"He said to him, 'Follow Me.' And he left everything, and rose and followed him." Luke 5:27
There are so many things we can learn from today's Gospel reading in Luke 5:27-32. I'll do my best to walk through it slowly here.
First, Levi (Matthew) was a tax collector. This meant that, though he was Jewish, he was an employee of the Roman government. Tax collectors in those days were wealthy men. Not that the government was such a generous employer, mind you. The main reason was that the collectors would collect the necessary tax required by the government, but then also add an extra toll for their own pockets. (Remember Zacchaeus?) So, for obvious reasons, the general Jewish populace did not have much regard for the tax collectors. Jewish they might be by birth, but the others saw them as traitors.
Yet, Jesus chose him as one of His followers. Just as surely as He called Andrew, Peter, James, and John...He CHOSE Matthew. The lesson to learn here? More than one, I'm sure. One I see is that God loves us, no matter how heinous our sins may seem to society. His love and His grace are able to set us free so completely that we will "leave everything, rise, and follow Him."
Matthew's response is amazing, isn't it? He left all. Wow. He walked away from certain wealth to...what? Follow this Man...to where? Wherever He went. Again--wow!
We see a parallel to what Zacchaeus did, too. Matthew gave a great feast for Jesus. Who else did he invite? Well, the only other people who were his friends: tax collectors. This is a great picture of what happens when someone has been changed by grace. They want others to have the same experience!
Well, then the Pharisees come along in their robes of righteousness, always judging everything Jesus does. How could he stand to eat with these totally unholy people? Tax collectors, sinners, and such, oh my! I do love Jesus' answer 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." I'm sure that was one of those "you could hear a pin drop" moments in time. Ouch. To paraphrase, Jesus was saying, "You Pharisees think you are righteous, and in no need of forgiveness. I will not waste my time feasting with such. These men know they are sinners. They want to spend time with Me. That's why I'm here. To offer them forgiveness and new life."
What's interesting is to go beyond this passage to the next few verses. The Pharisees quickly changed the subject from "who" He was feasting with to the fact that He was feasting at all. Why aren't Your disciples fasting? Way to take the focus off yourselves, guys!
Okay. Now to the point of this post!
Lent is a time of fasting, repentance, drawing closer to the Lord, and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the soul inspections we so desperately need. How do we respond? Do we "leave all and follow" and then make a way for others to learn how to do the same? Or do we look down our noses at those we deem "less holy" and preen in our own self-righteousness? For example, would we stand in line to make confession, wondering what we will ever say, because, really, our sins aren't that big, and we're sure that the guy ahead of us, who has been in the confessional for a very, very long time must have sinned more grievously and have much more to confess. So of course, we don't want to bore the priest with our piddly little problems. Hmm.
What I really love about Lent is the opportunity to really "come clean" with God. To allow Him to purge me of all the stuff that clutters up my spirit and stands as a gulf between me and Him. To shake loose the things that have so easily ensnared me so that I may once again run the race unhindered and unfettered.
Let us call out to the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and let Him do the housecleaning necessary, so that we may more easily set aside "everything" and follow Him without hesitation.
Today let us make this our aim: To pray for those whom others condemn.