Sometimes we get so caught up in something, we think it's the only way, and we don't even realize that there's an alternative.
We always seem to think that our way is best.
And as a result, we become protective of our way, and don't even look for another way of doing something.
We operate within our government the same way.
We were talking about this very thing after church last week, and there was some complaining about our government.
And I asked, "Who do you think the government is?'
And I quickly got the answer, "Well it's not me!"
So I responded, "It is you, and every one else, too."
In this country the government is the people, even if we don't act like it's true.
Israel, in the time of our Bible passage for today, was not this way; they were ruled by the Roman Empire.
And the Roman government taxed the people, and they didn't like it, any more than we do, and probably even less.
Now the Romans didn't collect their own taxes; they appointed people of the countries they occupied to do the collecting.
They assessed the taxes, but others collected them.
And something else the Romans did: they wouldn't pay the tax collectors, but they allowed the collectors to charge more than the required amount.
The difference, the tax collectors kept for themselves, and this made many of them very wealthy.
Now this ingenious method of tax collection did two things for the Romans.
First, it caused the people of the occupied country to focus upon their own countrymen as tax collectors instead of the Romans.
And secondly, because these tax collectors were taking more than the Roman assessment, the tax collectors were hated more than the Romans.
So, the Romans sat back and watched the people fight among themselves.
An interesting way to rule over an occupied country, isn't it?
Levi, or Matthew, as we more commonly know him, was such a person; he collected taxes for the Romans from his fellow countrymen.
And the people generally considered such a person a sinner, like any other person who stole from his neighbor.
Let's go back and look at these verses again (Mark 2:13-17).
13. And He [Jesus] went out again by the seashore; and all the multitude were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.
14. And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, "Follow Me!'' And he rose and followed Him.
Now we have to remember that Levi, or Matthew, was probably fairly wealthy.
He had a "good thing" going for himself, or maybe he didn't.
Matthew obviously felt some guilt about what he was doing, but he kept doing what he was doing anyway.
He couldn't see himself doing anything else. This was his business. He was a tax collector.
But then something happened in Matthew's life.
Jesus stepped into it.
And Matthew's eyes were opened.
He saw an alternative he had never noticed before.
So, when Jesus said to him, "follow Me!", he did.
And this is something that each and every one of us has done, or should be doing.
We have to be willing to give up what we think we have for something better, even if we're not completely sure what it is.
This is where our faith in God should control our lives.
Jesus Christ can set us free from anything in our lives, if we are just willing to follow Him.
Luke even tells us that Matthew left everything and followed Jesus (5:28).
That' s quite a commitment!
Let's take a look at what happened next.
15. And it came about that He [Jesus] was reclining at the table in his [Matthew's] house, and many tax-gatherers and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him.
People have a tendency to gather with other people of similar interests, as was the case with Matthew.
The tax collectors and other sinners gathered together, because the so-called polite society excluded them, and everyone seems to have a need to be accepted by someone else.
But people need something else besides acceptance; they need love.
We need love.
And this is true of sinner and saint alike.
Their interest in Jesus was because they saw this unconditional love in Him.
It was this love that drew Matthew away from his tax office.
Jesus' love was like a giant magnet drawing Matthew away from his former life and into a new life.
Now, not everyone who followed Jesus, or His activities, was open to receive His love. Some were there for other reasons.
And curiously, many of these with another agendas were the religious leaders.
If anyone should have recognized Jesus as their Messiah, or at least as a prophet of God, they should have; but they didn't.
16. And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?"
Do you see the way they try to limit God's love?
They falsely believe that God's love is meant for only the righteous people, among whom they considered themselves.
But this thinking is counter to everything the Bible teaches us.
God reached out to sinning Israel over and over again, to try to bring her back to Himself.
And if anyone should have recognized what Jesus was doing, these scribes should have, for they were charged with interpreting the Bible, as a lawyer interprets the law.
But they didn't.
17. And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
The righteous would automatically come to heaven. They didn't need to be healed of their sins, because they confessed them to God and sought His continual healing.
But not so with the unrighteous.
They bottle themselves up in their sins, and rarely seek the Lord or His forgiveness.
And here was Jesus sitting in the midst of these sinners, extending His love to them, and offering to set them free from their sins and death.
Upon seeing this, the scribes should have rejoiced; but because of their pride of "ownership" of the Law, they only could find fault.
And this brings us back to today, and our own lives before God.
Before us is our Communion Table which is an example to us of Jesus' presence.
It is, or should be, open to everyone, as should be the church and His love through us .
Jesus offered Himself for everyone, as a token of His love, just as we are to offer His and our own love to everyone - yes, everyone.
And we can also extend God's offer of healing and forgiveness to them, too, just as He continually offers it to us.
But they must want to accept it.
And a lot of their wanting to accept Jesus and His love, is the way in which we offer it to them.
Just as Jesus dined with sinners, so are we, in the hope that we would all be set free and remain free.
And in a few minutes we will indeed eat and drink together.
But in an hour, or two hours, or a day, or several days from now, what are we going to offer to others?
I hope and pray that it will always be the unconditional love of God.
This is the love that builds a church and keeps it in good repair.
Remember how much God loves you, and extend that love to others.
And remember, there is only life on the communion table; there is no death; no animals or humans had to suffer or die for us to enjoy this gift of love and life.
Jesus paid the ultimate price, once for all time.
So as we extend God's unconditional love to others, remember it includes all others, without exception, whether they be saints or sinners, or humans or non-humans.
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