The calling of Levi story, as recorded in Luke 5 is a simple story. Jesus sees Levi, asks him to follow, and Levi leaves everything to follow. Even the story that follows doesn’t cause too much concern. Levi has a banquet in Jesus’s honor and invites other tax collectors and friends to the banquet. The Pharisees get upset, why is Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, while Jesus rebukes 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 5:31-32) yet for some reason this story causes personal struggle on multiple levels.
Clearly, Jesus is in the right while the Pharisees and scribes are in the wrong. The Pharisees struggle with Jesus because of whom Jesus shares table fellowship. Jesus chooses to eat dinner with the outcasts of society. Imagine sharing a meal with whom you consider the most hatred and repulsive politician. That’s what Jesus does, he eats with the government workers that are despised because they are against their own people; they are against God. Yet the Pharisees’ attitude is shown to be wrong. The sick, the broken, those who are far from God’s Kingdom are the very ones Jesus came to save. In the ever lasting battle between Jesus and the current religious authorities, Jesus is always the winner.
However, this dinner banquet causes two struggles, that while related, cut me to the core. It’s a combination of two questions, in which both provide answers I don’t necessarily like.
Am I the healthy, or the sick?
Jesus says it’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick, which makes me wrestle with, who am I? Clearly from the story we want/need to be the sick. It’s those who claim to be healthy that Jesus is frustrated with. It’s those who claim to be healthy that Jesus condemns in the story. We don’t want to be the healthy because those are the bad characters in the story. However, who are the sick? They are the outcasts, the despised: prostitutes, murderers, thieves. While I know there are no levels to sins, I want those people to be worse than me. Do I really want to be labeled among the prostitutes and murderers? Are we on the same level? Do I want to be labeled with the white supremacist? Do I want to be labeled with those who kidnap children? If I claim the sick as my own, then I am placing myself in the same group as those which I despise. It’s easy to label them as sick: racists, misogynists, murderers. But to admit that I am no different, that I am just as bad as the white supremacist…well that’s hard to do. I want to be contrasted with them because they are messed up. However, in this story, I don’t want to be the healthy, I want to be the sick.
Which leads to the second question, am I sitting with Jesus or opposed to Jesus?
Jesus is sitting with tax collectors and sinners. To share table fellowship together is a great compliment; its fellowship, acceptance, embrace. Obviously Jesus doesn’t condone their actions, but Jesus clearly accepts them as made in the image of God and worthy of honor and respect as God creatures. How do I feel about Jesus eating with them? How do I feel about Jesus eating with white supremacists, adulterers, rapists, slave holders, greedy business owners, sleazy landlords, corrupt politicians…. I want Jesus to condemn them; to name their sins and put them in their place. These are vile, evil people. I don’t want Jesus to accept them. Yet if I argue with Jesus sitting with them, that again puts me on the wrong side of the story. Thus again I have to wrestle with the truth, will I accept them? Will I sit with them? Will I welcome them, and be welcomed by them?
These questions are real struggles. They cut to the core of real Christianity. There are certain sins that are despicable. And the Bible says very clearly that those who commit such sins will never enter the Kingdom of God. At the same time, it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I am no better than those that commit these atrocious sins. I want to hate racists, murderers, and sexual predators; but if I’m going to be formed into the image of Christ, I can’t. I need to name their sins as evil, but I can’t reject them completely, because it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
The story is unsettling. My own personal answers to the questions, are at times, even more unsettling. God help me to be more like Jesus.