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Entering God’s Kingdom
Summer Quarter: Justice in the New Testament
Unit 2: Jesus Calls for Justice and Mercy
Sunday school lesson for the week of July 22, 2018
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Purpose: To commit to serious cultivation of a holy and faithful life.
Scripture Lesson: Luke 13:22-30 CEB
Background Scripture: Matthew 7:15-23
Jesus traveled through cities and villages, teaching and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Jesus said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. Many, I tell you, will try to enter and won’t be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ He will respond, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from. Go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in God’s kingdom, but you yourselves will be thrown out. People will come from east and west, north and south, and sit down to eat in God’s kingdom. Look! Those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last.”
Key Verse: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. Many, I tell you, will try to enter and won’t be able to” (Luke 13:24).
The Text In Context
The Adult Bible Studies Summer 2018 Series’ author begins this week’s lesson with the summaries of stories in Luke 13 with storytellers telling Jesus about some “Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices” (verse 1). Jesus asked, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans?” (verse 2) Jesus answered, “No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did” (verse 3). Furthermore, Jesus addressed the situation in which the tower of Siloam fell on and killed 18 people. The writer conveys that we do not know what those who were killed were doing there, if they were working or not, but what we do know is that they encountered a great tragedy that day. Also, he pointed to the fact that Jesus did not question why it happened, but rather asked the question, “Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem?” (verse 4) However, Jesus answers his own question, “No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did” (verse 5). Jesus’ teaching was to redirect them from trying to understand why the tragedy happened to examining their own lives.
Next, Jesus adds the story of a barren fig tree (verses 6-9). The text reads that the tree had been barren for three years and the owner of the tree wanted it cut down because it had not borne fruit. (I wonder how often we want to cut down things or people we feel are not producing.) However, the story is rather remarkable: the vinedresser, a servant’s role to the owner, offered a new dressing of the tree. The vinedresser’s solution to the barren tree was to dig around the roots of the tree and fertilize it in hopes of its restoration. The writer states that this was going far beyond the role of a servant. The point is the tree was given a “last chance” and that it ties into our lesson’s text, verses 22-30, later on. Additionally, the people who were listening to Jesus were more interested in other people’s suffering rather than being concerned about their own situations and need for “second chances.”
Teacher, ask: For persons willing to share, when have they been given “second chances?” What were the fruits of the grace and mercy bestowed?
“Will Only a Few be Saved?”
The writer conveys that Luke mentions that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem several times (Luke 9:51; 13:22; and 17:11) and notes that some scholars believe that Luke’s purpose in writing about Jesus was to share details of the journey with his disciples. We read in the lesson’s text that on his way to Jerusalem the question was asked, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” (verse 23) Additionally, the author writes that when many contemporary Christians talk about “being saved” or “salvation” that it implies “going to heaven” and that this inference can have unintended outcomes because of wrong interpretations. However, Jesus did not engage in who would be saved but instead taught about the “conclusive obligation to God, even commitment, to his kingdom.”
The Gate and the Door
First, the author gives insights into Luke’s style of writing and his purpose in writing with certain details before engaging the text. For example, he conveys that some scholars note that Luke enjoyed summaries of stories and used them for his literary purposes. Also, he suggests that our text lesson may be one of those summaries because Luke used two images for a passage through which people enter the kingdom (gate and door) as evidence.
As we have examined in some of the other lessons this quarter, we see Jesus answering questions authoritatively, metaphorically, and with images. To this point, the writer uses as examples Luke 10:29, 11:40, 12:13-14, 41, and 13:1-2. We further read that someone asked Jesus the question, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” (Luke 13:23). Jesus’ response to the question was an “image” reference for the entrance to “presumably” heaven as a “narrow gate” or an eventually “locked door.” The image was for the few and not the crowds. Also, his response aligns with the response in Matthew 7:13-14: “Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. However, the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.” Jesus is teaching that many will try to pass through this narrow gate, but many will not make it in. Symbolically, he uses the door image as the gate but still establishes that eventually the owner will close the door. The writer believes that the image of the door entrance is also symbolic of Luke conveying that Jesus is addressing that committed believers need to have a deeper relationship with God.
A Closed Door and Eschatology
The writer provides the meaning of eschatology as “simply the Christian doctrine of the last things.” Further, it is giving a theological meaning to all things that happened previously and providing an understanding that time is not limitless. Similarly, we can see Luke’s writing method in this definition as he provides us with a summary of what has come before. Placing eschatology in the lesson’s text by relating it to a door that will be closed (verse 25) as the owner will close it because everyone who belongs to the household will be in for the night relates it to the last judgment (Luke 13:8-9; 14:24). The image is vivid in that those bargaining, even using their so-called “special status,” will not enter once the door is closed. We read in the text, “Once the owner of the house, gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and knock on the door, saying ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets’” (verses 25-26). However, the response ensued without entrance from the owner, “I don’t know you or where you are from. Go away from me, all you evildoers!” (verse 27).
Watching From the Outside
The author likens this lesson to the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as the “evildoers.” From these stories are places where they are locked out from the entrance to the kingdom of God. Also, he explains that the weeping and grinding of the teeth are signs of lament. These evildoers will not make it in the gate/door, but the ones of goodness will be watching from the outside those good persons of faith (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, prophets). The inclusion of the Gentiles is also presented as the writer conveys that this is what the phrase “people will come from east and west, north and south, and sit down to eat in God’s kingdom” (verse 29). It further expresses that God’s kingdom as a banquet in Matthew 8:11-12 presents an around the world dining with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The parable closes with the fate of the “good” and “bad” of humanity: “Those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last” (verse 30).
Many have closed the door on hearing the Gospel of God for many reasons and are hesitant about opening the door to receive the help they may need. Let us encourage them to be open to “second chances.” As followers of Christ, we can also symbolically close doors, so let us also remember to examine ourselves so that we may enter through the narrow “gate/door.” Let us not get weary in doing well and “commit to the serious cultivation of a holy and faithful life.”
Father, God, we thank you for the opportunity to live a Christ-like life and encourage others that need “second chances,” including ourselves. Let us spread the word of salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Summer 2018, Justice in the New Testament” is used for the content of this lesson.