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.’
‘… he got up, left everything, and followed’. Well, he definitely got up and followed. But leave everything? As in most cases, when you actually read the Biblical text it does get more complicated. Levi left ‘everything’, but that ‘everything’ clearly did not include the house he owned, the food in his larder, his slaves or the money he had to pay servants.
Maybe a clue to the ‘everything’ he did give up is in the story that follows. Immediately after his decision to follow Jesus Levi throws a ‘great banquet’, with Jesus as the guest of honour, and the other guests are a ‘large crowd’ of tax-collectors and others – who the Pharisees and scribes helpfully categorize as sinners.
Levi is generous in his invitation, places Jesus in pride of place (not himself), and the guests are those who need to hear Jesus’ message rather than those who would improve Levi’s social-standing. So, we have the Pharisees and scribes left outside complaining that they aren’t invited along for a religious debate or a free meal.
The ‘everything’ Levi left behind was himself. He still retained the trappings of his life, but he placed Jesus, and the people that Jesus was interested in, first.
Brother Christ, remind us that your call to follow is a challenge to re-orientate our lives. To turn from our own desires to strive after yours. To share the joy and affirmation of the good news with those that need to hear and experience it, not just with those who are comfortably like us. Help us to look beyond ourselves. Hold before us the gift and the grace of God’s Kingdom. Amen
The Rev’d David Coaker, minister of Grays URC and a chaplain to the Moderators of GA