A42 CALL OF LEVI
St. Mark 2.vv.13-17
~ Jesus went out again beside the sea; 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". ~
More than 50 years after the end of World War II, Nazi collaborators are still being hounded and brought to trial; the hatred still persists. The ancient Jews hated collaborators with Rome and a tax collector was a prime target for their hate. To be ruled by Rome was one thing (and very grievous to be borne) but to have to pay for it quite another, for taxation was for the benefit of the Roman overlords.
We (or most of us) pay taxes grudgingly, though we receive good services for our tax. We can, therefore, imagine the odium in which Levi and other tax collectors were held. To add to this, the taxation system was basically dishonest. The Roman system of farming out taxes meant that if you bid a high enough figure, no one asked how much extra you extorted to line your own pocket. Levi, therefore, was classed as among those from whom in modern parlance you "wouldn't buy a second-hand car!".
Levi was a "social leper"; there was no place for him among respectable Jews. To be a social outcast is a most appalling experience. Hugh Redwood recounts how a Chinese woman with a half-caste baby joined a Church, but after a while her past caught up with her and she was rejected. "Is there no place where a sinner is welcome?", she cried. Fortunately the Salvation Army came to her aid.
Levi might well have cried similarly but Jesus "took" him, the last person we'd expect. His reaction to Jesus' kindness and concern is most marked - Jesus did not ask for references or testimonials. Jesus knew what he could make of Levi (as of us too). Jesus knew he could make him acceptable to the other eleven disciples. Jesus knew that every "saint has a past and every sinner a future".
Jesus bade him, "Follow me". The Rabbis too were followed by their disciples but not all followers threw up their livelihoods. When Jesus said "Follow me", he knew what he was asking. He knew his man. In the game of "follow my leader" children must follow every action of the leader, even danger. For Jesus and Levi this was important. Jesus warned his disciples that his way was the way of the Cross.
Who was this "Levi"? None other than the Evangelist, St. Matthew. What did St. Matthew (or Levi) renounce? In the first place he gave up a good , steady, secure employment and a well paid post. His reward was to be pain and sorrow with Jesus but also forgiveness, purpose, love and peace with his new Master .
What is our debt to St. Matthew?
First, we commend his example of courage and decision, taken in the face of adversity. Secondly, he "took his pen" with him. St. Mark may have written the first Gospel, but expanded and added to by St. Matthew, this soon became the basis of the Gospel of St. Matthew, accorded first place and honour in the canon of New Testament scripture.
What a debt we owe to Levi who heard and responded to the call of Jesus Christ!