Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio


Text:  Luke 5:27-32

         Psalm 103:1-5

      This morning, we join Jesus early in His ministry as He’s in the process of calling those who would

become His inner-circle of disciples.  The first days of Jesus’ ministry were marked by growing, if not

explosive popularity, with the exception of the incident at the synagogue in His hometown of Naza-

reth, when they were ready to throw Him off a cliff when he dared suggest He was fulfilling Jewish

prophecy.  By and large, His early reception was akin to the initial months of a new pastorate in a new

town.  Everyone says, “You should meet our new pastor.  She’s awesome!  What a sermon she

preached a few weeks ago on the second coming.  And the baptism she did last week.  She had half the

congregation in tears.”  So it was with Jesus. 

     In Luke’s chronology, Jesus’ teaching ministry was heralded as filled with authority, even astonishing in

its clarity and power; not like the hollow words of the priests and Scribes.  In the city of Capernaum,

Jesus cast a demon out of a man.  He had healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a high fever. 

His work of preaching, teaching and healing were so well-received that no one wanted him to leave their region.

      But it wasn’t long before the teachers of the Law began to observe this new preacher with grow-

ing interest, and growing uneasiness.  Maybe they were trying to protect the purity of the Jewish

religion from One whom they perceived as a maverick.  Perhaps they were simply curious.  Surely,

many of the religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ growing popularity and celebrity.  At any rate,

beginning about halfway through the 5th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we come upon a series of what

are sometime called “controversy stories;”  four of them to be exact.  The first is the account of the

healing of a paralytic, and accusations that Jesus was blaspheming against Almighty God.  Why?  He

dared say to the man:  “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 

      This morning, we’ll be looking at the second of Luke’s controversy stories.  Jesus had already

called Simon Peter, James and John from their boats and nets to become catchers of people.  Those

choices didn’t draw any fire.  But now Jesus is about to call a more controversial figure into His inner-

circle.  Let’s join Him as we open to the 5th chapter of Luke beginning at verse 27.

          (Read Luke 5:27-32)

     Let’s do a little survey.  We don’t need to raise our hands or anything; just think to ourselves.  How

many of us sitting here this morning are on medication or under treatment for some type of chronic

medical condition?  How many of us would be living a significantly lesser quality of life, or even face

the possibility of dying, if we weren’t on medication or under treatment?  Now, how many of us have

no need of ongoing medication or medical treatment; ie., we’re perfectly healthy?  Everything works

well.  Nothing is threatening our lives or quality of life like heart disease, or high blood pressure, or

cancer, or diabetes, or arthritis.  My guess would be that most of us in this latter category don’t find

any doctor central to or vital in their lives, unless they suffer from hypochondria.  Sure, a bad sore

throat, cough due to cold, backache, or gastrointestinal ailment might send us to our primary care

guy or gal to get the problem fixed.  But by and large, a person who is free of serious health concerns

will not tend to seek out the services of a physician.

      In fact, there are folks like me who almost have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the doc-

tor’s office when something does come up.  My Italian grandmother had a term for people like us.  I

remember she would often call my dad, and later me, a “testa duro,” which loosely translates “hard

head.”  Some of us testa duro would rather lie in bed moaning for water, Vicks Vaporub, and Camp-

bell’s chicken noodle soup than break down and go see the doctor.  But those who are in the former

category – who recognize that medication or treatment is necessary to preserve quality of life, or even

life itself -- don’t avoid the doctor; on the contrary, seek him or her out.

      In response to some Pharisees’ and Scribes’ criticism of Jesus’ association with sinners, Jesus

sternly states what we know to be true:  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but

those who are sick.”  Jesus made what would turn out to be a fateful decision early in His ministry

when He chose the wrong company with which to hang out.  He tended to associate with sick folk;

sick of body; sick of mind; sick of soul.  This morning’s lesson finds Jesus going into the tax office of a

certain Jew named Levi [we know him better as Matthew].  Somewhere along the line of their con-

versation, Jesus invites Levi to drop what he was doing and join Him in His mission.  The Scripture

spares additional details and simply tells us that “Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.”

      The trouble came when, not much later, Levi had a huge dinner party at his home, perhaps to

introduce Jesus around to his friends.  Among these invited friends was “a large crowd of tax collec-

tors.”  Just by way of reminder, tax collectors in Jesus’ day were a scandalous lot.  It wasn’t so much

their job of collecting taxes for the Roman Empire which made them so despised among the Jews. It

was the fact that they were dishonest; collecting more than was required, then skimming the till for 

themselves.  I’m sure not all tax collectors did this. But the bad apples ruined the bushel’s reputation.

We aren’t told what kind of apple Levi was.  But as far as his fellow Jews were concerned, they were

being gouged by the whole lot, Levi included.  So it was that tax collectors were regarded no better

than thieves and prostitutes.  And here is this rabbi, already under the eye of suspicion, calling one

of these sinful tax collectors as a disciple.  Worse yet, this Jesus enters Levi’s home, sits down, and

breaks bread with a whole bunch more sinners.  To the religious leaders, this was indefensible.  Even

so, they weren’t yet bold enough to confront Jesus directly, so they grouse to His disciples:  “Why do

you [and why does your so-called master] eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  How can

you as Jews defile yourselves by associating with people of such reputation?

      Jesus, overhearing their murmuring, responds with a simple yet brilliant analogy.  People who are

not sick generally don’t seek out a physician; they didn’t then, they don’t now; rather, those who are

ill.  Then Jesus frames His own mission when He brings analogy to application: “I have come to call

not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Understand, Jesus wasn’t denying the sin of the tax

collectors and others at the table that day.  Nor was He justifying what they were doing by being with

them.  He was saying – by both His words and His action – It is for these that I have come.  On the

other hand, you who consider yourselves free of sin will find no compelling need of me.

      Commentator Fred Craddock puts us at table, and makes this observation:  “Jesus is clear to whom

His ministry is extended, but his listeners have to decide whether they are well or sick, saint or sinner.

Indictments are self-inflicted.  And the (hearer) is caught and can no longer be a spectator at the

banquet.  Am I at table with Jesus, tax collectors and sinners, or am I among the critics?”

      One of the most heartening things for a pastor, or for any Christian, is to see people turn to or re-

turn to church; to see them gain or regain a hunger for Christ at certain passages of life; most of

those passages, however, difficult and painful;  a death in the family; serious illness or the threat of;

divorce; loss of a job; discovery a child is on drugs.  Many circumstances in life drive us to recognize

our need for a power which lies outside ourselves; a power or larger reality which could possibly

make some sense of the cruelties of life.  In the midst of our most painful chapters, we tend to be-

come more open to things of the Spirit, conceding that there is something lacking; something missing;

something leaving us sick of body; of mind; of soul.  When we’re stricken by the ills of life, struck by

our own inner-ills, spiritual emptiness, a seeming lack of coping resources, a sense of our own sin and

alienation; at that point, Jesus becomes very central to our health and well-being.

      Have we ever heard the critic say with disdain:  “Yeah, there’s so and so back in church.  It’s not

Easter or Christmas, so he must be having problems again.  Did you hear he drinks?  Did you know

she’s been cheating on him?  Have you heard what their daughter did?  Yep, that explains it.”  I believe

Jesus would respond to such chatter thusly:  “Let them come, for it is they I’ve come for.”  Jesus said

on another occasion that He came to seek and to save the lost.  To those who are sick at heart, Jesus

says:  “I am the heart’s physician.”  To those who are spiritually empty, Jesus says: “I offer spiritual ful-

fillment.”  To those who are stumbling in darkness, Jesus says:  “I come as light to your path.”  To

those who find no purpose in life, Jesus invites:  “Follow me, and become catchers of people.”

      Now of course, “Those who are well have no need of a physician;” those who have no sickness of

heart; those who are already spiritually fulfilled; those who are already fully enlightened and secure;

those who have no question of purpose will probably not see any need to seek a remedy; “but those

who are sick.”  Or at least those who are willing to admit it.

      I believe the church is living in an unprecedented day wherein there are huge numbers of people

who are suffering illness – of body, of mind, of soul.  And I am convinced that there is a day in the not-

too-distant future – we may now be at its doorstep – when droves of people who have been ailing a

long time will finally seek the physician; the Great Physician.  They are going to come seeking at

Christ’s banquet table.  Many are going to hear and respond to Christ’s call, as recorded by Levi him-

self some years later in the gospel which bears his more common name, Matthew:  “Come to me, all

who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

      The question this controversy story raises is this:  Where are we going to be at the table?  We can

no longer be mere spectators.  Are we at the table with Jesus, tax collectors, and sinners, ready to

welcome those who come seeking out of whatever pain they may be in; those for whom Christ came?

Or are we among the critics?  Jesus would have us all at table; all of us aware of our need of His

healing; all of us realizing the need is critical, life-sustaining, life-preserving; all of us opening our

hearts to those who have recognized their need as well.  As my grandmother would say:  “Don’t be a

testa duro.”

Lord our God, You have come to us in the person of Jesus as the One who calls and invites,

as the One who heals and restores; as our Great Physician and the Caretaker of our souls.  We are all in

need of what you so freely offer through Christ.  May we say yes to Your primary and perfect care.