13 Jesus* went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
15 And as he sat at dinner* in Levi’s* house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting* with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of* the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat* with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Going out of Capernaum, Jesus went down to the sea (or lake), and when a crowd gathered, he taught them. He walked along beside the lake, coming to the Roman road leading back to Capernaum. The fishermen who brought in their catch from the Sea of Galilee to sell in the market there had to pass along that road, and there was a tax collector there to make certain they paid the proper tax. That tax collector was a Jew – the Romans used local people to collect their taxes, but those who accepted the job were shunned by other Jews. They were allowed to keep whatever they could get out of the people over and above what Rome required, and so, they often became rich, but at the cost of ostracism from the community. On that day, Jesus saw the tax collector, a man named Levi, who was known in the community as the son of Alpheus (his name would have been BenAlpheus). But instead of walking by, shunning the man who was an outcast, Jesus stopped, and he called this despised man to come and follow him. And Levi left his lucrative profession and followed Jesus.
Jesus did not call Levi to follow at a distance until he was “repentant” enough to follow him. Jesus went to Levi’s home, and ate dinner with him and his friends, who were also tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’ disciples and some other followers were there as well. And the Pharisees and scribes saw this, and they said, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Food laws were important to the Jews – they separated them from those who were not God’s chosen people; one did not eat with anyone who was a Gentile, or who was considered unclean. For Jesus, who was a teacher, a Rabbi, to do so was shocking! But, once again, Jesus heard them – and he said to them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick.” He did not come to save the righteous, but those in need of saving – all the rest of us. The truth is, the Pharisees needed saving more than the sinners, but of course, so wrapped up were they in their own self-righteousness that they could not see themselves as sinners.
(More pictures from Capernaum)