Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Celebrating Repentance

Luke 5:27-32 (ESV)
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, "Follow me." [28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
[29] And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. [30] And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" [31] And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [32] I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

It’s quite an amazing event. Jesus calls Levi. Most would not expect it. Jesus was a rabbi, and he was respected by the people even if they looked at him cross eyed when he tried to teach things. A little controversy was expected, perhaps even welcomed. But this? He called a tax collector, a sinner, one who had betrayed his country and collaborated with the enemy, who had to break the Sabbath in order to do so. It was also unexpected that Levi, Matthew, would go along. He had a good job. Tax collectors made bank, and being as they were sinners they got to hang out with the fun people. The ones Jesus said would make it into the kingdom before everyone else, you know, prostitutes, which generally means loose women. It’s the kind of life a guy dreams about while watching almost any movie or music video, because when it comes down to it, we all really do want to be rock stars. Who gives all that up to follow a homeless Rabbi?
The other day I saw a Jim Carrey quote. It said something to the effect of “I hope everyone has a chance to become rich and famous, so they can all figure out it isn’t the answer.” It’s true. As appealing as being a “Rock Star” is, we all know it doesn’t fill the hole. We watch it over and over as they pop pills from pez dispensers, overdose, and blow their brains out for whatever reason. We say they just can’t hack it. I don’t think it is that. I think they don’t know how to deal with the reality when it finally hits them, its not the answer, the hole is still there. They thought it was the answer, would fill the void, and it isn’t there. The answer isn’t there. It’s all vanity as the preacher says. Vanity of vanities. So yeah, Levi goes with Jesus, he knows who he is, there has been a buzz going about. And here is a man, who looks at Levi and says, follow me. Instant acceptance. It’s so often what we want. Acceptance by another. Jesus gives it, and he isn’t just any old other. He’s Jesus, he’s teaching something new, he’s a rabbi offering a chance for repentance to a man for whom the whiskey stopped working. He realizes that here is opportunity to seek first the kingdom of God, even after everything else had been provided.
And it had. Levi was a man of means, and he celebrates his repentance in the most unusual of ways, he throws a party for Jesus inviting his old entourage, loose women and all. Levi realizes that there is nothing wrong with fine clothes, good wine, and having colorful friends that make life all that much more fun. Seriously, what would you do without that crazy friend who cuts loose all the time, calling you up at two AM to bail him out of jail? What? What would you do?
Levi throws the party, and naturally in a small town like Capernaum, everyone sees who is going. The disciples harass Jesus about it. And Jesus tells them these are the people he has come to call to repentance. In other words, he doesn’t have the time of day for the likes of them. He knows the ones who are ready to hear the gospel, and he comes to be with them, sinners. Sinners like you. Yes, he forgives your sins, and that is something worth celebrating.

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