A closer look at Luke (Part 7): A warning about discernment

Luke 8

As we approach this chapter in our closer look at Luke, we see that most of it consists of stories that are very commonly taught in the Jesus narrative: Jesus sharing the parable of the sower, calming the storm, healing a demon-possessed man and sending the demons into a herd of pigs, and healing a dead girl and a sick woman.

Many of these sections have been mined for content, and they all offer important glimpses into the ministry of Jesus. However, I want to focus on just a couple key passages that, as has been the theme of this study, I have not previously noticed and fully considered.

We begin at the start of the chapter, where we learn that Jesus and “the Twelve” had begun to travel more, leaving Capernaum to visit many towns and villages “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (1). A quick callback to some of our earlier discussions: the people to whom he preaches “good news” are poor, oppressed, and powerless, and the reason the kingdom of God brings “good news” to them is because it is an inversion of their current status. As such, what they considered “good news” would not likely have been deemed such by the wealthy, powerful, or oppressors.

That part is the fundamental core of Jesus’ message, so if we are to follow him we must genuinely side with the poor, oppressed, and powerless. Disingenuously finding ways to claim that we ourselves are the poor, oppressed, and powerless, when all objectively and logical reason dictate otherwise completely misses the point of Jesus’ ministry and actually puts us at odds with the kingdom of God even as we falsely proclaim our status within it.

The next two verses highlight some key figures who are often forgotten and the role they played: Mary, Joanna, Susanna, “and many others” (2-3). Luke specifically follows his mention of “the Twelve” (whom we would come to refer to simply as the disciples) with a comment on the many women who were there throughout this time. Further, he states that “these women were helping to support them out of their own means” (3). So not only were women key followers of Jesus, but they were actively some of the most important providers for his ministry.

Particularly on the heels of Jesus highlighting the humility, faith, and love of a “sinful” woman in the previous chapter, we are told that Jesus’ ministry literally would not be possible without women. In fact, they were the providers. That statement goes against so much church tradition that has focused on minimizing the role and authority of women (though euphemistically claiming not to with terms like “complementarianism”) and claiming that men are meant to be the providers while women should stay at home and raise the family.

These women were some of Jesus’ closest followers. In terms of impact, they were quite possibly his most important. They made it financially possible for Jesus to do what he did, and they followed him wherever he went. We should remember this when we encounter suggestions that “traditional” gender roles are Christian in nature: they don’t come from Christ.

Jumping ahead a bit to after the parable of the sower, Jesus explains to his followers that they will see “the secrets of the kingdom of God,” while others will miss the point (10). He explains that they will play a huge role in the spread of the kingdom of God by serving as a lamp on a stand. But along with such a lofty position comes a great responsibility: “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him” (18).

I never used to understand that verse. Growing up, I thought it oddly contradicted his messages of promise for the poor, and it just never made sense to me. However, reading it in the full context of the passage, I don’t believe he’s talking about material wealth. I believe he’s talking about discovering the secrets of the kingdom of God.

First, he informs the disciples of this privileged position they have (to learn the secrets), then he describes what that role is (to share them and be a beacon of light and truth with nothing hidden). Finally, he offers the sober warning that goes with it; because of this position, you must ensure you are listening closely and properly. You must get this right. Those who do will continue to have their eyes opened to truths about God and hope that they never imagined; each day, they will go deeper, yet there will always be more to know and embrace. There is an inherent humility and fervent desire for authenticity that is at the center of this. On the other side, those who do not listen carefully, who do not properly and humbly seek the truths of the kingdom and convey them to the world, will lose all access to those secrets.

This has nothing to do with worldly authority. Throughout the Bible we find stories of godly prophets who were hated by their communities and evildoers who were beloved by their neighbors. This is about the heart and the revelation of the kingdom of God, the genuine sharing in the good news.

This idea is incredible. It explains the concept of “court evangelicals,” as Christian historian John Fea refers to the group of pastors that openly support Donald Trump and sing his praises to the masses. Further, it explains all the “Christian” pastors and leaders who continue to engage in such support.

I always wondered how they can be so blind to the truth, but Jesus warned his disciples exactly what would happen if they distorted the message of the kingdom. He warned that they would become blinded to the secrets of the kingdom of God. Sure enough, this is what we’re seeing all around us, as leaders we formerly viewed with respect and trust display themselves to have lost any wisdom they may have once had.

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. -Luke 8:18

This warning is immediately followed by a brief snippet about Jesus’ family trying to visit him. Other tellings of the story suggest that they thought he was crazy and were trying to take him home, but this version simply says they “came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd” (19). When someone told Jesus they were there and wanted to see him, Jesus basically shuts them down: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (21).

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this story comes right after the previous message. I think it shows us just how seriously Jesus considered his words of warning: even his family was not exempt from them. The woman who gave birth to him and nurtured and raised him would be held to this same standard: hear God’s word and put it into practice.

That is a sobering realization, and an important warning to take to heart. In this passage, we see a highlighting of the essential role of women in Jesus’ ministry, and we see a solemn warning against misusing the secrets of the kingdom of God revealed to us through the words and life of Jesus. Let us keep both in mind as we move forward in our efforts to follow Christ and be the lamp on a stand in our world today.


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