As [Jesus]walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:14 NIVUK)
Officials of HMRC are not popular today, but in Jesus’ day tax collectors were hated. They worked for Rome administering a heavy tax burden on the people, and to make matters worse they made their living by adding an extra amount for themselves. That was bad enough, but if one of these tax collectors happened to be a Jew, as Levi was, he was thought of as the ultimate turncoat, a collaborator with the occupying force of Rome, a traitor, a man who had betrayed his own people.
Even more than a traitor Levi would have been viewed as a backslider. Someone who had abandoned his faith, roots and people. His only other friends would have been other tax collectors.
This is who Levi was.
But one day along came Jesus and he saw Levi sitting in his tax booth. The word used here for ‘saw’ means ‘to gaze intently upon’, ‘to stare’, ‘to fix one’s eyes constantly upon an object.’ Have you ever had someone stare at you? You feel as if they are boring a hole through the back of your head. It makes you uncomfortable, especially if you have done something wrong.
Levi must have wondered why Jesus was staring at him in this way. Was he going to be told off for siding with enemy? Was there going to be a dramatic confrontation that would expose Levi for who is was?
To Levi’s surprise that’s not what happened at all. Following the stare Jesus said,
‘Follow me.’ Two words Levi never thought he would hear, after all who would want him as a follower? Evidently, Jesus does.
This phrase ‘Follow me’ means ‘walk the same road.’ Jesus is saying to Levi, ‘let’s walk the same road together.’ It’s an imperative, which means it is not just an invitation but also a command, and it is in the present tense meaning the beginning of an action which continues.
Putting that together Jesus is saying, ‘Levi, I am asking you, even commanding you, to follow me now and every day,’ and his response was to get up, leave everything
(Luke 5:28) and follow Jesus.
Jesus is looking at us and saying the same thing to you and me today. No matter what our situation, what we may have done or not done, how we are viewed by other people, or whether we feel we have backslidden or let God down, Jesus says to us, ‘Let’s walk the same road together. Let’s take this journey through life together. I want to be your companion. I want to develop a relationship with you.’
Can you take up this commanded invitation and follow him? It might just be the best thing you ever do.
Father, teach us to follow Jesus without fear, knowing that he is always with us, leading the way.
Have a good week following Jesus,