Week of October 18
Luke’s gospel takes a turn—literally—for Jerusalem, where Jesus will make his final sacrifice. We begin to read about moments that build toward the crucifixion of Jesus, including seventy-two followers of Jesus going before him to proclaim the kingdom of God. As Jesus continues toward Jerusalem, the role of Messiah becomes increasingly clear based on the stories Luke includes in his gospel.
When Jesus makes his turn toward Jerusalem (literally: “turns his face toward Jerusalem”) in 9.51, Luke begins to use what is commonly referred to as “travel indicators” throughout his gospel until Jesus actually arrives in Jerusalem in chapter 19. For instance, we read in 13.22: “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” This example is obvious, but there are other markers as well, things like: “As they were walking along the road” (9.57). All of these markers make up a travel narrative, which through these literary devices help move Jesus toward his destination in Jerusalem. We need to understand that this journey is one where Jesus will give himself up to be sacrificed on the cross. It is more than just a summary of his travels. It has everything to do with his purpose here on earth.
The Jews and the Samaritans did not like one another and often went out of their way to avoid contact with each other. (This is what makes the story of the Good Samaritan so shocking.) When we see the Samaritans reject Jesus in 9.52-53, we should not be surprised. This rejection may have simply been due to the animosity between the two groups, but it also may have been the result of Jesus making his way to the temple in Jerusalem. Part of the conflict between these two groups was the result of the Jewish people destroying the temple of the Samaritans and rejecting their right to worship there. The Samaritans may have taken offense that Jesus was on his way to the temple. Jesus, they would have surmised, would have had the opportunity to worship in Samaria, but would have been seen as rejecting that opportunity by his journey to Jerusalem.
It is interesting to me that we are not told of the specifics of Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples attempt to “call fire down” on the Samaritans. We are simply told he rebuked them and then went on about his way. Notice that Jesus “turned” to rebuke them. The disciples desire for revenge actually served as a distraction to Jesus’ travel toward Jerusalem. Whatever his rebuke, we understand that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ role in offering salvation for all.
Luke records several occasions when crowds surround Jesus or when crowds seek him out. Jesus is obviously doing something to attract people, but following him is not as easy as one might presume. The cost of following Jesus is extremely high, as the examples Luke provides here point out. We might assume the burial of a father might be an excuse considered worthy of postponing following Jesus. In reality, the man here may have been going to help an aging father transition into “retirement” per se and then death. Because Jewish law held that people were to be buried that day, it seems unlikely that this man would have even been around Jesus had his father just passed away. He probably is asking to be able to continue to be a part of his family during his dad’s last days (Weeks? Months? Years, perhaps?) Put in that context, this text does not seem as harsh.
We should also note that Jesus does not say people should not plow. It is the turning back (being distracted about the task at hand) that is the issue. I think for us, we should assume that our occupations are not to be dismissed, but rather brought under the umbrella of proclaiming the kingdom. In what ways, we could ask, does your occupation (banker, student, teacher, etc.) support your vocation (follower of Jesus and proclaimer of God’s kingdom?)
We have already seen Jesus send out the Twelve (9.1-9) and there are similarities between the commission there and the one here for the seventy-two. (You may find Bible translations that have this number as seventy. Early manuscripts are split almost evenly between the two numbers. The meaning of the passage is not changed based on which number is chosen.) Two of the differences with this account include no indication that the seventy-two have been given power to drive out demons. They are, however, forerunners of Jesus and his travels. Notice they are sent to every town and place where he was about to go.
There have been times when I have heard of (and participated in) churches gathering the names of everyone in the neighborhood and praying for them by name as part of an evangelistic campaign to gather the harvest. What people seem to miss during those campaigns, however, is that is not the harvest that we are to pray for, but the harvesters. (Although, I would say there is nothing wrong with praying for individuals to come to know Jesus. It is just not the prayer that is prayed in this passage.)
I am not sure the seventy-two went away with a great feeling about what was to happen, given they were being sent out like “lambs among wolves.” I think I would have liked better odds. We do read, however, that the seventy-two are to find “people of peace,” that is, people receptive to the message of Christ. This is where they are to focus their efforts and they are told to stay at these houses, not move from place to place (similar to the instructions given the Twelve.) Some of the modern missional thinkers have appropriately latched on to this idea and encourage people going into areas where they are trying to win a hearing of the gospel to seek out those most receptive. Start with these people and allow their influence over the people they know to help the harvester proclaim the message of God.
As has been consistently the case throughout the entire gospel of Luke, proclamation of the kingdom of God is the primary message for the seventy-two, just like it was for the Twelve, and just like it was for Jesus.
Verses 21-22 show the relationship between Jesus and his Father. One does not know one of them without knowing the other and vice versa. This will be important in the next chapter when Jesus begins to teach on prayer. We understand the Father—and his goodness—in part because of the life of Jesus.
We may be familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. It is one of our favorite stories to tell our children during Sunday School. It is a shocking story, as most parables are, because of the actions of the characters involved. None of their actions are consistent with our expectations.
The story is set up by a question from an expert in the law and is designed to test Jesus. As he will do throughout this encounter, Jesus turns the question back on the man, who answers correctly according to Jesus. Inheriting eternal life, based on this man’s understanding of the Jewish law, is found in the summary of the greatest command (which is actually two commands): Love God and love your neighbor. Loving God would have been found in the shema of Deuteronomy 6, which all good Jews would have known and understood as foundational to their understanding of faithful living before Yahweh. The second command was not always as clearly defined. Some would have said it had to do with keeping the Sabbath, but loving your neighbor is not without precedent in the writings of the rabbis. The command itself was from Leviticus 19.8, which instructs the people not to hold grudges, but to love your neighbor.
We are told that the man seeks to justify himself, so tries to narrow down the true definition of a neighbor. This is not as unheard of as we might like to make it out to be. We tend to gravitate toward people most like us. For instance, if we were having a day to invite our neighbors to church, we probably would think of the people we were closest to or whom looked most like our church brethren and us. The biker next door might be overlooked in order to invite the person the next house down who has just been away from church for several years.
Jesus turns the question back on the expert by telling him a story about a traveler who was beat up and left for dead. A priest (perhaps on his way to Jerusalem to perform his priestly duties in the temple) passes by without helping him and a Levite (think: righteous man, forbidden to touch dead bodies) does the same. We would think these would be the most likely to help a brother out, but instead, they may have felt they had reasons to ignore him. If this man had passed away—really, wouldn’t it have been hard to tell if a half-dead man might not be all the way dead?—then these two travelers would have defiled themselves by offering aid.
A Samaritan, remember the conflict that had already been alluded to by Luke, did not have the same qualms and stopped to render aid. This is shocking to most Jews, probably because they would have assumed someone as backwater as a Samaritan didn’t have it in his heart to help anyone out, especially not a Jew. This man does help and offers unlimited resources to help get this man back on his feet.
Which one of these men, Jesus asks, was a neighbor? The question is not who deserved to be treated as a neighbor, but who acted like a neighbor. Here is the key to understanding what it means to inherit eternal life. It is not do you perform the bare minimum, but do you act from the heart to show the love of God and love for your neighbor. Show mercy on those who need the most mercy, Jesus tells this expert … and us.
Our section closes with a story of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus in their home. We all know the amount of preparations required to host someone in our home: cleaning, food being purchased and prepared, and hospitality being shown. To Martha, Mary was not holding up her end of the bargain because she spent her time listening to their guest, rather than showing hospitality to him. The busyness of following Jesus can at times overwhelm our ability to actually follow him. In this way, we certainly relate to Martha’s concerns. Focus on Jesus is what should concern us most, not the anxieties of the other things.
Every week our lessons will include seven questions (really question sets) that you may either pick and choose those questions that best suit your family unit, or you may use one question set for each day.
- Why do you think Jesus was so “resolute” to head to Jerusalem? Based on what you have read in the gospel of Luke up to this point, what do you expect to happen once Jesus gets there? Do you think the disciples understood what was to happen? Give examples as to why you think this is the case. (Luke 9.51-56)
- In what ways would you assume burying your father would be a legitimate request to delay going with Jesus? What do Jesus’ instructions here tell us about the importance of how we follow Jesus? In what ways does proclaiming the kingdom of God supersede everything else we do? How can you proclaim the kingdom of God at your work, your school, or at play today? (Luke 9.57-62)
- How does Jesus sending out the seventy-two compare to his sending out the Twelve? Why is it so important for us to pray for workers to be sent out into the harvest? In what ways have you found “people of peace” as you have moved to a new town or a new job? How comforting is it to know that when people reject you, they reject Jesus? (Luke 10.1-16)
- Why does Jesus rejoice in verses 21-22? As you read through these two verses, what stands out to you? How important is our understanding of Jesus for our understanding of the Father? In what ways have you personally sensed a better understanding of the Father through your study of Jesus? (Luke 10.17-24)
- Why would this expert of the law have wanted to test Jesus? What do you think this expert was trying to prove or discover? How do you think your life would be different if before doing anything you decided to do everything you did based on the following criteria: Does it show love to God? Does it show love to my neighbor? (Luke 10.25-28)
- Have you ever been in a situation where you acted like the priest or the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan? What about a situation where you acted like the Samaritan? Why would this story have been so shocking to Jesus’ hearers and to Luke’s readers? Do you think this expert expected Jesus to turn the question of neighbor back on him? Why is it much easier for us to determine who qualifies as a neighbor than it is to actually go out and be a neighbor? (Luke 10.29-37)
- Are you a Mary or a Martha? Why do you think this is the case? In what ways do you see individuals being Martha’s when they should be Mary’s? Why do you think it is so easy to be focused on all of the preparations of following Jesus to the point of missing out on the important parts of actually following him? (Luke 10.38-42)
Every week this section will list possible activities you and your family unit can do. You may pick one or perhaps do several during the course of a week. All are intended to be suitable for any age.
- Using a Bible Encyclopedia, research the conflict between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. (The IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels is a good reference.)
- From the time Jesus “turns his face” toward Jerusalem until the time he actually arrives in Jerusalem (chapter 19), Luke will give literary markers that indicate the progression of Jesus along his journey to Jerusalem. Go through these chapters and record all of these markers or “travel indicators,” as they are sometimes called.
- Using a printed Bible map, go through these chapters again, along with your list of travel indicators, and draw a map showing the progression of Jesus toward Jerusalem.
- Create a word art picture using the two-part greatest command given by the expert of the law: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
- Instead of looking for people who qualify as your neighbor, find someone on your block or that you run into on a regular basis that you can be a neighbor to. What sorts of things best show this person your love and the love of God? Go do it.
- List the things in your life that you spend time giving much of your attention and energy to that in reality, are worries that should be replaced with trust in God. Be sure to spend time this week in devotion to God as you do worrying about those things.
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This work by South Plains Church of Christ and Robert A. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attributions-NonCommerical-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. ™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.