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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognize him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure
and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever;
the judgements of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold,
sweeter also than honey,
dripping from the honeycomb.
By them also is your servant taught
and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often they offend?
O cleanse me from my secret faults!
Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins
lest they get dominion over me;
so shall I be undefiled,
and innocent of great offence.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘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.’
… he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
Levi, son of Alphaeus, was a tax collector. Levi was a Jew, and he was perceived as a traitor to the Jewish nation. The tax collectors collaborated with the Roman oppressors, whilst extorting a comfortable income for themselves through dishonest practice. The tax collectors were among the untouchables, having no place in decent, God-fearing society. The only ones who would socialize with the tax collectors were other untouchables, those whom the Jewish leaders labelled as ‘sinners’. Levi, son of Alphaeus, was beyond redemption as far as his fellow Jews were concerned. But … it was Levi, son of Alphaeus, a tax collector, who Jesus called to be one of his disciples. Having been called by Jesus, we read that Levi did not hesitate. We read that Levi (who we know as Matthew) got up and followed him. In Luke’s gospel, we are given an even more dramatic version of Levi’s response: And he got up, left everything, and followed him (Luke 5:28). Levi, the tax collector, gave up everything without a moment’s hesitation and followed Jesus. How many of us could muster such strength and courage?
Over the years I have led many bible study sessions and the call of Levi has often featured as a text for reflection and discussion. Almost without exception, those bible studies have almost run off the rails because of the insistence that what we are reading cannot possibly be the literal truth. All sorts of embellishments are added to the story: Levi must have ‘banked’ his takings first; he must have gone home and told his family where he was going; no one just gets up and walks away from their profitable employment. The very, very human explanations go on and on, and they all serve to divert our attention away from the faithful response of Levi, the tax collector, to the call of Jesus. Unfortunately for those who would like to water down the words of the gospel, there can be no doubt about the message in the account of Levi’s call. So often the original Greek of the New Testament is open to various interpretations. Not so in this case. The Greek tells us, in the most direct way, that Levi immediately got up and followed Jesus.
The first challenge in today’s reading is obvious. How do we respond to Jesus’ call? I am not asking ‘how would we respond?’, I am asking ‘how do we respond?’ Jesus is calling all of us, all of the time, to be one of his faithful disciples. Do we hear his call, or do we adopt an attitude of selective deafness when there might be a danger of his call bursting into our immediate consciousness? Jesus might not be calling us to do anything ‘big’, but he will be calling us to change the way in which we live our lives. Are we able to join Levi in getting up and following, or are we going to continue sitting on the side lines, making up excuses to justify our reluctance?
The second challenge comes into play after we have responded to Jesus’ call. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus commissions his disciples to: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. We are called to answer Jesus’ call to discipleship and we are called to pass that call on to others. Are you up for both of those challenges? Oh! Don’t bother using the ‘I’m not good enough’ excuse … just look at Levi, son of Alphaeus, the tax collector.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray to God, who hears the prayers of sinners who trust in his mercy.
Confirm the Church as the true heir of the promise. Empower your people to declare in their time your everlasting love.
Look with pity on a world that is often sick and does not know its need of healing. Lift the crushing weight of fear from those who live by law without mercy.
Bless our families, friends and neighbours with health of mind and body. Fill us with love and forgiveness for those who have offended us. Help us to receive them in love, acknowledging our own need of healing and pardon.
Have pity on those who feel that society has despised and rejected them. Come with your healing power to the chronically sick who despair of health. Make them know that they are not forsaken in their suffering.
Raise up to eternal life the souls of the departed. Have mercy on all who mourn.
That we may be made whole through faith in Christ, we pray in his name.
Prayer for the week
Loving Father, we pray for all
who are any way troubled at this time.
Give relief to those in pain,
friendship to those who are alone,
reassurance to those in doubt or distress of mind;
and may our love be so strong that seeing need
we may never pass by on the other side.
We make our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ,
our loving Lord and Saviour.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue;
thee, only thee, resolved to know,
in all I think or speak or do.
For thee delightfully employ
whate’er thy bounteous grace hath given,
and run my course with even joy,
and closely walk with thee to heaven.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)