Just imagine it. You are an ordinary person, a resident of Capernaum, a little town on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. It’s the hometown of Simon, later known as Peter, and his brother, Andrew. It’s the hometown of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. It’s probably the hometown of lots of fishermen, salt of the Earth kind of people far away from the political dramas of Jerusalem. The center of your religious life is not the far-off Temple, but the local synagogue, which recently became more a flashpoint than a reliable place in the community, when a man from Nazareth, far to the west and away from the Sea, arrived at a service and spoke with more authority than the local scribes. Not only that, he had an encounter with a man everyone recognized but nobody wanted around, a man possessed by an evil spirit. Somehow, he healed that man.
You are an ordinary person, perhaps a woman, not known for anything much except keeping a welcoming home for your family and friends and any other stranger who might pass through and need a meal or a cup of cool water. You were too sick to be at the synagogue, but you heard the stories later. Your first glimpse of the man came from your sickbed. He reached a hand out to you and lifted you right up, when honestly, you had given up on yourself and your healthy and your life, and you are pretty sure everyone else had, too. By the end of the day, you were serving more people than you could have dreamed, all crowding around to see the one who healed you.
He wandered off again, giving your son-in-law, Simon, a bit of a fit, but now he’s back, and the crowds of people trying to get to him are even bigger than the last time. They heard he was “at home,” by which they meant at your house, since it’s the first place they met him, and they are standing outside your door, straining to hear what he is saying. They are looking in at the windows. They are pressed against each other until it seems there is no more room in the world.
You wonder how you can ever feed them all?
And then you hear it, the noise on the roof, and the shocking sound of digging through the thatching. You rush to the main room of the house, or to the door, anyway, because it is too full for you to come in all the way, and you see faces peering down into the room from the roof, and the next thing you know, a man on a sort of pallet is being lowered down, right onto the table where you have served Jesus his dinner.
Jesus is going to mess you up.
If you let him in, he is going to mess up your home and invade your personal space, with unexpected rearrangements and a passion for helping people who need it the most.
Are you ready?
You’re an ordinary person in Capernaum, maybe a neighbor who happened by early enough to get a seat at the table that night the man suffering from paralysis got up and walked out of the house carrying his own mat. Jesus had healed him. Not only that, Jesus forgave his sins. It made the scribes furious. They were already annoyed with him. Everyone knew, they were the ones who had an education, the ones who could read the holy words and – at least in theory – explain them. They felt pretty confident about being the most knowledgeable people in town, until the day Jesus came to the synagogue and spoke, and people thought – you thought – he had more smarts than they did. He spoke with authority, people said! The scribes and Pharisees didn’t like it. Could they tell you did?
Jesus is going to mess you up.
If you go along for a talk or a meal, and you pay attention to what he’s doing, you’re going to find out that he knows what you’re thinking. And you’re going to find out that even though he does these tricks with healing, he imagines himself to be more powerful than that. He’s claiming he can forgive sins.
Are you ready for that?
You’re an ordinary person in Capernaum, maybe Levi, son of Alphaeus, a toll collector. When people bring goods into town, they have to pay a fee to the government. You are admittedly pretty low in the organization, but you’re out there in public every day, collecting money from the neighbors that goes back to the Romans. People don’t like that very much. Still, it’s a living.
That day Jesus went to the seashore, you heard about that from the people passing by. He taught, and as he was walking back he stopped by the toll booth, and the next thing you knew you were inviting him home for dinner. And since everybody was paying attention to his comings and goings, maybe it shouldn’t surprise you that people found out where Jesus was eating, and showed up to see what was going on. They wanted to know:
“Why are you sitting down with tax collectors and sinners?”
“I didn’t come for the righteous,” you hear Jesus say. “I came to call the sinners.”
(If you ask him a question, he may not give the answer you want. Now he’s saying it’s the sick who need doctors. Obviously. He’s making the religious leaders furious.)
Jesus is going to mess you up, sitting down to eat with all the wrong people, making the whole town wonder what’s next.
He picked you right up, right where you work.
Were you ready for the conversation?
Maybe you’re an ordinary person, a little better-educated than most, a scribe even, but still, normal. Maybe you think you know all the rules, and you have calculated the most effective ways to follow them, and you believe it’s clear that fasting is what good and righteous people do, while having fun and enjoying dinner is something only sinners do. So you ask him about it. At least John the Baptist’s disciples, annoying as they can be with their threats of condemnation, at least they are keeping the faith and fasting like regular mystics and hermits. This guy – you just don’t know what to think. So you ask him. You ask him.
And then he talks to you in riddles. It always gets there eventually, these phrases and stories that sound like everyday tales, but there is a message hidden in them. What’s his excuse for partying like it’s A.D. 29? The bridegroom is here. Well, okay. A wedding is an important thing, for a family and for all the neighbors, and you always do everything you can to celebrate the right way. It’s the kind of special occasion when even you, admittedly, eat and drink more than on some normal day.
But how is this day a special day? He behaves this way all the time.His disciples don’t fast. Neither does he. Somehow he’s making the things you know to be true seem less clear, less obvious, less certain.
Jesus is going to mess you up, make you wonder if you should ever have believed any of the things you felt sure of before.
If you take him on in a debate, you’d better not give him a chance to get the upper hand.
Are you ready to answer *his* questions about what you believe and how you behave and what you think is most important?
Suddenly he’s saying stranger things, something about sewing, and something about wine, what was that?
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22)
Hold on, hold on. He’s right about these things. You’re not sure what that has to do with eating dinner at Levi’s house, but it’s true about the cloth, and it’s true about the wineskins. He says he came to call the sinners – to repentance, right? But he seems to like them. He’s choosing to hang around with them. What does the man mean?
He means he’s going to mess you up.
He’s going to turn around all the things you thought before and leave you wondering and wanting to make room for what is new to you. He’s going to mess with who you know you are until you want to follow him. He’s going to mess with your spirit and make you want the new wine he is offering. Ha! It’s a joke, a play on words, yes? We can’t just patch him in somewhere on the old cloak; we need a new self! We can’t pour him into the shape we used to be; this spirit demands a person who is born anew.
It happened to him, too, you start to see it now, to see the connections between the stories. He went to the river to be baptized, and when he came up out of the water, like a newborn coming out of his mother’s womb, people say they heard a voice from heaven, calling him Son —
Hold on, hold on! This is a lot to believe! This man, this Jesus, is he really the one we’ve been waiting for?
All you know is the things you’ve seen and heard, some right on your own doorstep: demons banished, a dying woman cured and entertaining guests, a leper cleansed, the roof taken off a house, a paralyzed man walking, and a mess of sinners celebrating with him.
Are you ready to join them? He’s calling you.