Jesus Administers a Dose of Tough Love
[Luke chapter 13, verses 1-17]
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For this week’s Progressive Christian Bible study, we’ll be moving on to chapter 13 of Luke’s gospel as we continue our in-depth study of the writings of the apostle Luke. As a part of the series of analyses I am composing, this series of Biblical commentaries on the writings of the apostles will be the second book in this series. The first volume of Biblical studies I have managed to publish are those of the apostle Paul, called “The Apostles In Plain English Volume 1”, and you can find out more about that book from here. As you’ve probably guessed, these studies of Luke will comprise volume 2, but for now let’s go ahead and get started at verse one.
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think all these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’ Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in this vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir’, the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! But if not, then cut it down’.” (Luke 13, verses 1-9)
The background to this first verse is a reference to a freedom fighter named Judas of Galilee, who was considered an extremist at the time because of his teaching that there is but one God, combined with being a political activist for Jewish independence from the Roman Empire. His ambitions, combined with his teachings that were considered radical for their time, eventually resulted in he and all his followers (roughly 200 people together with their families) being put to death. So this first verse is a tragically vivid representation of the thought: “whom Pilate caused to be put to death while engaged in their sacrifices.” “Jesus answered, ‘Do you think all these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” We can infer three different things from these words of our Lord and Savior. The first is that those who suffer more in this present life than those who do not are not suffering because of any alleged punishment from God. On the contrary, those who suffer more in this life – the poor, the handicapped, the mentally or chronically ill, those without jobs, and the scorned and rejected, they are the ones who will have the highest places in heaven.
The second is that there is no such thing as degrees when it comes to sin, which is repeated, willful disobedience to God. Sin is still sin, hate is still hate, theft is still theft, and murder is still murder. There is no such thing as a greater or a lesser sin. Many of those who are vehemently opposed to gay marriage are the same ones who look at pornography on their computers. Is their sin any less than those with same-sex attraction? No way! As the apostle James wrote in his famous and beloved epistle, “Anyone who sins by breaking just one of the laws of God, is guilty of breaking all of them.” The third thing we can infer from Jesus’ statement is that those who rebelled against their oppressive Roman rulers in a bid for Jewish independence did not suffer a tortuous death at the hands of their Roman captors because of sin. They suffered a tortuous death because that was the stock in trade of the Roman soldiers who executed them.
“A man had a fig tree, planted in this vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down!’” As you can see, Jesus is asking the crowd gathered around him and the apostles if they would condemn one of their own as harshly as the Romans did Judas of Galilee and his followers. Would they, Jesus asks pointedly, treat them like the fig tree planted in the vineyard? You better not, Jesus said to them, or you may find yourself condemned by God just as quickly and harshly, and cut down just as mercilessly. But the man who takes care of the vineyard responds, “Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! But if not, then cut it down.” The property owner who first said to cut down that fig tree represents God in Jesus’ parable, but the caretaker’s response represents the mercy of Christ. If we don’t bear a lot of fruit, sometimes that is because there are people who do not hit their stride either personally, professionally or romantically until later in life. Jesus will intercede in such cases and begin working more closely with that individual, redoubling his efforts to cause us to grow in him. Not so much ourselves, of our own volition, but that of the Spirit of the Lord that dwells within the hearts of every true believer. If anyone reading this is unsure of whether the Spirit of the Lord resides in their hearts or not, right now – before we go on – would be an excellent time to invite Him in! Go ahead, because you’ll never be the same! Just ask away! And now let’s move on to the second half of our study, beginning at verse 10.
“On the Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and there was a woman there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward, and said to her, ‘Woman, you are free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and began praising God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath’. The Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his horse or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what has bound her?’ When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” (Luke 13, verses 10-17)
So we can see here that Luke’s narrative takes up on the Sabbath following Jesus’ speech about the interpretation of the times from the end of chapter 12, which we studied last week. Jesus performs yet another miracle by calling the crippled woman forward and healing her for everyone to see. Naturally, the Pharisees – who always insisted on enforcing the letter of the law while overlooking the spirit thereof – were infuriated that Jesus had performed an authentic healing of this poor old broken down woman. “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath”, they said. However, it does not look to me like this quote does a good job of capturing the moment. Let’s keep in mind that these Pharisees were scolding the crowd, as well as Jesus, as if they were traffic cops who just pulled someone over for driving 100 miles an hour on the freeway. In other words, the Pharisees were absolutely livid about the miraculous healing Jesus had administered to the elderly woman. Instead of falling on their knees in acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord over all, they were jealous! It was raw envy they were displaying, hidden behind a veil of sanctimony.
And right there, my dear readers, is where Jesus lets them have it with both barrels. “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his horse or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what has bound her?” ‘It’s perfectly fine for you Pharisees to lead your animals to water on the Sabbath’, Jesus was asking them, ‘but it’s wrong for me to heal a woman on the Sabbath who has been crippled for 18 years?’ Jesus is nearly incredulous with his religious counterparts for their religious snobbery, and no wonder! OK, now let’s fast forward to today, and what current event does this closely parallel? Remember the winner of the “Miss USA” beauty pageant making the statement that “higher education is a privilege”? American political conservatives, particularly the religious ones, have been saying much the same thing for many years. Hogwash!! Oh no it’s not, either! Access to knowledge, which entails higher education, is a basic fundamental human right from childbirth onward. To forcibly keep people illiterate and shield them from educational opportunities by erecting economic barriers is a criminal act!
“When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” Jesus made the Pharisees look ridiculous, he demolished their religious and intellectual snobbery right along with it, and he did so right in front of the whole crowd! The Pharisees deserved every bit of what they got from our Lord and Savior that memorable day. What I’d like to see us all do is to simply continue that tradition of delight in all the doings and miracles of our Lord and Kinsman Redeemer. Every time you see God doing something positive in your life or someone else’s life, give God praise and thanks for it! And when trouble comes your way, as it inevitably does, thank God for the opportunity to sharpen your game. And next week we’ll move on to part 2 of Luke chapter 13.