Two Words

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:27-28)

It only took two words.  Follow me.

Or had Levi been watching Jesus for a while?  Had he seen a healing or two?  Had he heard Jesus talk?  Had the tax collectors been talking together about this strange new preacher?  Had God been stirring Levi for a while, giving him a sense of discontent, a feeling that something needed to change?

Or was it just a matter of two words?  “Follow me.”

I try to imagine the sound of Jesus’ voice.  How deep and commanding and understanding it was.  I wonder what it was in that moment that made Levi get up and leave everything. Was it Jesus’ smile that grabbed Levi, or was it a penetrating, powerful gaze?  Riches, power, security—thrown away to follow a man who had no pillow for his head.

In America, it’s not as common for believers to have to leave everything when we choose Christ.  Some of us leave addiction or a compromising relationship.  But in many countries, when a person decides to follow Jesus, they do leave everything.  Family.  Home.  Job.  If your family is Islamic or your government is Communist, you can easily lose your very life when you convert to Christianity.  As Americans, we are very, very blessed in the relative ease of following Jesus.

That doesn’t mean Americans don’t have a lot to leave behind. If I’m truly following Christ, I should be moving farther and farther away from many things.  Farther away from material possessions, selfish desires, and sinful patterns.  I should be letting go of ease.  I should be relinquishing my time and resources to the Lord’s use.

When I decided to follow Christ, it cost me very little.  A small amount of popularity.  An embarrassing confession or two. After forty years as a Christian, I can name other sacrifices, but there are so many things I still cling to.  So many idols I still haven’t abandoned completely.

I wish I had the guts to abandon everything that holds me back from fully and recklessly experiencing my Jesus.  I believe in my heart that it would be worth it.

Lent is a time in the church year that invites us to consider leaving things behind for Jesus. Sometimes believers give up things like dessert or alcohol or television for six weeks.  It’s a practice of denying yourself and remembering how Jesus denied Himself.  He left a throne in Heaven to walk the earth in poverty and gave up His very life for God’s bigger plan of salvation.  In a small way, we aspire to be like Him.

Of course, many of us return to those things we gave up for six weeks.  Frankly, for me, sometimes it’s the promise of the END of Lent that gets me through that period of self-denial.  I’m a sinner and a human, and I just don’t like giving up anything permanently.

But back to Levi.  Levi (also called Matthew) wrote his own account of the day Jesus called him:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him (Matthew 9:9).

Do you notice the thing that is missing in Matthew’s account?  He doesn’t say of himself that he left everything.  Levi only says that he followed him.  This is pure speculation on my part, but do you think it’s possible that, in the end, Levi did not consider what he did to be, in fact, “leaving everything”?  Maybe, in Levi’s eyes–after seeing how much Jesus gave up—maybe Levi didn’t feel that he had given up anything.  Maybe all he gained by following Jesus made everything he left feel like nothing.  So, humbly, he left out the part about leaving everything.  For Levi, two words were enough.  Followed him.