For today’s post, I want to contrast two early followers of Jesus and their reaction when they meet God. Both are from the Gospel of Luke: The first is that of Levi:
27 After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he left everything, and rose and followed him.
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Then we have that of Peter:
While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennes′aret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7 they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb′edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Now, consistent with the tales of both men is that they left everything and followed Jesus. But Peter, even before this, tells Jesus to depart form him, as he was a sinful man. This intrigues me. Why would St. Peter tell Jesus to depart because he is sinful? I would assume the reason has to do with Jewish understanding at the time of the nature of sin and cleanliness. Being a sinful man, St. Peter would have known that he was unclean. Given the miracle that Jesus just worked, plus his teaching, it would seem obvious to Peter that Jesus was a holy man. Perhaps Peter was worried about “infecting” Jesus with his unholiness? I am curious what others think, and if they know of any writings of Church Fathers or Saints on the subject. If so, it provides an interesting contrast to this story from the Gospel of Mark:
25 And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” 29 And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Here we have a woman with a hemorrhage, which would have made her ritually unclean under Jewish law, seeking to touch Jesus. This would have made him also unclean under Jewish law. Yet she tries to touch him anyways. The interesting question is, does this make her a worse person than Peter? After all, Peter (if I read the prior situation right) didn’t want to make Jesus unclean, seemingly out of concern for Jesus. Here the woman seems concerned only for herself. Yet at the same time there is an argument that it is the woman who is in the right. She, after all, has faith in Jesus. She has faith that merely touching him will make her clean. Faith that what is holy can in her case, and perhaps all cases, overcome what is unholy. Is not a view such as this a more honorable one? Does it not give the greater power to God- to make clean that which is unclean, merely by the presence of holiness? Once again, I’m curious what the Church fathers and saints taught about this, plus my readers, of course. St. John Chrysostom, in his homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew, offers his take here.