L. TABLE TALK IN THE HOUSE OF A PHARISEE (14:1-24)
1. HEALING OF A MAN WITH DROPSY (14:1-6)
See on 6:6-11; 13:10-17. Matthew 12:11 is a variant of the saying in vs. 5, inserted into the framework of a Marcan passage.
14:1. Jesus dines on the sabbath day with a Pharisee. Sabbath feasts involved no breach of sabbath legislation. The food was prepared the day before and kept warm. A ruler who belonged to the Pharisees: Another interpretation of the same Greek text that the KJV translates one of the chief Pharisees.
24. Answering (KJV): No question has preceded the statement (cf. 13:14) and the RSV omits this verbal form as a superfluous Semitism.
5. A son (RSV mg.; cf. Goodspeed): The reading in the Chester Beatty Gospel Papyrus (p45), Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, and a few other MSS. An ass: Read by Codex Sinaiticus, a few O.L. MSS, and the bulk of the late Greek MSS. Despite its less impressive attestation, the latter is preferred by the RSV editors, apparently because they believed the argument of the saying to be similar to that in 13:15 and Matthew 12:12a: of how much more value is a human being than an animal! But the sense could have been: If your child, or even one of your domestic animals, needs help on the sabbath you do not hesitate to give it!
6. Note 13:17a.
2. RULES OF ETIQUETTE FOR GUESTS AT A FEAST (14:7-11)
7. Editorial. It is difficult to understand the injunctions that follow as a parable. They appear to be practical rules of behavior that Luke has attempted to spiritualize by attaching the saying in vs. 11.
8-10. This passage is little more than an expansion of Prov. 25:6-7:
Claim not honor in the presence of the king,
Nor stand in the place of great men;
It is better for you to be told, "Come up hither!"
Than to be humbled before the noble (Amer. Trans.).
Codex Bezae and its allies have inserted a variant after Matthew 20:28 with the introduction: "Seek to increase from being little, and from being greater to be less." A marriage feast(RSV) rather than a wedding (KJV; cf. 12:36). Friend, go up higher, i.e., nearer the place where the host will preside.
11. In other contexts in 18:14 and in Matthew 23:12. Luke probably understood the saying eschatologically: There will be a reversal of values in the new age.
3. RULES OF HOSPITALITY FOR A HOST (14:12-14)
For another statement of the principle laid down in these verses see 6:32-35.
12b. This saying should not be pressed to the point of declaring that Jesus forbade all social amenities. There is often an element of hyperbole in his utterances. Hospitality as a quid pro quo has no religious merit. It is paid for in this age.
13-14. The only generosity that God will recompense is that which is extended to those who cannot repay it. The same four classes of underprivileged guests are mentioned again in vs. 21. Jesus never qualified or apologized for the Jewish doctrine of reward. He did not anticipate Paul or Luther or Kant. At the resurrection of the just: Luke elsewhere speaks of the resurrection of the "unjust" as well as the "just" (Acts 24:15), and it would be unreasonable to assume that this phrase excludes the idea of a general resurrection.
4. PARABLE OF THE GREAT BANQUET (14:15-24)
There is a variant in Matthew 22:2-10, but the differences are such as to suggest that Matthew drew it from some source other than Luke's, and that Luke's version is closer to the original. Allegorical elements in Matthew's account pervade the whole: The "king" who gave a marriage feast for his son is God; the "servants" are prophets and apostles whom the Jews had mistreated and murdered; and the destruction of "the murderers" and the burning of "their city" reflect a Christian interpretation of the events of A.D. 70, the capture of Jerusalem by Titus and his Roman legions and its destruction by fire. Allegory has been imported into Luke's account also, but it is clearly evident only in vss. 21b-22, which Luke probably added in order that vs. 23 might be understood as a reference to the Gentile mission of the church, and in vs. 24, which appears to equate the banquet of the parable with Jesus' own messianic feast.
The original parable was probably addressed to the professedly religious among Jesus' Jewish contemporaries. It is not they, but those whom they despise as sinners and outcasts, who will be admitted to the kingdom of God.
15. An interjected beatitude (cf. 11:27) effects the transition in thought from a banquet in a Pharisee's house to a banquet in the kingdom of God.
16-17. The custom of summoning previously invited guests is said still to prevail in the East. Matthew's version reads "servants" in keeping with the status of "a king." It is unlikely that Luke changed a plural to a singular in order to see in his servant an allegorical reference to Christ.
18-21a. Luke's version is more detailed and graphic at this point than Matthew's. Three examples are given of those who had accepted the invitation but who now reject the summons. I must go out and see it: The idea may be that the purchase would not be complete until the property had been inspected. I pray you, have me excused translates a Latin idiom. I have married a wife: It is interesting to recall, in this connection, that ancient Jewish legislation excused a newly married man for one year from all military duties and other business (Deut. 24:5). I cannot come: The refusal sounds more impolite than the others, but probably the form has been varied only in the interests of style.
21b-22. Probably an allegorical addition. Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city: Since the Jews who prided themselves on their exemplary piety have rejected the summons, the invitation is extended first to those whom they considered to be sinners and outcasts. The four classes now to be invited are those that have already been enumerated in vs. 13. The words still there is room prepare the way for the third invitation that follows in the next verse. In Matthew's account only one supplementary invitation was issued and then "the wedding hall was filled with guests." No doubt the original parable ended with some such statement.
23. Go out to the highways and hedges, i.e., outside the city. In its present context an apparent reference to the Christian mission to non-Jews. And compel people to come in: Augustine appealed to these words in support of his argument that the Donatists should be compelled to return to the Catholic Church (On the Correction of the Donatists 24). Quite apart from the question whether such "proof text" use of scripture has any justification, the parable can hardly imply that one servant could make effective use of force to fulfill his commission.
24. Represented by the RSV as addressed by the householder to his servant. But you translates a Greek second person plural. Probably Luke thought of the verse as an interpretation of the parable given by Jesus to his fellow guests at the supper. Jesus himself will proceed as did the host in the illustration. He will cancel the original invitations to his messianic feast. The figure of speech is similar to that in 13:28-29, but in this instance Luke ascribes to Jesus a distinct messianic consciousness--my banquet.
M. ON THE CONDITIONS OF DISCIPLESHIP (14:25-35)
1. RENUNCIATION AS A CONDITION OF DISCIPLESHIP (14:25-27=Matthew 10:37-38)
25. Editorial introduction to a new discourse constructed by the evangelist from originally independent materials. The great multitudes that accompany Jesus on his journey are warned of the conditions of discipleship.
26. And does not hate: Matthew tones down the rigor of the saying, but does justice to its sense by reading: "He who loves father and mother more than me." Wife and brothers and sisters are not in Matthew's version, which preserves a parallelism characteristic of Semitic poetry. Perhaps Luke has been influenced in his wording of this saying by that in 18:29 (cf. Mark 10:29). The mention of wife recalls to mind the man who had been cited in vs. 20. And even his own life: Also missing from Matthew's version. Perhaps an amplification from some saying parallel to 9:24 (Mark 8:35). Matthew actually appends one to his account at this point (Matthew 10:39). He cannot be my disciple is probably more original than Matthew's unique "is not worthy of me."
27. A negative formulation of a saying already used in 9:23b (Mark 8:34b). A criminal carrying his cross on the way to execution must have been a familiar sight to many of Jesus' hearers, but there is no evidence that "to bear one's own cross" was a metaphor for voluntary martyrdom before Christians reflected on the death of Jesus. Certainly Luke and his readers were reminded by this saying of Christ's crucifixion and the actual experiences of Christian martyrs.
2. PARABLES OF THE TOWER BUILDER AND OF THE KING PREPARING FOR WAR (14:28-33)
Twin parables whose original application, like that of many others in the tradition, is no longer recoverable. In Luke's context they issue a warning against any lighthearted assumption of the responsibilities of discipleship. See Epictetus Discourses III. 15. 1: "In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit; but not having thought of the consequences, when some of them appear you will shamefully desist .... Consider first, man, what the matter is, and what your nature is able to bear."
28-30. A wise man considers whether his resources are sufficient to complete a building before he lays its foundation. Otherwise he becomes an object of ridicule. A tower: The Greek word can mean an expensive building as well as a simple watchtower
31-32. A wise king seeks the advice of counselors before engaging another king in battle. He will sue for peace rather than invite the disastrous consequences of defeat. And asks terms of peace: Codex Vaticanus has a Greek reading at this point that is a literal translation (used in the LXX) of a Hebrew idiom meaning "and submits."
33. Editorial. the parables have no apparent reference to the theme of renunciation (vss. 26-27) but Luke attempts to impose it. They are more than a warning to count the cost of discipleship; they are a summons to disciples to renounce all their possessions (cf. 12:33-34).
3. WORTHLESSNESS OF TASTELESS SALT (14:34-35=Matthew 5:13)
Disciples who do not sacrifice everything in Christ's service are as useless as salt that has lost its taste. In Matthew's context (in the Sermon on the Mount) the saying declares that the disciples are "the salt of the earth." They are to keep mankind from becoming insipid or corrupt and are to be on their guard lest they lose their distinctive characteristics. A brief variant is also preserved in Mark 9:50, where salt is said to be some undefined qualify that disciples are to possess to live at peace with one another.
34. Salt was a necessity that often was heavily taxed in ancient times. It may frequently have been sold in an adulterated form that lessened its seasoning value.
35. Tasteless salt has no immediate or future use as a fertilizer. Some interpreters accept a suggestion that for the land is a mistranslation of an Aramaic original that meant "for seasoning": "It is fit neither for seasoning nor for manure." He who has ears ... is a formula taken over in 8:8 from Mark 4:9.
N. ON GOD'S LOVE FOR THE LOST (15:1-32)
1. PARABLE OF THE LOST SHEEP (15:1-7)
There is a version in Matthew 18:12-14; but differences in detail, and the fact that the First Gospel does not reproduce the companion parable of the lost coin, suggest that the two accounts were not drawn from the same source. The brevity of Matthew's version may indicate that in respect to form it is more original, but his interpretation of the parable as teaching God's concern for those who are weak in faith--"Christ's little ones"--seems forced in comparison with Luke (vs. 7).
15:1-3. Editorial introduction to three parables on the theme of God's love for the sinner. Luke assumes that Jesus must have spoken them to Pharisees and scribes in defense of his ministry to tax collectors and sinners. If such a polemical interest is not original, they were probably words of comfort and assurance addressed by Jesus to those whom the religious elite among his Jewish contemporaries regarded as outside the pale of God's concern. "The virtues of repentance are gloriously praised in the Rabbinical literature, but this direct search for, and appeal to, the sinner, are new and moving notes of high import and significance. The good shepherd who searches for the lost sheep, and reclaims it and rejoices over it, is a new figure, which has never ceased to play its great part in the moral and religious development of the world" (Montefiore, Synoptic Gospels, II, 520-21).
4. A hundred sheep would constitute a large flock in the Palestine of Jesus' day. Nevertheless the loss of even one animal would be a serious matter. In the wilderness: Not sandy desert but uncultivated pasture land (cf. I Sam. 17:28). Matthew reads "on the hills."
5-6. Vss. 5b and 6 are vivid details that are missing from Matthew's version. Luke may have borrowed vs. 6 from vs. 9.
7. The shepherd's greater joy over the recovery of one sheep that had been lost than over the rest of the flock that had not been endangered formed part of the parable in Matthew's version (Matthew 18:13b). It is probable, therefore, that Luke has transformed the ending of the parable into this application of it. Did Jesus intend his story to stress God's concern for the sinner as much as God's joy at his repentance? In heaven: A circumlocution often used in late Jewish literature to avoid the use of God's name.
2. PARABLE OF THE LOST COIN (15:8-10)
This makes the same point as the preceding parable and is given a similar application. The fact that this parable does not occur in Matthew has sometimes been used as an argument against its authenticity, but the gospel tradition makes it clear that Jesus often used parables in pairs. As in this instance, the first sometimes revolves about a man and the second about a woman (cf. 13:18-20; 17:34-35).
8-9. Ten silver coins: The Greek drachma, a coin roughly equivalent to the Roman denarius, had a silver content worth about sixteen cents, but was much more valuable than that in terms of purchasing power. A "double drachma" is mentioned in Matthew 17:24 as the annual head tax paid into the temple treasury by every adult male Jew. The money could represent the life savings of a poor woman. A lamp would be necessary for the search in a Palestinian house that was poorly provided with windows.
10. According to the thought of the time, a court of "angels of the presence" surrounded the throne of God.
3. PARABLE OF THE LOST SON (15:11-32)
The parable falls into two parts. The first (vss. 11-24) illustrates the joy with which God welcomes the repentant sinner. It is complete in itself, and teaches much the same truth as the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The second (vss. 25-32) rebukes the criticism of this interpretation of the love and mercy of God that had been made by "righteous persons that need no repentance." Some interpreters have supposed this second part to be a later appendix. The elder son is said to represent either Pharisaism or Jewish Christianity. But no such direct allegory is apparent. The second part is just as parabolic in form as the first, and the whole is best regarded as a unity. The parable is left by Luke to speak for itself without any formal application.
11-12. The parable assumes that although the younger son requests and receives immediate possession of his share of property--according to Deut. 21:17 he would be entitled to one third--the father continues to enjoy a life interest in that portion assigned to the elder. Jesus ben Sira warns his readers against disposing of their property by gift:
To a son or a wife, to a brother or a friend,
Do not give power over yourself as long as you live,
And do not give your money to someone else,
So that you may not change your mind and have to ask for it
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
When the days of your life reach their end,
At the time of your death distribute your property.
(Ecclus. 33:19-23 Goodspeed.)
13. Gathered all he had, i.e., after he had converted his property into money. A far country: Jesus' hearers would think of such lands as Italy, North Africa, Egypt, or Babylonia. In loose living: The phrase translates a good Greek adverb but one that occurs nowhere else in the Greek Bible. It means either "recklessly" or "in dissolute pleasures." The elder brother understood it in the latter sense (vs. 30). A papyrus from Hermopolis in Egypt, written in the late first or early second century A.D., records the complaint of the parents of a young man that their son Castor had "squandered all his own property with others in extravagant living," and now wished to waste theirs also.
14-16. Having dissipated his resources, the young man was compelled in a time of famine to seek employment. Jesus' hearers would consider a swineherd's occupation the most degrading a Jew could accept. A Talmudic proverb declares: "Cursed is the man who tends swine, and the man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!" He soon came to envy the swine the food doled out to them. He himself was not allowed even such pitiful fare. Pods of the carob tree are frequently mentioned in rabbinical literature as fodder for domestic animals, but as food for men only in times of dire need. Filled his belly with (KJV; RSV mg.): The reading in Codex Alexandrinus, various O.L. versions, and the Sinaitic Syriac, as well as the bulk of the late Greek MSS.
17-20. When he came to himself:An idiom in Semitic languages as well as in Greek and Latin. In this instance it could be paraphrased: "When he realized how foolish he had been." A Talmudic proverb recalls the prodigal's predicament: "When a son [who has left home] has to walk barefooted [because of poverty], he remembers how well he had been treated in his father's house." I have sinned: There is a similar confession in a papyrus letter of a certain Antonius Longus to his mother, written in Fayûm in the second century A.D.: "I write to thee that I am naked. I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled to me. Furthermore, I know what I have brought upon myself. I have been chastened even as is meet. I know that I have sinned" (Adolf Deissmann, Light From the Ancient East, tr. L. R. M. Strachan [2nd ed.; New York: George H. Doran Co., 1927], p. 188). The prodigal hopes for mercy, but is unprepared for the generosity of a father's love.
21. The father interrupts the speech his son had carefully rehearsed. Treat me as one of your hired servants (RSV mg.) is regarded by most editors as an interpolation from vs. 19b, despite the fact that it is included in the text by codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Bezae, and others.
22-23. The prodigal is clothed in finery, and his return is celebrated with feasting and merrymaking in the Oriental manner. The best robe was reserved for distinguished guests and special occasions.
24. Spiritually dead and lost, as in 9:60 and 19:10. The first part of the verse is repeated in vs. 32 as the conclusion to the whole parable.
25-28a. The elder son, coming in from his day's work in the field, inquires the reason for the festivities from one of the servants. He learns of his brother's return and refuses to enter the house. The Greek word translated by music may be the name of a specific wind instrument resembling the bagpipe, as it is in the LXX version of Dan. 3:5.
28b-30. His response to his father's urging that he join in the rejoicings is a bitter complaint that a life of virtue has been left without reward, while a life of dissipation and vice has been celebrated with a feast. This son of yours: A contemptuous repudiation of any fraternal relationship to the prodigal.
31. The father's reply to the first part of the complaint (vs. 29).
32. The reply to the second part of the complaint (vs. 30). It is the restoration of the prodigal to the family circle that is celebrated. A recapitulation (with the necessary changes) of vs. 24a. This your brother rebukes the unbrotherly phrase used by the elder son in vs. 30.