Jesus went back again to the shore of Lake Galilee. A crowd came to him, and he started teaching them. 14 As he walked along, he saw a tax collector, Levi son of Alphaeus, sitting in his office. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up and followed him.
15 Later on Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s house. A large number of tax collectors and other outcasts was following Jesus, and many of them joined him and his disciples at the table. 16 Some teachers of the Law, who were Pharisees, saw that Jesus was eating with these outcasts and tax collectors, so they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such people?”
17 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”
18 On one occasion the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came to Jesus and asked him, “Why is it that the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but yours do not?”
19 Jesus answered, “Do you expect the guests at a wedding party to go without food? Of course not! As long as the bridegroom is with them, they will not do that. 20 But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
21 “No one uses a piece of new cloth to patch up an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear off some of the old cloth, making an even bigger hole. 22 Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, because the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.” – Mark 2:13-22
I wrote two letters. In one letter I expressed my desire to continue to serve the congregation to which I had been called 11 years previously. It was true, heartfelt, and sincere. The other letter was to the congregation I currently serve. It was true, heartfelt, and sincere. When I read the two letters, I knew which one I would be sending.
And so I came to St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. I was happy where I was currently serving. We had great friends there. We would miss them when we left. But there was an opportunity in Cypress and I was compelled to accept the call. It was an invitation from God through the people here. I’m glad I did.
The opportunity offered to Matthew was directly from God, not mediated through a congregation or even a religious official. It was simple and direct: “Follow me.” And Matthew got up, left his tax office, and followed Jesus.
There is no hint in Mark’s account about whether Matthew had any previous encounter with Jesus, or knew anything about his teaching or ministry. There is no indication that Matthew had grown tired of his duties as a tax collector. But we do know that Matthew was not the only one. He hosted a dinner party for Jesus where a “large number of tax collectors and other outcasts…joined him and his disciples at the table.”
Most of us don’t have such profound life-changing encounters with Jesus…at least not at first blush. But there come opportunities day after day which can change the course of our lives in ways beyond knowing.
You agree to serve as a Sunday school teacher and end up encouraging a young man to take his faith seriously. He does and becomes a pastor. You are invited to serve as a confirmation table guide. A girl in your group struggles with issues of sexual identity and you listen and teach her that God created us male and female. She grows up to claim her identity as a young woman of God. You accept a friend’s invitation to a Bible class and you make a friend who becomes your best friend forever.
Sometimes such opportunities are obvious beyond measure. Most often they are more ordinary and mundane. But make no mistake, whenever you accept Jesus’ invitation opportunities will unfold that you may never have imagined. And whenever that does happen, throw a party. Invite your friends. Keep following him.