Luke 5:27-39               “Eating With Levis”     


            Let us just imagine that we are all Pharisees from the time of Christ.  We are an upstart group of reformers within the Jewish Faith. WE do not like what the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem have been doing. We think that they are corrupt and have conspired with the powers that be. The religious priests of the Jewish Temple seem to be working with the Romans and seem to be focused more on getting the Temple tax from the people than any great spiritual endeavor.  Because we Pharisees are relatively wealthy compared to the rest of the population, we have been paying more than our fare share in taxes already. We begin to think that we can be good Jews, even without having to shell out so much of our individual wealth. And, we can get away with not paying to the Temple if we can convince the people that the priests are corrupt and that we Pharisees are far more pious and holy than they.

            To prove that we are pious, and thus make good excuse not to pay Temple taxes, we begin to parade our piety out to the general populace. Twice a week we go out in groups throughout the city of Jerusalem looking gaunt and wearing disheveled clothes, claiming proudly that we are fasting for our faith in God.  We do this publicly while many around us in the city are simply going hungry for their abject poverty. This especially makes us look as if we are with and for the people when compared to the conspicuous consumption of offerings on the altars at the Temple by the priests.

            This actually reminds me of those kids at the high school that go out and buy very expensive jeans that come with rips already in them! It still befuddles my mind that people pay top dollar to look wretched. This kind of thinking is like the Pharisees for sure!

            As Pharisees, we somewhat align ourselves with other reform movements that seem to be against the priesthood in the Temple of Jerusalem. We acknowledge prophets like John the Baptist. He is a little bit too far overboard for our tastes, dressing in camel hair and eating locusts, but he does maintain the same point of view that faith can exist outside of the main temple and the religious establishment of the day. WE have a similar view of this new fellow who has come after John the Baptist.  His name is Jesus and is a simple son of a carpenter.  He is drawing large crowds with his teachings that very often seem to go against the teachings of the main religious faction in power.  In our book, Jesus could be one of us. Jesus could be a Pharisee if he would just get on the ball and walk around the city twice a week looking gaunt in the face and disheveled.  In fact, with Jesus’ following, we Pharisees would gain markedly in prestige and number if her were to join the cause.  Jesus is, of course, not interested in joining their cause; He has come for God’s cause.


            The tax collector named Levi is witness to the healing of the paralytic as the bible says that right after the man is walking again, Jesus approaches Levi. Then, Levi invited Jesus over to his home for a meal. It was a real celebration with many guests. During that time, the Pharisees see Jesus eating along with his Disciples and those tax collectors. They realize that this is not a good thing since Jesus needs to portray that gaunt and disheveled piety that the Pharisees were trying to get across to the people. They question Jesus. Why isn’t he more like John the Baptist? Why does he dare to eat in public rather than put on the show of fasting?

            Jesus’ point to them and to all of us still today is that fasting is not supposed to be a political statement. It is not to be used for political means. And, we all know that fasting can be used as a political weapon. We have seen great men such as Gandhi use it to bring a people together. But, Jesus never uses fasting as a political tool against the establishment. To Jesus, fasting is a matter of the heart.  Going without food is supposed to make one hunger more for God. If it does not do this but has some other motive and design behind it, then it is of no spiritual value to God.

            We need to read from the Prophet Isaiah about true fasting: Isaiah 58:1-7, “Shout out, do not hold back. Lift up your voice like a trumpet. Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble one’s self? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose to loose the bonds of the injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

            You see, I have to explain one more thing that we Pharisees would do to ensure that everybody would see how righteous we are: we would make our entire household fast with us. This means that our servants and slaves—whom we begrudgingly feed in the first place—must also go without nourishment for two days a week. Between us Pharisees, this is also another cool way to pocket some money that would otherwise have to be spent on feeding our slaves.

            How does God see this? Are we fasting in our hearts? Are we hungering more for God, or are we simply hungering more for the worldly things?


            Jesus fasted. After he was baptized he went from John out into the dessert and fasted—not just two days out of the week, but for a full forty days. He fasted alone. The only other one who knew that he was fasting was God—and of course the devil as he came to tempt Jesus to break his fast. Jesus answers the devil in Matthew 4:4, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” What good is fasting if the Word of God is not in it?

            This next week starts the time of Lent in the Christian calendar. Tuesday is “Fat Tuesday” when we are supposed to eat malasadas. After that, we have Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the fasting season before Holy Week and Easter. How will you fast?

            I think about the fact that Levi hosted a big meal with all of the other tax collectors so that he could hear the Word of God. Levi saw the crowds coming in to the house where the paralytic had just been healed. He put everything down, as our text says, so that he could be with Jesus and hear his Word. He ends up following the path of Christ and is in fact Matthew who wrote the Gospel of Matthew!

            Therefore, here is my definition of fasting, and I hope I am true to Christ’s message in putting this out to you: “Fasting is putting down other things to spend time with God.” As we have from our Scripture from this morning, fasting may have really very little to do with food when you get right down to it. It is a matter of the heart hungering for God, seeking God, wanting God more than anything else. If canceling your normal caloric intake helps you to find God, then go to it! If canceling your day so that you can spend it in prayer with God will help you seek God, then that is also a fast. If you decide to miss your favorite television show to open up your Bible to read the Gospel, then that is also a fast.  Do you see what I am saying? In denying what you want, you end up getting what God wants for you instead!


            The Pharisees are with Jesus at table and asking him why he and his Disciples do not fast like we they do! Jesus is out healing the sick, feeding thousands, teaching and preaching the Word of God; and the Pharisees want to know why he does not go out twice a week and walk the streets with his Disciples in disheveled clothing to impress the populace of the Jerusalem!

            We are so wrong for trying to put Jesus into our idea of what he should be!  We try to put a new patch onto an old piece of cloth, and it rips away. We try to put new wine into old wineskins, and they burst apart. Jesus is not what we want to make Jesus to be. Jesus is simply altogether Jesus, the Son of God Almighty!


            At the end of the Scripture for today, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they will not like the new wine. They will prefer the old. The new wine is the covenant made with Jesus Christ; the old wine is what we have always falsely believed about God. We will prefer our false beliefs. Somehow they just seem to taste better to us.  We will hunger for the old ways rather than the new covenant with God.

            Praise God that we are not those Pharisees of old but are a new creation in Christ Jesus. We are the new wine. Thank God that we can think outside the box and see the value of true spiritual fasting in which we hunger most for God. We lessen ourselves and make Christ great. WE deny ourselves and proclaim our Lord and Savior. And, this is our true spiritual fast. Amen.