Monday, March 29, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Luke 17-21

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Luke, chapters 17-21.

Chapter 17

  • Verses 1-3a - Given Jesus' strong words that his followers should not cause anyone "to stumble," I find myself wondering what he means by "to stumble."  This may seem like a strange question.  Certainly a traditional (and perhaps obvious) interpretation would be that Jesus is concerned that no one would be led into sin by the actions of others.1 But in light of Jesus' words about the Pharisees and others, criticizing their single-minded devotion to the law, and moreover the way that they encouraged others to follow it without actually helping them to do so, I'm wondering if that's too simplistic.  I'm not trying to suggest that Jesus doesn't care about sin and/or following the law, but rather, I'm wondering if "stumble" might be a reference to a more general failure to follow Jesus.  I'm fairly certain that, if a person kept the law as it was written, yet convinced someone that Jesus couldn't be from God (as the Pharisees and others tried to do), Jesus would have considered this a "stumbling block" placed in front of the would-be believer.
  • Verse 17-19 - I wonder if the other nine, who failed to respond in gratitude to Jesus, retained their healing?  I wouldn't even have considered the possibility that they didn't, except for Jesus' parting words to the healed (and grateful) Samaritan, "your faith has made you well."  Did the other nine have the same faith, despite not giving thanks?  If not the same, was it sufficient nonetheless?
  • Verses 20-22 - Although the verses that follow make it clear that Jesus isn't saying that there is no "age to come," he's certainly making a case that the presence of God "in our midst" (i.e. in the present age) means that what happens here and now matters.
Chapter 18
  • Verse 8: "he will see that they will get justice, and quickly" - I imagine more than a few believers might quibble with "quickly."  Even more would do so, except for the fact that--Jesus being God and us... not being God--it is considered unseemly to voice such quibbles.  Geldenhuys points out that the word rendered "quickly" here doesn't mean "after a short time" so much as "sudden."2  That is to say, we may have to wait a while for justice, but when it comes, it will come in a flash.
  • Verses 9-14 - The praise given to the tax collector's prayer of humility (vs. the Pharisee's self-congratulatory one) is another strong aspect of Jesus' teaching that causes me to think that one's attitude toward God means more than the state of keeping the law itself.  Perhaps this is because it is only with such a humble attitude that one can understand those areas in which one still needs to improve.
  • Verses 18-30 - We've talked about this story already. I'm intrigued that the man and Jesus, as they discuss the things that need to be done to inherit eternal life, discuss items from the ten commandments (at least in this version.  "Do not defraud" is not included in this version, as in Mark, and "love your neighbor as yourself" is not here, as in Matthew).  Although it has been demonstrated that the Old Testament is filled with references teaching God cares about taking care of the poor, the idea that this might be listed among the rules that God's followers are to heed seems to catch the man completely by surprise.  Although I note that Jesus isn't just telling the man to aid the poor, but to sell all his possessions to do so, the man's response really suggests to me that the need to take care of the poor really isn't on the man's mind at all.
Chapter 19
  • Verses 1-10 - The story of Zacchaeus seems to be a very popular one with children.  I remember doing a church musical play based on this story while I was growing up.  I suppose the mental image of a short man climbing a tree to see Jesus is an evocative one.  The story is almost never told in conjunction with Holy Week (indeed, it only shows up here on the day after Palm Sunday due to a serendiptious fluke of timing).  This is despite Luke (the only gospel to tell this story) connecting the story in time to Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem (commemmorated on Palm Sunday) through a couple of narrative links in verses 11 and 28.  Naturally, if one doesn't insist on the texts of the Bible being interpreted literally, this is not a problem, but given that much of the church, for a not-insignificant portion of its history, has made such an insistence,3 I'm a bit surprised that tradition doesn't connect this story to Holy Week more directly.
  • Verses 11-28 - This story is remarkably similar to the parable told in Matthew 25:14-30.  I do wonder why, in this version, Jesus tells of ten servants, even though only three servants are ever explicitly referred to as the parable unfolds.  The interjection about how the king's subject hate him (and don't want him to become king) is also interesting.
Chapter 20
  • Verse 16: "When the people heard this, they said, 'God forbid!'" - This parable appears in both Matthew and Mark, but this line is unique to Luke.  I wonder if the listeners understood that they were represented by the evil tenants in Jesus' story?
  • Verses 27-40 - All three of the synoptic gospels seem keen to note a point at which "no one dared" to ask Jesus any more questions.  Yet all three do so in different contexts.  Matthew did so in regard to a Messianic claim about David.  Mark does so after Jesus teaches about "the greatest commandment."  Luke places this assertion at the end of Jesus' discussion with the Sadducees about marriage and the resurrection.  I'm not curious about the differences, so much as why these gospel writers are so keen on saying that, at some point, people didn't "dare" to ask Jesus questions anymore (especially if they seem unsure about what point that was...).
  • Verse 41-44 - (But, again, both Mark and Luke do have the bit about David immediately after people stopped asking questions.  This can't be just a coincidence...)

Chapter 21
  • Verses 1-4 - I don't discern much new of significance vs. the version of this story in Mark, but I was intrigued to note that Geldenhuys cites another scholar to say, "according to the Jewish laws at that time it was not permissible to cast in less than two gifts."4  I don't know whether or not this is true, but it would at least explain why the widow gave two small coins.
  • Verses 5-38 - Another long section where prophecies about the Fall of Jerusalem and the End Times seem to be intermingled.  Having commented a bit on the fact that first-century Jews (and Christians) didn't really think of these as separate and distinct events, I'll leave it to others to sort that out....

1See Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1951, pp.431-432, for an example of such a position.
2Geldenhuys, p.448.
3Geldenhuys, p.469, certainly makes the link: "Here, a few days before the crucifixion, we have...."
4Geldenhuys, p.521.

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