Then to the crowds Yeshua said, “When you see a cloud-bank rising in the west, at once you say that a rainstorm is coming; 55 and when the wind is from the south, you say there will be a heat wave, and there is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky — how is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? 57 Why don’t you decide for yourselves what is the right course to follow? 58 If someone brings a lawsuit against you, take pains to settle with him first; otherwise he will take the matter to court, and the judge will turn you over to the bailiff, and the bailiff will throw you in jail. 59 I tell you, you won’t get out of there till you have paid the last penny!”I
At first it looks as if there’s only one parable here, the one about interpreting the times, but in fact the are two, as the instructions about lawsuits is not meant to be taken literally.
The parable about interpreting weather is a shrewd comment by Jesus on the deliberate blindness of people to what was going on before their eyes: a moment of crisis in which they must either choose Jesus or those who wanted to kill him. The comfortable position of not making a choice would in fact be a rejection of Jesus. The signs of good and bad weather are reasonably clear and people base decisions on them. Luke’s Jesus is arguing that the signs of the opposition to his ministry are also clear and demand recognition.
But this transparent parable is followed by the obscure instruction about law suits. Matthew who was doubtless using the same source for this instruction places it in the context of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:25) where it probably encourages the same kind of wisdom as “turning the other cheek.” By placing it in the context of the great choice demanded by Jesus, Luke reveals it as a parable. People should see what is going on in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem; they should recognise the truth of his case against them and settle up before the time of judgement when they will be held to account for the choices they have made.
The picture of Jesus as an opponent who has a good case against us and might sue us for our last penny, is unique and uncomfortable. Isn’t Jesus is the business of forgiving rather than punishing. Well yes, but even he can’t do it all on his own. He needs cooperation. So while we are on our way – and we are always on our way with Jesus to the place of judgement- we should be keen on settle up with him. If we are Pharisees we should admit our hypocrisy, if we are disciples we should admit our denials, if we are bystanders we should admit our fear of getting involved, otherwise in the moment of judgement, we may find ourselves with the crucifiers, whom God will hand over to his bailiffs for punishment. The words of the spiritual come to mind:
“Brother better mind how you step on the cross
yo’ foot might slip an’ yo’soul gets lost..”
This disturbing image of Jesus as a relentless legal adversary, along with say, the images of few sections back in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus as a thief coming in the darkness, or a returning master who will cut disobedient slaves to pieces, remind the modern believer or bible blogger that Jesus is not their pal, but the Lord of life who demands that people choose life.