Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Levi’s invitation to join Jesus’ intimate group of disciples is set among several amazing stories of Jesus’ teachings and healing miracles. These activities drew enormous crowds which included many esteemed religious authorities, the Pharisees and their legal scholars. These religious experts were eager to ensure Jesus wouldn’t compromise their beliefs about scripture and holiness. Because Jesus hadn’t been formally educated in their traditions, the overwhelming public response to him attracted their scrutiny.
When Levi abruptly left his profession (which had a reputation for corruption) to follow Jesus, Levi’s enthusiasm prompted him to invite fellow professionals and others to his home to listen to his new boss. Rather than celebrating Levi’s conversion from a disreputable lifestyle to life-giving faith, the religious experts harshly rebuked Jesus and his disciples for participating in this meal with non-religious outsiders.
Jesus responded by chastising these leaders for missing the point of his association with those who needed what he could provide. He reminded them, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but those who are ill.” He then restated his primary mission, “I have not come to invite the ‘righteous’ but ‘sinners’—to change their ways.” Jesus was not just putting the religious leaders in their place; he was inviting them to have their hearts and traditions changed.
Sometimes religious knowledge has led me to criticize people living corrupt or destructive lifestyles rather than motivating me to compassionately invite them to restoration in Jesus. How many celebrations of Jesus’ new life have I missed as such a critic? This Levi narrative stirred me to avoid this pitfall in the future. A verse preceding the story provided this insight:
Luke 5:16 “Jesus frequently withdrew alone to the wilderness and prayed.”
If Jesus frequently consulted his Heavenly Father before interacting with those he came to restore, doesn’t it follow that I must also ask our Heavenly Father to bring me into compassionate relationships with marginalized outsiders who need his transformative power?
Will you join me in this prayer? Heavenly Father, how have I allowed a critical spirit to prevent marginalized outsiders from celebrating new life in Jesus? Today, give me a soft heart and new eyes to see, invite, and compassionately interact with those you place in my path.
By Kathleen Petersen