Today we witness Jesus calling Levi the tax collector, who became Matthew the Evangelist. This scandalized the scribes and Pharisees, for tax collectors were great sinners who not only collaborated with the Roman authorities but also lined their own pockets. Yet Jesus reminds us that He has come precisely to save sinners. Just as a physician’s task is to heal the sick, so, by calling sinners to repentance, the Physician of souls works with us to heal our spiritual sickness. Saint Gregory of Nyssa comments,
They who use the knife or heat to remove certain unnatural growths in the body, such as cysts or warts, do not bring to the person they are serving a method of healing that is painless, though certainly they apply the knife without any intention of injuring the patient. Similarly, whatever material excrescences are hardening on our souls, which have been made carnal by collusion with inordinate passions, will be, in the day of judgment, cut and scraped away by the ineffable wisdom and power of Him who, as the Gospel says, ‘healed those that were sick.’ For, as He says, ‘they who are well have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.’ Just as the excision of the wart gives a sharp pain to the skin of the body, so then must there be some anguish in the recovering soul which has a great bent to evil.
Although some people – including Levi in this Gospel – experience a dramatic conversion that requires an immediate break with their past, the healing that Jesus Christ brings does not usually occur instantaneously. Rather, it requires a lifetime of commitment, which is why He called Levi to follow Him. Saint Bede the Venerable writes,
By ‘follow’ He meant not so much the movement of feet as of the heart, the carrying out of a way of life. For one who says that He lives in Christ ought himself to walk just as He walked, not to aim at earthly things, not to pursue perishable gains, but to flee base praise, to embrace willingly the contempt of all that is worldly for the sake heavenly glory, to do good to all, to inflict injuries upon no one in bitterness, to suffer patiently those injuries that come to oneself, to ask God’s forgiveness for those who oppress, never to seek one’s own glory but always God’s, and to uphold whatever helps one love heavenly things. This is what is meant by following Christ. In this way, disregarding earthly gains, Matthew attached himself to the band of followers of One who had no riches. For the Lord Himself, who outwardly called Matthew by a word, inwardly bestowed upon him the gift of an impulse so that he was able to follow.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 2:14-17:
At that time, as Jesus passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaios sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”