Today, we’ll take a closer look at Luke 5, as we see Jesus begin to establish the type of people he wants as his closest friends and his opposition among the religious elites begins to solidify. Let’s get to it!
In the first section of the chapter, we meet Simon Peter for the first time as he assists Jesus by sharing his boat so Jesus can more effectively speak to the masses at the shore of the lake. It likely was not his first encounter with Jesus, as he seemed to acknowledge his status of authority, referring to him as “Master” and being willing to both share his boat and follow his instructions.
Regardless of how familiar Simon Peter was with Jesus leading up to this moment, however, I think we see a key moment in verse 8. Jesus has commanded Simon Peter to put out the nets in deep water (4) and, despite already trying to fish and failing earlier, Simon follows the instructions. The result is a catch so overwhelming it nearly destroys the nets and almost sinks multiple boats.
Simon’s response to these wonders is to fall at Jesus’ knees and say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (8) There is a level of fear and humility there that recognizes he is unworthy of the man he is encountering. Simon is not an educated man – he is merely a fisherman – and he does not think so highly of himself as to believe he deserves to be near such an impressive figure.
But rather than going away, Jesus invites Simon, along with his partners James and John, to join his ministry. “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
I now want to jump ahead a bit to verse 27 when Jesus calls Levi. We see a similar circumstance, where it probably was not Levi’s first encounter with Jesus – at the very least, Levi had probably heard of Jesus and heard him speak – but Jesus finds Levi in the midst of his work and tells him to follow him. The response is immediate and overwhelming: “Levi got up, left everything and followed him” (29).
In both stories, we see people who were not religious leaders or even educated, yet they are the people Jesus chose to bring into the fold. And I think Simon’s initial response is a reason why: he recognizes immediately that he does not deserve to be in the presence of Jesus. Further, Levi works as a tax collector, which meant he was working for Rome, the government that was persecuting Levi’s people, and took advantage of tax laws to enrich himself. Tax collectors were essentially considered traitors among the Jewish people.
These men see Jesus, hear his call, drop everything and follow him. In contrast, as we see elsewhere in the chapter as Luke introduces the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, the religious leaders of the day not only did not reflect humility when interacting with Jesus, but they showed disdain. Rather than recognizing their lowliness in the presence of God, they sneered at him and praised themselves for being morally superior and not associating with such lowly members of society as tax collectors: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?’” (30).
Elsewhere in this chapter, Jesus heals a man with leprosy and a man who was paralyzed. Both would have been looked down on in society, particularly the man with leprosy. What we see here is that the religious leaders looked down on those they don’t deem worthy; Jesus runs to them and seeks them out to include them in his ministry.
That leads to a key I think we often miss in our modern context that is so focused on individualism – the “personal relationship with Christ” – the idea of salvation being about the community. Jumping back a little bit in the chapter, the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man highlights this. According to the story, Jesus is teaching and healing inside a house, and the crowd is such that the friends who bring the paralyzed man can’t get him inside.
But they don’t give up. Instead, they climb on the roof and start tearing a hole in it so they can lower the man into the presence of Jesus. This is a tremendous act of community support for a man who likely would often be stepped over and ignored while he begged in the street. Verse 20 tells us that “when Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” We can easily read through that quickly and not catch the key word: when Jesus saw their faith.
As the story goes on, Jesus also heals the paralyzed man, but this key phrase tells us it was never about the man’s faith. It was about the faith of his friends. It was about the community experience. Faith was not an individual act or experience. It was something that required relationship and communal action, just like love. It was the faith of the friends that led them to carry this man to the home where Jesus was, take him up on the roof and lower him into the house where he could be healed and have his sins forgiven. In every sense of the word, it was the faith of his friends that saved him, and Jesus said as much.
That does not line up nicely with our individualistic focus. But I think it’s something to consider. In this story, Jesus pointed to the community faith more than that of the individual, and I will be keeping that in mind as we continue to read through Luke to see if it continues.
The final section of the chapter again brings out the Pharisees to complain about Jesus as they criticize his lack of ritualized fasting. This once again goes to the point that we saw earlier: the religious leaders sought to elevate themselves and point to their upholding of rigid laws while denigrating anyone outside their group.
Jesus did not do that. While the religious leaders focused on exclusivity, Jesus invited everyone to join him. And not only did he invite everybody, but he actively sought out those most isolated by the religious leaders. These stories show us the inclusivity and community aspects of Jesus’ message and lifestyle. Just as he prompted Simon’s nets to catch every fish, his ministry was vast and reached the farthest corners of society with hope and healing.