In chapter six, Luke continues recording the teaching/preaching and healing ministry of Jesus. He also records more of the opposition that Jesus is beginning to encounter, particularly from the Pharisees, one of the groups of the Jewish religious leaders who were most concerned with following the Torah, that is, the Law/Instruction from what we know as the Old Testament. Jesus claims to have the definitive interpretation of the Torah which sets up conflict with the Pharisees when it clashes with their understanding of it. This conflict will escalate, and Jesus' claims of divinity will ultimately be the thing that the religious leaders use to bring Him to the point of crucifixion.
Notes on the Text
6:1-11 The controversy surrounded the Sabbath. The Torah said to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy". This is part of what we know as the Ten Commandments. We number it as the third, though some will number as the fourth. The full commandment is from Exodus 20:8-11:
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 20:8–11.
Jesus shows that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of people, not for simple rule-following. And, Jesus who is the Son of Man is in fact Lord (Master) over the Sabbath. So He defines its true meaning, not the Pharisees. In these encounters, Jesus isn't simply disagreeing with the Pharisees; He's asserting His authority over theirs by claiming divine authority. That's the biggest reason they were "filled with fury" and began to plot against Him (6:11).
6:2 and 6:7 The Pharisees are one of four general groups of the Jewish people. They were the experts in the Jewish Law: the Torah (which is the Hebrew word for instruction, often called the law; in particular it refers to all the instruction found in the first five books of what we know as the Old Testament: the books of Moses—Genesis through Deuteronomy). The other groups were the Sadducees (the priestly ruling class), the Zealots (the political revolutionaries), and the Essenes (the "religious fundamentalists" who had their own community outside of Jerusalem).
6:12-16 Jesus prays before choosing His Twelve Apostles. We can presume He was praying about this as well as other things. He calls them to be apostles, which means "sent ones". This is a specific office, and is distinct from the whole group of the followers of Jesus, which are described in the following verses as "disciples". We might think of it this way: all the apostles are disciples, but not all disciples were/are apostles. In a general sense all disciples are "sent", but not in the same office/station/vocation as the twelve whom Jesus chose. The Bible uses the word "apostle" in two different senses: a general "sent one" or messenger, and more narrowly to refer to Jesus' chosen 12.
6:17-49 This is a teaching/sermon of Jesus not just to the apostles but to all of His disciples who were there to hear Him and seek healing. He is proclaiming a truly counter-cultural way of life: the way of service and self-sacrifice. He teaches His followers to be people who don't value what the world does. For example, to give without expectation of return instead of the idea of quid pro quo (Latin for "something for something). This was as counter-cultural in that day as it is today.
Notice also that all of this teaching is grounded in His own word, His own authority ("...But I say to you" - 6:27). And notice that it is a much, much higher ethical standard than anything else that was being taught then (or now!). Remember, the Pharisees were primarily concerned with keeping Torah. But they did so in such a way that (they thought) they could actually keep it. Jesus' teaching is that the demand of Torah is so much higher than the Pharisees taught or did.
At the same time, though, Jesus shows that it's not the ceremonial law that truly matters (back to the Sabbath). It's the moral law. And so He condemns, for example, the ritual idea of Sabbath rest taking priority over the moral good of healing (6:6-10). And He shows them that something new is going on, that He is now here and that all the law must now be viewed through Himself as a lens. And so, to use the Sababth as an example, other places in the Bible such as Colossians 2:16 and Hebrews 4 (and the whole letter to the Hebrews in general) show how Jesus is the true Sabbath rest from God—we find our rest in Him, not in following a legal code of some kind. The true Sabbath is resting from our works, that is, realizing that we don't have to—and cannot—work hard enough to earn God's favour, but that we have it in Christ Jesus.
As Christians, thinking about the true depth of God's word of Law might bring us to a place of near despair. How could anyone ever keep Torah in its true form, in the way that Jesus calls His disciples to keep? The simple answer is we can't. But amazingly, Jesus Himself keeps that high standard and credits us with it! So this sermon is not just describing the true standard of Torah; it's also pointing—when taken together with all of Luke's Gospel account and the rest of Scripture—to Himself as the One who will keep it for our sake.