Jesus begins today’s reading responding to a popular claim that bad things happen only to bad people. Sin has negative consequences, but not every bad thing is a result of sin. Jesus then clarified that all people are sinners who need to repent. This is the only record of Pilate murdering people in Galilee but he was a ruthless governor who was known to suppress revolts violently. The fall of the tower of Siloam is also unknown outside of this account. The pool of Siloam was a reservoir in the southeastern corner of the city of Jerusalem, so the tower could be part of the southern city wall. The parable of the barren fig tree was meant to illustrate Jesus’ ministry to Israel. Unless the nation produced the fruit of repentance it would face judgement. The parable is open ended meaning Israel was being given the chance to respond and repent. Many times Israel was portrayed as an unfruitful fig tree or vineyard that God would judge. A fig tree was usually given time to bear good fruit since it’s root system is complex and it takes some time to develop. Three years should have been enough time to begin to bear good fruit. The man here in the parable is God and the fig tree, Israel. If the tree could just yield some good fruit it would escape judgement. Failure to be fruitful would bring judgement. To cut the tree down, leaving only a stump was an image of destruction and/or judgement.
Teaching in the synagogue was a common thing for rabbis and often visiting rabbis were invited to teach the scripture after the Law and prophets were read. As was the case often for Jesus, He found someone who needed to be healed. This woman was possessed by an evil spirit that kept her bent over and she could not stand up straight. When Jesus touched her, she was healed, stood upright and began to praise God with all she had to offer. Again, the religious leaders were dismayed because there were 6 other days of the week and Jesus could heal on any one of them. There was debate among rabbis about whether to give medical help on the sabbath. They finally decided it was acceptable but only in cases of great emergency. Jesus called the leader a hypocrite. He along with other religious leaders were fine with taking care of their own animals on the sabbath, to protect their investment, but they refused to meet the needs of their fellow human beings. The leaders would free their animals but not a daughter of Abraham, one of God’s chosen people and a recipient of His favor. Jesus’ exorcisms and healings manifested the kingdom of God and the defeat of the evil one. Jesus’ skillful argument shamed and silenced His enemies. Honor and shame were among the most important values in Jewish society.
We have seen the parables of both the mustard seed and the yeast before. They reveal the nature of God’s kingdom. Like a mustard seed it grows from a tiny size until it becomes enormous, and like yeast leavening dough, it permeates the entire world. The birds in the mustard trees represent people who find the kingdom to be a place of refuge, protection and security. Leaven can represent evil but here it is a positive image of the permeating and transformative power of the kingdom. The narrow gate or door suggests that one must enter salvation on God’s terms, and his alone. Those who seek to enter but are unable are those who seek entrance on their own terms. Many will miss the blessings of God because they think they can achieve salvation on their own merit or on the basis of their own piety, rather than because they came to know God through Jesus. Some believed that only a small number would be saved and others thought all would be saved because they were children of Abraham. Once a person’s life has ended the door of opportunity to respond to Jesus is closed and access into God’s presence cannot be gained. At a banquet, the master of the house locked the door when all the invited guests had arrived. When Jesus says I do not know you the issue is being properly and personally related to God through Jesus. In scripture knowing often means being chosen by God for a special relationship. The people of Israel were God’s chosen people who had descended from Abraham, but those who failed to respond to the invitation did not have a relationship with God. The same can be said of all who fail to respond to the Good News of the kingdom. Verse 26 makes it clear that the Master at the door is Jesus, since reference is made to His ministry. Those who seek entry after the door is closed will be rejected since they did not come to God through Jesus. The appeal we see here is by people who experienced Jesus’ presence but Jesus pointed out that just because they were in the same place as He was didn’t mean they had a relationship with Him. People coming from all over the earth is one of Luke’s themes, the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ. His salvation is open to anyone who believes in Him. Weeping and gnashing of teeth is a picture of rejection and suffering. So, while many of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, have rejected the gospel, other people from all over the world will respond to God’s offer of salvation and attend the Messianic banquet. There will be many surprises in God’s kingdom. Those who are despised on earth, some Gentiles for example, will be greatly honored in the kingdom. On the flip side of that, those who are considered influential and powerful on earth, the Jewish religious leaders for example, will be excluded from the kingdom.
The Pharisees were doing Jesus a favor by warning Him to flee because Herod wanted to kill Him. Jesus already knew that already and He saw the warning as nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to get Jesus out of their hair. And on top of that, the warning might not have been true. Herod is portrayed as more curious than hostile. Calling Herod a fox meant that he was destructive and worthless. People sometimes kept fox as pets but they weren’t good pets. This is also a reference to Herod’s cunning. Jesus would continue doing what He had come to do because the healings and exorcisms were evidence of the presence of the kingdom of God. And, Jesus’s resurrection on the third day would vindicate Him and prove that He had inaugurated God’s kingdom. Jesus’ double address of Jerusalem indicates His deep sorrow. The city had executed many messengers of the Lord. Jesus compared God’s desire to gather the nation to a hen gathering her chicks to protect them. But, the nation was not willing to be gathered. Soon the house would be abandoned. This points directly to the destruction of Jerusalem in70 A.D. The blessings on the one who comes is a reference to Jesus’s second coming.
In Luke’s gospel Jesus is often seen dining and many times at the house of a Pharisee. Everyone was watching Jesus to see what He would do with someone who needed to be healed. It was the sabbath. We have seen this several times already in Luke’s gospel. This man had edema which is typically a symptom of something more serious. The question Jesus asked in verse 3 was one that was much debated by rabbis. Again Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and His questions silenced the people He was eating with. They dared not answer. As the guests gathered around the table Jesus noticed that everyone was trying to sit in the seats of honor, those closest to the head of the table. Meals in the ancient world were rituals of social status. The place given to someone at the table was determined by their place in the social pecking order. And even better, the quality of food they received also depended on their status. Jesus’ teaching to them was simple. True hospitality and service is what is given to those who cannot repay. Jesus challenged the prevailing use of banquets to flaunt and elevate one’s status in the community. The host would invite friends of equal status and a few who were higher. These honored guests would then be expected to reciprocate, raising the first hosts social position and reputation. Jesus turned this hierarchy upside down by instructing His followers to incite those who had no social status and could not reciprocate. God invites sinful human beings to dine at His banquet table of salvation.
The next parable has been turned into a song we used to sing at camp. This parable portrays what was happening in Jesus’ ministry. The rich, powerful, and elite rejected Jesus’ invitation to God’s salvation banquet and would be shut out. Meanwhile, the poor people and outcasts responded to the invitation. There were two invitations for any banquet. The first was like a save the date card and then on the day of the banquet the second invite would be issued. This happened when the food was ready. All the invited guests began making excuses about why they couldn’t come, and all their excuses were weak. It was clear they didn’t really want to attend this banquet. No one would buy a field without inspecting it first. And in a small town or village two big events wouldn’t have been planned on the same day. Again, the reason was weak. So the master invited those no one would ever invite. Those from the country lanes are probably Gentiles to whom the Good News eventually went.
At this point Jesus’ popularity was sky high. But He was about to teach this huge crowd just what the cost of following Him really looked like. That cost was also very high. Following Jesus requires complete dedication. The essence of discipleship is giving Christ first place in our lives. Love for family and one’s own life must not compete with devotion to Christ. Hate here is not what we think of as hate. This is rhetorical. It means to desire one thing less than something else. This was a huge decision in Jesus’ day because a decision for Jesus was often one that meant rejection by family and persecution even to the point of death. Those who feared family disapproval or persecution would not come to Jesus. Jesus’ call here is to follow Him in the way of rejection and suffering. A disciple will be rejected by those in the world who do not honor Christ. To carry your cross is a picture of dying to self. The horizontal beam of the cross was carried by the condemned criminal headed for crucifixion. Jesus called on people to count the cost before following Him, and if the cost was too high they shouldn’t or couldn’t follow Him. The mocking centers on the dishonor that comes from not being able to finish what they had set started. Following Christ is not something to be taken up on a trial basis. Either we are all in or we are not in at all. This is the ultimate commitment.
Chapter 15 contains three related parables of things lost and found; a sheep, a coin, and a son. The loss of something loved causes deep sorrow, whereas finding it brings great joy and rejoicing. There is GREAT rejoicing in heaven when lost sinners return to their Heavenly Father. Tax collectors were hated because they worked for the Romans. In their self righteous hard heartedness the Pharisees and teachers of religious law didn’t care about lost people. But Jesus embodied the heart of God, who longs for His wayward children to return. A flock of 100 sheep was average size for a shepherd of modest means. God’s people are often referred to as God’s flock. Other shepherds would watch the rest of the flock, keeping them safe while the shepherd went looking for the one that was lost. The shepherd would do anything to find the one that was lost. The call to rejoice at finding the lost sheep would be natural enough since sheep were valuable property in the ancient world. The coins might have been part of the woman’s dowry. Homes were poorly lit and the floors were dirt or maybe stone. It would have been difficult to find a small coin on those surfaces.
The rest of the story is the prodigal son. Like the previous two parables this one demonstrates God’s love for the lost and the joy He experiences when they return. It also allegorizes Jesus’ ministry. The father represents God, the younger brother the tax collectors and sinners to whom Jesus ministered and the older brother represents the religious leaders. In the ancient world this second son was probably in his teens and single. As the younger son he would have received one third of his fathers estate. The early Jews warned fathers against breaking up an estate too early. Here the father granted the request, illustrating how God permits each of us to go our own away. To say I want my share of your estate was like saying you are dead to me. There could be no greater insult to a father than this. The term prodigal describes a debased, extravagant life. This young man wasted all he had, and the Jews considered the loss of family property to Gentiles in a distant land to be particularity disgracefully and grounds for excommunication. Feeding swine was the most degrading job imaginable for a Jew. And the young man was so hungry he would have eaten pig slop if anyone had offered it to him. Eventually he realized he had sinned…badly. This was the confession of a sinner. The son realized he had been wrong and wanted to go home, but he would go as a slave. He simply wanted a place to sleep and some food to eat. He practiced his speech and headed home. It is as though his father was waiting for him and when he saw him in the distance, the father began running towards him. Men in the fathers position in that day and time did not run. It was undignified but the father was overjoyed to have his son back. The father kissed his son, illustrating the immediate acceptance of a sinner who turns to God. The son began his confession but never got to finish. The father called the servants to kill the fatted calf and to prepare a banquet feast. The son was welcomed back like a visiting dignitary. The father gave him a fine robe, like the new robe we will receive. This affirmed his place as a cherished member of the house. A ring was a symbol of authority and like the robe it indicated his status as the man’s son. This ring might have borne the family seal. When the older son came in from working in the fields he heard a party going on and asked what was happening. When he was told his brother had returned and the is father was throwing a party, the older son burned with anger. He couldn’t even call his brother by name, referring to him as your son. Here we see the older son proclaim his righteousness while indicating the younger son was a sinner of epic proportions. Note the contrast in attitudes between the two sons. The younger returns humbled, acknowledging he had messed up and asking humbly to be treated only as a slave. The older son is self righteous and indignant. The parable is open ended. The father responded to the older son by explaining that just because one person receives a blessing doesn’t mean there isn’t more for others. The father also implied that there were always opportunities to celebrate with a flatted calf because the older son owned everything. It is open ended because the religious leaders still had a chance to respond to Jesus’ offer of the kingdom.
What we see here is a total transformation of the prodigal son. It can be summarized in four words; dead…alive…lost…found. This is a reason to celebrate. It is also the reason Jesus chose to associate with the lost. And that is good news, then and now.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W