Chapter numbers were introduced into the Gospels about a thousand years after they were written. So I like to think of Luke 17:20-19:10 as comprising one unit in the Gospel of Luke, and ignore the division into chapters. This section is the culmination of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem and his fateful encounter with the powers and principalities opposed to the rule of God. And indeed, this section of Luke’s Gospel is precisely concerned with the rule of God – conventionally called the “kingdom of God.”
At the end of what is called chapter 17 in our Bibles (Luke 17:20-37), Jesus is questioned about the coming of the kingdom. He goes on to describe “the days of the Son of Man” – what most of us refer to as the second coming. But that’s not the coming of the kingdom! Jesus says, the kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed – the kingdom of God is among/in the midst of us!
He then goes on to describe various situations that are related to the presence of the kingdom – chapter 18 in our Bibles.
Luke 18:1-8 The parable of the persistent widow, who continues to pester a judge to give her justice. So also God will give justice to his people. “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” One of the most heart-rending questions Jesus ever asked! And he asked this not about people in general, but about those who presume to be his followers and who call themselves “Christians”.
Luke 18:9-14 The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector…we read this in one of the Sundays before Lent begins.
Luke 18:15-17 “Let the children come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Luke 18:18-30 The incident of the rich ruler, who turns away from Jesus after he hears what Jesus asks of him.
Luke 18:35-43 Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar. Mark’s version identifies the blind man as Bartimaeus – son of Timaeus. A Gentile? His father had a Greek name. I think of Plato’s dialogue Timaeus. A gentile? A Hellenist Jew? Perhaps the reason why the crowd was trying to silence him? Yet this gentile or hellenist Jews called out, Jesus, son of David!
Regardless of ethnic identity, this man recognised Jesus in messianic terms – son of David! He shouted out, and shouted out even more as the crowd tried to silence him. He would not allow any obstacle to stand between him and the presence of God’s kingdom in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Luke 19:1-10 Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus – a Gospel passage we read every year in January or early February as part of our preparation for Great Lent.
From this unit in Luke’s Gospel we learn some things about who belong to the the kingdom of God:
Those who can receive it with the simplicity and purity of children.
Those who recognise their sinfulness and repent of it.
Those who are persistent – like the widow and the blind beggar – and don’t allow obstacles in their way.
On the other hand, the kingdom does not belong to:
Those like the pharisee who are deceived by their own good deeds and who think they have God all figured out.
Those like the rich ruler who turn away from Jesus the minute they hear something they don’t like, when they hear something that challenges a blind spot.
We all have our blind spots. Most Christians are against abortion, but many have no problem with capital punishment or pushing for war or a nuclear strike. They’re against killing babies in the womb, but have no problem killing babies, children and adults. And there are Christians who oppose war and capital punishment, but have no problem with abortion! Blind spots galore. What about Christians who say character is important in government, yet have no problem voting for someone in Alabama accused of sexual harassment? Or support a congressman also accused of sexual harassment because he was a civil rights hero? And there are blind spots closer to home, closer to our own personal lives.
Be careful with blind spots. They can become so powerful and controlling that we end up turning away from Jesus and the kingdom of God. But if we stay, if we continue calling out, the kingdom will fill our hearts and minds and heal us of our spiritual blindness and moral double-talk. Because the kingdom is among us, in our midst! Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God. Let us glorify and thank God that we are here today. We haven’t given up. Here, in the Liturgy, we trust that salvation will become real in our lives – not as something future, but as something that transforms us here!