Monday, August 3, 2015

The Call of Levi... a relfection.(Luke 5:27-31)... Following His footsteps: The Ministry of Jesus in Luke's gospel (part 8)

This week has been dominated for me by coughing and feeling rundown and tired. I don’t think it’s the flu, unless it’s that mysterious strain of it called man flu… But thankfully it seems to be getting better. And all week I’d been tossing up weather I needed to go to the doctor. You see when I go to see the doctor I acknowledge two things… the first is I am sick  and the second is that I can’t help myself, I need someone to bring me back to health. This is the picture Jesus uses to talk of his mission and his revolution of Grace. This is how Jesus answers his critics who accuse him of hanging out with the wrong crowd. And as we follow his footsteps this is what Jesus calls us to be about as well.

Tax collectors are never popular, and as NT Wright says, “In Jesus day it was worse.” They were notorious as extortionists… taking more than was required. They worked for the Romans or for Herod so they were seen as being politically suspicious, collaborators with an occupying force or a corrupt regime. Because of their contact with gentiles they would have been seen as religiously suspect as well. There was that question of ritual uncleanness. They found themselves on the edge on the outer… branded as sinners.

Levi was a tax collector, but we don’t know if he fitted that stereotype, we don’t have any back story, any details about him, this is the only time he appears in Luke’s gospel. He maybe the same person who is called Matthew in Matthew gospel, the person who is traditional credited with writing that gospel. He isn’t the first tax collector mentioned in Luke’s gospel. When John the Baptist had come calling people to repent and be baptised, to prepare the way of the Lord, it says even tax collectors had come to be baptised… They had asked John what was expected of them, what did it mean for them to show the fruit of repentance and he had told them… “Don’t collect more than is required.” They were stuck in their jobs but even in that difficult place could honour God by acting justly.

Jesus was passing through Levi’s town, he sees him sitting at his tax booth, collecting tax from travellers and traders. We see Jesus revolution of grace. The grace of God that had been encapsulated in the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read at Nazareth that was being fulfilled in the freeing of a demonized man at Capernaum inviting fishermen to become disciples, touching a leper clean, forgiving and healing a paralysed man so he was made whole, and now was shown in reaching out to Levi… ‘Come and follow Me” says Jesus… Usually religious teachers would pick the best of the best, the brightest, and the most pious to be their followers, their students but here Jesus invites Levi- a tax collector, branded a sinner.

We don’t know what he saw in Levi, But Levi shows us the response that Jesus is looking for… In words that echo the actions of the paralysed man at Jesus command to get up, Levi gets up… he is prepared to move, to obey Jesus… he leaves everything: on that table is his identity, his financial security and as he was probably appointed by the authorities he is leaving himself open to trouble with them, and he follows Jesus. In this he shows us that he is repentant, he wants to turn his life around. In response to the love and grace shown by God in Jesus Christ, in those two words of invitation, he leaves it all behind to focus on the purposes of God, in the person of Jesus.

t is a joyous occasion, do you grasp that, and Levi wants to share that with his friends. What better way than throwing a party. As a tax collector as someone ostracized by society all his friends are like him tax collectors or others labelled and shunned as sinners. Levi wants his friends to meet this wonderful man of God who talks and shows the love of God is for all. In the ancient near east to sit down and have table fellowship with people was to accept them as friends. This revolution of grace seems to be contagious, and people come to celebrate with Levi and to meet Jesus.

The Pharisee’s and teachers of the law see what is going on, they are concerned and worried. For them to be religious is to hold themselves separate. To keep the law and keep away from the likes of Levi and his friends, just in case they are seen as giving credence to these people and their way of life . They grumble to Jesus disciples, ‘what is he doing why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Two understandings of God collide one being good enough for God to act on our behalf and the other of the goodness of God shown to all who know their need.

And Jesus responds, “It is not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” I wonder if we don’t miss speak Jesus here when we read this passage. You see Jesus is using the language of the Pharisees to respond to them. He is picking up how they see themselves righteous, and healthy unaware of their own need for God’s grace. He uses the words they use to describe Jesus friends and Levi’s guests ‘sinner’ and we can focus on those words. But Jesus focus is on making people whole and well, on inviting back and welcoming and drawing to God those who would repent. Those who acknowledge their need for God and are willing to get up and leave it all behind and follow, two understandings of God collide: An earned intervention from God and a welcome to come back. A long list of requirements to be acceptable or simply one to know our need for God and in response to the love and grace we receive from him to repent, a willingness to leave it all behind and follow Jesus.

Where do you stand in this story today?

We don’t like it but it is easy to stand with the Pharisees. I mean they are the religious folk, to find ourselves ghettoised as followers of Jesus…

Do we stand with Levi at the tax booth and this morning you hear Jesus call to you… that liberating call…come follow me… You know your need for God’s love and grace and his call on your life and are you willing to get up, leave it all behind and follow Jesus.

Do you stand with Levi at his place at the banquet feast? Does your experience of this revolution of grace cause you to celebrate and want to share it with your friends, your community, those who need the healing and liberating touch of Jesus? When I was growing up Levi parties used to be popular, dinner thrown for people to invite friends and neighbours to where there would be both conversation about faith and life and like with the many dinner scenes in Luke’s gospel, after dinner talks about Jesus… Maybe it was a good idea it may have seemed a bit contrived. But the call of Levi to follow Jesus is a call to hospitality opening up our lives and our homes to others to those who do not know Jesus… It’s a call to allow our joy at knowing and following Jesus be contagious. It is about bringing the communities we live in to meet Jesus because he is with those who follow him.

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