Michael Powell


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Scripture & Practice - Paper 3



The purpose of this paper is to draw out the references to building and built environment matters in Luke’s Gospel


PROLOGUE (1: 1-4)





TEACHING IN JERUSALEM ( 19:28 – 21:38 )

THE PASSION (22:1 – 23:56)


PROLOGUE (1: 1-4)

In the prologue to his Gospel addressed to Theophilus, Luke explains how he has carefully drawn up an account of the whole story of Jesus as handed down by ‘eye witnesses and ministers of the word’. As a minister of the word interested in built environment, I will endeavour here to sketch out how built environment is a prominent and revealing facet of Luke’s work.

I will be using the New Jerusalem Bible Study Edition 1994 and I shall divide my comments according to its sectional structure.

Built environment occurs in Luke in two main ways.

The first is geographical and descriptive, with references to streets and market squares, mountainsides and farms, towns and villages, city and Temple , houses and homes, prisons and tax offices, doors and parapets, and the real-time events that take place there.

The second is illustrative and metaphorical, where any of these building-related images figure in stories and parables to give meaning and reveal truth. 

Taking these two modes together, built environment is a powerful lens through which to view the story which Luke tells.



As far as built environment is concerned, this first section of Luke is almost wholly descriptive.

After setting the story in Herod’s Judea , Luke takes us to an unnamed religious sanctuary where Zechariah is told in a vision of an unexpected coming birth to his wife Elisabeth. After his duty period he returns to his home. The child will be John the Baptist. Meanwhile, at a town in Galilee called Nazareth , Mary who is betrothed to Joseph, is told that she too will conceive. Mary sets out to a town in the hill country of Judah to stay with Elisabeth at her house. Luke explains that Zechariah’s son is to be born into the House of David and notes that while growing up John the Baptist lives in the desert.

The story becomes international with Caesar Augustus’ census of ‘the whole inhabited world’. Joseph has to set out from Nazareth in Galilee to his home town in Judea , Bethlehem or David’s town, where Mary’s son, to be named Jesus, was born and ‘laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the living space’. Shepherds in the countryside outside were summoned to the town of David by angels praising God; on their return to the country they too were praising God.

The narrative moves on to Jerusalem where Jesus is ritually presented at the Temple and recognised by the elderly Simeon and Anna. The family moves back to Nazareth in Galilee but every year goes up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. When Jesus is twelve he converses with the teachers in the Temple and explains to his bemused parents that this is his Father’s house, the first instance of his teaching.



Luke introduces this short section with a note of who the emperor is, Tiberias Caesar, and who the local rulers are of Judea , Galilee and other areas. John the Baptist goes through the whole Jordan area declaiming the call of Isaiah to listen to the voice in the desert, prepare a way, make winding paths straight, fill in valleys and level mountains, and make rough roads smooth, so that all humanity will be able to see the coming salvation of God – a very powerful civil engineering and public works metaphor. The one who is coming will clear his threshing floor, gather his wheat into barns, and burn the chaff. Not surprisingly, Herod finds a reason to shut John up in prison for a time – shut up in both senses perhaps! Later John baptises Jesus in the Jordan .

Jesus leaves the Jordan area and goes into the desert where he is tempted to turn stones into loaves and, from a height, to overpower all existing kingdoms. Going to Jerusalem , he is urged to demonstrate power by throwing himself off the parapet of the Temple to be saved by angels lest he trip over a stone.



In this longer section we can really start to see the richness of Luke’s work.

Jesus comes into Galilee with a great reputation and teaches in the synagogues. In particular he goes to his home synagogue in Nazara. Identifing himself with the figure promised in Isaiah who will bring good news to many and open prison doors to captives, he is graciously received.

In the synagogue at Capernaum he releases a man from the spirit of an unclean devil, news which quickly travelled round the countryside. This section of Luke is not all about events in synagogues, it is houses that are more significant. The first to be mentioned is Simon’s house in Capernaum , where his mother-in-law is healed of a fever. After many such events Jesus seeks the loneliness of the desert and has to explain that he must proclaim his kingdom in other towns and villages too.

A dramatic incident took place when friends of a paralysed man were so desperate to get him into a crowded house where Jesus was that ‘they went up onto the top of the house and lowered him and his stretcher down through the tiles into the middle of gathering’. The footnote in the Jerusalem Bible indicates that the house is a Greco-Roman villa (ceramon, meaning ceramic tiles) whereas the parallel passage in Mark implies a Palestinian terrace house. Their mission was successful and the man went home praising God.

The drama immediately moves on to the Capernaum tax office where Jesus calls Levi to leave everything and follow him. Later in honour of Jesus Levi has a great reception and large gathering of tax collectors and others at his house. It is to people like these that, Jesus explains to his disciples, he has come.

While walking through cornfields one Sabbath and picking and eating some ears of corn, Jesus finds himself recalling how David, when his followers were hungry, had controversially given them the ritual bread from the house of God which only priests were supposed to eat.

Now some significant events take place out of doors but I am sure some simple buildings or structures were close by! Jesus goes to the mountain for the night to pray and next morning named the twelve who were to be the apostles. Then he came down the mountain ‘and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples, with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon’. There are healings after which he explains to the disciples that it will be the poor, the hungry and those who weep now who will be blessed and come to laugh. I believe that in all times these groups include people with tough housing and similar built environment-related needs and problems.

Developing further his principles of ethics and behaviour, Jesus continues, ‘Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from someone who takes it’. Built property, one wonders? And, with a carpenter’s memories perhaps, (although his trade unfortunately is not mentioned by Luke but only by Mark and Matthew!),  ‘why do you observe the [moral] splinter in your brother’s eye but never notice the great log in your own?’

Jesus sums up true Christian moral discipleship thus:

Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and acts on them – I will show you what such a person is like. Such a person is like the man who, when he built a house, dug, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on rock; when the river was in flood it bore down on that house but could not shake it, it was so well built. But someone who listens and does nothing is like the man who built a house on soil, with no foundations; as soon as the river bore down on it, it collapsed; and what a ruin that house became!

For every disciple this is a powerful metaphor; for some of us it is also a vocational ethical obligation, duty and joy.

Luke brings us now to a series of stories about restoration to health and life that take place in homes and streets. Although the stories themselves are in terms of 1st century ways of thinking, restoration is significant built environment concept. Much of our work is about restoring what for a variety of reasons has been damaged, destroyed or neglected. And in the particular case of medical and healing locations, the built environment can be a contributing part of the process.

In another Capernaum story, the house is that of a Roman centurion who, loving the local Jewish people, had built them a synagogue. A beloved boy servant of his was severely ill. He sent for Jesus but before he arrived the lad died. His message then was, ‘I am not worthy to have you under my roof’ (not tiled!). However, the servant did recover perfect health. 

Another restoration took place at the town gate of Nain. A widow’s son was being taken for burial; Jesus restored him to her and again there was approbation of him ‘throughout Judea and all over the countryside’.

The next house incident is a meal at a Pharisee’s house. The host does not wash Jesus’ feet but a woman with a bad name gate-crashed and did do so with oil from an alabaster jar and was forgiven much.

The journey continues through various towns and cities around the lake. Opposite Galilee , in the territory of the Gerasenes Jesus encounters ‘a man from the city possessed by devils’ who had been living, not in a house, but among the tombs. After his release from the devils, Jesus told him to ‘Go back home and report all that God has done for you’. He told his story throughout the city.

Out of a crowd appears Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. His twelve-year old daughter is dying and he pleads with Jesus to come to his house. A message comes that it is too late but Jesus still goes and the girl is astonishingly restored.

This personal ministry of Jesus is extended by him to the Twelve. They too will visit houses travelling from village to village and town to town. If they are welcomed in a house, they are to stay there; if rejected in a town they are to shake its dust from off their feet.

After their mission they withdrew with Jesus towards a town called Bethsaida but crowds followed. It was a lonely place and in the late afternoon the Twelve thought they should be sent to the villages and farms round about to find food and shelter. Jesus chose to feed them all there. Simon confessed that Jesus was ‘the Christ of God’. Jesus said there would be crosses to be taken up.

Jesus went to the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John and James with him. They were shown him in glory with Moses and Elijah and they responded by building three shelters.

No one understood Jesus when he said, ‘The Son of man is going to be delivered into the power of men’.



Luke’s narrative now moves from travels around the Galilee area to a resolute journey down to Jerusalem . Luke locates much of Jesus’ teaching in conversations and encounters on this journey. Much of it is in the form of pithy sayings; a few are mysterious even to New Testament experts,

Jesus wants to go via a Samaritan village but is not permitted to do so. Various people seek to join Jesus on his journey but are faced with, in effect, homelessness, ‘the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head’. Some prefer to go home.

In a reiteration of the mission of the Twelve, a larger group of seventy-two are sent to the towns, villages and houses with the instruction to accept generous hospitality when offered and shake off the dust from places where it is not. Sodom will fare better than such places. Places inhospitable to the messengers of the kingdom of God face a bleak future, whether they are Chorazin, Bethsaida , Tyre , Sidon or even Capernaum .

In answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’, Jesus tells the story of the man travelling from Jerusalem down to Jericho who was beaten up and abandoned by bandits. Priest and Levite pass him by but a Samaritan traveller took compassion on him, gave first aid and took him to an inn, paying the costs in advance. The Samaritan, the outsider, is the true neighbour. ‘Go and do likewise’, says Jesus. That includes those of us who plan and build neighbourhoods and design roads and routes.

Coming to a village, Jesus goes to the house of the fretful, busy hostess Martha, who is contrasted with her sister Mary who takes time to sit at Jesus feet and listen to him.

In a certain place, Jesus gives Luke’s simple version of the Lord’s Prayer:

Father, may your name be held holy,

your kingdom come;

give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.

And do not put us to the test.

Imagine knocking on a friend’s door in the middle of the night and asking him for bread because another friend has unexpectedly arrived in the course of his travels. The reply comes, ‘The door is bolted now, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up to give it to you’. Persist and he will, says Jesus, and so it is with prayers for the gift of the Holy Spirit. I think that means the gift of God’s attitude to whatever the problem of the moment is.

Evil is weak when it is divided: ‘Any kingdom which is divided against itself is heading for ruin, and house collapses against house’.

Evil is pernicious. When an unclean spirit comes out of someone it wanders through waterless country looking for a place to rest. Not finding one, it goes back to the home it came from where everything is now swept and tidied. It goes off and finds seven other unclean spirits and together they come back and set up house, so the affected person is worse off than before.

Repentance is necessary. Remember the men of Nineveh who repented when Jonah preached to them.

When people light lamps they put them on lamp-stands, not hide them away. See that you are filled with light.

A little later in the text, ‘Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be shouted from the housetops’.

A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine at his house. Jesus went in and sat down to the meal without first washing. The Pharisee was surprised. Jesus said, in effect, that that was external ritual and remonstrated ‘You Pharisees are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools..... Alas for you, you like to take the seats of honour in the synagogues and to be treated respectfully in the market square ... you are like unmarked tombs which people walk on without knowing it’.

A lawyer spoke up, ‘You insult us’, to which the reply was ‘Alas for you lawyers as well, because you load on people burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not touch with your fingertips’.

Slightly later in the text, ‘Alas for you lawyers for you have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves and have prevented others from going in who wanted to.’

‘Alas for you [all] because you build tombs for the prophets, the people your ancestors killed... they did the killing, you do the building’.

Our life does not consist in possessions. A man had a good harvest and so did not have enough room to store his crops. ’I will pull down my barns and build bigger barns, and store all my grain and my goods in them, many years to come.... Fool! This very night demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?’......’Think of the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. .And how much more you are worth than the birds!’

Sell your possessions and give to those in need.

See that you have your lamps lit. Be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.

You may be quite sure of this, if the householder had known at what time the burglar would come, he would not let anyone break through the wall of his house...You too must stand ready

Who then is the wise and trustworthy steward whom the master will place over his household?

Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three.

Why not judge for yourselves what is upright? For example, when you are going to court with your opponent, make an effort to settle with him on the way, or he may drag you before the judge and the judge hand you over to the office and the officer have you thrown into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the very last penny.

Back to the need for repentance... ‘...those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell, killing them all? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem ? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will perish as they did.’

What is the kingdom of God like? It is like a mustard seed which a man took and threw into his garden: it grew and become a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.

Someone said to him, ‘Will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Try your hardest to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.’

Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself outside knocking on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us ... you taught in our streets..’ but he will reply ‘I do not know where you came from..’

Some Pharisees came up. ‘Go away’ they said. ‘Leave this place because Herod means to kill you’. He replied, ‘I must go on since it would not be right for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem ’.

Jerusalem , Jerusalem , you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children together..’

On a Sabbath day he had gone to share a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees. He cured a man with dropsy and asked, ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a Sabbath day without any hesitation?’ And to this they could find no answer.

There was a man who gave a great banquet, and he invited a large number of people. When the time for the banquet came, all alike started making excuses. The first said, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I must go and see it... Please accept my apologies... The householder said, ‘Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and press people to come in to make sure my house is full...’

And, indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, anyone who saw it would start making fun of him and saying, ‘Here is someone who started to build and is unable to finish’.

There is rejoicing when a shepherd finds a lost sheep and brings it home, and when a woman, when sweeping her house, finds a lost coin.

Similarly there is great rejoicing when a son, who has demanded, swallowed up and wasted his share of his father’s estate and property, comes home in repentance. His dutiful elder brother, now heir to all that is left, finds the father’s joy as his seemingly lost son approaches the house, hard to share.

A poor hungry man with sores used to lie at the gate of a rich, feasting, well-dressed man’s house. They both died, were separated by a great gulf, and roles reversed. The former rich man wanted to send a message to his father’s house urging his brothers to repent; Abraham thought the chances of them doing so were slim.

The journey to Jerusalem continued through the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee . In one village ten men were suffering from a virulent skin disease. They were restored. Only one turned back to thank Jesus, and he was a Samaritan.

The kingdom of God does not admit of observation, looking for it here or there. It is among you!

In Noah’s day people were partying right up to the day when Noah went into the ark; the floods destroyed them all. In Lot ’s day, people were buying and selling, planting and building; after Lot had  left for Sodom they were all destroyed. When the Day of the Son of man comes, no one on the housetop, with his possessions in the house, must come down to collect them.

In a certain town, a judge who had neither fear of God nor respect from anyone, long refused to dispense justice to a widow of the same town; in the end he did do so.. God will see that justice is done.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray, an arrogant Pharisee and a much repentant tax collector. The latter went home justified but the former did not.

A man kept all the commandments. Jesus saw one thing missing and said, ’Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor’. That was too much for him.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God . [Some suggest the eye of a needle was a narrow gateway in a city wall].

There is no one who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive many times as much in this present age.

As Jesus drew near to Jericho there was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging. He received his sight back; he and all the people praised God.

Jesus entered Jericho and encountered Zaccheus, a senior tax collector and wealthy man. Jesus said to Zaccheus, ‘Hurry, I am going to stay at your house today’ and the response included ‘I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will give him back four times the amount’. Salvation had come to that house!

They were near Jerusalem . Jesus told this parable. A man of noble birth went to a distant country to be appointed king and then return. Summoning ten of his servants, he gave each one pound to trade with until he got back. On his return, one had turned one pound into ten. ‘Since you have been trustworthy in a little thing you shall have the government of ten cities’. Similarly, a servant who had made five pounds was put in charge of five cities. A third servant who simply wrapped the money in a cloth without even putting it in the bank to gain interest, was utterly condemned.


TEACHING IN JERUSALEM ( 19:28 – 21:38 )

They approached Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives . The disciples obtained a colt and lifted Jesus on to it. ‘as he moved off, they spread their cloaks on the road and now, as he was approaching the downward slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole group of disciples joyfully began to rise God at the tops of their voices. Taunted by some Pharisees Jesus said that if the disciples kept quiet, ‘the very stones would cry out’.

As he came near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it. ‘A time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all round you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will not leave one stone standing on another within you, because you did not recognise the moment of your visitation.’

He cleared the Temple of traders, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer but you have turned it into a bandit’s den’.

He told this parable. A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenants and went away for a long while.

He sent first one servant, then a second, then a third to get his share of the produce. Each was thrashed or wounded by the tenants. In the end he sent his son; they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers, what does this text mean?

            The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

And he added, ‘Anyone who falls on that stone will be dashed to pieces; anyone if falls on will be crushed’.

He said, ’Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and love to be greeted respectfully in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets, who devour the property of widows..’

Looking up he saw rich people putting offerings in the treasury, and a poverty stricken widow putting in two small coins, all she had to live on.

When some were talking about the Temple , how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, he said, ‘the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be destroyed’.

When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you must realise it will soon be laid desolate; those inside the city must leave it, and those in the country districts must not enter it 

From early morning, people thronged to listen to him teaching in the Temple but he would spend the night in the open on the Mount of Olives .


THE PASSION (22:1 – 23:56)

On the day of the Unleavened Bread or Passover Jesus told Peter and John to go into the city, look for a man carrying a pitcher of water and follow him into the house he enters. He will show you a large upper room. Make preparations there for the evening meal. Later, at the meal, Jesus broke bread and poured wine. He said, ‘The Son of man is on the path that was decreed’. He recalled that previously he had sent them out without haversacks or sandals. Now they should take both, and swords. At the Mount of Olives Jesus knelt down a stone’s throw from the others. He was arrested as a bandit by the Temple guards. They took him to the high priest’s house and in the morning he was taken before the council of chief priests and scribes. They sent him to Pilate; Pilate sent him to Herod; Pilate called him back and amidst much controversy ordered him to be crucified at the place called The Skull.

About the sixth hour, ‘the veil of the Sanctuary was torn right down the middle’. Jesus died.

The centurion in charge said, ‘This was an upright man’.

The crowd went home beating their breasts.

Joseph from Arimathaea, a member of the council and a good and upright man, was granted the body. He put it in a tomb which was hewn in stone. Some women noted where it was. It rested there over the Sabbath.



At dawn, following the Sabbath, the women came with spices. They found the stone had been rolled away and, puzzlingly, no body. They were told: ‘He is not here he has risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee ...’

They summoned other women and the disciples. Peter went home amazed.

That very same day two of them, one called Cleopas, were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem . A stranger came up and walked by their side. When they got to the village they pressed him to stay and eat with them. As he broke the bread and gave thanks, they recognised him.

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem

He appeared to the disciples and companions, said ‘Peace be with you’, and opened their eyes.

He said, ‘Stay in the city then until you are clothed with power from on high’.

He took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany , where he blessed them and was carried up into heaven.

They went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.

Luke continues his story in the Acts of the Apostles



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