Jesus went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
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. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 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.’
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
On Thursday we reflected upon Jesus’ call to discipleship. Today we meet the most unlikely of characters responding to that call. Jesus saw the tax collector, Levi, and called him to leave his dishonest and disreputable life in order that he might become a disciple and apostle for Jesus’ new Way.
We can only imagine the joy, and possibly the apprehension, felt by Levi as he found himself getting up from his tax booth, leaving everything and setting out on a new path. For Levi, a whole new way of life had opened up. There can be no surprise that Levi wanted to celebrate this with a great banquet.
When we throw a party we like to surround ourselves with our family, our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues. Unfortunately, for the Pharisees and the other religious dignitaries, Levi’s closest circle of acquaintances were even more tax collectors and similar social outcasts. And there, in the midst of this ‘untouchable’ gathering of ne’er-do-wells, sat Jesus, the guest of honour. For the religious leaders in that community this was beyond the pale, not only was Jesus undermining their teaching with his new ways, but now he was sitting in the home of a sinner, in the midst of many sinners. Jesus had, thereby, rendered himself unclean in their eyes.
Then comes Jesus answer to the question: Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus’ reply says much about the way we should be responding to the world around us. Jesus said that those who would be his disciples should deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow. Today we are seeing that in action. Levi responds to Jesus’ call by following him. Then comes the criticism and the vilification. Levi would have been accustomed to such treatment, but it shows us where following Jesus may lead us.
Jesus calls us to follow and then to go out in his name. We are not sent out into the comfortable places of this world. Rather, we are sent into the dark, cold and forbidding places where the light of Christ does not yet shine. Our association with such people in such places can easily leave us open to the same level of criticism as that expressed by the Pharisees and scribes. By travelling alongside the dispossessed and rejected ones of society we can soon find ourselves being classed with them. Our honouring of Jesus’ call in our lives turns into a cross that needs to be borne.
Today’s reading rounds off the group of four readings that have marked the beginning of our Lenten pilgrimage. The coming weeks are not going to be easy if we are going to be true to God’s call in our lives. So, let us pray for the strength we will need as we journey into a closer relationship with God, respond to Jesus’ call in our lives and bring healing and light into the lives of those who need it the most.