Teaching the Crowds, Instructing His Disciples

Luke 12:22-35

And he said to his disciples:

“What I am telling you is this; don’t go getting distracted by worry about your life, what you are to eat, or about how you are to clothe your body. Your life is much more than food and your body more than clothes. Take a look at the birds and how they neither sow nor reap, they have no secret cache hidden away or a barn, and yet God continues to feed them! How much more then are you [being looked after] than the birds? Which of you, by being distracted, can add a measure to his life’s span? And if you cannot in the least do [something like] this, why are you so distracted by all these other things [of life and of body]?

“Go on, have a long, hard look at the lilies and note how they neither spin nor weave. But I am telling you [you can count on it] that not even Solomon, even in all his glory, was ever decked out as one of these. And if in a field such grass is there growing one day and the next is thrown into the oven, how much more will God clothe you who have such miniscule faith and trust.

“And so [this is for you] do not set your minds on what you are going to eat or drink, or be [in a constant state of wavering between hope and fear] on edge. These are the things that all the peoples of the world are seeking, but you [living with faith] understand that your need is already known by your Father. So go on in search of His Kingly domain and all these things will be added to you.

“Do not be afraid little flock [of my gathering]; the Father is well-delighted to endow His kingdom upon you. So, by all means, sell off what originates with you and give alms [generously], but [in doing so] make purses that do not wear out from use, with an investment in the heavens that does not lose its value, where no thief can break in nor moth corrupt it. For where your investment is, that is also where your heart will be.

“Always be on your blocks, ready for action, and with your lamp [trimmed for] shining brightly.

Luke’s account here is dense, thick. It reports on public acts of Jesus, the responses of the crowds, Jesus’ awareness that the crowds were being manipulated, as well as Jesus’ open proclamation and teaching.

There have been intimate domestic episodes [the raising of Jairus’ daughter; the exchange with Martha concerning her sister’s desire to sit at Jesus’ feet and be taught; as well as the time when its seems that Jesus felt no need to stop what he was doing to consult with his mother and family (8:19-21)].

There are accounts of memorable apocalyptic occasions when Jesus shared his divine life more directly and intimately with his disciples [his discussion of the meaning of Peter’s confession; the shared vision on the mount with Elijah and Moses; along with his paean of praise to his Heavenly Father after the return of the seventy].

There is indication given to us of Herod’s surveillance and we also learn that Jesus knew all about the deceitful trickery of the Pharisees and the Lawyers who were conspiring to catch him out.

We also read of Jesus’ teaching of his hand-picked disciples and his further, seemingly intense, conversations, elaborations and explanations with the twelve.

It cannot have been an easy and straight forward task for Luke to bring all that he had gathered of these memorable events together in one narrative. And we also know that this is also the account of how Jesus’ disciples misunderstood and yet grew in understanding because of the wise methods of their teacher who gave specially-honed advice to them. It seems likely that what we have is Luke’s account of Jesus’ teaching in which he intersperses reports of what he said with verbatim accounts of the clarification and elaboration he provided for the twelve.

So when a little further on we read of Peter’s question, in the midst of the account of Jesus’ parable about the servants of the returning householder:

“So is this parable [of yours as here] given [especially, exclusively] for us, or is it given for [and applicable to] everyone?”

we might observe that this is also a question, or something like the question, we should already be asking at this point:

 So are we to read all this as part of Jesus’ general teaching to the crowds (and us), or his more specific teaching to his inner circle of disciples?

It is a fair question and Luke’s method of narrative construction makes it necessary for us to raise it right here, after the parable of the Rich Fool. But that, we recall, was a parable given out to the brother when Jesus put him right, that he had not come to be trustee of that man’s family estate. Still, by giving the parable to that enquirer (and to us), Jesus confirms that he, as the Lord’s Anointed, as Messiah, has come to offer wisdom. He helps this man, (along with anyone else who has ears to hear), to conduct his affairs before the throne of Heaven. This is unpriceable advice that will also enable him to perform his familial and fraternal responsibilities in such a way that he will one day be commended for doing so by his heavenly Father. It was vital advice for how the man was to live – his life was not to be reduced to a matter of how his estate would be divided. In other words:

Listen to me. Grow wise and grow rich toward God and the way to enact your responsibility with respect to your inheritance will follow. Don’t neglect your responsibilities for these too have been given you by  your Father in Heaven.

Now Luke has told us, already, that this was a request that arose from within the crowd. And having given the man a parable – it does not seem to have been a private one-on-one consultation even as Luke received the information some considerable time later via a process of one-on-one oral transmission – Jesus continues and does so in terms we recognise are similar to what is found in Matthew’s account of the “Sermon on the Mount”. Luke’s investigations seem to suggest to us the occasions on which some of Jesus’ teaching found public expression and application.

The reiterated emphasis is upon the detailed personal interest of the Heavenly Father in the daily life, circumstances, conditions of his children, of Jesus’ own disciples as much as those in the crowd. Here Jesus brings to further expression the Biblical teaching by which he had countered Satan’s temptation (Luke 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).

Man shall by no means live by bread only; but by every word that comes from God’s mouth.

The cares and duties of this normal, everyday life, as well as those responsibilities which are sometimes delegated to us and which are painful and difficult, even when life itself seems to have taken an abnormal turn, are no reason to panic, no reason to lose trust in our Heavenly Father. So, as much as this now reads as the beginning of a new section in Luke’s narrative, it continues the theme that was immediately preceding it. For example, family life is oft-times fractured and malformed – what else is the story of God’s dealings with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Israel than that of a Mercy overflowing to a family line, that proved to be dysfunctional from generation to generation? – but it, and our responsibility within it (including the division of an inheritance) remains within the purview of our Heavenly Father; our life, just as much as the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, does not escape his notice.

Go and have a good look at the roses of that beautiful rose garden God has given you to tend and reckon with the fact that it is also here and now that you are under God’s blessing.  The coming of God’s Kingdom is the sure source and foundation of such blessing.

And even as the roses are here today in all of their regal beauty – making Solomon’s Kingly outfit look like yesterday’s out-of-date fashion – they too are also gone tomorrow. So, Jesus asks his disciples and anyone else who is listening, why are you so intent on orienting your life about incessant worry about your wardrobe?

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Luke is keen to tell us that this memorable teaching arose in a context where Jesus’ disciples, as much as the crowd, were living under intense anxiety and in great need of learning that “Man does not live by bread alone!” Such anxiety could prove to be a serious, perhaps fatal, distraction to God’s people. They could forget that God through Christ was busy making them into his Kingdom, into the Royal Family of their Father in Heaven. This Royal Father is not at the beck and call of his subjects. His true Son informs God’s people that he has been sent among them to serve. To receive the Son is, indeed, to receive the One who sent him. And these anxious members of Jesus’ “classroom” are reminded that their Heavenly Father has arranged for them to be freely fed and clothed, and if they need reassurance of this point they are to consider how His feathered creatures and the lilies of the field have been tended by His intimate care. You are worth many sparrows, Jesus has said. Your needs are taken care of.

And this is also why one who follows Jesus can indeed give away all that he owns, alms can be given with alacrity, even as such sustained generosity requires pastoral care purses that are well crafted. One is living off an investment, secured in heaven, and its value does not wax and wane like the stock market. This teaching, Jesus instructs his disciples, is no secret cache or private storehouse (12:24). This is teaching about life in God’s Kingdom.

to be continued.

 

 

 

 

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