Do you ever feel like you don’t belong? Perhaps, for whatever reason, you feel like an outcast from society and you’re on the outside looking in. Maybe you’re not part of the popular in-crowd and it feels like everyone else is included except for you.
I know what that’s like. I felt the same way at school where other pupils were very racist towards me and I was the only non-white person in my year. Sometimes, for other reasons today, I can still feel like I don’t quite fit in and that I’m on the fringes.
Or maybe you feel far from God at the moment and wonder how you can still come to him and whether he’ll accept you.
If you’ve experienced anything like that, then take heart.
The Gospel of Luke is unique among the other gospels in that it places a special emphasis on Jesus as friend of the outcasts. Luke provides us with numerous examples of people who have been shunned and despised by others.
These were lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes and others sinners, or had found themselves in their situation through no fault of their own. They also included the poor, the lame and afflicted, widows who had lost their social standing. All of these were seen as failures or rejects by society and not worthy of inclusion or attention.
While there are many more outcasts in Luke’s gospel, here are six noteworthy ones I’ve chosen to focus on.
6 OUTCASTS IN LUKE’S GOSPEL
1. The Leper – Luke 5: 12-16
As Jesus is walking around in a town, he encounters a man with leprosy. When he sees Jesus, he falls down at his feet and begs him, saying “if you want to, you can heal me.”
Jesus is ovecome with emotion and does something that would have made himself ritually unclean. He responds, saying “I do want to. Be clean.” He reaches out and touches the man. Instantly the man is healed and Jesus orders him to go to the priest to have him examine him.
The leper would have been an untouchable and practically invisible except for when others saw him and would actively avoid him. He would’ve been completely shunned by society for being ritually unclean because of his dreaded skin disease and the ensuing deformity. Lepers would have had to leave their friends and family and live in their own separate leper commune away from everyone else.
Yet Jesus welcomes him and does not fear contracting the disease himself. Although he could have simply spoken a word and healed him, he knows the leper’s deepest need and desire for physical contact. Therefore he places his hand upon him.
We may not be physical lepers, but sometimes we can feel like untouchables. Maybe it feels like no-one loves us or wants any kind of physical contact. Or we feel so rejected and unwanted that we feel like an emotional leper. Perhaps you may feel like you are unclean for whatever reason.
Jesus knows your need and where you are at. He welcomes you just like the leper and tells you “be clean.”
2. The Paralytic – Luke 5:17-26
Four friends bring a paralytic man so that Jesus can heal him. Being paralysed and unable to move or do anything for himself, the man would’ve no longer felt a useful or functioning part of society. We can see that he could easily have felt like an outcast.
However, Jesus doesn’t only heal his physical infirmity. He declares that the man that his sins are forgiven.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law accuse Jesus of blasphemy. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they ask.
Jesus responds, saying:
“Which is easier, to say: ‘your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Get up and walk? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
As far as Jesus is concerned, forgiveness of sins is more difficult than healing paralysis. However, he chooses to demonstrate his power and authority over sin by also healing the man’s paralysis. If Jesus can heal this condition, then he is also able to forgive the man of sin as well.
I’ve written in more detail how Jesus’ words “your sins are forgiven” are an example of a speech act where the very thing he says becomes a reality at that same moment.
If you are physically afflicted and feel like an outcast, know that there is healing in Jesus’ words. But there is also forgiveness.
You may also feel emotionally or spiritually paralysed in your life and unable to move on from where you are. Jesus has authority over your situation and can help you to take up your mat and walk again.
3. Levi the Tax Collector – Luke 5:27-32
There are numerous tax collectors who feature in Luke’s gospel. Since they collected taxes on behalf of the Romans and took an unknown percentage of the cut for themselves, others saw them as traitors. Therefore the Jews thoroughly despised them. They were the worst of the worst.
One of these tax collectors is Levi, also known as Matthew in the other gospels.
Here, Jesus finds him sitting at his tax booth and calls him to follow him. Levi immediately leaves everything behind and follows this teacher.
In Jesus’ day, the phrase “follow me” would have been something that Rabbis would have only uttered after a lengthy selection process. The Rabbi would effectively be interviewing another person to decide whether they were good enough to be his disciple. The Rabbi would choose his disciple from hundreds of potential candidates. So saying “follow me” would not be something that would be spoken lightly.
However, Jesus says this to Levi while he is still at his tax booth. It is as if Jesus deems Levi good enough in his eyes to be his disciple.
Levi also throws Jesus a celebration meal and invites other fellow tax collectors. Eating a meal would have been a big deal, as you only would have shared this activity with someone you called family. By doing this, Jesus was including Levi as part of his family.
The Pharisees see Jesus dining with these sinners and tax collectors. They would have naturally become outcasts with whom no-one would want to associate. However, Jesus still chooses to be in their company, and to even call one of them to be his disciple.
The Pharisees are incensed at Jesus befriending these undesirables. Jesus responds that those who are well do not need a doctor, but those who are sick.
If you are wondering how anyone could want to be in your company, then know that Jesus invites you to his own table to share a meal with him. He is happy to call you friend and family no matter who you are. You don’t have to be good enough or go through a lengthy selection process. Jesus already sees you as you are and still says “follow me”.
4. The Sinful Woman – Luke 7:36-50
In this passage, Jesus is eating a meal at Simon the Pharisee’s house. While he and the other guests are sitting there, in comes a woman with an alabastar jar. Luke describes her as having led a sinful life. Commentators usually assume she is a prostitute.
The woman is instantly full of remorse. She begins crying and her tears fall on Jesus’ feet. To the chagrin of all those around who are watching, she begins to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair. She also anoints them with the perfume.
As Simon voices his disapproval, Jesus responds by telling him a parable about a money lender who forgives two people of immeasurable debts. Jesus asks Simon which one will love him more. Simon responds that it is the one who has had the bigger debt forgiven.
Jesus then proceeds to forgive the woman’s sin, leaving the guests flabbergasted.
Note that the sinful woman here is not Mary Magdalene as often portrayed by Hollywood movies. Mary Magdalene is not a prostitute but a former demoniac. She appears in a separate passage in Luke’s gospel. Neither is the sinful woman Mary of Bethany, who also anointed Jesus’ head and feet. I’ve written in detail about the differences between them in the links in this paragraph.
You can also download a comparison chart I’ve created between the anointing here in Luke’s gospel, and the others in Matthew, Mark and John where it is Mary of Bethany who anoints Jesus.
The main point to note here is that even though others shunned her and thought she was defiling Jesus when she touched him, Jesus was not concerned about her status or past. He looked at her as a precious child of God who had done a special thing for him. He forgave her and told her to go and sin no more.
If your past troubles you, know that no sin is too terrible for Jesus to forgive. He loves you and accepts you, and welcomes you into his arms.
5. “Legion” the Demoniac – Luke 8:26-39
Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake of Galilee. This man lived as an outcast in caves and other remote places. He also wore no clothes like a wild person. Although people have shackled him with chains to bind him and keep him from hurting himself or others, he frequently breaks free of these with his supernatural strength.
In verse 30, when Jesus asks his name, he responds that it is “Legion”, because many demons had gone into him.
Jesus commands the demons to come out of the man. They beg him to send them into a herd of pigs feeding nearby. Immediately they rush headlong off the cliff and drown in the water below.
When others nearby see what had happened, they come running up to Jesus and his disciples and find the man sitting there clothed and in his right mind. They are filled with fear and ask Jesus to leave.
The man begs Jesus to take him with him, but Jesus tells him to go and tell everyone around of what God has done for him.
The man had suffered for a long time with an afflicting spirit which had kept him in bondage for years. He had not been in his right mind and stuck in a wilderness of his own.
Whether you see it as demon possession, or as a form of epilepsy, as some modern commentators do, there is still power in Jesus’ name. At his name, the demons tremble.
If you have felt like an outcast and in spiritual, physical or emotional bondage, know that at his word, Jesus can deliver you from your shackles that bind you.
6. The Lost Son – Luke 15:11-32
Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners again at the start of chapter 15 – something we frequently find him doing in Luke’s gospel. He tells three parables in this chapter to demonstrate God’s love and how he has come to seek and save the lost.
The first two parables are those of the relatively short ones of the lost sheep and lost coin. The final one is much longer and perhaps the most well-known parable in the Bible: the lost son, more famously known as the Prodigal Son.
A father has two sons who live with him and seemingly have everything they could wish for. One day, the younger son asks his father for his share of the inheritance and then sets off for a distant land where he spends all of his money on reckless living. Eventually, when he has spent all of his money, a severe famine hits the land. The young man is desperate to find any kind of work. No-one will hire him, and he becomes an outcast, unwanted by anyone else. Finally however, is able to find some meagre employment feeding pigs.
As he is sitting there in the pig sty starving to death, he decides that enough is enough. He will go back home where even his father’s hired help have food. He will ask his father to take him back as his servant.
While he is still far off in the distance, his father spots him and runs out to meet him. He throws his arms around him and welcomes him back. The son is moved by this display of love. He tells his father that he has sinned against him and against heaven. He is no longer worthy to be called his son. However, the father will hear none of it. He tells his servants to bring the best robe, a ring for his finger, and to prepare the fatted calf. He wants to celebrate, for his son has come home.
The older brother is out in the field when he hears the sounds of celebration. He is angry to find that his father has killed the fatted calf for this ungrateful brother of his who has wasted all of his father’s money. However, he has never done something similar for him. Yet the father reassures his son that everything he has is his. But they must celebrate because his son was dead but is now alive.
There are several things to note here. We often use the word “prodigal” these days to mean “wayward” or “lost” even though that is not its original sense. It refers to being recklessly extravagant. This is what the younger son did with his wasteful lifestyle. It’s very likely that he spent it on prostitutes (where it would’ve been an addictive lifestyle that would’ve drained his funds quickly) as well as living it up and spending money trying to impress his friends.
However, the father was, in some ways, recklessly extravagant. Have you heard that worship song “Reckless Love” that seems to be popular at the moment? Sometimes people question its theology. Is God reckless? Well, the title of it partly comes from this parable and refers to the way the father was willing to lavish his love on his son in the same way that the son was willing to waste everything his father had.
If you feel that you are lost or have wasted your life, then know that God welcomes you back with open arms like the father in this parable did. He is willing to pour out his love on you abundantly even if you feel you have sinned against him and against heaven.
Second, it’s interesting to note that the younger son didn’t have his true repentance moment until the father actually ran out to him and welcomed him home. Although we might think he repented when he was sitting in the pig sty, he was actually motivated more by his desire for food. He planned to ask his father to take him in as one of his hired servants. However, when he father ran out to meet him, if you read closely, you’ll see that he didn’t say this bit. His simply stopped at “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
We can still come to the Father even if our repentance is not quite there yet. We don’t have to wait until we feel completely remorseful or have come to a true realisation of our sorry state. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that our righteousness is like filthy rags. That means that even our best efforts are like the soiled and dishevelled clothing that the younger son was now wearing. Our repentance only becomes more fully realised as God comes to seek us out and save us, and welcomes us into his arms. Until then, it may only be a partial repentance. But this needn’t hold us back from coming to him.
Finally, in his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Tim Keller observes that the older son was just as lost and estranged as the younger son, even though he was living in close proximity to his father. Keller suggests that we should refer to the story as The Parable of the Two Lost Sons.
Tim Keller discusses this parable in much more detail in his book. It’s definitely worth reading if this parable is close to your heart.
Would you like a Bible study eBook based on this blog post? You can study this in more depth as I’ve only provided a whistle-stop tour. I’ve created it as a suitable study booklet either for your own personal quiet time or for groups within a Bible study home group.
I’ve broken each study down into 6 themes along with other examples of outcasts in Luke’s Gospel. Each study also contains questions for discussion and some commentary.
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Finally, have you ever felt like an outcast in any way? How has God helped you through this situation?
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.