This week we once again explored the story of grace at Crosswalk Church. Pastor Pete Shaw read once again from Mark 2, focusing on verses 13-17. Here we find the story of Levi, also known as Matthew. Jesus tells Levi, the tax collector, to come and follow him, and just like that Levi stands up from his tax collector table, leaves his old life behind and becomes a Christ-follower.
What did it mean for Levi to make such a radical change? First, we look at what it meant for Levi to be a tax collector. Even today that job has negative connotations. Nobody wants a call or letter from the IRS. I recently got a letter that we had missed something on our 2010 taxes and suddenly we had a debt to pay. Not fun.
But in Levi’s day being a tax collector gave him much power and much hate. He could collect the amount due by Caesar and go on his way, or he could inflate the tax to line his own pockets. Levi had a pretty good life from a consumer’s point of view.
But then Jesus simply says, “come and follow me” and Levi did. He not only walked away from a sure thing, a paycheck, but he was following this man who the religious community didn’t understand and for many couldn’t pay the high cost to follow.
For the community that day, when Levi left his tax table to follow Jesus, it meant their pockets stayed a little fuller with no one there to collect their tax. So even though there was a lot of hate towards Levi, that day there was relief.
Then Levi invites Jesus to dinner where he dines with Levi and “other sinners”.
Here I need to digress. I was raised that you only did what appeared to be right and you didn’t associate with the least of these. But who did Jesus spend his time with? He had a rag-tag group of disciples. Levi was only one of his follows, and he was despised. There were fisherman who stank. Peter we know had a lot of anger issues and Judas ultimately betrayed him. So that question that resonated throughout my middle school and high school years, what would Jesus do? Well he would eat with the ones who were ignored or chastised. He would not neglect or ignore those in need.
So here we see Jesus eating with Levi and other sinners. Across the street, or somewhere near by, the Pharisees are watching this meal and judging Jesus. Here we look at grace – how we lose it and how we get it back.
Often Christians who have been raised in church can become complacent and find themselves in a place they never wish to be … we judge. You see someone come into church and immediately a negative thought races through your mind about why or how this person doesn’t belong. We’ve lost the grace we are to extend to everyone when we find ourselves becoming more critical of others and not dwelling in the midst of God’s grace.
Can we get it back? Can we come back to a place where we treat everyone the same? We should offer God’s grace freely because he loved us enough to pour his grace on us. I recently ran into a friend I have known for over a decade, and she asked me about a family we celebrated with the night before. She asked, “how is it that they are so lovable?” My thought immediately was, so are you…but I didn’t have the real answer until later. The truth lies in the way they treat people. Whether they have known you a day or a lifetime they treat everyone the same. God’s love and grace flows through them and radiates to touch every life they meet.
If you’ve lost touch with God’s grace it can be like losing your heartbeat with the one who gave us life. It’s time to get dirty. Get unstuck. Serve. Give back. When we put ourselves back into someone else we can find ourselves living in God’s grace and freely giving grace to those we encounter. Don’t get hung up on the supposed rights and wrongs of being a Christian. You’ve got it all wrong when you do that. To be a Christian, to be a Christ-follower, to be a little Christ, means we are loving the unlovable and touching the untouchable. God’s grace can pour through us to reach people we never thought we could reach on our own.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4: 13