Two miracles, the calling of Levi, and a confrontation with the Pharisees and their scribes.
The miracles are miracles which grant access to those who have been excluded. The leper cannot be touched by anyone without making them unclean. Indeed, lepers were supposed to announce their presence shouting “leper! unclean!” wherever they went, lest someone accidentally touch them. Jesus, without missing a beat, “stretched out his hand, touched him, and said...” Did Jesus have to touch him to heal him? From the standpoint of the miracle, no. But the point is to show that this person is to be cured, and to be allowed to be part of the community. Jesus is willing to go outside the bounds, to transgress the rules, to make himself unclean, in order to reach this person and bring him in.
The second miracle is of a paralyzed man. Such a person isn’t necessarily excluded from the community in the way the leper is. Instead, he is unable to get in simply because of the facts of his disability. He would have to push through the crowd, but he can’t. So his friends bust through the ceiling and lower him down. Here we have the opposite of the healing of the leper. This time, the excluded ones bust through, breaking the rules (and committing no small act of property destruction) in order to gain access. Jesus forgives the man (for what, exactly? who knows! perhaps vandalism...) and the Pharisees are shocked. Sinfulness is what excludes someone from the community, and Jesus has no right to change that. The role of a leader (as the Pharisees see it) is to maintain the boundaries. Jesus, by contrast, is a physician, whose job is to cross the boundaries, and to legitimize the boundary crossings of others.
Then he includes a tax collector, Levi. And he sits down and eats a banquet which Levi prepares for him. Now the money for this banquet came from the people of Israel, whom Levi had been oppressing. Surely this boundary should not be crossed! But Jesus crosses it. He enjoys the feast and the honor Levi shows him. The Pharisees are once more incensed. Why do you do this? What justification do you have? You aren’t doing the proper religious activities (fasting and prayer), instead you’re hanging around with collaborators, dirty lepers, wicked sinners, whores, fags, drug dealers, and all the rest! Jesus, what’s up with you?!
Jesus does this. He crosses the boundaries, even the ones we think are most dear. He legitimizes the boundary crossings of other people. And why? Because only in this way can the people on the far side of the boundary be cured of whatever ails them. God’s concern (as Jonah teaches and Jonah doesn’t understand) is for everyone. The old regime in which a boundary is maintained to preserve the safety and security of those within it is gone.
This is new. It cannot be absorbed into the old or matched with it. It is so new that if you try to add this to the old system, it will tear the whole thing apart. This new attitude can only work if you are yourself made new. This is not a mere addendum or a tacked-on extra to the old system, very well it was, thank you very much. (Hence dispensationalism as such is wrong.) No, the old system must pass away. If you want to preserve what was good and preserved by the old system (the old wine in the old wineskins) you cannot do it by putting it into the new system (the new wineskins). And if you have drunk the old wine, if you are attached to the old system, you will naturally reject the new. Content with what you like, you will not see the need for change.
But those who are being included, they see the need. The leper, the paralytic, the tax collector, the collaborators, the wicked sinners, the whores, the fags. We get it. We know why the new is better, and we are drinking deep.
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