Summary: A sermon about being a disciple.
“Be Careful of the Company You Keep”
There can be no doubt, this is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels and that is saying a lot.
We are able to see the Lord interacting with human beings in a very radical way, a very subversive way, a very new way.
And it is absolutely beautiful.
There are many layers of meaning here.
Let’s open our minds and our hearts this morning, and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to us through this passage.
To whom do we relate to most in this passage…
…the other disciples…
…the other sinners at the table?
What growing edges will God bring to light in our own lives as we listen, meditate and study this morning?
Let’s imagine the dinner table at Levi’s house.
Levi has been called by Jesus to be His disciple despite Levi’s shameful reputation as a crooked tax collector, and is so excited and grateful that he prepares a feast to celebrate.
He invites Jesus, his new colleagues—the other disciples of Jesus.
He also invites his old friends—tax collectors and sinners—who live outside the Law like he does, because he wants to proudly introduce Jesus and the other disciples to them.
There is something almost beautifully naïve here on the part of Levi.
For Levi, Jesus’ calling isn’t just proof of his own personal and individual acceptance by God, but it proves that Jesus is welcoming and calling all people—the religiously and socially marginalized—everyone has been offered a ticket to ride this train.
And Levi figures, why wouldn’t everyone accept it with as much enthusiasm and excitement as he has?
Surely, they will, he thinks.
I remember thinking something similar when I first became saved.
I immediately called up all my friends telling them about Jesus.
I figured they would all sign up like I had.
After-all, why wouldn’t they?
It was the truth staring them right in the face.
It was the secret to life.
It was the ultimate answer to all our problems.
I was sadly disappointed when the reception was not quite what I expected.
In any event, Jesus happily comes to the party and sits at the same table with some of the most questionable characters in town.
Since tax collectors and sinners were often grouped together with beggars, thieves, murderers, the sexually immoral, and Gentiles we can imagine what an inclusive party this was.
Now, the Scribes and the Pharisees, who separated themselves from others by in their strict observance of the Law, especially the Purity Laws are curious about what Jesus does in the house of the tax collector.
They peek in the house and are surprised by what is going on inside.
Jesus, Who claims to be the One Who has the divine authority to forgive sins, is eating and reclining with people who are impure!
Such barrier-breaking behavior flies in the face of the purity system’s wide spectrum of distinctions between the rich and the poor, male and female, Jew and Gentile, sick and healthy.
It must be noted that the same purity system, with its burdensome web of taxation and sacrifice, was also very profitable for the Temple and its priesthood.
Confused, the scribes ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus overhears this, and says to them: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
But, Jesus’ response to the Teachers of the Law, who were Pharisees, is a bit sarcastic.
Indeed, it is the teachers of the Law, the self-proclaimed righteous people, who are most in need of Jesus’ message, and yet are the least able to hear it.
After-all, if you are convinced you are righteous without Jesus—how are you going to be convinced of your need for a Savior?
We are reminded in Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And in 1st John 1 we are told, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”
The Pharisees were trying to live by the purity Laws in the Old Testament.
According to these Laws, they must separate themselves from sinners, or else they themselves will become unclean…or sinners themselves, shall we say.
Oh, how Jesus turns everything on its head.
Do you realize that our passage for this morning is the first place where Jesus’ followers are called “disciples” which means “learners” or “students.”