Something to Celebrate (Luke 5:27-32): We explored this passage from the Gospel of Luke by dividing it into three sections.
We looked at the historical context and giving consideration to how it can still be important to us today.
Part 1: The Calling of Levi
Levi, who’s name was later changed to Matthew, was a tax collector and as such was marginalised within Roman society. Often seen as greedy, corrupt and informers to the government, they were not trusted by the Jewish population and thus became social outcasts. For somebody in this situation, it was unusual that he left his position to follow Jesus. Jesus simply instructed him “Follow me” and he did so. Why would a tax collector, someone corrupt and linked to the Roman authorities drop everything and follow this man? But he did so. It was total obedience, he left everything to follow Jesus. The recruitment of Matthew is different to that of the other disciples in that Matthew’s occupation separates him from the rest of society. It is unlikely that he socialised with Jesus before and people would have been suspicious of him. Why did he instantaneously accept this invitation to become a follower of Jesus? We are told that at that point Matthew “left everything” does that mean he left his work or does this have a deeper meaning? In that moment, did he make the decision to leave behind his former life in order to become reformed. In Jesus, Levi/Matthew saw an opportunity to change his life and he was prepared. He was bold enough to make that choice and he did.
Part 2: The Banquet for Jesus
Within the Jewish religion, it is important to hold celebrations to celebrate family and friends and life. Indeed, the traditional Hebrew greeting at such occasions is ‘La’Chaim’ literally meaning ‘to life’. Food has an intrinsic link to the Jewish faith – it’s part of the celebration to celebrate freedom. To have a meal and celebration was important and thus, for Levi to throw a celebration for Jesus was considered an act of high praise. Yet, for Jesus to be prepared to eat with Levi would have been a shock to the society. Under kashrut (Jewish food law) to eat with a gentile or tax collector was considered unclean – both physically and spiritually. For Jesus to have contact, through touch and association, with a gentile was improper and looked down upon by the respectable society. Jesus was fully prepared, in his role as a social reformer, to go against the Jewish law despite being condemned for doing so by the Pharisees.
At this point we turned our attention to the painting The Feast in the House of Levi by Paulo Veronese (1573). This was not the original title. The painting was originally supposed to depict the Last Supper and was to be displayed in a friary in Venice. Yet this led to an investigation by the Catholic Church who were unhappy with Veronese’s “irreverence and indecorum”. They believed that it was an act of heresy to depict the Last Supper in such a way and the painting was described as displaying “buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs and scurrilities”. Veronese was given a three-month period to change his painting. He didn’t. Instead he changed the name from The Last Supper to The Feast in the House of Levi. This new title was accepted and nothing more was said. The reason for the acceptance was because the feast was said to include ‘sinners’ and depicting sinners as “buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs and scurrilities” was accepted.
Jesus’ acceptance of ‘sinners’ at the feast shows his compassions. He doesn’t care for the archaic Jewish laws of cleanliness, he cares about love and how actions speak louder than words. Jesus’ acceptance of people who didn’t confirm to societies norms sends out a clear message: everyone is equal in the eyes of God and it is out job, our duty, to look after these people and love people for whoever they are.
Perhaps this could remind us of the actions of Gee Walker. In 2005 Gee’s son, Anthony, was murdered in a racially motivated attack. Gee made the decision to forgive her son’s killers stating that she could not let it take over her life – only God can judge other people’s actions. Jesus taught to forgive people for their sins, not condone. By choosing Levi/Matthew, Jesus sent out a clear message, a central message of Christianity – all can be saved and it is love that should take precedence.
Part 3: Jesus and the Sinners
Jesus tells the Pharisees, who condemn his actions, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. As a teacher, this reminds me of my students. Some students, the most able, can do little work and achieve the grades, other students have to work continuously to get the grade they want. The latter group of students are those who need my support and in the same way there is no point making an appointment with your doctor when you have nothing wrong. Jesus is stating that it is those who are in need who he needs to be around – why spend time with the righteous when it is the sinners who are in need. If Jesus came to save humanity, then it must be with the aim of saving all. Do we as Christians often feel uncomfortable around people who we might class as sinners? What would Jesus say?
And so to conclude, can we too provide a feast for sinner? At my church, the previous minister organised a regular event when the Church Hall was open to the teenagers of the town. They would be welcomed in and had an array of activities to take part in. But the most work was made by member of the church talking to the young people when making them a hot drink. It might not have brought in floods of new members but surely that was the work of Christ in action. If a trouble teenager can see the Church as a place of safety, a place of welcome is that not just as important?
There are two clear messages about faith in this passage: firstly, Jesus didn’t really care about what others thought, what society thought. He loved the outcasts and the sinners as much as he loved the righteous. Secondly, Jesus didn’t concentrate on polishing the already righteous, but on rescuing those in need. His mission is to the poor, the sick, the oppressed and the broken-hearted.
If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, then surely this too is our mission. Could we too be like Levi and leave everything, get up and follow him?