Devotional Thoughts for Today
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In this passage, we see Jesus calling Levi—better known to us as Matthew, the author of the first Gospel—to be one of His disciples. The first thing we learn about this man is his occupation, that he is a tax collector. Now, as much as we might dislike taxes and tax collectors, the typical Jew would have had a bitter hatred for tax collectors—especially if they were one of their countrymen. And this hatred would have been justified because tax collectors were employees of the occupying Roman Empire and their governors. The Jews absolutely hated Roman control over their land, and so collecting taxes for the Romans would have been viewed as a traitorous act. Therefore, the only people who would be willing to take such a job would have been those who were desperate for money and already outcasts of society. If you have already been rejected by society, what does it matter if you are cast out even further? At a certain point you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by betraying a society that has already betrayed you. Why Matthew chose to become a tax collector, we don’t know, but we do know that he was very comfortable being around other “sinners.”
For these reasons, it is amazing that Jesus called this man to “follow him,” and to make him one of His leaders. There are only two call narratives in the Gospel of Mark: the first is the calling of two pairs of brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John. It’s clear why Mark mentions these particular men because three of them would go on to form the nucleus of Jesus’ ministry. But after that, there is no mention of how the other eight men were called—except for Levi. And so what does this tell us? There is something significant about the calling of Mathew, because it is one thing to make disciples of fisherman, and a totally different thing to make a tax collector a disciple. There is nothing morally objectionable about being a fishermen—you might not be the most educated person or have any sort of position in society but can still be a respectable person. But a tax collector has lost all respectability and has become an outcast of society; no respectable religious leader would have kept company with such a person. But we see here that Jesus not only keeps company with such people, but He makes them disciples and identifies with them.
Jesus goes on to have dinner with Matthew and his band of “sinners.” This group would have included adulterers, prostitutes, thieves, and others on the fringe of society. By having dinner with them, Jesus was extending a hand of friendship to this group. Jesus is the friend of sinners and He longs to dine with us. When Mark wrote the description of this dinner, he used the Greek word katakeisthai, which is a far more formal and luxurious term than the usual meaning of the word “dinner.” This was not a group of friends getting together for an informal gathering. Rather, Matthew would have taken out the best of his silverware and cooked the most expensive of foods. The better term here might be the word “banquet,” because I believe it’s safe to assume that in this dinner, Mark saw a symbol of the great Messianic banquet at the end of age, when all sinners will be gathered together with Christ for a wedding feast. And at the feast of heaven, there will be people that we will not expect to be there, occupying the seats of honor. Perhaps that homeless person that you drive by everyday, who struggled all his life to maintain his faith in the midst of poverty and dementia, will be seated at a place of great honor. Perhaps sitting next to you will be former drug addicts, prostitutes, and others who were lost, but somehow they were found and gave their lives to the Lord. We can all look forward to the day when every sinner invited to the banqueting tables of God will rejoice with their Savior. What a glorious day that will be!
Prayer: Father, we are forever grateful that You call sinners to Yourself and that You sent Your Son to be the friend of sinners. We acknowledge that it is by Your grace that all are saved and not by our own righteousness. Though we didn’t deserve the love that was shown to us on the Cross, help us to receive it. We look forward to the day when we sit with our Savior and dine with Him. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Judges 2-3