In a long interactive sermon, Jesus teaches about genuine discipleship in contrast to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whom he has just denounced. The Pharisees are not present, so his words are addressed alternately to the disciples and to the crowds and include replies to three interruptions. He teaches his disciples to be fearless in the face of persecution. Moreover, they should not be worried about possessions but instead should seek God’s kingdom and give alms. Jesus also teaches about discipleship and its opposite through parables: the rich fool and the servants awaiting their master. When speaking to the crowds, Jesus warns them to discern the signs of the times and to repent in view of the coming judgment. The parable of the barren fig tree similarly warns of the impending judgment on Jerusalem and its leaders, a message often repeated in the central section of Luke. Jesus also refers to his upcoming suffering in Jerusalem. Jesus’ words are accompanied by deeds. Hence, after the sermon, he heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath. His adversaries’ negative reaction further illustrates the contrast between Jesus and the hypocrites. The healing is a sign of the Kingdom, which he then explains in two kingdom parables. The parable of the mustard seed highlights the growth of the kingdom, evident by the growing crowds, and the other parable contrasts the kingdom with the leaven of the Pharisees.
News of Jesus has spread widely so that people are crowding together to hear him. But first he tells his disciples to beware of the leaven (hypocrisy) of the Pharisees. Outside they acted pious, but on the inside they were evil. Using the idea that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” Jesus says the Pharisees are a bad influence on all around them. Jesus will teach his followers to be a positive influence, as coworkers of the Kingdom. With a series of contracting statements, Jesus explains that no one will get away with hypocrisy. Such inconsistency between external appearance and concealed reality will eventually be revealed. Fear of persecution might be a reason for denial of Jesus, but Jesus said only fear the one who can destroy the soul as well as the body, and that is God. He can send one into Gehenna (this word derives from the Valley of Hinnom located south of Jerusalem (Hebrew ge hinnom); this is where human sacrifice took place by some of the idolatrous kings of Judah. The valley became an image for the place of final punishment for evildoers. It is translated “hell” in many English Bibles.
Rather than fear, a disciple should focus on being a witness who acknowledges or confesses Jesus before men and women in this life. In this way, Jesus promises that, as the Glorified Son of Man, he will acknowledge such disciples before the angels of God in the judgment in the next life. But anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. According to Luke: “This difficult saying seems to refer to the obstinate refusal to repent, which involves lying to, testing, or opposing the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s grace brings about the forgiveness of sins, so there can be no forgiveness when the offer is deliberately rejected by a refusal to repent. Jesus thus gives a warning to those who resist the Holy Spirit thinking that they have no need of repentance. Jesus tells them: do not worry about your defense when the persecutions come; the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. The Spirit is The Advocate, who teaches everything needed in such situations.
How seasonable is our Lord’s warning to us…to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, professing without practicing. He warns us against it as leaven, as a subtle, insinuating evil which will silently spread itself throughout the whole character. He warns us that the pretense of religion never deceives beyond a little time….Let us ever remember that all who follow God with but half a heart, strengthen the hands of his enemies, perplex inquirers after Truth, and bring reproach upon their Savior’s name…..Woe unto the deceiver and self-deceived! God gave us grace to flee from this woe while we have time! Let us examine ourselves, to see if there is any wicked way in us….And let us pray God to enlighten us, to guide us, and to give us the will to please him, and the power. AVOIDING HYPOCRISY by Blessed John Henry Newman.