Sep
13
2008

Sept. 12, 2008 \\ On Luke 5:27-39

These three stories – the calling of Matthew (Levi), the confrontation with the Pharisees, and the teaching about old/new cloth and wineskins – are of a piece. Together they make a point about how radical is the new kingdom Jesus is proclaiming.

Do you notice anything surprising in the first section?

Matthew (Levi) is at the office collecting taxes – an unscrupulous profession that is known for getting rich off the backs of the working people. Jesus seeks him out, as he is, where he is, and calls him to follow. The Pharisees instantly seize on Jesus’ mingling with the unclean riff-raff – Matthew is a Jew but has made himself unclean by collecting taxes for the empire. Jesus makes it clear that he has come because of – not in spite of – tax collectors and sinners; in other words, us.

What distinctions do we draw about who is in and who is out – who should Jesus come to?

In the next scene the Pharisees change their tune – they focus on Jesus’ disciples feasting with him rather than fasting as pious Jews often do. Jesus compares the disciples to guests at a wedding (at which he himself is the groom). This is interesting because under Jewish law some rules about fasting are suspended for wedding banquets, and because some Pharisees were known for letting their hair down at weddings.

What is Jesus saying to you here?

Jesus indicates that there is a time for fasting and a time for feasting. I think he is also giving us a sense of where our focus or priority should be. The disciples, he says, are right to celebrate that Jesus is with them. Jesus is the answer to their people’s hope for a Messiah, one who can show tired fishermen how to get their catch, one who can heal the most unclean and crippled. Yet he strikes a balance – both prayer and fasting and a spirit of celebration combine to form our spirits.

In spiritual terms, Jesus is always with us, but the seasons of life vary. Yet even in the midst of times of fasting and famine, we have cause to celebrate because of Christ.

Is Jesus calling you to more prayer and fasting? To more celebration? To a different balance?

In the final scene Jesus offers an inscrutable parable. What do you hear in this story?

I read this parable as the exclamation point to the lesson Jesus is teaching in the previous two scenes – “Pharisees, the kingdom of God is not what you think!” Jesus makes clear that God is not up to only saving the obedient Jews, although God certainly will do that. But it is not just about looking good – about fasting except when the rules let you party, about working in safe religious occupations.

What do you think Jesus is saying about how much we must change if we are to take in and exemplify his teaching?

I hear him saying that we can’t just take a piece out of the new garment of life in Christ and try to patch it onto the typical 21st Century American life and expect to have the best of both. The new wine of God’s relentless grace, mercy, justice and humility will burst our safe, constricted lives of consumption. I hear a resonance with the way Jesus prefaces his story of the wise and foolish builders:
These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. (Matt. 7:24-25 MSG)

Put another way, God’s grace will mess with you (in the best way possible). God will open you to new ways of thinking and living – but you have to let go of your assumptions and privileges first.

What assumptions do we have that we might need to rethink in light of God’s grace, mercy and justice? What would it look like if we let go of them?

Written by Bob Fisher in: gatherings,spirituality |

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