Showdown in Levi's House
"I was not brought up like this," hissed John while his brother James nodded in agreement. "We were taught to avoid these people. They are low-lifes; they are murderers and thieves. How much of our hard-earned money have we paid to Levi over the years for the fish tax? And look how he's spending it; putting on this big party for his fellow thieves. This is getting way out of hand! We're "unclean" just by being in this room with them."
Huddled in a corner of Levi's house, Jesus' small band of disciples were agitatedly discussing their dilemma. Jesus was reclining at Levi's lavishly filled banquet table and laughing and talking with Levi and his tax-collector friends and other "sinners."
Peter, too, was fuming and disoriented. Never in his life did he imagine being in the home of Levi the tax-collector. Fidgeting nervously, he scanned the room and his eyes stopped at the door. Standing rigid and aloof with faces of shocked disgust were some Pharisees with a coterie of their legal experts. Peter whispered to Andrew, James and John, "We've been spotted. Slowly look over toward the door. Don't be obvious."
"Oh, Gehenna!" James said, "It's the Pharisees. I knew it. I just knew it. Following Jesus would get us into real trouble." Laughter erupted from the table and all eyes turned that way. It was apparent that Jesus said something hilarious. Levi was laughing so hard he almost snorted out his wine.
"What does he think he's doing?" John asked the others. "He can't be seen in here with these, these kind. We'll be black-listed for sure now. I bet Jerusalem hears about this. What are we doing here? I want out!"
"Pssst! Pssst! Peter, come here. And bring the three others." The lead Pharisee was motioning Peter and the others to come over by the door.
"As God as my witness, we are going to get excommunicated from the synagogue," Peter muttered to the others as they inched around to the doorway. As they passed by Levi, he was telling Jesus about how honored he was to have Jesus in his home. And Jesus responded, "No, Levi, my friend, the honor is all mine. I wouldn't rather be anywhere but with you and your friends." James rolled his eyes at John.
At the door the lead Pharisee in an offended tone asked Peter and the others, "Why? Why is he eating and drinking with tax-collectors and 'sinners'? These people are outcasts from this good, Torah-keeping town. And what are you doing here? You've been good boys. We know you. We know your families." One of the legal experts blurted out, "This is such blatant lawlessness that I am at a loss for words."
Peter's faced reddened and he stared down at the floor. The others, too, were burning with deep shame. Why in the world did Jesus call Levi to follow him? And why in the world did Jesus accept Levi's invitation to a banquet and bring them along, too? This is not a fun party.
Jesus turned toward the door and saw the dejection in his friends' faces. He also saw the look of self-satisfied contempt on the faces of the Pharisees and lawyers. Now everyone was looking toward the door. The laughter and talking turned to silence. Most of the tax-collectors mirrored the same contempt and disgust and aimed it right at the Pharisees. There was no love lost here. In the silence Jesus spoke up, addressing the Pharisees.
"Where do you find a doctor? Among the well or among the sick?"
A slight imbalance jolted the Pharisees. You could see a tremor in their eyes. They knew this well-known proverb and they had a hint as to where it was headed.
"Tell me," Jesus said, "Where do you find a doctor?" There was an awkward pause. It seemed like such an obvious question. Jesus continued, "No answer from the hasidim? But you know the answer, don't you?"
The lead Pharisee tried to stare Jesus down, but finally his face fell and he looked away, defeated.
"In the same way that a doctor is with the sick, so I have come to call 'sinners' to repentance, not the 'righteous.' "
The legal experts murmurred among themselves, "He's got us. We can't challenge him without looking like idiots."
Suddenly one of Levi's friends let out a loud cackle of laughter. The place erupted into a roar of hilarity. The Pharisees, embarrassed and angry, turned and walked away. Peter, Andrew, James and John, still shaking from the encounter, walked over to Jesus.
"Recline, my friends, eat and drink for the kingdom of heaven is here."
"You can say that again," Levi said loudly.
Years later a gospel was written by Levi, known also as Matthew. Many, many others would read it and learn to relax and be human again.