Jesus is on the final leg of his fateful journey. He has prepared his disciples for his departure by instructing them about the walk of faith. Now he reminds them of what he will face in the capital. Then follows a miracle performed by Jesus as the Son of David. Next Jesus commends a tax collector for his newfound generosity. A parable will stress accountability to a master who will return. As he enters the city amid shouts acclaiming him as king, he laments that the city will reject him. Jesus is Messiah, but he is a rejected one.
Now comes the sixth prediction of Jesus' death in Luke, three more than Mark notes (Lk 9:22, 44; 12:50; 13:32-33; 17:25; the Markan parallels are in Lk 9 and here). Luke stresses these predictions to keep the specter of Jesus' approaching death before the reader and to make the reader aware that Jesus was fully preparing the disciples for life after his physical departure from the earth.
Here Jesus addresses the Twelve. Throughout the entire journey he has stressed that he will suffer, and throughout the entire journey the disciples have struggled to understand how this can be. The Old Testament indicated that suffering would occur in Jerusalem. Which Scriptures are in view is debated. Daniel 7 is not really a good possibility, since the Son of Man's suffering is not referred to in that passage. Daniel 7 serves only as the eventual background to the Son of Man title, a connection Jesus explicitly reveals in Luke 21:27. The suffering imagery must come from another set of texts. Jesus seems to be combining various motifs. The suffering servant is a major theme of this teaching (Is 50:6; 52:13--53:12). Another key may well be the "deuteronomistic" critique which describes continual national unfaithfulness and suggests that a prophet will not suffer outside of Jerusalem (Lk 13:31-35). In addition, opposition to Messiah may play a role (Ps 2; Lk 24:44-49; Acts 4:24-28).
In moving to specifics, Jesus does not discuss the chief priests and scribes. Rather, he highlights the handing over of Jesus to the Gentiles. The text does not specify whether the handing over is part of a divine permission (reading a theological passive) or is a subtle way to depict national unfaithfulness. But the appeal to scriptural realization means this is not an either-or question. God will permit the nation to hand over the Messiah. The act reflects its hardness of heart (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus will be mocked. The fulfillment comes in Luke 22:63-71 and 23:11, 36, where Jesus is subjected to the ridicule of proud scoffers (Bertram 1972:306).
Jesus will be flogged, die and be raised. This was either the dreaded verberatio or the less severe fustigata. Usually before crucifixion, verberatio was used; for discipline fustigata was applied. The criminal was flogged until blood was drawn (Suetonius Claudius 34 and Domitian 11; Hengel 1977; Sherwin-White 1963:27-28).
All this detail does not enlighten the disciples. The point about their lack of comprehension does not mean that they do not understand his words, but that they cannot grasp how this will fulfill Scripture or how Messiah could suffer. They just cannot see how fulfillment can come this way. The unveiling occurs in 24:13-49.
Jesus knows where his journey leads. He will suffer the rejection of his own and of the world. He suffers knowingly and willingly. He has the courage to stand up for God and to suffer according to his will.
The journey's fourth and final miracle (the previous ones come in 13:10-17; 14:1-6; 17:11-19) involves a blind man who sees spiritual reality very clearly. The blind man is one of two examples of faith who shine at the end of the journey; Zacchaeus is the other. The blind man's humble appeal echoes the humility of the tax collector and the child of faith earlier in chapter 18. He contrasts strongly with the rich ruler, who had everything and saw nothing. The blind man has nothing but sees well. So this passage brings together many themes of the section. Thus the miracle is climactic.
If there were any question about Jesus' continued availability to heal, this miracle ends it. Jesus was always ready to serve. A poor, blind beggar cries out to Jesus as Son of David to have mercy on him. The crowd rebukes him, seeing the request as annoying and perhaps seeing him as unworthy. But a second time he cries out, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" The request is a recognition that Jesus, as the promised regal Son of David, has saving power. This title's juxtaposition to the title "Jesus of Nazareth" forms an answering echo to 4:16-30 and 7:22-23. There Jesus proclaimed himself the fulfillment of promise, but because of his heritage the synagogue crowd in chapter 4 did not want to accept him. The blind man has no such reservations. He knows opportunity is present. Possibly the underlying Jewish tradition is that the Son of David, as exemplified by Solomon, was seen as full of wisdom and thus had power to overcome Satan (Strack and Billerbeck 1926:4:533-34; Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-21; Pseudo-Philo 60:1; Josephus Antiquities 8.2.4-5 41-49; Duling 1975:235-52). The expectation was that the end time would be a period of healing and restoration (Lk 7:22-23). So as the blind man calls for Jesus he reveals the extent and clarity of his spiritual vision. With boldness he continues to call for Jesus despite others' attempts to hush him.
Jesus stops and asks that the man be brought to him. When he asks what the man wants, he requests his sight. Jesus gives him what he asks for and explains the secret of the man's success: "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." The Greek uses the verb "to save" (sozo) to refer to the healing. The double entendre is intended. Faith is key, as in other texts (7:50; 8:48; 17:19). By commending the man's faith, which had demonstrated itself in his persistence, Jesus points to a lesson for all in the man's attitude. In addition, the healing shows the appropriateness of the title the blind man used to get Jesus' attention. It is the Son of David who heals. Messiah draws near to Jerusalem, and his authority is at work.
Healing comes immediately, and the man follows Jesus, praising God (on immediate healing, 4:39; 5:25; 8:44, 47, 55; 13:13; glory to God, 2:20; 4:15; 5:25-26; 7:16; 13:13; 17:15). The picture is poignant. God is thanked for his work through Jesus. Having gained physical sight, the man finds that new light dawns as he focuses on following Jesus. Even the crowd is changed. Scoffers at the start, the people turn to praise God in the end. Seeing Jesus means being transformed.
Luke has consistently shown how Jesus cared for those in need and for those rejected by society. In the Zacchaeus account these themes are summed up in beautiful detail. The account is unique to Luke's Gospel, just as the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the compassionate father are. Luke always portrays tax collectors favorably (3:12; 7:29; 15:1; 18:10). In return to Jesus' openness to him, Zacchaeus makes the proper response. Having accepted Jesus' initiative, Zacchaeus becomes generous with his resources, even seeking to make restitution for past wrongs. He is a rich man who gets through the eye of the needle.
Jesus proceeds into Jericho. His visit has attracted a large crowd. Zacchaeus, a rich chief tax collector, also is interested in Jesus. In Luke's literary context, the introduction of Zacchaeus sends both positive and negative signals. Tax collectors have been portrayed with favor, but rich men with disfavor. We often confront such ambiguities of connection. Stereotypes are often just that. However, in his culture Zacchaeus would be regarded totally negatively because his wealth was "extorted" from fellow Jews on behalf of occupying Rome. This explains the public reaction to Jesus' invitation later in the story. Luke will seek to reverse that perception.
The tax collector is too short to see over the crowd, but his desire is so great that he exercises creativity in attaining his goal. A sycamore-fig tree is like a short oak tree, with a squatty trunk and wide branches. So Zacchaeus has a high camera angle on the event.
Jesus takes the initiative, calling for Zacchaeus. The text does not discuss how Jesus knows his name, but Jesus announces that it "is necessary" (dei) for him to stay with this eager spectator. In the ancient culture, the request revealed Jesus' acceptance of Zacchaeus; thus it stuns the crowd (v. 7). Luke underlines the request by using the frequent Lukan term today, even placing it in an emphatic position (semeron: 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44). The request meets with public skepticism, which allows Jesus to make a point about the nature of his mission. Zacchaeus's attempt to glimpse Jesus has become much more.
Zacchaeus responds by coming down the tree and receiving Jesus with joy (NIV: welcomed him gladly). The theme of joy, coming as it does after a story about the Son of David, may suggest messianic joy. What is clear is that joy is an appropriate response to God's initiative on our behalf (1:14; 2:10; 10:20; 13:17; 15:5, 32; 19:37; 24:41, 52: Danker 1988:305). Here joy is the response of a man who has fulfilled God's will despite the protests of many who surround him. The crowd's grumbling recalls earlier grumbling about Jesus' associations (5:30).
Zacchaeus's response to the crowd's charges raises the passage's major interpretive issues. The remark's exact timing is not clear. Does it come immediately after Jesus' request, as the grumbling becomes audible? Or does it come afterward? What is clear is that the statements are made in a public setting. Zacchaeus makes a defense. But does he state that he recently has been faithful in being generous, with the verbs of this verse as progressive present tenses (Fitzmyer 1985:1220, 1225)? Or is he vowing to make generous restitution in the future, the verbs being futuristic presents (Stein 1992:466-67)?
The latter reading is much more likely. Numerous reasons suggest its superiority, but a few are decisive (Stein lists seven reasons for this view). A present tense would portray Zacchaeus as a boaster, which is unlikely in this context. Second, it would be harder to understand the crowd's hostility, if Zacchaeus has already mended his ways. Statements about salvation coming to Zacchaeus's house this very day and about the lost being saved have less power if the salvation is not connected to this current event. The context is full of events where salvation has just been offered (18:9-14, 15-17, 18-30, 35-43). Though faith is not explicitly mentioned in this context as it is in the previous account of the blind man, Zacchaeus's actions represent a concrete expression of faith's presence--a theme that goes back to John the Baptist's call (3:8-14).
So Zacchaeus responds: "Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Two actions substantiate Zacchaeus's new approach. A new generosity means that half of his assets are going to those in need (contrast 12:13-21; 16:19-31; see 1 Tim 6:6-10, 16-18). In addition, anyone who was robbed will be paid back with the highest penalty the law allows, a fourfold rate (Ex 22:1; 2 Sam 12:6). Normal restitution added only 20 percent (Lev 5:16; Num 5:7). The Mishna tended rarely to apply a more severe 40 percent penalty (m. Ketubot 3:9; m. Baba Qamma 7:1-5). This rich man, touched by Jesus and responding with faith, exemplifies the restoration of a "lost one" and opens up his resources to be shared with others. He does not have to sell everything to receive Jesus' commendation. His heart is in the right place when it comes to possessions. So Zacchaeus becomes an exemplary rich disciple.
Jesus announces, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." He speaks of the tax collector's spiritual heritage here. Now this one has been joined to the great patriarch of faith (Rom 4:11-18; Gal 3:9, 29). Zacchaeus's access to God's blessing has been gained through faith. Not only that, but Jesus' mission has been fulfilled (note the explanatory use of the Greek term gar ["for"] that begins v. 10). "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Jesus does what the nation had failed to do in the past, become a shepherd to lost sheep (Ezek 34:2, 4, 16, 22-23--the hope of the Davidic king restored to the nation may be alluded to here and in Jn 10). Jesus' initiative is a requirement of his mission. In order to find the lost, he must seek the lost. In such cases even the rich and rejected can be a part of the flock. Faith brings Jesus home to stay in Zacchaeus's heart and the lost sheep back to the Shepherd.
The final parable of the Jerusalem journey highlights the disciple's stewardship in the interim between Jesus' death and return. It continues the theme of his preparation of the disciples for life after his departure. His servants must recognize that the consummation of the kingdom is yet future and they are accountable for their service in the meantime. Those who reject Jesus' kingship face judgment, whether they reject that kingship directly or view the King as harsh rather than gracious.
The motive for this parable is explicit. Jesus wishes to correct the view that because he was near Jerusalem the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. Of course what is meant here is the decisive demonstration of regal authority that Jews expected of Messiah and that the disciples were still asking about in Acts 1:6. Luke wishes to steer attention away from that event to the responsibility that disciples have in the meantime.
The story is simple enough. A man goes to a faraway land to receive a kingdom. This portion of the parable portrays Jesus' departure in resurrection to receive the kingdom at the side of the Father, a major Lukan theme (Lk 24:26; Acts 2:36; 5:30-31; 7:55-56; 13:33-34; 17:31; Stein 1992:473). In the meantime certain servants associated with Jesus are called together and given a mina each--about one hundred drachmas, or three months' average wage. They are to trade with the money and are responsible to make it grow in value. Some of his subjects, however, want nothing to do with the leader and send a delegation to ask that this one not be chosen to rule. Those who refuse the rule are the Jewish leaders, while the servants represent all those who tie themselves to Jesus.
The servants need to be carefully described, since a key to the interpretation of the passage lies in their identity. Some assume that these are all genuine believers because Jesus calls the servants to himself. If so, the rejection of the third servant would mean either loss of rewards upon entrance to heaven or loss of salvation--a choice that generally depends on one's theological tradition. But the third servant's attitude is crucial to an understanding the parable. This third servant views the owner as harsh, even a lawbreaker, by reaping that which he does not sow (Josephus Against Apion 2.31 216). He would exact large sums of money from those who serve him. He would run over people. Now this servant's portrait of the owner suggests an attitude contrary to trust and faith. Though this man serves the master, he is not really allied to him. The failure of his stewardship is no surprise in light of this attitude. This servant represents a person who has only an association with the Master. Perhaps the individual illustrated here is Judas.
The parable's story is simple. The master returns to evaluate the stewardship of his servants. The first servant has gained ten minas for his one, a 1,000 percent increase. This man has been totally faithful. The reward is more service--responsibility for ten cities. The second servant is also faithful. A 500 percent increase is his contribution. He gets five cities. In contrast, the third servant has done nothing to invest his money, for reasons noted above. He does not think the king is worth laboring for, because the king would rob him. Commendation and more service follow faithfulness, but what follows such a harsh rejection of stewardship?
The master accuses the man of hypocrisy. If he knew the king was a hard man, then he should have at least put the money in the bank so it could earn a little interest. At least there would have been something to collect! So Jesus calls this slave wicked (porneros). His mina goes to the first servant, who has been faithful. The third servant ends up with nothing. As Jesus says in conclusion, "But as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away." These words echo 8:18. It matters little whether this conclusion is the word of the master or Jesus' commentary, a detail that is disputed; the point is the same either way. Those who have nothing receive nothing. In fact, they lose whatever they thought they had. The stubborn slave is the "odd man out" who appears in so many of Jesus' parables (Mt 13:29-30, 41, 49-50; 18:32-34; 22:11-13; 25:41). Some are associated with Jesus only superficially, and their lack of faith will be revealed at the evaluation of their life's stewardship.
In contrast, the faithful are rewarded: "To everyone who has, more will be given." Jesus acknowledges faithfulness with commendation and more service. To use the Lord's gifts is to prepare to serve him further.
One group remains to be dealt with, the rejecters. They will be slain. Their rejection is total. The parable follows the reality of ancient politics. Refusing the rule of the one in power often meant paying with one's life. Here is the judgment of God. For the leadership in the short term, this would mean Jerusalem's destruction in A.D. 70 (19:41-44). But in the long term there was a more permanent rejection to face. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a judging and rejected God.
The event traditionally known as Palm Sunday is fraught with meaning. It is hard to think of any close contemporary equivalents that would parallel the mood of this entry and presentation. It could be compared to a political convention where the party leader is selected and proclaimed to the nation. The figure is usually known to the public before the selection, but at the convention the campaigning gets serious: the leader is now an official candidate. Another analogy would be the "coming out" of a debutante at a ball. As the young woman is officially presented to larger society, there is a public recognition that a new and significant stage in her life has arrived. We could also think of a regal coronation ceremony, but that does not work in this case, because Jesus is being presented as a regal figure but not crowned as one.
Of course, the event is crucial and transitional for Luke. He has built up the journey to Jerusalem as full of significance. Jerusalem is the city of Jesus' fate and destiny. From Luke's perspective Jesus is still approaching the city and has not officially entered it, since his condemnation of Jerusalem's rejection in verse 41 takes places as he approached. Events move quickly from this point, so that after the procession and the lament over Jerusalem, Jesus moves inexorably toward his death. Announced as the king, he is rejected as king.
Luke continues the journey motif as he introduces the entry: After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany . . . Still outside the city, moving through villages just a few miles to the east, he prepares to enter the capital. He takes control of events as well, instructing two disciples to procure an animal for him. Jesus' riding of the young colt fulfills Zechariah 9:9, though Luke does not mention this text specifically. The fact that the colt is young may suggest purity (Num 19:2; Deut 21:3; 1 Sam 6:7). The animal is commandeered because "the Lord needs it." Here culture and divine design meet. In the culture a major religious or political figure could request the use of livestock, a custom known as angaria (Derrett 1971:243-49). Someone who knew Jesus or his disciples might well have been ready to lend an animal to them. The detail with which the Lord prepares the disciples to find the colt adds another note: for him the coming events will include no surprises. He has announced the sequence of events. When the disciples' experience exactly fits what he has predicted (vv. 32-34), this theme is strengthened.
Outer garments are laid over the animal to make a saddle, and Jesus is placed on it. The language used to describe Jesus' riding the animal recalls 1 Kings 1:33 and David's selecting of Solomon, while the mention of the colt alludes to Zechariah 9:9. The imagery is regal and even messianic, though it is a humble Messiah who makes the ride.
As the people spread their garments (NIV: their cloaks) on the road, a "red carpet" of sorts is produced. This part of the entry recalls Jehu's entry for royal accession in 2 Kings 9:13. Luke makes no mention of branches, possibly because they may have had revolutionary, nationalistic overtones he wishes to avoid connecting to Jesus (2 Maccabees 10:7-9; L. T. Johnson 1991:297). The entry is regal without being revolutionary or threatening.
As often in Jesus' ministry, word and deed are hand in hand. The event suggests a regal entry, while the praise points to God's presence. God is being praised for the mighty works he has done through Jesus. The concept of works of power (NIV: miracles) is frequent in Luke (4:32-33, 41; 5:17; 6:19; 8:46; 9:1; 19:37; Acts 4:33; 6:8; 8:13; 10:38). For the crowd the miracles mean Jesus is a great prophet (7:16; 9:7-9). But for the disciples Jesus is the promised King (9:18-20). Only Luke inserts the reference to a king into the quote from Psalm 118:26: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" These events signaled a unique time and a unique figure (Lk 11:29-32; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; 17:11-19; 18:35-43; Acts 10:38).
The use of the psalm is significant, because in Jewish worship it was seen ultimately as celebrating God's plan. One day the one greeted as coming in the Lord's name would be the Messiah (Bock 1987:118, 125). The psalm was used in the Feast of Tabernacles for just this reason (m. Sukka 3:9; 4:5). So joy and cries of peace surround the verse's use here. Just as heaven rejoices when a lost sinner is found, heaven rejoices as the King enters the city.
But the moment is not so triumphal in the minds of some. The religious leaders regard the crowd's claims as excessive. They approach Jesus to get him to calm the disciples' enthusiasm. Maybe these followers have gone overboard, as zealous supporters often do: "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" Using an urgent Greek aorist imperative (epitimeson), the leaders ask that the eschatological demonstration be stopped by Jesus' rebuke. They have again failed to see the sign of the times (12:54-56; 13:31-35).
Irony drips from Jesus' response. He cannot silence his disciples, for if he did, then creation itself would take up the song: "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Even inanimate creation understands events better than the leaders do--so deep runs their blindness. All the way back to Abel's blood crying out to God, when rhetoric portrays the creation as speaking, there has been serious misunderstanding of God's ways (Gen 4:10; Hab 2:11; Jas 5:4). The blindness is tragic, as a weeping Jesus will reveal in verses 41-44. Only Luke notes this exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus.
So the candidate has entered the city. His supporters have acknowledged his role. But opposition stands in the way. A divided Israel receives the king into its capital, just as humanity is divided over Jesus today. If one listens to Jesus and to the creation, Luke says, it is obvious who is on the side of truth and right.
The entry encompasses the different kinds of responses to Jesus. Some know who he is and serve him, following his instructions. Others are open, but not with much understanding. Still others are hostile toward him. Even the creation has a response to what is occurring. A famous saying goes, "All the world is a stage and we are merely players in it." Yet as the heavens watch, the question remains: which response do we support (Eph 3:8-10)?
The rejection causes Jesus so much pain that he is weeping as he draws near to the city. "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace." The nation is missing its moment. Peace with God is not possible for those who reject Jesus. Though this rejection produces Jesus' tragic death, the national consequences of the people's blindness are even more tragic and staggering. Peace is now "hidden from your eyes" (Ps 122:6; Jer 15:5). What follows is a "searing oracle of doom" (Tiede 1980:80): national sin will pay its price in judgment on covenant unfaithfulness. The oracle is introduced with the foreboding phrase days will come (1 Sam 2:31; 2 Kings 20:17; Is 39:6; Jer 7:32-34; 33:14; 49:2; Zech 14:1). When this phrase appears, judgment follows.
What Jesus proceeds to describe is a Hellenistic military siege that will slowly choke the city to death. This anticipated disaster recalls the judgment that befell the pagan nations when God acted against them and the judgment Israel experienced in going into exile (Ps 137:9; Is 3:26; 29:1-4; Jer 6:6-21; 8:18-22; Ezek 4:1-2; Nahum 3:10; Hab 2:8). The enemy "will cast up a bank around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another." The defeat will be total. The city and the temple will be destroyed. Josephus's description of the defeat of A.D. 70 shows just how true Jesus' prediction was (Jewish Wars 5.11.4 466-72; 5.12.2 502-10; 7.1.1 1-4; 7.8.7 375-77).
The reason for the destruction is simple--"you did not know the time of your visitation." Messiah has come and Israel has said no. Opportunity for peace has come, but the nation has opted for destruction--a destruction that will not be permanent, as later texts like Acts 3:18-22 and Romans 11:27-29 make clear. Still, this soon-to-come destruction will be devastating. What Jesus has hinted at in Luke 13:31-35 is now described in graphic and painful detail. Israel's house will be desolate. A first-century Auschwitz awaits it. Unlike the twentieth-century version, where repulsive ethnic hatred brought death, the Jewish nation of the first century brought catastrophe on itself. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus blamed the nationalists, the Zealots, for the nation's demise, but Jesus has a different answer. By rejecting him, Israel has chosen the way of judgment. It has missed the day and the moment.
What was true of the Jewish nation can also be true of individuals. To miss Jesus is to miss the time of visitation and face accountability before God.