Refs: NIV Bible
L Morris (Tyndale Commentaries) Luke
M Wilcock (The Bible Speaks Today) Luke
T Wright Luke for everyone
B. M. Metzger (Ed) The Oxford Companion to the Bible
In the last couple of chapters we have seen Jesus teaching in the Synagogue, gathering his band of close followers around him, healing the sick and performing other miracles. We have also seen how His doing so, on the Sabbath in particular, along with the challenges He brings to their understanding of religion and the strict observances and practices they seek to enforce in pursuance of it has raised the hackles of the Pharisees and the Priests. It is quite likely that their combined opposition, allied to His growing reputation, has led to Jesus changing tactics so at the beginning of Chapter 8 we are told that He is again on a tour through the towns and villages.
It is interesting that Luke is at pains to emphasise the role of the women who have chosen to leave their families and to travel with Jesus the twelve in support His ministry, including financially (verses 2-3). We have seen in earlier studies the low status of women in the society of the time and such conduct on their part would have been shocking, while Jesus’s willingness to rely on their money would doubtless have scandalised the self-righteous Pharisees.
We shouldn’t think that Luke’s gospel always proceeds in chronological order, often he groups things together, perhaps to illustrate a particular point, but as we proceed through this chapter it seems likely that four miracles follow each other in natural succession. First however we hear one of Jesus’s most often quoted parables –the parable of the sower.
In fact the parable isn’t really concerned with the sower or, indeed, with the fate of the seed, it is really much more concerned with the state of the soil! Are any of you keen gardeners’? Then it will come as no surprise to you that it should be so. In those days seed wasn’t planted in prepared fields, it was only after the seed had been broadcast that ploughing took place – hence the possibility of seed being sown in the wrong place, and in the days before chemical treatments infestation by thorns and other weeds would have been a persistent problem even for that which was in the better soil. But of course this is a parable so it isn’t actually concerned with soil or the prevalence of weeds but with the priorities of the disciples, and of ourselves.
The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God are only revealed to those diligent in their search for truth – the quotation from Isaiah in verse 10 should not be seen as reflecting Jesus’s intention, but rather a statement of the unfortunate reality that the choice of many would be a rejection of God’s way. In any event when the seed does fall on good soil the return is immense. Elsewhere Jesus refers to the “harvest” of those who are saved by knowing Him – it is in helping to bring in this harvest that our worth as fertile soil is to be demonstrated.
There follows in verses 16-18 another oft quoted passage – those who hear, the fertile soil, have an obligation to share what they learn, see and experience. Here Jesus is directly addressing those who profess faith in Him and there is a warning we should heed. We should not be complacent, we are to continually reflect the love of God as it has been and is shown to us. We cannot stand still, we either grow or we diminish, there is no other option.
What comes next (verses 19-21) underscores the importance of our commitment to Jesus. His family come to find Him. (Other gospel writers tell us that they are worried – in effect they believe He has lost His mind and they have come to take Him home for His own safety). Certainly they don’t have any faith in Him or His message, although this changes for at least one of them later on. Again we should read verse 21 with understanding, Jesus is not saying that family is not important but rather that the relationship between Him (God) and us transcends even that closeness and devotion.
We come now to the four sequential miracles. We should perhaps reflect that Jesus’s decision to cross the Sea of Galilee is not a mere whim – He knows in advance what is to happen and this is planned for the benefit of the disciples - and of us. . The Eastern side of the Sea of Galilee was Gentile territory, although some Jews had chosen to make their homes there. In crossing the lake Jesus appears to be putting some distance between Himself and the Jewish authorities, at least for the time being.
The Sea is about a third the size of the Isle of Wight and lies some 700’ below sea level. It is often whipped up by winds descending from the mountains to the East of the lake, as the boat was making its crossing it was caught by such a squall and was clearly in danger of foundering, yet Jesus was asleep – either so exhausted He wasn’t aware of what was going on or, more likely, simply undisturbed by the events. Remember, some of those with Him are professional fishermen, men well used to the dangers of wind and waves, this is not a panic by land-lubbers in the face of a minor storm – this is a real life-threatening emergency! In their fear they turn to Jesus, realising He is the only one who can save them.
And He does, first rebuking the wind and waves and then rebuking the disciples for their lack of faith – do you see how challenging that is? They have acknowledged Him as Master (verse 24), they have acknowledged that He alone can change the situation but that faith isn’t enough it seems! Yet even when He has done what they hoped He would they still needed to ask who was it who had such command of the elements? The answer to their question comes from an unexpected source.
Having miraculously survived the storm the boat makes landfall, there is some dispute among scholars as to exactly where this was but that is of little concern to us. But even as the boat grounds on the shore a naked madman with iron shackles dangling from his wrists and ankles approaches shouting at the top of his voice. The disciples’ reaction would probably have been to put out to sea again immediately, but Jesus steps out of the boat and is addressed by the man who succinctly answers the disciples’ question! (See verse 28b – “Jesus, Son of the Most High God”).
This is the famous incident of the “Gadarene swine” for the man is possessed not by a single demon but by many, so many in fact that they describe themselves as a legion – it may well be that this is a direct reference to a Roman legion and, if so, it means they would be counted in thousands. There is no doubt that Jesus will liberate the man but at the demons’ request He allows them to enter a herd of pigs which rushes down into the lake where they drown. We can wonder at a number of things here, why would Jesus heed the demons’ request? Wasn’t it unfair on the owner of the pigs? Why would the demons drown their new hosts? Or, more importantly, we can concentrate on the fact that a man is worth more than a herd of pigs!
However, once the townspeople hear what has happened they come rushing out to see if it is true – Is the madman sane? Have all the pigs drowned? Who has caused these things to happen? As these are gentiles they have no expectation of a coming Messiah and when they find that it is all true, their reaction is one of great fear. They want Him to go – a reaction that many still share when they encounter the risen Christ – but not so the former madman, he wants to stay with his saviour. But this will not further Jesus’s purpose – instead the man is to go home and simply tell of what has been done for him, to share what he has experienced of Jesus – isn’t this what is required of us all?
You may wonder why it is that Jesus is happy for this man to tell what has happened when others have been sworn to secrecy. It is likely that there is no threat to Jesus by his actions becoming known here in gentile territory, but back home amongst the Jews it would further add to the disquiet of the authorities and that Jesus does not want at this time – He still has much to do
Jesus returns across the lake and is met by a crowd, one of whom has a special reason for wanting to see Him, Jairus’s young daughter is dying and despite being a ruler of the synagogue he is either a secret follower of Jesus or simply so desperate he will try anything. Either way Jesus agrees to help.
But He is diverted from His intention by the actions of an equally desperate women. For 12 years, the same time as Jairus’s daughter’s lifespan, she has been bleeding – for all that time she will have been ritually unclean, literally untouchable and shunned by all. In her desperation she manages to merge into the crowd undetected and in the throng surrounding Jesus she gets close enough to touch the edge of the garment hanging from His shoulders – it is enough, instantly she is cured! But her plan is thwarted, Jesus immediately reacts - for healing was always at a cost to Jesus, it took power from Him – “Who touched me?” An apparently daft question - He is surrounded by people who are jostling Him and, of course, He already knows who it was. But that isn’t the point, He also recognised the faith of one person who wanted to touch Him and why! Can you imagine her embarrassment and fear? Instead of surreptitiously being made well she is forced into the spotlight, made to expose her shame to everyone, scared that He will take away what she has been given. But that isn’t how Jesus works. Why then does He demand this of her?
The revelation of her healing wasn’t done to humiliate her, but to facilitate her reintegration into society. Look at the tenderness with which He addresses her (verse 48) – this is the only time the Bible records Jesus using this intimate term, surely indicative of His great compassion for her?
The diversion over, Jesus resumes His mission, but apparently too late. The girl is already dead. Professional mourners were the order of the day and obviously as assiduous in pursuance of their trade as modern day ambulance chasers for they were already there wailing away in feigned grief. When Jesus tells them to shut up as the girl is only asleep there is scornful laughter, the only time the Bible records such a reaction to Jesus’s words.
Notice how Jesus ensures that the miracle He is about to perform is witnessed by only a few, three disciples and the little girl’s parents. Taking her by the hand he restores her to life and then commands that she be fed – note, too, that now He is back in Jewish territory He orders the parents to keep silent as to what has occurred. Others will have to theorise, perhaps He was right, she was only asleep, but the parents and, probably more importantly, the three disciples know better.
So much for the narrative, but what else can we see?
Luke has shared four events which occurred so that the disciples could see the power of their master, to discern His concern for the wellbeing of ordinary people experiencing extraordinary suffering or the pain of the inevitable consequences of mortality.
Beyond that, however, the writer is introducing a theme, that of the role of tribulation in the life of all, including we who profess to be followers of Christ. We don’t embark upon a road that will be easy and avoid all problems. To the contrary, we will see that it must be a necessary part of our journey - as it was for Christ Himself.