Jesus and the Kingdom of God

Jesus keeps insisting on the need to repent, otherwise they will literally perish as those in the random accidents did. “They know not when their lives will be demanded of them.” Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree to illustrate the urgency of his message of repentance. The tree produces no fruit. The ethical application is clear to modern readers: God patiently waits to see if a person will repent and bear fruit in the future. If not, however, the owner will cut the tree down–one’s individual “life will be demanded” of a person, or the Day of Judgment will arrive with Christ’s Second Coming. (Luke 13: 4-5)

But the parable first of all refers to Israel. The tree is planted in an orchard, a common image for Israel in the OT. The owner may represent God or Jesus because the gardener addresses him as “sir” (kyrios), which could be God or Lord. The gardener asks the owner to let him fertilize it, which offers hope that there is one last chance for repentance. (Luke 13: 6-9) “Suffering must serve for conversion,” John Paul II.

Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath and heals a woman who has been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. He is met by the usual hypocritical harassment from the Jewish officials of the synagogue. When Jesus healed her, he used the passive voice ( “you are set free”) indicating that God is the one who acted. The woman recognized this and glorified God. The leader of the synagogue ironically thinks God is on his side. Jesus explains the logic of healing the woman on the Sabbath. He says that the Jews would untie their oxen on the Sabbath to take them to water. Jesus is merely doing the same: he is freeing the woman from bondage so her spirit can “drink” of God’s mercy. As a parting shot, Jesus calls the Jews hypocrites because they focus on the external observance of the Sabbath, ignoring its inner meaning.

The Sabbath was important for many reasons, but two are described. First, the Sabbath was a reminder about creation: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.” Second, the Sabbath recalled Israel’s Exodus: “Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, brought you out from there…That is why the Lord, your God, has commanded you to observe the Sabbath Day.” The Sabbath healing of the woman who was bound signals that Jesus’ mission is to lead Israel in a new Exodus from the bondage, not of Pharaoh, but of Satan. (Luke 13: 15-16)

Then Jesus said: ” What is the kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? Answering his own question, he said: “It is like a seed, that when planted, became a huge bush and even the birds could make nests in it.” He asked the question again: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?” Again he answered: “It is like yeast, when its put with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.” When the kingdom of heaven becomes fully grown, people like birds nesting in the mustard bush, will find a comfortable place in the kingdom.

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