A few things jump off the page in today’s Gospel reading. The first is this “And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him” (Luke 5:28; cf Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14). Note how Levi the tax collector responded to Jesus’ call to discipleship. May it be so for each of us. May we leave everything behind and follow Him.
Another interesting thing to note is what happened right after Levi began to follow Jesus. He threw a party. Not just a small gathering; a large banquet. There was a big crowd. Levi was happy to celebrate this life-changing event. It was also possibly a farewell to a life of money and material possessions, as was most likely a reality for tax collectors in those days. Levi invited his friends, those of the same profession, and others the Pharisees and scribes did not hold in high regard.
The Pharisees complained to Jesus’ disciples about their mingling with this supposedly unsavory crowd. The text shows us that Jesus answered. Perhaps right away. Perhaps after the disciples brought Him the message. Those who are healthy do not need a doctor. Only those who are sick. But who are the spiritually sick people in the passage (and today)? Everyone. Who are the sinners in need of repentance? All of us. We all need the healing touch of grace. The Pharisees did as well, at that very moment, but thought themselves righteous already. Despite the hostility of the Pharisees and other religious leaders toward Jesus, we repeatedly read about the Lord constantly interacting with them. I think this was for the sake of His love for the Pharisees, for teaching the disciples, and for our benefit. Jesus was certainly firm in His divine proclamations, and He rebuked often. But He never shied away from the opportunity to speak truth into the lives of everyone, including those like the Pharisees who sought to destroy Him.
It's easy to malign the Pharisees. Yet, if we are reflective, we can see ourselves in them. We like to make judgments about others and pretend to play God in our own minds; deciding who is deserving of grace and blessing and who is not. Deciding for ourselves which teachings of Jesus we want to follow and which ones we want to rationalize away. Imagine your pastor or church leader at a party with a group of corrupt politicians or nefarious businesspeople. What would you think? You might think something was wrong. Surely, your pastor should be sitting in his study with a Bible and sermon notes and not be mingling among this crowd. Surely, if your pastor was a godly man, he should be planning the next youth group retreat or sitting with the fellowship planning committee and not sullying his reputation around these people. We would most likely judge our pastor in this example in the same way the Pharisees stood in judgment of Jesus sitting with tax collectors. Let us not be too hasty in seeing the need for others to repent while we stand in equal need. Each of us needs the Great Physician.