Chapter 18 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

18:1-17 Two parables about prayer - In connection with prayer Jesus had previously told the parable of the friend at midnight (11:5-8). Now we have two more parables which are even more outrageous. God is contrasted with a judge who only gives a widow a just settlement because he does not want to be bothered with her continual pestering. And then Jesus tells Pharisees the shocking story of a tax collector (hated for cooperating with the Romans, and totally despised among good people) whose prayer is accepted rather than that of a religious person who obeys every detail of the law.

18:1 At first sight this looks like a parable about the need to keep persevering in prayer till eventually God is persuaded to hear us. But the parable is to highlight the radical contrast with "this widow keeps bothering me so that she may not wear me out by continually coming." The point is that God is not at all like that. He does not need continual pestering. "He will quickly grant justice" (18:8).

18:2-3 The story is about an ungodly ruthless judge and a widow who has been defrauded of her property. She keeps appearing in court demanding justice.

18:4-5 At first he refused to listen to her case. Then he argued with himself. "I don't believe in God or justice, and I certainly don't need to listen to this woman. But she is a nuisance, and I am tired of her coming before me. I could tell the guards to remove her, but that would look bad, and I should at least pretend to be upholding Roman justice."

18:6-8a The Lord has told us about "the judge of injustice" (the literal term in Greek) meaning the system that denies justice that is current in most of the world. This is opposed to "God the Judge of just retribution" who intervenes to correct wrongs and vindicate his people (1 Samuel 24:12, Psalm 7:8, 11, 9:4, 7-8, 17:2, 24:5, 26:1, 35:24, 43:1, 54:1, 103:6 see Mary's Magnificat, Luke 1:52-53, 2 Timothy 4:14, Revelation 6:10).

18:8b Here "the Son of Man comes" refers to his coming to topple the religious establishment of Jerusalem in that generation (as in 9:26-27, 11:50-51, 13:26-29, 34-35 see notes on 17:23-37). And by AD 70 when the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem for 1900 years there would hardly be any of them who believed in "God the Judge of just retribution" (18:7-8, see Matthew 23:35-36). As a result of the Holocaust, this is still the biggest problem Jews have to face in their faith in a just God.

18:9-12 The parable is again about prayer, and we get a devastating picture of the smug complacency of Pharisee self-righteousness. Pride inevitably looks down on others " with contempt" and this man lists these as "thieves, rogues, adulterers, tax collectors" 18:11)

18:13 Genuine prayer often moves from praise and thanksgiving (as in the Psalms) to a consciousness of one's need of forgiveness and grace. As opposed to exalting oneself, there is a healthy humility (again see Luke 1:51-52, as in 1 Peter 5:5-7). It is not that the humble person denies his or her gifts (given by God), or forgets the privilege of being a child of God, or grovels in guilt.

18:14 Here the Greek verb dedikaiomenos (perfect passive of dikaioo) could mean being declared acquitted in a law court term. But in the epistle to the Romans dikaioo expresses a real change of character by the Holy Spirit (see the discussion of justification in the Commentary on Romans). This suggests that when we come to God without any reliance on our own self-righteousness, we are immediately put into a heart attitude where God can exalt us. Pharisaic prayer seems to lift a person up, but it is only a matter of time before the person is humbled before others and more seriously by God himself.

18:15-17 The very opposite of Pharisaic self-importance is child-like faith. That is why Jesus delighted in and welcomed children (9:47-48, Matthew 18:2-4, 19:13-15, Mark 10:14-15). This is what the Kingdom of God is about, and prayer is as simple as a child confidently running to a parent to express a need.

18:18-30 The problem faced by the rich - As opposed to the humble prayer of the tax gatherer in the parable and little children, the rich are tempted to rely on money to solve their problems. The saying about the camel (18:25) is a typical example of Middle Eastern metaphor, which is stated in extreme language to make a point (as in pulling out an eye and cutting off a hand, Matthew 5:29-30, whitewashed sepulchers, Matthew 23:27). It does not mean that wealthy people can never make it with God, but that it is certainly much easier for little children and the poor to enter the Kingdom of God (the sphere of the Messiah's reign).

18:18 This ruler (probably a member of the Jewish parliament (sanhedrin) asked a common question among rabbis. What does one need to do to be right with God and be assured of heaven? (as in Matthew 19:16-20). He is described as a young man (Mark 10:17). By calling Jesus "Good Teacher" the questioner may be suggesting that Jesus has done or is doing the one good thing that is needed (as the question is put in Matthew 19:16).

18:19 Jesus points out that genuine goodness comes, not by trying to do good but from God (by the empowering of the Holy Spirit (as explained by Paul in Romans 1:16, 5:5, 8:2, 4-6, 1 Corinthians 2:4, Galatians 5:16, 22-23). And all Jesus's goodness, and all the good he did, was by the power of the Spirit (3:22, 4:1, 14, 18, 11:20).

18:20-21 When he said "You know the commandments" Jesus is not to suggesting that the man could ever be perfected by obeying the commandments. But this is exactly what the young man self-righteously claims to have done (see the comments on 18:11-12). Obviously he had not grasped Jesus' teaching about the perfect love that only the Holy Spirit could produce from deep in our hearts.

18:22 Jesus knows the only way to shock this man out of his self-righteousness into genuine faith is to shake his confidence in money to solve all problems. In the other two Gospels there is no suggestion of selling every single bit of his possessions (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21). Dr. Luke knew he needed his medical instruments. Paul had a cloak and books (2 Timothy 4:13). So here Luke is using the Greek word osa (as in 4:40, Mark 3:10, Acts 9:39) to mean a large part of what he had accumulated.

18:23 This was too much for the young man. "He was shocked" (Mark 10:22). He did not argue what Jesus had suggested but "he went away grieving" (Matthew 19:22). And the reason was that "he was very rich" which suggests that his wealth was the one thing holding him back from a simple faith in the Messiah.

18:24-25 Jesus does not say it is impossible for the very wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God, but it is certainly difficult. And the reason is that if our faith is in our possessions our attention cannot focus on God alone. Some think the reference is to a camel having to be unloaded before it can squeeze through a very small gate in the city wall. That fits the point Jesus is making, but it seems more likely that Jesus is using a hyperbole (exaggeration used for effect).

18:26-27 If Jesus had required a total divesting of all possessions (like a Hindu holy man) Peter and Andrew and James and John would never have made it. They still owned boats and nets, and their family had beds and cooking utensils. Peter owned a sword (22:36, John 18:10). The suggestion seems to be that God knows our hearts, and he knows when our possessions hinder us. It would therefore be possible for someone to be a steward of great wealth and at the same time have one's heart in proper focus (see Joseph of Arimathea, 23:50, Matthew 27:57).

18:28-30 Evidently Peter is still worried about what Jesus has said. He knows what it has cost him to leave his wife and parents and children to go out with Jesus on his evangelistic tours. So Jesus assures him that he will be richly rewarded, and he already has the eternal life that the ruler had asked about (18:18). Many skilled men and women are serving our Lord in dangerous places of our world and experience the "very much more" of Jesus' promise. But when the crunch came Jesus had to pray that Peter's faith would not fail (22:31-34).

18:31-43 The Journey to Jerusalem - Although Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem every year for Passover as a child (Luke 2:41), and probably on many other occasions, this journey to Jerusalem for Passover is for a special purpose. It was pictured by the prophets (18:31) as a baptism of suffering (12:50) which will involve betrayal (9:44, 20:14, 22:4, 48) and crucifixion. But Jesus is certain of the outcome in resurrection (9:22, 18:33, Acts 2:24)

18:31 From his study of the Old Testament (see for example Psalm 22:1-18, Isaiah 41:8-12, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12) Jesus had come to see that his death would be inevitable (24:46, see Acts 3:18).

18:32-33 Luke records two occasions when Jesus spoke about his crucifixion and resurrection (the other is in 9:22). Here he adds that it will not be the Jews who will lynch him, but they will hand him over for crucifixion to the Romans (23:1-25, see John 19:5-7). The other two synoptic Gospels tell us Jesus made this announcement three times (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34).

18:34 The disciples were totally mystified by this talk oftheir teacher (whom they had by now recognized was the Messiah, 9:20, Matthew 16:16) being crucified and rising again. They would not begin to grasp what was happening till the last supper, 22:21-22 and the resurrection (24:26-27). But empowered by the Spirit Peter would be able to explain this clearly on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23-24).

18:35-36 At least one previous journey up to Jerusalem was through Samaria (17:11). But this one (see note on 18:31) is down the Jordan valley through Jericho. Our translation suggests that Jesus met the blind beggar as he was approaching Jericho before entering the city, and he was observed by Zacchaeus on the way out, 19:1). But Mark names this blind man Bartimaeus and he was healed when Jesus was on the way out of Jericho (Mark 10:46-52). Matthew remembers that there two blind men (not beggars) who called on Jesus also on his way out of Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34). It seems therefore that what Luke had in mind was "As Jesus was on his approach (Greek present continuous of eggizo) towards Jerusalem, and came into Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the wayside."

18:37-39 When the blind beggar asks what the noise is about he is told that one leading the procession is Jesus from Nazareth (a despised town), but he calls him "Son of David" (see notes on Jesus' title to the throne of David in 1:27, 32, 2:4). Some had recognized Jesus as Son of David (1:32, 69) at the time of his birth, and some spoke of this during Jesus' ministry (Matthew 12:23, 15:22, 21:9). Evidently this blind man had heard that Jesus was the Messianic Son of David, and believing this fact now called upon him.

18:40-43 By combining the three accounts the sequence seems to be that the two blind men (as recorded in Matthew 20:29) called out to Jesus, both were brought through the crowd to Jesus, and he went up to them and touched their eyes (Matthew 20:24). But only Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) was remembered as a follower of Jesus in the Christian community, and he is the one that Luke records as being saved by faith (compare the leper in 17:11).

Chapter 19 .....