Good Morning!A beautiful day here in the Keys!
27 After this he went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 28And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax-collectors and others sitting at the table* with them. 30The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 31Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’
On the road from the sea into Capernaum, there would have been a tax-collector’s booth. Fishermen bringing their catch to market, merchants bringing goods into the town, would have paid a tax as they came up to the town. Jesus found a man sitting there, collecting taxes; his name was Levi, (or Matthew) and he was quite wealthy. But Jesus said “Follow me” as he had to the fishermen, and Levi got up, left everything, and followed Jesus.
But while they were in the town, Levi gave a great banquet to honor Jesus, and he invited all his friends! Levi was a tax-collector; this was a position for which a person bid – “I can collect —$ from this particular place in a year.” If he received that contract, he could pay Rome that amount, and keep anything above that he could collect, as his pay for the job. Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people – first of all they were considered traitors, working for the Roman oppressors; secondly, they were in constant contact with Gentiles by the very nature of their business, and therefore, unclean; and finally, the very activity of collecting taxes for the enemy was considered a sin, and they were ostracized from the community and the synagogue. So – Jesus called a notorious sinner and outcast to be one of his disciples!
Sitting at table with people was a mark of acceptance; Jews did not eat with foreigners, or with tax-collectors, or with sinners. And yet, Jesus accepted Levi’s invitation, and he chose to go to Levi’s banquet and to meet all of his tax-collector friends, along with others who were outcasts, sinners. After all, who else would have been friends with a tax collector? The Pharisees certainly would not have come to his banquet!
But the Pharisees and scribes complained, to the disciples, not to Jesus, asking why he ate with tax collectors and sinners. It was a great violation of social custom, as well as the Pharisees’ rules, to eat with the outcasts of society! But although the question was directed to the disciples, Jesus answered, “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 to repentance.” The implication here, of course, is that those critics may not be as righteous as they think themselves to be. In their ostracizing of others, in their pride, in their self-righteousness and hate, they were greater sinners than the sinners; but they did not know that, could not accept that. And so, Jesus says he comes to call the sinners. Throughout Luke, Jesus eats with, calls, and walks among the outcasts.
This creates a conflict with the Pharisees, one that will build as we go through Luke’s narrative. But today, our question for our own lives is this: Who are the outcasts? Do we ostracize and exclude them? Or are we, like Jesus, inclusive?