I don’t think I can contain how absolutely freaking awesome this chapter of Luke is! I just want to run around and tell people “Jesus is way, way, way cooler than they are telling you!!!” Unfortunately, when I try that, people assume I’m high and the conversation doesn’t go anywhere…
So…here’s my attempt to convey the amazing awesomeness that is often overlooked in this chapter of the Bible.
First, here is a gross oversimplification of what the ancient world was like:
Ancient people believed that gods were petty and jealous. They were easily angered and needed to be appeased. Most ancients believed that there was a direct correlation between every bad thing that happened and angering a god.
Ancient Jews believed in one God who had given them rules to obey in order to have a relationship with him. Through the years, the focus drifted from the relationship part and became all about the rules. As this happened, the religious leaders made rules about the rules and then rules about the rules about the rules!!! So, their religion became a confusing hot mess (like that previous sentence!)
It was such a confusing mess that, for the most part, the average person had no hope of ever understanding all the rules and certainly no hope of obeying them. Cause in general religious leaders seem to delight in making things confusing!
Yet the ancient Jews were very religious people. They memorized scripture, like a lotta lotta scripture. Jewish boys were supposed to memorize the entire Torah. That’s five books of the Bible yall! (Kinda makes my son’s AWANA badges seem lame! LOL) They offered sacrifices, prayed, went to festivals, and listened to teachers for hours.
An important piece of cultural information for understanding the last two stories of Luke 5 is that the religious leaders knew that the rules were way to complicated for the common people to follow. It was impossible for the working-class people to do all of the manual labor that made up ancient living and then follow all of the rules about rules about rules that the religious leaders spent their days studying.
So, the religious leaders, in general felt that the common people were basically doomed. The religious leaders had quite comfortable lives with considerable wealth and most of the Jews were poor. And as in all cultures, it is easy for people living in wealth and ease to condemn people struggling in poverty.
The Jewish religious leaders also bought into the idea that ALL suffering was directly related to sin. If you were sick or struggling, it was believed to be your fault. You deserved it. God was punishing you. They believed it was actually wrong to help. Which is contrary to everything that the Bible teaches about justice, mercy, humility and God’s love for the poor.
Some suffering is obviously the direct result of actions. For example, if you get drunk and fall off your camel, your broken leg would be the result of drinking in excess which the Bible warns against.
What started out as a beautiful thing, designed to help people see a need for God and to protect them from falling off camels and other disasters, became a system for determining who was in and who was out.
I’m sure if you live in America, you have felt the sting of religious people letting you know that you were not “in” for some reason or another. For me, that repeated sting has filled my life with a whole lot of insecurity and fear of being open and real. But I will save those rants for later…
Just think about this religious culture as you read the last two stories of Luke 5. If you really picture how cool this is, you will want to join me in my crazy desire to yell “Jesus is so freaking awesome!”
Jesus is teaching at a house. A huge crowd of religious leaders come to hear him.
At the same time, some guys are trying to bring their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. When these guys get close to the house, we see the most ironic, symbolic, scene in all of the Bible: these guys can’t get their friend to Jesus because the religious leaders are blocking the way.
So, in a move that should inspire us all, they do something that can only be described as badass.
These guys climb up on the roof of the house, take off the tiles, and tear a hole in the straw, and lower their friend through the beams! Think about that for a minute!!!! They tore a hole in the roof and lowered a dude through it right in the middle of a crowd of religious elite leaders who were in the middle of pontificating something pontificatable. THAT’S BALLSY!
Then Jesus makes this crazy situation crazier. He takes the tension up an octave.
He looks at the guy laying on his mat and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The way I imagine this scene, everyone in the room gasped at the same time and a couple of people fainted…
Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t give us those details. But what we do know is that the religious leaders stopped their pontificating and all started discussing “How can he claim to forgive sins?!! People can’t forgive sins. Only God can do that.” (and they were quite convinced he doesn’t like forgiving other people’s sins…)
Jesus knows the discussion that is going on. He felt the draft when everyone collectively gasped. He lets it happen for a moment and then he asks:
“Which is easier, for me to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk’?”
If you are like me, it’s easy to get caught up in religiousness and focus on Jesus’ rhetorical question. If you spend hours pondering what he meant by this question, you might miss the crazy cool thing that was happening here:
AFTER, the collective gasp, and people recovering from the shock of Jesus, forgiving this man’s sin:
Jesus told the man to get up, take his mat and go home.
Jesus forgave the man of his sins and he remained paralyzed.
Jesus healed the man so that people would know that Jesus had the power to forgive sins. Forgiveness and healing weren’t tied to each other.
How CRAZY AWESOME is that!!!!
But wait!!!! There’s more!!!
While the first three stories in Luke 5 are about people who were probably at least trying to fit in with the whole religious crowd,
the last story is about a group of people who pretty much flipped off the religious crowd and said, “Fu&k* it! I’m never going to make it in your circle, so I’m not trying.”
Levi (also known as Matthew) was a tax collector. Let’s examine for a minute how much ancient Jews hated tax collectors:
One of my favorite things about Jews is how tenacious they were throughout history. Hundreds of years of slavery and various occupations and they never assimilated to other cultures. They held on to their unique culture and belief in one God. During the time of Jesus, the Jews were once again overtaken by another country, Rome. And tax collectors were working for the occupying enemy. They rejected their people, their culture, their God, everything about being Jewish, by siding with Rome.
And even more insidious than working for the enemy, tax collectors lived lives of luxury during a time when most of the Jews were really struggling. The tax collectors got rich by extorting money from the people they collected taxes from. This was kinda like old school American mafia on steroids, cause tax collectors had the Roman army backing them up. And Roman soldiers were really, really good at torturing people into compliance.
And along comes Jesus and he calls Levi to follow him.
Wait! What?! Let this really sink in and shape everything that you think about Jesus. When he was walking around on earth choosing people to learn from him and spread his message, he passed over all the pious super religious people and picked a traitorous extortionist.
And it gets crazier!!!
Levi had a HUGE banquet for Jesus. He invited all of his tax collector friends AND a bunch of “non-observant Jews” (that’s people who were born into the faith and later said, “nope. I’m out”).
We all know how uptight religious people can be. I’m actually feeling anxious because there are two swears in this post. I’m afraid of the backlash from something as silly as that.
But that’s what religious culture generally does. It weeds people out. It divides us into groups of who’s in and who’s out. It shames us into conformity. It fills us with fear and causes us to hide our true selves.
But Jesus had no need to enter that game. He wanted people to be in and he audaciously accepted people.
In ancient times, who you ate with was who you were associated with. They were “your people”. There was no quicker way for the religious community to see that you were on the “out” list than to be caught eating with other people on the “out” list.
Jesus didn’t give a rip about their condemnation. (and I wish I didn’t!) He freely ate with Levi and his rebellious friends. I believe he laughed and had fun with them. I imagine they were having a blast until the religious leaders showed up.
I’m sure the religious leaders had a presence about them that kinda killed the party atmosphere. As they questioned Jesus, everyone was undoubtedly listening. The religious leaders were appalled at Jesus’ shocking behavior of eating with such unacceptables.They questioned him, “How can you possibly call yourself a religious leader and eat with these “sinners”?”
Jesus didn’t defend any of his new friends. No one at the party stood up and yelled at the religious leaders. They all knew that they were in the “out” group. They were probably all sitting there sheepishly thinking of the lists of reasons they deserved to be out.
Then Jesus got to the heart of the matter with this biting statement. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, it’s the sick.” The banquet guests were probably all nodding in agreement. “Yup. He’s got us pegged. We’re a pretty messed up bunch.”
Jesus continued. “I didn’t come to call people who feel that they can be righteous on their own to change their lives. I came to call people who know that they are messed up, to change and follow me.”
The religious leaders squirmed a little at the uncomfortable-ness of the situation. And like all good people who focus on fitting in rather than being real, when things got uncomfortable, they changed the subject.
They questioned Jesus about fasting. Jesus answered them with three seemingly random statements that brilliantly tied everything together. “You don’t sew new cloth onto old cloth because the new cloth will shrink and both pieces will be ruined. You don’t put new wine in old wine skins or the wine will expand and burst the old wine skin. Nobody who drinks old wine, wants the new.”
Basically, Jesus was trying to get the religious leaders to see that the old way of viewing religion was not going to fit with the new truths that he was teaching.
This new teaching was not about a ton of rules and weeding people out through easily observable behaviors and rituals. What Jesus was teaching was so new and different, it wouldn’t even blend with the old way. If you like feeling like you are in because of your religious observance and moral superiority, you aren’t going to want anything to do with this new teaching.
Cause Jesus’ way is not about being good enough to please God, it’s about knowing that we are bad enough to need God.
Blessings my friends!!! Thanks for reading and sharing. Let me know your real thoughts and feelings.
I’d love to discuss this more.
If you are interested, we can start a forum for discussions, debates, recipes or whatever!!!
*The Southerner in me can’t even type the F word without feeling anxiety!!! LOL But I’m quite certain if these dudes had actually had that word in their language, they would have said it.
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!
Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean…. Reflections on Luke 5:12…
You want truth? You can’t handle the truth! Luke 4:38- 5…