God’s BFFs – His Former Sinners

After this he went out and saw a man named Levi at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” And he did—walked away from everything and went with him.

Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?”

Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.”       Luke 5:27-32 (The Message)

This passage is a perfect “bite” out of Scripture for teaching because it has three great points. (That’s the magic number, isn’t it?!)

Jesus gives Levi (Matthew) the invitation and Levi doesn’t make a list and weigh the consequences. He just goes. Why does he do that? How did he get to that point in his life? We don’t know anything about Levi’s life prior to this but we can make some assumptions by just knowing his career choice.

I have heard “tax collector” compared to an “IRS agent”. I don’t think that quite gets us to how ostracized he was by his community. I think it would be closer to a known criminal who calls themselves a Christian and also scams senior citizens and single mothers in the name of a government that we despise. Levi had taken a job with the Roman government in which he would be told how much “tax” he had to collect. He could tax anything he wanted and whatever monies he collected over what Rome expected was his personal stash. In his society it was “them”(Rome, Gentiles) and “us”(Jews) and Levi had aligned himself with the enemy. Levi never got invited to a “good Jew’s” house. No one stopped at his collection hut to chat. He was shunned. Maybe when Jesus walked up and invited Levi to join Him – Levi may not have cared where they were going, he just knew that someone wanted him. I suspect Jesus’ eyes gave Levi that window into His heart and, in that moment, he felt loved like he had never experienced before. That’s how it was the night Jesus invited me to “Come”.

The Pharisees, which is the church leadership, were offended. Other translations of this passage say that they “grumbled” or “complained”. I think offended is probably closer to the truth. When God does something or asks me to do something that is outside the box that I have placed Him in, offended is often the reaction. I remember the first time I was in a worship service that had guitars and drums and people clapping and even dancing in their happiness at worshiping their Lord. I was offended. That wasn’t the way I thought God should be worshiped. And there was the point. My focus was on me not on God. What was God’s plan? When I looked in the Bible and read about Miriam and Moses and David dancing in their worship, I decided that God was trying to get me to find His joy in worship. I found it. And I am keeping it.

Jesus brings the last point home like a laser beam. Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice not for “perfect people” but for those of us who are sick with sin and need healing. And that is why He spent time eating and drinking with the sinners. Jesus was about building relationships. I can really get to know someone over a sandwich and a glass of tea. Sharing Sunday dinner is a good way to let Jesus’ healing love to just flow over those who have come to the table with broken hearts and bruised spirits. (Note to many of you who are reading this who have shared a table with me in the last 15 years – thank you for the laughter, comfort, and memories that we have shared.)

When I think of what Jesus has shown me to do in His plan, is it about reaching out to people who are injured or am I afraid of getting my hands dirty? Am I part of a fellowship who makes the homeless feel as welcome in our worship as we do the Bishop? Do I give away my seat in God’s Temple or do I keep myself separated sitting on my proverbial high horse?

[Jesus said,]“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do [what is] good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do [what is] good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”               Luke 6:32-36 (HCSB)


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