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After this he went out, and saw Levi, a tax-collector, sitting at his tax booth, and said to him, "Follow me". And giving up his business, he got up and went after him.
And Levi made a great feast for him in his house: and a large crowd of tax-collectors and others were eating with them.
And the Pharisees and their scribes murmered to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?"
And Jesus, answering, said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, only those who are ill. I have come, not to call the righteous, but sinners, so that they may be turned from their sins."
Who's your hero? If you're one of the younger members of the congregation, it could be Billy Piper, David Beckham or Ant & Dec. If you're a little older, it could be George Best, Bob Dillon or whichever Blue Peter team you grew up with.
What if your hero turned up at your house one day and said "I want you to be my friend forever." Just like that: where they go you go - you could be discussing strategy with Beckham on the players' bus or sunbathing with Dillon in the back garden.
Wouldn't you want your friends to meet your hero? You'd ring round everybody you knew and say "I'm having a barbecue on Saturday and Dillon's bringing his guitar. Yes, really."
Levi's job was collecting money from people to give to the government, to pay for things like roads and armies. This money was called tax, and Levi was a tax-collector. The only problem was that the government (the Romans) didn't care how the tax-collector did his job, as long as they got their tax. So quite often tax-collectors would take more than what was owed, and keep the difference for themselves. In this way they became quite wealthy, but no-one liked them. We still pay tax to the Government today, and although they do it fairly, still no-one likes them.
Jesus meets Levi the tax collector, says "Follow me" and Levi quits his job to follow Jesus. He has a big barbecue for Jesus at his house, and lots of other tax collectors come (the bad guys). The religious people (the good guys) also turn up (uninvited), and question why the disciples are eating and drinking with 'sinners'. Jesus says only those who accept they're ill and go to the doctor have any chance of getting better. I've come to call sinners to change their ways, not good people.
What's a sinner? It's a dark, brooding, thundercloud of a word for a really low, evil, scummy kind of person. Or is it? It actually means someone who has missed the target, fallen short of the mark, lost what should've been theirs. The target is God's heavenly standard, which no human being can meet, and what they've missed out on is eternal life with God.
Jesus told the religious people that at least Levi and his friends knew they had fallen short, and wanted to say sorry and be healed. The religious people thought they were okay, so Jesus could do nothing for them.
This Jesus still says "Follow me" to ordinary people like you and me, and he want to meet our friends too.
So are you like Levi? There are barbecues being held throughout this year at the ten biggest cities in the UK. This week it's the turn of Leeds, and your change to introduce someone to Jesus. Headingley, Armley, Harehills and the City Centre will be holding free barbecues from 12 noon til 2pm Wednesday through Saturday. Could you invite your friends to a barbecue to meet Jesus?
Since we all fall short of the glory God intends for us, your friends are either like Levi, who recognised his need, or like the religious people, who thought they were okay.
But don't decide for them - give them a chance to meet Jesus for themselves.
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