NTiR: Luke 7, the most wondrous chapter in the Bible
Thank you for coming back to read more of this series, The New Testament in Review.
If I could only read one chapter in the entire Bible, it would be Luke 7. Words fail me when I try to describe the beauty of this chapter. Forgiveness and love are brought to life. Faith and redemption intermingle and flow off the pages of the book. This chapter by itself is a masterpiece. Please, please take the time to read Luke 7. You won’t regret it.
There are chapters and verses in the Bible that give a person hope and faith and a sense of love so real that it is overwhelming. The are the parts of the Bible that can convert someone to believe in Christ and his teachings and to become a follower. Luke 7 is all of that and more. I cannot begin to describe how wondrous this chapter is, but I can at least give you an idea of the events.
Jesus heads back to Capernaum (what is it about that town that draws Christ there so often?) and bumps into a centurion. Unlike Luke, we don’t find out his name. His story is almost universally known, however. The centurion’s servant is dying, so the centurion has other servants seeks out Jesus to see if Jesus can heal the servant. Jesus starts on his way to the centurion’s house, but is met by the centurion’s friend. The relay the centurion’s message: “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. That’s why I didn’t presume to come to you. But just say the word, and let my servant be healed.” Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s faith (“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found this kind of faith!”) and heals the servant.
Luke adds more texture to these stories, as I’ve come to expect. A crowd followed Jesus to Nain. They stumble upon a funeral procession and a devastated mother. She is a widow, and he was her only son. Jesus is moved by the woman’s grief, tells the boy to get up. So the boy sits up in his coffin and lives once more. The crowd does what you’d expect: They start running around in fear! That’s another nice touch by Luke.
This is also where John the Baptist sends messengers to find Jesus. John wants to know if Jesus is the Christ, or if John should continue to search to find the messiah. And who can blame John? I am sure that he wanted to get out of the wilderness, find clothes that weren’t made out of camel hair, take a nice, long bath and then have a filling meal. As with the other gospels, Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly, but instead tells the messengers to describe everything they’ve heard and seen Jesus do, and let John make up his own mind.
Jesus then goes on to talk about John the Baptist. This is something that I don’t remember from the other gospels. He asks the people what they expected the Baptist to look and be like, then extols him: “Really, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and even more than a prophet! […] I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John.” And I would expect the two to have a close bond: their mothers knew each other, they were about the same age (John is six months older), and they lived in the same general area. There should be a mutual fondness between the two.
Luke takes a second to editorialize here: “the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s plan for themselves.” Then he recounts Jesus singing a children’s song to mock the Pharisees:
A wedding song we played for you,
the dance you did but scorn.
A woeful dirge we chanted, too,
but then you did not mourn.
Jesus then points out a major difference between the Baptist and himself: John doesn’t drink, but Jesus has been known to like his wine. (“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
I seriously think that Jesus would be fun to hang out with. He has a sense of humor, likes to drink wine and tells great stories.
There’s one more story in Luke. It’s in the other Gospels, too. But the other Gospels just mention that Jesus forgave the sins of a woman who touched him. In Luke, the story is mangified, clarified and brought to life.
A Pharisee invites Jesus for dinner, and Jesus actually goes to the Pharisee’s home. A towns woman – and notorious sinner – learns that Jesus is on his way, and she meets him there. She washes “his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she kissed his feet over and over again.” The Pharisee is shocked, of course, but also tries to use the fact that Jesus is allowing this behavior as proof that Jesus isn’t a prophet. (One note here: this is one of many times that those near Jesus refer to him as a prophet. I don’t remember Jesus ever correcting them.)
Jesus has an answer for Simon (Luke does name the Pharisee, after all). In parable form, of course: two men owe a loan shark money, one owes $500, and one owes $50. Who will be more grateful if the loan shark forgives their debts?
Simon gives the easy answer, then Jesus explains the parable to Simon. The woman’s sins were high, so she was the most grateful to have them forgiven. She showed Jesus love and kindness in thanks. Simon had very few sins to be forgiven, but as such he did not show any kindness. Jesus then turns to the woman and says “Your faith had saved you. Go in peace.”
I am moved, truly moved.
First off, I was completely wrong about the story of Simon and the sinner. That is a completely different tale than the woman who reached out through the crowd and touched Jesus’s arm. That story is here in Chapter 8. As is the casting out of Legion, and the parable of the sower. Mary Magdalene is also mentioned by name here, but only to say that she was with the crowd of Jesus’s followers.
There’s not much new in Chapter 9. There are some small changes, details given, bits explained (for example, Herod doesn’t think that Jesus is the Baptist reincarnated. But he does want to meet Jesus.) Most of Chapter 9 can be skipped as extraneous.
Oh, one funny line: after the disciples see Moses and Elijah, Matthew asks if he should set up tents. To which, Luke parenthetically adds: “Peter didn’t know what he was saying.” For some reason, this gave me the giggles.
One last bit before we move on: Jesus has started to prophesy his death. The disciples don’t understand (it is hinted that god keeps them from understanding), but Christ is foreshadowing his end.
Jesus adds 70 new disciples to his group. Wait, what was that? Why have I not heard of these 70 disciples before? I am pretty sure I haven’t, anyway. All I remember are the 12. This is the reason I am re-reading the New Testament. There’s so much in here that I don’t remember at all. And Luke’s Gospel appears to be chock full of stuff I can’t recall ever hearing.
Jesus sends the 70 out into neighboring towns. They are charged with seeing if the towns believe and are practicing Jesus’s teachings. These are all towns where Jesus went to, taught and performed miracles in, including Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum. (Not a surprise there: Capernaum is one of the two cities that actually threw Jesus out of town.) Jesus also gets a little mythical on us here. Jesus says that he saw Satan “fall from heaven like lightning.”
After this, an “expert in the law” asked Jesus what must be done to gain eternal life? Jesus turned the question back on the questioner (as Christ was wont to do) by asking what the law (scriptures) says. The man answered that a person must love God and love your neighbor. Jesus said this was correct, but then the man asked a question which made Jesus stop and think for a bit. This is one of the first time’s that Luke has shown Jesus as anything less than perfect. That intrigues me.
Oh, the question is: “Who is my neighbor?” After pondering this for a while, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Then Jesus asks which of the three would be the attacked man’s neighbor: the priest who walked by without stopping, the Levite who crossed to the opposite side of the street, or the Samaritan who stopped, tended to the man’s wounds and took him to an Inn to heal.
At the end of the chapter, Jesus visits the home of Martha. Martha’s sister Mary sat with Jesus and listened to everything he had to say. Could this have been Mary Magdalene? This isn’t specifically stated, but Jesus says that “there’s only one thing you need. Mary has chosen what is better, and it is not to be taken away from her.” Is it safe to say that the better something that Mary has chosen is Christ’s love?
Chapter 11 starts out with the Lord’s Prayer, and then leads right into a charming parable. I’ll type it out here instead of pasting, because it is impossible to keep track of which “he” is being referred to. Someone needed to tell Luke to watch out for pronoun confusion!
Suppose that one of your friends knocks on your door at midnight, and asks for some bread. The friend says that they have unexpected guests, and have nothing to feed the guests. You are tired and grumpy, so you say “Hey, it’s after midnight, everyone is asleep and our doors are locked. Go over to King Soopers or something and leave me alone.”
If your friend stays at your door knocking instead of going away, you would probably get tired of the knocking and give your friend the bread, just so you could get back to sleep. Jesus equates this to praying. You may not get what you ask for immediately, but if you keep at it, persistently praying and asking God, you will get what you want.
Need I point out that Jesus is suggesting that we act like a two year old who wants something that their parents won’t give them?
Chapter 11 is full of famous quotes that are commonly used – almost always out of context – today. An example of some of them:
- Every kingdom divided against itself is devastated, and a divided household collapses. (In context: Satan cannot be used to drive out other demons)
- The person who isn’t with me is against me, and the person who doesn’t gather with me scatters. (In context: have faith in Christ to guard you from evil)
I am noticing a trend here: Jesus ends up in a bad mood anytime he’s had to deal with the Pharisees. Jesus is in a very bad mood in chapter 12, warning everyone that there will be blood! All secrets will be revealed, God has the power kill you and throw you into hell, there’s no redemption for those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, etc. Jesus again gives his fun little bon mot: “Do you think that I came to bring peace on earth? Not at all, I tell you”.
There are some glimpses of light in Chapter 12, but not many.
Oh, one interesting note: Luke 12:28 has the ” o ye of little faith” line. Like most of the other Biblical quotes that have become embedded into our popular culture, it is taken out of context. The full quote is: “Now if that’s the way God clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and thrown into an oven tomorrow, how much more will he clothe youyou who have little faith?” It’s not an admonition but a rebuke.
Up next: Jesus sings a rebuke to Jerusalem.
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.