6th October 2017
Tax collectors were among the most hated people in society. Most of them were no better than gangsters - extorting more in taxes that was required and pocketing the difference. And they worked for the hated Roman occupiers. To apply this passage to our own situation, we must ask ourselves who are the modern equivalent? Drug dealers, perhaps, or pimps or muggers.
Jesus saw such a person, going about his cruel and dishonest business, and called him to become a disciple. Why should we be surprised by this? Doesn't the same thing happen every day in our society? God calls people from all backgrounds, and all ways of life, including criminals, to become disciples of Jesus.
And Levi responded. He got up, left everything and followed him. Again, why should we be surprised? The same thing happens every day. People who have lived lives of great degradation and sin turn to Jesus, and their sins are forgiven, and they're adopted as children of God. Such is the grace of God. Such is the power of the cross.
But let's stop for a moment and consider the power of the Holy Spirit, who moved Levi to respond in this way. Surely it wasn't just his moral decision to leave his life of extortion and greed, and choose the path of righteousness and love. Surely the Holy Spirit touched his heart and changed him. The Holy Spirit gave him a disgust at his sinful ways, a faith in Jesus Christ, the ability to repent and, perhaps most dramatically, he gave Levi these qualities in such a measure that Levi was willing to leave his very profitable "business", his booth and the money that was there. And Levi would have known that it was a permanent change; he could probably never go back to tax collecting, not only because he now knew and acknowledged how evil it was, but because the authorities would never trust him again. This was true repentance - a repentance of deeds as well as attitude. It's easy to repent if it costs you nothing, but this cost Levi his way of life and his income. Nevertheless, he He left everything to follow Jesus.
And every true Christian has yielded everything up for Christ. We know we have no property, because all we have is now Christ's. We have no plans for the future, other than to follow our Lord. We have no income other than what He allows.
Levi was so thrilled to be a follower of Jesus that he wanted his friends to come to know Jesus, too. How can we become Christians and not want our friends to find the same wonderful saviour that we've some to know? So he threw a party, and invited his friends, and Jesus, to come and eat and drink. Of course, many of his friends lived lives just as depraved as his had been. Some of them were tax collectors, too, and some had found other sinful ways to make a living. Jesus was happy to join them. Any opportunity to preach the Gospel is a good opportunity.
Predictably, the religious types found fault. It's amazing how many Christians seem to enjoy criticising others. The Pharisees and their scribes complained, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" They were implying that, if Jesus and his disciples were willing to associate with sinners, then they must be sinners too; surely "nice" people wouldn't be seen dead in such company!
Jesus's answer, as always, was perfect: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Now, because we've read Romans 3v23, "Now all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" we know that we're all sinners, but you do get the impression that the Pharisees and their scribes thought that while tax collectors and others were sinners, the Pharisees somehow were not. Jesus tells us here that He's only come to help sinners because righteous people don't need his help. But there are no righteous people.
This leaves everybody with a dilemma. We can go on pretending that we're not sinners - other people may be sinners, but we're good people, in which case Jesus Christ is of no benefit to us. Or we can admit that we're sinners, and we need forgiveness, in which case Jesus's teaching, His example, His death on the cross and His resurrection will totally change our lives and our eternities.
Will we get up, leave everything and follow him?