Jesus Calls Levi
“Come, follow me,” he said. (Matthew 4:19)
In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were very unpopular. The payment of taxes to the Roman Empire caused resentment among people, and tax collectors reminded people of Roman rule. Additionally, tax collectors made their living by charging more money for taxes than the Romans expected and keeping the difference, a system seemingly designed to encourage greed and dishonesty. While collecting taxes, tax collectors handled things Jewish law considered unclean, such as coins stamped with images of pagan gods. Most Jews hated tax collectors.
In this week’s lesson, we hear the story of Levi, also known as Matthew. The story of Jesus calling Levi to follow him is found in similar accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Levi was a tax collector and was sitting at a tax booth, probably collecting a toll along a major road. When Jesus saw Levi, he issued the invitation, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27). With these words, Jesus extended an invitation to one who was despised by society.
It’s likely that Jesus’ association with tax collectors surprised many. We’re told in particular of the response of the Pharisees, who were Jewish religious leaders. They interpreted the Jewish laws found in the Torah and applied them to everyday life. Pharisees opposed Jesus because they thought he was teaching Jews to stop following these laws. The Pharisees also opposed Jesus’ association with those they identified as sinners, such as tax collectors. In the Pharisees’ eyes, if a person associated with someone identified as a sinner, then that person became unclean.
The story of Jesus calling Levi is good news for us. Jesus issues the ] invitation to follow, not just to those who are perfect but also to imperfect people. Jesus calls people like us to follow him.
Levi must have known his life would change drastically if he accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow. Yet we are told of no hesitation. When Jesus called, Levi followed. Are we able to follow Levi’s example?
Jesus calls us to follow Him.
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