Physicians heal patients one at a time. Jesus is the great Physician. And while the droves of people hurried after Him to watch His every move and to hear His every word, He did not glory in the mass attention, but rather continued to exist and operate, never minding the overwhelming audience.
Verse 14 tells that as the crowd followed behind Him, He walked past a publican, Levi. Publicans were a special breed of Roman citizen. The word “publican” comes from the Latin term of the day that would indicate that they were loyal first and foremost to the “Res Publica” (the Roman government known as "the Republic"). Often these Publicans came from lower aristocratic families, and inherited their family’s contract with the Roman Republic to levy taxes and impose tariffs and duties. In essence, they would work amongst their own kin, charging the Roman fees plus a little bit extra for their own pocket book. As far as family business was concerned, these families often became the wealthiest in the community, at the expense of acceptance by all of their own people.
Levi, like his father Alphaeus, had this reputation. He was a swindler. He was a cheat. He was a crook. He used coercion and threats to extort money out of his own neighbors. He may have had the nicest house around, but no self-respecting Jew would darken his doorway. The only types that would associate with him would be the other outcasts, other tax collectors, prostitutes, drunkards, the low-lifes.
But today everything changed. Jesus walked by. The people were pouring over each other trying to reach him, but he kept in stride and moved directly past the booth of taxation. He slowed and spoke to Levi a simple message, “Follow me.” Drawn by a force he could not explain, Levi abandoned his post, never to return again. Later that day they sat at Levi’s house and Jesus taught him the gospel. In repentance and faith, Levi turned from his sinful lifestyle and to the obedience of faith in God.
The physician had made his visit. The patient had been healed. The healing had not been a physical one; it had been a spiritual one. But just because it had been a spiritual one didn’t mean it didn’t have physical consequences. The sinner, Levi, had been converted. His life would never be the same. Jesus called Him that day to be His disciple. For the next three years, Levi (also called “Matthew”) followed Jesus. He would no longer extort God’s people, rather, this disciple would preach to God’s people and ultimately write the first gospel account to God's people. Jesus had chosen Him and called Him to a greater purpose.
Food For Thought: Read Matthew 9:9-13. What did Jesus answer the Pharisees when they asked Him why He was with swindlers, prostitutes, and drunkards?