Luke 5-6: Jesus Would Go

I wouldn’t go.

There are bumper stickers around the Tampa Bay Area that say “Terry Would Go”. They’re a tribute to Terry Tomalin, who was the outdoors editor for the St. Pete/Tampa Bay Times and by all accounts a force of nature. I have friends who were close to Terry and are still deeply affected by his life, but I only really knew him through his writing. He was a life-loving, adventurous, kind soul by all accounts. The bumper sticker is inspired by a similar phrase, “Eddie Would Go,” said of Hawaiian surfing legend Eddie Aikau, whose spirit was said to be similar.

One theme in Luke is Jesus going off to pray. Before I get to the best part of Luke 5-6, the heart of Jesus’ message, I just wanted to note that woven in these two chapters are retreats Jesus makes. In 5:16, amidst stories of large crowds gathered to experience the healing he offers: “But he would go away to lonely places, where he prayed.” Before calling the apostles, “Jesus went up a hill to pray and spent the whole night there praying.” (6:12) When he comes down, he picks his twelve, settles on a level place, and delivers the heart of his message. It’s all packed in, between 6:20-42; you can just sit with those verses for a lifetime and keep finding ways forward.

Who is Jesus here for? Look at the Beatitudes in Luke’s version:

  • The poor, and not the rich
  • The hungry, and not those with enough to eat
  • Those who weep, and not those who laugh
  • Those who people hate, reject, and insult, and not those people speak well of

There’s a reason that Simon Peter, Jesus’ first draft pick, asks Jesus to leave, because he knows he’s a sinner (5:8). There’s a reason Jesus parties with Levi the tax collector, telling the folks who stay outside, judging, “I have not come to call respectable people to repent, but outcasts.” (5:32)

It’s either innately human or thoroughly American that we can always see ourselves as the outsiders. So if you don’t think too much about it, that message sounds like a fun one to deliver. But if I were up on the mountain or in the lonely place praying, I wouldn’t go.

In 6:46, after he lowers the boom on the life he has in store for these blessed poor, hungry outcasts, Jesus says “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and yet don’t do what I tell you,” and no truer words did Jesus ever speak. If we actually listen to what Jesus wants of us, we know he’s talking directly to us. Want examples? Here’s what he says in the heart of his ethical message (6:27-42):

  1. Love your enemies
  2. Do good to those who hate you
  3. Bless those who curse you
  4. Pray for those who mistreat you
  5. If someone smacks you on the cheek, let him hit the other one, too
  6. If someone takes your coat, give him your undershirt too
  7. Give to everyone who asks you for something
  8. When someone takes what is yours, don’t ask for it back
  9. Do not judge others
  10. Do not condemn others
  11. Forgive others

(This is not one of those quizzes where you write in the comments how many you got right. Thankfully.)

Here’s what doesn’t count to God as good enough:

  • Loving those who love you
  • Doing good to those who do good to you
  • Lending to those who will probably pay you back

(And I’m not sure I’d do that well on those, anyway.)

If I had to choose between staying in a lonely place with just God, and going into the crowd and delivering this message, knowing that people wouldn’t do it, maybe even knowing how this would end (I say on the day Catholics remember a feast called “the Exaltation of the Cross), I wouldn’t go. I’d say, Hey, Father, I think imma stay here with you. Because going to preach this message to a crowd that won’t take it seems like a waste of time.

But God’s ways aren’t our ways. Jesus would go. And he reminds us, the slow-to-leave, that not only should we go, too, but that it’s never too late to dig in to this life. “For He is good to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (6:35) Jesus says that as a reason for us to be as merciful as God is, but it’s also a good thing to remember when we would rather stay in the lonely spot and let the world fail on its own.


There’s one other little note in this section that grabbed me. I didn’t want to mention it first because this passage is just so important and challenging, but I can’t let it go. Luke 5:17-26 is his telling of the healing of the paralytic. (Short story: Jesus in a crowded house, buddies carrying a paralyzed guy can’t get through to Jesus, so they open a hole in the roof of the house and lower the guy in on his cot. (Which was probably not covered on the homeowners’ policy.) Jesus does his thing.)

As happens in other versions of this story and other healings, Jesus doesn’t heal the guy first, he tells him his sins are forgiven. It says a lot about the paralyzing nature of sin that a guy who is *physically, literally* paralyzed takes the news that his sins are forgiven, without physical healing, as miraculous enough. You can think about the degree to which sin paralyzes you more than physical paralysis.

But the little thing that grabbed me is this: Jesus forgives and heals the guy because “Jesus saw how much faith they [the guy’s friends] had.” (5:20) I find myself asking “How does that work, exactly?”  How is it that you can just lie there, maybe not believing a thing of this, maybe wishing you’d been left at home in front of the TV instead of being thrust into this scene, and this guys restores you to life on the basis of the faith of *your friends*? Who do I know who has that much faith on my behalf? How can I have that much faith on someone else’s behalf?


A programming note, if you will. Pope Francis announced he’ll be releasing an encyclical (his third*) on October 3, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, in Assisi. Of all the things I am unhealthily obsessed with, Assisi, St. Francis, and papal encyclicals all have to be in the top 5 and could be win-place-show. So I’ll be pausing the walk through Luke when Fratelli Tutti comes out so I can give it my full attention, and I’ll try to share what I see in it as best I can. Should be awesome.

*Technically, it’s Francis’ third, but the first one he released was a holdover from his predecessor, Pope Benedict. Laudato Si is the only one so far that is fully Francis’, and it, like the new one, gets its name from the beginning of a prayer attributed to St. Francis.

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