“My name is Levi, son of Alphaeus and I’m a tax collector and a cheat. I line my pockets with money other people have hard earned. You see I thought it was my right, my self-entitled lot, and a way to earn a crust. I have ripped off the highest born to the lowest. I dare not show my face in the temple because my sin is … well, let’s just say I’ve lost count. In the eyes of the law and law keepers I am corrupt beyond recovery. But today friends, I looked into the eyes of this man and I felt a sense of relief I can scarcely describe. Jesus found me near the lake, but I was bound to the four walls of my stall. I wondered, ‘Who is this?’ as he paused for my attention.
“To my surprise, in his voice was not the slightest accusation, but rather the welcome tone of, ‘Follow me.’ How quickly I stood to go with him. Indeed his words are my release and his presence a sure healing. So drink my friends! Eat! For this is a new house opened to you! Let’s celebrate, for all who are flawed may follow!”
And so that is what we did. After my speech that night we gathered around the table with Jesus. Then all the stories came out about what we had seen and heard. Yes, we feasted, not only with food and drink, but with this Jesus and the quickening of our acceptance.
One man spoke of that first healing in Capernaum. “It was a Sabbath, the day that we keep before the LORD. Jesus arrived in the meeting place. When he began to teach, everyone listened because his words carried so much sway, not like the teachers of the rules.
“Then Jesus was cut off by a mocking voice, booming: ‘What do you want with us Jesus, “magic man” of Nazareth? Why have you come? To tear down what we have built? “From God,” they say. “Holy One,” they cry—yet I know who you are!’ The outburst was from one of our people, owned by a spirit of evil. His face contorted and the veins in his neck bulged.
“Undeterred Jesus commanded the spirit, ‘Stop! Let him go!’ The spirit shook the man with such great force and then with a loud scream was driven out.
“We were all dumbfounded and said to each other, ‘How can this be? It fits no teaching we have ever heard and resembles no power we have ever seen! Who gives marching orders to evil spirits and has them tuck tail and run?!’ And so the news spread all over Galilee, out in the open places and behind every closed door of every shantytown.”
Then Simon, one of the four fishermen spoke up. “I remember leaving that meeting place with my brother Andrew, along with James and John. That was just the beginning! Not one of us could have guessed what would happen next. Andrew and I came back to our home to find my mother-in-law gravely ill with fever. When we told Jesus, he went straight to her and helped her up. When she was on her feet and no longer a dead weight in his arms the fever left her. Then in her renewed energy she began to prepare the next meal for us!
“That evening the whole town turned up and then some, spilling out of the courtyard. The people brought their sick and those burdened and browbeaten by evil spirits. Jesus restored many who had all sorts of diseases that needed the touch of his healing. He silenced many demons that controlled people. The evil spirits knew who he was, alright—and they ran! All this continued well into the night.
“I woke the next day with great expectations, but Jesus had gone. When his absence had become uncomfortably long, a few of us went to look for him. When we eventually came upon him in a quiet place, he was meditating and praying. When he removed his prayer covering to receive us, we all blurted out at once, ‘Everyone’s looking for you!’
“Jesus replied matter-of-factly, ‘Let’s keep moving,– to the other villages nearby, so I can speak about the Kingdom there also. That’s why I’m here isn’t it?’ So we walked throughout the countryside, and he shared this God news in the meeting places and demons scattered at his word.”
Another of our number told his story. “I had a dreadful skin disease. I was used to begging, so when Jesus came by I fell on my knees obstructing his way. I pleaded with him, ‘It’s within your power to give me back my life! But will you do it?’ This man, reached out his hand and touched me! What kind of love is this?! He cured me whole—right there and then—deeply and forever! My spirit still sings with his words of compassion, ‘Of course I will. You’re brand new.’”
The man continued, “I know I was supposed to go to the priest and get the healing verified. I know I am supposed to go to the temple to offer sacrifices of thanks and cleansing too, as a testimony to God’s act of kindness. Instead my tongue has been loosened along with my life and I’ve told everybody I’ve met along the way! And so this is what happened – we could not enter a town so easily anymore and had to keep to the in-between places. Yet that is where the people came to find him, and they came from everywhere in a constant stream!”
Yet another man told his story. “We had heard that Jesus of Nazareth had come to town. In a place like Capernaum word gets around, you know. And he had healed so many people in this region already. This particular day, somehow we got inside the house where he was teaching, and it was standing room only. Have you ever heard words that seemed to unlock your soul? Words that do something in you, words that make you uncertain if something has been placed upon you or relieved of you – or perhaps both? This was one such time and we hung on his inspired word, because these were words that made you certain of their truth and goodness.
“Suddenly dust began to fall, gently at first, then crumbling and then great chunks of the earthen ceiling fell to the floor. Not long after, light broke through and a man’s head popped down. Soon enough, hands ripped at the sides of the hole making it wider and wider. We wondered what on Earth these men were doing. Then the stretcher appeared and it was lowered by ropes. At first I couldn’t see what was on it. Then it dawned on me—it was a man. He lay still and when he reached the ground it was obvious that he could not walk. Jesus looked up at the hole where the man’s companions peered down. All at once the friends let go of the rope. Clearly they did not think their friend was going to do anything but walk out healed! Well, naturally the whole place leaned in to see what Jesus would do. I think he may have even laughed out loud! Then, as the whole place drew quiet, he calmly uttered the words I will never forget. They were words only God himself can speak: ‘My Son, your sins are forgiven.’
“Now at this point there was nothing visibly different about the man and his mat. One of the things that had changed however, were people’s attitudes toward Jesus. There were plenty of raised eyebrows that quickly became darkened scowls, and listening postures that closed up into folded arms, and gaping mouths that turned into clenched jaw lines. I’ll tell you what the teachers of the rules weren’t thinking: ‘Could this be the long awaited One? I wonder if this man really is of God?’ Or, ‘Has God come to us in this man?
“No, everything about those teachers of the rules seethed and their thoughts betrayed them, Blasphemy!’ ‘What insolence!’ ‘Who does he think he is? Only God can forgive sin!’
“Suddenly Jesus broke the logjam of thoughts, speaking directly to their hearts, for he knew their motives, ‘Why are you so quick to think such things? If life comes down to mere words, what’s the difference in saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” or, “Get up and walk and don’t forget your mat on the way out”? Which is easier to say? Which is easier to enact? Witness then, that the Divine Man has the final word on Earth to forgive sins …’ With that, Jesus faced the man who was paralyzed and said to him, ‘Listen, get up, go home and don’t forget your mat.’
“To the complete astonishment of us all gathered there, this man drew himself up, lifted his stretcher above his head and walked right out! As the crowd of onlookers parted to let the man through, we began to slap each other’s backs and praise God for his deeds, seen and unseen. We exclaimed to one another, ‘Can you believe what we just heard and saw?!’”
The talk around my table that night shifted from one story to the next. We began to get a fair idea of who Jesus was and also a picture of those people who were really threatened by him too. Someone told the story of Jesus in the grain fields. “One Holy Day we were with Jesus in the fields just before harvest. As we roamed the fields enjoying each other’s company, we started snacking on heads of grain. Some teachers of the rules sought Jesus out and demanded, ‘Why do you let them break the rules on our Holy Day? It’s just not right!’
“Jesus answered, ‘Consider David in the days of Abiathar the High Priest. David’s your example. What happened when he was on a mission and in great urgency? Did he not, in his hunger, enter the house of God and eat sacred bread reserved only for the priests to eat? Did he not also share it among his friends?’ Then he turned to them and declared, ‘The Holy Day was made to replenish people’s heart-hunger. It was made to keep us not the other way around! The heart must be led, but must also be allowed to roam. People are not made to strain under any burdensome weight for long—that’s why it’s called rest. So, you see, even the Holy Day bends like a stalk of wheat to the Divine Man.’”
Another eyewitness told a story about the teachers of the rules and Jesus locked in a power play. “We were gathered at the meeting place on the Holy Day and you could feel the tension in the room. Some of the teachers of the rules were keeping a constant eye on Jesus. Then Jesus had a man stand up so everyone could see him. Then I understood why there was so much angst. The man had a hand that was stunted and twisted out of shape. The question on everyone’s mind was this: ‘Was Jesus going to heal this man on the Holy Day, which was forbidden by the teachers of the rules?’
“Then Jesus asked the religious leaders directly: ‘When is it okay to do good on the Holy Day and preserve the sanctity of life? Tell me also, when would you be justified in doing wrong or find a favourable time to kill?’ This challenge was met with stubborn silence. I looked at the face of Jesus as he eyeballed every teacher of the rules. What I saw was pure righteous anger, but I could see it also broke his heart that they were so pig-headed in their refusal to be led. Jesus simply said to the man standing before us, ‘’Unfold your hand.’ And he did! He unfurled his knot-of-a-hand until it appeared as any other, in complete working order! Then the teachers of the rules marched out tight as a fist. In a further twist of irony, I heard whispers that this was the day they began to plot with their political enemies, the supporters of Herod, about how they might kill Jesus, regardless of what was written in the law!”
My name is Levi and I’m a child of God, and his house is now my house. As we celebrated at my table, Jesus ate alongside us all—tax collectors and offenders and the habitually wrong. To eat with us was his approval of us all and we loved him for it. At one point the teachers of the law leaned close to one of the disciples and asked, “Why does he approve of the never-do-wells, you know, the habitually wrong?”
Jesus overheard this remark and said to them, “Who needs a total health care renewal—the whole person or the broken and the ruined? Those habitually wrong you speak of? I’ve come to call them to wholeness. Is there any other category?”
Another question came up in conversation that night. It was known that John the Baptiser’s followers regularly fasted from food and so too did the teachers of the rules. So some inquisitive people asked Jesus, “Help us understand—the teachers and John’s followers restrain the body but yours seem to act as they please—what’s the story?”
Jesus answered, “Well the story is this: this is a party, like a weeklong wedding. Who in their right mind would abstain from food and drink at such an event, especially in the presence of the bridegroom? Trust me, there will come a time when they will not have a choice—the bridegroom will be violently torn from them—on that day they will surely grieve.”
Jesus continued, “This is something totally new—it’s incompatible with what was. Sewing a new sleeve on a much loved coat is not worth considering, for the fabric behaves differently and you’ll end up lamenting an ill-fitting jacket. Likewise, who among you makes a habit of wasting wine? Mixing wine not yet matured into wineskins that don’t have any give left in them – that’s a sure way to cause such a mess. Are you with me? Think of this Kingdom as rich new wine that needs room to breathe and expand to fill its own wineskin.”
Well we needed no further invitation. We could now add new wine to our ever growing inventory about Jesus. Who was this healer, deliverer, accepter of the habitually wrong? Who forgives sins and keeps the Holy Day but God? Surely a man, even a divinely sent one could not replace the Temple House of God! Is it any wonder the power brokers were fearful and enraged enough to bay for his blood!