Jesus 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.’
And [Levi] got up, left everything, and followed him.
These words from the 28th verse of the 5th chapter of Luke’s gospel are some of the most challenging in the gospel narrative. Jesus certainly lays a whole series of challenges before us, such as taking up our cross, loving neighbours and enemies, and placing ourselves at the back of the queue, but there is another life-changing challenge in Levi’s response to Jesus’ call to follow.
Very often, when we look back to the original Greek from which our New Testament was translated we find what might be described as ‘wriggle room’. That is, we find an ambiguity in the translation which will allow us to change the gauntlet that the narrative seems to be throwing down into a more comforting and warming mitten! Today, we are not given that option. The original Greek carries exactly the same message: and having left behind everything [and] having arisen he [Levi] was following him.
Scripture makes it clear that God is always calling us into a deeper relationship with himself. Some recognize that call slowly, it evolves over a long period of time, sometimes years. Others find their faith in God developing at a faster pace. Then, others, although far fewer than those mentioned above, respond instantaneously. They hear God’s invitation: Follow me, and they get up, leave everything and follow.
Whenever this account of the Call of Levi comes up in the lectionary, or whenever it is addressed in the context of a Bible study session, there are always those who try to water it down, to make it less dramatic than it sounds. Surely Levi had to cash up his takings before following Jesus. Surely Levi had to sort out his domestic affairs before following Jesus. Surely Levi would have had to make preparations for the journey that lay ahead. Sadly, these bursts of ‘common sense’ are prevarications, excuses being made on behalf of one who is showing how we should respond to God’s invitation to us, the invitation to Follow me.
To follow Christ is demanding. To follow Christ is to make sacrifices that will inconvenience and may cause discomfort or pain. But, as Jesus warned, a true disciples will take up his or her own cross, they will sacrificially love neighbour and enemy alike, and they will place others before themselves. In fact, they will get up, leave everything and follow.
Let us pray for the strength of faith to follow Levi’s example and follow Christ in the certainty that there is no other path worth following.