daily biblical sermons

Jesus calls us to leave all and follow him, and he transforms the life of all that do so
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, First Week of the Year, January 18, 2020
1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19, 10:1a, Psalm 20, Mark 2:13-17

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“He [Jesus] went out again beside the sea and all the crowd gathered about him, and he taught them. And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alpheus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Mark 2:13-14).



Jesus came to call sinners. Concerning his physical healings and his exorcisms he did not actively seek out people who needed healing or exorcism. They came to him, for this was not the primary reason for his coming into the world. But when it came to disciples, he took the initiative and went out and called them. This was unusual for a Jewish rabbi, who is normally sought out by students who want to learn, rather than the rabbi going about trying to round up students. But Jesus was not just an independent scholar enjoying his studies and then besieged by young students who wanted to learn from him. Jesus, rather, was sent by God to preach the good news of God’s plan to save the world by his atoning death on the cross for our sins. So he took the initiative and went out to find disciples that would continue his mission in the world.



Jesus also took the initiative in preaching the gospel, and in this way he attracted quite a following. Yet at this point in the history of Christianity physical healings and exorcisms, which were done in a miraculous way, were very important. They witnessed to the divine origin of his teaching and ministry and were a testimony to the truth of his claims to be the Son of God, the Son of man, the Messiah, and the Savior of the world. These healings and exorcisms also gathered great crowds about him of people who wanted to see a miracle or to be healed of their sicknesses. Then, when he had a crowd, he could begin to preach to them the gospel of the kingdom of God, which was the central purpose of his mission in the world.



The great prevalence of physical healings continued after Jesus death and resurrection in the ministry of his apostles and disciples, but this soon became greatly reduced in importance and frequency, so much so that today it is rare to find a Christian preacher who is able to work miraculous cures. Sufficient proof of the truth and divine origin of Jesus’ teaching has already been given by his and his apostles’ miraculous cures, and above all by his own resurrection, as recorded in the New Testament. This should be sufficient proof for all succeeding generations, for our faith is based on the testimony of the eyewitnesses of these events that is recorded in the New Testament. Basing ourselves on this testimony, we can come to faith in Jesus Christ and then preach the good news of the kingdom of God and of salvation in him unto the ends of the earth.



Today we see Jesus calling Levi, a tax collector, and we are struck with his radical response: Jesus “said to him [Levi], ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Mark 2:14). As a tax collector Levi was considered by the scribes and Pharisees to be a sinner, someone to be avoided, someone not to share a meal with for fear of being contaminated by an unclean person who does not keep the proper ceremonial dietary laws of the Jews and who is suspect of being an extortioner and a dishonest person that cheats people out of their money by charging exorbitant rates.



Jesus nonetheless called this sinner to be one of his closest disciples, to be one of his twelve apostles who would carry on his work after his crucifixion, preaching the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the nations. After he called Levi, Levi made a great feast for Jesus and his disciples and invited his own friends to dine with Jesus, and naturally his friends were like himself, tax collectors and sinners. This scandalized the scribes, who asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16). Jesus’ answer is significant, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).



The scribes and Pharisees expected Jesus, as a religious teacher, to act differently, not to associate with tax collectors and sinners, not to enter their home, and especially not to sit down at a banquet with them in their home. Jesus’ behavior surprised and scandalized them, for this is not the proper behavior, they thought, for a religious person like Jesus. But Jesus came not just as a teacher, not just as a good example, and not just as someone who provides new and clear moral laws, but as a Savior. He came precisely to cure and heal the people in Levi’s house who were all despised tax collectors and sinners like Levi. And Jesus had the power to transform them, to call them to sincere repentance and faith in him for their conversion, transformation, and salvation.



This is the mission of a Christian preacher to this day. He does not just teach a philosophy or an interesting doctrine. He does not just do good works, give good example, and help people by his charitable deeds. The main thing he does is preach salvation through faith in Jesus Christ the Savior that God has sent into the world to forgive our sins and transform us from ungodly sinners into righteous people shining with the righteousness of God himself, which God reckons to us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, because of his atoning, redeeming, reparation-making death on the cross for the sins of the world.



Christ came to die on the cross as our substitute, bearing our punishment for our sins for us in his suffering and death so that all that genuinely repent, abandon their sins, and put their faith in him will be declared righteous by God, for their sins have been punished in his death on the cross, and God credits their personal account with his suffering and death as payment of their debt of suffering and death that they have with God in punishment for their sins. This is what Christ came to do, and the gospel is the announcement that this is what he came to do as well as an invitation to them to accept this Savior that God has given them and to put their trusting faith in him and in his saving death, which will transform them, when they repent and abandon their sins. Then God the Father will declare and thereby make them righteous with the righteousness of God himself reckoned to them by their faith.



Jesus today is calling Levi to be one of these preachers of this gospel, once he has experienced the justifying action of God in his own life.



Levi’s response to Jesus’ call is a model for our response to his call. He had a job that probably made him rich, for he had a house large enough to accommodate many guests and enough money to provide a great banquet for all these people; but it was also a job that gave him a shameful reputation in the eyes of the Jews, and he probably was a sinful man. Jesus called Levi away from both his wealth and his sins, and Levi responded immediately. He got up and left his job and became a full-time disciple of Jesus. He turned his back on his former life of sin, worldliness, wealth, and comfort, to now live for Christ alone and dedicate himself to higher and nobler ideals, to be a preacher of the good news of salvation that God is now making available to the world in his Son Jesus Christ.



Levi is to experience and then preach inner conversion and transformation through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. He is to become a new creature, a “new man,” in Christ, and preach to others the path that would lead them also to becoming a new creation in Christ through faith in him and genuine repentance for their sins.



Levi renounced his former life and his former goals of obtaining wealth to serve the Lord with all his heart and soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). He would now live a very simple life compared to the luxurious lifestyle that he once enjoyed. He would renounce the world, worldly values, and a worldly lifestyle, just as we also are called by Jesus to do. He embraced a life in which he could say, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).



Levi would have to abandon everything to possess this great treasure of salvation in Jesus Christ, just as the man who found a great treasure in a field had to sell and renounce everything he had to get enough money to buy the field to claim the great treasure (Matthew 13:44). That is what Levi did, and that is what we have to do, for there is no other way of getting this great treasure than by renouncing everything else in our life so that our life now has one focus, one purpose, and one goal, and that is to follow one master only, not two masters, not God and mammon, for “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).



So Levi chose a life of simplicity and evangelical poverty instead of the lifestyle of a wealthy tax collector surrounded by worldly pleasures, and he will hear Jesus say, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24).



Let us also follow Levi’s example and dedicate ourselves wholly and totally to Christ and to the proclamation of the good news (gospel) of God’s salvation now available in Jesus Christ for those that sincerely repent and put their trusting faith in him.


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