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 16 to 18)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

 

           

The Value of Using Good Judgment in Dealing with the Crises of Life:  A Parable of a Clever—But Dishonest--Steward . . . (Luke 16:1-9):  1 Jesus also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who was informed of accusations that his manager was wasting his assets.  So he called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Turn in the account of your administration, because you can no longer be my manager.’ 

Then the manager said to himself, ‘What should I do, since my master is taking my position away from me?  I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m too ashamed to beg.  I know what to do so that when I am put out of management, people will welcome me into their homes.’ 

So he contacted his master’s debtors one by one. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  The man replied, ‘A hundred measures of olive oil.’  The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write fifty.’  Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ T he second man replied, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’  The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 

The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly.  For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their contemporaries than the people of light.  And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.”      

 

 

            16:1     He also said to His disciples: There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods.   The core point of this parable (verses 1-8) is that sometimes lessons can be learned even from evil people.  It is not to endorse the chicanery of the steward but to point out the need to use such astuteness in an honorable manner.

            Being trusted and having great responsibility, the supervision by this “rich man” was modest, if it existed at all beyond the most modest form.  But trust can be misplaced  and a convincing report was brought that the steward was not using the master’s goods in a wise or desirable manner.  He was “wasting” them [“squandering,” Holman, NASB], thereby costing the master income and profit. 

            We aren’t informed of the form the “wasting” took, but presumably it was on himself.  Today we might think of the manager who is supposed to be flying “coach” but is actually flying “first class”--and the most expensive form of that as well.  Or when it comes to modest budget “business related meals” he is not a “meat and potatoes” man, but is feasting on wine and caviar.  This ancient steward was also finding some contemporary way of padding his lifestyle at his employer's expense.

 

            16:2     So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’  The accuser is clearly viewed as a reliable source of information because the rich man proceeds to act on his information:  The chief steward was summoned and informed that he was going to be stripped of his post because the master found the charges quite credible.  As part of leaving office, he was ordered to present the financial records.  The master has technically left him in office until that reporting is completed.  Hence he has full authority to reach agreements in the master’s name--binding agreements--and his use of that loophole makes possible what happens next.

 

            16:3     “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do?  For my master is taking the stewardship away from me.  I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  We read nothing of the steward protesting the charge.  Not even in his own private thoughts did he apparently consider it an outrageous injustice.  In other words, the steward was candid and honest enough with himself to recognize its validity.  (In vivid contrast to those who are “never guilty of anything” even when the evidence is right in front of their faces.)

            He was also realistic enough to recognize that he was not about to be taken on in similar responsibilities by anyone else--or any position for that matter.  He doesn’t even raise the possibility in his own thoughts.

            However the few alternatives were horrifying:  He was clearly not trained in anything that would provide an alternate income; hence the grim alternatives--but even those would not work.  “I cannot dig” (i.e., be a manual laborer), suggesting it was either beneath his dignity or, more likely, that his soft and cushiony position had left him without the strength to actually do such a job.  Turning to begging could be done but only at the total loss of self-respect.  Or as the apocryphal literature puts it in one place, “it is better to die than beg” (Sirach 40:28).  (For that matter, word would quickly get around of what he had done; would people even think of giving to such an undeserving person?)

 

            16:4     I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’  Reviewing the possibilities he decided on a strategy that would assure that the debtors would owe him assistance even after he lost his position.  It would not create a legal obligation, but it would create (and I use the term loosely) a “moral” obligation.  They would feel he had done so much good for them by drastically lowering their debt load, that they would go out of their way to provide for his survival indefinitely.

 

            16:5     “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?'  He left no stone unturned for he had each and every one who owed agricultural product to his master to come in and talk with him.  First of all, he confirms with each how much they owe.  Written records surely would have told him this as well.  But the personal interest of the debtor is made even more clear cut by having them say it out loud.  It is, if you will, a re-acknowledgement of the debt.

 

            16:6     And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’  So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  Utilizing his continued rights as steward he reduced the owed by half, meaning that he had saved the debtor half of the debt.  In this case it was a debt in olive oil--which had a variety of usages, including food and fuel for lamps.  (The fact that the farmer is told to “write” shows that at least a modest level of literacy was common.)  The original document is handed back to him and the steward “trades” the revised form for the original.  By doing it in his own handwriting this made him a conscious and knowing “co-conspirator” and increased even more the sense of obligation to help out the steward later. 

            Sidebar:  A “measure” of oil would have been at least about 56 pints (7 gallons) but two rival standards of the day would push it much higher.

 

            16:7     Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’  So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’  And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’  When it came to the debt of wheat, he reduced the due amount by only twenty percent.  Why the difference in percentages we have no certain idea.  Possibly something in the difference of typical interest rates on the two items.  Since “every one” of the debtors was met with (verse 5), we are left to assume that similarly large reductions was granted to them all, based upon the particular agricultural product they would be paying back for the loan.

            Sidebar:  The word for “measure” here is different than in the previous verse and is estimated to have ranged between 8 and almost 12 bushels each--the latter figure coming from Josephus in his Antiquities.

 

            16:8     So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.  We don’t know how the master learned what had been done.  Presumably the number involved in the scheme was quite large because verse 5 speaks of “every one of his master’s debtors” being called to meet the steward.  Hence word would inevitably--and rather quickly one would think--leak out and be shared as “juicy gossip” from one person to another. 

            At this point, the master was faced with an accomplished fact.  On the one hand, he might wish to hang the steward; on the other hand that was impossible (it wasn't a death penalty offense) and there was no way to get back the lost revenue.  Hence he complimented the shrewdness--not the morality--of the steward.  Jesus then drew the moral lesson:  in temporal matters “sons of this world” typically exercise more insight than “the sons of light.”  They use their minds for their own temporal good while the religious all too easily forget to use theirs for their spiritual good.

 

            16:9     “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.  The sons of God needed to learn how to use worldly possessions astutely.  (As I told my daughters when they were young, “The good Lord gave you a brain; He expects you to use it.”)  They needed to use what they had in such a manner that when they died, the right and constructive usage will cause them to be received “into an everlasting home.”  (Helping the needy would be an obvious application of such usage of our temporal blessings, but far from the only one.)

            Sidebar:  The Greek may mean either Make the unrighteous mammon your friend; or make yourselves friends by your use of the unrighteous mammon.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

 

. . . In Contrast to the Behavior of the Dishonest Steward, Honorableness Must Be the Foundation of the Believer’s Good Judgment (Luke 16:10-13):  10 The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.  11 If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches?  12 And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own?  13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

 

 

            16:10   He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.  If the unjust steward had been “faithful” (in this context = reliable) he would have been so regardless of whether he was responsible for little or for much.  Likewise all of us; we set our “pattern” of behavior when our responsibilities are limited and duplicate the same mental attitudes and decisions even when our responsibilities are increased.

            If we are “unjust” (in the unjust steward's case = dishonest and unreliable) in minor matters, our lifestyle is going to remain the same if our tasks expand and cover a much wider range of responsibilities.
            Hence insightful
and wise use of temporal possessions demonstrates our degree of faithfulness.  If we demonstrate it when the sums are modest, then we can be counted on to be faithful and proper when we have far greater blessings.  The opposite is also true--if we are “unjust” and callous when we have only minor amounts of income, why should our judgment be any better if greater responsibilities come our way?  We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking “if things get better, I’ll change.”  Our automatic, “fall back” instinct will be to continue duplicating the actions and attitudes of the past.  The time to begin change is now.

 

            16:11   Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?  If we are not faithful in the use of potentially “unrighteous mammon” (= wealth), why should we expect God to entrust us with the even more important and vital spiritual riches?  This admonition includes the implied warning that we can delude ourselves into believing that we can use our money in any way we see desirable--laying aside all ethical and moral principles--and expect that God will treat us as exemplars of morality and religion:  How?  Because we go through the right outward forms of regular religious service.  But God sees the heart, the hidden motives, and the hidden intentions.  It is on that basis that He will act.

            Sidebar:  Paul describes the true spiritual riches available to us as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).  By our faith and behavior we “lay up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven” that can not be stolen from us by age or thievery (Matthew 6:20).

 

            16:12   And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?  Again paralleling believers with the dishonest steward:  If we can not be trusted to faithfully utilize the economic resources of those we are answerable to, why should we ever expect to be entrusted with our own resources to make our own independent decisions?  There is an obvious spiritual application as well:  If we can not live as faithful Christians, why should any congregation be tempted to promote us to a position of leadership?  We are--magically?--to turn into exemplars of reliability? 

 

            16:13   “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.   You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Money and possessions are both necessary and yet treacherous.  We can no more give the love of such things and the service of God equal supreme allegiance than we can have two bosses and give both our unlimited loyalty.  Somewhere along the line we will come to--relatively, in comparison--“loving” the one and “hating” the others.  Possibly literally so as well, as we come to resent being in such an untenable psychological position.

            However it is far harder to apply this kind of “earthly realism” to our evaluation of the role of our worldly possessions and the world’s “mammon” that allows us to buy them.  Even so there is an inevitable tension between “fully” serving both God and gaining wealth:  Both require time; both require hard work; both require dedication.  By our actions, reasoning, and words we reveal which we center our hearts upon and which we diminish to our secondary priority.  And God knows without our saying a word aloud.  

            This teaching leads directly into the next topic for Jesus is going to discuss those who had a “shining veneer” of piety but something “stank” nor far beneath the surface of far too many of them.  Their religion was “skin deep” rather than “soul deep.” 

            Sidebar:  “Mammon” has so dropped out of use, translations prefer to substitute “money” or “wealth.”

 

 

The Pharisees—Who Could “Justify” Any Money Making Scheme They Preferred—Had a “Religiousness” That Permitted Them to Set Aside What God’s Law Actually Said (Luke 16:14-18):  14 The Pharisees (who loved money) heard all this and ridiculed him.  15 But Jesus said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts.  For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight.

16 ”The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void.  18 Everyone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

 

 

            16:14   Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.  The Pharisees scoffed at this doctrine of the responsible use of wealth.  They thought (erroneously) that they knew everything they needed to know about the right use of it just as they thought they were fully knowledgeable in spiritual matters as well.  The idea that there might be a basic conflict between economic and spiritual self-interest was anathema to their way of thinking.  (And to that of many “religious” people today as well!)

            Sidebar on “derided:”  The verb implies visible rather than audible signs of scorn—the distended nostril, and the sneering lip, the naso suspendere adunco of the Roman satirist.  It is, i.e., a word that forcibly expresses the [visible] physiognomy of contempt.   [This overtone is best caught by the NIV ('were sneering at Jesus') and the GW ('were making sarcastic remarks about Him').]. . .  The motive of the derision lies on the surface.  That they, the teachers of Israel, should be told that they were like the Unjust Steward, that they were wasting their Lord’s goods, that they must make friends with the unrighteous mammon of quite another kind than those whom they were wont to court—this was more than they could stand. They have felt the force of the rebuke, and therefore they stifle it with mockery” (Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers).

 

            16:15   And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.  For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.  They could “justify” themselves before anyone who challenged them, just as they were able to justify any religious doctrine they preferred even when it opposed those Jesus taught.  They forgot that no matter how much their self-serving rhetoric might sound good to others, “God knows your hearts” and what is really motivating the language, the behavior, and the argument.

            Furthermore, their popularity is no guarantee of rightness:  “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  What is desirable and praiseworthy in the sight of the human species is that drastically at odds with the evaluation God puts on things!  He clearly targets both the popular and the “clerical” distortion of reality.

 

            16:16   “The law and the prophets were until John.  Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.  The Mosaical Law and the prophets who called everyone back to it, had been God’s way until John preached.  Since then the word of “the kingdom of God” had been widely shared and “everyone” seemed interested in “pressing” into it--except for critics such as these Pharisees.  Note the enthusiasm implied by the word “pressing:”  “everyone is forcing their way into it” (NASB, NIV); “everyone is trying hard to get in” (CEV).

            It is hard not--especially in retrospect--to read here a quiet warning that the era of “the law and the prophets” was coming to an end.  Through the preaching of John and Jesus a new religious age was dawning and with it a new religious system--the redemptive gospel of Jesus Christ.  It had served its purpose well; its ultimate goal is now being reached.    

 

            16:17   And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law [one tiny stroke of a letter in the law, NET] to fail.  Since the Mosaical Law was still in effect and the Pharisees enthusiastically embraced it, they needed to be warned that no one--including the Pharisees themselves--had the right to remove any of the teachings of the Torah.  This applied to even the minute points of the law and their playing word games to subvert its purpose and intent were a subversion of the Divine will.  The letter of the Law might still be there, but if the intent behind the letter were subverted, the same evil result was accomplished.  And He proceeds to point out a particularly conspicuous case of this. . . .           

 

            16:18  Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.  Although the Law had permitted divorce, it did not encourage it.  Hence when they subverted that Law by justifying divorces that ignored the quite clearly specified only reason it should occur (Deuteronomy 24:1-4:  moral “uncleanness,” verse 1) . . . when they invoked word games and learned rabbinic opinions to worm their way around its provisions . . . they were actually making a bad situation worse.  By giving the delusion they were free to remarry when they weren’t, they would actually be encouraging immorality:  The remarriage of either would be committing adultery no matter which party they were trying to get out of the marriage.

            In the broader context of being money centered, it is likely that the desired interpretation was granted due to that person’s wealth; it “bent” their interpretation and made them work even harder to find a way to justify the divorce.  Not necessarily “cash on the barrel head,” but generosity and extra honor to be given in the future.      

 

 

An Example of Where a Rich Man Loses Everything Because of Greed and a Destitute Man Receives Abraham’s Embrace—A Truth Even an Angelic Messenger Would Never Convince the Rich Man’s Relatives of Since They Already Rejected the Authority of Divine Revelation (Luke 16:19-31):  19 ”There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 But at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus whose body was covered with sores, 21 who longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. In addition, the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 Now the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in hell, as he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far off with Lazarus at his side. 2 4 So he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in anguish in this fire.’

25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus likewise bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish.  26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 

27 So the rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, father—send Lazarus to my father’s house 28 (for I have five brothers) to warn them so that they don’t come into this place of torment.’  29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.’  30 Then the rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’  31 He replied to him, ‘If they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “    

 

 

            16:19   “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  In spite of all the benefits that wealth can bestow, it can also bring with it a callousness toward the needs of others.  In this story that concludes the chapter (verses 19-31), an incident is narrated to illustrate this realistic truism. 

            This is widely called a “parable” and, perhaps, it is.  On the other hand, parables are normally stories of what had definitely happened on one occasion or another or about things that reasonably could happen--go down the list from the sower to the lost sheep to the lost coin and this “reality base” of the parables comes through repeatedly.  Furthermore, if this be a pure imaginary picture of the afterlife, it is odd that the beggar’s name (Lazarus) is given and that in no other purported parables are names ever assigned.

            Be that as it may, the story depicts the kind of situation that one can easily imagine developing:  There was a very wealthy man who could dress in expensive “purple and fine linen” every day and for that he has to be not just well-to-do but very rich on top of that:  purple dye was ultra-expensive and the “linen” under discussion was as well.  Is it any surprise that a man this extravagantly well off would have the best of food not just on special occasions but “every day”?

 

            16:20   But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate.  Since Lazarus had to be carried, he must have been in such bad shape he could not walk at all.  He had to rely on friends or acquaintances to do this “good turn” for him.  And if a lowly and obviously sickly beggar is going to gain generous treatment, surely it is at the gate of the ultra rich.  (Nowadays we often have zoning codes, housing development “covenants” and other legal prohibitions; the poor man would likely be thrown in jail.)

 

            16:21   desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  The one thing that a rich man’s estate would have, would be food leftovers.  But even most of these were apparently being consumed by the staff because the beggar didn’t get anything significant at all--just pitiful “crumbs” compared to what had been served.  Yet his own situation is so severe that he was “desiring” even these trivial amounts in order to survive at all. 

            Furthermore, the dogs “licked his sores”--a statement that most naturally seems to suggest that this was the only comfort he received from anyone in or near the household.  Since dogs were not kept as household pets like in the modern West, these were wild and untamed dogs.  Yet, in the limited way they could, even they tried to give more “comfort” to the sufferer than anyone in the rich man’s employ.

 

            16:22   So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  In death their destiny is different:  The glorious fact can be said of the beggar that he both died  and was taken by the angels to be with Abraham.  No mention is made of burial though some primitive form surely took place, but the important thing is not that he was buried but where he was taken.   

            Sidebar on the honor of being with Abraham--“This is a phrase taken from the practice of reclining at meals, where the head of one lay on the bosom of another, and the phrase, therefore, denotes intimacy and friendship. . . . See . . . John 13:23; John 21:20.  The Jews had no doubt that Abraham was in paradise.  To say that Lazarus was in his bosom was, therefore, the same as to say that he was admitted to heaven and made happy there.  The Jews, moreover, boasted very much of being the friends of Abraham and of being his descendants, Matthew 3:9.  To be his friend was, in their view, the highest honor and happiness  (Albert Barnes Notes).

            In contrast, the wealthy man died and was appropriately buried.  A major undertaking, it surely was with many paid mourners as was the custom and the finest burial garments.  That was the greatest thing that could be said about his death and that was the glory of his burial.  But unlike the beggar there is no mention of him going to the same place as the patriarch Abraham.  In fact we immediately learn that he did not. . . .

 

            16:23   And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Since “Hades” represents the unseen world, both Lazarus and the wealthy man are best pictured as in different sections of it--obviously not the same one for the conditions are so dramatically different.  Where Abraham is, there is happiness and joy; where the rich man is their is pain and anguish.  Far off he could see both Abraham and Lazarus; their far different situation had to startle him for he was not enjoying happiness but anguish.  No wonder that. . . . 

 

            16:24   “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  He clearly saw no way to get out of where he was confined; the most he could imagine was to have conditions marginally alleviated.  Clearly he recognized that at death, one’s eternal fate is permanently sealed; the best one can even dream of is making it slightly better rather than fundamentally altering it.

            We may argue to our heart’s content to what degree these expressions are “literal” or “figurative”--but one thing is surely incontestable:  Those who have not lived as the Lord wishes will face conditions they will hate and wish they could be out of.  And nothing they can do or beg will change the situation one iota.  If that doesn’t mean “pain and agony” in an extremely serious sense, then language has lost all meaning.    

 

            16:25   But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  Abraham reminded him that in the temporal life Lazarus had things miserable while the wealthy man had everything that was good.  Implied:  There was a grand appropriateness in the reversal.  Or, perhaps, the word should be “justice”? 

            We are told nothing of the rich person’s moral character.  Rather the story is centered on what he did or did not do with his wealth.  It was all there for his pleasure and his alone and wasn’t used to help others as well.  With them he was utterly unconcerned.  Hence the grim irony of begging Abraham to “send Lazarus” with relief (verse 24), when he himself had never taken time to send anyone to Lazarus with help.

 

            16:26   And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’  This “great gulf” (rendered “chasm” in most translations) is not only large--conveyed by the word “great”--but is of such a nature that those in anguish can not escape it however much they want to and those who might “want to” provide some kind of relief are unable.  This is the profound difference between “it would be nice” and “it can’t be.”  There are hard core realities that all the wishes in the world can do nothing to alter.  There had been time in this life to assure that he would not be on the wrong side of that unpassable divide, but it had not been used by the self-centered rich man.

            Sidebar:  In the expression “great gulf fixed” is the implication that it is both permanent and irrevocable.  Weymouth brings it out well when he translates, And, besides all this, a vast chasm is immovably fixed between us and you, put there in order that those who desire to cross from this side to you may not be able, nor any be able to cross over from your side to us.”

 

            16:27   “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house.  If he could not obtain relief for himself, his mind next turned to his survivors.  Lazarus could at least provide warning to them.  This shows that he was capable of not being self-centered, but had narrowly limited his humanitarian interest to only close kin.  That it went no further than family seems clearly demonstrated by the neglect of Lazarus.

            If you wish to be even more cynical than me, you might even find here a subtle self-defense:  “I was never warned; especially from someone whose testimony I would have had to accept!”  But would it have been?  If he himself were still alive, would he have regarded a resurrected Lazarus as any more credible than a similar message from folk like John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth?  There is always an excuse to dismiss whatever you don’t want to accept. 

 

            16:28   for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  In other words, he is honest enough to recognize that they manifest the same kind of unconcern for the nearby needy that he himself had exhibited.  He doesn’t whitewash it or pretend it doesn’t exist.  They are no more ready for eternity than he was.

            Here again we are left to choose between opposite views of the motive which prompted the request.  Was it simply a selfish fear of reproaches [when they arrived] that might aggravate his sufferings? Was it the stirring in him of an unselfish anxiety for others, content to bear his own anguish if only his brothers might escape?  Either view is tenable enough, but the latter harmonizes more with the humility of the tone in which the request is uttered” (Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers). 

 

            16:29   Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  In other words, the written scriptures were designed to assure that men and women would have the knowledge essential to avoid a terrible afterlife.  That was one of the purposes for these writings being given.

            Sidebar:  Consider the implications of Isaiah 8:19-20 on how words from the dead are not needed when there is divine revelation, “And when they say to you, 'Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God?  Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them’   (Isaiah 8:19-20).  

 

            16:30   And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  The rich man insisted that scripture was insufficient to produce the needed repentance.  Perhaps he was even right!  But if God went that route, would the dead have to return daily to keep them on the straight and narrow?  And would not the impact wear off more and more after hearing repeated reproofs?  At some point it comes down to:  “This is the way things should be.  Will I accept it or reject it?”  Those things they could learn from Moses and the prophets.

            Sidebar:  Oddly enough, in the gospel of John we read of Jesus raising from the dead--not sending but raising--a friend named Lazarus.  This raised Lazarus some wanted to see:  John 12:9-11.  (Oddly the text doesn’t mention that they wanted to hear anything he had to say about the interim.)  The religious authorities considered him an embarrassment and wanted to have him killed (John 12:10).  Would the rich man’s Lazarus have had any greater receptivity? 

 

            16:31   But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’   Abraham reduces things to the core reality:  If the scriptures were not adequate to get them to reform, then facing a dead person would not accomplish it either.  A point useful to keep in mind for those today who, sometimes mockingly, insist that the only way they will believe is if they see a miracle.  Plenty of those are already in the scriptural record.  If they can be dismissed, will not a new one be as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

 

           

We Must Never Stop Forgiving the Person Who Admits Doing Wrong Against Us (Luke 17:1-5):  1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Watch yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.  Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 

 

 

            17:1     Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!  The closing third of chapter sixteen targeted the uncaring rich for censure.  It is easy to see their faults and even mock such people because there are so few of them in comparison to the general population.  The truth of the matter, however, is that everyone is susceptible to dangerous weaknesses that are self-destructive and--in some forms--harmful to others. 

            Jesus introduces the matter by reference to the one who is on the receiving end:  In this life it is inevitable:  Individuals are going to “do us wrong.”  It may be in mild and annoying ways, but they can run the gauntlet upwards into things quite serious.  As to the perpetrator, Jesus puts him/her on warning--they are facing Divine wrath. . . .

 

            17:2     It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.  If it would solve the problem of Divine punishment (and it won’t) it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a heavy millstone around the neck than to have to answer for causing harm to “little ones.”  Although in this setting the young in faith are likely the center of emphasis, the principle of not causing needless difficulties for others would also apply in regard to the chronologically young in general as well. 

            Just as it takes years of schooling to reach intellectual maturity, it takes years of study, thought, and practice to reach full spiritual maturity.  In that transition, it is those who are in the early stages (“these little ones”) who are most vulnerable.  To those who are fully developed, your hindrances may be more annoying than anything else; but to these it can be spiritually (and psychologically) fatal.

            Even as mature believers, though, challenges like these are inevitably going to come our way as well.  The only question is how we should deal with them--and Jesus promptly provides the answer. . . .

 

            17:3     Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  It is easy to growl to ourselves, “He ought not to have done it!”  But what do we do when it happens?  Do we “stew in our juice,” allowing the annoyance to embitter us?  
            No, i
f our coreligionist--and note that our “brother” is specifically under consideration--has done wrong to us we are to “rebuke him,” i.e., take the matter to the person rather than pretending it never happened.  If the person realizes that wrong was done, apologizes, and indicates he is going to avoid that kind of action in the future we are obligated to forgive him.  Just as we should not cause others to fall into needless temptation and sin, we are not to harbor an unforgiving sense of alienation and rage either.

            Sidebar:  Due to the absence of “against you” in the manuscripts that are considered most reliable, the words are usually omitted here in verse 3; however in verse 4 they unquestionably are present.  The presence of “against you” there, however, argues that the same is under consideration in both places.

            Sidebar:  The Old Testament also taught the desirability of challenging the troublemaker.  See Leviticus 19:17 and Proverbs 27:5-6.  

 

            17:4     And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”  Even if that person somehow manages to act improperly against us seven times in a single day, we are still to forgive him.  This is obvious hyperbole:  even the bitterest enemy would have a hard time finding seven ways to mistreat us in a single day!  Yet so important is the basic principle of forgiveness that Jesus uses such exaggeration to convey its importance.  In effect, He is saying:  “No matter how many times it happens, forgive him if he manifests a genuine desire to change.”

 

            17:5     And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”  Unspoken words are omitted but inevitably implied:  “to make it possible for us to do so.”  Which leads the Lord to shift the discussion. . . .

 

 

The Paradox of Repeated Forgiveness:  It Requires—In Comparison With Some Other Things—But a “Little” Faith . . . Yet It Is Also a Solemn Duty (Luke 17:5-10):  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  So the Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this black mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled out by the roots and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Would any one of you say to your slave who comes in from the field after plowing or shepherding sheep, ‘Come at once and sit down for a meal’?  Won’t the master instead say to him, ‘Get my dinner ready, and make yourself ready to serve me while I eat and drink.  Then you may eat and drink’?  He won’t thank the slave because he did what he was told, will he?  10 So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty.’ “
           

 

            17:5     And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”  The admonition that one must be willing to forgive the repentant (verses 3-4) has rarely been easy to heed and the apostles recognized that all too well.  It is no wonder that the apostles, hearing this, pleaded, “increase our faith!”  It takes faith in both God and our fellow man to act in such a forgiving manner--in God that He will give us strength and in our fellow man out of the conviction that change is possible and that repetition is not inevitable after all. 

            On the one hand, the repetition challenges us to give up and reject the possibility of real change ever happening; on the other hand, the willingness to again admit that wrong has been done argues that he is at least trying and is well aware of his guilt.  Surely it is that fact that motivates the admonition that we continue to forgive in spite of the repetition.  Indeed is that not why God Himself forgives us in spite of our own sinful repetitions? 

            Sidebar:  In verse 1 we read of “the disciples;” here we read of “the apostles.”  Even the future leaders of the church recognized this was something they had to work at--that it would be difficult to carry out.

 

            17:6     So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.  Jesus’ answer to their plea for increased faith came in two parts.  First (using an illustration similar to the one about why they had failed in casting out demons--Matthew 17:19-21), He spoke of how if they even had faith as small as that of a mustard seed they would be able to cast the nearby “mulberry tree” into the sea.  To practice forgiveness so freely seemed to them a miracle.  So Jesus responded that if they only had a modest/tiny amount of faith they could work such “miracles of forgiveness.”  In other words their implicit admission that they had inadequate faith (verse 5) was quite true!

            Sidebar:  Any seed would have made the point, but He chose the one that was regarded as “the least [smallest, NET, NIV] of all the seeds” (Matthew 13:32).

 

            17:7     And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’?  The second half of Jesus’ response came in the form of a parable against the kind of pride that could grow out of the ability to freely forgive.  (Pride can perversely twist even the greatest virtue into a fault!)  It’s point is that even when they reach this level of spiritual maturity, they will have nothing to brag about.  They will still have other duties and responsibilities to fulfill as well.  It’s like the hard working servant who has spent the day in the field.  Even when it’s evening, fixing himself a meal is still not the first thing that he does.

           

            17:8     But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’  The servant--and, though the apostles were, so to speak, at the “top of the power structure” in the early church, they were and ever remained servants of the Lord first and primarily . . . as such they would go about preparing for the Lord’s needs before they took care of their own.  Not that theirs were unimportant, but that the Lord’s were far greater.

 

            17:9     Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him?  I think not.  That servant would not receive praise for doing what he was told.  It was his job.  It was what was expected.  It is a case of “to ask the question is to answer it.” 

            It has been suggested that this was especially important to stress to the apostles since a sense of self-entitlement had grown in a number of them:  “See, we have left all and followed You.  Therefore what shall we have?”  (Matthew 19:27).  Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest” (Luke 22:24-26).  This controversy had arisen earlier as well:  “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest” (Luke 9:46).    

 

            17:10   So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.  We have done what was our duty to do.’   The apostles were to understand that even when they managed to do “all those things which you are commanded” they would actually be only fulfilling their duty.  In one sense they were not “unprofitable,” of course, but compared to all that might have been done . . . who might not fall short?  The far more important thing is how does God evaluate the matter? 

            In other words, whatever our accomplishments in spiritual development inwardly and outwardly might be, we leave the praising to God.  We don’t brag of it ourselves.  Only He is able to judge with absolute fairness and justice whether our evaluation is just or mere bravado.

            The immediate theme is humility even when we forgive others--for this section is a development of the command to do so in the previous section.  From one standpoint we have done something incredibly challenging.  True.  But it is also true that we have simply done “our duty.”  One reality does not exclude the other.  Even our virtues need to be kept in perspective.

 

 

Jesus Stresses the Irony That the Only Leper Out of Ten He Healed at One Time Was the Least Likely Person His Listeners Would Expect to Go Out of His Way to Express Gratefulness—An Outsider, a Non-Jew, a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19):  11 Now on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  12 As he was entering a village, ten men with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance, 13 raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  14 When he saw them he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went along, they were cleansed. 

15 Then one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  16 He fell with his face to the ground at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. (Now he was a Samaritan.)  17 Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  18 Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  19 Then he said to the man, “Get up and go your way.  Your faith has made you well.”      

 

 

            17:11   Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.  For the readers of the book in other parts of the Empire, this information provided at least a rough approximation of where Jesus was.  Most translations prefer a variant of “along the border between Samaria and Galilee” (NIV).  Instead of going through Samaria, He chose to skirt its edges. 

            The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges suggests that “the most natural meaning of these words is that our Lord, when rejected at the frontier village [of Samaria mentioned in Luke 9:51-56, that He] altered His route, and determined to pass towards Jerusalem through Peraea.  In order to reach Peraea He would have to pass down the Wady of Bethshean — which lies between the borders of Galilee and Samaria—and there to cross the bridge over Jordan.”

 

            17:12   Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.  Standing at a distance was due to the danger of potential contagion and was what they were supposed to do.  The idea of separation from the non-affected went all the way back to the regulations enforced while the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years:  Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  He shall be unclean.  All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

            Jewish/Samaritan distinctions meant nothing to the group (verse 18) because, due to the disease, they were all effectively outsiders to the nation. 

 

            17:13   And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Though they weren’t supposed to come close, they could get close enough that their raised voices would easily reach His ears even if He were talking with others or concentrating on something else.  (Some scholars suggest that the distance was six feet.) 

            Their action takes for granted that somewhere along the line they had heard the reports of His successful healings and hoped that He would be willing to cure them as well.  Especially if the reports included the fact that He had been known to heal lepers.    

 

            17:14   So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.  Absolutely nothing is said about them approaching any closer or of His touching them.  He simply spoke and they were well as they walked away.  But being well was not all that was required; it needed to be confirmed by the examination of a priest (Leviticus 14:2; for the entire procedure see verses 1-32).

 

            17:15   And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God.  One of them, after walking a ways, was able to see his skin and that he was now healed.  So he delayed going any further in order to return and express His appreciation first.  There is no reason to assume that he failed to complete the trip; only that this interruption was so timely and appropriate that he felt morally obligated to do it first.  And he judged rightly, as we can see from Jesus’ reaction (verse 18).

            Sidebar:  Although the others would certainly have been heading to Jerusalem, the fact that he was a Samaritan probably resulted in him being on the way to see the priests at their temple on Mount Gerizim. 

 

            17:16   and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.  And he was a Samaritan.  Samaritans and Jews looked upon each other as despicable and, to use a modern term, heretical.  For a Samaritan to not only be thankful to a Jew but to publicly express it in front of others showed how profoundly the miracle had been appreciated.

 

            17:17   So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed?  But where are the nine?  Jesus saw the irony in how few had returned.  Shouldn’t that have been an automatic response?  Yet, when faced with an overwhelming blessing, how easy it is to be become so absorbed in the happiness that one forgets thankfulness for who made it possible!  Perhaps even to fall into the trap of thinking that “I deserved this” and allowing this to blot out all other sentiments.  

            For that matter they could always argue “I’m supposed to go to the priest and Jesus commanded us to go!  Returning is needless.”  The obligation for a physical examination was absolutely true!  But how does that justify blotting out the sense of gratitude and taking time to express it?  One does not exclude the other.

            Perhaps this is endemic to the human race, a reflection of a self-centeredness that requires an altered mind-frame to step outside of it.  Albert Barnes lamented its continuation in the 1800s:  When people are restored from dangerous sickness, here and there one comes to give thanks to God; but ‘where are the nine?’  When people are defended from danger; when they are recovered from the perils of the sea; when a steamboat is destroyed, and a large part of crew and passengers perish, here and there one of those who are saved acknowledges the goodness of God and renders Him praise; but where is the mass of them?  They give no thanks; they offer no praise.”  Has human behavior changed in the 200 years since he wrote these words?  I think not.  

 

            17:18   Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”  Doubtless there was more than a little squirming in the Jewish audience.  There was--and is--always the danger that because one is “right” in religion that one becomes forgetful of other fundamental principles that even the outsider can recognize.  In such cases the “unlearned” becomes the tutor for the learned to learn from.

 

            17:19   And He said to him, “Arise, go your way.  Your faith has made you well.”  Addressing the Samaritan directly, Jesus commanded him to depart for his faith had indeed been rewarded and made him physically whole once again. 

 

 

The “Quiet” Nature of God’s Kingdom:  It Comes Without Nationalistic or Militaristic Fanfare (Luke 17:20-21):  20 Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’  For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

 

           

            17:20   Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation.  The Pharisees looked forward to a triumphant militaristic rule of the Messiah from Jerusalem.  His response would be interpreted within the framework of those conceptions.

            Hence His giving even a vague date could--with a little creative “massaging” of the language--be presented to the Romans as threatening the government. . . .  a near term threat, in fact.  After all, with so many supporters, surely He wasn’t anticipating it would be delayed to the distant future!  And if He did give an explicit near term time they would have an even easier task.  

            Quite possibly they are also trying to “needle” Him:  “You’ve been preaching the kingdom for so long--isn’t it about time it was established!”

            His response about “not with observation,” however, challenges their very belief in a temporal kingdom.  His words imply an inward coming of the kingdom, a theme He develops further in the next verse.   

 

            17:21   nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’  For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”  They were looking for something dramatic and visually overwhelming--in keeping with the establishment of an earthly, temporal kingdom.  But so far as God’s kingdom goes, it will be manifested not in such outward spectacular events but by the transforming power of it within the hearts of believers.  Compare:  “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). 

            They won’t so much possess the kingdom as be the kingdom.  Hence it is to be interpreted in terms of the individual spiritual restoration of multitudes and not national power--a rejuvenation of the inner person.  It is to be a spiritual kingdom, not a temporal one.

            The majority of translations lay aside “is within you” and prefer something along the lines of “in the midst of you” (ESV).  In that case the idea may be that the seed of the kingdom has already been planted in some of those they walk among and deal with.  It is already germinating within the souls of the receptive among them.  It has not yet taken external visible form, but it will as the “visible spiritual kingdom”--the church--is brought into existence  in Acts 2.

 

 

In Contrast to the “Quiet” Coming of God’s Kingdom (Verses 20-21 Above), Is The Coming of the “Son of Man” in Judgment Upon Jerusalem (Luke 17:22-37):  22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.  23 Then people will say to you, ‘Look, there he is!’ or ‘Look, here he is!’  Do not go out or chase after them.  24 For just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.  25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 

26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.  27 People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage—right up to the day Noah entered the ark.  Then the flood came and destroyed them all.  28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; 29 but on the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 

30 It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed.  31 On that day, anyone who is on the roof, with his goods in the house, must not come down to take them away, and likewise the person in the field must not turn back.  32 Remember Lot’s wife!  33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. 

34 I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  35 There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.

37 Then the disciples said to him, “Where, Lord?”  He replied to them, “Where the dead body is, there the vultures will gather.”

 

 

            17:22   Then He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.  In the remainder of the chapter (verses 22-37) Jesus discusses the fall of Jerusalem.  (He will go into the Great Revolt again in Luke 22:7-36.)  He leaves the time indefinite beyond stressing that they would be intensely longing to again “see one of the days of the Son of Man.”  Not only for the pleasure of having Jesus personally with them once again but because the surrounding world would be going through such turmoil that this time will be looked upon as the “good old days”--both because of His presence and the world being far more tranquil than during the violent turmoil of the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 A.D. 

 

            17:23   And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’  Do not go after them or follow them.  The longing for the Messiah would create rumors that He was at one place or another when He was actually at none of them.  To go there would be a waste of time at the best and, at worst, expose them to needless danger.  And what more “natural” place to expect the Messiah’s appearance than in Jerusalem at the hour of its greatest danger?  And what better place to get oneself needlessly killed as well!

 

            17:24   For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.  When Jesus’ intervention appeared it would be as clear cut as lightning that is seen throughout the entire sky.  There would be no ambiguity in the situation--at least to believers.  This is true whether interpreted of His bodily return at the end of the ages or His “return” in earthly judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  The fact will be obvious when it happens; everyone can see it--literally or through reliable report:  “bright, swift, sudden, universal, irresistible” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges). 

            If applied to the fall of Jerusalem in particular, the traditionalists who accepted the rejection of Jesus would be far from correctly understanding what they were seeing.  To them it would be unjust disaster; in the Divine perspective it would be a public rejection of a religious system now solidified in opposition to the promised Messiah.  And what more manifest sign of its rejection than the destruction of the Temple and the elimination of all sacrificial offerings? 

 

            17:25   But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.  Why will the catastrophe occur?  Here He gives both chronology and reason:  Jesus will first “suffer” and be “rejected”--the latter referring to something that will only begin with the suffering.  The “rejection” will cover the large body of “this generation”--not only those currently in charge of religious affairs and who manipulated His judicial murder, but the broader population currently alive as well.  The execution itself will be arranged by a few, but the rejection will be comprehensive in the coming decades.  (At least in comparison to the percentage that embrace the Lord’s cause.)

 

            17:26   And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man.  The irony is that when God’s judgment upon Jesus’ enemies through the destruction of Jerusalem came, the bulk of society would be as unconcerned with truly spiritual matters as in past crises spoken of in the scriptures.  And to prove this point, He invokes the precedent of the age of Noah--when it was faced with destruction by flood . . . and ignored the opportunity to repent.  As in Jesus’ day, the world knew of the danger for Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).

 

            17:27   They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.  They were completely oblivious to the danger.  It’s impossible to believe that word had not spread far and wide about this “strange man Noah” and the giant ark he was building for the flood.  How could you avoid talking about it?  But it had no impact upon behavior.  Everyone kept acting the same way they had. 

            And note that Jesus cites the innocent things they were doing and not their sin.  The point is that even if you are doing “the right and above board” when God brings earthly judgment (whether by your accident or intent!), that is not going to keep judgment from being unleashed.  You are either prepared for it--like Noah--or you face the disastrous consequences that preparation would have avoided.        

 

            17:28   Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot:  They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built.  When Lot lived, his society was also involved in the normal business of buying, selling, planting, and building and in the circumstances leading up to the Great Revolt the population of geographic Palestine was doing the same.  (And, to the degree practicable, during it as well.)  As in the earlier case, the sins of Lot’s time are not even mentioned.  Once again, when earthly judgment comes it doesn’t matter whether at that moment you are in the middle of actively doing something evil or not . . . judgment still comes . . . in all of its destructive power.  Either you are prepared for it or you are lost--in more than one sense!  

 

            17:29   but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.  The judgment was “universal:  Everyone in the place dies.  “All” of them.  They had been acting just as they always had.  And “just as they always had” was not enough to make God happy.

 

            17:30   Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.  In a similar manner, when the punishment administered by the Son of Man’s judgment is shown to the world, it will be too late to change for the better.  Just as the innocence of whatever you are doing at the immediate moment will be irrelevant as well.  There was a time given for change and now it is over.

 

            17:31   “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away.  And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.  Note that the fact of judgment could not be escaped--Jerusalem was going to receive retribution.  But, unlike the flood of Genesis and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, individuals had the opportunity to escape it if they heeded Jesus’ words.  Hence this can not be the final judgment.

            Within Jerusalem, if one promptly fled from the housetop and out of the city, he had the opportunity to escape alive.  The person who was in the field, if they resisted the temptation to return to their home, also had the opportunity to flee and survive.  You may treasure your possessions but how would it be rational to virtually guarantee your death when most of it you wouldn’t be able to carry with you in the first place?

            Sidebar:  With flat roofs and much warm weather, housetops were typically cooler and quieter--a place away from the noise going on in the house--and connected to the ground by an external stairway.  Hence one did not have to even enter the house (and be tempted to grab as much as one could carry); one could immediately flee.

           

            17:32   Remember Lot’s wife.  Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26); this was after her family had been warned, “Do not look behind you” (verse 17).  Hence doing so was a fatal mistake in judgment.  God didn’t make her do it.  She made the decision for herself.  Likewise their survival at the fall of Jerusalem would hinge on doing what needed to be done and not be diverted away from it. 

            Did she look back because she so hated leaving?  Because she couldn’t, psychologically, “leave it behind”?  Whatever was going on inside her mind, it diverted attention from the absolute priority of saving her own life.

 

            17:33   Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.  Here a new topic has clearly been introduced because previously it had been urged that they save their lives by fleeing (verse 31); in contrast, here we are told that attempting to save one’s life will cause it to be forfeited.  The shift requires that a different kind of “life” is under discussion--eternal life.  The crisis would be so intense that a believer would be tempted to “save his (physical) life” by giving up his or her faith.  If the temptation was yielded to, the spiritual life--and eternal life with it--would be lost.  In contrast, if one had to die for one’s faith that would actually assure “(eternal) life” beyond this earth.

            Sidebar:  There were those only a century or so later who positively courted martyrdom as a way of assuring their salvation and they thought this text provided a guarantee that they would gain it for their reward.  But there is a profound difference between being willing to die and virtually crying out, “Take me!  Take me!”  Although the apostle Paul was willing to suffer painfully and repeatedly, he was also willing to flee a place as well (Acts 14:4-7, 19-20).  Die when needing to is praiseworthy; dying when there is no need is self-centered ego.

 

            17:34-36   I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left.  35 Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left.  36 Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”  This would be a time of great danger of being captured and taken into foreign captivity as a slave (which is exactly what happened to countless thousands during the Great Revolt that ended with the destruction of the temple).  One sleeping man might be grabbed and another left.  Of two women grinding grain, only one might be taken away.  Likewise of two men working in the field, one might be grabbed at random.  This could happen at night (hence the “bed” reference, verse 34).  It could be while doing domestic related chores (hence the “grinding” grain in verse 35) or while outside farming or shepherding (“in the field,” verse 36).

            Despair would be easy.  If it was their misfortune to somehow be among those captives they were not to allow it break their faith (cf. verse 33).  If they could avoid it, they would have that much more to rejoice about.

            Sidebar:  Such a large number of the “better” ancient manuscripts omit verse 36, that it is often omitted by translations or placed in brackets to indicate the documentation problem.  It is often thought that this is inserted on the basis of its inclusion in Matthew 24:40 where the two women reference follows in the next verse--the opposite of here.  The “bed” reference of verse 34 is totally omitted in that other context.                  

 

            17:37   And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?”  So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”  Actually “eagles” can just as properly be rendered “vultures,” which fits better with the image of a carcass (“body”) anyway.  The fall of Jerusalem would fit well this image of vultures picking apart what had once been a glorious city and a world renowned temple.

            On the other hand, there is more than a little of appropriate symbolism in speaking of “eagles” for the Roman banners would be bearing those--making it plain that all of this tragedy was coming in consequence of the rebellion against Roman power.  In the apocryphal literature, the image of the savage eagle is used by Jews only a few decades after the destruction of Jerusalem.  It is invoked to describe the ungodly domineering world power of Rome (2 Esdras 11:43-46, NRSV):

 

                        43 Your insolence has come up before the Most High, and your pride to the        Mighty One.  44 The Most High has looked at his times; now they have ended, and             his ages have reached completion.  45 Therefore you, eagle, will surely disappear,     you and your terrifying wings, your most evil little wings, your malicious heads,   your most evil talons, and your whole worthless body, 46 so that the whole earth,          freed from your violence, may be refreshed and relieved, and may hope for the judgment and mercy of him who made it. 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

 

           

If Even an Unjust Judge--Who Has Contempt for Both Others and God--Could Ultimately Be Persuaded by Unending Persistence to Do the Right Thing, How Can Anyone Doubt that a Loving God Will Do It As Well?  (Luke 18:1-8):  1 Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people.  There was also a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’  For a while he refused, but later on he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor have regard for people, yet because this widow keeps on bothering me, I will give her justice, or in the end she will wear me out by her unending pleas.’ “ 

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says!  Won’t God give justice to his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he delay long to help them?  I tell you, he will give them justice speedily.  Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

 

            18:1     Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart [“give up,” NIV; “become discouraged,” GNT] .  Discussing the fall of Jerusalem (17:22-37), naturally leads to another question that was applicable both to that event and the difficulties that would repeatedly arise in the four decades before it:  “How am I going to get myself through all the turmoil?”--a question applicable to both the physical dangers and the psychological worries that went with it.  During that tumultuous period, it would have been tempting to despair and give up all hope.  In some places and situations prayer would literally be the only refuge.  Even where it wasn’t, it remained an invaluable tool to keep up courage even when the situation was at its darkest.

            Sidebar:  The whole verse is remarkable as being one of the few instances (Luke 18:9 being another) in which a parable is introduced by a distinct statement as to its drift and aim.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            18:2     saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.  To illustrate the point of steadfastness in prayer, Jesus gave a parable about an unjust and callous judge (18:2-8).   (The more common such were in their region, the greater credibility as a “real life situation” this story had.)  He had no respect for God nor did he have any for mankind either.  This sounds like a general contempt for anyone who lacked the power he had.  In a superficial sense, he had to show a certain visible “respect” for the important and well-to-do for they could find ways to make life difficult for him.  But his unvarnished attitudes--even toward them--could be given full expression toward those who were less well off.

            Even in a fully pagan society, this kind of man would be viewed as wanting in fundamental ways.  For a Jewish society this was even more so.  When Jesus was challenged in Matthew 22:35-40 as to what was the greatest (most important) commandment of the Mosaical Law, He responded that full and total love of God led the list.  Right next to it was the obligation to “love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  Or as we might put it modern language:  the command to love God and neighbor is the fundamental text; all the rest of law is merely commentary on how to do these.  To view others with contempt is fundamentally antithetical to such love. 

 

            18:3     Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’  Being a judge (and the judicial system working the way it did back then), it would be natural for those who did not have the “right” financial or social connections to plead for help.  Well-to-do people could buy lawyer time in court; poorer folk could easily be ignored.  The widow was about as vulnerable as you could get in their society.

            Yet ignoring her violated about as fundamental a principle of jurisprudence as could be committed:  Intentional refusing to exercise the fundamental responsibility of all judges, to evaluate claims fairly and justly.  As Moses reminded the people while he was still alive:  And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you.  Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike.  Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.  Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.’   (Deuteronomy 1:16-17, NIV).

 

            18:4-5    And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man,  This reads almost like an apology to himself for doing the right thing!  “I know I am stubborn and mule-headed and don’t have any interest in anyone but myself.  The fact that I’m doing something different has absolutely nothing to do with principle or justice.  And you don’t have to worry about this indicating a change in fundamental attitude.  This is a one time only case!”   

 

            18:5     yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”  He persisted in refusing to become involved in her case till finally her unending pleas for help overcame his refusal to get involved.  Her repeated intervention was simply wearing him out.  Nothing beyond this was a factor.  What concerns of justice and equity had not produced, persistence accomplished. 

            By his own standards, he was simply getting rid of a perpetual nuisance that he was “sick and tired” of having to deal with.  He judged it this way and bystanders acquainted with the case surely did as well.

 

            18:6     Then the Lord said, “ ‘Hear what the unjust judge said.  Though out of self-serving reasons, justice is ultimately performed--though nowhere near as quickly as it should have been.  They needed to “hear” the unjust judge’s words:  Think about them, meditate upon them, consider their implications for those situations in which earthly justice is denied us.  Persistence may yet cause us to win out over the uninterested and callous.

            But this temporal observation serves as a springboard to make a spiritual point about God’s willingness to intervene on our behalf. . . .

 

            18:7     And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?  If an unjust judge can be moved to action through persistence, will not a just God be moved similarly even though, from the human standpoint, He seems to delay “long” in answering the prayer?  Some things simply take time and circumstance to accomplish.  He could make things happen immediately, but to make them happen the right way, the best way, the way they should be can take far longer. 

            In addition, there is far more involved than just answering our personal concerns.  God must be concerned not just with you and me, but with everyone else as well.  He must do the best possible by us without compromising the welfare of our fellow believers either.      

 

            18:8     I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.  Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”  From God’s own standpoint and time perspective “He will avenge [our urgent concerns] speedily.”  In spite of this, it was an open question whether when Jesus returned He would still “find faith on the earth.”  (Or, at least, real profound faith rather than just a thin veneer.)  If taken of the Jewish Revolt (66-70 A.D.), this could refer to how war turns the suffering despondent and desperate.  With instability and hunger fear escalates and faith can be crushed--if they let it.  Not just in one person but moving like a steam roller over everyone else as well. 

            If this was true in the short term of a few decades, how vastly more it could be true if it is many centuries before Jesus returns to raise all the dead--the second possible reference point He could have in mind.  For that matter, both points in time could be under discussion!  Each breeds its own discontents, frustration, and even despair.    

 

 

The Conceited “Righteous” Person Will Have Prayer Rejected by God While the Repentant Reprobate Will Be Embraced (Luke 18:9-14):  Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else.  10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 

13 ”The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’  14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 

 

            18:9     Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.  Another parable (verses 9-14) targeted the conceited religious individuals who were so confident in their superior moral and religious character--“righteous” would cover both--that they felt free to “despise” those who had not reached their level of supposed greater spirituality.

            To actually have been that great would have been wonderful.  To be self-deluded about it was a different matter.  The Old Testament had warned “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness” (Proverbs 30:12).  In the days of Isaiah God rebuked those with false delusions of superiority, “Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!’  These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day” (Isaiah 65:5).
            Sidebar:  Note their double sin:  (1) delusion as to their own spirituality; (2) contempt for others.

 

            18:10   “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  They represented polar opposites.  A Pharisee consciously tried to be the moral and religious elite of the nation but their traditions could, too easily, actually undermine and repudiate the fundamentals of the Mosaical Law.  This was because their traditions effectively became superior to the Law for it was to these traditions that they went to decide how to interpret and apply the scriptural text itself.  For an example, think of the example Jesus cites in Mark 7:9-12 as to their rationale justifying the denial of assistance to parents in their old age. 

            Here Jesus is not concerned with how they undermined their own supposed loyalty to scripture.  Instead He is concerned with how the Pharisees saw themselves as steadfastly loyal to good character and God.  From that standpoint they are the supposed elite.  From the standpoint of anticipated bad behavior you would find it hard to fall lower than the tax collector in all his assumed--usually rightly--dishonesty and unjust behavior.  With these two in mind, you already know how the story about prayer in the temple should turn out.  But will it?     

 

            18:11   The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  The Pharisee was quite proud of his moral and spiritual accomplishments.  So the first thing out of his mouth is self praise about all the sins he has not committed.  He does not thank God for Divine help so that he was able to successfully escape the traps that can destroy a soul; he brags of being free of them . . . as if he had done it all on his own.  Why . . . he isn’t like . . . well that tax man over there.  The unspoken subtext:  “We know what they are like, don’t we?” 

            Sidebar on posture in prayer:  Standing was the ordinary Jewish attitude of prayer (1 Kings 8:22; Mark 11:25), but the word statheis (which is not used of the Tax-gatherer) seems to imply that he stood by himself to avoid the contaminating contact of the ‘people of the earth,’ and posed himself in a conspicuous attitude (Matthew 6:5). . . .”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

           

            18:12   I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’  When it comes to his virtues, he gives two that elevate him above everyone else.  First he mentions fasting “twice a week.”  The problem was that Scripture nowhere enjoined such a custom.  Yet he felt confident that this humanly invented ritual was so elevating that it assured him of honor in God’s sight.  Would doing it three times a week make him even more so?

            The Old Testament commanded it only once a year, during the Day of Atonement, provided for in Leviticus 16:  The translated words in both verses 29 and 31 are “you shall afflict your souls” (verse 29).  In Hebrew the expression was an effective synonym for “fasting”--presumably upon the basis that avoiding food is a form of self-imposed discomfort or affliction.

            At the time of Zechariah the custom was to have four fasts yearly (8:19).  Those who resorted to a twice weekly abstinence did so on Monday and Thursday.  The fact that the Pharisee brags about doing so provides powerful evidence that very few people actually followed this custom.  Otherwise where would the bragging rights come from?  

           

            His second outstanding virtue he finds in his tithing.  This certainly was not evil:  It was what everyone was supposed to do in the first place.  But, ah!, there was a difference between regular folk and what the spiritual elite like himself did:  “I give tithes of all that I possess.”  It is hard not to find here a reference to the Pharisaic nit-picking that Jesus rebuked:  He spoke of how they tithed tiny seed that were so time consuming to count that most folk would simply give an approximate tenth and leave it at that--if they even bothered with anything that obscure at all (Matthew 23:23-24).

           

            18:13   And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’  In contrast to the other man’s bravado, the tax collector was well aware that he had nothing to brag of.  Indeed, he felt so ashamed that he could only look down at the earth rather than up to heaven.  He knew he had moral warts and that forgiveness could only come from one source.  Hence, he begged, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” 

            The Pharisee had not bothered to ask for such.  If challenged, he probably would have admitted he did sin but stress that they were so tiny and inconsequential why should he waste time mentioning them?  At worst, surely all the (humanly invented) religious traditions he observed more than compensated for them!

            Sidebar on the posture of prayer:  The Jew usually stood with arms outspread, the palms turned upwards, as though to receive the gifts of heaven, and the eyes raised.  ‘Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes,’ Psalm 123:1-2; but on the other hand . . . , ‘O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God:  for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens,” Ezra 9:6.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            18:14   I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Jesus warned His audience that this repentant sinner went home “justified” (hence, acceptable) in God’s sight instead of the man who felt so full of his own spirituality.  Similarly any person who exalts his or her own piety and morality above what it really is, will be rejected by God.  In contrast, the person who recognizes the imperfections that exist, will be embraced and accepted by God as he asks for forgiveness and tries to set life right.

 

 

His Disciples Saw No Reason to “Waste” Time with Small Children Even Though They Would Be the Next Generation to Come Into the Kingdom.  This Draws the Rebuke of Jesus Since the “Kingdom of God” Is Intended for Receptive Souls Such as Theirs (Luke 18:15-17):  15 Now people were even bringing their babies to him for him to touch.  But when the disciples saw it, they began to scold those who brought them.  16 But Jesus called for the children, saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  17 I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 

           

 

            18:15   Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  What sort of blessing they expected to gain from having Jesus touch them we have no idea.  Obviously it couldn’t do any harm and if it encouraged the parents to raise them in a godly manner it also encouraged the positive good as well.  Perhaps because it provided no obvious outward benefit, the disciples saw it as a waste of Jesus’ time and “rebuked them” for their effort.  Also the two pillars of Jesus’ ministry had been “teaching and healing” and this involved neither.

 

            18:16   But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Since Jesus had to “call them to Him,” the critical words were expressed more or less at a distance.  Though it was close enough for Him to hear, He went out of His way to call them closer where He could explain “semi-privately.” 

            Contrary to their assumptions, He finds something useful happening.  Young children are the prototype of the kind of person who enters “the kingdom of God.”  The trusting, hopeful one who is not blinded by any pride or prejudice.  As they grow older they will become the “next generation” to do so.  We need to think in terms not just of the present one, but also of the one that comes next.

            Sidebar:  In Mark’s account of Jesus’ reaction, the annoyance is strongly emphasized by the words “greatly displeased” (10:14).  That may well have been produced by how intensely they had responded against the parents:  “they rebuked them” (verse 15).  

 

            18:17   Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”  As a little child” can hardly carry the connotation of when/while a baby or extremely young for they haven’t yet learned to think in terms of accepting or rejecting God’s truth while at that chronological age.  Hence it must carry the connotation of in a child-like manner (receptively, enthusiastically, with joy, without pretense). 

            Part of the connotation of what Jesus is aiming at can also be found where a similar imagery is used.  Hence Psalms 131:1-2 uses it of one who is not proud but has sought peace of mind:  “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.  Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me.  Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” 

            Paul uses childhood imagery to describe the one who avoids doing intentional evil:  Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).  In both 1 Peter 2:2 and Hebrews 5:12-13 the image is applied to desiring the milk of the word--and that is presented as the simple fundamentals that are the beginning of spiritual growth.

 

 

When a Rich Young Religious Leader Was Not Content With the High Moral Standards He Already Lived By, Jesus Gave Him a Challenge That He Refused to Accept—Give All His Goods to the Poor (Luke 18:18-25):  18 Now a certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” 

21 The man replied, “I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws since my youth.”  22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack.  Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was extremely wealthy.  24 When Jesus noticed this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 

 

 

            18:18   Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Obviously a Pharisee or one accepting their tenets since “eternal life” implies that there is life after death and that there is a “soul”--or whatever equivalent phrase one prefers to use--that survives death.  The Sadducees would have regarded the whole question as a waste of time since they repudiated both beliefs.

            This individual was not a mere anonymous “somebody.”  He was one who had risen to significant status and was regarded as a (religious) “ruler” among the Jews.  This is likely a synagogue official though, theoretically at least, he might even be one of the younger members of the Sanhedrin. 

 

            18:19   So Jesus said to him, Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  Jesus challenges him as to the language he is using.  Clearly he wishes to give Jesus a great deal of honor for he labels Him with the epithet, “Good Teacher.”  Does he really take his language seriously or is this an empty rhetorical honorific?  After all, in the ultimate sense only God is good.  The Lord doesn’t answer the question.  He leaves it for the man himself. 

 

            18:20   You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’   As to the prerequisites of “eternal life,” he already knows what the commandments are that lead to that reward.  And he summarizes half of the Ten Commandments as illustrative of them.

 

            18:21   And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  His loyalty to these standards was nothing new.  He had made a point of conforming to them since he was a mere “youth.”  But Jesus could tell that, admirable as his virtues were, he suffered from the heavy burden of materialism.  We all have an “Achilles heel” that endangers our spirituality.  His was the need to keep his great wealth no matter what else he did.  We can see this from Jesus’ unexpected response. . . .

            Sidebar:  Here, again, the Gospel is true to the letter in its picture of a Pharisaic Rabbi.  Thus the Talmud describes one of the classes of Pharisees as the tell-me-something-more-to-do-and-I-will-do-it Pharisee; and when R. Chaninah was dying he said to the Angel of Death, ‘Go and fetch me the Book of the Law, and see whether there is anything in it which I have not kept.’   (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            18:22   So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  He knew what he was already doing but he came to Jesus with the desire to do something above and beyond “elementary” things like moral integrity--something needlessly above and beyond that.  Something that would elevate his spiritual status even further.  Since he felt he needed an obligation that scripture had not placed on him, Jesus provides him with one:  sell all his possessions and give it to the poor.  This would yield “treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

 

            18:23   But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.  We would say “it tore his guts out.”  It pushed him into depression . . . he was  very sorrowful.”  Yet this strong demand would not have been made if he had not regarded doing what scripture demanded as inadequate to gain God’s full approval and salvation. 

 

            18:24   And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  Jesus doesn't denounce him for his weakness.  Rather He laments that the great blessings of the rich could actually become a hindrance to their entering God’s kingdom.  That which provided them so many benefits could not provide the greatest of them all--could become an outright barricade to gaining it!

 

            18:25   For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  In human terms these things are an impossibility.  But with passionate commitment and God’s help, the impossible can become a reality.  It doesn’t have to; it hinges on the underlying character and priorities of the particular rich man under discussion.

 

 

Salvation Does Not Come from Wealth But from God and Any Who Have Given Up Things and People They Cherish Will Be Amply Rewarded by Him for Their Sacrifice (Luke 18:26-30):  26 Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?”  27 He replied, “What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God.”  28 And Peter said, “Look, we have left everything we own to follow you!”  29 Then Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of God’s kingdom 30 who will not receive many times more in this age—and in the age to come, eternal life.”

 

 

            18:26   And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?”  The wealthy “had everything.”  They had all the earthly advantages that most people lacked:  Educational, financial, leadership.  If the odds were so profoundly against them being saved, how could anyone hope to?

            Sidebar:  Some have suggested that this also undermined a popular conception of what life would be like in the Messianic kingdom--at least for its leaders.  “The longing to be rich was confined to no one class or order, it was the universal passion.  Were  they guiltless here?  Were they not looking for riches and glory in the Messianic kingdom of the immediate future?”  (Pulpit Commentary)

 

            18:27   But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”  When it comes to God, the things that are impossible become possible after all.  God does not know nor is bound by the limitations that restrict human beings in their endeavors.  The rich “can’t” be saved . . . yet there will be those who are.  God can work a moral miracle on the hearts of both men and women, transforming them into something they had never previously aspired to be.  In one form of this, think of the transformation of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24).

            Although in a very different context, the words of Jeremiah 32:17 quite accurately describe this capacity as well:  Ah, Lord God!  Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm.  There is nothing too hard for You.”  Or as the angel explained to the virgin Mary how she would be able to bear a son even though unmarried and Elizabeth could bear one though far beyond the age when pregnancy was possible, “With God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 18:37).

            Sidebar:  Although the above quite traditional exposition of the meaning is unquestionably true, it is not impossible that Jesus has a different point in mind as well:  The prerequisites of salvation have nothing directly related to money in the first place--only in regard to how one uses it and all our other resources and abilities, great or small.  He has made the “barriers” to salvation such that temporal resources are not required to obtaining it.    

 

            18:28   Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.”  Perhaps Peter was feeling sensitive about the apostles being far from rich.  Leaving behind significantly less, yet unquestionably “all”--everything they had.  Whatever it was quantitatively and qualitatively they had they were willing to sacrifice to serve the Lord.  The implicit subtext:  In light of all you’ve said, what about our status in God's kingdom?  If the wealthy have nothing, is the same true of us?

            Sidebar:  Quite likely he has specifically in mind his actions (along with those of James and John) in Luke 5:11:  “they forsook all and followed Jesus”--and that sacrifice continued throughout the ministry that followed.

 

            18:29   So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God.  What a person had left behind to serve God could vary and He lays out a selection of those most obviously painful to do so.  In some cases these individuals would be trying to intensely discourage discipleship; in other cases they bluntly laid down the gauntlet:  “you can have us or Christ--but not both.”  And in rejecting these demands, that also meant leaving one’s home (“house”) since they were no longer welcome there.  Yet whatever the motivation or demand, they had rejected it to become part of God’s earthly kingdom (the church) and to receive the reward of heaven afterwards.

 

            18:30   who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”  Such individuals will “receive many times more” in blessings than anything they left.  Ultimately they would do so in the next world:  “in the age to come eternal life.”  Since to exist in pain and suffering is hardly a blessing, the image carries with it the implication that all obstacles to a happy life will be removed there.  Cf. Revelation 21:4:  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  

            The “receiv[ing] many times more in this present time” is more puzzling.  Since Jesus has plainly warned of the dangers and heartbreaks that will occur, He is hardly encouraging a delusional frame of mind.  Rather He is stressing that in spite of these the good things that are the most important will still come upon them in abundance--friendship, love, help from one’s spiritual brothers and sisters in the church.  Not to mention the intangible spiritual blessings that also derive from being within God’s covenant community.

 

 

The Apostles Are Still Unable to Understand Jesus’ Warning of His Coming Rejection, Abuse, and Resurrection in Jerusalem (Luke 18:31-34):  31 Then Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; he will be mocked, mistreated, and spat on.  33 They will flog him severely and kill him. Yet on the third day he will rise again.”  34 But the twelve understood none of these things.  This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what Jesus meant.

           

 

            18:31   Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.  The promise of rewards (verses 29-30) could easily be misread as limited to what they had already been through--a peaceful leaving of family and kin . . . rather than as a reference to being forced out rather than turning their back on the Lord.

            Taken in the optimistic approach (“we’ve already been through that”), it would have been easy to take the words as an indication that the path ahead was rosy and bright and nothing else.  Jesus disabuses the apostles of this possibility in private.  In Jerusalem all the prophetic predictions about “the Son of Man” would be carried out--and some of them were as far from “regal” as one could imagine.  And it is these that He is now determined to force into the forefront of their minds:  Not the triumph but the agony before the triumph.

            Sidebar:  In the parallel account of this in Mark 10 “with persecutions” is thrown in (verse 31) but even that--in short term optimism--could have been interpreted as referring to the harassments their movement had already gone through from the Pharisees and other critics.

 

            18:32   For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.  This implies betrayal and/or a successful plot against Him by His opponents in the Jewish leadership.  For who in the world could possibly expect Him to act in such a manner that His conduct would legitimately provoke the Romans to action?  His arrest would be accompanied by the conscious attempt to humiliate Him through mockery, insults, and physical abuse.

 

            18:33   They will scourge Him and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again.”  A Roman scourging was a powerful punishment in and of itself.  Yet this would only be the preliminary for Jesus’ death.  He doesn’t say “crucifixion” for there was no need to do so:  This was what routinely came next if they were going to kill you.  Yet in this terribly dark picture, the sun rises in the closing words.  After the catastrophe would come the resurrection on “the third day.”  Death’s victory would only be temporary.  And that meant that the victory of His powerful Jewish leadership foes would also be short termed.  What they thought would “end it all” would fall irretrievably short.  They were actually lighting the very fire that would ultimately spread throughout the entire world.

 

            18:34   But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know [understand, NIV] the things which were spoken.  They did not grasp what Jesus was driving at.  The image of a triumphant Messiah was so engrained in their thinking, they simply could not comprehend that this went hand-in-hand with Isaiah’s picture of the Suffering Servant.  First came the suffering; then came the triumph.  Yet even the triumph takes a form they would never have imagined.

            Sidebar:  The same language of not understanding Jesus’ point is also used in His earlier forewarning that He would be betrayed (Luke 9:44-45).

 

 

Near Jericho, in Spite of Efforts to Get Him to Be Quiet,  a Persistent Blind Man Hollers Out to Get the Attention of Jesus; Jesus Speaks with Him and Heals Him (Luke 18:35-43):  35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging.  36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was going on.  37 They told him, “Jesus the Nazarene is passing by.” 

38 So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  39 And those who were in front scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted even more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 So Jesus stopped and ordered the beggar to be brought to him.  When the man came near, Jesus asked him, 41 What do you want me to do for you?”  He replied, “Lord, let me see again.”  42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”  43 And immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus, praising God.  When all the people saw it, they too gave praise to God.

           

 

            18:35   Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging.  Unlike those with leprosy, a beggar could position himself as close to passersby as he desired.  He would naturally choose a busy thoroughfare if at all possible, in order to maximize the opportunity to gain the assistance he needed.

            Sidebar:  Jericho was located about eighteen miles from Jerusalem.  Herod the Great made it one of his regal cities and undertook major building projects within it.  He used it as kind of “vacation spot” away from his capital in Jerusalem.

 

            18:36   And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant.  To hear the footsteps of many individuals in the course of a day was a natural thing.  But to hear those of such a large number all at one time was something far different and he naturally wanted to know what important event was going on.

 

            18:37   So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  Sighted locals would already have made enquiry as quickly as they could since the size of the crowd would have deeply intrigued them as well. . . . or the speakers we now hear may have come from members of that large traveling party itself.  From these folk he learns that the pivotal participant in the passing crowd was one “Jesus of Nazareth.”  The speaker does not feel the need to provide any elaboration on who He was--which tells us just how great a reputation He now has.  

 

            18:38   And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Clearly he had heard of His reputation as a miracle worker for otherwise he would have had no reason to holler out for Jesus to “have mercy on me.”  His plea would simply have been for alms instead.  Clearly the reputation as a healer was widespread and widely believed.

            Furthermore note the specific identification of Jesus as “Son of David”--clearly a Messianic label if there ever was one.  He might or might not be the long promised Messiah, but surely this Man was acting with the awe and power that one would expect to accompany the Messianic figure!  So what more logical thing than to give Him the honor and respect due the Messiah?

 

            18:39   Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Certain of those in Jesus’ traveling party were so concerned with him interrupting the procession that they outright “warned him” to be quiet.  (He was clearly viewed as much a nuisance as the little children earlier in the chapter [verses 15-17]).  Who was an “insignificant nobody” like him to waste Jesus’ time!  But moved by his own plight, he refused to heed their admonition and continued to cry out.

 

            18:40   So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him.  And when he had come near, He asked him.  Jesus wasn’t close enough to see him--or at least not see him well--since he instructed that the man “be brought to Him.”  This way He could evaluate his needs and what should be done.

 

            18:41   saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”  Jesus asked what he wished and the normal request from beggars was for money.  But word of the healing powers of the man from Nazareth had clearly reached his ears.  Whether of healing the blind in particular, we don't know--though it would be far from unlikely.  However if He could miraculously heal any of the sick, there was no logical reason that His powers would not include removing the curse of blindness as well.

 

            18:42   Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”  Since he had faith that the sight could be restored by God, he was rewarded with the healing. 

 

            18:43   And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.  Notice once again the phenomena we have repeatedly seen in the gospel:  The immediacy of the healing.  As soon as Jesus promised him the sight, it was restored.  Both the healed man and the crowd who saw it naturally praised God for what had happened.

            But why praising God rather than Jesus?  Because God had provided Jesus the power.