bible blog 1020

Today’s blog follows the daily readings of the Reformed Churches, along with a headline from world news:


Burmese Monk Wirathu

Burmese Monk Wirathu

Luke 5:27-39

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

Jesus calls Levi to be his disciple

27 Later on, Jesus went out and looked straight at a tax-collector called Levi, as he sat at his office desk. “Follow me,” he said to him.

28 And he got to his feet at once, left everything behind and followed him.

29-30 Then Levi gave a big reception for Jesus in his own house, and there was a great crowd of tax-collectors and others at table with them. The Pharisees and their companions the scribes kept muttering indignantly about this to Jesus’ disciples, saying, “Why do you have your meals with tax-collectors and sinners?”

31-32 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to invite the ‘righteous’ but the ‘sinners’—to change their ways.

Jesus hints at who he is

33 Then people said to him, “Why is it that John’s disciples are always fasting and praying, just like the Pharisees’ disciples, but yours both eat and drink?”

34-35 Jesus answered, “Can you expect wedding-guests to fast while they have the bridegroom with them? The day will come when they will lose the bridegroom; that will be the time for them to fast!”

36 Then he gave them this illustration. “Nobody tears a piece from a new coat to patch up an old one. If he does, he ruins the new one and the new piece does not match the old.

37-39 “Nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins—the wine will be spilt and the skins ruined. No, new wine must be put into new wineskins. Of course, nobody who has been drinking old wine will want the new at once. He is sure to say, ‘The old is a good sound wine.’”

jesus-at-supperAs always it’ useful to compare what Luke writes with what’s written in his main source, the Gospel of Mark. In Mark, Jesus says. “I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners.” Full stop. But in Luke he says, “I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners-to change their ways.” Mark wants to focus on Jesus’ scandalous call to sinners, which turns  conventional morality on its head. Surely decent people would make better disciples? Whereas Luke wants to focus on the life-changing nature of Jesus’ call. These people will be changed. 

Jesus’ words about the healthy not needing a doctor are barbed. Are his opponents really declaring themselves healthy when they criticise him for associating with the sick-and if they are healthy, what’s their problem? Luke tells the reader many times about Jesus eating with people, for example his story of Jesus eating in Peter’s house, where he heals his mother-in-law from fever. Now he reports Jesus eating with disreputable people. Tax collectors were abominated as collaborators who served the hated Romans. Jesus willingness to eat with them is therefore a genuine provocation to decent folk. Luke also reports Jesus’ response to their criticism:

1. The time of Jesus’ ministry is like a wedding celebration. The bridegroom is present, it’s time for feasting. (Jewish people at the time thought of the Messiah and even of God, as the Bridegroom of the people.)

2. Nobody can patch a new (un-shrunk) cloak with a piece of (shrunk) cloth from an old one. 

3. Nobody uses old (un-supple) wine skins for new ( still fermenting) wine.

These phrases argue that Jesus’ ministry is a new time when God’s rule is offered to people in a new way. New customs are needed!

Only in Luke’s report do we find the understanding comment about those who love the old wine; they won’t go for new. Conventional religion in all times and places can become to its adherents like a good old wine which predisposes them to reject God’s call to new forms of obedience. The contemporary summons of God to treat homosexual people as equals is an illustration of the Gospel’s power to scandalise even today.

The happiness of Jesus’  friendship, especially as expressed in his memorial meal, the Eucharist, is open to all; that is, to all sinners.

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