A few days to Christmas day of 2001, I remember walking to my dad and telling him that I wanted him to come with us to church on Christmas day. He had said yes.
My mum had died a year and a half earlier. She was the one who took us to church. When she died, there was no one to go with us to church. I remember my young brother Simon and me changing from our Anglican church to a nearby Pentecostal church where they gave biscuits and sweets after Sunday school. I was 11 and my brother was 7.
While growing up, the only time we went to church with dad was when my brother and sister were being baptised. I was 8 then, if I remember correctly. But the day I was baptised, he didn’t show. I don’t know why.
I was terrifically happy that my dad had accepted to go to church with us. On the morning of Christmas day, I happily walked the corridor that led to his bedroom to tell him to dress up quickly as we were running late. I found him in bed and that is when he told me that he was not feeling fine.
He was later admitted into a hospital and on New Year’s Day of 2002, he breathed his last. He never went to church with us.
I find the account of the call of the disciples particularly interesting. The calling of Levi (Matthew) strikes me the most. Luke in the twenty-seventh verse of the fifth chapter tells us that while Jesus was walking around (of course not aimlessly), he saw a tax collector standing at the tax collectors booth and he told him these words: “Follow me.”
Later that evening, the tax collector threw a party for Jesus and he invited fellow tax collectors. The Pharisees and Scribes also came.
I prefer Luke’s gospel because of his emphasis on detail.
Notice that Jesus comes to Levi’s booth. Back then, tax collectors were outcasts and traitors. They held both titles concurrently. They worked alongside the oppressive Romans to solicit taxes from their fellow Jews. In order to earn a wage, they had to charge an “extra” amount on the taxes. They kept that “extra” as their wage. But many of them, if not all, charged a hefty “extra” on the taxes thereby becoming stinking rich.
They thrived on exploitation which they did without shame, no one liked them anyway.
Jesus comes to that booth—a place of shame—and calls Levi out. He is not afraid to associate with the outcasts that no one wants to be seen talking to. He leans over the booth and whispers to Levi: “Dude, join my team.” Levi is called as a tax collector not as a reformed man. Christ comes to him in his outcastness and treason and calls him without requiring him to first change. He calls him as he is—dirty and ridden with mixture of shame and national ridicule. In the stench of his sin, Jesus touches Levi’s shoulder and calls him to follow Him.
This is only possible if there is something greater than Levi’s besetting sins. And yes, it is there: grace. The grace of God in Jesus was able to redeem Levi, even amidst his sins, because this grace ran deeper than the sins he had committed, even the ones he would commit later on.
Jesus is attracted to Levi because of the very thing that condemns him before his countrymen—his sin. Because “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
The time leading to the Christmas of 2001, dad was always sick. One time he was down for a couple of days. I remember my Uncle bringing a friend of his to pray for my dad. I think it happened on two occasions.
On none of those occasions was my dad preached to. Those men came to pray for him but never told him about Jesus and the love He had for my dad. They came to deliver God’s gifts, not God Himself.
I can’t tell why my dad always shunned church. May be it was the guilt. He had made some terrible choices that threatened to tear our family to shreds. May be he condemned himself for that. I know that a few relatives did.
I have always asked myself what would have happened if someone had told my dad about Jesus. That no mistake he had committed or would ever commit could ever hold a candle to the love that God had for him. I think of what would have been of his life had he heard the Gospel that the grace of God in Jesus ran deeper than his sins, the grace of God in Jesus Christ which exclusively redeems our mistakes. What about hearing that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ?
No one sat my dad down to tell him that the sins he cannot forget, God cannot remember. When I think of what would have been and what is now, I thank the Lord for the men and women whose hearts burn to teach and preach the Gospel, the true Gospel of Jesus and His free forgiveness of our sins.
My brother later told me that some people had come to my dad’s deathbed and told him about Jesus. He also told me that my dad died after he had come to the faith.