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.’
And he got up and followed him.
The gospel accounts of the call of Levi, the tax collector, have always moved me. Levi was, in worldly terms, a successful man. He was in a secure profession that ensured a comfortable lifestyle. Of course, he would have been hated by many for his collaboration with the oppressive Roman occupiers, but he probably saw that as a small price to pay for his financial security and protection by the Roman soldiers. Then came the life-changing moment when Jesus stood before him and said: Follow me. That which moves me the most is the immediacy of Levi’s response. He did not hesitate, he did not rush off to put his affairs in order, he did nothing other than get up and follow.
When someone is travelling through the period of discernment that precedes training for the priesthood and then ordination, they will often be asked to give an account of their ‘faith journey’. That is, they will be asked to explain how they have arrived at the point of feeling that God is calling them to be one of his ordained representatives. The period of discernment and training can take many years. A potential ordinand typically has to go through years of wondering whether they are deluding themselves into believing that ordination is for them. Then comes the moment of sharing those feelings with others, not to mention convincing the bishop’s advisor and the bishop himself that his or her sense of vocation is genuine. For anyone who is ordained, the account of Levi’s move from tax-collector to disciple must seem miraculous.
Of course, not everyone is called into ordained ministry, but … absolutely everyone is called to follow Christ. Whilst the Church, as an institution, is keen to protect itself from those who have a ‘frivolous and misplaced’ sense of being called to priesthood, Jesus is less ‘discerning’. Just as he stood before Levi and said: Follow me, so Jesus stands before each of us and offers the same invitation. But, do we hear that call and, if we do, how do we respond?
We live in a noisy world. The clamour of everyday life makes the still, small voice of God difficult to hear. We have to invest some effort into the process. We need to carve out space for God, a quiet space in which we can not only hear his call into discipleship, but can then enter into a dialogue with him. Levi was not deep in prayer when Jesus called him, but he did hear the call as it cut through the humdrum and the mundane. In such moments we are not always so receptive. Too often we dismiss God’s call to us as ‘flights of fancy’ or just plain ‘nonsense’.
Let us pray that we might always be ready to hear Jesus’ call to follow him. Let us pray that we might then ‘get up and follow’ wherever he leads.
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