March 29: Luke 11:29-32

Today’s note will examine the Son of Man saying in Luke 11:30, part of a collection of sayings/teachings in chapter 11 which is also found in the Gospel of Matthew (the so-called “Q” material), in altogether different locations and narrative settings (cf. Matt 6:9-15; 7:7-11; 12:22-32; 12:38-45; 6:22-23; 23:1-36). The sayings in Lk 11:29-32 correspond to Matt 12:38-42.

Luke 11:29-32

The immediate (narrative) context is set in v. 29a (cp. Matt 12:38a): “and (with) the throngs (of people) gathering upon (him)…” This setting is important, for, along with the exchange in the previous verses (vv. 27-28), it indicates an extreme popular reaction to Jesus, of the sort which he frequently sought to counteract. The saying in verse 28 is a good example; in response to a popular and (crudely pious) outburst from someone in the crowd (“Happy/blessed is the belly [i.e. womb] which bore you and the breasts which you have sucked!”), Jesus declares “indeed!—then (all the more so) happy/blessed are the (one)s hearing the word of God and guarding (it)!” He very quickly turns attention from a quasi-idolatrous exaltation of his person to the message of his teaching (i.e. the word of God). Something of the sort is presumably intended in the way the author has Jesus responding to the crowds:

“This (age of) coming to be [genea/ i.e. ‘generation’] is an evil age [genea/]! they seek a sign, but a sign will not be given to it if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah {Jonah}!”

In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus is responding to a request from Scribes and Pharisees (“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you”), with Jesus’ answer differing slighting from that in Luke:

“An evil and adulterous age/generation [genea/] seeks upon [i.e. after] a sign, and a sign will not be given to it if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah the Foreteller!”

Jesus expounds upon this statement in Lk 11:30 (par Matt 12:40), interpreting this “sign of Jonah”—even as Yonah came to be a sign for the Ninevites, thus also the Son of Man will be for this age/generation [genea/]!” In Matthew, the sign is identified more precisely with the death (and resurrection of Jesus)—three days and three nights “in the earth”, just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish (Jonah 1:17). Luke apparently omits this detail, but the suffering and death of the “Son of Man” is clearly in view within the narrative, primarily by way of the earlier Passion predictions (Lk 9:22, 43-45). However, it is also possible that Luke preserves a shorter version of the saying, which is conceivably older in the tradition. If so, then the emphasis here may be on the coming of the Son of Man at the time of Judgment (cf. Luke 9:26f). The sayings which follow (Lk 11:31-32, par Matt 12:41-42) have as their theme and context the end-time Judgment before God. In Jesus’ provocative illustration(s), the people of Nineveh (who repented through Jonah’s preaching, Jon 3:1-10) and the “Queen of the South” (who came to hear Solomon’s wisdom, 1 Kings 10:1 / 2 Chron 9:1), will rise up as witnesses (in the heavenly court/tribunal) against those who refuse to hear or accept Jesus’ words. This parallel is applied clearly by Jesus to himself—”see! (one) greater than Solomon/Jonah is here!” (vv. 31b, 32b).

These two strands of imagery regarding the “Son of Man” in Jesus’ teaching—his impending suffering/death, and his end-time appearance with the Judgment—are both present here in the Gospel of Luke (and the Synoptic tradition), and will continue to be presented together, one alongside the other, throughout the narrative virtually to the end of the book (as we shall see the rest of the upcoming Easter-season notes).

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