Luke 12: 1-12 – Waring, Encouragement, and Exhortation to Disciples

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In this section Luke brings together further sayings of Jesus arising from diverse situations of his ministry. They are presented in the form of a discourse addressed principally to the disciples, and contain warning, encouragement and exhortation.

A large crowed is reported to be present throughout as Jesus teaches the disciples on the various demands of discipleship (Cf. Lk 6: 20; 11: 29). In this way Luke shows Jesus’ growing popularity with the people as a whole. Their reaction, however, is in sharp contrast with that of their leaders. At first, Jesus warns the disciples against the vice of hypocrisy which was characteristic of some of the Pharisaic leaders (Lk 12: 1; see also Mk 8: 15; Mt 16: 12). Their hypocrisy is compared to leaven which is often metaphorically used in Jewish writings and the New Testament for denoting the effect of evil. Sometimes, the word is found in a positive sense, as for example in 1 Cor 5: 6-8). For though leaven is good in itself, in the process of making bread it acts by way of corruption through fermentation. This ‘corrupting’ effect spreads into the whole dough. Jesus recalls this aspect of leaven to bring home to the disciples the danger of corruption through the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Hypocrisy is the attitude of pretension in piety and conduct. (In Mt 16: 12, ‘leaven’ is used to refer to the ‘teaching’ of the Pharisees and Sadducees). Because of their hypocrisy Jesus describes such Pharisees as ‘unmarked or unnoticeable graves’ (Lk 11: 44), whose surface hides the reality. (The sayings in verse Lk 12: 2-9 have parallels in Mt 10: 26-33; but they occur in the context of Jesus’ instruction of the Twelve disciples sent on a mission).

Verses 2-3 are like proverbs. They contain the waring that a person’s inner being cannot be covered up for all times. Therefore, hypocrisy is futile. Even the most secret words and actions are not hidden from God. The disciples should not fall into the temptation of concealing their loyalty to Jesus (Cf. Lk 8: 17; Mk 4: 22; Mt 10: 26-27 for the varied application of the sayings). For any and every form of hypocrisy will be exposed. Therefore, the disciples must not conceal their allegiance to Jesus.

In Verses 4-5, combining exhortation and warning, Jesus instructs his disciples (addressed as ‘Friends’, Cf. Jn 15: 14-15) to be fearlessly loyal to him even in the face of opposition and death-dealing persecution. The prospect of losing one’s physical life induces fear in anyone. But the disciples should not be afraid of those who can only bring about physical death. They should become fearless in the face of such people by fearing only God who alone can cast one into hell. In other words, the fear of turning away from one’s faith is far more important.

Verses 6-7 contain encouraging words for the disciples who might have to face persecution. They must realize that God who takes care of the insignificant sparrows sold in the market at five for two pennies, will show greater providence in their regard. Even the minutest matter like the number and falling of the hairs are within his wise providence.

Verses 8-9 combining again promise and warning. Jesus exhorts his disciples to be loyal to him and acknowledge him fearlessly in public. Such acknowledgement, will be rewarded by a return acknowledgement and any denial will meet with a disowning by Jesus himself in the heavenly court (Lk 12: 8-9; Cf. 9: 26; 22: 69). The important point is that the options one makes in the present are related to the end-time.

Verses 10-12, the reaction of opposition to and rejection of Jesus and his earthly ministry (“Son of Man”) is a very serious sin. But the sin against the Holy Spirit is even more serious and unforgivable. In Mk 3: 29-30, it is the accusation of Jesus’ adversaries that he is possessed by the devil and that he drives out devil by the power of the devil (Cf. Mt 12: 32, where this explanation is not found). Many commentators consider that the unforgivable sin is the deliberate, enduring obstinacy and opposition to the influence of the Holy Spirit who is at work in the proclamation of the Church. Such chosen stance against the Spirit is opposition to God himself, and therefore, unforgivable. It is not a question whether such persons could not repent and be forgiven; but that if they have chosen to be permanently obstinate in their rejection of God’s action, they will not be forgiven.

Jesus further assures the disciples, who, because of their witness to him, will be required to give a defence of their ministry, that they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Even though humanly they will experience weakness, the Spirit will strengthen them to speak (Cf. Acts 4: 8, where Peter replies to rulers etc.; see also several other episodes in Acts 4: 25ff).

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