Our reading today begins with Jesus sending out 72 disciples. The mission of the twelve that we read in chapter 9 represented Jesus’ ministry to the Jews. This mission represents Jesus’ ministry to the Gentiles. The number 72 represents the nations of the World. Genesis 10 lists 70 nations in the Hebrew text but the Greek Old Testament lists 72. Luke who used this later version used the 72. But regardless of the number, the point is that the Good News is for both Jews and Gentiles. The harvest refers to those who need to hear the Good News and be gathered to God’s presence. There was a sense of urgency, just like there is today. And more workers are needed today as well. Jesus’ followers are not to dominate others but to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. The Good Shepherd will protect the sheep from the wolves. Jesus’ instructions to this group of missionaries is much like the previous directions, the point being they were to depend on God as they went. As for the not stopping to greet anyone along the road, Jesus wasn’t asking these folks to be antisocial. He was asking them to stay focused on the task at hand. And the peace Jesus speaks of here is shalom, the blessings of God. They were to heal the sick which was a sign of Salvation, a physical sign that the kingdom of God was present. Korazin and Bethsaida were two of the towns Jesus ministered in, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities in Phoenicia on the Mediterranean coast. The mighty works of Jesus were so great that if they had been performed before the worst pagans of the old era, those people would have repented, and much more so than the people of jesus’ day. Jesus remark here was a wake up call for the Jews detailing what their rejection of Him would mean. Jesus said He saw the evil one fall from heaven like lightning. Verse 18 presents a commentary on what the disciples healing ministry meant. The reversal of the effects of sin and death, which the evil one introduced through his deception in Genesis 3, are portrayed graphically as the evil one falling from heaven. Jesus ministry and what grows out of it represents the defeat of the evil one, sin, and death. Snakes and scorpions were symbols of danger and evil. The evil one is the serpent who tempted Eve and demonic forces are described as scorpions.
Jesus told them nothing would injure them but that was not and is not license to take dangerous chances. Jesus also made it clear that authority was not the most important thing the disciples received. The most important thing would be the fact that their names are written in heaven. His prayer of thanksgiving reveals that God uses simple things a child can understand to shame those who think themselves wise but are foolish in God’s eyes. Jesus the Son and God the Father share an intimate relationship and Jesus came to earth to reveal the Father to a lost world. Only Luke records the parable of the Good Samaritan. The question who is my neighbor prompted this teaching. In this context a neighbor is a fellow Israelite. Jesus’ parable shows that true neighbors love even their enemies and authentic spirituality is not based on ethnic identity or religious associations, but on love for God and others. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was only 17 miles but it was treacherous. The elevation dropped from 2,00 feet above sea level in Jerusalem to some 700 feet below sea level in Jericho. The terrain was rugged and robbers often lay in wait to rob and harm travelers. One of the cool things about this parable is that there are role reversals here. Usually the priests and Levites were the good guys and the Samaritans were the bad guys. But not in this story. Here the Samaritan knew how to treat his neighbor. This Jewish man was not someone the Samaritan knew or was even the same race. Priests were descendants of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi. They served in the temple and offered sacrifices to God. Both the priest and the Levites would have been made unclean touching a dead body and the priest was unwilling to risk ritual purity by helping someone in desperate trouble. The same was true for the Levite. The reversal in this story must have left the listeners shocked. A despised Samaritan was the only one who stopped to help. In most cases the Samaritan would have kicked dirt on the fallen Jew, such was their mutual hatred. Oil soothed wounds and wine was a natural disinfectant. This Samaritan was willing to also pay extra for not only helping the Jew but also for more care. This just didn’t happen in Jesus’ day!
Luke is also the only one who records the story of Mary and Martha. Their brother was Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead. The sisters had very different personalities. Mary was quiet and Martha brash. Mary was studious and Martha was always busy doing something. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet in the position of a disciple. Martha fulfilled the role of hospitality host, the role of a typical Jewish woman. And she was frustrated that Mary was not. When Martha complained, Jesus’ response was shocking. Women were expected to serve domestically and were forbidden to learn as disciples from a rabbi. Yet, Jesus validated Mary’s desire to be Jesus’ disciple. Even today, some of us are more like Mary and others like Martha. The world needs both.
The Lord’s Prayer illustrates the variety of requests that one can and should make to God, as well as displaying the humble attitude that should accompany prayer. The use of the plural pronoun us throughout the prayer shows that it is not just an individual prayer but a community one. In calling God Father we approach confidently that He is a caring figure. He is also different, set apart, and unique. Asking that His kingdom come is a reference to God’s promise. This is more affirmation than request, highlighting the petitioners submission to God’s will and the desire to see His work come to pass. Daily bread includes everything needed for this life. Forgiveness of sins means that we recognize sin as a debt to God that needs to be acknowledged on the basis of His mercy. We also recognize that if we seek mercy from God we also have to give mercy to others. Verse 4 is somewhat problematic, asking that we are not led into temptation. God will not tempt us into evil. The point is that if we are to avoid sin we have to follow where God leads. We are asking God for the spiritual protection necessary to avoid falling into sin. The phrase could read protect us during temptation.
There were serious standards for hospitality in first century Jewish culture and that required a host finding sufficient provisions for visitors. Shame would lie in the man who didn’t want to get up because hospitality was a community requirement. God protects His good name by providing for His people. Fish and eggs were common foods. A scorpion resembles an egg when it curls up in a ball to lure its prey. And giving a snake or scorpion would be a horrible practical joke, substituting something deadly for a good meal. No loving father would do such a thing.
Jesus faced two challenges. He answered the first, an accusation that He was casting out demons by the power of the evil one. The second was a demand for a miraculous sign. The religious leaders were convinced Jesus’ power to cast out demons came from the evil one. Jesus argument was that he couldn’t be working for the evil one because He was tearing down the evil ones kingdom by the casting out of demons. The evil one might be a strong man but Jesus has all the power available to Him. Jesus casting out demons demonstrated that he was defeating and plundering the evil ones property; those people he held in bondage. Jesus’ warning here is stark. When an evil spirit leaves a person it goes into the desert to rest. That gives the person a chance to sweep their house clean and move forward. But, when the evil spirit returns and finds space for it still, not only does the evil spirit move back in but it invites friends. When we remove evil things from our lives we have to fill the space with the things of God or evil will be back and worse than before. And then Jesus reaffirmed again that our spiritual life and our relationship with God are more important than physical ancestry and family relationships.
Jesus criticized the religious leaders. He had been invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee but Jesus didn’t perform the elaborate hand washing ritual that pious and observant Jews did. This would have been a show at the Pharisees house. Jesus accused the Pharisees of cleaning the outsides of the cup, in other words following the external rules, but they left the inside of the cup filthy. That meant keeping unrighteousness in their hearts. And He commanded them to give gifts to the poor. That would reveal an act of love stemming from internal righteousness. The chapter ends with a series of woes, which are the opposite of blessings. There are six woes, three against the Pharisees and three against the teachers of religious law. Tithing was required by law but the Pharisees were meticulous in making sure everything was tithed properly, including spices. But, they ignored the most important things, justice and the love of God. The elders of the synagogue had special seats of honor and the respectful greetings were how these people were addressed. This was of great importance to them, more so than their relationship with the Lord. Touching a grave or dead body rendered a Jew ceremonially unclean. Jesus accused the religious leaders of being a defiling influence rather than a purifying one. This accusation was very offensive. The experts in religious law were closely aligned with the Pharisees and they shared the same zeal for keeping the law of Moses. The unbearable religious demands referred to the oral tradition that gave additional laws and expectations to the ten commandments. There were 613 additional laws! This placed a heavy burden on the people. Jesus accused the leaders of being witnesses for the killing of prophets. And He made a biting comparison between the current generation of Israel and generations of the past. Jesus was saying that the current generation finished the job of the slaying of the prophets (think John the Baptist) that the previous generations had started. The building and care of the tombs was supposed to be an act of honoring the prophets, but Jesus pointed out that something else was going on. Abel’s murder was the first recorded and Zechariah the son of Jehoiada was the last, recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. In the Hebrew Old Testament Chronicles is the last book.
Crowds had gathered, so big the people were stepping on each other. Jesus began His teaching with the disciples first. He warned them of the yeast of the Pharisees which was their hypocrisy. Leaven became a symbol of the permeating power of sin and like leaven, the hypocrisy would spread until it affected all the people. However, there will be a time when all thoughts will be revealed by God, who knows and will judge every human being. Jesus warns about people who do not acknowledge Him. The issue here is one of faithfulness in testimony to Jesus, especially in the context of religious rejection. Acknowledging Jesus before people means being acknowledged by Jesus in front of God the Father. Every act of denial on earth will be meet with commensurate denial of reward at the judgement seat. The parable of the rich fool shows the danger of trusting in riches instead of God. In Judaism the oldest son received double the inheritance and he was then responsible for dividing up what was left. The younger brother here wanted his share of the estate. In reality the rich man had a fairly prudent plan, except his focus was only on himself and no one else. He didn’t even consider giving some of his surplus to the needy. He assumed that his riches would last and only wanted a place to store them without bringing God into the equation at all. God responds with “you fool!” In scripture a fool is not someone with low intelligence, but one who dishonors and disobeys God. The man was satisfied with his soul but God was not. Jesus’ warning against greed is followed by teaching about living in dependence on God. Jesus’ disciples were to focus on God’s kingdom and His purpose rather than being obsessed with possessions. And Jesus reminded all of us that worry cannot add one single second to our lives. Jesus’ command to sell our possessions and give to the poor is not intended to mean get rid of everything. It means recognizing that all we have is God’s and should be used to serve Him and His people. What people consider valuable is where their energy will be spent. Knowing God and investing in His purposes should be the treasure we seek.
Again Jesus, as He did in Matthew’s gospel calls believers to be ready. Keep the lamps burning and manage the resources that have been left to us. Servants in the Roman world could rise to very high social status, owning property, managing the entire household, owning other slaves and acting with the masters authority. Cutting the servant in pieces was common in the ancient world. It is uncertain here whether Jesus is speaking of temporal punishment or eternal damnation. Either way it is gruesome. Sins of ignorance receive less punishment than intentional sins. And, believers will be held responsible for the knowledge and resources they have been given. But a sin in ignorance is still a sin. Jesus’ ministry radically changed the status quo, bringing judgement on the wicked and purifying the righteous. God’s judgement is often pictured as an overwhelming flood and Jesus’ ministry demands a decision for or against God that divides even family members. Jesus quoted Micah 7:6 which was interpreted by the rabbis as the crisis and persecution that would lead to the Messiah’s coming.
The disciples weren’t the only people who didn’t recognize exactly who Jesus was. And Jesus used common weather to show them this. If the wind blew from the west, that meant it was bringing moisture from the Mediterranean Sea and it would rain. If the wind blew from the south it was coming from the Arabian desert and it would be hot. But they couldn’t discern what God was doing through Him. The final picture of today’s reading is that of a magistrate who functions like a bailiff bringing a debtor to prison. The judge represents God and the message is that believers should reconcile with Gods before judgement comes.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W