August 8, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news this morning is in Mark 2:13-14.
Once again he went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
Such a simple passage, but such a powerful impression! Simplicity of language is one of the things I like so much about Mark’s gospel.
Who was Levi? His name doesn’t appear anywhere as one of the twelve apostles. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, several early manuscripts state that this was James, son of Alphaeus, apparently taking it from the name Mark uses in the next chapter in his list of the Twelve. About a decade after Mark’s gospel Matthew gives this tax collector the name of Matthew. The name doesn’t really matter, though. It is partly the message of his response to Jesus’ summons.
Simon and Andrew, James and John were all fishermen, all ordinary men as far as we can tell. Who was Levi? A sinner according to his fellow Jews. He betrayed his own people by being in the employ of Herod Antipas and collecting taxes from them for Herod’s treasury. It is believed that Levi was dishonest as well since it was common for tax collectors to line their own pockets. So, Levi was shunned by most Jews. He was an outsider, cast out by his own people
And yet Jesus summoned him, called Levi to himself, into his friendship and trust. Pious, righteous Jews were scandalized. Just as Jesus had told the paralytic in Wednesday’s passage that his sins were forgiven, Jesus is essentially telling Levi that his sins are forgiven as well, his sins that were so obvious and odious to his fellow Jews unlike the private sins of the paralytic.
Calling, comforting, forgiving, embracing sinners was to become the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. Those are the people who were most open and grateful for the message of God’s healing love and forgiveness. The pious and righteous thought they had no need of it. They believed that they were already assured of God’s blessing by the upright conduct of their lives and adherence to the law. Unfortunately, they were the most resistant to Jesus’ teaching to love one another as God loved them.
I am Levi. My sin is public. I have been shunned, cast out by some. I can’t deny that hurts. Yet, like Levi I have accepted God’s forgiveness and love. I have been called to follow Jesus; I have been invited to share his friendship, his companionship. I am doing my best to be like him. Feeble though it may be, it’s about the best I can do. I have been rewarded with a mind at peace with itself and a heart contented and joyful that seems to fill more each day with love of God, myself, and others. I think that’s what Levi experienced, too, because he willingly responded to Jesus’ call, to a new vocation, a new life.