Luke 4-6

Good morning! Today with Luke 4-6, we start the public ministry of Jesus in this gospel. Some features of Matthew and Mark are repeated in different ways, and some sections of this gospel are new altogether.

As in the previous gospels we have read, Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Note that as we’ve already seen in the previous three chapters of Luke, the Holy Spirit figures prominently. Forty days in the wilderness evokes similar fasts by holy men of old like Moses and Elijah. While these three tests of the devil are in a different order, they do not vary meaningfully from Matthew’s list of temptations. The Spirit then moves Jesus to Nazareth, causing him to take the scroll of Isaiah and read it at one of the weekly Sabbath gatherings. While things go well at first when he sits down to interpret it, he then faces blowback and rejection by his own people. I’ve always been puzzled by how Jesus seems to goad his neighbors, pointing out how Hebrew heroes like Elijah and Elisha showed mercy to outsiders rather than to the Jewish people suffering in their own times. The fact that there is no cliff (or the evident remains of one) around Nazareth today suggests that Luke has imagined the part of this story where the people want to throw him off it, perhaps to dramatize the resistance that Jesus faces from the very beginning. After leaving Nazareth, Jesus has more powerful healing, teaching and preaching in Capernaum and beyond.

The story of Jesus calling the first disciples has always been among my favorites in Luke. They have been doing all the right things in fishing throughout the night, yet have still come up empty. A reluctant Simon consents to do what Jesus suggests, putting down his nets again from another side of the boat, in the morning when the heat and light have surely driven away all the fish. When their tired muscles end up pulling a huge catch into swamped boats, it’s a sign that the unconventional path can sometimes lead to unsurpassed reward. But fishing isn’t on Jesus mind—he’s interested in people. From this starting point in the chapter, he goes on to call or heal a number of unlikely characters. The leper with a skin disease is a social outcast, the paralytic healed by going through the ceiling had known sins that Jesus forgives, and the calling of Levi at the end of Luke 5 emphasizes Jesus’ willingness to include even such loathed outsiders as tax collectors. These too are favorite stories, because they communicate Jesus’ values which the church today still tries to live up to.

Luke 6 begins with several debates with the Pharisees over proper Sabbath observance, then a catalogue of the twelve apostles, and, then the start of the Sermon on the Plain. Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount starts with Beatitudes that directly address “you”, which makes them feel more pointed and of-this-world. They also include matching “woes” for those who are not poor, hungry, sad or hated, communicating Luke’s expectation that if everything is going well right now, watch for hardship coming later on. Commands to love the enemy, give to those who seek help, and treat each person with mercy are not given based on how deserving the recipient is, but on one’s own desire to reflect well on God. Coherence in how one thinks, speaks and acts communicate the ways of God, regardless of how others think, speak or act to deserve it or not. Happy reading!

Read Luke 4-6.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Luke 7-8. Thanks for reading!

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