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The Calling of Levi

Sermon on Mark 2:13-22 preached by
The Revd Dr Joan Crossley
2nd March 2003

I don't know if you are a risk taker? 

Do you like bungee jumping? 

Going on the scariest rides at the theme park? 

Perhaps you remember the bit in Mr Bean at the swimming pool where he saunters up to the highest diving board and then panics, shivers on the edge - creeps along the board and hangs by his finger nails, tries to crawl back to safety. Mr Bean is not a risk taker! 

In today's reading we meet a man called Levi who was a risk taker - he did a really brave thing because he wanted to change his life. He wanted to be part of the honesty and love he had heard Jesus talk about. So when Jesus said simply "follow me", Levi (usually called Matthew) did just that. He just got up and went. 

Except it wasn't as easy as just leaving his job for an afternoon of hearing great preaching and teaching. Levi was leaving a whole way of life behind and choosing another one. 

Of all the disciples, Matthew/Levi gave up the most. Peter, James, Andrew and John could always go back to their fishing communities and start their old trade again. But Levi burned his boats completely. In that single moment of decision, he had put himself out of a job forever. 

Regrettably, modern Tax collectors enjoy about as much affection in our society as Traffic wardens. But we all acknowledge that these jobs that must be done, and if they must be done, they must be done fairly and honourably. 

The problem with tax collecting in Jesus' day was that it was a racket. Because of illiteracy and haphazard record making, people never knew precisely how much tax they owed and it was the job of the tax inspector to extract as much as he possibly could get away with. He would then pay what government demanded and cream off the difference. 

It was a lucrative business, although it was probably a risky one, where you might get beaten-up or murdered if you pushed your neighbours too far. It was certainly a hugely unpopular business. Tax collectors were seen as government spies, always on the watch for someone who seemed to have a little extra money, someone who was spending too much on their daughter's wedding and who could pay more tax. 

So this was Levi, lots of enemies but he was making a lot of money and saw no reason to change. Until he met in Jesus a better way to live - with new values and hope for his soul to grow and his life to be clean and decent. It was something he was willing to risk everything to commit to. 

In the second part of the story we see that Jesus was willing to take risks, and make a commitment. By simply going to Levi's house, Jesus was throwing his lot in with the very last people that a respectable rabbi with a rising reputation could afford to associate with. 

You might imagine that some of the most sensible disciples were nervous at the company they suddenly found themselves in. They must have looked round at the group of Tax collectors and other sinners that Levi had summoned to meet Jesus and been appalled! Would Jesus get a reputation? Would he be shunned by the nice people at the Temple? 

We can tell that Jesus didn't care about his reputation or being liked by the in crowd. He said that he was there for the people that needed him. Not the ones that already had what they needed, but those who were lonely or lost or sad or trapped. People who wanted a new life that was clean and honest and truthful and who wanted to love and be loved by God. 

In Jesus we see a way to get to God directly, someone who isn't interested in how we dress, or how we speak, or even if we have broken the rules. He just wants us to reach out to Him, make a commitment to Him, take a risk, to offer our selves to the adventure of following Him. Amen

Bible Readings and Notes  and Intercessions for 2nd March 2003

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