After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Wandering around Galilee Jesus gained quite a following, not as many as he would have liked, and some were short lived in their following (more of this later). Nevertheless, he attracted a considerable number, probably a few hundred, of both men and women. It seems that most of these remained in their normal village lives, yet still following him. Some perhaps followed him at certain times, there are hints of this in Luke 8: 1 and again in 10: 1. Central to the shifting, changing people movement there were ‘The Twelve’. A bit like Robin Hood’s Merry Men, these were hand-picked men who seem to have accompanied Jesus permanently on the road. The last of these twelve to be recruited was Levi.
Levi was a tax collector. That means he was basically working for the Romans and squeezing every last penny out of his fellow citizens. So he was despised but very rich. That is why he was able to throw parties, had a house big enough to hold them but could only get other tax collectors and ‘sinners’ to come as his guests. Levi was the lowest of the low, but one of the loaded of the loaded.
Jesus breaks all taboos, rejects all religious respectability and sees not the outer shell of the tax gatherer but the inner man of Levi. The story makes it look like this was the first encounter but I suspect they had already had previous chats, so that when Jesus offers the big invitation/challenge, ‘follow me’ Levi was ready.
Here we see a major human turning point. Levi leaves everything of his old life and then follows Jesus into the new. What does your human turning point look like? Have you reached it yet or are you still having preparatory conversations? Have you sensed Jesus reaching out to your inner you and saying ‘follow me’? Have you stood up, left, followed? Or are you just in the process of doing so?
Actually Levi didn’t leave everything behind, he still, for a while at least, kept his friends. He invited them round for food and drink and to meet with Jesus. He was already acting like a disciple.
Some time ago, I spoke at a school presentation evening, a great opportunity to share the message with teenagers and parents, most of who wouldn’t normally be seen dead in church. A few nights later I had arranged to meet one of the men from our church in the local pub. This wasn’t any old pub, it was one of our locals ‘with a bit of an image’. As always when I go in this particular pub in a dog collar there was a good deal of head turning and lively banter. Why, because the church has got a reputation for being a bit aloof, religious and distant. After a while a couple of fellas came in, they had been at the school prize-giving as fathers. Suddenly there was an immediate (though rather surprised) connection, there was warmth, relevance and the beginning of a relationship. The Pharisees, then as now, never quite got it. Jesus came to the ordinary people, he was a doctor coming to the needy, a saviour looking for the sinners.
Levi becomes the last of this inner group of followers. Now there are twelve, just like there were twelve tribes in the Old Testament people of God. Now there are twelve initial leaders, Apostles in the New Testament people of God.
As I follow you,
Where the road leads,
Help me to see the distant horizon,
The place where I might be twelve months from now.
But also the next few steps along the path,
Where I can be today,