HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
JESUS NEARS JERUSALEM
|Event or parable
115. Disputes about divorce
116. Jesus blesses the children
117. Teachings about wealth
118. The householder and labourers
119. 3rd forecast of his death
120. Request by James and John
121. The blind beggar of Jericho
122. The dinner with Zaccheus (Document P)
123. Parable of the talents (Document P)
Luke picks up the thread of Mark's story with the dispute over
divorce with the Pharisees and then the incident of blessing the
children. He then follows Mark for several incidents and then
inserts two more incidents from document P, as shown above (Zaccheus
and the Parable of the Talents).
DISPUTES ABOUT DIVORCE
Luke had inserted nearly all of document P between verses 10:1
and 10:2 of Mark, and Matthew reported those same two verses one
after another, showing that they were really together in Mark. Mark
and Matthew now report a discussion of the morality of divorce
after a question from the Pharisees, trying to harass him:
PHARISEES: Tell us, is it lawful to put away one's wife?
JESUS: Well, what did Moses command you?
PHARISEES: Moses allowed us to write a bill of divorcement
and then send her away.
JESUS: For your hardness of heart he gave you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, male and female created
he them; and for that cause a man shall leave his father and
mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one
flesh, so that the two are no more twain, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has
joined together, man should not separate.
Jesus here quotes from Genesis to make his point, verses 1:27 and
2:24. This appears to be an absolute prohibition of divorce, and
when the disciples ask him about it, he says:
JESUS: Whoever puts away his wife, and marries another
commits adultery; and if she herself puts away her husband
she commits adultery.
So the basis for the absolute prohibition of divorce is the seventh
commandment prohibiting adultery. It also sounds to me like he
had discerned the natural world principle that most species mate
for life. The disciples complain:
DISCIPLES: Well, if that's the case, then it is not a good
idea to get married.
JESUS: All men cannot receive this saying, but only those to
whom it is given. For there are celibates, who were so from
their mother's womb; and there are celibates, who were made so
by other men; and there are celibates, who became so for the
sake of attaining the kingdom of God. So I say to you, He
that is able to receive this, let him receive it.
Here the Greek word translated "eunuch", meaning castrated person,
can also be translated "celibate" as I have done above, one who
does not have conjugal relations with the opposite sex.
This statement from Jesus is a harsh interpretation and teaching
for us today, and divorce has become more and more common, so that
half the population is either from or in a divorced family. Did
Jesus mean that folks should stay in an unhappy marriage, and make
the best of it? Is it possible that Joseph had divorced Mary some
time after Jesus was grown, and that the unhappiness he saw created
by that divorce gave him this harsh opinion? This idea is supported
by the fact that Joseph his father does not appear at any time
during the career of Jesus. Or perhaps it was just that Jesus saw
it in the lives of other divorced women and families of his time.
HE BLESSES THE CHILDREN
After that Mark reports that the women all brought their small
children to him, wanting him to bless them. And the disciples didn't
want them to bother Jesus, so they told the mothers to go away,
but Jesus remonstrated to them about that.
(Mark 10:13-16;Luke 18:15-17;Matt.19:13-15)
DISCIPLES: Leave the Master alone!
JESUS: No, no, let the little children come to me;
do not forbid them; for they have the nature of the
kingdom of God.
Mark tells us that he was moved with indignation towards the
disciples. It is ever thus: those around a wise and good man
are more worried about his comfort and condition than he is
himself. But in any case the mothers brought their children,
and he blessed them all, one by one.
TEACHINGS ABOUT WEALTH
Now he is approached by a young man, who kneeled to Jesus, and
asked the same question that the scribe had asked back in Chapter
X. Luke says he was "a certain ruler"; Mark and Matthew simply
say "one came to him", but Matthew later refers to him as a "young
man". Then they had the following dialogue:
(Mark 10:17-22;Luke 18:18-23;Matt.19:16-22)
YOUNG MAN: Good master, what shall I do that I may inherit
JESUS: Why do you address me as "good"? none is good, save
one, even God.
Matthew doesn't like Jesus refusing to be called "good", so he
changes the sentence to read, "Why do you ask me about what is
good? One there is who is good." But Luke faithfully reproduces
the answer according to Mark.
JESUS (continuing): You know the commandments: Do not
kill; do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false
witness, do not defraud, honor your parents.
YOUNG MAN: Master, all these commandments have I kept from
JESUS: One thing you lack; go, sell whatever you have, and
give to the poor; then you will have treasure in heaven;
and come, follow me.
Here Jesus includes one commandment that is not in the Torah: Do
not defraud. Otherwise these are the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th
of the Ten Commandments. Maybe by "defraud" Jesus meant "do not
covet, and if you do, don't try to get it by fraud." Mark also
tells us as an aside that "And Jesus looking upon him loved him."
But then the young man's face fell, and he went away downcast
because, as Mark tells us, "he was one that had great possessions."
(Mark 10:23-28;Luke 18:24-28;Matt.19:23-26)
JESUS (to the disciples): Truly, how hard it is for
anyone who has wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
DISCIPLES (dumbfounded): !?!?!?
The disciples were amazed at his words, and Jesus repeated them
with additional emphasis.
JESUS: I say to you, it is harder for a rope to go through
the eye of a needle, than for one who is rich to enter the
kingdom of God.
The Aramaic word commonly translated "camel" is translated more
correctly above as "rope", and George Lamsa discovered that there
was an Aramaic proverbial expression, "as hard as threading a rope
through the eye of a needle", which makes more sense. The
disciples were still dumbfounded:
(Mark 10:29-31;Luke 18:29-30;Matt.19:27-30)
DISCIPLES (amazed): But then how can anyone be saved?
JESUS: With man it is impossible, but not with God;
for with God, all things are possible.
PETER: Well, lookee, Master, we have left all, and
have followed you.
JESUS: I tell you truly, Peter, no one who has left
houses, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father
or children, or land, to follow me, but that person
will have an hundredfold more in this time, all those
things; but with persecutions.
Mark adds, "and in the world to come eternal life"; but that is
one of the few places where the gospels report Jesus as mentioning
a future life. He has always described the kingdom of God as in
the present, or as attainable in this life, so that last phrase in
Mark is doubtful.
But does that mean that one with riches is not welcome to seek
the kingdom of God? No, he is saying that their desire both to
have wealth and to keep it will interfere with their practicing the
principles he preaches, especially giving to the poor.
Matthew inserts a paragraph here, about how the son of man will
come in glory and the disciples will sit on twelve thrones judging
the twelve tribes of Israel. But this verse is not found in Mark,
and is clearly an anachronism written by some later follower after
the notion of Jesus as king had been developed. Moreover, it
would have been meaningless since the twelve tribes of Israel no
THE HOUSEHOLDER AND THE LABORERS
Jesus goes on to tell another long parable, found only in the
gospel of Matthew, as follows:
For the kingdom of God is like a
householder, who went to the village early in the morning to
hire labourers to work in his vineyard. And when he had
contracted with them for a dollar a day, he sent them
into his vineyard.
He went out again during the middle
of the morning and saw men standing idle in the marketplace;
so he said to them, Go work in my vineyard, and at dusk I
will pay your wages. So they too went to the vineyard.
He went out yet again about noon and
hired others and again during the middle of the afternoon,
and hired still more.
Then at nearly five o'clock he went
out for one last time, and found still other men standing idle
and he asked, Why have you been standing here idle all
day? They answered, Because no man has hired us. So
he told them too to go work in his vineyard, and that
he would pay them at evening.
Then when dusk had fallen, he told
the foreman to pay them all their wages, beginning with the
last he had hired. So when the men who had been hired at
5 o'clock came, they each received a dollar for their
Then those who had been hired earlier
in the morning came, and they were sure that they would be
paid more than the last hired; but each of them too received
a dollar. Then they complained about the householder
and said, These last have worked only one hour, but you
have paid them the same as us, who have borne the burden
of the day and the scorching heat.
But the householder told them,
Friend, I did not do you anything wrong; didn't you contract
with me to work for a dollar a day? Take your wages, and go
home now; it is all right for me to pay the last as much as
I have paid you. Isn't it lawful for me to do what I want
with my money? or do you think that you are better than I am?
Jesus introduces this parable by saying "the kingdom of heaven is
like", so the parable seems to be about of the reign of God; he
and his disciples are the first labourers, and those who come at
later times are future followers of the movement. So Jesus seems
to be saying that all of those who become labourers for the
kingdom of God will be rewarded equally, presumably by being given
"life", however it is that Jesus is or was using that word or
what he means.
THIRD FORECAST OF HIS DEATH
As they were going in the way up to Jerusalem, Jesus again took
the twelve disciples to one side, and tried to tell them what was
going to happen to him:
(Mark 10:32-34;Luke 18:31-34;Matt.20:17-19)
Let me tell you one more time: we are
going up to Jerusalem, and this son of man shall be arrested
by the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn
him to death, and shall turn him in to the Romans; and they
shall mock him, and shall spit upon him, and shall whip him,
and shall kill him.
But I predict that within three days
my spirit will revive among you all and empower you.
No clearer forecast of his future was ever told by any man; but
Mark says that the disciples did not understand a word. This is
the third time that Jesus has foretold his death, but his words
were incomprehensible to the disciples, and for all the perception
they had of his meaning, they might as well not have heard it
REQUEST BY JAMES AND JOHN
Mark and Matthew now report a short event involving the Sons
of Thunder (James and John) which shows that they had not yet
grasped Jesus' teachings about humility and service. Again it's
in the form of a little dialogue:
THE BROTHERS: Master, we would ask you to do
for us anything that we ask.
JESUS (not fooled): What is it that you want
to ask of me?
THE BROTHERS: Grant that we may sit, one at your
right hand and one at your left hand, when you
attain all your glory.
Matthew seems to have been unwilling to say that the disciple John
made this audacious request, so he says it was their mother who
asked it. Either way, Jesus was not fooled by the question, but
probably disappointed; he has told them when they were still in
Capernaum to quit jockeying for position and just take care
of each other and other people, as salt seasons and yeast leavens.
So he answers sharply:
JESUS: You haven't the slightest idea what you
are asking for. Can you drink of my cup, or be
baptized with my baptism?
THE BROTHERS: We can, Master.
JESUS (sighing): Perhaps you can drink of the cup
of suffering, and endure the baptism of fire; but
to sit on a throne of glory, I don't care whether
it is on the right hand or the left, I cannot give
to you; only God decides that, and whoever it is
must deserve it.
THE OTHER DISCIPLES(indignantly): Why should James
and John get to be any higher than the rest of us?
(Mark 10:42-45;Luke 22:25-27;Matt.20:25-28)
JESUS (sighing again): The kings of the earth lord
it over their subjects, and exercise authority over
them; but it must not be so among you; whoever would
be great among you must be your servant; and whoever
would be first must be the servant of the servants.
For this son of man did not come to
be served, but to serve others, and to give his life so
that others might be saved.
This little homily confirms that he expects to be killed when they
reach Jerusalem ("to give his life"); and that he is disappointed
at their lack of understanding. Luke reports only Jesus' last two
paragraphs about the servant of servants.
THE BLIND BEGGAR OF JERICHO
Mark and the other two report one final healing event while
they are in Jericho. There was a blind man in Jericho, named
Bar-Timaeus, the son of Timaeus. When he heard that Jesus was
there, he called out to him and begged to be healed, even though
he was shooshed by the rest of the citizens.
(Mark 10:46-52;Luke 18:35-43;Matt.20:29-34)
BAR-TIMAEUS: Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!
JESUS: What would you that I should do for you?
BAR-TIMAEUS: Rabboni, that I receive my sight.
JESUS: Go your way; I tell you, your faith will heal you.
This is the only place in the gospels where Jesus is called the
"son of David", but that was an oriental way of praising someone
and did not refer to Jesus' ancestry. Matthew tells us that there
were two blind men, and that Jesus "touched their eyes", from which
we can guess that here, as in Beth-Saida, he rubbed spit on the
man's eyes to remove the cataracts. But both Mark and Luke merely
report Jesus as telling him, as above, that his faith would heal
him. All the gospels say that he "regained" his sight; and even
in the gospel of John, Jesus uses spittle and clay to heal a blind
man. All three gospels also report that Bar-Timaeus followed along
THE DINNER WITH ZACCHEUS
Luke reports an interesting event found in Document P that
happened when they finally arrived at Jericho. There was a huge
crowd that had heard that he was coming, and the streets were
filled with folks trying to get a look at this preacher whose fame
had spread throughout Palestine. And as Jesus was passing through
the city, he spotted a short well-dressed older man clinging to a
branch of a sycamore tree looking down at him as he passed. Jesus
must have noticed that many of the people in the crowd were
pointing to the man in the tree and muttering under their breath,
and he also must have heard someone say the man's name, so he
JESUS: Zaccheus, make haste, and come down from that
tree; for today I must stay at your house.
We are told that Zacchaeus did indeed make haste, and scrambled
down from the tree, and happily led Jesus to his own house. We
can guess that he was very pleased to be the host for Jesus' stay
in Jericho. But the crowd was less pleased; Zacchaeus was a rich
tax-collector or publican, and disliked by the residents of
Jericho, who muttered to each other:
CROWD: This man Jesus has gone to lodge and eat with a
publican that is a sinner.
But Zacchaeus stood at the table, serving the guests himself, and
finally he made an announcement to the assembled company:
ZACCHEUS: Look, everyone: today I am giving half of my
goods to the poor; and if there is anyone whom I have
cheated in his taxes, I will restore his own to him
No doubt there was applause from the guests and from the crowd,
and there must have been a pleased look on Jesus' face; here was
someone who heard his teachings about riches and took them
seriously. But Zacchaeus was merely doing what is prescribed in
the Torah, in the 22nd chapter of Exodus, where anyone who has
deprived someone else unfairly is to restore to them fourfold, or
fivefold. And so Jesus answered:
JESUS: Today is the reign of God come into this house;
and it is a cause for rejoicing, since Zacchaeus is also
a son of Abraham.
However, Zacchaeus is not heard of again, either in the gospels,
or in the rest of the New Testament. Perhaps he continued to live
quietly in Jericho, giving half of his income to the poor, and
without taking from anyone more than they owed, in keeping with
the teachings both of Jesus and of John the Baptizer, as well as
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
Now we get another long parable in Luke, with a similar report
found later in Matthew, called the parable of the talents:
A certain nobleman was going into a
far country, so he called his servants to him, and put them
in charge of his finances. And he gave one of them five
talents and another two, and another one; and he instructed
them to manage his business until he returned.
Immediately the servant that had
received the five talents went and traded with them, and soon
he had five more talents. The servant that had received two
talents soon doubled his money also.
But the servant that had received one
talent went and dug a hole and hid his lord's money.
And after many days the nobleman came
back, and called his servants again for a reckoning.
And the servant that had received the
five talents came and brought the other five, and showed them
to him. The lord was pleased, and set the servant over
an even larger part of his wealth.
And the servant that had received two
talents came and brought the other two, and showed them to
him. Again the lord was pleased, and set the servant over
a great deal of his wealth.
Finally the one who had received only
one talent came and said, Sir, I knew you were a severe man,
reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where
you did not scatter; so I kept your talent hidden in
the ground; see, here it is.
But his lord said to him, You lazy
servant, since you say that I reap where I do not sow, and
gather where I did not scatter, you should at least have put
my money in the bank, so that I could have gotten it
back with interest.
Take the talent away from him, and
give it to the servant that has ten talents. For unto every
one who has much shall more be given; but from him who has
nothing, even that which he has will be taken away.
A "talent" was a considerable weight of coinage, varying in the
countries around the Great Sea, but roughly about 2,000 dollars in
modern money. But what is the point of this parable? It might be,
Invest your money, and make more; but that seems like a commonplace
observation, and also seems inconsistent with Jesus' teachings about
wealth. But the point might be: Develop your talents, and you will
be promoted; stripped of the taint of mammony, that may indeed have
been Jesus' purpose in telling the parable. But perhaps the point
of the parable is not the increase of an investment but the
punishment of the person who does NOT invest, by the loss of his
wealth. But it is most difficult to see what this parable has to
do with the appearance of the reign of God!
And it is hard to see how increasing your wealth by investment
is consistent with Jesus' earlier teachings: Sell all that you
have; and, Lust not after possessions, for you cannot serve both
God and mammon. Neither is the concept of taking away a poor
person's little holding because they didn't invest it consistent
with Jesus' teaching that the eleventh hour labourers are
rewarded by the owner of the vineyard equally with the rest, or
that his followers were to be poor, or that the poor were blessed.
Such a concept would seem to be saying that the reign of God
consists of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer!
which we cannot believe Jesus would have supported. In short,
perhaps the original meaning of the parable has been lost in
transmission, so that we cannot really tell what this parable is
telling us about the reign of God, or ethical behaviour, or
anything else Jesus has been talking about so far.
But it is possible that Jesus may simply have been saying that
the Jews were like the servant who buried his one talent, and that
since they have not applied the teachings of John the Baptizer or
the great prophets of the eighth century BCE, or the Torah itself,
they will not count in the establishment of any kind of peaceful
kingdom on earth, and will certainly not attain the reign of God
of which he and John have spoken. But who can the servant with
the ten talents represent? the Romans? the Herodians? the common
people? anybody at all? And is it God who is supposed to be the
lord who reaps where he does not sow? It is a most puzzling
parable, despite being one of the best known. But we can see that
his parables are certainly getting more political, and not at all
as simple and clear as the ones he told at first back home on the
plain of Gennesaret.