For the full text of Luke 5, click here.
The first thing Jesus does in this chapter is call up the disciples, but this story is distinctly different from the one I’m used to hearing. Jesus doesn’t just tell them to drop everything and leave with Him. This time, Jesus first tells them to let back down their nets after a long day of not getting much. They get lots of fish this time and He tells them not to worry and they will now be catching men. I also think it’s important to note that this is after He’s healed Simon’s mother-in-law.
Did he leave a wife behind? We don’t ever actually know for sure. It sounds like he’s been married but that doesn’t mean that she hadn’t passed or something. It’s weird. But Simon/Peter doesn’t argue, just gets up with the others and follows Jesus after this display. Again, it’s written with an absence of free will, but that doesn’t mean that free will didn’t exist in this moment. With this telling, they’ve known each other a little while already. This isn’t some random guy that walked up and said to leave their things and follow him. He had just spent time in Simon Peter’s house and healed a family member. Simon Peter probably believed in Him already. He may even have been thinking about following Him already. With him went James and John. An abbreviated version of this story of calling up these disciples is in Mark 3 and Matthew 4.
This is followed by the story with the leper that is in Matthew 8, where Jesus heals him and tells him to not talk about it but everyone knows soon anyway. In this telling of it, there is also mention that Jesus withdraws from all the people coming to Him for healings, but everything else talks about Him healing them. I have to say, though, that His propensity for a little solitude every now and then in the middle of everyone wanting a piece of Him is reassuring. It makes me feel like a little self care time isn’t actually selfish and even Jesus needed it. Even Jesus took some extra time to sit with God and to pray and maybe contemplate the day or whatever. It’s just nice to know that even Jesus needed some solitude sometimes.
Next we come to the paralytic man whose friends were lowering him down from the roof from Mark 2 and Matthew 9. First of all, Luke opens with that the “Pharisees and teachers of the law” from several towns were all there. That kind of crowd means a little more than just Jesus getting some notoriety. I wish I could know what their actual intentions were. I know we all see it a certain way but I also know that I’ve shown up somewhere excited to see something happen and then felt called out and gotten defensive before too. But why did they show up? Were they hoping He was just a fraud? A prophet who would be on their side? I’d just love to know.
Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite stories of Jesus healing people because I can just see this moment unfold. On this third reading of the story, it occurs to me that this is a very “Florida Man” moment. It’s very “Florida Man lowers friend from roof for Jesus to heal.” Can’t you see it? These guys are in the crowd of people trying to get to Jesus and decide that’s the best plan. I can’t even contradict it because it totally worked.
They lower him down and Jesus first tells him that his sins are forgiven, which is an interesting opening when he was looking for physical healing. I think Jesus was forgiving the sins of all the men involved. He does just say “Man, your sins are forgiven”, but later when He tells the man to walk, it has a more specific identifier. Plus, it took a few of them to get to this point and they each had to have faith that Jesus can and would do it. The Pharisees and teachers of the law that are there get all kinds of upset over Jesus forgiving sins and try to call Him out, but Jesus isn’t having any of it.
Remember that forgiveness of sins, which presumably are tied to violations against God more than fellow man, is something requested and done through sacrifice up to this point. There were several sacrifices that had to be done depending on the transgressions of whoever is looking for atonement. But atonement and forgiveness are different things too. The Pharisees and teachers get upset because Jesus just forgave them, without any extra anything.
There’s a mention of Him “perceiving” their problem with it too, which cracks me up a little. I mean, the study stuff talks about it being a part of Jesus’s omniscience to be able to see into their minds, but have you ever been in church with someone who doesn’t agree with the sermon? I think it was probably fairly obvious that these guys had a problem with it and were stirring it up in there when Jesus addressed them.
You don’t think I can forgive sins? Well, then check this out!
And so He heals the man’s physical ailments as well and everyone is suitably astonished.
As with the last two gospels, this story is followed by calling Levi. Or Matthew. It’s Levi in Luke and Mark, Matthew in Matthew. He calls him up out of a tax booth. Given everything else about the extortion that the tax collectors seem to consistently commit, we can probably guess that Levi/Matthew has some money and isn’t well liked by his community. Jesus calls him, and he gets up and follows. I wonder if Matthew wasn’t sitting there, hearing about this Jesus and the things He did, wishing for a different life, maybe some more connection even at the cost of the cash. Regardless of what he was feeling right before Jesus came along, Levi/Matthew gets up and goes with Him.
But he doesn’t leave everything in the sense of, leave it all behind right this minute like many of us assume. He gets up from the tax booth and takes Jesus home with him and makes a “great feast” with a bunch of friends and colleagues. This is where we find one of the often quoted remarks of Jesus and one of the hardest sentiments to keep:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”Luke 5:31-32
It seems so obvious when we read the Bible but how often do we see people going out and finding the others who need a little Jesus? Well, it’s what Jesus Himself did. He went and found the lost, left the 99 as the saying goes. It always feels like we have a tendency to sit in our churches and have church events and not spend a whole lot of time looking for sinners to bring to repentance. Or maybe I’m just not in those churches either….. I’d love to find one.
Bear in mind, this is not Jesus simply inviting them to go to a place where the administrators can do their magic. He didn’t tell the tax collectors to talk to the scribes who were the experts of the day on their religion. He went and sat with them, ate with them, invited one of them to follow and stay with Him. Of course, Jesus has been going around preaching to great crowds and healing people so trying to talk to these sinners about repentance probably hit a little better than a modern priest or preacher at a pub with an AMA Religion sign or anything.
No judgement, just observation. It’s a difficult concept to ponder and I’ve seen people try to work through it before. How do we keep people safe but go to the greatest sinners? Also, who are we to judge other people’s sin and tell them we know any better? And how do you even get them to follow you without miracles and healings? So, respect to the people even trying to figure it out, and no judgement to the people who have given up or don’t have the bandwidth for it. We’re all where we are and that’s okay too.
The last story of this chapter, which again follows the healing of the paralytic and the call of Levi/Matthew out of the tax booth, is the Pharisees questioning Jesus about fasting while He’s at that feast with the tax collectors. They question Him eating and drinking while the followers of John fast and their own followers fast.
I do love His answer to that. They don’t fast because they are still celebrating being with Him. He is bringing in a new era and a new relationship with God. The analogy made afterward about new wine and new skins makes it sound like the others are part of the old era and fast in remembrance of it’s glory and the way they should be connected with God but aren’t and are attempting connection. Jesus and the people following Him represent the new relationship with God and a new way to connect with God. But then the last line throws me a little. Jesus mentions that everyone will still prefer the old wine.
Then again, people have a tendency to resist change, no matter how good for them. Maybe that’ a part of the lesson there. People will still desire the old way. Besides, do the righteous of the old way really need the new way?
It’s among the questions that continue to rattle my brain as I read through the Bible. Maybe it’ll all make sense one day. There are a handful of books about the Bible itself, it’s history, and our relationship to the Bible and religion that I plan on reading when I’m done with this read through (in like 3 years from my current pace which feels daunting) that may help explain some of this. Stick with me…..