Luke’s account of Jesus’ early Galilean ministry establishes Jesus as a uniquely powerful and controversial figure. Luke 5-6 records Jesus’ early dialectics with the Pharisees—concerning especially the forgiveness of sin (cf. Matt 9.1-8//Mark 2.3-12) and His Lordship over the Sabbath (cf. Matt 12.1-14//Mark 2.23-3.6)—and the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5-7).  On the whole, Luke 5-6 points up the fact that in comparison with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus placed a premium on mercy, not the traditions of Judaism.  While the scenes in these chapters could be catalogued under a number of headings, two may suffice:

  1. Jesus’ early ministry was divisive with the Jewish leadership of the day, elevating mercy over condemnation (5.1-6.16).  Jesus had become so popular that when He was teaching by the Sea of Galilee, He had to get into a boat lest the crowd push Him into the water.  While Jesus ministered the word to the multitude, He was keenly interested in the fishermen who were washing their nets and perhaps listening in to the message.  Jesus told Simon, the owner of the boat that He used as a pulpit-platform, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (5.4).  Simon, tired and reluctant, perhaps remembering how Jesus had healed his mother-in-law (4.38-41), arranged to set out the nets.  The extravagant catch got the attention of Simon and his partners James and John; Jesus transformed from their vocation, calling them to fish for men.  Even Jesus’ acts of healing were divisive.  When “the Lord’s power to heal was in Him (Jesus)” (5.17), some men brought a paralyzed man on a stretcher, hoping Jesus would heal him.  Being prevented by the large crowd, they cut a hole in the roof and lowered the man down; Luke emphasized Jesus’ divisive statement: “Seeing their faith He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you’” (5.20).  The force of His statement was felt by the Pharisees and teachers of the law who had “come from every village of Galilee and Judea, and also from Jerusalem” (5.17) to check Him out.  They didn’t need to audibly grumble at Jesus’ statement; He knew their thoughts, and replied aloud: “Why are you reasoning this in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He told the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home” (5.23-24).  The Pharisees were further alienated when Jesus called Levi, a tax gatherer, to follow Him—and then enjoyed a meal with Matthew’s contemporaries.  Jesus justified his divisive behavior by saying “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (5.31).  When these Pharisees questioned Jesus about fasting, He began to unveil why they perceived Him to be so divisive; His words had meaning for those who’d been made new, while the Pharisees were of the old covenant (5.33-39).  Perhaps most divisive were Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees not only maintained the Mosaic Sabbath regulations (cf. Exodus 16; Num 15.32-36; Deut 5.12-15), but expanded these so as to make the daily labor a part of Sabbath rest.  Jesus brought a ‘new’ kind of Sabbath—a moment-by-moment dependence on and devotion to God, every day of the week (cf. Heb 4.1-13).  Thus for Him, like King David His ancestor, it was not irreverent of one to work and prepare a meal on the seventh day (6.1-5), or heal a man whose right hand was paralyzed (6.6-11).  Jesus justification? “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (6.5)
  2. Jesus’ initial sermon to the disciples demanded that they display mercy, showing themselves to be children of the Father (6.17-49).  While the power of the kingdom was being displayed for the benefit of many (vv. 17-19), Jesus turned straightway to His disciples with an instructional sermon on the demands of His call.  While the material here significantly parallels Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) it may be that Luke’s emphasis on financial affairs and expectations were occasioned by the unique situation of his audience.  The disciples were thus challenged to understand that their place in the kingdom was connected with temporal poverty and persecution.  Jesus taught that these were in fact a cause for joy, since the here-and-now rich and congratulated would suffer eternally (vv. 20-26).  Beyond calling the disciples to understand the external difficulties that would come their way, He demanded extreme unselfishness to shine from them (vv. 27-42).  He exhorted them to remember the reward they would receive for loving their enemies and lending without an eye to repayment: “Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.  For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil” (v. 35).  Likewise, as the disciples demonstrated extreme forgiveness and refused to condemn those giving evidence of kingdom ethics, they could expect the same from God (vv. 37-42).  Jesus warned the disciples against thinking that His demands were a matter of externals only; as the fruit on a tree reveals its type, so too what was inside the disciples would work itself out for all to see.  Jesus employed a rhetorical question: “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?” (v. 46), in order to compel His followers to act

The fact that Luke 5-6 contains Jesus’ teaching regarding several issues rooted in the Old Testament, coupled with the fact that He did not quote from the books of Moses, the prophets, or the writings in discussing these issues, indicate that in Him was a shift in the storyline of Scripture.  Something new had arrived, and the traditional way of thinking about matters like forgiveness of sin, fasting, and observance of the Sabbath would have to be reconsidered.  Jesus demonstrated His supremacy over the structures of Judaism by pointing out that:

  1. He, the Son of Man, had power to forgive sin, fulfilling the standards of the Mosaic law.  When Jesus cleansed the leper, He warned him not to make the matter known widely, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and offer what Moses prescribed for your cleansing as a testimony to them” (5.14).  It was common knowledge in Judaism that it took a period of time for skin diseases to run their course, only after which could a person return to a state of cleanliness and normal societal relations (cf. Leviticus 13-14); this man was cleansed in an instant, at the word of Jesus—and the priests needed to know about it.  It is not by accident that the account of the healing of the leprous man immediately precedes the healing of the man brought on a stretcher, during which Jesus—in the hearing of the Pharisees and teachers of the law—said to the paralyzed man: “So you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins…I tell you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home” (5.24)
  2. Those who recognized the new era He inaugurated should celebrate with joyful worship, not mournful fasting.  In the Judaism of Jesus’ day, fasting was looked upon as a special demonstration of one’s piety and concern for the nation of Israel.  While the Old Testament law required fasting only on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev 23.26-32), the practice became synonymous with mourning over the Israel’s subjection to her enemies (cf. 1 Chron 10.12; Zechariah 7-8); and the Pharisees traditionally fasted twice per week (Luke 18.12).  Jesus’ words though echoed Zechariah 8, where the prophet announced: “The LORD of Hosts says this: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth will become times of joy, gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah.  Therefore, love truth and peace” (v. 19).  The fasting of the New Testament is not from mourning, but a burden for the advance of the gospel (Acts 13.2)
  3. Even the Sabbath should be understood in light of Him.  After the destruction of the Second Temple, and even as far back as the days immediately preceding the Babylonian captivity (cf. Jer 17.19-27; Ezekiel 20), Israel and Judah thought the Sabbath second-to-none in their religion.  The Sabbath separated them from all other peoples—showing their special place in God’s plan (cf. Deut 4.1-8).  Jesus’ freedom from traditional Sabbath-keeping was an offense to the Pharisees, and an affront to any who understood that faithfulness to the rules of the seventh day was the fulcrum of national independence.  Jesus elevated mercy—to His disciples, and the man with the paralyzed hand (6.1-11)—over the commonly held standard of the day.  A new day had dawned

*For a complete list of references, please see