Luke 14:1-6: Here we again have evidence that Luke’s picture of them is not as negative as Matthew’s and Mark’s. Even though critical of some Pharisees, Jesus continues to associate with them. Here he goes to the home of a leader of the Pharisees on a Sabbath day. Yet there is some tension as it is said they are watching him closely. Again we have the question of the appropriateness of healing on the Sabbath. Luke seems to have more of these stories than the other gospels we have read. He heals the man with “dropsy,” and argues for the appropriateness of healing on the Sabbath. In the world of Jesus’ day, “dropsy, the swelling of the body due to an excess of fluid… was used as a metaphorical label for the greedy” (New Interpreters Study Bible). The healing metaphorically sets up some of the teaching that follows. Whatever one makes of the healing stories in the gospels, they are often used metaphorically by the gospel writers, in addition to being used to say something about the power of Jesus.
Luke 14:7-14: At the dinner, after the healing, Jesus notices how those dining with him tried to chose the place of honor. They are like the man swelling up with his own fluid, in need of healing, and Jesus tries to “heal” them through his teaching. Humility has nothing to do with debasing oneself. It has everything to do with both rightly assessing one’s gifts and skills, but even more importantly with being open to the world. When one is most concerned with one’s own place of honor, one easily loses focus on what else might be going on. Part of what is going on in the world of Jesus time, and our own, is that there are the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind who need to be invited in. This language has both literal and metaphorical dimensions. To do so is to act in accord with God’s kingdom (the resurrection of the righteous is another way of speaking about the kingdom of God).
Luke 14:15-24: But the people Jesus is having dinner with still don’t seem to get it. They know that those who will “eat bread in the kingdom of God” will be “blessed,” but they still seem to associate it with privilege and status instead of service. So Jesus offers another story, a story in which inviting the poor, crippled, the blind and the lame is again held up as important in the kingdom of God. One ought not to put off the kind of transformative work in one’s life that moves one from seeking the places of honor, to working to heal those who need it (and opening oneself up to the healing one needs).
Luke 14:25-35: While the scene shifts, some continuity of message remains. Jesus is traveling with a large crowd and he tells them that the kind of transformation in life that the Spirit often works, the kind of transformation toward living out God’s dream for the world, is not always easy. Jesus uses very strong language here, pushing the language to make a point. Sometimes family ties will be frayed when one decides to follow Jesus and live in a new way. Sometimes possessions can get in the way. Know that, but follow anyway. When you do, your life is like salt that retains its usefulness. Living in a culture that is consumed with consuming, we need to take seriously Jesus’ concern for the way possessions can begin to possess us. When our lives become too oriented to earning so we can buy, and buying so much that we have to continue to earn more, then our lives are out of sync. We are not all we can be as human beings and as God’s people.
Luke 15: This chapter is rich with story, and the most well-known story here is one unique to Luke’s gospel, the parable of the prodigal. Jesus is using story here to both defend his own actions of associating with sinners and tax collectors and to invite others to open up and rejoice that those who had been on the margins, those who had been excluded, are welcome in God’s dream for the world. Reading these stories, we should both feel joy that we are embraced by God with the joy of a shepherd who has lost a sheep and found it, of a woman who has found a lost coin, of a father whose son he has given up for dead returns. At points in our lives we know this. The danger is that having ourselves been embraced by God in love, we lose the joy in seeing others so embraced. We become like the elder brother in the third story being told.
Luke 15:1-7: Jesus has just finished saying that discipleship can be difficult, but sinners and tax collectors come to listen. These are people on the margins of acceptability. If there is a way into God’s kingdom, even if it may be difficult, they are willing to listen. They have been told again and again that there is no place for them, but Jesus offers them a place. Some of the religious leaders grumbled about his association with such persons – he not only welcomes them, he eats with them (though he eats with Pharisees, too). In response, Jesus tells three parables. The first is about a lost sheep. The scene is one of great joy when it is found, a joy that is shared with all around.
Luke 15:8-10: The next story is also about strenuous searching and extravagant joy. In some ways, the scene is filled with humor. One imagines almost a frantic searching, or at least I do. I know how I can get intensely focused on finding some little thing I misplaced. In this story a woman turns the house upside down looking for a coin – though here the coin is probably worth about ten day’s wages, no small matter. When she finds it she is filled with joy, a joy meant to be shared.
Luke 15:11-32: Last, but not least in this series of lost and found stories is the story of the prodigal son, the prodigal father, and the stingy older son. Put yourself in the position of each character and let the story speak to you. Sometimes we are like the son who squanders away his potential. At some point he comes to himself. Can we also sometimes be like the father, not concerned about scolding his way ward son, but only rejoicing in welcoming him back. Shared joy should characterize the life of the church. We are filled with joy as we sense God’s Spirit working in our lives and in the lives of others. Are we sometimes like the older son, focused so narrowly on “getting his due” that he misses out on the party. The comparison of the older son to the Pharisees in the first part of the chapter is obvious. God is like to prodigal father, prodigal with love. We are invited to be people of love and joy.
Luke 16:1-13: The focus of the Gospel in chapters 14-15 has been on the significance of table fellowship. Jesus has welcomed the socially marginal into the kinship of shared meals and urged others to do the same, as a reflection of God’s own openhanded graciousness. In chapter 16, this teaching about table fellowship is grounded more firmly within Jesus’ overall message about possessions: Wealth should be used to welcome outsiders, particularly the poor, who are incapable of returning the invitation or of advancing their social status (New Interpreters Study Bible). This first parable is filled with details that perk up our ears. The “hero” of the story is a rather dishonest fellow. Jesus often told stories, not so those listening would emulate the details, but so that they would get the main point. Here the main point has to do with being intelligent, being shrewd, being faithful with one’s possessions. For Jesus that meant using generously what one has. Such activity characterizes those who know what God is about. The story has touches of realism. Using money to make friends reflected the Greco-Roman world “where the exchange of money created, maintained, or solidified various forms of friendship” (New Interpreters Study Bible). Being faithful with one’s possessions, not clinging to them, being generous with them indicated a deeper faithfulness. Getting caught up in wealth gets in the way of being able to be God’s person in the world. Jesus uses a story about making friends with money to speak against being too caught up with money!
Luke 16:14-18: I am not sure that there is any place else in the gospels where the Pharisees were characterized as “lovers of money,” as they are here. They ridicule Jesus for not putting the same store in wealth as they did, for advocating about another value system. “What is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” – – – another value system indeed! The culturally approved means for attaining status are null and void – wealth and force (verse 16). A deep faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a faithfulness reflected in responding to the word and work of God’s Spirit in Jesus, is what really matters – love, compassion, generosity. These are not simply abstract notions, however. They find expression in how one lives within one’s covenants and promises, such as marriage. Jesus’ words seem harsh, but we should note to whom they are directed. They are directed toward men, and in the Jewish understanding of the time, men were the ones who had the power to divorce. Divorcing a woman often left her destitute, left her with few options except poverty or prostitution. To take Jesus words as an absolute prohibition of divorce for all time is to misunderstand and misuse them. He is drawing out the implications of God’s love, and we would be encouraged to do the same. Occasionally, love can include the regrettable choice to end a marriage. Such a choice should never be easy, but it may not be wrong.
Luke 16:19-31: The Jesus of Luke’s gospel tells parables, but many are significantly longer than those we encountered in Matthew and Mark. Here is another story unique to Luke. In a great reversal of expectation, it is the poor beggar who ends up with Abraham and the rich man (such persons were often considered to be blessed by God) ends up in Hades. He failed to do anything to help Lazarus, and even in the afterlife would ask of Lazarus that he serve him! This is a story and should not be used to make any definitive cases about the afterlife. The point of the story is that faithfulness to God and to God’s dream for the world involves generosity toward the poor, helping those in need. It is the heart of the message of Moses and the prophets, and it is at the heart of the message of Jesus. Jesus is one who has demonstrated life-giving power, but some will not listen even to him.