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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 7

 

 

Verse 1

‘After he had ended all his sayings in the ears of the people, he entered into Capernaum.’

Having completed the giving of the new Law Jesus now returned to Capernaum.


Verse 2

‘And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and at the point of death.’

In or near Capernaum lived a Centurion and his household, and a servant whom he loved dearly was sick, and indeed at the point of death. By the fact that he was concerned about it we see both the centurion’s compassion and his concern for his servants. The centurion was probably a Roman soldier assigned to the service of Herod Antipas as there were no official Roman forces in Galilee at that time. Or he may have been a foreign soldier in Herod’s army. But his obvious wealth would suggest that he held an important position.


Verse 3

‘And when he heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him that he would come and save his servant.’

He was also a humble man. He did not despatch his soldiers to bring Jesus in, as he might have done. Nor did he go himself in order to exercise his influence as a servant of Rome. He recognised that he was dealing here with something greater than Rome, and that, as he was a Gentile, a Jewish prophet may well not wish to enter his house (no Pharisee would so so). So he rather approached some of the elders of the synagogue which he had built for the Jews, and asked them to intercede with the Prophet on his behalf. They on their part were willing. This was an indication that general Jewish hatred of Gentiles could be overborne when Gentiles were willing to show favour to Judaism. But had he been a proselyte they would surely have said so.


Verse 4-5

‘And they, when they came to Jesus, besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy that you should do this for him, for he loves our nation, and himself built us our synagogue.’

The Jews were very impressed by good works. It was something for which Jews were well known. To them this, together with his reverent attitude towards the God of Israel, made the centurion commendable. It is made clear, however, that in the end what commended him to Jesus was his faith in Him. It did illustrate, however, that a tree is known by its fruit, and that a man of faith will also be a man of works.

Accordingly the elders came to Jesus and put to him the centurion’s plea, assuring him that he was a deserving man having built a synagogue for the Jews. The remains of a synagogue have been discovered in the area which might well be a synagogue built on the site of this very one (which would have been destroyed by Titus).


Verse 6

‘And Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy that you should come under my roof,”

Jesus responded to their plea, and the cry for help, and went on His way. It is probable that the centurion had actually seen the approach of the elders as a first step in order to scout out the position, rather than as a request for Jesus to come. Thus it would appear that when a messenger was sent on ahead in order to say that the Prophet was coming, the centurion sensed his own unworthiness and in a sense panicked. He felt that he was not worthy for a Prophet to come under his roof. Indeed he may also have recognised that for Jesus to do so would render Him unclean, but we must not see that as the main motive, otherwise it would have been stated. So he immediately sent his friends to assure Jesus that He need not come to his house, because he knew that he was not worthy. He was a man in awe of God.


Verse 7

‘That is why I did not think myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant shall be healed.’

Indeed, he tells Jesus, that is why he had not come himself. He realised that he was only a Gentile and that he had no call on a Prophet of Israel. All therefore that he requested was that out of compassion Jesus would speak and heal his servant.


Verse 8

‘For I also am a man set under authority, having under myself soldiers. And I say to this one, “Go”, and he goes; and to another, “Come”, and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this”, and he does it.’

He assured Jesus that he had no doubt that He could do this because he knew that He was a man who enjoyed the authority of God. So just as he himself could give orders and be obeyed, because he was a man under the rule of the powerful Caesar, and could act in his name, so he knew that Jesus could do the same with disease because He was under the authority of the Creator, and could act in His name. The centurion clearly had a high view of Jesus.


Verse 9

‘And when Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned and said to the crowd who followed him, “I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” ’

When Jesus heard these words he marvelled. Here was a man with a high view of God, and a high view of Him, higher than any He had come across before. And a man whose high view also included genuine faith. Indeed greater faith than any that Jesus had yet found in man. For this man believed in Him implicitly.

We are not told so but we can assume that Jesus immediately spoke the word of healing. The Creator spoke and the disease vanished.


Verse 10

‘And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole.’

And when those who had been sent returned to the Centurion’s house they discovered that the servant had fully recovered. He was made whole.

Luke here tells the story so as to bring out the acknowledged uncleanness and unworthiness of the Gentiles vividly. It is not blurred over. But the point for his readers to see is that in spite of that uncleanness Jesus was undeterred and acted on the Gentile’s behalf and in response to his plea. His Kingly word is thus seen to be also for Gentiles even at that stage.

Note. In Matthew the centurion is depicted as coming to Jesus himself. This may be because in the end the centurion did come himself because he was so het up over his servant being so close to death, or because the thought of the Prophet defiling Himself appalled him, something which either Luke’s source had not known about, or that Luke wanted to avoid mentioning in order to bring out the barrier of separation between Jesus and the centurion. He also omits Jesus’ meeting with the Syrophoenician woman. He wants the impact of the Gospel coming to the Gentiles to be centred on Acts. (Luke has a way of not drawing attention to things when we would normally expect him to. He speaks through silences). In contrast with Luke, who was writing for Gentile readers, Matthew, who was writing mainly for Jewish Christian readers, wanted to stress how the centurion had humbled himself before a Hebrew prophet by personalising the incident. His view may have been that for a man to approach through his servants who gave his personal words to Jesus was the same as the man himself approaching. Matthew does have a tendency to abbreviate his sources. It is quite normal in historical records for them to say that some famous person did something, when in fact it was done by his servants (compare how I quite naturally said that Titus destroyed the synagogue in Capernaum above).

End of note.

The Raising From the Dead of the Widow of Nain’s Son. Jesus’ Kingly Rule Over Death (Luke 7:11-16).

Here we have an unforgettable scene. On the one hand we see a sad and dreary procession coming out of Nain, full of weeping and despair. Hope has gone. All id darkness. On the other we see a joyous and happy crowd seeking to enter it, full of hope and expectancy. All is light. The attention of one was concentrated on the dead body of the one who had been his mother’s only hope, for she was a widow, on the other the concentration was on the Lord of life Who was the hope of Israel. And the two met. The result was inevitable. Death was swept aside and Jesus was revealed as ruling over death and Hades (Revelation 1:18). It was a foreview of the resurrection. Part of the reason for the telling of the story here is that it illustrates Jesus’ words to John (Luke 7:22), words of hope pointing to the resurrection.

But there is also another motif lying behind this story brought out by Jesus’ words to the widow, ‘Do not weep.’ A weeping widow was a picture of Israel in its need, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not’ (Jeremiah 31:15, compare Lamentations 1:1) which can be combined with the promise ‘the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more’ (Isaiah 54:4-5). Thus here we see the promise of life made avalable to Israel through the Messiah.

The passage analyses as follows:

a He went to a city called Nain, and His disciples went with Him, and a great crowd (Luke 7:11).

b When he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, there was carried out one who was dead, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and many people of the city were with her (Luke 7:12).

c When ‘the Lord’ saw her, he had compassion on her, and said to her, “Do not cry” (Luke 7:13 a).

d He came near and touched the bier: and the bearers stood still (Luke 7:13 b).

c And he said, “Young man, I say to you, Arise” (Luke 7:14).

b He who was dead sat up, and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother (Luke 7:15).

a Fear took hold on all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet is arisen among us,” and, “God has visited his people” (Luke 7:16).

Note that in ‘a’ Jesus approached Nain with His disciples and a great crowd, and in the parallel all are filled with awe and glorify God and declare that God has visited His people. In ‘b’ the dead body is being carried out to be buried, and in the parallel the dead body sits up and begins to speak. In ‘c’ Jesus speaks to the widow, and in the parallel He speaks to the son. In ‘d’ He is seen to be in overall control of the situation.


Verse 11

‘And it came about soon afterwards, that he went to a city called Nain; and his disciples went with him, and a great crowd.’

Jesus’ popularity with the ordinary people continued, and a great crowd followed Him as he and His disciples approached Nain. Nain is the modern Nen in the plain of Jezreel six miles SSE of Nazareth and on the slope of Little Hermon. Its ancient gates have not yet been discovered, if it had any, but insufficient work has as yet been done on the site to be sure. However ‘gate’ can indicate simply an entrance thought of metaphorically as a gate. The fact that so obscure a place as Nain is mentioned is a clear indication that some genuine wonder occurred there that made men remember it..


Verse 12

‘Now when he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, there was carried out one that was dead, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and many people of the city was with her.’

But when He drew near to that town He saw a funeral procession coming towards Him. Burials took place outside towns, and burial sites have been discovered near Nain. Jesus no doubt saw many funeral processions for in those days life was uncertain. The thing, however that distinguished this one was a particular weeping woman, for she was a widow, and her only main mainstay was now dead. Life held little for her in the future. She was fairly well known for almost the whole of the town were taking part. Taking part in such an even was seen by Jews as a meritorious act. And there was also probably a great sense of sympathy with her. For a widow to lose her only son was a huge tragedy. Perhaps Jesus knew the woman. She did not live far away from the town where He had grown up. Or perhaps He knew her because of Who He was.


Verse 13

‘And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said to her, “Do not cry.” ’

We are not told of any request made to Jesus. Perhaps all thought that there was nothing that He could do. But Jesus of His own volition went forward to help her because He was filled with compassion at her need. Here was One Who did not look lightly on the sufferings of His people. And gently He said to her, ‘Do not cry.’ We are reminded of His earlier words, ‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh’ (Luke 6:21). Soon the widow’s laughter will reach up to God.

‘When the Lord saw her.’ The use of ‘the Lord’ is not accidental. Here was the One Who was in control of the situation, the Lord of life. Compare Luke 2:11 (a Saviour Who is Christ the Lord); Luke 5:8 (the holy Lord); Luke 5:12 (the Lord over disease); Luke 5:17 (the Lord of power); Luke 6:5 (the Lord of the Sabbath); Luke 6:46 (the Lord of disciples Who must be obeyed). It speaks of authority and power.


Verse 14

‘And he said, “Young man, I say to you, Arise.” ’

Then Jesus spoke to the young man, saying, “Young man, I say to you, Arise.” John tells us that one day that voice will speak the same words and all who are in the graves will come forth, some to everlasting life, and some to judgment (John 5:28-29). It was the command of the Lord of life, the heavenly King. Again Jesus had healed by a word (compare Luke 7:7, also Luke 4:39). He was a man ‘under’ the greatest Authority of all.


Verse 15

‘And he who was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.’

And the dead man sat up and began to talk (compare 1 Kings 17:22 LXX where the child on being raised from the dead by Elijah ‘cried out’). And Jesus then handed him over to his mother. For ‘He gave him to his mother’ compare 1 Kings 17:23 LXX where the same words are used. Jesus would not call someone who was so necessary to his aged mother to follow Him. It is impossible for us to appreciate quite how she must have felt. In one instant of meeting Jesus her whole life was transformed from misery and hopelessness to joy and hope. Today somewhere in the world the same thing happens daily as men who are dead in sin meet the Lord of life and have their lives transformed. For Luke wants us to know that His power is still the same today.

The comments above make clear that we are intended to connect this incident with the miracle performed by Elijah. Jesus is greater than Elijah, greater than Moses, greater than all the prophets (compare Luke 9:10).

We only have details of three occasions on which Jesus raised people from the dead, one a son (here), one a daughter (Luke 8:54), and the third was Lazarus (John 11). But Luke 7:22 suggests a number of others. Eusebius quotes Quadratus (125 AD) as saying in his Apology to Hadrian, ‘The persons who were healed, and those who were raised from the dead, by Jesus, were not only seen when they were healed and raised but were always present also afterwards, and not only during the time when the Saviour walked on the earth, but after His departure also, they were present for a considerable time, so that some of them even lived until our times’.


Verse 16

‘And fear took hold on all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet is arisen among us,” and, “God has visited his people.” ’

The people were filled with awe at what He had done. And the result was that the view that Jesus was a ‘great Prophet’ received a new boost, and men began to say, ‘God has visited His people’ (compare Luke 1:68; Luke 1:78). There was a great sense that God was once again active among His people. Note the stress on ‘great’. This arose because He had raised the dead. It put Him on a level with the greatest of the prophets. Compare Luke 1:32. The promises of the angel were being fulfilled.


Verse 17-18

‘And this word went forth concerning him in the whole of Judaea, and all the region round about, and the disciples of John told him of all these things.’

So the word of what He was doing, and especially of the raising of the dead, spread around the whole of Palestine (Judaea in its widest sense) and even beyond. And by means of his disciples it reached John in prison.

Note Luke’s continual emphasis on this spreading of the word (which will be repeated regularly in Acts). After the exorcism in the synagogue at Capernaum, 'word about him was going out to every place in the surrounding region' (Luke 4:37). After the healing of the leper, 'so much the more the word went abroad concerning Him' (Luke 5:15). Following this the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were present 'from every village of Galilee and Judaea and from Jerusalem' (Luke 5:17). And this is surpassed in Luke 6:17-18, where we hear of 'a great multitude of the people from all Judaea (the land of the Jews) and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and be healed.' And now we are told that 'And this word about Him went out in the all the land of the Jews and in all the neighbouring region.’ The news is spreading widely and rapidly.


Verses 17-23

John the Baptiser Sends An Appeal To Jesus (7:17-23).

Meanwhile, while all this was going on, John the Baptiser was languishing in prison. But he was regularly being visited by some of his brave disciples, and heard reports of what was going on and what was being said.

It is clear, however that he was puzzled. Why was something not happening? Surely if Jesus was God’s Coming One now was the time to act. Why was He hesitating? Perhaps he thought in terms of an insurrection and the deliverance of the people from the tyranny of Rome and Herod, but if so the idea had never appeared in his preaching, and so it must be doubtful. Probably he rather expected that he would face up to the authorities with signs and wonder of an awasome kind. That would explain why Jesus answered in the way that He did, saying to John, ‘There are signs and wonders, but they are acts of compassion, not of belligerences, for I have come to obtain My way in peace’

We, of course, know the answer tp John’s problesm, for Luke has revealed it to us. We have just seen the word of Jesus heal a dying man at a distance, and then raise a man from the dead. We know that Jesus has come to act through His word. But lying in a cell with nothing to do but think and pray John does not have our advantage.

We may analyse the passage as follows:

a This word went forth concerning Him in the whole of Judaea, and all the region round about, and the disciples of John told him of all these things (Luke 7:18).

b John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you He Who is coming, or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19).

c And when the men were come to Him, they said, “John the Baptiser has sent us to you, saying, Are You He Who is coming, or look we for another?” (Luke 7:20).

c In that hour He cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind He bestowed sight (Luke 7:21).

b And He answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings preached to them” (Luke 7:22).

a And blessed is he, whoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me” (Luke 7:23).

We note in this small passage the dual repetition of a question, and a dual answer, one in deeds the other in words. This stresses the importance of both question and answer. Jesus is aware that His disciples too are listening and possibly wondering the same thing as John. Note that in ‘a’ ‘the word concerning Him went out’ and many heard it, and then in the parallel Jesus says ‘Blessed is he, whoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me”. The word that went out was conveying the truth about Him, and must be accepted without it being a stumblingblock. For it conveyed the truth about His Messiahship and the presence of the Kingly Rule of God. Whoever thus received it would be blessed. In ‘b’ the question is put forward, and in the parallel the answer is given by Jesus outlining the activities that ‘the word’ that went about spoke of. And in ‘c’ and parallel we have a doubling up of the question and the answer. It is dually witnessed because of its importance to all.


Verse 19

‘And John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you he who is coming, or look we for another?” ’

Having heard the news of this rapid spreading of the word and of all that was taking place (as much as his disciples could tell him) John called two of his disciples and sent them ‘to the Lord’. This use of ‘the Lord’ connects up with Luke 7:13. They were sent to the Lord Who had raised the dead (compare Luke 7:18, ‘all these things’). The contrast between Jesus and John is being emphasised. Jesus is increasing, John is decreasing (John 3:30). For John worked no miracles, whereas Jesus wrought wonders wherever He went. He is revealing His power as ‘the Lord’ (Christ the Lord - Luke 2:11), besides which John is merely the greatest of the prophets.

(B f13; 157 and others have ‘the Lord’. Aleph A W Theta f1 f28 have ‘Jesus’).

We should not be taken by surprise by John’s doubts as he languishes in the darkness of his prison cell in chains. If Jesus could express hesitancy in Gethsemane when He knew what was happening, how much more likely John in prison when he did not know what was happening. John had been expecting so much, and now time hung heavy on his hands. He did not doubt God (‘look we for another’). He was still as involved as ever (as far as he could be). But he just could not understand what he heard about the ministry of Jesus. Things did not seem to be going as he had expected (we are not wise when we decide how God should act). Jesus was no longer preaching in the wilderness regions, as He had for a while alongside John (John 3:22 to John 4:3). Indeed from all reports he was partying with outcasts and the non-religious. And there was no suggestion of His gathering an army. All He had was a small band of Galileans (although they could be tough fighters), and all they did was go around preaching. That was all very well for a time. But he had expected that by now other stirrings might have been taking place.

‘A certain two (duo tinas) of his disciples.’ John wants a twofold witness in order to confirm its certainty. Although it may be that his disciples also went around in twos. It was quite common.

The message that his disciples took was in the form of a simple question. “Are you He Who is coming, or look we for another?” For John had been looking for ‘the Coming One’ to act as the eschatological figure through Whom the Holy Spirit would be poured out, when all who were in rebellion against God would be brought into judgment (Luke 3:16-17). For ‘the Coming One’ compare ‘blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Luke 13:35), ‘blessed is the King Who comes in the name of the Lord (Luke 19:38). But this was not what appeared to be happening. Where were the fires of judgment? He was puzzled.


Verse 20

‘And when the men were come to him, they said, “John the Baptiser has sent us to you, saying, Are You He Who is coming, or look we for another?”

So the men came to Jesus with the message. The question is repeated a second time so as to bring it home to the reader. It was the question that all were asking.


Verse 21

‘In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight.’

While John’s disciples were there Jesus continued performing His wonders, He healed diseases and plagues, He cast out evil spirits, He gave sight to the blind. He revealed the power, love and compassion of God.


Verse 22

‘And he answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings preached to them.”

And then He turned to John’s disciples and told them to go to John and tell them what they had seen and heard. ‘Tell him that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the skin diseased are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the Good News preached to them.’ All this was in fulfilment of Isaiah 29:18-19; Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 61:1, to which is added that the skin diseased are cleansed (as with Elisha - 2 Kings 7) and the dead are raised (as with Elijah (1 Kings 17) and Elisha (2 Kings 4) and compare Isaiah 26:19 where the raising of the dead is an eschatological sign.

The message was threefold, firstly that One was here Who paralleled and even eclipsed Elijah and Elisha, secondly that the eschatological signs were being fulfilled, and thirdly, through deafening silence, that the time of judgment was not yet. God was at work in His own time. He was not in a hurry. He was gathering the wheat into the barn. The judgment could wait until the harvest was gathered in.

‘The blind receive their sight (Luke 4:18; Luke 14:13; Luke 14:21; Luke 18:35-43; Mark 8:22-26; Matthew 9:27-31; Matthew 12:22; Matthew 21:14), the lame walk (Luke 5:17-26; Luke 14:13; Luke 14:21; Matthew 15:30; Matthew 21:14; John 5:3; Acts 3:1-10), the lepers are cleansed (Luke 5:12-16; Luke 17:11-19), and the deaf/dumb hear (Luke 11:14; Mark 7:31-37; Matthew 9:32-34), the dead are raised up (Luke 7:11-17; Luke 8:40-56; John 11), the poor have good tidings preached to them (Luke 4:18; Luke 6:20; Luke 14:13; Luke 14:21).” Note that what is placed last draws attention to His central purpose. He is hear to proclaim Good News, gathering the wheat into the barn (Luke 3:17). The judgment will follow in due time.

‘The poor have the good news preached to them.’ No one had any time for the poor. The Romans trampled on them, the Greeks despised them, the priests and Levites passed them by. But God had time for them. It was the Anointed Prophet from God Who would proclaim the Good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1). It was the good shepherd who would attend to the poor of the flock (Zechariah 11:7; Zechariah 11:11), the shepherd who would be smitten (Zechariah 13:7). For they were God’s special concern (Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 41:17).


Verse 23

“And blessed is he, whoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.”

And then He adds that John must believe and trust Him. He will be blessed if he does not find what Jesus is doing as a stumblingblock. In other words He is saying to John. ‘Yes, I am the Coming One as you will recognise if you consider what I am doing along with the Scriptures, but you have misunderstood the present purpose in My coming. Trust Me and you will see that all will work out as God has planned.’

‘No occasion of stumbling in Me.’ John is to see Him as a sanctuary, a firm rock, not as a stumblingstone (Isaiah 8:14). Indeed that is why John himself has prepared the way so that none may stumble (Isaiah 57:14).

We should note that it is not a question of John having lost faith. He still believes that One is to come from God. He has rather partially (only partially, for he has still sent to enquire of Him) lost faith in the way Jesus is going about things. It just does not accord with his expectations. Possibly he had hoped to gee Jesus up. That is why Jesus’ reply is ‘trust me John, and consider again my activities in the light of Scripture. I know what I am doing, and blessing for you rests in recognising it too’.

Jesus’ Testimony to John (Luke 7:24-35).

His answer being sent to John Jesus turned to the waiting crowd. He did not want them to see John as a shaken reed. It was not John who had failed in the purposes of God, but the fickle hearers. And He uses the opportunity to make clear His own great superiority to John because of what He had come to do, while at the same time giving John the highest place possible to man. In doing so He brings home the wonder of the fact that the anticipated Kingly Rule of God is now here in Him. But He then rebukes those who have failed to understand. The Scribes and Pharisees are especially in mind.

We can analyse this passage as follows:

a When the messengers of John were departed, he began to say to the crowds concerning John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken with the wind?”

b “But what did you go out to? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.”

c “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and much more than a prophet.”

d “This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way before you.”

e “I say to you, Among those who are born of women there is none greater than John.

f “Yet he who is but little within the Kingly Rule of God is greater than he.”

e “And all the people when they heard, and the public servants, justified God, being baptised with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptised of him.”

d “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace, and call one to another, who say,

‘We piped to you, and you did not dance,

We wailed, and you did not weep.’

c “For John the Baptiser is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ ”

b “The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and you say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of public servants and sinners!”

a “And wisdom is justified of all her children.”

The contrasts are powerful leading up to the presence of the Kingly Rule of God and its glory. In ‘a’ the people see a reed shaken in the wind, and in the parallel wisdom is justified of her children, who have totally misunderstood both John and Jesus. In ‘b’ we are told of the celebrating in king’s houses, and in the parallel the Son of Man comes celebrating for He is the King, even though misunderstood. In ‘c’ John is ‘more than a prophet’ and in the parallel he reveals it by his abstinence and they misunderstand him and see his prophetic spirit as of the devil. In ‘d’ we have the powerful Scriptural expression of the purpose of John’s coming and in the parallel the Pharisees’ expression of it in the equivalent of Nursery Rhymes. In ‘e’ there is none greater than John and in the parallel the people confirm it and the Pharisees deny it. And centrally in ‘f’ those who come under the Kingly Rule of God as expressed in Jesus, however lowly, are ‘greater’ than John, for they have entered in to what John could only look forward to.

Note the powerful progression in greatness from lowest to highest; John is not a reed that bends to the wind (a), John is not a soft courtier (b), John is a prophet and more than a prophet (c), John is the one sent to prepare the way for the Coming One (d), among men born of women there is none greater than he (e). And yet with all that the Kingly Rule of God has now come, and those who enter it are greater than John (f).

Then notice the comparisons. The people (the poor, and hungry, and weeping) have received the Kingly Rule of God and have been baptised with the baptism of John, ‘justifying God’, while the Scribes and Pharisees and their like (the rich the full and the foolishly content) have turned away from it, rejecting the counsel of God, and refusing to be baptised (e). They have done so because neither John or Jesus have danced to their tune (d). John they have accused of being devil-possessed because of his asceticism which has gone beyond what they consider necessary (c), Jesus they have accused of being worldly and frivolous because He eats and drinks and fails to totally follow their rules (b). Truly, says Jesus, wisdom is ‘justified of her children’ (a), just as God was justified of His (e).


Verse 24

‘And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to say to the crowds concerning John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken with the wind?” ’

Jesus now turned to challenge the crowds. He did not want them to see John as failing. Indeed the problem lay not with John and his honest doubts, but with those who failed to follow the counsel or purpose of God (Luke 7:30).

So they should now recognise that they had gone out to John in the wilderness, not because he bowed to the winds of the Scribes and Pharisees and of Herod, and to the winds of change, but because he came with a powerful, firm and consistent message. (Anyone less like a reed bending before the wind than John the Baptiser it is difficult to imagine).

The idea here may be taken from 1 Kings 14:15 where a reed in the water, shaken in the wind, is illustrative of those who are rejected by God because of failure.


Verse 25

“But what did you go out to? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.”

They had not gone out to him in the desert because he walked in king’s courts, and wore beautiful clothing, and lived in luxury, for those who were like that were not to be found in the desert, they were in palaces, picking their way carefully to avoid contamination, and bowing and scraping to the king. So they had not been looking for that. They had gone because they were looking for what they did find, a prophet of God.


Verse 26

“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and much more than a prophet.”

What did they go out to see? They went to see a prophet, a prophet from God. And yes, even more than that, they went out to see one who was more than just a mere prophet, he was the prophet who was the Preparer of the way as prophesied by Isaiah, the Messenger of Malachi 3:1. After him would come the Coming One.

‘More than (just) a prophet.’ He was the Elijah who was for to come (Matthew 11:14), the one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), although not strictly Elijah himself (John 1:21).


Verse 27

“This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way before you.”

For he was the one of whom God had said that he was His messenger, sent before His very eyes, to prepare the way for God to act and to enable Israel to behold its God (Malachi 3:1; compare Isaiah 40:3-5 as in Luke 3:4-6).

The actual quotation is a combination of the Hebrew text for Malachi 3:1 slightly altered and with a slight addition from Exodus 23:20. The messenger will come from God, and like God he will go forward to prepare their way. The same combination is found in Mark 1:2; Matthew 11:10. Possibly it was as contained in a list of prophecies or proof texts compiled by the early church or produced by the Apostles.


Verse 28

“I say to you, Among those who are born of women there is none greater than John, yet he who is but little (or ‘least’) within the Kingly Rule of God is greater than he.”

So among those born of women there is no greater than John the Baptiser. But now in Jesus what John pointed to is fulfilled (as He has pointed out to John previously in Luke 7:22-23). The Kingly Rule of God is here in the King, and those who now enter it have a standing higher even than that of John. They are not only born of the Spirit, they are directly servants of the King Who is present among His people, a privilege that John has never had (significantly there was the indication here that John would never leave prison. His task was done). It is clear from this the high status and position that Jesus is claiming for Himself. The greatest of all men has now been superseded by the Greater, by the King, by ‘Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11).

As the New Testament tells us elsewhere, this was the day that the prophets and righteous men of past ages had longed for. They had longed to see what these people saw, and to hear what they heard (Matthew 13:17; 1 Peter 1:10-12). And now it was here. And John had to sink into the background because the One was here to Whom all the ages had pointed.

Others see ‘he who is least’ as a reference to Jesus Himself, thus stressing that He is here as the King under God, because made man least in the Kingdom of Heaven. ‘Least’ then contrasts here with ‘greater’. John may be great among men, but Jesus is under the Kingly Rule of God, where the least is greater than the greatest on earth. Or perhaps He had in mind His Apostles (Luke 22:26).

‘There is none greater than John.’ John is described as the greatest of all men who have been born into the world. Furthermore as ‘more than a prophet’ he is the greatest of the prophets. But his greatness becomes insignificant in comparison with things to do with Heaven. These last probably include the thought of the new birth from above (John 3:5-6) by which those who are born of the Spirit enter the Kingly Rule of God (John 3:5) having been made partakers of a heavenly/divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), but it cannot just mean that for we must not deny to John the birth of the Spirit. More probably the thought is of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which will result in signs and wonders. (John did no miracle - John 10:41).

Does this then mean that John could not enter under the Kingly Rule of God? That is certainly not the idea. But what he cannot do is enter it on earth as a direct servant of the King. Jesus had not set Himself up as King until John was imprisoned (Luke 2:20; Mark 1:14). Thereby his ministry ceased and Jesus’ independent ministry began in the proclaiming of the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 1:15). Those who now enjoy a position under Him are thus greater on earth than John for they are in the direct service of the King. The prophet has fulfilled his great ministry. Now the Greater than he reigns, along with His Apostles.


Verse 29-30

“And all the people when they heard, and the public servants, justified God, being baptised with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptised of him.”

Having stated the position Jesus now deals with response to that position. Their coming has divided up Israel. On the one hand are the common people (the poor, and hungry, and sorrowful), together with the outcasts (the public servants) and they have revealed God to be in the right in what He has done (justified His decision) in sending John, by responding to John’s message and being baptised with His baptism in readiness for the Coming One, in readiness for His pouring out on them of His Holy Spirit. On the other are the Pharisees and the Lawyers (Scribes), and the rich and the full and the self-satisfied, who have rejected the counsel and purposes of God, and have refused to be baptised. They justify themselves (Luke 18:11-12). Note Jesus certainty of the purpose of God which they have rejected. They have actually turned against God’s purposes.


Verse 31-32

“To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace, and call one to another, who say,

‘We piped to you, and you did not dance,

We wailed, and you did not weep.’

For these Pharisees and lawyers and their ilk are like children sitting and complaining that John and Jesus will not take part in their games. They will not dance to the Pharisaic tune, nor will they enter into the Pharisaic ways of expressing their mourning. One goes too far, the other does not go far enough.

The words may well be taken from a well known children’s song, sang at play, as the children sang and danced together, referring to the miming of mourning, and playing at wedding and funerals.


Verse 33

“For John the Baptiser is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ ”

So when John, like Elijah of old, goes into the wilderness and clothes himself in goatskin and eats wild honey (Mark 1:6) they cry, ‘He has a demon’. (The wilderness was seen among other things as a place of demons). ‘He is behaving like a madman’. To go alone with God like that was beyond their comprehension. They loved the tight huddle of self-congratulation.


Verse 34

“The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and you say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of public servants and sinners!”

And when Jesus walks among men and eats and drinks with them, they say, “See, He is a gluttonous man, He is wine-lover, He is a friend of public servants and sinners.” ‘Public servants’ were those who served the hated Herod and the government which ruled under Rome, the tax-collectors, the customs officers, the collectors of tolls. They were despised by all as traitors. ‘Sinners’ were those who did not follow the Pharisaic regulations for maintaining ‘cleanness’ and in tithing, and with regard to the strict observance of the Sabbath and other such matters.

Thus they could not make up their minds as to what they wanted one way or the other. One was too narrow minded, the other too broadminded. For unless men walked in their carefully laid out path, veering neither to one side or the other, they were to be condemned. They accepted no other way.

‘The Son of Man.’ That this refers to Jesus is undoubted. But what does it signify here? In Daniel 7 the son of man is both prince and people. Thus here Jesus is emphasising His oneness with the people. He is not apart from them, He is identified with them. Thus He eats and drinks with them. Yet He does it too as an individual. He is one with them and yet He is their King.


Verse 35

“And wisdom is justified of all her children.”

Thus the proverb was clearly true. The wisdom of the Scribes had produced children suited to it, who could not agree with any but themselves. While those who have found the true wisdom and responded to Jesus have entered under His kingly Rule. Their wisdom too, received from the Master, has produced its children with their fruit.

Jesus Is Greeted By the Transformed Prostitute, Who Has Believed And Reveals It By Her Purified Love, A Picture of Restored Israel (Ezekiel 16:59-63) And Of The Fact That The Kingly Rule of God Is Available To All Who Seek Him and Hear Him (Luke 7:36-50).

One of the most vivid passages of the Old Testament is where Ezekiel speaks of Jerusalem as having become like a prostitute who has sold herself to the highest bidder (Ezekiel 16:15). Then God declares, ‘I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed --- I will establish my covenant with you and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded andnever open your mouth againbecause of your shame,when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God.’

So when a prostitute (she had unbound hair) comes to the feet of Jesus, andspeaks never a word, but washes His feet with her tears and wipes them with the hairs of her head, did not Jesus remember these words? And do we not here have a picture of the fallen people of God and their way back to forgiveness? And the result is that the Messiah, Who introduces the everlasting covenant, the sure mercies of David (Isaiah 55:3), comes and receives her under His Kingly Rule,anddeclares that she is forgiven ‘all that she has done’(‘her sins which are many’).

The incident may be analysed as follows:

a And one of the Pharisees desired Him that he would eat with him. And He entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to a meal (Luke 7:36).

b And behold, there was a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that He was having a meal in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment (Luke 7:37-38).

c Now when the Pharisee who had bidden Him saw it, he spoke within himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is who touches Him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).

d And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he says, “Teacher, say on.” “A certain lender had two debtors, the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?” (Luke 7:40-42).

e Simon answered and said, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” (Luke 7:43).

d And turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, you gave me no water for My feet, but she has wetted My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil you did not anoint, but she has anointed My feet with ointment.”

c “For this reason I say to you, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

b And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

a And those who sat at the meal with Him began to say within themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Luke 7:49-50).

Note than in ‘a’ Jesus ‘sat at the meal’ with the Pharisee and his guests, and in the parallel those who ‘sat at the meal’ with Him gave their reactions. In ‘b’ the woman comes in and reveals her loving gratitude to Jesus, and in the parallel He says, “Your sins are forgiven you.” In ‘c’ the Pharisee mutters to himself that if Jesus knew what kind of woman she was He would not allow her to touch Him, and in the parallel Jesus points out that the reason he does so is because she is truly forgiven. In ‘d’ Jesus asks which debtor will love the most and in the parallel reveals how the woman has loved the most. And in the centre the point is made that it is the one who is forgiven the most, who loves the most.

Perhaps before we look at the text in more detail we should consider the logic behind the story. And central to it, and clearly shown, is the fact that she was NOT forgiven because she loved Jesus. Rather she loved Jesus because she was forgiven. That is the point of the parable. Each debtor loved because he was forgiven, and the one who was forgiven the most loved the most. This is then made clear by the fact that it is her faith which has saved her. Thus her forgiveness has come through faith.

And that brings out that when Jesus saw this disreputable woman come towards Him to touch Him He knew at once the reason why. It wasbecause she had been listening to His preaching and had repented and had received forgiveness, and now wanted to reveal her gratitude. That is why He did not rebuke her.


Verse 36

‘And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to a meal.’

The story begins with Jesus being invited to the house of ‘one of the Pharisees’. He appears to be on fairly good terms with Jesus, but it becomes quite apparent that while he would expect the necessary pouring of water over the hands to take place (without which he himself would not have eaten) he pays little attention to the courtesies which would be offered to an honoured guest. Here clearly was one who did not ‘love the most’. He no doubt felt that he was doing enough in allowing Jesus to sit with his honoured guests.


Verse 37-38

‘And behold, there was a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at a meal in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.’

And then there was a sudden interruption. It was clearly not a large house, and there were apparently few servants, for through the doorway there came a woman with unbound hair. It was in fact quite normal for the doors to be left open as an act of charity so that people could enter the house while the meal was going on, hoping either to receive a hand out, or some pearls of wisdom from the learned men sat at table.But wa woman like this would not have been welcomed. Unbound hair would be seen as a disgrace in a woman, and would indicate her profession. She had heard that Jesus was sitting at a meal in the Pharisee’s house, and she came bringing an alabaster cruse of precious ointment.

Everything was against the woman, and she would know it. She had been dealing with Pharisees for years. She knew that her touch was unclean, she knew that her precious ointment had been bought with immoral earnings (or would be seen as so), she knew that she should not enter a Pharisee’s house. But she was determined. No doubt she wanted to anoint Jesus’ head with her ointment. And she did so because of her faith in the fact that He would be her Saviour (Luke 7:50), and because of a consciousness of sins forgiven through her previous contact with Him. It was because she knew that she was now clean that she felt that she could do what she did.

So entering the house she made for where Jesus was lying on a couch by the table. He would be lying on one elbow with His feet extended backwards. And she took in the situation at a glance. It was clear that Jesus’ feet were still dirty from the road. It would take her by surprise. To her he was the most important person in the room, and she would not be able to believe that they had not had the courtesy to arrange for His feet to be washed. Perhaps that was why she began to weep as she realised how her beloved Master was being treated, or perhaps she was already weeping. But it altered her whole approach. Reaching down she wiped the dust of His feet with her tears, and then she wiped them with her hair. Then she kissed His feet, and poured on them the precious ointment that she had brought. How dared they treat her beloved Master like this? And to everyone’s surprise Jesus appeared unmoved and made no effort to prevent it.


Verse 39

‘Now when the Pharisee who had bidden him saw it, he spoke within himself, saying, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is who touches him, that she is a sinner.” ’

The Pharisee was horrified, but courteously said nothing. He could see at once what kind of a woman this was, ‘a sinner’, probably a prostitute. To be touched by such a woman was to be ritually defiled. Yet it was apparent that Jesus was making no attempt to avoid her. He could only assume that Jesus did not realise what kind of a woman she was. Some prophet! He had been considering what he could believe about Jesus, and now he knew. Sadly He was not genuine after all.

It is salutary that he apparently felt no guilt about his own neglect of his guest. He probably felt that Jesus should feel grateful that He had been invited. But at least he kept his head averted and pretended that he had not seen the woman. He must not make his guest feel uncomfortable.


Verse 40

And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he says, “Teacher, say on.”

We learn immediately that Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking. For He casually turned to him and said, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” It says something for Simon that he showed nothing of what he was thinking and spoke as though nothing was wrong. We have only to think for a moment to realise what all the other guests were thinking, and that they would all be uncomfortably looking at Simon wondering what to do. But he simply said, “Teacher, say on”, as though nothing unusual was happening at all.

Jesus then spoke in the form of a short parable.


Verse 41-42

“A certain money lender had two debtors, the one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?”

The illustration was simply told. Two men had borrowed money from a moneylender, one fifty thousand pounds, the other five thousand. And then when the money lender discovered that they could not pay, probably to their great surprise, he cancelled their debts. Which then would love him the most?


Verse 43

‘Simon answered and said, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.” And he said to him, “You have rightly judged.”

Simon had no difficulty in answering that one. It was the one who was forgiven the most. And Jesus replied that he had got it absolutely right.


Verse 44

‘And turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair.”

Up to this point Simon had probably been ignoring the woman and pretending that he had not noticed her. So Jesus pointedly draws attention to her. And then He draws attention to what she had done that Simon had left undone. When Jesus had entered his house no one had washed His feet.

It was normally considered polite to arrange for the feet of guests to be washed once they had come in off the dusty road. The failure to arrange it for Jesus must have been deliberate. Perhaps Simon had wanted to make it clear to the other guests that Jesus was not here because he thoroughly approved of Him, but more under sufferance; that He was not so much a guest as an invitee. He was indicating that he was wanting to find out what He had to say, but must not be thought to be too interested, or making too many concessions. It would not be a discourtesy, only an indication that Jesus was not a particularly welcome guest.

The fact that Jesus drew attention to it demonstrates that He wanted to strike his conscience and give a gentle rebuke. Here was Simon criticising the woman in his mind for being a ‘sinner’, but in fact Simon was far more guilty than the woman. He had failed in offering basic hospitality to one whom he considered might well be a prophet of God (which did put him in the wrong. It was a discourtesy to God).

The fact that there were sufficient tears to wipe His feet demonstrates the deep feeling the woman was experiencing. Her gratitude to Jesus was overflowing. And then when she had washed His feet she used her hair to dry them.


Verse 45

“You gave me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet.”

The welcoming kiss was not so much a requirement as the washing of feet, but it would still be given to a welcome guest. Again Jesus had been kept in His place. He must not be made to feel too welcome. But this woman whom Simon was criticising in his thoughts was giving Jesus the welcome that had been refused Him by Simon. To her He was the most important guest there. How could He not appreciate it? Especially as He knew what was in her heart.


Verse 46

“You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”

It is clear how bare had been Simon’s welcome. He had neglected all the means normally used to make a favoured guest feel welcome and to make him comfortable. But this woman had made up for Jesus’ lack of welcome by anointing not His head, but His feet. All that Simon had pointedly failed to do to God’s prophet, this woman had done, and more. It was a rebuke from God. He had failed even to offer common olive oil, yet this woman, despised by all present, had brought expensive ointment.


Verse 47

“For this reason I say to you, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much, but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

And what did all this prove? It proved that she had good reason to be grateful to Jesus. And Jesus knew the reason why. He knew that she had been burdened down by many sins, and that on hearing His words as He proclaimed the Good News she had at some stage found forgiveness for them all. This explained her love and gratitude. Her much love proved her much forgiveness. A lesser love would have indicated that she had received a lesser forgiveness.

It should be noted that the fact that she was there at all, not saying anything but expressing genuine Christian love, indicated that she felt that she owed Jesus a debt of gratitude. Why else would she love Jesus? The kind of ‘love’ she had been used to would not have been deserving of forgiveness, nor would it have been welcome to Jesus. What had happened here had to be because something that He had done or said had genuinely benefited her, and it had to have been something spectacular for her to humiliate herself like that. Furthermore she would have been in no doubt about the kind of welcome she would receive in the Pharisee’s house, and yet she had come. Why? Because she had known in her heart that Jesus would not turn her away. She knew that He would welcome her because He would know that she had turned to God and had been forgiven. (She would not expect to be welcomed as a practising prostitute). Thus all points to an experience of having been cleansed for which she was grateful. And the parable confirms that Jesus was aware of it.

‘But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.’ Is there a hint here of Simon’s own failure. Not on a par with the woman’s, but still there? He had not demonstrated great love.


Verse 48

‘And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” ’

So He turned to the woman and assured here, “Your sins have been and are forgiven.” They would be welcome words, a further assurance of what she already knew in her heart. And possibly spoken as much to the hearers as to her. He would be very well aware that they were at this stage hanging on His every word. And it was necessary for her rehabilitation that it be known by all that she was forgiven.


Verse 49

‘And those who sat at the meal with him began to say within themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” ’

But those who were there recognised the implication of what He had said. He was guaranteeing that her sins were forgiven. He was taking on Himself a divine prerogative. He was setting Himself up as having special divine authority. And they asked each other with awe, ‘Who is this?’ They do not accuse Him of wrongdoing. They are genuinely interested. Their response to that question could make all the difference in their lives.


Verse 50

‘And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” ’

Then Jesus turned to the woman again and said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” He wanted her to know that in the end it was her faith in Him that had saved her. She had been delivered from a life of sin because she believed in Him. And now she could go with peace in her heart. ‘Who is this?’ She knew that He was her Saviour.

As we come to the close of the story perhaps we should consider its lessons. Firstly it demonstrates that all can be saved, no matter what their sins, if only they turn to God and believe in Jesus Christ. Secondly in the light of Ezekiel 16 it illustrates a call to Israel to repent of her spiritual adultery and return to the Lord in view of the fact that the everlasting covenant of the Messiah is now on offer. Thirdly it was a lesson to Simon about the courtesy that should be shown to a prophet of God and a gentle hint not to overlook the courtesies of life. Fourthly it revealed the authority of Jesus to make confident and specific declarations about the forgiveness of sins.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/luke-7.html. 2013.

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