As we continue our series LOVE PRAY EAT, here is the excerpt from the study guide for this week’s message on Luke 5:27-39…
Tax or toll collectors in Jesus’ day were money-hungry traitors who had sold out their own people to get rich by serving the occupying power of Rome. This was who Levi was. In a shocking move, Jesus not only calls Levi to be his disciple, but accepts an invitation to go to his house for a party. The religious heavies press Jesus and ask, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (v. 30). Jesus’ response in vv. 31-32 does not rebut the accusation that they are sinners, but Jesus states he has come calling sinners to repentance, which is a major theme in Luke-Acts. However, the call to repent does not deter sinners from feeling comfortable being around Jesus. (cf. 7:36-50; 15:1). And Jesus later relates the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin and exclaims that “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (cf Lk 15:1-8).
In their defence the Pharisees were only acting in accord with widespread beliefs and practice, not only within Judaism, but within the wider ancient world where sharing your table equalled spiritual oneness between parties. And as such, by eating with “sinners” Jesus is offering his kingdom to them.
Clearly then, Levi’s hospitality toward Jesus and the guests provide a location for Jesus’ mission to extend and proceed. The fact that Levi invites his friends and associates alludes to his own mission activity as he brings others to hear the good news, that the Messiah has welcomed him. He uses his networks and his home to allow the mission of Jesus to reach more people. In this sense, Levi, through his home and his party, becomes a missionary through whom the mission of Jesus is extended. And as such, Levi becomes a model to other believers—especially the rich—to do likewise. He had not gone to Bible college, didn’t do an internship, but was just very excited about meeting Jesus and wanted to share this good news with his mates.
A few thoughts to ponder: The devout religious folks were very upset over Jesus attending Levi’s party. Why do you think Jesus was willing to “eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners”? And how do you decide who you eat with? How might knowing Jesus influence whom you eat with?
Sociologist Rodney Stark notes that the primary transmission of religious conversion is social networking and friendships. That is, people come to faith mostly through friendship and social contact with other people of faith. Perhaps that’s one reason why Christianity grew so rapidly when churches were in people’s homes. What do you think was the impact on Levi’s social network after he became a passionate follower of Jesus? How might your own social network be impacted by your faith in Jesus? Do you look for opportunities to bring Christian and non-Christian friends together?