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The Lenten Lesson of Levi
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, give me a deep spirit of faith during this meditation, the conviction that you are speaking to me through the Holy Spirit, to light up my life and the path I am following during this Lent. Help me to be generous when you nudge me towards greater authenticity.
- “Follow Me”: As we begin Lent, the Church reminds us through this Gospel passage that Jesus always initiates our following of him. Levi, better known as St. Matthew, was perhaps a little perplexed when he heard this call. Caravaggio’s great painting captures this moment, depicting the tax collector with a surprised, “Who? Me?” kind of look. Indeed, we should all feel like that. We have not earned the grace to follow Jesus; it is a free gift given with immeasurable love. As with Levi, this call challenges us to abandon the comfort zone of spiritual mediocrity for something much greater.
- Celebration: We see Levi wanting to share the joy of apostleship with others. They were his old crowd, probably not the most savory folks, but they could already sense something profoundly different in Levi. The overflowing grace of repentance that Levi exuded was already evangelizing those around him. Jesus would say later to the chief priests: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Levi was first in line of the stunning converts made by Jesus, and he communicated the grace Jesus gave him to others. Therein lies an important goal for our Lent: to send off ripple effects of the graces we receive.
- The Originality of Jesus: The Pharisees certainly had their struggles with the innovative nature of Jesus’s ministry. He was breaking down certain conventions that were, in effect, a straight jacket on evangelization. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that Jesus was “anti-tradition”; after all, he came to “fulfill not abolish” the law and prophets. But new wine does need new wineskins. Let’s look at our own lives. What might we try doing differently to be better, more engaged apostles?
Conversing with Christ: Lord, what an effect your encounter had on Levi. I, too, rejoice that you have come into my life and are inviting me to be your apostle. Sometimes I feel like my wheels are spinning. But I trust that the light of the Holy Spirit can help me to find new ways to live a more holy life and to be a better ambassador of how blest the Catholic life is.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will joyfully share my faith with someone, as did Levi.
For Further Reflection: Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell.
Written by Father Steven Reilly, LC.