Summary Luke Chapter 5
This chapter was a bit of a catch-all, with no central theme. We had the calling of the first disciples, a couple of miraculous healings together with some grumbling, and we ended up with some fasting and parables. The parables were of the new wine in old skins, and the patch of new cloth on an old garment. I really haven’t go into the very obvious symbolism of the new/old distinction, largely because it was so obvious I’ve missed it until now. Or, because I’m just not attuned to nuance like this. Whichever. The point being that all three gospels set this aphorism into more or less the same context: the comparison of Jesus’ disciples to those of John. In the latter case, John stood squarely and solidly within the context of Jewish tradition; Jesus, OTOH, was something new. He was the new wine that will burst the skins, or the new cloth that will tear away from the old garment. Or, at least, he is those things in the first two gospels. I just noticed something else here: the implication of the new wine bursting the old skins is that Jesus brings a new message, one that is not, and cannot be contained–or constrained–by the old way of doing things.
Luke, however, adds a new little quip onto the end of this that actually contradicts the implication left by 2M. Here, Luke adds that, after having the old, no one wants the new. This volte-face is puzzling on the face of it. Most of the commentaries that I skimmed through agree that it is a reference, of course, to the old/new dichotomy represented by John and Jesus. The preference for the old supposedly is a reflexion or commentary on the inherent conservatism of people in general, and perhaps the Jews–or, at least, the Jewish followers of John–in particular. And, since no better, or even other explanation or interpretation presents itself, this may be a reasonable way to take this, even if it does feel a bit strained. But then, one has to realize that, while Luke is a good writer and thinker in general, that’s not to say he nails every single point he makes; every once in a while he’ll throw up a brick (basketball analogy = take a bad shot). So it is a bit of an awkward addition, but OTOH, it can be said that it does provide a new take on the theme of the Messianic Secret as we’re seeing in Luke. The Jews tasted the old, and they tasted the new, and preferred the old, so they did not convert to become followers of Jesus, but remained in their old ways. I will, however, continue to suggest as I did in the commentary that this did work to connect Jesus to that old tradition; at least, I believe that it was meant to do that. The level of effectiveness is debatable, of course, but a bad shot is still a shot.
That was actually to start at the end. The beginning of the chapter has us calling the first disciples. Luke adds a whole additional piece of narrative with Jesus convincing the fishermen to follow him by a “miraculous” catch of fish. I put that in quotes because it’s really not a true miracle in the sense that the laws of nature are contravened, but it does demonstrate a level of divinity that Jesus could effect this event the way he did. Was this addition necessary? Not really, but that is not the question that should be asked. Rather, we should ask what the addition accomplished. Back when we had the first iteration of this story in Mark, we pointed out that it was a very remarkable thing that these men left their occupation, their home, and their family to follow Jesus. My contribution was that, if Jesus had lived in Caphernaum, then he was likely known to these men, so perhaps their action was not quite the dramatic break that it may have seemed at first glance. Did Luke sense this, too, which caused him to add the new bit? And which caused him to insist that Jesus was from Nazareth, to the point that he moved the “a prophet is without honor in his own land” story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, rather than holding it for numerous chapters as 2M did? That is certainly possible. But then we have to stop and realize that, per Luke’s own narrative, this was not the first encounter between Jesus and Peter. In Luke, by the time we get to the calling of the disciples, Jesus has already been to Peter’s house and healed Peter’s mother-in-law. So there is a temporal anomaly here. We don’t have to see any real significance to this muddling of time; Luke simply wasn’t concerned about keeping the order intact. He kept the stories in their larger context: the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law came after the synagogue, as it did in the other gospels, but the sequence of that story and the calling of Peter is scrambled.
However, it is worth pointing this out for one very big reason. Much of the “argument” for Q rests upon the Luke’s arrangement of the so-called Q-material vs the “masterful” arrangement of Matthew. In fact, this is most of the argument for Q. So to demonstrate that Luke had absolutely no qualms about rearranging Mark’s material would, or at least should, indicate that Luke put stuff wherever he chose without being unduly constrained by where his predecessors put things. Luke moved the episode of the Peter’s mother-in-law to a location that, really, doesn’t make sense vis-à-vis the story of the calling of Peter. Given this, why should he be reluctant to mess up the Q material? Especially if Q did not exist? If Q did not exist–and there is absolutely no evidence that it did–then Luke is not changing the order or arrangement of the Q material. He’s changing the order and arrangement of Matthew’s material. But, since he does the same with Mark’s material, this re-arrangement of Matthew’s material is not particularly noteworthy, is it?
The middle section of the chapter involves two healings, the first of a leper, the second of the paralytic on the litter. The latter includes the discussion about blasphemy because Jesus forgave the man’s sins. In both the scenes, Luke incorporates elements from different episodes in Mark, merging them into a composite that I have so charmingly been calling a “mash-up”. Setting out on this summary, I was not aware of how many miracles Mark reported vs the number reported by Luke. I went through both gospels and listed what I found in each. The end was that both had reasonably equal amounts, about 22 each. The lists may vary, depending on whether preaching apocalypse should be considered a miracle, or whether I missed the feeding of the 4,000 in Luke. Regardless, the point is the same. While Luke may reconstruct some of the stories of Mark, the former adds his own variations and his own different stories, such as the healing of a group of ten lepers which is unique to him. Given that, I’m not sure what inferences, let alone conclusions, we can draw from the places where Luke diverges from Mark, with the one possible exception. Luke is, apparently, not interested in simply retelling Mark; Luke sets out to tell a new version of the story, with a lot of new material. To make room for this new stuff, perhaps he felts it best to compress some of the older stuff. And even then, though, my characterization of these scenes as “mash-ups” is probably a bit irreverent, and needlessly so; in fact, perhaps it crosses into inaccurate. Luke may have filled in one story with details from another, but these borrowings–which assumes I’m even accurately describing what Luke does–really do not change the overall picture, or the overall sense of the story. There’s no new theological insights to be gleaned, no real indications of a development of the beliefs of the community or communities. We should look for those in the completely original material.
So far, the completely original material has dealt with what we would call a prequel–the story that happened before the story. What did that tell us? As I see it, this material wasn’t completely original, at least in conception. The stories of the Zecharias and Elisabeth and the pre-natal Baptist and the Annunciation, the census and no room at the inn are not entirely novel in outlook. With these sections, Luke is not adding new thoughts per se; rather, he is extending the trend begun by Matthew, who set out to demonstrate the cosmic significance of the birth of Jesus. Matthew did this largely through the star and the magoi; Luke took this a step–many steps, actually–further, extending it to Mary and her kin, by including the Baptist in the family tree, by substituting Simeon and Anna for the magoi. Of course this reflects on the Q “argument”, but we’re not going there at the moment. We will; just not immediately. There wasn’t much to say about this chapter as a whole. I don’t know if that will continue, or if additional reading will open up new vistas.
That is the problem with the approach I’ve taken; it’s not scholarly. I have not read ahead, taken copious notes, and carefully plotted Luke against what has come before. Rather, it’s been more of a Wild-West show, shoot from the hip and ask questions later. The former approach, of course, is, well, scholarly and considered, taking what is said in the context of what else has been or will be said. That approach is useful for certain things. But the go-into-it-blind approach is better for capturing spontaneity. How does what we read stand on its own? What does it–and it alone–tell us? What is the stark message and implications of just this particular passage? What does it say before we water it down by putting it into the context of everything else? Those, too, are important questions, and ones that don’t get asked often enough. It’s time–long past time, actually–to shake things up a little bit, to shake the tree and see what may fall out that we did not expect.
Posted on May 29, 2017, in Chapter 5, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel, Summary and tagged aesop s fables, Bible, Bible commentary, Bible scholarship, commenting, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, john the baptist, koine Greek, Luke's Gospel, mark's gospel, Matthew's gospel, New Testament, New Testament Greek, NT Greek, Q gospel, religion, St Luke, St Mark, St Matthew, St Paul, theology, Vulgate. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.