The Great Physician – February 18, 2018, the First Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 42:5-13, Mark 2:13-22
Jesus is called by many names. In recent weeks, we’ve been talking about how he was called “rabbi.” We’ve talked about all the “rabbinical” things he did. But Jesus is also known as “The Lion of Judah,” “The Morning Star,” “The Son of Man,” and of course, “The Christ,” “The Messiah,” “The Savior.”
Well, another name Jesus has had over the years is “the Great Physician.” And that’s what I want us to think about today. But I’m not using it in the way you might think. Maybe this would be a good title for a sermon about the many stories of Jesus and his healing miracles. Because that’s usually what we think about when we use this name “The Great Physician.”
Today’s story is about Jesus calling yet another of his 12 disciples. And this time it is Levi, the son of Alphaeus. We also know him as(?) Matthew. And we know him as a tax collector. And let me remind you of what the people of Israel thought about tax collectors! They were traitors! They were Jews who worked for Rome. (And I don’t think I need to remind you what the people thought about Rome!)
Well, the Romans weren’t dummies! They knew the people of Israel hated them! They hated the fact that they were conquered and occupied by the Romans! And they hated their taxes! So, in order to minimize some of that hatred, the Romans used Israelites to collect the taxes. And the way they did that was, first, to give them the power. They backed them up with Roman soldiers. But second, they told those tax collectors how much they were to collect – for Rome. But whatever they “collected” above that, was theirs. As you can imagine, some of them became quite wealthy on their “margin.”
So, not only were those tax collectors seen as traitors to Israel, they were seen as taking advantage of the Roman system, and using it for their own gain! And if you remember in the Gospels, when somebody was describing “bad people,” they would often talk about the “sinners and tax collectors!” Tax collectors had their own category of sinfulness! (Maybe I should have saved this sermon for April 15th!)
Well, it was bad enough that “rabbi Jesus” chose mere fishermen to be his disciples – rather than the best of the best of the Jewish students, as we said usually happened. Now, it was much worse! Now he chose a tax collector! You can just imagine how that went over with the other rabbis – and the religious leaders! (And feel free to imagine the worst!)
Today we see what happened when he did that. And to make matters worse, Jesus got together with Levi for dinner, and many tax collectors (and sinners!) were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. And I want you to notice something here. In verse 15 it says, “And as he sat at table in ‘his’ house…” Whose house are we talking about? Was it Levi’s house? The “his” in that sentence can easily refer to Jesus. They may have been sitting together in Jesus’ house. So, either Jesus and his disciples went to Levi’s house, or Levi and his “buddies” came to Jesus’ house! Again, we don’t think of Jesus having a house, but why not? If it was his house, I can only hope they repaired that hole in his roof by then!
Well again, as you can imagine, the “scribes of the Pharisees” took great exception to this. Think about it. Eating with someone implies a friendship, even an intimacy. We talk about that kind of thing at our Agape meal. Think about how many “religious” celebrations take place in the context of a meal! Think about how many social functions are meals. Think about how close a friendship is considered to be when people dine together? And how many “first dates” are all about “going out to eat?”
So here, Jesus was doing more than just “ministering to” these “tax collectors and sinners!” (And there’s that “extra category of sinfulness” I was talking about a minute ago!) This was more than that. He might have been “forgiven” for that. But now, he was eating with them! That was very disturbing to these Pharisees! And I’ll bet it was also disturbing to the other people who were watching this whole scene!
So the scribes ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why is he doing this?” “He’s acknowledging and ‘affirming’ sinners!” Well, Jesus heard them. And he answers them. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” And this is the sense of the word “physician” that I’m using today. Jesus is “The Great Physician” of all of us. He is the physician in that he heals our souls!
I think that is so important! Remember what I said a couple of weeks ago. I said that God does not promise us perfect physical health. He heals people, or not – according to his will. But(!) what he does promise us is perfect spiritual health! And he does that through “The Great Physician” of our souls, Jesus the Christ! And that’s the good news! That’s the great news!!!
However… we can forget that sometimes, can’t we? And if we do, we can easily become “ungrateful.” What I mean by that is, we can pray for God’s healing, and then be upset when God doesn’t heal us. And then that can make us forget that he has healed our soul! Isn’t that true? Sometimes, when we focus on what God “hasn’t done for us,” it can make us forget what he “has done for us!” Isn’t that true?
We’re now in the season Lent. And Lent is a time when we are called on to take an honest look at ourselves, and to see where we may have fallen short of what God calls us to be. And this is a good question to ask ourselves during this time. Have we allowed frustrations about what God hasn’t done for us, to make us forget what he has done for us? And if we have, what can we do about that?
Well, one thing we can do about it is to remember. We can take some “intentional” time to “count our blessings.” We’ve talked about that before. And it’s a good thing to do in Lent. And if we do, if we “count our blessings – name them one by one,” “then we’ll be surprised at what the Lord has done.” Do you remember that song?
Well, let me suggest that the first thing on that list of blessings ought to be the blessing that Jesus, “The Great Physician,” has healed our soul! And sure, if we keep it up, we’ll find there are lots of others! But that one is the one that should top the list! Jesus has healed our souls!
The last thing I want you to think today about is, do you know that Jesus has healed your soul? And notice, I deliberately did not ask “Do you feel like Jesus has healed your soul?” Because again, we can’t go by our feelings. They can deceive us. Because feelings go up and down. We can “feel good” about ourselves one day, and “feel bad” about ourselves the next. And those feelings depend on many things. It’s better to rely on God’s promises! It’s better to let those promises guide our thinking – and our knowing!”
So, let me say once again, that God’s promises are sure! We can know that our souls have been healed! And so Praise and Glory be to Jesus, the Christ, the Savior, the Messiah, and “The Great Physician!”
Eternal God, we thank you that you have healed our souls! We thank you for your promise to us of your Grace and mercy, and for the joy of being your people. Help us indeed to see all that you have done for us, and help us to have the strength we need to seek your will in all that we do. For we pray in the name of “The Great Physician,” Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.