Every Lent, I pray that God will open my eyes to brokenness in new ways. It’s a hard prayer and one that I find builds my empathy, sharpens my eyesight, and reminds me that I am not my own. I am reminded not only that God is my king, but that I belong to the world and the people around me.
Today’s passage tackles two stories that revolve around similar concepts. In the first story, we see Levi, a tax collector (a job that essentially equates to a good-for-nothing criminal) being called personally and specifically by Christ. This Levi goes on to become Matthew, author of the first gospel in the New Testament. After their encounter, Levi feasts with Jesus and other sinners. The Pharisees are wrapped up in false idols of asceticism and critique Jesus and his followers for their feasting.
I’m left with two questions: What does Jesus teach us here? And what does Levi teach us here?
Jesus has a posture toward the world and others that allows him to see people in their pain. It sounds so simple, but it is so rare that I’m able to keep the same posture. Too often, I am head down, blazing ahead in life. I am too busy to see the needs of the people right in front of me.
Jesus doesn’t allow his calendar or plans or details to distract him from his purpose of loving others well. In fact, his love pierces through loneliness, ostracization, and reputations to get to the heart of Levi. Jesus later mentions that this is the whole reason he has come — to love and draw sinners to himself.
Levi’s reaction to this powerful love has much to teach us as well. Levi doesn’t cling to his self-made sufficiency as a tax collector or cower in fear because of his reputation. He receives the love of Jesus and immediately leaves behind all he knows. He celebrates, dining with Jesus and his disciples — as Jesus says in the second part of the passage, we must feast when the bridegroom is with us! The proper response to Jesus’ calling is not a dour, somber, joyless life. Instead, it is a warm home, an open table, light and life and joy. In Lent, we are searching out spaces in our own life that prevent us from being like Levi. Where am I putting distance between myself and the very bridegroom for whom I feast?
We keep Lent for 40 days, but we continue to feast every Sunday throughout Lent. Following Lent, we celebrate for a full 50 days in the Easter season. In these two seasons, I am hopeful that our hearts will be shaped to be like both Jesus and Levi’s. Through Lenten practices, may our eyes will be opened in fresh ways to see the world around us and how God may be calling us to engage it. Through our Sunday feasting and the Easter season, may we be able to be like Levi — embracing the already-not-yet work of Jesus in the world around us, and revel in joy and community that God calls us out of our brokenness and into.
In all seasons, may we learn to hold these two postures in tension and to realize that while we cannot always achieve the balance of now-and-not-yet or joy and sorrow, Jesus has gone before us and holds those two together in his very person.
Elizabeth Sallie is commonly known as ESal around Advent. She delights in natural light, iced coffee, liturgical seasons, and hanging out with teenagers.