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The Call of Levi; Eating with Sinners

27 After[a] this, Jesus[b] went out and saw a tax collector[c] named Levi[d] sitting at the tax booth.[e] “Follow me,”[f] he said to him. 28 And he got up and followed him, leaving everything[g] behind.[h]

29 Then[i] Levi gave a great banquet[j] in his house for Jesus,[k] and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting[l] at the table with them. 30 But[m] the Pharisees[n] and their experts in the law[o] complained[p] to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”[q] 31 Jesus[r] answered them, “Those who are well don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do.[s] 32 I have not come[t] to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”[u]

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  1. Luke 5:27 tn Grk “And after.” Here καί (kai) has not been translated because of differences between Greek and English style.
  2. Luke 5:27 tn Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been supplied in the translation for clarity.
  3. Luke 5:27 sn See the note on tax collectors in 3:12.
  4. Luke 5:27 sn It is possible that Levi is a second name for Matthew, because people often used alternative names in 1st century Jewish culture.
  5. Luke 5:27 tn While “tax office” is sometimes given as a translation for τελώνιον (telōnion; so L&N 57.183), this could give the modern reader a false impression of an indoor office with all its associated The tax booth was a booth located at a port or on the edge of a city or town to collect taxes for trade. These taxes were a form of customs duty or toll applied to the movement of goods and produce brought into an area for sale. As such these tolls were a sort of “sales tax” paid by the seller but obviously passed on to the purchaser in the form of increased prices (L&N 57.183). The system as a whole is sometimes referred to as “tax farming” because a contract to collect these taxes for an entire district would be sold to the highest bidder, who would pay up front, hire employees to do the work of collection, and then recoup the investment and overhead by charging commissions on top of the taxes. Although rates and commissions were regulated by law, there was plenty of room for abuse in the system through the subjective valuation of goods by the tax collectors, and even through outright bribery. Tax overseers and their employees were obviously not well liked. There was a tax booth in Capernaum, which was on the trade route from Damascus to Galilee and the Mediterranean. It was here that Jesus met Levi (also named Matthew [see Matt 9:9]) who, although indirectly employed by the Romans, was probably more directly responsible to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee appointed by Rome. It was Levi’s job to collect customs duties for Rome and he was thus despised by his fellow Jews, many of whom would have regarded him as a traitor.
  6. Luke 5:27 sn Follow me. For similar calls on the part of Jesus see Luke 5:10-11; 9:23, 59; 18:22.
  7. Luke 5:28 sn On the phrase leaving everything see Luke 5:10-11; 14:33.
  8. Luke 5:28 tn The participial phrase “leaving everything behind” occurs at the beginning of the sentence, but has been transposed to the end in the translation for logical reasons, since it serves to summarize Levi’s actions.
  9. Luke 5:29 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “then” to indicate the implied sequence of events within the narrative.
  10. Luke 5:29 sn A great banquet refers to an elaborate meal. Many of the events in Luke take place in the context of meal fellowship: 7:36-50; 9:12-17; 10:38-42; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; 22:7-38; 24:29-32, 41-43.
  11. Luke 5:29 tn Grk “him”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  12. Luke 5:29 tn Grk “reclining.” This term reflects the normal practice in 1st century Jewish culture of eating a meal in a semi-reclining position. Since it is foreign to most modern readers, the translation “sitting” has been substituted.
  13. Luke 5:30 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the implied contrast present in this context.
  14. Luke 5:30 sn See the note on Pharisees in 5:17.
  15. Luke 5:30 tn Or “and their scribes.” See the note on the phrase “experts in the law” in 5:21.
  16. Luke 5:30 tn Or “grumbled”; a term often used in the OT for inappropriate grumbling: Exod 15:24; 16:7-8; Num 14:2, 26-35; 16:11.
  17. Luke 5:30 sn The issue here is inappropriate associations (eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners) and the accusation comes not against Jesus, but his disciples.
  18. Luke 5:31 tn Grk “And Jesus.” Here καί (kai) has not been translated because of differences between Greek and English style.
  19. Luke 5:31 sn Jesus’ point is that he associates with those who are sick because they have the need and will respond to the offer of help. A person who is well (or who thinks mistakenly that he is) will not seek treatment.
  20. Luke 5:32 sn I have not come is another commission statement by Jesus; see 4:43-44.
  21. Luke 5:32 sn Though parallels exist to this saying (Matt 9:13; Mark 2:17), only Luke has this last phrase but sinners to repentance. Repentance is a frequent topic in Luke’s Gospel: 3:3, 8; 13:1-5; 15:7, 10; 16:30; 17:3-4; 24:47.