Below we have the latest installment of Bob Dunne’s book, 909 Days that Changed the World. We will post two chapters a week for the summer months. We suggest reading it quietly and putting yourself in the scenes. You might be amazed at how closer you can get to Jesus! Should you be interested in your own copy, the book ($14.95 plus sales tax) can be bought from his publisher Leonine Press, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. It is also available in Nook and Kindle. You may also get an autographed copy directly from Bob by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 14: Jesus Chooses Another Unlikely Disciple
The talk of the town about both the miracle cure of the paralytic and the words Jesus said about forgiving sins spreads like wildfire. Almost two weeks afterwards, Jesus, as is his custom (Mark 2:13) is walking along the beach early in the morning. It is a cloudy and cool day but with little wind, and it is easy to hear the water quietly lapping against the shore. As has been happening daily, many people rise early in the morning to follow him as he goes on his seashore walks. He talks to them about many things, asks them about their families, and frequently stops to raise his voice and make a point to the crowd. But as the early morning passes, he bids them all goodbye, knowing they all must be about their daily responsibilities.
As the crowd dissipates, Jesus retraces his steps and begins his walk back into town. As he and the few remaining disciples who have not left for their daily work get to the city, they walk along the main road parallel to the lake. On the right is the water with many boats and a few shops, and on the left are a plethora of shops, offering fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, clothes, and other wares. In one of those shops opposite the water, there is a man, Levi-Bar-Alpheus, who is a tax collector. He is a meek man, as tax collectors go, and is “liked,” as much as any Jew who both collects taxes and works for the dreaded Romans can be liked. He has a reputation as being “fair” in a profession where fairness is usually not included in the same paragraph, let alone sentence. Most tax collectors try to get as much as possible from the taxpayer, pay the minimum required amount to the Romans, and keep the balance of the money as their profit. Levi is considered one of the least greedy tax collectors of the bunch. Moreover, Levi has listened to Jesus, heard and seen some of his miracles, and has a longing in his heart to know him better. As Jesus walks up the street, Levi notices him but casts his eyes downward, thinking surely he will have nothing to do with him, a hated tax collector. How wrong he is!
Jesus suddenly moves away from the center of the street and walks towards Levi’s little office. His disciples are surprised, not quite sure where he is going. As it becomes clear he is making his way to Levi’s, his disciples all stop. What does Jesus have to do with this man? Does Jesus owe taxes? Although Levi is a good man as tax collectors go, surely Jesus is not going to befriend him, is he? Levi, who has snuck a peek and has seen Jesus walking towards his shop, has his eyes downcast again as Jesus enters. His mind is racing. He isn’t looking but can this person entering be Jesus? No, it can’t be, but maybe, maybe, maybe…. This is quite the scene. The disciples, somewhat in shock, are outside the shop looking in. Jesus is standing in front of Levi’s desk with a friendly smile, and Levi is looking down at his paperwork almost as if he doesn’t know Jesus is there at all.
After a few seconds, which feels like an eternity to all watching, almost haltingly, Levi raises his eyes and meets the smiling gaze of Jesus. He is overwhelmed by the look in his eyes. They are warm and inviting, yes, but never has Levi seen anyone look at him like this. Not even his wife or children have ever looked at him like this. It is as if love is pouring out of those eyes. Those eyes tell Levi that Jesus knows him as he is, the bad and the good, and yet loves him unconditionally. Levi is held speechless. With the smile disappearing from his face but with affection in his eyes, Jesus says, “‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything behind, Levi gets up and follows him” (Luke 5:27-28). To do so seems so right to Levi. Walking out the door with Levi, Jesus introduces him to his disciples, some of whom he already knows. Although stunned at Jesus’ affection for this man, they welcome him as part of the group, some a little bitterly, some with open arms, most with surprise. Levi, with great enthusiasm and lightness of heart, asks Jesus if he can have a dinner that very evening in Jesus’ honor. Levi is excited to introduce him to all of his friends, and Jesus accepts, knowing full well the tongue-wagging it will cause.
The dinner crowd that evening is not exactly the “Who’s Who” of Capernaum. Because of his profession, most of Levi’s friends are tax collectors themselves or other people with professions or personal lives frowned upon by the Jews. When Jesus arrives at the dinner, Levi proudly introduces him to everyone. Jesus is smiling and appears to be very much at home and happy to be with these people. Some of his disciples who have accompanied him to the dinner feel uncomfortable. They don’t enjoy these dinner guests, so they pull away and fade into the background.
Meanwhile, the news of this dinner party has reached the ears of some of the chief priests, so they decide to walk by Levi’s house to see what it is all about. Some of them are excited, because they believe Jesus’ association with despised people like Levi will drive many of his followers away. Indeed, they have heard word that some of his closer disciples are scandalized by his befriending Levi at this dinner. What a good time to put a big dent in Jesus’ popularity! Walking on the other side of the street from Levi’s home to show their disapproval, the chief priests stop and glare at the goings on inside the house. A few of them notice that some of his disciples are standing off by themselves in the corner. It is time to strike. Crossing the street, they engage those disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30). The disciples do not know what to say, for they themselves are asking the same question. The chief priests can see the doubt and confusion in the eyes of those disciples and gloat in their likely victory in driving a wedge between Jesus and these men.
From across the room and clearly out of earshot of the discussion between the chief priests and his disciples, Jesus politely excuses himself from the conversation and walks towards the chief priests. The entire room falls quiet, and all eyes are on Jesus as he approaches the chief priests. His look is severe and reveals his disdain for the chief priests’ motives. His tone is stern as he says in a voice loud enough to be heard by the whole dinner party, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Luke 5:31-32). The disciples are relieved to see Jesus, using that authoritative tone of voice of his which demands respect, rebuke the Jewish leaders. The leaders, too, hear the command and power in his voice and are taken aback. ‘How did he hear what we were talking about when he was on the other side of the room?’ they wonder to themselves. Everyone in the room is now looking at them. Jesus’ disciples are clearly encouraged by his power over these men and no longer look confused. Somehow, someway, what the chief priests thought was going to be a victory a moment ago has turned into defeat. Their hardness of heart and bitterness ratchet up another level. Turning his gaze from these chief priests as they leave, Jesus once again engages himself with the people at the dinner party, and his disciples walk back into the thick of the room to socialize with Levi and his friends. Levi, as we know, will become known as Matthew and will be counted among Jesus’ twelve apostles, and some of these guests at the dinner party will change the way they live their lives as a result of this encounter with Jesus.