Luke 5:27-28 (NIV) After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Living in Capernaum it wasn’t really possible for Levi to NOT know who Jesus was. He saw Him all the time, walking through town, always at the center of a crowd. He had even heard Him teach a few times, and had seen Him do some miracles. Jesus fascinated Him.
But that fascination was as far as Levi could ever see things going. The two of them lived in different worlds – they definitely didn’t hang out with the same crowds! Jesus was a rabbi, a prophet, a holy man who was always surrounded by pious Pharisees and self-satisfied teachers of the law. Levi, on the other hand, was a tax collector. He was looked down on by the average Jew for working for their Roman overlords, and for taking their hard-earned money and putting it in the Emperor’s pocket. And, of course, there was the stereotype of the greedy tax collector who bled the poor to fatten himself. There were definitely some tax collectors who were like that – Levi knew some of them – but Levi himself was a devout man, and observant Jew who, truth be told, had a slight tendency toward legalism, and who just happened to work as a tax collector.
That day was like most others, with Levi tending his booth, waiting for the next round of fishermen to come by to have their catches assessed, when he saw a crowd approaching. Of course the only person who traveled in a crowd like that was Jesus. As frequently happened, the trajectory of the entourage would bring them right by Levi’s booth. And as they approached, he could hear Jesus’ clear voice talking about the kingdom of God.
As they approached, those in the crowd caught sight of Levi at his booth, and their expression changed to one of distaste. Levi didn’t mind; he had grown used to it over the years, and kept his own expression neutral and professional. Then Jesus Himself suddenly stopped right in front of Levi, bringing the whole group to a halt along with Him. Jesus eyes fastened on Levi, and he braced himself for the chastisement that the was sure awaited him. But instead, Jesus’ eyes crinkled in a smile, and He said quietly, “Follow me.” Then He and the crowd started to move on.
The decision was made in only a moment’s time. Jesus had asked him, Levi, to follow Him. Or was it really asking? It had felt more like a command than an invitation. But how could he follow Him? How could he not?! Taking one deep breath and one last look at the life he was leaving behind, Levi walked out of the tax booth, and joined the back of the crowd that surrounded Jesus.
Father, it is refreshing to see Levi/Matthew in this new light. And it is refreshing to see that, just like You, Jesus didn’t look on the outward appearance, but on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). In this despised tax collector, He saw a heart that longed for Your kingdom, and that hungered and thirsted for true righteousness. Lord, give me eyes that see past the outward appearance to the inward reality of those around me, so that I can see who is longing for You now. Amen.