What the Church Should Be Criticized For
It appears to be a conversion so radical that not too much can or should be said about it. One minute Levi is lost, the next he is found. One minute he is outcast, the next he is accepted. One minute he is sitting, the next he is following. Jesus issues a radical call to discipleship and Levi responds with radical following. He “left everything” (v. 28), we are told, to follow Jesus. That means that he left his former way of life because it was likely irredeemable; it might have been impossible to stay in his profession and be a disciple. Sometimes such hard choices have to be made. Apparently, though, if Levi was going to leave his possessions and his wealth behind he did not do so right away. No, first he gave a big party at his house for Jesus. Whatever we have we should use in ways that are motivated by love for the Lord, and Levi did that.
And so he gave the big party for Jesus and he invited the people that he knew. One reason that sinners hang out with such a disreputable crowd is that no one else will have anything else to do with them. So if Levi was going to have any friends over there wasn’t much doubt about who they were going to be. There were also the ever-present Pharisees and religious legal experts, those guardians of morality and determiners of all that was righteous. They wanted to know why Jesus and his disciples ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. In that world, tax collectors were, because of their despised profession and their collaboration with the hated Roman occupation forces, judged to be violators of the Mosaic law. As a result, they were barred from participation in the synagogue. They were outcasts. To eat with someone was to engage in a most intimate acceptance of and fellowship with that person. Not only did Jesus not treat these sinners as outcasts but he accepted them fully into his life.
Note though that it is his disciples that the critics approach. Perhaps they were just trying to get at Jesus through them. Likely, though, Luke is trying to deal with the fact that the early church was criticized for the same thing. And frankly, this is something for which the church in every generation should be criticized. People think they are saying something bad about us if we go into the homes of socially damaged people or if we have known sinners and outcasts coming into our church to seek and to worship. In fact such criticism is a compliment. If we cannot be criticized for practicing such love and acceptance, then we have cause for concern. Jesus came to reach out to, to love, and to bring salvation and acceptance to sinners. That is our calling, too. They need repentance. They don’t need to respond to somebody’s judgmentalism but they do need to respond to God’s call to a changed life. Our task is to love them and to connect them with the God who can help them.
We too, in other words, are called to be physicians to the sick of all sorts—physical, emotional, spiritual, and social. That is our calling. Our prayer needs to be that God will make our hearts big and open them up wide. Our prayer should be that we will see people as God sees them—as lost, wandering, broken souls who need his love and grace and his changing power. Our prayer should be that God will give us the privilege of being the hands and feet and hearts of Jesus in our community. Let that be our prayer.