Friend of Sinners
Jesus constantly surprises. He teaches with authority (1:22), commands with power (1:27), touches the unclean (1:41), and even exercises the divine prerogative to forgive sins (2:10). So far what he has been doing causes a stir. Now it’s whom he chooses to do it with. The company and method of eating and drinking indicates not just whom Jesus happens to be calling and serving in the moment, but the chosen ones indicates the mission of God. This is new wine.
Calling the Tax Man
Jesus is back at it, teaching by the sea in Capernaum (v13). Meet Levi. When Herod the Great died in 4BC, his kingdom was divided between three of his sons: Archelaus got Judea in the south; Antipas got Galilee in the north; Philip got the Golan Heights on up into Syria. Traveling east from Antipas’ land to Philip’s, the last town you’d go through is Capernaum where you’d pay a toll, and people would remember the good ol’ days when you didn’t have to! You blame Antipas and his local face, Levi, who extorts his living in the employ of the occupying pagan government. These guys were considered traitors and lost their membership in the synagogue. Jesus sees him at the booth, calls him, and he follows, walking away from everything (v14). In this situation, following Christ probably cost him his job, but he was willing, and so became the disciple known as Matthew.
Eating with Sinners
Jesus doesn’t do a drive by and head back home; he goes with the disciples to Levi’s house for a party where there are many tax collectors and sinners (v15). Luke makes it sound like Levi throws this “great feast” for Jesus, perhaps in celebration of his calling (Lk. 5:29). Regardless, Jesus is banqueting with the bad, a companion of the corrupt. He is fishing for men (1:17). This is not just dinner but friendship and discipleship so threatening that the scribes and Pharisees break their silence to complain (v16). Jesus could choose anyone. Why hang out with these losers? Because they knew they were sick (v17). Notice Jesus doesn’t argue with the label “ tax collectors and sinners” (vv15, 17). He doesn’t affirm their “lifestyles” but their willingness to change. But they don’t need to change before he eats with them at Levi’s. Jesus goes to people, eats and drinks with them, and leads them into new life. At this point Levi is notoriously the worst disciple, and he has now been the most effective servant of Jesus. Being a disciple of Christ means meeting, eating and drinking with, and hosting sinners.
The New Wine of Grace
Why don’t Jesus’ disciples fast like John’s and the Pharisees (v18)? Because his ministry is different from John’s ministry of preparation. And the Pharisees were self-righteous (1:4; Matt. 6:16ff; Lk. 18:12). Jesus gives three comparisons: a present bridegroom, a new patch, and new wine. Weddings in Israel at this time would often last a week, so you’d better not be fasting during one. “Who can avoid being at a party when I’m around?” (v19). Jesus is the husband and the church his bride, and so as during the ministry of Jesus, the new covenant is marked by feasting and only ad hoc fasting (Acts 2:46; 13:2-3). Jesus couldn’t be patched on or poured into the Mosaic system, which isn’t a slam on it. The old garment and the old wine were great while they lasted. But the new has come and it isn’t just better. It’s the thing that all the old looked forward to. Jesus is a priest from a different order altogether (Heb. 7:15-17). God the Father sent his Son to take on flesh that he may dwell with and call sinners to receive his healing love. These are the “many” who make up Jesus kingdom while those clinging to their position and “righteousness” are excluded (Matt. 8:11-12).