5:1-3 Lake Gennesaret was an alternate name for the Sea of Galilee, which is also called the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 6:1; 21:1). The boat Jesus chose belonged to Simon Peter, whose mother-in-law he had recently healed (4:38-39). Jesus sat down in the boat; this was the normal posture for a teacher (see note at 4:19-21).
5:4-7 In spite of the fact that his night labors had been fruitless, at Jesus’s command Peter responded in faith (if you say so, I’ll let down the nets). His faith was rewarded with a catch so big that their nets tore and the boats almost sank.
5:8-11 Peter’s realization of Jesus’s divine power and holiness through the catch of fish was essentially the same as that of Job (Jb 42:6) and Isaiah (Is 6:5). James and John, along with Simon Peter, formed Jesus’s inner circle (9:28; Mt 26:37). Jesus used the huge catch of fish to illustrate the kind of evangelistic impact Simon would have (catching people; see Ac 2:41; 4:4). Peter and the other fishermen left everything and followed Jesus. This thoroughgoing commitment is the essence of true discipleship (14:26).
5:12-14 Jesus responded to the faith of a man with leprosy and immediately healed him. However, he did not want word about the miracle to spread. He ordered the man to act according to the law of Moses (Lv 14:1-32) for cleansing and let the visual proof of his healing take the place of verbal testimony before a Jewish priest.
5:15-16 These verses reflect the difference between the public and private life of Jesus during his early ministry. On the one hand, large crowds heard him preach and were healed of their sicknesses. On the other hand, Jesus often sought out remote places where he could pray without interruption.
5:17-20 The Pharisees were the legalistic Jewish religious party. The teachers of the law of Moses were also known as “the scribes.” They functioned essentially as lawyers who worked closely with the Pharisees. These leaders had heard about Jesus’s preaching and power to heal, and they decided that he needed to be observed carefully. The persistence of the paralyzed man’s friends to get him into the presence of Jesus reflects strong faith. But Jesus focused on the man’s greatest need—forgiveness of sins through faith in God’s Son.
5:21-25 The scribes and Pharisees understood that Jesus was acting as if he were God when he claimed to forgive the sins of the paralyzed man. Not only did they not believe he was God, they viewed his claims as blasphemies. Jesus was perceiving their thoughts because he knew what is in man (Jn 2:25). In Lk 5:23 Jesus expressed the heart of their doubt. It was much easier to just say your sins are forgiven than to heal a paralytic since there could be no visible proof of whether sins had been forgiven. To demonstrate that he had power to do the invisible miracle of forgiving sins, Jesus performed the visible miracle of healing the paralytic: I tell you: Get up . . . and go home. The man got up immediately and went home glorifying God.
5:26 The Pharisees and scribes together with everyone else in the crowd were astounded at Jesus’s miracle. The “they” of they were giving glory to God apparently included unbelieving scribes and Pharisees. There was simply no denying the wonder of what Jesus had done, but submitting to Jesus and the far-reaching implications of his claims was another thing altogether.
5:27-28 A tax collector would sit in a toll booth (tax office) and collect customs or duties, in this case likely on the international highway that ran through Galilee. Levi is another name for Matthew (Mt 9:9; 10:3). He demonstrated the discipleship commitment that Simon, James, and John had shown earlier (leaving everything behind . . . to follow him; see note at vv. 8-11).
5:29-30 Levi’s becoming a disciple was very open. He hosted a grand banquet in honor of Jesus, to which he invited his fellow tax collectors. The Pharisees and scribes (see note at vv. 17-20) were incensed because tax collectors were considered ritually unclean. Tax collectors and sinners (others who were ritually unclean) were socially off-limits to devout Jews. Although Levi was a fellow Jew, he was despised because he worked for the Roman government.
5:31-32 Jesus referred to the Pharisees and their allies as the healthy and righteous. In contrast, he labeled tax collectors and their associates as the sick and sinners. He did not mean that the Pharisees were actually righteous but only that they saw themselves that way. By contrast, those whom the Pharisees viewed as sinners realized they were spiritually sick and desperately needed a spiritual doctor who could guide them to repentance (see note at 3:2-3). Thus Jesus had higher regard for the sick and sinners.
5:33 The Pharisees were offended at the behavior of Jesus’s disciples as compared to their own disciples and those of John the Baptist. Jesus was not opposed to fasting (Mt 4:2; 6:16-18), but he also allowed his disciples to attend banquets (eat and drink), like that given by Levi (see note at vv. 29-30). This was in stark contrast to the Pharisees’ rigid schedule of fasting. They fasted twice weekly (18:12), on the Day of Atonement (Lv 16:29), four times a year to remember the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Zch 8:19), plus any other time it was deemed appropriate.
5:34-35 Jesus applied the issue of fasting to a wedding, as if he were the groom. It was not appropriate to fast during the joy of a wedding or before the divine groom was taken away (i.e., before the cross, resurrection, and ascension).
5:36 The first of Jesus’s two parables applied the principle that you cannot patch an old garment with new cloth. It will tear the new cloth and it won’t match the old garment. On the heels of the controversy about fasting, Jesus illustrated the point that his message was radical (the new) and could not serve as a patch for the existing form of Judaism (the old garment).
5:37-39 Jesus’s second parable initially made the same point as the first, but then proceeded further. New (not fully fermented) wine cannot be put into old wineskins because it will burst and ruin them. New wine (the message of Jesus) must be put into fresh wineskins (the church of Jesus Christ; see Mt 16:18). But there was a natural reason why many of Jesus’s hearers continued to cling to Judaism: old (properly fermented and aged) wine (the established traditions of Judaism) tastes better (more familiar and comfortable).