Encounters With Jesus: A Tax Collector and a Zealot

Scripture: Luke 5:27-28; 6:12-16

LEVI: My name is Levi, sometimes known as Matthew.

SIMON: My name is Simon.

LEVI: I was a tax collector.

SIMON: They call me a Zealot.

LEVI: I worked for the Roman Empire, collecting money from its subjects.

SIMON: I was a freedom fighter – part of the resistance.

LEVI: I was sitting at my customs booth one day when Jesus walked by. He stopped right in front of my booth and said “Follow me.” And I did. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t ask any questions. It was as if I’d been waiting my whole life for that invitation and I never even knew it. I just got up and went with him.

SIMON: I stopped to listen to him preach one day. I was in town making plans with some of my fellow Zealots, plotting revolution. Our aim was to free Palestine and God’s people from the evil and oppressive grip of the Romans. But something about his preaching captivated me, and when he got up and left, I followed him.

LEVI: He chose me as one of the Twelve.

SIMON: He chose me as one of the Twelve.

LEVI: Jesus’ inner circle of disciples was an eclectic group. A bunch of fishermen, some tradesmen, a few shady characters – and then there was him.

SIMON: And then there was him.

LEVI: I found Simon to be a violent and foolish man. He and his fellow revolutionaries put all of us in danger with their scheming. No one in Palestine loves Rome, not even me. But Rome is a fact of life, and you survive around here by yielding to their power. Violence is not the answer. And the way he looked at me – I never felt safe around him.

SIMON: Levi spent every day of his life opposing everything I worked for in mine. He was in bed with our oppressors. He stole money from our people and gave it to them. If it weren’t for people like Levi who allow themselves to be co-opted for the promise of money, Rome would have no power over us. And if he would work for Rome, who knows what else he might do. I never felt safe around him.

LEVI: I walked away from my tax booth when I left to follow Jesus. He taught me that there’s a higher power than Rome at work in this world.

SIMON: I put down my arms when I left to follow Jesus. He taught me there are other ways to resist.

LEVI: But has he really changed?

SIMON: He still has Roman sympathies. I don’t trust him.

LEVI: He still wants Rome to be overthrown. I don’t trust him.

SIMON: Jesus tells us to love one another the way he loves us.

LEVI: Jesus prays for his followers to be unified.

SIMON: Unity always comes with a cost. Is it possible for me to love Levi and also love the poor, marginalized people of Palestine, the people he exploited and sold out so that he could have a comfortable life?

LEVI: Love is never that simple. Can I love Simon and also love the poor, vulnerable people of Palestine, the people whose lives he endangered with his childish ideas of revolution? Can I love him and still love the Romans he wants to see dead, who Jesus also tells us are children of God?

SIMON: Or is to love him to turn my back on others?

LEVI: Or is to accept him to deny everything I know about right and wrong?

SIMON: I’ve wondered sometimes if it’s enough to love him from a distance. If I don’t actively wish harm on him –

LEVI: If I’d help him if he were really in need –

SIMON: And I don’t get too friendly –

LEVI: And I don’t give any sign of affirming him –

SIMON: Is that love?

LEVI: Or does love have to be more active than that?

SIMON: To love someone, do you have to be willing to live with them?

LEVI: To love someone, do you have to try to appreciate them?

SIMON: To see them the way God sees them?

LEVI: But how is that?

SIMON: Does God see his belovedness –

LEVI: Or his brokenness –

SIMON: Or both?

LEVI: Maybe I could love him if he would repent, if he would say once and for all that violence isn’t the answer and that he’s sorry for the ways he’s used it and supported it in the past.

SIMON: I think I could love him if he’d admit his own complicity in injustice and vow to resist evil and oppression like God calls us to from here on out.

LEVI: But I don’t think he’s going to do that.

SIMON: I don’t think he’s ready to do that.

LEVI: I don’t understand how Jesus called both of us.

SIMON: I don’t really know what to do with that.

LEVI: I don’t know how to reconcile him with who I know Jesus to be.

SIMON: I don’t know how to reconcile him with who Jesus calls us to be.

LEVI: Jesus must have called him for a reason, though.

SIMON: Jesus must have seen something good in him.

LEVI: And I guess I see good in him too. He has a strong sense of justice, and is always ready to stand up for the most vulnerable people among us. His idealism helps him envision what God’s Kingdom might look like. He really believes that the world can be different than it is, and he’s ready to work for it.

SIMON: Levi lives in the real world, and helps me to remember sometimes that I do too. He’ll always stop to help anyone he sees, whether Jew or Roman. He sees humanity in the Romans too, just like Jesus does.

LEVI: It doesn’t mean I agree with him.

SIMON: It doesn’t mean I think he’s right.

LEVI: Violence is still reprehensible.

SIMON: Oppression is still oppression.

LEVI: And yet Jesus tells us to love one another.

SIMON: Even tax collectors and Zealots.

LEVI: Sometimes I wonder if Jesus did this on purpose, choosing both of us, calling us both his disciples.

SIMON: Maybe Jesus meant for us to wrestle with these questions.

LEVI: Maybe he didn’t mean for there to be any easy answers.

SIMON: He said to love our neighbors.

LEVI: He said to love our enemies.

SIMON: It’s not always clear how to do both.

LEVI: Sometimes I wonder if you can really do both.

SIMON: I still want Rome to be overthrown. But Jesus taught me that sometimes resistance means doing little things that no one around you expects. Giving someone your coat when they demand your shirt. Eating with people labeled as sinners. Somehow he thinks that these are the things that will topple empires.

LEVI: I still think Rome is here to stay. But Jesus helped me see that the powers of this world aren’t the ultimate powers, and that I can be part of something new, even if Rome stays the same.

SIMON: So here I am.

LEVI: Here I am.

SIMON: Figuring it out.

LEVI: Doing my best.

SIMON: Not always getting it right.

LEVI: I was a tax collector.

SIMON: They call me a Zealot.

LEVI: I am a disciple of Jesus.

SIMON: I am a disciple of Jesus.

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