Chapter six naturally divides into two distinct sections. In the first, verses 1-16, we find two shifts in Jesus’ ministry method. To this point, Luke has portrayed Jesus in terms of his compassion, kindness, and teaching authority, who let his message and miracles speak for themselves. It is noteworthy, then, that in the first two events of chapter six, Jesus became intentionally controversial, specifically in relation to the man-made laws governing the Sabbath. What God had designed to be a benefit to the Jewish people had become a burden. Without reservation, Jesus promoted the spirit of the original law by allowing his disciples to enjoy God’s provision (vs.1-5) and by healing a man’s hand (vs. 6-11). Both of these acts of kindness and compassion were condemned, as he knew they would be.
The second shift in Jesus’ ministry had to do with manpower. Jesus had such a large following by this time that he was no longer able to do all of the ministry himself; simply put, he needed help. After spending all night alone in prayer (once again demonstrating his complete dependence on both the Father and the Spirit), he selected from among his hundreds or thousands of followers twelve whom he could authorize and empower to multiply his ministry. These he commissioned as his “apostles” (vs. 13).
The second major division of this chapter is often called the “Sermon on the Plain.” It is very similar to, but should not be confused with, the “Sermon on the Mount” for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was their respective locations. Matthew 5:1-2 states that “he went up the mountain…sat down…[and] began to teach” his disciples, whereas Luke 6:17 states that “he came down” from a mountain to “a level place” where he spoke to “a vast multitude.” Another difference is in the timing. Luke placed this teaching immediately following the selection of the Twelve, while Matthew has it before then. A third difference is found in the content. While there are certainly obvious similarities, Luke’s version is much shorter and tends to emphasize more immediate human needs than general spiritual needs. For instance, compare Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3) and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:6) with Luke’s “Blessed are you who are poor” (6:20) and “Blessed are you who hunger now” (6:21). Matthew recalled that Jesus commanded them to “be perfect” like the Father (5:48), whereas Luke noted the command was to “be merciful” like him (6:36).
What should we do with these differences? Do they prove the Bible contradicts itself as some want to believe? Do we chalk them up to human error, bad memories, proving that the Bible is neither inspired by God nor perfect? I suggest that a much better option is to realize that these differences support the fact that Jesus was an itinerant preacher who taught the same themes repeatedly at different times, in different locations, to different audiences, adjusting the length and content as each situation demanded, rather than simply reciting a “one size fits all” sermon that he kept in his pocket for every occasion. This takes into account his humanity and human everyday life while maintaining the truth of the Biblical inerrancy.