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A tree and its fruit
Luke chapter 6, verses 43-45
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
After a parable about a speck of sawdust and a plank, Jesus directs attention to the live tree. John the Baptist had warned that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (chapter 3, verse 9). Jesus also uses the tree and its fruit as an illustration of a person’s life. He draws two lessons: the quality of the fruit demonstrates the worth of the tree; the kind of fruit borne identifies the tree. One can judge a tree by its fruits. This lesson is illustrated by two additional examples: people do not pick figs from thornbushes or grapes from briers. Again Jesus makes his two points: good (figs, grapes) doesn’t come from bad (thornbushes, briers); a plant is identified by the kind of fruit it bears.
These lessons from nature are now applied to people. The good man brings good things out of the good stored in the heart; the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in the heart. One can’t expect anything else, as nature also testifies. The kind of fruit a person bears identifies the quality of the person.
All actions, including the words one speaks, originate in the heart. For a disciple to bring forth the fruits of faith, a life characterized by love and generosity, the heart must first of all be good. A good heart is one that in all humility confesses sin and clings to Christ for pardon and peace. Such a heart will bring forth good fruit.
The wise and foolish builders
Luke chapter 6, verses 46-49
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
In this fourth parable, which concludes his section of teachings, Jesus talks about two men who build houses. The one laid the foundation on rock; the other simply built his house on the ground. The first house withstood the torrent of water that struck when a flood came; the other collapsed in total ruin.
These two builders are like two kinds of listeners: the one hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice; the other only hears without putting the words into practice. We are reminded of a beatitude that Jesus speaks later in this gospel: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (chapter 11, verse 28). Jesus does not only want to be called “Lord”; he wants his disciples to do what he says. To do so is to build a house that withstands the floods of life.
When we Christians examine our lives, we will find ourselves falling short of doing what Jesus says. His teaching in this part of Luke is primarily law. One of the purposes of the law of God is to reveal our sinfulness and drive us into the arms of the Savior. When we consider the teachings of Jesus concerning love and generosity, we will become conscious of our own shortcomings; we will confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.
The law also serves as a guide for the Christian, giving us direction for our lives. There is much we can learn from frequent review of these teachings of Jesus: the blessings and woes, the command to love, and the warnings against judging others. A good life starts in the heart; here faith must rest on the solid foundation of Christ and his love. The builder of such a house will withstand whatever floods may come.
This sermon of Jesus was spoken on a level place in the presence of a large crowd of disciples and a great number of people from various places (chapter 6, verse 17). At the conclusion Luke says nothing about any crowd response. Often when Jesus had performed some miracle, Luke notes the amazement and praises of the people. It is almost as if these teachings of Jesus leave the disciples and the people in stunned silence. That may well be our response when we give serious thought to what Jesus here teaches about our lives as disciples.
The faith of the centurion
Luke chapter 7, verses 1-10
When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “The man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”
So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
After finishing his teaching to the multitudes, Jesus returns once more to the city of Capernaum. Luke had mentioned Capernaum previously in chapter 4, verse 31. On that occasion Jesus had gone to the synagogue, where he cured a man possessed by a demon. That very synagogue had been built by the Roman centurion who figures into the present story.
The word centurion means “captain of a company of one hundred soldiers.” Since Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee, in which province Capernaum was located, this centurion may have been in Herod’s service in some official capacity. A warm feeling had developed between this centurion and the Jewish elders who had charge of the synagogue.
Several times Luke has reported Jesus healing numbers of sick without going into detail (chapter 4, verse 40; chapter 6, verses 18 and 19). Here he gives us the full story for several reasons: this centurion was no doubt a Gentile, and this man shows great faith in the power of Jesus’ word. He is a model for the many gentile believers who would be coming into the church in future years.
The delegation of Jewish elders, sent by the centurion to beg help for his critically ill servant, told Jesus that “this man deserves to have you do this.” They were thinking of the love this man had shown to the Jewish nation.
But the centurion felt no worthiness. As Jesus came near his home, he sent friends to say, “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” Because of his feelings of unworthiness, he had not come to Jesus originally; he had sent the delegation of Jewish elders. (Here Luke gives a fuller account of this story than we find in Matthew chapter 8, verses 5-13.)
The centurion goes on to declare his great confidence in the word of Jesus. It was not necessary for Jesus to touch the sick servant (as the sick had sought to touch Jesus in chapter 6, verse 19). Even as the centurion commanded those under him with a word, so Jesus need only speak the word and the servant would be healed.
Now it is Jesus’ turn to be amazed! Many had been astonished at what Jesus had said and done. The faith of this centurion causes Jesus to marvel (Luke uses a Greek word which has that meaning). The faith of this Gentile was greater than any Jesus had found among the people of Israel. The healing that Jesus effects is not nearly so celebrated in this story as the marvelous faith of the centurion. Here also is a miracle! We would do well today to likewise celebrate the marvelous miracle of faith that the Spirit works through the Word.
Jesus raises a widow’s son
Luke chapter 7, verses 11-17
Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
The help that Jesus gave to the centurion by healing his servant is now extended to a woman whose only son had died. Both Gentiles and women were on the fringes of Jewish society. Jesus shows himself to be the Savior of all people.
Nain is a town in southern Galilee situated a few miles southwest of Nazareth. It is located 25 miles from Capernaum. Jesus journeyed there accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. All of them will witness this very public and amazing miracle.
As Jesus approaches the town gate, he is met by a funeral procession. Burials took place outside towns, and graves have been found to the southeast of Nain. The body of the dead man was being carried on an open coffin similar, no doubt, to a stretcher.
Jesus at once takes command of the situation. A mother is weeping bitterly; he says to her, “Don’t cry.” Then with the voice of authority, he puts his hand on the coffin, and the procession halts. His words ring out clearly: “Young man, I say to you, get up!” One does not ordinarily speak such words to a corpse, but Jesus is no ordinary person. In response to this order, the dead man sits up.
It is noteworthy that Luke introduces the word “Lord” into this story. It is the Lord whose heart goes out to this widow. Jesus is the Lord who had authority to forgive sins (chapter 5, verse 24). He is Lord of the Sabbath (chapter 6, verse 5). Here he shows himself Lord even of death itself. The centurion testified to the power of that word; here it is fully evidenced.
As so often happened when Jesus performed a public miracle, the crowd is filled with awe and praises God. They call Jesus “a great prophet.” They were perhaps comparing him to the great Old Testament prophet Elijah, remembering what Elijah had done.
In 1st Kings chapter 17, verses 17-24 there is an account of how Elijah raised to life a boy who had died. Elijah did this by stretching himself three times over the boy and crying out to the Lord: “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” His prayer was answered, and we read that Elijah “gave him to his mother.” Luke uses similar words to describe how Jesus gave the now living son back to his mother.
But the way in which Jesus worked this miracle is altogether greater than in the case of Elijah. By his own word, with no prayer to any higher being, Jesus commanded the young man to get up. Truly, here is the Lord, true God and true man. Even death must bow before him!
Jesus and John the Baptist
Luke chapter 7, verses 18-35
John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
We heard in the previous section how the crowd evaluated Jesus: they took him to be “a great prophet.” Many miles away from the event that took place in Nain, a prisoner heard reports of what was happening in Galilee. The prisoner was John the Baptist. Herod Antipas had locked him up (chapter 3, verse 20) in the fortress Machaerus, located on a solitary peak on the east side of the Dead Sea. Its ruins can still be seen today.
John sent two of his disciples to the Lord Jesus with the question “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” This question has been interpreted in two ways. Some hold that John himself was still convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Coming One, but he wanted to renew the faith of his disciples and therefore sent them to Jesus to be strengthened.
Others see this question as an example of how even such a person as John, the messenger called to prepare the way of the Lord, could waver. As a prisoner, isolated and cut off from the events taking place, he might have fallen prey to doubts. John had spoken of the role Jesus would fulfill as fiery judge (chapter 3, verse 17). Up to this point, John’s disciples were reporting much popular acclaim accorded to Jesus but little signs of his coming role as judge of the world. John may well have been confused.
The question John asks through his disciples gives Jesus the opportunity to again point out his role as the Messiah, the Servant of God. He had done this in the synagogue at Nazareth (chapter 4, verses 18 and 19) quoting words of Isaiah chapter 61, verses 1 and 2. Now Jesus again refers to these words and shows how he is fulfilling them. He sends the disciples back to John, instructing them to report what they had heard and seen. Jesus points to his miracles, including also the raising of the dead at Nain, as evidence that he is the one promised in the Old Testament. His message to John: Don’t look for any other messiah.
Jesus’ response to the disciples of John concludes with a beatitude: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” The words “fall away” are a translation of a Greek verb which pictures a person stumbling over a stone. Jesus is that stone over which some do stumble (1st Peter chapter 2, verse 8). The Pharisees and experts in the law did stumble over Jesus; so did the people at his home synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus is urging John and his disciples not to fall away. We need the same encouragement.
Jesus had spoken about his work as the Messiah. After the departure of John’s messengers, he begins speaking about the work of John. He wants his listeners to realize the importance of John in God’s plan of salvation and to appreciate John.
Three times Jesus challenges the crowd with the question: “What did you go out into the desert to see?” The use of the word “see” creates the impression that for many, John was a kind of curiosity, a spectacle. People certainly did not go out expecting to see someone frail and fickle, one like a thin reed swaying in the wind. Nor did they go into the desert for a fashion show; the palace is the place for expensive clothes.
Jesus answers his own question by telling the people what they expected of John: they took him for a prophet. And so he was. But he was, Jesus adds, “more than a prophet.” John was a very special prophet, the prophet promised in Malachi chapter 3, verse 1, the messenger sent to prepare the way of the Lord. The people at Nain had called Jesus a great prophet. Such a title in the case of Jesus falls short of describing his true identity. But such a title is clearly appropriate for John. In fact, Jesus pays John the highest compliment: there is no greater human being than John. John receives such high praise because of the role assigned to him: he was the messenger who prepared the way for God’s chosen Servant, Jesus Christ.
Yet as great as John was, Jesus adds that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. Jesus is talking about the eternal glory that all believers will enjoy in heaven. By referring to the glory enjoyed even by the least person in heaven, Jesus does not want to detract from the praise he has given to John. Rather, he directs us away from questions about earthly greatness to the surpassing joys of heaven. This was a lesson that his own apostles had a hard time learning.
What follows in verses 29 and 30 is put into parentheses because this is commentary by Luke and not words of Jesus. All the people who had been baptized by John, tax collectors included, agreed with what Jesus had said about John, that he truly was the prophet through whom God was working. On the other hand the Pharisees and experts in the law refused to be baptized by John, thus rejecting God’s way of salvation.
Following the parentheses, Jesus’ words continue. He criticizes the people living at that time because they found fault both with John and with him. Jesus refers to children who shout to one another: we played flute music for you, but you did not dance; we played a dirge, but no one cried. Nothing seemed to move these people. John was too strict and sober for them; Jesus was criticized for advising against fasting and even attending banquets with tax collectors and sinners. Though the crowds praised the mighty deeds of Jesus, they had not turned over their hearts to him.
Jesus concludes with a brief proverb: “Wisdom is proved right by all her children.” That’s similar to our saying “Time will tell.” In the end, people will find out that both John and Jesus had roles to fulfill in God’s plan of salvation. John’s work was to prepare the way of the Lord by warning of the coming judgment; Jesus’ work was to embody God’s love and mercy for sinners, to seek and to save the lost. It was this role which led him ultimately to the cross.
Jesus anointed by a sinful woman
Luke chapter 7, verses 36-50
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It seems that Jesus did not turn down many invitations to a meal. He went to the wedding at Cana (John chapter 2, verses 1-11). He accepted the invitation of the tax collector Levi to attend the banquet in his home (Luke chapter 5, verse 29). At that banquet the Pharisees and teachers of the law found fault with Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. This was the complaint against Jesus voiced by many of the people of his generation, as we heard in the previous portion of Luke’s gospel (chapter 7, verse 34).
In view of his ready acceptance of invitations, it does not surprise us that Jesus was willing to have dinner at the house of a Pharisee named Simon. One is more surprised that this Pharisee would extend such an invitation. There is the likelihood that it was not out of love for Jesus or with the desire to learn from him. Rather, the Pharisee may actually have wanted to add to that list of items for which Jesus might be criticized. The unsocial reception that Jesus received from the Pharisee (verses 44-46) indicates that he felt no deep affection for Jesus.
The incident reminds us of what is reported back in chapter 6, verse 7: “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.” The presence of the sinful woman provided a similar opportunity for this Pharisee to accuse Jesus.
The woman who had lived a sinful life is not identified by name. Tradition seems to think she was Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had come out (chapter 8, verse 2), but there is no proof for that. The woman’s sinful life may have been that of a harlot. Learning that Jesus was at the home of the Pharisee, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume. Alabaster is a kind of soft stone, yellow or cream colored.
Those attending a banquet in Bible times would recline on a couch while eating, their feet and legs extended. This permitted the woman to stand behind Jesus at his feet. She began to wet his feet with her tears and then wipe them with her hair; she kissed them and poured perfume on them. We cannot judge this action by modern conventions. In Palestine, where washing of feet with water was customary, her action would not seem to have been quite so out of place—though still unusual. We need to note the gracious way in which Jesus received this sign of love and affection.
The Pharisee also takes note and is offended. He says nothing aloud, but his thoughts are filled with disgust. The crowds judged Jesus to be a great prophet (chapter 7, verse 16). This Pharisee draws another conclusion: If Jesus were a prophet, he would know that this was a sinful woman and not allow her to even touch him.
Knowing what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus tells him a story. Two men owed money, one man ten times as much as the other. (A denarius was a coin worth about a day’s wages.) Neither could pay the moneylender; in mercy he canceled the debts of both. Simon caught the point of the parable: the man with the bigger debt would have more love for the moneylender.
Jesus now applies this parable to the Pharisee and the sinful woman. The Pharisee had shown no love for Jesus; on the other hand, the woman had shown an abundance of love. By her love she demonstrated the abundance of the forgiveness that she had received.
Verse 47 could seem to say that this sinful woman was forgiven because she had shown such great love. But the parable of Jesus clearly shows that forgiveness had come prior to the show of love: first the debt was canceled, and this then resulted in love for the moneylender. First this woman had received forgiveness from Jesus; then she showed her love for him. The New English Bible translation of the verse makes this point clear: “Her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven.”
In order to reassure this woman and for the sake of the Pharisee and his guests, Jesus says to her: “Your sins are forgiven.” This provokes the same kind of question that was raised in the case of the paralytic (chapter 5, verse 21). Jesus does not respond to the question but rather speaks a final word of blessing to the sinful woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Jesus had praised the great faith of the centurion (chapter 7, verse 9). Here another person on the fringe of society, a woman who had lived a sinful life, proves her great faith by her love. Faith saves, but faith is never alone. A living faith will demonstrate itself by love for the Savior. This woman chose to show her love in a unique and unusual way. Everyone who has truly experienced the forgiveness of sins will find ways to show love for Jesus.