Chapter 6 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

6:1-11 Freedom from Sabbath Rules

We have noted occasions where Luke reports the results of his own research by talking to eye-witnesses he met in Galilee. But now he picks two stories almost exactly as written in a previous Gospel (Mark 2:23-3:6) to illustrate what Jesus taught about Sabbath rules. In the first incident Jesus makes the point that in cases of extreme danger (like David in 1 Samuel 21:1-6) ceremonial laws can be broken. At this point Matthew recalls another example that Jesus gave of how priests have their regular work to do on the Sabbath day (Leviticus 24:8, Matthew 12:5). Matthew also remembered Jesus quoting "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6) to explain the priority of love compared with to religious duties (which he inserted twice, Matthew 9:13, 12:7).

In the second Sabbath incident Jesus asks whether it is lawful to do good or to save life on the day of rest. And the Pharisees knew that the rabbis all recognized that saving a person or pulling an animal from a well (6:9, Matthew 12:11-12) was necessary work. In any case "the Son of Man (the incarnate Son of God, see note on 5:24) is Lord of the Sabbath" (6:5, as in Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:27). Which means that he has every right to clarify what the Sabbath was designed for. As Mark puts it "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Obviously Jesus is not denying the need for humans to take one day's rest in seven (Exodus 20:10). The commandment does not specify which day should be kept for rest, and the day needs to be adapted for those who have to work shifts like nurses and airline flight crews, as well as doing works of mercy..

6:1 This was a Sabbath day afternoon walk of a Rabbi with his disciples. Picking ears of wheat as one passed by a farmer' field was allowed by the law (Deuteronomy 23:25).

6:2 Luke has already introduced the Pharisees (see notes on 5:17, 30). The Pharisee complaint was that this was the sabbath, plucking grains of wheat was harvesting, and "rubbing them in their hands"to remove the husks before eating the grain was threshing. Just describing the pettiness of this kind of legalism exposes the flaw in the whole Pharisee system.

6:3-4 Jesus then presented an example from the life of David where ceremonial rules can be broken in life-threatening situations (1 Samuel 21:3-6). The point is that, if King David can adapt the rules when necessary, surely the Messiah can do what is needed to heal the sick.

6:5 As the eternal Son of God,who had taken birth as Son of Man (see note on 5:24), he had every right to free the Sabbath from Pharisaic legalistic rules.

6:6 The Gospel writers edit their material without concern to give exact chronological sequences. Mark had "Again he entered the synagogue" (Mark 3:1) and Matthew inserts "And he went on from there" (Matthew 12:9). Luke changes this to "On another sabbath." And as a doctor he notes that it was the man's right hand.

6:7 Scribes were experts in Old Testament law, and when they were given a teaching position in the rabbinical schools they were known as teachers (5:17). .

6:8-9 Knowing that the Pharisees would condemn him, Jesus called the man with the withered hand to stand among them, and he asked whether it was lawful to do good or do harm, to save life or to destroy it.

6:10-11 When none of them would answer the question, Jesus told the man to stretch out the hand, and as he did so it was restored to health. Having had their hypocrisy publicly exposed, they were furious and from that time began planning how to put an end to this tiresome prophet.

6:12-16 Twelve Apostles Chosen.

We have noted that disciples were enrolled by baptism to begin learning from a teacher (see note on 3:7, John 4:1). John makes clear that large numbers became disciples (John 4:1), and among these the drop out rate was very high (John 6:66). This is the point of the parable of the sower (8:4-15). From among the large group of his disciples, who came to learn when they were free from work Jesus chose twelve to be with him (Mark 3:14) and to be sent out (apostello means to send, see 9:1-2). Luke records that as the work grew seventy others were sent out (10:1, 17), but the Gospels make clear that these were not on the same footing as the original twelve.

6:12-13 Jesus had gone out to pray when he faced the pressure of healing the crowds (4:40, 42, 5:16). Now he spent all night in prayer for wisdom in selecting the twelve. The number twelve was perhaps connected with the twelve tribes of Israel.

6:14-16 The list is more or less what Luke found in Mark's Gospel (Mark 3:13-19). Minor differences are that Simon the Cananaean (Mark 3:18) is identified as "Simon who was called the zealot," (as in Acts 1:13), and Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18) is called "Judas the son of James" (not Judas the betrayer, John 14:22).

6:17-49 The Sermon on the Mount

The sermons recorded by Luke and Matthew are evidently reports of the same occasion. They are located on a mountain, they begin with some beatitudes, go on to teach about enemies, and both end with the parable of the house on the rock and the house on the sand. In addition to teaching in the synagogues in the area of Capernaum (4:15, 16, 6:6), it seems Jesus would announce a place where he would offer a longer teaching session. In this case they came from great distances (6:17), which would require an announcement several weeks ahead.

Matthew, the converted tax collector, was used to keeping exact records, and he probably took verbatim notes of Jesus' preaching. The sequence and content of a day's teaching would vary but (as with any preacher) some themes would be repeated with variations again and again. Matthew probably set the material in order in an Aramaic document (scholars call it Q) which contained material which is common to both Matthew and Luke's Gospels. At some stage this was translated into Greek. In this section we look at what Luke's sermon has in common with Matthew's version of the Sermon on the Mount. As we proceed, we will comment on other parts of Matthew's sermon which Luke places in other contexts (see 11:2-4, 9-13, 34-36, 12:22-34, 58, 13:24, 14:34-35, 16:13, 17, 18). As we have seen, Luke is deliberately arranging the material he has gathered to produce an incredibly effective piece of literature. No wonder this was chosen to be part of the infallible (never fails to accomplish God's purpose) Word of God.

6:17 Luke explains that this sermon was not right on top of the mountain, but a level place that would provide a natural amphitheater to seat the several thousand who had gathered. Sidon was a hard three days' walk away, and Jerusalem nearly a week away.

6:18-19 People had come not only for the teaching, but for healing (as in 4:40, 5:15). For the power that came from Jesus in his healing ministry see 4:36, 5:17, 8:46).

6:20 Jesus contrasts the poor and the rich (6:24). Being poor is a relative matter - the poor are those who have less than we have. Matthew has "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). That suggests Jesus was not only referring to material poverty, but a sense of spiritual poverty as opposed to the self-satisfaction of the rich (see the comment on 1:52-53). The rich assume that they can manage to get what they want without looking to the Holy Spirit (see comment on 6:43-45). Evidently the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven refer to the same sphere of authority where the eternal Son of God reigns as Messiah King (see notes on 1:32-33, 2:26, 4:43).

6:21 Jesus also contrasted the satisfied and the hungry (6:25). Here again the hunger is interpreted as "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6). It is the artist who hungers for supernatural inspiration who creates the masterpiece. And the weeping that changes to laughing (as in 6:25) is parallel to "those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). When Isaac was born Sarah said "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me" (Genesis 21:6). With God we laugh when he does the unexpected wonderful thing for us. "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream, then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy" (Psalm 126:1-2).

6:22-23 Luke adds the word "exclude you" to the parallel verses (Matthew 5:11-12), which is a reminder of the story of the blind man (John 9:22) or Jesus words at the last supper (16:2). He also uses the common expression "leap for joy" as a more vivid way of describing "be glad" (Matthew 5:12).

6:24-26 The comment about the rich, the satisfied, the mockers and the praised must have been in the original (Q document ?) that Luke used, but it was omitted by Matthew from his Gospel. The point is not that having money, being satisfied, laughing, or being well thought of are bad in themselves. In most countries the situation can change very quickly. We should never put our confidence in what we have, but on God who is our only security. A sense of our weakness is a great strength. As Paul said, "When I am weak then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).

6:27-28 Luke leaves out the reference to "It was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Matthew 5:43), and replaces this with the need to turn hatred in a positive direction, "do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you."

6:29-31 Luke also leaves out from the parallel in the Sermon on the Mount "Do not resist an evildoer" (Matthew 5:39), and "if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile" (Matthew 5:41). Perhaps Luke felt these might suggest a too passive attitude to evil in the injustices of the Roman world. But then Luke adds the words "and if anyone takes away your goods do not ask for them again" which again is a paradoxically passive act. These days many work at forcing others to give to the needy. Jesus begins with what I personally can do. And it is never right to turn the other person's cheek. Loving service is always at our own cost. When we are perplexed, Jesus gives us the correct course to take: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (as in Matthew 7:12). When another fails, how would I want to be treated in that situation? When I sit on a jury, how would I want to be judged?

6:32 -33 Loving those who love you, and do good to you, in your family and among your friends is a normal human reaction. But God equally loves those who reject him (6:35-36).

6:34-35 Similarly Luke adds that lending to those who will repay you is what the world does, but Christian love reaches out even to enemies and those who can never repay the good done to them. And it has great reward. This is what identifies us as children of the God who is "kind to the ungrateful and the wicked". Matthew clarifies God's impartiality with the words "He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).

6:36 Luke's conclusion is that we are to "be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Matthew concludes the chapter with "Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). This suggests that the perfection in mind for us is to be as merciful in all our relationships as God is.

6:37 There is a difference between making wise judgments (in our buying, disciplining, marrying, appointing a treasurer), and being judgmental which means writing people off because they do not meet our standards (as in Matthew 7:1). Any teacher has to help a student identify what needs improvement, but condemning children or adults is always a lack of love (see John 3:17). Being forgiven is closely connected with forgiving (as in the Lord's Prayer, 11:4, Matthew 6:12, see Matthew 18:23-35). A forgiving person feels forgiven, and a condemning person inevitably has a nagging sense of being condemned, and yet points the finger at others..

6:38 Compared with the parallel (Matthew 7:2), Luke includes the words "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap" (the word kolpon here is the fold of a garment over the chest and held in by the belt to provide a large pocket). This must mean that generosity is rewarded in this life. Far more important is the fact that our giving is to reflect the unbounded generosity of God. But obviously we cannot give everything to everyone in the whole world. Not even God does that. Our giving must be carefully allocated. We are not to be gullible. Rather than give small amounts to every charity that makes demands on us (which is wastefully ineffective), better focus on one or two that we know well. We may not be able to give what the person asks for but we can at least give our attention and respect. Often the greatest gift is time, to be with and to listen. And hospitality is a great gift (1 Timothy 3:2, 5:10, Titus 1:8, Hebrews 13:2), which includes a generous accepting of others into one's own home..

6:39-40 For a parable as an extended metaphor see 5:36. The parallel is "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:14). Which suggests that teachers who miss this astonishing aspect of the unbounded love of God are blind, and those who follow them will experience disaster. By contrast a true disciple of the Son of God will be perfected to be like his teacher (see Matthew 5:48).

6:41-42 But those who aspire to correct others (Jesus called them hypocrites in Matthew 7:5) should first notice and correct their own faults ( as in Matthew 7:3-5). There is obvious humor in the constrast between the log and the tiny speck in the neighbor's eye.

6:43 The parallel passage refers to false prophets (Matthew 7:15), and Jesus tells us to evaluate them, not by their plausible words, but the fruit in their life.

6:44-45 John the Baptist had spoken about trees that do not bear good fruit being cut down (3:9). And another passage in Matthew about trees being known by their fruit similarly explains that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:33-34).. There are many kinds of good fruit trees, each of which yields its characteristic harvest. That points to huge differences among Christians (as in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). There are also many kinds of evil fruit trees. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure" (Matthew 12: 33-35). As opposed to legalism which tells us to correct the externals of our behavior, Jesus makes it clear that it is the heart that needs to be changed by the Holy Spirit, and the good fruits will appear in due course. This is the point of John the Baptist's prophecy "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (3:16). This is why many communion services begin with "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name."

6:46 Evidently people kept missing this heart of Jesus' teaching. But when Paul was converted he captured it exactly (Romans 7:18-8:7). And the Epistle to the Galatians illustrates how quickly "Having started with the Spirit" a whole church can be shifted back into "ending with the flesh" (Galatians 3:3).

6:47-49 (as in Matthew 7:24-27). Both collections of Jesus' teaching on the mountain end with the parable of the house on the rock and the house on the sand. There are two classes of hearers, though the difference is not immediately apparent. Two persons with a similar education, family connections, and careers can reveal very different foundations when there is crippling sickness, or financial disaster. As opposed to caring only about what the world has to say, the good foundation is hearing and doing the words of Jesus (see Matthew 28:20). They are not a new legalism but designed to free us from the pettiness of mindless rules.

Chapter 7 .....