And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
As I was reading this morning, this simple passage struck me powerfully, Here was a Jew, Levi, who worked as a tax collector for the very people, the Romans, who were holding the Jews in oppressive circumstances. Levi was viewed by his own people as a traitor and one of the oppressors. He might have been demanding more in payment than the Romans required, thereby enriching himself. He was not esteemed by the Romans, either, as he was still a Jew and not considered their equal. But he was most likely wealthy because of the habit of extortion by the tax collectors and obviously quite liberal with that wealth, at least among the ‘lowest of the low,’ as seen in the next paragraph when he threw a great feast for them.
BUT GOD, in the person of Jesus, met up with him in his “office,” a booth in the marketplace, and simply said “Follow me.” That is amazing enough in and of itself, that God would call an outcast among his own people, a man who was probably dishonest and robbed these people. But what I find even more amazing is that Levi heard Jesus and merely (merely?!) got up from his desk, left everything behind and followed after Jesus! Imagine the scene if you will:
Here is the despised tax collector, Levi, sitting there in the market as one by one his neighbors and relatives reluctantly come up with their hard earned coins to pay those horrid Romans their required taxes which are used to support the troops that keep the people in line! As the Jews come to Levi’s booth, they give him their money, but he asks for more. They both probably know that Levi is keeping the extra. But then the next person comes up WITHOUT a coin for the Romans (or Levi!) and Levi looks up. This man he may have never seen before says “Come. Follow me!” Outrageous! Incredible! But what does Levi do? He actually gets up, leaves his possessions, the money for the taxes and his own pockets, EVERYTHING, and follows! The people still in line would have been confused, puzzled. But there’s all this money sitting there – what did they do? Did they rush the table and take it back? Did the Romans intervene? We don’t know, but we do know it would have been chaos at the very least.
Why? Why would what our standards would have considered a successful businessman get up and abandon it all? Because he heard the voice of God in Jesus. Levi may have heard about this preacher from Galilee before, may even have heard him speak, who knows? But in that place, at that moment, Levi knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was all that he, Levi, needed. And he did the only reasonable thing – he left behind the encumbrances of his former life and went after the most precious thing!
How about any one of us? Do we seek out the most precious, important thing, or do we run after things of this world that do not last, that rust away and decay? Do I seek out Jesus each and everyday, to sit at His feet and learn what He has to teach me, or do I busy myself with busywork that leads no where? These are things we need to consider daily and decide how we chose to live. The choice we make has eternal repercussions, so choose wisely!
Oh, how did Levi’s story turn out, you ask? Well, he never went back to being a tax collector. Instead, he continued to follow Jesus for three years, becoming one of his inner circle of 12. He was one of the men Jesus chose to be his ambassadors and to tell the world about Himself. And just how, do you ask, did Levi fulfill this mission? Well, Jesus changed his name to Matthew. Matthew then went on to write down everything he had learned from Jesus so that others could come to know, as he Matthew did, that Jesus was the promised Messiah to the Jews, the one foretold by the prophets and promised to Levi’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!