HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
MORE TEACHINGS AND SAYINGS OF JESUS
|Event or sayings
95. His mission
96. Signs of the times
97. Other observations
98. He heals on the sabbath
99. Two parables
100. The kingdom of God
101. A warning from Herod
102. Healing on a sabbath
103. The marriage feast
104. Costs of discipleship
JESUS SPEAKS ABOUT HIS MISSION
We are still in document P, which at this point reports some
unconnected sayings about his mission:
I came to fire up the earth; and what
will I do, if it be already kindled? But
I have a baptism to be baptized with; and
how am I pressured until it be accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to bring
peace upon the earth? No, I tell you, but
rather division! for soon there shall be in
one house three against two, and two against
three! They shall be divided, father against
son, and son against father; mother against
daughter, and daughter against her mother;
and mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Here he bemoans the fact that some people are for him, and some
are against him. The baptism he speaks of in the first paragraph
must be his coming confrontation in Jerusalem with the authorities
in which he has already told us twice that he will be killed, and
we will shortly be given another forecast of his death.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
We are not told to whom he made the previous statement, but
now he speaks to the multitudes again, as follows:
When you see a cloud rising
in the west, you know that a
shower is coming; and soon it
comes. And when you see a south
wind blowing, you know that
there will be a scorching heat.
and soon that comes. And thus
you know how to interpret the
earth and the sky; but why do
you not know how to interpret
When it is evening, and you
see that the sky is red, you
know to say, It will be fair
weather tomorrow. And when it
is morning, and you see that
the sky is red, you know to say,
It will be foul weather today.
You know how to interpret the
face of the heaven; but you do
not know how to interpret the
signs of the times. |
Matthew's is an older form of the well-known proverb:
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.
Luke's version, probably the way it was in document P, cites other
observations of the air and sky from which one can predict the
coming weather. But we can ask, why is he talking about the clouds
and the wind, or the red skies at morning or evening? What does he
mean by the "time" or the "signs of the times"? Can we believe that
this has anything to do with the coming of the end of the world or
even of the kingdom of God? No, it seems clear that he is talking
about the historical situation of Palestine in his times: the coming
of one messianic claimant after another, trying to fight the Romans
and all being crushed one after another, which Jesus sees will and
finally did provoke the Romans to completely destroy Jerusalem and
deport all the Jews out of Palestine. The Jewish historian Josephus
of the 1st century C.E. documents all of these vain uprisings, right
up to the time of the final destruction in 70 C.E., which we can
feel sure that Jesus foresaw, based on this and other predictions.
The next sentence, found only in Luke, tells us that Jesus was
trying to get them to look at what was happening, rather than even
listening to him:
Why do you not judge for yourselves
what is right?
In other words, if we may try to make this sentence clearer than
it already is, Do not listen to the priests; do not listen to the
men who come claiming to be the messiah, just look at what is
happening all around you!
Then the compiler of document P wrote down another statement
about avoiding fruitless struggle, which Matthew incorporates into
the Great Sermon:
If you are going with an adversary
to the judge, on the way strive diligently
to satisfy your adversary, lest he take you
to court, and the judge turn you over to
the officer, and the officer shall cast
you into prison. I tell you truly, then
you will not come out until you have paid
the very last penny.
Don't strive with people, he tells us; just go along with them
lest they do something to make things worse for you. This would
seem to be about worldly things, where a civil authority may
punish you in some way. It would also seem to be part of his
commandment to take up your cross, and bear it; if living by the
will of God gets you in trouble with the law, you must be ready
to endure it. How is this related to his concern about opposition
to the Romans and following a messiah? this is a question which we
cannot answer yet.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS ON CONTEMPORARY EVENTS
Luke has here some observations on contemporary events which
help us to understand his viewpoint on those events, which are not
found in any other gospel. After he was told about some Galileans
who had died at the hand of Pilate, he tells them all:
Do you think that those Galileans were
sinners above all other Galileans, just
because they died in prison? No, I tell
you truly, unless you change your ways
you shall all likewise perish.
Or those eighteen, on whom the tower
of Siloam fell, and killed them, do you
think they were offenders above all others
living in Jerusalem? I tell you again
unless you change your ways, you shall all
Listen to another parable: A certain
man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard
and there was no fruit on it. So he said
to his vinedresser, Say, for three years
I have looked for fruit on this tree and found none;
cut it down; why does it encumber the ground?
But the vinedresser answered, Sir, let it alone
this year also; and I will dig around it, and
fertilize it; and if it bear fruit next year,
that will be good; well; but if not, then you
may cut it down.
We do not know anything about the specific events mentioned in
these paragraphs: the Galileans, and the eighteen men in Jerusalem;
but the parable seems to be telling the people, You can count on
one last chance, but if you don't repent, then that will be the
end of you.
But we may ask here, what does he mean by "repent" in this
context? He seems to be addressing some current events, and it
seems more likely that by "repent" he means backing off from deadly
conflicts with the Romans, rather than just following him and
listening to him and repeating his words and even trying to be
more kindly and just in their daily lives.
ANOTHER HEALING ON THE SABBATH
Earlier, in Mark, we read an event where Jesus is reported to
have healed someone on the sabbath, and challenged the religious
leaders to show that it was not a good action. A similar story is
reported at this point in Luke (document P), introduced just by
saying that he was teaching in the synagogue, and there was a woman
there who was crippled in some way and had been so for eighteen
years. Luke tells us that he called the woman to him, laid his
hands upon her, and she was healed. And a person called the ruler
of the synagogue was indignant, and there was this little
RULER (sternly): There are six days on which Jews are supposed
to work, so this lady should have come on one of those days to
be healed, and not on the sabbath.
JESUS: You hypocrites, doesn't each one of you loose his ox or
his ass on the sabbath, and lead him to water? Therefore
shouldn't this lady, a daughter of Abraham, be freed of her
condition on the day of the sabbath?
Luke refers to Jesus here as "the Lord", which shows that this story
was written down long after Jesus had lived and taught. But Luke
finishes the story by telling us that the critics were put to shame
and that the multitude rejoiced. But his answer here is not really
any different from the event reported in Mark.
At this point in Luke (document P) occur the two parables
which Matthew has inserted into the discourse on the parables of
the kingdom of God, narrated in Chapter VII: the parable of the
mustard seed and the parable of the leaven. We shall not repeat
MORE ABOUT ENTERING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Document P includes at this point some further remarks on the
kingdom of God and entering into it. Before going on we need to
recall that the Greek word "basileia", translated as "kingdom" by
the King James translators, and by most translators since, can be
rendered more accurately by the words "reign" or "rule". Thus a
more accurate translation of the phrase "kingdom of God" would be
"reign of God", which does not carry the notions of a specific
place in the sky nor a time in the indefinite future, but as Jesus
said, it is something which is attainable right now. His first
remark here is about the difficulties of getting in:
Strive to enter in by the narrow door;
for many, I tell you, shall try to get in
but shall not be able.
Matthew reports, probably from document M, the opposition of the
broad and the narrow way, the one leading to destruction and the
other leading to life, whereas Luke remembers only the narrow way.
Jesus goes on, with another pessimistic view:
When once the master of the house has
risen, and locked the door, and you all
cluster outside, knocking, and saying, Lord,
let us in, please! he shall say, I do not
know you. And if you say, But we did eat
and drink in your presence, and you taught
in our streets; then he shall say, I tell you, I do not know
you; depart from my doorway.
And I tell you truly, there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you
shall Abraham and all the patriarchs, and
all the prophets, in the kingdom of God
and all of you left outside. And behold
they shall come from the east and west
and the north and the south, and shall sit
down in the kingdom of God.
Document P adds, And there will be many that are last which shall
be first, and many that are first shall be last; but that saying
although repeated in other parts of the gospels does not help us
understand what it means.
A WARNING FROM HEROD
Next in this document and gospel comes the warning from some
Pharisees that Herod is now seeking to kill Jesus. Here again is
the brief dialogue which we have inserted earlier as the explanation
for why he wanted to flee to Phoenicia, but I am repeating it here
because of its importance in understanding the teaching of Jesus:
PHARISEES: Get out of Galilee; for Herod is seeking
to kill you.
JESUS: Go and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils
and perform cures today and tomorrow, and after three
days it will be all over. Nevertheless, I must go on
my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it
cannot be that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem.
JESUS (continuing): O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! which kills
the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto her!
how often would I have gathered your children together
as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, and
you would not let me! Behold, your house will be left
unto you desolate; and you will not see me, until you
can say, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the
This seems to make it perfectly clear that what he was preaching
about was the destruction of Jerusalem because of the recalcitrance
of the Jews towards the Romans and the coming of one claimant to
be the messiah after another such claimant. Jerusalem and the Jews
were not listening to him preaching in opposition to the Zealots;
and finally Rome lost all patience and just destroyed Jerusalem
and deported all the survivors out of Palestine.
ONE MORE HEALING ON THE SABBATH
Luke reports one more healing on the sabbath, this time in the
home of a Pharisee. Luke says they were "watching him". Then the
document reports that "there was a man before him" who had the
dropsy. How did the man happen to be in the home of a Pharisee?
Anyway, Jesus poses two questions to them:
JESUS: (challengingly) Is it lawful to heal
on the sabbath, or not?
JESUS (turning to everyone): Which of you has an ox or an
ass, and if it falls into a well on a sabbath, will you not
immediately pull him out again that same day?
PHARISEES: (no answer)
This answer was copied by Matthew and inserted into the story of
the healing of a man on the sabbath reported by Mark, which we told
about in chapter III. But Jesus' attitude is clear: the sabbath
rules made no difference when the well-being of a living creature
was at stake.
BEHAVIOR AT A FEAST
In this next section of Luke, there are three parables or
discourses on the question of giving or attending a feast. The
first is about which seats to take:
JESUS: When you are invited to a marriage feast, do not go
to the head of the table, because someone more important
than you may arrive, and you will have to leave that seat
and take one lower down, and you will be shamed. No, when
you arrive you should take the lowest seat; and the master
of the feast may come and tell you, Friend, sit up higher;
and then you shall have glory in the eyes of all the people
there. For everyone that exalts himself shall be humbled;
and everyone that humbles himself shall be exalted.
Sounds pretty devious to me; is not seeking honor and glory one of
the behaviors Jesus has been preaching against? Then Jesus turned
to the Pharisee who had bidden him to supper and told him:
JESUS: When you give a feast, don't invite your friends
nor your brothers and sisters, nor your kinsmen, nor rich
neighbors, for they will invite you back, and it's just a
trade. No indeed, when you give a feast, invite the poor
and the lame and the maimed, the blind; and you shall be
blessed, for they cannot make you any recompense; and you
shall be recompensed by being benevolent.
Luke expresses this last phrase as "in the resurrection of the
just"; but we don't know what that means, unless Jesus did actually
believe in a general resurrection of all deceased persons.
THE PARABLE OF THE MARRIAGE FEAST
Luke (or document P) inserts a comment from one of them at that
meal who said, Blessed is he that eats bread in the kingdom of God.
This sounds innocuous enough; but the narrative tells us that then
Jesus told another long parable, which Matthew has included in his
A certain man made a great
supper, inviting many guests; and at suppertime
he sent forth his servant to tell those who had been
invited, Come, dinner is ready.|
But then each one made some
excuse. The first said, I have just bought a field,
and I must go look at it. The second said, I have
just bought five yoke of oxen, and I need to prove them.
And then the third said,
I have just gotten married, and so I cannot come.
So the servant came back, and told the master
all these excuses.
Then his master grew very
angry, and told the servant: Go out quickly into the
lanes and streets of the city, and bring in the poor
and maimed and lame and blind. And the servant went out,
and came back and said, What you wanted is done and still
there is room. Then the master said, Go out then to the
highways and hedges, and bring in everyone you meet, so
that my house may be full. For I am determined that none
of those men I invited shall taste of my supper.
The kingdom of heaven may
be likened to a king who made a marriage feast for his son
and sent his servants out to call the invited guests, and
they would not come.|
But they all made light of it, and
went their ways, one to his farm, one to his merchandise,
and the rest laid hold of his servants and beat them
Then the king was enraged
and sent his army to destroy those men and their city.
And the king said to his
servants, Go out into the partings of the highways and
bring in as many as you can find to partake of the feast.
And the servants did so; and they brought in both the bad
and the good, and the wedding was filled with guests.
So what is this parable all about? It doesn't seem to have anything
to do with the blessed or eating bread in the kingdom of God. Who
is this "master"? Is it God? is the kingdom of God being compared
to a marriage feast? When the men who had been invited declined to
come, who are all these others, poor, crippled, bandits, anyone,
who get to join in the feast? If the first invitees symbolize the
Jews, and their refusal to attend symbolizes their failure to live
according to the precepts of the Torah or to the teachings of Jesus,
is the parable saying that everyone else on earth may enter into the
kingdom of God? Matthew certainly seems to have interpreted it this
way. Can Jesus really have taught that if those that first heard
his teachings, but left them or did not practice them, then anybody
at all would be accepted in the kingdom, whether they followed the
teachings of Jesus or not? Can that possibly be the meaning of this
THE DEMANDS OF BEING HIS DISCIPLE
Luke again inserts a little transitional sentence, saying that
Jesus turned to the multitudes and gave them some warnings about
what it would mean to become his disciple. These were:
If any man comes to me, and is not
willing to give up his family, his wife
and children, brothers and sisters, yes,
and his own life also, he cannot be my
(Luke 14:27;Matt.10:38;Mark 8:34)
Whosoever doesn't bear his own
cross, in coming after me, cannot be my disciple.
For which of you, desiring to
build a tower, doesn't first sit down and
calculate the cost, to know whether he
has sufficient means to complete it?
Otherwise, when the foundation has been
laid, and he has to stop work, all those that
see it will mock him, saying, This man
didn't have enough means to complete
Or what king, when he goes to war
against another king, will not sit down
and consult whether he can with 10,000
men win a battle against another king
who has 20,000 men? If not, then he will
send an embassy and ask the conditions
of peace. So too, any of you who do
not renounce all that you have, cannot
be my disciple.
(Luke 14:34-35a;Matt.5:13;Mark 9:50)
Everyone knows that salt is good;
but if salt itself has lost flavor, how
can anything be salted? It is fit for
neither the land nor the compost pile;
we just throw it away.
(Luke 14:35b;Matt.11:13,13:9,43;Mark 4:9,23)
He among you who has ears to hear
let him hear my words and understand.
The adjuration about if you have ears, you'd better listen, occurs
several places in the gospels. Luke actually in the first paragraph
says that we should "hate" all our family and relatives, but Matthew
softens it to read that if we love them MORE than we love him,
then we cannot be his disciple. It's also difficult to understand
how renouncing all you have is a requirement or consequence of
negotiating for peace, in the case of the two kings about to make
war. And finally, it is disturbing to hear him say you must give
up your family to be in the kingdom of God.
But he makes it pretty scary, following after him; this surely
is founded on what he knows is going to happen to him when he gets
to Jerusalem. Even so, there's no saying that other people are
necessarily going to share his fate.