RECOGNIZING OUR NEED
Lord Jesus, as you join me at my table, with each meal, make me aware of your presence and grateful for your abundant provisions for me.
Read LUKE 5:27-39
Jesus Calls Levi and Eats With Sinners
27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus Questioned About Fasting
33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it.’1
Jesus adds another disciple to his inner circle: Levi, also called Matthew. Levi leaves a lucrative tax-collecting business to follow Jesus; he has more to lose than most of the other disciples and leaves behind a material fortune to gain a spiritual one. What is more, he is quick to hold a banquet at his house, which many ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (v 30) attend. Levi wants his associates to meet this person who has transformed his life. This provides a helpful example of evangelistic hospitality for Luke’s readers.
In this context, Jesus has a telling exchange with the Pharisees and experts in the Jewish law, who ask his disciples why he is eating with such sinners. Hospitality and table fellowship were cultural norms with much bigger implications than we might recognize today. The word ‘sinners’ implies a social stigma of communicable ritual uncleanness, denoting unsavory individuals living beyond the boundaries of acceptable society. The Pharisees are scandalized by Jesus’ readiness to associate with people of such questionable reputation.
Jesus’ response highlights his attention to people who recognize and admit their need. The Pharisees wrapped themselves in respectability, making themselves appear holy by publicly doing good deeds and pointing out the sins of others. Jesus chooses to spend time not with such self-righteous, proud people, but with people who know they are not good enough for God on their own. Jesus is not condoning sin – he insists that sinners must repent – but his ministry of restoration is for the sick, not for those who fail to realize their need of a physician.
It is hard to admit weakness in a culture prioritizing strength. Yet recognizing need is the gateway to receiving God’s grace. Acknowledge that apart from him you can do nothing.
All that I have, dear Jesus, belongs to you. Forgive me when I cling to things that really are not mine. For your sake, help me to be a prodigal giver.
1 Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, HarperSanFrancisco, 1997
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