Today’s Reading: Luke 5:12-28 (additional reading: Psalm 65:1-13 & Proverbs 11:23)
Tony Campolo told how, upon arrival in Honolulu, he made his way unwittingly to a seedy part of town for a snack at 3:30 in the morning, to be surrounded by eight or nine prostitutes who had just taken the night off. He overheard the prostitute beside him saying to her girlfriend, “Tomorrow is my birthday.” Her friend rebutted, “So what do you want from me? You want me to get you a cake and sing, ’Happy Birthday?’“ The birthday girl protested, “Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all. Why do you have to put me down? Why should you give me a birthday party now when I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life?”
When the prostitutes left, Campolo decided to decorate the place the next night and give the birthday girl a surprise party with the help of the bartender, who happily chipped in the cake. The next day, the stunned girl was so taken back when the whole bar sang a birthday song to her. She first refused to cut the cake, then asked if she could keep the cake a little longer, and finally, for some unknown reason, even dashed home with the cake after promising to return with it later.
Campolo offered to say a prayer for the woman before the stunned crowd, and after prayer, the bartender remarked, “Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” Campolo replied, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.” The bartender then sneered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it.” (The Kingdom of God is a Party 3-8, Tony Campolo, Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990).
The story of Levi, whose other name was Matthew, was about a man who contracted with the Roman government to collect taxes from fellow Jews, pocketed the gain for himself, and was excluded from any form of community life, restricted to social life with peers within his profession, and often shunned and hated by countrymen, neighbours, and even relatives.
Will man’s past doom him to his future? Is repentance and change possible? Is salvation a momentary experience or an abiding decision?
John Newton’s tombstone read, “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy.”
Levi, John Newton and every other saint who has ever lived has a past, but the good news is that every sinner can have a future.