The request to have Christ act as judge over an inheritance dispute, however, was problematic. First, Jesus had no legal authority for interfering. Second, the Jewish law of inheritance was so clearly defined that if the person making the appeal had any just or good cause then the aid of Jesus would not be needed. Hence, it must have been covetousness, in the strictest sense, which prompted the request. It may have been that, besides his own share as a younger brother, the person also wanted half of that additional portion which by law came to the eldest son of the family. Such an attempt for covetous purposes to make use of the pure unselfish preaching of love, and to derive profit from His spiritual influence, accounts for the severity with which Christ rejected the demand. All this accounts for the immediate reference of our Lord to covetousness.
The Parable itself consists of two parts, of which the first shows the folly, the second the sin and danger, of that care for what is beyond our present need. The rich man is surveying his land, which is bearing plentifully - evidently beyond its former yield, since the old provision for storing the corn appears no longer sufficient. It is implied that this was not only due to the labor and care of the master, but that he had devoted to it his whole thought and energy. More than this, it seems as if, in the calculations which he now made, he looked into the future, and saw there progressive increase and riches. As yet, the harvest was not reaped; but he was already considering what to do, reckoning upon the riches that would come to him. And so he resolved to pull down the old, and build larger barns, where he would store his future possessions.
From one aspect there would have been nothing wrong in an act of almost necessary foresight - only great folly in thinking, and speaking, and making plans, as if that were already absolutely his which might never come to him at all. His life was not sustained by that part of his possessions which were the 'superabounding.' But to this folly was also added sin, for God was not in all his thoughts. In all his plans for the future - and it was his folly to make such absolutely - he thought not of God. His whole heart was set on the acquisition of earthly riches - not on the service of God. He remembered not his responsibility. He felt he could do whatever he wished with all he had. He did not remember that there was a God Who might cut short his years.
So had he spoken in his heart - proud, selfish, self-indulgent, God-forgetting - as he looked forth upon what was not yet, even in an inferior sense, his own, but which he already treated as such, and that in the most absolute sense. And now comes the quick, sharp, contrast, which is purposely introduced quite abruptly. 'But God said to him' - not by revelation nor through inward presentiment, but, with awful suddenness, in those unspoken words of fact which cannot be answered: ''Fool, this night your soul shall be required of you; and to whom will you leave what you have prepared for yourself?" Here, with the obvious evidence of the folly of such state of mind, the Parable breaks off. The wisdom of righteousness in laying up the good treasure which cannot be taken from us is the concluding remark of Christ.
We read in the Talmud that a Rabbi told his disciples, 'Repent the day before thy death;' and when his disciples asked him: 'Does a man know the day of his death?' he replied, that on that very ground he should repent today, lest he should die tomorrow. And so would all his days be days of repentance. Similarly the Talmud, by a play on the last word in the first verse of Psalm 49, compares man to the weasel, which laboriously gathers and deposits, not knowing for whom.
Were they sinners above all?
Two events are recorded before Christ's attendance at the annual Feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. Each of these led to a brief discourse. The first records two circumstances not mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus, nor in any other historical notice of the time, either by Rabbinic or other writers. This shows, on the one hand, how terribly common such events must have been, when they could be so generally omitted from the long catalogue of Pilate's misdeeds towards the Jews. On the other hand, it also evidences that the narrative of Luke was derived from independent, authentic sources.
"Now at the same time, there were present some who were telling Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, '"Do you suppose that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans, because they suffered such things? No, I tell you; but if you do not repent, you shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, do you suppose that these were debtors above all men who dwelt in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but if you do not repent, you shall all likewise perish.'" (Luke 13:1-5, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
Christ was told about a number of His own Galileans, whom Pilate had ordered to be cut down, as we infer, in the Temple, while engaged in offering their sacrifices. Clearly, their narration of this event must be connected with the preceding Discourse of Jesus. He had asked them, whether they could not discern the signs of the terrible national storm that was nearing. And it was in reference to this, as we judge, that they repeated this story. Jesus' answer is intended to refute the idea that these Galileans had committed some special sin that warranted a special punishment by God. Since between Christ's visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles and that at the Dedication of the Temple no Festival took place, it is most probable that this event had happened before Christ's visit to Jerusalem. But in that case it seems most likely - almost certain - that Christ had heard of it before. If so, or, at any rate, if it was not quite a recent event, why did these men tell Him of it then and there? Again, it seems strange that, although the Jews connected special sins with special punishments, they should have regarded it as the Divine punishment of a special sin to have been martyred by Pilate in the Temple while engaged in offering sacrifices. Very probably these Galileans were thus ruthlessly murdered, because of their real or suspected connection with the Nationalist movement, of which Galilee was the focus.
For this purpose He adduced another instance, when a tower at the Siloam Pool had fallen on eighteen persons and killed them, perhaps in connection with that construction of an aqueduct into Jerusalem by Pilate, which called forth, on the part of the Jews, the violent opposition, which the Roman so terribly avenged. As good Jews, they would probably think that the fall of the tower, which had buried in its ruins these eighteen persons, who were perhaps engaged in the building of that cursed structure, was a just judgment of God! For Pilate had used for it the sacred money which had been devoted to Temple purposes, and many there were who perished in the tumult caused by the Jewish resistance to this act of profanation. But Christ argued, that it was as wrong to infer that Divine judgment had overtaken His Galilean countrymen, as it would be to judge that the Tower of Siloam had fallen to punish these folks.
Not one party only, nor another; not the supposed Messianic tendency (in the shape of a national rising), nor, on the other hand, the opposite direction of absolute submission to Roman domination, was in fault. The whole nation was guilty; and the coming storm, to the signs of which He had pointed, would destroy all unless there were spiritual repentance on the part of the nation. And yet wider than this, and applying to all time, is the underlying principle, that, when a calamity befalls individuals, we ought not to take to ourselves judgment as to its special causation.
Parable of the Unfruitful Fig Tree
"And He spoke this parable: "A certain man had planted a fig tree in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it, but he did not find any. Then he said to the vinedresser, 'Look here! For three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and have not found any. Cut it down. Why should it continue to waste space in the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig about it and put in manure, And see if in fact it will bear fruit; but if not, after that you shall cut it down.'"" (Luke 13:6-9, HBFV)
This Parable offers not merely an exemplification of this general prediction of Christ, but sets before us what underlies it: Israel in its relation to God; the need of repentance; Israel's danger; the nature of repentance, and its urgency; the relation of Christ to Israel; the Gospel; and the final judgment on impenitence.
As regards the details of this Parable, we mark that the fig tree had been specially planted by the owner in his vineyard, which was the choicest situation. This, we know, was not unusual. Fig trees, as well as palm and olive-trees, were regarded as so valuable, that to cut them down if they yielded even a small measure of fruit, was popularly deemed to deserve death at the Hand of God. Ancient Jewish writings supply interesting particulars of this tree and its culture. According to Josephus, in favored localities the ripe fruit hung on the tree for ten months of the year, the two barren months being probably April and May, before the first of the three crops which it bore had ripened. The first figs ripened towards the end of June, sometimes earlier.
The second, which are those now dried and exported, ripened in August; the third, which were small and of comparatively little value, in September, and often hung all winter on the trees. A species (the Benoth Shuach) is mentioned, of which the fruit required three years for ripening. The fig tree was regarded as the most fruitful of all trees. On account of its repeated crops, it was declared not subject to the ordinance which enjoined that fruit should be left in the corners for the poor. Its artificial inoculation was known. The practice mentioned in the Parable, of digging about the tree, and dunging it, is frequently mentioned in Rabbinic writings, and by the same designations. Curiously, Maimonides mentions three years as the utmost limit within which a tree should bear fruit in the land of Israel. Lastly, as trees were regarded as by their roots undermining and deteriorating the land, a barren tree would be of threefold disadvantage: it would yield no fruit; it would fill valuable space, which a fruit-bearer might occupy; and it would needlessly deteriorate the land. Accordingly, while it was forbidden to destroy fruit-bearing trees, it would, on the grounds above stated, be duty to cut down a 'barren' or 'empty' tree.
These particulars will enable us more fully to understand the details of the Parable. Allegorically, the fig tree served in the Old Testament as emblem of the Jewish nation - in the Talmud, rather as that of Israel's lore, and hence of the leaders and the pious of the people. The vineyard is in the New Testament the symbol of the Kingdom of God, as distinct from the nation of Israel. Thus far, then, the Parable may be thus translated: God called Israel as a nation, and planted it in the most favored spot: as a fig tree in the vineyard of His own Kingdom. 'And He came seeking,' as He had every right to do, 'fruit thereon, and found none.' It was the third year that He had vainly looked for fruit, when He turned to His Vinedresser - the Messiah, to Whom the vineyard is committed as its King - with this direction: 'Cut it down - why doth it also deteriorate the soil?' It is barren, though in the best position; as a fig tree it ought to bear figs, and here the best; it fills the place which a good tree might occupy; and besides, it deteriorates the soil. And its three years' barrenness has established its utterly hopeless character.
Then it is that the Divine Vinedresser, in His infinite compassion, pleads, and with far deeper reality than either Abraham or Moses could have entreated, for the fig tree which Himself had planted and tended, that it should be spared for a short time to allow one more chance to produce. The Parable needs no further commentation.
Healing and the Sabbath
The second event recorded by Luke before Jesus' attendance at the temple's dedication feast recalls the incidents of the early Judean and of the Galilean Ministry. We observe the same narrow views and externalism as before in regard to the Sabbath on the part of the Jewish authorities, and, on the part of Christ, the same wide principles and spiritual application.
In Galilee there is questioning, and cunning intrigue against Him, on the part of the Judeans who dogged His steps. But while no violence can be attempted against Him, the people do not venture openly to take His part. In Perea, however, we are confronted by the zeal of a Chief Ruler of a Synagogue who is very angry. He rebukes not Christ, not even the woman who had been healed, but the people who witnessed it, at the same time telling them to come for healing on other days, not perceiving, in his narrow-minded bigotry, what this admission implied. Additionally, what the ruler is likely unaware of was that Jesus felt sorry for the women, initiated contact with her, then healed her. Luke does not mention the women seeking out Jesus. She, like the rest of the people, were simply attending the synagogue as they always did in order to worship God. There is no evidence from Luke's account that they attended services that day for the express purpose of seeing Jesus and being healed! The ruler's rebuke, at best, is ill placed.
"Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on one of the Sabbaths; And lo, there was a woman who had been afflicted with a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years, and she was bent over and unable to straighten herself up. And when He saw her, Jesus called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you have been loosed from your infirmity." Then He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.
"But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and said to the people, "There are six days in which men are obligated to work; therefore, during those days come and be healed, but not on the Sabbath day." Therefore, the Lord answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to drink? And is it not just as necessary for this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo, eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" And after He said these things, all those who opposed Him were ashamed; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were being done by Him." (Luke 13:10-17, HBFV)
This rustic Ruler had not the cunning, nor even the courage, of the Judean Pharisees in Galilee, whom the Lord had formerly convicted and silenced. In fact, not only were those initially opposed to what Jesus did ASHAMED of their behavior after the rebuke of the ruler, they were not afraid to (like those in Galilee and elsewhere) openly rejoice, in front of their religious leaders, over the miracle performed! The retort of Jesus was unanswerable and irresistible; it did what was intended: it covered the adversaries with shame. And the Pereans in that Synagogue felt also, at least for the time, the blessed freedom which had come to that woman.
Jesus attends Feast of Dedication - Hanukkah - Festival of Lights
"Now it was winter, and the feast of dedication was taking place at Jerusalem. And Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch. Then the Jews encircled Him and said to Him, "How long are You going to hold us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I have told you, but you do not believe. The works that I am doing in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; and no one shall take them out of My hand. My Father, Who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one has the power to seize them from My Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Then the Jews again picked up stones so that they might stone Him.
"Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have showed you from My Father. For which of them are you about to stone Me?" The Jews answered Him, saying, "We will not stone You for a good work, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a man, are making Yourself God." Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods" '? If He called them gods, to whom the Word of God came (and the Scriptures cannot be broken), Why do you say of Him Whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?
"'If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me. But if I do, even if you do not believe Me, believe the works; so that you may perceive and may believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.' Then they again sought to take Him; but He escaped out of their hands." (John 10:22-39, HBFV)
About two months had passed since Jesus had left Jerusalem after the Feast of Tabernacles. He now returned to the city at the time of the Feast of Dedication, known today as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights. This feast was not of Biblical origin, but had been instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 B.C. when the Temple, which had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes, was once more purified and re-dedicated to the Service of God. Accordingly, it was designated as 'the Dedication of the Altar.' Josephus calls it 'The Lights,' from one of the principal observances at the Feast.
During the eight days of the Feast the series of Psalms known as at the Hallel was chanted in the Temple, the people responding as at the Feast of Tabernacles. Other rites resembled those of the latter Feast. Thus, originally, the people appeared with palm-branches. This, however, does not seem to have been afterwards observed, while another rite, not mentioned in the Book of Maccabees - that of illuminating the Temple and private houses - became characteristic of the Feast.
The Feast of the 'Dedication,' or of 'Lights,' derived from that of Tabernacles its duration of eight days, the chanting of the Hallel, and the practice of carrying palm-branches. On the other hand, the rite of the Temple-illumination may have passed from the Feast of the 'Dedication' into the observances of that of 'Tabernacles.' Tradition had it that when the Temple Services were restored by Judas Maccabaeus that the oil used was found to have been desecrated. Only one flagon was discovered of that which was pure, sealed with the very signet of the High-Priest. The supply proved just sufficient to feed for one day the Sacred Candlestick, but by a miracle the flagon was continually replenished during eight days, till a fresh supply could be brought from Thekoah. In memory of this, it was ordered the following year, that the Temple be illuminated for eight days on the anniversary of its 'Dedication.' The Schools of Hillel and Shammai differed in regard to this, as on most other observances. The former would have begun the first night with the smallest number of lights, and increased it every night till on the eighth it was eight times as large as on the first. The School of Shammai, on the other hand, would have begun with the largest number, and diminished, till on the last night it amounted to an eighth of the first.
Each party had its own - not very satisfactory - reasons for its distinctive practice, and its own adherents. But the 'Lights' in honor of the Feast were lit not only in the Temple, but in every home. One would have sufficed for the whole household on the first evening, but pious householders lit a light for every inmate of the home, so that, if ten burned on the first, there would be eighty on the last night of the Festival. According to the Talmud, the light might be placed at the entrance to the house or room, or, according to circumstances, in the window, or even on the table. According to modern practice the light is placed at the left on entering a room (the Mezuzah is on the right). Certain benedictions are spoken on lighting these lights, all work is stayed, and the festive time spent in merriment. The first night is specially kept in memory of Judith, who is supposed then to have slain Holofernes, and cheese is freely partaken of as the food of which, according to legend, she gave him so largely, to incite him to thirst and drunkenness. Lastly, during this Festival, all fasting and public mourning were prohibited, though some minor acts of private mourning were allowed.
More interesting, perhaps, than this description of the outward observances is the meaning of this Festival and its connection with the Feast of Tabernacles, to both of which reference has already been made. Like the Feast of Tabernacles, it commemorated a Divine Victory, which again gave to Israel their good land, after they had once more undergone sorrows like those of the wilderness; it was another harvest-feast, and pointed forward to yet another ingathering. As the once extinguished light was relit in the Temple, and, according to Scriptural imagery, might that not mean the Light of Israel, the Lamp of David? - it grew day by day in brightness, till it shone quite out into the heathen darkness, that once had threatened to quench it. That He Who purified the Temple, was its True Light, and brought the Great Deliverance, should attend the Feast in the Sanctuary seems most fitting.
Thoughts of the meaning of this Feast, and of what was associated with it, will be helpful as we listen to the words which Jesus spake to the people in 'Solomon's Porch.' There is a pictorialness in the description of the circumstances, which marks the eyewitness. It is winter, and Christ is walking in the covered Porch, in front of the 'Beautiful Gate,' which formed the principal entrance into the 'Court of the Women.' As he walks up and down, the people are literally barring His Way - 'came round about' Him. From the whole circumstances we cannot doubt, that the question which they put:
' How long holdest Thou us in suspense? '
had not in it an element of truthfulness or genuine inquiry. Their desire, that He should tell them 'plainly' if He were the Christ, had no other motive than that of grounding on it an accusation. The more clearly we perceive this, the more wonderful appears the forbearance of Christ and the wisdom of His answer. Briefly he puts aside their hypocrisy. What need is there of fresh speech? He told them before, and they ' believe not. ' From words He appeals to the mute but indisputable witness of deeds: the works which He wrought in His Father's Name. Their non-belief in presence of these facts was due to their not being of His Sheep. As he had said unto them before, it was characteristic of His Sheep (as generally of every flock in regard to its own shepherd) to hear - recognize, listen to - His Voice and follow Him.
But one logical sequence is unavoidable. Rightly understood, it is not only the last and highest announcement, but it contains and implies everything else. If the Work of Christ is really that of the Father, and His Working also that of the Father, then it follows that He ' and the Father are One ' ('one' is in the neuter). This identity of work (and purpose) implies the identity of Nature (Essence); that of working, the identity of power. And so, evidently, the Jews understood it, when they again took up stones with the intention of stoning Him - no doubt, because He expressed, in yet more plain terms, what they regarded as His blasphemy. Once more the Lord appealed from His Words, which were doubted, to His Works, which were indubitable. And so He does to all time.
His Divine Mission is evidence of His Divinity. And if His Divine Mission be doubted, He appeals to the 'many excellent works' which He hath 'showed from the Father,' any one of which might, and, in the case of not a few, had, served as evidence of His Mission. And when the Jews ignored, as so many in our days, this line of evidence, and insisted that He had been guilty of blasphemy, since, being a man, He had made Himself God, the Lord replied in a manner that calls for our special attention. From the peculiarly Hebraistic mode of designating a quotation from the Psalms as ' written in the Law, ' we gather that we have here a literal transcript of the very words of our Lord. But what we specially wish, is, emphatically, to disclaim any interpretation of them, which would seem to imply that Christ had wished to evade their inference: that He claimed to be One with the Father - and to convey to them, that nothing more had been meant than what might lawfully be applied to an ordinary man. Such certainly is not the case. He had claimed to be One with the Father in work and working: from which, of course, the necessary inference was, that He was also One with Him in Nature and Power.
But here was authority not transmitted by 'the word,' but personal and direct consecration, and personal and direct Mission on the part of God. The comparison made was not with prophets, because they only told the word and message from God, but with Judges, who, as such, did the very act of God. If those who, in so acting, had received an indirect commission, were 'gods,' the very representatives of God, could it be blasphemy when He claimed to be the Son of God, Who had received, not authority through a word transmitted through long centuries, but direct personal command to do the Father's Work; had been directly and personally consecrated to it by the Father, and directly and personally sent by Him, not to say, but to do, the work of the Father? Was it not rather the true and necessary inference from these premisses?
All would, of course, depend on this, whether Christ really did the works of the Father. That was the test; and, as we instinctively perceive, both rationally and truly. But if He did the works of His Father, then let them believe, if not the words yet the works, and thus would they arrive at the knowledge, 'and understand' - distinguishing here the act from the state - that 'in Me is the Father, and I in the Father.' In other words, recognizing the Work as that of the Father, they would come to understand that the father worked in Him, and that the root of His Work was in the Father.
The stones, that had been taken up, were not thrown, for the words of Christ rendered impossible the charge of explicit blasphemy which alone would, according to Rabbinic law, have warranted such summary vengeance. But ' they sought again to seize Him,' so as to drag Him before their tribunal. His time, however, had not yet come,' and He went forth out of their hand '- how, we know not.