“Then Jesus went out to the seashore again and preached to the crowds that gathered around him. 14 As he was walking up the beach he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at his tax collection booth. “Come with me,” Jesus told him. “Come be my disciple.”
“And Levi jumped to his feet and went along.”
My name is Levi, and I once collected taxes for Rome. It was a good living–it’s funny, but my parents chose my name– “Gift of God.” They were pious Jews who dreamed I would be more than I was. I sometimes wonder. Did they understand what Jesus was calling me to become?
As a tax collector, I was considered unclean. A small step above a leper I guess. The Temple was off-limits for me; I never had any sacrifice for my many sins. I carried my guilt like a heavy jacket on a hot day–some would say that God turned his back on me. I was seen as a collaborator, a betrayer of my people.
Do you know what it’s like to be damned?
My friends were sinners like me. In some dark way, we understood each other, we were all outcasts. Some of us were drunkards and whores, others were thieves and scoundrels, all of us were undesirable. They say that misery loves company–and we all were very much lost.
My tax booth was situated at a crossroads, it was ideal for collecting taxes. No one carrying goods could come by without paying me. Over time I became wealthy, and that was very good, for me anyway. But, I must admit at times that it was very hard. I wondered if that was all my life was good for, collecting coins for Rome.
Jesus was teaching near my booth, I listened to Him, and that was a good thing. But when He passed by me my mind and heart finally came together. I both felt and knew that there had never ever been someone like Him. I prided myself as a good judge of character–my business taught me that. But I realized exactly who He was.
He stopped right in front of my booth.
Jesus looked hard at me. I felt His eyes searching and I realized that He seemed to look right through me. I guess He knew exactly who and what I was all about, and it unnerved me, but in a good way. I wasn’t seeing Him, rather it was He that saw me.
Jesus’ words were a lightning bolt. “Come, follow me.” And suddenly all I attained in my business was a pile of nothingness. I can never get over the shock of those words– Jesus, the Messiah wanted me. What those words meant was non-negotiable. He had put His call on me, someone who was very much lost.
What could I say–what could I do?
To follow was not optional. I saw the silver and gold and realized they meant nothing. I left the coins on the table and I started to live a life that really mattered. I have never doubted or questioned that moment. What could I do, but follow Him?
We had a going-away party that night and I invited all my “disreputable” friends. Jesus shared many wonderful things with us. We had never had anyone who really cared for us like Him. We had never experienced this before.
The Pharisees were incensed. They began to rebuke Jesus for setting down to eat and fellowship with us. In their minds my home was unclean–we were all unclean. But that was not the way of Jesus. He loved us when nobody else would.
“When Jesus heard what they were saying, he told them, “Sick people need the doctor, not healthy ones! I haven’t come to tell good people to repent, but the bad ones.”
Art: Wautier, Carel; The Calling of Saint Matthew,” c. 1650