I was one of those kids at school that never got picked for teams. PE classes would be abject humility when all the players people want on their team have been picked and all that remains are the left-overs. You know that you are not wanted, that you are seen not as an asset but a liability, but the teacher insists that you are chosen! Wearing glasses certainly didn’t help, but being a good six inches smaller than the rest of the class didn’t help either!
That is not to say that I didn’t end up on school teams. We had a house system. I was on the green team – it was named after a forest but the name escapes me. It was competitive – houses had netball teams and hockey teams – both of which I ended up on, not because I was any good at either sport, but because they couldn’t find anyone else to make up the numbers.
I knew they didn’t want me on the team. I very rarely got passed the ball in netball, and if I accidentally ended up with it, I knew I wasn’t allowed to hold it for long! In hockey I was tucked away at the edges of the team – a right wing, or a left wing – somewhere that I could do least damage!
I even remember ending up in a cookery competition, despite having a reputation for not being able to cook. Maybe the person they really wanted on the team was absent that day – but, yet again, they needed someone to make up the numbers. Unfortunately they couldn’t tuck me away in a small space between the fridge and the cooker this time out of harms way. I was required to bake a Victoria sandwich. No amount of butter icing on the top took away from the fact that the sponge had not risen. We lost the competition – but without me, we wouldn’t even have been entered.
No amount of enthusiasm on my part – and despite all my failures – I remained enthusiastic – made up for my obvious lack of ability and skill. But, it was soul destroying – the sound of the groan from the rest of the team when I joined their ranks!
I wonder if there were not a few groans when Jesus introduced Levi, the tax collector to the rest of the disciples. I don’t think anyone of them thought of themselves as great “disciple” material, none of them had any theological training, or “religious” potential – but then, none of them were basically crooks either.
When Peter and Andrew were called to follow Jesus they were promised that they would become fishers of men. When Levi was called it was just “Follow me.” He wasn’t promised anything. When Peter and Andrew were called they left their boats, they didn’t burn them, unlike Elisha who burned his plough and oxen to follow Elijah. If things didn’t pan out, they always had the boat to go back to, and for a short while after the death of Jesus, they did go back. Levi had nothing to go back to. There were plenty of people ready and willing to take up his tax booth. He left, with no promise to claim, and no Plan B if things didn’t work out.
Jesus had strolled along his part of the beach, parked himself within spitting distance of Levi’s tax booth and started teaching the crowds. One wonders what it was Levi overheard that made him not hesitate to follow the call.
There is a part of me that thinks it wasn’t what he heard at all – it was just that Jesus asked him. Jesus wanted him on his team and Levi had never been wanted before - well, not in that sense at least! Jesus is not picking the last team members out of the left-overs. Jesus had his choice of a hundred other men that day – all of them more socially acceptable with nice connections – but he chose Levi. He chose him, not to be another “fisher of men”, or even to be the banker of the group, but simply to be with Him. I think he chose him to show that if Levi, a tax collector and a cheat, can make the grade, there is hope for me too. If Jesus could want someone like Levi simply to be with Him, then maybe he would want me too.