|painting by Jan Sanders van Hemmeson|
Tax collectors aren't popular, except when they're giving out an unexpected rebate. There was once a tax collector called Levi. He sat at his desk in the customs and excise office, when Jesus turned up and said, 'follow me'.
Levi wasn't someone you'd expect a rabbi like Jesus to choose. Although Levi (aka Matthew) was a Jew he would assume he was disqualified from following a religious teacher. Tax collectors were despised by other Jews, hated as traitors, collaborators with the occupying power. They were shunned as ceremonially unclean, banned from public worship and (like women) viewed as unreliable witnesses in court. In a corrupt system tax collectors charged commission on top of due rates. They were known to be unscrupulous extortioners.
When Jesus saw Levi, he saw all this. Did he see something more? Levi's longing to find more meaning to life than building up a fat personal pension? His hunger for God? When Jesus said to Levi 'follow me' it was a heart speaking to heart moment. Levi didn't hesitate. He got up, left everything and followed.
Levi's first action as Jesus' follower was to invite him home for a party - a banquet. So Jesus enjoyed the feast and the company of Levi's 'undesirable' friends and relations. The religious people were outraged at Jesus' behaviour. A law-abiding Jew would be scrupulous about the company he kept at table. They wouldn't eat with "tax collectors and sinners". But Jesus hadn't come to flatter the self-righteous. Those who are well (or think they are) don't need a doctor, said Jesus. Jesus said,
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."It seems that Jesus isn't as choosy about the company he keeps as we often are.
What if Jesus turned up at your work place or home today?
Or your church?
What would he see?
What do you imagine he might say?
How will you respond?
This is the 4th in a series of daily Lent reflections based on Bible readings from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on Luke 5: 27-32
PS. for a different reflection on this story see my later post 'Dropping Everything'