Levi had a tax office along the shores near Capernaum, and he
wasn't much liked by people in those parts. But then according to some,
Jesus wasn't either.



Then Jesus went out again by the sea, and all the multitude came
to Him and He taught them. As Jesus passed by, He saw Levi the
son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. Jesus said to him,
"Follow Me." So Levi arose and followed Jesus.

[{Luke 5:29} Then Levi gave Him a great feast.] As Jesus was
dining in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners also sat
together with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw
this, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks
with tax collectors and sinners?"

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have
no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to
call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. [{Matt. 9:13} Now
go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.']"

                                                          Mark 2:13-17 NJKV, condensed


                                    Levi - He's Not One of Us

Levi was a Jew working for the Romans. He helped the occupying
government collect taxes from his fellow-Jews. Levi was a man of two
worlds, Jewish and Roman, but he didn't really belong to either one.
Levi was a good Jewish name, a form of the word Levite, those
caretakers of the ancient Tabernacle. When he became a tax collector,
Levi turned his back on his Jewish identity and befriended the enemy.
But he was a rich man and that's what mattered to him.

Location is everything, and Levi had a good one. He set his tax office
near the seaside town of Capernaum. Right along the shores of the
Sea of Galilee and right in line to have taxed the fishermen, including
Simon and Andrew, James and John and their father Zebedee. Tax
collectors were known for their greed and corruption. They would
charge the people so much for Rome, and so much for themselves!
Their greed made people bleed.

On that particular day, Jesus was teaching by the Sea. Multitudes
were gathered around trying to hear him. And Levi was chalking up
his profits. Then Jesus took a break and headed toward the road.
Contempt is something you can feel in the air, and Jesus knew, as he
paused at Levi's tax booth, there was good reason.

The more we read about Jesus, the more we learn to look for the
surprises, something unusual and unexpected, and it's going to happen
right about now. Jesus walked up the that fat-cat crook and said,
"Follow Me." What in the world was Jesus thinking!? In response, Levi
stood up, shut the door on his office, and followed Jesus. What in the
world was Levi thinking!? Among the crowd, we feel the element of
alarm and dismay. "No, we don't want that man with us!"

Many people would criticize and condemn. But Levi was overjoyed.  He 
prepared a great banquet for Jesus. His energy was in high gear, and
of course, Levi invited all his friends, in addition to the people who 
accompanied Jesus. 

Whenever there was joy and celebration in the Gospels, the Pharisees
are portrayed as being unhappy and critical. It happened again
at Levi's dinner table.  The Pharisees started whispering little
innuendoes suggesting that Jesus was out of line. They elbowed the
disciples with questions of propriety, "Why does your teacher eat
with sinners?"

Jesus responded by drawing some pictures with his words--about
the sick, the healthy and the doctor; about the righteous, the sinners
and the preacher. Assuming that they were healthy and righteous,
these Pharisees pumped up just a little until Jesus added this
assignment just for them. "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire
mercy and not sacrifice.'"

When Levi left his lucrative business behind, he became richer by far.
In time, Jesus would give Levi a new name and call forth in him what
no one else could see. A miracle was in progress just as amazing as
when Jesus healed the man who was full of leprosy. Jesus gave Levi
the name Matthew which means "gift of the Lord" or "one who gives".
Levi the taker became Matthew the giver.

Perhaps Jesus realized he needed some talents other than fishermen
among his disciples. Levi would have been better educated than the
other disciples. He was organized and kept accurate records. Levi had
the skills of a good businessman. What's more, he had a lot of
experience at turning a deaf ear to insults. And his zeal for personal
wealth? Jesus would redirect all that ambition into something worthy
of his life.

What would happen to that little band of disciples when Matthew was
added to the mix? By calling Levi to be one of his disciples, Jesus 
created a teachable moment. Think of those Galilean fisherman--
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John--reacting to their tax collector
being called by Jesus into their little circle. Levi had over-taxed them,
took money right out of their pockets. And now he was one of them,
with a new name to boot. Matthew, Gift of God. Can you believe that!?
God's grace and forgiveness extended to all, with no one excluded.
What a way to learn first hand about the kingdom of God.


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker: Were you ever in a situation where you thought people
                   didn't like you? Do you ever feel like you do not belong?
                   Think of an example you can share.

 

What occupations or professions are frowned upon today?
Do you think Jesus can make disciples of people who do those jobs?


The invitation of Jesus was extended to Levi, the man of two worlds
who belonged to neither. The invitation held the promise of acceptance
and a sense of belonging.
            What impact would such an invitation have on a person
            who heretofore was not accepted within his society?


What did Jesus mean when he said to someone, "Follow Me."?
            What other words could you use to say what Jesus meant?
Then as now, it required faith to stand up and follow Jesus.
            Give some examples of times when you said "yes" in faith?
Matthew said "yes" to God's grace and forgiveness.
            Do you have any specific memories of doing that?

 

Was there a definite moment when God turned your life around?
Or was your conversion to Christ a gradual experience over time?
Maybe you simply grew up in the faith?
            How might people from these three backgrounds react differently
            to the conversion experience of Levi?

 

Levi/Matthew gained a lot by following Jesus. We wouldn't be talking
about him today if he had remained a tax collector. And we wouldn't have
a Gospel of Matthew in the all-time best seller of the world, the Bible.
            Do you think you gained more than you lost when you decided
                        to follow Jesus?
            List some of the things you have gained.


The Pharisees had a question--Why does Jesus eat and drink with sinners?
            How do you think the disciples responded?
            What could they say to defend or support Jesus' actions?
            Explain Jesus' answer. In Levi's house, who were the "healthy"?


How inclusive are you?
            What opportunities do you have to practice the lessons of grace-giving?
            Is God's grace and forgiveness really extended to all?
            Have you ever seen anyone shed their old identity and take on a
                        new and better one?

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