Watching stories retold as film after reading the narratives is not new for me. But watching while reading is. We are all used to hearing people say, “the book is better than the movie.” I even tongue-in-cheek said this when people talked about The Bible miniseries. Someone even asked, “There’s a book?” And then immediately realized I was baiting them. “Haha, very funny, smartass,” was the reply. What people usually mean when they claim the book is better, is, “The images the author and I created together in my mind were not the same as those on the movie or miniseries.” In other words, while we read a narrative text, we are changing the words into “a movie in our heads,” as a friend once said. For this advent season, I was surprised by what I watched in Luke 5.
The tale that is Luke 5 is Jesus calling his first disciples. The call is told from the perspective of Simon. Simon responds to Jesus’ request to use the boats leaving the nets to be cleaned by his companions. Jesus encourages him to try fishing again with the nets that had already been cleaned. Simon half-heartedly does this and then needs help from his partners in the other boat. Simon realizes this is not just a stroke of luck. He has been given a sign. He admits his unworthiness. But Jesus tells him to come along with him to catch people. James and John go too.
Simon sees Jesus cleanse a leper and make a paralyzed man walk. Jesus claims to forgive sins. Simon Peter realizes his self-described unworthiness is not a barrier between him and God. A tax collector Levi is added to their number. At this point, the new disciples face the questions of the Pharisees. Jesus answers them instead. Simon, John, and James do not offer any answers themselves. Why?
The Apocalyptic Advent Theme
Advent has an apocalyptic theme. Something new is being revealed. Simon sees this revelation in small images. They are trailers to the big film, if you will. Watching this unfold before him Simon learns his old ways of looking at the world are not the real truth. He could not understand this immediately. Jesus says at the end of the chapter, between the new wine and the old wine people are used to, they will always believe the familiar is better. But the old wine is not doing Simon any good. He lives a miserable life believing he is following God’s way for him in the world.
A friend once advised me and others to read a chapter from the Gospel of Luke each day in December. By Christmas Eve, reading the book is completed. Hopefully, we learn something from our reading. As an Advent reading, Luke provides a revelation about how the familiar sight gets in the way of seeing. The call, “Follow me,” is important to learning to watch in a new way. Levi leaves the tax office, his house, and his connections. Simon, James, and John leave homes, boats, nets, and a record catch of fish behind to follow Jesus. If they do not leave these familiar objects behind, they will not see in new ways.
The new wine is an acquired taste. Anyone who attempts to make major changes in the life of a church soon learns this. It takes time, persistence, and patience to make overnight changes. Simon and the other disciples do not yet have an answer for the Pharisees because they are working from the same familiar assumptions. “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Simon is likely asking himself, “How did we come to this point?” And yet, Simon once told Jesus to depart from himself because of his own sins. Simon may be glad Jesus did not agree to do that.
The Pharisees ask another question, “Why are you eating and drinking when repentance means you should be fasting and praying?” Jesus has just answered that he came to call sinners to repentance. The Pharisees do not see any evidence that it is happening. Simon tried offering repentance in the usual way. He dropped to his knees and prayed admitting his own unworthiness. Now he watches this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. The sinners reveal themselves. Jesus declares the tax collectors and others are people taking part in the wedding party.