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 the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Tax collectors were probably the least popular of all in the Jewish social structure of the first century, for they were considered to be both thieves and traitors. They were considered thieves because they earned their very substantial livings by collecting more tax than was actually due. They were considered traitors because the tax they collected was for the Roman Government which was the foreign force that occupied Jewish territory, ruling by force of arms.
Everyone hated the tax collectors.
Jesus called Levi (Matthew) to be a disciple, and Levi followed Him without hesitation, giving up a massive business in the process: Astounding for a crook. What did Levi do next? He throws a big party for Jesus!
Let’s look at this from the point of view of the Pharisees: Seeing all of this, what are you going to think? If we are honest, we’d probably think the same thing they did; what was Jesus doing?!
In His reply to their question, Jesus shows a priority system that was more or less foreign to the Jews, for He had come to save these people, not to condemn them as everyone else did. That approach didn’t go over very well with the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, and frankly, it doesn’t go over very well with the Pharisees of our time either.
While we are looking at the passage, there is another little tidbit we shouldn’t overlook. Levi left his booth, went home and threw Jesus a party, inviting all of his sinner friends to attend… and they showed up. Notice that nobody had time to get their life in order before coming to Jesus. Levi was now a disciple of Jesus, but had he gotten his act together yet?
Don’t answer too quickly… for I think the answer is probably something like ‘kinda sorta but not really’. Yes, he walked away from his booth, so there might be repentance in play to a certain degree, then he throws a party and invites his old pals which could be said to be carrying on his old lifestyle or is this Levi hoping that Jesus will save them too? Forget for a moment that you know how the story ends, how Levi returned all he had stolen; at this point that hasn’t happened yet.
For me this story reinforces the notion that we do not need to get our life “together” before we come to Jesus, for who can truly get it all together without Jesus?
It’s something to think about don’t you agree?