Study Guide

Gospel of Luke Chapter 5:17-6:11

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Chapter 5:17-6:11

Jesus Romps Some Highbrows

  • Jesus teaches, and some highbrow professors are there to listen from Galilee, Judea, and even Jerusalem, ivy-league style.
  • Soon enough, four guys come by, carrying a fifth who's lying paralyzed on a mat. They're trying to place the paralyzed man before Jesus, but the crowd's so big that they can't elbow their way through.
  • The solution? They climb up on the roof, remove some tiles, and lower him down right before Jesus. What is this, Mission Impossible?
  • Jesus is impressed by their faith, though: "your sins are forgiven you" (5:20 NRSV).
  • Don't be shy. We might as well recognize that the implied logic is that the man's paralysis is the result of his own wrongful doings. Debate among yourselves how we should react to this on the other side of the Enlightenment. Get ready for a slugfest.
  • The highbrows object that only God is supposed to forgive sins.
  • Jesus then takes it straight to 'em: "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'?" (5:23). It's a rhetorical question.
  • Jesus tells the man to stand up and walk, which is proof that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive whoever he so chooses. So there.
  • The man stands up and heads for home with his mat in hand, giving God all due props. Jesus: 1, Highbrows: 0.
  • Everyone's out of their minds with shock, and they all give God his props, too. But they're also scared. After all, they've seen things today that run contrary to run-of-the-mill expectations.
  • Next up, Jesus sees a tax collector named Levi.
  • Jesus commands, "Follow me" (5:27), and Levi abandons everything and follows. Hey, it's the trendy thing to do for would-be disciples.
  • Levi throws a big dinner party for Jesus, and a bunch of tax collectors and other shady people are reclining with them.
  • Take a second to adjust your mental image. Both the NRSV and KJV suggest that they are all "sitting" at a table (5:29), but this translates the details into more familiar dining-room customs. People in antiquity reclined while they ate, and the Greek is more accurately translated "reclining." This is true of all of the banquet scenes in Luke. We say, when in Bible-land…
  • Anyway, the highbrows object: "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (5:30).
  • Jesus responds with a simple truth: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (5:31). Jesus clarifies that his purpose is to invite sinful people to turn their lives around.
  • Again, this ruffles the feathers of these highbrows, who raise another objection: fasting and praying are the occupation of the students of John and the Pharisees, but Jesus's followers party hearty.
  • Jesus responds by drawing an analogy. Wedding guests don't refuse to eat while the groom is still with them. How rude that would be? There'll be plenty of time for fasting later when the groom is taken away from them, and the days are coming.
  • P.S. He's talking about himself.
  • Jesus adds two more analogies.
  • First, when you're patching your clothes you can't mix old and new cloth. Why? The old and the new cloth will not jive. Rip. Has anyone ever tried this? Let us know how it goes. (@Shmoop)
  • Second, new wine goes into new wine skins. If it's put into old skins, they'll break, and no one wants to waste their wine.
  • The highbrows lose again.
  • Fast forward to a sabbath, and Jesus is walking through the grain field. His disciples eat the kernels after rubbing away the chaff. Mmm.
  • Some highbrows take issue: "Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" (6:2).
  • Here's a little tidbit of information. The Torah says that you can't do any labor on the seventh day, i.e., the sabbath (read the prescription in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). But the issue remains: what does it mean exactly not to perform work? Can we wash, fight a war, cook or prepare food, walk somewhere, respond to emergencies, or what?
  • Jesus responds by—surprise—citing a story from scripture.
  • When David and his fellows were hungry, they went into God's house and mowed down "the bread of the Presence" (6:4). But only priests are allowed to eat this sacred bread. Fact check Jesus by reading 1 Samuel 21:1-9 and Leviticus 24:5-9.
  • The point? If the "Son of Man" refers only to Jesus here, then the needs of Jesus and his followers trump the Torah-laws about the sabbath, just like the needs of David trumped the laws about the bread of Presence.
  • Note the alternative. If the "son of man" (no caps) refers simply to any old human being, as it sometimes does, then the sabbath-stipulation will have to recognize human limitations.
  • The highbrows are silent; their tail is between their legs once again.
  • On another sabbath, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue, where he comes across a guy with a shriveled right hand.
  • The highbrows are watching Jesus like a hawk to see whether he will heal on the sabbath. The highbrows think that would count as doing work on the sabbath and they're ripe and ready to accuse Jesus of breaking the rules.
  • Jesus knows what's up, but he still summons the man forward. He asks him point blank: "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?" (6:9).
  • Jesus looks at them all, then tells the man to stretch out his hand. Guess what? That's right—healed.
  • Jesus shows up the highbrows yet again. But this time they are so mad that they start to conspire about what to do with this upstart Jesus.

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