For the text of Luke 13, click here.
The chapter opens with people coming to give Jesus news. The way they go about it and His response took a little digging into because it didn’t make sense right away. They tell Him about some Galileans who had died while they were worshipping and they make it sound like Pontius Pilate was directing responsible for what happened to them. I couldn’t find anything that suggests their deaths were intentional or that it was orchestrated by Pontius Pilate. Though I have to do some research to find this, those people would have known that and this would have been either a rumor or just tricky wording on their part.
This isn’t the first time people are trying to catch Jesus in contradicting doctrine somehow, so it stands to reason that the wording was meant to be a set up. The meat of the question is “how could this happen, even to people who were actively worshipping at the time?” Honestly, I don’t understand how it’s much of a stretch. There was a mass murder of infants and toddlers surrounding the birth of Jesus. Is His age not actively suspicious?
To their point, it’s a question that still gets asked today and that many people like to say that prosperity and goodness come to those who have real faith and everyone who suffers is sinful and blah blah blah. For that, I appreciate this passage. I wish I’d heard it preached on before.
Jesus responds like this:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”Luke 13:2-5 ESV
My problem with understanding this passage is actually the use of “unless” and “likewise”. There was nothing wrong with them but if you do better than you won’t suffer the same fate these unsuspecting good people did? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense by itself. It really only makes sense when you remember Jesus and His art of redirection. They are trying to make the point that these good people were worshipping and bad things happened and what do you have to say about that?
Then Jesus came in and was making the point that these people should be worried about their own repentance and their own death rather than making accusations about other people or trying to trap him. It reads similar to the ways I’ve been around people trying to shut down gossip in real time. I’m still not a fan of “unless” and “likewise” because of the way it lends to that those people suffered a tragedy that is somehow avoidable by these people for the exact same behavior, but I understand shutting down gossipers.
He follows that response up with a parable about a fig tree that the owner wants to cut down because it isn’t bearing fruit. The caretaker convinces him to give it one more shot after giving it a little extra love. This parable makes a little more sense out of the preceding events. They are getting a little more love to see if things can change. It leaves the lingering question of whether it will work.
A little time passes to the next story which happens on a Sabbath day right at the synagogue. Jesus heals a woman He sees who is disable and can’t even stand straight for 18 years. He just walks up and does it. He gets called out by the “ruler of the synagogue”. This is the person responsible for the building and it’s upkeep and whatnot, not the person who preaches there. It sounds similar to the modern chairman of the board of trustees at a church. When he calls out Jesus for doing work there on the Sabbath, Jesus responds with:
“You hypocrites! cDoes not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, da daughter of Abraham whom eSatan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”Luke 13:15-16 ESV
I appreciate the sentiment. Everyone does things on the Sabbath that are daily little tasks. It’s not like moms can just not take care of their children on this day. I recall a provision to have made food the day so that no cooking needs to be done, but there is still a lot of caretaking of each other and animals that can’t go undone a day a week. And it’s this very thing that Jesus hits him back with. We all do things on the Sabbath. Stop throwing it in each others faces. Why should we not do good things for each other on this day that benefits others?
I’m not sure what prompts the next two things that Jesus says. They seem like a response to the question of what “the kingdom of God” is like, but there’s nothing about anyone asking. It just stands as it’s own little section with one story tied to it.
The comparisons made are to a mustard seed and to leaven, both of which sound strange on the surface. I think that’s also because I am not accustomed to dealing with either of these things. I wonder how much connection to what Jesus talks about that we’ve lost with the way we don’t produce so much of our own food anymore? I mean, I know that some families never had to be the one to do the things like leaven the dough for bread the next day, but it was around in some way that it isn’t today.
Both comparisons make heaven sound like it is the payoff for what we’ve nurtured.
19It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
21It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”
It sounds like it’s getting to sit back and see the glory of our legacy grow, which can be good or bad depending on what we’ve left behind. Or maybe it’s just that feeling of satisfaction. I suppose we will see. Maybe.
This comparison comes up in the last two books as well. Matthew 13 and Mark 4 use the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead. They also have slightly different descriptions with the mustard seed that suggest that it’s all about growth, and rapid growth at that. Also there is something to be said about how not much leaven goes into something and then it grows to be gigantic with it. I feel like this is less about heaven itself and our experience of it and more about the way that the number of people who are considered to be a part of the kingdom of God or heaven grow. It makes sense because it is not and has been for some time one of the religions of the world with the most people claiming to follow it. I say claiming because not everyone who calls themselves Christian has actually been one in the last few millennia.
Some time passes where Jesus is teaching and traveling before the next questions that is included. Someone asks if only “few” people will be saved. It sounds like a long way of agreeing that it will be “few”, but not that it will be only the people to which He is preaching. There is an inclusion of people coming from east and west, north and south. There’s also a reiteration of the first and last concept.
People come and tell Jesus that Herod is after Him and that He should leave. I love His response:
“Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’Luke 13:32 ESV
This is followed by that He actually does need to move along to get to Jerusalem when He should, but I love this initial disregard. He’s moving on, but not because of Herod. Then there’s a bit of a lament for Jerusalem and how it’s the place that prophets go to die. He mentions that He’d rather get to nurture Jerusalem but that it’s never been a good idea. Then He says that He’ll go but not go in until they welcome Him, which they eventually do when He arrives in exactly the way mentioned.