Summary: Jesus teaches us something. The place we often think of as a garbage dump of human refuse, becomes in God’s eyes, a sick ward. People aren’t sick and depraved because of the wrong they do, they do what is wrong, because they are sick. Jesus is the cure
Supper in the Sick Ward
Theme: Healing from Sin
Portion: Luke 5:27-32
Intro: Is there anything so intimate as time spent over a meal? Through every known culture we discover that more happens at a meal than simply eating. At a meal conversation takes place and relationships develop. Indeed the supper table is a place that is central in almost every culture. The invitation to supper is a sign that you have been accepted. Normally we only invite strangers to our table whom we desire to know. There are few things as sacred in life than being invited to dine at someone’s table, and so it is an honour to receive such an invitation. Today more than ever, as people become more private, more ego-centric, the invitation to enter into the home and partake of a meal is an invitation to share their lives.
I. Why did Levi invite Jesus to his table?
Why did Jesus receive an invitation to dine at the table of Levi, the tax collector? What did Jesus give to Levi that he valued so much? What could he have offered him that he didn’t already possess? What was more valuable than everything he had amassed for himself?
Let’s consider the passage at hand: We pick up the narrative as Jesus is leaving a home that is in need of some serious roof renovation. Earlier that day four men had literally dug a hole through the roof in order to lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus. Jesus had shocked everyone by overlooking the obvious physical needs of this man and dealing instead with the issue of sin in his life. “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus said.
Now saying those words is not a difficult thing, but actually removing a persons sin, who can do that? This riled the religious folks who were there and so to prove that he had the power to expunge sin, Jesus expunged the man’s paralysis as well. Everyone was stunned, even the Pharisees. It is pretty hard to argue with a paraplegic who is dancing a jig.
While all this was happening Jesus slipped out. Down the street he went, right out to the city gate, to the place where a man named Levi was sitting by his tax booth. The area around the gate was quiet today… it wasn’t unusual whenever the tax collectors set up their booth. Most of the locals knew when to avoid certain areas when tax collectors were about.
Rome was the greatest and largest empire that had ever stood. Like a great machine it functioned, churning out good roads and beautiful cities and well fed armies. But machines need fuel and the fuel of Rome was taxes. If a region didn’t pay its taxes it would be sure to meet a few of those soldiers it was seeking to deprive of food.
Tax collecting was a job that the Roman’s considered below the level of a Roman citizen. Instead of collecting tax themselves they would make an assessment for the region and then sell the right to tax that area to the highest bidder – that person could do as he pleased so long as Rome received their required amount each year.
Taxes were severe in the Roman world: There was a poll tax applied to both men and women between the age of 12 and 65. This tax was basically assessed for the right to breathe Roman air, if you were alive, you had to pay. Then there was the ground tax; which required 1/10 of all grains grown and 1/5 of all wine and oil be submitted to Rome. On top of this was an Income Tax on anyone who received an income, this tax was only 1%. The tax collector would also charge a road tax for walking on Roman roads, if you didn’t walk on the roads… well, that’s your problem, they are there whether you walk on them or not. This road tax also included a tax on the use of any harbour and on the use of the marketplace… after all, the marketplace sits on the road system. Don’t forget the cart tax, that added an extra charge for the number of wheels on your cart and the number of animals pulling it. Then there was the purchase tax, a tax on all merchandise… but Canadians know all about that. Finally there was an import/export tax.
So there was good reason to avoid the tax collectors. You see, there was no way for Rome to inform the average citizen of how much he or she actually owed. The only one who could tell you was the tax collector himself. If you didn’t like his assessment, who would you appeal to? The governor? A magistrate? Or march all the way to Rome and ask Caesar?