In the days of Jesus, young Israelite students began memorizing the Old Testament by ten years old … and by fifteen, they could ask their rabbi, “Can I become your disciple?” The rabbi could either say, “You’re not good enough, you don’t have what it takes,” or he could say, “Follow me.”
[In Mark 2:13-17,] Matthew also had the family name Levi, which means he most likely descended from the Levitical priests like Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Malachi. So Matthew’s family was banking on him becoming a disciple … but when we meet him, he’s a hated tax collector, a sell-out of his own people. Which means Matthew’s rabbi had told him, “You’re not good enough.”
I can just imagine that long walk home, Matthew’s father seeing his son from the doorstep and realizing he didn’t make it, backing into the house, the silent click of the door. I can imagine Matthew’s heartache, his rejection … and like the Prodigal Son, grabbing his inheritance to buy a tax collector’s booth.
Then Jesus walks by Matthew’s table, and in a moment predestined before the foundation of time itself, Jesus says the words that Matthew Levi has been waiting to hear his whole life: “Follow me.”
Matthew was probably thinking, “Why? Why would you want me? I’m a screw-up. You don’t know what I’ve done. I’m not good enough, I don’t have what it takes. Not even my father wants me.”
But Jesus, without a single question, without qualifying him, without telling him to clean up first, was telling him: “Levi, it’s your mess-ups that qualify you for this kingdom of mine. It’s because of your mess-ups that I want you. In my eyes, you are good enough. You do have what it takes. Come on. Follow me.”
— J.S. from this message