Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.
- Mark 2:13-14a
Tax collectors have never had a great reputation. Think of the pictures that come to mind when thinking about taxes. The Sheriff of Nottingham squeezed taxes out of poor villagers. The Beatles sang about the constant pressure put on society by the “Taxman.” And the clock keeps ticking closer and closer to April 15.
Tax collectors in Judea in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry had remarkably complex jobs. They worked as agents for the Roman government and financed the military occupation of their own people.
But this wasn’t always voluntary work. The governing authorities would, at times, press wealthy or prominent people into their service as tax collectors. The tax collectors would be given quotas to fill and punished terribly if they didn’t deliver.
The tax collectors had to meet their quotas, but were also given liberty to charge extra to recoup their costs and line their pockets. From the Roman perspective, this kept the populace a little poorer and a little more divided. Few things divide communities like taxes.
How would Jesus engage with this tax collector? Would Jesus preach a sermon about him? Would Jesus cast a demon (the spirit of greed or of fear) out of Levi? Would Jesus make an example of the man?
This week we’re going to look at the high conflict-potential in Jesus’ small group, much of which swirled around his inclusion of Levi in the group. We’ll explore how healthy small groups deal with conflict. And we’ll look at how Jesus gives us new resources to engage in conflict in healthy ways.
As you reflect on today’s passage, who are “tax collectors” in our society today? Play with that metaphor and see what you can learn. Invite the Lord to increase your compassion for those who are often despised by your community.