Luke 3.1-6


In the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, when Herod was prince of Galilee, his brother Philip prince of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias prince of Abilene, during the High Priesthood of Annas and Caiphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

And he went all over the Jordan valley proclaiming a baptism in token of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the prophecies of Isaiah:

A voice crying aloud in the wilderness,
"Prepare a way for the Lord;
clear a straight path for him.
Every ravine shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill leveled,
the corners straightened
and the rough ways made smooth.
All humankind shall see God's deliverance."

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Luke 5.12-16 & abt...


[Jesus] was once in a certain town where there happened to be a man covered with leprosy. Seeing Jesus, he bowed to the ground and begged his help. "Sir," he said, "if only you will, you can cleanse me."

Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, "Indeed I will. Be clean again." The leprosy left him immediately. Jesus then ordered him not to tell anybody. "But go," he said, "Show yourself to the priest, and make the offering laid down by Moses for your cleansing; that will certify the cure."

But the talk about him spread all the more; great crowds gathered to hear him and to be cured of their ailments.

But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.

The same story is in all the synoptic gospels; Mark has it that Jesus was angry about the request. Angry, knowing that the news will get out and he will be overwhelmed with other people in need?

Or is it that he's being drawn into conflict with the Temple in Jerusalem? The system of sacrifices was the officially-sanctioned means for returning people to right relationship to God, for "forgiving" whatever obstacles prevented the nation from ending its long "exile" and enjoying God's "kingdom" as it was supposed to be-- not for example, dominated by pagan foreigners allied to corrupt local rulers. Which is precisely what Jesus is setting out to do... without such sacrifices.

"Cleansing" of leprosy is what a priest, provided with a suitable sacrifice, is supposed to do. But Jesus has been asked to "cleanse" this man-- and is sending him to the priest to make the sacrifices afterward, merely to "certify the cure."
There's a conflict of jurisdiction that's going to worsen, as we will soon see.

Luke 5.17-26


One day [Jesus] was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting around. People had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem; and the power of God was with him to heal the sick.

Some men appeared carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They tried to bring him in to set him down before Jesus; but finding no way to do so because of the crowd, they went up onto the roof and let him down through the tiling, bed and all, into the middle of the company in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Man, your sins are forgiven you!"

The lawyers and the Pharisees began saying to themselves, "Who is this fellow with his blasphemous talk? Who but God can forgive sins?"

But Jesus knew their thoughts and answered them: "Why do you harbor thoughts like these? Is it easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you?'-- or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? But to convince you that a son of man has the right on Earth to forgive sins"-- He turned to the paralyzed man-- "I say to you, stand up, take your bed and go home."

At once he rose to his feet before their eyes, took up the bed he'd been lying on, and went home praising God. They were all lost in amazement and praised God, filled with awe. "You would never believe the things we saw today!"

A Little More About Sin


"Your sins are forgiven you" is not a blasphemous statement. It's the same as "God has forgiven you" except that it politely avoids directly naming God, whom everyone knows is the actual agent. Everyone goes home afterwards, not saying "What a powerful magician this Jesus is," but "praising God."

Why the complaints, then? The obvious answer is that the Temple cult is supposed to provide the proper channels for having sins forgiven, plagues cancelled. But Jesus is not the only healer around offering prayers & exorcisms; what makes him such a threat to the established [pre]Judaism of his time?

NT Wright's perspective explains some of this vehemence: "'Forgiveness of sins' is another way of saying 'return from exile'". Jesus isn't just healing individual woes; he is proclaiming 'The Kingdom of God' (aka 'return from exile') and his healings are taking place in that context.

"The prophets of the time of exile (in particular Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah 40-50) saw Israel's exile precisely as the result of, or the punishment for, her sins. It should be clear from this that if the astonishing, unbelievable thing were to happen, and Israel were to be brought back from exile, this would mean that her sins were being punished no more; in other words, were forgiven...

"[Jermiah] 'The days are coming, says YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt... But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says YHWH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know YHWH," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says YHWH, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more.'...

"Forgiveness... is not simply one miscellaneous blessing which will accompany covenant renewal. Since covenant renewal means the reversal of exile, and since exile was the punishment for sin, covenant renewal/return from exile means that Israel's sins have been forgiven, and vice versa...


"From the point of view of a first-century Jew, 'forgiveness of sins' could never simply be a private blessing, although to be sure it was that as well, as Qumran amply testifies. Overarching the situation of the individual was the state of the nation as a whole; and as long as Israel remained under the rule of the pagans, as long as Torah was not observed perfectly, as long as the Temple was not properly restored, so Israel longed for 'forgiveness of sins' as the great, unrepeatable, eschatological and national blessing promised by her God. In the light of this, the meaning which Mark and Luke both give to John's baptism ought to be clear. It was 'for the forgiveness of sins', in other words, to bring about the redemption for which Israel was longing."

"...The point at issue was not that Jesus was offering forgiveness where the rabbis were offering self-help moralism... Jesus was offering the return from exile, the renewed covenant, the eschatological 'forgiveness of sins'-- in other words, the kingdom of God. And he was offering this final eschatological blessing outside the official structures, to all the wrong people, and on his own authority."

Luke 5.27->


Later, when [Jesus] went out, he saw a tax-gatherer, Levi by name, at his seat in the custom house. He said to him, "Follow me."

And he rose to his feet, left everything behind, and followed him.

Afterwards Levi held a big reception in his house for Jesus. Among the guests was a large party of tax-gatherers and others.

The Pharisees and the lawyers of their sect complained to his disciples: "Why do you eat and drink with tax-gatherers and sinners?"

Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to invite virtuous people, but to call sinners to repentance."

Then they said to him, "John's disciples are much given to fasting and the practice of prayer, and so are the disciples of the Pharisees. But yours eat and drink."

Jesus replied, "Can you make the bridegroom's friends fast while the bridegroom is with them? But a time will come; the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and that will be the time for them to fast."

He told them this parable also: "No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one; if he does, he will have made a hole in the new cloak, and the patch from the new will not match the old. Nor does anyone put new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will be wasted, and the skins ruined. Fresh skins for new wine! And no one after drinking old wine wants new; for he says, the old wine is good."
Please tell me what translation of the Bible you are using.  I don't question the aequacy of it, I just want to know which one it is.

Hebrew Scriptures: Revised Standard Version, Oxford Annotated 1973. Sometimes glance at the Jewish Publication Society (1955) version. New Testament: New English Bible. Partly a matter of what came along when I had a used bookstore (& since), partly a preference for the New English Bible's translation of Matthew 5.39: "Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you."


And once in a great while I'll fudge slightly for subjective reasons, a small scale version of what Coleman Barks does with Rumi. He doesn't translate, but he'll look at different translations & then work to say what it means. & of course capitalization & punctuation are pretty optional, not having existed in the early manuscripts.


This particular passage... seems very relevant to Quakers somehow, to modern & early Friends in slightly different ways.

re NT Wright's Take on This Passage


"Fasting in this period was not, for Jews, simply an ascetic discipline, part of the general practice of piety. It had to do with Israel's present condition: she was still in exile. More specifically, it had to do with commemorating the destruction of the Temple. Zechariah's promise that the fasts would turn into feasts could come true only when YHWH restored the fortunes of his people. That, of course, was what Jesus' cryptic comments implied: " [ referring to the passage in our last post]


"...Fasting spoke of an Israel still in exile. Sabbath spoke of the great day of rest still to come; also, both to Israel and the pagans, it announced Israel's determination to remain separate. Food laws, too, spoke of an Israel separate from the nations... Jesus' whole work was aimed at announcing that the day of mourning, of exile, of necessary and God-ordained national separateness, was coming to an end. His claim that Israel's God was acting to fulfil the ancient promises in and through his own work was therefore seen to be deeply threatening by the self-appointed guardians of Israel's heritage..."
[from Jesus and the Victory of God, pg 433]

So, did Jesus consider himself "founding a new religion," as we would normally read the allusions to "new wine" and "old wine" here? Probably just 'another movement within Judaism', which like some other such movement, provided radically different alternatives to the Temple for reconciling God and Israel. "A new religion" would probably not have appealed to his followers; Jesus' reframing of the old symbols did-- while deeply offending many who'd "found the old wine good."

More About 'Sinners'


Specifically about those scandalous meals:

"Most writers now agree that eating with 'sinners' was one of the most characteristic and striking marks of Jesus' regular activity. This would not have been of any significance, of course, if Jesus were acting simply as a private individual. But when it is allied with the claim, made in praxis and story, that Jesus was inaugurating the long-awaited kingdom, it aroused controversy. Jesus was, as it were, celebrating the Messianic banquet, and doing it with all the wrong people."


And, of course, the tension we find here between the official representatives of 1st Century Jewish orthodoxy, and those disreputable people accepted by Jesus... has continued to be a feature of Christianity, in that it implies a deep suspicion of the judgements of the rich, the powerful, and those prominent in the Church-- continually holding up the likelihood that God, like Jesus, sees things quite differently.

Luke 6.1-19


One Sabbath he was going through the cornfields, and his disciples were plucking the ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.

Some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath?"

Jesus answered, "So you have not read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, and took the consecrated loaves to eat, and gave them to his men, though only priests are allowed to eat them." He also said, "The son of man is sovereign even over the Sabbath."

On another Sabbath he had gone to synagogue and was teaching; there happened to be a man in the congregation whose right arm was withered. The lawyers and the Pharisees were on the watch to see whether Jesus would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they could find a charge to bring against him.

He knew what was in their minds, and said to the man with the withered arm, "Get up and stand out here." So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, "I put the question to you: Is it permitted to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, "Stretch out your arm." He did so, and his arm was restored.

But they were beside themselves with anger, and began to discuss among themselves what they could do to Jesus.

During this time he went out one day into the hills to pray, and spent the night in prayer to God. When day broke he called his disciples to him, and from among them he chose twelve and named them Apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name 'Peter', and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Batholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who turned traitor.

He came down the hill with them and took his stand on level ground. There was a large concourse of his disciples and great numbers of people from Jerusalem and Judea and from the seaboard of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to listen to him, and to be cured of their diseases. Those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him, because power went out from him and cured them all.

Bringing The Law Down the Hill...


In Matthew, the teachings to come... are delivered "on the mountain"; but here Jesus comes down from there with his new "laws".

Two related things going on here: Jesus implying that he is the divinely authorized King of Israel (Jesus citing the precedent of David, anointed King but still on the run from Saul's partisans, bending sacred regulations in case of need. Jesus appointing twelve of his followers as "apostles", 'disciples' in the other gospels except that here we have an emphasis on them as "messengers" or "missionaries", the role they are to take up after Jesus' death. But the basic reason for choosing precisely 12 is that they match the number of tribes that traditionally make up Israel. In Mark we find them avidly discussing who is to get the best place when Jesus takes power and they can start 'judging Israel' from their 12 thrones.) And Jesus delivering the terms of a new Covenant, ala Moses.

As NT Wright points out, Pharisees were unlikely to make too much fuss over one individual Jew shading one of 600+ Commandments-- but when that Jew is a Messianic candidate, possessed of evident spiritual power and great personal charisma, everything that he and his closest followers do is a matter of concern.

This man is a great prophet, possibly the Messiah-- or he has a covenant with Beelzebub and is leading Israel astray, in which case finding an occasion to kill him looks like their plain duty: "If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you... That prophet or that dreamer shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk." [from Deuteronomy 13].

So where does a difference of interpretation... not that far from what the rabbis eventually decide about the Sabbath (that it should be violated in cases where human life is at stake) become an outright incitement to rebellion against the commandments? Can one establish a "new covenant"?-- without raising questions about the Covenant one has? This is not the "Jesus" of John's gospel... but the claims he is implying, by everything he says and does, are putting his rabbinic critics on the spot. If he isn't in fact the Messiah, he is a very dangerous man, and not one they're allowed to indulge.

Coming next: the laws of this new deal.

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