Monday, June 4, 2012

Second (third, and fourth) time's (not always) the charm - Luke 18

(Click here to read Luke 18)

Luke chapter 18 is the last chapter of its type. Jesus and his disciples have been moving toward Jerusalem since the end of chapter 9 (Luke 9:53). Before this, his ministry was in his hometown Galilee, and Luke dealt more with the question of Jesus' identity and its consequences. Chapter nine concluded this section with the transfiguration, and Peter's confession that Jesus was Messiah. Jesus challenged his disciples that to follow him was very costly, saying that they would take up a cross, a symbol of humility, death, and resistance to the empire. He told them that his path would lead to execution, but they did not understand.

Since they began their trip to Jerusalem, Jesus' teachings have become more explicit, costly, and radical. He preaches a necessary change of heart and action completely contrary to the ways of the world. He prophecies great judgment on cities that refuse to turn away from self-sufficiency and vain striving. His is a freedom that requires surrender of covetousness and greed and self sufficiency for generosity, love, and peaceful coexistence.

The next chapter begins Jesus' last week before his crucifixion, recording the events that unfold as he moves inexorably toward the end. Here is the last chapter of his teachings before the story of his execution.

And they're very familiar.

Most of the teachings in this chapter seem to repeat elements that have come before it. Luke probably intended to cap off this section with a sort of summary or reminder of the teachings recorded in Luke 9-18. The repetition of certain details shows the importance Luke places on them, and likely intends for us to continue to recall into the next portion of the story.

vv1-8 – The Persistent Widow

A widow approaches a judge over and over until he finally agrees to give her justice.

This story seems to illustrate the same thing as the story of the persistent friend in Luke 11:5-13. In that story, a friend is persistent in asking for bread to serve a neighbour until he receives it.

Both stories encourage Jesus' disciples to pray earnestly, and ensure them that God is more just than our human judges or neighbours. He will provide, and he will give justice.

The difference here is that last point. Jesus is emphasizing the justice of God, rather than his provision. Since this comes right after the description of the Kingdom Come at the end of the age, he is emphasizing the full justice and fulfillment of the Kingdom that his disciples long and live for. We should pray for his coming, and for his justice on earth. He will be faithful.

vv9-14 – The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

This is another story of prayer, though more explicit than the last one. A pharisee prays with arrogance, thanking God that he is not like “other men”, an adulterer, extortioner, or tax collector. The tax collector beats his chest and repents. God hears the tax collector's prayer, not the pharisee.

Luke 18:14 (ESV)
 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

This does not perfectly mirror another story, but summarizes a theme of Jesus' teaching since the beginning. God's Kingdom is an upside-down one. The great reversal is coming.

vv15-17 – Let the Children Come to Me

Luke 18:16-17 (ESV)
16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

This sounds like a repetition of a passage in Luke 9, the beginning of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem with his disciples.

Luke 9:48 (ESV)
Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

These bookends illustrate the slowness of the disciples to learn, and Jesus' patience to teach them. It also reminds the reader of a theme with which Jesus introduced this season of his ministry, and reinforces the message of the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector.

vv18-30 – The Rich Ruler and Discipleship

Luke 18:18-25 (ESV)
18  And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And 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 bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For 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.”

This story is reminiscent of the Lawyer who approached Jesus in Luke 10:25-37. In a similar spirit, another man of influence approaches Jesus with the same question. Jesus responds by submitting the law, just as he does here. And just as here, the man questions further.

The deceitfulness and folly of the love of riches has been a theme for several chapters. Jesus pronounces woes on the rich in Luke 6. He follows a parable of a dishonest manager by saying we can only serve God or money, but not both. But the depth of his sorrow and the explicit and narrow way he describes the path of discipleship here is unparalleled.

When the disciples are understandably surprised by what he says, he reminds them that with God, all things are possible. He then goes on to say that those who give up or lose family, friends, or property for the sake of the kingdom will have them returned to them, and that it will happen in this time, during this life (v30). This is similar to another statement at the beginning of this season, again from chapter 9.

Luke 9:24-25 (ESV)
24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

The difference here is the cost is turned upside down, and presented as a hope rather than a challenge. Discipleship is worth everything it costs.

vv31-34 – Jesus foretells his death a third time.

Jesus told the disciples twice at the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem that his path would lead to death in Luke 9:21-22 and vv44-45. They didn't understand. Again, here at the end of the journey, as they arrive in Jerusalem, they still don't understand. But we are reminded.

vv35-43 – Jesus heals a blind beggar

In Luke 7, a woman with a bad reputation came boldly and humbly to Jesus in the midst of the religious elite, and wept as she anointed and kissed his feet. She believed Jesus was the Messiah who came to set the oppressed free, and showed it in her actions.

Jesus forgives her sins.

Luke 7:50 (ESV)
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The word here for saved is “sozo”, a greek word that implies salvation of the entire being, spirit, soul, and body.

In Luke 8, a woman with an issue of blood, one who would have been considered ceremonially unclean, breaks the letter of the law of Moses to touch the tassels of Jesus' garment. She applies an old prophesy from Malachi to Jesus, believing that if he is the Messiah, a touch of his prayer garment would be enough to heal her. She risks rejection and reproach by joining a crowd in her state. She puts her faith to action.

She is healed of her issue of blood.

Luke 8:47-48 (ESV)
47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Again, the greek word “sozo” is used. She is saved of her sickness as the other woman was of her sin, but for both of them, their salvation is complete.

Here in Luke 18, a blind man persists in calling out for Jesus to have mercy. His repetition and persistence reminds us of the story of the persistent widow and the persistent friend. He calls Jesus “Son of David”, a title from the books of the prophets reserved for the Messiah. He believes in who Jesus is, and acts according to his conviction.

He is healed of his blindness.

Luke 18:40-43 (ESV)
40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41  “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.


vv1-8Parable of the judge – Again, parables in Luke seem to deal with business, politics, and money, more often than farmers and wheat.
v14 – He who humble himself will be exalted. He who exalts himself will be humbled.
v22 – Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. You will have treasure in Heaven. Come, follow me.
v23 – it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
vv32-33 – Jesus prophesies his death and resurrection.

No comments:

Post a Comment