The Book of Luke, The Calling of the Disciple, Levi or Matthew As We Know Him – Lesson 61
Luke 5:27-32, And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Jesus Christ told Levi to follow him and Levi left all and he rose up and he followed him.
This obedience to our Lord, this life changing event, called for a celebration and Levi invited Jesus and all of his fellow publicans and others to a great feast in his house.
And because of this celebration and because of who was there we are witness to the continued murmuring of the scribes and Pharisees.
They see in the act of eating and drinking with sinners, a behavior that does not conform to what, in their mind, a righteous person would do.
The Pharisees and scribes lived by the principle that a righteous person will not spend time with sinners for to do so is to become impure.
Of course in order for that principle to operate there must be a category in which righteous people fit and there must be a category into which sinners fit.
But the Bible says that there is none righteous, no not one, and therefore the only righteousness that they had was self righteousness which does not impress God in any way for self righteousness is a lie.
Righteousness inherent in a sinner is not possible.
When Jesus said he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance he was telling us that the Pharisees and the scribes were in the righteous category.
That can only mean self righteousness and therefore they were outside of the need for a physician.
So we see in this passage two extremes on the social ladder of Israel.
Therefore it is easy to see how the Pharisees and scribes could compare themselves with the hated tax collectors and the result was that they located themselves high up on the ladder.
Sinner always compares themselves among themselves to find a place higher than another.
God chose this situation where we see extremes to teach us about this dangerous condition that religious people manage to get themselves into by the very nature of religious life.
And that dangerous condition is self-righteousness; a condition that puts a person beyond the reach of the great physician for Jesus Christ came not to call the righteous to repentance.
So Jesus Christ, in order to teach us about this dangerous self evaluation, chooses to call a tax collector to follow him and he also chooses to eat and to drink not only with Levi but with all his tax collector friends.
In so doing he knows that this will shock those whose self righteous lives will not permit such relationships.
They cannot go beyond the limits of their self righteousness for if they do they will no longer be righteous as they define righteousness.
Now as we learned last week a tax-collector was thought to be among the lowest forms of human-kind.
The very nature of the position of tax-collector, like many jobs, included opportunities for many kinds of evil and self enrichment.
Luke in a previous chapter told us of which many tax-collectors were guilty when he wrote of John the Baptist’s words to the tax-collectors who came to him for baptism:
Luke 3:12-13, Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
You are not to place a surcharge on the taxes you are appointed to collect.
So by this admonition of John the Baptist we know that many tax-collectors were guilty of abusing their position.
They used the power of the state to charge excessive taxes and to keep the profits of their evil deeds.
By John pointing that out it was probably their major offense.
They used their position to enrich themselves by adding to the tax a percentage which found its way into their pockets.
We will later read in Luke 19 of one instance in which a sinful tax-collector, Zaccheus, repented and made restitution for his wrongdoing.
However we are given nothing in this passage that would convince us that Levi or Matthew as we know him was a crooked tax-collector.
Matthew, upon following Jesus, made no offer of restitution, as did Zaccheus.
The assumption of the Pharisees, that all tax-collectors were crooked, or sinners, was wrong, and there is nothing given to lead us to believe that Matthew was a crooked tax collector.
As in all prejudice, groups are lumped together and all judged for the sins of a few or even the sins of many.
But prejudice ought not to be in the Christian for God gives his children tools in his word to judge better than to judge by prejudice and to neglect those tools is an offense against God.
And so it was that Jesus passed by the tax office of Levi and invited him to follow as a disciple.
Luke alone tells us that Levi, much like Peter, Andrew, James and John at the beginning of the chapter, left everything and followed as he was commanded.