HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
|Incident or sayings
88. The sign of Jonah
89. Light and darkness
90. The scribes and Pharisees
91. Teachings about the future
92. Parable of the rich man
93. Be not anxious for your life
94. Parables about the future
As we have said, document P appears to be a sort of collection
of sayings of Jesus, with little regard to context or place. The
next set of remarks recorded therein have to do with another request
to Jesus for a sign.
JESUS AGAIN REFUSES TO GIVE A SIGN
Once more the scribes and Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him
to perform a sign. Document P reports a verse in the middle of the
accusation of madness about them wanting a sign (v.11:16), but it
does not report any response from Jesus until later on. Luke reads
This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks after a sign; but there shall be
no sign given to it but the sign of Jonah.
For even as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites
causing them to repent, so shall I, the son
of man, be to this generation.
I tell you, the queen of the south
shall rise up [in the judgment] with the men of
this generation, and shall condemn it; for
she came from the ends of the earth to listen
to the wisdom of Solomon; and look you, a
greater than Solomon is here.
And the men of Nineveh shall stand up
[in the judgment] against this generation, and
shall condemn it; for they repented at the
preaching of Jonah; and again, a greater than
Jonah is here.
I have placed the words "in the judgment" in brackets since they
are but doubtfully from Jesus, who has never spoken of a "final
judgment" or an end of the world. Matthew misinterprets the book
of Jonah by making the "sign of Jonah" to be his adventure inside
the whale; but Luke correctly interprets the sign of Jonah to be
the preaching which caused the Ninevites to repent, fictional
though that story may be. And Matthew is doubly incorrect in his
interpretation, since Jonah was the only one who experienced the
sign of the whale, so it could not have been a sign to the Ninevites.
Assuming it happened at all. It is, though, a little shocking to
have Jesus say that he is greater than Solomon or Jonah; perhaps
that was added by someone else.
But the important thing to note is, as with the previous event
reported in Chapter VIII (Mark 8:11-13), that Jesus refuses to
perform any sign but his preaching. The content of that preaching
is the only sign he will give. And refusal to perform any sign is
consistent with the parable of refusing to throw himself off the
pinnacle of the temple during his forty days in the wilderness.
REMARKS ABOUT LIGHT AND DARKNESS
Some enigmatic remarks about light and lamps follow the previous
sayings, without any context or situation being given:
No man, when he lights a lamp, puts
it in the cellar, neither under a bushel,
but on a stand, so that people coming in
may have light.
The lamp of the body is the eye; and
when your eye is single, then is your whole
body is full of light; but when it is evil
then your body is full of darkness.
Matthew appears to have taken these statements out of document P
and inserted them in his Great Sermon. The antithesis of the eye
being single versus the eye being evil is not easy to understand.
"Single" probably meant unified, whole or complete, moving in a
single direction, referring more to the life or the spirit or the
psyche than the optical organ; and "evil" probably meant scattered,
not unified, multiple directions, but we would scarcely today use
the word "evil" to refer to that condition. Luke has one more
statement which is not found in any other gospel:
Look and see, then, if the light that
is in you isn't really darkness.
If therefore your whole body is
full of light, having no part dark, it shall be wholly full
of light, like when the lamp with its bright shining gives
This last statement seems like a turgid redundancy; of course when
your body is full of light then it is full of light. Anyhow, none
of these remarks opposing light and darkness help us to understand
anything of Jesus' teaching or how to get to that state of being
"full of light".
THE SCRIBES AND THE PHARISEES
In the next event, a Pharisee had invited him to dinner, and
was shocked that Jesus did not wash his hands before eating. We
have seen this issue being raised in a previous section, but here
in Luke he launches into a long list of curses directed at the
Pharisees. All of his criticisms are contained later in Matthew
when he has arrived in Jerusalem, so we will postpone discussing
these criticisms until we come to that chapter in Matthew. Luke
adds that after he came out of the Pharisee's house, the scribes
and Pharisees kept trying to trap him in a blasphemous or actionable
statement; but none of those questions or answers are given.
THE FUTURE OF THE DISCIPLES AND FOLLOWERS
So far it should be evident that document P was simply a
collection of sayings without any organization into any logical
order. We have just seen comments on prayer, comments on whether
Beelzebub is divided against himself, his response to a woman in the
crowd about who is blessed, why he won't give a sign, comments about
light and darkness, and criticisms of the scribes and Pharisees,
with no place names, and no context that couldn't have been inserted
by the compiler, except for the comments about Beelzebub. Now he
starts speaking to a large crowd, "many thousands", about situations
and circumstances that may arise in the future for his disciples
and for future followers.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees
which is hypocrisy.
For there is nothing covered up, that
shall not be revealed; nor hid, that shall
not be known. For whatsoever you have
said in the darkness shall be heard in
the light; and whatsoever you have spoken
in the inner chambers shall be proclaimed
upon the housetops.
The first of these sayings is also found in Mark, but there he is
upbraiding the disciples for not understanding what he's talking
about. But here in Luke he identifies it precisely. Perhaps the
second of these sayings should be rendered as, Whatsoever you have
heard in the darkness or the inner chambers, you should speak out
during the daytime and to as many people as possible. The sayings
Be not afraid of them that can kill
the body, and that's the worst that they
can do. But I shall warn you about whom
you should fear: Fear him, who after he
has killed has the power to cast your
body into the valley of Gehinnom. I tell
you truly, Fear him.
Matthew's rendition of this paragraph is shorter than Luke's, but
makes the same point. The valley of Gehinnom was the valley to the
south of Jerusalem which was used as a garbage dump and for the
bodies of condemned criminals, and the high priest must have been
the one who could order your body tossed there. The word found
its way into English as "hell" or "Gehenna". Is he telling them
to fear the high priest, and not speak before him? In any case
Jesus goes on:
Are not two sparrows sold for a
farthing? and not one of them is forgotten
in the sight of God. But the very hairs
of your head are numbered. So fear not;
you are of more value than many sparrows.
And I say unto you, Every person
that shall believe my teachings, that one shall
be approved of by myself and by God the
Father. But he who rejects my teachings
that one shall not be approved of by
myself or by God the Father.
(Luke 12:10-11;Matt.12:32;Mark 3:28-30)
Every one who speaks a word against
the son of man, it shall be forgiven him.
But whosoever blasphemes against God shall
not be forgiven.
(Luke 12:12;Matt.10:19-20;Mark 13:11)
And when they bring you before the
synagogues, and the authorities, and the
rulers, be not anxious about what you will
say: for son of man shall teach you in
that hour what you should say.
We can accept all of these sayings as from Jesus, because they are
found in both the gospel of Mark and in document P which both Luke
and Matthew had. I have paraphrased them a bit because there is
no evidence that Jesus actually used the terms "Holy Spirit" or
"angels of God" or "MY father in heaven"; those terms did not exist
in Jewish lore, but came into being after the church had spread.
And as far as "MY father" is concerned, that term is only used by
Matthew, where Mark and Luke report Jesus as saying "YOUR father".
If Jesus actually claimed God as his personal father, no wonder he
was executed by the Jews. God is the father (or mother) of all
people; there is certainly no evidence against that.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN
The next section here in Luke or document P epitomizes the
teachings of Jesus about wealth. Again we get a little dialogue
between Jesus and a man in the crowd:
MAN: Master, please tell my brother to divide the inheritance
JESUS (impatiently): Man, who made me a judge or a
divider over you?
We can infer that the man's brother was trying to keep the family
inheritance all to himself. But in his vexed outburst Jesus here
denies that he is come to be a judge of men, and so much for the
belief that Jesus would be the judge in any last judgment. Then
he turns to the crowd and tells them:
JESUS: Take heed, and keep yourself from all covetousness.
For a man's life does not consist in the abundance of things
which he possesses.
Listen to a parable, all of you:
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully.
And he said to himself, My barns are not big enough to store
this produce, so I will pull them all down, and build larger
ones. And when it was done, he said to himself, Rejoice, for
you have much goods stored up for many years; therefore, take
your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said to him, That was foolish;
tonight your soul is required of you. And all those barns and
produce, whose shall they be?
So do not live like that; you should
strive to store up heavenly treasure, not earthly treasure.
The last sentence has been paraphrased for clarity. But the point
of this parable seems clear: do not hoard, do not accumulate goods
or wealth excessively, for our lives are short. We may wonder
what is heavenly treasure, and in the next section we will learn
more about Jesus' teachings on that subject.
BE NOT ANXIOUS FOR YOUR LIFE
The next set of teachings are perhaps the most idyllic in all
the gospels. Document P simply prefaces it with, And he said unto
his disciples; and this is what he said.
Therefore I tell you, Do not be
anxious for your life, what you shall eat, nor
for your body, what you shall put on. For the
life is more than the food, and the body than raiment.
Consider the ravens, that they do not
have to sow, nor reap either; they do not need storehouses
or barns; yet God feeds them; and are you not of more value than
And which of you by being anxious
can add one inch to your height? If then you cannot do that
little thing, why are you anxious about anything else?
Again, consider the lilies, how
they grow; they do not have to work, nor spin; yet still,
I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed
like the flowers. But if God so clothe the grass in the
field which today is green, and tomorrow is dried out for
fodder, how much more shall God clothe you, all you of little
And you do not need to search for food
nor drink, nor to be of a worried mind; for
God your father knows that you have need of
these things. Therefore, you only need to
seek the reign of God, and all these things
will come to you. And do not fear; it is
God's pleasure to give you his kingdom.
Has anything in history ever been written so glowing with peace
and tranquillity as these paragraphs? They may sound woefully
impractical; but they are also found in the gospel of Thomas, so
we cannot doubt that Jesus said them, nor that if he said them he
meant them. In Luke, he continues, with a parallel in Matthew:
Sell all that you have,
and give alms;
Do not lay up treasures on earth for
yourselves, which moth and rust can destroy and thieves break
in and steal;
make for yourself purses that do not wear
out, and heavenly treasure which will not
fail you, which no thief can steal, nor
can any moth destroy it.
For where your treasure is, there will
your heart be also.
Matthew's rendition of his first sentence here is significantly
different from Luke's; in Luke he seems to be telling them to be
penniless, whereas in Matthew he seems to only be offering them a
complementary description of treasure on earth as opposed to
treasure in heaven. This is twice now that he has used the phrase
"heavenly treasure"; we can't tell if they were two different
occasions or not. But what does he mean by heavenly treasure?
This is not a question that I want to give an answer for, although
it seems to me that peace and tranquillity as well as good deeds
and improving the welfare of other people may be counted as a part
of that treasure. But maybe worrying about our ledger balance with
God actually degrades the value of our "heavenly treasure"; it may
be better just to give what we can and help as much as we can, and
just forget about that balance. Because when we die, we won't know
how people will remember us or what they will say about us, but we
will have lived a good life.
PARABLES ABOUT THE FUTURE
Without a break, Jesus begins giving them some more teachings
about the future. Luke, or document P, continues:
Let your loins be girded
about, and your lamps burning; and let yourselves be like
men looking for their lord to return from a marriage feast,
that when he arrives and knocks, they may immediately open
the door for him. Blessed indeed are those servants, who
the lord will find watching when he returns; I tell you truly,
that he will put on an apron, and make them all sit down, and
serve them himself. And if he comes later, and later still,
and they be awaiting him, blessed are those servants.
Matthew reports a parable on this same theme later on, in Jesus'
final discourse on the future, at the beginning of chapter 25,
called the Parable of the 10 Virgins. Luke continues:
But remember this, if the master of
the house had known what time the thief was coming, he would
have guarded his house, and not let it be broken into.
Even so you should be ready at all
times; for that day will come in an hour when you don't expect
Matthew tells this saying as part of his final discourse in Chapter
XVI. But it's not easy to see how this could be interpreted as a
prediction of his return from the dead. It's probably just a
reminder to always be prepared for any eventuality. Luke continues
with another teaching on the same theme:
Who then is the faithful and wise
servant whom the lord shall set over his household, to give
them their food at dinnertime? Blessed is the servant who
will be doing as instructed when his master returns. Indeed, his lord
will put him in charge of everything in
the household. But if that servant
fritters away his time, thinking that
his lord will be long in returning, and
begins to abuse the other servants, and
to eat and drink and get drunk, the lord
will return without warning, and shall
find him abusive and drunken, and shall
dismiss him from his service, and let
him become a beggar.
Again we are hard put to understand what he means to be telling us
that we should do. It can be simply not to fritter away our time
and to do what we are instructed to do; but isn't that self-evident?
and it's really almost a gross misinterpretation to think it means
that he himself will return to life unexpectedly. Such a view of
this parable can only have arisen after a myth of his second coming
had gained wide circulation. Luke ends the parable with a few more
trivialities, which are probably not from Jesus but from his later
And that servant
which knew his master's will, but did not perform
it, shall be beaten with many stripes; and the
servant who did not know his master's will, and
therefore did not perform it, shall be beaten with
only a few stripes.
To whomsoever much is given, much
will be required; and to whom is committed much, of
him will they ask the more.
Jesus must have given many teachings to the crowds and his
followers, but there is no assurance that we have them all, and
there is no reason to expect this portion of Luke to have any
overall organization or outline. The parable of the rich man and
the teachings on anxiety would seem to be the most useful and
important: not to seek too much wealth, and not to have too much
anxiety over little things, but just take care of important things
as they come.