Luke 5:27-35

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink. Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”  Luke 5:27-35

I don’t know what it is but Americans have a fascination with mobster movies. The “Godfather” and “Goodfellas” make all the lists of the best movies of all times. Because of this, everyone recognizes what an extortionist shakedown looks like.

One or two “muscle guys” walk into a little business. The owner looks up with fear on his face. He goes to the cash register or he pulls out an envelope and hands the money to the muscle. If he doesn’t pay, horrific things happen to him. Organized crime calls this “protection money.”

That is what tax collectors did. Once they got their position, they had the backing of Roman muscle. And once they met the quota Rome expected, they could change whatever they could get away with on the top. They were hated.

Jesus left the crowded room after healing the lame guy only to notice Levi sitting at his tax collection booth. That wasn’t unusual; there were tax collectors in every village. What was shocking was what Jesus did. He invited Levi to follow him. And he did.

Imagine the looks from the crowd that followed Jesus and Levi as they headed toward Levi’s  house. Imagine how confusing that would be. Imagine that Jesus now had, not only the Pharisees and teachers of the law against him, but everyone who despised Levi. Yet, off they went.

Levi threw a party. He could afford it. He invited all of his friends – and, being a tax collector himself, those friends were mostly other tax collectors. Can you imagine Jesus eating Italian food at the same table as the characters from Goodfellas?

Well, we better, because that is what he did.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Again, the religious leaders miss the point.

Pass the spaghetti, please?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you invite us to join you at a table where all are welcome. But we’re picky eaters. Picky not only about the food but about who gets to sit at the table. Help us, in our daily lives and our common interactions with people, to treat others as you have treated us. With a gracious welcome, a merciful embrace, and an open heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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