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"After this He went out and saw a man at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, 'Come along with me.' And he did -- walked away from everything and went with Him.
"Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to His disciples greatly offended. 'What is He doing eating and drinking with crooks and "sinners"?' Jesus heard about it and spoke up, 'Who needs a doctor; the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting outsiders, not insiders -- an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.'" Luke 5:27-31 (The Message).
Levi? A tax man? Jesus called him? And then Levi throws a party and invites all the scum from the underworld? And Jesus goes there?
What was He thinking? And then He actually eats with them? Isn't that taking things a bit too far? Jesus was the God-man remember, and God was eating with them!
We are so used to reading the story that it doesn't impact us like it impacted those religious men. How could this Jesus, who said He was God, whom Habakkuk said was of purer eyes than to look at evil, actually sit down and eat a meal with known "sinners" -- people who habitually and deliberately broke the law and did nothing about it? They probably never went near the Temple, let alone offered a sacrifice to atone for their wickedness.
To share a meal with someone in that culture had great significance. You never ate with someone with whom you had issues. Eating a meal was a signal to everyone around that you were reconciled. God reconciled? To these people?
By celebrating with the "outsiders", Jesus was making a profound statement. God and sinners were reconciled! But how could that be? Where was the sacrifice? He was there, with them, right before their eyes -- the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world, taking away the sin of the world. The world? Yes.
These despised outcasts were just as much sons of God as the scribes and Pharisees who thought they had exclusive rights to God because of their "performance". In Jesus' story of the "prodigal son", both sons were in the far country, the younger one in body and the older one in attitude. For the father, it was more difficult to win his older son back than the younger because he was so convinced that he was right.
Jesus not only taught but He showed that God is far less concerned about what people do as He is about who they are. On the basis of the atoning sacrifice of His Son, the Father receives whoever is willing to come home because they are sons and daughters -- wayward yes, but nevertheless His children. "'For in Him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your poets have said, 'We are His offspring.'" Acts 17:28 (NIV).
That was something the Pharisees could not understand because they based everything on their performance, especially what they did for public scrutiny. What was in their hearts was unseen and therefore irrelevant, so they thought.
Jesus' little barb must have hit home because they had nothing more to say. 'It's the sick who need healing, not those who think they are well.' The greatest of all tragedies was that they were blissfully unaware of how sick they really were. It's those who think they are okay who need the healing the most.
It's better to be honest than to be fooled. The riff-raff of society in Jesus' day welcomed Him because they knew how sick they were. There was a connection because He responded to their honesty. He could not connect with the religious people because they had built a wall of pretence they were not willing to demolish and only they could break it down.
What about you? Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
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