This is Day 26 of Reading Together. I hope you are enjoying reading Luke’s Gospel; I know I am. Just a reminder that you can subscribe to the blog clicking on the Subscribe option on the right of the web page and WordPress will send the content via an email. You can also hear sermons on some of the passages (we are running a week or so behind) through the Church site here or by clicking the link in the Blogroll which is again located on the right of the page. As usual, the passage can be read here on the excellent BibleGateway site.
What did Jesus look like? You may already have an image in your mind as you ponder the question, but what’s it based on? Luke has been so good with detail, yet he omits this important information. When we look at the other Gospel writers we find the same story, there just isn’t a description of Jesus’ physical appearance in the Gospels. I remember watching a film of Jesus’ life and I couldn’t take my eyes of the lead actor’s hair. It was amazing, beautifully styled, he must have spent ages having it all straightened, a lovely glossy sheen with not a glimpse of a split-end. I make the point because the question here is; what made Levi suddenly leave everything and follow Jesus? To listen to some preachers, it’s inferred that Levi saw ‘something’ in Jesus, we’re never actually told what; perhaps he had a friendly face, maybe he looked like a man who could be trusted, maybe he really did have lovely hair! In truth, we can rule out these unhelpful suggestions. Isaiah prophesied; “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) To understand a little of what is happening in the passage, we have to look a little further.
I’ve never met anyone who enjoys paying tax. For those living in a democracy, at least it’s possible to see where the money goes and there is a need for policing and education etc. In the time of Jesus, tax collectors were just about the most unpopular people in society and regarded as the worst sinners. Israel was an occupied country; the Romans made the important decisions and funneled off the tax revenue to fund the army and the wealth of Rome. The Jews were essentially paying to be oppressed. To make matters worse, the Romans auctioned off the rights to collect taxes to local people. The tax collector could then charge his fellow citizens over the odds because he had the backing of Roman military muscle and so would become rich at the expense of his own people. Tax collecting was a life choice, you would become rich but you would be excluded and hated.
We know from Marks Gospel that the incident of the healing of the paralytic occurred in Capernaum (Mark 2:1) and Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that this incident took place immediately after. In other words, it was in Capernaum, where Jesus lived, Matthew describes it as Jesus’ ‘own town’. (Matthew 9:1) Jesus had performed many miracles in Capernaum, the news had even reached Jerusalem (5:17), so Levi must have known about Jesus. It is very possible that he had heard Jesus’ teaching; after all, large crowds were going to hear him in Capernaum. Jesus and Levi may have lived in the same town but they were separated by a huge gulf, Levi was a notorious sinner while Jesus was the Son of God. Levi may have wanted to follow Jesus, but he had made his choice and the die had been cast. That Jesus called out to Levi is astounding, we’ve seen how Jesus reached out to a leper; here he reached out to a social leper. It was an offer Levi couldn’t refuse. Levi is also known as Matthew, the Gospel writer, you can read his own account of this incident in Matthew 9-13, it is very similar but he leaves out one small detail; in his own account, Matthew omits the fact that he left everything when he followed Jesus. I suspect he wanted his readers to focus on Jesus and not on himself and I love that.
We thank you Lord that Jesus came to save sinners, thank you that he has reached out to us in the same way he reached out to Levi. We pray that you would help us to walk away from the things that would hold us back from following you.