“And as [Jesus] passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, “Follow me.” And he arose and followed Him.” ~ Mark 2:14
Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) was a publican: a tax collector for the Roman government. Rome ruled Israel, and anyone working for Rome was by default an enemy of the Jews. But publicans/tax-collectors were even worse, for they were traitors. Most publicans, like Levi, were Jews who sold out their countrymen to work for the other side, just so they could get rich (ostensibly, by overtaxing and pocketing the difference). To choose to become a publican was to choose cash over country, luxury over loyalty.
Understandably, publicans were hated: they were considered to be “the scum of the earth”. They were so bad, they were put in a class by themselves: when referring to the unrighteous, the religious elite would say “publicans and sinners” (e.g., Mark 2:15). Accordingly, publicans were essentially excommunicated from Jewish religious life and for them there was no way back, no hope, no redemption.
When Jesus called Levi, He was offering him a way out of the dreadful situation he was in. Whatever Levi’s motives were, whatever path had led him there, it was a bad place to be. He would never be accepted as a regular Jewish man again: he would never be welcomed in the synagogues.
And though he worked for them, the Romans wouldn’t accept him either: they knew he was a traitor: they knew he had “sold out”.
Only Jesus offered him hope, only Jesus offered him a way out, only Jesus offered him redemption.
Levi accepted Jesus’ offer.
It meant he would lose his job, his wealth, his seat “at the receipt of custom”. It meant taking the biggest risk of his life. But this was his only chance, his only hope, his only way out. Either he would follow Jesus or fester in the mess he had created for himself.
Levi accepted Jesus’ offer: Levi followed Jesus.
In calling Levi, Jesus showed His love for the least among us. Jesus offer of salvation extended even to outcasts. There was no wretch Jesus could not reach.
But there is more.
We were all outcasts, for we are all sons of Adam. When Adam was cast out of the garden, so were we, for we were all in Adam. We were all outcasts from God’s family. And we were all sentenced to death: eternal separation from God: condemned to be outcasts for eternity.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” ~ Romans 3:23
But then God sent Jesus to make a way, THE ONLY WAY, out for us. If we would follow Jesus, He would take us back inside the fold: back in fellowship with God, our Father.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
If we are yet unsaved, then, just like Levi, we find ourselves in desperation. If we stay as we are, if we ignore Jesus’ call, we will be stuck as outcasts forever. We see Him coming toward us, we hear His call: “Follow me”.
Our lives hang in the balance. What will our answers be?