Another week studying the book of Luke is almost behind us, but not before we witness the meeting between Jesus and another one of his soon to be disciples. This time it’s a tax collector named Levi, who we all know better by the name of Matthew.
Before we jump into the verse, it’s first important to learn about the role of tax collectors in the world during this time in history. When I hear tax collector today, I kind of nod and think “that’s a respectable career, I bet they get great benefits.” That was not exactly the same situation 2000+ years ago when Jesus was around.
The land was under Roman occupation during the time of Jesus. God’s people had no love for these Roman rulers who had taken over, and they sure weren’t fond of the tax collectors that collected taxes on behalf of the Roman empire. Tax collectors were known to be greedy and downright criminal, often growing wealthy by overtaxing the people and keeping some of the money for themselves. When you view the situation from this angle and imagine your nation being taken over and occupied by an enemy nation who then start brutally taxing you, you can understand why tax collectors were so deeply despised.
What makes it even worse is that often times, the tax collectors like Matthew weren’t foreigners. They were from the same land as the people they were outrageously taxing, making them especially cruel and traitorous.
Okay, so Jesus has been hanging around the town, healing people, teaching, and as he goes to leave, this happens.
Luke 5:27-28 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
There’s almost too much to talk about here, I get so excited by everything in these two verses. Let’s start surface level and work our way deeper. Sometimes we make a whole production out of coming to Jesus. I’ve seen people spend an entire year “preparing to accept Jesus”. They’d acknowledge their need for him, but wanted to clean their life up first (which is a dangerous and wrong approach, but that’s a whole different blog for another day), and then they’d fall back into slavery to sin, but crawl out a few months later desperately in need of Jesus. Some of us have twisting, winding, long roads that led us to Jesus.
And then there’s Levi, who was sitting in a booth when one day Jesus walked by and said “follow me” and he said “okay” and he did it. There is a deeply gorgeous takeaway from this moment in the Bible as we are shown how truly simple it can be to come to Jesus. It’s as easy as seeing him go by and hearing his simple invitation to follow him and saying “okay” and getting up and following him. Levi likely had little idea what it even meant to be the disciple of such a unique, mysterious, powerful man like Jesus, but he just didn’t care. He was working around that town, he likely knew the stories, he likely knew the reputation, maybe he’d even witnessed some of the things Jesus had been doing there, and so he just agreed to do the simple thing Jesus was asking. It’s the same thing Jesus asks of all of us at one point or another. Follow me and be my disciple.
Now, let’s look at this thing from Jesus’ point of view. He’s a very deliberate guy, there’s purpose and meaning behind everything he does. Jesus didn’t pick a reviled tax collector at random. It wasn’t just a coincidence that he chose the most despised and controversial guy around, this was an absolute statement on the part of Jesus. By choosing a tax collector he loudly proclaimed that he was there for everyone. There was no one too lowly or too corrupt or too far gone for Jesus. He was the savior of them all. That was his heart and intention then, just at is now, and I don’t know about you but that just makes me love him even more than I already do.
So life’s changing fast for ol’ Levi. One moment he’s a tax collector living in a city, the next he’s the disciple of a man named Jesus and about to set out on a journey. What’s a man to do in times of transition and life upheaval like those? Let’s see.
Luke 5:29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them.
Do you know something the two disciples we’ve been introduced to so far in the book of Luke have in common? They both had incredibly beautiful reactions to encountering Jesus. Peter (Simon at the time) fell to the ground and proclaimed himself unworthy of Jesus. And then here’s Levi, whose reaction to encountering Jesus is to throw a banquet with Jesus as the guest of honor. Not only that, but Levi proves to have a heart and a skill for ministry because he invites a bunch of his corrupt and sinful buddies over to meet Jesus. That just warms my heart and blows my mind, the fact that Levi so quickly introduced Jesus to those he knew were in need of him.
I’ve been on a real kick lately about doing more, being more active in our faith. Some of us spend years getting to know Jesus, going back and forth, one foot in the world, one in the kingdom of God. It can be years before we actually introduce others to Jesus. And here’s corrupt ol’ Levi, showing that it can actually be done more or less immediately. While I unfortunately can’t say I had it in my own life, that’s a truly excellent and appropriate response to encountering Jesus right there.
We don’t have to have a perfect relationship with Jesus to introduce him to other people. We don’t have to know every aspect of his character. The Bible is so good because it shows us examples of how to do certain things, and here’s a great example of how to appropriately respond to meeting Jesus. Just introduce him to anyone and everyone. If they ask questions about him, be honest, say you don’t know yet. “I just started following him, but so far he fills my heart with joy and I’ve seen him do things that are impossible.” Honesty, passion, and authenticity are going to go way further in bringing people to Jesus than theological debates ever will.
And that’s it for another week, my friends. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what the book of Luke has in store for us next week. Until then, I love you, and I’d be honored to pray for you if you have any prayer needs. Just email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you all on Monday!