He Was Questioned for Healing
Luke tells three different stories of restoration in a row. And I think it is important for us to pay attention not just to the particulars of what happens in the story, but also what Luke is telling us by putting these three stories together. Jesus goes from unknown by the Pharisees, to known, to questioned.
In the first story, a man with leprosy approaches Jesus. Luke wants us to know that this happens all the time. When he says, “While Jesus was in one of the cities” he might as well say, “Also typical of Jesus’ ministry is the following.” (Craddock) But, this is not common for anyone else except for Jesus. Leprosy was the name given to a range of maladies from skin diseases to mold and mildew on your house and clothes. If it was on you, and it spread, it was leprosy. No one understood where it came from, how it spread, or how to avoid it, except to isolate the person with it.
Leviticus 13 outlines what a person struck with leprosy is to do. They are to wear torn clothes and let their hair hang loose, and live alone in a habitation outside the camp. And if they had to approach their community, they were to cover their upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.”
Leprosy was a social disease. If you had leprosy, you were removed from the community. So, it should strike us odd that a man with leprosy approaches Jesus. Even more amazing is that Jesus reaches out and touches the untouchable, and so that he can be declared clean and able to be back in community, Jesus sends the man to the priest to be restored.
The Holy One touches the defiled one. He didn’t have to touch him. He heals others without touching them. This man’s healing is about more than a skin disease. It is about being separated, untouchable, removed, and about Jesus stretching out his hand and touching, uniting, restoring.
The truth is, most of us have leprosy. Most of us have estranged relationships, unresolved differences, damaged relationships. And when we approach Jesus and plead, “Jesus, if you will, you can make me clean,” Jesus reaches out and restores us.
The second story reveals that, even though as he traveled and healed Jesus charged people to tell no one, the word has gotten out. A crowd has gathered at the house where Jesus is, and in the crowd are Pharisees, who have come to check Jesus out. It’s important to note that the Pharisees were not an official group, and they were not part of the Temple priesthood. They were lay people, who were devoted to trying to usher in the Kingdom of God. The name Pharisee means “Separated One” – Pharisees separated themselves from ordinary people and ordinary life trying to do the will of God in every situation 24/7. Their plan to usher in the Kingdom of God was to create the conditions for God to fulfill his promise and to liberate his people, Israel, by observing the Jewish law perfectly.
The Pharisees have come to check Jesus out because he is preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God coming, and he is attracting crowds of followers, which concerns them because they have been trying to get everyone to follow their rules with them.
And as Jesus is teaching, some men remove a section of the roof and lowered down a paralyzed man. Jesus sees him and declares, “Your sins are forgiven.” The reaction of the Pharisees was “Did he just say that?” The Pharisees know who can say when and what God forgives – the priests – there’s a whole system of rituals of sacrifices and cleansing. And while the Pharisees are still muttering to each other in the crowd about what right, what authority, he has to forgive people, Jesus perceives their questionings and asserts his authority.
“That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.” God forgives and God heals. And the man gets up and goes home glorifying God.
The Pharisees are amazed, awed, trying to make sense of it. The healing was visible proof that the forgiveness was real, that Jesus had the authority to forgive. But Jesus claimed more, Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man. In Daniel 7, one ‘like a son of man’ is brought before God and given authority over the world. In Jesus’ day, this passage was read as a description of the coming Messiah, the one who would finally establish the Kingdom of God.
The Son of Man sees the paralyzed one, but he sees that his paralysis is more than physical. His true need for healing is forgiveness. Just like the leper faced more than a skin disease, this man’s paralysis is about more than a handicap. Jesus sees this man’s greatest need, the need to be forgiven, and to show that his sins are forgiven, Jesus heals his paralysis.
Jesus touches and restores the outcast to community. Jesus sees and restores the paralyzed to God. And then, Jesus calls a traitor to be a disciple, a tax collector named Levi.
As you know, the Roman Empire collected taxes, and there were so many taxes that no one really knew what they owed. There was poll tax for existing, ground tax for harvests, income tax and sales tax, harbor tax, import and export taxes, and road tolls. And there was room for corruption in the collection of the taxes. You could be charged road tolls on your cart, on each of the wheels and on the animal to pull it. You could be required to open your bundles and pay tax on what you were carrying in your cart. And once you passed that tax collector, it wasn’t like you had a receipt that would clear your way, every tax collector could stop you and collect from you.
Levi was a tax collector, which was the lowest rung of the operation. If you were a chief tax collector, you were chosen to be over a region. Usually, wealthy people bought the right to collect tax in an area, and then they hired locals to do the collecting. Levi was one of the locals. He had turned on his own people and agreed to work for the enemy. The Jews were waiting for the Kingdom of God, when God would defeat the Romans. Welsh scholar Tim Chester asserts, “…it wasn’t just Jews versus Romans, it was God verses Romans. [Tax collectors] were traitors to the nation and they were traitors to God. They were God’s enemies.”
And Jesus goes to Levi’s house and doesn’t just eat with him, but feasts at a banquet with him and a large company of tax collectors. In Jesus’ day, a central question was “With whom can I eat?” because of all the dietary laws. And Jesus is eating with sinners, and this isn’t just a meal to sit down and talk things out, this is a party!
When the Pharisees question him, Jesus responds that a physician’s work is with those who are sick, not those who are well. He has come to call those who are sinners to repentance. And New Testament scholar Robert Tannehill points out that “Jesus is also saying something important about repentance. Repentance does not consist of mourning and fasting. Rather, one’s life is turned around through the joyful discovery of a new opportunity.” Repentance is to be celebrated!
Three stories of restoration. An untouchable, a paralyzed man, a tax collector. Each of them surrounded by whispers of: What if you catch it? Did you hear how sinful he is? He has turned on even his family.
Three stories of restoration. An untouchable, a paralyzed man, a tax collector. Each of them deepened the questioning of the Pharisees in this man Jesus. They heard he touched and healed. They heard him pronounce forgiveness and saw him heal as proof of the forgiveness. They murmured their disapproval at his feasting with sinners and tax collectors.
Three stories of restoration. An untouchable, a paralyzed man, a tax collector. And Jesus heals. Jesus touches what is untouchable. Jesus forgives what is paralyzing. Jesus not only eats with sinners, Jesus calls them to repent and follow him, and then parties with them.