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.
After exhibiting his power over the storm, Jesus demonstrates his authority over the demons in Gentile territory. Further, he works a dramatic transformation in a human life. The man is said to be “possessed” by demons. The unclean spirit turns out to be a regiment (“Legion” was an imperial army term), which recognizes Jesus as did other demons. The man’s condition is dangerous to himself and to others, and has persisted over a long time. This is no ordinary exorcism. Its lasting effects could be doubted, which is probably why Jesus agrees to send the demons into the swine—for visible proof that the demons have left the man. They ask not to be sent to “the abyss.” The word used could mean the dead (see Romans 10:7), but here it means the prison of evil spirits (2 Peter 2:4; Rev 9:1-11). The local people are terrified by what has taken place. Their fear does not lead to praise of God (5:26) but to the rejection of Jesus. The loss of the swine impresses them more than the transformation of the man, who, when the people arrive, is sitting at Jesus’ feet in the attitude of a disciple listening to his word. The man wants to follow Jesus, but his vocation is to share what happened to him with his own people.
Today there is a common notion that acts and attitudes are sin only if they hurt people. If no one is hurt, it is not sin. This belief is a misunderstanding of the nature of sin. Sin is basically a rebellion against God. It is a rejection of God’s rule over our lives. We know God’s will. It has been revealed particularly in Jesus. Many of our little offenses are insignificant enough except that they form a pattern of rejection of God. As sin is against God, so forgiveness must come from God. David understood that. The Pharisees saw that clearly. The announcement of God’s forgiveness is the greatest blessing which the Christian church brings to a sinful humanity. The world today takes God’s forgiveness lightly, because it takes sin lightly. Sin is explained away as anything except rebellion against God. Sin is explained away as being merely the result of a bad environment. And so it goes, on and on. The age-old attempt to explain away sin short of rebellion against God is repeated at every age. We cannot heed the truth about ourselves, how can we receive forgiveness? There is a similarity between David (2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15) and Simon’s (Luke 7:36-8:3) offenses. Both had power to do as they pleased, and both did just that. Who was to tell them they could not? In David’s case, it was Nathan the prophet, the mouthpiece of God. In Simon’s case, it was Jesus, speaking also the word of God. No person is above or beyond God’s judgment!
In both the First Lesson (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Gospel (Luke 7:11-17), widows are walking to the grave and grieving deeply. In their society, the loss of husband and son left them helpless and hopeless. Neither widow could snap out of her grief. Nor could those around them do anything to change the deathly situation. Dealing with death requires the work of God. Only God can handle death. Death has been done in by God! And only by God’s power! When Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you rise” (Luke 7:14), the people knew “God has looked favorably on his people” (Luke 7:16). We are all desolate and helpless in the face of death. We cannot undo it. Sophisticated technology may prolong death, but we cannot do away with it. We may deny it. We may respond in anger. We may even come to accept it, but that does not erase it. The greater reality is that Jesus’ compassion for a dying world has brought us to life again. While we were dead in our sins, Christ died for our sake. Luther reminds us that when we are lowered into the grave, we are sunk deep in our Baptism. Baptismally bound to Christ, we die to sin daily, finally, and wonderfully in resurrection hope. God’s last word to death is life!
From New Testament times, the Christian church has been concerned about its outreach. God is concerned about all persons, and the church is the mediator of that outreach. How can the world hear of God’s great name unless the church speaks clearly? How can the world know of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm unless the church acts? The Gospel speaks of God’s concern for the “foreigner,” a concern expressed through the church. This is the church at its best. One of the enduring problems of the church is to strike the proper balance between guarding the blessings of chosenness and being the mediator of God’s outreach. It is possible to guard the purity of doctrine and life to the extent that the church becomes irrelevant to the world and its problems. At the other extreme, it is easy to compromise essentials to meet the world until we fall for everything because we stand for nothing. Neither attitude is foreign to the church. The church is the body of Christ, and as he is the mediator between God and mankind, so must the church be. The outreach of Christ must be shown in the outreach of the church. It is only through the eyes of faith that we can see Jesus as the Christ, the mediator of God’s will and power. The centurion’s faith saw Jesus as God’s mediator, and therefore merited Jesus’ words of praise. Jesus, the Christian church (as the body of Christ) and Christians (as members of the body of Christ) all share in the mediatorship of Jesus.
This text affirms that the Spirit will continue Jesus’ ministry and lead the disciples “into all the truth,” meaning the full understanding of God’s act in Christ. The Spirit will also “declare to you the things that are to come” (16:14), that is, the promises of God for the future. The fullness of God is Christ’s, and so as the Spirit reveals Christ, the disciples will come to know God. Trinity Sunday commemorates a doctrine which seeks to define the mystery of God’s nature. Christian experience has asserted that the God of mystery and might has revealed himself in his Son, the historical Jesus. However, God is more than a person. God is alive, empowering, saving—this is the Holy Spirit. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one God! Do not try to reason it out as a logical statement. Rather, it is a statement of faith based on experience. If all attempts at explanation end in the confession of the mystery of the Godhead, so be it! Our hope can lie only in a deity beyond our feeble understanding. Ultimately the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be explained but to be accepted in awe.