A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Several years ago I was playing a video game in the Youth Room against a young man who spent the entire match creatively telling me how bad of a player I was and how I had no chance of ever beating him. Determined not to let my opponent get under my skin, I kept my mouth shut until my victory was certain, and then I casually questioned his ability if he lost to someone as unskilled as me. Seeing that he was not at all amused, I quickly got up and headed for the exit as quickly as possible. Looking over my shoulder to see if my enemy was in pursuit, as I took my initial step of what would have been a full-sprint I turned my head back around just in time to be stopped dead in my tracks by the corner edge of a solid-wood classroom door opened out into the hallway. Although the sound of face-meeting-door was loud enough to be heard all throughout the building, fortunately the soft-tissue of my upper lip cushioned the impact of the blow enough to save my teeth and prevent permanent brain damage. I rushed to the bathroom mirror to assess the damage and saw why my pursuers face had immediately drained of all color when I tried to tell him I was okay. Apparently the sight of a lip gushing blood and butterflied open like a medium-rare steak is even enough to bypass the waiting area at the Emergency Room, and within less than an hour I was all stitched up and on my way. Two weeks later, I actually had to wait longer to have the stitches removed than it took to get them. Because it had been over seven years since I had last seen my primary care physician, I had to be reentered into the system as a new patient, and after the stitches were out the doctor kindly told me he looked forward to seeing me again before another seven years passed.
To first century Jews there were few people more despicable than tax collectors. In what could only be described as a move of pure political genius, Rome recruited indigenous locals in each of their conquered territories to collect the taxes owed to the empire. In exchange for their assistance in extorting the occupied land, each tax collector was allowed to personally keep every dollar—or in this case denarius—above their prescribed quota, and granted the assistance of Roman soldiers to help with “payment processing” and personal security should the “clients” be unable or unwilling to comply with whatever arbitrary amount was demanded of them. Tax collectors richly deserved their reputation of being treasonous usurers and were universally loathed for flaunting their ill-gotten wealth while their ethnic and religious brethren languished in poverty.
Jesus continued to teach and travel by the Sea of Galilee and, walking past the tax collection booth, He issued the same invitation to Levi that He had previously given to the brothers’ fishermen: “follow me.” Without hesitation or reservation, Levi stood up, left everything behind, and immediately followed Jesus. To celebrate his new position as a disciple of Jesus, Levi threw a huge party and invited everyone to join in the festivities. Normally, no self-respecting Jew would have had any association with someone like Levi, and the only people he regularly wined and dined with were certainly other tax collectors and notorious “sinners.” This night, however, was completely different and along with the usual crowd, Jesus, the disciples, and even the some of the temple elite all showed up at Levi’s house. Jesus did not just pop-in to make a cameo appearance, but He actually reclined at Levi’s table surrounded by his motley crew of friends. When the Pharisees and scribes arrived a bit later they were appalled at Jesus’ blatant lack of discretion in selecting dinner companions and, pulling aside some of the disciples, they began to question their master’s motives.
Of course Jesus knew what the Pharisees were really thinking. He saw right through their righteous “concern for the law” to something far less honorable; spiritual pride and contempt for their brothers. They had devoted too much of their lives to legalistic obedience and ritual purity to be caught slumming it with the likes of Levi. To share a table, or even just a conversation, with these unrepentant sinners could jeopardize their ability to enter the temple and do the Lord’s work. Without excusing or defending the behavior of the “sinners,” Jesus explained that the entire purpose of His ministry, like the work of a trauma surgeon, was not to take care of the healthy, but to call the sick and tend to the wounded. Sadly the Pharisees didn’t realize that Jesus wasn’t just talking about the “sinners,” He was also talking about them.
The Pharisees had worked so hard at following the rules and keeping up with appearances that they completely missed the big idea behind all of God’s commands: love. Jesus taught that the two most important commandments were to love God and love others. The Pharisees’ open disdain for others was indicative of their lack of love for both God and His people. Instead of meeting the needs around them, they enjoyed feeling righteous and superior to everyone else and truly believed that they, not just God, were deserving of praise and honor for their personal holiness.
It can be so easy to look at the glaring sins or open wounds of those around us and fall into the same trap the Pharisees did of thinking that we have the answers to all the problems of the world. The Pharisees “knew” that if the sinners only came to their senses, cleaned themselves up, and started living like they did that their lives would be better. Ashamedly, I sometimes believe the same thing about my unbelieving neighbors and friends; if only they stopped doing “bad things” and started acting more like me then everything would be okay, but that is nothing less than re-packaged legalism. As I was reminded by my doctor those many years ago, just because I feel healthy doesn’t mean that I am. I don’t just need a field medic who can stop the bleeding and stitch me back together, I also need a doctor who can keep tabs on my health and help prevent minor issues from becoming major ones. Sinners don’t just need a bath or a few quick stitches because sin is more than surface deep. Sin is so pervasive and deeply rooted that the only hope for the unregenerate sinner is a complete heart transplant at the hands of a skilled physician.
Jesus came because no one, not even one, is righteous. All have sinned, each and every one of us have fallen spectacularly short of the glory of God. As a result of our sin we are all richly deserving of the divine wrath and judgement of God. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, sent Jesus to call us to Himself; the weak and the wounded, the sinner and the sick. Through His life we see that He welcomes even the deplorable to His table, and He forever secured our place there by His death on the cross.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, oh how often we fail to see our sin because we are too busy gawking at the sins of others. Forgive us for looking past and writing off the people You love and came to save. Thank You for the kindness and patience You have undeservedly lavished upon us and help us to show the same to those around us. You are our great Physician who sees us in our need and supplies all that we lack from Your unending abundance. We pray this in Your healing name. Amen.