27After this Jesus went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
28And Levi got up, left everything, and followed Jesus.
It all sounds so simple. And, perhaps for Levi it was.
Levi was an outcast, “a tax-collector” despised for collaborating with the Romans and collecting the hated Roman tax that helped keep the Jewish population in subjection to the occupying power of Rome. Jesus reached out to this pariah, treated him like a human being, spoke to him with respect. It must have been a compelling call.
Perhaps Levi had become disillusioned with his “tax booth.” Perhaps that “booth” had become for him a prison and Jesus seemed to offer an escape. It is possible the “everything” Levi left behind had lost some of its appeal.
At first, for Levi, following Jesus was not all that complicated. Jesus walked down the road, Levi followed along. Jesus stopped at the cross roads, Levi stopped. Jesus turned right, Levi turned right.
It is not that clear for me. I do not see Jesus as Levi saw him. I do not hear the voice of Jesus as Levi heard the voice. What can it mean for me to respond to Jesus’ call to “Follow me”?
The key for me lies in Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees when they asked about the coming of the kingdom. He replied,
The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.’ (Luke 17:20,21)
I do not follow Jesus as Levi followed Jesus.
Today Jesus is not someone, or something, out there in the visible tangible material realm. Jesus is the force of life and love, goodness and truth (“the kingdom”) “within” me. To “follow” Jesus means I heed those deep inner qualities that are my true nature. It means I listen to the voice of love and follow wherever that voice may lead.
Certainly, as for Levi, so for me, this is going to involve leaving behind a lot of old habits, confused compromises, tired dishonesties, and sad illusions.
Am I willing to leave behind those attitudes in which there is no life in order to find the way to life to which Jesus leads?