The Least of These, pt. 3

Oct 27, 2021
Tax collectors have never been popular, but in ancient Israel, they were absolutely reviled. They were the traitors, working for the oppressor, Rome. Chief tax collectors bid on their positions at an auction, then hired the various levels of collectors beneath them. Taxes at that time were not fixed, so collectors collected whatever they wanted. Sometimes, if someone was “assessed” taxes they couldn't pay, the collector would lend them the money, always at exorbitant rates, legalized loan sharking. They had the power in their hands to make financial fortunes and/or completely destroy the lives of their fellow citizens at will. They were loathed, categorized as sinners on the level of murderers and harlots, so unclean that their money was even unfit for charity.

Levi was a tax collector.

I know, I know, you're probably thinking, "Levi? I thought we were talking about Matthew." Well, just stick with me here and you'll see where I'm going with it all.

Levi lived in or around Capernaum, where he had his collecting booth. He was the son of Alphaeus, and that's about all the Gospels tell of him. But historical records about his job and its consequences do exist. Alphaeus probably grieved for his son as if he had died, because he would have been disowned immediately. His siblings would have hated him and the shame he brought to their family's name, scattering to avoid being
associated with such a noted sinner. The Gospels don't tell us why he made this drastic decision but make it he did with eyes wide open.

Levi was alone. He actively sought the company of other outcasts, because no one else would associate with him. Alone together.

One day, there arose a commotion near his collection booth. Levi looked up from his scrolls only to see a man standing near him. Jesus. Levi had heard of Him; all of Capernaum had heard of Him. How could he not? Jesus met his gaze. Levi steeled himself for another tongue lashing. He'd had them before. If He did, though, Levi could get his revenge at the tax tables. He'd done it before.

He met Jesus's gaze defiantly at first, then noticed something he hadn't seen in a long time. Acceptance. Compassion. Warmth. The walls built around Levi's heart shattered, allowing the pain to wash over him. Loneliness seemed suddenly to lift like a fog in that gaze. What could He possibly want from a man of Levi's situation?

“Follow Me.”

Two words. Two words that held a world of meaning. Levi stood up, locked in that wonderful gaze, and abruptly left his collection booth. He hurried home and began to prepare a feast for his fellow outcasts and Jesus, as well as Jesus's disciples.

Everyone was seated when the Pharisees showed up. Big surprise. They attacked anyone who dared be seen with such people. “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus dared to break the Pharisees' rules of whom it was appropriate to eat with and whom it wasn't?

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[ a ] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13

This was an open door that Levi didn't hesitate to jump through. Here was his new life. Jesus even gave him a new name: Matthew. It means, Yahweh's Gift.” Jesus saw him as God's unrecognized gift. Matthew gave his entire life to Jesus, writing the earliest of the Gospels, evangelizing, and eventually being martyred for his faith. His new life had cost him everything but gave him so much more.

Many times, we slide sideways into sin, more or less unaware of our drifting until we're slapped in the face by the consequences. But sometimes, like Levi, we consciously choose to sin. We walk in fully aware of the bad choices we make but make them anyway. The defiance demands that we mask our rebellion with fake bravado, but deep inside we know we are in the wrong. Guilt, shame, and the enemy's whispers convince us that we have blown our chances with God.

Beloved, nothing can be further from the truth. Your significance wasn't destroyed by your mistakes or even by your rebellion. Repentance makes everything new, and God won't withhold your original destiny from you. He created you for that very purpose. He wants you. He knows you. He accepts you. His love and power can't be destroyed by your puny efforts to run your own show. Don't let shame make you run from those wide-open arms waiting for you to turn around and be embraced by His love. You may be bruised and battered, but you are only a short, heartfelt prayer away from His healing touch.

You are not an outcast.