Jesus in the First Three Gospels by Millar Burrows
Millar Burrows was for many years Professor of Biblical Theology at Yale University Divinity School. He received his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, New York, and a PhD. in biblical languages, literature and history from Yale University. He is widely known as the author of The Dead Sea Scrolls and More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and is a contributor to The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, published by Abingdon. Jesus in the First Three Gospels was published in 1977 by Abingdon. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Jesus in the First Three Gospels was published in 1977 by Abingdon. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Chapter 10: The Journey to Jerusalem: Luke’s Special Section
Now, Matthew says, Jesus "went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan." Mark reads "the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan" (Mk 10:1: Mt 19:1). There was no region of Judea east of the Jordan at this time: the omission of "and" in Matthew is probably a copyist’s error. Mark’s statement, however, has its own difficulty. It seems to imply that Jesus entered Judea before going to Perea, the territory east of the Jordan. He could have done this by going down into Judea on the west side of the Jordan and then crossing to Perea, but the narrative as a whole gives the impression that he went down on the east side of the river and crossed back farther south, near Jericho. But when and where did he cross over to Perea?
Since there is no clearly marked progress from place to place in this part of Mark’s narrative, some scholars think that he had in mind only a change in the area of Jesus’ activity from Galilee to Jerusalem. Certainly his account of the journey, which occupies only one chapter, does not suggest an extensive ministry in Perea. There is no reason, however, to doubt that the reference to "beyond the Jordan" is historical.
The instruction of the disciples in seclusion was finished. As in Galilee, "crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them" (Mk 10:1; Mt 19:2). A discussion with some Pharisees about divorce is reported at this point by Mark and Matthew (Mk 10:2-12; Mt 19:3-12). Both evangelists say that the Pharisees questioned Jesus only to test him. They may have sincerely wanted to find whether he was teaching sound doctrine. According to Matthew they asked, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" The great sages Hillel and Shammai differed concerning the acceptable grounds for divorce. In Mark. however, the question is whether divorce is ever permissible at all.
Jesus answered, according to Mark, by asking, "What did Moses command you? They replied, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away" (Deut 24:1). Then Jesus said, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning. . .": in other words, human selfishness and weakness necessitated an accommodation that did not embody what God intended for mankind. The rabbis, especially the school of Hillel, recognized that changing circumstances required new ways of applying the law; but, so far as I am aware, they did not pronounce any law contrary to God’s original purpose. Many Christians are unwilling to go as far as Jesus does here, or to apply the same principle to his own pronouncements.
Less radical and more common is the interpretation of Scripture by Scripture. Against the Deuteronomic law of divorce, Jesus next adduces two verses from Genesis. He uses them not to explain the commandment, but to demonstrate that it is a concession to human weakness, not what God always wanted and still wants. God created man male and female (Gen 1:27); therefore a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife, making them one flesh (2:24). "What therefore God has joined together," Jesus concludes, "let not man put asunder." (In Matthew the story proceeds differently but, with an exception to be noted presently, to the same purpose.)
As if this were not sufficiently plain, it is made even more explicit by a statement that Matthew has already quoted in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:31-32): divorce and remarriage constitute adultery. Now Matthew repeats this as the conclusion of what Jesus says to the Pharisees; in Mark it is his answer to the disciples, who (with their usual lack of comprehension) ask him about the matter when they are alone with him in the house (Mt 19:9; Mk 10:10). Mark applies it to the wife as well as the husband. Luke, who omits this whole episode, has the saying later in a miscellaneous group of sayings (Lk 16:18). Evidently it was quoted often, with or without a setting, and was felt to be a difficult but inescapable utterance of Jesus.
Matthew, both here and in the Sermon on the Mount, has a qualifying clause not recorded by the others: "except for unchastity." It seems clear that this was added in the Christian community when the unqualified saying came to be regarded as a fixed rule, a law that could even serve as a basis for civil legislation and be enforced by the state.
Even for the disciples it was still a hard saying. According to Matthew (19:10) they said, to paraphrase slightly, "If that’s the way it is, it would be better not to get married." Jesus replied that only those to whom it was given could accept his high standard (vv 11-12). He added a puzzling statement: "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." No wonder he concluded, "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."
There have been Christians who took literally the expression "made themselves eunuchs." Undoubtedly what Jesus meant was foregoing marriage and family life to devote oneself wholly to the service of the kingdom of God (cf. I Cor 9:5).
Quite possibly Jesus spoke here out of his own experience. There is no evidence that he was ever married. He apparently suffered some estrangement from his own mother and brothers and sisters (Mk 3:31-35 and parallels). To renounce marriage, he now says, is not given all men. For the majority, "from the beginning of creation," what God requires is marriage.
Luke’s whole account of the journey to Jerusalem is quite different from those of Mark and Matthew. His "great insertion" or "special section" (9:51-18:14) begins with the sentence, "When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." Eight chapters follow before Luke returns to Mark’s outline. For Luke, therefore, the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem is a major division of Jesus’ ministry, even though the selection and arrangement of the material may be governed by considerations other than chronology or geography. The geographical data, in fact, are conspicuously casual and vague.
The route contemplated by Jesus, as Luke represents it, was apparently south through Samaria, in spite of the well-known hostility between Samaritans and Jews. Perhaps as a precaution, he sent some disciples ahead to a Samaritan village to make ready for him; but the people of the village "would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem" (9:51-53). James and John. whom Jesus had named "sons of thunder," wanted to call down lightning on the inhospitable villagers after the manner of Elijah (2 Kings 1:10, 12); but Jesus rebuked their vindictive spirit. The KJV, following several manuscripts and versions, adds, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them" (cf. Lk 19:10).
Leaving vengeance to God, therefore, "they went on to another village." This need not have been in Samaria. Jesus might have changed his plan after being repelled at the first village. On the whole, the section reads more naturally if understood as being laid mainly in Perea.
Luke tells next (9:57-62) of two men who wanted to follow Jesus after first attending to their own domestic interests. We have compared Matthew’s presentation of this material (8:19-22) with Luke’s where Matthew has it. just before the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. According to Luke the two incidents occurred "as they were going along the road" after their unfriendly reception by the Samaritan villagers.
Luke now says that Jesus sent out seventy disciples other than the twelve to go before him to the places he intended to visit (Lk 10:1-16). Much of what is given as Jesus’ instructions to the seventy was included by Matthew in the instructions to the twelve (cf. Mt 10). The sending out of the seventy probably prefigures the wider mission of the church to the world (cf. Acts 1:8). A Jewish tradition, represented by the text of Genesis 10 in the Septuagint, regarded the number of Gentile nations as seventy-two. Some manuscripts and versions of Luke read seventy-two here.
When the seventy returned, they reported that the demons had been subject to them in Jesus’ name (Lk 10:17-20). He replied, as already noted, "I saw" Satan fall like lightning from heaven." The Greek word order favors taking "from heaven" with "lightning" rather than "fall"; i.e., it does not mean "fall from heaven" but "fall like lightning," suddenly. Jesus therefore does not, as often supposed, refer to Satan as a fallen angel, expelled from heaven for rebellion against God. There is no implication that he was ever in heaven. An allusion to "Day Star, son of Dawn" in Isaiah (14:12-20) is excluded also.
In spite of the doubtful historical basis of the mission of the seventy, this saying may well be authentic, and if so it is important. As in the narratives of Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10-11 and parallels), his words here may refer to a mystical experience, or they may express symbolically his certainty of Satan’s downfall. What is meant is in all probability that the subjection of the demons has made the fall of Satan so certain that Jesus sees it as an accomplished fact. Contemplating the fallen prince of demons, he rejoices at the demonstration of God’s sovereignty. That this is Luke’s understanding is indicated by the Greek verb and the form of it which he uses.
After this brief but significant statement, Jesus tells the disciples (Lk 10:19) that he has given them authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, "and over all the power of the enemy." The mention of serpents and scorpions recalls the promise of the risen Christ in the longer ending of Mark (16:18).
Jesus continues (Lk 10:20), "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." But is not Jesus himself rejoicing that the demons are subject to the disciples? Surely he does not mean that one’s own salvation should be valued above service to others. Perhaps he detected in the disciples a tendency to congratulate themselves on their achievement instead of giving God the glory and being thankful for what he had done through them.
The idea of having one’s name written in heaven is familiar from the Old Testament, beginning with Moses’ petition to be blotted out of God’s book if the sin of the people is not forgiven (Ex 32:32; cf. Is 4:3; Dan 12:1; Rev 3:5). It at least suggests a belief in predestination. Did Jesus accept and teach that doctrine? This verse is the closest approach to a definite statement to that effect. He spoke of things prepared for those whom God chose (Mt 25:34; cf. Rev 13:8; 17:8); and the fulfillment of prophecy implies that the future is at least in part determined. All we can say is that he stressed both personal responsibility and grateful recognition of what we owe to God.
After the story of the seventy, recorded by Luke alone, he presents three items found also in Matthew but not in Mark: Jesus’ thanksgiving to God for his revelation to "babes" (Lk 10:21; Mt 11:25-26), the " Johannine saying" about the Son’s unique knowledge of the Father (Lk 10:22; Mt 11:27), and Jesus’ reminder that the disciples are seeing what many before them have desired to see but could not (Lk 10:23-24; Mt 13:16-17). These have been discussed where they occur in Matthew.
Next Luke tells of a lawyer who asked Jesus a question (Lk 10:25-28; cf. Mk 12:28-31; Mt 22:34-40) This is the first item in Luke’s special section that is found in Mark. Both Mark and Matthew put it later, when Jesus had reached Jerusalem. In Mark a scribe asks Jesus which of the commandments is "the first of all." Matthew calls the man one of the Pharisees, a lawyer. Luke says that a lawyer asked Jesus the question asked by the rich man, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (cf. Mk 10:17 and parallels).
In Mark, followed in part by Matthew. Jesus quotes in reply the "Shema" ("Hear, O Israel," and so on) from Deuteronomy (6:4-5), and adds a commandment from Leviticus (19:18) that he says "is like it." The first demands wholehearted love for God, the second loving one’s neighbor as oneself. In Luke, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer, saying "What is written in the law? How do you read?" The lawyer then quotes the verses, not as two commandments but as one; and Jesus says, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."
Luke’s form of the story reflects the fact that the problem of defining the essence of the law was already being discussed in Judaism in the time of Jesus. Hillel’s use of the Golden Rule to summarize the law has been noted. The second-century rabbi Akiba pointed to Leviticus 19:18, Jesus’ second commandment, as the sum and substance of the law. The two commandments are cited together three times in the pseudepigraphic work called the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Test Iss 5:2; 7:5; Test Dan 5:3). but whether these references are Jewish or early Christian is disputed.
At the end of Luke’s account of the conversation, the lawyer, "desiring to justify himself," asks, "And who is my neighbor?" It has been said that the whole history of man’s moral development consists of ever broader answers to that question. Jesus answers it with a typically simple but graphic story (Lk 10:29-37) about a man who was waylaid, robbed, and beaten while "going down" from Jerusalem to Jericho, a steep descent through a rugged, desolate area. The kernel of the story is that the wounded man was left lying helpless beside the road by a passing priest and a Levite, and was given compassionate and effective help by a Samaritan.
Commentators have felt uneasy about the connection between the parable and the lawyer’s question. Jesus asks at the end of the story (v 36) not "Who was the Samaritan’s neighbor?" but "Which of these three proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" The parable turns the lawyer’s question around, but therein lies the very point of Jesus’ reply. Your neighbor, he implies, is anyone to whom you can be a neighbor.
Negatively, the neighbor is not to be defined in terms of belonging to one’s own nation, religion, or social group, though undoubtedly in Leviticus "neighbor" meant precisely "fellow Israelite." (Race does not enter into the question here, because Jews and Samaritans did not belong to different races.) The priest and the Levite felt no neighborly obligation to the injured man, though he was presumably a Jew as they were. The Samaritan ignored the barrier of national and religious hostility in the face of human need. And the lawyer, to his credit, recognized that the real neighbor was the person who showed mercy.
Throughout this part of Luke’s narrative the geographical designations are very vague. The incident that now follows (10:38-42) is said to have taken place "as they went on their way," in "a village" where two sisters, Martha and Mary, lived. If this was Bethany, as the Fourth Gospel says (in 11:1, 18), Jesus was already in Judea and close to Jerusalem. If its traditional identification is correct, Bethany was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, so that the story of the Good Samaritan may have been told on the very road where it is supposed to have happened. Later (Lk 13:22), however, we find Jesus still "on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem." Still later he arrives at Jericho (19:1). It must be that Luke was not thinking of Bethany, unless he meant the "Bethany beyond the Jordan" mentioned (if that reading of the text is correct) in John (1:28). This may be a case of John’s having better geographical knowledge than Luke, who probably was not thinking of any particular place.
Regardless of geography, the story of Martha and Mary is one of the richest in the Gospels in human interest. Many a good Christian woman sympathizes with Martha rather than Mary. The friendship of Jesus and these two sisters must have been close to make possible Martha’s uninhibited complaint. Tired, hot, and nervous in her effort to serve their great guest, she blurted out her vexation at Mary for neglecting her share of the work, and at Jesus for letting her do it.
"Martha, Martha," said Jesus, and the gentle tone of his reproof is manifest in the repetition of her name; "you are anxious and troubled about many things." Any housewife knows that to get a good meal you must keep your mind on many things at once. Trying too hard to please, however, one may only embarrass a guest. Martha failed to see what Jesus really wanted. Mary, with a truer instinct, was willing to let the dinner wait and give Jesus the quiet attention and understanding he needed.
Certainly Martha and Mary are not mere types or symbols. The story may have been used, to be sure, to inculcate spiritual lessons; its usefulness for that purpose may explain its presence in Luke’s source. Originally, however, it was probably preserved just because it was lovingly remembered. Incidentally it illustrates Luke’s interest in the part played by women in Jesus’ life and in the life of the church.
Luke introduces here the Lord’s Prayer, included by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount (Lk 11:1-4; Mt 6:9-13). In Luke it has a setting in the form of a request by one of the disciples that Jesus would teach them to pray as John the Baptist had taught his disciples. The prayer itself and the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of it have been considered where Matthew reports it.
Another of Luke’s unique parables comes next (11:5-8), commonly known as the parable of the importunate neighbor, or the friend at midnight. It is told not as a story but as a question addressed to the disciples concerning what they would do in a hypothetical situation. Without waiting for them to reply, Jesus gives his own answer. Suppose one of you has an unexpected guest during the night, he says, and you have nothing in the house to give him to eat. If you go to one of your neighbors and ask him for food for your guest, he will not tell you that he has already gone to bed and cannot help you. Even if he will not do it for friendship’s sake, he will get up and give you what you need to get rid of you.
The connection with prayer makes it appear that God is compared to a man who helps his neighbor only in order to get back to sleep. Such apparently unsuitable comparisons, however, are found in several of Jesus’ parables and sayings. They were evidently characteristic of his teaching, following the "how much more" principle of the saying a few verses later in Luke: "If you then, who are evil, . . how much more will the heavenly Father. . ." (Lk 11:13; cf. Mt 7:11).
The word translated "importunity" (KJV, RSV) means more literally "shamelessness" (NEB). The man who has been awakened regards his friend’s request as outrageous, but responds, though grudgingly. How much more will the heavenly Father freely answer your prayers.
The parable is followed by a group of sayings (Lk 11:9-13) beginning, "Ask, and it will be given you," and ending with the "how much more" saying just quoted. Matthew has these sayings in the Sermon on the Mount, where we have discussed them (Mt 7:7-11).
Now Luke proceeds to the exorcism of a demon from a dumb man, corresponding to Matthew’s healing of a blind and dumb demoniac (Lk 11:14; Mt 12:22-23). Mark does not have this miracle. In Matthew and Luke it leads to the "Beelzebub controversy" (cf. Mk 3:22-26), which is the second piece of Markan material in Luke’s special section. Luke agrees here more closely with Matthew than with Mark, apparently combining two versions and adding a few touches of his own.
A saying shared only with Matthew is reported next by Luke (Lk 11:24-26; Mt 12:43-45). It is the one about an unclean spirit that comes back to a man it has abandoned. Then comes an incident reported by Luke alone (11:27-28). A woman in the crowd cries out, expressing in the unsophisticated language of the common people of that time and country a feeling natural to a woman of any land or time, as much as to say, "How happy your mother must be to have such a son!" Jesus, however, replies, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Perhaps the harsh words were spoken sadly. They recall Jesus’ response when told that his mother and brothers wished to see him (Mk 3:33-35 and parallels): "Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." Again some tension between Jesus and his own family is suggested.
The next paragraphs in Luke are strung together loosely with a few references to setting or occasion but no definite indications of time or place (Lk 11:29-32; Mt 12:38-42). First comes the passage about the sign of Jonah already discussed where Matthew gives it as Jesus’ response to the demand for a sign (Lk 11:29-32; Mt 12:38-42). Then, as though continuing the same discourse, Luke quotes the saying about putting a lamp under a bushel and the one about the eye as the lamp of the body, which Matthew has used in the Sermon on the Mount (Lk 11:33-36; Mt 5:15; 6:22-23).
Luke continues (11:37-12:1; cf. Mt 23), "While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner." Earlier in Mark and Matthew some Pharisees criticized the disciples for eating with unwashed hands (Mk 7:1-23; Mt 15:1-20). Here the Pharisees at the dinner are shocked to see Jesus himself commit the same offense; and he delivers the denunciation of the Pharisees, which Matthew gives as the climax of a series of controversies in Jerusalem. We shall consider it in that connection, noting here only that the arrangement of the material in the two Gospels is quite different. In Luke the dinner supplies a setting for Jesus’ charge that the Pharisees cleaned only "the outside of the cup and of the dish."
Luke’s report of the whole discourse (11:39-52) conveys an impression of inconsiderate boorishness that it is hard to associate with Jesus. Perhaps Jesus actually ignored the niceties of polite behavior on such occasions and preferred to act like the tax collectors and sinners with whom he usually consorted. Conceivably the Pharisees had been treating him with supercilious condescension as a representative of "that class," regarding the dinner as a bit of slumming. Jesus might then have been answering the fool according to his folly (Prov 26:4-5). More probably Luke’s setting for the denunciation is partly or wholly imaginary. We shall consider the contents of the indictment with Matthew’s more elaborate version of it.
"As he went away from there," says Luke (11:53-54: 12:1), "the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things, lying in wait for him, to catch at something he might say. In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples first, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’"
We have noted the fact that in Mark and Matthew (Mk 8:15; Mt 16:6, 12) the leaven of the Pharisees is not said to be hypocrisy. The clause in Luke could be an insertion by some early reader, or it could be Luke’s own interpretation. Either possibility appears more likely than that Jesus explained the expression immediately after using it. It was a natural interpretation in any case, and quite probably what Jesus intended. He did accuse the Pharisees of hypocrisy. Jewish historians have protested, and informed Christian scholars agree, that most of the Pharisees and scribes were not playing a part, pretending to be something that they were not.
A few sayings addressed to the disciples now follow in Luke. They consist of assurances included by Matthew in his second discourse (Lk 12:2-7; Mt 10:26-33), sayings about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Mark and Matthew have given in connection with the Beelzebub controversy (Lk 12:10; Mk 3:28-29; Mt 12:32), and the promise of the Spirit’s aid in hearings before religious and civil authorities, which is quoted in Matthew’s second discourse and later in Mark’s apocalyptic discourse (Lk 12:11-12; Mt 10:19-20; Mk 13:11).
Then, to a man who says, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me," Jesus replies, "Man, who made me judge or divider over you?" (Lk 12:13-21). This refusal to act as a magistrate illustrates both Jesus’ scorn for preoccupation with material possessions and his insistence on the individual’s responsibility for his own decisions and conduct. The former emphasis is reinforced by a remark to the crowd (v 15): "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." A parable presses the point home. God says to a rich man who thinks his large crops have brought him security, "Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"
Sayings about anxiety used by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount are presented next by Luke (Lk 12:22-32; Mt 6:25-33), coupled with one which combines the images of God as Shepherd, Father, and King. With this Luke gives (Lk 12:33-34; Mt 6:19-21) another saying in the Sermon on the Mount, the exhortation to lay up treasure in heaven.
The warnings that come next in Luke are used in Matthew’s fifth discourse (Lk 12:35-46; Mt 24:42-51; 25:1-13). There they appear in an apocalyptic context, where it will be more convenient than here to discuss them. Here, however, at the end of the passage, there are three sentences that Matthew does not have (Lk 12:47-48). A servant who has not acted according to his absent master’s will or prepared for his return will be beaten; one who did not know what the master wanted will receive a lighter beating. What is required of a man is in proportion to what has been given to him.
Here Luke records a difficult saying about casting fire on the earth and having a baptism to be baptized with (Lk 12:49-50). Neither Mark nor Matthew has this. The baptism with which Jesus expects to be baptized is mentioned a little later in Mark (10:38), where Jesus asks the ambitious sons of Zebedee whether they can undergo it. In that context it evidently means the suffering that Jesus and any who would share authority with him in his kingdom must endure. Luke attaches the saying to the ones about bringing division instead of peace; Matthew has these in his second discourse (Lk 12:51-53: Mt 10:34-36).
Luke adds here also the passage about interpreting the present time, quoted by Matthew as Jesus’ answer to the demand for a sign (Lk 12:54-56: Mt 16:1-3). A saying preserved by Luke alone follows (12:57): "And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" This leads to the saying about reconciliation with an accuser given by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount (Lk 12:58-59; Mt 5:25).
Some distinctive and very important material found only in Luke is presented next. First comes a paragraph (13:1-5) that is almost unique in the Gospels in that it refers to contemporary events. Luke says that "some present at that very time" told Jesus of a massacre of Galileans "whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices." If we could identify and date this event, and could be sure that it was reported to Jesus immediately, we should have one definite chronological point in his ministry. Unfortunately it is not recorded anywhere else. It would be only one of many cruel acts that eventually brought about Pilate’s downfall.
In response to the news, Jesus mentioned another tragedy otherwise unknown. A tower in Siloam, a suburb of Jerusalem, had fallen and killed eighteen people. Those who lost their lives in these disasters, Jesus said, were not therefore to be considered greater sinners than other people. With reference to each event he added "unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Nothing is more certain in Jesus’ teaching than that sin without repentance will be punished. There is no softness in his assurance of God’s love. God’s forbearance is not unconditional or inexhaustible.
A parable brings this out (vv 6-9). The owner of an unfruitful fig tree ordered it cut down; but the gardener asked permission to cultivate and fertilize it one more year, and then destroy it if it bore no fruit. The view that Jesus was referring here to Israel as a whole rather than to individuals does not seem to me well founded.
After this comes a miracle of healing not related by the other evangelists (Lk 13:10-17). Like some other miracles, it was performed in a synagogue on the Sabbath and was denounced as a desecration of the holy day. The afflicted person this time was a woman who had suffered for eighteen years from a "spirit of infirmity." Apparently her trouble was rheumatism or arthritis, for it is said that she was bent over and unable to straighten up, and when Jesus healed her "she was made straight." Satan had bound her, Jesus said, but the cure is not reported as an exorcism. He called her, told her she was cured, and laid his hands upon her.
The ruler of the synagogue condemned this work of mercy, saying that sick people should come to be healed during the week. Jesus, however, called him a hypocrite. Any man, he said, would untie his ox or ass and lead it to water on the Sabbath. It was right to untie the bond of Satan that had held this daughtcr of Abraham." The same argument has appeared in Matthew concerning the healing ofa man with a withered hand (12:11-12). It will appear again in Luke with reference to a man who had dropsy (14:5).
Luke continues. "He said therefore," and quotes the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, included by Mark and Matthew in their collection of parables (Lk 13: 18-21; Mk 4:30-32; Mt 13:31-33). The narrative then proceeds (Lk 13:22), "He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem." Luke crowds a good deal of material into the framework of the journey to Jerusalem. but none of it suggests that Jesus was working his way south gradually or indirectly.
When "some one" along the way asked, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" Jesus responded with an exhortation to enter by the narrow door (Lk 13:22-27), adding a reference to knocking and not being admitted that resembles the conclusion of Matthew’s parable of the bridesmaids (Mt 25:10-12) and is more intelligible there than here. Then comes the saying about many from east and west used earlier in Matthew (Lk 13:28-29: Mt 8:11-12). The passage ends with a cryptic statement quoted once in Mark and twice in Matthew: "And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last" (Lk 13:30; Mk 10:31; Mt 19:30; 20:16).