Again, Follow Me!
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In our verses for today, once again we find a large crowd assembled around the Master. Ever focused on His mission, Jesus begins to teach them. Walking beside the lake our Lord spies Levi (also known as Matthew), a hated tax collector.
Levi was a Jewish tax official employed by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. Often the officials in these positions were involved in fraud and scandal, bribery and extortion, and therefore they were despised by the Jews. Jesus sought out the lowly and the despised and willingly offered His hand of mercy. Sin and scandal prior to conversion is no bar to mercy and grace in our Lord’s eyes.
Levi invited our Lord and His disciples to a feast at his home and included some of his “sinner” comrades. When we have good news, we want to share it with others! This did not go over well with the religious leaders of the day: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (verse 16).
In every age we have men and women who use their religion for their own purposes. The Pharisees were the elite, the highly admired, the rule makers, and they relished in their positions. They mixed a pious faith with power and pride which resulted in a bitter and toxic amalgamation. Their hearts were as hard as stone, their condition dead, and they were too full of themselves to discern it. This was why Jesus was called them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” and “white-washed tombs.” Matthew records our Lord’s words:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’” (Matthew 23:16)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27)
Before we get too fat and sassy and come down hard on these religious leaders, we should examine our own hearts. Do we look down on others thinking we are better? Do we relish man’s praise over God’s? Do we stay herded in our holy huddles, holding our religious club meetings? Do we follow tradition or follow Jesus? We must pay careful attention to our own hearts lest our Jesus directs those “Woe’s” at us as well. Remember the lukewarm Church of Laodicea Jesus chastised in Revelation and His command to them:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)
Take It to Heart
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:19-20)
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)