Levi held a great banquet for Jesus, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (Luke 5:29)
If you are a regular reader here at Grace for the Race, you know that tax collectors in ancient Israel were utterly despised because they were Jews who had hired themselves out to work for the Roman government. It was bad enough that the Israelites had to pay taxes to the hated Roman invaders; it was the worst of insults to have those taxes collected by their own countrymen.
To make things even worse, these tax collectors were not paid an actual wage by the Roman government. Instead, they were given a contract to pay a certain amount of money to Rome; any tax monies collected in excess of that contract amount they could pocket for themselves. Many tax collectors flagrantly abused this system, gouging their own countrymen with excessive tax payments in order to line their own pockets. Tax collectors were both rich and reviled by their Jewish brothers and sisters.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law . . . complained to [Jesus’] disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-31).
Levi was one of those despised tax collectors, but Jesus had him invited into relationship. (The name Levi will be unfamiliar to some readers; you know him better as Matthew, who authored the Gospel of Matthew.) Levi left a lucrative business to follow Jesus, and then held a banquet for his fellow tax collectors and other “sinners,” with Jesus as the honored guest. This is a powerful picture of the good news of the Gospel. To eat with someone in the ancient world was an act of friendship, fellowship, and intimate communion. Jesus was visibly demonstrating to these sinners, outcasts from polite society, that He was their friend . . . that He actually wanted them to be with Him!
In this story, there are only two kinds of people: sinners who acknowledge their sin and look to the Savior (the tax collectors and sinners who ate with Jesus), and sinners who refuse to acknowledge their sin and look to themselves for salvation (the Pharisees and teachers of the law). It is only when we acknowledge our own brokenness and look to Jesus to make us whole that we find ourselves with a place at His banquet table. Those of us who recognize our own sin and look to Jesus for cleansing are the broken-yet-beloved bride of Christ.
When that truth seized Levi, he became an instrument of Gospel grace for the glory of Jesus. Levi was so impacted by the love of Christ that he held a banquet for other broken people to meet with his new Master and be mended. Levi went from serving riches to serving his Redeemer.
May this be the confession of all our lives.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!