Chapter 17 -  Commentary on Luke's Gospel

17:1-10 The problem of sin among Christian disciples - There is to be a special welcome in the church for little children. "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me (9:47-48). "People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs'" (Mark 10:13-14). The problem is that children are an easy prey to those who want to abuse them. And it is significant that all three of the synoptic Gospels have a terrible warning for child-abusers. "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, as here in 17:2).

Having said that, Jesus deals with the need for forgiveness. On the one hand there are severe consequences to be assigned by the proper authorities, but a criminal must be forgiven. And the disciples found this very hard to imagine. And even if we have been totally faithful in all we are required to do, we do not pile up merit for doing our duty.

17:1-2 Disciples are not perfected saints, and Jesus knows that "occasions for stumbling are bound to come" (as in Matthew 18:7). But there are necessary consequences for criminal activity, and especially in cases of child abuse. Even if consequences are assigned by the law courts, child abuse is so horrendous that from God's point of view the abuser would be better drowned in the sea.

17:3 If we observe criminal activity in the church, the person must be warned. In some cases criminals (especially in cases of child abuse) must be handed over to the police. But if the person hears the rebuke and shows signs of remorse, he or she must be assured of forgiveness. We still love and visit those who are in jail suffering the consequences of what they have done.

17:4 In the case of personal wrongs, we must never write the person off, even if the fault is repeated and the person asks for forgiveness seven times a day. This situation seems unlikely (so it is a hyperbole), and Jesus seems to press the point by making the number of times we must forgive "seventy-seven times" (or even perhaps "seventy-times seven," Matthew 18:22). Like God, there is no limit on the frequency of forgiveness. But total forgiveness goes with necessary consequences (17:1-2). If you pour coffee or let your dog defacate on my carpet, I will not ask you to dinner again. If a Christian plumber does a poor job and charges the earth, he is forgiven but no one will give him another plumbing job. If a church treasurer steals the funds, there may be a need for the police to intervene, and you certainly appoint another treasurer, but the person is still welcome to communion.

17:5-6 The disciples found this approach very hard to accept.. But Jesus adds that faith can remove the most stubborn roots of unforgiveness. Many have prayed "Lord, there is no way I could forgive what that person has done," but when they prayed in faith love began to began to change their heart. To their astonishment, and others who see what has happened, the strong roots of the mulberry tree of unforgiveness were uprooted and gone for ever (there was a saying that the roots of a mulberry tree survived for 600 years).

17:7-10 When a slave has completed the day's work that is no reason for the slave owner to invite him to dine at the family table. Rather the slave is expected to serve the family, and then gets to eat what is left. Nor are slaves thanked for doing their work. Rather than "worthless" a better translation is "unworthy," which suggests that we do not deserve approval or thanks for doing our ordinary Christian duty. Doing what is right has its own joy and reward. But Jesus had also said that for those who are faithful servants "he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them" (12:37). Both aspects of this truth go together.

17:11-19 Ten lepers are healed but only one is made whole. - There are various kinds of skin condition listed in the Old Testament (Leviticus 13-14), but the most serious was the leprosy which involves a loss of feeling. The result is that the leper is easily burned and damages fingers and toes, nose, and ears. Badly deformed lepers used to be a common sight in many countries. In addition to the physical condition, there was the terrible shame of being put out of one's home and wandering around crying "unclean" to warn others to keep away.

Till recently leprosy was incurable, but now drugs are available to treat the condition. There are several references to lepers being healed through Jesus' ministry (7:22, Matthew 8:2, 10:8, 11:5, and perhaps 26:6). This particular incident is not recorded elsewhere, and Luke must have heard it from one of the disciples, and been struck by its importance to illustrate the power of thanksgiving (see Ephesians 5:20, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 2:7, 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Faith is evidenced by thanksgiving. It is impossible to give thanks to chance, or matter or energy, so that thanking God is already incipient faith. When people find it hard to express their faith it is good to ask them if they ever give thanks to God, and if they do we can suggest that they already have faith (it of course needs to be deepened by learning more about God's love).

17:11 "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem" (9:51, Matthew 19:1). Samaria was to the south of Galilee. Probably the conversion of Samaritans (in John 4:3-5, 39) had occured as Jesus returned from Jerusalem on a previous occasion.

17:12-13 These ten lepers must have heard about Jesus' power to heal, and they approached him to within talking distance (the legal limit of 100 paces) but kept far enough away to avoid physical contact.

17:14-16 Healing from any skin condition had to be confirmed by the examination of a priest (Leviticus 13:6, 17, 23-26). In this case all ten lepers were healed there and then by Jesus' word (He did not touch them as in Matthew 8:3), and they made their way towards the temple as they were told. On the way they all found that sensation had come back into their fingers, and nine hurried on to find a priest who could declare them healed and return to normal life. But one of them, a Samaritan, knowing that he was healed, turned back "continually praising God" (a present continuous tense) to find Jesus and thank him. He fell at Jesus' feet (certainly not permitted if he was still leprous) and thanked him. Thanksgiving makes an immediate difference to our whole mental attitude and body language. It is the very heart of faith, and it changes to praise when we worship God for who he is.

17:17-18 Jesus' question suggests that he was surprised that only one of the ten came back to praise God for this wonderful miracle in their lives. Every day thousands of people find themselves healed from various complaints which they had asked God to heal, and one wonders if only about one in ten ever thank God for their healing.

17:19 The man is still at Jesus' feet, and Jesus tells him to get up and go the priests to be declared officially healed. It is very important that when people hope they have been healed (say in a healing service) they must go to their doctor for a check up. This is not only the safe course but it avoids the bad impression given when people announce a healing and in fact the person is no better. "Your faith has made you better" is a bad translation. The verb sozo means to save, (as opposed to katharizo which means to cleanse, 17:14). "Your faith has saved you" shows that it was praising God that expressed the man's faith, and that is what saved him. The other nine lepers were merely healed physically, but missed the spiritual change in their life. This makes clear that a relationship with God begins when we praise him as our Creator and loving Father.

17:20-37 The imminent destruction of Jerusalem - By comparing this with the words in 21:20-32) and the parallel accounts in the other two synoptic Gospels (Matthew 23:36-24:44, Mark 13:1-30) it is clear this section is part of Jesus' prophecy about the day of the Lord (see notes on 17:24, 30) when he would come to topple the temple, destroy the city of Jerusalem, and terminate the Pharisee and Sadducee religious establishment (see Jesus' sorrowful concern in 13:34). The words "in this generation" (21:32, Matthew 23:36, 24:34 Mark 13:30) prove that this would occur within the next forty years, and in fact the city was destroyed by the Roman army after a long siege in AD 70. This event is called the day of the Lord (Luke 17:24, 30, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, as in the many Old Testament days of the Lord (Isaiah 13:6, 9, 24:21-23, Jeremiah 46:10, Amos 5:18, 20, Joel 2:30-31, Zechariah 14:1, 4, 5, 9, Malachi 3:17, 4:1, 3). Later in the Gospel Luke uses the term "days of vengeance" (as in Isaiah 34:8, 61:2, Jeremiah 46:10, 28, 51:11, Micah 5:15).

17:20-21 The Pharisees imagined that the Kingdom of God would be revealed ("cometh with observation") when the Messiah came in power, drove out the Romans, and made Jerusalem the center of worship for the whole world. "The Kingdom of God is among you" means that the Lord King Messiah, Son of God, who was recognized as reigning in the Old Testament period (Psalm 2:2, 5:2, 8:1, 9, 9:7) was right there among them in his own person.

17:22-23 In Isaiah the word "day" often refers to an intervention by the Lord, King, Messiah among the nations (Isaiah 2:12, 17, 3:18, 10:20, 11:10, 11, 12:1, 22:5, 8, 12, 20, etc.). When the Romans advanced and laid siege to the city (AD 68), many Jews expected a day of the Lord intervention to drive away the Roman armies and make Jerusalem the spiritual center of the world. During that time there were constant false prophets who claimed to be the Messiah or that he was already in the city (Matthew 24:4, 23-26). Instead of the Messiah's intervention to save the city, the Jewish nation was to be excluded from Jerusalem till "the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (21:24, see Paul's comments in Romans 11:25). The first exile in Babylon was for a brief 70 years, but this second exile lasted at least until 1967 when the first Jews came back to pray at the wall under their temple (the foundations on the Dome of the Rock now have a Muslim mosque built upon them).

17:24 The final coming of the Lord to terminate the city is pictured as sudden and unexpected as a lightning strike, or the day of the flood (Luke 17:26, Matthew 24:27, 36, 39, 50, Mark 13:32-37), or the coming of a thief (Matthew 24:43-44). It would be preceded by a period of terrible tribulation (Matthew 24:7, 21, Mark 13:17-19) as the Romans surround the city for two terrible years of siege (Matthew 24:21). The Christians were warned to leave before the siege tightened around the city (21:20-22, Matthew 24:15-20).

17:25 When Jesus was speaking, the crucifixion (about AD 30) was still ahead of him (Luke 9:22, Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19).

17:26-29 Jesus repeated the word "day" five times (17:24, 27, 29, 30, 31, see note on 17:22-23) to compare his intervention in the destruction of Jerusalem with the flood (17:26-27) and the destruction of Sodom (17:28-29, see Genesis 19:12-24). In both those days of the Lord there was an ending and a new beginning for those who had faith. This will also be the case when the Jerusalem religious establishment is terminated. There is a preliminary going out of the good news (through Paul and others) before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:14), and then there is a huge spread of the good news all over the world (Matthew 24:31). We know from church history that, while there were a series of ten terrible persecutions in the Roman Empire to the west in the area of the Mediterranean, the Gospel had spread all over the Middle East and as far as China by AD 100.

17:30 The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is the revealing of the Lord, King, Messiah in that generation. He became the Son of Man by his incarnation (1:35) but he continues reigning as King of Kings and Lord of lords..

17:31-32 This is part of the warning given to Christians to leave the city as soon as they see the Romans who have come to surround it (see 17:24, 21:20-23, Matthew 24:15-21). When the time came they were to remember Lot's escape from Sodom, and what happened to his wife when she turned back (Genesis 19:26). The siege began in 68 AD, and the Jewish historian Josephus reported that the Christians escaped from the city.

17:33-35 The temptation would be to think that they would be safer staying in the city. Jesus had previously said in relation to cross bearing "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (9:24), and now he applies this principle to what they will have to do in AD 68 when the Romans arrived - stay in Jerusalem or go out with the Messiah. This traumatic decision will divide married couples sleeping in one bed, and two women friends milling wheat together (as in 12:52-53).

17:37 In answer to the question about where this would be Jesus answered "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather" (Matthew 24:28). It is a known fact in the east that when animals (or humans) are wounded and dying the vultures begin circling around waiting for the end. This may also be a play on words referring to the eagles of the Roman legions that would gather around the city.

Chapter 18 .....