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.” – Luke 5:27-32 [ESV]
Diane had a very interesting experience in the ER waiting room a few years ago. It was a good thing, too. She was taken to the ER because she was feeling quite ill. In fact she had pneumonia! At the registration there was a question that got her to the front of the line. “Have you visited West Africa in the past 30 days?” She put, “I just returned from EAST Africa three days ago.” It was during the days of grave concern about ebola, and West Africa was a hot spot. I guess as far as they were concerned East Africa was close enough. The brought her right in, and put her in an exam room. And when they came to check her out, they were all garbed in medical has-mat suits. Turns out she did have pneumonia, but not ebola!
So often we sit and wait, and wait, and wait…before finally being taken in to be cared for. You are surrounded by others who are waiting. And just when it is your time to go, someone comes in with a very serious injury is brought into the ER. You are no longer first in line. The more urgent need must be attended to. How do you feel about that? If yours is indeed an emergency, but the intake process/triage indicated you were a level 2 need and the person being taken in front of you has a legitimate need for more urgent attention, you might still wish you had not lost your spot. Don’t deny that too quickly!
In his book, Winning on Purpose, John Edmund Kaiser , Bill Easum, et. al., make a great point about the need to prioritize reaching the lost over caring for the saved. They say we need to do this because no one in the neighborhood who is lost and far from God will come in to the pastor’s office and lambast them for failing to reach out to them. In fact, most will be happy to be left alone! If they are going to be reached, we must reach toward them.
This is what Jesus is showing when he calls Matthew the tax collector to follow him. Immediately after that Matthew has a party at which he invites all his apparently unchurched friends. Sinners, tax collectors, and other undesirable types are invited to the party. And Jesus seems to relish the moment. He is obviously not encouraging or validating the current religious leaders. In fact he appears to be snubbing them. At least he is snubbing their sensibilities. Jesus was engaging in a behavior no self-respecting Jewish religious leader would even consider.
I have to breathe deep when I think of how this might be applied to the ministry of the traditional church today. I’m not sure we are as bad as the Pharisees are in this regard, but I’m not sure we’re not. What do you think? Is this a call to repent? Is this a call to pause to consider our priorities?
Admittedly Scripture teaches us to do good to all people – especially those who are in the household of faith (cf. Galatians 6:10). And we must do this. Yet Jesus seems to make a point of doing good for lost people. I’m wondering how these two go together. How about you?