Levi is a tax-collector in Capernaum. He is a second-generation collector. His father was awarded the Capernaum office after fighting in Syria for King Herod the Great and Rome. His job was easy and straight-forward–collect taxes for Rome, Judea and himself–leverage annihilation for wealth. Levi wasn’t too worried about the moral aspects of his work–after all, it was inherited and he was just doing what his father did.
If there were two types of people in Capernaum, he was the other type. The local religionists–local Hebrews, scribes and pharisees–were proudly and totally screwed up and didn’t know it. He detested their holier-than-thou attitudes. He was more than happy to add a “jerk tax” for those who thought they were better than everyone else.
At least he was honest about his situation–he was screwed up and knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt. He had a bunch of friends in similar straits–soldiers, government employees, money-lenders, prostitutes, pimps and gangsters. If there was a hell, he’d be going there with all his friends. Unless something changed.
Then something did.
Jesus (sticking out his hand; a crew of what appear to be frowning Hebrew fishermen and synagogue leaders are behind him): You are Matthew! Glad to meet you!
Levi (confused, taking the hand): No, I’m Levi.
Jesus: Not anymore, you are no longer “attached” to your tax business. I’m changing your name to Matthew, “Gift from God.”
Levi: Seriously? Do I know you? Who are you to change my name?
Jesus (dead serious): I’m God. You don’t know me, but I know you.
Levi (hesitantly studying him): …right…
Jesus: I’ve come for you, Matthew. Follow me.
Levi (coming from behind his counter): So, you are God and you want me to follow you?
Levi: Why would I do that?
Jesus: Come and see.
Levi (putting things away): I’ll lock the office, then I’ll come and see.
Jesus: Great. You can “come and see” at your house.
Matthew (looking up): My house?
Jesus: Correct, again. It’s “Thursday’s Happy Hour at Levi’s” so your friends are probably already arriving at your house.
Matthew (raised eyebrow): Then it’s on.
Jesus (throws his arm over Matthew’s shoulder; motions to those behind him): Follow us! So, Matthew, how’s your mother?
Matthew (warming up to the idea of Jesus): She’s well, how’s yours?
Jesus: She’s a saint. We’ll have to get them together. Mom leads a women’s group that meets at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house on Mondays. I’ve told Mom to expect your mom next week. They’ll hit it off in an instant.
Matthew (approaching the entrance to his residence): You know, your friends and my friends aren’t going to get along. They are pretty much opposites.
Jesus (smiling): Yeah, this is going to be fun.
Matthew (looking at Jesus and catching his mischievous attitude; smiling): So, we’re going to mix it up…this will be fun.
Matthew and Jesus enter. Jesus’ entourage follows and lines walls. Matthew’s “sinners” friends are sitting with their drinks and look up to see the crowd of “saints” enter.
You could hear a pin drop.
Matthew (to the “saints”): Welcome to my house. Choose your poison–Cokes, wine or liquor?
Jesus: I’ll have a Psagot–it’s very good: dark-fruited and dense yet sleek in texture.
Matthew (surprised, with a new respect): Good choice. I’ll have the same (they sit at Matthew’s spot in the room).
Matthew (to the assembled group): Welcome to my house. I’m glad to have the opportunity to introduce you to…
Matthew: …Jesus. (Waving to the disciples and synagogue leaders.) Welcome, friends. Any friend of Jesus is a friend of mine.
The two groups, seated and standing, gaze at each other in mutual disdain. The town’s leading prostitute winks at the leader of the synagogue. All of Matthew’s friends (and Jesus) chuckle. Those along the walls turn up their noses, look offended and generally shake their heads in judgment.
Pharisee (to disciples): Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?
Jesus (hearing this): It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Pharisee: Are you telling us to leave?
Jesus: No, stick around–the “doctor” is in.
The disciples and and synagogue leaders reluctantly ease to the floor. Mary Magdalene (the prostitute) passes around clean towelettes, bowls of figs and a pitcher of wine.
Jesus: Ok, now that everyone is settled–I have a story (the room goes silent). There was a man who sent workers out to his vineyard…
Everyone entered the debate on the conduct and punishment for contemptuous servants. They were all united in their enmity toward ungrateful vineyard workers. As the two sides came together, Jesus smiled at Matthew. Matthew looked deeper into Jesus eyes…
Matthew: I see. I’ll follow.
Jesus: Yes, you do, Matthew. Welcome to my kingdom.
Tr8: No matter how screwed up you are–whether you realize it or not–Jesus is coming and he wants to rename you.