Levi, Zacchaeus, and Civics

Two New Testament tax collectors represent two different models for what Christian faith means for civic responsibility.

Transcript

Living in America means we’re entrusted with political responsibility. “We, the people,” are supposed to work together to make our government function. So what are Christians supposed to do with that responsibility?

The New Testament shows us two tax collectors who come to faith and have to figure out what to do about the fact that they’re tax collectors. And I think about those two guys a lot. I think they give us two different models for how we can behave now.

First, there’s the Levi model. Levi was a tax collector, sitting in his tax booth, collecting taxes. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And the Bible tells us that Levi got up, left everything, and followed Jesus. He stopped being a tax collector. But I don’t think that’s what most people are called to do.

The New Testament also tells us about one of Levi’s colleagues, Zacchaeus. As far as we can tell, Zacchaeus ends up becoming a Christian. But when he does, he doesn’t stop being a tax collector. He holds on to his job. He doesn’t give up his responsibilities. He just starts dealing with them differently.

Christians who do a job have to do that job honestly, but the Zacchaeus model goes way beyond that. He doesn’t just stop cheating at work. He doesn’t just stop using his power in a self-centered way or stop using his responsibilities for his own good. He doesn’t even just undo the things that people probably complained about him for. He doesn’t just give back the things he defrauded. He gives back four times what he defrauded. The Zacchaeus model is to hold onto your responsibilities, but start discharging those responsibilities generously. Graciously. Sacrificially. Keep your responsibilities, but change everything about how you approach them.

And that’s a lot closer to what we see from other people in scripture. Most of the time that someone’s involved in government in some way and then they come to faith, they lean closer to the Zacchaeus model than the Levi model. My guess is that most of us in the US are called to follow the Zacchaeus model, not the Levi model.

And doing that actually seems like it’s a much harder road to walk.

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