[August, 2009] Presently we are considering Jesus’ teaching in the context of His journey to Jerusalem on the way to the cross. First, Jesus sends out the seventy disciples, giving us a picture of the apostolate in the Acts of the Apostles and for today (10:1-24). Then He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan about Himself as our Savior (10:25-37), and gives a lesson on humbly listening to His word (10:38-42) and on prayer (11:1-13).
After that, Jesus continues to give teachings that relate to the church’s mission to the Gentiles and relationship with the world. First, He addresses the Jews who oppose Him, giving them only the sign of Jonah which is the preaching of salvation to the Gentiles (11:14-32). Then He opposes their hypocrisy, implying that the church should avoid the same. Hypocrisy is the result of living in the eyes of others, trying to impress them and win their approval, rather than living in the sight of God and wanting only His approval (11:33-52). In view of this opposition, Jesus turns to His disciples and warns them that they need to confess Him before others and not be afraid of them. Rather they should fear God, who, if they confess Christ before others, will take care of them, even if fidelity leads to the cross (11:53-12:12). This has to do with our social anxiety. We need to live before others as if only ultimately God matters.
After that, our anxiety over material things comes up. The lesson is the same: the reality of God as our Father has to be dominant. Then we will not be those who envy what others have or who hoard up possessions in order to shore up our security, as if only the enjoyment of good things mattered. In fact, since God is our Father, we do not need to worry about food or clothing and can concern ourselves with His kingdom. Instead of being weighed down by these matters, we can store up security in heaven and move the attraction of our heart there by selling our possessions and giving the money to help the poor (12:13-34).
What is at stake in all of this so far is the kingdom of God. In 12:35-49, Jesus puts all of this into perspective for His disciples by warning them that when He returns, He will judge them and reward or discipline them. Therefore they are to live their lives with care, watchful to please Him. This is why it is self-defeating to live in order to impress others, or to live in fear of others, or to live with anxiety over our material needs and security. If God is our Father, we can live to please Him alone, without fear of others or anxiety over our well-being. The fire that Jesus would cast upon the earth is the purifying fire of God’s judgment, but before that can take place He must be baptized by the cross. This scandal of the cross will not bring peace but division into society and home, because people will have to choose how to respond, and their choice will expose them to—and determine for them—God’s judgment. The disciples should not be scandalized by this, but live in the light of it.
A Warning to the Multitude
Jesus then begins to expand on the matter of God’s judgment with respect to the multitude (no longer the disciples). First, He speaks to them about the impending judgment of Jerusalem—the signs of it were in the air—and warns them that now was the time to get right with the Judge (12:54-59). He tells them that they should not be only looking at bad things that happen to others and judge, because it has not happened to them, that they are innocent. That bad things happened to others does not mean that they were guiltier than you. You all need to repent because none of you can escape God’s judgment (13:1-5). If they have been spared more time than those who have recently died, they must avail themselves of that time as an opportunity to repent (13:6-9). In the meantime, they continue to miss the point and condemn themselves. They oppose the mercy of Jesus because only concern themselves with the outward observance of religion, with rules and regulations, which have to do with power and control, and are blind to the justice of God’s liberating action in their midst (13:10-17). The kingdom of God began in the midst of Israel as the seed of the word but people have turned it into a great tree by turning it for their own profit. It is like pure meal which has been inflated by the corrupting influence of leaven (13:18-21). By giving the seed an unnatural growth and by inflating the size of the loaf, those leaders, represented by the ruler of the synagogue who opposed Jesus, have missed the liberating mercy of God. Of course, this applies to the inflated growth of Christianity as well.
In 13:22-30 Jesus continues to address the multitude about the judgment of God. They assume because they flock to Jesus and like Him as a celebrity, that this will save them. Not so, Jesus says. They need to become disciples, to commit themselves to Jesus in such a way that they actually take on the yoke of discipleship. If there is no change in their lives, their faith in Him is superficial. They are still “workers of unrighteousness” and He does not know them. They should not assume that because they are privileged as Jews or because they flock to Jesus, that that gives them a pass to get into the kingdom of God. Indeed, even Gentiles and those whom they expect to get in last will get in before them. Contrary to the glamour that the multitude sees in Jesus, He is heading deliberately and intentionally to the cross (13:31-35) which will scandalize them. A warning of the danger He faces does not deter Him. He knows He shall be killed in Jerusalem. As their King, He wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem under His wing, and enable them to repent, but they would not and will not allow it. As a result, they will inevitably meet with disaster because of their refusal to repent. They will have thrown away their opportunity. He, as their Messiah, will no longer be available to them until the time comes when He is ready to return and they are ready to welcome Him.