LUKE CHAPTER 4 Complete Jewish Bible
He went down to K’far-Nachum, a town in the Galil, and made a practice of teaching them on Shabbat. 32 They were amazed at the way he taught, because his word carried the ring of authority.
33 In the synagogue there was a man who had an unclean demonic spirit, who shouted in a loud voice, 34 “Yaah! What do you want with us, Yeshua from Natzeret? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” 35 But Yeshua rebuked it: “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The demonic spirit threw the man down in the middle of the crowd and came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 They were all astounded and said to one another, “What kind of teaching is this? Why, he gives orders with power and authority to the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out through the whole surrounding district.
38 Leaving the synagogue, he went to Shim‘on’s house. Shim‘on’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him to do something for her. 39 So, standing over her, he rebuked the fever; and it left her. She immediately got up and began helping them.
40 After sunset, all those who had people sick with various diseases brought them to Yeshua, and he put his hands on each one of them and healed them; 41 also demons came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But, rebuking them, he did not permit them to say that they knew he was the Messiah.
42 When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.” 44 He also spent time preaching in the synagogues of Y’hudah.
Today’s passage allows us to wonder at the strength of the gospel tradition, because here Luke is following one of his sources quite carefully. He is using Mark Chapter 1 verses 21-39. I would encourage readers who are not used to this technique, to compare the two passages, because even in English the small but significant differences can be seen. For example Mark uses the Greek word “euthus” meaning immediately, three times, but Luke does not use it at all. Mark notes that Jesus’ authoritative teaching was not like that of the scribes, whereas Luke simply emphasises its power. Mark depicts an “unclean spirit” which “shakes the man to and fr0” and “cries out with a great noise”; whereas Luke has a “unclean demonic spirit” which “throws him to the floor” but comes out of him “having done him no harm”. Mark tells us that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand, whereas Luke has him “standing over her.” The overall effect is that Mark’s narrative is urgent, dramatic and subtle in its detail, while Luke’s is smoother, less vivid, and more focused on Jesus’ healing power. This is borne out by one other crucial detail. Mark gives precise time references for what took place on one Shabbat, while Luke begins by saying “he made a practice of teaching then on Shabbat.” Mark gives the reader “a day in the life of Jesus”, while Luke is less specific.
Why does Luke make these changes? In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law it seems clear that he wants to emphasise the authority of the word Jesus speaks when he is standing over her; while Mark wants to show that Jesus’ bodily presence and touch brings healing. It is a useful example of how the Gospel writers changed the material found in their sources to carry their own vision of Jesus to their readers. “But what about the facts?” the modern historically- minded reader will ask. We are dealing a community’s memory of its founder, a memory which has been 40-60 years in transmission, through branches of the community which are being formed in new areas and cultures. The memories consist of stories and teachings, told and re-told verbally and also committed to writing in a variety of forms and languages. The astonishing thing is that the memories collected and represented in the Gospels are of particular actions and words in particular places. As we can see from this example, the gospel writers felt free to alter particular actions to suit their imagination of Jesus, but that imagination always asks the reader to see a human person speaking and moving, the memory always tells of how wisdom and healing came through Jesus of Nazareth in the villages of Galilee and in the environs of Jerusalem. The rich collection of communal memories of Jesus, developed and altered by countless re-tellings is communicated to the modern reader, in this case by Luke, a believer who has listened to the stories, read what had been committed to writing, and wants to provide a consistent image of Jesus as the son of God. He is writing not just to inform, but to convince his readers, but as we get accustomed to his authorial voice, we learn to trust his skill. This is his community’s Jesus, as they and Luke knew him.
The story is of its time and place. The reader has to understand the importance of Shabbat, the day of rest, when even God is on holiday, so that he and human beings can enjoy each other’s company. Jesus the healer is not supposed to work until the Sabbath is over, at sundown.
The village synagogue, which had grown out of the Pharisaic reform of Judaism, was the essential gathering place of the believing community and the salvation of Jewish faith in the diaspora, especially when the Temple was destroyed in 70CE.
Unclean, demonic spirits who possessed the lives of human beings were identified by their destructive effect on their hosts: a variety of physical incapacities, including blindness, deafness, epilepsy and paralysis, were attributed to these spirits, as were a almost all diseases of the brain and nervous system, from mild trauma to what we would now call Alzheimers’ syndrome. Often the sufferer was terrified or sunk in apathy, while the community frequently regarded them as dangerous, expelling them from its midst and from contact with their families. In many cases the community’s ignorance and fear forced itself upon the sufferers, compelling them to understand themselves as unclean and possessed by evil. We should be clear that these poor people were afflicted by malign cultural, social and religious forces, which distorted their self-perception and their relationships with others. Healers were people were able to disperse this miasma of imposed damnation, allowing the natural processes of healing to take place, as sometimes they did. Nobody should underestimate the life-saving nature of such healing. Only perhaps people who have recovered from severe psychological illness or disabling addiction, will be able to appreciate the liberation that Jesus and other healers brought through their exorcisms.
Peter’s mother-in-law is in her daughter’s house because she is a widow.
Guests have arrived at the house but she, the older woman, is no longer the hostess, side-lined by her daughter. No wonder she is afflicted with fever. Only Jesus pays her attention, and by doing so, restores her health. At least that’s the way Mark tells it. Luke almost spoils it by saying that Jesus acts by request of the family. My guess is that he didn’t fully appreciate the family customs of Galilee. Both narratives however hint that the powerlessness of widowhood is a kind of unclean spirit.
Jesus ends up acting as the local healer but his morning prayers and subsequent determination to move on show him refusing this comfortable role in favour of his task as the one sent by God to announce His Rule in Israel.