Study 21 - Luke 17:1-18:8
Faith and its consequences.
This next section of the Gospel contains a collection of small episodes mainly about faith and its consequences. We read about having to be careful not to hurt anyone else, being prepared to serve in any capacity, giving thanks and praising the Lord, looking forward and behaving in the light of the coming kingdom and being persistent in prayer.
Please do read 17: 1 – 10
The 'little ones' (v2) are not defined but we probably will not be far wrong if we take them to be any Christians young in faith. 'to sin' (NIV) is more literally 'to stumble'.
Question 1: Is the advice of 17: 4 realistic? Can we sensibly forgive someone seven times if they keep on repeating the same thing for which we need to forgive them? Compare 1 Cor 5: 1, 3b - 5. What is the significant difference between these two situations?
Perhaps we should not forgive anyone 7 times if, by so doing, we encourage the persistence of the problem. There has to be a difference in our reactions when we are acting as private individuals and when we are acting on behalf of the church. In the situation in 1 Corinthians Paul is acting on behalf of that fellowship.
Question 2: Jesus cannot be saying to the disciples in 17: 5, 6 that they have no faith because they cannot throw a tree in the sea! However he must be saying something about faith. What?
Perhaps this is just another example of Jesus' dramatic over statements to make a memorable saying. But even so Jesus was challenging the apostles to think bigger about prayer than they had been accustomed to doing. Probably we all need to think bigger about prayer - I certainly do.
Question 3: What is the Christian service (17: 10) you do, or have done, which you have found hardest to do - only doing it out of a sense of duty? Does asking that question imply a wrong attitude towards duty?
You will have to answer the first part of that question yourself. Luke put the comment about duty immediately after the sayings about prayer. Perhaps what we think of as duty he is suggesting we should think of as prayer.
Please do read 17: 11 - 19.
The story of the 10 lepers is all about seeing and not seeing - a recurrent theme in this gospel. (see also Lk 8: 10; 10: 23, 24). It reminds us of the story of Balaam and his donkey. The seer who could not see and his donkey who could see. Does that mean we need to be donkeys and not seers, I wonder?
Question 4: Who saw what here and with what effect? Who failed to see? What do we find the hardest things to see (in this sense)? What do you do when you see?
The first person we are told 'saw' was Jesus. Then just one of the lepers 'saw' he was healed, although presumably all 10 of them had been. That one leper saw more deeply than the others what Jesus had done for him. And so he had faith. Probably the other 9 did not have faith, but went on their way as spiritually stupid as they came. He got far more out of his meeting with Jesus than the rest did. A clear warning to us.
Please do read 17: 20 - 37.
This section is about the Kingdom of God and is not easy to understand as Jesus seems to have made 2 sets of prophetic statements. The first is about what would happen to Jerusalem - and did happen to Jerusalem some 40 years later when, in response to a revolt by the Jews, the Romans attacked it, besieged and largely destroyed it with huge loss of life. The second set of statements is about what will happen at the end of the world. The fall of Jerusalem was the end of the world as they knew it; the end of the world will be the end of the world as we know it. It is not at all easy to know exactly which some of the statements refer to. The destruction of Jerusalem is a sort of prophetic foretaste of that still future end.
The very important phrase that is used to summarize the teaching of passages like this is 'Now, but not yet' meaning that the Kingdom was there in the presence of Jesus and is here now in the presence of the Holy Spirit but is not yet evident in its full and final glory.
Question 5: What does Jesus say here concerning the 'Now'? But the question of the Pharisees was about the future. What did Jesus say here about this 'not yet' aspect of the Kingdom? What do his words suggest our attitudes to these two aspects should be?
The now of those days was as difficult as anybody's now of today, full of wars and rumours of wars. Mankind has not changed much in these last 2000 years. Although Jesus clearly knew there was to be a last day he offered no suggestions at all about when it would be. The 'not yet' has already stretched out for those 2000 years. That fact inevitably affects our thinking, making us careless when we should be preparing for it. Jesus is warning against such carelessness. Be warned.
Please do read 18: 1 - 8.
The parable of the unjust judge is difficult. It probably belongs more to what goes before, the sayings of Jesus we have just been thinking about, than what comes after. Its primary meaning is not about persistent prayer in general but of our attitude to the expectation of the final day for at least 4 reasons:
- It is about a judge - and the final day is one of judgment;
- There is a general Biblical expectation that the apparent inequities of this present life will be compensated in the future life as Luke 6:21 and Luke 6:25 teach us and that is evident here.
- 18: 7 is similar to Revelation 6: 9 - 11 which is very clearly about the future in heaven.
- 18: 8 is about the coming of the Son of Man and that reflects Dan 7: 13, 14, 26, 27
Question 6: What compensating justice in the future life would most please you? Is that wish one that will encourage the Lord to think that he has found faith in you, or were you just being rather selfish?
It is a good job that only you know what your answers to those 2 linked questions are!
It is too easy to read this story as teaching that the Lord measures prayer by its quantity. That seems inherently unlikely. What about its quality? Paul only prayed about his thorn in the flesh 3 times and then decided he was stuck with it. We might have been tempted to go on pleading with the Lord like the widow in this story. Somewhere between the two stories is the right balance.
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