Last week’s writing looked at the structure of the Gospel according to Luke, since it was the first of many weeks with that Gospel account; we are finally into the season of Pentecost. This week there is even more reason for looking at the structure of this account.
This week, the first verse of the gospel text [Luke 9:51-62] is a ‘turning point’ (see The Lutheran Study Bible, page 1702), the key, central verse which helps picture where the rest of the account is headed—literally: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is the verse that will take us to the very end of the book.
For several chapters after this text, you will find descriptions of things that Jesus did that are not told in any of the other three accounts. If it would be helpful to use the comparison of Jesus as the ox that is ploughing the field—having in mind the four gospel accounts and the four living creatures of the Lord’s throne—you may wish to think of these unique texts as new soil, new ground. And Jesus continues to overturn the lives of many different people, even today.
The people described in these following chapters have a variety of backgrounds. I thought it would be nice to make a list of the people mentioned when the text uses an historical present (describing something that happened in the past by using the present tense of a verb) to bring extra attention to the person doing the action—and to point out that Jesus continues to work on a variety of people, even today.
I would also like to note that, before this central verse, there were two historical presents: There was a Pharisee, Simon, who invited Jesus into his house (7:40), and there was someone who came from the house of a synagogue official who says, interestingly enough, that Jesus need NOT go to his house (8:49). He was basically UN-invited. After this verse, there is emphasis on another Pharisee, a lawyer, a manager (steward), a rich man, Abraham, the apostles, an unrighteous judge, and a nobleman (11:37, 11:45, 16:7, 16:23, 16:29, 17:37, 18:6, 19:22; these are indicated in the NASB translation with an *; Peter is also described in this way in 24:12, but some ancient manuscripts do not have this verse). Now THAT is a variety!
Another interesting aspect of this gospel text is that most of the text has a parallel in the Gospel according to Matthew. There is, though, a significant difference.
After Jesus heals many and a fulfillment passage is given, Matthew 8:18 goes along in this way: “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee]. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”
In contrast to that, Luke 9:57 goes this way: “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
What are the odds of someone asking Jesus the same question and Jesus giving the same answer? I would imagine that they are pretty good; Jesus has a pretty good memory. But having such a similar question-response, but in a seemingly different context, that makes most people think that these two texts are different recollections of the same event. With Matthew it seems that they are ready to go into a boat. With Luke it seems they are walking down the road. Why is that? A poor way of explaining the difference is by saying that these gospel accounts were written decades after the event and that the people who wrote them were not too good about remembering where Jesus was and what he actually said.
Were the disciples along a road or were they about to go into a boat? It IS possible that they were doing both at the same time. I especially think this is possible because the theme that was just emphasized in the Gospel according to Luke is like that of someone going down a road. The word really means just ‘path’ or ‘way’, and it is usually not translated as ‘road’. And in the Gospel according to Matthew, right in the previous verses, the author laid out the reason for the healings was to fulfill scripture; Matthew is again connecting the reader to the Old Testament, just as Luke is connecting the reader to the book of Acts (and ‘the Way’; see Acts 9:2).
Jesus is going down a particular path by heading to Jerusalem and by fulfilling the scriptures that he will be healing people. But his MAIN healing of ALL people will come just outside Jerusalem, on a cross.
These different perspectives are true and helpful for people in different situations. And it also should be said that the people that Jesus encountered were not a distraction. They were all people for whom Christ died. They made his love, his dedication, and also his obedience very real, tangible things.