The story of the carelessness of those invited to the banquet has been linked by Luke to other sayings spelling out the seriousness of discipleship. The call to follow Christ cannot be taken up half-heartedly; such an attitude is a tragic miscalculation. These verses re-establish the tone set at the beginning of the journey toward Jerusalem (9:57-62). Jesus returns to the theme of family division that might come because of the gospel (see 12:51-53). Jesus says his disciples must hate father and mother and family. This is a Semitic exaggeration to stress that anyone who stands in the way of thorough commitment to Jesus, even one’s closest relations, must be renounced. “Hate” in this sense means “prefer less.” Discipleship is thus an all-consuming vocation. Jesus uses two examples: a wise builder would not begin a project without assessing his ability to complete it; only a madman would go into battle without considering the odds. For the Christian disciple, renunciation is the salt of discipleship. When a follower of Jesus begins to hold anything back, discipleship becomes a charade.
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.