THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE
Lesson 12: Chapter 17:1-19:28
The Last Days of Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem
Give us the will to go the distance in our service to our Savior, Christ Jesus. We don’t want to be satisfied with the least as sufficient; we want to Give Him our best. We know that the way to achieve success in our mission is a daily examination of conscience where we ask ourselves what more can we do to advance the Kingdom? Give us the strength of will of St. Paul and the dedication of service of St. Peter that we might follow in their footsteps across the threshold of eternity into the heavenly Kingdom. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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You cannot think yourself greater than you are simply because you are a child of God. You ought to recognize the effect of grace, yes, but you cannot forget the lowliness of your nature. Nor would I have you become vain simply because you fulfill your duty. Remember that, in the like manner, the sun and the moon and the angels do exactly what they are supposed to do.
St Ambrose, Commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel
After Jesus’ dinner at the home of a wealthy Pharisee, where He healed a man on the Sabbath and taught the Pharisees about humility and God’s mercy (14:1-24), he left the dinner and continued to teach the crowds of Jews who were following him (14:25-16:15:32). Turing to His disciples, He taught them about the right use of material wealth, the rejection of the secular world, and obedience to the Law that was necessary for discipleship. His continues His teaching that began in 14:25-16:31 by turning to address His disciples and the Apostles (17:1-10).
Chapter 17 begins with four sets of teachings/sayings of Jesus on different aspects of discipleship:
- On the inevitability of sin/scandal in the Christian community (17:1-3a)
- On the duty of Christians to forgive (17:3b-4)
- On the power of faith (17:5-6)
- On the demands of Christian service (17:7-10)
Luke 17:1-3a ~ Temptations to sin
1 He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin [skandalon] will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin [skandalizo]. 3a Be on your guard!
The word translated “sin” in verse 1 might better be translated “scandal.” However, it is sin, after all, that causes scandal in the Church. The Greek noun skandalon can have two meanings:
- A “trap or snare” (as for example in the Greek translation of Josh 23:13 and Ps 68:22).
- “Something over which one could stumble” (as for example in the Greek translation of Leviticus 19:14 and Ps 118:165).
Both meanings refer to the occasion for sin.
In the New Testament the inspired writers use the word in reference to the Cross as a “stumbling block” to belief in Jesus as the Messiah (see 1 Cor 1:23; Rom 9:33; 11:9; and 1 Pt 2:8) and also for offenses within the community of believers which can cause a member to “stumble” in their faith and commitment (as in 1 Cor 8:13; Rom 14:13and 21). St. Luke uses the noun skandalon in 7:23 in the first meaning of the word, “a trap or snare”; but he uses the noun in 17:1 and the cognitive verb skandalizo, “to cause to stumble,” in verse 2 in the second sense of the word.(1)
While a member of the community falling into sin can cause a scandal, St. Paul says we must also avoid what can be perceived as sin. In 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 he gives the example of those (probably Jews) who would think a Christian was worshiping false idols by eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol in a pagan temple (the origin of most meat in a pagan city). St. Paul says that a knowledgeable Christian knows that the meat has no power and no acknowledgement of the false god was intended, yet he says he avoids the practice of eating such meat in case his action would be a stumbling block to someone in accepting Christ. St. Paul says And then it would be through your knowledge that this brother for whom Christ died, vulnerable as he is, has been lost. So, sinning against your brothers and wounding their vulnerable consciences, you would be sinning against Christ (1 Cor 8:11-12 NJB). As Christians we must not take up any practice or action that could be interpreted as contrary to the teachings of the Church, such as couples who are not married and not related to each other but who are living together in the same residence, even if they are only living together as friends (CCC 2284-86).
Question: Jesus teaching in 17:1-3 teaching includes what two warnings?
- The warning that sin that leads to scandal will inevitably occur within the Christian community.
- The warning that those who cause scandal within the community that affects the faith of others will be judged severely by God.
As a symbol of divine judgment, Jesus uses a millstone. The same image of divine judgment is also used in Revelation 18:21-22. In Jesus’ time there were the small hand-operated millstones that only weighed a few pounds, the same kind used down through the millenniums. However, most milling was done by large, communally used rotary millstones turned by animal tied to the stone who traveled in a circle. This is probably the type of millstone to which Jesus is referring. Such a millstone, depending on the size, could weigh several hundreds of pounds. If this type of millstone was tied to someone who was thrown into the sea, that person would be doomed to physical death in the same way a person who leads one of God’s children into sin and scandal within the community will be doomed to spiritual death.
Luke 3a Be on your guard!
Question: According to St. Paul, when a Christian’s sin causes damage to the faith of another Christian, what is the full extent of his sin? See 1 Cor 8:12.
Answer: He has sinned not only against his brother or sister but against Christ!
Question: For whom is Jesus’ warning intended? What can be the result of scandal within the Christian community?
Answer: Jesus’ serious warning, to first century Christians and to Christians down through the generations before His return, is to guard against scandal within the community and the judgment associated with such sin. The behavior of the Christian community must be consistent with their Gospel message and their convictions or they do damage to the spiritual strength of the community and to their mission to preach Jesus’ Gospel message of salvation to non-believers who will judge the message by their actions.
Luke 17:3b-4 ~ The necessity of brotherly correction and forgiveness
3b If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.”
The theme of this teaching is brotherly correction and forgiveness. Jesus taught at length on this subject in Matthew 18:15-22. The Greek word for “brother” is adelphos, meaning a sibling “from the womb”/from the same mother. This is the only word used for “brother” in the New Testament and can refer to a sibling (Mt 4:18, 21); a half-brother (Lk 3:1, 19), a kinsman or a countryman/covenant brother (Mt 5:22;7:3-5Lk 6:41, 42). In this context it refers to a brother or sister in the covenant community (also see for example Acts 1:15; 2:29, 37; 6:3; 9:30;10:23). The word “rebuke” is from the verb epitiman and suggests a frank but gentle admonition; not an angry or irrational correction (Fitzmyer, page 1140). The word “forgive” is in the future tense in the Greek text and the “you” is plural.
Jesus’ teaching is that since there is sin the world and all men and women are sinners, the disciples must accept the inevitability that sin will occur within the community.
Question: In this passage what three commands does Jesus give concerning the community’s response to a brother or sister who sins?
- Admonish the offending Christian brother/sister (verse 3b).
- If the correction is accepted and is followed by the request for forgiveness, forgiveness must be offered (verse 3b).
- Forgiveness must be unconditional (verse 4).
The command to forgive is also found in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:4. When Jesus mentions a seven-fold forgiveness He is speaking of unlimited forgiveness. Seven is one of the so-called “perfect numbers” and is symbolic of fullness and completion (see the document “The Significance of Numbers in Scripture” on the website and also the Encyclopedia Judaica, New York, Macmillan Publishers, 1971, pages 1254-61, esp. 1257).
Luke 17:5-6 ~ The power of faith
5 And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6 The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’
This is the first mention of the Apostles as a separate group from within the community of disciples sinceLuke 9:10 when they returned from their first missionary journey (Jesus did mention them in His teaching in 11:49).
Question: Why do the Apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith? Is there a connection to previous teachings?
Answer: Their request shows that they have been reflecting upon Jesus’ teachings on discipleship in Luke 14:25-35, 16:8b-18 and 17:1-4. To fulfill Jesus’ teachings on the demands of true discipleship, the Apostles realize that their ability to live in compliance to Jesus’ teaching depends on their faith. However, they understand that they will need more than their frail human faith to be obedient to Jesus’ commands, and so they ask Him to increase their faith.
Question: For the second time Jesus uses the image of the growth of a small seed (see Lk 13:19), but what is different about His example this time and what is His teaching?
Answer: This time He uses an example that defies natural law. His answer to them is that genuine Christian faith is a process in which growing faith can lead to limitless power. A person who experiences this kind of enriched faith can effect changes that are not according to the laws that govern the temporal world.
Luke 17:7-10 ~ The Parable of the Unprofitable Servants
7 “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, Come here immediately and take your place at table?’ 8 Would he not rather say to him, Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? 9Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 10So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obligated to do.'”
This is the last set of sayings/teachings in this series addressing the inadequacy of service versus the expectation of reward. Once again Luke uses a familiar household analogy of master and servant/slave (see 12:35-40, 42-48; 13:25-27; 14:16-24; 16:1-13). Servants/slaves always ate after the master of the house had finished his meal. In verse 9 the point is not good manners but social convention and acceptable behavior for a servant in the presence of his master. The rhetorical question Jesus asks in verse 9 presupposes a “no” answer.
Question: What is the comparison in this parable?
Answer: In this parable Jesus compares human service to Christian discipleship.
In serving an earthly master, a servant does not deserve or expect a greater reward for doing what is expected of him. Such an attitude is like the Pharisee in Luke 14:15 who believed the Pharisee host of the meal and the other invited Pharisees and scribes deserved to eat at God’s banquet table in the heavenly kingdom simply because they were descendants of Abraham and members of the covenant. And yet, as Jesus has shown them repeatedly in His teachings, they had failed in their service to God in not fulfilling even the minimum that was expected “they failed in the understanding and teaching of the Law (Lk 14:3-6), in mercy, compassion and justice to the poor (Lk 11:39-52), and in their love of money over love of God (16:13-15; also see St. John the Baptist’s condemnation of the Jews for this attitude in Lk 3:7-9).
|Symbolic images in the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant (Lk 17:7-10)|
|The servants who work on the master’s land||Christians within the Kingdom of the Church|
|The unprofitable servants||Christians who only do the minimum service that God requires of a Christian|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013|
Question: What is Jesus point in this teaching that is summed up in verse 10? What can you say about Jesus’ warnings that we can apply to our Christian service?
- A Christian who only carries out the minimum requirements of service to the Kingdom can regard himself as an “unprofitable servant.”
- The conduct of a Christian in fulfilling what he sees as his covenant obligations does not guarantee his salvation “the reward of God’s grace is a gift and cannot be earned. Our good works are evidence of our faith and make us open to receiving God’s gift of grace.
- There is no room for human boasting as far as our service to the Master is concerned. If we take the attitude that our salvation is secure because we have done “our part,” our self-righteous attitude will be our downfall.
Luke’s Travel Narrative Part III
Luke 17:11 ~ As he was continuing his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through [between] Samaria and Galilee.
The last location Luke gave us was in 13:31 where we can assume that Jesus was in the territory of Perea on the east side of the Jordan River, the territory that Herod Antipas ruled in addition to the Galilee. That Jesus was in Perea for a time is also recorded in John 10:40 when Jesus withdrew across the river into Perea after He attended the Feast of Dedication in December of the last months of His ministry that will reach its climax in the spring. St. Luke lists Samaria before Galilee, therefore, the word translated “through” might be better translated as “between” (an acceptable alternate translation) making the location of His travels “between Samaria and Galilee.” St. John notes that Jesus returned across the Jordan from Perea into Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead (Jn chapter 11) and then withdrew to the region of the Judean wilderness to the north of Jerusalem, which could be the northern part of the wilderness in the district of Samaria (Jn 11:54). Luke 17:16 may suggest that He was in the district of southern Samaria which fits with that interpretation. Jesus is making His way toward the Jordan River Valley and down to Jericho (see Lk 18:35); from Jericho He will make His way up to Jerusalem.
Luke 17:12-19 ~ The cleansing of ten lepers
12 As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him 13and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” 14And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; 16 and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? 18Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” 19Then he said to him, “stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Jesus has entered an unnamed village (presumably on the border between Samaria and Judea) where He is greeted at a distance by ten lepers. The number “ten” may be significant. In the symbolic meaning of numbers in Scripture, ten is a number of perfection of order in God’s divine plan; for example there are ten commandments, there are ten Egyptian plagues, and there are ten virgins in Jesus’ parable representing the communities of the Church (Mt 25:1-13).
The ten lepers stand at a distance because those suffering from contagious skin diseases were “unclean” and were not allowed to enter villages (Num 5:2-3) or to approach a “clean” person (Lev 13:45-46). They cry out for mercy and begged Jesus to heal them. The outflowing of God’s mercy is, according to St. Luke, part of the expectation concerning the visitation of God (see Lk 1:50, 54, 58, 72, 78).
Question: What does Jesus tell them and why? See Lk 5:14; Lev 13:49; Lev 14:2-4, 19-20.
Answer: As in His other encounter with a leper, He tells them to be obedient to the Law and to show themselves to a priest. Jesus is giving them the instruction that a Jew must follow if he was healed of his skin disease in order to be received back into the community.
Their obedience in following His instruction leads to their healing. Presumably all the men were healed, but only the Samaritan returns in gratitude to thank Jesus. He is the one who would not be welcomed at the Jerusalem Temple or by a Jewish priest. A Samaritan would have to go to his own priest who was not recognized as a legitimate priest by the Jews. His act of prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet and giving thanks is a sign that he acknowledges Jesus as an agent of God. In the man “giving thanks,” St. Luke uses the Greek word eucherestein “the verb form of the noun that gives us the word “Eucharist.” The same verb will be used at the Last Supper. This is another positive example of an outsider who is a Samaritan (see Lk 11:29-37 the Parable of the Good Samaritan).
Question: What three rhetorical questions does Jesus ask in verses 17-18?
- Ten were cleansed, were they not?
- Where are the other nine?
- Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
When Jesus calls the man a “foreigner,” He identifies him as an outsider and not of the Sinai Covenant “the man is one who is outside the covenant like a Gentile. Jesus judges the man’s cry of gratitude and glorifying God as evidence of his conversion and tells him: “stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” This is the fourth time Jesus has used this phrase to conclude a healing (the sinful woman in 7:50; the bleeding woman in 8:48; and He will use it for the blind beggar in 18:42). He will use the phrase four times in Luke’s Gospel.
Question: What is ironic about this turn of events and how is it a sign?
Answer: It is ironic that it is a man who is not of the covenant who returns in gratitude to give thanks to God and the Jewish lepers did not. It is a sign of future events concerning Jesus and the Jews.
The Jews who accepted the gift of healing without expressing their gratitude have missed out one the most extraordinary moments of their lives as will their covenant brothers who reject the Messiah and His works!
Jesus’ next teaching begins in 17:20 and continues until 18:14.
Luke 17:20-21 ~ The coming of the Kingdom of God
20 Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, 21 and no one will announce, Look, here it is,’ or, There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”
The Greek preposition that is translated “among” can also be translated “within.” To translate the preposition “within” gives an entirely different meaning to Jesus’ teaching, suggesting that the rule of God that is the Kingdom is only a spiritual awareness. However, in other statements in St. Luke’s Gospel concerning the presence of the kingdom where this word is used, “among” appears to be the preferred translation; see for example Luke 10:9, 11 and 11:20 (Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, page 263). That the “Kingdom” of God is only a spiritual awareness also does not fit with Jesus’ definition of the Kingdom in His Kingdom Parables where the Kingdom is understood to be the New Covenant Church (on earth and in heaven) and the promised eternal/everlasting Kingdom in the books of the prophets (i.e. Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14, 27; Mt 13:24-50; Lk 14:15-24).
The Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection at the end of time (Acts 23:8); therefore the force of their question is when will the end of time come and will that be the coming of the Kingdom Jesus speaks of? Jesus tells them the coming of the Kingdom He speaks of cannot be observed like an event.
Question: What is it that Jesus tells the Pharisees is “among you” (plural) that is the Kingdom of God?
Answer: The Kingdom is present in Jesus “in His teachings, His miracle healings, and His Gospel of salvation.
Luke 17:22-37 ~ The Day of Judgment
22 Then he said to his disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 There will be those who will say to you, Look, there he is,’ or Look, here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit. 24 For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation. 26As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; 27 they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; 29 on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all. 30 So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, a person who is on the housetop and whose belongings are in the house must not go down to get them, and likewise a person in the field must not return to what was left behind. 32 Remember the wife of Lot. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it. 34 I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. 35 And there will be two women grinding meal together; on will be taken, the other left.” 37 They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.”
The “days” are the same days referred to in 18:8 “the Second Coming/Advent of Christ.
Question: The coming of the Kingdom cannot be observed as an event, but what will human beings be able to observe as an event and when will it happen? See 1 Thes 4:16; 2 Thes 1:1-10.
Answer: God’s divine judgment in the event of the Son of Man’s Second Advent when He will come in glory at the end of the age.
Jesus warns that the days will come when the people will long for these present days when He taught and healed (17:22). Between these days and His return there will be many false prophets who will claim to have His power and authority. Luke’s reference to the “days of the Son of Man” is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets’ prophecies of the “Day of the Lord” as a day of retribution (see Amos 5:18-20). Some of the same imagery used in this passage is also found in Matthew 24-25. In this passage Jesus is speaking of His sudden return after His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension; later in Luke 21:6-24 He will prophesy the judgment on His generation and the destruction of Jerusalem.
Question: To what natural phenomena, timing, and past events in Biblical history does Jesus’ compare His Second Coming?
Answer: The event will be sudden and similar to:
- Lighting in the sky
- God’s divine judgment in the days of the Great Flood in the time of Noah
- The judgment on Sodom that Abraham’s nephew Lot experienced.
Luke 17:32 Remember the wife of Lot. See Gen 19:26.
Question: What is the significance of this warning?
Answer: Lot’s wife missed out on her salvation because she did not heed the angel’s warning not to look back at the doomed city. In the same way those hearing Jesus’ teaching should heed His warning and be prepared.
Luke 17:33Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.
Lot’s wife identified her life with her possessions in Sodom, and in her longing to preserve that “life” she looked back and lost her life. The disciples must be prepared to give up all their material possessions to follow Jesus. They must commit their lives totally in service to Him “living in love of God and love of neighbor. In their willingness to give up their lives in this way, they will save their eternal lives (CCC 1889).
In verses 34-35 Jesus tells them at the time of the Judgment Day of the Son of Man, humanity will be divided into those destined for eternal life and those destined for eternal judgment (see Mt 25:31-44). Those “taken” probably refers to the “saved” since those “taken” in the Ark were saved as were Lot and his daughters who were “taken” out of the doomed city.
Luke 17:36/37 They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body [soma] is, there also the vultures [aetoi] will gather.”
Not yet understanding His teaching, the disciples (see verse 22) ask “where?” Where is the Kingdom? It is similar to the question the Pharisees asked in 17:20 but now they want to know, if the Kingdom is among them (17:21) where is it? Jesus answers them using the common phenomena of a gathering of birds of prey signaling the presence of a dead body; although it is significant that Jesus doesn’t use the word “corpse” [ptoma] as in Matthew 24:28, but “body” [soma]. It is the same word Jesus will use of Himself when He offers His disciples His body/soma at the Last Supper (Lk 22:19). The Greek word aetoi,for the birds of prey, may mean “eagles,” as in the Septuagint translation (LXX) of Exodus 19:4; Jeremiah 4:13; and in the New Testament in Revelation 4:7and 12:4. But most commentators suggest that the carrion metaphor necessities the translation “vultures,” as in Leviticus 11:13 and Deuteronomy 14:12(Fitzmyer, page 266).(3)
Question: What event does Jesus’ use of the metaphor of the “vultures” and “body” to answer the disciples question refer to? See Lk 17:25.
Answer: His answer is connected to His response in verse 25 and refers to His enemies who will “flock” like birds of prey around His body on the Cross.
The Kingdom of the Church is founded upon the moment when the Christ gives up His life on the Cross for the salvation of mankind to be followed by His Resurrection three days later. The sanctification of that first community of the earthly Kingdom will take place at Pentecost fifty days after the Resurrection. From the point of His Resurrection, the Kingdom that is the earthly Church will be saved through His sacrifice and nourished on their journey to salvation by the Body (soma; see1 Cor 11:24) of the resurrected Christ.
It must be humbly and realistically recognized that we are poor creatures, confused in ideas, tempted by evil, frail and weak, in continual need of inner strength and consolation. Prayer gives the strength for great ideals, to maintain faith, charity, purity and generosity. Prayer gives the courage to emerge from indifference and guilt, if unfortunately one has yielded to temptation and weakness. Prayer gives light to see and consider the events of one’s own life and of history in the salvific perspective of God and eternity. Therefore, do not stop praying! Let not a day pass without your having prayed a little! Prayer is a duty, but it is also a great joy, because it is a dialogue with God through Jesus Christ! Every Sunday, Holy Mass: if it is possible for you sometimes during the week. Every day, morning and evening prayers, and at the most suitable moments!”
Pope John Paul II, Audience with young people, March 14, 1979
Jesus offers three parables on the power of prayer in the Gospel of Luke:
- The Parable of the Persistent Neighbor (Lk 11:5-13) invites us to urgent prayer.
- The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Lk 18:1-8) is focused on one of the qualities of prayer “the necessity to pray without ceasing with the patience of faith.
- The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14) concerns the necessity of humility.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus prays:
- Before the decisive moments in His ministry (Lk 5:16; 10:21-23; 11:1)
- Before His Father’s witness to Him during His baptism (Lk 3:21)
- Before His Father’s witness to Him at the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-29)
- Before choosing His disciples and Apostles (Lk 6:12)
- Before St. Peter’s confession of Him as “the Messiah of God” (Lk 9:18-20)
- Before offering His Body and Blood at the Last Supper (Lk 22:17)
- Before leaving the Upper Room that His Apostles’ faith will not fail them when they are tested (Lk 22:31-32)
- Before His own fulfillment of His Father’s divine plan through His Passion (Lk 22:41-44)
Luke 18:1-8 ~ The Parable of the Persistent Widow
1 Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without become weary. He said, 2 “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. 3 And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ 4 For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her least she finally come and strike me.'” 6 The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. 7 Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? 8 I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Question: What is the contrast in the parable and what is the reason God will answer the prayers of one who is just as persistent as the widow in His story?
Answer: The contrast is between a persistent widow petitioning a judge and a Christian being persistent in petitioning God in prayer. The persistence of the widow’s petition to the judge got results in the same way the Christian’s patient persistence in petitioning God in prayer will get results “not because God finds the Christian irritating like the judge found the widow, but because God will reward a Christian’s patient and faithful persistence.
Luke 18:8 But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
This is the question the Pharisees and the disciples should have been asking themselves in 17:20 and 36/37. This is the crux of the problem facing mankind concerning the Second Advent of Christ. Jesus ends His teaching on the perseverance of prayer with the warning to remain firm in one’s faith. Faith and prayer are two sides of the same coin. If you have faith in God you will go to Him in prayer “if you pray, you strengthen your faith in God. The question Jesus asks is “will the professed children of God be patiently persistent in their faith, and will He find faith on earth when He returns?”
Luke 18:9-14 ~ The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 Two people went up to the Temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity “greedy, dishonest, adulterous “or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Question: What is the contrast in the parable?
Answer: The contrast is between a boasting Pharisee who is meticulous about external fulfillment of the Law and whose pride causes him to be self-centered and blind to his sins as opposed to a tax collector who humbly acknowledges both his sins and his need for God’s grace and mercy.
Question: Why does Jesus say the tax collector was justified, receiving God’s forgiveness for his sins, while the Pharisee is not justified? See Jn 9:39-41.
Answer: God judges hearts and not words. The Pharisee was not asking God’s forgiveness for his sins “he was only boasting of his good works and despising the tax collector. He was blind to his sins and so his sins remained. The tax collector abandoned himself to both God’s judgment and God’s mercy and therefore, through his humble confession of his sins, was forgiven.
Humility is one of the hallmarks of repentance and opens a channel to God’s divine grace. We should pray as David prayed after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet concerning his affair with Bathsheba: Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me … True I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me. Still you insist on sincerity of heart; in my inmost being teach me wisdom. Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure, wash me, make me whiter than snow… Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise. For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart (Ps 51:3-5, 7-9, 17-19).
Question: What did Saints Peter and James write about humility? See 1 Pt 5:5; Jam 4:6 and Prov 3:34 LXX.
Answer: Both Saints Peter and James wrote that God opposes the proud but gives His grace to the humble, quoting from the Greek translation ofProverbs 3:34.
Luke 18:15-17 ~ Jesus’ teaching on the children of the Kingdom
15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Mothers and fathers were bringing their infants to Jesus to pray over them and bless them (Mt 19:13; Mk 10:16).
Question: What is Jesus’ command concerning children and concerning the condition of discipleship?
- Children should not be prevented from coming to the Christ.
- Disciples must have child-like faith.
The command forbidding anyone to “prevent” children from coming to Jesus has been seen as a justification of infant baptism, together with the Old Covenant practice of male babies entering the covenant on the eighth day of birth (Gen 17:9-12; Lev 12:3). The same Greek word is found in the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Philip in Acts 8:36.
In this episode the command for child-like faith presents a contrast to the self-righteous and critical attitude of the Pharisee in the previous parable and the dilemma of the rich ruler in the next encounter with Christ. In both teachings, the message is that salvation is through God’s grace and not merely by human merit.
Luke 18:18-23 ~ The wealthy aristocrat
18 An official asked him this question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments, You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother.'” 21 And he replied, “All of these I have observed from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this he said to him, “There is one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich.
The man’s request for Jesus’ instruction on what he must do to inherit eternal life was a sincere request. InMatthew 10:20 we are told that he is a young man and in Mark 10:21 that Jesus loved him, suggesting the young man was replying in earnest when he told Jesus he obeyed the commandments Jesus cited concerning love of neighbor: Jesus, looking at him, loved him…
Question: Why does Jesus ask the man “Why do you call me good?” What is the irony in Jesus’ statement to the young man in verse 19?
Answer: He asks the young man “Why do you call me good?” and then tells the young man that “No one is good but God alone.” In other words, Jesus is saying that every man is a sinner. The only One who is “good” is God. The irony is that in Jesus’ question He is subtly asking the young man if he has discerned Jesus’ true identity as God, the only One who is good because He is without sin.
Question: The young man had all the qualities of discipleship except one. What was the one thing he lacked that Jesus asked him to give up?
Answer: He had all the qualities except total dependence on God. His wealth was a hindrance to that last attribute and so Jesus’ asked him to renounce his wealth.
That the young man sadly turned and went away because he could not muster the courage and trust and God to give up his great wealth is very poignant. That Jesus truly wanted this young man as a disciple is made clear in verse 24 where Jesus is also sad. This is not to suggest that the young man lost his eternal salvation, but he traded Jesus’ personal call to the vocation of discipleship for his inherited wealth when he could have inherited “true wealth” (Lk 17:11). We do not know what became of this young man, but we know of at least one Jewish aristocrat who renounced his wealth and followed Jesus.(2) Jesus’ next teaching addresses the choice the young man made.
Luke 18:24-30 ~ A teaching on the danger of riches
24 Jesus looked at him now sad and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard this said, “then who can be saved?” 27 And he said, “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” 28 Then Peter said, “We have given up our possessions and followed you.” 29 He said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents for children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 who will not receive back an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.”
Jesus is using an exaggeration for the sake of effect to make the point that it is extremely difficult for a rich man who is so self-sufficient to submit himself to the grace of God. The Greek word for “camel” is kamelon while the word for “rope” is kamilon. The huge ropes to which the anchors of ships were tied were made of camel hair and this may be a play on words suggesting that it is easier not for the animal to pass through a needle than a rich man to enter the gates of heaven but the hyperbole may be that it is easier for the rope called a “camel” to pass through a needle used to make the fishing nets than for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. It is a comparison that would have appealed to the Apostles, many of whom were fishermen from the Galilee and familiar with ships and their equipment. St. Cyril of Alexandria suggests this is the comparison Jesus was making: By “camel” here he means not the living thing, the beast of burden, but the thick rope to which sailors tie their anchors. He shows this comparison to be not entirely pointless (as a camel would be), but he makes it an exceedingly difficult matter; in fact, next to impossible (Fragment from the Gospel of Matthew, 219).
Question: Why is it hard for the rich to enter the gates of heaven? See Ez 7:19; Prov 30:8-9; Sir 31:5-7 and Mt 5:3.
Answer: The problem isn’t the wealth but it is the self-sufficiency wealth gives a person. The wealthy often do not feel they need God because they believe their wealth affords them the power to handle any crisis they may face. That is why Jesus listed “poverty of spirit” as the first Beatitude. Acknowledging we need God is the first step in the spiritual journey to salvation.
Luke 18:28-30 Then Peter said, “We have given up our possessions and followed you.” 29 He said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents for children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 who will not receive back an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.”
The disciples and Apostles recognize that they have done what the young man was unable to do. Peter is acting as the spokesman for them when he asks what can they expect for having giving up everything to follow Him “worldly goods, family and friends.
Question: What is the significance of Jesus’ response to Peter? See CCC 276, 308 and 1058.
Answer: Salvation is a gift of God “it is not a gift that can be compared to earthly blessings that are not eternal. They must trust God to provide for them in the present and in the future.
The Apostles understand that they have answered the higher calling and want to know what their sacrifice will mean. Jesus assures them that they will share in a rich spiritual inheritance.
Question: What will their sacrifice mean in the “rebirth” of the new age of the Kingdom? See Mt 19:28; Dan 7:13-14, Rev 21:12-14; CCC 765.
Answer: The twelve Apostles will govern Jesus’ earthly kingdom. They are the “foundation stones on which Jesus will build the new Israel and they will rule from the “new Jerusalem” of the Church’s authority over the earth.
The Apostles will share in His glory and in His royal prerogative as judge when they rule over their kinsmen who they will call into the new age of the Kingdom that is the “new Israel” of the New Covenant Church at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.(4)
Luke 18:31-34 ~ The third prediction of the Passion
31 Then he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon; 33 and after they have scourged him they will kill him, but on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them and they failed to comprehend what he said.
This is the third and most complete prophecy of His Passion:
- The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised (9:22).
- The Son of man is to be handed over to men (9:44).
- Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon; 33and after they have scourged him they will kill him, but on the third day he will rise (18:31-33).
The Apostles simply cannot grasp what Jesus is telling them because they have too human an idea of what they think the Messiah should be. After the Resurrection, Jesus will explain to them all about Him that was foretold by the prophets (Lk 24:25-27, 44-47). And in a homily after Pentecost, St. Peter will tell the Jews: Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that this Messiah would suffer (Acts 3:17-18; also see St. Peter in Acts 2:23; 3:24; 8:32-35; and St. Paul on the same topic in Acts 13:27; 26:22).
In fact Christ’s Passion had been foretold in detail by the prophet Isaiah. St. John Chrysostom wrote that Jesus’ suffering and death … had been foretold by Isaiah when he said, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Is 50:6) and the same prophet even foretold the punishment of the Cross with these words: “He poured out his soul into death, and was numbered with the transgressors” (Is 53:12). And therefore the text adds, “They will scourge him and kill him”; but David had also announced his resurrection when he said, “Thou dost not let they godly one see the Pit; (Ps 16:10). In fulfillment of this the Lord adds, “And on the third day he will rise” (Homilies on St. Matthew, 66).
Luke 18:35-43 ~ The healing of the blind beggar
35 Now as he approached Jericho a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging, 36 and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” 39 The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” 40 Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He replied, “Lord, please let me see.” 42 Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God. When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.
In 18:42 Jesus’ use of the phrase, “your faith has saved you,” is repeated by Him a fourth time:
- To the sinful woman in 7:50
- To the bleeding woman in 8:48
- To the Samaritan leper in 17:19
- To the blind beggar in 18:42.
Luke 18:38-39 He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” 39 The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!”
Learning that Jesus is passing by, the blind man is persistent in making use of his opportunity to take advantage of the presence of Christ. In calling out to Jesus, he acknowledges his belief that Jesus is the promised Messiah by using Jesus’ messianic title, “Son of David.” His persistence is an act of faith and Jesus rewards him by restoring his sight.
Question: What link was made between the promise of salvation through the Messiah and the house of David in Zechariah’s canticle in Luke 1:69?
Answer: Zechariah said: He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old …
Question: What qualities does the blind man exhibit that Jesus has taught about concerning praying to God and faith in His mission?
Answer: He is persistent in spite of obstacles, he is urgent, and he calls to Jesus with the conviction of faith, acknowledging His true identity as the Messiah.
Question: What is ironic about the blind man’s response to Jesus as opposed to the Pharisees and scribes?
Answer: They have the ability to see physically but they are blind spiritually while the blind man is blind physically but has the spiritual “sight” to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah.
Luke 19:1-10 ~ The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector
1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. 2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, 3was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy. 7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Question: In this amusing encounter with Christ, what does the story of the little tax collector have in common with the blind beggar besides the location? What is the warning for us on this side of salvation history?
Answer: Both stories are about the urgency of reaching out to Jesus before He passes by. The stories are a warning to us not to neglect reaching out to Jesus while there is still time for us to be open to God’s grace and the gift of salvation. In our journey to salvation, we need to continue to respond quickly and decisively to Jesus like the earnest blind beggar and the repentant little tax collector.
Tax collectors were despised because of the way they profited off their commission that they added to the people’s taxes. Repenting his dishonesty, Zacchaeus promises Jesus that he will make restitution as a sign of his repentance. A fourfold restitution was imposed by the Law of Moses for theft of domestic livestock only (Exodus 21:37). Roman law demanded a fourfold restitution in all cases of theft. Zacchaeus appears to be following Roman law in the restitution he promises for those he has defrauded, but he goes beyond what is required in promising to give half his wealth to the poor.
Luke 19:9-10 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Zacchaeus’ repentance and submission to Christ identifies him as a true descendant of Abraham (Gal 3:29) and one of the “lost sheep” the Messiah who is God Himself was prophesied to come to save (Ez chapter 34).
Luke 19:11-27 ~ The Parable of the Ten Gold Coins
11 While they were listening to him speak, he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately. 12 So he said, “A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kinship for himself and then to return. 13 He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins and told them, Engage in trade with these until I return.’ 14 His fellow citizens, however, despised him and sent a delegation after him to announce, We do not want this man to be our king.’ 15 But when he returned after obtaining the kingship, he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money, to learn what they had gained by trading. 16 The first came forward and said, Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’ 17 He replied, Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.’ 18 Then the second came and reported, Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’ And to this servant too he said, You take charge of five cities.’ 20 Then the other servant came and said, Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding person; you take up what you do not lay down and you harvest what you do not plant.’ 22 He said to him, With your own words I shall condemn you, you wicked servant. You knew I was a demanding person, taking up what I did not lay down and harvesting what I did not plant; 23 why did you not put my money in a bank? Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’ 24 And to those standing by he said, Take the gold coin from him and give it to servant who has ten.’ 25 But they said to him, Sir, he has ten gold coins.’ 26 I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but to the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.'”
The Apostles and disciples think that the Kingdom is about to be inaugurated by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the same way King Solomon’s reign as king of Israel began with his triumphal entry into the holy city (1 Kng 1:32-40). They are so bound up with the natural order that they cannot contemplate the supernatural character of the Kingdom of God in the world “the Church, which has but one sole purpose “that the Kingdom of God may come and the salvation of the human race may be accomplished (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 45). Since His Apostles and disciples still do not grasp the true understanding of His Kingdom, Jesus tells parable to help their understanding.
In this parable Jesus tells them that although the reign of His kingdom has begun, it will only be fully manifested on His return at the end of time (His Second Advent/Second Coming). In the meantime, His disciples should use all the resources of God’s grace to merit an eternal reward upon His return.
Christ is the “nobleman” or prince who went off to a distance land to claim his throne. The “distant land” is the Kingdom of heaven where He will receive dominion, glory, and kingship(Dan 7:14b). He is to be “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:1:5;Rev 17:14; 19:16) and will take His seat at the right hand of the Father (Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pt 3:22). The gold coin in the story that is entrusted to the servants is a mina; a valuable coin worth about 35 grams of gold.
The ten servants the king calls forth to whom he gives ten gold coins are the disciples of Jesus Christ who will serve the Church in His absence by making use of the spiritual gifts they have received to advance the mission of the Church until his return. The return of the king will be Jesus’ Second Advent/Second Coming when He will return in glory for the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked and to render a final judgment on mankind and the earth (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thes 4:16-18;2 Thes 1:7-10). “Ten” is one of the so-called “perfect numbers” and signifies the perfection of divine order. The profitable servants who will be rewarded on the king’s return are the Christians who used God’s gifts to advance the mission of Jesus’ Kingdom on earth, the Church, and they will receive eternal rewards. The lazy and unprofitable servants are those Christians who neglected their spiritual gifts and failed to advance the mission of the Church. They will face a severe judgment. The citizens who rejected the authority of the king to rule over them are the Jews and other citizens of the human family who rejected the lordship of Christ and His Gospel message of salvation.
|Symbolic imagery in the Parable of the Ten Gold Coins|
|The nobleman who went to claim his kingship in a distant country||Christ’s Ascension into the heavenly kingdom|
|The kingdom the master leaves||The Church on earth|
|The promise of his return||Christ’s Second Advent|
|THe gold coins||God’s grace (spiritual gifts and blessings)|
|The servants who received the gold coins||Christians who receive God’s grace (spiritual gifts and blessings)|
|The profitable servants||Christians who use God’s gifts to advance the mission of the Church|
|The cities awarded the profitable servants||Eternal rewards|
|The unprofitable servant||Christians who neglect their spiritual gifts and do not advance the mission of the Church|
|Citizens who reject the lordship of the king/ enemies of the king||The Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah and those others in the human family who reject Jesus Christ and His Gospel of salvation|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013|
Luke 19:17 He replied, Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.’
As Jesus taught in an earlier parable (Lk 16:10), our fidelity in small things will be rewarded and the greater our effort, the greater the reward.
Luke 19:24-26 And to those standing by he said, Take the gold coin from him and give it to servant who has ten.’ 25 But they said to him, Sir, he has ten gold coins.’ 26 I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but to the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
God gives all Christians the grace we need to fulfill our mission as disciples, and He will richly reward those who put His gifts to the best use, bearing the “fruit” of good works to advance the mission of the Church. But to the lazy and unprofitable servants of His Kingdom the Church, who claimed to be His disciples but who failed to use their spiritual gifts, He will give a very severe judgment.
Luke 19:27Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.
Question: Who are the enemies of Christ?
Answer: Those who reject Christ and try to do damage to His Church. In their rejection of Christ they have condemned themselves to eternal punishment.
This is the end of Luke’s travel narrative and the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life and His teaching ministry in God’s holy city, Jerusalem.
Question for reflection or group discussion?
See Luke 17:7-10 and 19:11-27. Which kind of servant are you? Do you do the minimum to serve Christ and His kingdom, or do you go beyond the minimum that the Church requires of a faithful Catholic? See the five precepts of the Church in CCC 2041-43 and Matthew 28:18-20 for the minimum requirements.
2. Manean (Acts 13:1) was a Jewish aristocrat raised in the court of Herod Antipas who was converted to Christianity and became a prophet and teacher in the church at Antioch. One can only hope that he might be the rich young ruler Jesus loved who, after first turning away, later renounced his wealth and returned to Christ.
3. Some commentators suggest that the Greek word isn’t “vultures” but “eagles” and refers to the insignia of the Roman eagle that accompanied every Roman legion. It is the Roman governor who orders Jesus’ crucifixion and Roman soldiers carry out the execution.
4. The authority to judge/rule the 12 tribes of Israel may also be part of the Last Judgment. In the book of Revelation there are 24 elders who sit on thrones around the throne of God. It is difficult to determine from Revelation 4:3-4 the identity of the 24 elders, but many of the Fathers of the Church suggest they are the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel and the twelve Apostles.