HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
DOCUMENT G CONCLUDED
The next several events reported by Luke and by Matthew in
different places are all from document G:
39. The centurion's servant
40. The young man in Nain
41. John sends messengers
42. The adulterous woman
43. He tours Galilee
|Luke (Document G)
These events are all contiguous in document G, following immediately
after the Sermon on the Plain in that document. Matthew must have
decided to omit the healing in Nain and the encounter with the
adulterous woman, and also the condensed report of his travels in
Galilee. We will follow them therefore as they occur in Luke, who
apparently inserted them as they were from document G.
THE CENTURION'S SERVANT
The first event is the healing of the
centurion's servant, when Jesus returned into Capernaum after the
long speech he gave up on the mountain. His fame had reached the
ears of a Roman centurion, who sent messengers to Jesus to beg him
to come and heal his servant, who was sick and on the point of
death. Luke tells us that even the Jewish people wanted Jesus to
heal the servant. Then just as he was about to reach the centurion's
house, other messengers came, telling Jesus not to bother coming
into the house but only to speak the word of healing and his
servant would be healed. And Jesus turned to the crowds following
him and exclaimed, "This is the greatest faith that I've found in
Israel!" Then Luke reports that the messengers when they returned
to the centurion's home, found the servant healed.
This is the only one of the healings in the Synoptic gospels
where Jesus is reported as healing a person from a distance, if in
fact that is what happened. In all the other healings the person
has been in his presence, and he has spoken to them in one way or
another. But one cannot help feeling that this event got exaggerated
as time went by, and that however it was that the man was healed, it
wasn't by Jesus speaking or not speaking any words without going into
the house to see the sick man.
THE YOUNG MAN IN NAIN
Luke reports that the next event was a
visit to a city called Nain, where he raised a young man who was
thought to be dead. This story is suspect for several reasons: it
appears to be copied from a story in the life of Elijah; it refers
to Jesus as "Lord", which term of reference did not come into use
until long after the death of Jesus; and it is the only mention of
Nain in the New Testament, as well as being the only reference in
Matthew, Mark, or Luke to a resurrection of someone who was dead.
But the story offers one important bit of information: the people
acclaim Jesus and call him a "prophet", not a healer or a messiah
or the "son of God".
JOHN SENDS MESSENGERS
Matthew and Luke then tell us of a
visit to Jesus by some of John's disciples, who ask Jesus if he is
indeed the One Who Will Come, meaning the messiah. This incident
is important because it shows that John could NOT have perceived
Jesus as the One Who Will Come, or he would not have asked this
question. Here is a transcription of the event:
MESSENGERS: Are you he who is coming? Or should we look
for someone else?
JESUS: Go back and tell John the things you have seen:
the sick are healed, the lame rise up and walk, the dead
in spirit are reawakened, and the poor have the gospel
preached to them. And blessed is the one who finds no
cause for stumbling in me.
It seems clear that this was a blow to Jesus; he had been baptized
by John, and now John is questioning whether his career is what
he, John, approves of. The fact that it was a blow is indicated
by his refusal to say Yes or No, but simply telling John's disciples
just to look at all the crowds and listen to his teachings; and
more importantly because Jesus immediately launches into an
encomium on John, praising him effusively, culminating in the
the statement that John is the greatest prophet who ever lived:
(Luke 7:24-26,28; Matt.11:7-11)
JESUS: What did you go out into the wilderness
for, anyway? Was it to see a reed shaken with
the wind? Of course not. But then, what DID
you go out to see? a man clothed in soft
raiment? Again, of course not. Those who are
gorgeously appareled and live delicately are
in kings' courts, not the desert.
But one more time,
what DID you go out to see? A prophet? Yes,
I tell you, and more than a prophet.
For I say unto you, Among them
that are born of women, there is NONE GREATER than John
The last sentence is confirmed because it is also found in the
gospel of Thomas. Both Luke and Matthew are unable to accept this
positive statement, and insert another clause to the effect that
whoever is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John himself;
but this statement is doubtful as being from Jesus. Why would Jesus
have given John such high praise, in spite of the doubts John had
expressed by sending his messengers, and then demoted him to a
position lower than any of his past or future followers? And
afterward Matthew and Luke tell us that all of the people listening
praised God, who had sent John to them, but the Pharisees and the
scribes rejected that appraisal and refused to be baptized.
Luke and Matthew insert an additional paragraph at this point,
which probably was found in document G; but it doesn't really seem
to have anything to do with the preceding event:
JESUS: Whereunto then shall I liken this
generation, and to what are they like? They
are like children who sit in the marketplace,
and call to each other, We piped unto you,
and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did
not weep. For John has come eating no bread
and drinking no wine; and the Pharisees say,
He hath a devil. But the son of man, myself,
is come both eating and drinking, Behold a
gluttonous Man and a winebibber! the friend
of publicans and sinners! But do not heed
them; wisdom is justified by her works.
Here we see Jesus making a joke on himself, that they see him as a
gluttonous man and friend of sinners! This must have been in
document G, and both Luke and Matthew copied it in the same place.
But we may ask, Why did Jesus consider John the greatest of the
prophets, the greatest man who ever lived? My own view is that it
was because not only had John stirred the crowds all over Palestine
and baptized them, but he had spoken words of moral truth to Herod
for which he had been imprisoned and expected death. He had told
Herod that it was immoral for him to have married his brother's
wife, and criticized "all the other evil things that Herod had done"
(Luke 3:18-20). And only one other prophet, Zechariah, had
been killed by the kings of ancient Israel and Judah
THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN
The Pharisees had been uniting in their efforts to crush Jesus,
but in this next story he has actually been invited to the home of
a Pharisee named Simon. During the meal a woman, who we might more
accurately call a woman of the streets, came in. She came up to
Jesus, and began to weep, and to wet his feet with her tears, and
to wipe his feet with her hair to dry them, and began to anoint his
feet with a cruse of ointment she had brought with her, and to kiss
his feet, still weeping.
Now this is an astonishing scene. I suspect that its being
carried in oral tradition became the story of Jesus washing the
disciples' feet in the gospel of John. But Simon thought to himself,
This woman is a sinner, and this so-called prophet Jesus shouldn't
have let her get near him. Jesus sensed the man's thought, and
began a dialogue with him, after the manner of Socrates.
Document G (Luke 7:36-50)
JESUS: Simon, I have something I want to say to you.
SIMON: Master, say on.
JESUS: A certain lender had two debtors; the one owed him
five hundred pence, the other fifty pence. When he found
out that they were not able to repay him, he forgave them
both. Which of them do you think will love him the most?
SIMON: He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.
JESUS: You are correct. (Turning to the woman.) Simon,
do you see this woman? Now when I entered your house, you did
not give me any water for my feet; but this woman has washed
them with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did
not give me a greeting kiss; but this woman, from the moment
she came in, hasn't stopped kissing my feet. You did not
anoint my head with any oil; but she has anointed my feet
And so here's what I have to say to
you: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved
much. But to one who loves little, little will be forgiven.
(To the woman.) Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has
saved you; go in peace.
And we are told that the other guests murmured to each other, Who is
this that forgives sins like this? We can never know if this story
is true or not; there is a similar story in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew
26:6-13, but some difference in details; and there is also a similar
story in John 12:1-7, where the woman is said to have been Mary, the
sister of Martha, who lived in Bethany. Catholic scholars argue
that this was Mary Magdalene, but neither Luke nor Mark give her a
name. In any case we hear Jesus saying again, as he did to the
paralytic, merely, Thy sins are forgiven; and he does not say, "I"
forgive you your sins.
CONCLUSION OF DOCUMENT G
The next paragraph from document G following the story just
told seems to be a concluding paragraph to a document that could
actually have been written prior to Jesus' death. There's no proof;
but all of the events and teachings found in that document are so
vivid and real and down-to-earth that I find that a convincing
hypothesis. This closing paragraph is:
Document G (Luke 8:1-3)
And soon afterwards, Jesus went
about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing
the good tidings of the kingdom of God, and with him
the twelve disciples, and certain women who had been healed
of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary that was called
Magdalene, from whom seven devils had gone out, and Joanna
the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many
others who ministered to them with their support.
Doesn't this read like a closing paragraph? I certainly think so.
It is worth noting that nowhere in the gospels is there a report of
these exorcisms, particularly nothing about the seven devils going
out of Mary called Magdalene, who is not mentioned again until the
scene beside the tomb from which Jesus was reported to have arisen.
But now we will resume the narrative reported in Mark, from which
both Luke and Matthew have copied.