Luke 5:27–6:5 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions

Eating, Drinking, and Challenging Authority

Heard this one? "As soon as I get well, I'll go to the doctor." If someone told you that, you might think that he needed to see a specialist: a shrink! Doctors aren't for the well but for the sick. This lesson is crucial! Jesus' words in the start of today's passage should jolt you into re-thinking your understanding of the Christian faith.

All three segments of this passage, while having to do with eating, present similar episodes highlighting "challenges to Jesus' authority." Although we'll cover them individually, you'll easily see that recurring theme.

To review: Our Lord's public ministry (chapter 4) started out with a bang, with Jesus' message and miraculous power welcomed; but it didn't last long. The first instance of Jesus' public teaching recorded by Luke (albeit a year into his public ministry) is at the synagogue in Nazareth, where Jesus had grown up. Reading from Isaiah 61, Jesus indicated that his coming was a fulfillment of prophecy. People were delighted to hear this, until Jesus pointed out that his coming meant blessing for the non-Jewish Gentiles, too, news that brought about a murderous response from the people. Elsewhere, however, Jesus was welcomed and sought after by the multitudes.

Now, Luke prepares his readers for Jesus' rejection by the nation's leadership. With the multitudes' welcome of Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the law quickly become jealous, suspicious, and critical, eventually becoming outright opponents seeking occasions to accuse and destroy him.

The Pharisees were first introduced by Luke in chapter 5, at the healing of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof of a house in which Jesus was teaching (vv. 16–26). When Jesus informed the paralytic that his sins were forgiven, the Pharisees reacted, reasoning (rightly) that only God can forgive sins. They cannot deny the healing of the paralytic, but are unwilling to receive Jesus as God. The calling of Matthew and the banquet at which Jesus and "sinners" intermingled was another incident in which the gap between Jesus and the Pharisees widened significantly. Part 1, which reports the reaction of the Pharisees to the "eating and drinking" of Jesus and his disciples, informs us of one of the fundamental issues that put him and the religious leaders of Israel at odds.

Part 1: Jesus Calls Levi and Eats with Sinners (5:27–32)

Levi, known here and in Mark 2:14 by this name, but elsewhere referred to as Matthew (cf. Matt. 9:9; 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15), was a tax collector. The New Testament shows us that a tax collector was a very unpopular person, synonymous with "sinner" and on a social par with gluttons, drunkards, and harlots; the bottom rung of the Jewish social ladder; one could sink no lower.

We know that the position of tax collector, like many jobs, afforded certain kinds of evil. Many were guilty of abusing their position by using the power of the state to charge excessive taxes while keeping the profits of their evil deeds. They were also a painful reminder of the fact that Israel wasn't a free nation, but was subject to Roman rule and authority. So, Jesus passed by the tax office of Levi and invited him to follow as a disciple. Luke alone tells us that Levi, much like the fishermen (Peter and Andrew, James and John) at the beginning of the chapter, left everything and immediately followed the Master. The brevity of the account serves to underscore the dramatic, quick, and decisive response to Jesus' invitation.

Luke alone informs us that this dinner that Jesus attended was a celebration banquet hosted by Levi. Our Lord isn't simply present at the celebration, he's the central personality, the major attraction and focus of attention. "Eating and drinking" is this passage's central issue. "Drinking," here and elsewhere, has the connotation of drinking wine. John the Baptist obviously ate and drank as well, but not wine (1:15). It's quite plain, then, that what John didn't drink, namely wine, Jesus did, thus becoming accused of being a "drunkard." Jesus and the "sinners" there were mingling happily and joyfully. Not so the Pharisees! In contrast, Luke alone tells us that they were complaining to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"

Jesus' answer reflects the difference between the heart of God and the heart of Pharisaism: Read vv. 31–32 now. Jesus had made it clear from the beginning that he'd come to help those in need. His message of repentance, like that of John's, was aimed at sinners. After all, do the "righteous" need to repent?

Part 2: Jesus Questioned about Fasting (vv. 33–39)

The Pharisee's questions in parts 1 and 2 involved eating and drinking. The first question, asked and answered above, concerned those with whom Jesus ate and drank. The second question presses even further: Why were Jesus' disciples feasting when John's disciples and the Pharisees practiced fasting (v. 33)?

Jesus answers this question by asking the Pharisees a question, then adding a parable. His first answer deals directly with fasting: Fasting was a sign of repentance, a strangely inappropriate action for the Pharisees who thought themselves righteous and without need to repent (7:29–30). John the Baptist had referred to himself as the friend of the bridegroom and the Messiah as the bridegroom (John 3:29). Jesus picked up this imagery and pointed out the fact that the friends of the bridegroom don't fast while he's with them, fasting only in his absence. Jesus (the bridegroom) is present with his friends and followers; it's appropriate for them to rejoice. [There'd be a time, Jesus indicated, when he wouldn't be present and when fasting would be proper for his disciples.]

Jesus went on to deal with a deeper issue: the contrast and contest between "old" and "new." The Pharisees felt that they represented and defended the "old order." They were promoters and preservers of the law. Jesus came to fulfill the law and institute a new covenant. Thus, underlying the struggle between Jesus and the Pharisees was a contest between old and new: The Pharisees wanted Jesus to adopt the old, or at least to adapt to the old; Jesus couldn't do this. He came to fulfill the law by living in perfect obedience to it and dying to its demands. He also came to institute the new covenant (which, incidentally, he celebrated by eating and drinking).

Thus, using a parable, Jesus explained why the new couldn't adopt or adapt to the old. To put a new patch on an old garment would be foolish, as it would to pour new wine into old wineskins. There was no way to salvage the old by applying something new to it. The new wine must be put into new wineskins (v. 38). The new covenant, which Jesus was instituting, must bring with it new structures, forms, and practices. Pharisaism, which was committed to preserving the old way, couldn't accept this. Jesus explained this reality in v. 39.

[In his commentary on Jesus' three mini-parables in today's passage, which he told after being asked about fasting, Warren illustrates the broader truth of Jesus' teaching: With his coming, everything ought to change.]

Part 3: Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath (6:1–5)

This third part of the passage again deals with eating, specifically eating on the Sabbath. The Lord Jesus and his disciples, followed by a delegation of Pharisees, were passing through a grain field on the Sabbath. Why were the Pharisees following them you might wonder? Well, Jesus' popularity was growing steadily; they were becoming alarmed, realizing that Jesus wasn't in their camp, indeed, was often attacking them; they were afraid to leave Jesus to himself, unwatched, unchallenged; they were eager to catch Jesus in a transgression of their rules, so they could accuse him of being wrong.

When Jesus and his disciples were asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" Jesus had several options available to him in response.

1. "I didn't do that."  Jesus isn't said in the text to have done as his disciples had done; nor is he accused of doing so by the Pharisees. The easiest thing for Jesus to have done was simply to point out that he wasn't guilty as charged. However, Jesus refused to do this, instead taking responsibility for the conduct of his disciples. Jesus argued on the premise that what he could do his disciples could do.

2. "That's your interpretation of the law."  The Sabbath commandment is incredibly concise: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). When viewing our Lord's disciples' actions through the lens of Old Testament law, there was nothing wrong with them. Viewed through the lens of the Pharisees' legalism, their actions were heinous. Jesus could have very easily pointed out to his critics the difference between the Pharisaic interpretation of the law and the actual law itself. Jesus wants to establish his right to violate the law, although he hasn't done so. So he grants his opponents their argument (that it was unlawful to harvest on the Sabbath as the disciples had done) but presses on to show the wrong in accusing him, not because of a wrong interpretation of the Sabbath, but because Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, had the right to break the Sabbath.

Jesus responded to the harassing questions of the Pharisees with a stinging introduction: "Have you not even read . . . ?" (v. 3). Jesus' argument was amazingly simple: David broke the law, and if he could have done so, I all the more. Technically speaking, David broke the letter of the law when he ate bread that only priests were allowed to eat. David also gave that bread to his men and wasn't to be condemned for doing so. Why didn't the Pharisees condemn David's actions? David's actions could be justified because David and his men were hungry and might have died without that bread. The answer that Jesus is seeking is quite different. Jesus wants his critics to admit that they don't condemn David's actions on the count that it was David who did them. David was so revered by the Pharisees that they dared not condemn his unlawful actions.

"Who you are" determines what you can get away with. If David could break the law because of who he was, so could Jesus, because he is far greater than David. The central issue, then, wasn't whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath law; it was the more important matter of who Jesus was. Jesus' closing statement declares that he was entitled to break the law: "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath in the sense that he's greater than it and can set it aside and Lord over it with authority. Thus, Jesus was far more qualified than David to break the law pertaining to the Sabbath.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  What does it mean to leave everything to follow Jesus? What did it mean for Levi? What does it mean for you? Which of your current loyalties hinder you from following Jesus whole-heartedly?
  • Q. 2  Jesus could have stopped with v. 4. Why do you think he added v. 5? What's Jesus emphasizing by it?

This Week's Passage
Luke 5:27–6:5 (Lukas)

New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 5 and chapter 6]

 Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Disciples Chosen."

Jesus Calls Levi and Eats with Sinners

27After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

29Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"

31Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Jesus Questioned about Fasting

33They said to him, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking."

34Jesus answered, "Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast."

36He told them this parable: "No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, 'The old is better.'"

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

6 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2Some of the Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

3Jesus answered them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." 5Then Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."