Our reading today begins in Luke 13, which continues the events of chapter 12. We know that because we read that the question about the Galileans that Pilate killed were asked by “some present at that very time” (13:1). Jesus just told His followers to open their eyes and interpret the time (12:56). Here, He tells them that the suffering of these people were not because of their sin (v. 2). But if we do not repent in this life, we will suffer for sin in the next (vv. 3-5).
Jesus then tells the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (unique to Luke). This brings to mind the event of Jesus cursing the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14). Here, we see that there is a time of patience with and care for the tree to give it a chance to bring forth fruit (vv. 8-9). This goes with the preceding teaching about repentance in this age.
Also unique to Luke is the account of the healing of the woman with the disabling spirit. This is again on the Sabbath (v. 10). This woman’s physical ailment was because of spiritual oppression (v. 11, 16). Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the leader of the synagogue (v. 15). The people “untie” their animals on the Sabbath to give the what is necessary for living. Why shouldn’t people be loosed (the same Greek word as “untied”) on the Sabbath?
After the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (paralleled in Matthew and Mark), Jesus – still moving toward Jerusalem (v. 22) – is asked how many will be saved (v. 23). Jesus’s answer puts the emphasis on personal responsibility to obey. We must “strive” to live according to God’s Word (v. 24) as opposed to mere outward acts (v. 26). Those that are saved will be from the whole world (v. 29). Salvation has nothing to do with physical descent.
In verse 31, some Pharisees tell Jesus not to come to Jerusalem because Herod wanted to kill Him (v. 31). This may or may not have been true. Jesus tells them that He will not stay away, but must finish what He came to do (v. 32). The third day refers to Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem. Jesus then laments over Jerusalem, which will do to Him what she always did to God’s prophets (v. 34). This is why she has been rejected (v. 35).
Chapter 14 begins on the Sabbath. This is the day before Palm Sunday. That means the teachings of 14:1-17:10 all occurred at the house of the ruler of the Pharisees (14:1). Jesus heals the man with dropsy (edema) to support what He taught in 13:15-16 (vv. 2-6). Jesus then addresses the others invited to this dinner with a Parable about a feast (v. 7). He encourages humility in this world so that they may be exalted by God (vv. 8-11 – see 13:30). He then tells an accompanying parable about a banquet, encouraging them not to seek exaltation in this world, but in the world to come (vv. 12-14).
When one of those invited by the ruler of the Pharisees (they were doing exactly what Jesus just discouraged!) pronounces the blessing on those who eat of the banquet in the world to come (v. 15), he shows that he believes he – and those at this earthly banquet – will be included. Jesus corrects him with another parable about a great banquet. Many are invited (v. 16). This is the universal call of the Gospel. But those who do not respond to the invitation never get to eat of that banquet (v. 24)! Jesus is again speaking of personal responsibility over against physical lineage, as Israel was the first guest invited!
Jesus then addresses the great crowds that accompanied Him (v. 25) with another plea for them to count the cost of following Him (vv. 26-28). The cost is everything in this world (v. 33). In 15:1-2, we see the religious elite at the banquet complain about the company Jesus keeps (those He addressed in 14:25). Jesus responds with three parables about seeking what is lost. He begins with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (vv. 3-7). As in 13:15-16 and 14:5, Jesus is commenting on the distorted values of the religious leaders. A person (sinner) is of more value than an animal. Recognizing that we are a sinner (part of repentance) is reason to rejoice. Believing we are righteous is not. This is why we must humble ourselves (14:11) and look to the world to come (14:14). This is how we answer the invitation to the banquet! Jesus reinforced this with the Parable of the Lost Coin (vv. 8-10). What is lost and recovered (a sinner who repents) is more valuable than what is not lost, that is, those who believe they are righteous.
Jesus concludes the triad with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The two sons are the physical offspring of God and spiritual offspring of God. The spiritual offspring, though at first estranged from our heavenly Father (v. 13) come to the end of ourselves and recognize our need (vv. 14-17). We recognize that we are sinners, and unworthy of what our Father offers to us (vv. 18-19). But our Father, even when were far away from Him, recognizes us and comes to us in love (v. 20 – see Rom 5:8)! He then lavishes upon us favor and provision (vv. 22-23). And the dead are brought to life (v. 24).
In contrast, the physical offspring resent the “sinners” (v. 28). They even grumble against God for His gracious treatment of sinners (see v. 2). But yet, the Father entreats them to come to the feast! But the physical offspring believe they deserve what the Father has to offer because they have “followed the rules” (v. 29). Why should sinners be allowed at the feast (v. 30)? But the Father is willing to let both sons have what He has to offer (v. 31). Israel was invited first, remember! But all are now invited. And God’s people should rejoice when the dead are brought to life, and the lost found (v. 32).
Chapter 16 begins with the most confusing and variously interpreted of all Jesus’s parables: the Parable of the Dishonest Manager (16:1-13). As this is part of the same conversation (beginning back in 14:1), it should be understood in light of all that has been said previously. The manager is Israel (the physical offspring). Because of their grave misunderstanding of God and His salvation, they have wasted what He entrusted to them (16:1). God then calls for them to give up what He has given them (v. 2). However, through the manager (who has lost his place), there are those who have been “reconciled” to the rich man. They can’t follow the whole Law, so the rich man takes what they have to offer Him – and gives them forgiveness of their whole debt. Jesus is speaking ironically in verses 8-9. Now that through Israel (who brought forth Christ) all can be saved (and not through the Law), Jesus is calling Israel to join them. The faithful vs. the dishonest in verse 10 is the sinner who offers what they have vs. one who follows the law and fails at even one point (see Jas 2:10). This would mean that the true riches are repentance and faith, and the wealth is self-righteousness. We can’t serve God when we believe we have what we need in and of ourselves. This understanding makes this parable parallel with the others Jesus just told.
This also explains what comes next. The Pharisees take the “wealth” literally (v. 14). But Jesus talks about their self-righteousness (v. 15). They are those who exalt themselves instead of humbling themselves. But they have failed to achieve, indeed, could not achieve, righteousness through the Law (v. 16). Now that Jesus has come (following all the Old Testament prophets and John), the Gospel is preached, and it is Jesus Who will fulfill the Law (v. 17). The requirements of God are now spiritual, and in a sense go beyond what the Law teaches (verse 18 being an example of that – see Matt 5:31-32).
Jesus then tells the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31). Once again, we should keep this in the context of the conversation. The rich man is Israel, the physical offspring, and Lazarus is the spiritual offspring and true offspring of Abraham. The nations until this point were poor and wretched, but Israel was highly favored by God (vv. 19-20). The pagans under demonic rule hungered for even a crumb of God’s presence and truth (v. 21). Now that Christ has come and the poor man has been forgiven his debt (per the last parable), he has been shown to be the true offspring of Abraham (see Gal 3:7), while the man God made rich in this world suffers damnation. Israel should join the spiritual offspring in believing in Christ. In fact, they should already be spiritual children because they were blessed with the Law and the Prophets (v. 29 – see Paul’s argument in Romans 3:1-9). But since they didn’t believe God up until that point, Christ’s resurrection will not lead them to repentance, either (vv. 30-31).