Luke 5: 27 – 32 Jesus calls Levi and eats with sinners
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house. And a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’
Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’
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One of the drawbacks of proceeding slowly and in detail through the gospel is that it’s difficult to see the big picture. The evangelist wrote a narrative which is intended to put the teaching of Jesus into the context of his life, so reading it piece by piece can be misleading.
The gospel also puts Jesus’ teaching in the context of first century theology. Although God never changes, and is the same yesterday, today and for ever, our understanding of him can change. The theology of the first century AD is different from that of the twenty first century.
For example, most people in the first century would have viewed sickness as a punishment from God. Nowadays, we don’t. We understand many of the causes of sickness are physical. Even this latest plague, Covid 19 – and it is a plague – has a physical cause. Furthermore, we know pretty much how it probably arose, we know pretty much how it spreads, we know what needs to be done to mitigate its effects and we’re making progress towards both a treatment and a vaccine. It’s not a punishment from God.
But back to the specific text.
Jesus calls Levi, who immediately leaves his previous life and follows Jesus. This is both a record of an event – the moment when Levi became one of Jesus’ hand-picked disciples – and a parable. Levi “left everything and followed him.” No ifs, no buts, no hesitation, just obedience. It’s a tremendous example, isn’t it?
Now, my experience of Jesus is that he takes each of us as we are. He knows our difficulties, our weaknesses. We all struggle. My experience is also that he doesn’t demand that each of us leave everything. What he does demand, and it’s a very firm demand, is that when we see a clear choice between following him and following our own desires, we choose him. He has to be first in our lives.
“Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house.”
The Pharisees didn’t like this at all. Jesus was mingling with the wrong sort of people. He was putting the stamp of respectability on people they considered to be sinners. Tax collectors weren’t upright, religious citizens.
The funny thing is that Jesus agreed with the Pharisees. He, too, knew that these men were sinners. The difference was that he had come to call sinners to repentance. He wanted to save them, not despise them. Meet some tax collectors and sinners? Where better than a banquet!
Thank you, Father, that you sent Jesus to call us to repentance. Thank you for giving me perseverance in following him.
In Jesus name, Amen