We are in the third of four sections examining the events taking place as Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem. His ministry up unto this point has mainly been in Galilee, close to His home in Capernaum; but the time of the Lord's ultimate rejection and crucifixion is at hand and so He makes His way to Jerusalem to face the mounting hostility of the religious leaders located there. This is seen in their attempts to denounce Him for healing people on the Sabbath.
In this section, Luke records a string of episodes where Jesus uses both parables and conventional teaching to instruct the people about the kingdom and other topics. Several of these are only found in Luke.
Parables About Dinners and Dinner Guests – Luke 14:7-24
Since much of the socializing at that time was done over food, Jesus gives three parables: one concerning the guests, another about the host and one about the dinner itself.
Parable of the Dinner Guests
All three of these parables are about various aspects of the kingdom of God. In other parables (i.e. talents, Matthew 25:14-30) the main message was that the kingdom was at hand or the return of the king of the kingdom was unknown so one needed to be ready (faithful, productive, pure, etc.). In these parables Jesus focuses on the attitude of the host and the guests.
7And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
- Luke 14:7-11
This parable springs from what Jesus was actually witnessing as people scrambled for honored positions at the feast He was attending. The story explains itself and its message is a familiar one: that in the kingdom, the humble are exalted and the proud brought low (i.e. Matthew 23:12). This is also an indirect denunciation of the religious leaders who, unlike the ordinary people, were too proud to receive Jesus, even with the testimony of His miracles.
This is one of the parables unique to Luke's gospel.
Parable/Instruction to the Host (14:12-15)
As a follow-up, Jesus addresses not only His host, but all those who practice hospitality.
12And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
- Luke 14:12-14
The way that the guests jostled for position suggests that they were not among the poor and disadvantaged. Hospitality is a mark of one who is part of the kingdom, however, kingdom-type hospitality is different in that it aims to serve others, not self. The difference in attitudes reflects the different objectives.
- A self-serving attitude uses hospitality as a way to advance one's position socially or tactically.
- Those who serve others through hospitality do so to advance the growth of God's kingdom here on earth and receive a blessing for their efforts.
When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!"
- Luke 14:15
This comment serves as an "Amen" statement to what Jesus has just said, and a bridge to the third parable about the kingdom using the story of a dinner. It implicitly asks the question, "Who will be worthy to participate in the kingdom's feast?"
Parable of the Dinner (14:16-24)
This parable summarizes the situation taking place as Jesus approaches Jerusalem and what awaits Him there. In the parable:
- The host is God.
- The dinner is the gospel message leading one into the kingdom.
- The lone slave sent to invite is Jesus.
- The original guests are the Jews, especially the religious leaders.
- The poor, lame and blind in the city are the ordinary Jews among the common people.
- The ones out on the highways (roads and hedges) are the Gentiles.
In this parable Jesus summarizes His ministry to date, the initial response to it and its eventual outcome.
1. Ministry to Date and Response
Jesus preached and performed miracles to prove that He was the Messiah and the kingdom of God had arrived. The religious leaders, who should have been the first to realize and accept this, did not. Their response was similar to the guests who found all sorts of excuses to avoid the dinner. In the same way these men found all manner of ways to discredit, attack and finally have Jesus arrested and executed.
The majority of Jesus' followers were ordinary people (then and now) and eventually the meal (message) intended first for the Jews was spread successfully among the Gentiles.
In His final injunction, Jesus warns the people who refuse to believe (like those who were first invited) that they will not enjoy the rewards of the kingdom. Faith will always be required to experience (taste) the kingdom of God.
Test of Discipleship – Luke 14:25-35
These parables lead to a discussion about discipleship and its demands (mentioned in both Matthew and Mark). Jesus leaves no doubt that disciples must renounce everything they own, not in order to practice humility or asceticism, but to learn the lesson of trusting in Him. In his commentary, R.C.H. Lenski says that what Jesus requires is that His disciples abandon their reliance on what they possess to either save them or do God's work in establishing the kingdom.
This passage is often used to make the point that would-be disciples need to "count the cost" before deciding to follow Jesus. This is a natural lesson stemming from Jesus' words here, however, making the point that we must give up all we have in order to be true disciples is not what Jesus is getting at. What we must consider before becoming disciples is that no matter what we possess, it isn't enough to pay for our sins; we have to completely rely on Jesus for this. In addition, we cannot become faithful and fruitful disciples based solely on what we possess (skill, experience, etc.). Again, we need the spiritual gifts and help that only Jesus can provide in order to succeed and be fruitful in ministry.
So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
- Luke 14:33
You don't have to become poor to be a disciple, you have to give up self-reliance to become a disciple.
34"Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
- Luke 14:34-35
Jesus concludes by comparing disciples to salt. He points out that salt is useless if it loses its saltiness. In the same way disciples become useless if they stop acting like disciples. The Lord cautions us to first consider the cost of discipleship (one must abandon self-reliance) and then establishes the length of our service as disciples (for life). The one purpose of salt is its saltiness, and the one purpose of disciples is faithfulness. If salt loses its saltiness it loses its value and in the same way, a disciple who becomes unfaithful loses his essential value in Christ.
Lost and Found Parables – Luke 15:1-32
The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin (15:1-10)
1Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. 2Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." 3So He told them this parable, saying,
- Luke 15:1-3
Luke changes the scene at this point and sets up the occasion for the presentation of three parables concerning things lost and found. These three are given as a response to the criticism He was receiving from the religious leaders because He not only ministered to sinners and tax collectors (outcasts) with His teaching (which they eagerly sought), but He also ate with them, as He did with the Pharisees, from time to time. The religious leaders considered these people a lost cause. Jesus, on the other hand, preached the gospel to these outcasts and mixed with them socially.
The first two parables (lost sheep and coin) are examples of the natural human desire to diligently seek for a precious thing that has been lost, and the joy one experiences when it is found. Each parable has a happy ending as both sheep and coin are located. Both parables explain why Jesus bothers making an effort to reach these "outcasts" (that are written off as not worth the effort by the religious leaders). In God's eyes the lost are still precious and the effort made to find them is worthwhile.
Jesus speaks as one who is witness to what takes place in heaven (what He says here is not a quote from an Old Testament prophet, it is a revelation from a heavenly witness).
7I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
10In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
- Luke 15:7; 10
Jesus is teaching them the reason why He ministers to all (including the outcasts). Every soul is precious to God and worthy of being sought after and saved! The religious leaders placed a different value on each person based on such earthly criteria as family, education, position, wealth and culture (i.e. Jews = greatest / Gentiles = least). Jesus' parable taught that each soul had equal value (because each soul was created in the image of God, not man - Genesis 1:26).
The Lost Son (15:11-32)
After two parables about lost objects, Jesus steps up His imagery about lost and found and tells the story of the lost son. In this parable He will include characters that represent each person present at the telling of the story: Himself, the outcasts, the religious leaders and how each plays a part in the lost/found scenario.
11And He said, "A man had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them. 13And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."' 20So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.
- Luke 15:11-24
The parable of the Prodigal Son only appears in Luke's gospel and is probably one of the best known of all the parables. In this story what is "lost" is this young man's soul. He goes from being acceptable and safe in his father's house to becoming an outcast through his own sinfulness and foolishness. There is no searching here because unlike objects (sheep and coins), he has free will. His choices led to his lostness and his own choices will be what bring him back.
The father represents the heavenly Father who is present in the form of Jesus. Just as Jesus ministered to and associated with the outcasts, the father waits for his son and receives him back into the family when he returns. What he lost (his younger son) has returned to him and he rejoices.
25"Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' 28But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.' 31And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"
- Luke 15:25-32
The older son personifies the Jewish leaders. True to the tradition, legalistic in following the rules, working for a reward, but no inward faith and love for God which would produce a kind and merciful attitude towards others.
The parable accurately describes the two sons (groups) Jesus dealt with: the outcasts who sought reconciliation and the religious leaders who refused to see their need. Both sons were "lost" but for different reasons:
- One for dissipation and immorality.
- One for self-righteous pride.
The sad reality was that only one of the sons was eventually found.
Parable of the Unjust Steward (16:1-18)
Although the parables have different characters and storylines, they all have a common thread: a condemnation of the attitudes and actions of the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders. The parable of the unjust steward is no exception to this pattern. It describes a steward (manager) who is audited and about to lose his job because of waste and mismanagement. Before he leaves he reduces the amount owed by his employer's customers in order to gain favor with them after he is fired. Jesus doesn't condone his conduct, but remarks that the steward's actions to save his own skin was shrewd in a worldly way. The Lord provides a parallel for disciples.
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
- Luke 16:9
In the same way, disciples should use earthly wealth to make "friends" or converts among the poor and outcast. This is so that when earthly wealth is no longer useful (at death) they will be welcomed in heaven because of the way they used their earthly riches to win souls. The idea being that the converts made here on earth through the wise use of physical resources will be in heaven to welcome and thank the faithful disciples who won them over for Christ.
This parable naturally leads to an admonition about the actual use of worldly wealth. The parable showed an unrighteous person using wealth in a shrewd, self-serving way. In the admonition Jesus instructs His disciples about the proper attitude towards earthly wealth. He also adds a warning about the impossibility of trying to pursue both wealth and discipleship as equal priorities because they demand opposite things.
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
- Luke 16:13
The Pharisees, hearing this teaching, dismiss Jesus and what He has said concerning worldly riches. This they do because the Lord has perfectly described their own greedy attitude about money. In response to their mocking, Jesus rebukes them:
15And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. 16"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. 18"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.
- Luke 16:15-18
- He condemns them as religious hypocrites who hide their greed behind the cloak of religious self-righteousness.
- He reminds them that now is the time of salvation and even though they are not entering the kingdom, others are (the outcasts).
- They skirted the Law and watered down many of its provisions in order to claim personal righteousness based on obedience to the Law. For example, they would divorce their wives for no proper reason and claim that they were innocent of any wrong doing because they fulfilled the requirement established by Moses of giving their wives a legal "bill of divorcement." In other words they claimed innocence because they had provided the proper paperwork for the divorce!
Jesus reminds them that they had no power or authority to change or water down the Law because the Law, unlike the material world, never fails or changes. He then applies the Law to their illegitimate divorces thus condemning them and demonstrating the power of God's word. In this instance He is not providing in depth teaching about marriage and divorce (as He does in Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12). He is, however, making a simple and quick rebuke of these religious leaders for their disregard of the permanence of marriage (i.e. they divorced for no reason, and at times remarried each other's wives - Lenski, p. 843-845).
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-17:10)
After a pause, during which Jesus addresses the Pharisees directly (verses 14-18), the Lord recounts a second parable dealing with wealth and the dangers attached to it. This time it is not about the dishonest use of wealth for personal gain (unjust steward) but the love of and reliance on wealth that leads to greed and selfishness.
A rich man ignores a poor and sick man who is laid at his door. Both die and the poor man goes to heaven while the rich one goes to hell. These two have a dialogue where the rich man begs for relief for his suffering and asks that a message be sent to warn his brothers about the suffering he is experiencing. These are refused. The parable has several lessons:
- The rich man was not condemned for his wealth, he was condemned for his selfishness and lack of faith.
- There is both life and joy, or suffering after death. Some think this is a lesson on the afterlife, others only see it as a parable; either way it teaches the same lessons.
- Faith expressed in love is what saves us. The rich man wanted an angel to warn his family and is told that if they didn't believe Moses (the witness sent by God to preach, lead and warn the Jews) then they will not believe an additional witness, even if He is raised from the dead. This was to be true of most Jews when the Apostles began preaching about Jesus and His resurrection.
The Lord wraps up His teaching through parables with a final warning and instruction to His disciples.
1He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.
- Luke 17:1-2
The only thing worse than not having faith yourself is blocking others from coming to faith. This was something that the religious leaders were becoming guilty of.
Jesus closes out His teaching with admonitions to His followers about their life as disciples and what this life consisted of:
- Love: Their love would be proven in the way they treated one another (with grace and mercy).
- Faith: A strong faith believed and lived with the understanding that with God, all things were possible.
- Humility: A recognition that one's true and most blessed position in life was as a servant of God.
These attitudes were in stark contrast to the character and practice of the religious leaders who had scoffed at and rejected Jesus, and had earned His condemnation as a result.
If there is any one lesson we can draw from this varied mix of parables and teachings it is this: The key to the meaning of the text is usually contained in the text itself. In this section there are only four main characters: Jesus, outcasts, disciples and the religious leaders. All the conclusions, object lessons and applications must first be tied to one of these before any other lesson can be drawn accurately and contextually.