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.’
Today’s reading from scripture is one of my favourites. I love its quietly understated, and yet uncompromising nature. Jesus said to Levi the tax collector: Follow me. Then we read: he got up and followed him.
The call of Levi (or Matthew) has featured in many bible studies I have been involved in over the years. Sometimes it has been Mark’s account that has been studied, and sometimes that which is found in the gospel of Luke. Luke’s account is even more challenging as it says: he got up, left everything, and followed him. Every time Jesus’ call and Levi’s response has been considered there have been those who have tried to water down the power of the message by superimposing worldly conditions upon it.
As we reflect upon the words in scripture, many of us will be left wondering: what about Levi’s money, his family, his contractual commitments, his job? Surely, Levi, the tax collector, the one who was so shrewd and hard-headed, would have sorted out the mundane matters of daily life before following a wandering rabbi. But that is not what scripture tells us. The picture we are given is one that many might well describe as being reckless, but it leaves no room for doubt and uncertainty. Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. There is no suggestion that the tax collector wasted the next year or so getting his affairs into good order. Instead, we are told that in his joy he threw a party.
When we are confronted with the unexpected and the inexplicable we often react in a critical way. In our reading we see that there is nothing new in this. Rather than expressing joy in the conversion of a sinner, the scribes and the Pharisees, those whited-sepulchres of the Jewish faith, condemned Jesus for joining in the celebrations. Jesus’ response is one for us all to take to heart.
Jesus said: I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. As we strive to impose our morality and our ‘common sense’ on any situation we often align ourselves with the scribes and Pharisees. We criticize and condemn, instead of loving and healing. As we gaze upon those who see the world from a different perspective to our own, we so often fall into the trap of pronouncing judgement, forgetting that it is not our place to judge. Instead of acting as judge and jury, we should be the vehicles by which others might come to experience the joy of faithful discipleship. Rather than putting on a sour and condemnatory demeanour we should be showing others what fun it is to be a Christian. Let us pray for the strength to do just that.