The call of Levi

The call of Levi

Levi (or Matthew) called. Of Fasting.

(The Gospel History, Section 36)

And after these things he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he beheld a publican, Levi the son of Alphæus, sitting at the place of toll; and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he forsook all and rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and as he sat at meat, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many, and they followed him. And when the Pharisees and their Scribes saw that he was eating with publicans and sinners, they murmured against his disciples, saying, He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners! And when Jesus heard it, he said unto them, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what this meaneth, I desire mercy and not sacrifice: for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

The call of Levi

(The Saviour of the World, Vol II Book I Poem XIII)

Again Christ walked by the seaside;
The people flocked from far and wide
To hear the blessed words He spake
As slow He paced beside the lake.
And as He passed, He saw a man,
A much despisèd publican,
Who, heedless of his Jew’s estate,
In seat of Roman Customs sate
To gather from his nation pence
For Roman coffers—stern offence
To every patriotic Jew,
Who grudged to think the Roman drew
Or dues or honours from that land
Ruled only by Jehovah’s hand!
Scorned of their race, such men took toll
Of moneys under their control,
Exacted than their due far more,
Grew rich upon ill-gotten store;
Grew rich, but failed to gain respect
And, prosperous, they met neglect.

The Call of Levi by Jan Van Hemessen

But never yet was class so base
That in its ranks no single face
Witnessed a nobler, purer aim:
Close by this custom-house there came
The steps of Jesus many a day,
With following, to hear Him say
Words of our life He ever dropped
Where’er He went, whene’er He stopped:
Once and again had Levi heard,
From where he sat, the living word.
It fell upon an open mind,
And spread within till he might find
No place within, without, but there
This mighty word of God must bear
Sole rule o’er conduct, word, and thought,
O’er how he sold and how he bought,
O’er all he said and all he did,—
No secret from this word was hid!
And Jesus, Who this great word spake
While treading margin of the lake,
Was He not Master of man’s soul,
Entitled to supreme control?
But, publican, what hope had he
That this most sweet supremacy
Should over his poor sordid days
Take rule? He must pursue the ways
He’d learnt to tread: no shout of King
In heart of publican might ring:
Had he not sold himself for wage?
Nought left for him that thirst t’assuage—
That great God-hunger of the heart
In which the feeblest soul has part!
Poor Levi! know’st thy Lord at last,
And art kept back by thine own past?

And lo, that day Christ spake one word,
Compelling happy soul who heard!
“Follow me,” said Christ, and Levi knew
Himself all known of Him,—the true
The false, the sordid, generous self
That longed for God and lived for pelf!
Christ knew it all, and, ah, sweet grace!
He called him from that hated place
Of customs, where he lost his soul
In gathering each paltry toll!
Quick rose he up with naught to say;
What to him now the coins that lay
In piles on table at his hand?
He followed at his Lord’s command,
Forsaking every lesser thing
In joy of summons from the King!

But not without a pang he went;—
Those others whom his lot had sent
For daily commerce to his seat,
Where publicans and sinners meet
To pay as others do their due,
Or else, exact from haughty Jew;
Could he be glad when these were left,
Of Israel’s great hope bereft!

Levi bethought him what to do
That these poor friends might hear Him too.
A great feast made he, and sent out
His invitations round about,—
Not to men sought for and esteemed,
But to poor souls unworthy deemed
To touch the robes of righteous men;
Sinners and publicans were, then,
The guests he dared invite to meet
Messias! at his board to greet
The crowd of the disciples, too,—
Hungry for teaching, ever new.
How well he knew his Master’s mind,
This new disciple! These, the kind
Of guests that most should please the Lord,
For these, most famished for His word!

Around the tables all took place,
And listened, wondering at the grace
Of every word the honoured Guest
Let fall among them, strangely blessed!
How many heavy burdens fell
From aching shoulders, who may tell,
As each, that word of life received,
Went forth of all his sin relieved!

But on the divans round the wall
Were guests, that waited not the call
Of invitation from the host;
At Eastern feast it is the boast
That whoso will may come and see:
And each man there, an enemy
Dogging His steps; each finger, mark,
Pointing in spite, each whisper, dark,
His condemnation bears to ear
Of neighbour, all too keen to hear!
“A Prophet, say you! Who are these
“With whom He eats and drinks at ease?
“The men, publicans,—women, faugh,
“The streets can tell you what they are!”
Remote the whisperers, but He heard,
And spake one soul-condemning word:—
“The sick have need of healing, see,
“The good physician hastes; but ye
“Ye who are whole” (we hear His wrath
In mocking irony break forth),—
“Ye whole ones, ye that have no need,
“What do ye here ’midst this poor seed
“Of sick and sinful, patients all
“Whose needs on the physician call?”
But ye are here—go ye and learn
That word of prophet to discern!
Not sacrifice, your lavish gift,
But pity, that the weak shall lift,
Mercy to pardon, these to Me,
Saith God, the pleasing offerings be!
Lo, I came, not the good to call,
The satisfied, who cannot fall
From out their own complacency:
But sinners will I draw to Me;
Poor sinners, fain their God would find
That all their sin be left behind!”

St. Mark ii. 13-17;
St. Luke v. 27-32;
St. Matthew ix. 9-13;
Micah vi. 6