Chapter 7 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

7:1-17 Two Astonishing miracles

The healing of the centurion's slave is astonishing for three reasons. The request comes from a Gentile, and he is an officer of the hated Roman occupation force. Even more unexpected is the fact that slaves were viewed as hardly more than animals, and they had no rights or status in society. But this army captain, not only cares about his slave but is willing to ask a favor of the Jewish synagogue elders to approach Jesus for his healing. In the second story the healing of the boy is astonishing for other reasons. He had been pronounced dead, and he was already being taken out for burial.

7:1-2 Capernaum was the city on the Sea of Galilee that Jesus had moved to from Nazareth (see note on 4:31, Matthew 4:13). This is the same centurion (an army Captain commanding a company of 100 men) as in Matthew 8:5, but Luke focuses on different aspects of the story. The servant was at the point of death and Matthew specifies an agonizing paralysis.

7:3-5 Matthew gives the impression of a personal approach, but Luke wants us to know that the request was sent through some synagogue elders who acted as intermediaries. Luke adds that the centurion was not only friendly to the Jewish people of the city, but he had his soldiers build them a new synagogue.

7:6-8 But the officer still did not think he was worthy to have Jesus come under his roof. Both Matthew and Luke are impressed by the centurion's understanding of authority. When he gave orders he was obeyed, and he recognized Jesus' authority to command healing (as in Matthew 8:8-9).

7:9-10 Jesus comments on the soldier's great faith, and Matthew adds the fact that "many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11, 24:31). Having specified that the Jewish elders (7:3) acted as intermediaries, Luke makes clear that they went back to the centurion's house and found the servant healed.

7:11-12 The village of Nain (in Hebrew the word meant "lovely") exists to this day. It is 9 km south-east of Nazareth, and it overlooks the plain of Esdraelon (the Valley of Megiddo). The account of this young man's raising from the dead occurs only in Luke, and he must have heard it from talking to some who were there (perhaps the women of 8:2-3).. Being the only son of the widow would mean the family line would have ended with his death. There was a huge crowd of mourners, which suggests the widow was well known and appreciated in the area.

7:13-14 This is the first time Jesus is identified as "The Lord." Jesus was deeply upset by her weeping (as he was in John 11:33, see his compassion in Matthew 20:34). The details are those of an eye-witness. Jesus moved through the crowd to touch the bier (not a closed coffin, see 7:15). By the Mosaic law Jesus would immediately have been defiled (Numbers 19:13, Haggai 2:13), but Jesus was not restricted by the traditions that had been added to the law (see 5:13, 6:1-11, 11:38, Matthew 15:2, Mark 7:3, 18-19). The pallbearers were so shocked at this stranger touching the bier, that they stopped the procession, and Jesus addressed the dead body (as he did in 8:54, John 11:43, and as Peter did in Acts 9:40). Neither the faith of the widow or her dead son were involved in this miracle.

7:15 The raising of a dead person is rare, but the New Testament writers had no doubt that God's power was sufficient to do this (as in 7:22, Matthew 10:8, 11:5, Acts 9:37-40). In many areas when the Gospel is first preached there are credible reports of dead persons being raised. As in the case of Lazarus such people are restored to this life, and they die eventually. Based on Jesus' resurrection our assurance is being raised with a resurrection body suited for heaven. Like Elijah Jesus tenderly handed the boy over to his mother (1 Kings 17:23).

7:16 The sight of the young man sitting up and beginning to talk was so awesome, that people trembled with fear (see 5:26). This changed to praising God. Elijah had raised a widow's son from death (1 Kings 17:17-24), so the crowd concluded Jesus must be a great prophet like him (see Matthew 16:14). "God has looked favorably on his people" should be translated literally "God has come to visit his people (episkopy means a visitation, as in 1:68, 78). Whereas God the Father is never visible to humans (Exodus 33:20, John 1:18, 1 John 4:12) the work of the Son is to keep visiting and being seen by human (Genesis 3:8, 11:7, 17:1, Exodus 24:11, Daniel 3:25). This raising of a dead person was therefore seen as proof that God the Son had come among them. And again this resulted in Jesus' work becoming widely known (as in 4:37, 5:15).

7:18-35 The Contrast Between the Ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist

This section is just about identical with the account in Matthew 11:7-19. This again suggests that both Luke and Matthew used the Aramaic notes that Matthew the tax collector took down verbatim from Jesus's teaching sessions (see notes on 6:17-49). John was the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matthew 11:13). On the one hand Jesus stated that "among those born of women no one is greater than John the Baptist" (7:28), which is very high praise. But his style of ministry was very ascetic, more like a funeral than a wedding (7:32). And in fact, as John had himself declared (3:16). John's very important preparatory ministry was not even part of the kingdom (7:28). Wreckers are necessary to tear down an old structure, but they do not work on the beautiful new building that replaces it.. X-Ray and blood work are needed for diagnosis, but they are not part of the healing process.

17:18-20 We have seen how John enrolled disciples by baptizing them, and then taught them what they should do to prepare for the coming Messiah (see note on 3:3). Some of John's disciples became disciples of Jesus (as in John 1:35-50). Even though the number of Jesus' disciples grew faster than those still with John (John 4:1), John continued his ministry with those who remained. Some of these used to visit him in the dungeon of Herod's palace in Tiberias (Matthew 14:3) and they gave him news of Jesus' ministry. Perhaps Jesus sounded too welcoming of sinners, and he certainly had a very different lifestyle (7:33-34), and John was troubled. So he sent two of his trusted disciples to ask a precise question, "Are you the one who is to come (as he had said, 3:16) or are we to wait for another?"

17:21-22 Before the question could be asked, they found themselves in a crowd of diseased, plagued (tormented), and possessed people who were one by one being healed. They included some lame who walked, lepers who were cleansed, deaf people beginning to hear, blind persons who received their sight. Equally impressive was the response of very poor people to Jesus' good news (see 4:18, as in Matthew 11:5).

7:23 Rather than being given an answer to the question John had asked, the disciples were told to describe exactly what they saw. And Jesus, knowing that John might not be pleased, hoped that John would not be offended by not getting a direct answer.(as in Matthew 11:6).

7:24-25 When John's disciples had gone, Jesus first taught the crowd about the greatness of this prophet. He was strong enough not to be shaken by the winds of opposition. Instead of impressive clothes and eating gourmet food, he wore a rough cloak held by a leather belt, and ate locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6).

7:26-27 John was certainly a very great prophet. And his task was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah among them (as prophesied in Malachi 3:1).

7:28 Though he was such a very great man, John could only preach the Old Testament law and the prophets (as explained in 16:16, Matthew 11:13). Law sets standards of behavior, and prophets point out the consequences of our failure to meet them, but the Messiah's good news of forgiveness and grace is a quite different message. Luke has already included the parables of the patch on the old garment and the new wine breaking old skins (5:33-38), which show that Jesus' ministry of grace and love cannot be fitted into Jewish Old Testament laws.

7:29-30 These two verses come only in Luke. Having explained the greatness of John the Baptist, Jesus commented on the fact that ordinary people (including those who were considered the worst people in society) "acknowledged the justice of God" by being baptized to begin learning from John. It was the Pharisees and theologians who refused to become his disciples. Now that God had changed the tune (see 7:32) and sent his own Son with a message of grace and forgiveness the Pharisees still refused to join the dance. The Cappadocian Fathers used the word perichoresis to picture the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into which we are invited.

7:31-32 (as in Matthew 11:16) There was a game in which a flute player would begin a wedding tune and the children would start dancing a hora. Then the tune would change to a funeral dirge, and instead of dancing the children would all begin to wail, beat their chests, and pretend to cry. The point is that the Pharisees, who had first refused John's message, were now refusing Jesus' very different good news.

7:33-34 They had complained that John the Baptist was so ascetic, that he must be possessed (deranged). Now they complained that Jesus ate well, drank wine, and was too friendly with sinful people.

7:35 The parallel passage is "Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds" (Matthew 11:19). Satan is on the side of tidy rigid uniformity. But the wisdom of God (see Proverbs 1:2-6, 8:1-31, 9:1-9) is recognized in what seem to be very different and paradoxical expressions. John the Baptist had his work, and the Messiah's work is very different. Similarly we should be confident in the part we have to play without complaining about the tasks given to others.

7:36-50 The Pharisee and the Woman of the City

This section comes only in Luke. The details are so well described that Luke must have heard it from an eye witness. We have noted how Luke keeps reporting meals that Jesus was involved in ( 5:29, 10:38, 11:37, 14:1, 19:7, 22:14, 24:30, 41-43), and in this case the meal is at the home of a Pharisee (see notes on 5:17, 30, 6:7). Strangely the host failed to do the basic courtesies of washing the feet of a guest (see John 13:5), greeting him with a hug, and anointing his head with oil (7:44-46, see Matthew 26:7). Some suggest this was a deliberate insult. More probably the Pharisee's intention was to check Jesus out, he was already suspicious, and we can imagine he was not pleased when the woman arrived and greeted his guest as one of her friends. But Jesus was able to turn the situation around with his parable of the two debtors (7:40-43).

Matthew remembered another powerful parable about the need for the forgiven to forgive others. From that parable (Matthew 18:34) we are not to imagine that it is God who inflicts torments on those who refuse to forgive (Matthew 18:34). But there are the self-inflicted torments of anyone who is eaten up with an unforgiving spirit. And in the Pharisee's case we can imagine that the picture of the woman of the street doing what he should have done would remain to torment him for a long time. Both in their own way, Matthew and Luke, collected parables (which were probably told in the churches) to fill out the bare bones account in Mark's Gospel.

7:36 At this meal, having been insulted by the Pharisee's rude welcome (7:44-46), Jesus said nothing, but took control of the situation and "took his place at the table."

7:37 The woman of the street had obviously heard Jesus' teaching on previous occasions. Some suggest this might have been Mary Magdalene (8:2, 24:10) after her conversion, but there is no evidence of this. Perhaps she was already a baptized disciple (see notes on 3:7, 17, John 4:1). Middle Eastern hospitality allowed a guest's friends to come with him to what would be a lavish meal. And she certainly assumed that she would be welcome to be with Jesus at this meal. To express her gratitude she brought an alabaster jar of very valuable perfume (see John 12:3, 5).

7:38 People did not sit on chairs to eat around a table, and here Jesus was reclining with his bare feet on the cushion or rug behind him. His host was opposite him, and he could see the woman come behind Jesus, weeping and bathing his feet with her tears. To the Pharisee's horror, Jesus was totally unembarrassed as she dried Jesus' feet with her hair and kissed the feet of her teacher. Nobody could have invented such a powerfully shocking story that for Luke illustrated Jesus' welcome for sinners and his tender relationship with women.

7:39 Jesus could read the Pharisee's logic. If Jesus was a prophet he would know this was a notorious woman in the city. And he would certainly not welcome her to a meal, let alone let her touch him in such an intimate way. Either he is not a prophet, or he is flouting the attitude to sinners and to women which are an essential part of our Pharisee behavior.

7:40-42 Jesus gently calls the Pharisee by name. "Simon, I have a question for you" (obviously not Simon the leper, Matthew 26:6). One man owed a money lender the equivalent of five hundred days' wages, the other owed the equivalent of fifty. And in both cases the lender "cancelled the debts" (as in the parable of Matthew 18:27). Who will be more grateful?

7:43 Sensing he was getting cornered, the Pharisee cautiously gave the obvious answer, and Jesus said he was right.

7:44-46 Jesus then pointed out that the Pharisee had given his guest none of the usual welcome courtesies, but the woman had lovingly done this and more.

7:47 Luke does not intend us to think the woman is forgiven because of what she had done on this occasion. As opposed to the Pharisee who had no sense of being forgiven, and no sense of gratitude to Jesus, the woman loved because she had been forgiven so much.

7:48 Jesus characteristic words were "Your sins are forgiven". It is often suggested that we have to make a full confession of all past sin, commit ourselves to total obedience, and believe certain things, before we can be forgiven. This was not the case here or with the paralytic (5:20, Matthew 9:2, 5-6). The sequence in the Gospels is a simple turning, often expressed by baptism, and then learning the assurance of God's unconditional forgiveness. This is then followed by gratitude and other evidences of change in one's life (see Acts 2:38, Romans 4:6-8). As we will see, it is the Holy Spirit who shows us what is wrong in our life, and the one sin that makes progress impossible is to reject him and call his gracious work evil (see comments on 11:13-23, 12:10).

7:49-50 We can imagine the other guests murmuring about Jesus' claim to forgive sin, and his forgiving of this brazen woman of the street. Without answering them, he merely accepted her faith, and told her to go with God's shalom.

Chapter 8 .....