Luke 11-14

Jesus now teaches his disciples how to pray. The prayer in the gospel of Luke will seem strange to Christians, because it is different from the version in the gospel of Matthew that has been used in the life of the church. Comparing the two, we see that the account in the gospel of Luke omits the reference to heaven in the beginning of the prayer (in the gospel of Matthew) and, after the phrase "your kingdom come," also omits "your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." The rest of the prayer is the same, except that Jesus in the gospel of Luke prays for daily bread "each" day.

It might be that the author of the gospel of Luke deleted and changed the words of the prayer that he found in the gospel of Matthew. Or, the author of the gospel of Matthew might have added phrases to the prayer recorded in the gospel of Luke in order to make it read better. It also might be that one or both of them changed somewhat the version of the prayer they each had. Certainly, we cannot know the prayer that Jesus taught, but the church teaches that it is the version recorded in the gospel of Matthew. The version of the prayer given by Jesus in the gospel of Luke has almost been forgotten. (The conclusion of the prayer used in the contemporary church is not in either gospel but was added to the prayer by the early church.)

Then Jesus praises persistence: "For everyone who asks receives, those who seek find, and to those who knock, the door will be opened." Some of the material in this section is also in the gospel of Matthew, but the author of the gospel of Luke adds teachings that are not in any other gospel in the New Testament. Then the gospel of Luke returns to the text of the gospel of Mark and relates a statement by Jesus about his authority to cast out demons. The material is the same as in the gospel of Mark (3:22-27) and the gospel of Matthew (12:22-30). The gospel of Luke now repeats the saying that we saw earlier in the gospel of Matthew: "He who is not with me is against me."

The author of the gospel of Luke also includes some sayings about unclean spirits and then relates that a woman in the crowd calls out, "Happy the womb that carried you and the breasts that suckled you!" Jesus responds by diverting attention away from his mother in order to challenge his followers: "No, happy are those who hear the word of God and keep it." At this point in the narrative in the gospel of Matthew, we read of the mother and brothers of Jesus coming to get him. The author of the gospel of Luke has already told that story, but here he inserts a saying that confirms the openness of the kingdom to those who respond in faith.

Jesus in the gospel of Luke follows the gospel of Matthew in affirming that the only sign given to his generation will be the sign of Jonah, which implies that the Gentiles of Nineveh will be better off on the day of judgment than the Jews of his own generation. And then the gospel of Luke relates teachings by Jesus that we found early in the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew. This leads to a confrontation with Pharisees, who claim that Jesus and his disciples violate Jewish law by not washing their hands before eating. Jesus uses the challenge to attack the Pharisees for hypocrisy and delivers a lengthy denunciation that we saw earlier in the gospel of Matthew (23:1-36). When lawyers complain that Jesus is also insulting them, he castigates the lawyers because they "load men with intolerable burdens, and will not lift a finger to lighten the load."

Now the gospel presents a sermon. The gospel of Luke tells us that "a crowd of many thousands had gathered," but that Jesus "began to speak first to his disciples." He tells them to watch out for the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and not to fear those who can only kill the body but to fear God who can cast them into hell. He teaches that all those who acknowledge him will be acknowledged before the angels of God by the Son of Man, that speaking against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but that slandering the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. He counsels that the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say, when they have to defend themselves before "synagogues and state authorities." All of these teachings, which are directed at concerns in the early churches, are also presented in the gospel of Matthew, and some of them are in the gospel of Mark as well.

When a man in the crowd asks, "tell my brother to divide the family property with me," it seems that Jesus begins to teach the crowd. (Deuteronomy 21:17 specifies that the elder brother is to inherit twice the younger brother's share.) Jesus refuses to answer the question, but warns that possessions do not give life. Then he tells them the parable of the rich fool, who plans to build new barns to store the wealth of his harvest but who dies before he is able to complete his plan. The moral of the story, Jesus says, is simple: "That is how it is with the man who piles up treasure for himself and remains a pauper in the sight of God."

This parable and teaching is found only in the gospel of Luke. The following teachings about anxiety, however, are also in the gospel of Matthew. Worries about food and clothing "occupy the minds of the Gentiles," the gospel of Luke reports. In this instance the author does not edit out a reference to the Gentiles that is critical, but presents the same account as in the gospel of Matthew. (Perhaps this is a criticism of Greek society that is equally applicable in our own time.) The followers of Jesus are told to sell their possessions and give to charity. They are to be ready for action, with their "robes hitched up" and their lamps lit. They are to be like servants waiting for the return of their master and watching for the thief in the night. We recall seeing a similar reference in the letters of Paul. (1 Th. 5:02)

Peter now asks Jesus if "this parable" is intended only for the disciples or for everyone. We might think he means the parable of the rich fool, but the answer of Jesus concerns servants who are ready for their master to return. Jesus says he has "come to set fire to the earth," to "bring dissension," and to divide families. He tells the people they can interpret the signs of the weather but not "this fateful hour." Those who suffer are not necessarily greater sinners, he explains, for suffering and death can come arbitrarily. But if they repent, then they will enter the kingdom of God. A parable about a fig tree that does not bear fruit but is given another season before being cut down, implies that the people still have time to repent and be saved.

In chapters 13 and 14 Jesus heals two more people on the sabbath, a woman "possessed by a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years" and "a man suffering from dropsy." Neither of these stories is contained in any other gospel. In the first story the president of the synagogue urges Jesus to heal the woman on any working day but not on the sabbath. In the second story the Pharisees who are present do not challenge Jesus when he asks, "Is it permitted to heal people on the sabbath or not?" In both stories Jesus reminds his listeners that they all care for their animals on the sabbath, and this is not considered contrary to the prohibition of work on the sabbath.

When we realize that the Jewish sabbath was on a working day in the Roman Empire, we begin to appreciate how hard it must have been for Jews living largely among Romans to observe the commandment not to work on the sabbath. As Paul developed congregations of Jewish and Gentile Christians in communities that were largely Gentile, it was obviously divisive even to try to observe the sabbath.

These chapters contain more teachings about the kingdom of God. Jesus compares it to a mustard seed and to a measure of leaven for bread. When the end comes, he says, after the master of the house has locked the door, those who are outside will knock in vain. He quotes the line that appears six times in the gospel of Matthew, saying that "there will be wailing and grinding of teeth" when those who are locked out see "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God." Moreover, as Jesus teaches in the gospel of Matthew (8:11-12), people will come from "east and west" and from "north and south" in order to "take their places at the banquet in the kingdom of God."

As these parables and related teachings must have been circulating in the early churches, at least as oral traditions if not in written form, it is surprising that we do not find any reference to them in Paul's letters. A moment's reflection, however, will suggest a reason why Paul might have ignored them. Teachings about the kingdom of God can easily be understood to verify that the kingdom has already come. The gospel of Mark begins with Jesus in Galilee proclaiming: "The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you." (Mk. 1:14-15) The manifestations of the Holy Spirit, which inaugurated the church on Pentecost in Jerusalem, seemed to mark the presence of God among the people in a new way. Moreover, the members of the church in Jerusalem, who were sharing all their goods and spending a great deal of time praying in the temple, saw themselves as witnessing to the present reality of the kingdom of heaven.

Certainly, the final day of the Lord had not yet arrived, but in the letters of Paul we find him resisting the teaching of the Jewish Christian apostles from Jerusalem that the kingdom has come. (1 Cor. 15:20-28, 2 Th. 2:1-12) It is not surprising, therefore, that he says very little about the kingdom of God but rather develops other ways of describing life "in Christ” —a life the gospel author calls both Gentile and Jewish Christians to embrace until the Lord comes again.

Some Pharisees now warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him, but Jesus responds by saying that he will continue his work, because "it is unthinkable for a prophet to meet his death anywhere but in Jerusalem." He seems to mean that he does not fear any harm until he carries his challenge to the city of David. The author of the gospel of Luke repeats the lament over Jerusalem that we saw in the gospel of Matthew (23:37-39). Then, at dinner with Pharisees, he urges the guests to take the lowest place, "for whoever humbles himself will be exalted." He also tells his host not to invite friends or relations to eat with him but the poor, the crippled, and the blind. "That is the way to find happiness," Jesus says, "because they have no means of repaying you." And he promises those who follow his teachings that they "will be repaid on the day when the righteous rise from the dead."

When someone says, "Happy are those who will sit at the feast in the kingdom of God!" Jesus tells the story of the big dinner party when the invited guests decline to attend and servants are sent out to invite people from the streets. "I tell you," Jesus concludes, "not one of those who were invited shall taste my banquet." The gospel of Luke omits from the account in the gospel of Matthew (which says the gathering is a wedding banquet) the anecdote of the guest who comes without a proper garment and is thrown into the darkness where there is "wailing and grinding of teeth." (Mt. 22:1-13)

Jesus tells the crowds that follow him, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be a disciple of mine." We encountered this hard teaching in the gospel of Matthew (10:37-38). Were Jews rejected by their families, when they left (or were expelled from) their synagogues and joined largely Gentile churches? Very likely they were disowned by their parents, and they may (as Paul did) have been persecuted because of their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The teachings in the gospels of Matthew and Luke help assure those who face this harsh reality that they will find their reward in the community of Christ. Therefore, Jesus teaches: "If you are not prepared to leave all your possessions behind, you cannot be my disciples." © Robert Traer 2016