Luke 5:27-32 (NRSVCE)
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Levi was a tax collector. In the eyes of the Pharisees, he was the lowest of the low, a stooge of the Roman invaders who does their bidding in oppressing the Jewish people. Even worse, he is a Jew himself. So not only is he an oppressor, he is a traitor. He is the last person you would want to associate with. This is why the Pharisees are so disturbed in seeing Jesus with him. What kind of Jew could Jesus be, when he spends his time with the likes of Levi? And yet, Jesus does not hesitate. “Follow me,” he says.
If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember last year when I spoke about Christ’s call of “Follow me”, which he makes of each of us. This call to Levi is a prime example of how Christ’s hand reaching out is not some empty gesture, or even one simply of friendship or kindness. In responding to Christ’s call, in becoming His disciple, there is a transformation which takes place. We are no longer the people we were before, but we become new people in Christ. Think about a few examples we get from Scripture:
If you haven’t seen it yet, Bishop Robert Barron is also doing daily reflections on the Gospel readings for Lent. He mentions how the word behind “got up” in Luke 5:28 is actually the same root as the word used to describe the resurrection of Jesus (anastas / anastasis). This is not merely descriptive of what Levi did in this moment. It is indicative of the transformation which has just taken place. Christ’s love has effected a kind of resurrection for Levi, a rebirth to a new kind of life—a life as a Child of God. The Pharisees don’t understand this, and so they get angry. But Jesus says that this is precisely why He has come: to heal the sick, and to call sinners to repentance. He has come to give us new life.