With the whimsical Douglas LeBlanc guiding us last week through Luke’s introductory chapters detailing Jesus’ birth and preparation for ministry, I happily pick up the reins this week as our guide through a significant portion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry.
Sunday — Jesus is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. He says, “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24). Mark adds that Jesus “could do no deed of power there” (Mark 6:5). What we think somebody should be cuts us off from what God is forming that person to be, and the word God may be trying to impart to us through that person. In evoking Elijah and Elisha, Jesus reminds his hometown that whenever Israel rejects one of God’s prophets, God sends them somewhere else, to those eager to receive the message. Offended, the townspeople wanted to kill Jesus, but “his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30), so he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:30).
The next 13 verses prove Jesus’ point. He is received well in Capernaum and cities throughout the surrounding region. His synagogue teaching, healing power, and command over demons astonish people, for Jesus “spoke with authority” (Luke 4:32). Jesus speaks and acts with authority because his words and actions are those of God, because he is God. The people “wanted to prevent him from leaving them,” but he “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well” (Luke 4:42-43). The good news of God’s kingdom is for all people. This reinforces the primary theme of Luke’s Gospel.
Monday — Today’s reading begins with Jesus’ calling of Peter, James, and John on Lake Gennesaret. His command of “Put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4) is spiritually rich. All of us, either in the past or right now, have experienced spiritual emptiness, feeling discouraged. But when we “put out into the deep” with Jesus, he gives us courage to keep going. Peter, James, and John saw the result and left everything to follow him. Discouragement becomes encouragement, through which comes the assurance of Jesus truly being “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). “Put out into the deep” is an invitation to Christian discipleship.
Our reading concludes with Jesus cleansing a leper: “Go … show yourself to the priest … for a testimony to them” (Luke 5:14). In addition to fulfilling the Law, this is meant to serve as proof to the people, ensuring the former leper’s reincorporation into his spiritual community. “But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad” (Luke 5:15). He told the man not to tell anyone, but we see how that worked out. And how can we be surprised? What Jesus is doing “is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:23).
Tuesday — In today’s readings we see the beginnings of Jesus’ run-ins with the Pharisees. They were regarded as the most expert and accurate expositors of the Jewish Law. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). But too stubborn and stuck in their ways were the Pharisees to see in Jesus the fulfilling of the very Law they pledged to defend. “I am about to do a new thing; do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:19).
By healing the paralytic, Jesus shows his authority to heal the sick and forgive sins. In calling Levi, he shows how God prefers repentance and offers forgiveness to sinners. And in answering the question on fasting, Jesus conveys how he is the new thing that has come into the world’s life. What the Pharisees cannot see is how this new thing, Jesus Christ, is the true representation of what the Old Covenant has foretold.
Wednesday — Jesus’ troubles with the Pharisees continue for the first 11 verses of today’s reading, this time concerning the Sabbath. In two separate incidents, Jesus’ disciples pluck heads of grain and Jesus heals a man’s withered hand, and the Pharisees assert both actions violate the Sabbath. “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9). Jesus is more concerned about crucial human needs being met than technical violations of the Law. He favors mercy over spiritual rigidity. The Lord’s mercy and compassion never cease.
Next is the account of Jesus choosing from among his disciples the first Apostles. Back in mid-2007, I remember remarking to my local parish rector as I was discerning ordination how unworthy I felt that God would call me to the priesthood. He replied, “If God calls you, you are worthy.”
“Now during those days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and choose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). It was ordinary people like you and me that Jesus called to this important ministry. The Church’s continued existence witnesses to how the gospel has carried on through the Apostles and their successors and representatives, all by way of the Holy Spirit’s power. As one who for almost six years has been serving the Church as one of its priests, I can attest to how much of a privilege it is to serve God and his people in this role.
Today’s reading ends with the beginning verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. After choosing the Twelve Apostles, Jesus comes down the mountain to find vast numbers of people waiting for him. Many people seek his healing, to touch and hear him. Luke begins this account by noting how “the crowd sought to touch [Jesus], for power came out from him and healed them all.” Not only does Jesus’ touch heal, but his words also heal, being the fount of all life. In the words and person of Jesus we can all find hope and relief. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Jesus gives good news for the weary soul.
Thursday — We continue with Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in today’s reading. God’s grace calls us to a life vastly different from those of the world. “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock” (Luke 6:27-28, 37-38, 47-48). Our duty as Christ’s followers is to work toward restoring all people to unity with God and each other. This requires actively engaging in Christ’s reconciliatory work wherever and to whoever he sends us.
This makes me think of a popular worship song my school kids love singing: “Jesus, you’re my firm foundation. I know I can stand secure. Jesus, you’re my firm foundation. I put my trust in your holy Word.” The Word of God is the firm foundation of the work of ministry.
Friday — “After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum” (Luke 7:1). The first supporting character we meet in today’s reading, a Roman centurion — a Gentile— has a slave he highly values who is gravely ill, and appeals to Jesus to heal him. The Jewish elders say, “He is worthy of having you do this for him.” But the centurion says the opposite: “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. … But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:4, 6-7). Perhaps the centurion’s sense of unworthiness causes the Jewish elders to declare his worthiness. Nevertheless, because of his great display of faith, Jesus heals the centurion’s servant.
Like the centurion, we are unworthy of Christ coming under our roofs. Yet, out of love and compassion, hearing our appeals to him, Jesus declares us worthy and heals our sin-sick souls. “God forgive you all your sins and make you strong to do his will,” Jesus says to us. Wonderful, blessed tidings of redemption.
The raising of the widow’s son in Nain not only highlights Jesus’ compassion, but also his ability to raise the dead. Jesus gives the young man, fully resuscitated, back to his mother. He does not require a commitment to discipleship as a condition of the healing. But you cannot help wondering if the question “Who is this?” arose in their minds. With a great crowd following Jesus, I would not be surprised if the widow and her resuscitated son joined them and became disciples voluntarily.
Today’s reading ends with Christ’s forerunner, John the Baptist, asking through envoys, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Luke 7:20). “What a peculiar question,” you may think. John the Gospel writer records John the Baptist saying directly of Jesus, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). What happened in the meantime?
Jesus’ activities and methods cause John to have second thoughts about him. Jesus responds to his cousin’s envoys, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind received their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Luke 7:22). The results speak for themselves. Jesus is the Messiah that the Old Testament foretold. “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7:23). Jesus is doing the right thing in the right place at the right time, all according to the master plan of salvation. And the good news is that Jesus will not change. His ministry is one of compassionate mercy and loving redemption.
Is Jesus offended by John’s question? No. “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Jesus commends John. He fulfilled the purpose for which he was born: “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me” (Mal. 3:1). John’s baptism of water is legitimate. Jesus now baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Saturday — We end this week’s readings with Jesus’ pronouncement of a woman’s forgiveness. It is not until verse 47 that we discover that the woman’s sins, “which were many, have been forgiven.” Thus, her actions are expressions of love for the forgiveness she has received before this scene. “Hence she has shown great love.” Simon the Pharisee is still judging her based on her old ways. But Jesus says she must now be seen in her new, forgiven state. The same thing Jesus says of us.
So, we end our time with the same good news with which it began. When we “put out into the deep” with God, realizing our need to shun our ways in favor of his, grace comes and a new life in Christ begins. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace,” is Jesus’ word to us (Luke 7:50). Because Christ’s love is real, we can walk with confidence. Take heart, believe the Gospel. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven! Let us love and serve the Lord with deep appreciation, serving him as his ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.
The mercy of the Lord is everlasting: O come, let us adore him. Amen.