Luke 16-20

Luke 15:11-12 - The Prodigal Son - Scene 01 - Young son leaves home

Monday, May 26, Chapter 16

Forget the breaks between the Father’s lost sons and this parable about a double-dealing estate manager.  Jesus and Luke intended for them to go together.  Here are five things they have in common.  1) Each has a noble master who demonstrates extraordinary grace to the wayward underling.  2) Both stories contain an ignoble underling who wastes the master’s resources.  3) In each the wayward underling reaches a moment of truth regarding those losses.  4) In both cases the underling throws himself on the mercy of the noble master.  5) Both parables deal with broken trust and the problems resulting from it.  (Adapted from Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.)

This parable does not glorify dishonesty.  It glorifies the Mercy of God.  We should do all that we can to please God so that we can receive his Mercy.

In verse 10 Jesus erases any notion that a thief is a good person.  There is an old Palestinian saying that sin will wedge itself between selling and buying.  1 Timothy 6:9-11:  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

In verses 16-18 Jesus is saying that the Law of God is in full effect.  We cannot change it.  In verse 18 he gives the example of divorce, a law that the Pharisees changed by allowing remarriage.

This is a difficult area for us to try to understand the mind of God.  Divorce is a sin. Killing is a sin.  Having sexual relations with the same sex is a sin.  All of these sins belong to all of us.  Married people often think their lives would be better without the spouse.  That is the same as getting a divorce.  Killing in a war or even thinking bad thoughts about a person is murder.  The fleeting thought that the other person looks pretty good is a sin.

What we do is come closer to the right relationship with God.  We never get there; we continue to violate the Law, to sin.

The Jesus begins the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  First, a word about Lazarus:  This is the only time Jesus names any person in a parable and the name means God Helps.

We are sure most of the listeners would have felt the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer described them.  Look at poor Lazarus, at how he is lying scorned before the rich man’s doorstep, and then look at how he receives God’s consolation with Abraham.  Blessed are you, you poor, for the kingdom of God is yours…. 

But now we must listen to quite a few shocked objections before we continue.

If something in the New Testament really sounds as rough as what we just said, you have to take it and spiritualize it.  We call that “sublimating,” that is, refining, elevating, spiritualizing, moralizing.  It’s not just simply the physically poor who are blessed and the physically rich who would be damned.  But the main thing is always what a person’s attitude is toward his poverty and toward his wealth….

That is precisely the frightening thing about this story—there is no moralizing here at all, but simply talk of poor and rich and of the promise and the threat given to the one and the other….

We must end this audacious, sanctimonious spiritualization of the gospel….

But a look at the Gospels shows us what is different here.  Jesus calls the poor blessed, but he does heal them, too, already here.  Yes, the kingdom of God is at hand, for the blind see and the lame walk.  He takes suffering so seriously that in a moment he must destroy it….

Up until now we have spoken of these two as if they actually had nothing to do with each other.  That is obviously not the case.  Lazarus lies in front of the rich man’s doorstep, and it is the poverty of Lazarus that makes the rich man rich, just as the wealth of the other man makes Lazarus poor….  In death the rich man is no longer rich, and the poor man no longer poor.  There they are one and the same….

Who is Lazarus? You know it yourself:  Your poorer brother or sister who cannot cope with life’s out ward or its spiritual aspects, often foolish, often impudent, often pushy, often godless, but yet endlessly needy and—whether knowing it or not—suffering, who craves the crumbs from under your table.  You may think with a little self-pity that you yourself are Lazarus….  Who is Lazarus?  Always the other one, the crucified Christ himself, who meets you in the form of a thousand people you would look down upon….

And now we must ask again:  Who is Lazarus?  And here at the end, in all humility, the last possibility must be considered, at the limits of all human and divine possibilities:  We are all Lazarus before God.  The rich man, too, is Lazarus.  He is the poor leper before God.  And only when we know that we are all Lazarus, because we all live through the mercy of God, do we see Lazarus in our neighbor.

Tuesday, May 27, Chapter 17

This first verse is one time when the King James is a bit closer to the Greek:  Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It is 100% certain that temptations to sin will occur for every human.  They occurred for Jesus just as often.  Do not be the one to create temptation.

Do not judge but help your fellow Christians.  We are expected to discuss what we believe is sin in the life of a brother or sister in Christ.

The Apostles asked that their faith be increased, made larger, not understanding that faith is either/or, on or off.  We can be stronger in our faith, meaning we will doubt ourselves less, but the faith is sufficient, weak or strong.

The short parable in verse 7 is a caution against acting like the Pharisees.  The short version is that we are servants of God and our work is never done.  We can take no credit for our work; it is our Master who gets all the credit.

This fact is acted out in the account of the Ten Lepers.  Here is part of a sermon by Joseph Novak given on November 20, 2012.

The great 20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but gratitude.  He once wrote, “What else can we say to what God gives us but stammering praise of the gift and its Giver?”

“To be or not to be?”  is life’s ultimate question according to Hamlet, but for Christians, the main question is, “to give thanks or not to give thanks?”  In our relationship to the Holy God, we as humans have one posture, one job, one vocation to live into:  thanksgiving….

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was traveling through the area between Samaria and Galilee. This is already an odd story, since Samaritans and Jews got along about as well as Protestants and Catholics in Ireland….

But here we are, Jesus walking the no-man’s land between Samaria and Galilee. And he enters a village for some unnamed reason. And as he does so, a small leper community, living on the outskirts of the town, away from the clean villagers, sees him with his disciples. And, keeping their distance, they call out to him: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”….

And Jesus, seeing them, calls back: “Go show yourselves to the priest.”….

And as they go, the text says, they were made clean. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Be healed”, he didn’t touch them and say, “You are clean.” Instead, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”….

Excited about receiving an answer to our prayers, we are often guilty of grabbing the blessing and running. We asked God for help to pay our bills….  And just as soon as the answer was in hand, just as soon as that check came in the mail… We just rush onto the next thing. It’s as if we say, “Well, I guess that prayer-thing works” or “Well, I deserved it, anyway” and we move on….

One of them, noticing his clean skin, turns back, and heads in the opposite direction. Heads away from the priest, away from his triumphant return to society, away from his reunion with family and friends, away from a feast at his father’s home, and instead he goes to Christ, praising God in a loud voice.

Perhaps his eyes are tear-filled, his throat open and singing those words from the thirtieth psalm: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent! O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”  In any case, he gets to Christ and he falls at his feet, laying down on his belly, extending his arms toward him and the text says, “he thanked him.” And the text goes on to say rather pointedly, “And he was a Samaritan.”

Luke now returns us to the conflict with the Pharisees when one asked about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ answer can be disturbing; it is here, now, and in us.  Do not wait for the Kingdom; live in it now by doing the will of God.

To the disciples he adds that we are not to think about the return of the Messiah.  We are to live as though it has already happened.  He adds another prediction of his crucifixion, the fifth of six in Luke:  9:22; 9:44; 12:50; 13:32: 17:25; and 18:32-33.

The problem is that people now are like people in the days of Noah; they were not paying attention to God.  When the bad times come, we cannot worry for ourselves.  We must continue to live the life of love for others.

The disciples ask, “Where will the judgment take place?”  The answer is simple.  “Anyone who is not with God is dead.”

Wednesday, May 28, Chapter 18

The parable of the Persistent Widow is built on the powerful force in the Middle East:  shame.  The woman appears before the judge until she shames him into listening to her plea.  That is the lesser point of the traditional Jewish style of teaching used by Jesus.  The greater point is that God will listen to our prayers

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is based on Isaiah 65:1-7.  Pharisees had a habit of avoiding anyone who was not a Pharisee so as not to be contaminated by the unclean common people.  They also liked to pray loudly in public so people would be impressed with their piety.

Jesus contrasted the two in prayer and announced the tax collector forgiven.  Kenneth E. Bailey added this detail.  Both the Pharisee and the tax collector are standing in front of the great high altar on which a lamb, without blemish, has just been sacrificed for the sins of Israel.  The tax collector stands far off, apart from the worshipers gathered around the altar, and watches the sacrifice of the lamb.  He listens to the blowing of the silver trumpets and the great clash of the cymbals, hears the reading of the psalm and watches the blood splashed on the sides of the altar.  He sees the priest disappear inside the temple to offer incense before God.  Shortly afterward, the priest reappears announcing that the sacrifice has been accepted and Israel’s sins washed away be the atoning sacrifice of the lamb.  The trumpets blow again, and the incense wafts to heaven.  The great choir sings, and the tax collector, distraught and beating his chest, stands far off and cries out, “O Lord, make an atonement for me, a sinner!”

Jesus emphasized the fact that he has come for everyone even children who cannot be expected to understand what the Kingdom is about.

When the rich ruler asked about inheriting eternal life his question suggested that he was in control; that he simply had to do one thing and he would get his reward.  Jesus did not say it directly, but his comments about being good hint to the fact that Jesus is the only human who deserves to be in the Kingdom of God.  There is nothing you and I can do to deserve the Kingdom.

Jesus gives the man a practical response:  you must love me more than your money.  Then he adds the famous words about needles and camels.  This is a typical Jewish contrast; the largest beast in the region with the smallest opening know to them.  The point is obvious, it will not happen.

In verse 27 Jesus softens the statement a bit; it is possible for God to put a camel through the eye of a needle and He can put us into the Kingdom.  Those who follow Jesus will already be in the Kingdom.

Jesus gives his last prediction of his death.

The chapter closes with the healing of the blind beggar.  Two times in the Gospels, Jesus is called Son of David, the other being by a Phoenician woman in Matthew 15:21.  A gentile and a blind man recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Why, in verse 41, did Jesus ask such an obvious question?  Probably to have the man say to the crowd that he wants to see.  Jesus has been giving difficult lessons.  Now he will heal a man who will see and understand.

Thursday, May 29, Chapter 19

For a fresh look at the account of Zacchaeus, let us read Ambrose (370 AD):  Zacchaeus in the sycamore; the blind man by the wayside.  The Lord waits for the one to have mercy on him and honors the other with the radiance of his visit.  He questions the one before healing him and attends the other’s house as an uninvited guest.  He knew that his host’s reward was to be rich.  Although Christ had not yet heard his voice of invitation, he has heard his good will.

Also Jerome (400 AD):  There certainly is much truth in a certain saying of a philosopher, “Every rich man is either wicked or the heir of wickedness.”  That is why the Lord and Savior says that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Someone may raise the objection, “How did wealthy Zacchaeus enter the kingdom of heaven?”  He gave away his wealth and immediately replaced it with the riches of the heavenly kingdom.

One more, this from Cyril of Alexandria (420 AD):  The story contains a puzzle.  In no other way can a person see Christ and believe in him except by climbing up into the sycamore, by making foolish his earthly members.

The parable of the ten minas describes the return of the Messiah, the Second Coming.  A mina was worth 100 days’ pay and the nobleman left ten of them in the story.  Verse 14 is aimed at those who oppose Jesus.  In the nobleman’s statement, until I come back, the Greek word, enho, can mean either until or because.  It seems likely that Jesus was thinking of because in his own case; Because I will return.

Notice that the servants who did well are rewarded with more work.

The servant who hid his mina is punished, teaching us that we are to work until the Messiah returns.

This parable of a nobleman who became a king is followed by the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  In ancient times throughout the Middle East, a king rode a horse to war and a donkey when coming peacefully.  There are several references in the Old Testament of kings riding donkeys, including Solomon and David.

Jesus came in peace.

In verse 37 Luke makes clear that the disciples were singing and praising Jesus.  They were even rebuked for it.  Jesus’ answer is right out of Habakkuk 2:11; The stones of the wall will cry out.

Check out 1 Kings 8:11; Jeremiah 9:1; Numbers 11:13; Judges 11:37; Deuteronomy 28:36; Isaiah 29:3; Jeremiah 6:6; and Ezekiel 4:2.

The end of the chapter has Jesus clearing the court of the improper activities that clutter up the House of God.  See Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11

Friday, May 30, Chapter 20

This opening battle between the Temple authorities and Jesus gives us great insight into the authority of Jesus.  The learned men of the Temple were correct in believing that Jesus had not been consecrated by the High Priest or trained by a great rabbi.  He did not even live in Jerusalem or Judea, but in Galilee.  None of his credentials would have impressed those men; rather they would have been inclined to stone him at once:  I was consecrated by God, in fact, I am His Son.

Since they were there only to spring a trap, Jesus slid the trap back to them un-sprung, but baited with a different question.

But what is authority?  Is it important?  Think about a baby, totally dependent on others, gradually learning that the dependence is a good thing.  Even as we strike out on our own, we take the information learned with us.  We are attracted to people who wield authority in the way we are used to seeing it.  Humans do not do well without authorities to lead us.

Jesus accepts authority; he rejects invalid authority.  In reality Jesus does answer their question by presenting them with John.  In the words of Paul Tillich:  He tells the leaders of His nation, you see the rise of an authority without ritual or legal foundation.  But you deny the possibility of it.  So you deny both the Baptist and myself.  You deny the possibility of an authority guaranteed by its inner power.  You have forgotten that the only test of the prophets was the power of what they had to say.  Listen to what the people say about us, namely, that we speak with authority and not as you, who are called the “authorities.”  That is what He tells them….

Even the authority of Jesus the Christ is not the consecrated image of the man who rules as a dictator, but it is the authority of him who emptied himself of all authority; it is the authority of the man on the Cross….

And you who are fighting against authorities and you who are searching for authorities, listen to the story in which Jesus fights against them and establishes an authority which cannot be established!  Here is an answer, namely, that no answer can be given except the one that, beyond all preliminary authorities, you must keep yourselves open to the power of Him who is the ground and the negation of everything which is authority on earth and in Heaven!…

The authority of Jesus is of a man who gave up all authority on a Cross.

The Parable of the Tenants is a retelling of Isaiah 5:1-7, the last verse being:

 Do you get it? The vineyard of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    is the country of Israel.
All the men and women of Judah
    are the garden he was so proud of.
He looked for a crop of justice
    and saw them murdering each other.
He looked for a harvest of righteousness
    and heard only the moans of victims.

The Hebrew word for stone is eben.  The Hebrew word for son is ben.  The eben the builders rejected is the ben.  Check out Psalm 118:22-23 and Isaiah 8:14-15.

The authorities returned with another trap.  Assuming the Messiah would oppose paying any taxes to a foreign government, they hoped to get him arrested by the Romans.

Asking them for a coin was a nice touch; it proved they carried foreign currency in violation of strict Jewish rules.  But that was not the main point.  We have to give our governments their due, but much more importantly, we must give everything to God.  Prepare yourselves; the authorities will make one more attempt to trick Jesus.

The attempt by the Sadducees is bizarre because they did not believe in life after death.  They believed only in the Torah, the first five books, and the power of the Temple sacrifices.  Yet, here they were trying to trip Jesus with another impossible question.  This is their only mention in Luke.

Jesus throws a couple of statements at them he knows they do not accept; the worthy will be resurrected and be like angels.  They also rejected the angels.  But Jesus went on with the account of Moses and the burning bush.  Since they believed the Torah, they were more likely to accept Exodus 3:6.

As an aside, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls records that King David wrote 3,600 Psalms and another 450 writings.  There is likely some truth in that.

Psalm 110:1,4 along with 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Malachi 3:1, and Micah 5:2 all promise a descendant of David to be the Messiah, though Samuel speaks first of Solomon.

Using the passage in Psalm 110 Jesus gives his enemies something to chew on.  To his disciples, he says, do not trust any of them.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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