27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Again we see Jesus issuing a call to a person not from behind a pulpit, but from that person's place of work, and we see the shaping of a new movement and it's followers by their actions and not just theri beliefs. It was Levi's willingness to leave his employment that marks him off as a disciple.
But in leaving his employment he doesn't leave his relationships. The first action following the leaving is the party! And to this party he calls all his old acquaintances. It is worth noting that the religious leaders are not so much concerned with the party but with the company.
I wonder were they already wary of Jesus. They complain to his disciples, not to Jesus himself, although it is Jesus who answers their query (Luke 5:30-31).
Jesus reply is of course very instructive. It makes me think that he may have been a difficult person to be around because it's a rather rude response to their question. Let's imagine for a moment that the religious leaders are genuine in their questioning, genuinely confused about how this otherwise orthodix Jewish rabbi can justify eating and drinking with people the culture considers to be unclean. Tax collectors were usually employed by non-Jews to extract the taxes of the Empire. Sinners, well they could be allsorts. In his studies of the Gospels, Ched Myers suggests these may have been people who were in debt. What was Jesus doing with these kinds of people?
Jesus' response displays an attitude to faith that seems to say that he is less concerned with keeping people in line than with increasing the numbers in the ranks. For the religious leaders the traditional practices of faith seem to be used for the purposes of exclusion rather than distinctiveness, which was the original intent of food laws.
And so I kind of imagine Jesus putting air quotes around the word "righteous" in 5:32. It's a sarcastic comment that betrays Jesus attitudes to the morally righteous, law abiding, upright citizens. "If you think you've got it sorted," Jesus seems to say, "then you have no need of me, and I'm not overly interested in you."
But the reality is that there is nothing that Jesus can do for us unless we realise our need for repentance. And repentance isn't the confession of wrong things we have done, it is an acknowledgment that we have missed the mark and need to adjust our aim entirely and radically. Like Levi leaving his job.
And of course we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Levi "followed" Jesus Luke 5:28). So his repentance was not a once off action, but a steady, consistent, costly attitude or walk. It's the adoption of a whole new direction of life.
Imagine for a moment that Jesus stood in front of you and said “Leave everything and follow me!” Spend a little bit of time thinking about what might be the most difficult thing to leave behind. It may be a thing, a person, a status or position, or an idea you have about yourself. Put a name on it now before Jesus. What would it cost you to surrender this to follow.