Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:9; Luke 5:27-28
Still in Galilee, Jesus calls another disciple, and this time He has a questionable choice: Levi (Matthew) the tax collector. Tax collectors are none too popular in our day, but back then they were outright crooks in most cases. They would be informed of the amount they had to collect, and whatever they collected over and above that amount would be theirs to keep. Oh yes, this was all nice and legal under Roman law. So say you are a tax collector and you are supposed to collect $100.00 from 10 people. Let’s see, if you can get $10.00 from each one, you could turn the money over to the authorities and be done, but your family would go hungry. If you collected $ 12.50 eacn, you’d make $25.00 and maybe that would be fair, but if you could force them to pay $150.00 each, even better!
So, let’s see; where was I? Oh yes, they were unpopular indeed!
Jesus called Levi to discipleship, and then they go to a party with tax collectors and other unsavory characters: The stage is set for another round with His critics.
Many tax collectors and other sinners were following Jesus around as He taught. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tax collectors were there because their “marks” were there… but the text doesn’t actually say so. If we were Pharisees, I’m sure that the mere fact that questionable sorts were listening to Jesus and becoming His followers would give us cause to wonder what He was really up to. Well, think about it like a Pharisee would!
Then, this dinner party!
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Obviously, these Pharisees were bigoted, judgmental jerks. They see the kinds of folks Jesus is with and they draw conclusions about everybody, and we can all feel comfortable saying they were judgmental, bigots, and clearly obnoxious, after all why wouldn’t we? They are just like most of us!
“Hey Bud, if you’re such a Christian, why are you hanging out with those people?
Jesus had a rather creative answer for them: “Those people” are precisely the people who need to be saved!
I have known quite a few Christians who would never hang with the wrong crowd, and they have all kinds of reasons for their choice, some of which are reasonable. Some of the reasons are not very reasonable, with my all time favorite being that the person was simply not going to be subjected to the language that sinners use. I remember a sermon given by a young associate minister one time about sharing our faith with others. At one point, he said that our neighbors are likely to die without a relationship with Jesus Christ and face eternal consequences if we don’t share with them… “and you don’t even give a damn!”
And then he asked, “Do you know how I know this? Because you only care that I said ‘damn.'”
The next day, I was invited to a closed-door meeting with the associate minister and the senior minister, in which the senior was telling the associate that he wouldn’t be asked to preach again, until he apologized to the entire congregation for his obscene language, and repented from further actions that exhibited ungodly and wicked behavior, and asked me to back him up in this, as I was a representative of the Leadership Team.
I declined, informing the senior that the associate had delivered the line I had suggested to him with impeccable timing; very effectively in fact. After we looked the word “damn” up in Webster’s and put to bed the idea that it is obscene, that was that.
There was no chance on earth that a Pharisee could ever lead a “sinner” to repentance, for in order to do so, they would first have to form a relationship with that person. Jesus did this effectively, and He is our model to follow. When we appoint ourselves to the high and mighty position of “righteous,” we are no longer able to share Christ.
Oh, and by the way, you won’t need to say “hell” or “damn” to get the job done, even though if memory serves, Jesus might have said those at some point, but then He only spoke King James English!