Luke Week 6

“Beginning the Journey to Jerusalem”: Luke 9:51–12:59

By Mark Abbott

Seattle Pacific University Adjunct Instructor

Read this week’s Scripture: Luke 9:51–12:59


Week 6
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Remember heading to the airport or taking road trips to visit family and friends, travel for business, or go on vacation? What if all we had was a horse, a donkey, or, more likely in Bible times, just our own two feet?

In Bible times, a journey was a big deal and an ordeal. In the first Lectio, we observed that Luke’s gospel disproportionately focuses on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem — the journey takes up nine of 24 chapters. The “travel narrative” begins at Luke 9:51 and climaxes in 19:41 with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At a clear break in the gospel narrative, we are told of Jesus, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). This dramatic statement signals a new direction in Luke’s gospel. The next chapters depict Jesus teaching his followers as they journey to Jerusalem.

Some scholars think Luke combines two different journeys to Jerusalem, or two different narratives of the same journey, while interspersing stories and teachings along the way. Or maybe the “journey” is not so much geographical as it is a literary structure. In Acts, Luke also takes up disproportionate literary space with the Apostle Paul’s journeys. In both documents, Luke may be echoing Deuteronomy, the great story of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land.

A word for contemporary readers of Luke is that life centered on following Jesus is a journey. On this journey we discover more about what a relationship with Jesus and life in his kingdom involve. So, in our imagination, let’s leave 21st-century transportation with planes and cars and put on sturdy, comfortable sandals as we begin this long walk with Jesus. Though each segment of this teaching journey deserves a lengthy pause, I can only touch on highlights, offering brief comments, though we will linger longer at Jesus’ famous Good Samaritan parable.

Where does Jesus want us to journey with him not just 2,000 years ago, but today and tomorrow? Are we ready to be Jesus’ followers, whatever it takes and wherever Jesus leads us?

Luke 9:52–62: Early Encounters

Two early stories give insight into how much those who journey with Jesus have to learn about how Jesus operates. Listen to hotheads James and John asking for Jesus’ permission to call down fire from heaven on those who do not welcome their master. Putting down opposition was not what journeying with Jesus would be about. Furthermore, taking care of family obligations and bidding farewell to those at home, important concerns as they are, must be secondary to the call to follow Jesus.

Luke 10:1–24: The 70 Sent

In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the 12 (9:1–2). Now it’s 70, or, as some manuscripts read, 72. There’s a sense of urgency about their mission, for, says Jesus, “the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers” (10:2, CEB). Jesus’ messengers are sent to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, affording special opportunities to these key Galilean towns. This would also mean added responsibilities for them. Upon their return, Jesus and his messengers celebrate spiritual victories. “I watched Satan [the adversary] fall from heaven like a flash of lightning!” (10:18)

Luke 10:25–37: The Good Samaritan

Told only in Luke, this amazing story has become part of cultural folklore. But let’s pause to take another look at it. The parable is part of two interchanges between Jesus and a lawyer. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” asks the lawyer, beginning the first interchange. Pointing the lawyer back to something he knows well, Jesus asks, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” (10:26). Maybe the lawyer has heard how Jesus identified the greatest commandment with love for God and love for neighbor. When the lawyer gives this answer, Jesus affirms its truth. “You have given the right answer; do this and you will live” (10:28).

The second interchange begins with the lawyer “wanting to justify himself” (10:29), or, as CEB renders it, wanting “to prove that he was right.” He poses another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29). The lawyer expects his neighbor to be a fellow Jew, presumably a keeper of the law. A Gentile obviously would not be a neighbor, especially a hated Samaritan. Instead of a clear-cut answer to the lawyer’s query, Jesus tells a story. At the risk of overanalyzing this classic story, let me break apart what one author has called the story’s “seven scenes.” [Author’s Note 1]

Scene 1 involves robbers, who accost a traveler on the lonely, desolate road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The robbers beat him, steal from him, strip his clothes, and leave him half dead. The first audience will assume that the victim is a Jew.

Scene 2 features a priest coming down that road. Presumably he has just completed his temple duties and now is returning home to Jericho. Priests have sufficient means to ride an animal instead of walking the 17 miles, so the priest could transport the victim on his animal if he so chooses. But the man by the road might be dead, risking ceremonial defilement for the priest. Stripped and unconscious, it would not be clear from these cultural markers (clothing and speech) if the victim is or is not a Jew, and thus whether or not the priest has obligations to help him. So the priest “passed by on the other side” (10:31).

Scene 3 zeros in on a Levite, maybe assistant to the priest who has just passed the victim. The priest has set a precedent, which the subservient Levite feels obliged to follow. A mere Levite would not want to upstage a priest — so he also “passed by on the other side.”

Scene 4 takes us into the middle of the seven scenes, that is, into the crux of the story. Jesus’ listeners would have expected after the priest and the Levite that a Jewish layperson would most likely appear next. But no; this is a Samaritan, one of those soundly hated by Jews. Listen for a gasp, even a hiss from Jesus’ Jewish listeners! Early church fathers see Jesus in the figure of the Samaritan: He breaks in from the outside, has compassion on the victim, and takes care of his wounds. Could it be that we are the victim, the one wounded and half dead by the road?

Scene 5, in parallel to Scene 3 about the Levite, shows the Samaritan compensating for the Levite’s failure to treat the victim’s wounds.

Scene 6, in parallel to Scene 2 about the priest, shows the Samaritan compensating for the priest’s failure. He transports the wounded man to the nearest town, where there would be an inn.

Scene 7, the final scene, in parallel to the first, has the Samaritan compensating for what the robbers did. He covers what is necessary for the wounded man to recover at the Jericho inn. Listeners would know that for a Samaritan to enter a Jewish town and engage in dealings with a Jewish innkeeper would be very dangerous for him. There are huge risk and cost in what the Samaritan does.

So, says Jesus to his lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (10:36). The lawyer in a Jewish audience doesn’t even want to name the Samaritan. So he refers to him as “the one who showed him mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” says Jesus (10:37). Whether or not we think we are a neighbor, we are to become a neighbor to the one who is in need. What a challenge for those who journey with Jesus!

Luke 10:38–42: Martha and Mary

Hospitality and active service are good. But there are times when sitting at Jesus’ feet is “the better part” (Luke 10:42). Fred Craddock insightfully observes:

If we censure Martha too harshly, she may abandon serving altogether, and if we commend Mary too profusely, she may sit there forever. There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect. Knowing which and when is a matter of spiritual discernment. [Author’s Note 2]

Maybe Luke is also reflecting on the appropriate role of women in ministry from later-first-century church discussion. Sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary fills a stereotypical male role, crossing gender boundaries in that culture. As he also does in the Good Samaritan story, Jesus breaks traditional boundary molds. Jesus calls not just Jews but also Samaritans to serve him and each other. And Jesus calls into close association with him not just men, but also women, like Mary, who sit at his feet and hear what he has to say.

Luke 11:1–13: Modeling and Teaching Prayer

Watching Jesus at prayer stimulates desire within his followers to pray as he does. Jesus responds with a model prayer for people who follow Jesus. From this model prayer, which we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus moves to a parable. It depicts human persistence in prayer, and God’s faithfulness to provide for our needs — a faithfulness that is greater even than the faithfulness of human parents.

Here’s a man asleep with children around him in an ancient Middle Eastern house in which family members slept side by side on the floor. A friend’s knock on the door tests ancient expectations of hospitality. Despite the inconvenience, this friend responds to the petitioner’s persistence and gives him “whatever he needs.” Verbs in Luke 11:9–10 (“ask,” “search,” “knock”) are in a Greek tense that indicates ongoing action. Persistent praying is not twisting God’s arm for what we want, but through perseverance expressing deep desire for our needs to be met.

Luke 11:14–28: Jesus and Demons

The big question in this segment is this: Who is in charge — demons, headed by the chief demon, Beelzebul; or Jesus, who brings the kingdom of God to human life? The answer is definitely the latter. Jesus makes clear to those who follow him that he is not just one power among many. Rather, Jesus exercises the power of God to defeat evil and liberate us from its bondage.

Luke 11:29–36: Jesus, Jonah, and Judgment

Harking back to a familiar story, Jesus calls increasing crowds of people to repent, or turn away from evil, as the inhabitants of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached to them. Not responding to “the Son of Man” (11:30) incurs the judgment that comes when we turn away from light. That light (11:33–36) exposes the darkness from which we are challenged to turn away. Journeying with Jesus leads to lives full of light rather than darkness.

Luke 11:37–12:12: Countering Critics

Frequently on his journey to Jerusalem, tension arises when Jesus encounters critics who are not “outsiders,” but “insiders.” Pharisees, lawyers, and scribes mentioned in this segment are religious people with whom Jesus has much in common. But they live out a religion that “has hardened principles given for life into regulations that suffocate and condemn.” [Author’s Note 3]

Jesus opposes such people and warns his followers against them (11:42; 12:1). These are the people who will bring Jesus’ followers “before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities” (12:11). When they confront religious critics, disciples are to trust in God’s care and not worry about how to defend themselves (12:6–7, 11–12). As we journey with Jesus, we may find some of our strongest critics are religious people who share the rules — but not the heart — of our faith.

Luke 12:13–34: Treasure and Heart

Jesus’ teaching shifts from warnings about critics to warnings about possessions, which can possess us. Jesus’ story about “the Rich Fool” is about “those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (12:21). Following Jesus and living in the kingdom is about bringing God’s values and priorities into the center of lives, which can otherwise be full of greed (12:15) and anxiety (12:22–28). Instead of being possessed by our possessions and consumed with anxiety, we are to “strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (12:31).

Luke 12:35–48: Be Ready, Be Faithful

Journeying with Jesus requires us to be like a master’s servants who are “dressed for action and have [our] lamps lit” (12:35). Think of long, flowing robes of ancient times. Think of the hassle of lighting an oil lamp without present-day matches. Today we might say, “Keep your shoes on and leave the light on!” Why this appeal for alertness? The master is returning, and there’s no text-messaging capability to let servants know when. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes” (12:37).

But here this brief parable has a surprising twist. The returning master, pleased with servants who are ready for his coming, readies himself and serves them. Unheard of in this class-conscious society! Kenneth Bailey, student of the Bible in its Middle Eastern setting, writes: “I know of no incident in contemporary life or in story out of the past in the Middle East where such an incredible reversal of status appears.” [Author’s Note 4] Yes, the “Servant-Lord,” for whom his followers wait, is one who serves his servants! But the servants of this Servant-Lord must be ready and faithful.

We usually understand these word pictures in light of Jesus’ promised return. “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (12:40). At the same time, the urgent tone of looming crisis referred to in the next verses (12:49–53) may also reflect what Jesus knows is ahead for him in Jerusalem. Beyond that, wherever the journey with Jesus takes us, we are to be ready and faithful, enabling us to respond to the crises of our journey.

Luke 12:49–59: Crisis Ahead

The shadow of the cross hangs over Jesus as he journeys to Jerusalem. Jesus speaks of it in terms of fire and baptism. Baptism is a picture Jesus uses elsewhere to refer to his anticipated suffering (Mark 10:38). Signs of this coming crisis were as obvious to Jesus as weather indicators were to people of his day. If they could predict weather by observing its signs, why wouldn’t Jesus’ contemporaries recognize the crisis ahead? In light of what is ahead, Jesus urges people to make peace, pay their debts, and settle their accounts (12:57–59).

A Look Ahead

Ready for parables? Know what a parable is? In the next five chapters, which we will deal with in two Lectios, we will encounter at least 14 parables, many unique to Luke.

Questions for Further Reflection

  1. Where are you in your journey with Jesus? In what ways is Jesus calling you to follow him?
  2. Which of the vignettes and teachings in this Lectio speak most strongly to you? How do you find them applying to your life journey?
  3. Can you remember feeling like the man by the Jericho Road, mugged and half dead? How did people respond to your plight? To what person(s) in distress might Jesus be calling you to become a neighbor?
  4. How do the themes of readiness and faithfulness resonate with your experience of journeying with Jesus?

Author’s Notes

Author’s Note 1

Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (InterVarsity Press, 2008), p. 290.


Author’s Note 2

Fred Craddock, Luke: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (John Knox Press, 1990), p. 152.


Author’s Note 3

Craddock, p. 159.


Author’s Note 4

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 373.


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