For the text of Luke 9, click here.
The chapter opens with Jesus sending out the twelve apostles with “power and authority” as was recounted in Matthew 10 and Mark 6. Jesus is mostly quoted the same, though Matthew is a little more wordy as usual and some of the intention does get a little lost that way. For example, it sounds different to be looking at worthiness of a home or its tenants when deciding to stay a place in Matthew where the others have no mention of worthiness. It also strikes me a little strange at this point for Jesus to instruct them on judging worthiness of where they stay after being continually hounded about the unworthiness of those around Him by the Pharisees and scribes all the time. There is also a dispute between whether or not to bring a staff. Luke and Matthew have that Jesus mentions to not bring a staff and Mark reads to bring nothing “except a staff”. The Matthew’s account goes on for the whole chapter with other instructions and guidance but Mark and Luke both leave it at what to bring, what not to bring, stay in one place the whole time you are in a town, and dust your feet at a town that doesn’t take you in to distinguish it.
So the apostles leave Jesus here for a time. We know that they come back and this isn’t a goodbye or anything. Well, we would know right here from this section because it definitely could be read that way, but we know from having read the gospels that they come back soon. Nevertheless, I’m sure that this trial run for how they fair is helpful in more ways than one. First of all, I can’t see preaching during this time being much different than any other time. Sure, Jesus gave them this pep-talk and set them out, but I imagine that stepping onto that stage for the first time on their own was still intimidating. Further, I’m sure it increased His notoriety before Jesus got to the towns and so on.
Afterward, we see that Herod has heard about Jesus and confused Him with John the Baptist. Depending on the gospel, there is a lot of confusion coming from different places about who Jesus is. Here, Herod just questions if He is John the Baptist back from the dead with nothing further as to how he died in the first place and Herod’s guilt. For that, see Matthew 14 and Mark 6.
Next comes the famous feeding of the five thousand. In this version as well that of Mark, this story is preceded by the return of the apostles after teaching in nearby towns and villages. Here we get a glimpse of where Jesus is to. There’s a mention of a town called Bethsaida. This places them all just North of the sea of Galilee in what was then called the Tetrarchy of Philip but is now the Golan Heights, a piece of land under dispute between Israel and Syria. A crowd heard they were out there and followed them all, and Jesus chose to do what He does with crowds at the time. He talks to them and He heals them as needed. As always, this took a long time and there came a point where the disciples tried to get Him to stop and let everyone settle in everywhere but Jesus had other plans.
I never really thought about it before, because we get so into the miracle here, but what was He wanting to do with this? Yes, the miracle is amazing in itself, but is that the point? Jesus was always eating with people though, was the point that everyone share a meal together? Or was Jesus just having a nice time and wanted everyone to hang out a minute? I suppose we’ll never know. This story is also told in Matthew 14 and Mark 6, just after Herod hearing of Jesus.
As we’ve read before, Jesus has them gather the food they have, blesses it, and then it never runs out as they hand it out to everyone present. They end up with leftovers that were more than what they originally began with.
The next set of stories jumps in Matthew to chapter 16 and then to chapter 8 in Mark. Each gospel sets it up a little differently, but Luke has Jesus ask the disciples after praying alone, though they were with Him, who “the crowd” thinks He is. Here it could be the crowd they just fed or the multitude of people and crowds He has been ministering to all this time and will continue to minister to. They give the several answers that they have heard. Then He asks who they think He is and Peter answers.
“The Christ of God.”Luke 9:20
He tells them not to tell anyone because of what’s to happen and let’s them know what that is. He tells them about being persecuted and executed and rising from the dead. He also tells them that this is the price of following Him. The explanation there is a little like a riddle when you just read it and I can’t imagine my mentor saying something like that and it just making sense. What do you mean I have to be persecuted for your sake? Everyone loves you. It just wouldn’t make sense. I can see how this could easily not make the dent that Jesus might have intended, especially since they already went out and taught in His name. Still, He knew that even this wasn’t enough to make devoted followers as Judas was among them.
It occurred to me recently as well to not beat myself up for those times when I’ve spent a lot of time building someone up for them to turn around and betray me because there was Judas. Jesus may have known what was coming and been somewhat prepared for it, but even He had to have someone betray Him in the end. It isn’t a mark on me as a person and my inability to have people who feel loyalty. Even Jesus had this problem with Judas. I really started to give myself a break about it.
Getting back to the gospel of Luke, though, this is followed by the Transfiguration a week later, where Jesus takes some of the disciples up a mountain and they see Him with Moses and Elijah. I’m not sure how they recognized Moses and Elijah but I know that’s not the point. Jesus becomes dazzling white too. Then again, they do get close enough to hear conversations at some point, so that may be it. They hear something about Jesus’s departure and accomplishing something in Jerusalem, but it doesn’t seem like they got much detail. Then it gets really strange with them getting sleepy and Peter wanting to make three tents for Jesus and the other two, and the voice of God coming from a cloud and declaring Jesus His son to Peter while chastising him to listen. The thing that makes the most sense is the last sentence where it says that after all this, they didn’t tell anyone about it for a very long time.
The next story only has a parallel account in Matthew 17, just after the transfiguration there too. That’s where Jesus talks to them about the faith of a mustard seed, but that part isn’t in this account. There a man who comes to Jesus and begs Him specifically to heal his son after the disciples have tried and were unable, which is the part that causes Jesus to call out their lack of faith. He gave them power to do this but they couldn’t. He still calls them “faithless” and then heals the child.
He takes this moment to again remind them that He won’t always be around. He’s trying to tell them that they need to be ready to step up but not only do they not understand, but it reads that the truth was “concealed” from them. Though I understand that it could feel that way, Jesus was right there saying as much. If they didn’t understand, was it God blocking the information from sinking in? I think it’s just a figure of speech, though.
Sometime later, the disciples are arguing about greatness and Jesus shuts them down with the line about the least being the greatest. It’s a message about humility and service that’s harder to practice than you might originally think. But that’s one of the things the yoga helps with…
One of the disciples, John, comes across someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus and then comes and tells Jesus. He seems to expect that Jesus will want to put a stop to it, instead Jesus responds as if the more the merrier, so long as they are following Him. Then there’s a story about a village that rejects Jesus when they find out He is going to Jerusalem. It makes sense, in the context of the town being in Samaria and the Samaritans being generally apart from the Jews at this point. They aren’t just apart in that way that they were always countries. From what I recall about the formation of Samaria, this is a people split off from Judea after being one people for a long time. They don’t want anything to do with someone going there. It still sounds bad but we see examples of this sort of thing in the US too. We’re all one country but people from different states and who know you are moving to another state can get surprisingly confrontational about it.
The chapter ends with what is considered the cost of following Jesus. It is a short series of people who tell Jesus they want to follow Him but perceive barriers in their lives to it. Jesus always has a simple solution, but these are also not socially condoned, like leaving the dead to be buried by the dead. These stories highlight the way the disciples just stopped what they were doing and followed Him without wondering about anything else or trying to take care of anything else first.