Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Luke 5:30-32, 36-39: The Great Physician and the New Wine

Thoughts on Luke 5:30-32, 36-39 (NRSV)

30The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?’31Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’

We are all ailing sinners in need of Jesus’ healing care; people who think differently are like the Pharisees and scribes our Lord addresses in this gospel.  They were men committed to an exact interpretation of the Law and all of the finite rules and regulations of first century Judaism.  There was no acceptance, tolerance, or forgiveness among the Pharisees and scribes. The Pharisees and scribes, moreover, saw anyone outside of the Law as polluted, unworthy, and beyond any hope.  People like Levi (Matthew) and his tax-collecting friends were seen as the dregs of society, the scum of the earth. But Jesus eats with them and offers them the beauty of His loving forgiveness and infinite mercy. Why, then, do we, as followers of Christ, implicitly ridicule and pass judgement on others?
Many times we hear the message of intolerance.  I get a stream of these messages, for instance, on my Twitter feed throughout the day from self-proclaimed devout Christians. Those with same-sex attractions are to be loved but their actions, no matter how committed, not tolerated to the point of hateful ridicule.  Family planning via contraception is “intrinsically evil” and, therefore, not only labels loving couples as without God’s grace but excludes those couples from complete fellowship. Couples, long married, seeking communion are “living sinful lives” due to an unworkable relationship and civil divorce in one’s past.  Why do we, via tradition or our own spiritual blindness, condemn the sorrowful sinner and label them as without God’s grace when Jesus Christ Himself said he came to “bring sinners to repentance” as He broke bread with them? The Pharisees and scribes, however, watched and pointed their fingers at Christ’s actions in condemnation, forever mired in their legalistic traditions, thinking themselves “righteous.” In no way should we, as followers of Christ, tolerate or encourage sinful behavior; this would be be contrary to the gospel.  We should, however, be more loving in our approach to all sinners in most need of Jesus Christ’s healing touch.  We should be open to the sinful struggles of all and adapt ourselves to a better, more current understanding and acceptance of others and be part of the healing ministry to which Christ calls us. Let us not ridicule and condemn but love and guide one another as Jesus loves and guides us.

36He 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. 37And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.” ’

The new wine of Christ’s grace-filled mission to free the captives, give sight to the blind, provide rest to the weary, and infuse us with hope in the resurrection is here.  But the new wine can not be contained in old wineskins, for the new wine will burst out of the old skins. The legalistic, Law-focused realm of the Old Covenant cannot continue. Thankfully, the grace-filled healing of Jesus is here.  In John 2:10, moreover, the steward at the wedding feast at Cana says to the bridegroom that he “kept the good wine until now.” We as the body of Christ must heed our Lord’s advice and eschew archaic, immutable ways of thinking; instead, we are called to embrace the new wine of Christ and know that by the Holy Spirit, Jesus will guide us in doing the will of our heavenly Father.  But we cannot remain like the old wineskins, for if we do, we will be unable to contain and distribute the richness of Jesus Christ’s love to others.  

Tradition is an important compass on our walk of faith, but we are called to always put the love of Jesus Christ first in our mission to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.