First and Last

This coming Sunday marks our journey in Ordinary Time, the 21st Sunday in Year C. You can read a complete commentary on the Sunday Gospel here.

22 He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. 25 After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ 26 And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ 27 Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

Here in Year C readings, our gospel suddenly moves from Luke 12:49-53 (last week) to this gospel, passing over 12:54-13:21. In between, the warnings and admonitions regarding the coming judgment that began with 12:1 reach their conclusion with a sobering call for repentance. Just as the debtor on the way to court (12:59) is warned to make every effort at reconciliation, so also Jesus uses the sayings about calamity in 13:1–5 and the parable of the unproductive fig tree in 13:6–9 to make the same point:

  • read the signs of the time and judge correctly;
  • repent now, the time is short; and
  • be assured of the full measure of judgment.

The sayings from this gospel of Jesus follow upon the parables of the kingdom (Luke 13:18–21) and stress the same points as above, adding, that great effort is required for entrance into the kingdom (Luke 13:24) and that there is an urgency to accept the present opportunity to enter because the narrow door will not remain open indefinitely.

One should also note that the stability of teaching in the synagogues has given way and returned to the travel motif that began in 9:51 went Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.  Again he is passing through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. (12:22)

Another element lurking in the background is the 1st century Jewish understanding to the eschatological banquet described in Isa 25:6–9, whose images and vocabulary are mirrored in the Lukan scenes. “Isaiah had described the end as a lavish banquet, a feast fit for royalty, yet prepared for all peoples; on that day it will be said by all the nations, including Gentiles, “Let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation” (v 9, LXX). Although Israel did not lose sight of Isaiah’s vision of the eschatological banquet, the question of its participants did evolve in Second Temple Judaism, narrowing considerably in some instances. The Targum [Aramic translation of the OT], for example, maintains the notion of a meal for all peoples, but transforms it into an image of judgment against them—a conclusion echoed in 1 Enoch 62. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls (wherein testimony for the tradition of the messianic banquet is strong) one finds evidence of the boundaries having been drawn even more tightly so as to exclude not only Gentiles but also blemished Jews. Taking into account this trajectory of interpretation, the query, ‘Are only a few people being saved’ may well be understood with reference to who among the Jews are to be regarded as the saved remnant.”  (Green, 528)

Might the parable for this Sunday seems a contradiction of the one Jesus told only two chapters ago in Luke’s Gospel (17th Sunday of the year). The question there was: if we ask, will we receive? Is there a difference between the asking (11:1-13) and the asking for admittance to the banquet in our text (13:25 ff.)?

Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995)

Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gorden Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997)

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