Luke 7 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Movements to Faith and Christological Questions
So what will be the response to Jesus, and why should we respond to him? At this point Luke zeroes in on this question. This section's dominant theme is faith. The stories of the centurion, the widow of Nain, John the Baptist's perplexity, the sinful woman, the women who minister to the disciples--all have to do with the presence or absence of faith. Faith involves humility, gratitude and service. In the middle of this section, John the Baptist's question about the one who was to come brings a significant response from Jesus about how God's plan advances and where Jesus fits in, even though his style is not messianic in the way people expected. Furthermore, the various accounts disclose that faith has no gender or racial gap. Jesus comes for all.A Centurion's Exemplary Faith (7:1-10)
In the Gospels it is rare that someone receives a clear commendation from Jesus. When it happens, it is an occasion for reflection. The powerful and poignant testimony of the centurion provides such an opportunity, showing us that people in very surprising places and with very different backgrounds have heard Jesus' message and appreciate it. The emphasis in this account makes this miracle different from earlier miracle accounts in Luke. Here the miracle itself is not the focus, since it is mentioned only very briefly in verse 10. Rather, the stress is on the attitude of the one seeking the healing. Luke subtly shifts attention from Jesus' miraculous work to his person and the response to it. Jesus is more than a teacher or a healer. What is Jesus commending in the understanding of the centurion?
The account opens by noting that after the sermon Jesus came into Capernaum. A centurion there has a slave who is near death. A centurion was a soldier in Herod Antipas's army who commanded about one hundred men. As a mercenary, he might serve as a tax soldier or a policeman. Only Luke notes that he is a Gentile; but he is not a Roman, since the Romans did not enter such military roles until A.D. 44. Is he from the surrounding region, or has he been sent into service here from one of the countries Rome had conquered? We are not told. Some wonder if the man is a proselyte, given his support for the synagogue. That is possible, though not certain, since if he were directly related to the nation, that point would likely have been made clearly. What is clear is that he is supportive of the Jewish nation and he may be a potential proselyte (v. 5). He is probably what Luke calls elsewhere a "God-fearer," a Gentile who does not yet fully identify with Israel but does respect the God of Judaism (Acts 10:2; Tyson 1992:35-39; McKnight 1991:78-117; Cohen 1989:13-33).
The centurion has heard about Jesus and his miracle-working power. So he sends Jewish elders on his behalf. The action is culturally sensitive: not knowing Jesus personally and recognizing that he is of Jewish heritage, the soldier sends representatives of Jesus' own ethnic background to plead his case. There is no demand made of Jesus, only a request. The reference to elders probably indicates that civic leaders are involved (Schurmann 1969:391 n. 16; Marshall 1978:280; Bornkamm 1968:660-61). This man had won respect across ethnic lines. The cultural sensitivity of his actions may well suggest why.
This event allows Luke to show that Jews and Gentiles can get along--a message of ethnic cooperation that would be revolutionary in ancient times, just as it is today. We can only imagine the impact if the whole church were able to visibly show how Christ leads us to respect ethnic diversity and to work together across ethnic lines.
In addition, Luke's description of the others in this story as the Jews may suggest that his own ethnic origin is not Jewish. The narration reflects the perspective of a non-Jew. These interracial elements enhance the passage's emotional tension. Ultimately, are there ethnic distinctions in Jesus' work? The passage answers that question with an emphatic no. Although Jesus initially preached to the lost sheep of Israel, his ministry eventually extended to all after his postresurrection commission to the apostles (24:43-49; Eph 2:14-17). As for Paul, so for Jesus: there is no Jew or Gentile in Christ (Gal 3:28). In our day, we might say, there is no Caucasian or African-American, no Hispanic or Asian, no Latino, African, European, Jew or Palestinian in Christ. All are in need of his redemption; all become part of the same community when they come to him.
With the elders' request comes a character endorsement. They assert that the centurion is worthy to receive the benefits of Jesus' work. This is the one time in the New Testament that the term "worthy" (axios) is used to describe a person positively, rather than a group (NIV renders this term in the phrase deserves to have you do this). This soldier supports the nation and has built a synagogue. Here is a man of means and generosity. Roman support for synagogues is well known, since they believed it promoted order and morality in the community (Josephus Antiquities 16.6.2 162-65; 19.6.3 299-311).
So Jesus reaches across racial and social boundaries and begins to travel with these elders; but then a second wave of representatives appears. They end up commending Jesus by explaining that the soldier does not feel worthy to have Jesus enter his home. The teacher need not trouble himself with a journey to the soldier's home. Here Luke reveals the depth of the centurion's humility, despite the elders' estimation of the man as worthy. The remark also recalls Peter's humble attitude in 5:8. Others recognize the centurion's character; he does not carry his own banner. Even so, before Jesus, who is worthy? This text, like Jesus' earlier exchange with Peter, shows that God honors such humility.
The centurion also understands authority, so he adds that Jesus can exercise his authority anywhere. The centurion knows what it is to be under authority and to issue commands like "Go," "Come" and "Do this." If such authority works for a soldier, surely it works for Jesus. He knows that Jesus' authority is all that is needed to produce healing.
Jesus reacts emotionally (this is one of the few places where Luke records Jesus' emotion): he is amazed. Jesus is said to be amazed only here, in Matthew's parallel account (Mt 8:10) and in Mark 6:6, where he is astonished at unbelief. Jesus turns and issues his commendation: "I have not found such great faith even in Israel!" The statement is like a neon light. Here is faith that should be emulated. Here is trust, confidence, rest in the authority of God and awareness of his plan. The Jewish nation, and all others, can learn from this outsider. Aware of Jesus' authority, the centurion has committed the well-being of his beloved slave into Jesus' hands. Jesus commends the centurion's humility and his understanding of Jesus' authority: such faith is exemplary.
Returning home, the messengers find the slave healthy. The request has been granted, the slave restored. Jesus' commendation must resonate even more powerfully as they contemplate the miracle. Surely if such faith is possible outside of Israel, it can happen anywhere. Furthermore, it is clear that Jesus possesses a unique authority: he does not need to be physically present to bring about what he wills.Jesus' Authority to Raise the Dead (7:11-17)
Modern Western culture is marked by opinion polls. What people think about any topic can be closely examined instantly, with precision and a basketful of statistics. We are a society awash in numbers reflecting opinions.
When Jesus travels to the little village of Nain and raises from the dead the only son of a widow, there is a popular reaction. The confession that emerges keeps the question of Jesus' identity before Luke's audience. And other opinions about Jesus follow shortly (9:7-9, 18-20). If George Gallup, George Barna or Israel Today had taken a poll at this point in Jesus' ministry, the popular response would have been that Jesus was a prophet. What caused this popular assessment of Jesus? Luke traces its development here, though he saves for later his explanation of why it is not the decisive description of Jesus.
Luke narrates here with extreme economy. Jesus enters the little town of Nain; this is the only time it is mentioned in the Bible, and this is one of the few times Luke notes the locale of an event. The town probably lay six miles southeast of Nazareth, at the foot of Little Hebron over the valley of Jezreel (Fitzmyer 1981:658). Near the city gate a funeral procession is in process. Probably this only son of a widow died earlier this same day, since Jewish tradition encouraged a quick burial in order to avoid ceremonial uncleanliness (Strack and Billerbeck 1926:4:578-92; m. Sanhedrin 6:5; m. Mo`ed Qatan 1:6-7, 3:5-9; Semahot 1). According to custom, the bereaved family members would rend their clothes and mourn the death. The process did not begin until it was certain that death had occurred. The body was anointed to prevent deterioration. It was buried quickly and was not kept overnight at home. The corpse would be wrapped in a burial cloth and put on a burial plank for all to see.
During the procession of the funeral entourage, after all these actions have been taken, Jesus encounters the mourning widow and the crowd.
The widow weeps for the loss of her only child. She is now all alone in a hostile world; no family to care for her. Recognizing her intense pain, Jesus approaches the corpse on the plank. He touches the plank--an act that would render him ceremonially unclean, but that pictures his compassion (Num 19:11, 16; Sirach 34:30). He tells the corpse to rise up. If there were no authority behind his words, the action would be blackly humorous or tragically misguided. But Jesus reveals the extent of his authority by confronting death. His words are successful: the dead man sat up. This was no longer a deceased mass of decaying flesh.
This miracle is reminiscent of the Old Testament resuscitations performed by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-37). Those healings took a little more effort: Elisha lay on the boy three times and Elisha touched the boy with the staff and then lay on top of him. When Jesus hands the boy back to his mother, the language recalls 3 Kingdoms 17:23 LXX (1 Kings in English). So even as Luke tells the story, he points to prophetic models. Such historical background explains why the crowds come to see Jesus as a great prophet. The Old Testament precedents help explain the event. Given such precedents, the reader should not jump to conclusions about what such events prove about Jesus' divinity, especially since Peter and Paul will do similar works. The belief that Jesus is divine has other bases.
Jesus' comment on the significance of this event and others like it comes in Luke 7:22-23. These events point to a certain era of expectation and thus suggest who Jesus is, though even in chapter 7 the emphasis falls on messianic fulfillment. When the crowd fears and recognizes Jesus as a great prophet, they are not wrong; their view of Jesus is merely incomplete. With his account of this miracle Luke is steadily building his portrait of the many-faceted nature of Jesus. God is visiting his people. God's visitation is a key theme in Luke (1:68, 78; 19:41-44; Acts 15:14). God is active through Jesus. Public opinion about Jesus is spreading and is taking on various forms. God is at work through him. Yet his activity suggests that no one label or title is sufficient to describe and explain who he is.
But the nature of his work speaks as well. Jesus' ministry is about compassion. It is able to overcome a hurdle as significant as death (1 Cor 15). The scope of his authority knows no limits. Surely someone with such power should be the object of great interest. Surely he should be heeded and allowed to speak for himself, rather than being categorized according to the whims of popular opinion. So Luke turns to an exchange between Jesus and John the Baptist to show how the One who performs such wonders views himself.Jesus and John the Baptist (7:18-35)
Many believers have had moments of doubt about Jesus. Is he who he claimed to be? Why does he not manifest his sovereignty more directly? How could such an unassuming ministry be the most significant moment in humanity's history? Is he really there? Such questions are not just products of the modern era. Their roots are as old as Jesus' ministry. Even John the Baptist had such questions.
Often doubt brings reflection and growth. Such is the case with John's inquiries about Jesus. Not only does the Baptist get an answer that calls for his reflection, but Jesus uses the inquiry to help others consider anew the roles John and he have in God's plan. The psychological adversity of doubt carries the seed of real growth, when the answer is sought from God's perspective.
The scene begins with John's question to Jesus, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" The question is brought by two messengers because John is in prison. In referring to Jesus as the one who was to come, John recalls his own description of the promised "more powerful" one in 3:15-18. The reason for John's question is much discussed. In fact, some interpreters are so embarrassed by the tradition that they argue that John is asking the question for the benefit of his disciples. But the most natural reading is to recognize the uncertainty as John's. He is in prison. He had proclaimed the approach of the powerful Messiah. As unusual as Jesus' ministry is, it is not what one would expect of God's chosen king. Scripture is quite honest about how people--even leaders like John--respond to God's unusual and surprising ways.
Luke sets the context for Jesus' reply by noting that Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. His ministry was filled with evidence of God's presence. Rather than answer John's question directly, he tells 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." Then he adds, "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me" (NRSV). The term for "offense," skandalon, is frequently used in this sense of reacting negatively, often with a reference to Isaiah 8:14 (Rom 9:33; 1 Cor 1:23; 1 Pet 2:8; also, Mk 14:29 illustrates the possibility of failing by being offended by Jesus). This term could refer to a trap or a stumbling block in everyday speech (Bauer 1979:753). It refers to something that ensnares or prevents progress. Jesus is saying to John and others that blessing comes to the one who is not offended by the uniqueness of Jesus' way of ministry. The fact that Jesus' style of messianic ministry is unexpected should not trip people up. Though stated negatively, the verse is a call to trust Jesus and recognize that he knows the way he is going.
Jesus' reply relies heavily on the Old Testament, with allusions to Isaiah 35:5-7, 26:19, 29:18-19 and 61:1. All the passages occur in contexts where God's decisive deliverance is awaited. So Jesus answers the question about his person with passages that describe the nature of the times. The question is, "Are you the coming one?" The answer is, "Discern the times by what God does through me." We are not to be offended by Jesus, not taken aback by the unusual nature of his ministry. It might not be what we expected, but it is what God promised. Do not worry; the time of fulfillment comes with him.
Jesus takes the opportunity to get the crowds to consider who John is and what God has done through the currently incarcerated prophet. Did people journey into the wilderness merely to see the river reeds blow in the wind? Of course they were not merely taking a scenic trip in the Jordanian wilderness. Did they go to check out John's wardrobe? Of course not--kings' palaces could offer much better fashion shows. So why did they make the journey? Jesus' answer is a clear endorsement of John's ministry, a response reinforced later in a key scene in Jerusalem (20:1-8).
John is a prophet, even more than a prophet. If the Associated Press or Reuters News Agency had a "Top Ten Prophets" list, John would be at the top. Why? Malachi 3:1, quoted here, supplies the answer: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you." In fact, this reply combines two sets of images: one is that of the prophet who announces God's saving activity, as promised by Malachi; the other, from Exodus 23:20, is the image of the Shekinah going before the people and preparing the way for them. The Exodus imagery may well explain why Jesus says the messenger will go before you--that is, the people. Malachi 3:1 speaks of a prophet who goes before "me"--a clear reference to God--but Exodus 23 says the Shekinah will go before "you," the nation of Israel. This language recalls Luke 1:16-17. It says that John has functioned as a guide to produce a "prepared people." So John's greatness comes in getting God's people ready for God's salvation. He has pointed to God as a forerunner, but he has prepared the people as a prophet.
But as great as John is, he is nothing compared to those who share in the blessing of being in God's kingdom. Listen to Jesus: "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." Jesus is indicating how great the difference is between the old era of the prophets of promise and the new era of the kingdom tied to Jesus. The greatest of the old era cannot touch the position of the lowest in the new! How great it is to share in the blessing Jesus brings. Even prophets sit at the feet of those who share in the blessing of the kingdom. Jesus' point reinforces the idea that the time of fulfillment has begun. Humanity has never seen a time like this. That is why Jesus said earlier that one should not be offended in him (v. 23). Other New Testament texts argue that the prophets and the angels longed for these days (Mt 13:17; 1 Pet 1:10-12). The kingdom's presence elevates everyone who shares in it to a new status. Those who know Jesus are greater than the prophets.
It is hard not to think that it would have been great, maybe even better, to have lived in an era when God was mightily at work, to have crossed the sea with Moses or seen Elijah defeat the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. But Jesus is clear that as great as the former times were, as great as John the Baptist was, nothing before that time matches what Jesus offers. If Moses and the prophets could speak, they would say that they longed for these days. They would gladly have traded places with us. That is how special it is to share in the salvation Jesus brings.
In a parenthetical remark, Luke notes that all the people, including the tax collectors, "justified" (Greek) or acknowledged (NIV) God--that is, showed the wisdom of his plan--by responding to John's call for baptism. But the Pharisees and scribes rejected God's purpose by refusing his baptism. Not only was the manifestation of God's plan surprising, but there were also surprises regarding which groups responded to the message. Often we cannot predict who will respond to the gospel.
The popular reaction to John leads Jesus to offer one final picture of the current generation. In what we might call "the parable of the brats," Jesus compares the current generation to children on the sidelines who will not play street games because others will not play by their rules. Note how the introduction to the parable is about the people of this generation, so that the two "tunes" played are what the current generation does. So the allusions in the parable cannot be about John (the dirge) and Jesus (the piper). Rather, the children of this generation complain that God's plan is not going according to their demands and expectations. Neither the ascetic John nor Jesus with his open association with sinners and his "wanton" lifestyle of eating and drinking fits what this generation wants to see.
Perhaps if Jesus were ministering today as he did in the first century, some of us too would complain that he was getting too close to sin. Legalism often takes neutral issues of style and tries to turn them into substance. The varying styles of Jesus and John show God's flexibility on such issues. No matter which lifestyle God's messengers choose, many will complain. Nevertheless, Jesus assures the crowd that wisdom is proved right ("justified" in Greek) by all her children. He means that God's wisdom is revealed in those who respond to his ways on his terms.
God often acts in surprising ways. His unusual path is often lined by people's doubt and rejection. Here Jesus points to his ministry as evidence for the nature of the times. In addition, he warns that others are not interested in seeing God work but simply want to control how God does things. But God comes to us in surprising ways on his own terms. The call is not to be offended by the One he sends or by how he brings his plan to pass. Even in the midst of doubt, we are called to see what God has done and trust that his way is the path of wisdom. Wisdom's children see his ways and walk in them. In wisdom's path is the blessing of sharing in God's presence beyond even what the best of God's prophets enjoyed. Even if many of their peers never acknowledge God's work, those who respond to Jesus are highly privileged. Sometimes the most precious gifts of God are the least appreciated.An Exemplary Sinner (7:36-50)
How do you react when a notorious sinner walks into the room? Do you wish to confront them or to leave them to others? Is their sinfulness so much an issue that you cannot see the person?
In an account unique to Luke, a sinful woman visits Jesus and anoints him. She says nothing, but her actions speak a thousand words. The problem is that her intimacy with Jesus produces an array of opinion. Her action forces Jesus to explain how he responds to others, especially sinners. In the response he reveals both his philosophy of dealing with people and his authority.
During a meal at the home of a Pharisee, a well-known sinful woman enters to anoint Jesus' feet. We are not told what her sin has been. Traditionally she has been called a prostitute, but the text is not so specific. Nor is she likely to be Mary Magdalene, who is introduced as a new figure in 8:1-3. Whatever her sin, her reputation precedes her.
It may seem odd that she is able to "crash the party" and approach Jesus, but in the ancient world it apparently was common to allow access to a meal in honor of a major teaching figure. An ancient Jewish text, t. Berakot 31b, tells of a poor man who waited outside a king's door and eventually entered the palace in hope of receiving leftover food. Here no one expresses shock that the woman is present; the scandal is that she has drawn close to Jesus and he has let her approach him. As long as she sat in the bleachers, everything was fine, but when she steps onto the playing field, people become upset. They don't think a spectator should become a key player.
The woman's actions reflect great cost, care and emotion. The perfume she uses is both precious and expensive. Such anointing was practiced at civic feasts and for the purifying of priests or the tabernacle (Ex 30:25-30; Josephus Antiquities 3.8.6 205; 19.9.1 358), not to mention for preserving corpses (Lk 23:56). If this perfume is nard, it would have cost three hundred denarii, or about a year's salary, per pound!
Approaching a reclining Jesus, she anoints his feet as tears of joy and appreciation pour out upon him. The undoing of her hair is culturally shocking. Her kissing of Jesus' feet also expresses an intimacy shunned in this culture. Everything about her action is offensive, except for the attitude that fed it, an attitude Jesus exposes in his parable in verses 41-44. Luke narrates the details with imperfect tenses, featuring the ongoing nature of each action. Imagine the nerve of the woman, who surely realizes how others are viewing her. The strength of her love has caused her to be bold in expressing appreciation to Jesus.
The Pharisee reacts first, and he blames Jesus. The woman's contact with Jesus is outrageous and intolerable. He thinks, 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. The Greek reveals a nice literary touch here. The construction is a second-class, or contrary-to-fact, condition. The Pharisee is thinking that Jesus is not a prophet. His actions (the fact that he does not rebuke this woman) indicate his lack of status. There is a theological assumption in this evaluation: pious figures like prophets have nothing to do with sinners. Separationism is the name of the game. If spiritual people are to maintain purity and testimony, association with sinners is prohibited. Luke often mentions this view of the Pharisees in contexts that suggest rebuke (5:29-32; 15:1-2; 18:9-14).
Jesus has a decidedly different view. His evaluation of the woman's act comes in a parable, which Luke tells with much irony. The Pharisee doubts that Jesus is a prophet, yet Jesus has read his mind, as his response shows! Jesus' story is simple. There are two debtors. One has a debt ten times that of the other (the difference is between about two months' debt and slightly over one and a half year's debt). The creditor forgives the debt of both, rather like a car dealer wiping out an entire loan obligation on a car. If that ever happened at a dealership, we could imagine the appreciation, not to mention the publicity, it would generate! Now which former debtor will love the creditor more? The emotion of the story is crucial. Jesus is saying, in effect, Imagine the appreciation and love that flow from the one who has been forgiven a great debt. Jesus is comparing the forgiveness of sins to economic forgiveness. The debtor has no bargaining position; only grace allows the debt to be removed. So which debtor has the greater love?
The Pharisee is a good student. He replies, "I would suppose the one whom he forgave the most." The Greek keeps the double entendre between the story and the idea of forgiveness. The NIV renders the intent clearly: the one who had the bigger debt canceled.
Jesus commends the reply. His point is obvious: great forgiveness provides the opportunity for great love. When God forgives a notorious sinner for much sin, the realization of such bountiful forgiveness means the potential for great love. Jesus pursues sinners and welcomes association with them because of the possibility that they may realize God's gracious forgiveness. To keep separate from them would be to ignore a potentially rich harvest field.
Jesus applies the story. He notes that the woman has done what the Pharisee has failed to do. It is not clear that the Pharisee has actually failed to do what is culturally expected (Goppelt 1972:323-24, 328, especially nn. 63, 93-95). But what the woman has done goes above and beyond the call of duty. Love often produces such an extraordinary response. The woman's action reflects not only gratitude but also humility. She recognizes who it is who has made her feel welcome. No washing, kiss or greeting had met Jesus at the Pharisee's door, but the woman supplies them all. She appreciates Jesus' offer of grace and seeks to honor it with devotion and love.
Jesus is not done. In a remark that raises the stakes, he proclaims that the woman's sins are forgiven because she has loved much. It is important that this statement and the parable be combined to allow Jesus' theological point to be clear. Jesus is not saying that the woman's works have saved her. Rather, the love and forgiveness that have made her feel accepted by God (the parable's point) have produced her acts of love. Jesus commends the faith that led to her works (v. 50).
If Jesus' reception of the sinner is a problem, his declaration of the forgiveness of sins is a massive problem (compare 5:22)! Only God forgives sin. Again we see how Jesus' ministry combines ethics and theology. His behavior is an example of how to relate to others but also reflects a unique authority that makes Jesus more than a mere instructor of morality. In saying the woman's sins are forgiven, he is clearly even greater than a prophet. Here is raw authority.
The Pharisees again engage in private thoughts and theological assessment; they know the significance behind Jesus' statement. They know no mere man has the right to forgive sin, so they ask, "Who is this who even forgives sin?" The question is crucial. If Jesus has the authority to forgive sin, then he has the right to reveal how salvation occurs. Simon was worried about Jesus being a prophet, but Jesus' pronouncement of forgiveness means he is much more.
Jesus closes with a declaration that deepens the message. He reassures the woman by telling her, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." With this he turns her earlier expression of love into evidence of saving faith. Faith has motivated the response of love and humility that was evidenced in the anointing. Her story shows that sinners can know God will respond when they turn to him.
Jesus represents the messenger of God who ministers God's love. As a result, he is open to and conscious of the opportunity that exists when sinners are loved. He does not ignore sin, but he recognizes that sin can be reversed when God's love is received. The Pharisees' separatist attitude stands rebuked as an inappropriate model of holiness. The heavenly Father is ready to forgive debts when we turn humbly to him.
Jesus also raises again the issue of his authority. He possesses the authority to forgive sin. Jesus is more than an example of one who is open to sinners; he wields the gavel. He can discern the presence of faith, and he can pronounce forgiveness of sins. The sinful woman is an example of faith expressing itself in humble love, even to the point of boldness. The Louvre's outstanding portrait may be the famous Mona Lisa, but in the Bible there is no more beautiful portrait of humble, loving faith than this woman's silent but vibrant testimony.A Surprising Picture of Faith in Ministry (8:1-3)
Because of the centuries that have passed since Jesus walked the earth, it is hard for us to appreciate how revolutionary Luke's picture of Jesus' ministry is. Women's involvement in supporting Jesus' ministry is an example. Though some wealthy women supported religious figures in ancient times (Josephus Antiquities 17.2.4 41-44), it was unusual for them to be as involved as the women in this passage are with Jesus. In fact, this passage is one of several unique to Luke that focus on women (others include 1:5-39, Elizabeth; 2:36-38, Anna the prophetess; 7:36-50, the sinful woman; 10:38-42, Martha and Mary; 13:10-17, the healing of the crippled woman; 15:8-10, the parable of the woman with the lost coin; 18:1-8, the parable of the woman and the judge). Many men of the time believed that women were not even to be seen, much less heard. In a later Jewish text, t. Berakot 7:18, one leader rejoiced that he was not a pagan, a woman or unlearned (Fitzmyer 1981:696). In contrast, Luke and the New Testament declare that women have equal access to the blessings of grace and salvation. Whatever distinctions the Bible makes between male and female roles, there is no distinction when it comes to being coheirs in grace (Gal 3:28-29; 1 Pet 3:7).
This small summary paragraph is important not only because women are included but also because of the variety of women mentioned. Mary called Magdalene ministered in response to Jesus' healing ministry. His exorcism of demons from her had drawn her to him. Though from the time of Gregory the Great she has had the reputation of a sinful woman, this text gives no indication that she was immoral. Joanna was the wife of a major political figure, Chuza, who served as Herod's steward. Thus Luke shows that Jesus' message had reached the highest social stratum, the palace. We are not told anything about Susanna. All these women contributed their resources to Jesus' ministry. Their hearts were sensitive to God's work, and they expressed this sensitivity through their generosity.
When this discussion of women is set next to that of the sinful woman in 7:36-50, it is clear that Jesus' ministry spanned social backgrounds as well as moral backgrounds. It is striking that here the women's response took the concrete form of support. Just as in the Old Testament the whole nation was to support the priests, so these women, as beneficiaries of God's grace, gave to support Jesus' ministry. Receiving should lead to giving.
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