Mark 2: 13 – 17 NLT
Jesus Calls Levi (Matthew)
“ Then Jesus went out to the lake-shore again and taught the crowds that were coming to
him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s
booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.
15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
In Mark 1, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew as well as James and John. All those disciples were fishermen; it mentioned James and John left their father and employees behind when they left. It appears these four men were employed in their own businesses. Definitely men we would consider today as good candidates to be assistants for starting something new.
Then Jesus calls Levi – aka Matthew, the tax collector. Levi’s name indicates he was Jewish, but he was also working for the Roman government collecting taxes. He would not be someone Jewish people would admire at all; he was a traitor. On top of that, tax collectors were known to be dishonest, taking bribes, charging more and keeping the extra. Money grabbers. Getting rich off their own people. Ugh! When Levi invites Jesus for dinner at his house, it says Levi invited “many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners”. I don’t know who the disreputable sinners were, but to also be called scum – they were not highly esteemed in that society at all.
The Pharisees were disgusted. How could a religious man who called himself the Son of Man associate with these people? They were watching Jesus because Jesus was becoming a very
popular Jewish figure. I think it’s easy for us to read these stories and be disgusted with the Pharisees. How could they be against Jesus, God’s son. Couldn’t they see who Jesus was? They must be phony religious men in it for the prestige, and not really concerned about a relationship with God. But I want us to stop a moment and think about our own attitudes.
Our Canadian culture admires success. We admire those successful in business, in sports, in music, in acting, etc.. We are quite happy to revolve our lives around others in the middle class – folks who live in similar neighbourhoods, or who we meet at work. I suspect none of us, including me, feel comfortable in some of the more run-down areas in downtown or west Windsor. We politely move over when we see someone in dirty, raggedy clothes. Jesus rebukes us by his example. Levi and his friends knew they needed help. They wanted to know Jesus. The Pharisees thought they had it all together; they didn’t need this new religious figure on the scene. Jesus said he came for those who were sick – they knew they were sick and needed help. In fact, Jesus sees Levi and asks him to be one of his disciples. Jesus isn’t looking for the person who has it all together. Jesus has a different idea of who serves God best.
I think it’s interesting that Matthew wrote one of the gospels which we read through not that long ago. Matthew is packed with facts about Jesus’ ministry and what Jesus said. Matthew is a precise kind of person; he wants to get it right. He’s the one who included a long list of Jesus’ ancestors, tracking it right back to Abraham. It’s not surprising that Matthew was a tax collector; keeping track of the money would require that detail-oriented brain. Jesus saw that trait in him, and knew he would be a great person to have among his disciples. Jesus could look beyond the surface of what the average person would assume. He could see Levi’s inner desire to have deep meaning in life, someone who was looking for a saviour.
We need to follow Jesus’ example. Someone’s success in our society doesn’t necessarily mean they are someone we should admire and try to follow. Perhaps the pandemic is shifting our focus a little, and hopefully that new focus stays in the future. Healthcare workers – the doctors, nurses, and especially the PSW’s on the front line in our long-term care facilities – work hard for us. The people who man the cash registers in the grocery stores meet some careless, even rude, people who trivialize the pandemic. The truck drivers keep bringing our goods to us with few facilities open to them to get food or use washrooms. We are beginning to realize how much essential workers mean to us.
Jesus looks at the heart, not the outward appearance or at society’s standards of importance – those things we tend to think are important. Jesus loves me no matter who I am. I can be poor, struggling with survival. I can be homeless. I can have a low-paying insignificant job. I can be a teenager with lots of ideas, but ignored because I’m young. I can be an at-home mom. I can be a mechanic in some tiny business. I can be someone with disabilities. I can be a senior past my prime – a little dementia setting in. I can also be rich, successful, and/or hold crucial jobs. I can have a PhD and be doing important research. It’s my heart that counts. It’s my willingness to follow Jesus.
“God so loved the world” (John 3: 16) – the world includes every single person. In our success driven culture, we all need to remind ourselves who is really important by Jesus’ standards. I’m sure you, and I include myself, feel we are caring, fairly humble people, but even I need to take a good look at my behaviour and attitude. Who do I really consider important?