.  After all, something valuable of his had escaped the destruction inevitable if it had not been found.  They would happily share in his pleasure. 

            There is a quiet rebuke here for the Pharisees and such like:  That the “lost sheep  were saved from their sins, at the very most that would be nice to happen.  But if they embraced their sect and advocated its teachings . . . well that would be something to celebrate . . . in their book of relative values.  Mere “conversion” to moral right was so puny an accomplishment compared to the depth of “insight” that could be gained through them!  

 

            15:7     I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  It is not that the rest are unimportant, it is the fact that one was in immediate danger and had escaped it.  In that situation one of them naturally receives more attention and celebration than the condition of the rest.

 

 

A Second Parabolic Explanation for Why Jesus So Willingly Accepted the Previously Non-Religious into Discipleship:  The Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10):  ”Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it?  Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’  10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

 

 

            15:8     “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  A second short parable (verses 8-11) shifts the image from shepherding to a woman’s home.  The woman is poor:  She has only ten coins.  When she loses one she naturally lights a lamp so she can search every cranny of her home until she finally discovers the lost money--it’s that important to her.  The permanent loss would be a major one.

            Sidebar 1:  The term for “coin” here is drachma, roughly equivalent to the wage for a day’s work.  This being her full cash reserve, it would be imperative to hold onto it for daily cash income could not fully be assured.  Furthermore an unexpected emergency might arise where the emergency reserve would be urgently needed. 

            Sidebar 2:  The shepherd had only lost one of his 100 sheep while she had lost one of her mere ten coins; percentage wise a far larger loss.  The key point in both cases was that something important had vanished and both common sense and personal responsibility motivated one to promptly seek it out. 

            In the case of the sheep “he loses one of them” (verse 4) surely means that the sheep had wandered off on its own.  But since a coin obviously can not do this, “she loses” a coin would carry the connotation of it happening by accident or her negligence.  Hence whether the loss has been caused by the action of that which is lost (the sheep) or as the result of our own actions (the coin), we still have the responsibility to try to set the situation right.   

 

            15:9     And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’  What she had gone through could have happened to any of them.  In a very real sense, her success was theirs--potentially at least.  Hence their willingness to celebrate with her, just as she would if the situation were reversed. 

 

            15:10   Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Coins may be important, but a lost sinner is a multitude of times more valuable.  Hence heaven rejoices when even one person alters their lifestyle and dedicates themselves to serving God.  (What other setting could “in the presence of the angels of God” have than heaven?)  And if a thing is celebrated in heaven, that surely demonstrates the profound importance of the moral reformation.

            Or as a prominent Old Testament prophet put it:  Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn, turn from your evil ways!  For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11). 

       

 

A Third Parabolic Explanation for Why Jesus So Willingly Accepted the Morally Fallen into Discipleship:  The Parable of the Forgiving Father (Luke 15:11-24):  11 Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons.  12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them.  13 After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. 

14 Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need.  15 So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  16 He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 

17 But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger!  18 I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.” ’ 

20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.  21 Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry!  Bring the best robe, and put it on him!  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 

23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, 24 because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again—he was lost and is found!’  So they began to celebrate.

 

 

            15:11   Then He said:  “A certain man had two sons.  I’ve chosen to give this parable a different name than the traditional one.  As I see it, a better title would be “The Parable of the Forgiving Father.”  In the case of the first son he joyfully receives the son back; in the second case he pleads with the hard hearted son to be equally happy to have him back.  The narrative of both pivots not only on the behavior of the two sons but also on that of the father.

            However if we prefer the traditional description, perhaps we should modify it this way:  Although traditionally called the “parable of the prodigal son” there is far more than that involved within the narrative.  It could more properly be treated as the “parable of the prodigal sons” (plural)--for both, in their distinctive ways, had drifted away from their father.  Even better, treat this as a double parable:  first that of the “prodigal son” (verses 11-24) and the second that of the hard-hearted “righteous son” (note the distancing quotation marks)--one who (like the Pharisees at their worst) was so proud of his own on-going “good character” and “faithfulness” that he was unwilling to forgive the repentant who had only learned the importance of character the hard way (verses 25-32).  To him, he was the one who deserved praise and special rewards and not that reprobate of a brother. 

           

            15:12   And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me. So he divided to them his livelihood.  This was the younger son since the other one is specifically identified as the older (verse 25):  He was entitled to a third of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17).  This was, of course, an unusual request--to receive the inheritance before parental death--but the father was willing to arrange it at the son’s insistence even though there was nothing in law that required it.  One might criticize the father for undue coddling.  On the other hand, the son was grown and, at some point, had to take upon himself responsibility for his own life.  The father felt now was as good a time as any.

            Sidebar:  Here we have the history of a sinful soul.  Its sin (Luke 15:12-13); its misery (verses 14-16); its penitence (verses 17-20); its forgiveness (verses 20-24).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 

           

            15:13   And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. Somehow the father scraped together the cash value of what was required in a very short time since what happens now was “not many days later.”  The language also shows that the younger son was so anxious to leave--what unspoken dreams and resentments are implied here by the haste!--that he left as quickly as he could.

            But at this point his personal budget was going to be “all out-go and no in-go;” he does nothing to earn money but only to waste it.  And that with extravagance in whatever his preferred sins were--his “prodigal living” (“wild living,” NIV; “reckless living,” ESV) surely covers a wide variety of possibilities.  Jesus does not define what the sins were; He leaves them to the imagination. 

            But there was not just sin involved, there was--even from a worldly perspective--recklessness for he had “wasted” it all to no good purpose.  Holman tries to put equal balance on both concepts when it renders his behavior as “squandered his estate in foolish living;” similarly NET speaks of how he “squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle.”  It was not only wrong from a moral standpoint, it was wrong from a prudential standpoint. 

 

            15:14   But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  When he ran out of money he was going to face difficulties; it was inevitable.  But he had the misfortune to have a “severe famine” hit the land at the same time.  Note the adjective “severe;” a famine was going to hurt under any conditions, but here we are talking about catastrophic level famine.  Or as we would make a word play in English:  bad versus (merely) bad.”  Such conditions are described  as “cleanness of teeth” in Amos 4:6--so little food available you can’t even get your teeth dirty when you eat it.  (Or if one is willing for a less literal translation, “I gave you empty stomachs in every city”--NIV.)    

            Under a different set of conditions, he might have been able to skimp by day labor or begging or living off unreaped grain in the field, but with acute famine walking the country such opportunities were nonexistent.  What little was available was going to be reserved for people the locals knew well and not outsiders like him.

 

            15:15   Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  To us moderns, we only see unappealing low status hard work that was unlikely to be appreciated.  To Jesus’ listeners, however, this was as horrifying as the young man’s reprobate lifestyle.  In desperation he had sought employment from a Gentile resident who put him--a Jew--to work feeding and caring for the pigs . . . not cattle or lambs or something else but something that was defiling.  (And the thoughts of the listeners would, emotionally, have been emphasizing those words too.) 

            There is probably no intended implication that this Gentile hated Jews or took any special pleasure in having a Jew work with animals they considered unclean.  It was simply a job that had to be done, the Jew had signed on for work, and it was his misfortune that this was the work that most needed to be done.

           

            15:16   And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.  While working with the swine he would have been happy to eat the cheap and near worthless food that the animals ate.  Hence whatever food he was being provided was so minimal and worthless that it amounted to nothing at all.  Indeed, the text seems to say that he had to take full care of his own food; that he was so low on the employer’s priorities that nothing was provided.  (Some cheap “roof over his head” must have been included or he would surely not have gone there at all.  But if things get bad enough even that is downright appealing.)

            In this kind of extreme situation, circumstances were so severe that even pig’s food looked appetizing in comparison with his hunger.  The wording leaves it unclear whether he actually ate such food.  On the other hand, if he was as hungry as the text implies and if he could sneak some of it, who can doubt that he did?  Wouldn’t we, no matter what religious objections we might have?  (Cf. the adage:  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak!)

            Sidebar on the nature of the “pods:  The word is a diminutive of κέρας, a horn, and means, literally, a little horn, from the shape of the pod. . . .  ‘The fleshy pods are from six to ten inches long, and one broad, lined inside with a gelatinous substance, not wholly unpleasant to the taste when thoroughly ripe’ (Thomson, Land and Book).  The shell or pod alone is eaten. . . .  Edersheim quotes a Jewish saying, ‘When Israel is reduced to the carob-tree, they become repentant.’ "  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

            15:17   “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  Utilizing the rhetoric of an insane person regaining his mind (“he came to himself”), it finally dawned upon him how much he had left behind.  Even without being the son, all of his father’s servants had had plenty to eat.  In contrast, he was starving to death.  He had no place to hide from the reality--his money gone, his stomach craving for something to eat, his self-respect vanished through being reduced to feeding pigs.  At long last he is forced to see how much he lost when he left his father behind (= God in the parable) and substituted reckless wastefulness.

 

            15:18   I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  The sin was two-fold and he acknowledges both.  “Sinned against heaven” is a euphemism for sinned against God.  This fits well with the language of verse 7 about there being rejoicing in heaven at a sinner who has set his life aright.  It allows for an application of the language to not only the Father but also to the angels who are there as well.  In his behavior of wastefulness and sin the prodigal had violated easily understood elements of God’s law.  In times of prosperity he ignored this knowledge; in a time of utter disaster he is forced to concede his folly.

            He had also “sinned . . . before you,” i.e., in your eyes--that of the father.  For the evils he had done would be the ones he had been taught against and had ignored.  Several translations make this point even stronger, rendering along the lines of the NET:  “I have sinned against heaven and against you.”  For his father had taught him these very principles as well.

            But his sin was even more personal than this:  he had “wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (verse 13).  The wealth the father had gained through hard work had simply been thrown away for no good purpose.  How it was wasted was a sin against God; the fact that it was wasted was an insult/sin dishonoring his earthly father as well.      

   

            15:19   and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants.”   The youth had insisted upon the money that would normally come to him only after the father had died.  In a very real way his behavior had been so outrageous that he believes that their father-son relationship is already truly dead; it has ceased to exist due to his disgraceful conduct.  So he will not appeal to the father on the grounds of kinship but simply on humanitarian grounds:  Allow me to work for you as one of your “hired servants.”  He does not fear being on that level; he knows that his father does right by his workers.

 

            15:20   “And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  We are told nothing of the return trip.  We know he was in “a far country” (verse 13) so the return had to be time consuming and difficult, without even mentioning the extra burden of his current poverty and destitution.

            Yet he persisted and finally came within sight of his home.  The father was so excited and joyous that he didn’t even wait for the son to get near but rushed the distance to embrace him first.  None of the fully justified angry words of rebuke erupted but, instead, gentleness and joy.  Wonderful as this must have been to the son, could the circumstances possibly lessen his huge sense of embarrassment as well?

 

            15:21   And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  He doesn’t make the plea to stay as a servant that he had decided on before returning (verse 19).  Perhaps he regarded it as the necessary implication of desiring to stay at all since he had, effectively, cut off the ties of kinship.  Or perhaps he is hesitating to ask even this much because he knows that, in human terms, he doesn’t deserve it.  Such possibilities become purely academic because the father has his own ideas and quickly expresses them. . . .

  

            15:22   “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  The father was nothing short of exuberant to have the son back.  The worn, torn, and probably stinking remnants he was wearing are to be thrown away and replaced with the marks of acceptability:  “the best robe”--not merely a “good robe” or a “decent robe” but the best they had availability.  He was also provided sandals for the feet, which probably argues that his impoverishment was so severe that he wasn’t wearing any.  (Slaves and the poorest went without sandals entirely.) 

            The third immediate physical token of his renewed place was having “a ring [placed] on his hand.”  Albert Barnes rightly comments on this:  To wear a ring on the hand was one mark of wealth and dignity.  The rich and those in office commonly wore them.  Compare James 2:2.  To ‘give’ a ring was a mark of favor, or of affection, or of conferring office.  Compare Genesis 41:42; Esther 8:2.  Here it was expressive of the favor and affection of the father.” 

 

            15:23   And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry.  The occasion was so joyous that a major feast day was immediately proclaimed.  It would, naturally, take hours to get all this ready but that didn’t matter for it would take a while to get the boy cleaned up and re-attired with the new clothes fitting his restoration.

 

            15:24   for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  And they began to be merry.  It is a time for celebration because the world has been turned upside down--for the better.  After all, the “dead” son was now quite clearly “alive again.”  He had been “lost” to the family but was now “found” and restored to it.  The entire household had reason to be joyous and they are all encouraged to enter into the spirit of the occasion as well.

            Sidebar--The application of the language to restoration to the acceptability of God:  The metaphor of ‘death’ to express the condition of impenitent sin is universal in the Bible.  ‘Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead,’ Revelation 3:1.  ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,’ Ephesians 5:14.  ‘You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins,’ Ephesians 2:1.  ‘Yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead,’ Romans 6:13” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).

 

 

A Parabolic Explanation of Why the Already Religious Should Not Resent the Restoration of the Morally Lapsed—The Second Half of the Parable of the Forgiving Father (Luke 15:25-32):  25 Now his older son was in the field.  As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  26 So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening.  27 The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ 

28 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look!  These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands.  Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends!  30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 

31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours.  32 It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’ “

 

 

            15:25   “Now his older son was in the field.  And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  The older son knew nothing about the return of his brother because he had been working in the field.  When he approached home he could hear both music and dancing and, since there hadn’t been anything special on the agenda that morning, he had to wonder what this was all about.  It surely implied that something important enough to deserve a major celebration had happened, but what in the world could it be?

            Sidebar:  Dancing was not uncommon among the Hebrews, and was used on various occasions.  Thus Miriam celebrated the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt in dances as well as songs, Exodus 15:20.  David danced before the ark, 2 Samuel 6:14.  It was common at Jewish feasts (Judges 21:19-21) and in public triumphs (Judges 11:34), and at all seasons of mirth and rejoicings, Psalm 30:11; Jeremiah 31:4, Jeremiah 31:13.  It was also used in religious services by the idolaters (Exodus 32:19), and also by the Jews, at times, in their religious services (Psalm 149:3; Psalm 150:4.  In this case it was an expression of rejoicing.”  (Barnes Notes on the Bible)  “Dancing” covers a wide variety of practices--from vivid expressions of joy and happiness to “sex with your clothes still on.”  Obviously this example is intended as one on the conservative side of the continuum.    

 

            15:26   So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  Those already working in the household would obviously know what was going on since something important had clearly happened since he had gone out to work for the day.  They would have been involved in hurriedly making arrangements for the celebration.

 

            15:27   And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’  The servant explained that the younger brother had returned without harm or injury and that the father had ordered a celebration because of it.  It is probably not unjust to read in this a degree of astonishment that the impetuous young man had been able to do so.  In our modern world, we all eventually run into someone who undertakes some misadventure which logic tells us “can’t turn out well”--but which he . . . somehow . . . manages to survive and learn from. 

 

            15:28   “But he was angry and would not go in.  Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  Judging from what is said next, he had been carrying burdens of resentment on his back for a long time--whether he had ever hinted at them or not--and this joyous reception of the reprobate is more than he can tolerate.  He won’t go in and have a temper tantrum in front of everyone, but he is infuriated and refuses to participate at all.  Probably the servant reported that the son was outside and refused to come in and the father personally intervened to convince him to do so.

 

            15:29   So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  The older son felt neglected and wronged:  he had done everything his father had wanted and yet there had never been a celebration in his honor--not even that of a mere “young goat” in contrast with the much larger “fatted calf” (verse 23) being given to the reprobate.  Of course he doesn’t mention whether he ever bothered to ask.  Parents can’t always read the mind of their offspring and can inadvertently cause offense when none was intended.  In such cases the child raising the matter himself would make total sense.

            Furthermore there is the stress that too much has been demanded of him.  That term “serving” has certain overtones missed in that rendering:  The NIV translates “all these years I’ve been slaving for you” and some others suggest along the lines of “worked like a slave for you” (GW, ISV, NET).  Of course no hint is given that he ever brought up the alleged heavy load with his father either.  A literal slave might not dare to but surely the eldest son would feel no such hindrance . . . if the complaint was justified at all.     

            Today we might describe this temper tantrum--surely this behavior doesn’t fall much short of that!--as “an infant vigorously shaking his baby rattle and crying out in indignation, I should be the center of attention! 

 

            15:30   But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’  We have no hint that any word of the man’s behavior had drifted homeward.  Perhaps youthful fantasies had been expressed to his older brother and he assumes they had been acted on.  Then again his resentful and suspicious mind frame could be playing a major role as well:  He simply assumed the worst of the younger son.  After all, he couldn’t possibly have done anything good with the money could he?

            Even assuming the worst interpretation of the younger brother, the possibility that the young man had recognized his own stupidity does not enter his mind at all.  So far as the elder son goes, the younger brother had been bad, was bad, and would irrevocably be bad in the future--at least in his mind.  A change for the better was impossible and he refused to accept the impossible.

            It seemed irrational for the father to act this way:  (1) He hadn’t “returned;” he simply “came.”  (2)  The father had been ripped off by him:  “devoured your livelihood” by his sin.  (3)  He may still be a “son of yours,” but he is so loathsome I refuse to call him “my brother.”  

            “And you would act joyfully at the return of such despicable scum to our household!”  Not those words out loud, of course, but surely the conceptual foundation of his complaints.

 

            15:31   “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  The father doesn’t attempt to deal with the allegations of neglect.  Judging what he does choose to emphasize, he apparently regards all of this as a smokescreen to hide the real grievance--what it is going to “cost” the older son personally.  Hence he insisted that the elder son had misjudged the situation:  All that is left of the inheritance is fully and completely the elder son’s.  The younger son had already received his share.  The older is not going to lose anything at all by accepting his brother back.  All of it is his.  (Implicit is surely the message that if the elder son wants a feast with his friends his father is hardly likely to reject the idea because--although the father remains the administrator of the property--in a significant sense it is “already” the property of the son.)

 

            15:32   It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’’  The elder son was losing nothing by what was happening.  In fact, what was happening was a moral necessity:  It was inherently “right” that someone who had been lost to family--and even to fundamental morality--should be celebrated when he has been restored to kin and a sense of honorable living. 

            The story is ended at this point.  What the older son eventually decided is left unresolved.  Yet sound as the logic of the father was, the prejudice of accepting back the reformed reprobate was so abhorrent that one can’t help but suspect that reconciliation remained forever an impossibility.  In a very real sense, the elder son himself was a “prodigal”--without ever having left home.

            Sidebar on “it was right that we should make merry and be glad:”  The Greek here can easily be read as meaning that it was not merely appropriate, but outright essential to act in such a manner.  Hence “we had to celebrate” (NASB, NIV); “we are bound to make merry and rejoice” (Weymouth).