In our last essay we studied Luke 18:1-30, a passage that contains the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge in 18:1-8 and the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, along with some other teachings. In this essay we are studying 18:31-19:27. This will conclude our study of the large section of Luke’s Gospel on Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27).
In this final section of the journey, Luke records accounts of events that took place near Jerusalem. In 18:31, Jesus reminds the disciples once again that they were on their way to Jerusalem. Then he makes the third of his three passion prediction recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (9:21-22; 9:43b-45; 18:31-34). This particular prediction is quite detailed. He would be handed over to the Gentiles; mocked, insulted, spat upon, flogged and killed. Then he would be raised from the dead. I don’t know how he could have been clearer. Yet the disciples were not predisposed to hear what he was saying. They simply closed their minds to it. I suppose the moral of the story is there is none so blind as he who refuses to see.
Next, in verses 38-43, we find the story of the healing of a blind man. There are some interesting differences between the three Synoptic accounts. Matthew tells us that there were two blind men encountered, and Jesus healed them as Jesus left Jericho (Mt. 20:29-30). Mark and Luke mention only one blind man, and Mark gives his name, Bartimaeus (Mk. 10:46). Luke tells us that the encounter took place as Jesus approached the city, rather than as he was leaving. One way of dealing with the conflict is to refer to the fact that the two blind men mentioned by Matthew might have been found on the two sides of the city and that there were two miracles of curing blindness that day. To my mind, it is more likely that Luke changed the location of the blind man, because the next story he tells, which is Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, does not appear in either Matthew or Mark; and Jesus met up with Zacchaeus in Jericho. So from Luke’s point of view, Jesus could not yet have left the city.
Whatever the exact location of Bartimaeus, when he learned that Jesus was passing by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 38). The expression “Son of David” definitely is Messianic. That is, Bartimaeus was identifying Jesus as the Messiah. Some people tried to quiet the blind man, but he just cried out more loudly. Jesus heard him, stopped, and ordered that Bartimaeus he be brought to him (vv. 39-40). Jesus asked the blind man what he wanted Jesus to do for him, and he replied that he wanted to see again. Jesus commanded him to see again and told him that his faith had saved him. Here once again we have the word that can mean both healing and salvation. I thought it was interesting that the NRSV this time translates it “saved,” while the NIV translates it “healed.” Notice that the healing was immediate and that Bartimaeus became a follower of Jesus (v. 43), which suggests that Bartimaeus indeed was saved.
In 19:1-10 we see that while in Jericho, Jesus met a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus. This is the only reference in the New Testament to a “chief tax collector.” The title suggests that Zacchaeus supervised other tax collectors in the area. And the work had made him rich (v. 1). As you may know, Jews generally despised tax collectors, because they were Jews who worked for the hated, unclean Romans, and because they oppressively collected as much taxes as possible, which was what made them rich.
It isn’t entirely clear why Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. Perhaps it was mere curiosity. At any rate, since he was short, he couldn’t see because of the crowds. So he ran ahead and climbed a tree in order to gain a vantage point (vv. 3-4). When Jesus passed under the tree, he stopped and addressed Zacchaeus. He told him to come down, because Jesus wanted to stay at his house that evening (v. 5). There is some scholarly discussion about whether Jesus was supernaturally given the knowledge that Zacchaeus was in the tree and that his name was Zacchaeus. Jesus easily could have seen him there, and Matthew, a former tax collector, may have known Zacchaeus and told Jesus his name. That’s unimportant. The important thing is what happened to Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his home, as others grumbled about Jesus’ associating himself with a sinner (vv. 6-7). In their eyes, to stay in a sinner’s home was to share in the sinner’s sinfulness. Zacchaeus’ statement in verse eight seems to be a response to the criticisms. He wanted people to know that Jesus was not staying with a sinner. He vows to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay anyone he may have defrauded a fourfold restitution. This was more than the law required. The law required only restitution plus a fifth (or 20%) more (Lev. 6:1-7). A public announcement of intent such as Zacchaeus made was considered an adequate sign of repentance.
As we see in verse nine, Jesus took Zacchaeus’ announcement that way: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. “Son of Abraham” is not to be taken here as an ethic reference, for Zacchaeus was a Jew, but in a spiritual sense. Jesus was restoring Zacchaeus, who probably had been excommunicated from his synagogue, as a Jew in good religious standing. Zacchaeus also believed in Jesus, and thus we safely can say that he was saved from sin and death. The account ends with a pronouncement by Jesus that “the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.”
The larger section ends in 19:11-27 with Jesus telling the same people he was speaking with at the end of the Zacchaeus story the Parable of the Ten Pounds. In verse 11 we are told once again that Jesus was near Jerusalem, his destination in Luke’s Gospel since 9:51.
This parable has more than one level of meaning. At one level it is about stewardship. It is about people who were made stewards of a certain amount of money and what they did with the money. At another level the parable is an allegory about Jesus. The nobleman who goes to a distant country to get royal power symbolizes Jesus’ departure after his resurrection and his expected return.
Some scholars assume that the Parable of the Talents in Mt. 25:14-30 is a parallel to this parable in Luke, and they go to great lengths to explain the differences between the two accounts. But the differences are so great that it is better to conclude that the two parables are not parallel.
In verse 13 we see the nobleman call ten of his servants or slaves to him, and he gives each of them a “pound” (NRSV) or a “mina” (NIV) to invest for him while he is away. A mina was a Greek coin worth 100 drachmas. Thus a mina was equal to a little more than three months pay for a laborer in that culture. Therefore it a considerable amount of money without being a really large amount. It would seem that the nobleman was testing the servants in order to see which ones would prove themselves better managers than the others.
Verses 14-15 return to the theme of the nobleman’s (or Jesus’) leaving. “The citizens of his country,” that would be the Jews, or at least the Jewish leadership, hated the nobleman (or Jesus). Thus they did not want him to rule over them. Indeed in a fairly short time the Jewish religious leadership would arrange for Jesus’ death.
In the parable the nobleman receives the royal power he left to receive; and when he returns, he calls for an accounting from his ten servants. Interestingly, in verses 16-23 we are given reports from only three of the ten.
The first servant increased the money he had been given by ten times, an awesome job of investing. And the nobleman was very pleased. He promised that servant authority over ten cities (vv. 16-17).
The second servant reported that he had increased the nobleman’s money five times, also a great performance. And again the nobleman was pleased. He promised that servant authority over five cities (vv. 18-19).
The third servant to report had not made any money for the nobleman. He didn’t invest it; he didn’t even put it in a bank to gain interest. The reason he gave for his failure was fear of the master. The servant believed the master to be a “harsh,” (NRSV) or “hard” (NIV) man who takes what he does not “deposit” (NRSV), or “put in” (NIV) and reaps what he does not sow. The nobleman was not pleased with that servant, and he ordered that his mina be taken from him and given to the servant who had the ten minas (vv. 20-24).
The bystanders were surprised by the fact that Jesus ordered the mina be given to the servant who already had ten minas (v. 25). Jesus responded to that surprise by announcing a principle that fits this kind of situation: “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The decision makes perfect sense. The man who increased the original investment 10 times was the one who most likely would invest this additional mina well. Moreover, spiritually speaking, those who are faithful to Christ will be rewarded with additional grace.
The parable ends with a return to the theme of those who hate the Lord and refuse to receive him as their ruler. Judgment is the result for them, and they are destroyed (v. 27).