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
, 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
, 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
, Mary who is betrothed to Joseph, is told that she too will conceive.
Mary sets out to a town in the hill country of
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
to his home town in
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
by angels praising God; on their return to the country they too were
The narrative moves on to
where Jesus is ritually presented at the
and recognised by the elderly Simeon and Anna. The family moves back to
but every year goes up to
for the Passover feast. When Jesus is twelve he converses with the
teachers in the
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
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
Jesus leaves the
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
, he is urged to demonstrate power by throwing himself off the parapet
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
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
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
, 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
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:
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
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.
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
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
, 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
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
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
No one understood Jesus
when he said, ‘The Son of man is going to be delivered into the power
narrative now moves from travels around the Galileearea
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
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
will fare better than such places. Places inhospitable to the messengers
face a bleak future, whether they are Chorazin,
In answer to the
question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’, Jesus tells the story of the man
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:
may your name be held holy,
us each day our daily bread,
forgive us our sins,
we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.
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
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
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
? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will perish
as they did.’
What is the
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
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
, 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
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
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
continued through the borderlands of
. 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
does not admit of observation, looking for it here or there. It is among
In Noah’s day people
were partying right up to the day when Noah went into the ark; the
floods destroyed them all. In
’s day, people were buying and selling, planting and building; after
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
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
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
It is easier for a camel
to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
. [Some suggest the eye of a needle was a narrow gateway in a city
There is no one who has
left house, wife, brothers, parents or children for the sake of the
who will not receive many times as much in this present age.
As Jesus drew near to
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.
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
. 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
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
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
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?
stone which the builders rejectedhas
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
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
, 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
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
but he would spend the night in the open on the
Mount of Olives
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
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
About the sixth hour,
‘the veil of the Sanctuary was torn right down the middle’. Jesus
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
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
. 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
He appeared to the
disciples and companions, said ‘Peace be with you’, and opened their
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
, where he blessed them and was carried up into heaven.
They went back to
full of joy; and they were continually in the
continues his story in the Acts of the Apostles