One of the days when we were out walking, I don’t remember exactly when, a synagogue leader came up in kind of a hurry and then knelt down in front of Jesus. That always looks kind of weird and starts to draw a crowd even if one is not already following us. The fact that he was a leader in the synagogue and known by the locals was another reason people started looking our way.
So, his name is Jarius and he starts to talk and sobs a couple of times and finally says, “Jesus, my 12 year old daughter is dying. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Well, I thought that sounded pretty presumptuous and I said so. I even thought this might be some kind of trap, since he was from the synagogue. But Jesus would hear nothing but this father’s faith in the middle of his grief. So off we go to this guy’s house.
By now, there’s a pretty good crowd following along with us. They are pushing and shoving trying to stay close to the action. All of a sudden, Jesus stops and looks around. “What’s wrong?” Peter asked quickly, looking around for someone to whack. He’s always looking for someone to whack. Jesus says, get this, he says, “Somebody touched me.” We laughed and looked at each other like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Peter actually said it, “You’ve got to be kidding me, people are pushing and shoving and a dozen people or more must have touched you.” Jesus said, “No, that’s not what I mean. Somebody touched me on purpose, and I felt healing power leave me.” Well, good grief, we didn’t know what that meant, but we started looking around the crowd like we did know. All of a sudden this woman slinks out of the crowd and kneels in front of Jesus with her head bowed. “It was me,” she stammered. She was shaking and looked really frightened, and we didn’t know why. Then she told him that she had suffered from a bleeding disorder for twelve years and no one could cure her. That’s why! A woman bleeding is unclean and shouldn’t even be out among other people. If she touches them, she makes them unclean, too. She went on, “I know I’m not supposed to be out with people and I know I’m not supposed to touch you, but I thought if I could just touch your robe, I could be healed.” Jesus just looked at her and smiled. He said, “Well, we don’t do so well with that clean and unclean thing ourselves, but it wasn’t my robe that did the healing; it was your faith that made you well. Now get up and go in peace.” Well, she jumped up and hugged Jesus and then ran off shouting, “Thank you,” as she headed home, well for the first time in a long time.
Bleeding was a really difficult thing for women. It made them weak and anemic besides the “unclean” thing they always had to deal with. Many of them just took their chances and went on with a fairly normal life and hoped they never got caught. This one was able to touch Jesus and her life was changed. We all knew where the healing came from, though.
So after this little interruption, we had almost forgotten where we were going in the first place, when a messenger shows up and tells Jarius that his daughter has died and there’s no more reason to bother Jesus. Jarius turned to Jesus with this hopeless look and Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith. She’s going to be okay.” Jarius looked at us for some kind of assurance, but we just shrugged our shoulders. We had no idea what was going on anymore.
When we finally arrived at his house, you could hear the mourners from the street. Jesus told everyone to stay outside, but Peter, James and John walked in with Jarius. The rest of us hung around and listened to what was going on. When Jesus went in, he told the mourners that they could stop wailing since the girl was just asleep. Well, you should have heard the wailing turn to laughing. These women were professional mourners; they’ve been around dead before, and they know dead. Peter told me later, Jesus takes the little girl by the hand and tells her in a really loud voice to get up. We heard that part from the street. So, I guess the little girl just jumps up and the first thing she said was she was hungry. So Jesus told them to feed her but then he asked them not to tell anyone what had happened. Well, that was pretty useless since the women mourners had left the room screaming as soon as they saw the little girl stand. They weren’t use to seeing dead people get up. So they were already out spreading the news. It’s hard to keep miracles a secret, I guess.
After the storm, when we were getting close to the shore, Jesus was up and standing in the bow of the boat. He seemed to be anticipating something, even though no one knew we were headed this way. This was a Gentile area; not many Jews live over here. As we were approaching the shore we heard the most terrifying screaming. It made you cringe. We couldn’t imagine the torture someone was experiencing that would cause that kind of screaming. Plus, it sounded like more than one person in agony. Jesus looked back at us with a look of excitement. We had never seen him react to someone’s suffering that way. As soon as we got close enough, Jesus jumped out of the boat and ran up into the cemetery that was there. Some of us jumped out and tried to keep up as others stayed back to secure the boat. After we ran a good way into the cemetery toward the tombs in the rocks, where it seemed the screaming was coming from, a couple of men jumped out from behind a tree. They were huge and looked like they might rip off your head and spit down your neck. Their hair was wild and they were naked. Their bodies were bleeding from cuts they appear to have caused themselves. They were dirty and smelled worse than any leper I had ever smelled. We knew about guys like this. Every city had some. They were crazy and their families couldn’t keep them around anymore. Some were worse than others. Obviously these guys were worse than most. They still had remnants of chains locked around their necks where they had been chained down but broke away. They stayed out here around the tombs where no one would bother them.
All of us screeched to a halt except Jesus. He walked right up to the men. “Hey guys, what’s going on?” Their faces just contorted into horrible expressions and they just howled. One of them growled in the most frightening voice I’ve ever heard, “Son of God, why do you torture us before it’s time?” Jesus was so calm with his answer, “Because you are destroying these men’s lives. What’s that about? What are your names anyway?” He screamed, “We are Legion!” Jesus turned around to look at us as if to say, “Wow!” We all knew that a Legion in the Roman Army had from 2000-4000 men in it. That’s a lot of demons. We took a few steps back. The rest of the guys had joined us by now but were looking like they wish they had stayed with the boat.
Jesus turned back and said, “You know you guys are going to have to come out now, don’t you?” They both screamed so loud that we had to put our fingers in our ears. One of them stopped screaming and asked, “Can you send us into that herd of pigs?” Jesus frowned, “I don’t know, they didn’t do anything wrong!” Peter yelled from three rows back, “Yeah, but they’re unclean, anyway!” Jesus looked back at him and said, “It’s not their fault; they didn’t do anything to deserve that. Besides, I’ve heard that bacon is wonderful. We might have to rethink that “unclean” thing someday, but I guess today’s not the day for that. I’ve got to give these guys some help.” He turned back around, “Okay, you can go in the pigs.” Suddenly both men collapsed and the pigs squealed a horrible sound and the herd started running for the lake and ran like lemmings, one after the other into the lake, where they drowned. The guys watching the pigs took off. They were scared and they wanted to tell the story so they wouldn’t get the blame for the loss of the pigs.
Jesus took the guys down to the lake so they could clean up and he healed the wounds they had cut into their flesh. We cut the chains from their necks and got them some extra robes that we had in the boat so they could dress.
We heard the crowd coming before we could see them. They were mad about the pigs and they were running toward us. When they got close enough to see the two men who had been possessed, they stopped suddenly. They all knew these men. They knew how wild and dangerous they had been. Seeing them dressed and sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus listening stopped them in their tracks. You could see their expressions change from anger to fear. Something had happened and they didn’t know what it was, but it was scary for them. The guys who had been watching the pigs and saw everything told them the story.
They started coming toward us again, but with a lot more caution. The leader asked what had happened to the men. Jesus said, “Well, I had to cast some demons out of them and they went into your pigs…sorry about that.” They assured him that it was okay about the pigs, but they asked us if we would leave the area. Jesus was surprised, “Really, after seeing what I can do, you want me to leave?” They assured him that they did. So we started getting into the boat. The two men asked if they could come with us. Jesus said, “I wish you could, but I need you to go back to your families and friends and tell them what I did for you, so they won’t be afraid. No one should fear what I bring.”
So we left and headed back across the lake. As we were talking about what happened, Jesus said, “You know, I expected the religious leaders and Pharisees to be against the change I would bring, but I thought sinners and especially the gentiles would be glad to hear the good news that they are welcome in my kingdom. I guess receiving forgiveness and acceptance is not as easy as it sounds.”
One day, after Jesus had been teaching and telling stories, he said, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.” Sometimes we knew his plans and why we were going to a particular place, but sometimes he just decided to go and we went, without asking questions about why.
So, we got into a boat and headed out. It was a beautiful day when we started. The sails were up and the lake was calm. There was a nice breeze that carried us along. Jesus was really tired, because I think he was up all last night. He did that every now and then. After we were asleep, he would slip away to be alone. Since he was so tired, he found a soft spot in the back of the boat, crawled under a tarp and went to sleep.
We were about half way across when dark clouds started forming. Storms often came up pretty quickly on the lake, but this one looked bad. Matthew, who had spent all of his life on the land, was looking pretty nervous. He said, “We’d better hurry.” Peter, who was steering, laughed, and shouted over the wind that was rising, “Maybe you want to paddle, then.” It was a nervous kind of laugh, though, and I could see on Peter’s face that even he was worried. He had been out on this lake his whole life as a fisherman and he knew how bad this storm looked.
The wind didn’t seem to be coming from any particular direction that allowed us to continue to use the sails, so we pulled them down before the boat was capsized. We threw out the oars and started rowing. Peter steered us into the waves so, hopefully, they wouldn’t come in over the sides. It got pretty scary. It was so dark that we could barely see and it was so rough that I could hear a couple of guys throwing up over the side of the boat. Or, at least, I hoped it was over the side. The rain was cold and sharp and it stung when it hit because the wind was blowing so hard. The waves were washing over the bow by now, and Peter yelled for anyone not rowing to start bailing. Someone yelled back, “What do you think we’re doing?” But Peter couldn’t really see them; he only knew the water was up to his knees.
The storms on the lake were usually pretty short lived, but this one didn’t seem to be slackening. I don’t how it could get any worse, but it seemed to by trying. We were getting exhausted from rowing and bailing and I was beginning to worry that we might all drown.
A big waved washed over the bow and Matthew, who didn’t know enough to lash himself to something to keep from being washed overboard, was knocked down. The water washed him, screaming all the way, to the back of the boat, where he bumped into Jesus, who was still asleep. Everything had happened so fast, that we almost forgot he was with us. Matthew grabbed him, still screaming, and yelled what appeared to be the obvious, “Wake up, wake up, we’re going to drown.” Jesus crawled out from under the cover and waded to the middle of the boat, where we could all see him and he raised his hands and said, “Peace…be still.” Well, the rain suddenly stopped and the wind quit blowing, so the waves died down, too. We watched the sky as the clouds just began to disappear. In a moment’s time, the sun was out, the water was calm and the easy breeze was back. Jesus looked around at the mess the boat was in and then looked at all of us. One guy had just finished puking. He could see on our faces how scared we had been. He quietly asked, “If you were so afraid, why didn’t you wake me sooner?” Peter jumped in, “We didn’t know you could do that!” Jesus just shook his head as he walked back to sleep some more. When he got to the back he turned around and said, “By now, I would’ve thought you had more faith than that.” Then he just crawled under the cover.
Well, we looked around at each other and if you think there was fear in our faces before…whoa! Peter said in a loud whisper, “Did you see that?” We were all nodding that scared nod you do when you don’t really know what’s happening and you don’t know what to say. Peter looked back at where Jesus was and then back at us and said, “Who is this guy?” We were all thinking that.
We hauled up the sails and as the boat started moving across the calm waters, we all spent the rest of the trip, quietly in our own minds, just thinking about that question.
Sometime after Matthew joined us we were confronted one day by the disciples of John the Baptist. That’s what they were calling him now…it was sort of like a stage name. But, because Jesus was becoming so popular, John was losing his crowd. This group of hardcore John followers was pretty upset about that and when we saw them coming toward us, we sort of gathered in a circle around Jesus to protect him. Yeah, I know it sounds stupid. Looking back on it, I can see how ridiculous it was that we thought we needed to protect Jesus. But we did. Peter even picked up a couple of rocks to have handy. That was the nice thing about where we lived, there were always rocks around.
Anyway, as these guys walk up, Jesus steps out of the circle. The leader comes up to Jesus and in this real whiny voice asks, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we and the Pharisees do?” It had this “John’s disciples are better than yours” sound to it. Jesus turned around and looked at us with this smirk on his face that only we could see and sort of whined, “Yeah, you guys. You haven’t been fasting? You told me you were. What are the Pharisees going to think of you?” We weren’t always sure when Jesus was joking, but we were pretty sure this time. James pipes up, “It makes us too hungry.” We all laughed, even Jesus. Then Jesus turned back and said, “Sorry, we were just joking around. But seriously, do wedding guests mourn while they are celebrating with the groom? Of course not, but someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” The guy just stood there with this blank look on his face. Jesus looked around at us and we were all nodding our heads like we knew what he was talking about even though we didn’t understand what he meant either. So he tries again, “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? The new patch would shrink and rip the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear.” He’s getting nowhere here. He continues, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. The old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”
So there you have it. Jesus answers the question, “Why don’t your disciples fast?” with a story about a groom who disappears, patching old cloth with new and the fact that fermenting wine expands.
You should have seen those guys…by this time their brows were furrowed and they were nodding and some were stroking their beards like they were thinking real hard and beginning to understand what this wise teacher was saying. They thanked Jesus for his answer and backed away and left. Jesus turned to us and said, “I thought that went well.” We all burst out laughing and were patting Jesus on the back and John said, “Great answer, they’ll be trying to figure that stuff out for awhile.” You see, we all thought Jesus made up a bunch of convoluted stuff just to confuse John’s arrogant disciples. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected and gone that we realized what he was saying. He was the groom who would be taken and the Kingdom he was bringing was so new that it couldn’t be just mixed in with the old. The old way wouldn’t contain it. Remember what I wrote about Jesus at his baptism, “Suddenly he knew that he was to lead God’s people on a new path…into a new kingdom…a kingdom, not about law, but about love; not about rules, but about righteousness; and he knew that he was to be that path.” Well, the old is rarely excited about the new. And the old Kingdom, even the one we were hoping for, was not prepared for what Jesus was bringing. We would find that out soon enough.
Being a tax collector, Matthew was a pretty rich guy and the first thing a rich guy wants to do when anything happens is throw a party. They don’t care what it’s about; they’ll celebrate anything because they can afford to throw great parties. So, this life changing decision to follow Jesus starts out with a banquet. The rest of us didn’t mind. We really didn’t like the idea of a tax collector joining us, but we didn’t feel strongly enough about it to miss a party. Besides, we knew that Jesus was going to reach out to whoever he wanted and he wasn’t going to listen to us. So, it was party time.
Matthew knew how to be a great host. He invited all of his friends to come so they could meet Jesus, too. His family wasn’t so sure of what was going on, though. They were glad he was leaving the service of Rome, but leaving everything to follow a teacher around wasn’t really their idea of a wise career move.
While we were inside eating, some religious leaders and the lawyers who had argued with Jesus earlier came by and were standing out front. Matthew and a couple of us went out and he invited them in. He was just fooling around; since he knew they wouldn’t come in and eat with us. One of the lawyers asked, “Why does Jesus eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew laughed, “Because we’re more fun than you guys.” We all laughed, but they didn’t think it was very funny. They don’t think anything is funny.
Jesus had noticed something happening and he came outside and asked, “What’s going on?” The lawyer started, “The law says if you eat with these people, you’re unclean.” Jesus smiled and asked, “God’s law or your law?” Nobody answered, they just glared…they knew the answer. Jesus waited a little to let them think about it and squirm, and then he went on, “Do people go to the doctor if they don’t know they’re sick? Of course not, only sick people go to a doctor. You need to learn what Hosea meant when he said, ‘I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.’ You’ve missed that part. You’re all about the sacrifices, but you don’t know anything about the love and mercy. You see, I have not come for those who think they are righteous, like you…but for those who know they are sinners.”
Well, the discussion changed pretty quickly from unclean to, “Who do you think you are to tell us we only think we’re righteous. Besides that, why would you be calling sinners, they just need to offer sacrifices for their sins and change their ways. Nothing you are saying makes any sense.” Jesus just listened and smiled at them. You know that smile. The one someone has when they know something you don’t know. Jesus said, “Maybe someday you’ll understand what I mean.” Then we watched them storm off. I looked at Jesus and said, “A lot of what you say doesn’t make any sense to us either.” He put his arm around my shoulder and whispered, “I know, but it will, and at least you’re trying. That’s enough for right now.”
I told you how Simon started following Jesus. By the way, he started going by the name Peter later, but that’s another story. Another interesting call that I remember is Matthew. His real name, or Hebrew name, was Levi. This comes from our Jewish history; the original Levi was a son of Jacob. Remember…Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after that wrestling with God thing, but that’s a history lesson you need to read for yourself sometime. Levi’s descendants, or tribe, became the Levites. Interestingly, Moses and his brother Aaron were Levites and Aaron’s descendants became the priests for the nation of Israel. So, all priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. I know…it gets confusing. Anyway, the name Levi carried this “son of Jacob” idea. A lot of Jewish kids had that name. But this Levi, instead of remaining a good Jewish, “son of Jacob” kind of kid, decided to work for Rome, and his Greek name was Matthew.
I don’t know why, but Rome contracted with Jews to collect the local taxes. It was a complicated system, but ultimately the tax collector was working for the gentile occupation force that was oppressing our people. They cheated their own people and became rich. We hated them.
But one day we were in Capernaum, walking along the shore. Jesus had just healed a paralyzed guy and got into an argument with some lawyers about who can forgive sins. Because of the healing, there was a crowd…almost always a crowd, so Jesus was teaching. We pass by this tax collector’s booth. Peter acts like he trips and falls up against the booth and knocks it over. The guy goes sprawling in the sand. Peter’s always doing that to tax collectors. So, while we’re all laughing, Jesus walks over and helps him up.
He calls him Levi…Matthew told me latter that hearing that name immediately reminded him of his roots and brought back the memories of childhood; fond memories. Memories lost long ago in the terrible choices he had made. No one had called him Levi in quite a while. Once he settled in with the Romans, his family and friends abandoned him. He may as well be a leper…I mean a person with leprosy.
I’m telling you what Matthew remembered here. None of us could hear the conversation between the two of them. Jesus said, “What are you doing here…a son of Jacob wasting your life?” Matthew said he was still confused from being called, “Levi,” and he was trying to keep his emotional distance from a man many were calling the “Messiah.” He had heard about Jesus. He knew what the prophets taught. Could this guy really be the one? Matthew remembers starting to tell Jesus all the stuff that had happened to him that led him to work for Rome, but Jesus stopped him and said, “None of that matters now, come on with me.” Matthew said the thought of being accepted again by not only a Jew, but by Jesus, was amazing. He hated his life and his job and the Romans. He hated himself for cheating people, but once he got started, he could see no way out. Was this his way out? At least it would be a start. He said he hesitated for a moment; his mind was racing with the thought of all he would lose if he left…and then he just stepped away from the booth and his life was changed from that moment on.
It was time for a party! I hear tax collectors throw a great party.