Chapter 8 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

8:1-3 Jesus' Mission Team

Jesus' touring to speak in the villages of Galilee had gone on for some time (4:14-15, 31, 43). Then Luke introduced the twelve apostles (6:13-16). But he wants us to know that women also had an important place in Jesus' team. After Pentecost Luke reported that women were baptized on the same basis as men (Acts 5:14, 16:15), and before his conversion Paul felt they must be imprisoned as dangerous members of the early churches (Acts 8:3, 9:2). There is no way the apostles would have instantly invented the baptism of women on the Day of Pentecost, and Jesus certainly began this practice. The liberation of women suddenly began when women became full disciples, and Jesus taught them on the same basis as men (10:39). As a Rabbi Saul would have shared the view that women were inferior, and were never to be taught the torah, but when he became a Christian he radically changed his view. Women were full members of the body of the Messiah (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), and he now taught a complete mutuality in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-16). In this section Luke lists three women members of Jesus' mission team and adds that there were "many others" (8:3).

8:1 Jesus preached on the Sabbath day in synagogues (4:15, 16, 31). He also gathered people from big distances for all day teaching sessions (see note on 6:17). The message he gave was good news about the Kingdom, and the Kingdom was his own reign among the nations as Messiah King (see 4:43, 6:20). This was very good news for the poor (see 7:22), and we will see how this good news was illuminated by parables (8:4-9). The good news about the Kingdom was very different from "the law and the prophets" (16:16) which set out consequences in this world (5:36-39, 7:31-35).

8:2 The women that Luke identifies as part of Jesus mission team had each been healed from spirit possession or other forms of disease (see 4:40-41, 6:18). Mary Magdalene "from whom seven demons had gone out" must have been quite a character. She came from the village of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, and she probably came to hear Jesus teach on the mountain not far from there (6:17). There is no evidence that she was the woman to came to the meal with the Pharisee (7:36-37), or that she was Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:39, 14:3). But Luke mentions her coming to the tomb after the resurrection (24:10).

8:3 Joanna was the wife of Chuza, who had a very important position in Herod's palace in Tiberias, and she also came with Mary Magdalene to the tomb (24:10, see 23:55). Luke tells us nothing else about Susanna. But it seems all three of these women had private means, and they provided for the disciples "out of their resources" (the word can mean property, possessions, means). Matthew reports that "these women had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him" (Matthew 28:55, see the common purse in John 13:29). Although in some cases accommodation and food may have been supplied by those who received them (see Matthew 10:11), a team of at least a dozen men and women would need financial support. These women disciples were probably responsible for teaching the women who were baptized (see introductory note above). This is comparable to the arrangements in many modern mission teams.

8:4-15 The Parable of the Sower

Based on John 4:1 we concluded that Jesus and his assistants baptized large numbers of disciples to begin learning with him (see note on 6:17). But many of these disciples "turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66). The purpose of the parable of the Sower is to explain this large number of drop outs after baptism, and show that in spite of those who did not continue there was still a huge harvest. Evidently many hearers heard a parable, and found it interesting, but did not inquire about its meaning. But some wanted to know the interpretation: "And when he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve used to ask him (an imperfect tense) about the parables" (Mark 4:10). Luke makes clear that it is only those who want to inquire deeper who are "given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God" (8:9-10).

8:4 Matthew and Mark both indicate that Jesus told this parable from a boat as people gathered on the shore (Matthew 13:2, Mark 4:1). But in Luke the two present participles yield the translation: "As a great crowd would keep gathering and people from each town kept coming out to him he would speak through a parable." This would suggest that the parable of the Sower was told again and again by the seaside and in other places where Jesus announced he would be teaching.

8:5 In that area of the Middle East a sower would scatter seed first, and then plough it into the soil. In the parable the sower is not meticulous about only planting seed where they will grow. Frequently a field would be crossed by a path that had been beaten down hard by people walking on it. This would not be ploughed over, and birds would easily find these seeds and eat them.

8:6-7 In some places there was rock just under the shallow soil, and after germinating the plants soon got scorched (as in Mark 4:5-6). A third hazard was that thorn bushes had not been properly ploughed under before the sowing, and they grew up with the wheat and choked it.

8:8 But enough grains fell into good soil to produce a hundred grains of wheat for each grain that was planted (Luke ignores the thirty-fold and sixty-fold of Mark 4:8). The hearers were then told to think about the parable they had heard, and we can imagine them going away scratching their head.

8:9-10 But the twelve apostles and others who were with them (Mark 4:10) would ask (imperfect tense) what the parable might mean (optative tense). And Jesus told them they were given the opportunity to know the secrets (mysteries) of how the Kingdom worked. But for those who were not interested enough to inquire more deeply their looking and listening remained superficial (as suggested in Isaiah 6:9). The principle is set out as "Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you" (11:9, as in Matthew 7:7-8).

8:11-12 Jesus then expounds the meaning of the parable. The seed is the Word of God (the word of the Kingdom that Jesus preached). Some people hear Jesus preaching and we have suggested they were baptized to be enrolled as disciples. This is comparable to the proportion of drop outs even before the first lesson in every evening class that is offered. Satan distracts them or raises questions (see note on 4:3) so that faith never has a chance to take root.

8:13 Others are very enthusiastic for a few days. Luke alone makes clear that their faith is "only for a while." Matthew and Mark give "trouble or persecution" as a reason for dropping out (Matthew 13:21, Mark 4:17). In Ephesus when Paul faced terrible persecution he wrote "all who are in Asia have turned away from me" (1 Timothy 1:15) This shows that it is impossible to judge a person's long term faith from a sudden confession. In the model we have commended in this commentary there is an open invitation to all and sundry to be enrolled by baptism to begin learning, and a fruitful faith emerges in the process of time. This is why all the baptisms recorded in the New Testament are described as taking place immediately (Acts 2:41, 8:12, 37-38, and in some cases a whole household is baptized, 16:15, 33). One of the principles of the Church Growth Movement is that when the people of a tribe or group express interest they should be baptized and arrangements for teaching must be made immediately. This happened in the case of the Samaritans (Acts 8:12, 14). Where there has been a policy of delaying to check performance or faith (probation) before baptism, church growth has usually slowed to a trickle.

8:14 The third outcome of large numbers being baptized to begin learning is that some seem to be growing impressively, and then their faith gets choked. Luke gives three reasons, cares (the financial and household worries of the poor), riches (the concerns that arise because of wealth), and pleasures (the busy pursuit of fun and entertainment). It is not that financial concern, wealth, or entertainment are wrong in themselves, but it is a fact that faith shrivels when these become pressing priorities. Similarly Paul writes that "Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me" (2 Timothy, 4:9).

8:15 Instead of fussing about the grain that did not mature, a good farmer rejoices about the size of his harvest. Similarly we should not let concern about those who drift away turn our attention from the baptized who go on to "bear fruit with patience." What corresponds to the "good soil"of the parable (8:8) is the faith of "the ones, who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance." Commenting on a "good heart" Paul spoke of "love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5, 19, 3:9). Part of the work of teaching after baptism is teaching the new disciples to set their conscience according to Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom.

8:16-21 The Importance of Listening

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used the parable of the oil lamp to illustrate letting the light of our faith shine so our neighbors can see it (Matthew 5:14-16). But here in Luke's mind the parable of the oil lamp (8:16-17) is connected "pay attention to how you listen" (8:18). In Mark also the words come immediately after the parable of the Sower and conclude with "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!" (Mark 4:21-23). The thought seems to be that faith allows the Word of God to be illuminated by the Light of God (as in John 1:5, 9, 8:12). If we ignore the illumination that only the Light of the World can give, we will miss the meaning of the Word that he spoke. We can put the two explanations together, we can see that when the Word of God in our heart is enlightened by His light (see Hebrews 10:32), our faith will in turn bring His light to others.

8:16-18 There is no point in lighting an oil lamp and then leaving it where it cannot illuminate our situation. And so here the verse ( 8:18) is about paying attention to the Word that Jesus has spoken. We need to let his light illuminate the word spoken. "Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18 ,99. The whole Psalm is about the way the Word of God is to be read, and understood, and acted upon).

8:19-21 The crowd around Jesus inside a house was so thick that Jesus' own family could not get to him (as in Mark 3:31-32). Some think Mary must have remained a perpetual virgin, but it seems Jesus was the oldest of at least four brothers and several sisters. In Jesus' hometown they said "Is not this the carpenter's son? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us" (Matthew 13:55-56).

8:21 Jesus suggests that now that he was involved in making known the good news, his links with those who listened to the Word of God and went and lived by it were in some senses much closer than with the family he had left in Nazareth.

8:22-56 Four Unusual Miracles

Every miracle is unusual, but here Luke collects four miracles that specially illustrated the power of Jesus in various situations. The first describes his authority over a windstorm on the Lake of Galilee. The second shows his power over a very severe case of possession by evil spirits. The third is the healing of a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years. And the fourth is the raising of a twelve year old girl from death.

8:22-23 For Peter and the other fishermen who were part of Jesus' mission team it was an easy sail across the Lake of Galilee. Jesus was tired from the pressures of his work (see the note on 4:40-42), and lay down to sleep (on a cushion in the stern, Mark 4:38). Suddenly a great storm came down on the lake, and the disciples could see the boat was being swamped by the waves (see Mark 4:37). Similarly there are times when everything seems to be going smoothly and then suddenly we are faced with a desperate situation which we know could end in disaster. In some cases the storm in our life can go on day after day. Luke would later encounter a situation with Paul where the storm was unabated for fourteen days (Acts 27:18-20).

8:24 Jesus was fast asleep totally unconcerned about the serious danger, and the disciples had to wake him up. Jesus addressed the wind and the raging wages, which quieted immediately, and there was a great calm (as in Mark 4:39). Perhaps Luke remembered what he had written about the storm on the lake, and the outcome "that all were brought safely to land" (Acts 27:44)

8:25 Jesus then rebuked the disciples for lack of faith, as if they could have handled the situation without his help. Mark reports "they were filled with awe" (Mark 4:41). Obviously they were already believers in one sense, but now they wonder at the authority of their teacher over the elements.

8:26-27 The country of the Gerasenes (Gadarenes in Matthew 8:28) was east of the Lake of Galilee. He was met by two men who lived among the tombs and were "so fierce that no one could pass that way (Matthew 8:28). Mark and Luke do not tell us what happened to the man's companion, but we are given the story of the one who was healed, and wanted to accompany Jesus (8:38). He was naked and "he lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones" (Mark 5:3-5).

8:28-31 It seems that Jesus had first commanded the evil spirit to leave the man (8:29), and the spirit asked to be left alone (8:28). When Jesus asked the demon's name the answer was "Legion" because he was possessed by a number of different demons. Strangely the demons knew that they would be ordered back into the abyss (see Revelation 20:1-3). We are given no explanation of this strange transaction between Jesus and the possessing spirits. The nearest similarity is in the spirits who reoccupy a person who has been delivered (11:24-26, as in Matthew 12:43-45). We do hear of cases in our day when Lemings, or whales, or birds, get disoriented and inexplicably rush into destruction. Perhaps the demoniac had felt a close identification with these pigs (see 15:16).

8:32-33 Among the Jews pigs were viewed as unclean animals, not be to be eaten (Leviticus 11:7). So either the people of Gadara were Jews who kept the pigs for sale to Gentiles, or they were not Jewish. The mad rush of this herd of two thousand pigs into the lake (Mark 5:13) must have been an astonishing sight, but it was also a devastating business loss for the owners. Was their business more important than the healing of a demoniac? To the demoniac the drowning of the pigs was a sign that the demons had gone for ever.

8:34-37 When the news was reported in the neighboring town, people came out, and found the man who had been delivered "clothed and in his right mind". At the sight of this astonishing change people "were seized with great fear," and we can imagine the owners of the drowned pigs were furious, so Jesus was expelled from their territory.

8:38-39 The man who had been delivered wanted to accompany Jesus as one of his disciples but he was told to remain in his home town, and declare what God had done for him. We can imagine that as this totally transformed man continued to live among them the people of the city would remember how Jesus' power was demonstrated among them.

8:40-42 Jesus and his disciples sailed back across the Lake of Galilee, and found a crowd waiting for them. Among them a man named Jairus, who was a leader (perhaps the chief elder) of the synagogue, fell at Jesus' feet and "begged him repeatedly" (Mark 5:22) to come to his house where his twelve year old daughter was dying.

8:43-44 As he went, the crowds were hemming him in. But a woman, who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and spent all she had on medical treatment (Dr. Luke leaves out the comment "but rather grew worse," Mark 5:26), came behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his garment. Immediately "she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease" (Mark 5:29) and Luke reported that "immediately her hemorrhage stopped." Her hand reaching out with great hesitation but with real faith to touch Jesus' garment is a good picture for us to have in mind awe turn to him for healing.

8:45-46 When this happened Jesus asked who had touched him, and Peter pointed out that a huge crowd was pressing in on him. But Jesus answered "Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me" (as in the power that went out from him as he healed people in the crowd, 6:19). Luke identifies this power as "the power of the Spirit" (4:14, 4:18, 5:17, 10:21, see "the finger of God," 11:20, 12:10 ). This makes clear that Jesus' words about the Spirit at the last supper (John 14:12, 26, 15:5-6, 26, 16:7, 12) were a reminder of the power that the disciples had already experienced in their missions (see 9:1), and which they would need the next day. It was the power of the Wind of God that Nicodemus was missing in his academic teaching (John 3:8-9). Expounding this power was also the main topic of Paul's great Epistle (Romans 1:4, 16, 5:15, 8:5,6, 15:13, 19).

8:47-48 Finally the woman fell down before Jesus, and admitted she had touched him in the hope of being cured, and in fact she had been immediately healed. Jesus explained that her faith had made her well, and added "go in peace"

8:49-50 Meanwhile news came that Jairus's daughter had died, and there was no point in troubling the Teacher any more. Jesus asked Jairus to believe all would be well, and accompanied him to the house.

8:51-53 Jesus found the house full of people "weeping and wailing" ("a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly", Mark 5:38). So he put them all outside, except for his three closest disciples (as on the Mount of Transfiguration, 9:28, Mark 9:2-8) and the child's parents. Meanwhile he told the mourners to stop crying "for she is not dead but sleeping." The need for a peaceful atmosphere and the support of those one can trust are very important in the ministry of healing,

8:53 Knowing full well that the child was dead "they laughed at him." Not all laughter is unkind. There can be the laughter of unbelief, as when Abraham and Sarah laughed at the very idea of having a child at their age (Genesis 17:17, 18:12). But this was a disdainful mocking ("they ridiculed him", Mark 5:40).

8:54-55 With his three disciples and the parents watching (8:51) Jesus took the little girl by the hand. In dealing with evil spirit possession (8:29), it is important not to make physical contact. But in many other situations the power of touch (the laying on of hands) is very important (4:40, 5:13). But sympathetic touch alone is not sufficient. Luke reports that Jesus called back the spirit of the dead child (as in the case of the widow's son, 7:14, and with Lazarus, John 11:43). Mark gives us the exact Aramaic words that Jesus used "talitha cum" and also records, perhaps from Peter's eye-witness account, "immediately the girl got up and began to walk about" (Mark 5:4). As a doctor, Luke is interested in the fact that it is the word spoken that effects the cure (just as in the creation, Genesis 1:3). He then gives a clinical description "Her spirit returned.." This is not the Holy Spirit that can fill us but the animating life principle that keeps us alive. In this case it left the body and was called back (as in the many cases of return from death that are documented in our day). Luke will later record that when he died the Son of God said "into your hands I commend my spirit," and his breathing stopped (23:46). Luke is also interested in the fact that Jesus was concerned that the child be given "something to eat."

8:56 Naturally the child's parents were "astounded" but he ordered them not to announce the details of what they had witnessed. Obviously the crowd of mourners would see the child running around and playing outside. This suggests that when a healing occurs we should avoid expounding the details of the miracle, but let people draw their own conclusions.

Chapter 9 .....