And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.
Many a gospel message has been preached on the “Follow Me’s” of Jesus. So many that I’m sure somewhere someone has touched up the idea I wish to share. That is the idea of consent. The kingdom of God, though an absolute monarchy, exercises rule over its citizens only with their consent.
Levi (Matthew) was a tax collector (publican). His job was to take from his family and neighbors a sum exacted by the Romans. For doing this job he received no pay except what he could extort from his fellow countrymen. So, if Rome demanded a penny per person as tax, Levi could collect two pennies and pocket one penny for himself.
As you might imagine, among a population which refused to even carry Roman coins on them, tax collectors like Levi, were not popular fellows. Hence the complaint about Jesus attending a party at Levi’s house and eating with tax collectors and other sinners.
It is seldom noted except in passing that Jesus also ate with the rich and powerful. The difference was in how Jesus was received. His message to repent and believe the gospel made him a curiosity to the rich and powerful who saw no need for either. They understood his message and challenged it.
Sinners like Levi saw something in him they did not imagine they personally possessed—holiness. And he extended to them something they did not expect—merciful acceptance of them as they were. They were ready to repent, that is consent to his message, and believe what he taught.
The kingdom of God is unlike the rule of man for it is not lorded over its citizen. It needs no army, no police, no priests. It is held together not by the absolute power of its king, but by the loving affection of citizens who willingly consent to his lordship. He needs only bid them—Follow Me.