Grace That Includes. Grace That Transforms.
Preparing for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany: One Day before Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 27:1-6
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 15:34—16:13
Gospel: Luke 5:27-32
Holy God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring healing to all wounds, make whole all that is broken, speak truth to all illusion, and shed light in every darkness, that all creation will see your glory and know your Christ. Amen.
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:27-32).
In the ancient world, to sit at the table with someone was to accept them. One could be in the presence of another person with whom they disapproved, but to dine with them was often a bridge too far if their way of life was unacceptable.
Jesus calls a motley crew of disciples and one of them is Levi, better known to us as Matthew. Levi is a tax collector who was hated by his own people as a traitor for collecting various taxes by the Romans, the occupying power in Judea. No self-respecting Jew would have had anything to do with Levi for he was part of the rabble of Israel; but Jesus is not just a self-respecting Jew. He is a physician calling those whose lives have been sickened by sin to healing.
What must not be missed in this story is that Levi leaves everything, even a lucrative job to follow Jesus. He then throws a dinner party and invites his friends, others of the rabble of society to introduce them to Jesus. Apparently, Levi wants to share his friend and his newly changed life with others. He’s a patient of Doctor Jesus spreading the word that Jesus has the cure for what ails them.
The religious leaders complain to Jesus’ disciples about the kind of company their master is keeping. Is he not approving of them and their way of life? After all, it is one thing to speak to the rabble on the street; it is quite another to fellowship around a table. Apparently, guilt by association is not a good thing.
This is not just a story of invitation to all with everyone welcomed around the table. It is that to be sure. This is also a story of repentance, of the renewal of those gathered in fellowship with Jesus. God’s grace is not only a grace of acceptance; it is also a grace that generates transformation. Jesus came to welcome all and invite everyone to a new way of life. Just as doctors are called to treat the sick which requires them to be in the presence of the ill, Jesus is called to treat the sin sick which requires building relationships and offering friendship. The religious leaders were more concerned with their reputations than with the needs of the people.
Around the first of every year, people will post the following list of New Year’s resolutions on social media:
Hang out with sinners.
Upset religious people.
Tell stories that make people think.
Choose unpopular friends.
Be kind, loving, and merciful.
Take naps on boats.
To hang out with sinners is to risk our reputations—guilt by association, but just like Jesus his followers are to enter into the world as a suffering redeeming presence. We cannot do that if our list of friends, or our guest list for fellowship are only “the religious.” There are many Levis in this world. In fact, we are all Levis—sinners in need of God’s transforming grace. Are we willing to risk being gossiped about and losing something of our reputation in our communities to befriend the Levis in our midst?
May our reputations take a backseat to the righteousness of our missional call. We are all Levi called to be with other Levis.
PRAYER: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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