Inside with the Outsiders (Hunch 18)
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In God's Kingdom those who know they are outsiders are invited to become insiders. Those who demand a place as insiders should watch out. They have forgotten their real place. They are like sick people who have forgotten that they need a doctor. They may have even lost the plot.
Jesus healed people the priests could not heal, particularly these people with "evil spirits." He touched those the religious healers refused to touch. He made friends with people who could not be reached by the teachers of the law. He reached out to the un-reached. He welcomed “sinners”, asked "outsiders" like Levi to come on the "inside" of His school. He ate with these people and to eat food with a person means you are that person's friend. Jesus loved doing that.
Many think that they have to divide the world into the clean and the unclean, the righteous and the sinners, the good guys and the bad. They do anything to stay on the right side of their own line. They think that being clean and righteous means keeping away from the wrong people, eating with the right crowd. Sinners have evil spirits so it's best to stay away from them.
On this occasion, Jesus enjoyed a party with his friends. They all enjoyed themselves. The religious fat controllers did not join in, but they couldn't help themselves. They had to come along and make sure it was all done in the right way. They didn't dare go to Jesus direct. Instead, they went to His disciples and began arguing with them, coming over to their corner and stirring up a fuss. That is how such people work. They wanted to stick the “sinner” label on Jesus.
But Jesus was awake to these guys. “I can hear what you are thinking! I can see it on your faces. Yes, I am their doctor and we enjoy ourselves because My Father invites us all to His party. They need me because they know their lives are not what God requires and I am happy to befriend them, to share God’s gifts with them on that basis.” All need to hear this! God accepts us where we are. We may have a messy life, but God loves us just the same. Jesus says He specially wants to make friends with those who are on the edge, those who find it hard to visit the synagogue and hear God’s word because of all the aggro they have to put up with. Jesus was not troubled by those who thought they were putting themselves on God's right side every Sabbath by attending synagogue. Instead Jesus went out of His way to enjoy the company of Levi and his friends!
Jesus went to where the people were who needed Him. He met some of them in the synagogue, but also extended God's invitation to them in the open air. He called people to enjoy the gifts of His Kingdom in homes, at tables, eating together, sharing meals, watching the clouds. And when He was teaching out in the country-side, people were free to come and free to go. He seems to have preferred it that way.
Mark also tells us that this fellow, whose other name was Matthew, was one of the twelve Jesus specially chose to continue His work (Mark 3:13-19). So this fellow, the son of Alphaeus, worked for the Romans as a tax-collector. His brother, James Junior, also was chosen as one of the twelve. For Jesus to have chosen these two sons of Alphaeus, one of whom had been a tax collector, must have had an impact upon the way the entire household understood Jesus' ministry. He was not scared off by people who, due to whatever circumstance, had found themselves caught up in the Roman occupation. So how did this have an impact upon Levi's place within his own extended family? Jesus happily attended the banquet Levi threw, and just for good measure took along a few "sinners" as well. The restorative rule of the Kingdom of God comes to people in the midst of their complex lives. But then there is that self-appointed "leadership team" of the people of Israel, who simply didn't understand that this Doctor had come especially for those who were desperately ill. Completely lost sinners can recognize a saviour when He lifts them out of their mess and accepts the invitation, "Yes. Let's party!"