Luke Chapter 5:27-39

This will conclude Chapter 5. We change gears a bit, moving from miraculous healings to more human teaching and human interaction. There’s a bit of a kick at the end, though.

Text

27 Καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐξῆλθεν καὶ ἐθεάσατο τελώνην ὀνόματι Λευὶν καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀκολούθει μοι.

28 καὶ καταλιπὼν πάντα ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ.

29 Καὶ ἐποίησεν δοχὴν μεγάλην Λευὶς αὐτῷ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ: καὶ ἦν ὄχλος πολὺς τελωνῶν καὶ ἄλλων οἳ ἦσαν μετ’ αὐτῶν κατακείμενοι.

30 καὶ ἐγόγγυζον οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ λέγοντες, Διὰ τί μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίετε καὶ πίνετε;

31 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ὑγιαίνοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλὰ οἱκακῶς ἔχοντες:

32 οὐκ ἐλήλυθα καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλοὺς εἰς μετάνοιαν.

And after these things he came and he beheld a tax collector named Levi seated among the tax collectors and he (Jesus) said to him, “Follow me”. (28) And leaving all of them behind, standing he (Levi) followed him (Jesus). (29) And he made a great reception/feast (root of the word is “spectacle”) in his house. And there was a many crowd of tax collectors and others who were with him reclining (i.e., reclining to eat). (30) And murmured the Pharisees and the scribes of them (the general crowd) towards the disciples of him (Jesus) saying, “On what account with the tax collectors and of the sinners does he eat and drink?” (31) And answering Jesus said to them, “The healthy do not need having a healer, but those having diseases. (32) I have not come to call the just, but the sinners towards repentance.”

Directly out of the gate we run into a situation where Luke once again agrees with Mark and ignores the change made by Matthew. Of the three, Matthew alone says that Levi’s was also called Matthew, while Luke & Mark neglect to add this. It is based on this slender reed that the first gospel was ascribed to Matthew, the thinking being that the Matthew named here was the same man as the evangelist. Of course, if we accept the later date (ca. 85) for the composition of that gospel, the equation of the two is well-nigh, but not completely, impossible. Either way, the agreement of #2 and #3, of course, is evidence for Q. Then, at the very end, Luke adds something that is not in either of the first two: calling the sinner to repent. Here again, Luke follows Mark, where Jesus utters this aphorism in this same context, while eating with tax collectors. In Matthew, this comes later, in Chapter 9, when the disciples of John come to question Jesus if he is the one.

As I’ve been working my way through these books of the NT, one thing that has consistently surprised me is the extent to which so much of the “Christian” morality code was taken over directly from Judaism. One aspect in particular that has stood out is the concept of social justice, of caring for those less fortunate. Of course, this surprise is the result of a good Christian (Roman Rite) upbringing, in which Christians were all-good, and Jews were, well, something less than that. Here’s another reason why having people actually read the Bible was not necessarily desirable for about a thousand years. As for my education on the matter, better late than never, I suppose. The point, however, is that I have the sense that what we are witnessing here is novel. Jesus is consorting with tax collectors. These are not lepers, or the poor, but the rich, and the despised rich. “Collaborate” has been a buzz-word in the corporate world for the past handful of years, but where I come from “collaborator” was not a term of praise. Quite the opposite. A collaborator was a quisling, or in America a Benedict Arnold. I’m reading a book about Vichy France, where the government collaborated with the Nazis after 1940, and some of these collaborators were executed for their pains. Just so, tax collectors were collaborators, working with the Romans to collect taxes from the subject population. It made them wealthy, yes, but it also made them outcast, to some extent anyway, among the Jewish population. So Jesus is not consorting with the poor, those who have no means, but with those who have an excess of means, mostly extorted from fellow compatriots. This, I believe, is new, a new proscription for behaviour. That the sick, not the healthy need a doctor, just so it’s the sinners who need to repent.

I don’t mean to say that the idea of repenting is Christian; far from it. The idea of the Chosen People repenting their sins and turning back to YHWH is one of the most constant themes found in the HS. Rather, it’s the idea of who is doing, or should be doing the repentance. Sinners, yes, but mainly to the extent that respectable persons are sinners, and it’s the respectable who should repent. Or have I picked that up from observing too much American Christianity? With it’s claims to love Jesus while kicking the poor when they’re down? I think the distinction comes with the transition from the idea of a corporate repentance, that of the Chosen People as a body, to the idea of individual repentance, where the individual sinner changes his way of thinking (metanoeite in Greek) and thereby changes the way he or she behaves. That, I think, is the novelty–and the ultimate appeal–of Christianity, the reason it, rather than Mithraism, became the dominant religion in the later Roman Empire: the individual salvation. Even then, Christians did not invent the concept; this is something that many Hellenistic religions practiced. As some of the more collective cults were swallowed up, cults of Isis, for example, filled in the void for the individual seeking some sort of religious experience. Christianity was the heir and successor of these “Eastern Mystery Religions” as they’ve been called. And here we see the marriage of this idea to that of the universal siblinghood professed by the Stoics. We are all siblings, we can all find…some sort of ultimate religious experience. My inclination is to say “redemption”, but this has a very specific origin and etymology. It’s the redeeming of a pawn pledge, the buying back of an item from the pawn broker. That is what “redemption” means. But a more generic term escapes me at the moment.

27 Et post haec exiit et vidit publicanum nomine Levi sedentem ad teloneum et ait illi: “Sequere me”.

28 Et relictis omnibus, surgens secutus est eum.

29 Et fecit ei convivium magnum Levi in domo sua; et erat turba multa publicanorum et aliorum, qui cum illis erant discumbentes.

30 Et murmurabant pharisaei et scribae eorum adversus discipulos eius dicentes: “Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducatis et bibitis?”.

31 Et respondens Iesus dixit ad illos: “Non egent, qui sani sunt, medico, sed qui male habent.

32 Non veni vocare iustos sed peccatores in paenitentiam”.

33 Οἱ δὲ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν, Οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου νηστεύουσιν πυκνὰκαὶ δεήσεις ποιοῦνται, ὁμοίως καὶ οἱ τῶν Φαρισαίων, οἱ δὲ σοὶ ἐσθίουσιν καὶ πίνουσιν.

They said to him, “The disciples of John fast frequently (and) they make prayers, just as the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

Here I think is where we come upon one of the fundamental reasons why Jesus stands at the beginning of a novel tradition, while John stands in the midst of an older one that continued. This goes back to the so-called Synod of Jerusalem, when Paul and James the Just duked it out over the Jewish dietary (and other such) practices; the most notable, of course, was circumcision. And here we have what is essentially a dispute, or at least a bit of a contention, or something like an uneasiness about this. But make no mistake–this is completely an ex-post-facto insertion from a time long after Jesus was dead. We’ve discussed this; there are points in 2M where Jesus declares positively that no animal is unclean, and Peter has a dream in Acts to confirm this. Nonsense. The questions raised by the “Synod of Jerusalem” would never have been an issue if Jesus, or even Peter, had said this. That Paul admits having a disagreement with James on this topic is all the evidence that we need to know that Jesus made no such proclamation. And this question about the difference between Jesus and John’s disciples is more of the same debate, or the debate put in another format. John’s disciples stood firmly in the ancient Jewish traditions; they are just like the Pharisees, after all. The disciples of Jesus, OTOH, had started down a different path. So we get this little exchange to give pre-emptive sanction to the change of behaviour of Jesus’ later followers. Yes, they were Jews, or at least claiming the ancient heritage of Judaism, but they did not practice the whole of the Law. Galatians explained why.

33 At illi dixerunt ad eum: “Discipuli Ioannis ieiunant frequenter et obsecrationes faciunt, similiter et pharisaeorum; tui autem edunt et bibunt”.

34 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Μὴ δύνασθε τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ νυμφῶνος ἐν ᾧ ὁ νυμφίος μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐστιν ποιῆσαι νηστεῦσαι;

35 ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι, καὶ ὅταν ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος τότε νηστεύσουσιν ἐνἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις.

36 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι Οὐδεὶς ἐπίβλημα ἀπὸ ἱματίου καινοῦ σχίσας ἐπιβάλλει ἐπὶ ἱμάτιον παλαιόν: εἰ δὲ μή γε, καὶ τὸ καινὸν σχίσει καὶ τῷ παλαιῷ οὐ συμφωνήσει τὸ ἐπίβλημα τὸ ἀπὸ τοῦ καινοῦ.

Jesus said to them, “Are the sons of the bridegroom able in which (time) them the bridegroom is with them to make a fast? (35) The days will come, and when taken away from them is the bridegroom, then they will fast in those days. (36) They say the analogy towards them that ‘No one coverings of new cloth puts upon tears in an old garment; if so, will not the new tear and from the old the new covering will not agree the with the new.”

That’s some pretty gnarly grammar there. For whatever reason, I’m back on the hyper-literal kick; but this passage is so well known that there’s likely to be no harm. The word I’ve rendered as “tear”, as in “rip/rend” transliterates to “schizo”. Added to the word for mind, “phrenia”, we get a modern psychological diagnosis. And the concept of the “sons of the bridegroom” is really interesting. Not really sure what that might mean, or can mean. And the word used is “son”; it’s not “pais”, which could be “boy”, as in the sense of “servant”. It is almost always and exclusively used as “son”, as in biological progeny. So, at best, this seems to be something of a mixed metaphor. Finally, the word rendered as “analogy” transliterates to “parabolē”. It’s the root of both “parabola” and “parable”. To this point, I’ve usually given it as parable, but every once in a while it’s good to mix it up and remind everyone that “parable” is another of those words that have come to us from the Greek with a very specific, very religious meaning attached to it. That was not the case back then. And here is the danger of “New Testament Greek”; it’s too much of a closed, self-referential, and even circular set of definitions. This really, very much distorts the way we read the text if we think that “baptizo” has the special meaning that has for us. The same is true for “parable”. This was not a special word.

More interesting is that the prediction of the day to come when those sons will fast seems to contradict what went before it. We just had our bit about Jesus standing outside the Jewish tradition, but now his later followers will step back into it? I don’t think we need to read too much into this. Fasting was a fairly common religious practice. It still is, for that matter. This seems to imply that Jesus and his followers are not so far off the beaten path after all. (*See comment to next verse.)

34 Quibus Iesus ait: “ Numquid potestis convivas nuptiarum, dum cum illis est sponsus, facere ieiunare?

35 Venient autem dies; et cum ablatus fuerit ab illis sponsus, tunc ieiunabunt in illis diebus ”.

36 Dicebat autem et similitudinem ad illos: “ Nemo abscindit commissuram a vestimento novo et immittit in vestimentum vetus; alioquin et novum rumpet, et veteri non conveniet commissura a novo.

37 καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς: εἰ δὲ μή γε, ῥήξει ὁ οἶνος ὁ νέος τοὺς ἀσκούς, καὶ αὐτὸς ἐκχυθήσεται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοὶ ἀπολοῦνται:

38 ἀλλὰ οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς καινοὺς βλητέον.

39 [καὶ] οὐδεὶς πιὼν παλαιὸν θέλει νέον: λέγει γάρ, Ὁ παλαιὸς χρηστός ἐστιν.

“And no one throws new wine into old skins. Indeed if it were not, the new wine would burst the old (skins), and they would spill out and the skins will be destroyed. (38) But new wine is put in new skins. (39) [And] no one drinking old wishes new. For it is said, ‘the old is good’.”

The last sentence of the last verse is unique to Luke. He added this to the text that was available to him in Mark (and Matthew, if you believe me about Q). Not sure if you can see it, but there’s also a bit of a pun involved. The word “good” is “chrestos”, which is obviously darn close to “christos”. In fact, in the Life of Nero by Suetonius, the followers of “chrestos” are blamed by the emperor for the fire of Rome in 64. I’m not sure where the misunderstanding came from; whether it was Suetonius specifically who didn’t get it, or if the upper (as in literate) classes in Rome as a whole were unclear on what Jesus’ followers called him. Was Luke possibly aware of this lack of understanding and tossed this in here as sort of a barb directed at those ignorant Romans?

The other aspect to this is that ‘the old is good’ is the reason why the followers of Jesus insisted on maintaining that connexion to Judaism. As such, perhaps this explains why the sons of the bridegroom* will fast again one day, as we heard in the previous passage above. Luke, as well as Mark and Matthew before him, understood that being old meant being venerated, while being new meant being scorned. After all, the Latin term for political revolution is “res novae”; literally, “new things”. It was not a term of endearment. So Luke took the message of 2M before him and amplified it by adding this little tag line at the end of the section, to let us know that the connexion existed, and that the christos was chrestos, and was chrestos, to some degree, because he was old. Or, his teachings were old. That gave him stature.

So Luke is very clever in the way that he did this. This style is very not-Mark, the terse journalist. And it’s not Matthew, either who was…whatever. Not sure how to summarize him. Luke is easy; he’s eloquent. 

37 Et nemo mittit vinum novum in utres veteres; alioquin rumpet vinum novum utres et ipsum effundetur, et utres peribunt;

38 sed vinum novum in utres novos mittendum est.

39 Et nemo bibens vetus vult novum; dicit enim: “Vetus melius est!” ”.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on May 13, 2017, in Chapter 5, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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