Feasting with Levi
Food is important – not just for fuel but what happens as we eat together. Often a meal is as much about the people coming as it is about the food.
Meals are important in the life of Jesus too.
There are three ways the NT completes the phrase “The Son of Man came to…”
1) The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45);
2) The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10);
3) The Son of Man has come eating and drinking (Luke 7:34).
The first two tell us what Jesus came to do – to serve by dying for us and to seek and save the lost. The last one tells us how he did it – eating and drinking. “Son of Man” is Daniel’s label for one who comes before God to receive authority over the nations (Daniel 7). And now Jesus, the Son of Man, has come. But how does he come? Does he come with an army of angels? Does he come on the clouds of heaven? Does he come with a blaze of glory? No, he comes “eating and drinking”.
The Jews of Jesus’s day would have said the Son of Man will come to vindicate the righteous and defeat God’s enemies. They didn’t expect him to come to seek and save the lost. And they would have said the Son of Man will come in glory and power. They would never have said he would come eating and drinking.
And Luke is not talking about just subsistence eating and drinking. Jesus says: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say’ ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” (7:34). A glutton, of course, is someone who eats too much, and a drunkard is someone who drinks too much. Jesus was seriously into eating and drinking—so much so that his enemies accused him of doing it to excess. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel the Pharisees and their scribes said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (5:33). Jesus spent his time eating and drinking—a lot of his time. He was a party animal. His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal! Luke’s gospel narrative is a series of journeys towards the cross and each key point a story about a meal where something happens. Jesus didn’t have a home of his own he relied on hospitality! The meals climax with THE meal, the Lord’s supper, or communion that expresses the gospel. But along the way each meal had something about the gospel in it.
Let’s look at the first meal in Luke: with Levi in Luke 5:27-32
Tax was as big an issue then as it is now. And there was just as much corruption around it too.
Today we have the problem of the rich and the establishment avoiding paying their fair share of tax, so education and hospitals suffer. Then they had the problem that too much was collected and filled the pockets of the rich. Actually that’s the same problem!
Two types of tax collection then
Gabbai – general tax on property and income.
Mokkhe – like a customs tax of 2-5% on goods.
Although the Roman occupiers got the taxes, they had long ago learned that Roman tax collectors would be murdered by Jewish zealots. So they sold tax collecting franchises to Jews – because no Jewish zealot would murder a Jew, even an evil collaborating one. Great Mokkhe’s, like Zaccheus would buy a franchise then employ Little Mokkhe’s to set up booths wherever they could to rip people off as they passed with goods to and from market. Levi is a Little Mokkhe in his tax booth, who probably had employed thugs to force people to stop and pay tax on whatever they had in their possession.
His name, Levi, means he is from the tribe of Levi, a Levite, the tribe from which God called priests. God’s go-betweens. Names were important then and were picked prophetically for their meaning (much like Amadeus Ikwuagwu’s name means loved by God) Perhaps his parents hoped he’d grow up to be a priest, God’s go-between. But sin had made him the opposite of his destiny. He’s Rome’s go-between.
Some scholars think he may have set up his booth on the road at the edge of the crowds that were following Jesus, to get more money, little knowing He is about to have his life transformed by an encounter with Jesus.
His parents prophetically saw him becoming a priest. Sin messed him up and he was missing his destiny. Then God ambushes him and put him back on his destiny – He is going to be God’s go-between, he’s now following Jesus and will be a fisher of men! God holds your destiny – you may have been missing it, but God can sort it out. It’s never to late to get on the right path! God is good!
I’ve often taught on hospitality being opening your home, come as you are, loving people who were strangers and foreigners into the family, so they get to be part of God’s family. Hospitality was a huge deal in the NT times, and needs to be now! Open your home to people, love them in. And I’ve often taught that the middle class idea of hospitality is the dinner party – impressive food, costs, want an invite back – but if we think hospitality is that we won’t do it enough! Stand by that. But as I’ve dug into this passage I’ve learnt that there are still two valid types of meal we can use to bring people into God’s family.
A “great feast” as in Levi’s great feast was called a symposium in ancient times (I think now that means a particularly boring conference), back then it was a middle class banquet! A fairly formal dinner party, with a planned guest list and special invites. Guests reclined on couches around a table. It would start with a banquet for the men and then move onto the symposium which means drinking party where everyone would be drinking and the conversation was steered by the guest of honour around a topic. Now interestingly it was men only – women slaves and/or children were brought in later during the drinking, but often as prostitutes. They could be pretty depraved – hence the Pharisees getting upset that Jesus was there.
The hospitality meal was the one where people – rich or poor would open their homes for people to be fed and often put up for the night. The friend asking for bread in Jesus parable was poor, but offering hospitality. Again slaves were not invited to hospitality.
Jesus and then his followers radically turn all this upside down. Breaking convention, everyone: men, women, slaves and even Samaritans are welcome. No debauchery!
Back to the story. Levi, Matthew, has organised a great feast – a planned party – he wants his non-believing friends to meet the guest of honour – Jesus. A bunch of tax collectors (first century tax collectors) – imagine the conversation – the best ways of extortion, whether ‘ThugsRus’ provide the best service, the skin trade, the best at loan sharking. And Jesus and the disciples. And the Holy Spirit.
No-one is too far away to be a recipient of the love of Christ. And here we have a story of Jesus hanging out with sinners to draw them to a changed life – to repentance. That turning around from doing life ‘my way’ to doing it God’s way.
The kingdom of God is a party and Christ invites us to a great party – a celebration of grace – getting the undeserved favour of God to be forgiven and changed, accepted and loved, even if you are a traitor, a thug, the lowest of the low or a rich exploiter of the poor.
And this is how Janet and I have chosen to live life. This is an expression for us of having generous hearts – throwing parties where we get our non-Christian and Christian friends together and trusting that the Holy Spirit will do his thing. And he does – most of the conversions to Christ in this church have started at a party. I popped into the High Street shop “House of Cards” to buy a balloon decoration for a party we were throwing for Jan’s Aunty. The boss grabbed me and turned to another staff member and said “this is Andy, he’s always throwing parties.” I love that – it shows I’m growing more Christ like as I get older!
The principle of mixing non-Christians and Christian friends together in social gathering is one I live by and I would love you to do so too.
Not everyone finds it easy to make new friends or mix at social gatherings, so we do it together as a team:
Some are great servants – making the food, serving the food, setting up the room
Some are great at inviting – invite away the more the merrier
Some are great at getting to know new people – be friendly!
Some are great at talking about Jesus – go for it
Some are prophetic and have healing words for people
Some are musical and provide the atmosphere.
Some groups can throw a great feast, a symposium and other groups the simple hospitality meal, Jesus used both to reach lost people – rich and poor. It really doesn’t matter how grand. In fact we often do jackets and bring a filling – simple and cheap. It’s about people not the menu!
The Pharisees reaction
In verse 30 we see the Pharisees grumbling – religious people love to grumble, because it comes from pride.
Why is Jesus going to one of those parties? The hypocrisy is astounding – because they were there too – v29 . They were part of ‘the others’ that were there and started to grumble at Jesus being there; not looking down on the sinners but helping them, forgiving them, saving them. Levi had already left his old life and begun to follow Jesus, leaving everything behind. The new him is radically different from the old him. And he has a great feast with Jesus, his new friends, some of the religious Pharisees AND his old friends. The Pharisees were ready to be with Jesus and the disciples, but objected to the unrighteous being there.
Some of you, who have been Christians a long time, don’t have any unbelieving friends. Don’t be like the Pharisees and judge those who still do and are mixing them with their Christian mates and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His thing.
Is great! He uses analogy, Scripture and personal authority.
Firstly analogy: Doctors are for sick people. You don’t make a doctor’s appointment when you are completely healthy to tell them how healthy you are. You go when there is something wrong and you need fixing. Why couldn’t they see how important it was for Jesus to go to feasts like this where there were sinners who needed saving.
Secondly Scripture: In Matthew’s own account (9:13), Jesus says “Go and learn what this means” – oooh cutting! “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” which is a quote from Hosea 6:6. He’s telling the Scripture experts to go and learn what Scripture means!
Thirdly Personal authority: The Pharisees who were at the banquet are being told they are sin-sick too. They were there, Jesus was there. He’s the great Physician who heals the sin-sick. So the implication is they are just as sinful as the people they call sinners. There’s a healthy does of irony and sarcasm there.
The Pharisees didn’t like that! They then compare his disciples to John’s. John’s fast, but Jesus’ eat and drink.
Jesus responds by saying bridgrooms feast, not fast, while the groom is around. And then the bit about putting new wine in new wineskins. Jesus is calling people to a radically new life, not just a little bit of new teaching tagged onto the old life. It’s a brand new life – born again! With a new wineskin. You can’t put the new life into the old way of life. The new wine needs a new wineskin.
Christians are new creations – born again, the old has gone the new has come. It’s a radical top of your head to the souls of your feet change! Given that Luke was writing in 80AD, addressing his gospel to churches of his time.
There’s some teachers going round saying that the gospels don’t apply to the new covenant Christians, they were an interim for between Jesus birth and his death. Nonsense. They were written to churches full of Christians!
Luke is tackling the issue of Christians settling in their faith and being just like the Pharisees, locked up in their holy huddles. Jesus’ response is a double edged sword to the immediate disciples, as the events happened, and to those in the church of 80AD and 2016 who think we must be separate from those outside and look down on them.
Verse 39 has always perplexed me – who is the no-one? The ‘no-one’ who prefers the old wine after tasting the new. It’s the Pharisees who prefer their old way of life rather than the life of grace that seeks to bring others desperately in need of grace into the family of grace through hospitality and feasting.
Let’s enjoy the new wine of God’s grace in the new wineskin of hospitality and feasting; mixing sinners and saints together and expecting the Spirit to do His thing and draw people to repentance through the kindness of God and his followers.
How do we apply this?
1) It is never too late for God to put you on your true destiny (Levi – the man destined to be a God’s go-between, who through sin becomes Rome’s go-between, was ambushed by Jesus to enter his true destiny.)…
i) Following Jesus
ii) Not wasting your life on frivolous things
iii) Doing what you are called to do
iv) Fulfilling what has been prophesied/promised over you
2) One of the expressions of God giving you a generous heart is hospitality and feasts. Are you feasting in your life group – mixing not yet Christians with Christians, expectant for God to be at work?
3) Are you sin-sick or physically sick? Jesus is the great physician and He loves you and wants to heal your soul and body.