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Friday, August 5, 2016
Today’s Reading | Luke 5:27–32
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (NRSV)
In this short scene from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins to show how distinct his understanding of what living a godly life looks like against those of other religious leaders of the day. Tax collectors were hated figures in the biblical world, often accused of taking more than they should and probably symbolizing Rome’s authority and occupation to many of those from whom they collected. That Jesus would sit down and break bread with those widely viewed as sinners was a breaking of kashrut, the wider Jewish dietary laws from which the well-known term kosher comes. But in spite of this, Jesus not only seems to suggest that sitting down amongst sinners is permissible, it is perhaps even to be encouraged! “I have come to call not the righteous,” he responds to the critical Pharisees, “but sinners to repentance.”
In his famous book Christ and Culture, theologian and ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr once asserted that there are five particular stances that Christians have taken to the prevailing culture of their day: to be firmly against it, to be decidedly a part of it, to be “above” or removed from it, to hold church and culture in paradox, or, finally, to be within culture while seeking to transform it. It’s that last stance that we see playing out in this passage, I think—one in which Jesus is willing to be with the sinners and outcasts but is nonetheless asking them to repent and calling them to something better. May we too not look to remove ourselves from the world but instead be called to all of the darkest places—seeking to transform them with light.
Dear God, we know that your love extends far beyond our walls or our understanding. Help us to reach out into the places where we see darkness and to share that transforming love. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry
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