Today’s reading is all about teaching and parables. This first parable is often called the parable of the unjust steward. A steward was a servant who supervised and administered an estate. The charge brought against this steward was incompetence. It appears he had already been fired and his charge to get his report in order was most likely for the manager who would follow him. It also appeared this steward is both proud and lazy. There are three explanations that are commonly given concerning the steward’s right to alter the amount his master was owed. It could be that the steward lowered the price on his own authority. Or, he removed the interest charge from the debt, according to the law that said Jews were not supposed to charge one another interest. Third, the steward removed his own commission, sacrificing only his money and not his masters. The different rates of reduction reflected the different rates for different commodities. The steward was making friends with his masters debtors so that he would have a chance at working for one of them. Jesus seemed to commend the managers dishonesty, but Jesus’ point is that believers need to use resources shrewdly in preparation for eternity. The ways of the world are opposite of the ways of God. The children of this world use all their resources to get ahead in this world. God’s people do just the opposite. The children of the light are the people of God. Believers are to use their resources wisely for spiritual benefit. And, just as the managers friends would give him security, the friends we win to the kingdom will warmly welcome us for eternity. Jesus also said small examples of selfishness now result in greater selfishness later. Likewise small examples of generosity now result in greater generosity later. A person who cannot handle money certainly cannot handle spiritual matters that are of much more value. Finally, Jesus reminds us that complete love and devotion can be given only to one master.
The Pharisees loved their money so they scoffed at Jesus’ teaching here. Wealth was commonly believed to be a reward from God so the Pharisees derided Jesus’ warning against riches. John the Baptist was a transitional figure. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the herald of salvation. His message carries a sense of urgency and all are pressed to enter into the kingdom. Although the new covenant fulfilled the law and the prophets, the law has not passed away. Heaven and earth will be destroyed and replaced by a new heaven and earth at the end of the age, but God’s word endures forever.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is unique to the gospel of Luke. It reiterates the theme of the danger of riches introduced in verses 13-15 and returns to the idea that the coming of God’s kingdom will mean the reversal of fortunes. The rich, proud, and powerful will be humbled and brought low while the poor, humble, and oppressed will be exalted. Purple was the color of royalty and Phoenician purple was an expensive dye made from mollusks. For Lazarus, having his sores licked by dogs was not good. This threatened infection as well as ritual uncleanliness since dogs fed on garbage, including dead animals. This is also an image of misery and poverty. In Jewish culture dogs were detestable, unclean scavengers. Abraham’s bosom was the blessed place of the dead. This verse indicates that the dead know their fates immediately after they die. The Greek here suggests Lazarus was carried to a banquet at which guests reclined around a low table. Lazarus was taken to the Messianic banquet in the kingdom of God. Again we see a reversal of fortune. Now the rich man is suffering and Lazarus was at peace. Hades In the Old Testament was the place where the dead are gathered. It is also called Sheol. In the New Testament hades is often mentioned in a negative context. It is where the unrighteous dead dwell, and Gehenna is the place where final judgement occurs. The rich man, though he is in hades is still treating Lazarus like a lowly servant. He wanted relief from his suffering. But now the standard by which the rich man had treated people in his life was being applied to him in death. In his lifetime he lacked compassion and now there is none for him. Jesus made it painfully clear. Once you have landed in Eternity you cannot cross over to the other side. A person’s state after death is permanent. The rich man even asked that messengers be sent to his family so they didn’t have to suffer the same fate he was. Maybe his concern was sincere or it is quite possible that he is grousing because he did not believe he had, had fair warning about judgement. It was made crystal clear to the rich man that all of them had the teachings of the law and the prophets and that should have been more than sufficient. The point here is that generosity with money and care for the poor were taught in the Old Testament. A person who rejects God’s message will not be persuaded by resurrection. Wicked people refuse to repent even when faced with overwhelming evidence of the truth.
Jesus’ next teaching was about forgiveness and faith. We have seen teachings about forgiveness before. Jesus reminds us that there is no limit on the number of times we are called to forgive someone, up to 70 times 7. A mustard seed was proverbial for very small and black mulberry trees can live for hundreds of years and they have a vast root system which makes uprooting them very difficult. In Greco-Roman culture servants existed only to serve their masters faithfully. Faith entails obedient submission to Jesus and His commands. The healing of the ten lepers reveals Jesus’ passion and power. In Luke’s gospel the blessings of salvation are joyfully received by many outside Israel. Jesus was headed towards Jerusalem and He had come as far as the border between Galilee and Samaria. Most Jews would cross the Jordan River to the east so they didn’t get Samaritan dirt on their feet or sandals. It seems that Jesus’ journey didn’t take a direct route to Jerusalem. The men with leprosy stood at a distance as required by law so they did not infect anyone else. They addressed Jesus as master and begged for mercy. All Jesus said was go show yourselves to the priest. This was also required by law along with bringing a sacrifice to the priest to offer to God. They headed off to the priest BEFORE they were healed and as they went they were healed. Only one man returned to say thank you and he was one of those hated Samaritans. When he returned to Jesus, He told the man his faith had made him well. The Greek here can mean either physical or spiritual healing or both.
The rest of chapter 17 is the first of two discourses in Luke’s gospel about the coming of the kingdom and the return of the Son of Man. There will be more in chapter 21. It was the Pharisees who asked when the kingdom of God would come. The common understanding among Jews was that the Messiah would establish God’s kingdom in Jerusalem. He would defeat Israel’s enemies and bring in a period of peace, prosperity, justice, and righteousness. The Pharisees were evidently challenging Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah because He was not defeating the Romans or establishing His kingdom physically on earth. Jesus did not reject this future manifestation of the kingdom but pointed out that the kingdom of God was being revealed to them through His ministry, though they were missing it. Jewish apocalyptic literature in Jesus’ day looked for visible signs in the heavens to signal the coming of the Messiah. Jesus elsewhere affirmed that such signs would appear but the Pharisees were missing the manifestation of the kingdom in Jesus’ immediate ministry. The kingdom of God was already being revealed through Jesus’ words and actions. It is unlikely that Jesus would say the kingdom of God is within you to those who were rejecting His message.
There will be a time when there will be many false messiahs . They have come and gone throughout history but expectations were especially high in the first century because a variety of figures claimed to be God’s agents of deliverance. Jesus warned His followers not to follow these imposters. Lightening lights up the whole sky and is visible to everyone in the area. Similarly, when Jesus suddenly returns, that too will be evident to everyone. None of the second coming can happen before Jesus suffers horribly, dies, and is raised from the dead. For both Noah and Lot, their stories are of God’s cataclysmic judgement against human wickedness. It came without warning. It will be the same when Jesus returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt exemplifies those who cling to this earthly life. There is debate on the one is taken and one is left statement. Some believe that in those two groups there will be those taken to judgement and those who are left to reign with Christ. Others believe the righteous will be taken into God’s kingdom. Either way, Jesus is clearly saying that a person’s eternal destiny is not determined by being close to those who are righteous. Each of us will stand before God alone. The disciples wanted to know when this would happen but Jesus did not answer directly. Vultures will gather over dead animals He said. When the judgement comes it will be final and terrible, with the stench of death and the presence of vultures everywhere. No one will need to look for the place of judgement. The presence of the birds will reveal where the carcasses are.
The parable of the persistent widow follows naturally here after Jesus’ teaching about coming troubles. Believers can face trials and persevere through persistent prayer. The two most important attributes for a good judge are regard for justice and compassion for people. This judge had neither. All through scripture God has been concerned for the widows, the orphans, the poor and the aliens. These were the most vulnerable members of ancient society, and God has promised judgement against those who oppress them. The woman was in the right in this dispute. She was not asking for special favors. The judge expressed the fatigue this woman was causing him. She was driving him crazy. The Greek here literally means striking the eye or giving me a black eye as in boxing. The sense is of wearing someone down through persistence. If persistence results in justice from this unjust judge, how much more will God, who loves both people and justice answer our prayers. Jesus asks the question of how many will He find on earth when He returns that still have faith. Will believers remain faithful through the trials that will preceded the second coming.
The topic of prayer in the first eight verses leads right into the parable about the right attitude for approaching God. This parable involved a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee was full of himself, bragging about everything he did. But everything he did had nothing to do with how he treated people or with a relationship with the Lord. It was all about looking good and following all of the rules. The law required fasting only once a year but pious Jews in Jesus’ day fasted twice a week, making sure everyone knew that they were. This Pharisees looked down on other people, like the tax collector. The tax collector on the other hand knew that he could not say or bring anything to improve his standing with God. He knew that only God’s mercy and grace, not his own works, could deliver him. This is the example of the humble spirit of repentance that Jesus demands. Jesus identified the contrast between the tax collector and the Pharisee as one between humility and pride, between those who humble themselves and those who exalt themselves. God will bring down the proud and exalt the humble. Only the tax collector went home justified by God, something that would have shocked Jesus’ audience. They regarded Pharisees as righteous and tax collectors as wicked.
Both the parable of the rich man and Jesus blessing the children we have seen in other gospels. A couple of thoughts on the rich man however. His claim that he kept all the commandments shows that he misunderstood the nature of goodness. The man’s love of riches revealed that he had not perfectly obeyed God. He did not love God or others in a way that God requires. Love of riches is a form of idolatry. Many passages warn of the danger of trusting in riches. Salvation can only come by dependence on God. The whole point is that salvation is impossible by human effort but possible by the grace of God. We see the disciples trying to process all of this. They had given up everything to follow Jesus. What would happen to them ? Jesus affirmed that they would receive back far more than they had given up. Their reward would not be physical, but they would enjoy the blessings that come from spiritual wholeness and a right relationship with God.
Verses 31-34 are Jesus’ last prediction of His suffering and death before entering Jerusalem for His final week of ministry. His death was in fulfillment of all the predictions of the Old Testament prophets, particularly Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Not until after the resurrection did the disciples finally grasp the saving significance of Jesus’ death. And one more healing. This once again demonstrates Jesus’ care for the poor and marginalized in Israel. And it reminds the reader that Jesus is the son of David, the Messiah, shortly before He enters Jerusalem as king. Going from Jericho to Jerusalem Jesus encountered a blind man who addressed Him as the son of David, meaning the man was calling Jesus the Messiah. The more the crowd tried to quiet the man, the louder he became. There is irony here in that it is the blind man who recognizes Jesus for who He is! His cry for mercy demonstrated his belief that Jesus had the power to heal him. When Jesus did restore the man’s sight there was praise, not only from the man who was blessed but those looking on as well.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W