He sat in a hot, dusty booth, watching the ships come in. Dutifully, he tallied up the taxes that he would send to the Romans. His own community despised him because of his job. He skimmed some off the top, but how could he not? He had to make a living. But for his trouble, he was labeled as a sinner, lumped together with prostitutes. He noticed a broad band of people following a man. What an odd sight. It must be one of those religious teachers, he thought. He ignored their presence, knowing he wouldn’t be included. Then the Rabbi looked at him and said, “Follow me.” Did the Rabbi mean him? Did he not notice that he was sitting in a tax collector booth. The tax collector thought, “Surely, he didn’t mean me. I couldn’t possibly be a disciple. I don’t know the Torah well enough, I haven’t trained to be a Rabbi. I don’t know how to engage in Yeshivas – groups of disciples wrestling with God. All I know how to do is to sit here and collect taxes.” “The Rabbi couldn’t have meant me. No, it was a mistake.” He tried to ignore the man and his words. Then Levi looked again. He saw the Rabbi look right at him.
And Levi thought, “But what if he meant me?”
When Jesus, asks, "Follow me," he gives us the opportunity to begin an adventure with him. But believing that we are the one he called, requires us to set aside our feelings of inadequacy for the truth that God loves us.
When the Greek IV staff at Emory, Liz, asked if I wanted to be discipled - to meet regularly and discuss what following God meant. I wanted to ask her, “You don’t really mean me, right?”
I didn’t feel like the right kind of Christian. At every Christian event I attended, I felt awkward. My motivations seemed off, I didn’t get what others were talking about, and my decisions were constantly being questioned. I couldn’t even lift my hands during worship, without feeling weird. But Liz asked if I wanted to learn more about Jesus, and I desperately wanted to fit into this community, so I said yes. That semester, Liz asked me to pray for two of my sorority sisters. I quickly wrote two names down on a card. Then slipped the card, into my bible. I couldn’t pray for either woman. I was afraid of saying yes to this invitation, and I was too ashamed to admit it.
I was afraid that if I prayed, Liz would ask me to share my faith. I knew I wasn’t the right person to tell people about Jesus. I pretended to be. I acted like I had it all together, but I was a fraud. How could God use me? I didn’t have that relationship with Jesus that my friends talked about. I was going through the motions. Surely, God wasn’t calling me, he must have had the wrong person. I rationalized saying no, by saying not right now, Jesus. I argued that I needed to work on my own relationship with Jesus before I began to lead others. But as that card stayed in my bible, I kept wondering what if I did pray?
Throughout scripture, God calls those who don’t feel worthy. Both the Old Testament and New Testament are full of men and women, who would be shunned from any church. Yet, they are the very people he uses to bring about his will. When Jesus asked Levi to follow him, he knew Levi was a tax collector. He knew Levi wasn’t perfect. But he also knew, that he wanted to get to know Levi and for Levi to know him. By walking with Jesus, Levi was transformed into Jesus’ disciple.
The same was true for me. God wanted me to know him. I could learn about him from books, bible studies, and sermons. But learning about someone is not the same thing as knowing them. God asked me to follow him because he wanted a relationship with me. At some point during the semester, I picked up the prayer card and started to pray. And that prayer led to me sharing my faith. Which turned into me leading a bible study in my sorority. As I followed Jesus, I met Jesus. The more I spent time with Jesus, through mission trips, sharing my faith, leading a bible study and spending time with him, the more he transformed me, into his disciple. God knows all the reasons why we aren't perfect disciples. He understands our sins and our shortcomings. But we are his children. And like any father, he wants to get to know us. He wants to spend time with us and mold us into the men and women he knows we can become.
Jesus says, “Follow me” not because you are equipped or deserving, but because he wants you to know him.
This is the first of a 3 blog series. The next in the series is "Invited Home"