Today’s Reading: Mark 1-3
Today’s Reflection: Mark 2:14
And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
What is this text saying?
As Jesus was beginning His earthly ministry He comes across this tax collector named Levi. Jesus invites Levi to follow Him and to become one of His 12 disciples.
Why is it important?
Though none of us enjoy paying taxes, most of us can’t imagine the stigma associated with the title ‘tax collector’ during Jesus time. Under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, Israel had to pay ‘tribute’ to Caesar. People from among the Jews were appointed to do the dirty work of collecting the taxes due to the empire. Tax collectors also had free reign to exact far more than Rome required and keep the excess for themselves. For these reasons most tax collectors became quite rich. It’s no wonder they were despised in Jewish society, looked down on with the same disdain as prostitutes or murderers.
Given this, its quite remarkable that Jesus selects this Levi, someone almost universally hated to follow Him and become one of His disciples. It may be equally surprising that Levi left his very lucrative career and worldly possessions behind to become known as Matthew and follow Jesus.
Much has been made of the immediacy with which the disciples forsook everything to follow Jesus, but because many Christians today haven’t read the entire Old Testament in context or studied Hebrew traditions and customs, we don’t really understand why these men were so eager to leave behind jobs and possessions to follow this Man.
All Jewish boys were taught the Torah, the Jewish Bible, until the age of 10. Then the best students were chosen to continue in religious studies until they were 14. At this phase they presented themselves to one of the rabbis—the highly respected teachers of the Torah and the Jewish religion—with hopes of becoming a disciple to one of them. The rabbis would question the students rigorously, and would select only the best ones to follow them and learn their specific interpretation of Torah, or their ‘yoke’.
To the top students, the rabbi would say ‘come follow me’ and they would immediately leave home to diligently follow their rabbi wherever he went. They were supposed to emulate their rabbi’s example, doing everything as he did it, following him so closely that it was said they were to become covered in the dust kicked up by his sandals. In fact ‘may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi’ is a traditional Jewish blessing. The students who didn’t receive such an invitation from a rabbi would return home to learn their father’s trade, which would become their vocation.
Though Jesus didn’t rise through the recognized rabbinical system, when He began His ministry no one could deny that He spoke with truth and had real power. Perhaps some of the rabbis at that time remembered how as a 12 year-old, this Jesus had confounded them with His questions and insight (Luke 2:43-47). Now this same Jesus was teaching as a rabbi in His own right. News of the unique yoke He preached and the amazing miracles He performed spread quickly. So when Jesus called the disciples, they instantly recognized the significance of this invitation. It was the call of a rabbi. It was an honour these men had once studied so hard to obtain, had been passed over for, and now after all this time were finally receiving. And rather than having to pursue it themselves, this call had sought them out. Though they may not have understood Jesus was the Messiah right away, they knew this was no ordinary rabbi.
How can I apply this?
1) God has a plan and a purpose for you. And He’ll bring your purpose to you. In most areas of life we have to pursue, chase, work for opportunities in order to fulfill our purposes, but when it comes to God’s calling in our lives He brings our ordained purpose to our attention.
2) Your past is no barrier to what God is calling you to. If Jesus could take one of the most despised people in Jewish society and turn him into a disciple and herald of the Kingdom of Heaven, there is nothing you could have done to prevent Him from using you to fulfill your purpose and to glorify Him.
3) We need to be prepared to heed God’s call. As good Torah students, Levi and the other disciples were able to recognize the call of the rabbi when it finally came to them and respond correctly—they left everything else behind and followed Jesus. But not all of the people Jesus called were as wise. Some made excuses or tried to delay in following Him immediately (Luke 9:57-62). Many of us do the same today. If we desire to see God’s purpose fulfilled in our lives we have to first study to show ourselves approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15), then be prepared to obey whatever He says. We must make ready to follow Jesus wherever He leads us, so closely that we become covered in His dust.