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On your Mark

One from the crowd

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13,14, NIV)

The narrative in Mark’s Gospel constantly shifts from the crowd to the individual or from the person to the group.

He heals one — Peter’s mother-in-law — and then the whole town gathers in the street (1:29-34). He cures a man with leprosy and then is so beset with multitudes He can no longer openly enter a town (1:40-45). He slips back into Capernaum, but word gets out and the house becomes dense with people. The spotlight then shifts to one paralytic coming down through an opening torn into the roof (2:1-12).

Jesus breaks away. The crowd follows Him as He walks along the shore. He stops. No mention is made of miracles. He simply teaches. Perhaps this is the occasion when He delivers the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7), but Mark omits it.

Mark turns our attention instead to one individual, the tax collector Levi.

Days earlier, while walking along the shore, Jesus called His first four disciples, two sets of brothers (1:16-20). None of the four had volunteered. They were drafted. The same with the tax collector Levi, whom we know as Matthew. We see no record of him running up to Jesus and saying, “I want to follow You. Will You let me?”

We have something in common with the four and with Levi. None of us feels worthy enough to follow Jesus. We think, He’s looking for someone more qualified, more holy, more eloquent, better prepared and more experienced.

Jesus comes to us nevertheless and says, “Follow Me.”

Like the first disciples, you do not know where following Jesus will take you. None of the first five followers could have imagined the course of events over the next years.

James, for example, could not foresee that he would be a martyr early on, and his brother John had no inkling he would live the longest. Levi didn’t know he would write the Gospel that opens our New Testament. Levi’s ability to log tax records made him an ideal person to take shorthand notes of Jesus’ teaching and thereby give us an extensive record of Christ’s discourses and parables.

The Lord never shows us the full picture — He just asks us to take the next step. Like Levi, though, we have to be willing to “get up.” Had Levi continued to sit at his tax post and ignored or declined Jesus’ invitation, he would have missed his destiny in life.

I can almost hear the murmur that went up from the two sets of brothers, “Lord, we can’t stand this man, Levi. He’s a collaborator with the Romans. He collects tariffs from us, pays off the Romans, and then keeps a cut for himself. Surely, You would not ask us to hang out with the likes of him?”

But, when you start walking with Jesus, you find that you do not follow Him by yourself. You don’t get to choose His friends. His friends must also become yours, even when their viewpoints and personalities totally diverge from your own.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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