JESUS CAME TO CALL SINNERS
Luke 5:27-39 (K. V.: 5:32)
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Through Dr. Jason’s message last week, we learned the kind of faith that brings us to God. We saw the leper’s law-breaking, stone-risking faith that met Jesus’ own barrier-breaking love. We also witnessed the four friends’ roof-penetrating faith that incurred Jesus’ welcoming voice toward their paralyzed friend along with the blessing of the forgiveness of sins. Today, we encounter a different kind of faith in a very unique person. This person did not have leprosy and yet could not come to Jesus by himself. He did not have good friends who would carry him to Jesus, either. He was in a worse situation than a leper and a paralytic. At that moment, Jesus first came to him and called him. Shortly later, while explaining why he was eating with sinners, Jesus taught the meaning of his coming and what heart attitude we should have. May God inspire us to accept Jesus our doctor and bridegroom so as to live a healthy and happy life.
Jesus Calls Levi and Eats with Sinners (27-32)
Look at verse 27. It was right after Jesus healed the paralyzed man and thus showed his authority to forgive sins. For some reason, Jesus, then, went out. Why did he go out? Was it because he stayed inside the packed room too long and needed some fresh air? Or was he fed up with the Pharisees who never accepted his gracious teaching but always criticized him and hindered his ministry? Maybe, but he had one good reason to go out. He had to meet someone very special. That was Levi. Jesus saw him sitting at his tax booth, because he was a tax collector. In those days, Capernaum where Jesus served his ministry most of the time was a major port city that connected Damascus and Egypt. Accordingly, those who came there must pay taxes, which were like custom duties, and Levi’s job was to assess and collect them. It was very a lucrative business and Levi had a very stable income as a high-ranking government official. To reach such a high position, Levi must have been an elite tax collector who got the highest TCAT (Tax Collector Admission Test) score and thus beat everybody else in the competition.
But was Levi happy at his tax booth? Probably not. Taxes are a sensitive matter in any country and in any generation. Hence, during their rule in Judea, the Romans used the Jewish tax collectors to get taxes from their fellow Jews. What was worse was that those Jewish tax collectors would collect more than required to enrich themselves. So, tax collectors were regarded as traitors and outcasts. They could not be witnesses in a court and were treated like public sinners. No one liked this Levi the tax collector. As such, he had no friend except other tax collectors. Loneliness and self-condemnation creeped into him like leprosy. He might be afraid of the assassins at night time. We do not know why Levi chose this career path. He possibly had an untold story and a good excuse. Nevertheless, he was suffering from the stigma that he wanted to remove from his life. No one could help. No one could understand. Maybe deep inside he was crying loudly for help with utter helplessness.
Jesus saw this helpless Levi, not the one with a fancy suit. Jesus understood his deep wound and wanted to help him. So, he said to him. “Follow me.” What did Jesus mean by saying this? It meant Jesus would not care what kind of life he had lived so far but would give him the second chance. He would forgive his past sins and invite him to the friendship, fellowship and discipleship in and through him. Previously, Levi focused on his job and his success. He did not care about people. He did not feel the need of people. From now on, however, he could focus on people starting from one person, Jesus. He would no longer feel lonely and self-condemned. He would experience the heavenly joy and divine love that no one could ever give him. He would not have any second thought regarding losing his seven-figure income.
So, Levi got up, left everything and followed him. He showed his willingness to repent and his desire to follow him as his disciple literally and figuratively. He was so overjoyed and full of gratitude with his new life that he held a great banquet for Jesus at his house. Somehow, he could contact his seldom-contacted fellow tax collectors and invited them all to the banquet. At least, those tax collectors did not decline his invitation. Perhaps, they were curious about Jesus and wanted to see him themselves as well. In any case, it was wonderful to have Jesus in the mix. While they were having a joyful eating fellowship, there were a group of people who were offended by their gathering. They were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and complained to the disciples of Jesus. Their main motto was that once sinner, forever sinner. They might be worried that if a so-called teacher, Jesus, would eat with sinners, they might have to do that as well. Or to their eyes, eating with them sounded like condoning their acts.
What did Jesus answer? Verse 31b reads. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” By saying this, Jesus shared with them what viewpoint he had toward the sinners. During our Friday meeting, Msn. Anastasia shared with us how a policeman perceives other people. To the policeman’s eyes, all people are criminals. It is a direct opposite position that all are presumed innocent until proven guilty but to catch criminals, a policeman may have to have such a viewpoint. Maybe, that is the reason why the Pharisees complained. To their eyes, all people are sinners and tax collectors are especially toxic sinners like radioactive materials and should be avoided. They could argue that it was to protect the people from bad influences. However, to the eyes of Jesus, all people are patients who needed a doctor’s care. With the proper treatment, the patient-like sinners would be made whole and become precious members of the society again. Sometimes, Jesus became an ER doctor and performed an emergency spiritual eye surgery for Apostle Paul. Other times, Jesus became a seasoned internist who prescribed the perfect prescription of the special water for the Samaritan woman. Even, this eating fellowship was part of Jesus’ treatment plan for Levi who had chronic interpersonal blockage in his heart.
Look at verse 32. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” This is the summary statement Jesus made for clarifying why he associated himself with the social outcasts. At the same time, this gives us an insight how we should see ourselves. When we think we are healthy, we do not go to a doctor. In our Friday meeting, I shared that Msn. Mary Kim and I have not visited our PCP for the last five years since moving to Illinois, and then Msn. Mary Bahn beat us with the ten years. Yet when feeling sick, we likely want to go to a doctor. Those who think they are healthy spiritually do not feel like going to their spiritual doctor. But those who sense their utter sinfulness and pain will definitely want to go or respond to the call of the doctor. And they will be blessed with repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Thank Jesus, my spiritual doctor! I remember how I was called while in sin-sickness. Back then, in Korea, which college you enter determined your life. So, taking SAT was like going to a battle field, a life and death matter. I did not do well in my first college entrance exam, and ended up with a college that I did not particularly like. So, I began preparing another entrance exam, while staying in that college in case I would fail again. I was kind of in a limbo, wasting my freshman year with a vague hope of a better college someday. At that time, my 1:1 Bible teacher saw me, sitting at my library booth, like Levi. He probably saw my inner agony. He did not say, “Follow me,” but instead, “Would you like 1:1 Bible study?” Through the in-depth Bible study and testimony-writing, my complaining spirit and insatiable hunger for betterment were gradually treated and I could meet Jesus as my personal savior. Previously, I could never speak in front of others but became a professor shepherd who can teach in front of many students, even in English. Jesus guided me and Msn. Mary Kim to five different states to experience different cultures of the States (Southern wonders) and made settled in the DuPage UBF (DuPage sounds like two page or second page). I pray to be more actively involved in sharing this Jesus and his healing in my second page of my life.
Jesus, the Bridegroom (33-39)
Look at verse 33. In a separate incident, here, “they” said to Jesus again. “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” This sounded like they were protesting against what Jesus and his disciples were doing. It also involved the fundamentals of their religiousness. Their position for this was like, “We can possibly understand that you wanted to be associated with the sinners like a doctor. However, is it not too much as you continue partying while all other people of God genuinely struggle like fasting and praying?” In a sense, we can understand where they come from. To them, it was unfair that one group suffers while another group enjoys. And the religion should be serious. Yet, what does Jesus have to say? Verse 34 reads. “Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?’” What does this mean? It means our Christian life operates not the way most of the religions operate. In the world of religion, making faces somber, fasting, even weeping help look more religious. I was told that one gentleman who was invited to one of our UBF worship services said that he wanted to go to a church where he could cry and weep. True. Some prefers that type of church and we need it. Nevertheless, what Jesus said about Christian life makes more sense and is more appealing. The essence of our Christian life is like having a honeymoon where we have the best days of our life. Great joy and happiness! Some couple said their honeymoon lasted ten years. Such a life is ours when we have Jesus as our bridegroom.
Verse 35 also tells us when we should fast. It would be the time when bridegroom is taken from us. This does not refer to Jesus’ ascension to the heaven. It means that we do not have any room in our heart for Jesus with our busy schedule. Perhaps, we have to go to the crying church that the gentleman mentioned about.
Look at verses 36-38. We will have two metaphors regarding the gospel and the existing world view. The first one is about patchwork. Nowadays, not many people do patchwork because our economy has improved and we just need to buy another one after discarding the worn-out or ripped clothes unless you want it as a fashionable outfit. However, back in Jesus’ days, the garment was a very valuable item and thus you patch a lot. You could use garment as a deposit for loaning some money or you take it by lot when someone dies like the solders throwing their lot for Jesus’ undergarment under his cross. The point here is that no one takes a piece out of a new garment to mend an old one. In doing so, both the new and the old garment would be ruined because the new garment is void of some piece while that piece would not match the old.
What about the new wine and the old wineskins parable? The new wine has powerful force in the middle of fermentation. When this new wine is poured into the old wineskins, since they cannot stretch or be flexible, the new wine will burst the skins. It will ruin both the wine and the skins.
What do these metaphors represent? It means the gospel and the existing human thinking or tradition cannot go together. Jesus’ new-wine-like gospel may not match the ideas of rigid minded Judaizers. It will only blow up their minds. So, Jesus clearly said that new wine must be poured into new wineskins. How can we be new wineskins? Through not following the patterns of the world, but having renewing our mind everyday (Ro 12:1).
In conclusion, we learned how Jesus first saw Levi to deeply understand him and called him to be his disciple. His calling was like a healing process, forgiving all sins and giving a new life direction. We have to meet this Jesus as our doctor after acknowledging our sin-sickness. Then, our new life with him will be like a honeymoon and a new wine, full of joy and happiness. May God help us to have this Jesus in our life to be healthy and happy!