Luke 19-20

Good morning! As we near the end of our tenth month of Daily Bible, we also approach Jerusalem with Jesus, nearing the end of the third gospel. Today in Luke 19-20, Jesus demonstrates his compassion for those who are social outcasts, exhorts his disciples to not languish in waiting for the Messiah’s return, and enters Jerusalem for his final week, quarreling with other Jewish leaders all along the way.

The story of Zacchaeus at the beginning of Luke 19 fascinates me. This chief tax collector is in an unpopular profession (then as now). Furthermore he is chief among them, and has grown rich. In a context where tax collectors routinely added double-digit personal surpluses to the healthy taxes that Rome imposed, his wealth immediately suggested to people that he’d grown fat by starving others thin. We don’t know whether he was defrauding any of the people, but when others question his sincerity he turns this moment into an opportunity for generosity. Zacchaeus’ story shows me the complexity of people—he’s wealthy but still socially undesirable. Zacchaeus may be looking for a new community, or is perhaps ready to start again, so Jesus meets him there and unlocks his potential. Jesus’ judgment on this man opens space for him in the community, despite his past: “he too is a son of Abraham”.

I never noticed before that Luke’s version of the parable of ten pounds emphasizes the importance of being productive while waiting for the return of Christ. Luke sets it in that context with the explicit reasoning for Jesus’ instruction “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear quickly”. Luke wants to make it clear that the people of God are not to sit idly by, waiting for the swift arrival of God’s promised Messiah. (In Luke’s time, this would be thought of as the return of Jesus.) No, the “hero” of this unlikely story is someone who seizes the opportunity for action and has something strong to show for his efforts. The “loser” in the parable fails to act, but just buries his treasure out of an overabundance of fear.

The end of Luke 19 and the whole of 20 describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his first activities there. The triumphal entry marks Jesus’ arrival at the destination he’s been gradually moving toward over the last ten chapters. I noted with interest that he sends the disciples forward to make the arrangement for the colt from the very place that he’ll return to at the end of this week, the Mount of Olives. I’m not sure yet of its significance, but that’s another “aha” connection I hadn’t made before this reading, Jesus’ Jerusalem activities include teaching in the temple (recalling how he spent time there as a teenager at the beginning of the gospel). He also quarrels with the chief priests and the scribes, telling the incendiary parable of the wicked tenants, the witty reply about paying taxes, and the question about resurrection. He has nothing good to say about the scribes, and his scorn makes all the more likely the outcome we know is just days away. Happy reading!

Read Luke 19-20.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Luke 1. Thanks for reading!

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