This fifth section of Luke's portrayal of Jesus' Galilean ministry continues to focus on the issue of Christ's authority, but now the attention turns to the responses to that authority. Luke 8:4-21 shows how the Word of God reveals the way to God. The Word for Luke is the preached word of Jesus. That word can be compared to light, and those who are of Jesus' "family" will obey it. Luke 8:22-56 reveals the extent of Jesus' authority through a series of miracles, starting with Jesus' control of nature and moving to demon exorcism, healing and then a resuscitation. Jesus has authority over everything.
Luke 9:1-17 shows Jesus extending his authority through the commissioned ministry of his disciples. They are to preach the kingdom to surrounding towns and villages. As evidence of their authority they have the ability to heal. They are to "feed" those who have need, as the later miracle of the multiplication of loaves indicates. Meanwhile, there is public reaction. Is Jesus a prophet or the prophet to come? Is he John the Baptist reborn? The section ends with a demonstration of authority in the feeding of the multitudes through Jesus' provision and the disciples' distribution. The next passage, Luke 9:18-20, contains Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ. All the events in this section show how Jesus deserves this confession.
Opinions and ideologies abound in our world. Often we hear the statement that there are many ways to God. But for Jesus the preaching of the kingdom was revelation of a unique message, not one opinion among many in a melting pot of ideas. This portion of Luke highlights the centrality of the word of the kingdom for Jesus. The parable of the seed contains a mystery, one which disciples have the privilege to behold while outsiders are blinded and unable to see its truth. Such revelation is like light, illuminating the way to God. In fact, Jesus indicates that being related to him is a matter of responding to the message he preaches. The parable of the seed indicates the variety of responses to the word Jesus sows in his preaching (see Is 55:10-11 on God's word as a seed). Not everyone embraces his message, but those who do yield a life of fruitfulness that honors God. For Jesus, the kingdom message is special and unique. To heed it is to find blessing.
The picture of the word as seed is important. Often we think of evangelism and preaching as something that happens in an instant. But the picture of a seed makes us think of a farmer who prepares the ground, sows seed, waters and then must wait for the crop. Producing a crop is a process over time. Often the message of the word, too, takes time to bear fruit.
Today Gallup, Harris, Reuters and Barna polls can acquaint us with the range of reactions to any event or idea of interest in our culture. Since everyone is different, the reactions are varied. Responses to spiritual truth are also varied. The parable of the seed, or better the parable of the soils, is one of Jesus' most popular. It describes four reactions that Jesus' preaching produces, though the story concentrates on those who make at least an initial response. Of the various options, only one type of soil yields fruit; every other type proves inhospitable to the precious seed.
Jesus lived in an agrarian culture, so his parables often use farming imagery. Such is the case here. As the crowds are drawn to Jesus, he adopts a new teaching style, one he will explain in verses 9-10. Parables are comparisons in which spiritual truth is pictured in vivid terms (Blomberg 1990). In a Palestinian setting a farmer would walk a path through a field and distribute seed from a bag draped over his shoulder. Sowing was done between October and December, since harvest came around June. Between harvest to sowing the field was left alone. In the ancient world the key to a successful harvest was the soil in which the seed fell.
So Jesus tells of four places where seed lands--on a path, on rocks, among thorns and in good soil. The variety of possibilities reflect the kinds of soils the ancient Palestinian would have encountered. Some seed never makes it to the soil; it falls instead on a path, where it is exposed to birds and travelers. Other seed lands on a type of soil that was common in the area--thin topsoil with a hard layer of rock underneath. This allows a plant to grow quickly, drawing moisture from the rock; but with the sunshine that moisture disappears and the plant, unable to send its roots deeper, withers. Still other potentially fruitful fields are infested with parasitic thorns. Palestinian weeds could grow up to six feet tall, gobbling the land's nutrients. The seed on the good soil, however, produces a hundredfold. (Unlike the other Synoptics, which speak of a variety of yields in the good soil, Luke's version notes its fruitfulness with a single example.) Most seed in the ancient world would produce a crop of thirty-five or so times, so the yield here is high (Linnemann 1966:117). When Jesus finishes the parable, he issues his standard call to hear (Mt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mk 4:9, 23; 7:16; Lk 8:8; 9:44; 14:35; compare Ezek 3:27).
After Jesus tells the story, the disciples ask why he is resorting to parables. They know him well enough to recognize that this is not a lesson in agriculture for a 4H class or a polytechnic school. In response, Jesus observes that knowledge of the "mysteries" of the kingdom of God has been given to his disciples. Numerous points are made here. First, Luke places to you in the emphatic position in Greek. They have been privileged to understand these things. Second, the passive "is given" indicates that the gift has come from God. Third, what is given involves secrets about the kingdom of God. So the message of the seed is related to the promise of the kingdom of God. Fourth, others get parables as judgment.
"Mystery" is an important biblical term. Its roots go back to the image of the raz in Daniel (Dan 2:20-23, 28-30; Bornkamm 1967:814-15, 817-18). There Daniel unlocked the mystery hidden in an already revealed dream. Some New Testament texts on mystery highlight the newness of the revelation (Eph 3:4-6; Col 1:27-29), while other mystery texts note the connection of what is revealed in Jesus to what was revealed in the Old Testament (Rom 16:25-27). Thus the term speaks of new truth emerging alongside old promise. Discontinuity in God's plan emerges within continuity. Jesus is revealing further detail and fresh twists in God's plan, but those details fit together with the program that God has already promised. The twists and turns in the promised and progressing kingdom program are being revealed to the disciples in these parables.
But the parables do not only reveal secrets to the disciples; they also conceal truth from outsiders, those Jesus calls others. At this point he alludes to Isaiah 6:9. The other Synoptic versions also cite this text, but Luke's version is shorter and more paraphrastic. The goal of such comparative stories is so that though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand. The danger of exposure to revelation is that if we do not respond in faith, eventually hardness sets in and God acts to judge. Here is a warning about the ultimate perils of rejection: God may sovereignly involve himself in cementing the process. These words are harsh, yet they serve as a warning of the extreme danger of rejecting Jesus' message.
Now Jesus turns to explain the parable. The seed is the word. Contextually it is clear that the word here means the preaching of the kingdom (v. 10). Jesus' message is about entry into God's plan and rule. The seed on the path represents those who do not get to respond to the message because the devil comes and takes the seed before it can even penetrate the ground, much less bear fruit. When God seeks to speak to humanity, a cosmic battle breaks out.
The seed on the rock represents a message that falls into a person's heart but penetrates only shallowly. There is initial response, but eventually temptation causes the person to abandon that initial response. Initial receptivity and short-lived belief are followed eventually by a falling away. The engagement the word produced at the start does not last. Both Old and New Testaments issue dire warnings about the consequences of falling away or departing from faith (Jer 3:13-14; Dan 9:9; 1 Tim 4:1; Heb 3:12). Jesus offers no comfort for the person represented here; he merely notes significantly that the seed never bears fruit.
The thorny soil represents those who are choked out of a walk with God by life's distractions. The world's worries, riches and pleasures take any benefit the seed has to offer or any nutrients the soil possesses. They swallow up any opportunity for fruit to come to maturity. Luke often notes how wealth can influence people adversely and become a harmful distraction (6:24; 12:16-21; 14:12; 16:1, 19, 21-22; 18:23, 25; 19:2; 21:1). Pleasures translates a Greek word from which our term "hedonism" is derived. Clearly, wrong priorities can kill off the seed of the word.
In the one positively assessed case in the parable, the good soil pictures those who hear the word and hold fast to it. They possess an honest and good heart and so bear fruit with patience. The mention of patience (persevering) is important, for Luke assumes that believers live under much pressure because of their faith. Associating with Jesus will not help people to win popularity contests. If we care about the world's respect or are too weak to resist temptation, we will not hold on to the word with patience; tragically, we may fall away, or our potential for fruitfulness may be choked out. Three of the examples end with the seed failing to produce that for which it was sown. God sows the word to bear fruit in the heart. Only by clinging patiently to what God offers does the seed reach maturity. In other New Testament texts such reliance is called faith.
This parable is not about a response to the word at any given moment. It sums up the different ways the word is received over a lifetime of exposure. It takes time to fall away from an initial attraction to the word. Only over time do the pleasures of life erode the seed's effectiveness. The parable calls for reflection. We need to cling to the word in patient faith. If we desire to be fruitful, especially given that the obstacles to fruitfulness are so varied, then we must hold fast to God and his message of hope. We focus either on God's promise or on our circumstances. Which we choose makes a difference: one leads to fruitfulness, the other to barrenness.
After the parable Jesus uses imagery of light to characterize the word. We could call this passage "the parable of the lamp." In the ancient world, such a lamp would have been a candlestick or an oil-burning lamp (Michaelis 1967b:324). Since a stand is mentioned here, an oil-burning lamp is likely to be in view. Jesus' message is put on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. Like light in a dark place, Jesus' message can guide us through life in the darkness of this world (Wisdom of Solomon 6:22; Sirach 39:12). But light does not just shine to illumine the way, it also reveals how things really are. The word shows the way and brings to light the secret things in people's hearts. Whether we realize it or not, the word shines and exposes. It may well be that the picture of Jesus as light influences the portrait of his message as containing light (1:78-79; 2:30-32; Jn 8:12; 9:5).
So Jesus urges his audience to be careful how they listen. The stakes are high. The one who has listened by responding to the word will receive more. But as for those who think they have something but do not have anything (because they do not receive the word), even what they thought they had will be taken away. To refuse to hear God's word is to be left desolate and naked before God.
To drive the point home even more, Jesus contrasts his biological family with his real family. Hearing that his mother and brothers desire to see him, Jesus remarks, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." Jesus affirms kinship with those who have heeded his authority and responded to his message. As he has said in Luke 6:47-49 (and as his brother notes in James 1:22-25), we should hear and do what the word calls for. James apparently learned from the Lord's remark here. Kinship with Jesus means responsiveness to his message.
Is God there and does he care? No question is more basic to human beings' relationship to the creation and to one another. If he is not there, then life is a free-for-all and we must do the best we can for ourselves. Often this worldview means that the one with the most power wins. If God is there, then finding him and responding to him is our most basic need. For if he exists, then power resides with him and everyone becomes accountable to him.
Power means different things for different people, and it can be used in a wide variety of ways. It can be put to good use, destructive use or selfish use. As Jesus continues the revelation of his authority in a series of four miracles extending through the end of Luke 8, he uses his power for others--for those to whom he ministers. Authority for Jesus is not a matter of a raw exercise of power; rather, it is a natural resource that is put to positive use as he shows compassion to those with all kinds of needs. Of course these miracles are audiovisuals of deeper realities. The Gospel of John makes this connection very clear (for example, Jn 6), but the Synoptics show this pictorial dimension as well.
The miracles all raise one question. That question cannot be any more clearly stated than it is at the end of this first miracle where Jesus calms the storm: "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
This simple miracle account actually contains much teaching. The event itself is rather straightforward. As the disciples and Jesus set about to cross the lake (the Sea of Galilee), a severe storm kicks up. We can tell the problem is severe since some in the boat had been professional fishermen and are now in a panic. Such storms are not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee, since the surrounding topography lends itself to sudden weather changes. The sea is some 680 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by hills, the steepest of which lie on its eastern shore. Coming through the hills, cool air reaches a ravine and collides with trapped warm air over the water. As any meteorologist will tell you, this produces volatile conditions.
While Matthew describes the storm as a "shaking" (seismos) of the boat, Luke calls it a whirlwind (lailaps), a word that sounds like what it describes. Only Jesus is resting, unaware of the danger that surrounds him. The text expresses the danger in a peculiar fashion--the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The term for danger means Jesus' and the disciples' lives are at risk, as their later plea to him indicates (Acts 19:27, 40 and 1 Cor 15:30 include other uses of the term). Since verse 22 only mentions one boat, they here are the disciples. The storm threatens them. Jesus is physically there but appears to be mentally absent, taking a nap, unable to help them in their hour of need. In their anxiety they awake him, announcing impending doom if nothing is done: "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"
The next three parts of the passage are loaded with significance. First Jesus rebukes the wind, so that calm is immediately restored. Called upon to help his disciples, he responds faithfully. The event is the catalyst for two commentaries, one from Jesus, the other from the disciples. Both present aspects of the passage's teaching.
Jesus rebukes his disciples for lack of faith. By asking where their faith was, he is reminding them of his care of them. Often this point in the passage is lost as we marvel over the calming of the sea. Jesus' authority and attributes do not exist in abstraction from his relationships. Even though he seemed to be absent and uncaring, a point Mark 4:38 makes explicitly, he was there and they could rest in the knowledge that he knew what was happening to them. Faith would have told them that God would take them through the terrible storm. So Jesus takes the calming of the storm as an opportunity to remind them that he will care for them. They need to have more faith in God's goodness. They need an applied faith that will hang tough under pressure. This is what he had earlier called holding to the Word with patience (v. 15).
Meanwhile, the disciples are pondering the event. Full of fear and marvel, they ask, "Who is this?" The question is a good one, because anyone who knew the Old Testament or Jewish theology would have known that Yahweh has control of the wind and the seas (Ps 18:16; 104:3; 135:6-7; Nahum 1:4; also Wisdom of Solomon 14:3-5). In fact, Psalm 107:23-30 says that God delivers the sailor who is imperiled at sea. Now this miracle did not automatically prove that Jesus has absolute authority. What it did was more subtle. It raised the question of Jesus' identity for the disciples. Earlier he had forgiven sins; now he calms the seas. Who can do such a variety of things?
Luke leaves the query unanswered here. The reader is to ponder the question. But the topic of Jesus' identity keeps popping up in the Gospel and in Acts (Lk 9:7-9, 18-20; 20:41-44; 23:49; Acts 2:30-36; 10:34-43). In the meantime, faith is called for in the recognition that Jesus is there and is aware of his disciples. Jesus' authority means he has the power to deliver those who depend on him. Calm waves can come only from the One with the power to restore order.
Evil's presence in our world is a fact of life. Every evening news report and every newspaper tells of the damage people do to one another. In fact, evil grabs our attention. The proverb about television news--"If it bleeds, it leads"--indicates how stories about acts of fallenness leap to our attention.
The account of the Gerasene demoniac is such a story. Here is a man in the grip of evil's power. Other human forces and agencies have been unable to contain him. So he lives a destructive and isolated life among the tombs outside the city. Luke is in the midst of presenting a series of miracles that reveal the extent of Jesus' authority. How does he stack up in a showdown with evil?
The account is a fully developed miracle story, giving a clear development of the need, Jesus' response and then the reaction to what took place. The man's condition is serious. First, he is possessed by several demons (note the Greek plural, echon daimonia, "who had demons," in v. 27). Later it will be said that a single demon speaks (vv. 28-29), but this is simply a single voice for the multitudes that indwell this man. Second, he is naked and has been so for a long time. This would make his behavior offensive. Third, the man lives in isolation among the tombs. The German scholar Adolph Schlatter has been quoted as saying, "Only deranged people have a desire for death and decay" (Geldenhuys 1951:258 n. 4). This certainly summarizes well the picture Luke has painted here. Everything about this man shows how the presence of evil in his life has left him deserted and alone.
Jesus' presence alone is enough to stir the forces inside the man to react. The demonic power reacts to Jesus' command to leave the man by causing the man to fall before him and say, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" Several details are important. The evil force recognizes Jesus' authority and ability to exercise judgment (4:34, 41). As in 4:34-41, there is a confession. In Luke 8 the confession is of Jesus' unique sonship. The demons desire to be left alone, to avoid torment. In an aside in verse 29 we are told that this possessed man had often been led into the wilderness by what possessed him--a statement that has both literal and figurative force. Numerous times this diabolical power had enabled the man to break bonds that had trapped him. Such ancient fetters could have been made of hair, cloth, rope or chains, but the Mark 5:4 parallel suggests that these had been chains. This foe is so powerful that other people have been unable to control the man. So they have left him in the solitary confinement of the tombs.
Jesus' request for the name of the demon brings the response Legion, a reference to a unit made up of thousands of soldiers. No doubt the name indicates the extent of the possession and the difficulty of Jesus' task in dealing with it. Luke makes this explicit: many demons had gone into him.
The demons feared Jesus. They did not want to be thrown into the Abyss, a reference to the abode of the dead in the Old Testament (Ps 107:26; compare Rom 10:7). Only Luke uses this term in the New Testament, though Hades, Gehenna and Tartarus may be parallel concepts (on Hades see Lk 16:23). In the Old Testament and Judaic writings this term referred to the "depths" and was often associated with the sea (Ps 71:20; Jubilees 5:6-7; 1 Enoch 10:4-6; 18:11-16). The demons feared permanent confinement, so they asked to be allowed to inhabit the swine on a nearby hill. The choice of pigs is interesting, given their association with uncleanliness in the Old Testament (Lev 11:7). It is not clear why the demons made such a request, other than to escape total confinement and judgment.
The demons' request is granted, but their relief is short-lived. The pigs apparently are startled and rush headlong over a cliff and into the sea. In Judaism the sea was a symbol of potential evil (Testament of Solomon 5:11; 11:6), so this becomes an illustration of evil's destructiveness, especially since the demons have not only harmed the man but now have led to the pigs' death.
Needless to say, this is not an everyday event in the Gerasene region, so the herdsmen run to tell others in the city and countryside what has happened. When the people travel out to the scene of the miracle, they see a transformed man sitting at Jesus' feet dressed and in his right mind. The story of how this change occurred is told, but the people cannot take it; they ask Jesus to go. Luke does not tell us why, although Mark 5:16 suggests that the economic impact of the loss of the swine is a concern. Evidently, however, the encounter with Jesus' power is too threatening for them (v. 37, because they were overcome with fear).
The newly healed man wants to go with Jesus, but instead Jesus tells him to remain behind and testify to what God had done for him. He obeys and tells the whole city what Jesus had done for him. This man, now of sound mind, makes no distinction between Jesus' actions and the workings of God's power.
This miracle account is full of teaching. The miracle itself shows the extent of Jesus' authority over the forces of evil and his ability to transform people's ties to evil. The Gerasene man had been a totally destructive agent under the force of the demons. As a result of Jesus' work, he has been restored to full life. The image of him clothed and seated before Jesus at the end of the account contrasts sharply with the earlier picture of his sojourn among the tombs. The miracle pictures how Jesus can erase the power and effects of evil in a person. This transformation and the ability to overcome evil is why Paul calls the gospel "the power of God" in Romans 1:16-17.
The man's reaction shows that after God's grace works, our attention should be directed to Jesus. He longed to serve Jesus and even assumed that he should join his traveling band of disciples. Such devotion is commendable. Jesus made it clear, however, that this man's testimony should remain in the region. He was to be a "missionary in residence" for God. Of course the man understood that to tell God's story, he must mention Jesus as well.
The demons show how impotent evil ultimately is when confronted with Jesus' authority. The account also reveals how destructive such unseen forces are.
The people's reaction is also instructive. For some people it is very difficult to let God and his power get close to them. These people recognized that Jesus had power. It aroused fear in them, and they chose to have nothing to do with it.
Jesus possesses authority so great that he can reverse the effects of evil. Some are transformed by that power--turned from a path of uncleanliness, destruction and death to life and testimony. But others fear it and want God's presence to be distant from them. They fear what involvement with God's power might entail.
Jesus' authority is a given for Luke. It forces choices of association. The world is full of destructive forces, but Jesus is the means for overcoming them. Luke raises a question here. Shall we sit at his feet and let his power free us? Or will we quake at Jesus' authority and ask him to go? Finally, those who have experienced the freedom Jesus gives are called to testify to what God has done.
Perhaps nothing is so fearful for people to face than disease and death. Nature can overpower us and evil can invade our world, but we feel most threatened when our own body starts to work against us and our mortality becomes painfully evident. In a world full of AIDS and cancer, images of our slow destruction assault our senses on an almost daily basis. We wonder, "Is that all there is--only a few score years and then dust?"
As Luke continues unfolding dimensions of Jesus' authority, he ends his fourfold miracle sequence with a double miracle that attacks both disease and death. Each miracle in the sequence is increasingly inward. Death, the most intimate and comprehensive opponent, is left for last. But these last miracles teach more than the extent of Jesus' authority. They also offer a lesson about response.
These miracles are audiovisuals of important truths related to Jesus' sovereignty. As important as each event is in itself, even more important is the picture involved. The overcoming of disease and death in this passage is but a foretaste of the ultimate, comprehensive overcoming of disease and death. The event points beyond itself to eternal realities, which put the limitations of this life into perspective. Such lessons are Luke's goal in reassuring his readers about Jesus (1:1-4).
The drama of this scene is virtually matchless. Jairus must have been wracked by intense frustration as events unfolded. It certainly appeared as if all circumstances were working against the synagogue leader.
To begin with, the crowds continue to pursue Jesus. Despite the disapproval of many religious leaders, some do sense that Jesus has authority to perform great and powerful acts. Jairus, a synagogue ruler, is among these. His only daughter, a twelve-year-old, is dying. Jesus responds by beginning the journey to Jairus's home. But as he walks the crowd squeezes in against him, seeking to draw near to him.
One person in the throng is particularly intent on getting to Jesus. This woman has been hemorrhaging for years, which means she has been in a perpetual state of uncleanliness according to Jewish law (Lev 15:25-31; Ezek 36:17; m. Zabim 2:3; 4:1; 5:7). She has been shut out from religious life, a social outcast. Various ancient remedies existed to relieve her condition, like a glass of wine mixed with rubber alum. Additional ingredients might be garden crocuses or onions (van der Loos 1965:511). But these attempts have failed. In despair over her loneliness and condition, she hopes that an underground approach, a surreptitious touching of Jesus, will change her fate. This is why she came up behind him. Contact with his garment, either the edge or the tassels hanging from it, may bring her instant healing. Her solution works, but it brings her more than she bargained for. She is not permitted to retain secrecy.
Jesus turns to the crowd and asks, "Who touched me?" Amazed at the question, Peter points out that many are crowded around Jesus. It is as if a current celebrity or political leader turned to a herd of reporters upon exiting a building and asked, "Who just took my picture?" Peter's reaction is most understandable, especially since no one in the crowd is claiming responsibility and he knows that getting to Jairus's house is a matter of life or death. But Jesus senses things most of us cannot sense. His timing is different from others'. He is able to deal with many realities at once. At this point he knows that someone who had come near to him had done more than get a glimpse of him. He had ministered to them. He knows that power has gone out from him.
For the woman there is no sense in trying to hide from Jesus now. It never is successful to try and hide from Jesus. Trembling, she comes forward to give her public testimony of how she has been healed. Despite the embarrassment of her past condition and the timidity of her approach to Jesus, she declares what Jesus has done for her.
In response Jesus issues a simple commendation: "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." He makes her faith an example, timid as it was. The one with faith does not need to fear approaching Jesus and his authority. He is accessible and available. Both the woman's faith and her testimony are commended in Jesus' response. Faith trusts in God's ability to meet our needs by his power. God honors such faith.
Or does he? Consider Jairus's mood. Imagine what he must have been going through as this woman impeded Jesus from getting to his daughter and healing her. We can only speculate on what thoughts and emotions swirled through him as this woman became a roadblock to Jesus' work on his behalf. It was rather like the frustration of someone in a hurry to get to a destination who is blocked by a traffic jam. Only Jairus is not just late; he is trying to save his daughter. To make matters worse, now a man from Jairus's home shows up to announce that it is too late. Imagine it: Jesus stops to heal a woman of a nonfatal condition, and as he delays a young life is snuffed out. Where is justice?
But again Jesus responds by reminding Jairus not to jump to conclusions: "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed." Here trust means understanding that Jesus has authority even over death. Everything about this double miracle points to the need to trust God's power, presence and timing over ultimate human well-being.
Jesus travels on to the house. When he arrives, only the family, Peter, James and John are permitted to enter with him. The mourning, which was customarily public in ancient Palestine, is already in full swing (Rengstorf 1965:724-25; Stahlin 1965:844-45). Jesus attempts to reverse the mood by telling the crowd that the girl is merely asleep. Their skepticism is expressed in their laughter. Popular sentiment is that Jairus has brought a crank with strange beliefs into his home. The consensus is that death cannot be reversed. However, Jesus is not just any visitor.
Sometimes the majority is wrong. Jesus tells the child to arise. Like the only son of the widow of Nain, the daughter rises to life as her spirit returned. Immediately Jesus requests that she be given food. Amazement grips the parents. Jairus's invitation to Jesus to heal, an act of faith, had revealed that Jesus had power over death. Jesus urges silence, even though what he has done was obvious. His goal is not to become a traveling Palestinian miracle show. His ministry is not about such displays of power, but about what they represent. He knows that miracles would become the major interest, not new life and the basic issue of who it is who can heal a woman and raise a young girl. Jesus has taught a major lesson: faith means understanding that Jesus has the power to deliver life and that his timing and sovereignty can be respected. All Jairus's earlier pain and frustration have been transformed into a new perspective that weds faith with Jesus' authority. In fact, this is the lesson of all four miracles of Luke 8:22-56: God's power is absolute. Death is not the chief end of persons. Trusting and knowing God is.
Often those who have power hoard it as their personal property. But Jesus, in building a community, sought to delegate power and enabled those who ministered with him to share in carrying out his mission. This passage, the mission of the Twelve, picks up a theme introduced in Luke 5:10 (Tannehill 1986:215-16). The disciples will be fishers of people. This is the first of two missions Luke records (see 10:1-24). Only Luke includes two missions. This first mission is limited to the Twelve, while the second will expand the number who take the message of the kingdom abroad. The description of the mission assumes that some may reject them, just as when we go fishing sometimes the line yields a catch, sometimes it doesn't attract a single fish, and sometimes a catfish swallows the line. Jesus has his disciples prepared for any contingency.
The importance of bestowed authority for Jesus cannot be overappreciated (10:16, 19-20; 11:19; Grundmann 1964:310). All ministry, whether in Jesus' time or today, takes place in the context of delegated authority. Those who minister serve Jesus and are responsible to him (1 Cor 4:16). This line of accountability does not mean that we minister without concern for the feelings of those ministered to, but that we're aware that all ministry involves derived authority. The minister is a steward and a servant, ultimately accountable only to God for how the ministry proceeds. Usually being sensitive to that accountability means being sensitive to those we serve. But sometimes the "constituency" may be wrong and may need leading or instruction on the way to go. In this initial effort Jesus gives very specific instructions to the disciples as they seek to serve and be dependent on God.
The disciples' ministry mirrors Jesus' own ministry in Luke 8. Just as he preached the Word of the kingdom and healed, they are given authority over demons and disease as they seek to declare the kingdom of God. It is important to link verses 1-2 to verse 6. The miracles are the audiovisual of God's power at work in the announcement of the kingdom's arrival (11:20). The preached message of the kingdom is called the gospel in Luke 9:6. A hint of the message's content is given in 10:9. The healings picture the arrival of God's power. Again, the attention is not on the miracle itself but on what it represents. The fact that the disciples' power is derived is also significant. Jesus is the source of this declared deliverance. The speeches of Acts make the same point (for example, Acts 3:6, 14-26; 4:10-12).
Jesus' instructions for this journey are simple: travel light and keep lodgings basic. The disciples should not burden themselves with excessive provisions. One tunic is enough. No staff, bread, bag or money needs to go with them beyond the basics. The instructions parallel the travel practices of the Jewish Essenes, as well as what Jews instructed temple visitors to do (Fitzmyer 1981:753-54; Josephus Jewish Wars 2.8.4 125; m. Berakot 9:5; in contrast are the Greek Cynics and philosophers who sought money constantly--Schurmann 1969:502 n. 24). The disciples are to stay in one place, not move around within a village. In fact, the point may be, Live as the locals do and live with them. If there is rejection they are to move on, shaking the dust from their feet as a repudiation of the village's rejection of them (Strathmann 1967:503). It is a way of warning the city (10:9-11). But as Jesus' attitude toward Jerusalem shows, it is done painfully, not with joy (19:41).
The disciples do as Jesus says. Though there is no report on this mission, 10:17-24 communicates what the disciples feel--and what we too should feel as we take God's message to the world. What an honor to carry this message and to experience what the kings and prophets of old had longed to see.
Everything about this mission says that disciples are to depend on God. Their authority comes from him. Their needs will be supplied by him. There is no personal gain to be sought. As a contrast to the cultural peddlers of religion and philosophy of their culture, they carry the gospel so as to signal the character of those who serve the gospel. Modesty is the rule, ministry is the focus. I wonder how often the gospel's credibility has been damaged in more recent times because this modest approach to mission was not followed. As Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 9, ministers should strive to burden others financially as little as possible. On the other hand, God's people should care for those who minister to them--laborers are worth their hire (Lk 10:7; 1 Tim 5:18). According to Old Testament guidelines, the priests were supposed to be able to live comfortably as they ministered through the support the nation provided. The same should be true of the saints. Money and provisions for ministry always raise tricky questions. Those who are ministered to should give; and those who minister should trust God for their provision, traveling light and responsibly as they minister.
Years ago a popular television show often ended with the masked hero riding off into the sunset as someone at the rescue scene inquired, "Who was that masked man?" This passage has very much the same flavor. Reports of Jesus' activity have reached the nation's highest political levels. Herod is hearing about what Jesus is doing, and he is attempting to assess who Jesus is. He is perplexed. Like many who encounter Jesus, he is not sure where Jesus fits.
Is Jesus John . . . raised from the dead? (This probably means people speculate that John's spirit now resides in Jesus.) Others have suggested Elijah, which makes Jesus a prophet of the end times (Mal 3:1; 4:5). The third option is that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. Interestingly, all these options have a prophetic thrust. Clearly God is behind Jesus' activity. But where exactly does he fit? Herod has beheaded John, so why is he hearing such things about someone else? Are prophets proliferating before his eyes? The possibilities pique Herod's curiosity, and he desires to see Jesus.
This passage continues Luke's "who is this?" discussion about Jesus. Here Herod serves an as example of one trying to come to grips with who Jesus is. His curiosity and openness end the passage on a note of reflection. Such curiosity is natural when one looks at Jesus from a distance. But who Jesus really is cannot be discovered through secondhand reports and rumors. Genuine testimony about Jesus comes a little later in Luke (9:20). Those who give testimony there will recognize that the One through whom such powerful works occur is more than a prophet.
With the question of Jesus' identity still at the forefront, Luke narrates a miracle that appears in all four Gospels (Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:32-44; Jn 6:1-15). The extended commentary on this event occurs in the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, but the miracle's importance is underlined by its appearance in all the Gospels. The event serves two purposes: (1) to help identify Jesus and (2) to teach the disciples something about trust and provision. Both Moses (Ex 16; Num 11--manna) and Elijah (2 Kings 4:42-44) were prophetic vessels in similar miracles of provision. But these connections were only conceptual. This miracle is unusual in that no reaction from the crowd is recorded--a detail showing that the lesson is for the disciples.
The miracle's setting is simply stated. Luke notes that the disciples have withdrawn privately to Bethsaida, a city located on the Sea of Galilee's northeast corner. The effort at solitude failed, for the crowds, having discovered their locale, descend upon them. Jesus welcomed them, teaching about the kingdom of God. As the subsequent context makes clear, he moves into the desolate countryside outside Bethsaida to accomplish this. Healings also occur, as they often do with Jesus. The pairing of preaching and healing recalls the disciples' mission in verses 1-5.
As the day draws to a close, the Twelve sense a developing problem. How can provision be made for all the crowd? Where will the evening meal come from? In the ancient world, of course, "fast food" was not a possibility. Prompted by a sense of responsibility and the need to wrap up and go home, the disciples approach Jesus. Their request seems very reasonable.
But Jesus' response is surprising. He wants the disciples to provide the meal. This severely limits the options, as well as raising the issue of resources, which were currently limited to five loaves of bread and two fish. Buying food would be an expensive proposition and a logistical nightmare. Jesus advises that the five thousand men be divided into groups of fifty. With the groupings in place, Jesus teaches a visual lesson on his ability to provide and the disciples' ability to serve.
All the elements of this miracle focus on Jesus' authority. He is the one who breaks the food and gives it to the disciples after prayer and blessing. Here is a picture of Jesus leading people at supper, suggesting a foretaste of the messianic banquet (Stein 1992:275; Ps 81:16; Is 25:6; 65:13-14). Luke gives no detail as to how the food multiplies, because he is more interested in the result and what it pictures than in detailing the miracle. The messianic association is set up by the context. Herod's question in verses 7-9 and Peter's response in verses 18-20 indicate that this event, sandwiched as it is, provides a point of identification. The picture is of a Messiah who provides and makes full (6:21, 38; of God--1:53; in the Old Testament, Ps 23:1-2; 37:19; 78:24; 105:40; 107:9; 132:15; 145:15-16, with God's provision of manna in the wilderness as the prototype example).
In addition, the disciples learn that Jesus is the source of provision for their own ministry. They are to model Jesus' style of ministry as they depend on what he can give them (22:24-27). They are to provide the food for the crowd, and through Jesus they do so. He supplies with abundance, and they are the vessels bearing the provision.
About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy. You’re already logged in with your Bible Gateway account. The next step is to enter your payment information. Your credit card won’t be charged until the trial period is over. You can cancel anytime during the trial period.
Click the button below to continue.
You’ve already claimed your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus. To subscribe at our regular subscription rate of $3.99/month, click the button below.
It looks like you’re already subscribed to Bible Gateway Plus! To manage your subscription, visit your Bible Gateway account settings.
Want to get the most out of Bible Gateway? Find out why Bible Gateway Plus is the ultimate toolkit for anyone seeking to grow closer to the Word. For less than the cost of a latte, Plus membership gives you access to a complete digital Bible study library and reduced banner ads. Try it free for 30 days!
Three easy steps to start your free trial subscription to Bible Gateway Plus.