PART IV. JESUS’ SURPRISE RECRUIT
“Jesus-sightings” were now the main topic of “breaking news” reports. He continues to bless the afflicted and amaze the crowds with healings, but begins to give more time to teaching. He certainly has the attention of the onlookers. (2:1) “And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.” In this setting, He is interrupted by the paralytic’s friends bringing him to Jesus through Peter’s roof. Jesus adds some insights on faith in the process of healing him. There is no record of an offering taken for roof repairs.
Then Jesus “…went out again by the seashore; and all the multitude were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.” The in-service training takes a surprising turn as the first six disciples - basically “good guys” by local reputation - watch in horror as Jesus invites a local organized crime leader (a chief tax collector!) to join their ministry team. “And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus (Matthew) sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he rose and followed Him.”
Jesus continues to model team building with this surprising invitation to disciple #7. A team needs complimenting gifts and backgrounds, and a strong measure of grace in considering candidates with potential for productive labor in their new arena of activity. Matthew would turn out to be the only other disciple, besides John, to author a Gospel narrative. His cultivated skill for mentally storing numbers is employed in recounting abundant details of Jesus’ life and ministry – including the most detailed and instructive version of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Matthew basically gives us the “amplified version” of what Mark states in very concise terms (Mark 16:15)
Let’s go back to Matthew’s dinner party, called to celebrate his new internship with the local prophet. He is the only new appointee who apparently had a house large enough and enough funds for a catered celebration. The downside of the event for the religious community was the guest-list! “And it came about that He was reclining at the table in his 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.”
Not surprisingly, it is Matthew’s account (9:10-13) of the dinner that tells of the religious leaders’ extreme concern about who this non-credentialed holy man was socializing with – a concern most likely shared by the insider disciples, as well. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ interrogation defines His presence with the guests as demonstrating “compassion” – i.e. acceptance of the unacceptable, as in “friend of sinners”. And there is no record of what Jesus said to this mafia crowd. All we know is that He ate with them, an action that apparently spoke louder at that point than the words He said to them during dinner!
Jesus skillfully puts the knife under the fifth rib of the religious arrogant by his behavior. Joyful wonder must have gone off like fireworks in the hearts of the criminals at the party, to be so openly accepted and defended by this public religious figure. He was demonstrating what He declared at the party, that He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And that meant the door would be open for me – and for you, as well! 8-)