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Luke 6:6-11 meaning

Luke narrates the second confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees on the issue of authority over the Sabbath. The Pharisees set a trap for Jesus relating to the healing of a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath.

The parallel Gospel accounts for this event are Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6.

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered (v 6).

Luke then moves to the chapter's second confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. It appears to occur on a different Sabbath than the episode in the grain fields in the previous verses (Luke 6:1-6). This is due to Luke's phrase On another Sabbath.

Staying consistent with His ministry up to this point, Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and was teaching (Luke 4:15, 31). By going into the synagogue, Jesus is entering the Pharisees' turf. Synagogues were like community centers of social gathering and worship, and functioned as the local headquarters for each town's group of Pharisees.

Synagogues were the building and community through which the Pharisees taught the law and their customs. It was through the synagogue system which arose during (but especially after) the Babylonian exile, that the Pharisees' influence and authority spread. Many synagogues that would have been functioning during this era have been found in archeological digs throughout Israel, including in the towns along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, such as Capernaum.

When Jesus went into their synagogue, Luke tells us a man was there whose right hand was withered. As a doctor, Luke's description that the man's right hand was withered is more medically observant than Matthew's and Mark's, who simply describe the man having a withered hand (Matthew 12:10, Mark 3:1). This man was likely very poor because his withered hand would have made it difficult for him to find work or earn a living - especially if he was right hand dominant as most people are.

He also probably endured a measure of social rejection because it was a common belief in those days that the reason a person was handicapped was because of some sin that they had committed against God, and that their disability was God's punishment against them. The following quote from the Gospel of John illustrates the pervasiveness of this general belief:

"And His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?'"
(John 9:2)

The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him (v 7).

This man with a withered hand was undoubtedly a part of the synagogue community. These scribes and Pharisees knew this man. He was under their teaching and spiritual care. It was their job to minister to him. In this instance, at least, instead of ministering to him as a man, the scribes and Pharisees used him as bait in their trap. They were watching Jesus closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. The trap was multi-layered.

On the one hand Jesus just told them that "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (Luke 6:5). The Pharisees correctly understood that Jesus meant that this claim was about Himself and they are now calling His bluff. In essence, they are daring Jesus, "Okay, so-called 'Lord-of-the-Sabbath,' since you have authority over the Sabbath, answer for us whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"

If Jesus did not heal the man's withered hand, then it would prove that Jesus was a blasphemous imposter. But if Jesus did heal the man, then He would violate the Pharisees' rules in their own synagogue in front of all the people. This would be a socially bold thing to do because they could immediately condemn Jesus as a lawbreaker (and therefore a blaspheming imposter also) in front of everyone.

Whichever way Jesus acted, the scribes and Pharisees had Him pinned. Or so they thought.

But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward!" And he got up and came forward (v 8).

Jesus is God. He knows the hearts, thoughts, and motivations of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 12:25, 22:18, Mark 2:8, Luke 5:22, 11:17, 16:15). Jesus would also be able to see them watching Him closely. It would not be hard to see that they were watching His every move and listening intently to every word He said.

Interestingly, in Matthew's Gospel account, he describes that the Pharisees "questioned Jesus" and asked Him "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" (Matthew 12:10). Instead of Luke focusing on the verbal question posed by the Pharisees, it is likely that he sought to emphasize that Jesus knew their innermost thoughts and motivations. This is in contrast to how Luke describes the Pharisees interaction with Jesus and His disciples in the grainfields where they do verbally confront Him (Luke 6:2).

And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?" (v 9).

Jesus masterfully reframes the issue. And Jesus asked them, "is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?" Matthew's Gospel account describes that Jesus used the more specific imagery of a sheep who has fallen into a pit on the Sabbath. He asked them "will [the owner] not take hold of it and lift it out?" (Matthew 12:11). In both cases, the construction of His question implies that there is none among them who would not do good and save a life instead of destroying it. It is clear that Jesus's question infers that this was a common and approved practice among the people. None among them would hardly think twice about doing good and saving a life.

In like manner, God did not forbid people from helping others on the Sabbath. As teachers of God's Law, the Pharisees should have known this, and realized that their rules prevented people from loving a man by helping him with his infirmity. It is clear the concern of the scribes and Pharisees was focused upon themselves.

After looking around at them all, He said to the man with the withered hand, "Stretch out your hand!" And he did so; and his hand was restored (v 10).

Because the scribes and Pharisees did not answer Jesus's question, Jesus is left to look around at them all while they are silent. It was probably a tense moment.

Harkening back to the details in Matthew, a man is made in God's image and is immeasurably more valuable than a sheep. Instead of entrapping Jesus so they might accuse Him, Jesus turned the tables on the scribes and Pharisees. He shamed them and publicly exposed their hypocrisy and lack of compassion in their own synagogue.

Jesus gave them an opportunity to consider His question. If there was anything out of place with Jesus's line of questioning in verse 9, the Pharisees would have spoken up. Since none did, they consented to His point, even if they hated Him for escaping their trap. Jesus established this truth and the goodness of God's perfect Law and its superiority over the Pharisees' Sabbath rules. Jesus had reframed the question and completely flipped the trap back on the scribes and Pharisees. But He wasn't done yet.

Jesus turned to the man with the withered hand and said to him "Stretch out your hand!" The man stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like his other hand. The man was now whole.

In this miracle Jesus at once accomplished three things. First, He showed compassion for the man whose hand was withered. This man could now use both hands to work, earn a better living, and have the respect of others. Second, through this display of power Jesus proved that He was who He claimed to be. Jesus is "Lord of the Sabbath." And as the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus determines its rightness. The third accomplishment of this miracle was that Jesus exposed the hollowness and backwardness of the scribes and Pharisees' teachings. Jesus had undermined their power over the people.

But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus (v 11).

Humiliated and embittered by Jesus's truth and love, the scribes and Pharisees are enraged and begin plotting against Him. Luke had described tense encounters before concerning the scribes and Pharisees (Luke 5:17-21, 30-33, 6:1-5), but this is the first time he indicates the murderous intent lurking in their hearts. They were filled with rage from this humiliation. They were offered the opportunity to be humbled and repent. To return to the true meaning of the Law, and shift from serving themselves to serving the people they were charged to shepherd. Instead, they doubled down on their opposition to Jesus, ignoring the mighty power they had just witnessed.


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