13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 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. 16 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?”
17 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.”
(Note: I skipped yesterday because I was having a lot of problems logging into my blog and then I forgot)
Staying Separate From Scum
Jesus is regularly spending time down by the lake of Galilee in the northwestern corner. Although storms often blow through and whip the lake into a frenzy, more often than not a mild Mediterranean climate makes the location very pleasant. There are hills, and nestled at the bottom is Jesus’ little town of Capernaum. Capernaum also served as a border town between two of the Herod brothers. Herod is a surname of the line of kings who were puppets for Rome in the Palestinian region. Herod the Great died and left his kingdom divided between three of his mediocre sons. These kings then passed on diminished kingdoms. The Romans allowed for a toll to be set up as people crossed the borders between tetrarchies. A tetrarchy is literally a rule by four, but Palestine was ruled by three. This border toll was new and had to be unpopular, as tolls always are. The man to collect these tolls was Levi.
Levi is often associated wit Matthew because in Matthew’s gospel a tax collector is called by Jesus and becomes a disciple. However, it has to be acknowledged that this is an educated guess. It is possible that Levi was another disciple not called as one of the twelve disciples (Jesus had more than twelve). Since Levi is a son of Alphaeus and James is listed in the disciples as a son of Alphaeus, it could be that James and Levi are the same person. It is possible that Jesus called more than one tax collector who, unlike the fishermen, followed Jesus with no chance of just coming back and picking up where they left off. They left their toll booth by the side of the road and walked away with Jesus.
Levi invites Jesus back for a party and Jesus accepts. Levi’s life transformation is not unique. Jesus comes for the underbelly of society. If this were today, it would be a room full of Chicago politicians, prostitutes, drug-barons, and swindlers. It’s not the usual crowd that we see in church on Sunday. This points out to us that, like the Pharisees, we have become an authentic group of rule keepers. We don’t want our neat ways of doing things disturbed. We don’t want order disordered. We don’t want people who we can’t relate to in our churches. Some churches exclude working mothers by arranging women’s ministries in the mornings when only stay-at-home mothers can attend. Other churches have pastors who struggle with obesity strangely railing about drugs and alcohol without addressing their own preferred sin. Still other churches complain how everyone has moved away without thinking who has moved into the houses the previous attenders vacated. Food, music, lifestyles, and ethnicity divide people and the church just reaches out to the people who are similar in cultural norms.
However, rather than making barriers to keep the sin we fear out, like Jesus, we should be making bridges to dark places to bring transformation in.
Jesus, I don’t want to be corrupted from the path on which I am traveling. I want to follow you. I want light to permeate my world, but you call me to walk in dark places. How do I know which places I should go that I leave untouched? I have prejudice. There are people with whom I would associate most easily, but I don’t really know how to find people with whom I wouldn’t naturally associate. Help me to be open to chances to connect with others in ways that I would not normally. Help me to support connections across cultural norms.
- Where was Levi?
- Why is there some doubt as to whether Levi is the same person as Matthew?
- What kind of company did Jesus party with?
- With whom do you party?
- How could your social circles be challenged by Jesus?