‘The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus’ What extravagant generosity!
The second conflict with the religious leaders is introduced by the story of the calling of Levi. As Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee he taught the crowd. He probably encountered Levi(Matthew was his apostolic name) at a tax-collector’s booth on the major international road that went from Damascus through Capernaum to the Mediterranean coast and to Egypt. Employed by Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee put into power by Rome, and ritually unclean from his dealings with Gentile traders, Levi would have been despised by his fellow Jews for being a traitor and extortioner. Ostracised from Jewish society, neither he nor his family would be allowed to attend synagogue.
Levi took an enormous risk in responding to Jesus’ call. There would have been little possibility of his returning to his occupation, as tax-collecting jobs were greatly sought after as a sure way to get rich quickly. But it is Jesus that is the big surprise here. He goes against every cultural norm of the day. Surely if he was the Messiah he was going to set them free from Rome, not include among his followers known collaborators with Rome? There is worse to come: he accepts Levi’s hospitality, attending a meal to which all Levi’s friends with dubious reputations are invited. In so doing, Jesus powerfully demonstrates friendship with them. Unconcerned for his reputation, Jesus chooses to spend time with those who need him most. ‘If we dared to live beyond our self-concern; if we refused to shrink from being vulnerable; if we took nothing but a compassionate attitude toward the world; if we were a counterculture to our nation’s lunatic lust for pride of place, power and possessions…the walls of indifference to Jesus Christ would crumble.
Discuss and pray with others how to practise hospitality amongst people on the margins that goes to where they are. And have a go!