The Transformation that Comes in Christ | Mark 2:13–14
13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
The Jews had to pay taxes to the Romans, so Herod Antipas appointed tax collectors. Many hated them, seeing them as traitorous collaborators with oppressive Roman regime and thieves—and they were. Tax collectors, though, saw lucrative employment—they overtaxed their own people and pocketed the surplus (cf. Lk 3:12–13).
One of their booths would be beside the Sea of Galilee, with Levi (a. k. a. Matthew) perhaps collecting taxes on fishing. However, after healing the paralytic, Jesus draws an audience to the area and preaches a sea-side sermon. Afterward, Jesus walked by this booth and told him to follow.
Christ transforms sinners. Sadly, many of those amazed by the healing of the paralytic will find another distraction eventually, but Christ came to Levi and transforms him. Levi knew that abandoning his post to follow Jesus meant an opportunist would rush to his seat. He’s leaving it all behind, choosing unemployment by following Christ. Thus, Mark’s simple statement communicates volumes about his conversion—Levi arises from the table because he’s no longer a tax-collector; he’s now a follower of Christ.
After becoming a disciple, he began going by Matthew, and both Luke (Lk 5:27) and Mark here apparently try to save him embarrassment by saying “Levi.” However, in a display of humility, Matthew names himself as the despised tax-collector in his Gospel account (Mt 9:9). To be even clearer, he calls himself “Matthew the tax collector” in his list of the Apostles (10:3).
He’s been changed by the call of Christ, but he knows who he used to be without Christ. He heard Christ preach “repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 11:5), but now he knew it is time to leave his former life behind and trust in Christ for new life. He didn’t need to stop tax-collecting for Jesus to come to him; Jesus came to where he was and transformed him. Once Christ gets ahold of a man’s heart, He replaces it with a new one (Eze 36:26)—and he stops by sinners’ booths every day with the gospel call.