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The Gospel of Luke, Responses to Jesus - "I Have Come that You Might Have Life" - Do we want it?

Luke 5:1-6:16


When we live into God's will for our lives, we can't help but draw a reaction from those around us.  We become - in Jesus' words - salt and light.  Such lives of distinction are either received, or we are rejected.  Some are drawn to the light.  Others can't help but fear the light and to shrink back into darkness.

This is precisely what happens as a result of Jesus living into his baptismal identity.  Beginning in Luke 5:1, we begin to see individuals and groups responding to Jesus.  There are those like Peter and Levi whose receive new starts, and there are those like the leper and paralytic whose lives are healed and renewed physically by Jesus' ability to bring the Father's compassion and healing into the world.  By living for his Father, Jesus brings life where there is boredom and frustration.  Jesus brings inclusion where there is rejection.  Jesus brings restoration where there is sickness and a life-restricting handicap.

However, Jesus living into his baptismal identity also causes the forces of fear and oppression to mount up in opposition.  We saw it in chapter 4 as Jesus had to face the epitome and symbol of everything that rejects God's life and health:  the devil.  Now we begin to see the forces of darkness aligning in the power and principalities in human lives.  We begin to see fear taking up residence in the hearts of religious leaders and socially respectable town leaders.  If we are not for Jesus, we are against him, and - sadly - sometimes ego and self-preservation and our fear of losing our earthly security win out.  Instead of responding with a confident "Amen!" to Jesus in our hearts, we respond with the cynic's mind.  We respond by rejecting Jesus because we can't stomach giving up our false identity.

Luke 5:1-6:16 consists of moment after moment of Jesus' living boldly in love, where lives are healed and released for greater service, and where pitiful men cling to their less-wild lovers.  Luke 5:1-16 begins with four stories of Jesus bringing radical healing to four separate individuals (a common/working class man stuck in the middle part of his life; a leper; a paralytic; and a spiritually bankrupt tax collector).  It continues with two points of resistance from the religious elite over issues of what truly makes someone "righteous," only to pick up one more story of Jesus bringing healing to a crippled man and ending with Jesus summoning a band of followers, known as the twelve apostles.  

Was Jesus Religious?

All of this begs the question, "Would Jesus have considered himself a 'religious' person?"  Certainly, we know he lived fully into God's will, including participating in and honoring spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship in the synagogue and tending to the poor.  It is indisputable that Jesus is the epitome of the godly life.  In everything that he did he honored and obeyed his Father, but this doesn't necessarily mean that he was religious in the traditional way that we use the term.  In fact, he spurned merely doing religious things for the sake of acting religious.  We will see that he openly rejected any form of life that settles for something less than living in radical faith - including those who grow too comfortable with the being good, religious citizens.

Jesus Calls Peter

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
This is not where Jesus the Rabbi should be.  He should be in synagogues or drawing out some of the brightest Jewish young men to become his students.  Yet, Jesus chooses to teach from a boat and to engage Peter, a fisherman, in his own environment.  This is not unlike the local pastor I know who teaches at Area 30.  In doing so, Jesus enters the real world, and this sets up an event of irony.  Darrell Bock says it best,

"When Jesus tells Simon to put the boat out and cast down his nets, it is a carpenter's son and teacher telling a fisherman how to fish.  It is a little like a pastor telling a CEO how to run technical aspects of a business!  Not only that, but Simon's response makes it clear that conditions for fishing are not right, since a major effort the night before had totally failed."

It is a little like me telling John Anderson how to build a SAWs ramp, Mark McKee how to fix a water system, or Mary Jane how to program the DePauw class enrollment interface! 

But, Jesus meets Peter at a crucial moment in his life.  His physical exhaustion and mental weariness from the previous night's empty-catch is symbolic of a major place of disappointment many face and experience in life:  mid-life limitations, frustration and psychological exhaustion.  Peter, professionally, knows what he is doing.  But, even when we get our master's degrees and find ways to be successful culturally, we can't master life.  We find ourselves struggling personally to find meaning and direction for our lives.  We feel that the demands upon us are stacking up, and we can't keep going at this pace.  We need something beyond our own skill or work ethic or ingenuity to lead us into our deepest calling and to find our deepest meaning.

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.[b] When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Sometimes the limitations we face in life are ones we have to face internally, as Peter did when tending to his nets on that beach.  Sometimes, though, the limitations we face are those forced upon us.  For some in our world, their lives are restricted by disease, by class, by the color of their skin, or by their heritage.  This is the cry we hear emerging from so many parts of our world today:  lives that yearn for a deeper recognition of worth in a world that can often belittle or marginalize.

Here we have Jesus engaging such a man.  As a leper, this man was literally ostracized by his community.  He was isolated.  We know that we are meant to live in families and in community.  When we are cut off from these things, we are not able to be fully human.  So, this man's disease was a triple punishment.  It caused him physical torment.  It also caused him emotional and psychological torment.  Finally, it caused him spiritual grief and suffering.  He was tormented because he was withheld one of the primary ways we experience God's love and presence in our lives:  human touch and affection.

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the lawwere sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
Sometimes disease restricts our ability to have a full and healthy life.  This past week, one of Tom Standers good friends passed away after battling ALS the past few years.  This young man, Chad Smith, had been living a full life of service, teaching and coaching at Northview High School.  He loved passing on his enthusiasm for running to young athletes.  But, in the past two years, he slowly lost his ability to do many of the things he enjoyed doing - from riding his bike to simply watching a football game on Saturday.  His friends and family did everything they could to keep bringing life to him.  They took him to a Notre Dame football game one Saturday.  They took him overseas to see Italy.  Their love for Chad is the very same love we see in the friends of this paralytic.  They go out of their way to bring life back into this man.  Jesus, as the deepest expression of God's heart and love, does what we trust God longs to do for all who turn to Him, even if we don't experience physical healing in this world.  Jesus restores the man.

Before that, though, Jesus says something that surprises us.  Rather than healing the man's physical condition, he makes it known that the paralytic's sins are forgiven.  This seems a bit out of place.  Why talk about the man's sins when it is clear that his problems are physical?  On the contrary, Jesus sees clearly that all the brokenness and injury and disease in the world is - at its deepest - a result of our broken relationship with God.  This is the essence of sin:  breaking relationship with God.  Jesus not only desires to bring healing to us when we are physically hurting.  Jesus desires to heal and forgive our sinful condition.  There is tremendous power and hope in Jesus' simple statement, "Your sins are forgiven you."  This statement from Jesus is also another way for Jesus to capture the purpose of Jesus' life.  He has come to forgive our sins and restore us back to life and full participation in community.

Jesus Calls Levi 

27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sectcomplained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
It's easy to see the brokenness in the leper and in the paralytic.  It's also easy for many of us as middle class Americans to see and relate to Peter, the fisherman.  We too have felt our need for Jesus in moments of frustration.  But, there's something about Levi's story that should disturb us.  Levi is a cheat.  Levi has been manipulating the economic system and taking advantage of people to get ahead financially.  He is like an unfair lawyer who overcharges a recent widow as he settles an estate.  He has sought to get ahead by taking advantage of others.

However, in choosing to eat with and call Levi to "follow" him, Jesus is introducing us to a fourth type of sickness that can restrict life.  Unhealthy pursuit of money or security is a great cause of evil and leaves many of us stepping into dangerous ditches on the path of life.  It is no less dangerous than leprosly.  In fact, it is even more dangerous for the pursuit of wealth is culturally acceptable and even applauded.  But, the pursuit of wealth is a disease.  It rots us from the inside out.  Jesus desires to free us from all that inhibits true, whole living.

The Question about Fasting & the Sabbath

33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Now we begin to see how Jesus life and teaching upsets another type of disease.  This one is perhaps the most important one for us if we're reading this Bible study.  It is the disease of false religion.  One of the ways that we like to pretend that we are okay is to hide behind religious rituals that don't really deal with our fears or that restrict us from living lives of wild abandon for God.  This is precisely what can happen to "church people."

For some, being a good Christian comes down to going to Bible studies, showing up at church, being a "tither" so they can assure themselves and prove to others that they are good people.  The great short story writer, Flannery O'Connor does a great job of calling out this restriction.  Jesus doesn't want us to appear to be living well.  Jesus desires us to live free lives of love where our focus is not on perfection but on love. 

You can tell when the disease of being overly religious has overtaken us when there is too much focus on what we are or are not doing religiously:  whether we are reading our Bible enough; whether we are not seen drinking alcohol; whether we are showing up for church.

In Jesus day, two of the more important "outward" signs of being religious were fasting and keeping the sabbath.  The Pharisees and others leaned upon these things to prove their righteousness.  Jesus makes clear that his righteousness will be something entirely different.  he is not concerned with good citizens trying to justify their goodness.  He is interested in sinners coming clean and leaning wholly upon God for trust and life.  This is the meaning of his parable about the new wine skins and new garments.  He isn't trying to make church people better.  He is interested in a whole new movement of forgiveness and grace.

The Man with the Withered Hand & Calling the Twelve Apostles

12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

To further drive this point home, Luke closes this section with one more healing story of healing another "sinner" and of calling a band of followers that are far outside the religious norm of Jesus' day.  Rooted in prayer and listening to his Father in heaven rather than the wisdom of men, Jesus chooses a motley crew of students and would-be leaders.  He wants those who want to live fully and authentically, no matter where they come from or what they've done.  Jesus' desire is to live a more radical, open, and authentic life.  He forces a decision from us.  Do we want the same?  Are we willing to come to him in our own radical, open vulnerability and leave behind our false selves in pursuit of God's "something greater" for us?  Lord, help us to be bold in laying down our small lives in pursuit of the deeper life you want for us.

Sadly, there is a lingering, discordant note.  Judas will betray Jesus.  He is a warning of how strong the power is to settle for less than living freely before God.  Sometimes we can't help but continue to cling to that which we know is killing us.


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