2 Corinthians 5:17
Tax gatherers in Judea in the time of Jesus were considered by their fellow
Jews to be the arch betrayers of their nation. They were regarded contemptuously as collaborators with the Roman authorities for whose hungry coffers they extorted enormous taxes from those to whom they were bound by blood, race and history. Levi was such an individual.
He had sufficient resources to provide a “great feast” for “many” publicans,
“many” sinners, and “many” disciples, and he was affluent enough to do it “in his own house” (Matt. 9:9-11). And what was it that Levi was celebrating? For one thing, a new name, in all probability bestowed by Jesus Himself. Hereafter he would be known as Matthew, “gift of God.” With a new name there would be a new life, a life beyond all imagining.
It would be something of a wonderment if the stylus which, in the hand of Levi, had completed Herod’s tax returns had in the hand of Matthew, recorded the first words a reader would find 20 centuries later when opening his New Testament—copies of which would have been reproduced in the mega-millions and found in every corner of the globe!
At the feast given by Levi, the fraternization was incredible. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners'” (Matt. 9:11) was not merely the voice of curiosity. It was the voice of censure. But it did not go unanswered.
His answer would not soon be forgotten. It was a classic riposte that would echo through the centuries. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt. 9:12). His task was not to minister to the righteous, but to lead sinners to repentance.
Fare is provided for both soul and mind in pondering what we have come to call “the Feast of Levi,” an event which began by celebrating Levi’s entry into discipleship, and ended with a trenchant reaffirmation by Jesus of His evangelical mission. Levi had been given a new name. He had discovered a worthy vocation. He had found a new life. No wonder he rejoiced and wanted others to share his unbounded joy.
Like Levi/Matthew we, too, have been given a new name—one that is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. To have gained through Christ not only a new name but a new nature should provoke us more often than perhaps it does to invite our friends to join us in celebration and provide them with an opportunity to meet our Master.
Arnold Brown, With Christ at the Table