by Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies
Having reminded his readers that the only response possible in the face of the coming kingdom of God is "repent or perish", 13:1-9, Luke now encourages those who struggle through this time of testing, with the truth that the kingdom will inevitably be victorious, 13:10-21. Our passage for study is made up of a healing miracle and two kingdom parables; together they illustrate the presence and power of the coming kingdom of God.
v10. Jesus is here functioning as a Rabbi, "teaching in one of the synagogues." He uses the healing for teaching purposes.
v11. In typical style, Luke, using the eye of a doctor, details the crippled woman's complaint. She has "a spirit of infirmity" which Luke tells us is demonic in origin, but not a symptom of demon possession.
v12. As usual, Jesus heals with a word of authority.
v13. Jesus again uses his hands to signify that he is transmitting power to the paralyzed woman, although this is not a necessary element of the healing.
v14. The President of the Synagogue judges Jesus' act by the Mosaic Law. As a typical legalist, he fails to understand what is meant by "work", and more particularly, he fails to understand the significance of the Sabbath. The day of rest signifies the good and proper end of creation. For a creation, now bound in the curse of sin and under Satan's control, this "rest" is but a future hope. The healing (the release) of the paralyzed woman on the Sabbath day, serves as a sign that the day of God's rest is close at hand and therefore her healing should prompt rejoicing rather than condemnation.
v15. The Qumran sect strictly applied the letter of the Law, but even they would give water to a thirsty animal on the Sabbath. The Pharisees aren't that strict, although they are "hypocrites" - play-actors, good on form but poor on substance.
v16. As a "daughter of Abraham", this woman can rightly look forward to her sabbath-rest in the coming messianic kingdom. Sadly, the Pharisees fail to recognize her healing as a deliverance from Satan's bondage.
v17. This verse defines the message of the episode. In the face of the coming kingdom, Jesus "reduced his opponents to shame" and "the people rejoiced." The episode displays the presence and power of the coming reign of God in Christ, it reminds us of the day when God will break Satan's power to enslave and usher in an eternal heavenly rest. The following two parables remind us of the immediacy of this reality, namely the kingdom of God is upon us.
v18-21. The parables of the Mustard seed and Yeast carry no attached interpretation. In Matthew's gospel they stand together in a group of kingdom parables, Matt.13:31-33. Kingdom parables (usually beginning with the phrase "the kingdom of God/heaven is like") are gospel proclamations in the form of a riddle; they proclaim that "the kingdom of God is at hand", it is bursting in upon us. Luke gives us a clue to their meaning by the way he links these two parables with the healing of the crippled woman. Although usually seen as parables of growth, often of the church growing from humble beginnings, they are more likely proclaiming the immediacy of God's kingdom, of the inauguration of God's eternal reign in Christ. So, these parables proclaim that "the day" is upon us; a mighty tree is before us, the bread is ready for the oven. The powers of darkness have been defeated, God's Sabbath rest is here - "the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel."
Our passage for study is a "you ain't seen nothin' yet" story. It reminds us of the coming day in glory when we will be released from the curse presently binding the creation. No more death, no more pain, the former things passed away, every tear wiped from our eyes. The story reminds us of the coming Sabbath, of our rest in God the creator through our rest in Jesus. It reminds us of the day when the garden is regained and all is well. It prompts us to be "delighted with all the wonderful things" the Lord is doing. Above all, it reminds us that the beginning of this new day is close at hand.
"Nothing ever works here" is a true observation about life, but it is not the whole truth. There is the Sabbath day, the weekend, or better still the long weekend. It's true that economic rationalism has put a rather large dent in the weekend. Often people get their weekend during the week, in dribs and drabs.... All part of the "bottom line" of industrial efficiency at the expense of community, at the expense of relationships. Yet, there it stands, the weekend, a sign of an eternal freedom from the struggle and pain of daily living.
Every now and then we get a little sign of the coming eternal rest, a touch of the Master's hand. In this moment we see beyond the present to the eternal Sabbath that is ours, the day when the powers of the kingdom overcome the dark side. The truth is that this day is already flooding in upon us.
1. Why were the people "delighted", but the Pharisees "indignant"?
2. Apply the parable of the mustard seed.
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