Let me ask you; have you ever been prodigal? Truth be told, I had to look the word up. I assumed all of these years that it meant something like “lost” or “wandering away from.” But instead, it means “wasteful, reckless,” and it is connected to spending habits. So, is it the Parable of the Reckless Spender or the Parable of the Lost Son? It may be just me, but I think “lost son” emphasizes that the story is within a series of stories. You had your lost sheep and your lost coin and your . . . uh . . . prodigal son. Nah, he was lost; in many ways he was lost. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost? Being lost may lead to prodigal living, but I think the story is about lostness. And I think the main thing this young man lost was relationship; relationship that he carelessly discarded for a reckless adventure. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost?Continue reading
There is a part of this Jewish prayer that is thanking God that they are not women. If a household had no slaves, the women of the house were expected to do the demeaning task of washing the feet of guests before a meal. The temple of God was built to emphasize that Jewish men were closer to God than Jewish women. By the way, this is not God’s design. Solomon’s temple had one court. But man does what man does and twists God’s will to his own wants and impressions. Women in Jesus day, therefore, were used to being second class citizens, reduced to baby factories and cooks and housemaids. Boys were often taught to read so that they could read and understand Torah. Women were often illiterate. Why would they need to read? They were not allowed to discuss Torah in the synagogues. Produce babies and meals. You don’t need to read for that!Continue reading
It is all about mission. If you are a believer in God, whatever you determine to be the mission of God becomes your mission. How does the God you place your hope in view people? Does he save the good ones by stomping into the dust the scoundrels? Or does he do everything he can to get the scoundrels to follow his ways? Is it a seek and destroy mission or is it a seek and save mission? And if God has slotted a group of people for destruction, what would our treatment of them be? At the very least it would be avoidance and at the worst we would see ourselves as working for God by annihilating them ourselves. You know, like Paul did with the early Christians.
Luke 15:1-7 is the first of three parables that make a similar point. God’s mission is saving not destroying. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. There is a setting scene: the Pharisees and the scribes grumble about how all the tax collectors and sinners approaching Jesus. The word “all” is most likely meant to be hyperbole. You know like when Mark tells us that all the country of Judea was going out into the wilderness to see this wild man named John. It is also most likely an assessment of his ministry and not merely a reference to a certain time frame. At issue was the fact that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. For the Pharisees and the Scribes, these people were going to be sought and destroyed by God. They were to be avoided. The righteous should stay with the righteous and leave the scoundrels to their own devices. It is important to keep this setting scene in mind as we go through the following parables.
So, let’s say you have a hundred sheep. It misses the point to question whether or not it was likely that any of these Pharisees or Scribes would have been shepherds. They were familiar with the shepherd passages in Zechariah 34 and Psalm 23. And the reality of shepherds would not be too far out of their understanding. That’s why Jesus begins with, “What man among you if he had a hundred sheep.” Okay, if you are wealthy and you have one hundred sheep and one of them is lost, what would you do? The good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine behind to go search for the lost one. The emphasis is that in this moment the need of the one lost sheep is far more important than the need of the ninety-nine. Even though it is not in the story, it is likely to be understood that the not-lost sheep are not just left without protection. But the emphasis of the story is on the concern over the lost one.
When this shepherd finds the lost sheep, he drapes it over his shoulders and carries it back to the flock. A lost sheep will most likely be scared and confused and carrying it is going to be more effective than leading it. And there is a lesson here isn’t there. Regardless of bluster, the lost are scared and confused, and the good shepherd is willing and able to carry them back to the flock. After securing the lost to the flock, the man goes home and calls together his friends and neighbors and invites them to rejoice with him. The implication is probably that he was asking for more than a “I am sure glad you found your lost sheep.” It is an invitation to celebrate with; to join the party.
And then Jesus drives home the point. When a lost soul repents heaven breaks out in party mode. Some critics have questioned the whole repent thing, claiming that the reason the Pharisees and Scribes were scandalized by Jesus is that he didn’t call the sinners to repentance. When Jesus told the people to love their enemies, this is a call to repentance. Not to mention that 10:13 is a scathing rebuke because they have seen and heard Jesus and did not repent. And the implication of this verse is that the goal of seeking the lost is to bring them back to the flock. This, of necessity, calls for repentance; a sorrow for the path that has led away from God and changing direction to come back to God. And again, when that happens, heaven bursts forth with celebration. And isn’t that nice?
Most sources will take a moment to point out that Jesus’ point is not that the Pharisees are saved; that they are not lost and therefore don’t need the seeking attention of God. They may have believed that of themselves, but that is not the reality. We all need to be found. We all need to be draped across the shoulders of Jesus. We all need to be carried back to the flock. The mission of God is seek and save. This is extremely important because the parable invites us to rejoice with all of heaven when a lost soul is found and brought back. But we will miss the party if we, like the Pharisees and Scribes, think God should just wipe these unrighteous folk out for being lost. And we miss the truth of our own lostness and need. Peace.Continue reading
So, you are eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. And you ask yourself, “Who was more committed to providing breakfast for me; the chicken or the pig?” The chicken? Well, the chicken made a donation. The pig? Now, that pig was committed to providing savory breakfast meat. Jesus said that if we want to follow him, we have ourselves a cross to pick up. And picking up a cross is all about dying; all about being committed to following Christ. We are not talking about making a donation here.
Luke 14:25-35 is all about what it means to be a disciple. We are reminded again of the journey narrative. There is this large crowd traveling along with Jesus along the journey. There may have been a buzz of excitement; a can this be the time and can this Jesus be the one buzz. Along the way Jesus tells them, “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Okay, what the what? At this point many will compare this to Matthew 10:37. But again there are enough differences to allow a similar statement uttered at a different time for a different reason. It seems likely that this is an example of Hebrew hyperbole, and translating it with something like “love less” may slightly diminish what Jesus is saying. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should have more of a hold on you than following Jesus. So much so that you hate, despise, anything that hinders, hampers, deters, discourages, or anyway gets in the way of your commitment to follow. So, if a wife or a child or even your own self, stands in the way of Jesus, you push past and follow Jesus. This will, no doubt, feel like hatred. And to many a family member it did and does. And then he uttered another traveling saying: whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me be my disciple. Following Jesus is about carrying a cross around; being ready to die. Just as Jesus was on his way – ready – to die on his cross.
And since following Jesus is about ready to die commitment, one really should seriously consider the cost before setting foot on the journey. Jesus tells two parables to illustrate this concept. If you are going to build a tower (probably a watchtower for a vineyard or garden), you will want to sit down and calculate whether or not you can afford to finish the project. I mean how embarrassing would it be to lay the foundation and run out of funds? This failure to consider the cost would be a public blunder and open to ridicule. Or, think of a king who sets out to meet another king in battle. If he marches his army out and then realizes he cannot win this battle, he will have to negotiate terms, and most likely to his detriment. How much better would it be to consider everything before setting out to fight only to realize you have no stomach for what is before you. Jesus’ point here is not avoiding overwhelming odds. His point is being aware of the odds and committing to the battle. I think many an evangelist fails to see the significance of these words. We excitedly speak of the benefits of following Christ and we naively or purposely fail to mention the cross; the dying to self; the putting Jesus before all other entanglements. And this includes possessions. Following Jesus is not about getting more money or things. It is about subjecting those things to his service. Giving up possessions means you own nothing. It all belongs to God and is for God.
And how does the discussion of salt fit in here? As a seasoning, salt flavors food by giving up of itself. But if that saltiness is leached out before it is put on the food, the salt serves no purpose. It can now add nothing to food. And it doesn’t matter whether salt can lose its saltiness or not. I’ve heard it both ways. Maybe Jesus is touching on a truth here. Merely dying to self is not the lesson. Some people die to themselves in an unhealthy way that has nothing to do with following Jesus. They hate themselves and the world. They have lost their ability to add flavor. The dying to yourself that Jesus calls us to is a dying that holds onto your essence, but uses it to add flavor to the world; to follow Jesus.
Following Jesus is about commitment; the pig kind of commitment; the kind of commitment that is willing to be used by Jesus to add flavor to the world; to have your abilities – your saltiness – as a seasoning for the benefit, not of yourself, but for others. Don’t get me wrong, following Jesus is the best life; the only life really. But before you go around spouting that you are a disciple, count the cost. It will cost you everything. You should know that before you set foot on the journey. Because it will not do anyone any good for you to quit along the way. Ah, but if you commit to Jesus, the benefits our out of this world. Peace.
Have you ever felt out of place; like you don’t belong? A long time ago, I found myself in the house of a heart surgeon. His daughter and mine were in the same Brownie troop. I felt very much like I did not belong in this house. It had nothing to do with how we were treated. The owners of the house were very friendly. But at the time I didn’t really know them. And It was the fanciest house I had ever been in that wasn’t a museum. I kept thinking that I might bump into something and break it; something that was worth more than I could ever begin to hope to replace. Would I have to sell one of my children? This house represented people who ran in different circles than I do; people who were comfortable speaking of country clubs and traveling to the Caiman Islands or whatever else it is that wealthy people do. As it turns out, the heart surgeon and his wife became good friends of ours. We often met for coffee at Panera Bread. And I discovered, much to my surprise, that I did indeed belong in his presence. And it had nothing to do with my wealth or familiarity with country club speak.
Luke 14:15-24 is the parable of the great supper. The setting scene is a dinner in which Jesus had given instructions about who you should invite to a banquet. One of the invited guests who was reclining with them blurted out with a “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This was most likely an invitation for Jesus to give his opinion on a centuries old conversation. In Isaiah 25 there is a banquet prepared by God on the mountain of God and all nations are invited. Many Jewish sources give commentary on this passage. The Qumran community just flat out denies that the nations are invited. Other sources say something along the line of, “Well, yes they will be invited, but only in order for God to judge and slay them.” There is also most likely an assumption on the fellow invited guest’s part. I am blessed because I am sure I will eat bread in the kingdom of God. It was an elitist statement.
So, Jesus responds with a parable about a certain man (not a king) who does, makes, creates a mega meal. Many were invited and the implication is that they accepted the invitation. In the Middle East the invitation would have been sent out early and the size of the meal was determined by how many accepted. This is important because some have tried to suggest that the excuses were valid. Not in this culture and not when you consider them. The hour of the feast arrives and he sends out the standard notice: “Come; everything is now ready.” The wording implies that the three excuses are representative of many and that it was an orchestrated refusal. The first one says that he has bought a piece of land and needs to look at it. The day of the feast was set. And no one in this culture would buy land sight unseen. Such a refusal would be an insult; an intended insult. The second is similar. No one would buy a team of oxen without first taking them for a test drive. These first two excuses indicate wealth. The third reason is blunt and would have been considered rude. Remember, the day of the feast had been set. The invitation had been accepted. Most likely this excuse maker is saying that he had recently married and that he is busy thank you very much and cannot be bothered with going to a feast. Luke, more so than the other gospel writers, emphasizes the danger of putting spouses before service to God (14:26; 18:29).
The creator of the feast becomes angry. Again, this was an orchestrated insult. In his anger he responds with grace. He tells his slave to search out the streets and lanes of the city and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame people to the mega banquet. This is done but the tables are not quite full. So, the servant is sent outside of the city to invite those there. Is this about the Gentiles being included? Since Jesus was being invited to comment on Isaiah 25, yes, this is about the Gentiles being invited. It is also about Jesus’ ministry to the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame – to the forgotten dregs of society. There is much discussion about the slave being told to “compel” this out of the city group to come. It is true that the word can mean “force,” but in this context it is more the idea of convince. This group is going to find it hard to believe that they are truly being invited. Compel them. Convince them.
You! You are invited to the banquet of God. Right now! The word has been sent, “Come; for everything is ready now.” You belong. It may be hard to feel the truth of this. Satan whispers doubts that worm their way into your brain and sometimes you don’t feel as if you truly belong sitting down to this elaborate feast. You! You are invited to the banquet of God. Believe it! Live it! Feast up. Peace.
There is this saying out there: The Lord helps those who help themselves. Sometimes this is said sardonically. It becomes an indictment against God’s involvement in one’s life. It is the prayer of Jimmy Stewart’s character in Shenandoah: “Thank you Lord for this food, even though we tilled the ground; we planted the seed; we harvested; we did all the work.” Not a word for word account, but it captures the general essence of the prayer. Or “the Lord helps those who help themselves” may be a ward against lazy Christians; an encouragement to hinder a Lazyboy faith. God will only help you if you put in the effort. And if we are talking about praying that God will help you get a job, then I agree, you should get out there and fill out applications and put effort into the prayer. If you ask God to bless your crop, for goodness sake, get out there and work the ground; plant the seeds; kill yourself some weeds; and harvest. But what about salvation? Jesus swooped in and said things like “it is the sick who need a physician,” and “I came to seek and save the lost.” This doesn’t sound like “the Lord helps those who help themselves” to me.
Luke 14:12-14 is a continuation of the banquet theme. Jesus had been invited to a dinner and he had already given them instructions about seeking the place of honor. In our passage the message is to the inviter. When you give or do a luncheon or dinner . . . The word “give” has the idea of “do, make, create,” and the emphasis may be that a banquet is an event that you work; you do. It is more than giving. It is a lot of effort. The Jewish people, as well as the Romans, had two main meals; one in the late morning and one in the late afternoon. The second was the most important of the two and the most likely target meal of a banquet. Although the emphasis here may be the daily meals. So, whatever time of day you invite others to dine with you, do not invite your friends, or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors. What? Are you saying that having a meal with family and friends is wrong Jesus? There was a common way of teaching in Jesus day; an understood emphasis. You could throw a “merely” in at the beginning of the statement and that would hit Jesus point. Don’t merely invite this group of people. This group is most likely going to reciprocate and invite you to a meal they are working. And if you merely invite those who are likely to invite you, are you working a meal so that you can be repaid in kind?
Jesus gives instructions of whom you should invite to a banquet. The word used here replaces the two words for daily meals in verse 12. It refers to a banquet or feast. It is not a daily event; it is a special occasion or a special guests event. In effect, Jesus is saying you work harder for these guests. And who are they? The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. This is the same group Jesus mentions in his parable of the dinner guests (verse 21). The parable is about who God invites to the great feast. So, one of the reasons we are instructed to invite this group is because they are who God invites. Interestingly, the crippled, lame and blind descendants of Aaron were not allowed to minister in the temple (cf. Leviticus 21:17-23). The passage makes it very clear that these men were allowed to eat the priests’ portion. Through the years, people began to think the commandment was about who was excluded from the kingdom. They began to view these physical handicaps as punishments from God. And the poor? A good pious Pharisee would give to the poor because it was commanded, but his view of the poor would have been that the blessings of God – the favor of God – were being withheld from them and for a good reason. For the religious elite this is about more than people who you would never consider inviting to a banquet; this is about who God would never invite; this is about avoiding those cursed by God.
And Jesus wraps this section up by stating that if you invite these people who do not possess the means of working a feast for you, you will be blessed. You will be happy. You will be the recipient of divine favor. And this blessing comes from the very fact that they cannot reciprocate. Instead, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous. You are blessed now and you will be repaid – invited to the great feast worked by God – when the resurrection happens. Well, that’s alright then.
God helps those who are not able to help themselves; those who can in no way pay for the favor of being invited. You know, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. We want to think this does not apply to us, but compared to God we are all of us poor, crippled, lame, and blind. God invites us even though we can not work up any kind of return. So, be like God and help those who cannot help themselves. Peace.
So, you have been invited to an awards ceremony. You are pretty convinced that you have been invited because of something you have done; the book you authored; the song you wrote; the medical discovery you made. You are surrounded by your peers. People who have also accomplished great things. They make a speech that you really don’t hear as you bask in your glory; as you envision that moment you accept the award; as you go over your acceptance speech. The moment comes near. They announce that this year’s winner of the coveted “whatever” award is . . . And you stand before the name is announced. You beam with pride. But something is horribly wrong. The name they uttered was, alas, not yours. So, there you are standing and filled with embarrassment. Well, that could have gone better.
Luke 14:7-11 is not a parable even though Luke calls it a parable. It is more than a pithy saying. Many a Greek writer mentions the problem with seeking honor. Theophrastus speaks of people who thrust themselves into places of honor as “seekers of petty distinction.” Jesus is doing something else here. The word parable tips us off that he is speaking about kingdom stuff. The scene is a meal to which several had been invited. Jesus notices the way the invited guests sought out places of honor. There may be an underlying message about being content that you had been invited. You know instead of acting as if having been invited is nothing unless you can sit in a place of importance. The word invited is used six times in Jesus’ message. There is an emphasis here. You had been invited. I mean, wow! You have been invited. Oh, and the one who invited has the right to decide who sits where.
So, when you are invited to a wedding banquet do not recline at the first place; kicking back with the smug assurance that this is where you belong. The one who invited you may have someone else in mind to sit there. And how embarrassing would that be? Most people have taken their seats. Everyone sees the host approach and ask you to sit elsewhere. The only seats left are the last or least important seats. And then comes the walk of shame as you rise and go to find a seat.
Instead of that, when you come to the banquet recline yourself at the last place. There may be a hint of being content to just be at the feast. You don’t need anything else here. You are there. You! So, happily plump yourself down with other just happy to be there people. And then when the inviter sees you, he will call you “friend” and tell you to move up to a superior seat. Imagine all of your fellow diners as they see you rise up and move up. There may be a different kind of embarrassment here. A good embarrassment; an “awe shucks” embarrassment. Now, you are not only invited, you have also received glory. Not because you expected or demanded or positioned yourself to receive it, but because you positioned yourself not to receive it. I know. Paradox. But there you go. That is the kingdom of God.
Then we have another wandering word from Jesus. But it is not just from Jesus. It breathes throughout the Bible. The one who lifts himself up will be lowered. The one who lowers himself will be lifted. This message is found in Proverbs 25:6-7, which Jesus most likely alludes to. You can also find it in 2 Samuel 22:28. It is found in the beatitudes with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” This is more than a wise statement about social graces. This is kingdom essence. If you are in the kingdom, you know. You are just excited to be there. God didn’t invite you because it would give his kingdom a certain panache that would be otherwise lacking.
You have been invited! And this is no ordinary invitation even though some treat it as such. This is an invitation from the king of kings; the creator of all things. He wants you in his kingdom. He has paid the price for your admission. Don’t saunter in and plop down in the important places. Don’t lift yourself up to great heights bragging about how you are best chums with God. Because if you do, you will be missing the glory of the kingdom. Slink in as if you are not sure the king meant you. Sit down inconspicuously in an out of the way corner somewhere. Be amazed you are there at all. And then when the king comes up to you and says, “My friend, I wish you to sit up at my table,” be overwhelmed with an embarrassment that still cannot believe he means you; thinking that you are the last person who should be sitting at the king’s table. But then you notice that everyone in the kingdom is sitting at the king’s table. And it hits you; everyone at the table had made themselves low. No smug assurance here. Only shocked joy. Peace.
I have this crazy idea that God gave us rules to help us not to harm us; to encourage growth not to stifle it. And when we focus so much on the rules that we miss what the rule is about, well, that is when the stifling harm happens. It is the church that thinks its prayers have to be just so and therefore they have a list of people who are not asked to lead prayer. I heard a speaker tell a story about his hometown church. It was a small rural church. One of the members was a mentally challenged young man. We’ll name him Rob. Rob loved church and wanted to participate. The church family loved Rob and they encouraged him to lead the closing prayers. These prayers were often a discussion of where Rob wanted to go eat and a menu of what he wanted to eat that day. Well, is that what the closing prayer is supposed to be about? Is this proper prayer etiquette? It is if corporate prayer is intended to be family approaching their God to commune with him. So, I think this small body of believers got it right.
Luke 14:1-6 is yet another sabbath encounter. This time it takes place in the home of a certain leader among the Pharisees. Important people gathered for the sabbath meal. And at this particular meal the Pharisees in attendance are watching Jesus closely. The word used here has the idea of watching lurkingly; of watching in order to catch someone at something. Okay, this may imply that they had set a trap or that they were on heightened alert to catch Jesus at something, anything. So, this certain man that was there. We don’t know if he was an invited guest or if he wandered in to be healed by Jesus. He may have been invited as a trap for Jesus or it may have been a serendipitous moment for the Pharisees. The important thing is that this certain man had dropsy, what we call edema. This is a swelling of water in the tissue; usually in the extremities such as the legs or arms. It is not a disease but a symptom. The disease behind this malady can be heart, kidney, or liver failure. So, it can be quite serious and life threatening. The swelling itself can be painful and make it impossible to walk. This certain man may have been close to death and in a lot of pain.
Jesus responds to the lawyers and Pharisees. These experts in the law of Moses are often grouped with the Pharisees. But what is Jesus responding to? It may be that he is responding to their lurking hearts. His response is a question, “Is it lawful or permitted to heal on the sabbath?” It seems like a straightforward question. Why don’t they just say “no”? Instead they respond with silence. The word Jesus used for healing is always used of miracles and it carries with it the idea of caring for, serving. There are some rabbinical sources that suggest that helping a person on the sabbath is permissible if it is a life and death situation. We don’t know if this certain man had a life-threatening condition. It seems likely that they became silent because Jesus question put them on the spot. Can you care for people on the sabbath? Whether this man was an invited trap or a happy coincidence, they clearly did not care about him or his pain. And even if they did, they could not heal the man anyway. But Jesus could.
And he did. He took the man and healed him. And Luke used a different word for healing here. This word is more medical. It can refer to medicine. This may simply be rhetoric; using words of similar meaning to add variety to the text. But what if the word used here is more medical to emphasize Jesus’ question? He medically healed him, but it is about caring about this certain man. Jesus sends the man away. And again, the word used here is interesting. It is the same word used in 13:16 when Jesus talks about the woman who was all doubled over being released from her bondage. Jesus has the authority to release. He then wraps the whole thing up by posing another question: “which one of you leaves a donkey or an ox stuck in a pit on the sabbath?” The manuscript is divided between “son” and “donkey” in verse 5. Donkey makes more sense because Jesus’ point is that they care more about their animals than people. The animals did not represent pets. They represented livelihood. They were necessary tools.
They missed the intent of the sabbath law. Their hearts became lurking because they cared more about the rules than the people the rules were intended to bless. It is the man who attends a conference to gather bullets to shoot at other people or groups. Watching not to learn; not to grow. But watching with a lurking heart hoping to discover faults. It is my prayer that you will be blessed by God’s rules. That your heart will be released from lurking. Jesus is the bondage breaker! Be set free. Grace and peace.
For some, their journey feels as if it has been thrust upon them; an unwanted traipse through an unwanted life. And it can become convenient to blame our journey on the happenstance of fate. But I think it more likely that our journey is shaped by our wants. Those wants may be forged in circumstances beyond our control. So, what is it that you want? If we can answer that we may be able to give our journey more direction, instead of letting the journey dictate our course. Does that even make sense? Even if others attempt to derail our journey. And they will. So, will your journey be shaped by the wants of others? Or will you hang onto your will and journey on?
Luke 13:31-35 is all about want and going. Jesus is most likely still in Galilee as he journeys toward Jerusalem. A Pharisee came near to him and seems to warn him saying, “Go! Leave! Herod wants to kill you.” You should journey away from here because of the want of Herod. We don’t know what the Pharisee wants here. There have been many guesses. In the gospel of Luke, the Pharisees are often opponents of Jesus. Does the Pharisee warn Jesus because he wants Jesus to journey elsewhere? Does he want to demonstrate that Jesus is motivated by fear? Does he genuinely want to warn Jesus? We don’t know for sure. The Pharisee’s want is not the concern in the text. What is at issue is whether or not Jesus’ journey will be derailed by Herod’s want.
Jesus tells the Pharisee to journey to Herod and deliver a message. Does he truly intend the Pharisee to deliver the message or is this rhetoric? Again, I’m not sure we can know for sure. What we can know is that Jesus refers to Herod as a “fox.” Most assume that the reference is to being sly and crafty. But in Nehemiah 4:3 a fox is used to represent something that is small and insignificant. Maybe Jesus is making a statement about Herod’s insignificance. No matter how important he thinks he is; no matter how much he thinks his wants should shape everyone else’s journey, he is insignificant. This would fit the context because the message is that Jesus will continue with his mission of dealing with evil today, tomorrow and the third day. This phrase is an idiom that means one event will follow the other in a timely and orderly fashion. Jesus knows what he wants. He desires to do the will of the father and he will not detour from that path.
Herod’s murderous intent is not what sets him on a course to Jerusalem. Even though it may appear that he is fleeing Galilee to Jerusalem to save his life, the reality is that he is journeying to Jerusalem in a timely and orderly fashion to die in Jerusalem. That a prophet cannot die outside of Jerusalem is ironic. There is no such statement in the Bible and plenty of prophets have been slain outside of the great city. But the Israelites believed that nothing important could take place outside of Jerusalem, the center of Judaism. Instead of being the great center of religion or obedience it is the city of killing the prophets of God, those who were sent to her with a message from God.
Jesus’ path is shaped by his want to gather the children of Jerusalem (most likely referring to all of Israel) like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. The image of wings protecting young was proverbial and often used of God protecting his people (Deuteronomy 32:11; Psalms 17:8; 36:7; Ruth 2:12). But the children of Jerusalem did not want to be protected. This shaped their journey and as a result the prophesy of Jeremiah 22:1-8 is fulfilled and the house, most likely referring to the city, is abandoned. In Jeremiah the people are warned that if they obey God, they would prosper, but if not, they would be desolate. Their abandoned path because of their want to not be gathered or protected by Jesus. The city is abandoned and they will not see Jesus until the time comes when they will say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is from Psalm 118:26 and it is used to refer to the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is coming. He is journeying in the name of the Lord and they will see it eventually.
Jesus’ path was not dictated by the wants of Herod. His path was dictated by his desire to do the will of God. He came in the name of Yahweh, to do the will of God. Nothing could change his path. So, how about you? What do you want? If you want to please God, your journey will be set. Others may try to impose their wants into your journey. But today and the next day and the third day, you will be traveling on in the name of Yahweh. The Herod’s of this life are not as powerful as they think. Journey on.
If you can be guilty by association, can you be innocent by association? Can a sycophant be swept along to glory? Let’s approach this from a different angle. The third commandment of the renowned Ten Commandments is “You shall not take the name of the Lord you God in vain.” The word “take” means “lift, carry, bear.” What God is telling his people not to do was to take up his name and bear it as if it were worthless. Don’t walk around saying you belong to God while you involve yourself in all manner of un-Godlike behaviors. You cannot sneak into God’s presence through sycophantic fawning over his name. Being an image bearer of God means honoring the name.
I think Jesus is saying much the same thing in Luke 13:22-30. As Jesus was passing through city and village teaching on his way to Jerusalem a person asked him, “Lord are a few to be saved?” There are several Jewish apocalyptic sources that claim that only a few will make it to the great banquet. Only the most pious Jews have a chance. This person on the way may be wanting Jesus’ theological discourse on the end of times. In typical Jesus fashion he answers the question with a parable. And this is different enough from Matthew 7:13-14 to at least entertain the possibility that it is a separate statement given at a different time. Really, the only similarity between the two accounts is the word narrow and the concept of many not entering in.
In our passage, Jesus begins with the concept of struggling to enter through the narrow door. The word “struggle” is often used of athletic contests. There is a human response to God’s grace. Grace does not mean an easy chair approach to heaven. We are commanded to struggle to enter. And Jesus confirms the Jewish concept of only a few entering. Many will seek but will find themselves unable to enter. And then you have what ought to be a terrifying moment when the head of the house rises up and shuts the door. And no amount of knocking and pleading will entice him to open that door. Instead the knockers hear him proclaim “I do not know where you are from.” Notice that Jesus switched to second person: “You begin to stand outside and knock; you begin to say.” Jesus draws us into the story. Picture yourself outside of the very house you long to enter; you are desperate to enter; knocking and pleading. “But we ate and drank in your presence. We heard you teach. Don’t you remember?”
And again the head of the house will say, “I do not know where you are from.” Notice that he doesn’t say, “I do not know you.” No, it is “I don’t know where you are from.” Maybe the point is that in all of their hanging out with Jesus, they never changed their citizenship; their address. Claiming to have Jesus eat in your house is not the same as changing your address to kingdom of God. They wanted to bear the name follower without actually following. Then the head of the house will add a quote from Psalm 6:8: “Depart from me, all you evildoers.” The psalmist is saying that God has heard his prayer so they had better skedaddle. It is another way of saying that the door is shut. The opportunity has closed. And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – an idiom that describes intense pain or sorrow. They will see that the big three: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all in the house banqueting it up. And they have been thrown out. Hmm. They weren’t even allowed in. How can they be cast out? These are those who thought their association as descendant from these patriarchs assured their entrance.
Then there is this gathering. Many assume that this gathering refers to the Gentiles. Maybe. But it may also refer to the great gathering of God’s people after the dispersion. And it seems to indicate a great multitude coming from every direction. Whether we are talking about Gentiles or the ingathering of Jews, the number that comes to recline at the table is small compared to the number who do not come. Verse 30 is a wandering saying; a saying Jesus utters at several different times in different settings. Some who are last will be first.
It is not enough to say you are a Christian. It is not enough to claim dining status with him. Are you following? Has your association with Jesus changed your address? Fawning all over Jesus does not save you. Where are you from? If you are a citizen of the kingdom now, the door is open to you. Now, while you walk this earth, is the time to enter the kingdom. The door stands open. Struggle to enter in. Because there is a time coming when the door will be shut. No sycophants allowed here. Change your address then.