There is a big difference between following and believing. Yet it seems, in the church, we often use the two interchangeably. We proclaim “believing” as the hallmark of a good Christian. But here in this story, Jesus doesn’t command Levi to “believe,” but instead to “follow.” Believing is a little bit out of our control, if you think about it. I believed Pluto was a planet until Millennial scientists changed their minds. I believed fat makes you fat until new research suggests sugar, not fat, makes you fat. What I believe is largely based on information provided to me – information that may or may not be accurate.
Following is a different story. To follow Jesus, I can learn as much as I can about where Jesus went – how he lived, how he died, what he taught, what he did. I can come to some conclusions about what kind of world he desired for us. Then I can take action to emulate the Jesus I know. The Jesus I know was all about justice, equity, providing for those who cannot provide for themselves, loving unconditionally. These are all things I can work at (though nobody expects me or you to do it perfectly, like Jesus). Every time I do something that serves people, I am following Jesus. Surprisingly, what I believe is nearly irrelevant when it comes to serving people. People can follow in Jesus’ footsteps, even if they don’t know Jesus.
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”