Imagine you are conducting a job interview for a position and as you interview people you encounter the following. In fact these things have actually occurred in job interviews. One applicant wore headphones and said she could listen to the interviewer and the music at the same time. One interrupted the interview to phone his therapist for advice on answering specific interview questions. Finally, one asked who the lovely babe was, pointing to the picture on the desk. When the interviewer said it was his wife, the applicant asked if she was home now and wanted her phone number. These are not ones you would choose to work, much less choose to be leaders, in your business. If you were hiring people to work for you in a leadership position, you would want to choose those who would be skilled, highly qualified and dedicated to the cause.
Jesus’ disciples would likely not fare very well in an interview for church leadership. Yet Jesus chose them to help him establish his church. Why? There is something to learn from Jesus’ choice of leaders. What is it that Jesus wants in us as we follow him? We read of Jesus’ calling one of His disciples in Mark 2:13-17.
I. Let’s look first at the calling of Levi.
As he walked along, Jesus came upon Levi, a tax collector, who was also called Matthew. As merchants would bring their goods from lands to the north down to Egypt, they would pass by his tax collection booth. He would then impose a tax on whatever they hoped to sell. Tax collectors were part of the hated Roman Empire and so were themselves hated. But even more, these tax collectors gouged the people terribly in order to pay their superiors and make a tidy profit as well. As a result they were despised as being cheats and greedy traitors. It is possible that part of Levi’s job was to tax the fish the disciples as fishermen had caught. The disciples thus likely already knew Levi “professionally.” And they likely hated him and scorned him accordingly.
So what does Jesus do when he sees this “scum?” He offers him a job! Imagine what the few disciples Jesus already had must have thought. “Ummm, Jesus? Can we talk? You know who this is, right? You don’t want him!” They must have cringed when they thought of having to spend their time with this awful person whom they had learned to hate. Yet Jesus looks at Levi and says, “follow me” and come join Jesus in his mission. Now Levi may have been greatly influenced by what Jesus said and did already. So when the time came, he had already decided to follow Jesus. Whatever the case, Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus. Everything means everything: his well paying job, all the things that his profits had bought for him, all future income – everything! He was willing to leave it all behind and follow Jesus.
Jesus deliberately chose one who would be known by all as an infamous sinner. Levi was not qualified to be a leader of the church. In fact, he was as far from good leadership as you can imagine. But he was willing to follow Jesus; to learn and submit to Christ. Perhaps you may not feel that you are not fully qualified to follow and serve Jesus either. You don’t have the education or perhaps other skills that one may think are necessary to follow Jesus. Maybe some of you feel that you don’t even have your lives all put together; “How can I follow Jesus when I have struggles in my life?”
Moreover we have the most basic and most important requirement: God’s call and our willingness to serve, to follow and learn. That is what Jesus is asking for and what he wants from you. What happens next with Levi?
II. Jesus makes it very clear that he has come to heal sinners.
Levi is so excited about following Jesus that he throws a great banquet for all his tax collectors and sinner buddies. The tax collectors would be his business associates. These may well have been the only friends that Levi had. But he wanted to celebrate and introduce them to his new “boss,” Jesus. The “sinners” were those people whom the Pharisees viewed as inferior. These were the people who did not follow all the strict regulations of law that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders had laid down.
The Pharisees watched these “losers” gather at Levi’s home and saw Jesus meet with them. When Jesus comes out, the Pharisees ask his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Since Jesus is eating and celebrating with them, he must be a greedy, awful person like these people are. And what was worse was that Jesus claimed to be a teacher, like they were. Thus, what Jesus did deeply offended them because they would never do that!
Note that while the disciples are the ones challenged, Jesus is the one who answers. The disciples were not able to answer that question at this time. It probably was unnerving to them in the first place to be in that setting with tax collectors and sinners. Then to be challenged on this by the religious establishment was more than they could handle and so Jesus steps in to help them. I take comfort in that small action of Jesus. We all likely face situations that are beyond our abilities. What Jesus does here is what he will do for those who are following him. Jesus will help us to answer questions, face the needs and deal with the problems. Jesus will not leave his followers in the lurch, but will help them.
Jesus answers by quoting a proverb: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” This was a common proverb that the Pharisees would agree with. It only makes sense that a doctor’s first priority is to tend to the sick and those needing help. If a doctor goes to the hospital and visits only the well people in the waiting room and ignores the sick and injured, something is wrong. The doctor comes to the hospital to treat those who are sick. Jesus’ point is that he came to help those sinners who knew they were alienated from God. He came to offer forgiveness and healing to those who knew that they had wandered away from God and wanted to come back to him. They were sick and they knew it.
Jesus did not come for those who thought they were healthy. Now of course the Pharisees were not really healthy. They were sick just like everyone else. In fact, they were far worse off in that they refused to admit that they were sinful. But in their own eyes they were healthy and didn’t need a Savior. So Jesus meets with those who are hurting and need forgiveness.
What is so intriguing about these verses is that Jesus calls and uses a known and recognized sinner to reach out to other sinners. We can feel very weak as we seek to serve God and follow our Lord. When Mother Teresa was once asked to reflect on her life-long work with the poor, she said, “I am unworthy. I am unworthy. I am unworthy that God chose me to live with the poor. How unworthy am I that God chose to give me eternal life. I am not worthy.” Mother Teresa knows that she has been saved by grace and she knows that her being in such a position of leadership for the cause of the poor was a gift of God to her. God uses us even though our efforts are feeble and sinful. Jesus comes to wrecked, burdened, hurting people to help them and to invite them to assist him in bringing help to others.
I hope that we all see the need for Jesus to come and offer hope and healing to our world. The needs are great and so often the hurts are very deep. We are to share the gospel of hope with those who are sick in sin. But we do so as fellow sinners who have found healing in Christ. I hope all of us can see ourselves as Levi; we are sinners, saved by grace and called to follow and serve the Lord. We don’t qualify, but I’m sure glad Jesus has called us to serve him.
Moreover, God gives us leaders to help us become healthy. What do we do in response? Let’s first of all thank God for these leaders! It is often a demanding job that has few rewards and little thanks. Let’s thank God for the leaders that he has given this church. Moreover, let’s pray for them as they continue serving the church. It means a great deal to us when others pray for us, doesn’t it? Let’s let our leaders know that we are praying for them so that God will give them wisdom and diligence in carrying out their work.
And then let us, as undeserving followers of Jesus Christ, be ready to see how God can use our efforts, even though sinful and weak, to do amazing things. Former Giants baseball pitcher Dave Dravecky had a speaking engagement one night at a church, but he really didn’t feel like going through with it. He was still struggling over the loss of his pitching arm to cancer. He felt lousy that night but he went anyway. He wrote, “I felt so unworthy to be standing there in front of all those people who looked up to me. If they just knew what I was really like, what thoughts went through my head, what words came out of my mouth, they’d get up and walk out the door.”
Much to Dave’s surprise, not one person walked out that night. In fact, one man came forward. He was a 34-year-old welder whose life was a mess. He wanted to change his life but wasn’t sure where to start. This welder had been having an affair with another woman but was in the process of trying to put his marriage back together. There was something in Dave’s message that night that spoke to this man. He wanted Christ to come into his heart and change his life. Faith stirred in that man as he went home to his wife. In the weeks that followed, everyone around him noticed the change -- people in the neighborhood, people he worked with. No one noticed more than his wife.
Five weeks later, that man went to get a tool from the toolbox on his flatbed truck when another truck backed into him, crushing his chest. He died instantly. A few months later, Dave Dravecky was speaking on a nationally broadcast radio program. During the call-in segment of the show, this man’s wife called in. She said those five weeks were the best days of their marriage. “Choking back the tears,” Dave writes, “she thanked me.” Dravecky almost didn’t go because he didn’t feel worthy to be used by God and to use what God had given him to serve the Lord. God can use us, wherever we are, whatever we are doing to do amazing things even though we are weak and sin-filled.