November 18, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: On the road again

See Matthew 20:17-34, Mark 10:32-52, Luke 18:31-19:27

Jesus was on the road again, traveling to Jerusalem where he would meet his death. He traveled through Jericho, as he had often done before. The normal way to get from Galilee to Jerusalem was down the eastern side of the Jordan River so as not to travel through Samaria, and then from Jericho up the long climb to Jerusalem. Jericho was the natural place to spend the night before making that climb.

While he was traveling, he alerted his disciples to what lay ahead with the most detailed prediction of his Passion, death and resurrection. Despite this, Luke’s Gospel says that the disciples understood none of what he said because “the word remained hidden from them.”

Obviously, James and John failed to understand. They went up to Jesus along with their mother, and she asked Jesus to give her sons the places of honor in his kingdom, one at his right and the other at his left. Despite the Transfiguration they had witnessed and all that Jesus had said, they still didn’t understand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom. They also apparently forgot that Jesus had already promised primacy to Peter.

When they arrived in Jericho, they were mobbed as usual. The chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, a short man, climbed a tree to see Jesus. It’s hard to imagine a prominent man in the community doing such a thing, but it’s in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus sees him, calls him down and tells him that he intends to spend the night at his home. Wow! Zacchaeus never expected that!

Jesus seemed to have a special affection for tax collectors. Earlier, he had converted Matthew, now Zacchaeus. For Luke, Zacchaeus’s promise to give half of his wealth to the poor, and to repay anyone he had distorted fourfold, exemplifies the proper attitude toward wealth. It’s a contrast to the rich man who could not detach himself from his wealth in order to become Jesus’ follower.

After Zacchaeus’s conversion, Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” This verse sums up Luke’s depiction of Jesus’ role as savior.

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, there was one other incident. A blind man named Bartimaeus called for Jesus to have pity on him. (Matthew’s Gospel says there were two blind men. Earlier, he also had two demoniacs when Mark had one.) Naturally, Jesus does have pity and restores his [their] eyesight.

As they continued their journey, Jesus told another parable, about a rejected king. Some among his followers probably realized that the man in the parable was Archelaus, who traveled to Rome after the death of his father, Herod the Great, to receive the title of king. He didn’t receive it. Jesus was trying to tell his followers that he was not going to Jerusalem to receive kingly power. For that, he would have to go away to a far country (heaven) and only after his return would reward and judgment take place. †


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