Most religious people would not catch themselves in a biker bar or talking with pimps and prostitutes, but when reading through the Gospels we catch Jesus talking to these kinds of people in these kinds of places often. Why does Jesus hang with sinners? Well, in Luke 5:27-32, Jesus eats with a tax collector and his companions, and it is here you get the answer.
What’s with the tax collector?
In Jesus day, tax collectors were hated. Some things don’t change! They were especially hated then because Israel was under Roman oppression. Certain Jews got the job of collecting taxes for Rome. They were viewed as a traitor or enemy who cheated their own people to get rich. For that reason, they were commonly avoided or the punchline of many bad jokes.
Who are the “tax collectors” in your life? Think of the person you avoid or talk bad about. Is it your beer drinking neighbor who parties too loudly, even on weeknights? Is it girl who is known by her second-rate reputation at your office. Is it the politician you love to bash?
Levi is a tax collector. He’s the guy you love to hate. But he’s also the guy Jesus loves to love. Jesus finds him. He doesn’t avoid him like someone with a virus. He finds him at the tax office counting his coins. Jesus doesn’t come in and blast his character or belittle his profession. He simply says a simple statement expecting a simple answer, “Follow Me.” Amazingly, Levi leaves everything and follows Jesus.
Levi’s life changed the day Jesus intersected him at his office. He’s so excited he throw a party. Since tax collectors don’t have many friend their friends are usually other tax collectors. The guest of honor at Levi’s party is Jesus.
Word spread faster than a British tabloid. The religious leaders came to Jesus’ disciples with their list of gripes and complaints. As the Pharisees see it, Jesus is in a lose-lose situation. Sinners are following Him. But Jesus sees it as a win-win. Sinners are following Him. Jesus defends Himself by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (5:31) What did Jesus mean by this?
Jesus directs his words towards the religious leaders. They are (spiritually) sick and don’t even know it. They are like a man who will not admit that he is sick and refuses go to a doctor for help. In their pride, they will suffer defiantly, if not die. Jesus came to bring healing our sin sickness that leads to death. Pride leads to death, but humility leads to the cross.
Will you repent?
Jesus follows up his first statement by saying, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentence.” (5:32; cf. 13:3-5; 15:10; 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 5:31) He’s not called to the righteous because they don’t think they have a need for Christ (when they really do!).
Jesus is called to the sinner who knows he is in need of Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15) and humble enough to come to Him for a life transformation. To repent is to humbly turn away from your sin and your self-righteousness and turn towards Jesus and His righteousness. It’s a life-transforming turn.
Do you see the contrast between Levi’s response to Jesus and the religious leaders response to Jesus? Levi follows immediately and throws Jesus a feast. The religious leader grumble, question, and judge. Levi wants Jesus to transform him, but the religious people want Jesus to conform to them. Levi has an attitude of repentance, while the religious leaders think they have no need for repentance. The religious leaders measure their goodness among themselves, while Levi measures His goodness against Jesus. The religious leaders follow their code of conduct, while Levi simply follows Jesus. Being a follower of Christ is much different than being a religious person.
A good question to ask yourself when reading this text is, Who do I respond like more often Levi or the Pharisee? If I were honest, I would have to say I respond more like the Pharisee. How about you?
So how do I change and love like Jesus loves? First, I must remember I was once like the tax collector to God. I lived the most unlovely life yet I was unconditionally loved by Him. I was infected by the most destructive disease known to man, sin. I can love my enemies because I was once God’s enemy and He loved me.
Second, repent and run to Jesus Christ. Repentance is your only means of healing. Repent of your pride, repent of hoarding God’s grace, and repent of your hateful attitude towards the tax collectors in your life. When you repent don’t expect life or loving others easier. Sometimes it can be harder. Jesus got Himself killed because of the way He ate.
Third, with the remaining days of your life make it my aim to follow Him, which means eating with sinners too. Extend to all the life-transforming eternity-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one, including you or the tax collectors in your life, are too sinful to enjoy the pleasure of sitting at Jesus’ table.