Good morning! Today in Luke 13-14 we have some of the richest but also most challenging texts in this gospel. The paradox in Jesus’ teachings on God’s realm emerges from the first several verses. On one hand, Jesus emphasize the need for repentance in order to live, yet on the other hand he tells a story about a gardener showing grace and forbearance to an unfruitful fig tree. Jesus’ core teaching throughout these chapters appears to be the consequences of short-sighted living (including by Pharisees) and the divine mercy extended to those who wouldn’t expect to find ourselves in the realm of God to begin with.
Perhaps no topic elicits more heated opinion these days than the question that Jesus addresses directly in 13:24, “will only a few be saved?” Books and careers have been made or lost based on this question. In his puzzling response about the narrow door, Jesus both seems to say that it’s very hard to get into heaven, but also that people will be there from east, west, north and south. It is perhaps the case that one can’t get oneself into heaven (so the Pharisees and all who rely on works-righteousness are mistaken), but that those who least expect to be there will find God’s grace first?
Jesus’ impatience with self-confident assessments of one’s place in heaven comes in the context of his controversy with the Pharisees. Ironically, this is probably the Hebrew group that he had most in common with. Like them, he takes the law of Torah seriously and seeks to uphold its relevance for all times. At the same time, Jesus tells them to keep the big picture in mind. He argues for the fundamental purpose behind the laws of Torah, seeking to uphold the spirit and not just the letter of the law. This leads Jesus to focus on healing people (including on the Sabbath) as a way of serving God. He essentially tells the Pharisees not to lose sight of these fundamental values in their zeal for every minute detail of legal observance.
Table etiquette in Luke 14 reflects the upside-down, last-becoming-first way of God’s realm. Placing oneself in the lowest place opens up the possibility for advancement, and this is where Jesus puts himself. The same goes for the invitation that Jesus advises to those who wouldn’t have a place to eat without the invitation to the banquet. The poor, crippled, lame and blind presume that they have no place at the table, so that’s where Jesus focuses his energies. The parable of the great dinner puts this into story form, suggesting that upstanding folks (like the Pharisees) come up with reasons for not participating fully in kingdom life—they’re zealous instead for property or family, for instance. Therefore, the invitation to God’s party goes out far and wide to everyone, practically compelling to be there those who feel like they have no place at the table. Therefore, Jesus manages to convey both the great cost of discipleship—faithfulness may require giving up family, possessions, even life itself—and the grace which marvelously throws out the welcome mat when one is not relying on the self any longer.
At least, that’s what I make of these chapters, and I look forward to getting your take on these chapters. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Luke 15-16. Thanks for reading!