Today’s reading: Luke 10:1-24
In today’s reading, Jesus has some not so good news for a few towns in Israel’s northern area.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
Why does Jesus condemn these towns? What is it that they have done (or failed to do) that condemns them? First, recall in the previous chapter that Luke has just recounted the feeding of the 5,000. He places it in Bethsaida. Remember that Bethsaida and Capernaum are essentially the two towns on either side of the river that feeds the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. The Gospel of John places the location of the feeding of the 5,000 in Capernaum. Thus, it seems that the feeding of the 5,000 happened at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee somewhere in the fields/land between these two towns. We also know from Matthew that many of Jesus most important teachings happened in the area around Capernaum. We also know from the Gospel of John that the “Bread of Life” discourse happens the morning after the feeding of the 5,000 in Capernaum. In fact, John says that the feeding of the 5,000 happens and the next morning Jesus crosses the river into Capernaum and delivers the Bread of Life discourse in their synagogue. This would confirm Luke’s account that the feeding of the 5,000 started on the side of the river where Bethsaida is located and the events continued the next morning on the side of the river where Capernaum is located.
So what exactly is going on here? Well, we know that at the end of the Bread of Life discourse all the local people reject the idea that Jesus can give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. It is the only place in the Bible where we are told that people stopped following Jesus and Jesus lets them leave. It seems likely that the teaching on the Bread of Life discourse is the teaching that is being rejected by these townspeople and that is to their condemnation.
Looking closely we can see that the reproaches issued in by Jesus in Luke are very similar to the words Jesus uses in the Bread of Life discourse in John. Compare:
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luk 10:13-16
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luk 10:20
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
Jesus is emphasizing the same themes using a positive v. negative juxtaposition in the two stories. Rejection of him is a rejection of the Father and life in him is life in the father. Do not work for earthly things but work for spiritual things versus don’t rejoice over you earthly glory but rejoice over your heavenly glory. Today, we read these things in a somewhat disjointed manner. However, to the people of the time, this would have been very clear. This is all one event. Jesus is at his home base in Capernaum. He would have been a local celebrity. He comes back to town and this generates a lot of interest. Jesus has to move across the river, possibly to accommodate the large crowds. He feeds the 5,000. In the morning he crosses the river back to Capernaum and the crowds follow. He teaches the Bread of Life discourse. The combined crowd of the two towns rejects this teaching. Jesus then delivers the “woe to you” admonitions because these two towns, which have been the center of his ministry and the site of some of his greatest miracles, have rejected the culmination that they have been being prepared for all along.
Tomorrow: Luke 10:25-42