In Mark 2:13-17, Jesus calls Levi (or Matthew as we know him) to follow him. We learn from this that Jesus doesn’t mind hanging out with outcasts and sinners. In fact, he welcomes it! He prefers it! He prefers seeking out people who have been ostracized and rejected by the religious – by the teachers of the law and Pharisees. Now in defense of the Pharisees, I must say that the tax collectors of the day were not an honest group of guys. It was well known that they were not only greedy crooks, but also traitors for collecting taxes for the Romans. They obtained their job by bidding how much money they could raise. Their take-home portion was determined by how much money they could squeeze out of the tax-paying public (if they bid $50k but collected $75k, they took home the $25k difference) So there was pretty good reason to despise them.
Yet Jesus calls a tax collector to follow him and become his disciple! Okay, well… maybe THAT wasn’t so bad. Might have raised an eyebrow or two among the religious. Maybe Jesus could reform the guy! But Jesus went way further than that! In v15 he has dinner at Levi’s house! And who do you think Levi invites? He invites his friends! And the only friends he has – the only people he knows – are, of course, other tax collectors and the sinners they hung out with. Anyone who didn’t observe the religious practices of the Pharisees and teachers of the law was automatically labeled an irreligious, disgraceful sinner. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, if you were a sinner, then there was no hope for you. You weren’t worth the time of day. You had no value. You were going to hell. No righteous, religious person would want to be seen talking to you, let alone eating dinner at your house. That would be scandalous. So Jesus gets push-back. It adds fuel to the controversy, to the opposition fire.
Listen, you and I have to be very careful about this. Because of what’s happening in our culture today, it’s easy to be judgmental and withhold grace. I know. I feel it. I read the headlines. I see the news. There are more and more people rejecting Truth, rejecting Christianity and following their own beliefs or following nothing at all… people who just live their lives to make money for themselves like Levi was doing. It would be so easy to write people off who’s hearts are far from God. It’s so tempting to view some people as hopeless sinners. But that’s not our call. That’s not our decision to make. There’s always hope for the sinner. Don’t give up on your atheist neighbor, or your promiscuous co-worker, or your addicted family member or that special needs person you see in your neighborhood. Don’t treat them as unworthy. They have worth, they have value in Jesus eyes! They need Jesus!
ALL people matter to Jesus. It’s easy to overlook this as trite or simplistic, or just to say “of course, everyone matters to Jesus.” But if you think about this from a relational perspective, it’s easy to be a person who brushes people off, looks impatient when talking to people, or sees people only as a means to an end. Jesus didn’t use people for his own personal agenda. People aren’t a means to an end. They’re actually the end. How you treat them reveals whether they matter to you. How you treat someone you’d call a sinner, reveals whether that sinner matters to you. They matter to Jesus.“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)