Jesus’ Upside Down Kingdom

After calling Levi (who was also called Matthew and became one of the twelve apostles), Jesus accompanied him to his home for a banquet along with other tax collectors. Seeing Jesus’ behavior, the Pharisees and Scribes complained to his disciples about Jesus associating with unsavory people. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish tax collectors were perceived to be collaborators with the hated Roman government. Rather than being government workers, the tax collectors were businessmen who bid on regions in which they would collect taxes from their countrymen. They would give the Roman government their percentage and keep the rest for themselves. They taxed the people as much as they could and enriched themselves along the way. They were considered traitors by the Jewish people. So when Jesus associated with them, it appeared that he was associating with the enemy. However Jesus had a different view on the matter. When criticized by the religious leaders, Jesus explained that the healthy have no need of a physician, but the unhealthy do. Jesus explained he had come to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous. When Jesus saw the tax collector he didn’t see a traitor, but someone who needed to be set free. His compassion drew many people to him, because they knew they needed help to escape the life they had chosen to lead. Jesus’ statement here reflects the upside down nature of his kingdom. Jesus calls those who realize their need of him to follow him and thus are blessed, these are those to whom Jesus referred in the beatitudes as “poor in spirit”. To those who are outwardly upright, they have no perceived need for Jesus and refuse to leave their socially acceptable life to follow him. Since other men approve of them and the way they live their lives, they mistakenly assume that God does as well. However their pride keeps them distant from God and distant from Jesus. These remain without the offered blessing because they fail to recognize their need for Jesus. They are those in John who claimed to have sight, but Jesus told them that their sin remained. They failed to be poor in spirit. They continue to live their lives seeking the praise of other men, while missing out on the joy of knowing and walking with God.

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