Jesus addresses a parable to the guests and gives advice to his host. In both speeches he appeals to what would seem to be base motives. Guests are urged not to seek the first places at table, not because this sort of self-promotion and pride is wrong, but in order that they may later be honored. Jesus is using this worldly image, though, only because it is so familiar. Hos point is made in the pronouncement: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Self-exaltation must not be sought. A similar unworthy motive appears superficially in Jesus’ words to the host. The point is that in doing good we should serve freely, without regard for our own prospects, leaving the recompense to God. This is the way Jesus went about doing good, emptying himself for others without counting the cost. The kingdom is for everyone, and our hospitality is to embrace all, especially those who are overlooked by people with only selfish motives. The good news is that with Jesus in our hearts, we are able to do good without counting the cost.
Two Sabbath incidents have already been presented (6:1-11). The Sabbath cure is inserted here as an example of the hypocritical blindness Jesus has been describing (12:54-57). The synagogue official cannot see what is happening right before his eyes—the inbreaking of the kingdom in the freeing of this crippled woman from eighteen years of suffering. He has become too blinded by the letter of the law to recognize its spirit. The Pharisees allowed animals to be taken care of on the Sabbath (see 14:5); why begrudge this woman an extraordinary gift of God? The official’s reaction is predictable: rather than confront the miracle-worker, he vents his ire on the people. The action produces division; the judgment is already taking place. Certainly Jesus could have waited until the Sabbath was over. The woman’s ailment was not life-threatening. She had coped with it for 18 years. Jesus healed her on the Sabbath to demonstrate how dependent we are on God for some things we cannot do for ourselves, like be born, heal ourselves, and most importantly save ourselves.
Jesus has given his disciples a glimpse of the culmination of his mission in the return of the Son of Man at the time of judgment. He is already engaged in the task of lighting a fire on the earth. Judgment is taking place as people decide for or against him. Fire is a symbol for the Holy Spirit as well (Acts 2:3-4); the fire of the Holy Spirit will be cast on the earth through the fulfillment of the events for which Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem. Jesus means by his “baptism” the plunge into this saving mission, a prospect that produces mixed emotions because of the suffering connected with it. Some of his teaching on forgiveness and peace may have given the impression that he was spreading a soft gospel. Jesus assures his listeners that Christian discipleship is costly, even causing division in the family. The Gospel challenge is clear. Anyone who can see the clouds or feel the wind can certainly see the signs of the times. There is still time for decision, warns Jesus, but do not put it off. When judgment comes, you will wish you had settled out of court.
The words of Jesus in the Gospel text can only be understood within the context of a crisis that was closing in upon the “little flock.” What was this crisis? First, the crisis could be the problem which is still an issue in the church today—the return of Jesus. Second, the crisis could also be the pressures which was brought on by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Third, Jesus lives at a time of radical changes. Luke shares sayings of Jesus about the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the world (parousia) and the judgment. Central to the test of faith is the challenge of constant readiness for the Master’s return. In several ways Jesus emphasizes that the time of the return will be a surprise (17:20; Mark 13:33). Comparisons are made to the return of a master from a wedding, when the coming is certain but the timing is not, and to the coming of a thief, when not even the coming is certain. The disciples of Jesus are to be ready to open to the Master “immediately when he comes.”
Jesus is interrupted in his instruction of the disciples by a man who wants help in acquiring his rightful share of the family inheritance. Besides being rude, the interruption betrays an insensitivity to what Jesus has just said about matters of essential importance. Rabbis were often asked to arbitrate in family disputes. Jesus certainly has the authority to do this, but he sees behind the question the very greed he warned the Pharisees about (11:39-42). He uses the opportunity to tell a parable about the trap of possessions. The rich man would be the envy of most people—so wealthy that he does not have room to store his goods. But he is a fool because in the midst of his good fortune he has lost the sense of what is really important. He imagines that he can control his life. Possessions create this kind of illusion. The rich man is really poor in the sight of God. He does not even think about the possibility of sharing what he has with others. The implications of this story will be carried further in the tale of another rich man (16:19-31).
The disciples realize that the right relationship to the Father (and to Jesus) is sought in prayer. Jesus, like John the Baptist, must have a distinctive insight into prayer flowing from his mission. In response to the disciples’ question, he reveals the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer begins with Jesus’ distinctive address for God, “Father” (Hebrew: Abba), and pray first for the glorification of God’s name on earth and the full establishment of his kingdom. Then it turns to the disciples’ needs: God’s continual protection day by day and his sustaining support in the face of the “final test” at the end of time. Then, God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. The story of the midnight visitor and the saying following it are a strong admonition to perseverance in prayer. God always responds to our prayer in ways that are best for us, though not perhaps in ways that we would expect or like. The extravagant examples of the sleeping friend and the father who would give snakes and scorpions to his children drive home the absurdity of thinking of the heavenly Father as harsh or cruel. God wants the best for us—which ultimately is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the age to come (see Acts 2:17). “Ask…seek…knock” are three different descriptions of petitionary prayer; but “seek” also implies the search for the kingdom of God and union with the Father.
To judge from the story of the Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Martha should have been praised for her practical service to Jesus. Her action, in fact, is neither praised nor condemned, but she is challenged to consider her priorities. The whole gospel is not contained in loving service to others, no matter how important that is. Christian discipleship is first and foremost personal adherence to Jesus. There must be time to listen to his “word” (v. 39: singular in Greek); devotion to Jesus is the “one thing required.” This relationship shows itself in loving service, but without prayer, care for others’ needs may not be love. The Good Samaritan parable and the story of Martha and Mary, then, serve to illustrate the double commandment (10:27) in reverse order: the action of the Samaritan emphasizes love of neighbor; the action of Mary emphasizes love of God.
This story and the following one together give a complete picture of Christian discipleship in terms of love of neighbor (active service) and love of Jesus (prayer). They combine to illustrate the way to everlasting life given in the lawyer’s answer (v. 27). When he responds with the statement about love of god and love of neighbor, the lawyer is quoting from the ancient Hebrew prayer, the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5). This combination was evidently original with Jesus (Mark 12:29-31) and known to the lawyer, who used it when Jesus turned the question back to him. To “justify himself” (because Jesus has made the lawyer’s question seem easy), he raises the disputed question about the identity of the neighbor. In the Leviticus text, the neighbor is one’s fellow Israelite. As a parable, the story of the Good Samaritan is intended to challenge a wrong but accepted pattern of thought so that values of the kingdom can break into a sealed system. This it does by showing a Samaritan, a member of the people despised and ridiculed by Jews, performing a loving service avoided by Jewish religious leaders.
Only Luke among the evangelists tells of this second mission of disciples. He probably means it to have special significance for the missionary activity of the church after the departure of Jesus. According to rabbinic teaching, there were seventy nations in the world. The disciples are to go “ahead of him,” therefore not announcing themselves or their own message, but preparing the way for Jesus. The missionaries are sent in twos in order to give a witness that can be considered formal testimony about Jesus and the reign of God. Jesus urges prayer for more harvest workers. The Lord of the harvest is concerned about its progress, of course, but he has made his own response to the need somehow dependent on the active concern of those sent into the mission. Because the proclamation of the gospel is the word of God, it is not to be treated as a merely human message—“take it or leave it.” There are harsh consequences for closing ears and hearts to the news of God’s reign. On their return, the seventy are amazed at the power that has been given them through the name of Jesus. They have driven out demons, furthering Jesus’ attack on Satan’s dominion in this world. Jesus envisions Satan falling from the sky through their ministry, another way of saying that the eschatological or final battle between good and evil is taking place now; the victory is being won in Jesus’ name (John 12:31; Rom 16:20). But the disciples must not lose their perspective. The prize is not human glory through feats of power but heavenly glory through following Jesus to Jerusalem, to Calvary.
The beginning of the journey. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is a march toward exaltation (“to be taken up”) in fulfillment of God’s plan. The earthly journey of Jesus serves also as the framework for the progress of the church in the time after the ascension. We find ourselves on the way toward Jerusalem with the Lord. But the march to glory, as Jesus has already warned, is a path through suffering. The disciples must expect to be treated no better than the Master. The cost of Christian discipleship is clearly stated as the journey gets underway. The hostility of the Samaritans is not the personal hatred Jesus will meet in Jerusalem. It is evidence of the national or racial prejudice between Samaritans and Jews. Jesus’ disciples cannot expect to be free from this treatment, but the answer is not retaliation. James and John must learn to avoid useless clashes and to look for new places to spread the kingdom. Illusions are dispelled for would-be disciples. The person who offered himself with absolute availability (v. 57) is told the cost: you will be less secure than the foxes and the birds. Another responds to Jesus’ call with the request that he be allowed to take care of one of the most sacred duties under the law, the burial of a parent. The urgency of the gospel supersedes this claim. Jesus’ saying means that those who do not respond to the gospel call will be spiritually dead; they will have time to bury the physical dead.