It may be that in those days a tax collector would be a man of few words.
Jesus only used two words to call Levi, also called Matthew, to be a disciple. “Follow Me.”
Matthew’s quick mind for sums added up the offer and the tax collector saw a way out of the wretched life he had been living. He could leave the crooked dealings, the hatred of the people he robbed, and the company of crooks to live a life that made a difference. “So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.”
Before the news of his conversion was publicly known, Levi threw a party for all his old, crooked government collaborators and his new friend with His band of 12.
Why did the tax collector choose to follow Jesus?
Money used to mean everything to him; he had sold his soul to the procurement of wealth by any means. He had a great house but no true friends. He had riches concealed throughout the house but his heart was an empty grave waiting for him to occupy it. No doubt Matthew discovered what Jesus would later teach: “Life consists not of the abundance of things a man possesses.” He had “things” everywhere but there was no life in them, no life at all. Perhaps he grew up poor and set his heart on riches at an early age. Somewhere in his quest for wealth, the joy went out of it. All the money and the things it bought were useless to him. He wondered if there were an alternative, some other pursuit that would not rot in his hands like old figs.
While he plied his hated trade, Jesus came by. Their eyes met and Matthew felt the searchlight of the Holy Spirit penetrate his very soul. There was nothing there! His house was full of treasures but his heart was vacant. In that lingering examination, eye to eye, and heart to heart with Jesus, Matthew saw new and exciting possibilities for life. Jesus wordlessly communicated promises to him of a different kind of abundance, one with no shame and with a full night’s sleep every night. It was enough and the tax collector became a disciple.
Back to the Feast
At some point in the feast, Matthew told the other collectors of his decision. Immediately they started calculating the benefits for them as they divided up his responsibilities among themselves. They could not understand their friend’s sudden affection for poverty but they were happy to profit from it. I imagine Jesus watched this festival of true repentance with a satisfied smile on His face. Here was a disciple indeed.
Scribes and Pharisees
Servants came and summoned several of the disciples out of the despised house of Matthew. They had a message for Jesus. As if He were an unsophisticated bumpkin, they explained that Jesus should not be seen with such evil men. Tax collectors were the sickest of the sick. They reported to Jesus and He sent back a reply. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
The dinner continued. Matthew rejoiced in his newfound freedom, and the other tax collectors exulted in their potential profits, as the Lord and His disciples enjoyed a good meal.
After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him. Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
Lord Jesus, as You said, life does not consist in the abundance of things a person might possess. Life is found in You, the Giver of Life. Your will is the plan for life. Your power is the force of life. Your love is the context of life. Your presence is the reward of life. Protect me from the deceitfulness of the riches of this world. They may be pretty but they can also be poison. They may promise lasting joy and then deliver only loss. I will lay up treasures in heaven where they are safe for all eternity. Thank You, Lord!
I’d Rather Have Jesus
Words: Rhea F. Miller; Music: George Beverly Shea
1. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
2. I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.
I’d rather be true to His holy name
3. He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs.
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead