Luke records a story of Jesus walking up to a tax collecting booth and asking the guy working behind it to come follow him. Without hesitation it seems this tax agent named Levi pushes himself away from the table and abandons his life working for Rome. Hours later we find him hosting a large banquet for Jesus at his house and he has invited all his friends from the business to come.
This reminds me of the idea that it is never a question of whether God wants us, but always of whether we want God. We all sit behind our proverbial tables. In the case of Levi, his table is of a vocation seen in his culture as dishonest and disloyal. That table was probably seen as opportunity when he first took the job, but it quickly became a trap. So many sit behind these tables of dysfunctional relationships, poor choices, and broken dreams. The table quickly becomes a stereotype and the person behind them an assumption. One of the hardest things to do is to get up and walk away from these tables. As ignoble as they are, even this taxman had friends because of his job. For Jesus to offer this opportunity to someone like Levi is absolutely shocking. Luke records that Levi then invites them all to his house for a party and announces his retirement. I love that Levi celebrates his new life with his old one. I also love that Jesus says come follow me and then follows Levi back to his house for a party. Some people think that to follow Jesus is to abandon all that you have become. I think that to follow is to let go of some things, that is what makes room for change. But when ever Jesus asks someone to follow there is an urgency that requires you come as you are. If you think about it Jesus could have asked the elite seminary trained Jewish scholars to be his disciples, but he doesn’t. Jesus asks the disillusioned ones sitting behind their tables of disappointment and failure. I wonder if he asks them because they know good news when they hear it. Later Jesus helps us understand his motive when he is criticized by the religious who see him at Levi’s house. Jesus declares he has come to bring redemption to those who need to be redeemed. Jesus says it is the sick who need the doctor. Jesus didn’t ask Levi to follow because he was cleaned up but because he was messed up, and in the process of following he eventually got fixed up.
This story challenges me not because I am stuck behind a table of stereotypes and assumptions, although that maybe true. I am challenged because there are people stuck behind their past, and present all because others won’t give them another chance. I believe Jesus is at work calling people to step out from around the stereotypes they’ve been given and to follow him. I believe that because Jesus doesn’t look on the table he looks in the heart.