Go Be Merciful – The Go Statements of Jesus


Christianity is a doing religion. We are not saved in order to become statues in a museum; rather, we are saved to become active doers of God’s will in this world (ref. James 1:22). It should be no wonder then, that our Lord so often commanded those who would be His followers to “Go!” and do something.

So far we have considered four of our Lord’s “Go!” statements, “Go Be Reconciled – “Go In Peace” – “Go And Tell” – “Go And Learn” and “Go And Surrender.”  In today’s lesson we will explore the application of “Go Be Merciful” from Jesus’ interaction with an unnamed religious lawyer from Luke 10:25-37.

As our Lord was rejoicing with the disciples over their successful missionary trip (ref. vv. 17-24), Luke says, “Behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” (v. 25). The lawyer was one who was supposedly an expert in the Law of Moses. The unnamed man raised a very good question; however, as Luke indicates, his motives were less than sincere.

Rather than answer his question directly, no doubt our Lord knew this was a test (cf. Luke 9:47; 11:17), Jesus skillfully posed a second question, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” (v. 26). In essence, couplet of questions means, “What does God’s word say? And what does it mean?” The lawyer quickly answered back, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 27).

In summary form, the lawyer quoted a synopsis of the Law by combining: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Some believe this was a commonly used summation; in fact, on another occasion, Jesus Himself summed up the old covenant in the same way (ref. Matthew 22:34-40).

Of course, it is one thing to interpret God’s word correctly, it is another to internalize and perform it. Thus, the Lord approved of the lawyer’s representation of the Law, “You have answered correctly,” (v. 28a), but He also counseled him to practice what he knew to be true by adding, “do this and you will live” (v. 28b). In other words Jesus said, “Good. Follow your own advice and you will have eternal life.”

“But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). For a second time in this exchange, the lawyer’s less than sincere motives are revealed (ref. v. 25). His follow-up question implied that the obligation to love one’s neighbor was not as clear as Jesus might have made it appear. You can almost hear him say, “One must be careful with such things. You wouldn’t want to be guilty of loving someone who is not your neighbor.”

The popular teaching of the day was, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43; cf. Psalm 139:21-22). Certainly, the lawyer would apply neighborly status to fellow Jews, but then again not to every Jew (cf. Luke 5:30; 19:7). Thus, he used the Law concerning love for neighbor as a means to draw lines of distinction, but for the Lord, its actual purpose was to break down any distinctions that a person might seek to make. So, to correct the lawyer’s misguided understanding, Jesus told one of His most famous parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The winding seventeen mile road between Jerusalem and Jericho served as the setting of the Lord’s true-to-life story. It was a notoriously dangerous road, lined with rocky crags from which robbers and bandits easily preyed on lone travelers. Nevertheless, a certain man traveled this way going from Jerusalem to Jericho and predictably, “he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead” (v. 30).

Although one might assume that the victim was Jewish, Jesus does not name or otherwise identify the man’s ethnicity or religious affiliation. Therefore, unidentifiable by either speech or clothing, the half-dead man (quite literally) stripped down to a mere human being in need. This lone fact will create the tension that is at the heart of this parable.

“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (vv. 31-32). Briefly, the Lord described the first two people on the scene.

On that day, there just so happened to be a priest and a Levite traveling on the same course. Each in his turn, came upon the unidentified victim, “saw” his injured state, but offered no comfort and faded into the landscape, mercilessly leaving the poor soul to die.

I believe the parable presupposes at least two facts about the priest and Levite that are fundamental to the interpretation of the parable: 1) Both men were able but unwilling to render aid. Otherwise, their inaction could be excused in light of the Samaritan’s action. 2) Both men operated on the same level as the lawyer. Since they could not identify the man as a neighbor, they believed they had no obligation to love him.

Well, shortly thereafter, “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the injured man] was,and when he saw him, had compassion on him” (v. 33). The contentious animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was legendary (cf. Luke 9:51-56; John 4:9). Nevertheless, Jesus used a hated Samaritan as the hero of the parable, the embodiment of what it meant to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

All three men: the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan recognized the authority of the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The two Israelites, however, defined one’s “neighbor” in very stringent terms. The Samaritan, on the other hand, applied a much broader application to the term “neighbor” believing that he should love even a “stranger” as he loved himself (ref. Leviticus 19:33).

So, moved with “compassion” for the injured man, the Samaritan, “went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’” (vv. 34-35). In stark contrast to the brief narrative involving the priest and Levites, Jesus detailed the Samaritan’s merciful and compassionate acts of neighborly love.

Despite the self-evident peril to his own safety, the good Samaritan took the time to bandage the man’s wounds, medicating them as best he could. Once stabilized, the Samaritan transported him to a nearby inn taking care of him throughout the night. Finally, the next morning, he made open-ended financial arrangements for the injured man’s care while he recuperated. The Samaritan did all of this for a person he did not know, nor could ever reciprocate the costly compassion shown to him.   

Having completed His parabolic teaching, Jesus countered the lawyer’s second question with His own, slightly reworded query, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’” (v. 36).

The lawyer’s original question, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) was never answered by our Lord’s parable. As stated earlier, it was the wrong question to ask since it focused on establishing neighborly status for others. For Jesus, status was a non-issue. So, he refocused the lawyer’s question, “Who proved to be a neighbor?” In other words, Jesus said, “The heart of Leviticus 19:18 is not defining who others are to you but who you are to others.”

Once again, the lawyer answered correctly, “‘The one who showed him mercy’” (v. 37a). It is common to supplant that the lawyer could not bring himself to say “the Samaritan” and maybe that is true. Nevertheless, he understood preciously what our Lord was implying. Instead of formulating a list of who was, or was not one’s neighbor, Jesus wanted the lawyer to become a neighbor to all, loving others as he loved himself. 

The scene ends with Jesus telling the lawyer to take his new found understanding and, “Go and do likewise” (v. 37b); Go Be Merciful. The lawyer received his answer; indeed, even with his own mouth he articulated the response. How did he respond to Jesus’ directive to “Go”? We will never know. I guess the most important question though is: how will you and I respond to Jesus’ directive to Go Be Merciful?

The command to love one’s neighbor as oneself is foundational to Christian teaching and practice. It was not only confirmed by our Lord, but also repeated by Paul in Romans 13:8-10, along with Galatians 5:13-15 and slightly reworked in Ephesians 5:28-29, 33. Furthermore, in James’ epistle, he referred to it as the “royal law” saying:

“If you fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” (James 2:8-9)

By means of this parable, Jesus is calling His disciples away from a religious or culturally conditioned mind-set that “show[s] partiality” by dividing people into groups of those who are worthy of neighborly love and those who are not. The challenge is to Go Be Merciful to all, no matter the color of their skin, their national origin, their language, their religion, their social status, or their need.

Now, someone might ask, “What does that look like in everyday application? Can you give me something practical to do today that will be fulfilling this?” In light of the teaching in this parable, there is nothing more applicable or practical than, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, we are called to mercifully love all humanity as we love ourselves. Period. Why is that? Because, it is the same kind of love God showed the world (ref. John 3:16). That’s why. May God help as we Go Be Merciful to all.

As always, I’m more than happy to help you in your quest to know more about Christ. Please email me at clay@claygentry.com, I’ll be happy to come alongside you on your spiritual journey.

A Comparison of the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Ten Minas


willem_de_poorter_parable_talents_minasAs a teacher, Jesus was not afraid to repeat Himself. One such example is the parables the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27). While the two share several parallels, they also have several major differences. It is these differences that lend to slightly different applications. In preparing to write on the parable of the Ten Minas, I thought it was helpful to see the similarities and differences side-by-side. It’s my hope that you will benefit as well from this short comparison.

The Parable of the Talents

(Matthew 25:14-30)

The Parable of the Ten Minas

(Luke 19:11-27)

Location: Told in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives (ref. 24:3). Told in Jericho (ref. 19:1).
Audience: Spoken to the disciples. Spoken to the crowd following Jesus.
Occasion: Part of Jesus’ answer to the disciples questions regarding when Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed (ref. 24:1-3). Told because Jesus “was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (19:11).
Main Character: “A man going on a long journey” (v. 14) “A nobleman” was going “into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return” (v. 12).
The Servants: Three servants were called, “to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability” (v. 15). “Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas” each (v. 13).
Instructions: No specific instructions are mentioned. And He said to them, “Engage in business until I come” (v. 13b)
The Citizens: No citizens mentioned. Citizens under the nobleman’s rule hated him and did not want him to be their king. Their hatred led them to send a delegation to attempt to keep him from be crowned king (v. 14).
The Interlude: During their master’s absence the first two servants at once “traded with” their talents, each doubling their money. While the third “dug in the ground and hid his master’s money” (vv. 16-18). No details are mentioned of the servant’s actions during the nobleman’s absence.
The Main Character Returns: “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (v. 19). “When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business” (v. 15).
Accounts Settled With Faithful Servants: The first two servants reported they had doubled their master’s money (vv. 20, 22). While ten servants were originally called only three interviews are recorded. The first two servants reported they has turned a profit. One 10x, the other 5x the original amount entrusted to them (vv. 16, 18).
The Faithful Rewarded: Both faithful servants, though they had been entrusted with varying responsibilities, were rewarded equally, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (vv. 21, 23). Each servant was rewarded according to their accomplishments. To the servant who produced 10 more minas the king said, “‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities’” (v. 17). The second servant, who produced 5 more minas, simply received “authority over five cities” (v. 19).
Account Settled With An Unfaithful Servant: The third servant “came forward saying, ‘Master I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours’” (vv. 24-25). Note: excuse came first, then the money was returned. Burying money in the ground was a common way of keeping money safe. Another servant came and said “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow” (vv. 20-21). Note: money was returned, then the excuse was given. Keeping money in a handkerchief was an unsafe and therefore an uncommon way of holding money.
Main Character’s Response To The Servant’s Excuse: The master responded, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” (vv. 26-27). The king responded, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?” (vv. 22-23).
Wicked Servant’s First Punishment: The wicked and slothful servant’s talent was taken and given to the servant who had ten talents (v. 28). The reasoning, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (v. 29). The wicked servant’s mina was taken away and given to the servant who had produced ten minas (v. 24). Someone protested this action (perhaps the other servants) because he already had ten minas (v. 25). However the king explains, “To everyone who had, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (v. 26).
Wicked Servant’s Second Punishment: “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30). No specific punishment is mentioned but it could be inferred he suffered the same fate as the king’s enemies.
Citizens: No citizens mentioned. Now “as for those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (v. 27).
The Application: Jesus would soon be leaving but He would return. In the interim, His servants should faithful steward their God-entrusted resources. Because they will have to give an account for their actions. The faithful will be rewarded, the unfaithful punished. Jesus would soon be leaving to receive His kingdom from the Father. In the interim, His servants should, even in the face of oppositions, faithful steward their God-given resources. Upon the Lord’s return His servants will first be called to give an account of their actions. The faithful will be rewarded, the unfaithful will be destroyed with the Lord’s enemies.

Feasting With The Pharisees – An Examination of Luke 14:1-24


tintoretto_theweddingfeastThe meal table is the main social center of the home. Think of some of your warmest memories and many of them will be associated with meal-time. In our text, the entire passage is centered around and on a meal table. The great question discussed was who will sit around God’s table in the kingdom? The Pharisees had one idea and obviously, Jesus had another.

You can download this post as a PDF.

The Setting (v. 1a):

Following the Sabbath day activities at a local synagogue, Jesus “went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees” (v. 1a).[i] Luke is the only gospel writer to include accounts of Jesus eating with Pharisees (cf. 7:36; 11:37). In each of these situations the motives for inviting Jesus were less than honorable. Rather than being occasions for friendly conversation and warm hospitality these meals where punctuated by hostility and contempt on the part of the Pharisees and this meal would be no different.

The Setup (vv. 1b-6):

As Jesus entered the home, the other invited guests, “were watching Him carefully” (v. 1b). With great emphasis Luke declares, “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy” or as the NIV renders it, “abnormal swelling of his body” (v. 2). This is the only record of this disease in the New Testament and quite appropriate coming from the pen of the physician (ref. Colossians 4:14). This poor, pitiful man was not invited out of goodwill; rather, he was a pawn in the Pharisee’s game to entrap Jesus. On a previous occasion, “the scribes and Pharisees watched Him, to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse Him” (Luke 6:7).

The Pharisees believed healing on the Sabbath violated the fourth commandment’s prohibition of not working on the seventh day (ref. Exodus 20:8-11).  “‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” (v. 3; cf. Luke 6:9) Jesus asked. Uninterested in a theological discussion, or coming to a proper understanding of God’s will for Sabbath keeping “they remained silent” (v. 4a). Their one and only goal was entrapping Jesus. Without waiting for the Pharisees to respond, Jesus graciously, took the man, “healed him and sent him away” (v. 4b).

With the man gone, our Lord asked a second question of the Pharisees, “‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’” (v. 5).[ii] The Lord defended Sabbath healings by showing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ own actions (cf. Luke 13:15-16). No matter what the Pharisees taught or demanded of others, they made exceptions for themselves. They believed it was permissible for them to help a fallen animal or family member on the Sabbath day. Therefore, should not the same principle be applied to all suffering people as well?  Our Lord’s argument silenced the naysayers, “And they could not reply to these things” (v. 6; cf. Luke 13:17). The apostle John reasoned, that because of Jesus’ Sabbath day healings the Jewish leaders, “were persecuting [him… and] were seeking all the more to kill him” (John 5:16, 18; cf. Luke 6:11).

Jesus Rebuked the Guest (vv. 7-11):

In this less than welcoming atmosphere, the guest clamored to “chose the places of honor” (v. 7a) around the table. In the ancient Jewish world, where a person sat at a feast or in the synagogue was a public advertisement of one’s status or at least perceived status. Therefore, the matter of seating arrangements was carefully considered. One might presume to claim a more honorable seat with the hope that it (and the honor that went with it) might be granted.[iii] Kistmaker explains the scene noting,

“Couches at a feast were arranged in the shape of an elongated horseshoe consisting of a number of tables. The man receiving the highest honor was at the head table, with second and third places to the left and right of this person. Every couch accommodated three people, with the middle man receiving the highest honor. The couch to the left of the head table was next in order of priority, and after that the couch to the right. Consequently, Jewish guests were governed by the social etiquette of the day to find the correct place at the table. However, if the privilege of choosing seats was given to the invited guest, they could very well display selfishness, conceit and pride. And this is exactly what happened at the house of the prominent Pharisee to which Jesus was invited. Pharisees and experts of the Law had created a climate of haughtiness and arrogance, devoid of love and humility.”[iv]

It would take little imagination to picture which seat was left for our Lord. No doubt the lowest, least honorable place around the table would have been reserved for Him. On more than one occasion Jesus rebuked the Pharisee’s arrogant attitude regarding places of honor (ref. Luke 11:43; 20:46). This particular day was no different; taking note of the social jockeying, Jesus “told a parable” (v. 7b) about humility to these haughty guest that was strikingly similar to the wisdom of Proverbs 25:6-7. His instruction took the form of two parallel lines contrasting what not to do and what to do when invited to a feast. 

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast,” Jesus said, do not assume you deserve to “sit… in a place of honor” it may be that “someone more distinguished than you” has been invited by the host (v. 8). How shamefully embarrassing it would be for the host to come “‘and say to you ‘Give your place to this person,’” and you are then forced to take the lowest place (v. 9). Instead, Jesus taught the wisdom of humility saying, “‘when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you’” (v. 10) rather than being shamed.

Our Lord was not focused on teaching table manners, or how to move up the social ladder. Rather, he used the guest’s haughty desire for seats of honor to teach a deep spiritual truth, “‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted’” (v. 11; cf. Luke 18:14; Matthew 23:12). As the parable showed, this could happen in temporal affairs; however, the main thrust of our Lord’s instruction was in spiritual matters. To exalt one’s self meant ultimate abasement; the way of true exaltation was, and still is, humility. What is most important to Jesus is not honor that is pursued or insisted upon, but honor that is graciously given.  

Jesus Rebuked the Host (vv. 12-14):

After rebuking the guest, our Lord turned His attention “to the man who had invited Him” (v. 12a). Just as the guest had sought to bring honor to themselves upon their arrival at the meal, so the host had followed similar conventions when putting together his guest list. The world of Jesus’ day revolved around the ethics of reciprocity. So, the host had invited people who would have boosted his social status by eating at his table and in return inviting him to their banquet as well. Jesus’ rebuke takes the same form of two parallel lines as in vv. 8-10 contrasting what not to do and what to do when inviting others to a banquet.

“‘When you give a banquet,’” Jesus advised, “‘do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid’” (v. 12b). Obviously, Jesus is not establishing an absolute prohibition against inviting friends or relatives to a meal. Rather, He is addressing the self-serving attitude that controlled His pharisaical host. His point being, by following the social practices of the day one would only be rewarded, or “repaid” with honor in this life.

Rather, Jesus said, “‘when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (v. 13). In the social climate of the first century, the wealthy would not have invited those of lower social standing to their banquets because it would not have served their self-interest. The poor and infirmed were kept at arm’s length and only used to promote Pharisee’s agenda (ref. v. 1-2; cf. Matthew 6:1-4). Our Lord points out that true blessing, or honor, comes from inviting this class of people “because they cannot repay you” (v. 14a). That is, they cannot reciprocate the invitation or the honor given to them; nevertheless, God would repay the generous man “at the resurrection of the just” (v. 14b; cf. Proverbs 19:17; Matthew 25:40).

The Interruption (v. 15):

The tension in the room must have been thick; the Savior had foiled their trap, He had rebuked the guest along with the host for their haughtiness. With the mention of the resurrection an unnamed guest, perhaps in an effort to lighten the mood, blurted out, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (v. 15). No doubt, this man was referencing the prophetic image of God’s coming kingdom as a banquet. The prophet Isaiah described it this way:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wine, of rich food full of morrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Additionally, on a number of occasions in the gospels, our Lord also pictured the kingdom as a banquet (ref. Matthew 22:1-14;[v] Luke 12:37; 16:22; 22:18, 30) with “people… coming from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29; cf. Matthew 8:11).

However, there was one thing greatly amiss with this man’s statement: he spoke from the vantage point of one who would be sitting at the table. He, along with the other Pharisees and lawyers reclining around the table that day, had an exclusivist view of who would feast at God’s table. Later in His ministry, Jesus would rebuke the Pharisees for “shut[ting] the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” and not “allowing those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:13). Furthermore, he would rebuke the lawyers for “tak[ing] away the key of knowledge” and thus “hinder[ing] those who were entering” the kingdom (Luke 11:52). In the eyes of the religious establishment, they had reserved seats at the Lord’s table, while the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” along with “tax collectors and sinners” and Gentiles would be excluded.[vi] In fact, the Pharisees’ and lawyers’ own tables reflected their perceptions of the Lord’s table. However, Jesus had something very different to say about the anticipated celebration.

The Rebuttal or the Parable of the Great Banquet(vv. 16-24):

It is often the case in Luke’s gospel that someone’s interruption becomes the launching pad for the Lord’s teaching (ref. Luke 11:27, 45; 12:13; 13:1, 23, 31). The case of the parable of the Great Banquet was no different. The unnamed man’s interruption was the springboard for our Lord teaching that challenged the religious elite’s supposed acceptance of God’s invitation and their conception of who would really sit at the Lord’s table.

“A man once gave a great banquet” Jesus began, “and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come for everything is now ready’” (vv. 16-17). A great banquet is hosted by a great man who would have naturally invited his social peers. A two-fold or double invitation is to be understood as being in view. Sometime before the appointed day, the host would have sent his servant out to invite the guest to his banquet that would be held on such-and-such a day. The guest would then either accept or reject the invitation. Those who accepted the invitation thus committed themselves to be available on the appointed day to immediately come to the feast. Early on the selected day, preparations were started for the feast: animals butchered, breads baked, dishes mixed, couches and tables prepared. Once the preparations were started the countdown began and cannot be stopped. The appropriate food was being prepared and must be eaten that night. The guests who accepted the first invitation were duty-bound to appear.[vii] When “all things were ready” the call to “come” was issued and the guests were expected to immediately come to the host’s home, but shockingly, “they all alike began to make excuses” (v. 18a). Everyone who had given their word to come to the noble banquet suddenly began to make excuses for why they would not be there.

Even though the host “invited many” people (v. 16b), only three excuses are recorded. While each was offered individually, surprisingly it seems the guest have conspired against the host. The KJV even alludes to this by rendering v. 18a as, “And they all with one consent began to make excuses.” All three excuses follow the same formula (the third varied slightly): (A) I did _____, (B) therefore I must do _____, (C) please excuse me.

The first man the servant encountered said, “‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused’” (v. 18b). As incredible as it sounds, this man stated he has bought a field site unseen.[viii] Unapologetically, he asked to be excused because he must go inspect his purchase. His choice of land over his relationship with the host gives the appearance that he publicly wished to insult the nobleman.

Moving on, the servant summoned another guest, who in like manner said, “‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused’” (v. 19). Again, the excuse offered was hardly to be believed. No self-respecting farmer procured oxen without first testing them. How did he know if they could actually pull a plow, or pull together, or even if they were alive or not? Unashamedly, he asked to be excused because he was in the process of going to test them. His choice of oxen over the host also implied he too desired to publicly humiliate the nobleman.

Finally, the servant called on a third guest to “Come, for everything is now ready” (v. 17b). However, this one said, “‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’” (v. 20). If the first two excuses were unbelievable, the third is comical, especially in a male dominated society. In the original, “cannot” is the Greek word, dunamai which means power.[ix] The guest is therefore saying, “I have married a wife, and therefore I [do not have the power to] come.” In colloquial terms this man was henpecked. Shamelessly, he did not ask to be excused but declared himself powerless to attend. Together these three men represented the “many” guest who were invited but rejected the nobleman’s call to come. In essence the guests had exalted themselves above the nobleman and were saying, “We don’t need you.”

By this point, the progression of the parable is quite evident. The messianic banquet has been announced and many have stated their intent to be a part of the festivities. Now, in Jesus Christ, the hour for the kingdom banquet has come and all things are ready (ref. Luke 4:43). However, suddenly there is a stream of excuses from the invited guest. The three excuses need not stand for any particular type of reason for rejecting the kingdom. What all three shared was an extraordinary lameness. They are meant to strike the hearer as ridiculous and to the point of absurdity of any excuse for rejecting God’s call into his kingdom.[x] The religious rulers complained when He eats with “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34; 15:1-2), and when He does not keep the Sabbath in a strict fashion (Luke 6:1-11). They despised His teachings (Luke 16:14) and belittle His miracles (Luke 11:14-23). The Lord Jesus did not fulfill their theological and nationalistic expectations of the Messiah. The parable says that as they were rejecting Jesus with their ridiculous excuses, therefore, they were also rejecting the great banquet promised by God.[xi]

Returning to the parable, after being rejected by the first guest, the servant “reported these things to his mater” (v. 21a). Understandably, “the master of the house” was very “angry” (v. 21b). He had made expensive preparations for his “great banquet” and he would not let his efforts go to waste. He desired his house to filled with guest, therefore, “he said to servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame’” (v. 21c). These are the very people Jesus’ pharisaical host had barred from his table and by extension God’s table. However these are the ones who most readily accept an invitation to set at the banquet table of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). It was the “humble” Jesus said, who would be “exalted” (v. 11).  

Dutifully, the servant carried out his master’s command reporting, “‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room’” (v. 22).[xii] In an effort to fill every seat and have his house overflowing with guest the host instructed his servant to go out a third, “‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled’” (v. 23). Moving beyond the boundaries of his community, the servant was instructed to “urge” (NLT, NET) otherwise reluctant guest to accept the host’s gracious invitation. Obviously, the attendees would not be as homogeneous as the Pharisees would picture the great banquet. Both Jew and Gentile would come. Both rich and poor, educated and uneducated, male and female, slave and free would be welcomed at the Lord’s Table (cf. Galatians 3:28).[xiii] This is in keeping with the original image of God’s great banquet from Isaiah 25:6-9, “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast.”  

Jesus concludes the parable with the master saying, “‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet’” (v. 24). The first guest who had “exalted” themselves were now “humbled” (v. 11).  It was a common practice in Jesus’ day for a host to send a small portion of food to excused guest.[xiv] However, this act of grace would not be extended to those who excused themselves from God’s banquet table. Jesus is thus stating to those who would like to “eat bread in the kingdom of God” (v. 15) they had better hurry and accept his invitation for table fellowship, because they will not be able to participate at a distance.

The lesson of the parable of the Great Banquet is just as powerful for us today as it was for its original audience. God has sent forth His servants with the message that the kingdom of God has come. Those who hear the message are invited to share in God’s banquet. They should accept, not making excuses, or delaying, lest they eventually be barred from entering the hall and their seat given to another. “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b). If you ignore God’s call, someone else will take your place and you will receive nothing but a “too late” from behind the closed doors of the banquet-hall.[xv]


[i] Unless otherwise stated, Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[ii] The NKJV translates v. 5 as, “‘Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?’” (cf. Deuteronomy 22:4; Luke 13:15; Matthew 12:11-12).

[iii] See Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke: New International Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Com., 1991. (p. 550)

[iv] Kistemaker, Simon. The Parables, Understanding the Stores Jesus Told. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002. (p. 159)

[v] Another parable, the parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) shares some thematic similarities, though with striking differences in details, with the parable of the Great Banquet.

[vi] For a discussion on the Messianic Banquet from the perspectives of the Targum, the book of 1 Enoch and writings from the Qumran community, see Bailey, Kenneth. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies In The Gospels. Downers Groove: IVP Academic, 2008. pp. 310-11. In all three instances, those of lower social status are excluded and Gentiles, who think they are invited, are viciously slain.

[vii] For a more in-depth discussion on the Middle Eastern custom of the double invitation see Bailey, Kenneth. Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables of Luke Combined Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Com., 1983. pp. 94-95. He also points out that the command to “come” literally means, keep on coming. The guest had already started to come by accepting the first invitation now they must continue to come since all things were ready.

[viii] Bailey argues in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (pp. 314-315) that this man’s excuse is a bold-face lie since land purchases took a very long time to complete and inspections were extremely detailed.

[ix] Caldwell, C. G. The Gospel According to Luke. Bowling Green: Guardian of Truth Fourndation, 2011. (p. 808)

[x] Bloomberg, Craig L. Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990. (p. 234)

[xi] Bailey, Kenneth. Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables of Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Com., 1983. (p. 99)

[xii] Perhaps the most stirring commentary on this passage is from Albert Barnes who stated, “He went out and invited all he found in the lanes, and yet the table was not full. This he also reported to his master. “There is room!” What a glorious declaration is this in regard to the gospel! There yet is room. Millions have been saved, but there yet is room. Millions have been invited, and have come, and have gone to heaven, but heaven is not yet full. There is a banquet there which no number can exhaust; there are fountains which no number can drink dry; there are harps there which other hands may strike; and there are seats there which others may occupy. Heaven is not full, and there yet is room. The Sunday school teacher may say to his class, there yet is room; the parent may say to his children, there yet is room; the minister of the gospel may go and say to the wide world, there yet is room. The mercy of God is not exhausted; the blood of the atonement has not lost its efficacy; heaven is not full. What a sad message it “would” be if we were compelled to go and say, “There is no more room – heaven is full – not another one can be saved. No matter what their prayers, or tears, or sighs, they cannot be saved. Every place is filled; every seat is occupied.” But, thanks be to God, this is not the message which we are to bear; and if there yet is room, come, sinners, young and old, and enter into heaven. Fill up that room, that heaven may be full of the happy and the blessed. If any part of the universe is to be vacant, O let it be the dark world of woe!” From Barnes, Albert. Barnes’ Notes On The New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1962. pp. 226-227

[xiii] Caldwell, C. G. The Gospel According to Luke. Bowling Green: Guardian of Truth Fourndation, 2011. (p. 811)

[xiv] Ibid p. 812 and Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes p. 109.

[xv] Jeremias, Joachim. Rediscovering the Parables.  Chatham, Kent, Great Britian: SCM Press, 1993. (p. 142)

Notes on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus


I recently presented a lesson summarizing the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-30). Here is my outline from that lesson:

For a more through discussion of this parable click here.

The Setting: Conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees Luke 15, 16:

• Jesus received “sinners” (Luke 15:1)
• The Pharisees were “grumbling” (Luke 15:2)
• Jesus told the Lost Parables (Luke 15:3-32)
• Continuing, Jesus told the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-9)
• Jesus then taught on the use of riches (Luke 16:10-13)
• The Pharisees “ridiculed Him” (Luke 16:14)
• Jesus taught on appearances (Luke 16:15-18)
• To illustrate His points Jesus told the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

The Teaching (16:14-18):

• The Pharisees Loved Money (v. 14; Matthew 15:1-9; Luke 20:46-47; 1 Timothy 6:10)
• The Pharisees focused on appearances, but God saw their hearts (v. 15; Matthew 6:1-21).
• The Law still stood, even though the Pharisees had perverted it (vv. 16-17). Case in point, marriage and divorce (v. 18; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-12) Jesus illustrated this truth by telling the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

The Points of the Parable:

• Appearances are no guarantee of one’s standing with God.
• The only thing that matters is a right response to God’s word.

Structure of the Parable:

• 2 Sets of Contrast between Rich Man and Lazarus
• 3 conversations between Rich Man and Abraham

The Contrast of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Life:

The Rich Man

Poor Lazarus

Rich and Healthy

Poor and Sick

Clothed in Purple and Fine Linen

Covered with Sores

Feasted Every Day

Always Hungry

Large Estate

Homeless

On the Inside

On the Outside

Comforted by the Tongues of Dogs

Because of His Riches, He Appeared to be a Godly Man (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Mark 10:23-31)

Because of his sickness, he appeared to be cursed by God for sin (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68; John 9:2). Additionally, it seem God had abandoned the one whose name meant helped by God. The naming of a character and its meaning, in this case Lazarus, is an important component of the story line.

The Contrast of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Death:

The Rich Man

Poor Lazarus

Died and Buried

Carried by the Angels

Outside

Inside, Feasting with Abraham (Matthew 8:11-12). To be in one’s “bossom” is feasting terminology (cf. John 13:25; 21:20)

Tormented, In Anguish

Comforted

Desired to be Comforted Through His Tongue

Did Not Use His Wealth to Make Friends in Heaven (Luke 16:9). Nor did he keep the Law which clearly stated he was to help the poor.

Trusted in God as his helper.

.Three Conversations Between the Rich Man and Abraham:

• Note, His Physical Relationship To Abraham Didn’t Save Him (John 8:31-47)

Conversation #1:

• Rich Man: Send Lazarus to help me (v. 24)
• Abraham: Even if he wanted to he can’t eternal life fixed. (v. 25-26)

Conversation #2:

• Rich Man: Send Lazarus to warn my brothers (v. 27-28)
• Abraham: They have Moses and Prophets let them hear them (v. 29)

Conversation #3:

• Rich Man: Only a resurrected man will convince them (v. 30)
• Abraham: If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won’t listen to a resurrected man either (v. 31)

Two Take Away’s:

• Use your wealth to make friends in heaven, so that when this life is over they will receive you into eternal glory.
• What is highly valued among men is an abomination before the Lord. The world values wealth lavishly spent on self, but God abhors it.

The Parable of the Two Builders


The Parable of the Two Builders Children's drawingOf all Jesus’ parables, the Parable of the Two Builders has perhaps more than any other has been reduced to a simple children’s song. Often times, when something is relegated to Children’s Bible class song, we adults tend to not pay it much attention. However, dynamite comes in small packages, and in context this parable creates a powerful meaning and application to all who would come after Christ.

It’s no accident that this parable comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:24-27) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:47-49). In both cases, Jesus is calling for the people to move beyond being active listeners (Matthew 7:28-29) and paying Him lip-service (Luke 6:46), to being doers of what He has taught them, namely what He has taught them in the preceding sermon (Matthew 5:1-7:23; Luke 6:20-45). To drive home His message, our Lord tells the people a parable contrasting the actions of two men who build two houses. This comparison will highlight the sensibleness of doing what Jesus says and the craziness of not doing what he commands us to do.

In our passage two men set out to build a house for themselves. Jesus labels the first man “wise” (Matthew 7:24), while He labels the second man “foolish” (Matthew 7:26). The descriptions “wise” and “foolish” are not indications of their mental capacity. Rather, the true character of each man is revealed through how each man builds his house, which causes each to be declared “wise” or “foolish” (cf. James 3:13-18). Paul expounds on this notion in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; where he says the wise are those who are faithfully obedient to Christ, though the world may view them as foolish.

These two builders set out to build two houses. It is during the dry season of summer that these two men build their homes. Preparations must be made to complete a sound structure before the late winter rains come. The image of “building” is often used by our Lord as a metaphor for the life choices that men make such as in the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) or in the Cost of Discipleship Passage (Luke 14:28-30). On the outside these two men’s houses, or lives, look exactly alike. However, there is one striking difference, their foundations.

Our first man “dug deep and laid a foundation” (Luke 6:48) on the “rock” (Matthew 7:24). A “wise man” builds his house, or life, to withstand the elements. He instinctively knows that the dry, favorable weather of summer will not last forever. He understands that sooner, rather than later, the rainy season will come with its torrential downpours and gale force winds and so he prepares. Therefore, the one “who hears [the] words of [Jesus] and does them” (Matthew 7:24; cf. Luke 6:47; James 1:19-27) is like this wise, sensible man, who prepares for trial and judgment. Just as his house will stand test and trial, so will his life because it is built on the foundation of Jesus and His words (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Conversely, the second man, builds his house directly on the “sand” (Matthew 7:26) “without a foundation” (Luke 6:49). The “foolish man” erects his house as if the blue skies of summer will never depart. He gives no thought to the fact that one day sooner, rather than later, the skies will darken, the rain will fall, and catastrophe will be upon him. In fact, this man is so reckless; it’s as if he built his house on a sand bar in the middle of a dry creek bed. Therefore, the one “who hears [the] words of [Jesus] and does not do them” (Matthew 7:26; cf. Luke 6:49) is as foolish as a man who builds a house in such a ruinous way. Peter spoke of such people and thinking in 2 Peter 3:1-13. First (vv. 1-7), foolish men live their lives doubting the coming storm of judgment declaring, “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (v. 3). Second (vv. 5-10), Peter refutes the error of their thinking through the example of the creation (Genesis 1-2) and the flood (Genesis 6:1-9:17). Finally (vv. 11-13), Peter calls for believers to prepare themselves for the coming judgment by living lives of “holiness and godliness” (v. 11). The “wise” builds with a faith that understands judgment, though delayed, is coming. Therefore, he builds his spiritual house on the foundation of hearing and doing what Jesus says (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11). However, the “foolish” man makes no preparations, going about as if the Lord does not keep His promises. Consequently, this man will surely come to ruin (cf. Proverbs 10:8).

In the course of time the blue skies of summer give way to the darkened skies of the rainy season. In vivid detail, our Lord describes the storm that batters these two houses. “The rain fell, and the floods came” (Matthew 7:25a, 27a). A nearby stream overflowed its banks and “broke against” (Luke 6:48b, 49b) the two houses. While gale force “winds blew and beat on” (Matthew 7:25b; 27b) the homes that symbolize these men’s lives.  It is a common interpretation to view this storm as symbolizing the various storms of life that all men will endure. Certainly storms, especially floods, are used in scripture as metaphor for the trials of life (i.e. Psalm 18:4, 16-19; 32:6-7; 69:1-3, 14-15) and this would undoubtedly make a good point. However, I believe it would be best to view this storm as representing judgment such as the Noahic flood (cf. Genesis 6:1-9:17) which was used by our Lord and Peter to foreshadow the judgment that will come again on the world while reinforcing God’s promise of salvation for those who put their trust in Him (cf. Matthew 24:37-42, 44; 1 Peter 3:18-22; 2 Peter 2:4-10).

In the final analysis, the “wise man’s” house, “did not fall” during the flood “because it has been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:25c; cf. Luke 6:48c). However, the “foolish man” was not as fortunate, for his house “immediately fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:49c; cf. Matthew 7:27c). As in Noah’s day, so in Jesus’ and ours: the disastrous consequences of only hearing and not doing what the Lord commands can utterly destroy, but by God’s saving power the hearer and doer of the Lord’s word will be able to stand and not fall in judgment (cf. Romans 14:4). The Parable of the Two Builders is a forceful reminder that a spiritual house cannot stand unless it is built on hearing and doing what Jesus says to do.

Questions:

  1. Read Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:47-49. Write down any observations, key words and/or questions you have from the reading.
  2. In your own words, restate the main point(s) of this parable.
  3. Look back over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:1-7:29 and/or Luke 6:17-49. How does this parable summarize the Lord’s teachings?
  4. Read James 1:19-27. What additional insights or lessons does this provide you regarding hearing and doing what Jesus says?
  5. From 2 Peter 3:1-13, briefly explain Peter’s teaching on the coming storm of judgment. How does this passage enhance the imagery of  the Parable of the Two Builders?
  6. How has Jesus challenged your thinking about what it truly means to be His disciple call Him “Lord, Lord” through this parable?

Other lessons in this series:

The Persistent Widow

The Lost Sheep, Coin, Sons

The Rich Fool

The “Lost” Parables


The setting of Jesus’ telling of the “Lost” parables is a familiar one. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” Jesus’ mission to “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) brought Him into constant conflict with Israel’s religious rulers, namely the Pharisees and scribes (Luke 5:30, 7:39, 19:7). Wherever Jesus went, a crowd of tax collectors, prostitutes, and general riffraff flocked to Him. This troubled the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes a great deal. However, our Savior was not ashamed to be known as, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). He willingly received them, even going so far as eating with them (Luke 5:31-32). The Pharisees and scribes were so hopelessly consumed with themselves; they had no time or desire to associate with sinners. Jesus knowing the Pharisee’s hearts, rebuked them with three parables that contrasted their self-righteous attitude with God (and Jesus’) tender compassion for the lost. The point of all three parables is that God does not sit passively by while the lost march onto hell. He has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” (ref. Ezekiel 33:11). Instead, He loves them, searches for them, pursues them, and longs for them to be saved. When even just one is found, God erupts in joyous celebration.

The first two parables, the Lost Sheep (15:3-7) and the Lost Coin (15:8-10), share the same key point; when one sinner repents, God calls for a celebration in heaven (15:7, 10). He is the seeking shepherd whose desire it is to rescue the lost sheep. He is the homemaker who will stop at nothing to find a lost coin. And when they have found that which was lost they call together their friends and celebrate. The obvious application Jesus is making is, if you Pharisee and scribes would do this for a lone sheep or a lone coin, then why not for one lost soul, who is of greater value (cf. Matthew 10:6; 12:9-14).

The third parable is the climax of His three illustrations. The parable of the Lost Son is more touching than the first two because it involves hurting humans and aching hearts, not dumb animals or inanimate coins. Although this parable goes into far greater detail than the previous two, it makes the exact same point. The loving father is God, who rejoices to see the homecoming of his lost son. The first half of the parable focuses on the shameful behavior of the son (15:11-16). The son asks for his inheritance, leaves home for a far country, where he wastes all his money on “prodigal living,” and ends up in near starvation. The middle section (15:14-24) revolves around the son’s repentance, his father’s gracious welcome, and the celebration that ensues for the return of the one that “was lost and now is found” (15:24, 32). It is in the third section of this parable (15:25-32) that an ugly twist is introduced in the form of the jealous older brother who reflected the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes. This jealous older brother would not go inside. He would not eat with his sinful brother or anyone who fellowshipped him, nor would he celebrate his sinful brother’s return. He totally lacked the compassion of the father in the parable and God the Father in heaven. Jesus demonstrates that the older brother, and by extension the Pharisees and scribes, are just as lost as any other sinner when the Father seeks out the older brother to “entreat” him to join in with the celebration (15:28b). The father’s plea, “it was fitting to celebrate and be glad,” is the exact point the Pharisees were missing, which is the real point of this parable. In their joyless hypocrisy the Pharisees refused to share the welcome that God loves to give lost sinners.

All three of these parables share a common thread, a seeker finding what was lost and rejoicing at its being found. In every case, the unrelenting seeker is God, who upon finding that which was lost rejoices with joy inexpressible. This was the lesson the Pharisees and scribes needed to learn. Sinners are to be sought after, not silenced, or segregated. This is the lesson we must take to heart today.

Digging Deeper Questions:

  1. What prompted Jesus to tell the three “Lost” parables?
  2. Who is represented by each of the central characters and objects in each of the parables?
  3. According to the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, how does God respond when one of His valued creatures or treasures is lost?
  4. Use five adjectives to describe the joy that God expresses when that which was lost is found.
  5. Imagine yourself listening to these parables as one of the people the Pharisees called a “sinner.” What thoughts and feelings might you have experienced as Jesus talked?
  6. Let’s look more closely at the parable of the Lost Son. Describe the different ways the younger son brought shame to his family, especially his father.
  7. What does the father’s reception of his remorseful younger son reveal to you about our Father in heaven?
  8. How can this portrait of God help you feel fully accepted and forgiven by your Father?
  9. Instead of ending the story with the celebration of the return of him that was lost, Jesus goes on to describe the reaction of the older son. What additional point do you think Jesus wants to make to the Jewish leaders, and why?
  10. In vs. 25-32 what is Jesus saying to His critics who scolded Him for receiving sinners?
  11. These three parables teach us that God receives sinners joyously. How has the message of the “Lost” Parables changed your perspective of the lost?

Other lessons in this series: The Persistent Widow, The Rich Fool