20 January 2018Luke 5:27-39
“He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.’ (v. 36)
Psalm: Psalm 4
A previous generation of critical biblical scholars tended to think of the short accounts that make up most of the first three Gospels as having been strung loosely together by compilers of the Gospels – and there was a tendency to see them as compilers more than authors. More recent scholarship has done much to recover the appreciation of the Gospel writers as authors who have a definite, coherent story to tell (although a story with a somewhat different perspective in the case of each of the different authors). So Luke’s Gospel takes us from Jesus’ ‘mission statement’ (Luke 4:16-21), on to his proclamation of the reign of God throughout Galilee (Luke 4:43), to Peter’s emerging recognition that Jesus was more than just a prophet (Luke 5:8), and to the signs of God’s reign breaking into the 1st-century Jewish world in the healing of the leper (Luke 5:12-16) and the paralysed man (Luke 5:17-26). The short accounts in verses 27 to 32 and 33 to 39 present us with further facets of what the coming of the reign of God entails.
The call of Levi the tax-collector involves more than Jesus demonstrating the love of God for all including those on and beyond the margins of society. It is another sign of the coming of the reign of God and the upending of the existing world order – a world ordered without reference to God. Jesus says he has called sinners to ‘repentance’, a word which translates the Greek word ‘metanoian’. Jesus’ words could be paraphrased as calling people to a wholesale change of perspective, something closer to upending things than the terms ‘sin’ and ‘repentance’ imply in English. In the new order of things, as Jesus says elsewhere, the first will be last and the last first (Mark 10:31), and ‘sinners’ will find their place in it before the ‘righteous’ who have set themselves up comfortably within the world as it is.
Even though difficult times will still come, accepting Jesus, and the upending reign of God which he represents, is an occasion for joy, for feasting not fasting. The mini-parables of the new patch on the old garment and the new wine and old wineskins, with which chapter five concludes, reinforce the point that something world-changing has been brought in by Jesus.
- To what extent have Christians managed to follow Jesus’ example in relating to ‘sinners’ like Levi?
- Unlike the zealots of his time, Jesus refused to go the way of violent revolution in order to change the world. How do you think the Church should follow Jesus in seeking to upend the present order of things?
- In what ways are we as Christians called to ‘repentance’ (metanoian) today?