There he was, sitting in his booth by the lake. No one talked to him as they passed, no one even acknowledged he was there as they went to hear this Rabbi speak. He had lost his place in the community. He had sold out. Levi came from a priestly line,his family had served in the Temple and before that the Tabernacle. But not him or his father. Their family had turned their backs on their Jewish brothers and sisters and had sided with those who occupied their land. He was out collecting taxes for the Romans, learning the new family business. And because of this, they were hated by their neighbors.
A few hours later as the crowd dispersed, the Rabbi walked by the booth with his disciples. Levi, seeing them coming dropped something and leaned over to pick it up so as not to make eye contact with Jesus. But Jesus stopped, and with just a couple of words changed Levi’s life forever. He said, “Follow me!” And Levi did.
Later at Levi’s fathers house, Jesus and his disciples are sitting around enjoying a dinner with the family and Levi’s friends, many who were also tax collectors and sinners. Those were the people most drawn to Jesus it seemed.
When the religious leaders saw where Jesus was eating and who he was spending time with they asked his disciples “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard them and responded by saying “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick. I didn’t come to call the ‘righteous’ but sinners!”
Many of the religious leaders never quite knew what to make of the Rabbi Jesus. Sure Jesus could be found in their religious settings — he would teach in their Synagogues, he would celebrate the feasts and festivals in Jerusalem. But he rarely performed his miracles in these places. If you wanted to see Jesus in all his power and glory, your best bet was to look in the places the religious leaders never went. The dirty places. The places “those people” go to. The places where the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners spend their time. The places where the sick, the outcast and the foreigner live.
On one of my recent trips I met a pastor of a new church in Murfreesboro, TN. This pastor and his church have a passion for reaching those who would never set foot in a traditional church. When we talked to him he told us about how he and his co-pastor take turns once each week hanging out at the local pregnancy center. They take their laptop, hook up to the wi-fi and do their work from there on Fridays. Why? In case a guy walks in who wants to talk to another guy rather than one of the ladies who works at the center. They want to reach out to those who are hurting. And rather than waiting for the unlikely visit from the hurting to the church, they looked around and thought, I wonder where hurting, lost people go? Maybe we should just hang out there. And they realized the pregnancy center was a great place to start.
Perhaps the reason so many have trouble finding or connecting with Jesus is we are looking in the wrong place. We create our nice, religious services in hopes of experiencing his presence. And we do. He often shows up, just like he did in the first century. But if we truly want to find him, it isn’t about a religious service on Saturday night or Sunday morning. It’s about going to the places he spends most of his time. It’s about seeing him at work with those who most need the doctor. It’s about putting on our scrubs if we’re well enough to help, or our hospital gown if we aren’t. The doctor is in and he’s ready to perform some heart surgery.
Where do you go when you want to find Jesus?