Friday, November 13

Luke 18:18-23: This account, which Luke shares with the other Synoptics (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22), is often referenced as the story of “the rich young man.” In fact, however, only Matthew says that the fellow was “young” (neaniskosMatthew 19:22). Bearing in mind that references to youth are always relative (I now find myself using that reference to men in their thirties, for instance), it would be pointless to think of this as an inconsistency among the Evangelists.

The emphasis is different in Mark and Luke, however; indeed, these two quote the fellow to the effect that he had kept all the commandments “since youth” (ek neotetos), which may suggest that the man in question thought of himself as somewhat older. Luke, moreover, specifies that the man had been around long enough to have become a “leader” (archon–verse 18).

This difference among the witnesses is perhaps significant in one respect—namely, whatever his age, the wealthy person was certainly immature in mind. Otherwise, how explain his inability to assess the value of “eternal life” (zoe aionios–verse 17) in comparison with his current wealth? It was surely a sign of immaturity that he counted his present possessions (verse 23) more valuable than a “treasure in heaven” (verse 22).

More alarming to the average reader, perhaps, is the story’s message that a man can observe all the commandments (verse 21) and still come up short (eti hen soi leipei–verse 22) with respect to eternal life. One recalls, in this respect, the parable of the rich man in 16:19-31. In that case too, the rich man lost eternal life by living solely for the sake of this life. In both instances, as well, an insouciance about the higher value of heaven was accompanied by a lack of concern for the poor.

What, after all, did the man really lose? Or, to put the question in another way, what alone constitutes what is desirable—what alone is good? The present story contains the answer to this question as well: “No one is good but God alone” (verse 19 RSV). This is what the “leader” has lost—God, the sole source of eternal happiness. No wonder that his sorrow sets in immediately.

Saturday, November 14

Luke 18:24-30: In all the Synoptic Gospels the story of the wealthy man, who declines the summons of Jesus, introduces a dominical discourse on the spiritual danger of wealth and the reward attending those that relinquish all things for the sake of Christ.

Although some manuscripts and versions (including the Latin) say that this discourse came in response to the sadness of the departing man (“Jesus saw that he was sorrowful”—verse 24), the older, more reliable texts (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, et al) omit this detail. Nonetheless, all the textual witnesses testify that this discourse was given on this specific occasion (“Seeing him, Jesus said . . .”–Idon de avton ho Iesus eipen).

The two passages are also linked by a concern for “eternal life” (verses 18,30). In context this eternal life is identified with the Kingdom of God (verses 24,25,29; cf. 16:17).

The rich man’s loss came from an inability to give up his wealth and trust solely in God, the only Good (verse 19). That is to say, it was a failure in faith. Wealth, after all, means more than finances. It means human achievement as a whole, including intellectual, cultural, and even moral achievement (“All this I have done from my youth”). The rich man found himself unable to make this step, the step of faith in God, the only step by which a man “enters” (verses 17,24,25) into the Kingdom and “receives” (verse 30) eternal life. This is not a human achievement. Only God, the one Good, makes it possible (verse 27). Salvation—being ‘saved”—is beyond the ability of man. Thus, the Lord’s summons to self-abnegation is an invitation to faith.

Peter, often quick to point out the differences between himself and others, contrasts the response of the Apostles to that of the rich man. He wants to know, how is this going to pay off for us? (verse 28) Jesus, in response, lists the special blessings of the Kingdom, both for the Apostles and for those who imitate their example (verse 29).

We note that only Luke (contrast Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29) mentions the leaving of a wife. Unless we are to suppose this means the careless abandonment of domestic responsibilities, the inclusion of a wife is a reference to consecrated celibacy, celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, and thus has the Christians Church always understood it.

Sunday, November 15

Luke 18:31-34: The foregoing discourse on wealth and self-abnegation described the latter as following Jesus (verse 28). The present section, which is the Lord’s third prediction of His sufferings and death, expounds on the true meaning of this following.

Unlike Luke’s two earlier prophecies of the Passion (9:22,44), and unlike Matthew (20:17-19) and Mark (10:32-34) in the present instance, this announcement of the Lord’s sufferings and death is portrayed as the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures: “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished” (verse 31). Luke thus prepares the reader, prior to the Passion narrative itself, for the theme of the Lord’s post-Resurrection appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “‘Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (24:25). This is Luke’s way of enclosing the Passion story together within the theme of biblical prophecy.

This theme of Scriptural fulfillment serves both an apologetic and a theological interest. First, it answers the objections of the Jews, for whom the Cross was a “stumbling block” (1 Corinthians 1:23), and, second, it binds together the entire biblical narrative as a single history of salvation.

Luke finishes the present story with an observation about the Apostles which is missing in Matthew and Mark: “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (verse 34). This observation too will be taken up in the Lord’s words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (24:25) This detail is added by Luke to indicate that even the faithful friends of Jesus wee slow and reluctant to perceive the necessity of the Cross. This is why they resisted the message of the Scriptures.

By way of contrast, Luke later introduces the Ethiopian eunuch. This latter, struggling understand biblical prophecy (Acts 8:30-34), responds with alacrity when Philip elucidates such texts by recourse to the story of the Passion (8:35-37).

Monday, November 16

Luke 18:35-43: Jesus comes to Jericho for the last time. Only Luke tells of two incidents that took place during this visit: the healing of the blind beggar and the encounter with Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree. We may consider three components in this story of the blind man: the road, the journey, and the encounter.

First, let us consider the road, the hodos, beside which sits the blind man begging. At this point Jesus is headed south and is about 17 miles from Jerusalem. He has reached a point 1200 feet below sea level, and He is headed toward Bethany, on the east side of the Mount of Olives, about 2500 feet above sea level. The event narrated here took place a few days before the raising of Lazarus and Palm Sunday.

This road, then, is the way of the Cross. Jesus is headed for Calvary, and He is very aware of this. Indeed, in the verses that immediately precede this story in Luke, Jesus had for the third time predicted the terrible t
hings that would happen to Him before the end of the following week: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again”(18:31-34). Clearly, His Passion was much on the Lord’s mind when He meets this blind beggar.

As Jesus walked south, He crossed at right angles the path that Joshua had followed when the Israelites entered the Holy Land at Jericho. This crossing bears a rich symbolic message, for it really does make of Jericho a cross-roads, a place where the earth is marked with the sign of the Cross.

Second, let us consider the journey of Jesus. Luke specifically says, with respect to this journey, that Jesus was “drawing near” to Jericho. I suggest that this “drawing near” should be read as symbolic, because both Matthew and Mark say that the encounter with the blind man took place as Jesus was leaving Jericho.

Luke describes this journey of Jesus. He is said to be “drawing near” and “passing by.” This is, in fact, what Jesus of Nazareth does; He draws near and passes by. It is the movement of divine grace, which takes place in time. Like time, grace is not static; it comes and moves on. Grace is not static, because time is not static. When Jesus draws nigh and is about to pass by, He must be stopped! The moment must be seized, and that seizure best happens right away.

How, then, does our blind beggar react? He recognizes the moment—the fleeting moment—of visitation and opportunity. Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, and He must be stopped, or He will quickly be gone. So the blind beggar takes hold of the moment. He grabs it with all his force. He shouts out for mercy, and he shouts out repeatedly. He forces Jesus to stop passing by.

Luke says this explicitly: statheis ho Iesous—“Jesus, standing still.” He had been passing by, but He is no longer passing by. Time suddenly stands still, as the blind man brings his Lord to a stop.

And this brings us to the third element in the story, the encounter. The blind man pleads for mercy, and when the Lord asks him to be a bit more specific, the beggar answers that he wants to be able to see.

At first the Lord’s question—“What do you want me to do for you?”—may seem impertinent. After all, Jesus knows that the man is blind, so why would He ask such a thing?

But this problem attends all our prayers. The Lord always knows our condition before we ask Him. He is already well aware of our needs. He does not require an update on our problems. The purpose of prayer, however, is not to provide God with information. The purpose of supplication is to confess our needs; it is to speak with God as needy people

Jesus’ question to the blind man, therefore, was not a request for information. It was an endeavor to make the man a true suppliant. It was to elicit a prayer, in which the man could place his faith in Jesus.

This blind man, in the confession of his need, may be contrasted with many people in this enlightened age, which is peopled so many individuals and groups that are utterly blind but have no notion of. They are forever bumping into harmful things that they are unable, by reason of their blindness, to recognize.

This blind man, Luke tells us, when he received his sight, immediately followed Jesus, and the journey continued along the road, going toward the Cross, the blind man now part of the procession.

Tuesday, November 17

Revelation 3:1-6: In antiquity Sardis had been the capital city of the famous Croesus, king of Lydia, and in Persian times it was the greatest city of Asia Minor, linked by a major highway to the faraway Persian capital of Susa. The acropolis of the city was so high and well fortified as to be nearly impregnable. In fact, it was never taken by direct assault. It was captured twice, however, on both occasions by sneak attacks, once by Cyrus in 546 and once by Antiochus the Great in 218.

It is against another surprise attack that John warns the people of Sardis now (verse 3), using an image found elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 24:43; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Truth to tell, lack of vigilance was a great problem in the church at Sardis, part of its more general condition of laziness and despondency. After all, John does not mention a single heresy at Sardis. The evil in that congregation is, rather, apathy and boredom; the congregation is too dead to be sick (verse 1).

Therefore, John summons them to vigilance (verse 2). Very few Christians in Sardis have measured up (verse 4), and the others are in danger of being removed from “the Book of Life” (verse 5; cf. also 17:8; 21:27). This latter image is not a metaphor for eternal predestination, obviously, precisely because names can be removed from it.

The Book of Life is, rather, a register of the citizens of heaven, and the metaphor of erasure testifies that the names written therein, as long as those who bear those names still live on earth, can be removed if the removal is warranted. There is no question, then, of some sort of eternal roll call already fixed and unchangeable, independent of the choices each man makes in his own heart. As long as he is on this earth, there remains the possibility that a man’s name may be erased from the Book of Life. Hence, the necessity of vigilance.

Wednesday, November 18

Luke 19:11-27: This parable, partly matched in Matthew 25:14-27, is more complex than its counterpart and more allegorical. It contains not only the theme of divine stewardship but also that of obtaining a kingdom.

The central figure in this parable in Luke is a man who makes a distant trip to procure a royal title. In its theological sense the story symbolizes the departure of Christ to heaven, whence He will someday return with this kingly title to assess the stewardship of His servants on earth. That is to say, “He will come again in glory to judge.”

Among the other allegorical elements in the account we note the future king’s rejection by his own people, along with his eventual rejection and punishment of them.

Many readers of this parable have observed that its details are strangely parallel to things that actually transpired in the career of Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great. At the death of the latter in 4 B.C., Archelaus journeyed to Rome to plead for the title and authority of his father from Caesar Augustus. A delegation of Jews also went to Rome for the purpose of making the opposite request (Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.1. §299-302).

It is difficult to assess the value of these interesting parallels. One is at least justified in pointing out, nonetheless, that whereas in the Lukan parable the man’s enemies fail to prevent his obtaining the kingdom, in the case of Archelaus the enemies were somewhat more successful. In this latter case Rome declined to give Archelaus the title of king. He was given authority as “tetrarch” (“one-quarter-king”) over Judea and Samaria (cf. Matthew 2:22), from which position, nonetheless, he was deposed ten years later.

Thursday, November 19

Luke 19:28-40: The journey motif in Luke now arrives at its climax. Jesus enters Jerusalem, towards which His whole ministry, as narrated by Luke, has been tending by providential necessity.

As anyone who reads him closely knows, Luke’s story is dominated by the image of Jerusalem. It begins (1:9) and ends (24:52-53) and ends in Jerusalem (a feature that explains why Luke includes no appearances of the risen Jesus in Galilee, which are mentioned in all three of the other Gospels). Jesus has now arrived in that city where human redemption will be accomplished, the “redemption in Jerusalem” (2:38).

Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the east, from the Mount of O
lives (verse 29). This is the mountain on which He will soon be tried in the garden(22:39) and from which He will, at the end of Luke, ascend into heaven (24:50). The climax of the Lukan journey motif, then, comes on a mountain.

At Bethany (from which He is pictured both as going into Jerusalem and going into heaven), which is on the east side of the Mount of Olives, Jesus is about two miles east of Jerusalem. The village of Bethphage is closer to the top of the Mount of Olives, 2673 feet above sea level.

The Lord chooses a donkey, not a destrier, for His entry into the Holy City (verse 30), signifying that He comes peacefully, not as a conqueror (cf. Genesis 49:11; 1 Kings 1:38; Zechariah 9:9). He is, after all, the rightful king of this city.

The chant with which He is accompanied (verse 38) comes from Psalm 118 (Greek and Latin 117), the last of the Hallel Psalms (113-118 [112-117]), which will soon be chanted in full near the end of the Passover Seder. Perhaps in consideration of his Gentile readers, Luke omits the word Hebrew word “Hosanna.”

Friday, November 20

Luke 19:41-44: The rejoicing hymnody of the previous verses suddenly turns to lamentation. In foretelling Jerusalem’s conquest by the Romans in the present verses, Jesus uses the language employed by the prophet Jeremiah when he foretold the earlier downfall of that city to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 6:6,13-14,17,21; 7:11). We recall that in Luke’s narrative this is the first time that Jesus has seen Jerusalem since His temptation in 4:9. All through His ministry, however, Jesus’ thought and intent have been directed to Jerusalem (Luke 9:31,51,53; 13:22,33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11,28). Now He “sees” it and weeps (verse 41). Since Luke does not often portray the emotions of Jesus, this detail is especially striking.

In verse 42 the underlying Semitic word for “peace,” shalom, is part of the root of the city’s own name Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 7:1-2).

The details of the siege in verse 43 are quite identical to the Romans’ treatment of Jerusalem just prior to its downfall. This fact, however, is not especially significant, inasmuch as all besieged cities are besieged in pretty much the same way, and Jerusalem had been besieged many times.

The reason given for Jerusalem’s coming destruction is identical with the reason given for the city’s earlier destruction at the hands of the Babylonians—namely, its failure to recognized the hour of the visitation of divine grace. The removal of one stone from atop another is a description of its “unbuilding” (cf. Haggai 2:15).

In the structure of Luke’s narrative, verses 43-48 describe Jesus’ first entry into the Temple since He was twelve years old (2:40-50). His purging of the Temple here is a partial fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy in 2:34. It is also, of course, a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 3:1-2.
Luke does not, like Mark, specify that this purging of the Temple took place on Monday. It is peculiar to Luke, however, that Jesus’ action prepares the Temple to become a place appropriate for His teaching, which follows immediately (verse 47).

The Temple’s purging is also related to its being a “house of prayer” (verse 46). This theme is especially prominent in Luke (cf. 1:8-11; 2:37; 18:10; 24:53).

During the ensuing days Jesus’ enemies endeavor to destroy Him, in evident reaction to the claims in His “take over” of the Temple for His own teaching ministry. The controversy here has to do entirely with the question of who has proper authority in the Temple. In Luke’s theology, Jesus in due course replaces the Temple, a theme that will be made explicit in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.

When Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple, it was the most eschatological of actions. Jesus thereby affirmed that the temple really is a precinct separated from an “outside,” where are found “dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Revelation 22:15). Thus, the Bible’s final book does not portray an afterlife of universal reconciliation, but an everlasting separation of wheat and chaff.