Jesus just can’t seem to help himself – he keeps healing people on the Sabbath! Does he ever heal on the other days of the week? This time it’s a man with ‘dropsy’ – an old-fashioned term for edema (swelling of the legs). These days in the developed world, that’s usually due to circulatory problems, but in Jesus’ time and place I’d bet it was more likely due to a parasitic infection. The photo shows the type of disease that Jesus supposedly cured with ‘therapeutic touch’. It is a parasitic disease caused by microscopic, thread-like worms that only live in the human lymph system. Today, it affects over 120 million people in 73 countries throughout the tropics and sub-tropics of Asia, Africa, the Western Pacific, and parts of the Caribbean and South America. The disease spreads from person to person by mosquito bites.
In the next section, Jesus teaches about humility. Again, I don’t like the attitude. No need to be snobbish and self-centered, but neither should people have to continually be self-effacing. The admonition in v 8 sounds a lot like ‘know your place in life’ to me. This type of teaching was used to keep servants and slaves in line for centuries. For example, look at the original lyrics for this well-known traditional hymn. The third verse is no longer included in modern hymnals – for obvious reasons.
The point Jesus makes in v 11 is plucked from Matt 23. And I also find v 14 disturbing – it teaches that we should be kind and generous not for the sake of humanity now, but in order to gain points towards an afterlife.
In v 15, we have the parable of the Great Feast. Interesting that in Luke it’s not a wedding banquet – it was Matthew (ch 22) who said it was a wedding. But Matthew’s version of the story isn’t as family-friendly, what with the townspeople offing the king’s messengers, and towns being burned and all. So it’s Luke’s story that’s taught in Sunday schools and set to catchy tunes – one of my favorite church songs from childhood.
In the last section of the chapter, Jesus talks about the cost of becoming his disciple. He alludes to previous statements on this matter; the line about taking up the cross is stolen from Matt 16:24, and the advice about rejecting your family is similar to that in Matt 10:35. I think he’s established by now that he’s determined to break up families! But then he continues on to count other, more practical costs, like finances and resources. Good plan.
The chapter concludes with the parable of the salt. We’ve come across this twice before – Mark 9 and Matt 5 – and I’ve never really understood it yet. So I finally looked to my apologist website and it was explained thus: “Salt is only useful when it has the nature of salt. A Christian is only useful when he or she has the nature of Christ.” Wow.
We start with the parable of the lost sheep from Matthew 18. Luke explains it a little more fully, but it’s basically the same.
And although I get the point of it, I wonder how fair this really is. Why shouldn’t those 99 people who were righteous all along get more recognition? Like don’t you often feel resentful when you subscribe to something or join a group and pay your bills/dues all along and then suddenly there’s a promo for “new members/subscribers only” and they get a better deal? That’s how I feel about this parable. Next is the parable of the lost coin; it’s another illustration of the same point. But I can’t help but think that most people wouldn’t bother to rip the house apart over one lost coin…. They’d just let it go.
The rest of the chapter relates the story of the Prodigal Son. How many of us learned this story in Sunday school and never ever looked up the meaning of the word ‘prodigal’? I just looked it up now. It means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant”. And has anyone ever heard this word apart outside of this parable? Hah! Bet not. I also note that it gives us the expression “kill the fatted calf”. But what of its meaning? It’s just another example of the same point made in the previous two parables. And up until v 21 I think it’s a reasonable story of human nature that still applies today. I’m glad that the father was compassionate and forgave his son and welcomed him home. But as for the party, I have to side with the other son. Fair is fair. Welcome the wayward child home; rejoice and give him another chance – but don’t fete him and favor him over the child who stayed home and worked hard all along.
The parable of the shrewd manager. I swear I’ve never heard this story in my life! And it’s difficult to understand – which probably explains why I’ve never heard it; too heavy for my church. So the way I get it, this guy’s an embezzler, and when he realizes he’s been caught and is going to lose his job, he calls in all the clients and settles their debts for less than they owe. This gets him a lot of friends; and when the boss finds out, he can’t approve the deceit, but he has to admire the guy’s shrewdness. Jesus then notes that business people are savvier in handling money than people of god.
The point of the tale (for believers) is that we should learn to pursue the kingdom of god with the same vigor and determination that we use to pursue profits and pleasure; and also that we should be prepared to account to god for our actions at any time.
Now, for non-believers, in the last sentence substitute the words ‘future security’ for ‘kingdom of god’, and ‘managers, parents, etc’ for ‘god’ and this point can apply in a totally secular context just as easily as in a supernatural one. And understood this way, it’s good advice. There is more good advice in v 10-12. The verse about serving two masters is lifted from Matthew 6, and the verse condemning adultery is taken from Mark 10. (Luke bounces around a lot.)
The last half of the chapter is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; and just to clarify, this is not the more famous Lazarus who Jesus will raise from the dead in the Gospel of John. Practical question – Are heaven and hell physically so near one another that it is possible for people (ghosts? souls?) in hell to see over to the people in heaven (and vice versa? – v 23), even although no one can actually cross from one side to the other (v 26)? Also note the developing concept of hell as a physical place with flames. And why does the rich man see Abraham in the afterlife but not Yahweh? (Aside: Have you noticed the lack of references in the gospels to Yahweh? He’s not mentioned by name, and most of the references to god are vague. There’s a lot more talk about the ‘kingdom of heaven’ than god himself.)
And apart from all that, I find this story disturbing. It reinforces the notion that the well-off should be charitable to others, not for the sake of human kindness, but merely to avoid being punished in the afterlife. It also advises the not-so-well-off that if they put up with enough ill-treatment, they will be rewarded in the afterlife; thereby discouraging them from attempting to rectify injustices in this world.