Luke 5 – Levi, the Tax Collector

Luke gives us just five verses in chapter five about the tax collector Levi. As was true of many others in those times, he was known by another name – one that is more familiar to most of us, Matthew. One might wonder why people with the occupation of being a tax collector are spoken of so harshly by people in the Bible (particularly the pious Pharisees).

English: Jesus disputes with the Pharisees. Fr...

English: Jesus disputes with the Pharisees. French School. In the Bowyer Bible in Bolton Museum, England. Print 3861. From “An Illustrated Commentary on the Gospel of Mark” by Phillip Medhurst. Section Q. disputes with the establishment. Mark 10:2-12, 11:27-33, 12:13-27, 12:35-37. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These tax collectors were part of a system of “tax farming.” Although the practice existed in other countries, it was set up in the Roman Empire by the Roman tribune, Gaius Sempronius Gracchus in 123 B.C.  In Roman provinces, the taxes owed to the empire by an entire region might be paid by one wealthy individual, who in turn would “farm out” the collection of taxes from the people. It was a system that fostered corruption and fraud; and any Jew that involved himself in the practice was especially despised by the people.

We are not told specifically that Matthew was guilty of any of those practices, but are left with that impression; and the company he keeps (verse 29) certainly suggests it as well. Just as was true of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, we should not assume that this was Jesus’ first encounter with Levi (Matthew) in his Capernaum “home base.” This was likely a relationship that he had begun to nurture some time ago, and the feast that he prepared for Jesus suggests this as well.

Of course, the Pharisees were scandalized that Jesus was eating with Levi and his tax collector friends, and they and their scribes “grumbled” at his disciples because of his propensity to eat with sinners of all types. His answer was “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And it is that love that Jesus has for the lost that we must always remember. If Jesus had come to earth today instead of then, what sorts of people would he have been seen with? And what would the reaction be from those of us who try to serve God? Do we spend enough time and energy on, or associate at all with people we believe to be lost?

The Pharisees question the lack of fasting by Jesus’ disciples in the final verses of the chapter. It must be remembered that the frequent fasting that was especially characteristic of the teaching of the Pharisees was not based on any Biblical authority. The Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:29-31 was the only Scripture that appeared to require fasting. His answer comparing Himself to a bridegroom, and the reference to being “taken away,” would be mysterious to them, but Luke’s readers will understand it in relation to His crucifixion.

It is doubtful as well that they understood the meaning behind the parable that followed. The new garments and new wineskins are obvious references to the new kingdom and the new covenant. Those like the Pharisees, who are so heavily invested in the old law, will have a difficult time accepting the change.

(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here

/Bob’s boy
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers

Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog.  All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility.  When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at  

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One comment on “Luke 5 – Levi, the Tax Collector

  1. Pingback: Zacchaeus, Son of Abraham – Luke 19 | Bob's boy's Christianity blog

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