Mark 2:13-14 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. 14As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.
-As Jesus was moving along the lakeside, he came to a building occupied by a man named Levi, aka ‘Matthew.’ Because of where Capernaum was located in Galilee, it was the first real city travelers would encounter as they came to Israel, so it was a prime location for collecting customs duties; import and export taxes.
-That was Levi’s job, to collect the 2-3% tax the rich caravans from Syria & Arabia had to pay to ensure safe passage. As a customs agent, Levi worked, not for the Romans, but for the brutal tyrant Herod, the ruler of Galilee; because of this, Levi was despised by the common people.
-Yet as Jesus passed by that day, He saw Levi sitting there in his office, and said to him, “Follow Me.” That’s all it took for Matthew “ he dropped what he was doing and went after Jesus. Now, in order to understand the full implication of this, we need to take a closer look at discipleship and what it really means. Bear with me as I’m going to delve a bit into the culture of the Hebrews of that time…but it really all does set the scene for the entire story and helps us understand why Matthew so willingly dropped all his stuff to follow Christ.
-The whole idea of rabbis who had an official group of disciples was something unique to Galilee. There were 2 kinds of rabbis: 1) torah teachers, and 2) s’mikah rabbis. Torah teachers, or scribes, as they are called in the NT, were men who had memorized the entire, Tanach (the Old Testament) and what many of the great rabbis had said about the scriptures. Rabbis, on the other hand, had also memorized the Tanach, but they had demonstrated the ability to speak with authority about the scriptures and the things of God. S’mikah in fact MEANS “authority.” So, rabbis had s’mikah, torah teachers did not.
-While torah teachers had students, only rabbis had talmidin (disciples).
-In Galilee, all children, both boys and girls, sat under a Torah teacher and memorized entire books of the OT. This schooling went on until they were 12 to 13, at which point education ended for girls. For the boys, if they had proven themselves skilled at memorization, and shown a mind for study, they would go on to another level of work with the Torah teacher.
-Those who didn’t pass to this level began their vocation, usually working in the family business or entering an apprenticeship. For those boys who did move on to the next level of education with the Torah teacher, the lessons became more intense; the entire Tanach was memorized, along with the teaching & commentary of notable rabbis.
-If after a few more years of this the young man still demonstrated a superior level of skill in his studies, then he would graduate from the Torah teacher to following a Rabbi. He would carefully consider the rabbis currently around and which he most wanted to be like.
-You see, that was the essence of discipleship “ a disciple aspired to be just like the rabbi; that was the goal, the singular aim of being a disciple, and that’s why disciples were always with their rabbi. They wanted to watch him as closely as possible, observing how he responded to different situations.
-So as a young man considered which rabbi to follow, he would ask himself who He wanted to and could be like, for his discipleship would see him become just like his rabbi. Once he picked a rabbi, he would go to him and begin following, but at that point, he wasn’t an official disciple yet; he was letting the rabbi know he wanted to be a talmid.
-After several weeks of just following him around the rabbi would acknowledge the young man and begin to quiz him on his skill with the Word of God. For example,
1) “Quote the law of the Nazarite.”
2) “How many times did Ezekiel see the Lord?”
3) “What is the middle word in the Scroll of Isaiah the prophet?”
-This kind of quizzing would go on for days. Then, after all this, the rabbi would usually say to him something like, “Look, you are a bright young man. Go home, get married, have children, and love and serve God as a fisherman. Have a nice life.” Most young men were turned down by the rabbis. Only the cream of the crop were allowed to become official talmidin.
-Now, we go back to Matthew. Where was Matthew when Jesus found him? Sitting in his tax-office. Matthew was a young man who’d grown up like the rest of the children in Galilee, memorizing the Scriptures in hopes to one day become a disciple of a rabbi. But he’d obviously not proven himself skilled in his studies enough to be declared a talmid, and had gone into the family business “ tax-collector.
-As he’s sitting there one day, he looks up to see a huge crowd coming toward him. They all seem to be following the man who’s in front; he realizes this must be the new rabbi everyone’s been talking about and who’d been making such a stir lately “ Jesus of Nazareth.
-As Jesus arrives in front of Matthew’s tax booth, He stops, looks Matthew in the eye, and simply says, “Follow Me.” Now’s where that brief study in discipleship comes in. Matthew understood exactly what invitation meant “ it was the invitation of a rabbi to a new disciple.
-Matthew immediately dropped what he was doing, and went after Jesus.