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 each, 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.
Notice that once again, Jesus called a disciple, and the disciple followed, leaving everything behind immediately to do so. In this case, Levi, who was well-to-do threw a dinner party for Jesus that night, inviting all of his friends. Jesus did not tell Levi that he had to attend class, do penance or somehow work his way into favor; Levi did not need to get his act together before he could follow Jesus, instead Jesus called, Levi obeyed.
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.”
I can well imagine, and even sympathize with the thinking of the Pharisees, after all most of us are quite used to this kind of thinking; Levi and his friends weren’t “suitable” people at all; they were at the very bottom of the social order. Yet Jesus came that such as these could be saved; in our day, these are exactly the ones who need to hear about Jesus.
Here’s a question: If you and I don’t reach out to “tax collectors and prostitutes” with the message of Christ, then who will; the Pharisees? From this text, it would seem that Pharisees are not likely to get the job done.