Summary: Knowing the end of his life is near, Jesus needs to remake His disciples’ understanding of what their responsibilities are as they await His return. And so Jesus tells them a story that had a familiar ring: The Good Samaritan
The Call to Faithfulness
In Luke 19, it is late winter and Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem for His last Passover and the last week of His earthly life. He has just arrived in Jericho, the lowest city on the face of the earth which is 1000 feet below sea level. That makes Jericho delightfully warm in the winter and a great escape from the cold weather and snow of Jerusalem. Consider it the Palm Springs of its day. Before the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great enlarged and beautified Jericho making it the site of his winter capital. As a result, Jericho quickly became a highly desired location for the winter villas of the Jerusalem elite and Temple leadership wanting to curry favor with Herod . Many of the priests of the Temple were thought to live in and around Jericho as well.
Every time we read Scripture, we need to ask what happened before. There are four things which that lend to our understanding of our Scripture today. First, is the raising of Lazarus. Our Scripture begins with “the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” A month prior to the telling of today’s parable, Jesus brought Lazarus back to life in Bethany which was consider to be an unmistakable sign of the long promised Messiah. Word obviously began to spread among the people in the area and certainly among the pilgrims headed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, hence the crowds at Jesus’ entry to the city on Palm Sunday. So, many in Jesus’ entourage believe he is going to Jerusalem to overthrow the Temple leaders and the Roman 10th Legion, inaugurating His earthly reign to establish peace, prosperity and social justice, the three messianic expectations of the Jews for their Messiah. And they believed this was certain and immediate. That changes what you do and how you do it. It’s that sense of certainty and immediacy that Jesus could return at any moment which the church has lost today and which impacts our parable today.
The second event is just prior to Jesus’ arrival in Jericho when He restored sight to a blind man, a symbolic act suggesting that we are going to need new eyes to understand who Jesus is, what He is about to do, and therefore what He is expecting us to be about. Third is the encounter with Zaccheus just prior to our parable. Our Scripture today starts with “While the people were listening to these things.” That connects this parable with the previous scene: the welcoming of a despicable Judean Chief tax collector into the Kingdom of God. Being a tax collector in Israel meant that you were a scorned person who possessed considerable wealth, very few friends and no hope of inclusion. Of those in the despised tax collecting fraternity, Zaccheus would have been viewed as one of the worst. As a Chief Tax Collector, he was responsible for enticing, recruiting and training other Jewish young men to become tax collectors. That made Zaccheus a traitor to his faith and country by working for Rome, which the Jews considered to be the kingdom of evil. Fortunately for Zaccheus, as well as you and me, Jesus always sees what a person can become in Him, not what he or she is before His call. And so Jesus rescues another lost sheep when he calls Zaccheus down from a sycamore-fig tree and dines with him and his unclean friends. Welcome to the Kingdom of God! We find in Jesus, God’s relentless pursuit of us with His grace and the lengths to which he would go as He makes Himself unclean to rescue the outcast.
Knowing the end of his life is near, Jesus needs to remake His disciples’ understanding of what their responsibilities are as they await His return. And so Jesus tells them a story that had a familiar ring. A man of noble birth went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. This would have quickly conjured up flashbacks of Herod the Great and his sons. When Herod died in 4 BC, Herod’s son Archelaus went to Rome to persuade the Roman Senate to place him on his father’s throne. Archelaus was contested in this quest by his half-brother Antipas, His aunt Salome, and others in Herod’s extended family. While the family was engaged in their political lobbying efforts with Emperor Augustus, a group of Jews arrived in Rome and petitioned Augustus to dissolve Herod’s kingdom. Everyone in the first-century Near East would be acutely aware of the uncertainty that comes with a change of leadership and those vying for power. Will your nobleman prevail against the others vying for the throne who wanted to rule over the same territory? Because of these uncertainties, the natural tendency of any slave or servant awaiting his master’s return would be to cautiously avoid any exposure to your nobleman’s adversaries. Care needed to be taken in the marketplace so as not to be too closely identified with your nobleman. If he lost his quest to be king, you could very well lose your home and security as well. New kings can be very vindictive against their rivals and all who supported them.