Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As 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.
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. When 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?” When 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.”
As I said back in Matthew, this is one of my favorite stories. (Although, in Matthew the tax collector’s name is Matthew, not Levi.) The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would save them, God’s chosen people. But not only does Jesus go around ministering to the Gentiles, but He hangs out with the tax collectors! The absolute worst kind of people. The men who take money from the poor in order to make themselves richer. And Jesus eats dinner with them! Why?
Because Jesus came to change the hearts of sinners. Sinners need Jesus more than anyone. Yesterday I said that without forgiveness sins are the most painful injuries to our soul. These men, these tax collectors, were in spiritual pain. Who better for Jesus to come and transform. It’s no accident that this story follows several healing stories. The tax collectors needed healing just as much, if not more than the sick. But it wasn’t their bodies that needed healing, it was their souls. And there are so many people in our world today who need Jesus the same way. But instead of inviting them over for dinner, we call them names, protest against them, fight with them, shun them, and act the exact opposite as Jesus calls us to. We treat them with hate and fear, instead of love.
It’s easy to think of groups or individuals we perceive as “enemies.” A very simple and universal example are terrorists. People who kill civilians in cold blood in order to inspire fear. Our challenge is to think about whether we treat them the way Jesus treated Levi. I don’t think we do. Remember when Bin Laden was finally killed? People literally celebrated his death in the streets. Remember back in 2012 that flight that had to be grounded because passengers were so afraid of a group of Arabic men praying? Ironically, the Arabic men were praying because THEY were afraid of terrorists. Remember after the Boston Marathon bombing, the widespread call throughout the internet for the suspects to be given the death penalty? The next challenge is to think about what we can do to treat such people the way Jesus treated Levi. Terrorists are just one example, but think of all the individuals in your life you fight with over religion, or politics, or whatever. If you’re anything like me, that shouldn’t be hard. Is fighting with them what Jesus would want you to do? What WOULD He want you to do? That might be a little bit harder. But I think, as a group, Christians don’t spend enough time thinking about this question. Especially when dealing with people with different beliefs than us, or people we think of as sinners.