Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he 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. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – Mark 2:13-16
Jesus is once again teaching by the lake, one of His favorite classrooms. Jesus clearly has something interesting to say that is attracting a large crowd, or perhaps some were there just to see whether the religious leaders would rattle their rattles again as they did with John by the Jordan. Jesus singles out an unlikely follower, a tax collector of all people named Levi. Levi was in his “office” or booth in this case. He probably had stacks of coins scattered in front of him from the taxes he had collected that day.
Jesus simply says “follow me”. The same invitation He gives to all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Levi apparently did not ask where, or for how long. He simply picked up his things and followed. Levi also did not say why me Jesus? I am sure part of him was thinking why does this man care about me, a wretched tax collector. But instead of getting wrapped up in self-doubt he simply took Jesus at face value and followed this man who seemed to know here He was going.
Jesus was quick to include Levi in his life by dining at his house with other “many tax collectors and sinners”. It is not really clear who the “sinners” were and what they did that was sinful, but Jesus made it clear that it is not important where you came from only where you are going, as long as you are faithfully following Him. The religious leaders were not happy with His choice of dinner companions and asked the question “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Although this question came from a place of superiority and judgement it is an interesting question.
Why did Jesus invest His time with people who on some level appeared to be ignoring God and religious practices? I don’t think Jesus wants us to ignore God or necessarily ignore traditions and religious practices. So why this focus on the sinners and tax collectors? I think Jesus wants curious God seekers willing to follow Him without reservation. The religious leaders were trained professional “followers” of God with years of study and practice under their belt. Unfortunately, their training was too heaving on the leading and not so much on the following.
The take home message for me in this passage is that following is much harder than leading, especially when the One you are following asks you to go places that may be uncomfortable, or even scary at times. Like for example sharing food with people that you have been trained your whole life to regard as human scum not worthy of your time. Jesus was all about breaking down barriers and building community – not gated communities with membership requirements, but open communities ready to take anyone in that is willing to follow.
Prayer: God help us to be open to all curious God-seekers so that we can build communities ready and willing to follow You.