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Lessons from Luke - Week 1

Friend of sinners and one who accepts those who society rejects. We hear this phrase a lot when it comes to Jesus, but what does this really mean?  Then, the question points back to us and asks us how we are to act or live when it comes to those in the margins or what we may see as sinners or outcasts.  Jesus, in this passage, calls an outcast to follow him. Let’s talk about Levi and what Levi was, a tax collector. 

“General tax collectors collected property tax, income tax and the poll tax. They had a poll tax which everybody had to pay whether they worked or not. It was a tax just for existing in the Roman empire. Then there was ground tax which consisted of one-tenth of all grain grown, and one-fifth of all oil and wine. You could pay this with the grain, oil and wine, or with money. Then there was the income tax, which was one percent.

The Mokhes (Mokes), however, collected a duty on imports and exports. They would set up toll booths on roads, harbor docks, and bridges and could tax almost anybody for anything that moved along the road. You could be walking down a road that you have been using for ten years, and all of a sudden, a tax collector sets up his booth on that road and starts charging people for using the road. And the tax was worse if you had a cart. You had to pay extra for every wheel on the cart. And if the cart was being pulled by animals, that was extra also. The tax collector could tell the man to open his packs and bundles of goods and tax him whatever he wanted. And in all of this, there was very little governmental control. Only the tax collectors and the government knew what the tax rate was, and it was always changing anyway, so the tax collectors could basically charge the people anything they wanted.

In any culture, such tax-gatherers would be despised and hated. But they were hated and despised even more so in Israel. Why?

Because these tax-gatherers were considered to be traitors. The Roman government always had a difficult time collecting taxes from the Jewish people, because many of the Jews had no qualms whatsoever about killing a Gentile who wanted to take their money to support the pagan Roman government. Eventually, though, the Roman government found a way to collect their taxes and keep their tax collectors from getting killed. They hired Jewish people to collect the taxes for them. Jewish zealots who didn’t mind killing Gentiles would never think of harming another Jew, even if they viewed this Jew as a traitor.

And the Roman government had a curious way of paying their tax collectors. They told the tax collectors how much money to send into the government. Anything that the tax collector could get above and beyond that amount could be kept for himself. So the tax collectors became greedy, and often extorted money from their own Jewish people.”[1]

And this is Levi and here is what Jesus does. Luke 5:27-32 Afterward, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me. ”Levi got up, left everything behind, and followed him. Then Levi threw a great banquet for Jesus in his home. A large number of tax collectors and others sat down to eat with them. The Pharisees and their legal experts grumbled against his disciples. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people but sinners to change their hearts and lives.”

Levi was asked to follow Jesus, and he did. Then Jesus fellowshipped with those on the margins. At this banquet, there were many tax collectors, outcasts from society, and what the religious leaders called sinners. The question comes right back to the church, and we must ask ourselves: Are we also fellowshipping with those that we are just comfortable with, or do we intentionally fellowship with those in the margins or whom society would cast to the side? 

Mark Roberts says “It is natural for us to serve those who are like us. We’re inclined to care for the people who live near us, look like us, vote like us, talk like us, and live like us. We prefer to hang out with these folks, to share our lives with them, and to go to church with them. It can be uncomfortable to reach out to people who aren’t like us, especially when their differentness puts them on the margins of our communities. We struggle to serve someone whose differentness we particularly disparage. Yet Jesus calls us to press through our discomfort, to see those we would easily overlook, to open our hearts to all who need the love and justice of God.”[2]

Levi was one that society would deem an outcast, and yet Jesus said to Levi, “Come follow me.” The religious leaders, or, let’s say, the people of the church, would not want Jesus to associate with those “kinds of people.”  Jesus’s response tells them the “why” behind the meal.  Luke 5:30-32 says, “The Pharisees and their legal experts grumbled against his disciples. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people but sinners to change their hearts and lives.”  Jesus called for people to follow and then change their lives.  He knew Levi’s ways and it was in the following and the meal with those on the margins that life transformation happens. 

It is a constant reminder of our own confession, which we say before The Great Thanksgiving, and it reminds us of our sinfulness of not being in relation to those in the margins. 

Merciful God,

we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have failed to be an obedient church.

We have not done your will,

we have broken your law,

we have rebelled against your love,

and we have not heard the cry of the needy.

Forgive us, we pray.

Free us for joyful obedience,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


It is at this meal that we are also reminded of the transformation through God’s grace that can happen. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 So we come back to the question, how do we act with people in the margins or considered outcasts?  The church’s response should be that of Christ and say follow me and then recline at the table with them in order that they see the Christ in us.  What has the church’s response been?  What has your community seen?  Has it seen the church that only points out the sin in all the non-religious people?  The church turns up its nose to people who are different or not a part of the church world. We can make a difference.  We have to welcome the stranger, open our doors to those in the margins, and repent of our old ways.

Well, there is hope for the church.  After the confession in the United Methodist Communion liturgy, it has a pardon and it says this:

Hear the good news:

Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;

that proves God's love toward us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

Glory to God.  Amen.




Week 1- Luke - Discipleship Guide
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