Luke 5:27-28 (CEV)
27 Later, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the place for paying taxes. Jesus said to him, “Come with me.” 28 Levi left everything and went with Jesus.
We don’t know very much about Levi (who also went by the name ‘Matthew’). We don’t know who his family was. We don’t know what had happened to him before he became a tax collector. We don’t know what hurts or pains or hopes or dreams had driven him to become a collaborator with the Romans.
Maybe he was from a family that was right on the edge of survival. Maybe his parents lost everything they had when taxes were raised one year, or when the harvest failed. Maybe he was orphaned at a young age and taken in by a distant relative who never really wanted the burden, and made sure that Levi knew it at every opportunity.
Maybe he was the son of an important Sadducee, but wasn’t the scholar his father expected out of him. Maybe he was always on the edge of the crowd – always kept at a distance in his village – because he was a little bit different. Maybe he was ridiculed or taunted or mistreated or abused.
Maybe one day he had enough. Maybe one day the weight of whatever pain he lived underneath was enough to undo him. Maybe that day he went to the local Roman official and said, ‘I’m in’.
The hope was that things were going to be better. There was going to be power and there was going to be money. No one was going to insult him anymore. No one was going to mistreat him. No one would ever dream of saying a mean thing about him now, because now he had the power to wreck them. To take their tax burden and increase it just a little bit more. To show up unannounced at the end of harvest with one more bill. To pretend he hadn’t collected from them last week, and collect once again.
The problem was, it hadn’t worked out that way.
The problem was, it didn’t go at all as he had planned. Loneliness had just turned into a different kind of loneliness; pain into a different kind of pain; abuse into a different kind of abuse.
The problem was, the hope that he had started out with had turned once again into despair.
Only this time, he could see no way out.
Until the day that Jesus walked by. What look passed between the two in that moment? What despair leaked out of Levi’s eyes? What hope did he find reflected in Jesus’ gaze?
I don’t know, but I do know this. It was enough. It was enough for Jesus to issue an invitation. “Come with me.” It was enough for Levi to get up, leave everything behind, and follow.
- Can you imagine yourself in Levi’s place at the table?
- Can you imagine him looking up and finding Jesus looking back at him?
- What must Jesus’ look have communicated for Levi to be willing to get up and leave everything and follow him?