In Luke 5:27-31, the author records the calling of the tax collector Levi (Matthew) by the Lord to be one of His disciples. This offends the religious leaders because Levi is considered a terrible sinner in the eyes of the Jews since he is a tax collector and a traitor to his people by working for the Romans. What makes matters worse is that Jesus then goes to Levi’s home and eats with him. To top it all off, He eats with a large group of other sinners and tax collectors at the same time.
In response to the complaints of these religious leaders, Jesus tells them that He came as a physician for those who are sick. He came to call such people to repentance. In other words, as their physician, He tells them what they need. If they would repent, they would be healed.
Something recently struck me about Jesus referring to Himself as a physician here that I didn’t see before. Immediately before He calls Levi, He heals a man that was paralyzed (Luke 5:17-26). In the process, He forgives this man of his sins. In causing this man to walk, He was certainly acting like a physician! That is what a supernatural physician would do. It caused me to wonder: Wouldn’t it have been better if Jesus had referred to Himself as a physician after he healed the paralyzed man? He did not heal Levi of any physical ailment.
It seems to me that Luke wants to combine these two stories. Clearly, the Lord was a physician in healing the paralyzed man. But He was also a physician to Levi. But in what sense? Christ is a physician here primarily in a way that does not involve physical healing. As the physician of both the paralyzed man and Levi, He was offering them healing in another realm.
The paralyzed man experienced another kind of healing. By forgiving His sins, the Lord was saying that he could have fellowship with Him. The man was a believer, and Luke mentions his faith (v 20). He knew Jesus was the Christ and thus he had eternal life. But now he had more. With the forgiveness of sins, the fellowship with the Lord would provide him with the opportunity to now walk with Him and experience all the blessings associated with that intimacy. In other words, the Lord was offering him spiritual health as well as healthy legs. Perhaps we could say that giving physical health to this man was a picture of the spiritual health He could give him as well.
The same thing was true for Levi. The Lord called him to follow Him (v 27). Just as the paralyzed man “rose up” and walked away (v 25), so Levi “rose up” (same word) and followed the Lord (v 28). The close proximity of these two accounts, and the actions of both men, show they are connected.
Levi was involved in a corrupt trade as a tax collector. He would have cheated many people during that career. The Lord was calling him to leave that lifestyle behind and become a disciple of His. This is what repentance, or turning from that sin would bring (v 31). That was the prescription given by this Physician. When Levi did that, he too would receive the forgiveness of sins and the fellowship with Him that would make him spiritually healthy, just like the paralyzed man did.
Jesus is often referred to as the Great Physician. Most of the time, that is said to mean that He saves people from hell. That is certainly true. Others, unfortunately, say that it means if a person has enough faith, the Lord will heal them of whatever physical ailments they might have. That is not the point. Here, in Luke 5, we are told what it means.
As believers, our Great Physician wants to “cure” us of our spiritual and moral sickness. We do that, after we have believed, when we do what He tells us to do. When we live the way we want to, we will experience all the spiritually unhealthy consequences of such a life. Levi already had eternal life. Now, the Lord wanted him to turn from his sins and have a vital, healthy, relationship with Him. We are not promised that the Lord will heal our diseases in this life. But He is still our Great Physician.